The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Margaret Years
 
Chapter 20 - A Special Delivery
Written by Michelle Palmer

Margaret jumped when Lucas came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her that morning. He began trailing kisses down her neck. “Sorry I startled you. You must be deep in thought,” he mumbled against her neck.
 
Margaret leaned her head back, welcoming his trail of kisses. “I’m just wondering what the new Marshal’s like. I’ve heard there are some mean one’s…some with strange ideas and…”
 
Lucas chuckled as he rested his chin on her shoulder. “This man’s come highly recommended. There’s nothing for you to fret about.” Lucas straightened up.
 
“Are you leaving for town soon?” Margaret asked, returning to her task in the sink. Lucas nodded. “I have the list ready.”
 
Lucas walked over to the table and picked up the list she had carefully prepared. He groaned as he read through it.
 
“Something wrong?”
 
“I’d say so!” Lucas walked up to her and held out the list. “Some of this stuff…Margaret…there’s no way I’m buying that ribbon and…and…flowery material!” Margaret turned and smiled at him. “Well you little…” He put his fist on his hip. “If you wanted to come along with me, why didn’t you just say so?”
 
“I want to come along with you.”
 
Lucas lifted an eyebrow and looked her up and down. “Explains the dress you’re wearing. You don’t normally dress up so…” Lucas stopped and rubbed a finger under his nose. “Uh…I mean…We’ll leave for town if you ever get those dishes done.”
 
Margaret turned and narrowed her eyes at him. “The dish towel’s on the hook, my Love.”
 
“I’ve got more important things to do then…”
 
“More…important?” Margaret asked in her warning voice.
 
“I meant better…” Margaret turned and folded her arms.
 
“Uh…more interesting?” Lucas didn’t take his eyes off of her as he gave her a half-smile and stretched his arm out to grab the dishtowel. Margaret held out the plate to him and gave him a short nod.
 
He began drying the dish. “You know…I don’t ever ask you to go out and ride fence with me…or to help me clean the manure out of the barn.”
 
Margaret paused in her washing and smiled at him. “I’d do it if you asked.” Her smile widened. “Without complaining.”
 
Lucas chuckled. “Yes ma’am…I guess you would.”
 
Lucas was happy when his chore was over. He told Margaret to bundle up because the temperature was near freezing, then he helped her onto the wagon seat and they started for town.
 
The moment they rode into town, Lucas and Margaret knew there was trouble brewing. Lucas pulled his wagon up to the General Store and stopped it. He turned to look at all the men yelling and shaking their fists at the tall man dressed in a suit and string tie standing in the doorway of the Marshal’s Office. He puffed a cigar, his mustache twitching, as he stood listening to the people with a look on his face that said he wouldn’t budge. “Stay here, Margaret,” Lucas said as he grabbed his rifle, jumped from the wagon and hurried over to the group. He held onto his rifle, ready to use it if things got out of hand.
 
Lucas found Jason standing in the crowd and hurried up to him. “What’s this all about?”
 
“There was a shooting in the saloon last night. The man was drunk and cussing, but witnesses say he wasn’t dangerous. The Marshal here…he claims the shooting was justified.”
 
Lucas looked up to see someone throw something at the marshal. He saw the Marshal reach for his gun. Lucas knew the crowd was quickly getting out of control. He fired a shot in the air. King’s hand froze on his holstered gun. “Alright…” Lucas walked through the crowd. The men parted, allowing Lucas to go to the front and stand on the steps next to Marshal King. “Now, everybody just be quiet!” Lucas looked around at the crowd of men. Women and children were present as well. “Men, why don’t you send your woman folk and children away? They don’t need to be here.”
 
“Mister, I’m in charge here,” Marshal King declared. “I can handle this crowd.
 
Lucas ignored him as he looked around at the crowd. “What’s going on here?” The men all started talking at once, pointing their fingers at Tom and throwing out accusations. Lucas again held up his hand to silence the men. “One at a time!”
 
“I’ll tell you what happened, Luke.” Ike, the bartender, stepped forward. “Jeffrey Peters was in the saloon having a few drinks. Sure he was drunk, and sure he was cussing. His mother had just died, and he was drowning his sorrows in Spirits – there ain’t nothing wrong with that!”
 
“Well, go on.”
 
“Somebody…” Ike turned and looked accusingly around the crowd, trying to locate the ‘somebody.’ “Somebody went and got the marshal. The marshal here came barreling into the saloon with his gun drawn and ordered Jeffrey to get out of town. Jeffrey got angry…said he wasn’t hurting anybody. We all agreed…agreed that Jeffrey was just blowing off steam. He was drunk and…well…dag gummit if he didn’t put his hand on his gun. King here…he shot him in cold blood!”
 
“He was drawing on me!” Marshal King declared.
 
“Now Marshal, Williams was here for many years and dealt with Jeffrey when he was a lot meaner and a lot more drunk then that! Jeffrey never gave him no trouble. You can’t just go in and start…”
 
“Are you telling me how to do my job?” Marshal King questioned in a sharp voice.
 
“I’m just telling you…” Mumbling started in the crowd. Lucas held up his hand again to silence them.
 
“Was he going for his gun?” Lucas asked Ike.
 
“Maybe he was, and maybe he wasn’t…I don’t know.” Ike pointed at Marshal King. “But that was NO reason to kill him! Williams wouldn’t have…”
 
“Williams is dead! I’m the law now!”
 
Lucas calmed the crowd again. “Alright, you men said your piece. Now, move out.”
 
“Now, see here…” a man started in the crowd. Lucas twirled his rifle and pointed it at the crowd. “You heard Ike. He may have been going for his gun. I’m sure the marshal here did what he thought was best.”
 
“Sure Luke…Sure…” Lucas watched the crowd break up. Jason waved to him and started back down the street.
 
“Luke McCain,” Lucas introduced himself as he held his hand out to the new Marshal.
 
“McCain…” King gave him a hard stare. “I should have known. You McCain’s think you can push your weight around, huh? You think you own this town, huh? Well…just stay out of my way!”
 
King turned and went back inside, giving the door a hard slam. Lucas lowered his rifle as he tried to figure out just what he had done to make the marshal so mad. He finally turned and walked down the steps. Margaret climbed down from the wagon. “Luke?”
 
“I don’t know, Margaret,” Lucas answered as he took her arm. “I just don’t know.”
 
They stepped into the store. Margaret hurried to the back to look at some material while Lucas handed the store clerk the list of supplies they needed. “Luke…” Joshua Peters stepped up to the counter and leaned on it. “That’s my brother he killed.”
 
“I know.”
 
“That marshal ain’t no good, Luke. He killed my brother in cold blood.”
 
“And you know this for sure?” Lucas asked. “Were you there?”
 
“No, but my brother would never draw on a man. Luke, he got angry, but you know he would never…”
 
Lucas tapped the counter with his fists. “I know…”
 
“Then why, in the name of common sense, did you stick up for the Marshal?”
 
Lucas rested his elbow on the counter as he turned to look straight at Joshua. “Because…I was trying to stop a riot that could have gotten more killed. You heard Ike…he can’t say for sure rather your brother was drawing or not.”
 
“I told you he wouldn’t do that!” Joshua shouted.
 
“And I told you that wasn’t enough!” Lucas shouted back.
 
Joshua punched the counter. “He shot him to get the reward!”
 
Lucas’ head shot up. “Reward? What reward?”
 
“Ohhhh…” Joshua went to stand in the doorway. “Jeffrey was a good kid, Luke. He never really meant to do any harm, but…once he got mixed up with some bank robbers. I believe their names were James…Frank and Jessie?” Lucas nodded. “Well, he was in on one of the robberies. After a couple of the robbers got killed, he split. But he was identified, and a five-hundred dollar award was taken out on him. Nobody knew it here in Oklahoma.”
 
“How would King know who your brother was?”
 
“King had a big pile of wanted posters when he stepped off the stage. I think he has every one of them memorized.” Joshua nodded. “He knew.” Lucas watched Joshua walk out the door and down the street. He turned and looked at Margaret, hoping she hadn’t overheard the conversation. Margaret folded the material she was looking at over her arms and stepped forward. “Luke?”
 
“How long will you be?” Lucas asked as he stood and looked at the Marshal’s Office.
 
“I want to get a few things for my Christmas projects, Luke. Shouldn’t you be getting to the blacksmith’s?”
 
Lucas didn’t even seem to hear her. “Alright. You stay here. I’ll be back.” Margaret watched him step out the door and walk toward the Marshall’s office.
 
“Luke!” Margaret hurried out and called after him. Luke didn’t stop. “Oh Luke…” Margaret whispered.
 
Margaret went back inside and set the material she was holding on the counter. “I want three yards of this please.” She walked to the door and looked towards the Marshal’s office. Margaret worried that Lucas would lose his temper. Lucas had always hated seeing injustice. All his life, trying to take matters in his own hands had gotten him into trouble. She wondered if he would ever change.
 
“Will there be anything else, Mrs. McCain?” Margaret turned her attention back to the clerk. “I’ve got everything on the list here. Will there be anything else?”
 
Margaret turned around and looked toward the door. “Yes. I need some ribbon…red and green…and uh…maybe I should get some more of that ointment. I’ve a feeling I’ll need it.”
 
***
 
Lucas pushed the door open to the marshal’s office. Tom King raised his head from the newspaper he was reading. He leaned back in his chair and chewed on the cigar in his mouth. “McCain.” He gave Lucas a slight nod. “You have a complaint?”
 
Lucas sat down on the desk and laid his rifle across his lap. “Maybe.”
 
King took the cigar out of his mouth and leaned onto the desk. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
 
Lucas lowered his eyes to the desk. His lips parted, but no sound came out. His eyes widened at the wanted poster. He picked the poster up and stared at it. “So…you knew he was a wanted man.”
 
“I do now.”
 
“His brother claims you knew before.”
 
“Well…” King rolled his cigar through his fingers. “I don’t know his brother, but I’m telling you I had no idea he was a wanted man.”
 
“You sending for the reward?” Lucas narrowed his eyes as he looked straight at King.
 
King slowly stood up. He stuck his cigar in his mouth and pressed his hands flat on the desk. “Get out.”
 
“You didn’t answer my question,” Lucas snarled as he remained sitting.
 
“McCain…” Tom King leaned toward him. “Like I said before…you and your brothers don’t own this town.”
 
Lucas jumped to his feet and grabbed King by the collar. He twisted his shirt, brining King’s face inches from his. “No…but my family’s been in this town since it started. They helped build this town up and I won’t stand by and let some dim-witted, cocky marshal tear it to pieces!” Lucas shoved him back hard. “You’ll have to kill me before I let that happen.”
 
“Get in my way…and I just may have to oblige you…Mr. McCain.”
 
Lucas glared at King for another moment. Then, without saying another word, Lucas turned and hurried from the office. Margaret was already sitting on the wagon seat. Lucas hurried in and paid for the purchases, then loaded the rest in the wagon. Margaret remained quiet until they were on their way home. “Luke…”
 
“Nevermind, Margaret,” Lucas answered as he continued to clinch his jaw.
 
“I have to say it, Luke.” Margaret laid a gentle hand on his thigh. “He’s not Marshal Williams, so don’t expect him to act like him.”
 
“Our parents founded this town, Margaret.”
 
“I know, Luke.”
 
Lucas turned to look at her. “Do you want to see some stranger come in here and push it around?”
 
“Don’t you think you’re being a bit unfair?” Margaret asked. “Maybe Mr. Peters did provoke…”
 
“This is none of your concern, Margaret. Let’s not talk about it.”
 
Margaret opened her mouth to say more, but quickly closed it. She didn’t want to get into an argument with Lucas. He needed her support. Most people received the benefit of the doubt with Margaret, and now was no different. She DID agree that the Marshal went a bit overboard with Jeffrey Peters, but she wanted to give him a chance to prove he would help their town. For now, though, she would stay quiet.
 
***
 
Margaret reached out for Lucas, but found he wasn’t there. Slowly, consciousness came to her and she slowly lifted from her pillow. “Luke?” Margaret called into the darkness. The bedroom door was closed. She noticed a heavier quilt had been spread over the bed. Thin whips of light came from under the door. She yawned and stretched as she reached for her robe. Then when she pulled the covers off, she realized how chilly it really was.
 
The day before had been warmer. They had some melting of snow, but she was afraid today wouldn’t be the same. Margaret put on her house socks, then went in search of her husband.
 
She didn’t have to go far. He was sitting by the fire, staring into the flames as they danced around gaily, casting a bright glow on Lucas’ face. Margaret stood in the doorway and studied his face, unnoticed. He looked worried about something. His jaw clinched as he undoubtedly remembered the day before. Margaret pushed herself off the doorframe and walked over to him. Lucas lifted his head, his frown deepening. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you.”
 
Margaret slid onto his lap and wrapped her arms around his neck. They shared a brief kiss. “I reached out for you and you weren’t there,” Margaret mumbled as she hugged him.
 
“Couldn’t sleep.”
 
Margaret lifted her head to look into his eyes. “It’s cold.” Lucas nodded. “It’s hard not to think about it, isn’t it?”
 
“What?”
 
Margaret smiled as she softly stroked his cheek. “You’re thinking about Matt and how he died. You’re thinking that you don’t care for the new Marshal.”
 
“I’m just worried.”
 
“I know.” Margaret smiled as she nodded her head. “You’re thinking that he really did kill Mr. Peters for the money.” Lucas stared into the fire. Margaret stroked his cheek, causing him to look up into her face. “I’m going to miss you.”
 
Lucas smiled as they again shared a kiss. This kiss was longer and held more love than the previous one. Margaret sighed as she pressed her forehead against his. “Perhaps you should postpone the hunting trip, Luke. It’s so cold.” Lucas chuckled as he hugged her to him. “What’s so funny?”
 
“I’ve been listening to my brothers complaining about their wives worrying and fretting. I told them you weren’t like that. You were tough and knew your own mind. Yet, here you are worrying I’ll catch a cold.”
 
Margaret smiled. “Well…I guess my love for you as my husband out-weighs my commonsense.” She kissed him again. “I’ll pack an extra pair of socks for you.”
 
Lucas chuckled as she slid from his lap and went to do as she had said. Lucas took his rifle from the holder and sat down at the table to give it one more cleaning before he left for the hunting trip. When Margaret returned, she hurried to the kitchen and lit a fire. “I’ll have coffee for you in a few minutes. Would you like some pancakes?”
 
“No time,” Lucas answered. “I’m meeting my brothers at Peter’s house. Peter said his wife would have breakfast ready.” Lucas looked up to see Margaret looking at him with her hands on her hips. “What?”
 
“I can’t send you over there hungry! What would they think of me?”
 
Lucas chuckled as he went back to cleaning his rifle. “That you have more sense than to get up in the middle of the night and feed me.”
 
“Alright.” Margaret sighed as she shook her head. “I’m putting some pumpkin bread in your saddlebags for you. You make sure you don’t burn those beans I put in your bag either, Luke. Remember to keep a close eye on them and…”
 
“Margaret…”
 
Margaret chuckled. A comfortable silence settled around them as she waited for his coffee to get ready. When it was ready, she poured two cups of coffee and went to the table. They talked quietly as they drank a cup of coffee together. Then Lucas stood and slung his saddlebags over his shoulders. Margaret smiled. “I thought I’d go stay at Mother’s while you’re gone, if you don’t mind. It’s been so long since we had a nice visit. Mother’s upset about Beth and Johnny and…well, and I don’t want to be alone.”
 
Lucas kissed her forehead. “That’s fine. I’ll hitch the team before I leave.”
 
“Oh no…I can ask Hal to later.” Margaret smiled. “I’ve some chores to do around here before I go.”
 
“Alright.” Lucas kissed her softly. “You know, honey, one of these days we’re going to have to get you another saddle horse.”
 
Margaret turned from him. That was something she didn’t wish to discuss at the moment. Lucas knew her feelings on the matter. “Is Abe going with you?”
 
Lucas nodded. “Peter’s taking the wagon for Abe. We tried to talk him out of it, but he insists he wants to go. Maybe it’ll do him some good. He gets pretty depressed sitting in the house like he does. Peter says he’s getting stronger, but he still depends on his family more than he wants.”
 
“And Julie?”
 
“She said the baby’s not due for a few weeks yet. The baby’s been pretty quiet the last few days. I don’t think there’s anything to worry about.”
 
“Mmm…” Margaret nodded. “And you’re an expert on the matter.”
 
Lucas laughed as he took her in his arms. “Don’t you get sassy with me, Miss…” He kissed her. As his kiss deepened, Margaret drew her arms around him and pressed her body against him. Their kiss was long and held volumes of unspoken messages. Finally, Margaret broke the kiss and laid a hand on her husband’s cheek. “I’ll see you Sunday.”
 
“I love you,” Lucas whispered softly.
 
Margaret nodded. She felt her eyes fill with tears as she turned from him. How silly that she would cry over him being gone only two days when he’d been gone for years before. She reached for his bedroll and handed it to him. Lucas touched her chin and lifted her face. “You crying?”
 
“Well I…” Margaret held her head high. “You should get going. I want you well fed before you go on your hunting trip.”
 
Lucas smiled. “It’s good to know I’m so loved…You can shed tears over my parting anytime. After all, what is it Shakespeare says?” Margaret narrowed her eyes at him. Lucas held up his hands. “Alright, I know when I’m not wanted.”
 
“You are, you know…” Lucas turned to look at her. “Loved.” Margaret smiled. Lucas reached out a hand and wiped the tears from under her eyes. “I love you very much, Luke.” Lucas kissed her once more, then he hurried out the door.
 
***
 
Margaret didn’t have to go for Hal. Hal came over mid-morning to check on things. He had promised Lucas to watch after the place, and check in on Margaret, during his absence. Margaret sat him down at the table and gave him pumpkin bread and coffee. “I told Luke I’m going to stay with Mother this weekend, so you won’t have to worry about me.”
 
Hal smiled. “Let me know when you’re ready and I’ll take you over.”
 
“I was going to ask you to hitch up the team. I can drive…”
 
Hal held up his hand. “I’m taking Ann in to do some shopping. It will be no trouble for me to ride you by your folks.”
 
So it was decided. Margaret assured him she’d be packed and ready to go in thirty minutes. She and Ann talked as they rode over to the Gibbs’ Ranch. Hal pulled into the yard and helped her down. The door swung open, and her mother bounded out. She was soon in her mother’s arms, and hardly had time to wave her thanks to Hal.
 
She was so happy to be home again! Her mother immediately put her to work baking pies. Margaret laughed that maybe that’s all she was good for, but her mother assured her later they would sit in the parlor and work on their latest quilting project together.
 
Beth was out visiting friends. Margaret could tell her mother was worried. She waited for awhile and thought on the best way to broach the subject of her younger, carefree sister.  Margaret watched her mother work off her frustration in the dough. Finally, she spoke. “Mother…” Jennifer looked up at her daughter. “About Beth…”
 
That was as far as Margaret got. “I think she’s living in a dream,” Jennifer answered quickly, seeming relieved that Margaret had finally opened the matter for discussion. “Your sister has always been airy and imaginative. She gets her ideas from books she reads…she thinks the West is full of adventure and excitement. Scott talked to her until he was blue, but she’s a stubborn one and won’t listen to reason.”
 
“Well…” Margaret crisscrossed the dough on top of her pie. “Maybe experiencing the truth is the only way that will help her mature.”
 
“I just hate the thought of my baby being out there in the West all by herself.”
 
“Mother…who is this ‘friend’ out there?”
 
“Oh, he’s some boy she met at school. His parents owned a farm nearby and he’s going to start a ranch in California. She’s supposed to meet him out there.”
 
“And marry?”
 
“No. She said they are just good friends.” Jennifer looked up at Margaret. “I asked your father to talk to her, but he won’t. He claims she’s an adult, just like Andy was when he encouraged him to go fight in the war. ‘And we all see where that got him,’ your father said.”
 
“I wish he’d forgive himself for that.” Margaret shook her head as she looked at her mother. “He was just doing what any parent would do.”
 
“I know.” Jennifer placed the dough in the bread pan and pushed it back on the counter to let it rise. Then she turned and looked at her oldest daughter. “Margaret…do you think I should forbid her from going?”
 
Margaret didn’t answer as she lifted the pies and put them in the oven. She turned and leaned against the counter. “Ma…you are right. Beth is airy and dreamy. She thinks there’s a whole world of adventure waiting for her. She’s wild and carefree, and we’ve always known that.” Margaret sighed. “I would like to see Scott give her a good thrashing but…that won’t help matters. If you forbid her from going, she’ll leave in anger and that will only make coming home harder.”
 
“How can I let her go?”
 
“You give her your love, Mother. You make sure she understands that she has a home to come back to…whenever she’s ready.” Margaret rested a hand on her mother’s shoulder. “…No matter what.”
 
“That’s the hard part…the ‘no matter what.’ Margaret, I’m just afraid that…this boy…I mean, it’s not right for her to…”
 
Margaret nodded. “I know. And I don’t agree with what Beth’s doing. But Pa DOES have a point…she’s an adult now. Sometimes you have to let go and pick up the pieces when reality hits.” Margaret kissed her mother on the cheek. “You never know…the West and this ‘boy’ may be the thing she needs to bring her to reality. Maybe she’ll love the West.”
 
“And I’ll never see her again.” Jennifer’s eyes filled with tears. “That’s something I can’t stand to even think about!”
 
Margaret took her mother in her arms and held her while she cried.
***
The day flew by as Margaret visited with various family members. She caught up on the happenings with Amanda and Scott, spent time enjoying her nine month old nephew, and laughed at the telling Johnny spoke of. After the supper dishes were cleaned and the towel was hung on the hook, Margaret sat down in the parlor to speak with Beth who had her nose in some romantic novel.
 
She was just about to delve into “the talk” with Beth when a hard knock sounded on the front door. Margaret and Beth looked at each other then jumped up and hurried to see what the commotion was. “Scott…” Tiffany was clinging to him. “Scott, where’s Marg…” Tiffany’s voice was shaking with fear. Her eyes held a deep worry. She shoved Scott aside and hurried up to Margaret.
 
“Margaret, the baby’s coming! Julie’s in a lot of pain! I…I’m afraid!” Margaret went for her coat. “Something’s wrong. It’s like nothing I’ve seen before…even when I had Ruthie.”
 
“Okay.” Margaret slipped her hands through her gloves as her heart started to race. But she had to stay calm. Tiffany needed her to stay calm.
 
“Julie’s just screaming in pain. We didn’t know what to do! Oh, I’m so afraid…” Tiffany continued on.
 
“Alright…ALRIGHT!” Margaret grabbed Tiffany by the shoulders to calm her. “She needs you to stay calm.”
 
Margaret reached for her riding hat that hung on the hook. “Scott, you go for Jason. I’ll ride double with Tiffany back to the farm. HURRY!”
 
“Julie’s staying at my house,” Tiffany told Scott. “Abe didn’t want her alone with the children while he was gone. You get Jason to our house, you hear?” Tiffany’s voice still held panic.
 
“Let’s go!” Margaret ordered as she hurried out the door. Scott was close behind. The others were left to wait and pray.
 
Tiffany hurried her horse back to the farm with Margaret as fast as she could. Margaret could tell she was upset, but there was no time for talking. As soon as they rode into the yard, Margaret jumped off the horse. “You take that horse into the barn and cool him down. Peter wouldn’t want the horse to come up sick!” She used that as an excuse to keep Tiffany busy for a few minutes. Panic wasn’t something they needed right now.
 
Margaret hurried to the house. Em was there, trying to corral the children. Margaret could hear Julie’s muffled cries of pain coming from the bedroom, trying to keep them silent so as not to startle the children. Margaret hurried in and saw Julie’s hands clinching the railing on Tiffany’s bed. She thrashed on the bed from side to side. Her face and hair were wet with sweat. “Julie, what’s wrong?” Margaret asked in a loud, but calm voice as she threw her coat on a chair and sat on the bed.
 
“The pain…” Julie cried. “It’s bad…really bad!” Julie swallowed hard as more whimpers escaped her lips. “Something’s wrong with the baby!”
 
Margaret hurried over to the basin to wash her hands. “When did the pain start?”
 
“I don’t know…I don’t…OH!” Julie cried out again. She licked her lips. “I’m thirsty…”
 
Margaret poured a glass of water from the pitcher and helped her drink. “I’m trying to keep the kids from hearing but…OHHHHH!” Julie cried loudly.
 
“Don’t worry about the children,” Margaret said. “I’ll send them away as soon as I can. If you need to scream, you scream.”
 
Margaret hurried from the room. “How long’s she been like this?” She asked Tiffany, who had just come inside from tending to the horse.
 
“Thirty minutes…an hour…I had to send Charlie for Em so I could go get you.”
 
“Where’s Laura?”
 
“At a friend’s house. She’s spending the night.”
 
“Okay.” Margaret hurried to the kitchen. “I want you to warm up some water, Em. Tiffany, I think it’s best you take all these children to Julie’s house. I’m afraid…there could be trouble.” Margaret knew Tiffany was the one to send with the children. Even though Em was carrying a child herself, she was much calmer and in control of her emotions than Tiffany was. She thought it would be best to send Tiffany with the children. They were sure to keep her occupied for awhile as she put them to bed. Em would offer the better help.
 
Both women froze and stared at Margaret. “Trouble? What kind of trouble?” Tiffany and Em grasped hands. “Margaret, what’s wrong?” Tiffany pleaded for an answer.
 
Margaret turned from the door. “I don’t know, but Julie’s had enough babies to know when something’s wrong.” Margaret hurried back inside. Julie was thrashing on the bed. “I’m going to check the baby.” Margaret hurried to the end of the bed and threw the covers back. Moments later, her fears were confirmed. “Alright Julie…you just try to breathe calmly. I’m sure the doctor will be here soon.”
 
“There’s something wrong…I know there is,” Julie cried. Margaret watched Julie who was struggling hard with the pain. Her knuckles were white from grasping the bars on the headboard. “God…save my baby…” Julie prayed through her pain.
 
Margaret again hurried from the room. “The baby’s breached,” she announced quietly after the door closed behind Tiffany. She was very afraid for what the outcome could be, but she forced herself to stay calm as she faced Em.
 
“What’s that mean?” Em questioned in an unsteady voice, clinching her hands.
 
“It means the baby’s going to come out feet first. I’ve heard of breached births. My mother had one herself, she told me. From what I’ve heard, it’s going to be painful for Julie and…could be critical for the baby. We’ll have to work fast.” Julie screamed again. “I’ve got to get back in there now. You just stay out here.”
 
“What can I do?” Em asked.
 
“When Scott gets here with Jason, ask him to go for the men. She’ll need Abe.”
 
Margaret hurried back into the room. “Abe…” Julie screamed, as if she had heard Margaret mention his name. “I need my husband! Where’s Abe?”
 
“I know you need him…we’ll try to get him back here,”  Margaret assured her as she squeezed Julie’s hand.
 
“The children…”
 
“Tiffany took them home. They’ll be fine. ” Margaret smiled at her, trying to reassure her so she wouldn’t worry about her children. “She’ll tuck them in and make sure they get a good night’s sleep. I’ve a feeling they’ll have a new brother or sister to play with tomorrow.”
 
“Laura?” Julie swallowed.
 
Margaret shook her head. “She’s at a friend’s house remember?” Julie nodded as pain crossed her face again. “I can send for her.”
 
“NO!” Julie suddenly grasped Margaret’s hand. “NO!” She shook her head from side to side. “She’s been through….OHHHH…..She’s been through so much…Please…Please promise me…not until Abe’s here…”
 
“Okay.” Margaret nodded. “Alright. I’ll make sure she stays at her friend’s.”
 
Relief flooded Julie’s face. Margaret knew Julie was aware of the gravity of the situation – perhaps she was more aware than Margaret was herself. “I need to check the baby,” Margaret said gently as she loosened her grip on Julie’s hand. Julie clinched the railing again as the pain grew worse.
 
Margaret threw the covers off Julie and readied her for delivery. She hoped Jason would get there soon. She’d assisted Jason on a breached delivery before and knew it was a grave situation. She had watched Jason turn the baby for proper deliver, and held the mother’s hand as she dug her nails into her hand. Margaret just didn’t like the idea of delivering this baby. She hoped Jason would get there in time.
 
Margaret spoke softly to Julie when her contractions came on. Julie’s pain was so terrible. Margaret wished there was more she could do. Thirty minutes passed, then an hour. Julie would rest in between contractions, but the pain never left her. During the contractions, Julie cried out and tossed from side to side. Margaret sat with her. At times she would grasp Julie’s hand while at other times she would just put her face in her hands hoping Jason would come.
 
Julie was growing so tired that Margaert wasn’t sure she would even have the strength to deliver a baby, much less a breached baby. Margaret jumped to her feet when she heard horses ride up. She hurried to the window and looked out. A buggy was pulling into the yard. Scott helped Emily down from the buggy and they hurried toward the house. “Is Jason here?” Julie questioned anxiously.
 
Margaret turned and looked at Julie. She forced a smile. “I’ll be right back.”
 
Julie cried out in pain again as Margaret hurried from the room. “Where’s Jason?” Margaret hissed, her voice a bit panicked this time. “Julie needs the doctor badly!”
 
Emily quickly unbuttoned her coat as she explained. “Jason had an emergency. A steer gorged a little boy in a neighboring town and he had to go there…won’t be back until morning!” She saw the panicked look on Margaret’s face. “What’s wrong?”
 
Margaret didn’t answer at first. She pressed her hands on the table and leaned into it. She closed her eyes. “Is something wrong?” Scott asked then. His voice held worry as well.
 
Margaret lifted her head up and looked at Emily. “Yes.” She led Emily into see Julie while Em settled Scott down at the table with a warm cup of coffee. Emily examined Julie. She lifted her head and mouthed ‘breached.’ Margaret nodded. Margaret saw the worry enter Emily’s eyes.
 
Emily straightened and walked over to the window as she rested a hand on her belly and took some deep breaths. Margaret followed her over so they could talk without Julie overhearing. She didn’t notice the expression of pain that entered Emily’s eyes. It didn’t last long. “Does Julie know?” Emily asked once they were out of Julie’s earshot. Margaret shook her head. “It’s best she doesn’t,” Emily confirmed Margaret’s thoughts. “I…haven’t ever handled a breached baby without Jason. The truth is, without Jason here…” Margaret merely nodded. She didn’t need Emily to finish her sentence. She knew how desperate their situation was.
 
***
 
Scott jumped from his chair when Julie let out another scream. Em turned from the stove and looked at the panic on Scott’s face. “Amanda never screamed like that.”
 
“I suspect not,” Em said calmly. “I’m afraid the situation’s desperate. Scott…” Em hurried over to where he stood staring at the door. “Scott, I know it’s dark and all…but I think it’s best if you go find the men. Julie will need Abe.” Em looked toward the door. “And when this is over…I’m afraid Margaret will need Lucas.” Scott saw the worry in Em’s face.
 
Julie let out another piercing scream. “I should go for the doctor! She needs Jason…He’s just over in…”
 
“There’s not time for that now,” Em answered as she shook her head. “Please…go for the men.”
 
“I know where they are,” Scott said as he limped toward the door. “It won’t take me long to catch up to where they usually camp.”
 
Scott hurried toward the door. Another scream pierced the night. Scott bolted around and stared at the door. “I’ll…pray on the way.”
 
***
 
Margaret wiped the sweat from Julie’s face. “It’s coming…I’ve got to push!” Julie declared suddenly. “I’ve got to!”
 
Margaret looked up at Emily who was reading the cradle still at the end of Tiffany’s bed. They would also need warm blankets to wrap the baby in once Julie delivered. Emily hurried to the end of the bed. After examining Julie, she looked up and met Margaret’s eyes. Emily looked worried. Margaret nodded. There was nothing more they could do. “On the next contraction, Julie…push!” Emily ordered.
 
It was only a minute later that Julie did just that. Margaret and Emily looked at each other, very worried that the baby would be deprived oxygen. A breached birth was always dangerous. Emily grabbed the baby’s feet and started pulling gently as Margaret coached Julie from the head of the bed.  Julie screamed loudly as the pain became overwhelming. She continued pushing, but was exhausted. Finally, the baby popped out.
 
Margaret hurried to take the baby, quite blue and still, from Emily’s arms. She immediately went to work on the baby, leaving Emily to tend to Julie. First she tied off the umbilical cord and cut it. Next, she grabbed the baby’s feet with one hand and pressed her other hand against her upper chest, then she tipped her upside down.
 
Margaret was so busy trying to bring life into the baby’s lungs that she didn’t realize what was going on with Julie. Julie’s eyes were closed and she laid still in the bed.
 
“Julie!” Emily hurried to the head of the bed where Julie lay still. She lifted her wrist to check for a pulse. Emily’s beathing heart slowed a bit when she realized Julie was still alilve. But her situation was very desperate. Turning, she looked at Margaret. “She’s in a bad way!”
 
Margaret wiped an arm across her forehead. “So is the baby.” She started walking back and forth as she continued thumping the baby on the back and  jiggled her upside down. “Come on…please…please…” Margaret whispered as she continued her work.
 
Emily bent over the bed to take a closer look at Julie’s condition. Suddenly, the pains that had been plaguing her own body for some time now intensified. A harsh pain shot through her. “OHHHH!” Emily groaned as she pressed a hand to her belly.
 
Margaret’s eyes widened as she realized Emily, too, had suddenly gone into labor…at least that’s what she assumed. “EM!” Margaret yelled. Em hurried into the room. “You best get Emily to a bed. She’s about to deliver as well.”
 
“How’s the baby?” Em asked as she hurried to help Emily.
 
“Not good,” Margaret answered.
 
“I have to help…” Emily said. “I’ll be okay.”
 
“You get to bed now!” Margaret ordered as she continued her work on the baby. “I don’t have time to argue with you!”
 
Emily watched Margaret work on the baby as Em pushed her from the room.
 
Just as the bedroom door closed, Margaret heard a loud gasp from the baby. Margaret turned the baby over and started rubbing her chest. “She’s alive!” Margaret cried to anyone who could hear her voice. “She’s starting to breathe!” She started wiping the baby’s face. “Em!” Em appeared once again in the doorway. “Find me a suction ball.  The baby has too much mucus in its mouth and nose. I’ve got to get it out now.”

Em went to do as she was told. Margaret looked up at Julie who was still not moving. “God, now that you’ve helped the baby, please help her mother,” Margaret prayed. She wouldn’t realize it until later, but that was the first time she had asked God for assistance since the ordeal had begun.
 
She wrapped the baby in a warmed blanket. Em hurried back in with the suction ball, then left to check on Emily. Emily was sitting on the side of the bed, working through another contraction. “You are supposed to be in bed!” Em chided her as she walked in.
 
“There’s too much to do,” Emily argued as Em swung Emily’s legs up on the bed.
 
“Margaret has it all under control now,” Em answered. “The baby’s breathing now.”
 
“The baby…” Emily started as another contraction came on. They were so close together. Emily knew her time was drawing near. “Jason says there’s lots of poisons a baby can swallow – especially in a long delivery and when it’s breached. The baby can die if…”
 
Em shook her head. “Margaret’s working on sucking it out of the baby’s mouth right now.”
 
“She’ll need fed…”
 
Em pulled the covers over Emily and forced her head down on the pillow. “She will be! I’m sure Margaret’s got everything under control. She’s been midwifing for several years now…probably even assisted more births than you have.”
 
“Em!” Margaret called from the bedroom.
 
“Now, I have to go help Margaret. You stay in this bed!” Emily nodded.
 
Em hurried into Tiffany’s bedroom. “How is she?”
 
“She doesn’t want to be in bed,” Em answered. “She said she needs to be in here helping.”
 
“Well…” Margaret lifted her head up. “I’m the doctor right now. Keep an eye on her. Here…” Margaret held the baby out for her to take. “Hold the baby while I get the water ready. Keeping suctioning that mucus out of her.” Margaret remembered Jason’s numerous warnings on the toxins a long delivery can give the baby. She knew they had to remove as much as they could from the baby’s mouth. Margaret readied the water, then gave Em firm instructions on how to bathe the baby, instructions Em didn’t need but accepted all the same.
 
Margaret heard Emily call from the bed she was laying in. “I don’t have time right now!” Margaret said. “I’ll be there as soon as I can!”
 
Margaret hurried back into the bedroom and felt Julie’s forehead. “Oh no…” She was running a fever, and Margaret knew Julie probably had developed some sort of infection that caused her to deliver the baby early. She hurried back into the main room where Em was wrapping a warm blanket around the bathed baby.  “We need help. We need Jason…NOW!”
 
“But Emily said…”
 
Margaret went to check on Emily’s condition. Emily assured her the pain wasn’t bad, but Margaret didn’t like the fact that her contractions had started at five minutes apart. Emily, propped up on a pillow to help ease some of the pain in her back, lowered her head and studied her hands in her lap. “That’s not exactly true, Margaret. I’ve been experiencing contractions for two days now.”
 
“Two…” Margaret’s eyes grew wide.
 
“Well…they were so mild and sporadic yesterday that I didn’t even worry Jason about them. We’ve been so busy, what with pneumonia and frost bite, that he needed me! Then they started coming more regular today but…” Emily shook her head. “Margaret, by then news had come of that little boy and…I just couldn’t tell him I was in labor and risk his having to make a moral decision.” Emily motioned toward the door. “How’s Julie?”
 
“She needs your husband. I think she has an infection.” Margaret pressed a shaky hand on her forehead. “I’m worried.”
 
“Oh no…” Emily threw the covers back. “I should…” She was overcome with pain as another contraction came. Margaret pressed her down into the bed.
 
“Where’s Jason?” Margaret asked then. “We’ve got to send for him. Julie needs him.”
 
“Three Rivers,” Emily answered as she breathed through her latest contraction. “At the Anderson farm.”
 
Margaret gave her a short nod then turned toward the door. “You’re sending for him?”
 
“I have to,” Margaret answered. “He’s needed here badly.”
 
Margaret hurried from the bedroom. “Em, can you find your way to my folks’ house in the dark?” Em nodded. “Alright. I want you to go for Johnny. Tell him to ride hard to Three Rivers and get Jason. Tell him that the baby seems fine but…” Margaret shook her head. “Julie’s in a bad way.”
 
“I’ll go saddle the horse right away,” Em answered.
 
“Em, take the buggy.”
 
“But a horse is faster!” Em argued. “We can’t waste time.”
 
“Nor do we need any more patients. The buggy’s still hitched, so take the buggy.” Em nodded. “Oh, and Em…” Em turned to look at Margaret. “When you get there, stay there. You need to rest.”
 
“You need my help!” Em argued.
 
“I do need help.” Margaret forced the fright from her voice and lifted her head. “That’s why you need to do exactly as I say and stay at Mama’s. She wouldn’t let you come back anyhow.”
 
 
We’ll need a wet nurse for the baby,” Emily suggested. “Tiffany…”
 
“She’s caring for the children. As soon as Emily has her baby, I’ll see if she can take on both babies for now.
 
“Until then?” Em asked.
 
Margaret didn’t have the answer. She prayed, for Julie and Abe’s newborn daughter’s sake, that Emily would deliver soon so the baby could be fed. “Get going.”
 
Margaret hurried back into the bedroom where Julie laid. Julie was mumbling, her head slowly moving from side to side. Margaret pressed a hand to her forehead. She didn’t like how warm she felt. She was sure Julie’s fever had to be at least 103. Margaret closed her eyes and shook her head slowly. Things didn’t look good at all.
 
Only a few minutes after Em left, Margaret heard Emily call from the other bedroom. Margaret hurried to her. “I think it’s time.” Emily smiled. “My baby’s ready to come.”
 
Margaret hurried from the room and got Julie’s baby. After she had the baby settled back in the cradle in Emily’s room, Margaret settled herself at the foot of the bed and checked on Emily’s progress. “I think he’s in a hurry.”
 
Emily took a deep breath. “Jason so wanted to deliver him…or her. Oh, he’ll be so disappointed!”
 
“I’m sure he won’t have time to think about it.” Margaret declared. “On the next contraction, Emily, give it all you got.” Emily obeyed. It took only ten minutes before the baby came. Emily forced herself to laugh, declaring she wanted the baby to hear her laughing – not crying. This was a joyous occasion, after all. Emily laughed with tears falling down her face when she heard her baby let out a nice, loud scream.
 
Emily laughed, her face wet with tears of joy and pride as Margaret laid the baby in her arms. Emily took the time to study every inch of her baby. “I always thought it was silly when I watched mothers count their baby’s fingers and toes,” Emily mumbled as the baby cooed and wrapped his fingers around her one finger. “I always thought…how silly…But I find myself doing the very same thing.” Emily’s smile widened. “I never knew what made the mother smile after such an ordeal…how they had the strength to…Oh, but I feel so alive…I feel like…like I’m a new person…”
 
Margaret pushed the hair from her forehead with the back of her hand. “You are. Your now a mother,” Margaet answered. As she watched Emily hold her baby, she wondered if she would experience that joy soon. Margaret pressed a hand to her flat belly without thinking. Maybe even now…Like Lucas said just a few days ago…maybe he’s growing…
 
Emily interrupted her thoughts. “Oh Margaret…look at him…He’s so amazing.” Emily laughed as she slowly sat up in bed. “He’s just so amazing.” She laid the baby against her bosom. It took him awhile, but he began suckling. “To just think that he was created out of love…He’s part of Jason and part of me.” Emily laughed as she wiped more tears from her cheek. “Oh Margaet…”
 
Margaret smiled. “He’s a…good, strong baby.” Margaret tried to concentrate on Emily’s happy moment, but her mind became hopeful as she watched the baby suckle at his mother’s breast.
 
“He’s a perfect baby,” Emily nodded. “I’ll clean him as soon as I nurse him. Then I’ll nurse Julie’s little one. You don’t worry about us. The three of us will be fine…just fine.” Emily stared at her baby. “You take care of Julie.”
 
 
Margaret smiled as she stood up. “You should be exhausted.”
 
“Exhausted?” Emily laughed. “No! I feel I can take on the world.”
 
Margaret walked toward the bedroom door. She folded her arms and gave Emily a stern look. “Well…If Jason catches you up and around, he’ll tan your hide! You best stay in bed.”
 
“When we have our hands full?” Emily shook her head. “I’ve heard tell about Indian women squatting under a tree, giving birth, then going right back to work.”
 
“Maybe so, but you’re no Indian.” Margaret paused in the doorway. “And I wouldn’t use THAT in your opening arguments when Jason gets here.”
 
***
Sometime in the night, the silence outside was interrupted by approaching horses. The house was lit, showing signs of activity as the men approached. Scott slid from his horse and went to help Abe from the back of the wagon. Lucas and Scott walked Abe to the door while Jeremiah and Peter rushed forward. As soon as the door opened, Abe broke from the hold Scott and Lucas had on him and bolted forward. Margaret emerged from the room and grabbed his arm, stopping him from going in. “Abe…You have another daughter,” Margaret announced. But nobody missed the hesitation in her voice. Something was wrong.
 
“Is she…okay?” Abe asked.
 
“She’ll be okay, I think. There were some…complications.” Margaret wished she didn’t have to do this. She was so frightened for Julie. She was exhausted. She just wanted to collapse. But she kept her shoulder squared and readied herself for what had to be said.
 
While Margaret was organizing her thoughts, Abe started for the bedroom Margaret had just exited, but Lucas sensed Margaret wasn’t through with him. He put a strong hold on his brother’s arm.  “Abe…Julie…” Margaret stopped when the words choked in her throat. She cleared it and started again.
 
Abe stared down into her face. “Julie? What about my wife?”
 
“Abe…It was a hard delivery. Jason wasn’t available and…” Margaret hated what she had to tell him. “Abe…I did my best.”
 
“WHAT ABOUT MY WIFE?” Abe asked louder this time. His voice was heavy with emotion.
 
“Abe, I can’t help her. She needs a doctor.” Margaret looked passed him. She couldn’t stand to see the worry in his eyes. Her eyes focused on Lucas. “Johnny’s gone for Jason. He’s at Three Rivers…At the Anderson farm taking care of a boy who was gorged by a bull.” Margaret longed for Lucas to hold her. She needed to cry, but instead she pulled her shoulders back and lifted her head again. “Perhaps you should…”
 
“Right. I’m on my way.” Lucas hurried from the house. “I’ll have him back here as soon as I can.”
 
“I’ll go,” Scott said. “You should stay here with the family.”
 
“No.” Lucas looked down at Scott’s leg. “You’ve done too much riding already. Johnny’s probably on his way back by now anyhow. But I suspect…your family needs the news.” Scott nodded, deciding it was best if he went home and stayed with the family.
 
“Em and Tiffany? Where are they?” Jeremiah asked.
 
“Em’s at my house. I’m sure Mama’s keeping her there and making her rest after her ride over there.” Margaret looked at Peter. “Tiffany’s at Abe’s house with all the children.”
 
Abe pushed passed Margaret and hurried into the bedroom. He stopped half-way inside and looked down at Julie laying quietly in bed. “Julie…” Abe breathed. Abe bent down and felt his wife’s sweating forehead. “Oh Dear God…” Abe swallowed. “Dear God…”
 
Margaret steadied her shaking hand as she watched Abe grieve over his wife’s condition. . Now was now was no time for her to fall apart.
 
Margaret went back to check on Emily who was already out of bed and giving herself and her baby a good cleaning. “Emily!” Margaret declared from the door as she folded her arms.
 
Emily smiled as she stood over the wash basin. “As soon as I get him cleaned up, I’ll nurse the baby girl.”
 
“From bed?” Margaret questioned as she lifted her eyebrows.
 
“I’m going to be sitting in the rocking chair holding our baby when Jason comes in. He’s not going to find me in bed!”
 
“May I remind you that you just gave birth?” Margaret questioned.
 
“Isn’t it true that some women can give birth and get right back up?”
 
“It is,” Margaret answered. “But I don’t think your husband will be listening to any of the reasonings you have used on me.”
 
“How’s Julie?”
 
Margaret sighed. “She’s not well. I’m pretty sure she has an infection. I’m sure Jason can help her but…”
 
Emily handed her the baby. “I’ll check her.” Emily hurried to where Julie and Abe were. Abe was clutching his wife’s hand. Emily checked Julie from head to toe. “Okay…bring me the medicine box from the kitchen. And bring me a small pan of warm water.” Emily began rolling up the sleeves of her dress. Julie and Abe’s baby started crying. “Abe, have you met your daughter?”
 
“Daughter?” Abe whispered, as if he just realized he had another child. Emily motioned toward the cradle. Abe stood and slowly went over and looked down into the cradle. “Our daughter…” Abe lifted her from the cradle and held her tenderly in her arms. “My baby girl…”
 
Margaret hurried back into the room with the medicine box. “She needs fed, Abe…You look like you’re about to fall down. Go sit in the rocking chair with her. Emily will come feed her as soon as she can.”
 
Emily started mixing some medicines. “Alright, we’ve got to get this in her.” Julie mumbled as Emily shook her, but she awoke enough to understand she needed to take some medicine. Emily and Margaret worked together to get the medicine in Julie. “Jason has some medicine to help her when he gets here. It’s a shot and will go right into her bloodstream.”
 
“What’s wrong with her?” Margaret asked.
 
“It’s hard to explain, and I’m no doctor, but if it’s what I think it is,  it’s called Pregnancy poisoning.” Emily shook her head. “Jason can usually spot it when a woman’s pregnant, but this time…All we can do is wait…and pray.”
 
Margaret couldn’t help wondering if maybe somehow she could have…Margaret shook her head. She didn’t have the time or the energy to think on that. She was so exhausted, yet she had to be there for the family. She HAD to keep moving! Emily stood from the bed. “I best feed that baby girl.”
 
Margaret convinced Abe to lay down. She could see pain in his face and knew he was wearing himself out. Julie was sleeping and would need him when she woke.
 
Jeremiah left to go get Em. Peter went to stay with Tiffany at Julie and Abe’s house. Both brothers felt helpless, and Margaret wondered if that was one reason they left. They knew there was nothing they could do to help.
 
Margaret watched Emily lovingly nurse the baby girl. “Have you thought on a name for your baby yet?”
 
Emily smiled as she leaned her head back on the rocking chair and looked up into Margaret’s face. “We discussed it for a long time. We thought on names to describe how Jason rescued me from the pain I had been going through, when we met…you know…sort of like they did back in the Bible times but we decided that event was behind us. We didn’t want a constant reminder of it. Instead, we decided to name the baby after a fallen hero…Matthew.”
 
Margaret smiled. “I think that’s a good, sound name.”
 
“His middle name will be from my family – McCain. We have to keep the McCain name in our family.” Emily smiled. “Matthew McCain Livingston.”
 
***
The door opened as the sun was peaking over the mountain. Margaret was in the kitchen preparing breakfast for the brood that would undoubtedly make their presence soon. Emily alternated between checking on Julie, whom she said was making a little improvement, and feeding the two babies. Margaret wouldn’t let her be on her feet too much, but Emily declared she was fine. Remarkably, she was!
 
The help Margaret had hoped for finally arrived. Jason, Lucas, and Johnny hurried into the house. Jason walked past Emily who was in the rocking chair holding their baby and went straight to the bedroom. Emily stood and handed the baby to Margaret,then hurried to assist her husband. “I’ve done everything I can, Jason. I gave her medicine and…Jason, is it pregnancy poisoning?”
 
Jason didn’t turn to look at her. “I don’t know yet. Honey, would you get me some warm water please?”
 
Emily left to do his bidding. Margaret lifted her eyebrows. Emily shrugged. “He doesn’t know yet. Hasn’t even stopped to look at me.”
 
“Know what?” Lucas asked as he set his rifle above the mantle and went to wash up for breakfast.
 
“Lucas McCain…” Margaret folded her arms and shook her head. “Do you have so much sleep in your eyes that you haven’t noticed your sister’s condition?” Lucas shrugged. “Does Emily appear…different to you?”
 
Lucas studied his sister closer as she took the water and started carrying it toward the bedroom. He gasped and hurried to stand in front of her. “Seems to me you were a big…plumper last time I saw you.”
 
“The baby came last night, Luke,” Emily answered her brother with a smile.
 
“OH?” Lucas lifted an eyebrow. Emily started to go back into the bedoorm. “What do you think you’re doing, Sis?” He took the pan of water from her. “You just go sit down.”
 
“Luke…”
 
“NOW.”
 
“I’m Jason’s nurse!” Emily argued. “He needs…”
 
Jason hurried into the room. “Emily, honey…Where’s my…” Jason’s voice froze as he stood in the doorway. His eyes stared at her middle. Margaret was happy to see that at least he was a bit more observant than her husband. “Emily, what…”
 
Emily went to the fireplace and picked up her son who was sleeping in the cradle. “Meet your son, Jase.”
 
“My son…But…” Jason stared at her. “Why aren’t you…I mean when…” Jason ran a hand through his hair. “I thought Julie…” Finally he looked around the room. “Would somebody please fill me in?”
 
“Later, Jase. Right now Julie needs us.”
 
“She needs ME,” Jason stressed sternly.
 
“How is she?” Margaret asked as she came forward.
 
“She’ll pull through. She developed an infection before delivery.” The infection forced her into premature labor, which is why she’s in the condition she’s in now.”
 
Abe looked up from the table. Relief was on his face. “Abe… It was a hard delivery. Margaret did as good a job as I would have done. The deliver…Well, there were some compliations.” Jason scratched his head, trying to put what he had to say into words. “Abe, she’s lucky to be alive…Most women would have died in her situation, but she had a wonderful nurse…” Jason turned and raised his eyebrows at his wife. “Two…I suspect…” Jason hesitated.
 
“What is it, Jason?” Abe asked as he slowly stood from the table. “What is it you don’t want to tell me?”
 
“Abe…She may not be able to…” Jason stood in front of his brother-in-law and rested a hand on his shoulder. “I mean, the birth was a breech and it put a lot of strain on her body…I suspect she also had pregnancy poisoning. It caused some damage…damage I can’t repair and…”
 
Abe swallowed the lump that was rapidly growing in his throat. “What are you saying, Doc?”
 
“I’m saying…” Jason swallowed. “There was some damage. She may not be able to…” Jason sighed. “It’s easier to say this when it’s not your own family. Abe, six kids may be it for you and Julie.”
 
A hand flew to Margaret’s mouth. Julie loved being a mother. She loved being pregnant, and said she’d have as many children as God would bless her with. This could be hard for her.  “Oh no…” Margaret whispered. Lucas hurried to stand beside his wife and put an arm around her shoulders.
 
“You’re saying she…she won’t have any more children?” Abe finally choked out.
 
Jason nodded. “There’s a very big possibility of that, Abe.”
 
“But you’re not sure.”
 
“Abe…If she has another baby it would be nothing short of a miracle.” Jason took the water from Lucas and handed it to Abe. “I think she’ll need you when she wakes up.” Abe nodded as tears filled his eyes. He took the water from Jason, then went into the bedroom.
 
Nobody saw Margaret turn and hurry back to the kitchen. Nobody knew the turmoil she was going through at that moment. But she couldn’t deal with it right now. The family needed her. Later…Later when she was alone…
 
Jason looked so tired as he washed his hands. “How is she?”
 
“I’ve done all I can. Her Her fever will probably break soon. I gave her a shot, but I suspect the medicine my nurse gave her has already helped her through the worst.” Jason wiped his hands then came to sit down beside his wife. “You’ve learned well under my close supervision.” Emily smiled. “Now then…” Jason looked at the baby in Emily’s arms. “Mind telling me the rest of your story?”
 
“Well, you see…” Emily looked at Lucas who was sitting at the table, patiently waiting to be fed. . Tiffany and Peter walked in with the children then. Em and Jeremiah followed close behind. “It was a really busy night.”
 
Margaret put the big pan of scrambled eggs on the table. “She went into labor shortly after Julie gave birth. I had to deliver her baby as well, and I could NOT keep her in bed! She insists she’s feeling just fine!”
 
Emily stood and went to lay her sleeping son down in the cradle.
 
“Emily Livingston…” Jason lifted his eyebrows as she turned to look at him.
 
“Well…Indian women just squat under a…” Jason took two steps toward her. “Isn’t it true that some women give birth and get right back up?” Jason took two more steps toward her. “I mean, pioneer women…I’ve heard they…” Jason closed the distance remaining between them and looked down at their baby. “Jason Livingston, meet your son…Matthew McCain Livingston.”
 
Jason took the baby in his arms. Everyone watched as he smiled tenderly down at their son. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here to see you into the world, son,” Jason spoke softly. “I’m afraid your Mama’s been very, very naughty.” He looked up at her. “In bed, now.”
 
“Jason, I feel fine!” Emily argued.
 
“Emily…” Emily flinched at the sharpness in his voice. “I want you in that bed. You give me any argument, and I’ll spank you in front of everyone. And if you don’t think I’ll do it, you just try me. Now…” Jason nodded toward the back bedroom. “In bed…NOW!”
 
“Can’t I just sit in the rocking…” Emily stopped at the stern look on his face. “Yes dear.”
 
Peter and Jeremiah both looked at each other. “When did Emily have HER baby?” Peter asked.
 
“Yes. Do fill me in!” Tiffany declared as she folded her arms.
 
Lucas chuckled as he stood up. “Where have you been? She had it last night! Haven’t you been paying attention?”
 
Margaret grunted as she came to stand beside her husband. She folded her arms and lifted her eyebrows. “Oh…” Lucas winked at her. “Let’s eat!”
 
Margaret proceeded to set food on the table. Lucas watched her worriedly. There was something wrong. He saw the tiredness in her eyes. Tiffany helped set the table, then told everyone to sit down. Peter blessed the food, then fixed Abe a plate. Jason fixed Emily a plate. After Jason was sat back down at the table, Lucas asked him about Julie. “She’ll be okay.”
 
“Are you sure?” Lucas asked.
 
“I’m sure. I was able to stop the infection. Emily did a fine job before I got here. Had she not…well, let’s not think about that now.” Jason took a bite of his food. “Margaret, you did a fine job on the baby. It looks like mother and baby will be fine.”
 
Margaret said nothing as she stood and started gathering empty plates. Lucas watched her leave and knew something was wrong. He walked to the sink where Margaret was scraping off plates. “Honey, you must be exhausted. Perhaps you should lay down.”
 
“I’m fine, Luke,” Margaret snapped at him.
 
“You’re not, Margaret. You’ve been up all night and…”
 
“Luke…” Margaret couldn’t keep the harshness from her voice as she turned and spoke to him. “Luke…I’m tired and I’ve so much on my mind, but…I can’t stop working…not now, Luke!”
 
“Margaret…”
 
“I can’t break down in front of your family. I have to stay strong…to keep doing…If I don’t I’ll…” Margaret closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Please understand, Luke.”
 
Lucas studied her face for a moment then nodded his head. “I do.” He kissed her forehead. “We’ll be leaving soon.” Margaret opened her mouth to argue, but Lucas held up a finger to hush her. “And that’s final. Until then…work away.”
 
Jason went to check on his patients. Julie was awake and talking some. She was crying as Abe held her when Jason walked into the room. He didn’t have to guess what Abe had told her. He examined her then assured her she was getting better. He assured her the baby had been fed by Emily, and she could try and sit up to feed the baby the next day.
 
Emily was doing better than Jason could ever imagine. She made sure to let her husband know that she did not need to be in the bed.  Jason assured her she did, and would stay there until he gave her permission to get up. He promised her that if she was a good girl, she could get up the following day and they would go home.
 
After receiving the good report, Lucas announced he and Margaret would go home. Their hunting trip had been cut short due to the special deliveries, but they had managed to get some meat. Lucas would go back for his meat, in hopes it was still hanging in the tree, after settling Margaret down.
 
Margaret was quiet all the way home…too quiet. Lucas could feel the tension beside her and knew she was going to break down at any moment. Margaret took the hand he offered her as he helped her down from the wagon. “I’ll put the team away,” Lucas said. Margaret merely nodded, then walked into the house.
 
When Lucas came in from tending to the horses, he found Margaret in their small kitchen staring out the window. She had a dish towel in her hand but wasn’t doing anything with it. Lucas walked up behind her and placed his hands on her shoulders. “It’s time for me to take care of you,” Lucas said softly.
 
That’s all it took. Margaret turned and threw her arms around his neck. Sobs wracked her body as she cried into his chest. Lucas held her and listened to her sobs for a long time. Her body shook in his arms. “Let it all out, Margaret. Just let it all out,” Lucas encouraged her. It was painful to listen to her crying, but he knew she needed it after the night she had.
 
Margaret finally lifted from his shoulder and wiped her eyes. “I tried so hard to be strong, Luke. You’ve no idea…”
 
“Nobody expects you to be strong all the time.”
 
“They needed me…Nobody else could…Oh, they all told me I was so brave and strong…But the truth was I had never been so afraid in my life, Luke.” Margaret turned to face her husband. “Luke…I…thought Julie and the baby were going to die. I…I didn’t even pray…Not until after Julie…”
 
“Julie and the baby are going to be fine, honey. Emily’s baby is fine. You were there when they needed you.”
 
“Julie’s not fine…” Margaret moved away from Lucas. “Oh, I feel so responsible!”
 
“Honey…”
 
“No…” Margaret held up a hand to stop him. “Don’t tell me it’s not my fault…If I had done more. I just can’t help thinking that it was something I DID that made her…” Margaret pressed a hand to her mouth. “Oh God…forgive me.”
 
Lucas saw how tired she was. He walked up to her and put his hands on her shoulders. “I’m going to fix you a nice, warm bath. Then I want you to get some sleep.” Margaret nodded. “When you wake up, we’ll talk about this.”
 
Lucas led her to the table and sat her down. Then he left to get the bath tub from the barn. Margaret sat at the table and stared into the fire as she waited for Lucas to get her bath ready. Finally, he lifted her from the table and walked her into the bedroom. He helped her undress and step into the bath tub. Lucas never left her side as she bathed, and he helped her wash her hair. Only after he was satisfied she was more relaxed did he hold the towel up for her. She slipped a clean gown over her head then crawled into bed.
 
“Would you like me to read from the Bible until you fall asleep?” Margaret nodded. Lucas sat down on the bed and laid her head on his lap. He softly read from the Psalms. Soon, she was fast asleep. Lucas bent down and kissed her. “If only you knew, Margaret, just how special you are…” He stood from the bed and tucked her in good and tight. Then he went to do his chores.
 
***
 
“Ouch!” Margaret heard as she opened her eyes and stretched long in the bed. “Dag gummit!” Margaret sat up in bed when she heard a pan hit the floor. She reached for her robe then went to stand in the doorway. A smile played at her lips when she saw Lucas in the kitchen sucking his on his hurt finger.
 
Then she saw the mess. She smelled the air. Something was burning, and it was coming from her oven. She pressed a hand to her mouth when she saw Lucas hurry to the oven. He reached out and grabbed the oven door, then cursed as he removed his hand quickly. Margaret hurried forward to rescue him. “What are you doing to my kitchen?” She reached for the butter and started smoothing it on his hand.
 
“I was just fixing supper,” Lucas groaned. “You slept through lunch, and I figured I’d surprise you with supper.”
 
Margaret giggled. Lucas pressed a hand to her cheek and brushed her hair back from her face. “You sound better. You look better. How do you feel?”
 
“Better, I guess,” Margaret answered as she hurried to get whatever was burning from her oven. She turned as she held it in her hands. “What is this?”
 
“Potatoes?” Lucas questioned as he lifted his eyebrows. “Well, they used to be anyhow.”
 
Margaret went to clean off part of her counter so she could start supper all over again. “Luke…I’m sorry I fell apart earlier.”
 
“Don’t apologize, Margaret. You had four lives in your hands today. I would worry if you hadn’t fallen apart.”
 
“I was afraid for Julie and that baby. And then when Jason said Julie may not be able to have anymore…well, it was more than I could take. I started thinking…Oh, I know now that I did all I could. It’s just at the time…and maybe I am still questioning myself a bit.” Margaret spoke as she chopped the carrots. “I can’t help but to wonder if I could have done something to help the birthing be easier…If maybe…”
 
Lucas pressed his hands on Margaret’s shoulders and turned her around. “You did everything humanly possible, Margaret.”
 
“Yes.” Margaret sighed. “But I didn’t pray. I didn’t even think about it.”
 
“I think God understood how busy you were. God was there beside you, Honey. He heard your heart. He knew you needed Him. I think he was there guiding your hands so you could save their lives.” Lucas kissed her forehead.
 
“Maybe Jason’s wrong,” Margaret smiled.
 
“Maybe.” Lucas kissed her. “Don’t you think six children is enough?”
 
“For Julie and Abe?” Margaret kissed him. “Well…it’s in God’s hands now.”
 
“Oh, by the way…” Lucas crossed his ankles as he leaned against the counter. “Scott stopped by while ago to check on you. He was worried and he wanted to bring the news.”
 
“News?” Margaret turned from peeling the potatoes. “What news?”
 
“Julie and Abe named the baby.”
 
“They did?” Margaret smiled. “What did they name her?”
 
“Scarlett Margaret McCain.” Abe stood in front of her and smiled down at her. “She was named Scarlett because of the trouble she had coming into this world, and Margaret for the person who helped her through.” Lucas smiled. “I feel honored to be married to that woman.”
 
Margaret lowered her eyes. She felt emotions sweep over her and suddenly felt the need to be alone. She reached for the bucket. “I think I’ll take a walk down to the creek.”
 
“In your robe?”
 
Margaret stepped into his boots. “I can use the fresh air. It’s not that cold outside. The sun’s out…the snow’s melting…Besides, I need some time alone with…with God.” She saw worry in Lucas’ eyes. “Don’t worry, my love. I’ll be okay. Please understand.”
 
“I do.” Lucas nodded. “Anything I can do while you’re gone?”
 
“Yes.” Margaret looked toward the kitchen. “Stay out of my kitchen!”
 
Lucas chuckled as he watched her go. “You have no idea just how special you are…” Lucas mumbled as he watched her walk through the snow, wearing her house robe and his oversized boots, and toward the creek. Lucas chuckled as he turned and looked at the Christmas tree. “Special Delivery indeed…God and His bright ideas!” Then he sat down at the table to wait patiently for his belated supper.

The Margaret Years — A Traditional Christmas

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
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