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The Margaret Years
 
Chapter 24 - The Horse
Written by Michelle Palmer

A heavy, cold rain welcomed February of 1866. Little snow still remained, and the rain succeeded at washing away the remainder of the snow. Behind the rain came warm air that made the residents of Enid, Oklahoma and thereabouts experience a teasing to an early spring.
 
On February 4, Margaret woke up to find Lucas already up and gone. She quickly dressed then went to stand on the porch, allowing the warm breeze to blow her loose hair gently. The barn was still locked up tight, though she saw the horses already in the corral for some much-needed fresh air. Margaret suspected they would greatly enjoy the exercise when Lucas later drove them to church.
 
Margaret took in a deep breath. Even though it was early February, she mentally started planning her very first garden in her head. Seeing no sign of Lucas, Margaret picked up the bucket and started toward the creek. She smiled as a squirrel scurried along a fallen tree as she passed. A bird pecked in the dirt, hoping to find a worm now that the snow was gone. As Margaret sank down on the dormant grass along the bank, she slowly sank her fingers into the water, but instantly pulled them back when she felt the sting of the coolness.
 
Margaret filled her bucket then stood. As she lifted her bucket, her foot slipped and she began to topple forward, but two arms reached out and grabbed her before she fell into the cold creek. “Whoa there,” Lucas said from behind her as he steadied her and kept his hands around her thin waist. “You almost went for a swim.”
 
“And a cold one at that,” Margaret declared.
 
Lucas smiled at her as he took the bucket from her hand. “I was going to do that. No need for you to…”
 
“I don’t mind,” Margaret shook her head with a smile. “It’s a beautiful day.”
 
Lucas nodded as he looked around. “Yes. Pa always said that if we get a day like this in early February, we can expect a big snow just behind it.”
 
“I hope your father’s warning is wrong this time, Luke.” They started walking back toward the house as Lucas slipped his arm around her waist. “I’ve seen enough snow for the winter. I’m ready for spring.”
 
“Come spring…I’ll build a well. I’m planning on putting a pump in the house as well, Margaret. Can’t have you walking to the creek anytime you need water.”
 
“Well…” Margaret shrugged. “It was just a few years ago that Pa built our own well. I don’t mind.”
 
“Well I do!” Lucas bent over and kissed her. “Anyhow, it’ll be a nice day to drive to church. We should leave early so we can enjoy the nice air God’s blessed us with.” Lucas paused and looked up at the sky. “Where’s Sunday dinner today?”
 
“At Mother’s,” Margaret answered. “Our horse, Marigold, is close to her time. Scott doesn’t want to go too far away.”
 
Lucas heard the sad tone in her voice. He turned and looked at her. “You’re worried.”
 
“Yes.” Margaret nodded. “The vet warned us she was getting too old for this. She’s not in the best of health.” Margaret bit her lip as she worried on it some more.
 
Lucas squeezed her hand. “What is it Ma always said about worrying?”
 
“Borrowed trouble?” Margaret gave him a smile. “Anyhow, Ma asked if we could have Sunday dinner there this week since Marigold’s now in her eleventh month.” She watched Lucas scratch under his nose and he looked up at the sky. “Something wrong, Darling?”
 
“Hm?” Lucas squeezed her hand. “Uh…no…”
 
Margaret didn’t quite believe him, but she went inside to fix breakfast.
 
***
Lucas helped Margaret over the wheel in front of the church then drove the wagon to a grassy area. Margaret started up the steps, but when she came face to face with Reef Jackson, she stopped suddenly and pressed a hand to her chest. “Excuse me.”
 
Reef removed his hat as he continued grinning down at her. “I declare, Margaret, you are getting prettier every day.”
 
“It’s Mrs. McCain,” Margaret quipped. “And thank you.”
 
Margaret was happy when Lucas came to stand beside her. “Well Reef!” Lucas gave him a gentle punch on the arm. “Where have you been, you ol’ son of a gun?”
 
“Luke,” Margaret’s sharp voice interrupted anything Reef was going to say. “We should get inside. We’ll be late.”
 
“Margaret!” Lucas was a bit surprised at her reaction. Months ago, she had met Reef Jackson in almost the very spot. He had known she was married, but proceeded to make an inappropriate remark toward her. Margaret, knowing Reef Jackson was a good friend of her husband’s, had chosen not to say anything. She didn’t like the look he was giving her now. The look made her feel dirty somehow. “Reef, you coming to church?”
 
“I was…but something came up.” Reef tipped his hat to Margaret. “Ma’am.”
 
“Margaret, I’ll be right back.” Lucas left Margaret to make her way inside. At the top of the steps, Margaret heard Lucas speak to Reef. “I need some help building a well…” Somehow, Margaret didn’t like the thought of Reef Jackson being that close to her.
 
Lucas still hadn’t appeared when the preacher motioned for everyone to stand up for the singing of Amazing Grace. Margaret gave her husband a disapproving look as he made his way to his seat beside her during the third verse. He muttered sorry as she looked at him, then turned his attention to the preacher and started singing.
 
The sermon was shorter than usual. Some of the men declared it was a pleasant change seeing as how the Reverend was usually long-winded and had plenty to say. “My stomach is usually growling by the time he gives us our weekly blessing!” Peter declared to Lucas.
 
Lucas started to agree, but stopped when Margaret declared, “We get one chance the whole week to hear a preacher. Sometimes we don’t even get that. I don’t think it’s too respectful of you to be thinking of food during a time like…”
 
Lucas lifted his eyebrow and grinned as they hurried from the church. The McCain/Gibbs families loaded up in their buckboards and made their way to the Gibbs Ranch for fried chicken. They were just finishing up when a hard knock sounded on the door. “Mr. Gibbs, your horse…Marigold…It’s time!”
 
Margaret gasped, knowing ‘time’ meant Marigold was giving birth. Lucas started to stop her from going out, but Margaret hurried behind Scott. “I’ll help!”
 
Jennifer chuckled when she saw the look on Lucas’ face. “Now, you know any time there’s a birth of anything, our sweet Margaret has to be right in the middle of it!”
 
Margaret and Scott hurried into the barn. Marigold laid on the floor breathing hard. Scott dropped to his knees to feel the horse’s stomach. “How long’s she been like this?”
 
“About an hour,” Silas, the foreman, answered. “She seems to be having trouble.”
 
Margaret chewed on her bottom lip. Marigold had given birth several times over the years without any trouble. Scott met her eyes and smiled. “You know she’s getting too old, Margaret.” Margaret averted her eyes.  “The vet warned us…what could happen.” Margaret nodded. Scott turned his attention back to the mare. “She had her last foal just a year ago…I should have been more careful.”
 
“It’s not your fault, Scott. It’s just…” Margaret watched Scott examine the horse. Marigold took a few more breaths and whinnied. “We can’t get the vet…”
 
“No,” Scott answered as he worked his jaw. “There’s nothing more he could do anyhow, honey.” He looked up at Lucas who stood in the doorway. “You best take her out.”
 
“NO!” Margaret shook her head. “I want to help.” Scott turned and looked at his sister. “Please, Scott.”
 
“It could go bad…for both of them.”
 
Margaret nodded. “I know. But I’ll stay.”
 
“Alright.” Scott looked up at Lucas, who nodded his approval as well. “We best get the other horses out of here. She needs a lot of quiet.”
 
Margaret sat at Marigold’s head and ran her hand up and down, speaking softly to her. Scott ordered his foreman to get the items ready he requested. It could be awhile. Margaret knew it could be anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours for the foal to be born. Lucas suggested everyone else stay out. Brother and sister could handle the delivery just fine.
 
As they sat out in the barn, they reminisced over the other births Marigold had gone through. She had given birth to both Margaret and Andy’s last horses – both now dead through tragedy. In all, Marigold had bore eleven horses of the best stock. Margaret knew this would be her last horse, and she feared Marigold wouldn’t be around to raise it.
 
The day grew later. The door to the barn opened, and Jennifer came in with blankets. “Storms coming in,” Jennifer announced. “Luke said it looks like a blizzard. You should…”
 
“NO!” Margaret swiped at the tears that were forming on her cheek. “I won’t leave her!” Margaret lifted her head and looked at her mother. “Oh Mama…She’s going to…” It was obvious that as Marigold’s labor progressed, her body was weakening. Only a miracle would keep her alive. “I can’t leave her, Mama…I just can’t!”
 
Jennifer bent down and took Margaret’s chin in her hand. Mother and daughter looked into each other’s eyes for only a moment. Then Jennifer nodded and stood up. “I’ll talk to Luke. He’s tying a rope from the barn to the house. I’ll tell him to bring in some wood so you can build a fire in the stove, Scott.”
 
“Thanks, Ma.” Scott waited until his mother left the barn before putting a hand on Margaret’s shoulder. Margaret lifted her head. “How old were you when Marigold came to us?”
 
Margaret smiled. She still remembered the day her father brought her home. “I was only three years old,” Margaret answered. She bit her lip another tear slid down her cheek. “Pa came inside and told me he had a surprise in the barn. Oh, but she was so beautiful! I wanted to ride her, but Pa said we had to wait a spell.”
 
“You never did ride her,” Scott mumbled as Marigold let out another weak cry. “She was too full of life for you to ride.”
 
“Oh, but she’s so beautiful.” Margaret ran her hand down Marigold’s golden mane. “I remembered sitting on Papa’s shoulders watching her run around the corral.” Margaret sniffed. “Does Pa know about Marigold?”
 
“I haven’t seen him in two days, Margaret. I’m sure he’ll be back when he sobers and his money runs out.”
 
Marigold let out a louder cry. Scott went to check the progress of the birth. He lifted his head. “She can’t hang on much longer. Margaret…perhaps you should…”
 
“No Scott. I won’t leave her. She needs comfort at a time like this.” Margaret began sobbing.
 
“You know what I may have to do, Margaret.”
 
Margaret heard the pain in Scott’s voice. “I know.”
 
Scott hated the pain and agony he saw in his sister’s eyes. “Honey…if we don’t try to take the foal, we’ll lose both of them. Marigold’s going to die. There’s nothing…”
 
The door opened. They heard the wind howling outside. Lucas shivered and hurried over to help Margaret into her coat. “How is she?”
 
“She’s going to die, Luke,” Margaret answered. “Scott said he might have to…take the foal.”
 
Lucas stayed kneeled behind his wife and looked at Scott. Scott nodded his head slightly. “She doesn’t have much longer, Luke.”
 
“Honey, I think you should go inside,” Lucas suggested, his voice shaking from grief at what this would do to Margaret. Margaret shook her head. “Margaret…”
 
“Oh Luke, I can’t leave her! Even if she is almost gone, she needs to feel someone loving her. I’m staying. I’m staying until she’s gone.” Her lips quivered as she looked up at Scott. “Just do it. Do what you have to do.” Margaret watched Scott turn and reach for the instruments he would need. Margaret lowered her head down onto Marigold’s. “Oh, I’m so sorry…I’m sorry we can’t save you too.” Margaret sobbed as she closed her eyes.
 
Lucas laid an arm around her shoulders. “She’s had a lot of good years, Margaret. She’s lived a long time.” Margaret nodded.
 
“Margaret?” Scott’s voice questioned softly.
 
“Goodbye, Marigold. Goodbye.”
 
Margaret heard one more quiet quiver from Marigold, then it was over. She knew when the life left the mare. Margaret sobbed, keeping her head down and her eyes closed until it was over. She could hear Scott and Lucas both working on the foal. Finally, she heard a canvas being spread across Marigold. Then Lucas put his hands on her shoulders. “It’s over. We have a new addition to the family.
 
Margaret opened her eyes and crawled to where the foals laid, amazed that within minutes of its birth it stood on shaky legs. She lifted a shaky hand to touch it. The touch was like magic as Margaret looked into the foal’s eyes. “Oh Scott…” Margaret whispered. “She looks just like her mother!” Margaret ran a finger across the white spot on the foul’s forehead. The white spot was just like the one Marigold had. Margaret laughed through her grief as she studied ever inch of the foal. Then Scott and Lucas stared in amazement as the foal stared into her eyes. Their eyes locked.
 
The walls suddenly rattled as harsh blizzard winds hit the barn. But Margaret didn’t even notice. She continued running her hand across the foal’s back and smiling as the foal nickered softly. “Bring me a bottle of milk,” Margaret whispered so quietly the men didn’t hear her. But they didn’t have to. Both Lucas and Scott knew that Margaret had just met her next horse.
 
Lucas followed Scott over to the table as he fixed the foal’s first bottle. Having suspected the horse would die, Scott had asked for milk to be sent to the barn. Lucas came to stand beside Scott. “What are your plans for that horse?”
 
Scott smiled as he turned and watched Margaret gently pet her as she spoke comforting words to the orphaned foal. “That one?” Lucas nodded. “I’m giving her to my sister.”
 
“Was that your plan all along?”
 
“No,” Scott answered as he lifted the bottle. “But is there anything else to do?” Lucas slapped a hand on Scott’s shoulder and smiled. Both men turned and looked at Margaret. She kissed the foal’s nose, continuing to speak softly. The foal almost seemed to smile at Margaret.
 
“Amazing…Truly amazing,” Lucas whispered.
 
***
 
Margaret woke up with a start. Lucas, laying beside her, slowly sat up and rested a hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay. Everything’s okay,” he mumbled softly. Margaret sighed as she remembered the events that had unfolded the previous day. Marigold was gone. The precious horse that had been part of the family since she was three years old had sacrificed herself so her foal could be born. Margaret had stayed with that foal for a long time. She couldn’t have given her own child anymore love and devotion as she gave that foal.
 
Then Lucas had gently pulled her away. He mumbled that it was late – she was exhausted and needed sleep. Margaret had fallen asleep in her husband’s arms. “She’s just like Marigold, Luke,” Margaret mumbled as she wrapped her arms around her legs. “She’s the spitting image. Oh, it’s so eerie, yet it’s such a gift! Luke…” Margaret turned in bed and stared into her husband’s face. The wind still howled outside, but she was warm as she remembered the foal. “Luke, I felt it…”
 
Lucas ran a hand through her hair. “I know,” he nodded. His voice was a little more than a whisper. “We both saw it.”
 
“Oh, but I can’t! She’s Scott’s horse.”
 
“No, my Darling…She’s yours.”
 
Margaret turned and stared at Lucas. Her eyes grew wide. “Oh Luke…” Lucas smiled as he nodded his head. “Oh, but we can’t! A horse like her costs dear. We can’t afford to…”
 
“Margaret,” Lucas lifted his hand. “Seeing as how your birthday is so close to Christmas, and seeing as how yet another disaster struck right around the thirteenth, we failed to give you a gift.”
 
“Oh, but I don’t want a…”
 
Lucas pressed a finger to her lips and shook his head. “No, Darling…Don’t talk. Just listen.” Lucas smiled as he lifted her hands in his. He shifted on the bed so he could look into her eyes. “Scott and I talked for a long time last night. He wants to give you this colt, and I’m giving him those two pigs that are about ready for market. He’ll take the bacon in exchange for my portion of the payment.”
 
Margaret stood from the bed and walked to the window. Why was she looking out? The darkness and snow blinded her from seeing anything. But maybe it was the tears that suddenly filled her eyes that kept her from seeing. She felt more than heard Lucas come up behind her. “Talk to me, Margaret,” Lucas said softly.
 
“I can’t, Luke,” Margaret whispered. “I can’t take her.”
 
Lucas forced her to turn and face him. His eyes filled when he saw the hurt in her own eyes. “Why, Honey? Why can’t you?”
 
“It broke my heart when my horse, Golden, died in the blizzard. Then Andy’s horse died in the fire a few months ago…They were both Marigold’s foals.” Margaret shook her head. “I just…I can’t, Luke. We’ve just lost Marigold. I’m afraid.”
 
“Afraid? You?” Lucas watched her turn away from him. “Why, honey? Why are you afraid?”
 
“I don’t know…exactly.” Margaret swallowed hard. “I just…I don’t want her, Luke.”
 
“Margaret.”
 
Margaret whirled around. She angrily wiped at the tears on her cheeks. “I SAID I DON’T WANT HER!” Confusion was etched on Lucas’ face. His eyebrows crinkled as he looked her up and down. Margaret saw his disappointment. She had never rejected anything in her life, but she was now. Her heart ached. “I should get dressed so I can help Mother and Amanda with breakfast.”
 
Lucas stood, dumbfounded, and watched her make her way across the room to slip back into her dress from yesterday. She didn’t say a word as she ran a brush through her hair, then hurried from the room. Slowly, Lucas sat down, trying to understand what emotional battle Margaret was fighting. She wanted the horse; she even loved the horse, that much was clear to see.
 
Never in his life had he ever known Margaret to reject something. Every living creature that ever came in contact with Margaret Gibbs-McCain was accepted and loved by her. Lucas chuckled as he thought about it…even a small mouse that was found in her mother’s kitchen one day was protected from the shoe her mother had lifted against the rodent.
 
But now…Margaret was rejecting the splendid horse that was the spitting image of her mother. Marigold had always been loved and adored by Margaret. Marigold had been the one horse Margaret couldn’t have, and the one horse she wanted the most. The new horse had been born purely a golden color. The only thing that wasn’t gold was the small white spot on her face – identical to the spot her mother had. Yet even Marigold didn’t hold the magic this new colt held.
 
Lucas stood to dress, praying he’d hold the key to unlock the mystery soon.
 
***
Margaret hardly said two words all through breakfast as the blizzard continued to rage outside. Scott even offered to let Margaret go with him to the barn and feed the foal, but Margaret shook her head. She mumbled that it wouldn’t be a good idea.
 
Margaret’s mother and grandmother walked her to the parlor, stating they needed her help with their latest quilting project. The project was mostly done by Jennifer and Amanda, but Jennifer wanted her mother to feel she was part of it too, even though the older woman’s eyesight was quite poor. Jennifer would take the stitches out later and right them. Grandma Bertha never knew the difference.
 
But Margaret couldn’t concentrate on the quilt. Jennifer fretted for her daughter, wondering how she could reach into the darkness and pull her back into the light. She wasn’t sure where the match was to light  the wick, so she simply had to wait until she figured out what was wrong. Lucas came in a couple hours later and announced he would be out helping Scott with the stock. The snow had let up considerably, and Scott’s leg was again bothering him.
 
Margaret soon abandoned the quilt and went to help Amanda prepare lunch. By the time the men returned, they were near frozen and welcomed the hearty potato soup the women had prepared.
 
Lucas announced they would try to get home the following day. Margaret nodded, still not ready to discuss her outburst with Lucas or anyone else. Lucas worried, but Jennifer assured him time was the only thing they had on their side. Margaret had to deal with whatever was bothering her in her own way.
 
Lucas and Margaret were just about to retire for the night when Scott came hobbling in from the barn. “Luke, you’ve got to ride for the vet! Something’s wrong with the foal.”
 
Margaret’s face grew pale at hearing her brother’s words. She grabbed the chair in front of her. “What? What is it?” She pleaded for Scott to tell her.
 
“I don’t know. She’s down and doesn’t have the strength to get up.” Scott looked at Lucas. Lucas saw the state Margaret was in and hesitated on leaving her. “It’s okay,” Scott assured Lucas. “We’ll take care of her.”
 
Lucas nodded. He laid a hand on Margaret’s moist cheek then hurried to his errand.
 
Margaret snapped as soon as the door closed. She turned and reached for her coat. “Let’s go!”
 
“Where?” Scott asked as he buttoned his own coat up.
 
“To save that horse!” Margaret buttoned her coat. “We’ve lost Marigold. We’re not going to lose Sunshine!”
 
Scott turned and looked at his mother. “Sunshine?” Jennifer chuckled as she shrugged. Scott hurried out after his sister.
 
Brother and sister worked together in caring for the young foal. Scott feared it was some sort of respiratory distress, and Margaret knew that could be bad, especially since the horse would not get up.
 
Two hours later, Lucas arrived with Dr. Phillips. He examined the horse, then frowned stating it wasn’t pneumonia, but that the cold temperatures and no dam for it to keep warm had exhausted it. But if they couldn’t keep the foal warm, pneumonia and certain death would result. Margaret listened carefully to the doctor’s instructions about keeping the animal warm and went to work while Scott and Lucas offered her support. She wouldn’t move from the horse’s side, nor would she hardly say a word to Lucas or Scott. She kept her hands folded in prayers, her lips moving in a quiet plea to the God who made all living things.
 
Margaret slept off and on, but didn’t leave the foal’s side all night. As the sun peaked through the clouds the next morning, the men were jolted awake by Margaret’s  squeal. Margaret had opened her eyes and let out a cry as she realized the foal was standing on her feet. Margaret got to her knees and crawled over, hugging the foal and thanking God.
 
Scott and Lucas soon joined her. Scott declared a miracle had saved the foal from death, and Margaret assured both men that God could perform miracles, even on a horse. The foal nuzzled Margaret’s cheek and whinnied softly, as if to thank her for the faith she had in her. “Looks like Sunshine already knows her owner,” Scott declared.
 
Margaret lifted her eyes and looked at Scott. A small smile played at the corners of her lips. “I think she knew me the second she was born. She saw me with her Mama.”
 
Lucas heard the fright in Margaret’s shaky voice. He wondered what she was thinking and was just about to ask when the barn door opened. Amanda, blushing as she smoothed her dress and a small bump appeared at her middle, announced breakfast was ready. Scott stood and walked over to his wife. He laid a hand on her middle. “I hadn’t noticed that before.” Amanda smiled up at him, then turned as they walked arm-in-arm.
 
Margaret started to stand, but Lucas reached out and took her arm. “You want to talk about it now?” Lucas asked the question as gently as he could. “I don’t want to pry if you’re not ready.”
 
“Pry?” Margaret smiled as she sat down next to the foal. “Oh Luke…I’ve been so afraid…ever since Andy’s horse died in the fire. I promised myself a long time ago – after Golden died – that I wouldn’t let myself get so attached to another horse. I didn’t realize how attached I was to Andy’s until she died as well.” Margaret felt her eyes fill with tears. “It wasn’t until this moment that I realized it was the Mother I loved so much. She was something special to me. I’m not sure what she stood for, and I always wanted to ride her…I suppose that’s envy…wanting something I can’t have, but…”
 
“No, Margaret,” Lucas said gently. “You could never be envious. NEVER!”
 
“Thanks, Luke. But I was.” Margaret nodded.   “Deep down…every single time I watched my Pa get on that horse, I wished I could be riding with him.” Margaret gave Sunshine another pat. “He was too afraid the Marigold would spook. She spooked so easily, he said. He couldn’t take any chances with me.”
 
“So?” Lucas prodded her to go on.
 
“I was just afraid, I guess. I was responsible for two of Marigold’s offsprings, and they both died at my hand.”
 
“Margaret…” Lucas waited until she lifted her head and looked at him. “Golden died in a surprise blizzard. You did all you could to save her. As for Andy’s horse…Well, he was killed in a fire that was started by some outlaws. You had NOTHING to do with that.”
 
Margaret nodded. “Oh Luke, I know but…it hurt so much to lose them. I just don’t know if I can…” The foal neighed softly. Margaret lifted the bottle to feed her new charge. “But I can’t NOT take her as my own. I already love her so much, Luke.” Margaret spoke in a little more than a whisper. “I’m so afraid…afraid of my heart breaking again.”
 
“It will,” Lucas said honestly. Margaret was shocked at his honesty. “And I’ll be right here to help you when it does…Just like you help me when my heart breaks.”
 
“Of course you’re right.” Margaret sat the bottle down than hugged the foal’s neck. “Oh, I do love her so much…My little Sunshine.” Margaret kissed Sunshine’s white spot. “Luke, when can we take her home?”
 
Lucas chuckled. “In a few days. We’ll need to make special accommodations for her in the barn.”
 
Margaret hugged Lucas, suddenly excited. “I’m sorry for how I behaved. I was just…afraid.”
 
“You can’t be afraid to love, Darling. You’d miss out on so much joy along the way.” Lucas laid a hand on her cheek. They looked into each other’s eyes, then their faces drew closer to each other. Lucas wrapped his arms around Margaret as they sat on the barn floor. They kissed. Margaret pressed against Lucas, giving into his kiss.
 
Then a throat cleared in the doorway. “I know that the miracle of life makes us all wish we could experience it…I mean after all, my wife is with-child. But please, let it start in your own barn, Luke.”
 
“Scott Gibbs!” Margaret stood and started toward her brother. Scott took off, running for the house. “Mama! Mama!” Scott yelled as if he were a child again. “Make her leave me alone!”

The Margaret Years — A Sick Heart

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
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