The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Margaret Years
 
Chapter 7 - Aunt Gertrude and Grandma Bertha
Written by Michelle Palmer

Margaret Gibbs took a long, deep breath as she dismounted her horse and gazed over the land Lucas was quickly making into a ranch. What she saw pleased her, and the fact that he was doing a lot of it for her pleased her even more. It was only five short weeks before she and Lucas would begin their life together on this ranch.
 
Thunder could be heard in the distance, and every now and then a flash of lightening could be seen. The air smelled of rain, and Margaret knew it was only a matter of moments before it would begin to fall.
 
Lucas, upon hearing the neighing of a visiting horse, stepped out of his shack with his coffee cup in hand. He smiled at first when he saw his fiancée, but then he frowned as he realized she had again ridden that long distance alone. “Margaret Gibbs!” Lucas hurried out to her and gently took her arm. “I oughta bend you over my knee for this! You know better than to…”
 
“Lucas!” Margaret interrupted him with an exasperated sigh. “I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself!” She steadied herself in front of him as she lifted her chin in the stubborn stance, reminding Lucas that she knew her own mind. “Besides that, my mother sent me out here to let you know that you are expected to come to supper tonight. We’ve family coming from Oklahoma City on the stage today, and you are to be at our house for supper at six o’clock sharp.”
 
“Family?” Lucas raised an eyebrow. “Oh, not that prissy…” Lucas cleared his throat when Margaret lifted her eyebrow. “Uh…I mean…your loving spinster aunt…Gertrude?”
 
“The very one!” Margaret nodded. “And my grandmother is coming as well.”
 
“Ohhhh…” Lucas groaned. “Oh…I mean…GREAT!” This more enthusiastic remark was added after seeing the warning flash in Margaret’s eyes.
 
“Now, I know they may be a little prudish and…”
 
“A little?” Lucas groaned. “Now Margaret, do you remember the last time your grandmother and aunt came to visit? I couldn’t do anything right for them! Everything from the way I dressed to the way I cut my meat was wrong!”
 
“You were 15 years old!” Margaret argued. “You’ve matured…a bit…since then.” Now it was Lucas’ turn to raise an eyebrow. “Well…they’ll only be here a couple weeks, Luke. Please…” Margaret slipped her arm through his and stepped closer to him. Looking him deep in the eye, she said…”For me?”
 
Lucas smiled as he brushed her cheek with his fingers. “Anything for you, my dear.” Then he bent down and kissed her.
 
“Oh…that’s another thing…” Margaret pulled away from him. “I’m afraid you should not touch me or…kiss me while we’re in their presence.”
 
“HUH?” Lucas protested loudly.
 
“Well…my aunt…she’s sort of…old fashioned. She doesn’t think a couple should…kiss until they are married.”
 
“Until they are married???” Lucas shook his head. “Now that’s just plumb loco!”
 
“Lucas!” Margaret chided him. “Now…I don’t ask that much of you…”
 
“No, you don’t…” Lucas rolled his eyes and groaned. He knew she wasn’t asking him now. She expected him to grin and bear whatever came his way that night. “This aunt of yours has never been married, so how can she sit there and…” Lucas stopped when he saw the warning flash in her eyes once more. He held up his hands in surrender. He’d probably be better off just keeping his mouth shut all together. “Okay, okay…” He sighed. “I’ll…be good.”
 
“Thank you.” Margaret stepped toward him and slowly wrapped her arms around his neck. She kissed him softly. “I’ll make it up to you, my love.” She kissed him again. “I promise.”
 
“Yes indeed.” Lucas mumbled against her hair. “I’ll hold you to that promise.”
 
Margaret stepped away from him. “You best get cleaned up, Luke.”
 
“I’ll have to go to Peter’s for that, honey.” Lucas led her toward the shack. “You uh…expecting me to wear a jacket and tie?” Margaret nodded. “I was afraid of that.”
 
They stepped into the shack just as the rain started coming. Lucas handed Margaret a cup of coffee as they sat down at the table. “I dare to guess what your dear ol’ sweet aunt would think about you sitting inside this shack with me.”
 
Margaret giggled. “I don’t think you want to know, Luke. She’s always given Mama a hard time. I remember Mama telling me once that she protested about her marrying my Pa. Grandma Bertha wanted my mother to marry a judge and when she chose Father…” Margaret shook her head.
 
“I can only imagine what she thinks of THAT situation now.”
 
“She doesn’t know.” Lucas was visibly surprised. Margaret nodded. “It’s true. Mama couldn’t tell her in a letter. I expect she’ll find out eventually. Papa’s expected to pick them up, I’m sure. Both Mother and Scott gave Pa a firm lecture this morning on trying to stay sober. “
 
“I can’t see him staying sober for two weeks,” Lucas said quietly. “Then Aunt Gertrude and Grandma Bertha will find out.”
 
“Yes.” Margaret took a sip of her coffee and screwed up her face. “This needs cream and…and…”
 
Lucas chuckled. “Well, I don’t have cream. And remember that an old bachelor made this coffee.”
 
“Well…” Margaret leaned over and kissed him again. “That will soon be changed in just five weeks.” Margaret looked down at the drawing lying on the table. She turned the paper around so she could see it better. “Is this the house?”
 
“Yes.” Lucas pointed to each section of the house – two bedrooms, a sitting room, a separate kitchen, and two porches.
 
“I told you I want it simple, Luke.” Margaret picked up the pencil and erased a section. “I want the kitchen right here…off from the sitting room. There…” She smiled up at him. “That way wherever our children are I can see them.”
 
“Hm…” Lucas took another sip of his coffee. “Let’s suppose we have five children in a few years, honey. Don’t you want a bigger house?”
 
“Of course, my love! But until that happens, we can keep it simple. Don’t you think?” She lifted her eyebrows at him. Lucas nodded.
 
They could hear the rain pouring down. Lucas sighed and shook his head. “I best go put the canopy on the wagon. I’ll bed down your horse in the barn since I’m sure your Aunt Gertrude won’t be expecting you to ride a horse.”
 
Margaret heard the sarcasm in his voice. “You don’t like my Aunt Gertrude…” Margaret mumbled.
 
Lucas gave her a strange look. “We’re talking about the woman who declared I was the silliest little boy she ever met. One day when I came to talk to you, she told me that boys did not talk to girls without permission from her father.” Lucas rolled his eyes. “And then do you remember the time I came with manure on my boots? She was appalled and threw a hand to her chest, calling me a savage!” Lucas shook his head. “I’ve a feeling this is going to be a long two weeks!”
 
“Lucas…”
 
Lucas held up his hand. “Yes. I know…I know…” He kissed her on the cheek. “Only, I want one more long kiss before we go to your house. Agreed?”
 
Margaret chuckled as she slowly wrapped her arms around his neck and allowed his lips to claim hers.
 
***
 
Peter whistled as Lucas came inside. “Now look at you…”
 
Lucas rolled his eyes as Margaret and Tiffany smiled from their places at the table. “Now don’t you start!” He worked again at tying his tie in the mirror, but groaned. “Don’t know how I’m going to make it through these two weeks…” he declared under his breath.
 
“What was that?” Margaret questioned.
 
“Oh uh…Don’t know how I’m going to make it through these last weeks before we’re married.”
 
Margaret stood up and came to tie his tie. She began brushing his jacket off. Turning him around, she brushed the back of his jacket off. “Now, don’t forget to take off your hat BEFORE you enter the house, Lucas. And you kiss her left cheek and make SURE you smile!”
 
Peter chuckled from behind Lucas. “Papa, what’s so funny?” Ruthie suddenly asked.
 
Peter cleared his throat when Tiffany shot him a warning look. “Uh…nothing, sweetie. But I think your Uncle Luke is getting a taste of what being married is…” Tiffany cleared her throat from behind him. “Uh…I mean how wonderful being married really is.” With that, Peter picked Ruthie up and said, “Let’s go check on your brother.” Then he quickly disappeared into the bedroom.
 
“What time’s supper?” Lucas asked as he sat down at the table.
 
“Six,” Margaret answered. “Only mother said for you to come a bit early so you can get reacquainted with Aunt Gertrude and Grandma Bertha. She told me to bring you with me so Aunt Gertrude can get used to the idea.”
 
Lucas slowly stood up from the table. “Used to what idea?” he demanded to know.
 
“Oh Luke…You know how she is. I…”
 
“Yeah.” Lucas sighed. “She thought I was a pretty swell sod buster, but her granddaughter was going to marry somebody with uh…what did she call it again?”
 
Margaret looked down at the floor as she spoke the word quietly. “Suave.”
 
Lucas repeated the word in a mocked voice. ‘Suave!’ He grunted. “Sounds like something a bird has or something…” Lucas took out his watch and looked at it. “It’s four o’clock now.”
 
“We should get going, Luke.” Lucas went to the door and lifted his rifle down from the hooks Peter insisted he keep it on while he was there. “Lucas Mark McCain!” Margaret suddenly griped.
 
“What now?”
 
“You are NOT bringing your rifle!” Her tone of voice held a firm warning in it.
 
Lucas looked down at his rifle, then back up at Margaret. He narrowed his eyes at her. “Now wait just a minute, young lady! This rifle goes where I go!”
 
“Not tonight it doesn’t!” Margaret answered. “Why, if Aunt Gertrude saw that…”
 
“I’m getting pretty tired of your Aunt Gertrude and I haven’t even seen her yet!” Lucas suddenly declared in an impatient voice.
 
Margaret suddenly put her hands to her face and turned away. Lucas sighed and looked down at his rifle. Her warning had gone unheeded, and he had now upset her. He knew she was nervous about this evening, and his arguing with her wasn’t going to make things any easier. “I’m sorry…” He put his rifle back on the hooks. “I know this is hard for you too. My arguing is just making things harder.”
 
Margaret spun around. “Oh Lucas…” She hugged him. “I want her to like you.”
 
“You think she will?” Lucas asked.
 
Lucas didn’t miss the doubt in her eyes. “She’ll accept you,” Margaret answered. “In time…”
 
“But she DOES know who you’re marrying…right?”
 
“Well…sort of…”
 
“What do you mean…”
 
Margaret nodded toward the door. “Let’s go, Luke.”
 
***
The rain was almost stopped when Lucas helped Margaret out of the wagon. He was still trying to tell himself that the guests hadn’t made it to Enid yet. Maybe the stage was delayed because of the rain, or maybe Aunt Gertrude and Grandma Bertha had decided that she didn’t want to make that hot, dusty trip after all. Lucas paused as he stood beside the wagon and took a few deep gulps of air, trying to remember how to breathe. Margaret started forward, but Lucas grabbed her arm. He gave her an accusing look. “Now then, young lady…Just why didn’t you tell her WHO you were marrying?”
 
Margaret lifted her chin in a defiant stance. “You’ve grown a lot since she’s seen you, Luke. I didn’t want her to picture you as that silly ol’ fifteen year old kid she remembers. I want her to see you as…”
 
“Suave?” Lucas questioned sarcastically, his eyebrow popping up as he continued to glare at her.
 
“Mature!” Margaret corrected him. The glare on his face may bother some people, but Margaret didn’t miss a beat. She gave him a quick peck on the cheek then told him to remove his hat as they approached the door. Lucas obeyed and followed her inside with his hat in hand. “Margaret!” He heard HER voice. He’d know that voice ANYWHERE, the years hadn’t changed it one bit. He cringed just hearing it. “Let me look at you!”
 
Margaret smiled as she stood in front of Aunt Gertrude. “Well…you HAVE grown into a beautiful young lady!” Aunt Gertrude studied her closer and slowly screwed up her face in a disapproving frown. “What are these bangs?” She flipped the bangs back from Margaret’s head. Lucas took a step forward, but stopped when he felt a firm hand on his shoulder. He turned to see Scott standing there. “Why a young woman about to get married should be wearing her hair up in a bun…not where it can blow all over the place! And that dress…” Lucas turned to look at Scott. He lifted his eyebrows, but still remained silent, though he was just about to lose it.
 
“Aunt Getrude, this is my fiancé.” Lucas heard the hurt in Margaret’s voice. He hadn’t been here a minute, and was already ready for the dear ol’ Aunt Gertrude to leave.
 
Aunt Gertrude lifted her head and looked at Lucas. Scott gave Lucas a small push forward. He saw the pleading look on Margaret’s face, so he begrudgingly kissed Aunt Gertrude on the cheek as he had been instructed to do. She pulled away and looked him up and down with that same disgusted look on her face. “Well, his hair’s a bit long and he…” She stopped and sucked in her breath. “I know you…” Her tone of voice told all in the room that her memories of Lucas were not pleasant. She put a hand to her mouth and thought. “Why…this CANNOT be the young man who put ashes in my coffee!”
 
Lucas cringed. Her memory was better than he ever imagined.  He had only been seven years old when that event had occurred, and she never forgot that incident. “Luke, ma’am.” Lucas gave her a slight nod.
 
“Lucas McCain!” Aunt Gertrude ticked her tongue and shook a finger at him. “I DO hope you have become debonair and polished, young man!”
 
Lucas raised his eyebrows as Aunt Gertrude turned and hurried to the other side of the room. He bent his head close to Margaret’s ear. “Well, she’s improved her vocabulary, I see,” Lucas mumbled in Margaret’s ear.
 
Margaret shot him a warning look then hurried forward. “It’s so good to see you, Grandma Bertha!”
 
“Yes…yes…” Grandma Bertha agreed, the expression on her face never changing. Her voice shook and she acted as if she didn’t hear what was being said.
 
Margaret bent over and kissed her grandmother’s cheek. “Grandma Bertha, this is Lucas McCain!”
 
“Yes…yes…” Grandma Bertha nodded.
 
Margaret straightened up and looked at Aunt Gertrude. Aunt Gertrude turned from the sink where she had just washed the cheek Lucas had kissed and said, “She’s been like that for over a year now.”
 
Margaret turned to Lucas, who suddenly felt bad for the way he’d talked earlier. “I’m sorry,” Lucas said to Aunt Gertrude as much as to Margaret. Margaret gave him a slight nod, indicating she accepted his apology as sincere, but Aunt Gertrude humphed and declared that he didn’t know what sorry really meant. She started in with a long list of complaints about the terrible year she’d had caring for a woman who didn’t even give her a thank you. She even turned to her sister and declared that she didn’t know how well she had it since she wasn’t the one caring for an invalid.
 
The room grew quiet and quite somber. Then Aunt Gertrude said, “After a long ride, I would think my hosts would already have the meal prepared.” She smoothed her skirt. “Why, you’ve no idea what it’s like to sit in a stuffy stage for two days with men who discuss their enjoyment of cards and spirits!” That was all that was said as she waved her hands across the table and  sat down beside her mother, waiting impatiently for the rest of the family to take their seats. “Poor, poor Andy…” Aunt Gertrude ticked her tongue again. “Had to go off to that SILLY war!”
 
Lucas had just seated Margaret. Slowly sitting down in his chair, he said, “Silly…war?” He felt Margaret’s warning hand on his leg.
 
Aunt Gertrude lifted her head and narrowed her eyes at Lucas. “Yes, young man. It was silly! Some wanting to try and change things from the way they always were…others wanting to prove a point and leave our fine country…War is needless. No good ever…”
 
Nobody missed the look of rage that came across Lucas’ face. Before he could speak his retort, he felt a hard kick on his shin. He met the eyes of Scott Gibbs. “Uh..” Scott cleared his throat. “Aunt Gertrude, perhaps we should pray.” Before anything more could be said, Scott led the family in prayer. Aunt Gertrude was only quiet for a short time before she began talking again.
 
“Where’s that Johnny at?” She waited for an answer but nobody dared to give her that piece of news. “What? Did he go off and get himself killed as well?”
 
Again, Lucas grew angry. But again, Margaret shot him a warning look while he felt another kick to his shin. This time, he reached down and grabbed his leg, rubbing it. Scott cleared his throat and finally answered for the family. “He’s spread his wings, Aunt Gertrude. Johnny has moved away. He’s earning his own way now.”
 
Another spell of silence followed as Aunt Gertrude allowed her brain to process this information. There was tension around the table, everyone hoping she didn’t ask the one question that soon escaped her lips. “Exactly what has he chosen to do for a living?” Scott started to answer, but was silenced by Aunt Gertrude. “And why are you so lose with your tongue, Scott Gibbs? Let your father answer. He’s the head of the house, after all!”
 
“Well Aunt Gertrude…uh…” Samuel stammered, knowing his family didn’t want Aunt Gertrude to know of his own failures. His children wanted to save their mother the embarrassment. “Uh…He works with cattle.”
 
It was true. Johnny had joined a rodeo and DID work with cattle. He rode bulls until he was bucked off, and broke wild stallions. Johnny had recently written home that he was being paid good money to break horses that hardly anyone else COULD break. He was young and strong and Margaret worried desperately that he would get himself killed or crippled.
 
“Cattle…” Aunt Gertrude took another bite of her meat. Again, she furrowed her brow. “Jennifer darling…if you use just a little more water next time, and don’t get the oven so hot this roast will be much more tender.”
 
Lucas lifted his head and stared at Aunt Gertrude. He had about as much of this woman as he’d ever be able to stand. He turned and looked at Margaret who suddenly lowered her head to her own plate. Then he looked at Samuel, who concentrated on the contents of his plate as well. Lucas couldn’t believe that nobody was standing up for Jennifer. Jennifer Gibbs was one of the finest cooks he’d ever known. There was absolutely nothing wrong with his meat! Lucas opened his mouth to argue, not being able to stand anymore of this woman’s rude…ungrateful…but he suddenly felt another firm kick under the table. He turned to see Margaret still concentrating on her meat and wondered where that kick had come from.
 
Lucas did notice that Aunt Gertrude made a point not to look at him. And for the remainder of the meal she discussed the people of Oklahoma City. Lucas wondered if the people were so bad, why did she stay? Aunt Gertrude spoke of the father of seven boys who was seen at the saloon every night, the young woman who had just had a baby exactly EIGHT months after her wedding day, a man who was seen keeping company with a married woman when her husband was out of town selling cattle, and even a six year old little girl who wouldn’t hesitate putting poison in the drinking water!
 
When Aunt Gertrude started to tell of all those sorry soldiers showing up looking sad and dejected, Jennifer quickly stood up and announced it was time for dessert. But nobody, save for Aunt Gertrude who still refused to acknowledge Lucas was there, missed the look of anger that crossed Lucas’ face. Jennifer brought in the cobbler and said, “Luke, will you go fill the oven with more wood? I’ll need to make some bread after awhile. And Margaret, would you bring in the saucers?” It was evident to everyone except for Aunt Gertrude, that Jennifer’s sending them out of the room had a purpose. Jennifer gave her a daughter a look that told Margaret to calm her fiancé down.
 
Both Lucas and Margaret stood from the table. “Shain’t allow them alone in the kitchen like that,” Aunt Gertrude could be heard saying while Lucas and Margaret hurried out of the room. “Young ‘uns now days need constantly watched else hanky panky…”
 
Lucas was seething by the time he got into the kitchen. He turned and glared at Margaret. “Now that woman…” Lucas pointed toward the door. “is impossible, Margaret!”
 
“Lucas, lower your voice!”  Margaret hissed before turning to the cabinet to get some saucers down. “I’m sorry, Luke. But she’s my mother’s sister and she’s really had a rough time.”
 
“I can see why!” Lucas threw a piece of wood into the fire and flames danced up around it. “Now Margaret, she’s doing nothing but insulting every member of your family…and the dead, and your father and brother are just sitting there ALLOWING this to happen!” Lucas stood back up and reached for another piece of wood. “I won’t have it, I tell you!”
 
“Lucas, please! Lower your voice!” Margaret begged as she put a hand on his shoulder.
 
Lucas narrowed his eyes, but continued breathing heavily.  He hadn’t been this angry in a long time.
 
“We’re all just trying to get through this.” Margaret rested a hand on his arm and looked into his eyes. “She’ll settle down in a couple days, Luke. We learned a long time ago that trying to defend ourselves only causes her to lash out harder. So please…” Margaret took his hand. “Please just help us get through this.”
 
Lucas was silent as he and Margaret continued to look at each other. His heart was torn on what to do. He knew his getting along with Aunt Gertrude was something Margaret really wanted, yet he knew that this family had no right to be treated this way. Finally, Lucas heaved a burdensome sigh. Against his better judgment, he said, “Alright.” Lucas threw another piece of wood in the fire and brushed off his hands. “But if she throws anymore insults at YOU, I will be forced to say something.” Margaret nodded, knowing that was as much of an agreement as she would get. Lucas gave her a small smile. “And uh…don’t change your hair. I think it’s beautiful.”
 
Margaret smiled as she left the kitchen.
 
Lucas forced the cherry cobbler down his throat as Aunt Gertrude continued with her talking. Finally, Jennifer stood and began gathering the dishes. Aunt Gertrude cleared her throat, causing Jennifer to pause in her task. “When we were growing up…” Aunt Gertrude started with a click of her tongue. “The youngest daughter did the dishes.”
 
“Aunt Gertrude…” Jennifer started.
 
“No, no…It’s alright.” Beth stood up and began gathering the dishes. She stopped in front of her mother and took the saucers from her hands. “This is one time I won’t mind doing the dishes.” Then she hurried into the kitchen.
 
Aunt Gertrude was too involved in thinking up her next insult to give Beth’s final words any thought. But then she abruptly stood up and walked toward the door. “Young man,” she said as she looked straight at Lucas. “I’d like to see you outside before you leave.”
 
Lucas turned to look at Margaret, whose eyes widened. Margaret turned and looked at Scott, her eyes pleading for him to do something to rescue Lucas from further embarrassment and suffering. Scott stood and said, “Aunt Gertrude, Luke has a long way to go. I think…”
 
“Never you mind! Mother can no longer speak for herself, so I’ll speak for her! Now, come on, young man. Outside.”
 
Lucas stood up and grabbed his hat. He didn’t care if he was in the presence of a lady or not, he’d wear that hat once he was outside! After the door firmly closed behind them, Aunt Gertrude walked out into the yard as Lucas put his hat on his head. “Now, young man, just what are your intentions?”
 
“Intentions, ma’am?”
 
Aunt Gertrude nodded. “What do you plan to do with yourself?”
 
“Well…I’m setting up a ranch on the other side of town, ma’am.”
 
“A ranch…” She smoothed her skirt. “The McCains…have they acquired some money on this farm of theirs?”
 
Lucas closed his eyes to keep his composure. “My brother, Peter, now owns the main farm. My three brothers are all married with children of their own. My folks died during the war.”
 
“I see.” Her expression suddenly changed from stubborn curiosity to seething anger. She pressed her tongue against her teeth, took a deep breath, and continued. “But you didn’t answer my question.”
 
“I reckon we’re a bit better off then we used to be, ma’am.”
 
“So, how do you plan on supporting my niece?”
 
Lucas licked his lips before he spoke. He didn’t care if he got in trouble or not, he would answer her question honestly. “With sweat and hard work!”
 
“Don’t you raise your voice at me, young man!” She straightened her skirt. “I shall see this uh…RANCH…tomorrow.”
 
“It’s an hour’s hard ride from here, Aunt Gertrude.”
 
“Indeed…Just as I suspected…You’re trying to take her away from her family…Isolate her from civilization.” Aunt Gertrude looked around. “What little civilization there is…”
 
“No, I…” Lucas had had about as much of this woman as he could take. He was going to give her a piece of his mind!
 
The door opened just in time. Jennifer stepped out onto the porch. “Gertrude, I’ve tea ready. Shall we go to the parlor?”
 
Aunt Gertrude again looked Lucas up and down, obviously not liking what she saw. But instead of saying anymore, she nodded her head and started for the house. “I’ll be there tomorrow. And you make sure to have your hat off in my presence, young man!”
 
Lucas watched the door close and took off his hat, slapping it on his leg. “Well wouldn’t that just make ya bawl!” Lucas shook his head. It seemed she just soured with age. Lucas turned and stomped angrily to the barn. He brought out his team of horses and began hitching them to the wagon. “Luke…” Lucas looked up to see Margaret hurry toward him with her skirt lifted up. Lucas clinched his jaw and tried to restrain himself, but a man can only take so much.
 
“She’s mean and nasty, Margaret! I can see why she never married. A woman like that needs no husband…plain to see who would wear the pants in THAT family!”
 
“You’re angry.”
 
“Damn right, I’m angry!” Lucas shouted as he turned and glared at her. Then he closed his eyes. “But not at you, Margaret.”
 
 Margaret stood beside him as he worked at hitching the team. Lucas fiercely walked to the other side of the horses and Margaret followed him as she spoke. “Grandmother had a young man chosen for my mother, and my mother announced she was marrying my father. Aunt Gertrude, according to Mother, was actually jealous because my mother had the nerve to stand up to Grandmother. Aunt Gertrude was forced into a marriage where there was no love, and for some reason…he refused her on the day they were to get married. The man she wanted to marry suddenly died and…” Margaret stopped, biting her lip.
 
“That’s no reason for her to act all sour and head-strong all the time.”
 
“I know.” Margaret sighed. “I’m sorry, Luke. I had no idea she would be this bad.”
 
“I have manure on my hands…I’m no good!” Lucas’ voice still shouted in anger as he hurriedly hitched up the team.
 
“Lucas!” Margaret grabbed his arm, forcing him to stop working. He turned and looked at her. Tears shown in her eyes. Some of his anger melted away, but he turned away from her to continue his chore. “You are the most wonderful man in this world! I’d rather have you than any rich man!” Margaret sighed. “I think her caring for Grandma Bertha has really gotten her down too. She has so much anger inside her, Luke.”
 
“So I noticed,” Lucas grumbled as he readied the reins. “What side of the war was she on anyway?”
 
“Neither.” Margaret grabbed his arm again and gasped. Lucas turned to look into her pleading eyes. “Oh Luke…don’t tell her you were in the war unless she asks…PLEASE!”
 
Her request angered him some more. “I’m proud of what I did, Margaret!” Lucas argued. “I’m not ashamed!” Margaret pressed her lips together, knowing her request had been unfair. “You all should stand up against her…Tell her you won’t accept her tongue speaking so freely among you! It’s a disgrace…it’s an embarrassment…and it’s hurting everyone.”
 
“Oh Luke…” Margaret shook her head. “I…I know you don’t understand, but…”
 
Lucas’s eyes again softened. Quietly, he announced, “She’s planning to come to the ranch tomorrow, Margaret.”
 
Margaret slowly lifted her head to stare at Lucas. “She’s…what???”
 
“She wants to see if the place is good enough for you to live. She’s never going to allow you to marry me.”
 
Anger suddenly flashed in her eyes. Margaret planted her hands on her hips and lifted her chin high. “Well, it just so happens that I don’t need HER permission! Mother and Scott have already given their blessing.” Margaret lowered her head and took a deep breath to calm herself. “Look, Luke…Amanda asked Scott to stay quiet and try not to get angry. I heard them arguing about it last night…There was a lot of arguing here last night. Aunt Gertrude doesn’t like her either, that was obvious tonight. But she’s my mother’s sister and there’s nothing that can change that. We all want Mother happy, and arguing with Aunt Gertrude will only make Mother cry. You know as well as I do that Mama has been through so much these last few years, and I can’t stand to see her cry.” Margaret took his hands in hers. “Can you understand that?”
 
“I’ll try.” Lucas nodded shortly. “But I won’t stand her insults where you are concerned. Do you hear me?” Margaret nodded. “Out of respect for your mother…I’ll…I’ll try to keep my ‘faults’ secret.” Lucas paused. “What about your father?”
 
“I heard Scott and Pa arguing way into the night last night too. Scott ordered Pa not to do anything to hurt Mother. Pa told Scott he’d do his best.”
 
“What if he does get drunk?” Lucas asked. “What then?”
 
“We’ll do everything we can to protect Mother.” Margaret reached out for his hand. “I love you, Luke. I just want us to get through these next two weeks…Please…”
 
Lucas continued to look into her eyes. The tears that softly fell slowly melted his anger. Finally, he lifted a hand to her cheek and wiped at her tears. He gave her a small smile and squeezed her hand. “Alright.” He bent down and kissed her softly. “I love you too.” He kissed her again. “I hate fighting with you, honey.” Margaret stepped closer and returned his kiss. Their arms went around each other as they stood on the back side of the horses.
 
Suddenly, they heard a loud shrill from the porch. “Jennifer! Your daughter is out here making love!” She hurried into the house.
 
“Oh boy…” Margaret rolled her eyes as she stepped away from Lucas.
 
“Making…love?” Lucas questioned.
 
“Any physical contact with the opposite sex is making love in my Aunt Gertrude’s eyes.” Margaret didn’t miss the amusement in Lucas’ face. “And don’t you laugh, Lucas McCain! This lecture could take all night!” She squeezed his hand. “I best get in there.” Lucas watched Margaret hurry toward the house.
 
***
 
Lucas felt the day before had been a wasted day. He had planned on breaking ground for their house yesterday, then beginning on the foundation, but Margaret’s arrival yesterday morning had thrown him off. Lucas got up early that morning and went to work, praying Margaret’s family would be successful at talking Aunt Gertrude out of visiting him. Lucas was relieved when lunch came and there was still no sign of the visiting aunt. Perhaps Margaret and her family had been successful after all. After hurriedly eating a sandwich, Lucas went back to work.
 
The sun burned down so Lucas removed his shirt as he drove nails into the boards. He was so intent on his work that he didn’t hear the approaching wagon until it had pulled up beside the barn. Turning, he groaned when he saw Scott helping Aunt Gertrude down from the buckboard. Margaret jumped from the back and ran over to Lucas. “I’m sorry,” she whispered as she shrugged her shoulders. Lucas nodded as he folded his arms and waited for Aunt Gertrude to approach him.
 
“Young man!” Aunt Gertrude looked him up and down. “You aren’t decent for company!”
 
Lucas looked down at his appearance. He was covered in dirt and sweat and had no shirt on, but he wasn’t ashamed. He looked up at Margaret, who hadn’t shown any embarrassment before; but she was now blushing after hearing Aunt Gertrude’s remark.  He merely shrugged as he grabbed his shirt and slipped it on. But he refused to give her the satisfaction by buttoning it up! He couldn’t keep the anger from his voice as he spoke to her. “Well, if you notice, Aunt Gertrude, I’ve been working under the hot sun building the house.”
 
“And what’s that horrid smell?” She wrinkled up her nose.
 
“It’s manure, Aunt Gertrude,” Scott answered as he held her arm. “It’s a pretty common smell in cattle country. We don’t notice it much unless it gets…Oof!” Margaret gave him a hard poke to silence him.
 
“Disgraceful!” She looked around and ticked her tongue some more. “A young woman should not see a man without a shirt on. Nor should she have to live in such primitive conditions!” Aunt Gertrude shook her head. “Young man, are you planning on building her a fine house?  Or a bigger version of THAT?” She pointed to the shack.
 
Lucas was getting pretty tired of being referred to as ‘young man,’ and he was just about to tell this snippy woman so when Margaret said, “He’s building the house the way I want it, Aunt Gertrude.” She nodded toward the house Lucas had started working on. “It will be sufficient for us.”
 
“I DO hope you plan on having indoor plumbing!”
 
“Not that it’s any of YOUR business, but…”
 
“Luke…” Margaret warned under her breath.
 
“…We’ll have a pump.” Lucas nodded firmly. “And a well.” Lucas wiped the sweat off his forehead. “I have every intention to take good care of your niece, Aunt Gertrude.”
 
“Humph! I have serious doubts about that!” Aunt Gertrude again surveyed the ‘primitive conditions’ her niece would soon be forced to live in. “You men have no right to take a woman away from the fine life she’s known all her life and force her to live like a…a…”
 
Lucas planted his hands on his hips and leaned forward. His eyes burned with anger as he glared into hers. “A what???” There was an obvious challenge in his voice.
 
“A PIONEER!” She looked around. “Do you intend to farm, Mr. McCain?”
 
She was improving. At least she wasn’t calling him ‘young man.’ “Of course, ma’am. This is a working ranch, after all. We’ll have pigs and chickens as well as a vegetable garden and…until I get my cattle crop up quite a bit…I’ll be planting wheat to harvest.”
 
“Farmer…” Aunt Gertrude sneered as she looked him up and down with disgust. “Margaret dear, you are marrying a dirty ol’ FARMER!”
 
“Aunt Gertrude…” Scott warned.
 
Lucas held up a hand to silence him. He had as much as he could take from her, and was now ready to give this woman a piece of his mind. Maybe the Gibbs’ could stomach her insults, but he couldn’t…and he wouldn’t! “Now let’s get one thing straight, Aunt Gertrude. I will be polite to you out of respect for Margaret and her family.” He pointed a finger at her. “But don’t you DARE come onto MY…” He paused and looked at Margaret. “…OUR land and start insulting ME! If you can’t be polite and keep a harness on your tongue, you may leave my land…NOW!” His voice was forced and laced with anger, and perhaps a bit louder than he had intended.
 
“Well…” Aunt Gertrude turned and looked at Margaret. “I shall have a long talk with your father and mother about this, young lady. I see no future here for you. I DO believe marrying this man will bring you nothing but…”
 
Lucas suddenly put a protective arm around Margaret and narrowed his eyes. “And that will be enough of that…” Lucas started.
 
Scott stepped between the two feuding adults. “Aunt Gertrude!” Scott stopped her. “I think we should go.” Scott firmly took her arm and led her back to the wagon.
 
Lucas clinched his jaw as he watched Aunt Gertrude go to the wagon. “I won’t have her insulting us like this, Margaret! I won’t!”
 
Margaret turned and watched as Scott helped her aunt into the wagon. “I’m sorry, Luke. I don’t understand what’s gotten her so snippy…”
 
Lucas raised his eyebrow at the word she’d just used. He couldn’t stop a grin from his face. “I’m sorry, honey. I couldn’t hold my tongue. I’m…afraid I’ve made things more difficult for you.”
 
“We’ll survive, Luke. This too shall pass…”
 
“In two weeks…Two long, long weeks…” Lucas reached out and took her hand.
 
“Margaret Gibbs!” Aunt Gertrude hollered.
 
“Luke, promise me you won’t make any more trouble with her. Promise!”
 
“Margaret, I’ll be by to get you for church in the morning.”
 
“Luke, promise!” Margaret pleaded.
 
Lucas sighed. “I…I promise I’ll try.”
 
“Come along now!” Aunt Gertrude called from the wagon. “I MUST get out of this sun…and you shouldn’t be in it either. “
 
Margaret took a few steps backwards as she smiled at Lucas. “Oh…by the way, when we’re married and it’s ‘proper’…” She said that word as she waved two fingers in the air. “…I hope you’ll work every day with your shirt off. It’ll make for a nice view from the kitchen window.”
 
Lucas’ eyes popped open wide and his mouth gaped open as he watched Margaret turn and run back to the wagon. He could not believe she had just said that! Scott waved as he turned the wagon around. From the back of the wagon, Margaret blew him a kiss and waved. It took a long time for Lucas to finally close his mouth.
 
The first thing he did was rip off his shirt. He’d make sure to make a BIG window in the kitchen!!!
 
***
 
Later that afternoon, Margaret looked up from the rug she was making as her Aunt Gertrude walked into the parlor with Scott and her parents. “Margaret…” Scott cleared his throat. “Uh…I think you should take your sewing to the living room.”
 
Margaret stood and looked from her parents to Scott, then finally to Aunt Gertrude. “Why? What’s going on?”
 
“Aunt Gertrude wants to talk to us,” Scott answered quietly and calmly.
 
“I want to talk to your parents, Scott. I don’t understand why you are here.”
 
“I said he stays,” Samuel answered harshly.
 
“If this is about Luke, I…” Margaret started.
 
“Do as your brother says,” Samuel said quietly, yet sternly.
 
“Yes, Papa.”
 
Margaret slowly walked out of the parlor. She didn’t think it was fair that she wasn’t in on the conversation. As she started talking, Aunt Gertrude’s voice was loud; and Margaret could hear everything that was being said. “I don’t like this…FARMER your daughter is about to marry!” Aunt Gertrude declared. “He’s no good! She’ll be miserable!”
 
Margaret didn’t hear the response, but she heard her aunt’s response. “I don’t CARE if she loves him! Love isn’t as important as other things…” Again, other things were said. “Have you actually BEEN to the…the…FARM, Jennifer?...Well, you should go! I think what you see would shock you.” Margaret tried to walk further away so she wouldn’t be able to hear, but her aunt’s voice could still be heard. “And have you enjoyed your life, Jennifer? Didn’t you learn anything from your own miserable marriage?”
 
Suddenly, Samuel’s booming voice could be heard. “Don’t you insult my wife!”
 
“Oh stop it, Samuel.” Margaret pressed a hand to her mouth to keep the tears from coming. “Now, I want you to demand Margaret call her wedding off at once! I won’t have it, I tell you! I won’t!” Tears fell from Margaret’s eyes. “Are you telling me you won’t call the wedding off?” Margaret hurried into the kitchen to get a drink of water. She could still hear her aunt’s voice. “You should have raised her better than that! She can’t be too smart wanting to settle for a sod buster like that…Instead of giving her a strong education, you made her STUPID!”  Margaret gasped. “Yes, STUPID! Any girl who would even think of settling for a savage like this…this…big, ugly…”
 
“Oh…rancher…” The word was said sarcastically. “I’m telling you that man will bring her nothing but heartache! She’ll be working in the fields beside him…Why, I always thought Margaret had more brains then to fall for some stupid farmer!”
 
Margaret suddenly ran from the house. A hand pressed against her mouth as she ran to the creek and sat down. She put her face in her hands and burst into tears. Margaret had always been sensitive, but as a rancher’s daughter she had learned to take insults. Still, the fact that her aunt saw her as stupid and uneducated did hurt her more than she’d ever admit. Had Lucas been there, he would have stomped into that parlor and kicked her Aunt Gertrude out of that house. She hadn’t wanted to hear the remainder of the conversation, afraid Aunt Gertrude would drive Scott to the same thing.
 
Some time later, she turned when she heard footsteps behind her. Scott bent down next to her and rubbed her back. “You heard?”
 
Margaret nodded. “It was hard not to hear her,” she answered as tears continued to fall down her face.
 
“I’m sorry,” Scott said quietly. “She’s become so nasty. I don’t understand.”
 
“Does it bother you? That she doesn’t like Amanda either?” Scott nodded. “How much more do we have to endure, Scott? How much more are you going to take before…”
 
“I don’t know.” Scott sat down beside her and drew his knees up to his chest. “Pa’s gone to town.”
 
Margaret’s eyes closed in regret. “Oh Scott…”
 
“I couldn’t stop him, Margaret. I can’t say that I blame him much…Insults like that were hard to take.” Scott sighed. “You’re not stupid, and neither is Luke.”
 
“It hurt all the same.” Margaret bit her lip. “I left after she said that. Did she…say anymore?”
 
Scott nodded. “But I’m not going to tell you anymore that was said. I’m glad you ran out when you did.” Scott sighed. “She thinks you’re up to hanky panky with that miserable sod buster.”
 
“I should have known. I guess we’ll have to marry without her blessing.”
 
Scott put an arm around Margaret. “She’s going to church with us tomorrow. Is Luke going to pick you up?” Margaret nodded. “Good. Perhaps its best if you go to his family’s for dinner tomorrow. You two need some time alone and uh…Aunt Gertrude needs to cool off.”
 
“I can’t face her right now, Scott.”
 
“You won’t have to. She went to bed. She said her heart couldn’t take anymore disappointment.” Scott smiled in spite of the situation. “She said some things about Amanda while she was in there as well. Amanda heard them from the living room.”
 
“I’m sorry. You should go to her,” Margaret mumbled. “I’m sure she’s hurting too.”
 
“She’s tough. But I think I’ll give her some extra attention tonight to show her that I don’t care what Aunt Gertrude thinks of her.”
 
“What could Aunt Gertrude possibly have against Amanda anyhow? Amanda’s so…refined…and proper!”
 
“She married me. That’s enough.” Margaret chuckled softly as Scott helped her to her feet and put his arm around her shoulders. “Let’s get you home.”
 
***
 
Lucas drove his wagon into the Gibbs’ yard the next morning. He could hear Aunt Gertrude’s bantering from out in the yard and suddenly wanted to rescue Margaret. He knocked on the door, which stopped Aunt Gertrude’s loud mouth. Scott opened the door and nodded toward Lucas. “Come on in and have some breakfast.”
 
Margaret stood and wiped her eyes, hoping Lucas hadn’t seen her tears, but he had. “No…I think I’ll just be taking Margaret to my brothers’ for breakfast.” Lucas turned his head toward Margaret, who slowly stood from the table. “Margaret.” Lucas held out his arm, his eyes sternly ordering her to come with him.
 
“Young man, you cannot just burst in here and…” Aunt Gertrude started.
 
“The name’s McCain!” Lucas shouted. “And yes I can.” Lucas gave her a stiff nod. “I’m about to marry her and in my family…I wear the pants!” Margaret’s family knew he wasn’t as harsh as he sounded, but Margaret couldn’t help but smile at his words. She bit her lip as she hurried forward. “Ma’am.” Lucas tipped his hat then hurried out the door.
 
Margaret was quiet as they rode to the McCain Ranch. “You were waiting for me?” Margaret nodded. “All dressed for church…I’m assuming you were planning your escape?” Margaret nodded again. “Did she hurt you?”
 
Suddenly Margaret burst into tears. She put her hands to her face and sobbed. Lucas stopped the team and pulled the break. “Commere.” He took Margaret in his arms and allowed her to cry.  His heart broke as he listened to her tears. He kept his arms tight around her, wishing he could take away the hurt that evil aunt had caused. He was quiet for a long time. Finally, her cries quieted. “Did she hurt you?” He asked this question again as he smoothed her hair. His voice was laced with anger. Margaret nodded against his chest. “How?”
 
Margaret lifted from his embrace and shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. She’s just so…so…bitter!”
 
“It matters to me.” Lucas grabbed her shoulders. “What did she say to you, Margaret?” Margaret shook her head again. Lucas shook her gently. “TELL ME!”
 
Margaret turned her face away, but Lucas turned it back around. “She just hates the fact I’m marrying you. She…she took Mama and Papa and Scott into the parlor last night and demanded that I can’t marry you.”
 
“Okay.” Lucas nodded. “We knew she was going to do that. What else?” Margaret turned her head away. “What else?” Lucas demanded to know.
 
“She…” Margaret lifted her face to his. “Oh Luke…Promise you won’t do anything harsh…Promise!”
 
Lucas could already feel anger raging up inside him. Her not wanting to tell him told him it was bad. “I’ll do my best to control myself. Now tell me, Margaret.”
 
Margaret knew she had no choice. She had to tell him. Her words tumbled over each other as she answered with pain in her voice. “She said that…that…I was uneducated and stupid because if I was smart I wouldn’t marry someone like you. She said that…that I will be working in the fields and live a miserable life.”
 
Lucas clinched his jaw. “Who does she think she is? Can’t she just be satisfied that we’re in love and I’ll take care of you?” He sputtered these words angrily.
 
“She…she doesn’t believe being in love is grounds for a good marriage.”
 
“Oh?” Lucas lifted an eyebrow. “What do you think?”
 
“I think that as long as we love each other, we’ll be happy.” Margaret bit her lip. “And I think I’ll love growing my own vegetable garden and raising my own chickens!”
 
“I don’t like her, Margaret. And I don’t like her insulting you like this…making you cry!”
 
“Just eleven more days, Luke. That’s all she has left. Then she’ll be gone.”
 
“I don’t like you being in that situation, Margaret. I don’t want you hurt anymore.” Lucas held defense in his voice with the anger. The more he spoke, the louder he was getting.
 
“I know. She’s just so…so mean.” Margaret shook her head. “I thought she came here to meet the man I was going to marry. Instead she…she’s trying to ruin my happiness and I don’t understand why.”
 
“She can’t ruin your happiness,” Lucas declared as he grabbed her shoulders and stared in her eyes. “Not if you don’t let her!” “Why don’t your father and brother send her packing!?”
 
Margaret lowered her head and turned away from Lucas. She started crying again.
 
“What is it now?” Lucas asked, softening his voice as if he were speaking to a child.
 
“Papa’s gone, Luke.”
 
“Gone?”
 
“He left last night. Scott couldn’t stop him.”
 
“Oh.” Lucas sighed as he started the horses back into motion. “So…she knows.”
 
“Not yet. Scott told Aunt Gertrude that he’s out. She’s satisfied with that and said a rancher has to work hard...I’d never see you once we were married because you’ll pay more attention to your cows than me…”
 
“I see.” Lucas pulled the wagon up outside Peter’s house and hopped down. He helped her down and walked her inside. Tiffany and Peter looked up as he opened the door. “You have plenty of food? I rescued her from the wicked…uh…her aunt.” Tiffany jumped up to get some more plates. “I won’t be staying.” He looked at Peter. “You see she gets to church then bring her back here. I’ll try to be back as soon as I can.”
 
“Luke, where are you going?” Margaret asked suddenly.
 
“To help your family.” Lucas put his hat on his head and shifted his rifle into his other hand as he hurried out the door.
 
Margaret stood in the doorway. “Where does he think he’s going?” She watched him hurry to the barn to mount a horse.
 
“I don’t know,” Peter answered as he took her arm and led her to the table. He closed the door. “But don’t you worry about Luke. He knows what he’s doing.”
 
***
 
Lucas rode into town. Things were quiet now, but he could tell from looking at the littered street that it had again been a wild Saturday night. Lucas dismounted his horse in front of the saloon and tipped his hat back on his head as he studied the boarded up window. Turning, he walked across the street to the Marshal’s office. The Marshal was laid back in his chair with his feet propped up. The hat over his eyes blocked the light and allowed him to sleep. Lucas slammed the door, causing Marshal Williams to bolt straight up. “Luke.” He mumbled. “Mind being quieter? Man needs his sleep.”
 
“Figured you’d be home getting ready to take your family to church.”
 
“Not when I have a prisoner,” Marshal Williams quipped. “Have three of them, actually.”
 
“Oh?” Lucas lifted an eyebrow. “Wild night last night?”
 
“Wild…” Marshal Williams nodded as he stood to his feet and stifled a yawn. “They didn’t stop yelling at each other until three AM.”
 
“Seen Uncle Sam?” Marshal Williams nodded. “He in there?” Lucas nodded toward the jail.
 
“Nope. He got drunk, but he didn’t cause any trouble. I think he went to the hotel to sleep it off.” Marshal Williams took the keys. “Reckon I can let my prisoners out now. Think they learned their lesson.”
 
Lucas turned and hurried from the office, happy that Samuel at least wasn’t in jail. But then if he had been, there’s no doubt he would have been sober by this morning. Lucas hurried down the street to the hotel and went inside. The woman behind the desk was new. “Lucas McCain. Looking for Samuel Gibbs.”
 
The young lady checked the register and nodded. “Room 204.” Lucas thanked her and walked up the stairs. He hurried down the hall to the room and banged hard on the door.
 
“Samuel! Samuel Gibbs!” Lucas banged harder, but got no answer. He opened the door and stepped into the room. The windows had the blinds pulled down, casting only small pieces of sunlight here and there. Lucas hurried to the window and pulled the blind up. Then the second and third one. Sunlight flooded in the room and the lump on the bed groaned. “Rise and shine! It’s Sunday morning.”
 
Samuel grumbled as he slowly lifted his head from the pillow. “What’s the big idea?”
 
“You’re needed at home,” Lucas answered in a stern voice.
 
“No I’m not. They ain’t needed me in a long time.”
 
Lucas reached the bed in two steps. He grabbed Samuel’s arm and lifted him from the bed. “You ARE needed at home!” Samuel caught his breath when he saw the anger in Lucas’ eyes. “Why do you do this? Why do you leave when things get hard?”
 
“You wouldn’t understand.”
 
“You’re right. I don’t understand!” Lucas grabbed the front of his shirt and moved his face to where their noses almost touched. “But I understand this…my fiancée…Your daughter…was in tears this morning for things she overheard in that house last night. Your family is trying to do everything they can to keep their mother’s pride, and I aim to see that’s done. You’re going home, and you’re going to behave like the responsible husband and father!”
 
“Luke, I’m not that man anymore.”
 
“No.” Lucas tightened his hold on Samuel’s shirt and pulled him closer to him. “But you’re going to act the part until Aunt Gertrude and Grandma Bertha get on that stage and ride out. You’re going to be home to bless the noon meal with your family, and you’re going to behave like the rancher you used to be. If you don’t, you will answer to me!” Lucas swallowed. “I told Margaret I’d stay out of this, but when she got hurt that was all over. I’m going to have a talk with your sister-in-law, and I’m going to do everything in my power to see that your wife gets all the respect she deserves. Do I make myself clear?”
 
Samuel nodded. Lucas let go as Samuel put a hand to his forehead. “I’ll buy you all the coffee you need. Then we’re going home and you will clean yourself up. I’ll handle Aunt Gertrude later.”
 
“I just need a little drink.” Samuel’s hand was shaking as he reached for the bottle. Lucas picked it up and threw it across the room. It shattered as it hit the wall. “Luke…”
 
“I’m not doing this for you. When you’re in-laws are gone, you can get yourself as drunk as you want…but until then you stay sober!” Lucas grabbed Samuel’s hat. “Now, let’s go!”
 
It took about five cups of coffee to get Samuel settled down enough to go home. Once they were home, Lucas stayed to make sure he got cleaned up and properly dressed. The family was already gone to church, and Lucas informed Samuel that Samuel would be out checking cattle when they got back. That’s exactly where he was.
 
***
 
Lucas stood from the table as Jennifer walked in the door. “Luke…” She startled.
 
“Aunt Jenny.” Lucas nodded at her. “Uncle Sam will be back in a bit. I believe he had a little uh…trouble…out on the range. I helped him out a bit.”
 
Jennifer understood exactly what Lucas was saying. Her eyes flashed him a thank you. Lucas watched as Aunt Gertrude walked in with an arm firmly on Grandma Bertha. She sat Grandma Bertha at the table as she continued talking. “And that preacher saying the things he said…why, I don’t understand why he should take that scripture out of context!”
 
She stopped when she saw Lucas standing in front of her. “I supposed you were out with Margaret somewhere.”
 
Lucas lifted an eyebrow. The woman hardly even made sense…“She was at church.”
 
“And I noticed you weren’t, Mr. McCain.” She turned and looked at Jennifer. “And I suppose you have no problem with your daughter marrying a heathen?”
 
“Lucas is far from a heathen, Gertrude.” Jennifer couldn’t help but smile.
 
“I came back to talk to you,” Lucas said sharply. “Outside.”
 
“Luke…” Scott started.
 
“Scott, nobody speaks to Margaret…or ABOUT Margaret the way she did and gets away with it!” Lucas shouted as he turned back to face Aunt Gertrude. “Outside. Unless you would like me to say what I have to say in front of your mother?”
 
Aunt Gertrude nodded and slowly walked outside. Lucas motioned for her to move toward the barn. She went to the fence, but refused to go a step further. “Now…I’m going to bring Margaret back this evening after I’m sure she is…better.”
 
“Better?” Aunt Gertrude questioned.
 
“Yes. Seems she was quite upset when I came for her this morning.”
 
“Perhaps it was guilt…Knowing I’m right…”
 
“No.” Lucas shifted his position and pointed a finger at her. “Now, you listen and you listen good. You said some things last night that she overheard, and they upset her very much. She cried for a long time this morning, and was still rather upset when I left her. I don’t know all that was said, but the word ‘stupid,’ came up. I’m sending her back tonight, but if I hear of one single negative thing said against me or her…if I hear that you’ve upset her in any way, I’ll have no choice but to take her to stay with my family until you leave. Do I make myself clear???”
 
Aunt Bertha suddenly lost her stubborn stance. Lucas thought he saw a look of grief on her face, but it disappeared so fast that he wasn’t sure it was really there. “You can’t mean that I’m the reason for her tears!”
 
“I AM saying that! And I mean what I say. Now, do we understand each other?” Aunt Gertrude nodded. “Good.”
 
Lucas started to walk away. “Lucas McCain!” Lucas paused and turned back to her. “My niece is making a VERY big mistake marrying you. She cannot possibly be happy about this! If you love her, you’ll stop this wedding.”
 
“If I…” Lucas felt anger well up inside him again. “I DO love her with everything in me. I’m going to marry her. We’re going to raise our children together on our fine ranch, and…” Lucas added for Margaret’s benefit, “…she’ll grow her own vegetable garden and raise her own chickens if she sees fit!”
 
“You have no right forcing her to…”
 
Lucas took two steps toward Aunt Gertrude, which caused her to step back. “I’M forcing HER???” Lucas clinched his fists in anger. “Perhaps you should think about that. I’m not forcing her to do anything she doesn’t want to do!”
 
This time, the look of deep grief could be seen on her face. In fact, her eyes looked rather moist as she quickly lifted her skirts, turned, and hurried back inside.
 
***
 
“Thank you for this food and…” Jeremiah paused as he looked up to see Lucas come into the house. He lowered his head and finished the prayer. “We waited as long as the women would let us,” Jeremiah assured him.
 
“It’s okay.” Lucas kissed Margaret as she hurried over to him. “Everything’s okay.”
 
“What did you do to Aunt Gertrude?” Margaret’s voice held an accusation. She just knew Lucas did something. She could see it in his eyes.
 
“Don’t you worry, my dear. She still has her head and all her feathers.” Lucas smiled. “And your father is back…back where he better stay put.”
 
“Did you…talk to Aunt Gertrude?” Lucas nodded. “Oh Luke…”
 
“Now Margaret, she insulted you and that’s one thing I won’t allow ANY person to do – man or woman. I assured her that you could come home this evening, but you will come and stay here with my family if she says or does anything else to hurt you.” His words were very firm, and Margaret knew he left no room for arguing.
 
“I wish you hadn’t done that.” Margaret turned away and went to sit at the table, closing the door on any further conversation for the time being.
 
With the entire McCain family there, it was hard for Lucas to find time to get Margaret alone. He talked to his brothers, who promised to help him build his house over the next couple of weeks since there was a lull in the field work. The rain had taken care of watering for a few days, and one brother would be left behind to inspect the garden every day. Margaret, meanwhile, was discussing wedding plans with the women. Julie and Emily both had pretty much taken over the planning of her wedding and questioned Margaret on certain details. They were still planning on going to a nearby town to shop for a store-bought wedding dress and other articles she would need, but none of the women would be allowed to go without a male chaperone.
 
In time, the meal was completed and the women worked at cleaning up the mess left by the men and children while the men went out to talk politics and carpentry. The children were also sent outside to play, and Laura Rose was ordered to keep a close eye on them. Laura complained that she always had to do the babysitting, and Abe assured her that someday the other children would be old enough to take over her job.
 
Finally, Margaret walked outside and motioned for Lucas. Lucas took her hand and they took the walk they always tried to take on any given Sunday. The couple was quiet as they walked through the fields. Finally, Lucas stopped at a large wheat field and took some kernels of wheat. “It’ll soon be ready to harvest.”
 
Margaret nodded. “Then you will be busy again.” Margaret sat down beside the wheat field and sniffed. Lucas sat down behind her and leaned her head against his chest. “I’m afraid you’ve made things more difficult, Luke.”
 
“No, sweetie,” Lucas assured her as he kissed the top of her head.
 
“You promised…”
 
“I know.” Lucas put his chin on her shoulder. He spoke close to her ear. “But sometimes a promise has to be broken.” Lucas sighed. “You will be my wife in a month, Margaret.” Lucas brushed her cheek with his fingers. “I will be taking care of you like a husband should, and part of that job is to protect you. I could not stand by and watch you hurt and insulted like you were.”
 
“What did you say to her?”
 
Lucas brushed her cheek with his lips. “I told her that she was to keep her personal opinions about you and me to herself, and that she wasn’t to say anything negative about either of us again. I told her that if I hear of her doing anything else, I would remove you from your home and have you stay with my family until she left.”
 
Margaret laced her fingers through his. “Luke…I know this is hard for you to believe, but…I love my aunt.”
 
“I know.” Lucas decided to drop the subject. “I found your father at the hotel in town and I had a stern talk with him as well. He’s back home with your family where I ordered him to stay until Aunt Gertrude leaves.”
 
Margaret turned and stared at Lucas. “You did all that for me?”
 
“No.” Lucas smiled as he kissed her. When their lips parted, he said, “I did it for your family. Your mother has been kind to me all these years, and I don’t want her to lose her pride or to have her hurt by your Aunt Gertrude’s bitter words. I also did it for you.”
 
“Thank you.”
 
Lucas kissed the tip of her nose. “You’re welcome.” Margaret laid her head against his chest. Lucas’ arms tightened around her and they sat beside the wheat field for a long time.
 
In time, the couple rose. They visited with family and discussed more plans for the house. Then Tiffany fixed a light supper for her family, Lucas and Margaret. After Margaret finished helping Tiffany clean the kitchen, she came into the main room and watched Lucas and Peter argue over a game of checkers. Lucas claimed that Peter had jumped him illegally, but Peter assured Lucas it was quite legal. Since they couldn’t agree on where the checkers were in the first place, there wasn’t much to be done.
 
“If you two don’t stop arguing, we’ll put you in separate corners!” Tiffany finally declared.
 
Peter turned and grabbed his wife, setting her on his lap. He kissed her neck and said, “As long as I can come with you!”
 
Margaret looked at Lucas and they burst out laughing. “I think that’s our cue to leave,” Lucas mumbled.
 
“Indeed it is,” Margaret agreed.
 
Margaret watched Lucas hitch up his team. Then they slowly started down the road. “I’ll be pretty busy this week building the house. But if there’s any trouble I want to know about it.” Margaret didn’t answer. Lucas turned his head toward her. “Did you hear me?”
 
“Mm hm.”
 
“I mean it now, Margaret. I’m going to have my brothers stopping by and checking on you. And I’ll have a talk with your brother. I want to know if anything’s amiss. You don’t deserve this added pressure.”
 
“I know, Luke. But she’s my aunt. I’m sure she’ll simmer down.” Margaret put her arm around his middle and kissed his cheek. “Now…since I’m not going to see you for a few days, what say we stop arguing and just enjoy being together?”
 
“Seems that’s all we’ve been doing since your Aunt Gertrude arrived…arguing.” Lucas put his arm around her shoulders. But Lucas agreed that they shouldn’t waste time arguing. Instead, they rode home in silence, enjoying the peace that surrounded them for the moment.
 
***
 
When Margaret arrived home, she found her mother and sister in the parlor sewing on a quilt they were making for her and Lucas. Scott and Amanda had already retired to their bedroom for family time – a time they can spend with just the three of them, which usually ended in a long evening of talking once Baby Andy was asleep. Samuel was sitting at the table putting a puzzle together to keep his mind occupied. Margaret kissed his cheek as she joined him at the table. Aunt Gertrude was sitting in the living room reading a book, but when she saw Margaret, she slammed the book closed and stood up abruptly. “Let’s get you to bed mother.”
 
The next morning, Margaret helped Amanda fix breakfast. Aunt Gertrude announced that she would not be eating breakfast that morning. Instead, she wondered if Scott could take her to town, a town which was poor and skimpy according to her, so she could purchase some needed materials. Scott said he would which left Samuel to ride with the ranch hands; but it would get Aunt Gertrude out of the house for awhile.
 
By the time the houseguests arrived back home, Margaret was churning butter. Aunt Gertrude paused as she stepped up onto the porch and looked down at Margaret from squinted eyes.  “Never thought a niece of mine would have to do THAT!” she declared with a humph. Margaret wondered exactly who should be churning the butter, but shrugged when Scott gave their aunt a firm warning, reminding her of Lucas’ threat.
 
The cold reform of her aunt’s behavior lasted through Wednesday. Margaret couldn’t stand the coolness of her aunt’s presence anymore and announced on Wednesday afternoon that she would go help Julie for awhile. Aunt Gertrude suddenly stood and turned to Margaret. “We came to visit you!” Her declaration came with a click of her tongue and accusation in her eyes.
 
Margaret folded her arms as some sort of involuntary shield and looked her aunt in the eye. “And at first, I was so happy you did; but for the last three days you haven’t spoken to me.”
 
“Your…” Aunt Gertrude cleared her throat. “Your fiancé didn’t leave me much choice.”
 
Margaret lifted an eyebrow. “Did he actually tell you that you couldn’t speak to me?”
 
“Of course not!”
 
Margaret felt her eyes fill up with tears. Those three words just made the pain deeper. “So you’re saying that you can’t find anything nice to say to me? Not one single thing?” Aunt Gertrude turned away from her. Margaret watched in despair as Aunt Gertrude hurried outside. She turned and looked at Beth who merely shrugged her shoulders. Margaret hurried after her aunt and found her sitting in a chair on the front porch. Her shoulders were shaking. “Aunt Gertrude?” Margaret put a hand to her shoulder and bent down behind her.
 
The words that escaped her elderly aunt’s lips shocked her. “Why do you love this… McCain?” Aunt Gertrude asked quietly.
 
“Why?” Margaret wondered over Aunt Gertrude’s motive behind that question. Was she about to go against Lucas’ orders and give her a hard time? She thought carefully before she answered. “I guess I’ve always loved him.” Margaret paused to allow her answer to sink into Aunt Gertrud’s stubborn brain. “There’s just something about him that I…No, that’s not true..I love everything about him. He’s so different than me, yet we’re so alike. We can finish each other’s thoughts and…well…I guess I’ve never really thought about why.” Margaret smiled. “I guess that sometimes you can’t explain why you love somebody, you just accept that you do.”
 
“How long have you known that…that you ‘loved’ him?”
 
Margaret didn’t like the way she said the word ‘love.’ But she smiled and answered. “That’s easy. I was eight years old.”
 
Aunt Gertrude stood up and abruptly turned to face Margaret. “And even if you’re poor…” Aunt Gertrude’s voice stopped suddenly. Margaret wasn’t sure if it was because she was overcome with emotion, or was about to lash out another insult against the “dirt farmer.”
 
Margaret slowly stood up behind her. “At first, there will be times when we’ll wonder where the money will come from, as in many, many families, Aunt Gertrude. But no matter how bad things get, we have each other. Our love has seen us through many storms. No, Aunt Gertrude, it hasn’t all been roses and laughter. We’ve been through some very, very difficult times. There have been times when I thought he was dead. There have been times when we’ve been at odds, yet through everything…we’ve had our love for each other. That love will carry us through ANY storm. That’s something money won’t do, and I’m sorry you don’t see that. Money won’t help us through the hard times…power won’t see us through the storms of life…But if we lean on each other and help each other through, we’ll survive. Love is one of the most powerful things there is. I have his love, Aunt Gertrude.”
 
Margaret heard her aunt sniff. “You’re…both…richer than I could ever imagine.” Aunt Gertrude’s voice was full of regret and disappointment. After saying this, Aunt Gertrude lifted her skirt and hurriedly walked from the yard. Margaret watched her go, wondering what sort of turmoil she was facing. She wondered if Aunt Gertrude would accept her company to wherever it was she was going Instead of following her aunt, Margaret  watched Aunt Gertrude walk toward the pond – a place, it seemed, that everyone went to think. After a few minutes, Margaret slowly started toward the bank where she was sitting.
 
As she drew close, she saw Aunt Gertrude’s cheeks wet with tears. Her eyes stared over the water…no…her eyes stared way past the water to some distant place…some distant memory. Margaret sat down beside her aunt and took her hand. The only sound for the longest time was Aunt Gertrude’s sniffing as tears continued to fall. “I had a love like that once,” she finally stated.
 
Margaret was quite surprised. She could never imagine somebody wanting to spend the rest of their lives to a woman such as her spinster aunt. That wasn’t fair though. Perhaps her bitterness and accusing ways were a result of what had happened to her so long ago. Could this woman with a stone-cold heart and a judging tongue have been as in love with a man…a man who returned her love…as Margaret was with Lucas?
 
Nothing more was said as the two women sat beside each other on the bank of the pond. Finally, after several minutes of silence, Aunt Gertrude began telling her story. At times her words became mixed with tears, while at others she laughed or spoke rapidly. Margaret stayed silent through the whole story, and as the story was told, Aunt Gertrude’s stone-cold heart slowly came back to life.
 
“My mother had dreams for me, as she did for all her children. There were eight of us in all. My mother had six boy and two girls. My father…died when she was carrying the youngest, and I don’t remember so much as a tear shed over that event. My father’s death actually left us richer than when he was alive. He had invested a lot of money into a company, and in his will he left it to his five sons. He was a merchant who sold goods at high prices and showed no mercy to his debtors.
 
The boys had no boundaries…no limits. After all, when one married, the woman adapted to the man’s world. I was the oldest child and my mother had so many dreams for me. She said I would marry a judge someday and have money. I’d live in a fine house and have fancy dishes and…
 
“But there was a boy in that town. I’d always known him. The boy’s name was Frank. Frank Dee Anderson and he was probably the most handsome and kindest man I ever knew. My mother frowned on our friendship because he had no future, but every day we became more and more accustomed to each other. He…Frank…wanted to move West and become a rancher someday. Of course, ranching was a dream in those days and took a lot of courage and a lot of determination. The West was just opening and it was wild country with so much room between farms and so many Indians.
 
“When I turned sixteen, Frank and I started talking about marriage. He was about to talk to my mother when my mother announced she had talked to a woman in town that day. The woman’s name was Martha Johnson and Mrs. Johnson had a son, twenty-two years old, who was fresh out of school. He was a lawyer and was hoping to someday become a judge. I met this man.  He was ugly with a heavy beard that hung way down his chin and sideburns that came past his ears. The mere thought of even talking to this man startled me, so imagine my surprise when my mother announced I was going to marry him!
 
“I cried alright. I told her I didn’t want to marry a man I couldn’t love. My mother told me that a man like that could give me everything I ever wanted. I could have a fine house, food, and servants. My children could go to the finest schools and grow up to be anything they desired. We wouldn’t have to starve and scrape by like my mother had to do in her early years of marriage. I cried and fussed, refusing to give in for a long time. I loved Frank, I told her. My mother asked me…’What kind of name was Frank?’
 
“The lawyer’s name was Patrick. Patrick was a good, strong name, Mother said. He would be a judge someday, then maybe he’d be President! My mother had this way of forcing you to do what you didn’t want to do. When she started crying, I finally gave in. I told Frank that I didn’t want to marry him which broke his heart, then said yes to Patrick’s stiff marriage proposal. I cried when I did that. I hated him for it, and I think he knew it.
 
“Frank…he was never one to hold a grudge. He gave me his blessing and told me he’d be there if I ever needed him. Then on the day of my wedding I got a note from Patrick. He had found another woman…prettier and richer that he wanted to marry.
 
“My mother was so angry with me. She said the whole thing was my fault. I felt a release…felt I’d be able to marry Frank and find true happiness, but she refused to give me her blessing. In fact, she told me she’d disown me if I ever married Frank. I had no choice. I told Frank that in spite of his love for me, I would have to refuse his second proposal of marriage as well. It broke my heart to say those things, but my mother was a very hard woman and I couldn’t lose her love too…not my mother’s…” Aunt Gertrude’s expression changed to one of pain. She looked as if she were suddenly reliving that moment all over again. “Three days later, Frank left. He said he couldn’t live there with me living there too. The hurt was too much. But he didn’t stay gone long. He was back two days later slung over a saddle on his horse. He’d run into some trouble. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time and had been shot to death. I killed him….Just as sure as I pulled the trigger, I killed him.”
 
At this point, Margaret put her arm around Aunt Gertrude. “No,” she whispered. “You mustn’t say that! You mustn’t!”
 
“We both know it’s true.” Aunt Bertha heaved a big sigh. She shook her head. Her expression changed again. This time, it was cold, as if she were trying to bury the emotions back down deep inside. “Anyways, I didn’t know it at the time, but my mother had bought me a wedding gift. It was a new set of dishes shipped clear from over the ocean. They cost her dearly, but she wanted me to have them since I was marring for money, like she wanted, and not for love. You see, my mother had married for money as well…
 
“Those dishes arrived the day after we buried Frank. I didn’t even open them. I just put them in the closet in the sealed boxes and closed the door. They’re still there. I swore an oath to myself. I swore that I would never look at another man, nor would I ever marry. And I didn’t.
 
“About ten years later, your mother came home with an announcement. She had met a man named Samuel Gibbs and they were in love. I saw the same look of love on her face that I must have worn on mine. Mother, by then, had a man chosen for Jennifer. Your mother was…still is…so beautiful that any man wouldn’t have to think twice about marrying her. The man Mother had chosen for Jennifer was named Zachary Prescott. He was ten years older than your mother, yet very distinguished and handsome. I even thought I could love him, had I not taken my oath. Well, your mother reacted the same way I did. She didn’t want to marry the man mother had chosen. My mother cried and begged, but your mother wouldn’t give in. She declared she would only marry a man who loved her, and your father loved her very much.
 
“I still remember my mother’s words today. ‘I’ll tell you the same thing I told that disgraceful sister of yours,’ Mother said. ‘I’ll disown you if you marry this…this rancher!’ My mother had paused in packing her suitcase. She turned and looked straight at our mother and said, ‘If your love for me is that shallow, then I don’t want it.’ Then she closed her suitcase, buckled it, and left the house. She never returned.
 
“Two years later, Mother got a letter from your Mother. It stated that she still loved us, but was happy. She and your father had married then moved here to Enid with a man by the name of Marcus McCain and his new wife. Nearly thirty-two years ago, that was. Thirty-two years ago, yet I remember it like yesterday. My mother turned to me and smiled. ‘Well,” she said to me. ‘I guess I’m not as shallow as Jennifer said I was because I still love her in spite of all she did.’ I hated her for it! And I hated the McCain’s even more because I found out later that they had encouraged your parents to marry. I never forgave them.”
 
Margaret watched as all the emotions pent up for the last 43 years drained from her aunt’s body. What was left behind was grief and loss. “Do you hate Grandma Bertha too?” Margaret asked quietly.
 
“I did for a long time.”
 
“And now?” Margaret prompted her.
 
“Now?” Aunt Bertha let out a long sigh. “Now I feel such regret. I want to ask Mother if she still loves me. You see, Margaret…Your grandmother can hardly hear. She just says ‘Yes’ and moves around where she can. Do I love her?” Aunt Bertha shook her head. “I don’t hate her anymore now that she’s an invalid…but I don’t know if I love her either…” She sighed with regret. “I don’t know if I’m capable of loving…anyone…anymore.”
 
“Do you suppose she’s wishing she could tell you she loves you?”
 
“No.” Aunt Bertha shook her head. “She never forgave me for what I did to her. She may love me, but as long as she has has unforgiveness for what I did, she’ll never admit she loves me right out.”
 
“Forgive you?” Margaret put her hands on her Aunt’s and looked into her eyes. “Aunt Gertrude, you did as she requested. Why would she forgive Mother but not you?”
 
Aunt Gertrude lifted her head and sighed. “She forgave your mother. Yes. But do you want to know why?” Margaret nodded. “Because your mother had the courage to stand up for what she believed in. I…” Aunt Gertrude shook her head. “I didn’t.” Aunt Bertha’s face was full of regret.
 
Margaret wanted to say more, but Aunt Gertrude slowly stood up and made her way back to the ranch. Margaret turned and looked out over the water. She looked up at the sun. It was too late to go see Lucas today, but tomorrow she’d go. She had to talk to him. She had to see if he would be willing to give Aunt Bertha just one more chance.
 
***
 
Lucas stopped his hot work to take a long drink of water from the canteen. Peter and Abe both were there helping him, and the house was beginning to take shape. Already, the frame was almost up. Lucas took off his shirt and his brothers followed suit.
 
They heard a horse approaching and all turned to see who was coming. “What’s she doing here?” Lucas grumbled, but he was actually happy she had stopped by. He had been worried about her, even though his brothers had checked on her and assured him she was fine.
 
“Maybe she just needs some sugar,” Peter answered. Abe chuckled as Lucas glared at them. Lucas hurried up to the horse and grabbed the reins. The horse, not expecting to be stopped so suddenly, reared back and Margaret slid from the saddle into Lucas’ arms. Her hand pressed against his sweaty chest and she let out a gasp. “Oh my!”
 
Lucas chuckled as he sat her down on the ground. “What brings you out here?” He watched as her face reddened and she wiped the sweat from her hand on her skirt.
 
Margaret couldn’t take her eyes from his chest. Her face felt on fire as she tried to get her answer out. “Oh, uh…uh…I needed to talk to you.”
 
Lucas rested his hands on her shoulders and lifted her face upwards. Margaret felt more heat when she realized that Lucas knew she had been staring at the bulging muscles on his chest. His eyes laughed as he said, “So…talk.”
 
Peter and Abe walked towards the couple as they put their shirts back on. Abe threw Lucas his shirt. “Luke, get your shirt on so that poor girl can think straight!” Abe declared as he and Peter burst into laughter. Lucas turned  and shot his brothers a look, which sent them scurrying back to the roof.
 
Margaret watched him slide his shirt on. Her mouth opened a bit when she realized she was disappointed to have the view covered. “Oh…uh…”
 
“Yes?” Lucas prompted her, laughter still in his eyes. He continued to slowly button his shirt.
 
“Well, I…” Margaret forced her eyes to look back up into his. She got a perturbed look on her face and reached out and gave him a punch in the arm. “You stop teasing me right now, Luke! Why, a woman would be blind to…” She stopped, realizing what she was about to say. “Aunt Gertrude’s right! A young man shouldn’t look so…” Again, she blushed. “Why…I just came to talk to you!”
 
“Talk?” Lucas continued buttoning his shirt. “Your aunt giving you trouble?”
 
Margaret had moved her eyes past him and was staring at the forming house she and Lucas would soon share. “Oh Luke!” She walked around the house and looked from top to bottom. “Luke…it’s so big!”
 
“Yeah.” Lucas walked beside her and slid an arm around her waist. “Do you approve, Miss Gibbs?”
 
“When will it be done?” Excitement danced in her eyes.
 
“Uh…” Lucas scratched his head. “It’ll be cutting it close. It’ll be done by the end of August.” Margaret heard more doubt than assurance in his voice. “…if I don’t keep getting such uh…beautiful…interruptions.” He stopped and turned to her, giving her a long, sweet kiss.”
 
They started walking again. “But I’ll need some time to set up housekeeping, Luke. Can you have it done a week before the wedding?” Lucas lifted his eyebrows and sighed. “Please?”
 
“Well, if you promise not to interrupt me, maybe I CAN get accommodate you.”
 
“Oh.” Margaret took his arm from around her and gave him a playful pout. “So, you don’t want me to come around anymore…’interrupting’ you…” She started walking forward.
 
He gently grabbed her arm to stop her. She turned and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Come here for a minute.” They kissed again as they stood on the back side of the house.  This time, Margaret returned his with one to match. Finally, their lips parted and Lucas smiled at her. “I tell you what…” He smiled.  “If you promise to give me one of those every day, I reckon I can accommodate you…regardless of the interruptions. But I’m afraid you won’t have running water until I can dig the well this fall.”
 
“Oh, I don’t care! I’ll walk to the creek! I’ll walk everyday!”
 
Lucas shook his head. “Awful long walk to the creek. Perhaps you can find some nice, strong, good-looking man to fetch the water for you.”
 
“Oh…I think I can find someone to help.” Margaret turned in his arms so together, the two of them were looking out over what would soon be theirs. Lucas rested his chin on top of Margaret’s head, his arms remained around her, fingers interlaced over her stomach. She gave a short laugh. ”I know just who to ask, next time I see him in town.”
 
Lucas tickled her in the ribs. “Hey!” Margaret giggled. He smiled at her. “Now you have to stop that teasing! I just may get jealous.” He cleared his throat as he turned her back around to face him. “So, what brings you out here?”
 
Margaret took his hand as they started walking. “I had a long talk with my aunt yesterday. I don’t want to break her confidence, but I do want to ask you a favor.”
 
“Oh?” Lucas picked up his hammer and started pounding a nail into a board. He didn’t really need to, but he didn’t like her tone of voice and didn’t want to look directly at her.  “What sort of favor?”
 
“Come to dinner tonight?”
 
He KNEW he wouldn’t like the favor! Lucas paused his hammer in mid stroke. “Are you crazy? After the reception I got last time?” Lucas lifted an eyebrow and tilted his head to one side as he looked at her suspiciously. “Why?”
 
“Just…come…Please?” Margaret kissed his cheek to add sugar to her plead.
 
“Mmm…” Lucas rolled his eyes as he kissed her again. He couldn’t seem to get enough of her sweet kisses these days! “I can see I’m doomed if you’re going to use your wiles to get your way.”
 
“I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t for a good reason. Honest, Luke.”
 
Lucas laughed. “You sure I’m not going to have to fight Gettysburg with your aunt?”
 
“No, I’m not.” Margaret answered honestly. “But she has a lot of remorse and bitterness inside her. I just hate that you two don’t get along. I want you to give her one more chance. Please, Luke…just give her one more chance?”
 
Lucas cocked his head to one side, again giving her a suspicious look. “You sure you ain’t meddling?”
 
“Do I meddle?” She asked innocently as she folded her arms.
 
“You’re a woman,” Lucas answered simply.
 
Margaret gasped. “Now Luke, I…” She suddenly had fire in her eyes and was all ready to give him a piece of her mind! But Lucas interrupted her with his laugh.
 
“Will you two love birds stop all that kissing so Luke can get back to work?” Abe suddenly griped as he leaned over the edge of the roof.
 
Lucas and Margaret looked up. “Love birds?” Lucas shook his head. “Look who’s talking!” He looked back at Margaret and winked. “He’s the one with the wife who’s already had five kids and another on the way.”
 
“I heard that!”
 
Margaret giggled. “Like I said, Luke. They just have a lot of love to share!” Margaret held up her hand when Lucas started to make his retort. “Six o’clock! Don’t be late, Lucas McCain!” Then she swiftly turned on her heels and hurried to her horse. Lucas shook his head as he watched her mount her horse, as well as any man could ever do, turn her horse around, and race away.
 
***
“You did WHAT???” Scott planted his hands on his hips and glared down at his sister.
 
“I invited Luke to supper.” Scott continued to glare at her. “Where’s Aunt Gertrude?”
 
“She’s in the parlor with Grandma Bertha,” Amanda answered. She wiped her hands on the dish towel.
 
Margaret started into the parlor, but Scott reached out and grabbed her arm. “Margaret…are you TRYING to start more trouble?” he asked harshly.
 
“No,” Margaret answered as she shook her arm from his grasp. “I’m trying to help.”
 
“You’re meddling, and your meddling is going to backfire!” Scott argued. “Why don’t you leave…”
 
“Scott Patrick Gibbs!” Amanda hurried toward her husband as she gave him a harsh warning.   
 
”Now Amanda, you women are…” Amanda lifted her eyebrow at him. He threw his hands up in the air. “Women!” Scott shook his head. “You women meddle, then us men have to clean up the mess!” He turned and glared at Margaret. “I just hope you don’t regret this. I’m thinking maybe you’ll be going to live with the McCain family for awhile.”
 
 Margaret walked into the parlor. Aunt Gertrude looked up from her book. When she saw Margaret, she patted the seat next to her and invited her to sit down.
 
“I’ve done something, Aunt Gertrude, and I hope you don’t get angry with me.”
 
“I DO hope you didn’t break off the engagement!” She suddenly declared. Margaret’s eyes widened when she heard those words. Aunt Gertrude laughed. “You see…I didn’t sleep at all last night. I did a lot of thinking and I guess I finally buried Frank. All these years…All that bitterness and resentment I…guess I just kept it festering in my heart.”
 
“And Grandma Bertha?”
 
Aunt Gertrude didn’t answer.
 
“What about Luke?”
 
“It riled me the other night when he told me his folks had passed on. They were the McCain’s I hated, and something inside me snapped that night when I heard they had died.” Aunt Gertrude rested a hand on Margaret’s shoulder. “Margaret darling, I want to ask you a question. Do you think you could REALLY be happy married to a rancher?” Margaret nodded. “A rancher works hard all year round, Margaret. It’s not like a farmer who gets the winter off. A rancher takes care of his cattle all four seasons.”
 
“Aunt Gertrude, I was RAISED on a ranch.”
 
“And you honestly like ranch life?” Margaret nodded. Aunt Gertrude smiled at her. “What did you want to tell me?”
 
“He’s coming for supper tonight.” Margaret said the words rapidly.
 
Aunt Gertrude sat up straighter and stared at Margaret. “Well…that’s what you did that I may be angry about?” Margaret nodded. “I see.”
 
“Are you angry?”
 
“I’m a little…taken aback, but I’m not angry. Margaret, I don’t want everyone knowing about my past. I’ve a reputation to hold, and I don’t want anyone to think I’m an ol’ woman who never got over being jilted. But I’ll find something…nice…to say to Luke.”
 
“I told him we had a long talk, so he suspects something already.” Aunt Gertrude nodded. “I’ll…leave the rest up to you.”
 
Margaret went to help with supper.
 
***
 
Lucas looked around the table after Scott finished the prayer. Aunt Gertrude was being rather quiet tonight, and he noticed everyone was rather suspicious about the reason; except for Margaret. Margaret seemed to know exactly what was going on.
 
Jennifer cleared her throat and turned to her daughter. “So Margaret, how are the wedding plans coming?”
 
Every head popped up, including Margaret’s. She turned and looked at her Aunt Gertrude, who merely pressed her lips together and waited quietly for her to answer. “Uh…” Margaret swallowed the food in her mouth as she prepared to answer. “Rather smoothly, and that scares me a bit. Everything seems to be working out just fine. The McCain sisters have all pretty much taken over the plans with Amanda’s and your help, of course.” Margaret cleared her throat. “I did so much to help them that they just wanted to help out. I think Ann’s been helping out as well.”
 
Lucas lifted his eyebrows as he turned and looked at Aunt Gertrude. She merely took another bite of food and stared down at her plate.
 
“And Luke, how’s the house coming?”
 
Margaret gasped. “Oh Mother, it’s so big! There’s going to be an awful lot of room for just the two of us.” Margaret felt like a little girl getting a doll house for Christmas. “Why, there’s going to be two bedrooms and a big fam…”
 
“Margaret…” Lucas nudged her and shook his head. Margaret blushed at her excitement. Scott chuckled.
 
After dessert was served, Aunt Gertrude surprised everyone when she cleared her throat and spoke. “Margaret dear, are you sure you have everything under control for your wedding?”
 
Margaret and Lucas looked at each other. She had made it clear that she was against this wedding, so her suddenly interest was quite shocking. “Well…I…think so.”
 
“Then if you were to go away for…say a couple weeks…it wouldn’t hurt your wedding plans any?”
 
“Well…I’m planning a trip to buy a wedding dress. I’ve had so many other things to think about and I really wanted a store bought dress. I heard tell some towns have dress stores that make wedding dresses and…” Margaret rambled excitedly as she thought about it.
 
“Oklahoma City has a fine wedding dress store.” Aunt Gertrude said quickly.
 
 Every eye around the table was on Aunt Gertrude now. A dead silence was in the room, not a muscle moved as they waited for her to continue.
 
Lucas finally spoke in a very low voice. “Oklahoma City…” he started. He turned and looked at Margaret, who also had a question in her eyes. “Just what is your plan, Aunt Gertrude?” His voice held an accusing tone in it.
 
“I would like to take Margaret back to Oklahoma City on the stage with me. There are some things I’d like her to have for her home, and I would love to spend some time with her. It would be a fine opportunity for her. We could leave tomorrow and be back two weeks before the wedding.” Everyone was silent. “Margaret…Those dishes I told you about…I would love to give them to you.”
 
“Ohhhh!” Margaret suddenly squealed and stood up. “Aunt Gertrude!” She threw her arms around her aunt’s neck as tears filled her eyes. “Thank you!”
 
“Margaret…” Lucas started.
 
“So you’ll come?” Aunt Gertrude asked. She seemed a bit too anxious for Margaret to come, Lucas thought.
 
“Oh, of course I’ll…” Margaret started.
 
Lucas stood up and gently took her arm. “Uh Margaret…” His voice was low and firm, and his eyebrows were raised in a warning. “Can I see you outside?”
 
From recent experience, Margaret knew that question only had one correct answer, and unless she wanted another argument with Lucas, she better answer correctly. “Of course.”
 
Lucas grunted as he walked her outside. They stepped off of the porch and walked away from the house. “Okay.” Lucas folded his arms across his middle and turned to her. “Would you mind telling me what the hell is going on?”
 
“Lucas!” Margaret gasped at his crude language. Lucas raised his eyebrows. Margaret knew this wasn’t the time to give him a lecture on language. Instead, she shrugged. “A change of heart?”
 
“More like a whole personality change!” Lucas declared. “First she can’t stand me or you and now she’s giving you her blessing and wanting to help you prepare for the wedding?” Lucas shook his head. “There’s something very fishy going on here.”
 
“Luke, I can’t tell you everything. She swore me to secrecy this afternoon but…She’s been carrying a deep hurt around with her. I don’t think she’s ready to ask anyone for forgiveness or tell you she’s thrilled with the idea, but she’s ready to accept our marriage. She has some dishes she was given by her mother a long time ago…back when she was going to marry that man I told you about? After he broke off the engagement, she put the unopened boxes of dishes in the back of the closet and never opened them. Now she wants me to have them.”
 
Lucas shook his head. “I don’t buy it.  A person can’t change that fast in a day!”
 
“She’s sincere, Luke! I know she is!” Margaret declared.
 
Lucas quickly lifted his head and said, “I don’t want you to go.”
 
“Luke!”
 
“She may be kidnapping you…Taking you back to her castle and…”
 
“Oh Luke!” Margaret shook her head and rolled her eyes. “Don’t be silly!”
 
“Well…I don’t like the idea of you traveling on the stagecoach alone. I don’t like it!” Lucas’ voice was practically yelling.
 
“I won’t be alone!” Margaret argued. “I’ll be with Aunt Gertrude!”
 
“Yeah…” Lucas nodded as he grunted. “That’s the part I really don’t like!” Margaret’s eyes flashed anger. “I just don’t like it, Margaret. You’ll be coming back alone, and I just don’t like it! Not one bit.”
 
“Oh Luke…” Margaret took his hands in hers and pleaded with him. “Please let me! I’ll bring back the dishes and get to spend two weeks getting to know my mother’s family. Some of my uncles still live around there. There’s a whole set of cousins I’ve never met before! Oh Luke…if you moved away and your children had the opportunity to meet their family, wouldn’t YOU want to go?”
 
Lucas sighed. “I suppose I would at that.” He ran a hand through his hair. “But I can’t get away to take you, and nobody else can either. I just don’t think I want you to go.”
 
“I’ll be fine, Luke! I will!” Margaret grabbed his hands. “Oh, please, Luke! Please let me go!”
 
“Honey, if anything were to happen to you…”
 
“Nothing will happen, Lucas! I PROMISE!” Margaret declared.
 
“What, are you a fortune teller now or something?” Lucas shook his head. “You shouldn’t be traveling alone..or with Aunt Gertrude. I just…” Lucas was still doubtful, but he knew how much she wanted to go. He ran a hand through his hair. “Can you give me until tomorrow to think about it?”
 
“She’s leaving tomorrow!” Margaret argued.
 
“Margaret…” Lucas warned.
 
“Do I have to?” Margaret shook her head and held up her hands when Lucas put his hands on his hips. “Alright, alright!” Margaret grabbed his hand and kissed his cheek. “But after you think about it…then will you let me go?”
 
Lucas laughed as he hugged her.
 
***
“So? What’s the problem?” Abe asked as he took another sip from his coffee cup.
 
“The problem is…” Lucas rolled his eyes. “Would you let Julie go to Oklahoma City alone?”
 
Abe turned and looked at Julie. “And leave me here with six kids? NO WAY!”
 
“Abe…” Lucas sighed. “Work with me here.”
 
“Alright.” Abe leaned back in his chair. “Have you talked to Scott about it?”
 
“He didn’t say much of anything. He said since I’m about to be her husband, it was my call. He’d support me in my decision.”
 
“I see.” Abe took another sip of his coffee. “Look, Lucas…Her aunt is inviting her to Oklahoma City. Soon Margaret will be married and keeping a house for you. She won’t have much opportunity to go see a big city.”
 
“So…You WOULD let Julie go?”
 
“I didn’t say that. But I’m saying Margaret really wants to go. If her family doesn’t intervene, I think you should give her your blessing. If you say no, she just may resent you for holding her back. Besides, she’ll be back two weeks before the wedding.”
 
Julie sat down at the table. “Luke…Don’t deny her this opportunity. She’ll go on the stage coach and…”
 
“How will she get back? By herself?” Lucas shook his head. “Aunt Gertrude already said last night that she wouldn’t be returning. I don’t want her traveling all the way back by herself.”
 
“Hm…” Julie shrugged as she took another sip of coffee. “Seems to me that Lucas traveled all the way to the New Mexico border. In fact, he stayed down south for an entire year without so much as a word to his family. Now, his fiancée, who stood by him all those months and waited patiently, wants to take just a two week trip to Oklahoma City…and what does he do? Deny HER the chance to spread her wings a bit.” Julie shook her head and ticked her tongue. “And let’s think about all those years in the war…”
 
“Your point is duly noted.” Lucas grumbled. “But I’ll worry the entire time she’s gone.”
 
“She can send you a telegram when she gets there.” Julie smiled. “If Abe would allow me, I’d go with her.”
 
“Oh no you won’t! You aren’t leaving me here with all these children!” Abe argued.
 
Lucas sighed again as he looked into his cup. “Her traveling alone isn’t the only thing that’s bothering me.”
 
“Aunt Gertrude?” Julie asked as she laid a hand on his.
 
“Yes.” Lucas looked up. “I just…I can’t shake it.” He shook his head. “I don’t think she’s changed THAT much…I mean she was dead set against this wedding, and now she wants to help Margaret shop for it.” Lucas shook his head. “It just doesn’t add up!”
 
“Margaret said they had a long talk…got a lot out in the open. Maybe Margaret helped her with some long, pent-up issues.”
 
Lucas rolled his eyes. “Now Julie, you know that emotions and problems that a person’s held on for years don’t melt away that fast.” Lucas shook his head. “No. I…I just don’t like it.”
 
“But Margaret believes she’s sincere?”
 
“Margaret is looking through rose-colored glasses.”
 
“True.” Julie took another sip of her coffee and stood up. She walked around the table then kneeled down beside Lucas. She rested a hand on his cheek and looked at him as if she were a mother consoling a little boy who didn’t like the choices being made for him. “But Luke…she believes her aunt is being sincere. Sometimes…you have to take risks to avoid bigger problems. Do you think she’ll resent you if you don’t let her go?”
 
“I…don’t know.”
 
“Then I think you should let her go.”
 
Lucas still had reservations, but he finally nodded his head. “Alright. I’ll tell her first thing in the morning.”
 
***
Margaret was so excited. She and Amanda rode into town early the next morning and purchased some new dresses. Lucas came by to accompany the women to town to meet the stage that afternoon. He came into Margaret’s bedroom to see if she was ready, but she was still putting dresses in her trunk. “You sure you have to go?” Lucas asked for the tenth time that day. Hesitation could be heard in his voice.
 
“Oh Luke…It’ll just be two weeks!”
 
”It’s not the being apart, honey. It’s…” Lucas stopped. He knew Margaret didn’t want to hear anymore about his doubts. “But…you will miss me…”
 
“Of course I will, my love. I’ll write you letters.” Margaret paused as she turned and looked at him. “Besides, you were gone for a whole year. That didn’t seem to bother you too much.”
 
“Ouch.” Lucas walked over and looked into the trunk. “You cannot possibly get another thing in there!” he declared. “Look, honey, you’ll be gone for two weeks. You’ve enough clothes in there for a month!”
 
Margaret giggled. “I know. I guess I’m done.” Lucas closed it. Margaret gasped. “Oh my! I almost forgot this!” She turned and handed him her sewing basket.
 
“Margaret…” Lucas warned as he put his hands on his hips. “You don’t need this.”
 
Jennifer hurried in and looked into the trunk. “Oh honey! Don’t you forget all the things you’ll be returning with. You’ll want to leave room for that wedding dress, and what about all those crates of dishes?”
 
“I hope they don’t break! Oh dear me…I guess I have everything.” Lucas rolled his eyes and closed the trunk. He had Margaret’s father help him take the trunk to the wagon.
 
They were alone as they rode to town. Lucas purchased the ticket for Margaret while Aunt Gertrude purchased her and Grandma Bertha’s. He turned to hurry back to Margaret. “Here comes the stage.” He looked down at her, his eyes showed hesitation.
 
Everything was soon boarded and Lucas stood outside the stagecoach with Margaret. “I’ll miss you.” He rubbed the back of his fingers across her cheek.
 
“We have to go, Luke,” Amos announced from on top of the stage.
 
Lucas nodded. “Now…remember, you’ll send a telegram every other day.”
 
“Oh Luke…” Margaret shook her head. “That’s an unnecessary expense…”
 
“It’s also one of my conditions in allowing you to go on this trip,” Lucas gently reminded her.
 
“You’re worried for no reason,” Margaret argued again.
 
“Margaret…”
 
“Alright. I’ll send you a telegram every other day.”
 
“Good. And if I don’t hear from you, I’ll be on my way to Oklahoma City. And when I get there, I’ll be pretty riled.”
 
Margaret nodded. “I understand.”
 
“Luke, we’ve got to go!” Amos, the stage driver, declared again.
 
Lucas held up his hand, motioning for a private moment. “I don’t care if your aunt is watching.” He bent down and kissed her. Margaret returned her kiss as she drew her arms around him. Their kiss lasted several moments.
 
“Margaret Gibbs!” Aunt Gertrude declared. “Margaret, you get in this stage this instant!” Margaret forced herself out of Lucas’ embrace and stepped onto the stage. Lucas reached through the window and took her hand. Then he closed the door and stepped back.
 
He felt a tear in his heart as he watched the stagecoach hurry down the street. He watched until it turned the corner. “I can just hear her now…’Margaret Gibbs, what were you thinking making love in the middle of the street?’” Scott laughed. “That’s Aunt Gertrude!”
 
“Yeah.” Lucas smiled. “Poor Margaret…I reckon she’ll have a whole entire two days to listen to that nonsense.”
 
Scott saw the worry in Lucas’ eyes. “You made the right decision, Luke. I know it was hard, but Mother thought it would do her good.”
 
“Yeah but…” Lucas folded his arms. He was still so very worried. He couldn’t shake the feeling that something was very wrong. “What if she likes the big city so much that she decides to stay?”
 
“Well…” Scott rubbed his nose and laughed. “I reckon you’ll move to Oklahoma City.” Lucas raised an eyebrow. “Come on. Let’s go get a beer.”
 
They walked down the street. Lucas turned back as the stagecoach turned the corner. He put his hands on his hips and rubbed his chin. If only he could put his finger on what was bothering him…”Coming Luke?” Scott called from behind him.
 
“Yeah. I’m coming.”

The Margaret Years — Reclaiming

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
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