The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Margaret Years...

Chapter 13 - The Aftermath
Written by Michelle Palmer

Margaret wiped her eyes as she lifted from his embrace.  “You are an amazing woman, did you know that?” Margaret shrugged. She didn’t feel like she deserved such a compliment. Lucas gave her a small, painful smile as he nudged her chin. “I knew there was a reason I married you.”
 
Margaret felt like such a failure as a wife at the moment. She watched as Lucas hurried off to help the other men fight the fire. Everything was in a blur of activity as men worked at putting out the fire. Flames danced high into the sky. The engulfed barn was gone. Soon, only ashes would remain where it once stood.
 
A fury of activity blurred the next several hours for Margaret. Someone, she didn’t know exactly who, had ridden back to town to announce that all was fine and the barn was on fire. Margaret, who had stood on the porch for a long time watching the activity around her, was soon ushered into the house and put to work at making coffee. Her head spun as she lifted another shaky finger to take down a coffee cup. Voices around her sounded. Margaret couldn’t even tell exactly who the voices belonged to.
 
Shouts sounded from outside as men gave orders, desperately fighting against the wind that had quickly come up. Margaret was vaguely aware of the shed and smoke house catching on fire. Then she heard the screaming of the chickens as they jumped around in the yard, trying desperately to escape from the flames. Men began beating small fires that came up around the house. More orders sounded, and then Margaret’s hand went to her chest when someone…her mind wouldn’t focus on who exactly it was…ordered the women to leave the house.
 
The roof was on fire.
 
Margaret felt herself being dragged out of the house. Tears filled her eyes. Did someone say the house was on fire? She wasn’t sure. But she soon found herself sitting at a different table as Ann took over the making of coffee for the men. “I have to help…” Margaret mumbled. “I have to help…He’s my husband…” Margaret stood, but felt her legs buckle. She was so weak. She felt herself again being lowered into a chair as women around her worked.
 
Women stood at the windows gasping and pointing, but Margaret buried her face in her hands, unwilling to look. Hot tears burned her eyes. She could smell smoke all around them. When will this nightmare end? When??? “Lucas…” Margaret swallowed hard as she once again stood up. “Luke…”
 
Margaret raced from the door and across the street before anyone could stop her.  She fell to her knees after entering their yard, screaming her husband’s name over and over. Finally, someone appeared. Was it Lucas who swept her up and carried her back across the road? She wasn’t sure…She smelled the smoke and saw black soot on the shirt, but her senses wouldn’t focus. She felt herself being laid on a bed. A sharp pinch was soon followed by darkness.
 
***
 
Lucas washed the soot from his face and reached for the towel. It was now late afternoon. They had fought against the wind for hours, trying to get the fire out. The fact that Lucas had no well to draw water from and no nearby source of water made things more difficult, yet they had finally managed to beat the last few smoldering flames out. The fire had indeed reached the house, but the men were ready, and quickly got the fire under control, but not before the fire had burned a rather large hole in the roof. A Bucket brigade was formed by the men from town, using Hal’s water well. The house had been saved, but a mess had been left on the inside. Lucas was dead-tired, but they had managed to save the house.
 
Lucas turned and looked around his yard. The shack that had served as his first home was gone, as was the barn, the shed, the chicken coop, and the smokehouse. Tears fought to emerge from the back of his eyes but Lucas pressed them down, not willing for them to come to surface. The men walked somberly around the yard. Abe had assured Lucas they would take care of any animal carcasses that remained as a result to the fire. Lucas turned back toward the house and pressed a hand against the wall as he bent his head low to compose himself.
 
Then, Lucas felt a hand on his shoulder. Lucas turned to see Jason looking at him. “I had to give Margaret a sedative. She’ll sleep for awhile, Luke. She’ll need you.” Lucas smiled shortly and vaguely realized he was thanking Jason, but he wasn’t sure if the words had actually sounded on his lips. Just the same, he’s sure Jason read the words in his eyes as he nodded and turned away.
 
Then the men announced they needed to find the horses. Lucas wasn’t sure, but he believed Abraham said something about his horse being found alive. In all, Lucas knew the men had found four horses, and they would use the teams the women had driven in to get back home. The women, not wanting Margaret to come home to such devastation, did their best to clean up the house, but the hole in the roof would have to stay until Lucas could find time to repair it.
 
As for the damage…Lucas couldn’t focus enough to allow himself to even process what that would come to. He knew this would set them back for quite some time, and his heart hurt as he looked around the yard.
 
“Luke, we should leave,” Marshal Williams stated. “I’ll take these bodies back to town. I really think you should consider pressing charges.”
 
Lucas put a hand to his forehead. He couldn’t think. He couldn’t process anything. He simply shook his head and mumbled something about not making a decision right now. He had too much thinking to do.
 
Lucas watched his family slowly ride away. His brothers promised to be back the following day to help, but Lucas wasn’t sure what they said they would help with. “I’m sorry none of your horses were found alive,” Peter said again. Lucas only nodded, not being able to fully process what was being said. He watched the last of the wagons leave. Jason and Emily made their way across the street to check on Margaret. Lucas mumbled something about being there soon.
 
When he was alone, Lucas lowered himself down to the front steps of his porch. His mind tried to process everything that had happened the last week. Then he looked around the ranch once more. He felt his eyes fill with tears, and didn’t have the strength to stop them from falling. Now that he was alone, he allowed the sobs to come as his body shook and he released everything.
 
***
 
“Luke…Luke…” Margaret mumbled as consciousness returned to her in the early evening. “Luke…”
 
Lucas leaned forward in the chair and took her hand. “I’m right here, honey. I’m here.”
 
Margaret slowly opened her eyes and looked up into the red-brimmed eyes of her husband. His tears startled her. She let out a gasp in panic. “Did we lose everything?”
 
Lucas shook his head. “We still have the house.”
 
Margaret lifted a hand to his face. “Don’t cry, my love…” Margaret mumbled softly as tears began to fall down her own cheeks. “I know it’s bad…” Lucas grasped her other hand as he leaned closer to her. “The…the horses?” Margaret asked then as concern again filled her eyes.
 
Lucas shook his head. “We looked all over the range, honey. I’m afraid that…we lost them all.”
 
More tears fell down her cheeks. Lucas searched her face as he tried to keep from crying himself. Suddenly, she sat up and threw her arms around him. Sobs racked her body as Lucas held her tight. He smoothed her hair and spoke to her quietly as she cried. “Let it all out…” Lucas mumbled as he held her close and allowed tears to fall down his own cheeks. “It’s been a rough day. You just let it all out.”
 
“I’m sorry…I tried to be strong,” Margaret’s muffled voice spoke as she pressed her face into his shirt that smelled of smoke and sweat.
 
“Sh…” Lucas hushed her. “You’ve had quite a day.” He pressed his lips to the top of her head as they sat quietly holding each other.
 
A knock sounded on the door. Ann poked her head inside. “Luke, can she eat?” Concern was evident in her voice.
 
Lucas lifted Margaret’s head from his chest. “Can you, honey?” Margaret nodded as she slowly stood from the bed. She was quiet as they ate. Lucas watched her closely, worried about what all of this was doing to her.
 
Finally, Margaret lifted her head. “Can we go home?” Lucas nodded as he stood and grasped her by her shoulders. He helped her stand. Margaret mumbled her thanks and heard Ann say she’d be over to check on her in the morning. Then they walked across the street. She was still shaking from all the excitement of the day. Lucas kept a firm hold on her, wishing he could stop her shaking but knowing only time would make it cease.
 
Before they got into the house, Lucas picked her up and carried her. He was thankful when she chose to bury her face in his neck, not quite ready to see the devastation from the fire. He wanted to guard her from seeing the destruction the fire had done to her kitchen as he carried her into the undisturbed bedroom. “Would you like to take a bath?” Lucas asked. Margaret nodded as she stood in the middle of the bedroom and stared blankly at the wall. She felt so dead at the moment. So much had happened…she was having trouble processing it all. Lucas brought in her rocking chair. He helped Margaret slip out of her dress and into her robe, then he sat her down. “I’ll heat the water for you, then I’ll help you,” Lucas said softly as he laid his hands on her shoulders and studied her eyes once again. He was treating her as if she were a fragile china doll.
 
Margaret merely nodded her head. She wasn’t sure she could have done anything by herself that night. Lucas silently worked at filling up the tub. He made sure the water was warm, but not too hot that it would scald her. He mashed up plenty of the smell good soap and stirred the water. Then he looked over at Margaret who sat in the chair and stared straight ahead.
 
He walked over and bent down in front of her, putting his hands on the arm rests of the chair. Her eyes held so many emotions. He had to draw her out of the despair she was feeling somehow. “It’s over now,” he spoke gently.
 
“Is it?” Margaret asked as she wiped the tears from the corner of one eye. She didn’t even look at him.
 
Lucas sighed. “Honey, I know these last few days have been rough…” He heard Margaret’s short laugh under her breath. “Okay…it’s been downright difficult. I know that…I didn’t make things any easier for you…”
 
Margaret allowed the tears to slip from her eyes. “Neither have I…I guess we’ve been…” Margaret sniffed. “…fighting a range war of our own.”
 
“Mm hm…” Lucas nodded. “I suppose you could say that.” He lifted a hand to her chin, forcing her to look at him. “I love you.”
 
Margaret nodded. “I love you too.” Margaret sniffed. “Luke…I always thought that hard times made us closer…but this seemed to tear us apart.”
 
“No, honey. I won’t let it tear us apart,” Lucas declared softly. He paused until her eyes focused on him. “We’ve always gone through hard times together, but this time…well…we did it as husband and wife. As your husband, I long to protect you…to make sure you are safe at all costs.”
 
“And as your wife, I want to be there beside you. I want to understand what you’re going through…what you’re feeling…”
 
“Yeah.” Lucas grunted. “I’ve never been too good at telling you what I’m feeling.”
 
“Your sister was kind enough to remind me of that.” Margaret laughed shortly. “Luke…what’ll happen next time?”
 
Lucas slid his hands off the armrests and took her hands as he looked down at them. “I don’t know, honey.” Lucas again lifted his eyes to hers. “I’ll…still do everything in my power to protect you…”
 
Margaret nodded. “And…I’ll still do everything I can to help you.”
 
They looked at each other for another moment. Neither face held anger or hurt, but their eyes were full of questions. “Well…” Lucas stood and tugged on her hands to stand her up. “It sounds like we have quite…a mess to clean up.”
 
Margaret heard it in his voice. She knew the mess he was referring to wasn’t just from the fire. Lucas put an arm around her waist as helped her toward the tub. “Where do we start?”
 
“Right here...I think.” Lucas stopped walking and turned to face her. “We’re talking, and we aren’t yelling at each other.” He smiled as he tipped her chin up. “I think that’s a good start.”
 
“What happened, Luke?” Lucas lifted his eyebrows in question. Margaret swallowed as she started to explain. “I mean…before we were married, we would talk it through when problems came up. It was never…like this.”
 
“I don’t quite understand it myself. I remember after those men left that first day how…incredibly overwhelmed I felt. I realized for the first time that I was responsible for another person. The decisions I made would affect you for the rest of your life, and I found myself wanting to protect you…not only physically…but from the truth.”
 
They started walking again as they kept their arm around each other. “What was the truth?”
 
“Well honey…that man made some rather…disguised threats that if I didn’t give in, you’d be in danger. I suddenly felt I had to protect you from that, yet at the same time I was terrified.” Lucas stopped again and turned as he placed a hand on her cheek. “I reckon I love you so much that the thought of…” Lucas stopped when his voice cracked.
 
“Oh Luke…I’m your wife! I want to take care of you. I want to help you through thick and thin!” Margaret shook her head. “If you had just let me in, we could have…”
 
“I know, I know.”
 
Margaret leaned into him and laid her head on his shoulder. “Can we talk more tomorrow? I’m just so…tired.”
 
Lucas lifted her from his shoulder and nodded. He gave her a small kiss. “Let’s get you in the tub.” He stood back and helped Margaret slide her robe off. Then he waited while she finished undressing. He helped her into the tub. Knowing how tired she was, he offered to wash her back and shoulders. Margaret’s smile told him that she appreciated the thoughtful gesture. She closed her eyes and leaned her head against the back of the tub as Lucas lathered the cloth up and handed it to her. When she was ready, he gently washed her back.
 
Lucas held up a towel for her as she stepped from the tub. He walked her to the bed where a fresh, clean nightgown was already laid out, then he helped her into bed.
 
Margaret was asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow.
 
***
 
She woke up with a start. She heard horses screaming and crackling as the fire burned high in the sky. But when her eyes opened, everything was quiet. Margaret was surprised to see the sun shining in the window. Quickly, she threw the covers back and reached for her robe that Lucas had laid across the foot of their bed after getting up that morning. After tightening it around herself, she opened the door and walked into the front room.
 
The smell of coffee filled the air. Margaret smiled as she hurried into the kitchen and poured a cup of coffee. Then she walked to the front door and opened it. There was no sign of Lucas. Margaret allowed her eyes to scan the ranch. She saw the charred remains of the out buildings that Lucas had recently built. She pressed a hand to her mouth when she realized his little shack had burned as well.
 
Margaret slid down to sit on the steps of the porch as she sipped her coffee. Soon, Lucas came around the side of the house to sit beside her. “Morning,” Lucas said as he kissed her cheek.
 
“Morning.”
 
“Did you sleep well?”
 
Margaret nodded. “Until I started dreaming.”
 
“Nightmare?”
 
“Yeah.” She glanced at him sideways. “Screaming horses…the fire…”
 
“You weren’t here when the horses were screaming…were you?”
 
Margaret looked into her coffee cup. “I could hear them…a long way off.” Lucas turned to look out in front of him. “Coffee?”
 
“I’ll get it in a minute.” Lucas rubbed his hands together. “I found your horse.”
 
Margaret heard the hesitation in his voice. She shot her head up and looked into his face. “I don’t have a horse.”
 
“Oh. Andy’s then.” Margaret didn’t say anything as she slowly turned her head away. “He’s dead.”
 
Tears filled her eyes. She quickly nodded her head, letting Luke know she had heard him. The emotions the horses’ death caused her were indescribable. He had served as a link to Andy. Margaret could still remember the day Andy had gotten that horse. It was like love at first sight when the two of them met…sort of like when Lucas met Bullet for the first time. “I miss him,” Margaret whispered.
 
“I know.” Lucas gently slid an arm around her shoulders. She leaned her head against him. “I’m sorry, Honey.”
 
“Did you find Bullet?” Margaret asked then.
 
“Uh uh.”
 
Margaret slowly lifted her head. She saw the emotions playing on her husband’s face. “I know he was special to you. I’m sorry.” Lucas merely nodded. He was too numb to talk about it. He’d rather move on for now. “You hungry?”
 
“I’m starved.”
 
Without saying another word, Margaret hurried inside to fix breakfast.
 
***
 
Nothing was said as they silently ate breakfast that morning. Both Margaret and Lucas had a lot of thinking to do. There were decisions to make and things to discuss. Not only did they need to rebuild their ranch, but they needed to rebuild the relationship their words had damaged. Both Margaret and Lucas knew that nothing but time would rebuild that.
 
Finally, Margaret spoke. “How bad is it?” Lucas shot his head up wondering just what she was talking about. Margaret swept her eyes toward the door and back to him. “Tell me, Luke.”
 
Lucas sighed as he looked back down at his plate. “It’s bad,” he answered shortly. He felt Margaret’s eyes on him as she waited for an explanation. “Horses are expensive and we lost them all. All our gear, all the feed, hay for the winter…” Lucas swallowed hard as he looked up at her. “I can’t give you milk because both of our milk cows were in the barn. The pigs behind the barn…the sow died…Of course, the chickens are gone and…” Lucas stuffed the remainder of the pancakes in his mouth. “…the meat.”
 
Margaret allowed silence to settle around them as she processed all this. All they had left were the cattle that they couldn’t feed and the house. She pushed the last piece of pancake around on her plate as she slowly allowed the news to sink in. “We’ll be okay.”
 
But at the same instance, Lucas said, “I’ll have to sell the cattle.”
 
Margaret shot her head up. “Lucas, NO!”
 
Tears filled Lucas’ eyes as he stood from the table and hurried to his desk. Margaret silently began cleaning up as Lucas looked over the ledger. She knew better than to talk to him at the moment, but she silently watched him work as she poured water into a pan to heat so she could start her cleaning.
 
“Damn it!” Lucas pounded his fist on the desk in frustration and stood. “God!” Then he hurried from the house.
 
Margaret paused in her washing and looked out the window. Lucas’ shoulders slumped as he hurried across the road. Tears filled her eyes. Margaret hated what was happening to them. She hated that Lucas’ dreams seemed to all be going awry.
 
Slowly, she sat down the cup she was drying and walked over to the desk. She picked up the ledger to read the figures. “Oh Lucas…” She breathed. She saw his figures for what things would cost to make it until spring, then she saw his figures of how much money they had. She worried at the burden her husband was carrying.
 
Just then, a knock sounded on the door. The visitor didn’t wait for Margaret’s answer but opened the door. Ann stepped inside. She saw Margaret’s paled expression and sat down at the table while Margaret went to fix some tea. “Luke’s over there talking to Hal right now.”
 
Margaret kept her back turned to her best friend, but she couldn’t keep the sobs at bay. “I saw him go. He’s really upset.”
 
“He’s…asking Hal to buy the cattle.”
 
Margaret knew those words were hard for Ann to say, because Ann knew what they would do to her. Slowly, Margaret sat the tea pot down and covered her mouth with a hand as more sobs sounded. Ann was up beside her in an instant, turning Margaret toward her. She wrapped her arms around Margaret and held her while she cried. “How much more?” Margaret asked then. “How much more do we have to bear?”
 
“I don’t know, honey. Oh, I wish I could take this pain from you…”
 
“I think Lucas is going to go see his brothers. Hal’s encouraging him to go…says he needs to talk to them – sort through things.” Margaret nodded as she bit her lip. “I’ll help you with the cleaning today.”
 
“Oh no!” Margaret shook her head. “You don’t have to do that! It’s not…”
 
“Nonsense! I’m your best friend!” Ann hurried to the kitchen. “Now, let’s see where to start…”
 
They hadn’t worked for very long when Margaret heard a horse hurrying into their yard. In another moment, the door opened and Scott was standing in front of her. Margaret dropped her rag and hurried to her brother. “Scott! Oh Scott!” She felt herself being lifted off the ground as he hugged her tight. He held her while she again cried. Oh, how much more would she have to cry? She was almost empty from all the tears!
 
Scott put his arm around her shoulder and walked her outside. Together, they sat down on the porch. “What are you doing here?” Margaret asked as she accepted his kerchief and wiped her face.
 
“You were quite distraught when I left here yesterday. I worried about you all night.”
 
Margaret gave him a weak smile. “You worried about me?”
 
“Well, you’re my little sister.” Scott squeezed her hand. “I passed by Luke on the way here. He was on his way to see his brothers.”
 
“Ann told me he may go.”
 
Scott smoothed her hair from her face as he gave her a look of compassion. “How are you two doing?”
 
Margaret sniffed. “We’re talking some. Lucas is taking care of me the best he can.” Margaret sniffed again. “We’ve been fighting ever since those…those…”
 
“Remember what Mama always told us when we were growing up? Hard times makes us love each other more.”
 
“Then I’ll love Lucas a lot more by the time it’s all over.” Margaret looked up at Scott. “He said something about…selling the cattle.” Scott gave her a slight nod. Margaret’s eyes suddenly filled with tears again. “Oh Scott, he just can’t! He’s worked so hard and that’s our only crop right now! If he sells the cattle…”
 
Again, she was in his arms. Scott allowed her to cry for only a moment before he lifted her up. “Honey, I’m worried about you, and so is Mother.” Scott studied her face intently. “Margaret, you’ve always been so strong! When hard times came, you would cry, then you would wipe your face, square your shoulders, and do what needed done. You were always the strong one!” Scott laid a hand on her cheek. “What’s happened?”
 
“I don’t know…” Margaret mumbled softly. “If we lose our cattle then…”
 
“Then you’ll start all over!” Scott lifted his eyebrows. “Oh Margaret, when Ma and Pa started out, Pa had to start over three times! Don’t you remember Pa telling us about that when we were younger? First disease, then the harsh winter, and finally the drought that caused a fire? Yet each time…our parents picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and tried again.”
 
“But…if we lose the cattle, Lucas will be a farmer! He doesn’t…”
 
“He’ll do it because he has to, Margaret. Come spring, he can buy more cattle and you can start over again!” Scott smiled. “I’ll talk to Luke. See if he’ll let us help him. We’ve got horses and…”
 
“No.” Margaret shook her head. “No, he’ll never allow that and you know it! He’s too proud!” Margaret smiled then. “Just like you.”
 
“Yeah.” Scott smiled at her. “That’s why you’ll overcome this…because he IS proud. But Margaret…Luke needs you. He needs your strength and your courage! You both need a lot of faith.” Scott kissed her cheek then stood up. “Well, Ma and Amanda ordered me to come by and check on you. The baby’s a bit under the weather, so I best go get the tonic and get home.”
 
Margaret stood. She was still processing everything Scott had said. “You’re right, Scott. Luke does need my strength right now. And I’ll give it to him.”
 
Scott smiled. “I know you will.” He tipped his hat to her and mounted his horse.
 
Margaret waved as he rode from the yard. “Ann!” Margaret hurried inside. “Ann, we’ve a lot to do if we’re going to get this house back into shape before Luke gets home! Will you help me?”
 
***
 
Julie filled the coffee cups and sat them on the table as Lucas began speaking. Abe sat back and listened, nodding his head and offering some short comments once in a while. At one point, he lifted his head toward the window to make sure his children were still behaving themselves as they played in the fenced-in front yard. Lucas’ voice became so emotional at times. At times it looked like he was going to burst into tears, while at others, he seemed almost angry.
 
Finally, Lucas stopped talking altogether and just sat quietly as he stared down into his coffee cup. “I…” Lucas swallowed hard. “I’ll have to sell my cattle.”
 
“Oh no!” Julie exclaimed suddenly. “Luke…” Julie stopped when she felt Abe’s hand on hers and saw the warning in his eyes.
 
Lucas grabbed his coffee cup as if it were a life line. “I don’t have any choice,” he stated. “I’ll have to repair the damage to the roof and build new out buildings, a new corral…we lost every one of our horses and our hay and seed…” Lucas swallowed the lump in his throat. “Everything…We lost…everything.”
 
“You still have your house,” Julie reminded him. “And you have Margaret.”
 
Lucas lifted his head. He swallowed hard as tears squeezed from his eyes. “I wish…I wish we had waited to marry.”
 
“No, Luke! Don’t say that!” Julie suddenly shouted.
 
“Julie…” Abe warned.
 
“Lucas, you and Margaret love each other! You need her right now!” Julie continued on.
 
“Julie, hush!” Abe ordered a bit sterner.
 
“No Abe, I won’t hush!” Julie lifted her chin in a stubborn stance. “Now you listen to me, Lucas McCain…That woman loves you and you need to have more faith than that! She can survive this! Why, I bet you right now that she’s at home trying to do her best to keep the ranch together!”
 
“But if I had waited until…” Lucas swallowed. “…until I had a well dug and we hadn’t rushed into this…”
 
Julie simmered a bit and laid a hand on Lucas’. “No, Luke. You two did right in marrying. I saw such happiness in your eyes after you came back.”
 
“Yeah. And then the first trial that came along…we start fighting like…like…” Lucas groaned as he put his hands to his face. “Oh, everything’s so hard right now! She’s cried so many tears and…I just don’t know what I’m going to do…I just..I just don’t know.”
 
Julie continued to hold his hand as her eyes filled with tears.
 
“Marriage is hard, Luke. You have to learn…” Abe spoke quietly, trying to calm him.
 
“But we’ve loved each other for so long! We’ve always managed to get through things together. We were fighting so much! I was so stubborn. She was so…so I don’t know…” Lucas shook his head as more tears slipped down his face. “I wish we could be more like you two!”
 
“Oh Luke…” Julie shook her head. “Don’t you go thinking Abe and I haven’t had our problems. We’ve had some big fights!”
 
“That’s right, baby brother. I had to sleep in the barn a couple nights, we were fighting so much.” Abe shook his head. “No, Luke…Marriage hasn’t been easy for us either.”
 
“It’s just that…” Luke wiped the tears from his cheek. “It’s just so hard…She’s hurting so badly from…everything that’s happened. I don’t know what to do!”
 
“Just love her, Luke.” Julie gave his hand another squeeze. “She just needs love and understanding. She needs you to tell her what you’re thinking and feeling…”
 
“How much more are we supposed to take?” Lucas questioned as he lifted his eyebrows toward Julie. Julie felt a tear slide down her already-moist cheeks.
 
Suddenly, the door opened and Adam came running inside. “Pa, he started it!”
 
“No I didn’t! You started it!” Sammy declared.
 
“Did not, did not, did not!” Adam shouted then as he went to grab a lock of his brother’s hair and give it a yank.
 
“HEY!” Abe stood up and put his hands on his hips. “Both of you OUT!” Both boys hung their heads and turned toward the door. “After your uncle leaves, you can both expect a trip to the barn for your behavior. In the mean time, go back outside with David and Rachel!”
 
“Yes Pa,” they both answered.
 
Lucas stood from the table and grabbed his hat and rifle. “I gotta go. I need to check on Margaret.” Both Abe and Julie heard the burden in his voice. “Thanks for listening.”
 
“Luke…” Julie hurried up to him. “Why don’t you stay for lunch?”
 
“No…” Lucas sighed. “I need to get home.”
 
Julie hugged him and watched from the doorway as Abe walked Lucas to his borrowed horse. She allowed herself to cry as Lucas rode from the yard. Abe went to deal with the misbehavior of their sons while she carried the cups to the sink. She was still standing at the sink when Abe walked back inside. “Oh Abe…” Julie mumbled as she stared out the window. “Why?”
 
Abe walked up behind his wife and took her in his arms. “I don’t know, honey.”
 
Julie pressed her face into his chest and sighed heavily. “Yesterday was their one month wedding anniversary.”
 
Abe pushed her face back so he could look into her eyes. “Are you serious?” Julie nodded. “You mean on their one month anniversary, they were…” Abe closed his eyes. “Oh my…”
 
“We’ve got to do something to help them!” Julie cried. “We’ve just got to!”
 
“What can we do, Julie? You know my brother’s a proud man.” Abe went to sit down at the table.
 
Julie sat down on his lap and rested her head on his shoulder. “Abe, Margaret’s done so much for me. She was there when the triplets were born. She came every single day to help us out with the children. When I had to stay in bed those weeks before I miscarried, she was there. She took care of the children when they had the measles…” Julie shook her head. “She never got a thing for everything she did.” Julie slowly lifted up and stared into her husband’s eyes. “We’ve just GOT to do something to help them!”
 
“I agree,” Abe nodded. “But what?”
 
“Well…” Julie started to stand, but Abe wrapped his arms around her and kept her firmly on his lap. “Between the McCain family and the Gibbs family, surely we could give them enough so they don’t have to sell their cattle! There’s plenty of men in this town who would be willing to help rebuild the barn and other buildings that were burned, and I think we should start with those thirteen men who were responsible. Between all of you, you can repair the roof. And I’m sure we could all pitch in together and somehow get them enough feed and hay for the winter!”
 
Julie stood up with excitement. Her eyes began glowing as she worked through her thoughts out loud. “We all pitched in and donated chickens, and we can do that again! And we don’t need THREE milk cows, Abe. You were talking about selling one of them anyhow! A…a…and then we could help find some horses and…”
 
“Whoa there!” Abe held up a hand as he stood from his chair. “You’re forgetting one thing, my beautiful wife.” Julie paused and waited for Abe to continue. “There is no way in this world that Luke is going to accept all this. Now, I agree with you that between everyone, we can make it work, but…how do you convince my baby brother of that?”
 
Julie folded her arms and stuck out her chin. “Well now…if we just show up and announce we’re doing it, he can’t say much now can he?”
 
“You don’t know my brother, my love!” Abe scratched his beard as he turned and watched his daughter toddle behind her brothers. “But if we ask him for help in exchange…he just may go for it.”
 
“Help with what?”
 
“Well now…” Abe looked his wife up and down. “I’d say you could use Margaret’s help three times a week, and we could use some help with the planting this spring.”
 
“Oh Abe! I can’t ask Margaret to…” Julie started.
 
Abe held up his hand. “Trust me, Julie…We must allow Lucas to keep his pride. We’ll help him, alright.” Abe grabbed his hat and gunbelt, then bent over to kiss her.
 
“Where are you going?”
 
Abe smiled as he opened the door. “To go talk to my brothers.”
 
“What about your lunch?” Julie asked then.
 
Abe laughed. “I’ll eat at Peter’s! You know Tiffany will feed me as soon as I show up.” Rachel ran to her father and lifted her arms. “And it looks like I’m taking Rachel with me!”
 
“Oh, but what about her lunch and nap?” Julie protested, wanting to keep her daughter on her schedule.
 
“Tiffany will take care of that!” Abe tossed her up in the air and laughed. He ordered his sons to clean up the yard so they could go in and eat their lunch, then he hurried down the hill.
 
***
 
Lucas was quite surprised when he walked up onto the porch of his house and smelled an aroma coming from their kitchen. He was even more surprised when the door to his house opened and Margaret stepped out with a beautiful smile on her face. She hurried toward him and kissed him softly on the lips. Lucas stepped back and studied her from head to toe. She had her hair all prettied up the way he liked it and a pretty dress on. “Welcome home, husband.” Her voice was quite cheerful.
 
Lucas couldn’t keep his eyebrow from popping up as he studied this ravishing beauty in front of him. Was this the woman he had left crying with such fear in her eyes just hours before? Margaret took his hand in hers and pulled him inside. The table was all set. Lucas studied the ham and vegetables that sat on the table. Then he lifted his head toward the ceiling and noticed that the hole had been covered.
 
Margaret pulled out Lucas’ chair and sat him down. Then she served him the food. Only after his plate was filled did she make her way into the kitchen and bring the coffee pot. She filled his cup then poured some cream into his cup. Then she sat down and folded her hands in prayer, waiting for Lucas to bless the food.
 
Slowly, Lucas closed his eyes and took her hand. “Lord…uh…bless this food and the woman who prepared it…as mysterious as she is. Amen.” Lucas lifted his head to see Margaret smiling at him. “Alright…I just have one question.”
 
“What?” Margaret asked.
 
“Did…I come to the right house?”
 
Margaret giggled as she filled her plate and started eating. “Honey, what’s going on?” Lucas finally asked. “The house is clean…the roof is covered…and the food…Where…How…What???”
 
“Scott stopped by a while ago, Luke. He pointed out a few things to me that helped me to see that we need to give each other strength…not fall apart. Oh Luke, I know things will be hard but…” Margaret reached out and took his hand. “We’ll be okay! So, we’ll have to sell the cattle and plant extra crops…So what? We still have each other, and I’ll be there by your side!”
 
Lucas smiled at her. He was speechless. He ate quietly for awhile, then asked, “Where’d the ham come from? We lost all ours in the fire.”
 
“Ann gave it to me,” Margaret answered without looking up.
 
Slowly, Lucas sat down his fork. “She WHAT?”
 
“Now Luke…I know how you feel about charity.”
 
“Good.” Lucas nodded his head. “Then you’ll understand when I tell you not to accept anymore!”
 
“But Luke…”
 
“How did the roof get covered?” Lucas asked suddenly.
 
“The…roof?” Margaret raised an eyebrow and tipped her head as she played dumb.
 
“Yeah…You know…” Lucas nudged his fork upwards. “That thing that keeps the rain from pouring down on us when we’re INSIDE.”
 
“Oh…the roof.” Margaret cleared her throat. “Well, you see Luke…” Margaret looked down at her plate and started pushing the food around.
 
Slowly, Lucas sat down his fork again. “Yes?” he prompted.
 
“Well...Ann and I…” Margaret cleared her throat.
 
“Ann and you…what???”
 
Margaret took a long drink of her coffee. “It’s nothing you’d approve of, so let’s just forget it and…”
 
“Please…” Lucas closed his eyes to gain control of his voice. “…tell me you women weren’t up on the ROOF…”
 
“Okay. I won’t tell you.”
 
“Margaret McCain!”
 
Margaret stood and lifted his plate as he took the last bite from it. “Luke dear, you are talking about the two best tree climbing girls!”
 
“Now Margaret, I have enough to worry about and don’t need…” Lucas pointed a finger at her as Margaret slid on his lap and gave him a long, lingering kiss.
 
“You…were saying?”
 
Lucas smiled. “Do that again.”
 
“What?” Margaret drew her arms around his neck. “This?” She gave him another long, slow kiss. Lucas put his arms around her and squeezed her to him as he intensified the kiss. Margaret pressed a hand firmly against his chest and pushed away from him. “I have dishes to do.”
 
Lucas held tight to her. “Margaret…we have to sell the cattle. You know that.”
 
“I know. And I imagine you’ll have more plowing to do come spring for the extra crops we’ll have to plant.”
 
“I talked to Hal this morning. He’s willing to buy most of the cattle. The cattle he doesn’t buy, Scott said he’d take for the same price. The calves…they’ll go with the cattle as well.”
 
Lucas gave Margaret one more kiss, still surprised at how happy she suddenly looked. He was proud to see the old Margaret McCain back. He knew they still had some unresolved issues among them, but he also knew that in time the healing would occur. Lucas picked up his hat and rifle and went to check cattle. That was pretty much the only chore he had left at the moment anyhow, and soon, there’d be no cattle to check.
 
***
 
Lucas checked his cattle with a heavy heart. He knew that tomorrow he would be selling every last one of them so he could provide for his wife over the long winter. The money he would get from the cattle would give them just enough to get a couple horses, which they would have to use as saddle horses and team horses both; chickens, a new barn and shed, and some feed for the horses and chickens. The rest of the money would have to be used sparingly for food and other necessary items. The hardest part was forcing Margaret to go without when she was used to being able to buy whatever she wanted or needed.
 
Lucas’ heart soon grew even heavier. He really didn’t need to check his cattle, so he decided to make an early evening of his chores and headed back to the ranch. Margaret was doing some washing outside. She said the sheets needed a good washing, but he wasn’t to worry because she had extra linens for their bed. She also had a big pot of beans on. “Might as well get used to eating beans,” Lucas grumbled as he started piling the burned rubble into the back of a wagon he’d brought back from town. “Seems we’ll be eating a lot of them this winter.”
 
Margaret merely smiled and stated that at least they wouldn’t starve.
 
That evening, Lucas didn’t say too much as they ate. He took extra time in smoking his evening cigar as he sat on the porch and stared up at the stars. After cleaning the kitchen, Margaret stepped out onto the porch and sat down beside her husband. She wrapped her arm through his and sighed as she leaned her head against his shoulder. “What are you thinking, Luke?”
 
Lucas started to tell her nothing, but remembered the advice Julie had given him earlier. He sighed as he put an arm around her and drew her against him. “I’m thinking about how hard things will be for you this winter. This isn’t how I wanted our life together to start out like.”
 
“It’s going to be harder for you, Luke…” Margaret cuddled closer to him. “I was wallowing in self-pity when Scott came over. But you know what he did?”
 
“What?”
 
“He finally lifted my head from his chest, looked me straight in the eye, and reminded me about how strong I’ve always been. He reminded me that when we were kids, I’d be the last to give in to self-pity, and he was right. I don’t know how it happened, but for some reason I’ve been looking at things like they aren’t going to get better. But they are.”
 
“How do you know that?”
 
“Because, Luke…We have each other and…” She reached up and touched his cheek. “We have the Lord.”
 
Lucas looked out across the land. The moonbeams danced off the charred remains of what was once the bright beginnings of a ranch. Margaret’s mention of God stirred something deep inside him. He was taken back to the day his father’s farm had burned. He told himself he’d never let anything like that happen to his own family, yet it had. Lucas felt a sudden anger wail up inside him. He was so disappointed that after all his hard work, he’d have to start all over again. He couldn’t keep the bitter words from coming. “Looks like God’s dead set against us having our own place…”
 
Margaret straightened up from him as her eyes narrowed in disapproval. Finally, she slowly stood up and crossed her arms as she looked down at him. “Luke…I bet it’s been some times since you’ve had a bedtime story.”
 
Lucas slowly turned and looked up at her.
 
“Well…” She nudged her head toward the house. “Let’s go.”
 
“Go where?”
 
“To bed. I’ve a story to tell you.” Margaret smiled. “Come on, mister! March!” Margaret pointed inside.
 
Lucas could do nothing but obey her. Margaret blew out the lantern in the front room and followed Lucas into the bedroom. She didn’t say anything as they prepared for bed. Finally, she crawled in bed and laid down. “A long time ago, there was a man named Job,” she finally started as she stared up at the ceiling. “He was a wealthy man with anything a man could want, lots of children, and plenty of animals. He was very faithful to God. Well, one day, the devil…”
 
***
 
Margaret had hoped Lucas would stay in bed and rest, but when she woke up the following morning, Lucas was again gone. The night before, he had fallen asleep pretty quickly. She had indeed finished telling him about Job and how he had passed God’s test. She’d even quoted Job’s words to Lucas, and he had kissed her softly, thanked her for showing him the truth, and then turned away from her and fallen asleep.
 
Sleep had been slow in coming for Margaret. Oh, how she had longed to fall asleep in her husband’s arms! When would the barrier they had between them go away? Up to the day Lucas had to put in long days breaking new ground, Margaret and Lucas had slept in each other’s arms all night. Now, there was a space between them. They shared the same bed, yet they didn’t.
 
Margaret felt a heaviness about her as she got up and dressed. When she went into the kitchen, she found that the stove was cold. Lucas must have once again left before time to start the fire. After starting the fire and putting the coffee on to warm, Margaret opened the door and stepped out onto the porch. There she saw him. He was standing on the back side of their yard just…looking at the cattle.
 
Margaret slowly walked out to meet him. She came to stand beside him as he looked out over the range. She put her hand in his. “You still have the land, Luke. They didn’t take that from you. You fought for it, and you won.”
 
Lucas squeezed her hand as he turned to her. “I know…it’s just that…” He pressed his forehead to hers. Margaret closed her eyes and sighed, relishing in the feelings that raced through her as he slowly put his arms around her and pressed her to him in an embrace.
 
“You don’t want to start all over again.” She kissed him softly. “I know.” Margaret rolled her forehead from his, and they were soon standing cheek-to-cheek. “Perhaps you should hold on to them for a few days. There’s no reason to…I mean, you need to clean up the burn before you can…”
 
“What’s the use on holding on to them, Margaret? Nothing’s gonna change.” Lucas sighed. “We don’t have enough money to get us through the winter…not if I have to rebuild and…and…”
 
“You shouldn’t have spent all that money on the wedding, my dress, the dishes…You just shouldn’t have, Luke!” Margaret declared.
 
“Oh no!” Lucas lifted his cheek from hers. “Don’t you ever say that…I have no regrets in marrying you. I…” Lucas sighed as he put his hands on her shoulders and glanced away from her. “Well, that’s not exactly true. If we had waited until we had a well built so you’d have proper drinking water. If we had a well, we could have stopped the fire in time and…”
 
“No.” Margaret felt tears fill her eyes. “No, Luke. We can’t look back. I want to walk with you in this time. Please…don’t regret marrying me.”
 
“Oh I don’t!” Lucas again pressed his forehead to hers. “Seems I can’t ever say the right thing these days.”
 
“We’ll get through this, Luke. Just remember that I love you so very, very much.” Margaret kissed him softly. “Now, how about coming back inside and having a cup of coffee while I fix your breakfast?”
 
Lucas read from the Bible while Margaret fixed flapjacks. She hated having to again fix them, but without eggs and milk there wasn’t much else she could fix for breakfast. Lucas ate in silence, and Margaret decided to leave him to his thoughts that morning. After eating, he thanked her for the meal, kissed her on the forehead, and picked up his hat and rifle.
 
“Luke?” Margaret stood.
 
Lucas turned to her. Tears were in his eyes. “I have to do this, Margaret. I’ll…be back.”
 
Margaret heard his gasp as he walked out the door. She knew this was something that would be hard for him. “Oh God…send us a miracle!” Margaret prayed. “Please send us something…anything to tell us everything will be okay. Not for my sake, Lord but…for my husband. This is so…hard for him.”
 
She went to clean up the dishes, her heart feeling heavy. But she was determined to stay brave for Luke.
 
***
 
Margaret had just gotten the main room back into shape when she heard a noise in the back yard. She hurried to the back window and looked out. Something was moving around in the trees below. Margaret puzzled over this and slowly opened the back door. Stepping out onto the porch, she wiped her hands on her apron. “Hello?”  There was no answer, but whatever was in the trees below continued to move around. “Lucas?” She had seen Lucas go down the hill sometime ago and hoped he was returning, but she heard a low sound like a horse sneezing.
 
Cautiously, Margaret took a few steps toward the clump of trees. She paused again as the thing moved. Her eyes focused a bit better and she was able to make out the form of a horse. Margaret continued to go forward cautiously. “Whoa, boy…” Margaret mumbled as she continued toward the spooked horse. Her heart began to race when she realized that the horse was the same color as Bullet. “Whoa…” She continued softly.
 
Margaret took a couple more steps forward. She was so close, she could reach out and touch it, but she continued to speak softly. Margaret looked around for Lucas, but found him nowhere in sight. “It’s okay…it’s okay…” Another step forward sent the horse in a bit of a fright. He started whinnying as he stepped out of the bushes, prepared to run if he needed to.
 
The sight that met Margaret’s eyes brought joy to her face. “Bullet!” Her exclamation came out in a whisper. Tears filled her eyes. “Thank you, God! Thank you!”  She reached out a hand and lightly patted his flank. “It’s okay, boy. It’s okay…” Cautiously, she made her way to his front. She reached out a hand to grab the broken halter that hung down. “That’s a boy…” Margaret looked him in the eye as she continued to speak softly. “That’s right. You’re okay now, boy.” Margaret continued to reach for the halter. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
 
Her voice did the trick. Bullet hardly flinched when she finally took a firm hold on his halter. She smiled as she reached up a hand to pet his nose. “That’s right. You’re okay now.” She smiled. “Boy, Luke will be happy to see you!” At her soft touch, Bullet gave a loud whinny and pulled away a bit. “It’s okay! It’s okay!” Margaret kept her voice soothing and calm, and the result was calming to the horse. “You’re beautiful!” She laughed as she continued to pet his nose. “You are so beautiful!”
 
Margaret then tugged gently on the halter. She clucked to him to move forward, but he hesitated. She looked up and understood the reason for his hesitation. The charred remains of the burn could be seen from there, and she knew Bullet was remembering the fire from earlier. “Okay…it’s okay…” She wanted to call for Lucas, but feared that her sudden noise would spook Bullet. “Okay…we’ll just go right up here.”
 
Bullet again hesitated as he pulled against her. Margaret turned back to him and gave him a gentle kiss on the nose. “You’re okay. You’re okay.” Margaret turned in the other direction and gently pulled on his halter. Bullet obeyed her and followed her lead. She managed to get to a hitching post on the side of the yard and tie him to it with some rope that was lying on the ground.
 
She knew all the feed had burned up in the barn, but she had some sugar cubes inside and hurried inside to retrieve them. She knew Lucas would frown on her feeding his horse sugar cubes. It spoiled them, and he had firmly lectured her on that, but Margaret figured Bullet needed some extra pampering after the ordeal he had been through. She brought the cubes out and began feeding them to him. “Good boy!” Margaret rejoiced when Bullet relaxed some more.
 
“Bullet!” Margaret lifted her head to see Lucas hurrying up to the two. Obvious shock was on his face. “Oh Bullet!” Lucas gave his horse a firm hug around the neck as if he were again that twelve year old little boy meeting him for the first time. He reached an arm out to Margaret and squeezed her against him. “Where did you find him?” His voice was heavy with emotion.
 
“In the trees, Luke. He was awful skittish, but I kept talking to him.”
 
“I’m glad you found him.” Lucas turned and smiled at her. “If anyone can tame a grizzly, it’s you.” Lucas let out a holler, which sent the horse to whinnying. Margaret chastised him and Lucas apologized to his horse. They rejoiced together, Margaret thanking God for the miracle. Lucas, turned and hugged her again, relieved he had his horse back. They shared an intimate embrace as they stood beside the newfound horse.
 
They were still trying to get over the fact that Lucas’ horse had indeed survived when they heard a loud rumbling coming from the road. “What is that?” Margaret wondered.
 
Lucas pushed her back toward Bullet and held up his rifle. “I don’t know.” She heard him cock his rifle. He was ready for whatever was approaching. The sound got louder and louder. From across the road, Ann hurried to the road. Lucas turned and looked at Margaret, surprised Ann would go toward the noise without knowing what it was.
 
Then suddenly, riders were riding into the McCain yard. The several riders on horses were followed by several wagons. Lucas watched as his and Margaret’s entire family stopped in the yard. The sight that met their eyes was more than they could take in. Town folks and friends dismounted their horses and climbed from the wagons. Every man, woman, and child stood in front of Lucas and Margaret. The couple scanned the crowd.
 
Behind them stood horses with no riders and cows. Wagons were loaded with all sorts of supplies. Lucas turned and looked at Margaret again, but she merely shrugged that she had no idea what was going on. “Luke…” Abe, the family Patriarch and leader of this bunch, stepped forward.
 
“Abe…what’s going on?”
 
Abe immediately held up a hand to Lucas. “Well now, first of all, I want you to hear us out before you say anything.” Lucas nodded as he slowly sat his rifle down and took Margaret’s hand. “Luke, since you left yesterday morning, I’ve been talking to all the town folks and our families and such and…well, the way we see it…you did a great service when you stood up against those men the other day. If you had given in…well, we could have been next. If they took over two ranches, they may have tried to take over our town so…you did us quite a service. You, that is…” Abe turned his eyes toward Margaret. “…and your wife.”
 
Margaret squeezed Lucas’ hand as tears filled her eyes.
 
Abe cleared his throat. “We all came to a decision yesterday. Not only are we going to help you clean up the aftermath of this war you just fought, but we’re going to rebuild. Bobby Scully over there…he’ll put in his time since it was his ken folk that started this mess. Marshal Williams went out and ordered every one of the men involved to be here, and they came willing. Every one of them had something to donate to you. They all pitched it and bought the needed supplies to not only rebuild what they burned, but to replace what you lost. The women here…” Abe turned back toward the group before continuing. “They gathered up some chickens for you and…I had an extra milk cow that I didn’t rightly need right now. Your hay will be coming later once we get everything stocked up.”
 
Scott hurried forward then. “We have a couple old steers that need butchered. We’re giving you the meat.”
 
“Yeah, and…” Mr. Stevens stepped forward. “I would appreciate it if you would take some pork off my hands.”
 
Ann smiled as she hurried forward. “And until those chickens give you eggs, I have plenty for you to use.”
 
The group grew quiet.  Lucas’ eyes filled with tears. “We can’t take…anything.”
 
Julie hurried forward. “Luke, your wife helped me bring my three babies into this world. She came over every day, six days a week, and helped take care of my children. She stayed with me and helped me through my miscarriage, and stayed to care for Laura Rose and Charlie when they had the measles. Margaret has done so much for my family! We want to pay her…something…”
 
“Oh, but I don’t want repayment!” Margaret declared. “I did it because I wanted to!”
 
“We know that.” Julie’s eyes filled with tears. “Oh Luke…we all want to give. Please don’t take away our blessing!”
 
Tears fell from Lucas’ eyes. He turned and looked down at Margaret. “What do you say, Mrs. McCain? Do you want to accept this gift they’ve come with?”
 
“Oh yes!” Margaret cried. “Yes!”
 
“Well…” Lucas said as he took a step toward his brother. “I…guess the only question is…what do you want me to do?” Abe and Lucas gave a half embrace as the men all began talking at the same time. Margaret stood back and watched the men discuss their plans for the ranch.
 
The women all gathered. “We’ve brought plenty of food. I think the community donated enough to keep you well-supplied for many months!”
 
“But why?” Margaret shook her head. “We would have been fine just with the men replacing the things we lost!”
 
“Margaret, sometimes it only takes a spark. Once we started asking, people wanted to keep giving.” Julie took Margaret’s arm and led her toward the wagons. “Marshal Williams ordered the men involved to come, and every one of them insisted on not only coming, but giving things as well. Abe was honest when he said they replaced everything they burned. Between them, Abe made sure they were able to do that. Then the town folk started bringing us foods and items to give you. They all felt the same way…that you and Luke did them a favor.”
 
“I prayed this morning,” Margaret whispered as they walked up to one of the wagons. “I prayed for a miracle.”
 
Julie lifted a bundle up from the wagon. Other women worked at lifting more items from the wagon. “First order of business is getting lunch prepared while the men discuss what to do.” Margaret started toward the house, but Julie shook her head. “We’ll use Ann’s house. They’ll be repairing the roof first off.”
 
All morning, the men laid out a strategy for who would do what. The women had a rather elaborate lunch prepared. Beef stew and sandwiches sat out on tables in the yard and even the children sat around and discussed plans for the afternoon. Everyone had a job to do, Abe announced as they finished eating. Some of the women were put in charge of entertaining the younger children. Other women and older children were put to work to help clear the burn out. The men went to work on starting the repairs.
 
By the time the sun went down that evening, buildings had started taking shape. A huge bon-fire was made to burn the rest of the ruined materials, and what couldn’t burn would be hauled off. “We’ll have the barn finished tomorrow,” Abe announced. “Folks, don’t forget to bring your dancing clothes for the very first Lucas McCain barn dance!” Lucas kept his arm firmly around Margaret while they waved goodbye to all their friends and loved ones.
 
***
 
Margaret sat down the brush and stood up from her dressing table. As she took her robe off, Lucas held the covers up so she could slide into bed. “Come here, my love,” Lucas mumbled as he drew his arms around her and pulled her to him. He sighed as he laid down on the pillow. Nothing was said for awhile, then Lucas mumbled, “I’m sorry.”
 
Margaret rubbed her hand up and down his arm as she pressed her back against his chest. “Sorry? For what?”
 
“I shouldn’t have doubted you. I should have…had more faith in you.”
 
Margaret suddenly turned in his arms so she could look into his face. The faint glow of the lantern cast shadows over his face. She laid a hand on his cheek. “Luke, what are you talking about?”
 
“Honey…I just felt so overwhelmed. I mean sure…we’ve always talked about our problems before, but this time was different. We weren’t just friends. You were my wife and I would move heaven and earth to protect you. I was just so afraid…Afraid that…Well, I don’t know exactly. I’d never been responsible for another person’s life before. I…” Lucas turned his face away from her. “I hurt you so deeply. And I’m sorry.”
 
“I’m sorry too, Luke. I haven’t exactly been the most understanding woman in the world. I’ve said some things to you that I shouldn’t have. I…”
 
“No!” Lucas pressed his fingers to her lips. “Margaret, you’re right…You did marry me for better or worse, and I do need you beside me. I love you, Margaret Ann McCain.”
 
Margaret smiled into his eyes. “And I love you, Lucas McCain.”
 
They shared a passionate kiss, but the day had been long, and the couple knew the following day would be even longer so the kiss soon ended. They soon fell asleep, happy to be in each other’s arms.
 
***
 
The next day, Margaret was awake before Lucas. She hurried and dressed and went across the street where Ann was already preparing a large breakfast. They were just finishing breakfast preparations when the first of the work crew arrived. The men had set up makeshift tables outside in the Dodd’s front yard.  Everyone laughed as they filled plates and ate.
 
While the women worked at cleaning up after breakfast, the men picked up their hammers and saws and went to work. One group of men was sent into the woods to get more firewood, since the majority of the firewood had been destroyed in the fire. Another group of men worked on the barn while another worked on rebuilding the shed, and yet another worked on the smokehouse. The repairs on the hole in the roof was almost finished
 
By mid-afternoon, the finishing touches were put on the barn. Hay was stacked in the hay loft, the milk cows were taken to their respectful places, and the two new wagon horses were shown their new living quarters. Margaret didn’t have a saddle horse, but Lucas put that subject aside to discuss with her later.
 
Soon, it was time for the barn dance. The women went to get ready at Ann’s house while the men got ready at the McCain’s house. The children were fussed over and warned to be on their best behavior that evening. The women giggled when they saw their men coming across the street to fetch them.
 
Lucas had on his Sunday best. The men all stopped in the yard and gave him a small push forward. Lucas paused at the Dodd’s front door and turned to look at his friends and relatives. Then he knocked firmly on the door.
 
Ann answered the door and smiled when she saw Lucas standing there. She called for Margaret, who came forward wearing the dress Lucas had bought for her before they became engaged. The neckline was a bit lower than her other dresses, which caused Lucas to look her up and down as a big smile came across his face. He held his arm out to her, but Margaret cleared her throat and lifted her chin. Lucas lifted his eyebrows, wondering why she was hesitating.
 
“Your hat!” Abe whispered as he leaned in toward his brother.
 
“Oh!” Lucas whipped his hat off and Margaret nodded her head as she took his arm. “Shall we go to the dance, my love?”
 
Man after man took his bride. They all followed Lucas to the barn. Lucas winked at his wife and gave her a grin. “Well, Mrs. McCain, shall we get this party started?” He held out his arms.
 
As the fiddles and harmonicas sounded from the make-shift stage, Margaret rolled her eyes. They twinkled as she said, “Bullet!” Lucas blushed, realizing that was their code-word to remind him that he’s doing it wrong again.
 
Lucas repositioned his arms. “Would you believe that was on purpose?” Margaret shook her head and giggled, then she walked into his arms. Lucas led her around the barn floor.
 
Others filtered in, but everyone knew who would be the stars of the show. The love Lucas and Margaret had for each other always shone through. There were many dances when everyone else would stop and just watch the couple dance.
 
It was the third song, when the band was playing Beautiful Dreamer, that the rest of the guest stopped and formed a circle with the couple in the middle. As the music started, Lucas bowed to Margaret, who nodded her head. They danced around the circle, only having eyes for each other. The love they had for each other began shining through once again. As they danced, their love for each other was restored.
 
“Look at them!” Julie declared. “Just look at them!”
 
Abe wrapped his arms around his wife from behind and put his hands on her swelling belly. “And they were afraid their love was fading!”
 
“Humph!” Julie declared. “I’d say they’re more in love now than they were ever before!” Julie’s eyes shone. “I’ve never seen a happier couple.”
 
“Me neither!” Tiffany declared beside her sister-in-law.
 
“Hey!” Both Abe and Peter gave their wives a kiss. “I’d say we’re pretty happy!” The women giggled as the brothers echoed each other.
 
“Then show me!” Julie ordered as she grabbed Abe’s hand and pulled him out onto the dance floor. Around the circles, the other couples did the same. They only had eyes for each other.
 
Children ran around the yard, being carefully watched by the older children who had been given strict orders to keep an eye out.
 
Lucas and Margaret went to the punch bowl for a drink, then soon the retired Dr. Stevens announced, “Alright everyone! Let’s gather around for the square dance! We need four couples!”
 
The four McCain brothers all hurried forward. Usually, they treated this as a silly dance between the guys, but tonight, they dragged their wives with them. Everyone clapped as the four couples laughed and danced. Dr. Stevens’s calls got so fast that the couples fell to the barn floor laughing. Everyone cheered as each husband kissed his wife.
 
“Those McCain brothers sure do know how to kiss!” Some female voice sounded from the crowd.
 
“How would you know?” Peter asked as he lifted his head. “Oh…” He quickly dropped the matter after realizing just who had said it.
 
“Now, what’s that supposed to mean?” Tiffany questioned as she pushed her husband away a bit.
 
“It means, my darling, that I only have eyes for you!” Peter tightened his arms back around his wife as he gave her another kiss. “…now.”
 
“Alright, let’s get the kids in here!" The children all squared off into groups of eight, and the square dances continued. Everyone clapped as they watched the children attempt the square dance. Margaret’s eyes shone as she clapped and laughed.
 
“Let’s get out of here,” Lucas whispered close to her ear.
 
Margaret turned to her husband. “We can’t! We’re the hosts!”
 
“They’ll never know we’re gone,” Lucas mumbled as he grabbed her hand and pulled her to stand up. The couple hurried from the barn to take in the cool night air. Lucas took her hand in his as they walked far from their ranch to the creek. After Lucas had sat down and settled Margaret down in front of him, he whispered, “What do you think, Mrs. McCain?”
 
“I’m happy!” Margaret declared as she pressed further back against his chest. “I’m so happy!”
 
Lucas kissed her ear and chuckled. “You know…this is the first dance we attended as a married couple. And now that we’re alone…”
 
“You just behave yourself, Lucas McCain!” Margaret declared. “You can perform your husbandly duties later…after our guest leave!”
 
“Will you let me?” Lucas’ voice grew husky.
 
“I’ll think about it.”
 
“Brutal!” Lucas gasped as he put a hand to his chest. “How can you be so cruel?” They laughed, then Lucas sobered. “You know…we would have been fine, even without the help from our family.”
 
“I know, but I think it’s seeing the love they have for us that helped us to heal, Luke. It wasn’t so much the material things they gave us as the love and concern they showed. It’s been wonderful!”
 
“I must admit…” Lucas sighed. “It’s been hard for me…”
 
“But they wanted to do it, Luke!” Margaret turned in his arms. “It’s what they wanted to do! It gave them pleasure and joy…”
 
“I know, I know…” Lucas tightened his arms around her. “That’s why I didn’t put up too much of a fight. It’s one of those times when I just had to grin and bear it.”
 
“Luke, about our range war…”
 
Lucas shook his head. “It’s forgotten.”
 
“But the next time…”
 
Lucas sighed. “Honey, I wish I can sit here and promise you that next time I’ll be more understanding and less demanding, but I can’t. We just have to learn to live with the way things are.” Lucas brushed his fingertips across her cheek. “Just remember when we’re going through that that…we’ll soon be on the other side of it.” Margaret narrowed her eyes at him. Lucas grinned. “Well, after all, you took me for who I was, remember…You accepted all my faults.”
 
Margaret cuddled close to him as she laid her head against his chest. “Yes. I guess I did.”
 
They had been there for several minutes just sitting quietly when they heard a voice behind them. “There you are!” Margaret and Lucas sat up and turned to see Ann and Hal. “What sort of hosts are you…abandoning your guests to come down here and have some alone time!” But Ann giggled.
 
“Yeah, what about that…” Lucas grumbled. “And we were enjoying it up to about two seconds ago!”
 
“Lucas McCain!” Margaret gasped.
 
Lucas hushed her by tightening his arms around her. Then he gave Ann and Hal a mischievous grin as he spoke. “Besides, weren’t you taking a risk coming down here? I mean…after all, she IS my wife!”
 
“Well…you would have been quite embarrassed,” Ann declared with a giggle. Margaret’s mouth popped open. She couldn’t quite believe what her best friend had just said! She couldn’t believe Lucas either, for that matter.
 
Hal chuckled. “Must be something in the punch,” he mumbled. “You’re wanted top-side, McCain.”
 
“Tell them we’ll be there in a few…”
 
Hal held up a hand and shook his head. “You don’t seem to understand, Luke. These orders came from the Captain.”
 
“The Captain?” Lucas questioned.
 
“Abe.”
 
“Oh. He’s not the Captain. He’s the General!” Lucas declared as he stood up and reached down a hand to pull Margaret up. “At least he thinks he is.”
 
The four made their way back to the group. “In fact, here’s the two love birds now!” Abe suddenly said. Everyone turned and looked at Lucas and Margaret. Margaret blushed as Lucas put an arm around her. “It seems that every dance, they sneak away. Well my baby brother, this time we decided to call you on that.”
 
“Yeah…” Lucas grumbled. “I’ll deal with you later.”
 
“We didn’t get to attend the wedding, and some of the women here wanted to present you with the traditional wedding cake.” Abe raised his voice a bit. “Okay, ladies!”
 
The wedding march played on the fiddle as the women carefully carried in a four-tiered wedding cake. Margaret’s eyes grew wide. “I know we’re a little late for your anniversary, but…” Julie started.
 
“Our…our anniversary?” Margaret questioned.
 
“Yes. We were planning this celebration on your anniversary.” Julie cleared her throat, wanting to say no more.
 
Lucas took Margaret’s hands. “It was a month ago last Sunday that I…I married you.”
 
“Last Sunday…” Margaret shot a hand to her mouth. “Oh Luke…I’m so…so sorry! I forgot!”
 
Lucas chuckled as he shook his head. “That’s okay, my darling. We can celebrate today.” He leaned towards her. “I Luke, take you Margaret…” Then he slowly wrapped his arms around her and gave her a deep kiss for all to see.
 
“And that’s the kiss he presented her with after the preacher said…” Peter was suddenly cut off as the couple’s kiss broke apart.
 
Julie came to Margaret and handed her the knife with a ribbon tied around it. Margaret smiled up at her husband as they walked forward and together cut the cake. They each picked up a piece of cake, and as Margaret felt tears of joy fall from her eyes, they fed it to each other.
 
Everyone cheered as the music once again began to play. “Now then…” Abe said as he clapped his hands. “We want the wedding dance while the women cut the rest of the cake to serve.”
 
Lucas took Margaret’s hand one last time and nodded to her. Margaret nodded back and walked with him out onto the dance floor. As the two slowly danced with the music, Margaret laid her head on his shoulder. “Happy anniversary, Luke.”
 
Lucas chuckled. “Happy anniversary, my beautiful bride.” He kissed her temple. “What do you say we make today the first day of the rest of our life?”
 
Margaret smiled as she snuggled against him. “I think that’s just fine.”
 
“Which means that tonight…is our wedding night all over again.” Lucas whispered in her ear. Margaret blushed as she merely nodded her head.
 
***
Lucas was relieved as he watched the last of their guests ride from the yard. He stood on the porch and waved before turning to walk inside. Margaret stood waiting for him in the middle of the room, her hands folded in front of her. Lucas closed the door and leaned back against it. “Boy…I didn’t think they would ever leave.”
 
“Tonight was lovely,” Margaret said softly.
 
Lucas took off his hat and hung it on the hook. As he and Margaret looked at each other from across the room, he removed his jacket and tossed it on the nearby chair. Then his tie landed on top of the jacket. Slowly, he began unbuttoning his shirt. “Well…seems I have chores in the morning. I reckon I should…get to bed.”
 
Margaret gave him a slight nod as a smile slowly crossed her face. “Must you?” She asked as she slowly started toward him. She knew that’s what Lucas was waiting for.
 
“Well, I figured you’d be tired, Mrs. McCain.”
 
Margaret lifted an eyebrow as she slowly nodded. “Oh I am, but perhaps not too tired to perform the remainder of my wifely duties tonight.”
 
“Oh…” Lucas took a few steps toward her as he again looked her up and down. “Do tell.”
 
Margaret and Lucas stood in front of each other. She lifted her hands in the air. Lucas pressed his hands against hers and laced his fingers with hers. “Well…you see…” But suddenly, they were kissing. Their kiss was quiet hard at first, but soon it softened and became passionate as they stood in the middle of the room. Lucas’ lips left hers and trailed down her cheek and onto her neck. Margaret took short gasps of air as his lips traveled lower. They were soon teasing her at the neckline of the front of her dress. His hands shook as they began working the buttons down the front of her dress. His head lifted as he concentrated intently on the task.
 
Soon, Margaret’s dress fell from her body and laid in a heap on the floor. Lucas touched her soft skin as his lips once again found hers. Margaret ran her hands up and down her husband’s bare chest. The kisses and breathing told them of the other’s desire. Lucas began backing Margaret up to the bedroom. His hand left her soft skin as he opened the door, then he quickly closed it with his foot. He moved her backwards until they were standing in front of the bed.
 
Lucas lifted from her and watched as Margaret finished undressing. He reached out a hand and caressed her soft skin as she stood in front of him. Slowly, he lifted his eyes back up to hers. He saw the desire in her eyes. He saw her unspoken request. He quickly finished undressing and lowered her to the bed. “I love you,” Lucas whispered as he lowered himself on top of her and kissed her passionately. “I love you so much!”
 
Margaret didn’t answer. She just deepened the kiss and allowed the desire to come. Soon they were making love. Tonight they took their time as they allowed the last of their scars to fall away. Margaret gave herself to her husband, happy with the renewed love and passion they once again had restored in their marriage. Their love making lasted way into the night.
 
In time, Lucas laid on his side and pressed Margaret’s body against his. They stared into each other’s eyes as Lucas softly caressed her cheek with the back of his hand. “Luke…”
 
“Hm?”
 
“Promise me.”
 
“Promise you what?”
 
“Promise me we’ll still be like this in twenty years.” Margaret leaned in and kissed him as her hands continued to caress him.
 
“I promise,” Lucas answered with a smile.
 
“Promise me we’ll be like this in forty years.”
 
Lucas’ smile deepened as he leaned in and kissed her. “I promise, my love.”
 
“Promise me it’ll always be like this always and forever.”
 
Lucas kissed her again. “Always,” he stated as he pulled back and moved his hands up her body “…and forever.”
 
Their love making continued until they both fell asleep, satisfied in each other’s arms.

The Margaret Years — The Rodeo

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
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