The Rifleman
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The Margaret Years
 
Chapter 29 - Home is Where the Love Is
Written by Michelle Palmer
 
Jeremiah McCain stopped his wagon in front of the house and paused in the seat. He looked around the rundown farm and felt something eerie come over him. He still remembered when the farm had animals, vegetables in the garden, and a nice scent of cookies baking. Those days had long past now. The only smell that entered his senses today was a scent of manure in the yard. A lonesome, pitiful looking cow, stood on the edge chewing his cud.
 
There was no noise. It was as if there was no life, save that lonely looking cow. No birds sang, no dog barked, and no horses neighed. Not even a bug dared to interrupt the silence.
 
Jeremiah felt a chill go up his spine. There was something…something not quite right here. He could feel it deep in his bones. Slowly, he climbed from the wagon. The straps on his boots wiggled softly back and forth as he stood still and stared at the door to the house. It was so different from just days before.
 
Days before he had arrived to talk to Jebb Simpson about the possibility of the boy having some woman influence in his shattered life. Jebb had heard his wagon approaching and stepped out of the house, his eyes squinting as he stared up at Jeremiah who stood tall in front of him. He pressed a hand to his temple, knowing that he would need another drink soon to keep the pain at bay. “State your business, mister!” Jebb had grumbled as Paul, his seven year old son, stood in the door with a fist to his mouth.
 
“I’ve come to see you about the boy,” Jeremiah said kindly. “If now’s not a good time…”
 
“What about my boy?” Jebb had questioned. He was NOTHING like he used to be. His wife’s death had killed something inside himself. Several tried to talk to him and minister to him after the passing of his wife, but to no avail. He had pulled a shotgun on one of his ex-friends and threatened to shoot the next time.
 
“I’ve come to get permission for the boy to attend church with my family on Sundays and…perhaps have dinner with us.” Jeremiah had decided in that instant to tread lightly on gaining permission for Em to spend time with the boy. He didn’t want to put his family in danger, and this man wreaked of danger.
 
“My boy has work to do here on the farm!” Jebb growled then. “He ain’t got no time for a worthless God or socializing!”
 
“I see.” Jeremiah looked toward Paul, who’s eyes had suddenly grown very sad. “Well, it appears he’s needing some new clothes. My wife would be happy to sew him some pants and shirts, if you’d be willing to allow it.” There, that should be pressing too hard.
 
Maybe it was because Jebb just wanted Jeremiah to leave so he could get back to his drinking, or maybe there was actually some softness left in the scarred man. Whatever it was, Jebb nodded his approval then turned from Jeremiah, waved the boy back inside the dark house, and slammed the door.
 
Em had been saddened to hear his report, but put her whole heart and soul into making clothes for the boy. That very day, she had ordered Jeremiah to take her to town, where she preceded to use her egg and milk money to buy denim for the boy’s pants, masculine cotton prints for several shirts, thread, and even material for underwear. She mumbled as she shopped that it would be nice to know the boy’s size, but Jeremiah spoke that she would have to do the best she could. After purchasing some material to make Abby a couple new dresses, she paid for her purchases and went home to start on her tasks.
 
She would sew every chance she got, careful to not neglect her husband and daughter. While Abby napped, she would take up to sewing. In the evenings when Jeremiah and Abby had their father/daughter time, she would watch from her place in her chair as she sewed, marveling at the love they had for each other. She knew, of course, that she was partly to blame for that. She had neglected them for a short time after the death of their son, causing Jeremiah and Abby to bond. But now, Abby trusted her again, knowing she was loved.
 
It took an entire week for Em to get everything made for the little boy, and she rejoiced as she gently pressed the newly made clothes in a crate. Along with them, she put in some cookies, candy, and a few freshly baked goods the boy could use. Jeremiah promised he’d do everything he could to see the boy received her loving gifts. Then as Em held Abby in her arms, they waved at Jeremiah as he rode from the yard to deliver the gifts.
 
Now, Jeremiah stood staring at the door. He slowly began walking to it, keeping a hand on his holstered gun. He’s not sure why, but for some reason, he had a feeling something bad was lurking nearby. Jeremiah stopped in front of the door, offered a prayer up to the Lord, then knocked. No sound came from the house. He knocked harder, but still no sound came out.
 
He offered another prayer up, remembering the threat Jebb had made, then slowly opened the door. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the darkened room. Towels had been hung over the windows to keep sunlight out. The room smelled a foul odor. It was obvious nobody had been there for some time.
 
Or was it? Jeremiah paused. He had started to leave the house, but stopped when he heard a sound. He turned around and looked around the room. “Is somebody here?” He heard it again. It was a muffled cry. Jeremiah hurried to the table and lit the lantern, casting light into the room. He looked around, and stepped toward the muffled sound. Then he saw the bundle under a blanket on a nearby bed. Jeremiah rushed forward and started to grab the bundle, but he saw the shaking coming from underneath the blanket. “It’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you.” The shaking didn’t stop. Jeremiah slowly lifted his hand to gently touch the bundle. “It’s Jeremiah McCain. You and my wife, Em, are friends.”
 
The crying stopped. A small hand came out from underneath the blanket and pushed the blanket off his head. Paul slowly turned his head toward Jeremiah, and Jeremiah gasped at the image he saw. His face was badly swollen and bruised. One eye was closed, matted so badly from all the tears he had cried. The part of his face that wasn’t bruised revealed how pale the boy was. The boy’s eyes looked so…empty. But they held question as they stared at Jeremiah.
 
“You’re going to be okay, son.” Jeremiah had to speak in a controlled voice. He was seething with anger at the state of this poor child. He had a million questions, but knew the boy wouldn’t answer any of them right now if he could. He looked like a scared kitten who had just fallen into a pond and barely survived the ordeal, and Jeremiah had a feeling he wasn’t far from the truth. If he ever got his hands on that man…
 
“You here all alone, son?” Jeremiah asked softly. The boy nodded, but his eyes grew fearful. Jeremiah saw the soiled bed and realized with a sick heart what the odor was. The boy had been badly beaten, then left here. He’d probably been this way for a few days. “Can you walk?”
 
The boy suddenly cowarded away from Jeremiah, suddenly fearful of what his question meant. He started crying softly again and started to bury his head under the blanket. “I was just thinking you may want to see my wife…you remember your friend?” The boy’s eyes softened a bit, but they still held fear. “She made you some new clothes. They…” Jeremiah pointed toward the door. “They’re out here…in the wagon along with some food.”
 
The boy sat up, causing the blanket to fall away from his upper body. The blood drained from Jeremiah’s face when he saw the boy’s condition. The remainder of what was once a shirt hung in shreds on his upper body. His chest, arms, and back were covered in ugly bruises. “DEAR GOD!” Jeremiah breathed as he stared at the boy. “Oh merciful heavens!” More anger ceased him. How could a man who had claimed to have once loved this boy very much be so cruel?
 
The boy suddenly pressed himself up against the corner of the wall and covered his body with the blanket. He began shaking, suddenly frightened by the look on Jeremiah’s face. Jeremiah, suddenly realizing what his words did to the boy, felt ashamed. “I’m sorry.” He stood, knowing they’d get nowhere like this. “Let’s get you cleaned up. Then you’re coming home with me.”
 
Jeremiah could tell the boy didn’t want to do that. He acted as if his life was in danger, and that did nothing to ease the anger that had suddenly clawed at Jeremiah’s heart. His lungs burned for fresh air as he bent over and lifted the boy. The boy started crying as he was lifted from the bed. Jeremiah knew his mere touch was sending pain and fear through the boy’s body, but there was nothing he could do about it. He hated having to clean the boy up when he was so afraid, but he couldn’t let Em see him like this.
 
Once he had him washed and dressed in fresh clothes, Jeremiah gently lifted the boy in his arms and sat him up on the wagon seat. The boy didn’t act like he could walk, and Jeremiah wasn’t sure what the extinct of his injuries were. The boy said nothing. There was no expression on his face or in his eyes as they traveled in silence back to his house.
 
***
Em heard the wagon coming. She lifted Abby from the table where she’d been playing with some dough while ‘helping’ Em bake a pie for supper. Em carried Abby toward the door. “Papa’s home.” But Em’s smile died when she saw the boy sitting on the wagon beside Jeremiah. The boy’s face slowly turned to look at her, and Em slowly lowered Abby to the ground and lifted a shaky hand to her face. Jeremiah jumped down from the wagon and came around. He didn’t immediately turn to help Paul from the wagon, but looked at his wife. “In the name of heaven!” Em breathed. “Oh Dear God in Heaven…” Tears filled her eyes.
 
The boy’s face turned to fear in that instance. Em saw it and immediately calmed herself. She turned away, wiped her tears, and turned back around. Forcing a smile on her face, she held out a steady hand. Jeremiah turned and looked at the boy. Tears filled Paul’s eyes and began streaming down his cheeks. He climbed down from the wagon unassisted and ran into Em’s arms. The boy cried, his body shaking with sobs as he clung to Em’s middle and cried. Em’s arms wrapped around the small boy, her own tears silently coming as she stared with questioning eyes at Jeremiah.
 
But no words were spoken. Later, she and Jeremiah would try to get to the truth, but right now this child was broken. He was their first concern.
 
Abby started crying. She was scared at seeing tears. Jeremiah lifted her and walked away from the grieving boy who clung to Em. “Everything will be okay. I’ll take you to play with Ruthie.”

The Margaret Years — The Rifleman is Born

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
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