The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Margaret Years
 
Chapter 22 - A Soft Heart
Written by Michelle Palmer

Margaret laid in bed that night listening to the wind howl. Lucas, claiming he wasn’t tired after thawing his frozen hands and feet out, was sitting up in bed reading a book. Margaret braided her hair as she laid in bed thinking. It had been a hard year. The best day of the year had been the day Lucas had come riding back into town after being gone for so long, but he’d never know that fact. She had married her childhood sweetheart that year. And now, it was almost time to say goodbye to 1866.
 
“I got it!” Margaret suddenly declared as she sat up in bed with a gasp. Lucas lifted his eyes from the book and looked at her. “Well, we were talking at Emily’s after church on Sunday…about New Years Eve and what to do and…”
 
“We?”
 
Margaret tied off the end of her hair and slung it back behind her shoulder. “The women.”
 
“What…women?” Lucas asked as he lifted an eyebrow.
 
“Well…our family, Luke…We were trying to decide what to do for New Years Eve and…”
 
Lucas interrupted her with a groan. “Margaret, can’t we have just a nice, quiet evening here at home?”
 
“Why, Luke McCain…You know our family’s always had a big celebration on the New Year! I told you we’re trying hard to get things back to the way things used to be…back to the way our folks…” Lucas shook his head and looked back at his book. “Lucas…” Margaret sounded a little hurt this time.
 
Lucas lifted his eyes back up to hers. Slowly, he closed the book and turned to look at her. “Things are different now, Margaret. All the McCain and Gibbs family have started our own lives. It can’t be the way it used to be.”
 
“Some things can!” Margaret insisted. “Oh Luke…” Margaret turned from him and pulled her knees up to wrap her arms around them. She looked straight ahead. “It’s important to the women…all of us.” Lucas didn’t say anything. Margaret whirled her head around to look at him. “Well…you don’t realize just what we do while you are out getting yourselves into trouble! Every time you walk out that door just to go have a nice, friendly visit and something comes up you have to deal with…We have to sit here and worry a lot of the time…Patiently waiting and hoping that our husbands will come back to us in one piece – and sometimes they don’t.” Margaret lifted her head and stuck out her chin. “So if we find a cause to celebrate, Lucas McCain, we’re going to do it!”
 
Lucas smiled as he leaned back against the headboard and pulled her against him. She rested her head on his chest and smiled when she heard his heart beat faster. Lucas kissed the top of her head. “Alright. I’m sorry. I guess I just don’t think about the fact you have to spend so much time alone, sitting around thinking about…”
 
Margaret shot up from him and put her hands on her hips. “Sitting around…” She shook her head at him. “Luke McCain, if only you knew all the work we had to do! The houses would fall apart if it wasn’t up to us women. Not only do we have meals to cook, dishes to clean, and a house to tidy up every day; but we also have laundry, churning, cows to milk, eggs to gather, animals to feed…Oh, and then there’s lard and bacon we have to help make after the pig’s butchered. And I haven’t even started to mention the…”
 
Lucas put a finger to her lips and chuckled. “Alright, alright…Don’t get your feathers in a ruffle!” Lucas sighed. “Like I said, I guess I don’t stop to think about all the work you have to do while we’re gone fighting the bad guys and tending to our own chores. I take it for granted that everything’s done when I get home. A nice meal is on the table, and I never see you sitting down unless you’re sewing or mending in the evenings…”
 
“And I do it all without complaining, Luke. So can’t you understand why…when we can find opportunity to do so…we want to have some fun?”
 
“I do now,” Lucas answered with a grin. “Tell me about your idea.”
 
“A winter ice skating dance.”
 
“A…” Lucas’ face screwed up as he thought on that. “A WHAT?”
 
“Have you grown so old that you’ve forgotten just how it used to be, Luke?” Margaret took her position back in his arms. He hugged her close to him and her cheek rested on his bare chest. “When we were kids…we’d go down to the lake and ice skate. There were lots of times when our ice skating would turn into a dance as folks brought out their fiddles and banjos. Then our folks would be in that cabin…remember that cabin?” She felt Lucas nod his head. “They’d prepare a big feast. All us kids would eventually have to lay down and go to sleep on pallets on the floor. The fire would be heated up to keep us warm. We’d try to stay awake as long as we could, and listen to our folks talk…Remember we did that on New Year’s Eve once, and none of us were able to stay awake long enough to see the new year in.”
 
“I remember. I also remember that I never could get the hang of ice skating.”
 
“Didn’t you break your arm one year on the lake?”
 
Lucas nodded.
 
“And that black eye was from ice skating too, wasn’t it?”
 
“Mm hm…”
 
“Oh…and I think you still have a scar on your…”
 
“Margaret…”
 
Margaret giggled as Lucas hushed her with a kiss. “We can talk more on this tomorrow. We should get to sleep. I’ve a lot of work to do tomorrow.”
 
“Yes, Luke.”
 
Margaret closed her eyes as she laid in Lucas’ arms. It took her a long time to get to sleep. Plans whirled through her head. She didn’t know how exactly, but the next day she was getting the women together for a discussion on just what to do about New Years Eve!
 
***
 
Lucas wrapped the blanket around him tighter and sneezed as Margaret angrily sat the bowl of soup in front of him.  She hadn’t spoken to him in several minutes.  He sniffed again as he picked the spoon up and took a bite of the soup that would help warm him up.

Margaret scrubbed at a spot on the counter.  Lucas sat down his spoon and leaned back in his chair.  “Aren’t you going to eat?”

“Yes.”

Lucas took another bite of his soup.  “Today?”

Margaret’s hand paused in the scrubbing as she turned and looked at Lucas.  The look she gave him told Lucas that she was very upset with him.  “Margaret, the cattle had to be fed!”

“In the pouring freezing rain?”  Margaret went back to scrubbing the spot on the counter.  “I thought you had more sense than to go out in weather like this and catch your death of cold!”

“I fought battles in the Civil War and helped clean up in the aftermath in rain like this!” Lucas declared louder than he should have.

“This isn’t the war, Luke!” Margaret’s voice raised a bit.

Lucas gave a short laugh.  “I’m not so sure.”  
 
Margaret’s head shot up and looked at him.  
 
“I think you’re getting all worked up over nothing!”

“Nothing?”  Margaret went back to scrubbing the same spot.  “You’re out in that ice-cold rain for two hours and come in with your teeth chattering and frozen clear to the bone…You could catch your death of pneumonia, and you say it’s NOTHING???”  

Lucas stood up, keeping the blanket wrapped around his shoulders.  He sneezed again as he made his way over to her.  He watched her scrub the spot on the counter for a moment, then reached out and  wrapped the blanket around his wife.  “Margaret…This is a ranch.  The cattle need fed rather it’s icing outside or not.  I have to think of them.”  He lifted his eyebrows.  “And why are you trying to scrub off dirt that’s not there?”

Margaret turned her head from him and looked out the window.  “Your mother would have skinned your Pa alive had he pulled something like this.”

“My father didn’t have 75 head of cattle as a cash crop, Margaret.”  Lucas pulled her closer.  Margaret flinched, but didn’t attempt to pull away.  “And I recall many times when your father did the very same thing.”

“And Mother gave him what-for when he got home too!” Margaret reminded him.

“You wouldn’t want the cattle to starve…” Lucas started in a calm, soothing voice.  He lifted his eyebrows again and tipped his head to one side.  “…Would you?”

“Of course not,” Margaret answered.  Lucas sneezed again.  “Go eat your soup.”

“Not yet…” Lucas rested his hand on her cheek.  “I’ll apologize.  I should have covered my head better.  I should have tried to do my feeding a little faster, and for that…I’m truly sorry.”  Lucas tipped his head down to where his lips were only inches from hers.  “How’s that?”

“The fact still remains that…” Margaret started, her eyes still holding a bit of anger in them.  "that you should have remembered to wear your rain slicker!"

“Thank you for worrying about me.”  Lucas’ smile widened.  “I love you.”  Margaret turned her head away, not quite ready to give up the fight.  Lucas put his hand under her chin and coaxed her face back toward his.  “I said…I’m truly sorry, ma’am.”  His eyes sparkled as he looked into hers.  “I know you want to take care of me.”

“Luke…” Margaret could feel his breath on her lips now.  She watched his lips part just a bit and knew she would soon melt in his arms.  “I’m still mad at you…” she mumbled.

“Well…maybe I can convince you to change your mind…” Lucas’s lips barely touched hers.  He pulled back a bit.  “How’s that?”

“I’m still mad at you.”

“Oh…” Lucas’ lips met hers again.  This time he kissed her solidly.  Then he pulled back.  “How about now?”

“Well…maybe just a little…” Lucas drew her body against his and kissed her a third time.  This time their lips lingered.  Margaret broke the kiss with a smile.  “Your soup’s getting cold.”

“So is yours…” Lucas lifted his eyebrow, letting her know his full meaning.  

“Alright.”  They held hands as they walked over to the table and sat down.  Lucas grinned into his soup, satisfied he’d been able to calm her down.  “Now…what else is bothering you?”

Margaret paused in sipping her hot tea and smiled.  “How did you know?”

“Because I know you.”  Lucas smiled at her.  “Well?”

Margaret looked down into her soup.  She didn’t answer as she slowly took a sip.  “I can’t talk about it, Luke…not now.” 

“Margaret…I’m your husband.  If something’s bothering you…”

“Nothing’s…” Margaret gasped as she jumped to her feet.  “…bothering me.”  She hurried into the kitchen to hide her emotions.  Lucas didn’t say a word as he stood and hurried over to her.  He didn’t say a word as he once again took her in his arms.  “I’m sorry.”

“Did I do something?”

“It’s not you.  It’s nothing you did.”  If what Margaret thought happened had happened, she wasn’t exactly telling the truth, but she couldn’t talk to him about it.  Not now…It was too soon.

“Then what is it?” Lucas asked.

“It’s…It’s nothing.”  Margaret went back to finish her soup.  Lucas studied her closely as they finished their lunch.  He didn’t want to push her but he was worried for her.  Margaret finally looked up at him.  “Luke…I can’t talk to you about this.  It’s…well, it’s…a woman thing.”

“Oh.”  Lucas ran a finger under his nose.  “I could get you across the street to talk to Ann.”

“NO!” Margaret’s answer was so forced and so firm that Lucas stared at her, speechless.  Margaret closed her eyes.  “No…I…I…I can’t talk to her…not about this.”

“How about your mother?”

Margaret’s eyes teared up at the mention of her mother.  “Oh Luke…it’s asking too much!  The weather…the rain…”

Lucas smiled shortly as he stood to his feet and moved to the chair right beside her.  He placed a hand on top of hers and moved his other hand under her chin.  After lifting her face to his, he smiled into her eyes.  “Will talking to Mother  help you?”  Margaret nodded.  “Is this one of those times my brother told me about…a time when a woman needs her mother?”  Margaret nodded again.  Lucas kissed her forehead.  “Then you aren’t asking too much.”

“Oh Luke…” Margaret’s eyes filled with tears.  A tear ran down her cheek.  “Luke…I don’t want to be selfish.  The weather’s too bad.  I…”

Lucas pressed a finger to her lips.  “You’re not being selfish.  If talking to your mother will help you, then I’ll see that it happens.  I can put a canopy on the wagon.  We’ll stay dry as a bone.  We’ll drive the horses easy.”  Lucas kissed her forehead again.  “I’ll be ready to leave in thirty minutes.”

“Oh Luke…It’s not that important.”

Lucas stood to his feet.  “I think it is.”  Margaret opened her mouth to protest, but Lucas held up a finger.  “And don’t you argue with me!”  Lucas walked toward the door.  As he picked up his hat, he looked over his shoulder, “Best pack a bag.  We may end up having to stay the night.”

Margaret wiped the tears from her cheek as she stood.  Oh, if only it were true…She’d make Lucas the happiest man in the world!

***
It took them quite a time to get to the Gibbs ranch.  Margaret felt terrible for the trouble her worrying was putting on the horses and Lucas, but Lucas assured her he didn’t mind at all; and he was sure that if the horses knew what he knew, they wouldn’t be minding their task either.

It was nearly four o’clock in the afternoon when they finally pulled into the Gibbs’ yard.  Scott hurried from the house, rubbing his lame leg, and hurried up to the wagon.  “What’s wrong?”

Lucas jumped down and turned to swing Margaret off the seat.  “Nothing’s wrong.  Margaret just wanted to have a visit with your Ma.”

“In the pouring rain?” Scott asked as if Lucas had lost his mind.  “Luke, the road must be covered in ice!”

Lucas nodded.  “I’m not going to try to get us home tonight.  We’re stuck here, I suppose.”

“But why did you take a risk so they could just talk?  Couldn’t it wait?”

“Scott…” Scott turned to look at Amanda.  “There are some things men don’t understand!”  Amanda had been watching Margaret closely and could tell she was bothered about something.  “Now you just take Luke on out to the barn and bed down his horses.”

Scott shrugged as he did as his wife asked.  Amanda closed the door.  “Now then…” But that’s as far as she got.  Margaret burst into tears.  

Jennifer hurried forward and took Margaret in her arms.  “Amanda…make some tea and bring it into the parlor.”  Jennifer kept an arm around Margaret and walked her to the parlor.  “Now, what’s wrong with my girl?”

“Oh Mother…” Margaret sniffed.  “I don’t KNOW what’s wrong with me…Not exactly…I just feel so…I’m scared I’m not right, yet I’m hoping I am…I don’t know what to think!”

“What is it, Margaret?” Jennifer asked as she handed her daughter a hankie.  “Just tell me what you’re feeling.”

Margaret stood and walked to the window.  She watched the rain fall.  “Maybe it’s the weather that’s put me in this mood but…It’s been a week and I just wish I knew for sure.”

“Knew what?”

“Mama…” Margaret turned from the window.  “I’ve been feeling like…like…maybe I’m…you know.”

“Pregnant?”  Jennifer made sure to keep any expression off her face.  She was excited at the prospect, but knew her excitement would only hurt Margaret if it were indeed untrue.  Margaret nodded.  “Why do you think that?”

“Well…I'm late and I…I mean, I don’t know what it’s like to be pregnant, but I’ve started feeling a bit…queasy in the mornings and…”

“Anything else?”
 
Margaret sighed. “A couple weeks ago when Lucas and I went looking for a Christmas tree…he said something…something that sort of got me to hoping and I…well, I started thinking and…Lucas said that maybe I was carrying a baby right now!”
 
“Why did he say that?” Jennifer asked as she tightened her arm around Margaret.
 
“We were talking about the future and when we thought our first child would come. He said that we didn’t know – maybe he was already growing inside me.” Margaret wiped tears from her cheek. “Oh, but mother…I’m feeling so…I feel like laughing one minute and crying the next.”  Margaret hurried to her mother and sat down beside her.  “Oh Mother…could I be?  Could I really?”

“I’m sure it’s possible,” Jennifer answered.  She shifted on the couch.  “Margaret…does Lucas know how you’re feeling right now?”

Margaret lowered her head.  “I couldn’t tell him.  Oh Mama, he would be so disappointed if it turns out it’s not true.”

“Well, it’s too soon to tell, Margaret.  You’ve been through a lot this last couple of months, and it could be that stress has brought this about .  And I’m sure you want to be a mother so badly that you can dream up these symptoms you’re having.”

“I’m really having them, Ma.”

“I’m sure,” Jennifer smiled.  “Our minds can tell our bodies to go through the symptoms if we want it bad enough.”

“How’s it feel…I mean…what should I feel?”

“It’s different for every woman, Margaret.  It’s different with every pregnancy.  With Scott, I wasn’t even aware I was pregnant really…until I started showing.  I had no indication whatsoever.  With you I was very sick from the very beginning.  I was always fainting with Johnny.”

“Figures,” Margaret said with a crooked smile.  Margaret sighed.  “But Mother…shouldn’t I…KNOW if I’m pregnant?  I mean...I feel so silly to come to you for…”

Amanda smiled.  “I had to come to her.  I had no idea what I was feeling!  That’s what mothers are for, Margaret…and mothers-in-law.”

Margaret felt her eyes fill with tears again.  “Mother…I’m so scared.  Is that natural?”

“It’s very natural, my girl.  Becoming a mother is very rewarding, but your life changes forever.”

“Oh Mama…I want it so bad!”  Margaret swiped tears from under her eye.  “But the more I think on it, the more I get scared that I’m not…And I’ll be so disappointed!”

“And you’ve held this all inside?”

Margaret nodded.  “It wasn’t really bad at first…I didn’t think much about it.  But the last couple of days I’ve started feeling a bit queasy and moody and I started thinking on it more and more.  Then Lucas and I had a fight today…and even he could tell…”

“I’m here for you, Margaret.  No matter what the future tells you…We are all here for you.”

Margaret hugged her mother as tears fell down her cheeks.  Amanda rubbed her back.  “Well, shall we have tea?” Amanda asked as she started filling the cups.

***

“She said it’s a woman thing,” Lucas grumbled as he and Scott worked at brushing down the horses.  “What’s that mean?”

“Well…Sometimes Amanda says that to me, but it’s usually because I’m telling her she’s in a bad mood.”  He shrugged.  “Ma told me that sometimes a woman just needs her mother.”

“I just hope your mother can help her.  I don’t’ like it when she’s upset.”

Scott slapped him on the back.  “Me neither!”  He threw a warming blanket over the horses. “Shall we go see if supper’s ready?”

They walked inside.  Margaret looked up at Lucas as she sat the green beans on the table.  Lucas’ eyes questioned her silently.  Margaret answered him with a small smile.  He reckoned that was all the answer he was going to get. As he started washing up, Lucas began coughing.  The Gibbs family had noticed his stuffy head and hoarse voice. As they sat down at the table, Jennifer reached over and felt Lucas’ forehead. Lucas grumbled and brushed her hand away. “You getting sick?”
 
“It’s just a cold,” Lucas answered.
 
“Well…as soon as supper’s over, I want you to take some medicine.”
 
“Huh?” Lucas groaned. “Oh…not that red stuff you and Ma always gave us!”
 
“The very stuff!” Jennifer declared. “And you will take it without complaining!”
 
“Oh, but Ma Gibbs…I’m not that sick!” Lucas coughed into his hand. “Honest. It’s just a small cold.”
 
Lucas glanced at Margaret who was pushing the beans back and forth on her plate.
 
“Actually…Margaret’s already yelled at me. You see…I sort of went out in the rain to feed the cattle and I didn’t have my slicker and…” Lucas had hoped that would bring some sort of life back to his wife’s face, but she didn’t even seem to hear him.
 
“Then taking that medicine serves you right!” Jennifer declared with a stern nod of her head. “And you will take it, young man!”
 
Lucas sighed. “Yes ma’am.”

The conversation turned to other things. Margaret tried to join in on the conversation during the meal, but she was still thinking on the conversation from earlier.  It was during dessert that Margaret suddenly stood and left the room.  Lucas worried that something was wrong, but Jennifer merely shook her head at him, telling him to leave it alone.  Lucas didn’t like being in the dark on the matter at hand, but he knew Margaret had a good reason for staying silent.

Margaret returned to the table.  The expression on her face had changed.  She no longer looked as if she was struggling with her thoughts.  She just looked…sad.  Lucas longed to ask her what was wrong, but again Jennifer shook her head slightly.  Jennifer seemed to know just what the problem was.  As Margaret stood to gather the dishes, Jennifer put a hand on her daughter’s arm.  “Honey, you look tired.  Why don’t you go lay down.  I’ll bring you some hot tea in a bit and we’ll…talk.”  Margaret nodded in agreement, which worried Lucas even more.

He was patient.  He talked with Scott over coffee while the women worked in the kitchen.  He played with Baby Andy.  But he couldn’t take it anymore.  He excused himself and went to the door to Margaret’s bedroom.  He knocked softly and waited for Margaret’s muffled ‘Come in.’

Lucas opened the door and saw Margaret laying on top of the bed. She hadn't changed into her nightgown yet, and was crying into her pillow.  His heart broke.  He dropped down beside the bed and smoothed her hair.  “What’s wrong?”  Lucas’ voice broke as he asked the question.  He couldn’t stand to see the woman he loved in such agony.  “Are you sick?”

“Oh Luke…Oh Luke…” Margaret turned to look up at him.  She suddenly bolted up in bed and threw her arms around him.  “Hold me…just  hold me!”  She wept into his shoulder for several minutes.  Lucas was speechless as he smoothed her hair.  “I so hoped it was true…I wanted it to be badly!”  She cried out loud.  “Oh, but it’s not true and it hurts so much.”

Lucas lifted her head from his shoulder.  “What are you talking about?  Is something really wrong with you?”

Margaret shook her head.  “I can tell you now…” She swallowed.  “I want to tell you now.  I…I thought that…That is I was hoping…” Margaret’s eyes filled with tears.  “I thought there was a chance I was…pregnant.”

“And you know you aren’t now?” Lucas questioned.

Margaret nodded.  “I know I’m not now.”

Lucas rested his hands on her cheeks.  “I’m sorry, Honey.  You could have told me, you know.”

“I didn’t want you to be disappointed.”

“So you’ve been struggling on your own?”  Lucas pulled her back against him.  “Oh my Love…I’m so sorry it wasn’t true.”

A knock sounded on the door.  Jennifer stood in the doorway with a cup of tea.  “Are you okay?”

“No,” Margaret answered honestly.  Lucas stood as Margaret held out her arms for her mother.  Jennifer hurried over and sat down.  Margaret again began crying as Jennifer held her.  Lucas slipped from the room to give mother and daughter privacy.  
 
Scott looked up from the table where he was working in a ledger. “Everything okay?”
 
Lucas poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down. “It will be, I suppose.” He took a sip of coffee. He felt so bad for Margaret. He had to do something to make her feel better! Lucas realized he heard silence. He hurried to the door and looked out into the darkness. Stars twinkled from overhead. “The storm’s over,” Lucas said.
 
Suddenly, a slow smile crossed his face. “That’s IT!” He hurried back over to the table and sat back down. “Scott…we’ve got some work to do!”
 
***
 
Margaret woke up when she felt Lucas lay down beside her. Her bed was only built for one person, but that wasn’t going to stop Lucas from laying beside her. He would make the room! He took her in his arms and kissed her. “How are you?”
 
“I’ll be okay,” Margaret mumbled. “I tried to tell my heart not to hope. I tried to keep from feeling it…”
 
Lucas kissed her. “You can’t. As long as I’ve known you, you’ve taken everything to heart. You are such a lovely, loving, kind person. I know how much you want to be a mother, and I’m sure it’ll happen in time.” Lucas kissed her. “I’m here. And I’m going to hold you all night while you sleep. We’ve a big day tomorrow, so you just close those eyes and sleep.”
 
“A big day?” Margaret asked suddenly. “Why?”
 
Lucas chuckled. “You’ll see. It’s a surprise.”
 
“Oh Luke…”
 
“Goodnight my love.”
 
Margaret allowed him to kiss her again. “Goodnight, Luke.”
 
Silence.
 
“Luke?”
 
“Mm?”
 
“Can we keep this a secret? I mean…nobody else has to know about this except you, Mother, and Amanda?”
 
“Of course.” Lucas kissed her forehead. “It’s nobody else’s business.”
 
“I love you, Luke.”
 
Silence.
 
“Luke?”
 
Snoring sounded. Margaret sighed. Then she cuddled down in Lucas’ arms and closed her eyes, but sleep didn’t come for quite awhile.
 
***
 
Margaret woke up to the smell of breakfast cooking. At first, she didn’t realize where she was. Then as she looked around, she remembered the events of the night before. Sadness entered her heart, but it didn’t feel nearly as heavy as the night before. She reached for the Bible that laid on the table beside her bed and began reading.
 
A knock sounded on the door. Lucas opened it a crack and announced breakfast was on the table. Margaret stood and got dressed then went into the dining room. “Morning,” she said as she gave everyone a sad smile. Lucas stood behind her and helped her into her chair. She lifted her head up to accept his morning kiss.
 
“Everything okay this morning?” Scott asked.
 
“Yes, thank you,” Margaret answered. But her voice didn’t sound convincing.
 
“Do you want to talk about it?”
 
“Scott, drop it!” Amanda ordered through clinched teeth.
 
“Drop what?” Scott asked innocently.
 
“Just drop it.”
 
“Alright.” Scott shook out his napkin and spread it out on his lap. Then he bowed his head and led the family in prayer. Lucas watched Margaret closely. She picked at her food and remained deep in thought.
 
“Well,” he finally said as he cleared his throat. “As soon as the dishes are done, I guess we’ll get started.”
 
“Started for where?” Margaret asked.
 
Lucas smiled. “You’ll see.”
 
Margaret allowed a smiled to play at the corners of her mouth as she looked into her husband’s eyes. “Did you…take your medicine last night?”
 
Lucas groaned in response. “And he didn’t like it a bit! Complained just as much as he ever did!” Jennifer declared with a disapproving shake of her head.
 
Amanda giggled. “I thought she was going to squeeze his mouth open like my Mama used to do!”
 
“Hey!” Lucas grumbled. “I wasn’t that bad.”
 
“Speaking of which,” Jennifer said as she stood from the table and went into the kitchen. She returned with the bottle and a spoon. “I think we should give you one more dose…just to make sure!”
 
“My throat doesn’t hurt a bit this morning!” Lucas declared.
 
“No?” Margaret poked his cheek. “Stick out your tongue. Let me see your throat.”
 
“Stop!” Lucas grumbled.
 
“Come on now, Luke. Don’t be a baby.” Margaret paused in her teasing and quickly turned back to take another bite of food. Lucas opened his mouth and took the medicine without anymore complaining.
 
Margaret started to help her mother with the dishes, but Jennifer shook her head. Margaret shook her head back. “Mother, I’m fine. Please…let me help.” Jennifer nodded.
 
Lucas and Scott left to go hitch up the wagon. “You sure the lake’s frozen?” Lucas asked.
 
“I’m sure. I was down there the other day looking for some strays and it looked pretty frozen to me. I’ll ride on over and have Peter go with me. You sure they’ll be able to join us?”
 
“Just tell them it’s to ring in the New Year,” Lucas answered. “I want Margaret happy when the New Year comes in.”
 
Jennifer paused in her task and looked straight at Lucas. “Now you be sure to dress warmly, Luke.”
 
“Mother Gibbs, I AM an adult, you know.”
 
“You’ll always be like a son to me, Luke. You always have been. And now that your own mother isn’t here to give you those orders, I’ll give them for her. I don’t want you getting sick.” She turned and glanced toward the kitchen. “Especially now…Margaret’s been worried enough.”
 
“Yes Ma Gibbs.” Lucas bent over and kissed her on the cheek. “And thanks for worrying about me.” Jennifer smiled and started to turn to go into the kitchen. “Ma…”
 
Jennifer turned back to face Luke. “Is it normal for a woman who’s only been married for three months to get herself in such a state?”
 
Jennifer smiled as she sat down at the table and motioned Lucas to sit down with her. “Luke…Margaret has wanted to be a mother ever since she was five years old. Do you remember that rag doll she used to carry around with her?” Lucas nodded. “Well…you should…you used to tease her about it! It was hard for her giving up that old rag doll. Then her brother…” Jennifer shook her head. “Well, I guess he hid it because he wanted her to give it up. Her heart was so broken after that. Do you remember how she would always take in runts…be it pigs or cats or baby birds?” Lucas nodded. “She would lovingly care for each one as if it were a child.”
 
“I remember.” Lucas smiled at the memory. “When one died, she would insist on having a funeral for it. A proper burial, she said…All of God’s creatures deserved such a thing.” Lucas smiled. “And I remember how heart-broken and proud she would be when she had to let one of her babies go after he grew up. I remember when she refused to give Uncle Sam one of her pigs because she knew he would kill it.”
 
“Even after she grew older…she still had a soft heart.” Lucas nodded. He was glad, though, that she had stopped insisting on having a funeral for each baby bird that died. “Luke…” She rested a hand on top of Lucas’. “It’s no different now. She wants to be a mother more than anything else. Oh, she loves you alright but…she needs to love. Her Pa always said she got triple the portion of love that everybody else got. So try to be sensitive with her. Try to understand…and watch what you say to her.”
 
“I don’t…”
 
“You don’t mean to, Luke. Margaret told me that you two were talking about having a child the other day and you said something about ‘maybe he’s growing inside you right now.’ I know you meant nothing by it…but a woman like Margaret…It can plant a seed.”
 
Lucas leaned forward and kissed her cheek. “I knew there was some reason I always thought of you as a second Ma.”
 
***
 
Margaret listened from the doorway. Tears streamed down her cheeks, but she knew every man needed a mother to talk to…someone to explain things the way they were. She loved her mother for what she had said. She treasured the conversation in her heart as she hurried back into the kitchen, unnoticed.
 
***
 
Margaret wondered as Lucas led her out to the waiting wagon later. She noticed Amanda and her mother carrying out all sorts of goodies, but anytime she asked, she was told she’d find out in time. Soon, the whole family was on their way. Margaret watched anxiously as Lucas drove the team toward the lake. He pulled up in front of the old cabin and jumped down. Margaret stared at him as she realized what the surprise was. “I thought you said you didn’t want to do this.”
 
“I was being selfish,” Lucas answered as he held out his hand to her. “I want to dance with my bride like we did when we were kids.”
 
Margaret smiled. Her smile still held sadness, but he also saw happiness slowly making its way back into her heart. “Oh Luke…”
 
“Don’t say anything.” Lucas lifted her from the wagon. “Just put on your ice skates.”
 
“How about you?” Margaret asked. “Will you skate with me?”
 
Lucas kissed her. “I’ll skate with you later.” He smiled when he heard the sound of laughter coming from up the road. “Sounds like the rest of the McCain family is coming to join us.
 
Margaret stood beside the wagon holding Lucas’ hand as they watched the men, women, and children all hurry to get in a day of ice-skating. The day was cool, but as soon as everyone started skating and dancing, they warmed up. Peter built up a roaring fire in the fireplace, and the women soon had a big pot of beef stew cooking. Abe wasn’t able to skate, but he enjoyed watching the children – some for the first time getting out on the ice.
 
Laura did her best to teach her nieces and nephews how to skate. Margaret clapped her hands and smiled as the smallest children tried to skate without falling. Their mothers and fathers – all except for Abe, Em, and Amanda – were on the ice skating with them. Sounds of laughter could be heard throughout the valley.
 
At noon, everyone was called inside the small cabin to eat stew. The parents told their children about the fun they had had in that small cabin as children. They remembered the nights they spent as they slept on the floor in front of the roaring fire. “We’s gonna do that, Papa?” Adam asked Abe.
 
Abe laughed as he ruffled his son’s hair. “I’m afraid not, son. Our family’s too big to do that now!”
 
Lucas smiled as he looked toward Margaret. Margaret watched Julie hold her sleeping daughter in her arms. Lucas put an arm around Margaret and gave her a squeeze. Margaret smiled.
 
That afternoon, Jason and Emily arrived with their baby. More ice skating occurred. Lucas and Emily held hands as they skated around the lake. Lucas grumbled a bit, declaring that ice skating wasn’t something a grown man should be doing, but Emily just playfully punched him and told him he could humor the women for one day. Soon, Margaret joined Lucas on the other side. Lucas was pretty unsteady, but managed to stay upright.
 
The afternoon grew later and later. In time, the sun started to sink. The men got out their homemade instruments. “It’s time for the dance,” Abe announced as he sat in a chair watching everyone. “Get on out there all you love birds!”
 
Julie stood behind her husband with her hands on his shoulders. Lucas turned toward Margaret. Taking her hand in his, he looked deeply into her eyes. “May I have this dance, my love?”
 
“You promise you won’t fall?”
 
“No,” Lucas answered with a smile. Margaret giggled. Lucas ran a finger along her cheek. “It’s good to hear you laugh again.”
 
“I love you, Luke.”
 
Lucas couldn’t trust his voice to answer. He was glad to hear her laughing again. “Then dance with me,” he finally managed as he took her out onto the ice. They stared into each other’s eyes as they danced around the lake. Margaret fingers intertwined with his. No words were spoken allowed, but there was plenty of conversation between the newly married couple as they continued to dance on the ice.
 
Suddenly, a look came over Lucas’ face. His legs began to spread apart, and his arms began to frail as he let go of Margaret. “Whoa…” Lucas started to yell. Then he landed on the ice on his back side. “OUCH!” he shouted.
 
Margaret, as graceful as ever, danced around him in a circle then stopped in front of him. She laughed as she bent over and took his hands. “Don’t worry. I’ll always be here to help you up.” She helped Lucas back to his feet. They began dancing again. Margaret’s eyes glistened with tears.
 
“I was hoping you were better.”
 
“I am.” Margaret quickly swiped away the tear that had fallen down her cheek. “Luke…Thank you for helping me up today.”
 
Lucas took her in his arms. They continued to dance cheek-to-cheek until the music stopped.
 
***
 
Margaret yawned as she rested her head on Lucas’ shoulder. “What time is it?”
 
Lucas pulled his watch from his pocket and snapped it open. “11:50,” Lucas answered. He looked down at her. “You going to make it?”
 
“I haven’t missed a year yet,” Margaret mumbled. “Do you remember doing this when we were kids?”
 
“Do you remember when we were seven and we snuck out of the house? Ma told me I was too little to stay up until midnight. I snuck over and met you at the ranch and we sat out in the yard and waited.”
 
“That was the first year!” Margaret declared. “We dared to disobey our folks and watch the New Year come in so we could see what it looked like.”
 
“Didn’t know your folks did the same thing.”
 
“How could we?” Margaret shrugged her shoulder. “We never stayed up that late.”
 
“We made it though,” Lucas declared. “We were awake at midnight.”
 
“With sore bottoms, if I remember right,” Margaret giggled. “I reckon you got a double dose?”
 
“Oh no.” Lucas put an arm around her. “Pa caught me when I got home alright. He took the strap off the barn wall, but after I rubbed my backside and told him your Pa had already given me a thrashing, he chuckled and told me to get to bed.”
 
“Then next year your Pa said it was too much trouble to make you sleep, so you could stay up.”
 
“Well…it was only fair!” Lucas declared. “After all, Peter got to stay up when he was eight.”
 
Margaret shivered as she looked up at the sky. “Luke?”
 
“Mm hm?”
 
“What do you think 1867 will bring us?”
 
“I suspect some happiness…some sadness…some good times and some bad times. Mixed all together, it’ll be a fine year – especially with you here by my side.”
 
“You think it’ll bring us a baby?”
 
“I don’t know.” Lucas lifted her chin up. “But rather it does or it doesn’t…we have each other. God’s time, my dear wife. God’s time is perfect.”
 
“I…have a small confession to make, Luke.” Margaret rested her head against his shoulder. “I was coming out of the kitchen this morning and heard the conversation between you and Ma.”
 
“All of it?” Lucas asked as he looked down at her.
 
“Most of it,” Margaret answered with a shrug.
 
“Oh.”
 
“I suppose Mama’s right about me taking things to heart. I guess I am just an ol’ softy.”
 
“Hm…” Lucas lifted her chin and peered into her eyes. “You just stay an ol’ softy. That’s one reason I fell in love with you.”
 
“Really?”
 
Lucas nodded as he bent down and kissed her. Their lips lingered as they shared a long kiss. After their lips parted, Lucas lifted his watch. “It’s thirty seconds past midnight.”
 
Margaret smiled. “Happy New Year, Luke.”
 
“Happy New Year, Margaret.” Lucas stood and lifted Margaret into his arms. Then he walked inside and took her to bed. She was asleep before her head even hit the pillow, but she looked so peaceful.
 
Lucas knew her storm was over. It would forever stay in the old year. She entered the New Year with peace. “Thank you, Lord,” Lucas whispered as he watched her sleep. “Thank you for making her soft hearted.”

The Margaret Years — Wanted Dead, Not Alive!

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!

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