The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Margaret Years
 
Chapter 8 - Reclaiming
Written by Michelle Palmer

Margaret hadn’t really ever been out of Enid, Oklahoma. She knew a whole world existed outside of their small town, but little did she know what amazing things and places waited down that road. She had attended Abraham McCain’s wedding in Fort Smith, Arkansas years before; but she and Lucas were both rather young and she didn’t remember much about the place.
 
Today, August 4, as the stage coach headed toward Oklahoma City, Margaret stared out the window smiling at the buildings that flew by. She had never seen so many homes so close together. It was hard to tell where each yard ended and the next began. Some homes hardly even had yards. Why, if a person was to stand outside their door, it was very likely that he or she could be standing in the next yard. As they got closer to the middle of town, more and more houses appeared. Then soon, instead of houses, she was now seeing buildings of different shapes and sizes. Soon after the buildings appeared, the driver said “Whoa!”
 
“We’re here, Margaret,” Aunt Gertrude declared as she accepted the hand held out to her and stepped off the stage coach. Margaret stepped down after her and was quite surprised when her Aunt began yelling at the driver to be careful with their trunks. More concerned about her grandmother than her baggage, Margaret quickly turned to see Grandma Bertha still trying to make her way out of the coach with little assistance from one of the drivers. Margaret hurried back to the coach. “Here, Grandma. Let me help.”
 
Grandma Bertha was relieved and tiredly smiled her thanks for the help her granddaughter offered her. She looked so tired. She could hardly stand as Margaret put an arm around the feeble woman and assisted her to the nearby bench. Margaret could tell her grandmother was parched from the long coach ride. She hurried to go get her grandmother some water, and worried that Grandma Bertha needed to be getting home and in bed. “Aunt Gertrude!” Margaret called out to her aunt, concern weighing heavy on her face. She patiently waited for her aunt to finally stop yelling at the driver and turn to her. “I think Grandma Bertha’s mighty tired. We should get her home, and soon!”
 
Aunt Gertrude rolled her eyes and declared they were all tired. She needed to get the trunks loaded on the wagon, and then they would start for home. Margaret suddenly wanted to protect her feeble grandmother and kept an arm around her shoulders as she helped her sip the water. Grandma Bertha was so tired that her eyes could barely stay open. Margaret knew Grandma Bertha needed a good rest, and was a bit…no, not just a bit…She was very unnerved that her aunt was more concerned with their precious trunks than her own mother.
 
Finally, they were on their way to the waiting buggy. Aunt Gertrude hurried into the buggy, giving no thought to her ailing mother who needed her help. Margaret slowly led her grandmother to the buggy, and was quite frustrated that nobody offered the older woman any assistance. It was quite a struggle, but she somehow managed to help Grandma Bertha up into the buggy with no assistance from her aunt. Margaret kept a protective arm around her grandma’s shoulders and allowed herself to give her aunt an annoyed expression, letting her know in no uncertain terms that she was not happy with the treatment her grandmother had received. As they started down the road, Margaret allowed Grandma Bertha’s head to fall on her shoulders as they rode for home. A buckboard carrying their trunks followed behind them.
 
Margaret couldn’t stop a gasp from escaping her throat when she saw the house her Grandma and Aunt claimed come into sight. Aunt Gertrude accepted the offered assistance from the buggy and immediately started calling out orders, giving no thought to her mother who still sat in the buggy. Margaret slowly stepped down and helped her grandmother inside the house. When they got inside, Aunt Gertrude proudly told Margaret she would show her around the house, but Margaret insisted Aunt Gertrude help her get Grandma Bertha to bed.  She could not believe her aunt couldn’t see the exhaustion in her grandmother’s face!
 
Only after Margaret was satisfied that her Grandmother was comfortable did Margaret allow her aunt to take her arm and lead her throughout the house. To say that she was impressed with the two-story house would be an understatement. Aunt Gertrude was rather proud of the house as she showed Margaret around. In fact, Margaret was left with the impression that Aunt Gertrude, herself, had modeled the house when the truth was Grandma Bertha had been the one to structure the house a short time after her husband had died. Margaret endured Aunt Gertrude’s prideful speech and even commented on the beauty of the wrap-around porch that circled the house. The back of the porch was enclosed with a screen; something that Margaret knew would be expensive. She would enjoy sitting out on that porch in the evenings.
 
In time, Aunt Gertrude went to order her cook to fix supper. Margaret decided to go freshen up and check on her grandmother. It bothered Margaret that her aunt wasn’t paying much attention to her own mother. That was something she’d have to watch.   Margaret’s heart went out to her grandmother. There was something about her that Margaret was drawn to, and in time she’d learn what that was.
 
After supper that evening, Margaret walked to the telegraph office and sent Lucas her promised telegram. It wasn’t a long walk since Aunt Gertrude’s house was on the edge of town. She simply told him she had arrived safely and that she loved him and missed him. She longed to be back in Enid planning her wedding and getting their home ready!
 
***
 
The calendar on the wall read August 6 and Margaret had been in Oklahoma City for two days when her aunt came into the parlor one evening to talk to her. “So…you like this house?” Aunt Gertrude held a prideful expression on her face as she stood in front of Margaret and looked down at her, sweeping her hand around as if the contents of her house were prized artifacts in a museum.
 
Margaret nodded, but didn’t allow herself to return the prideful smile. “It’s fancy.” But she did allow a small smile as she thought of the wrap-around porch. “Oh, I love the porch…I can only imagine the enjoyment you get sitting on such a large porch that goes all around the house!”
 
“The possibilities in the city are endless, Margaret.” Aunt Gertrude sat down next to her on the couch as she gently put an arm around her shoulders. “Tomorrow, we shall go into town. I’ll show you some of the shops we have here. Why, we even have a hat shop.” She laughed gaily. “I bet you’ve never in your life seen a hat shop!”
 
Margaret looked up from her sewing and turned to look at her aunt in question. “A…hat shop?” Aunt Gertrude nodded. “You mean…all they do is…sell hats?” She nodded again. Margaret shook her head as she stood up. “No. I’ve never seen a…hat shop.” She yawned. Stretching, she announced, “Well, I think I’ll turn in. Oh…when we go into town tomorrow, we’ll have to go by the telegraph office so I can send Luke the telegram, letting him know I’m okay.”
 
“You did that the day we arrived, dear,” Aunt Gertrude’s impatient voice reminded Margaret.
 
“I know.” Margaret smiled. “I’ll do it again the day after tomorrow. I don’t want him to worry. He told me he wouldn’t worry so much if I sent him a telegram every other day.”
 
Margaret turned from her aunt, so she missed the expression of disappointment and disgust on her aunt’s face.  “Oh. So he doesn’t trust you…”
 
“Of course he trusts me!” Margaret looked down at her hands.
 
Aunt Gertrude stood up. “Margaret, I wanted to ask you something.”
 
“Yes?” Margaret turned to look at Aunt Gertrude.
 
“There’s…a gathering tomorrow night I would like you to go to.” She turned from Margaret and went to look out of one of the large windows. “It’s at a rancher’s house tomorrow night. The rancher’s name is…Dallas Parnell. He throws dances in his house all the time.” She turned and looked at Margaret. “Will you come? Everyone will be there.”
 
“Everyone?” Margaret lifted an eyebrow in doubt.
 
“Well…” Aunt Gertrude gave a short laugh. “Everyone who’s…important.”
 
“Oh, I see. Well, I…” Margaret bit her lip. “I couldn’t dance with anyone. Not without Luke here…”
 
“Oh, Margaret…” Aunt Gertrude ticked her tongue. “They’ll be more than dancing. There’s a feast, and then a lot of the women talk while the men enjoy their time with cigars and fine spirits. Please…” Aunt Gertrude crossed the room and clasped Margaret’s hand. “Please say you’ll come, dear.”
 
Margaret smiled, realizing how much this meant to her aunt. “Of course.”
 
***
 
Lucas cursed as he stuck his thumb in his mouth. Abe turned and slowly made his way over to his brother. “What’s wrong now?”
 
“Banged my finger!” Lucas declared as he examined it.
 
“Yes. But WHY did you bang your finger?”
 
Lucas glared at his brother. “You know why!”
 
“She’s fine, Luke. You got the telegram from her three days ago when she arrived.”
 
Lucas nodded. “And our brother better be bringing me another one.”
 
“What’s got you so riled about this?” Abe folded his arms and cocked his head to one side. “You went off for a whole year without an explanation to anyone, and expected us to just accept you back with open arms. Margaret asks to go on one little trip before she marries you, and you act as if she’s abandoned you and is never coming back.”
 
“It’s not the being apart that’s bothering me. It’s…”
 
Abe nodded. “…Aunt Gertrude.” Lucas sighed. “Why did you let her get under your skin like that?” Lucas grumbled. “Luke, Margaret’s a pretty intelligent woman. She would know rather her aunt’s being sincere or not.”
 
“Margaret wanted it very badly. We know how dangerous that can be.” Lucas turned and started pounding again. “Besides, you know how good my instincts are.  I just don’t like this. Something’s wrong. I know it is…”
 
“Then why did you let her go?”
 
Lucas paused and turned to look at Abe. “Abe, Margaret’s a woman who knows her own mind. You think my saying no would have stopped her?”
 
Abe paused for a moment before answering. “Lucas, let me tell you something about women…” Abe smiled. “My wife is a very independent woman, Luke; but she wouldn’t go against me like that…not for something like this. She’d be angry with me and it would cause problems in our marriage for a spell…in fact it has…but she wouldn’t outright defy me.” Abe lifted his eyebrows. “Neither would Margaret.”
 
“Yeah…” Lucas cursed under his breath again. “Maybe that’s why I let her go. Because I knew…deep inside…that she wouldn’t go if I said no…yet she’d resent me.” Lucas turned and looked at his brother. “Sometimes I think women are nothing but trouble.”
 
Abe chuckled as he patted Lucas on the back. “Oh…You’ve no idea!”
 
***
 
On Tuesday, August 7, Margaret and Aunt Gertrude spent the whole day shopping. Well, it was more like Aunt Gertrude spent the day shopping, and it seemed she shopped for only herself. Margaret spent more time looking at everything than shopping. She was mesmerized by all the various shops Oklahoma City had. There were several dress shops, shops just for men, and even a small toy shop. Margaret would have to tell Lucas about this when she got home.
 
When they arrived back to the house that afternoon, Aunt Gertrude called to Michael, her servant. “Please draw two baths, for Margaret and me. We must get ready for the party.” She flung her purchases down on the couch and removed her gloves.
 
Margaret watched Aunt Gertrude walk toward the kitchen. She had quite enough of her negligent attitude toward Grandma Bertha, so she hastily followed her aunt into the kitchen. “Where’s Grandma Bertha?”  Her voice was accusing, and Margaret knew her accusation riled her aunt from the expression on her aunt’s face. It concerned Margaret that her grandmother was hardly ever mentioned, and Aunt Gertrude didn’t ask of her welfare the moment she came in from being gone all day.
 
“Oh, she’s around,” Aunt Gertrude answered with a flip of her hand. “She likes to sit out on the porch and look over the land or take long naps.”
 
“Aunt Gertrude, Grandma Bertha isn’t well!” Margaret argued with irritation in her voice. “She should be looked after! Can’t you see she can no longer take care of herself?”
 
“Oh, of course she can!” Aunt Gertrude poured herself a glass of milk. “She’s just trying to get attention with her dragging around here like some invalid…I’m sure Michael looks after her alright.”
 
“She shouldn’t be Michael’s responsibility,” Margaret stated with a sharp click of her tongue. She just couldn’t hold herself back from stating that fact. “You should be caring for her. She’s your mother, after all! Shouldn’t you check on her? Shouldn’t you at least try to pretend you care?”
 
Margaret tried to keep the judgmental tone from her voice, but she just couldn’t! Aunt Gertrude remained quiet for a few moments. Margaret jumped when Aunt Gertrude sat the glass down with a hard bang and turned around. She narrowed her eyes at Margaret. “Your Grandmother never cared for me, so why should I concern myself with such matters?” She turned back around. “You should go get ready for your bath. We’ll leave at five for the party.”
 
Margaret seethed, but kept her anger at bay. She would see to her Grandmother before caring for her own needs. “I can draw my own bath,” Margaret declared as she turned and hurried from the room. When she saw Michael, she told him as much, and assured him she wouldn’t need his assistance in any matter that concerned her or her grandmother. “And I’d like to see my grandmother.”
 
“She’s out on the back porch, ma’am.” Michael gave her a long look. “Why do YOU want to see her?”
 
Margaret gave him a confused look. “Why wouldn’t I want to see her?” she asked. ”She’s my grandmother.”
 
“She is.” Michael’s voice calmed a bit. “Your aunt don’t care ‘bout her welfare none. Why should you?” Margaret just stared at him. Michael turned and hurried away.
 
Margaret walked out onto the back porch and crouched down next to her grandmother. She kissed her cheek and could smell the odor on her body. “Hello, Grandma Bertha.” Her heart ached at the unkempt caring her grandmother had received. The fact that her grandmother, who owned most of the house and the money, was being forced to live like a dirt poor beggar irked her terribly.
 
“Yes…yes…” Grandma Bertha mumbled as she stared out over the land.
 
Margaret lifted a hand to her grandmother’s hair and started to run a hand through it, but she paused. Her hair was gritty and matted. Margaret’s heart sank at the realization that her Grandmother was indeed being neglected. “Oh Grandmother…” Margaret felt sick to her stomach as she realized a cold, hard truth. Her aunt was cruel and unfeeling. She began to wonder if Lucas was right – if Aunt Gertrude had brought her here under false pretenses. She turned her attention back to her grandmother. “Your hair needs washing. Would you like a bath?”
 
“Yes…yes…”
 
“Oh Grandmother…I wish you could hear me. I want to tell you I love you, and I want to take care of you.” Margaret sighed. “Come on…Let’s get you inside so you can take a bath.” Suddenly, to Margaret’s surprise, Grandma Bertha turned and smiled at her as she rested an old, worn hand on Margaret’s cheek. There was something in her grandmother’s eyes…something that made Margaret’s heart swell. “Why, you CAN hear me…You CAN respond…” Margaret stood up and took her grandmother’s hands. “Come on, Grandma Bertha. Let’s get you all prettied up.”
 
As they started inside, Aunt Gertrude entered the sitting room and watched as Margaret started up the staircase with Grandma Bertha. “Just what do you think you are doing with my mother?” Aunt Gertrude planted her hands on her hips and glared at Margaret.
 
Margaret paused and turned to look at Aunt Gertrude. “I’m going to give MY grandmother a bath. Seems nobody else in this house will.”
 
“There’s no time!” Aunt Gertrude declared. “The party…”
 
“The party?” Margaret kept a hand on her grandmother to keep her from falling but leaned toward her aunt. “Is that ALL you care about? The party??? That party, Aunt Gertrude, is not important! Grandma Bertha is a living, breathing human being! She needs a bath. She deserves to be clean as much as any of us, Aunt Gertrude.”
 
“She can take care of herself!” Aunt Gertrude declared with a disgusted look. “You needn’t waste your time giving her a bath!”
 
“It’s not a waste of time!” Margaret turned and looked at her grandmother again. Grandma Bertha suddenly looked as if she were about to cry. Margaret had to pause for a moment to gain control of her emotions. “She can’t take care of herself anymore!“ Margaret shook her head. “Can’t you see that? She needs your help. She needs your love.”
 
“Well…” Aunt Gertrude humphed. “She’s never needed MY love!” Aunt Gertrude turned away from her niece. “We mustn’t be late for the party. Don’t waste your time with her. I’ll…” She flipped her hand. “I’ll see if the cook can bathe her later.”
 
“The cook?” Margaret looked toward the ceiling in disbelief. “She doesn’t need a cook! She needs her FAMILY!” Margaret felt like she was talking to a wall. “I’ll bathe her now,” Margaret declared firmly as tears caught in her throat. “I’ll care for her!” Margaret turned on her heels and continued helping her feeble grandmother up the stairs. “If I make it to the party, I make it to the party. But I’ll only go once my grandmother is clean and pretty and comfortable.”
 
Margaret sat her grandmother down in her room while she worked at readying a tub of water. She fumed over the fact that Aunt Gertrude didn’t seem to care about her mother. Regardless of how badly Aunt Gertrude ‘felt’ she’d been treated over the years, Margaret didn’t feel that a daughter had the right to neglect the woman who had given her life.
 
Margaret helped her grandmother into the tub and held tight to her as she bathed her. She allowed Grandma Bertha to do as much for herself as she could, but there were limits to how much she could do. During those times, Margaret took the rag and washed her. The whole time, Margaret spoke gently to her and smiled at her. Margaret scrubbed Grandma Bertha’s hair until her arms ached. She washed her matted hair three times before her hair was clean enough to pass Margaret’s inspection. “We just have to get all that dirt from the trail out of your hair! My, but I had to scrub my hair twice myself that first night. I’m so sorry I didn’t help you bathe then. I didn’t realize...” Margaret allowed her voice to die. “Grandma Bertha, I promise you that as long as I’m here, I’ll make sure you stay clean and pretty. ”
 
After the bath, Margaret worked at drying the hair before brushing it out and putting it up into a bun.  Her grandmother’s hair was still quite thick and took awhile to dry.  Margaret prettied Grandma Bertha’s hair, allowing some whips of grey hair to curl around her face. When she was satisfied, Margaret  let her look in the mirror. “There now.” She kissed her grandmother on the cheek. “Would you like to stay and keep me company while I get myself ready for the party?”
 
“Yes…Yes…” Grandma Bertha’s eyes shined, silently thanking Margaret for her assistance.
 
“I don’t really want to go, you know…I’d rather stay here and keep you company.” Margaret sighed. “But…I’ve learned that with Aunt Gertrude, going along with her is sometimes easier than fighting her.”
 
“Yes…” The way Grandma Bertha said the word made Margaret understand the strain her grandmother had lived under.
 
After her own bath, Margaret talked about anything and everything to her grandmother while she readied herself for the party she really didn’t want to go to. Perhaps tomorrow she could spend some time reading to her Grandma Bertha from the Bible. She would make a point to spend more time with her during her stay.
 
Margaret made her way down the stairs to her Aunt Gertrude, who by this point was seething at what time it was. “Its half past five now! I hope you’re happy!” Aunt Gertrude grabbed her handbag and gave herself one more look in the mirror. “You know we are late for the party, don’t you? Oh…I hate being late! How will I ever explain this to our host?”
 
Margaret cleared her throat. “Perhaps, Aunt Gertrude, you can simply explain that I was caring for YOUR mother.”
 
Aunt Gertrude turned form the mirror and stared Margaret up and down with a disapproving eye. “Is that what you’re going to wear?” Margaret looked down at her dress, wondering what could possibly be wrong with it. “Why don’t you wear that yellow dress of yours I saw you looking at the other day when you were packing?”
 
“I didn’t bring that dress,” Margaret answered as she smoothed her dress in the mirror.
 
“Why not?”
 
Margaret turned. “Luke bought that dress for me to wear to a dance with him. It’s a bit too…revealing…to wear among strangers. I don’t want to give anyone the idea that I’m available.” Margaret started out the door. She didn’t see the look on her aunt’s face. If she had, perhaps she would have never gone to the party that would, in time, prove to be a big mistake.
 
***
 
Aunt Gertrude apologized profusely to the host as he held a brandy in one hand and a cigar in his mouth. He smiled kindly, but couldn’t take his eyes off of Margaret, who stood quietly beside her aunt waiting to be introduced. “Oh…” Aunt Gertrude turned and rested a hand on Margaret’s arm. “This is my niece whom I was telling you about…Margaret Gibbs, meet Dallas Parnell.”
 
Dallas nodded to her as he took her hand and kissed it. “Miss Gibbs…It’s a pleasure.”
 
“Thank you.” His hand lingered on hers as he smiled at her. Margaret snatched her hand away, suddenly feeling uncomfortable under the strong gaze of his eyes. She wanted to escape from this man. She couldn’t explain it, but she felt so strange standing before him. Margaret turned and looked at her aunt, asking ‘what now?’ She could already tell that this wasn’t a party like those she attended back home. There were a lot of classy people in this room. She could tell by the way they dressed that they had money.
 
“Your aunt told me your father’s a rancher.”
 
“Yes.” Margaret nodded and smiled politely as she turned her attention back to her host. “We have a nice ranch in Enid. We’re not rich, and it’s nothing like the one you have…but we’re very happy.” Margaret cleared her throat. “I’m actually going to…”
 
“Oh my…I see someone I wanted to talk to.” Aunt Gertrude’s voice suddenly interrupted Margaret’s words. She smiled at her niece. “If you’ll excuse me…” Before Margaret could do or say anything, her aunt disappeared into the crowd.
 
Mr. Parnell nodded to her aunt and watched her leave. Margaret suddenly felt very uncomfortable to be left alone with this man she didn’t know. She wondered why her aunt had suddenly lit off like she had. Margaret turned back to her host and smiled politely. “To be honest with you, Mr. Parnell…I’ve never actually…attended a party quite like this.”
 
“Oh?” Mr. Parnell turned to walk toward the bar. “Would you like a drink? Perhaps some Champaign?”
 
“Oh, uh…no.”   Margaret lowered her head bashfully. She’d never been offered spirits before.
 
“Fine.” Mr. Parnell smiled. “There are some ladies in the parlor. Or perhaps there are a few ladies in my library. Sometimes they go in there to look at my collection. I’m sure you’d like to see it?”
 
“You have a…a library?” Margaret’s eyes shone. Mr. Parnell sat down his glass and urged her to follow him. She walked into a room that served as an office, and all four walls were lined with shelves. Every shelf was filled with books. Margaret walked into the room and stared at the shelves and shelves of books. She ran her hand along the spines and smiled.
 
“I’ve all the classics. Perhaps you could borrow a book to read.”
 
“Oh, I’m only here for a short time,” Margaret answered. “I’ve just come to do some shopping for my wedding.”
 
“Your wedding?” Mr. Parnell leaned against the doorjamb. “You’re getting married?”
 
“Didn’t my aunt tell you?”
 
“No.”
 
Margaret suddenly felt very uncomfortable. She had a sinking feeling that her aunt had kept this information from Mr. Parnell on purpose. “Perhaps I should go find the ladies.”
 
Margaret started to go, but Mr. Parnell put his hand up in the door to stop her. “This man you’re marrying…what does he do?”
 
“He’s a rancher,” Margaret answered simply. She tried to pass him again, but his hand remained firm against the door frame.
 
“And you love him?”
 
Margaret’s lips parted slightly as she let out a small gasp. “I would like to leave, now, sir.”
 
“Certainly.” Mr. Parnell smiled down at her as he shifted to one side, giving her just enough room to squeeze through. Margaret closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then she hurried past him, cringing as she brushed against him on her way out.
 
Margaret hurried to the parlor to join the women. They were all very nice, and she learned a lot about the well-to-do in Oklahoma City. Some were married with children and discussed the joys and challenges of caring for the family. The women all seemed happy with their lot in life, and Margaret was surprised to learn just how many hadn’t married for love.
 
It was getting rather late, and many of the guests had left. She was growing very bored of the prideful conversations and gossip that seemed to be the women’s lot in life. Such conversation didn’t interest Margaret in the least. Margaret searched her aunt out and informed her she was rather tired and would like to excuse herself and go home. “Oh, but you’ve hardly talked with Mr. Parnell!” Aunt Gertrude suddenly argued.
 
Margaret lifted her eyebrows. Dread suddenly entered her as she mentally began to lift the blinders from her eyes. Now, she was able to see Aunt Gertrude’s whole reason for bringing her to Oklahoma City. “Why would I want to talk to him?” Margaret asked calmly as she folded her arms. With a question in her voice, she stated, “And I’ve yet to meet MRS. Parnell.”
 
Aunt Gertrude turned and smiled nervously at her friend, with whom she’d been talking when Margaret walked up. Then she turned back to Margaret. In an accusing tone of voice, she gave Margaret a piece of information that confirmed her suspicions. “Dear…Mr. Parnell is a widower. His wife died a while back in Texas, and he’s yet to meet another.”
 
Margaret stared at her aunt, suddenly feeling sick to her stomach. “Is THAT why you brought me here tonight?” She licked her lips angrily. “Aunt Gertrude, I want to leave. NOW!” With that, Margaret turned and hurried toward the door.
 
Margaret could hear her aunt apologizing for her rudeness as she walked away. Margaret waited at the door, seething with anger against her aunt. She thought her aunt had accepted her and Lucas, but now she could see that wasn’t true.  Lucas had been right. She should have listened to him! “Are you leaving, Miss Gibbs?” Margaret turned to see Mr. Parnell hurrying up to her. That same stupid smile was on his face as he looked her from top to bottom. “I’d hope you’d stay and see the rest of the ranch house. It’s quite exquisite.” He looked her up and down a second time. “I figure a woman like you would uh…find it quite…comfortable.”
 
Margaret felt sickened by this man’s bold underlying question. “I’m sorry. My Grandmother isn’t well and I want to check on her.”
 
“Then perhaps you could come for dinner tomorrow. You could see…”
 
Margaret straightened up to her full height and glared at this bold man who stood in front of her. “In answer to the question  you asked earlier, Mr. Parnell,  I am very much in love with my fiancé. I have loved him for a long time, and plan to marry him as soon as I get back. Goodnight.”
 
Margaret turned and hurried from the house. She climbed into the buggy where the driver sat and waited for her aunt to come out. Aunt Gertrude finally came out. She silently got into the buggy and waited to speak until the buggy had pulled away. When she did speak, her voice was very low and accusing. “Margaret, you were quite rude with my friends!”
 
“I didn’t mean to be,” Margaret answered tartly. She turned and glared at her aunt. “You were dishonest with me. You lied to me!” She didn’t try to sugar coat her words. They came out as if she was lashing out at her aunt.
 
“I just want what’s best for you.” Margaret turned away. Tears stung her eyes, but she held them at bay. She wouldn’t give her aunt the satisfaction of seeing her cry.  Margaret refused to look at her or talk to her anymore. The moment the buggy stopped at the gate, Margaret got down and hurried inside. She paused, her back to the door and waited for Aunt Gertrude to come inside. Aunt Gertrude gently closed the door. “Margaret…” She said her name softly. “Margaret…I’m…”
 
“Don’t!” Margaret turned, tears falling freely down her face now. “Don’t you dare try to make excuses for what you’ve done!” Margaret hastily wiped at her tears. “I…excuse a lot of things…But your outright deception…your…your…TRCKING me under false pretenses…I just cannot believe…” Margaret paused and closed her eyes as she pressed her fingers to her forehead. “Luke was right. I should have listened to him.” She lifted her head back up to her aunt and raised her chin in the air. “Now, you listen, and you listen good, Aunt Gertrude. I will be very happy with Luke.” Margaret clinched her fists to her side. “NOBODY ELSE!”
 
“Margaret…”
 
“I’m rather tired.” Margaret started for the stairs. “And I want to check on Grandmother.” She climbed the stairs. Over her shoulder, she said, “Goodnight, Aunt Gertrude, and thank you for the lovely evening.” The tone in her voice was laced with sarcasm. Margaret wasn’t a spiteful person, but tonight she hoped her words hurt Aunt Gertrude.
 
Margaret softly knocked on her grandmother’s bedroom door then opened it. Moonlight shone in the window, allowing Margaret to have a good view of the room. She saw her grandmother tucked in her bed. Something was clasped in her hand. Margaret opened the hand and lifted out a picture. It was a picture of her grandmother and all the children when they were little. “Oh…Grandma…” Margaret bent down and softly laid a kiss on her grandmother’s cheek. Then she turned and hurried from the room to go and cry herself to sleep.
 
***
August 8, 1866
 
Dallas Parnell stood from the table that morning and went to stare out the window. “Mr. Parnell, you be wantin’ more breakfast?”
 
Dallas turned and looked at his cook. “Uh…no, Rosie. That’ll be all.” Rosie started to clear the table. “Rosie…that woman at the party last night…Miss Gibbs.”
 
“She’s purty, alright…”
 
“Yes.” Dallas nodded his head. “Do you know how long she’s here?”
 
“I’s hear her aunt a talkin’ last night whilest I was a servin’ th’ food.” Rosie chuckled. “Her aunt a sayin’ that gal a hers’ a stayin’ here fer as long as she cen keep her. Wants a her ta find a nice, rich fella…” Rosie shook her head. “Jest likea her Mama, she is…”
 
“Rosie…” Dallas turned to look at his cook. “Would you please send Jed in here?”
 
Dallas turned back to look out the window. He folded his hands behind his back as he patiently waited. Finally, he heard footsteps behind him as spurs jingled. “Mr. Parnell, you needed me?”
 
Dallas turned with a nod as he looked at his foreman. He clinched the back of the chair with his hands. “There’s something I want…and as you know, I always get what I want.”
 
“Yes sir,” Jed answered.
 
“It’s a woman…by the name of Margaret Gibbs. She’s going to marry me very soon. I…may need your assistance.”
 
“Miss Gibbs…I saw her last night at the party.”
 
“Indeed.” Dallas slowly slid a cigar from his pocket and put it in his mouth. He took his time in lighting it, then toyed with his string tie as he took a long smoke. “That woman will make some fine children. I…won’t push her, but in the end she’ll be mine.” He smiled as he chewed on the end of his cigar. “Just in case I’m unsuccessful in my attempts, here’s what I want you to do…”
 
***
 
That same morning just outside town, Margaret brushed her grandmother’s hair and helped her get cleaned up for the day. “You love your family, don’t you? Oh, you don’t have to answer, Grandmother. I know you do.” Margaret continued brushing her grandmother’s hair. “Your hair is beautiful, just like my mother’s. I can see where she got her beautiful, long hair.” Margaret continued to brush. “You know…when I was little, I remember my mother telling me about you brushing her hair when she was little. You would sing to her. I love to sing. I think I got that from you.” Margaret twisted her grandmother’s hair and put it up in a bun. “There. Now, I would love for you to eat breakfast with me.” Margaret watched her grandmother in the mirror and saw the hesitation in her eyes. Margaret stepped in front of her and stooped down to Grandma Bertha’s eye-level. “Now, if Aunt Gertrude has a problem with it, she’ll have to eat alone, because I want to eat breakfast with you, Grandma Bertha.”
 
They made their way down the stairs. Margaret took it slow, not wanting to rush her grandmother. As they sat down at the table, Aunt Gertrude looked up from the book she was reading and gasped. “Margaret, Mother likes to eat in her room.”
 
“Did she tell you that?” Margaret asked as she lifted an eyebrow. “Or is THAT the way YOU want it?”
 
“Of course not. I…” She slammed the book closed and straightened up as she slowly began eating.
 
Margaret took her grandmother’s hand and bowed her head. “For this food set before us, may we be grateful. Bless it and the hands that prepared it. Amen.”
 
Aunt Gertrude looked a bit flustered as Margaret looked up at her, but she quickly recovered, ready for round two. “About last night…This man…Mr. Parnell…He’s a fine rancher. He’s one of the richest ranchers in these parts, and he owns a lot of land. He’s young and nice-looking, if that’s important to you.”
 
“It’s not,” Margaret answered as she put the scrambled eggs on her grandmother’s plate.
 
“Well, I just assumed…I mean…the farmer…”
 
Margaret sat down the bowl of eggs harder than intended. “His name is Lucas McCain, Aunt Gertrude,” Margaret declared impatiently. “I wish you would call him that.” Margaret took a bite of eggs. When her mouth was empty, she said, “And Luke is very handsome, but that’s not why I fell in love with him. I’d love him even if he was the ugliest man on earth! I love him for what’s inside, because someday he’ll be old and his looks will wear away.” Margaret took a drink of coffee before continuing. “You can’t love someone based on looks or money. That’s shallow, and I’m not shallow.”
 
“Then what do you WANT in a man?” Aunt Gertrude asked quite impatiently.
 
“What Lucas has.”
 
“What IS that exactly?”
 
Margaret paused in her eating to look at her aunt. She chose not to answer that question, but instead asked one of her own. “This…gentleman that you were in love with…why did you love him?”
 
Aunt Gertrude lifted her shoulders in a stubborn stance. “We aren’t talking about him!”
 
“Aren’t we?” Margaret spread her hand into the air. “Isn’t that what all this is about? That you didn’t get the happiness you wanted, so neither should I? Is that even fair?”
 
Aunt Gertrude pressed her lips together and refused to answer. “I would like to go shopping for my wedding dress today,” Margaret sternly announced.
 
“I’m busy.” Aunt Gertrude busied herself with her eggs. “I…have the women’s society coming over here this afternoon.”
 
“I see.” Margaret finished her breakfast in silence. “I’m anxious to get home. I’d like to go shopping today. You don’t have to come with me.”
 
“You can’t!” Aunt Gertrude insisted. “Margaret, I want you to come to the meeting…to meet these women.”
 
“Why?” Margaret folded her arms. “So you can show me just how happy they are, even though they married for money instead of love?”
 
“Oh, but they are! Why, they’re happier because they don’t have to scrape by, worrying where the family’s next meal will come from…”
 
Margaret shook her head as she stood and helped her grandmother to her feet. “They put on a good act, but I assure you that when problems arise, they are quite miserable. I’m sure the husband she married for money won’t give her the comfort my husband will someday give me when things get really rough.”
 
Margaret started out the door. “You promised me two weeks,” Gertrude suddenly shouted as she stood from the table.
 
Margaret paused and turned back. “And I’ll give you those two weeks, Aunt Gertrude…as long as you behave.” She turned and looked at her grandmother. “It will give me some time to decide on a few things.” Margaret smiled at her grandmother. “Come on, let’s get you settled on the porch.”
 
Margaret read from the Bible for awhile, and was surprised at just how much life came into her Grandmother’s face as she read. Margaret wondered just how well Aunt Gertrude really knew this woman that sat beside her. She didn’t seem like the person her aunt had described…not at all. Margaret saw a deep love in her spirit. There was an aching to love in her eyes, and they seemed to shine anytime Margaret was around. Margaret longed to get to know the woman who had given her own mother life. “Oh, if only you could talk….” Margaret reached out and took her grandmother’s hand. “Would you like some soup?” Grandma Bertha turned and smiled at Margaret. Margaret smiled back. “I’ll get you some before I leave for town.”
 
After getting her Grandmother settled in the parlor, Margaret readied herself for town. She soon returned to the parlor and kissed her grandmother, promising she’d be back before supper. They’d go for a short walk. “You can use the exercise,” Margaret said. Before she left, she sought the cook out and requested she put Grandma Bertha down for her nap in an hour. The cook surprised Margaret by smiling and nodding her head.
 
Margaret turned to leave. “Miss Gibbs…” Margaret turned to look at Patsy. Patsy gave her a thankful smile. “I haven’t seen life in those eyes for a long time. I wish you’d take her away from this dreadful place. Allow her eyes to shine.”
 
Patsy’s words stung Margaret, it hurt knowing her own fears were being confirmed. She quickly turned and hurried away without saying a word. As she left to go to town, Margaret realizxed just how neglected her grandmother had been over the last years. Perhaps her getting better had something to do with the treatment she was now receiving. Aunt Gertrude hardly ever looked at her Grandmother, and Margaret wondered if Aunt Gertrude’s taking Grandma Bertha to Enid was just for appearance sake only…to make herself look like the loving, devoted older daughter she wanted everyone to believe she was.
 
The shopping trip turned out to be promising. Scott had wired some money to the bank in Oklahoma City for her to make purchases, and Margaret had narrowed her choice of wedding dresses down to two. Oh, how she wished her mother and Amanda were here to help her decide! How she wished Ann could help her shop for her dress!
 
Margaret stepped out of the dress shop and practically ran into Dallas Parnell. Mr. Parnell chuckled as he took her shoulders and pushed her back at arm’s length. Again, his eyes strayed, looking at her from top to bottom. “Where’s the fire?” he teased as he smiled into her eyes.
 
“I’m sorry.” Margaret straightened up. “I should have watched where I was going.” Margaret stepped out of reach and shuddered at the look he continued to give her.
 
“How’s your grandmother?” He asked suddenly.
 
Margaret paused at the question. She gave him a small smile. “She’s getting better.” She opened her hand bag and took out the letter she had to mail to Lucas. “If you’ll excuse me…”
 
“Wait!” Margaret turned to look at Mr. Parnell. “I wanted to…apologize for last night. I had no call to speak to you the way I did…you being engaged and all.”
 
“It’s alright. I’m sure you meant no harm. I’m…sorry for any misunderstanding.”
 
“I would love if you and your aunt would come over for dinner tonight. I’ve a few…close friends who will be there.”
 
Yes, Margaret was sure there would be several…close friends there. She was beginning to see through this man, and saw him for the brute he was. “I’m sorry. I can’t.” Margaret hurried away.
 
Dallas Parnell clinched his jaw as he watched her go. This would require some thinking. “Maybe not today, Miss Gibbs…but soon…very, very soon.”
 
After mailing her letter, Margaret walked back home. She found her Aunt in her flower garden still fuming over the fact that Margaret had gone shopping for a wedding dress. Stiffly, Aunt Gertrude asked if she had found what she was looking for. Margaret nodded, stating she had found a few dresses she really liked. Since she was only getting married once, she wanted to think on just which dress Lucas would like the best. Her announcement made Aunt Gertrude make some noises under her breath and return to her flowers.
 
“I ran into your rancher friend…Mr. Parnell,” Margaret announced then.
 
“Oh?” Aunt Gertrude paused in her work, waiting for Margaret to go on.
 
“Yes. It seems he’s having some friends over tonight for dinner and wondered if we’d join him.” Margaret waited for her aunt to turn and look at her. “I refused his invitation. I would like to spend more time getting to know my family. But if you so desire to go, I’ll understand.” Margaret saw the question in her eyes. “But I won’t be joining you.”
 
Finally, she questioned, “Your…family?” She shook her head. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. You’ve been spending time with your family.
 
Margaret nodded. “You told me I could meet my uncles. Where are they?”
 
Gertrude turned back around and again busied herself with her flowers. “Dinner’s in an hour. Perhaps you should go rest.”
 
Margaret paused for only a moment, wondering just where her uncle’s were. Obviously, there was more to this story. She decided to let it drop for now.
 
The next day, Margaret spent a lot of time with her grandmother. She told her grandmother all about Lucas, which made her miss him even more. She read from the Bible, then did some sewing on articles she would need for her new home. In fact, for the next three days, Margaret spent a lot of time with her Grandmother. Aunt Gertrude made appearances every now and then, but was quite solemn when they were together.
 
Margaret continued to mentally mark the days off the calendar to when she could return home to her family and continue preparations on her wedding.
 
***
 
It was now August 12. Eight days had passed since Margaret came to Oklahoma City. Margaret was still trying to decide on the wedding dress and assured the store keeper the day before that she would come in with her decision on Monday. After church that day, Margaret spent most of her time with her Grandmother. Grandma Bertha seemed to be getting stronger each day under the watchful eye of her granddaughter. Margaret continued to help her with her hair and dressing, but Grandma Bertha was able to sit up for longer periods of time, as well as well as eat more. Her smiles were becoming more frequent, yet she still grew uncomfortable when Aunt Gertrude came into the room.
 
Margaret was becoming more and more convinced that removing Grandma Bertha from her current living arrangement would be necessary, less Grandma Bertha fall back into the state she was in. That morning, Grandma Bertha showed Margaret that she was continuing to improve. As Margaret opened the Bible to read to her Grandma, Grandma Bertha patted her hand and said, “Love you.”
 
Margaret paused and turned to look at her grandma. “Oh Grandma…” Margaret hugged her. “I…I love you too!”
 
August 13 entered a bit dreary. Low, grey clouds loomed outside and a light mist fell from the sky. The clouds seemed to mark Margaret’s mood that morning. She had been in Oklahoma City for nine days now, and her aunt had yet to follow through on any of her promises. There had been no mention of the dishes, and Margaret didn’t care because she wouldn’t accept them now even if Aunt Gertrude offered them to her. As for the wedding dress…well, Margaret just didn’t have the heart to go into town today. She had made her decision on which one to get, yet all she wanted to do was sit with her grandmother and read the Bible.
 
As yet, there had been no mention of the other children. Margaret wondered if they had all rejected this family and stayed away, or if they even were still around like Aunt Gertrude had led her to believe.  Anytime she mentioned her uncles, Aunt Gertrude quickly walked away and changed the subject. Margaret wondered on this. If she passed them in town, she would never have known it. Her heart ached over the fact that she didn’t know any of her uncles or their families.
 
The gloomy day had an ill effect on her Grandmother as well. Grandma Bertha was a bit down that morning and didn’t spend much time smiling. Margaret wondered if there was something on her mind, but decided after a while that the gloom had just simply caused Grandma Bertha to be rather tired. Margaret felt rather tired herself. She made her grandmother some good soup then suggested that she lay down. Grandma Bertha agreed, not feeling like doing anything else.
 
 After getting her grandmother tucked in for an afternoon nap, Margaret came out of the bedroom to hear voices downstairs. Curious at the visitor, Margaret slowly walked down the stairs to find her aunt having tea with Mr. Parnell. Margaret turned to hurry back up the stairs, but it was too late. Her aunt had seen her. “Oh, please join us!” Aunt Gertrude suddenly begged. Margaret was too gloomy and too tired to argue and decided to join them.
 
Mr. Parnell stood as Margaret came and sat down. “I was just telling your Aunt here about a trip I will be going on in a few months, Miss Gibbs. I’ll be traveling all the way to Europe.” Mr. Parnell spoke rather proudly.
 
“Europe?” Margaret smiled excitedly. “Oh, how exciting! I would love to see Europe!” She had read about the fascinating places in books, but never did she ever imagine ever going to such a magnificent place full of thousands of years of history. It was hard to believe the things she read about…Every child had always discussed the romantic side of Europe with knights on white horses and swords, castles and moats full of alligators…But it was like a fairy tale…some story from Aesop…
 
Margaret’s excitement pleased both Mr. Parnell and her Aunt Gertrude. They both smiled in satisfaction. “Would you?” Mr. Parnell smiled as he leaned forward.
 
“What part of Europe are you going to?”
 
“Oh…” Mr. Parnell’s smile widened as he looked into Margaret’s shining eyes. “I haven’t quite decided yet…England or France, perhaps.” He studied her expression for another moment. “I’m sure you’ve never been out of the country.”
 
“I’ve never been out of Oklahoma…hardly even Enid…Oh, except for when we traveled to go to my…” Margaret smiled. How did she explain the relationship she had with the McCain family? “Uh…Abe McCain’s wedding in Fort Smith. That was years ago, and I remember how exciting THAT was…Why, Luke and I got into so much trouble wondering off by ourselves…”
 
“You should go East. They’ve all sorts of things there you’ve probably never even heard of.” Mr. Parnell picked up a contraption from the table. “As a matter of fact, I’ve some pictures.”
 
“What is that?” Margaret asked as she studied the strange contraption in his hands.
 
“It’s a picture viewer.” He held it out to her. “You put the picture right here…” He inserted a picture into the slot. “And you look through there.”
 
Margaret did as instructed. She gasped with excitement. “Why, it’s almost like being there!” Margaret cried.
 
“Yes.” He inserted another picture, showing her a tall building that was in New York City. Then another picture showed her all the people who stood in front of the town hall. Margaret had never seen anything so amazing. “I never even knew something like this existed!”
 
Mr. Parnell laughed as he took the contraption from Margaret. “Well, there are much fancier things than this. There’s a Victrola that plays real music, machines that practically plow, plant, and harvest your crops…You can see amazing things…have amazing adventures if you go East or North or…to another country! The whole world is an opportunity!”
 
Margaret smiled. “Oh, it would be a dream to go but…” Margaret shook her head. “Oh, it’s just that…a dream. That’s not for me, Mr. Parnell. I don’t think I’ll ever get such an opportunity.”
 
“Oh, but you CAN have it if you want it!” Aunt Gertrude declared as she leaned forward in her chair. “The adventure is there…it’s just waiting for you!”
 
“Yes.” Mr. Parnell nodded. “If you make the right choices in life, you can go anywhere your heart desires! You can have all the adventure you want!”
 
Margaret smiled. “Adventure?” She shook her head. “I’m okay here in Oklahoma. I don’t need to travel to find adventure. Life, Mr. Parnell, is an adventure if you allow it to be. When I marry, I’ll be starting on a wonderful adventure…An adventure that will last my whole lifetime.”
 
Mr. Parnell leaned forward again. “Yes, but don’t you want to have more adventures than just marriage and children…working as a rancher’s wife? Oh, just think about the possibilities you can have…”
 
Margaret shook her head. “Those WOULD be nice, but motherhood…being a wife…those are the most exciting adventures of all. To bring a child into the world to love and hold, watching him grow into a man and then marrying and starting a family of his own…Growing old with the man you married…Not caring when he no longer looks young and handsome…Even when his hair grays, and his skin wrinkles, the love we have is stronger than ever.” Margaret shook her head. “There’s nothing on this earth more adventurous than THAT, Mr. Parnell.”
 
“There is!” Mr. Parnell argued again. “Why anybody can have children! Anybody can…”
 
“Not for me, Mr. Parnell. For twenty-two years I’ve been on a wonderful adventure. Oh, it hasn’t always been easy. There’s been hard times…really hard times…but in the end, the love I have for my family has sustained me through. Mr. Parnell, if a storm comes up at sea, will this adventure save you?” She didn’t wait for him to answer. “No...but when storms come up in life, your loved ones surround you and hold you tight, protecting you from the raging storm. When the storms over, you’re stronger.”
 
“You’re wrong,” Aunt Gertrude declared. “That’s nothing. Your children will grow up and leave you alone. They’ll have their own lives. And then what do you have?”
 
Margaret smiled. “The satisfaction that I did everything I could for my children. I’ll KNOW that every single day of my life, I was there caring for my husband and my children. When I stand before the Father in Heaven, He’ll say to me…’Well done, my good and faithful servant,’ because I raised my children in the eyes of God. I taught them how to live…how to grow…how to love.”
 
Margaret stood up. “I think I’ve had enough conversation. I’ll go for a walk.”
 
“Margaret…” Mr. Parnell stood and hurried forward. “If you choose this adventure…you won’t have the storms of life. There will be nothing before you but hope, looking forward to the next adventure.”
 
“Hm…” Margaret took a couple steps backwards as she smiled. “I think I’d rather have the storms in my adventure, Mr. Parnell.” She nodded her head at him, then turned and hurried from the room.
 
***
 
Dallas Parnell watched Margaret leave. He stood still, staring at the door Margaret had just retreated from as Gertrude again apologized for her niece’s rudeness. He nodded to her and walked out to mount his horse. “Well...well…well…You’re going to play that way, little lady?” Dallas turned his horse around as he watched her walk out into the field behind the house. “You are just slow to learn…sheltered your whole life! I’ll draw you out, Margaret Gibbs.  I’ll draw you out and your eyes will be opened!”
 
Dallas dug his heels into the horse’s flank and urged him to go on. He formed a plan as he rode home. When he got there, one of the ranch hands came to take his horse. “Jed…” Dallas took off his gloves. “Do you remember the plans we discussed the other day?” Jed nodded. “I’ve some arrangements that need made.” He rubbed his chin as he looked down the road. “Not today, mind you…but in about three days. Yes.” Dallas nodded his head slowly. “I’ll give the little lady three days to think on things…Then in three days, we’ll perform the arrangement. It will be for the lady’s own good. In time, she’ll come to see that…”
 
***
 
August 16, 1866
 
The sun peaked in the window and woke her. Margaret got up and hurriedly dressed. Two days…she only had two days before she would telegraph her fiancé to let him know she was coming home! She had not gotten the dress she wanted yet. Things had been so tense, and her grandmother seemed so worried, that Margaret couldn’t leave her alone. She had slipped away only long enough to telegram Lucas.
 
After dressing, she went into Grandma Bertha’s room and found her awake and sitting in a chair. “Mar…garet…” Grandma Bertha smiled at her. “Come…”
 
Margaret walked over to her grandmother and sat down next to her. “Oh, you are looking so much better this morning. Let’s get you dressed.”
 
But Grandma Bertha held tight to Margaret’s hand. “You go?” Grandma Bertha asked as she pointed a finger at her granddaughter.
 
“Very soon, Grandma Bertha.” Margaret smoothed her hair. She could tell the news pained her. Margaret was still trying to decide on what to do with her grandmother. She couldn’t leave her here, and that was for sure! “Would you like me to brush your hair?” Margaret started to stand, but Grandma Bertha took her hand. She had a sad, pleading look in her eyes. “What’s wrong?”
 
“Don’t...leave…me…” Grandma Bertha’s eyes filled with tears. Slowly, she shook her head. “Don’t…leave…me…”
 
“Oh Grandma…” Margaret hugged her. “Grandma, my wedding is in two weeks. I must go!”
 
“Yes…You must…” Grandma Bertha shook her head. “Take me…”
 
“What?”
 
“Can’t stay…Can’t stand…” Tears fell from Grandma Bertha’s eyes. The next words she spoke cost her dearly, and Margaret knew it. “My own…daughter…” She slowly put her hands to her face and began weeping.
 
“Oh…Oh, Grandma!” Margaret took the older woman in her arms and held her while she wept. Margaret heard a gasp at the door and turned to see Aunt Gertrude with a hand to her mouth. Her eyes didn’t look sad or guilty..just…empty and surprised. Margaret stared into those surprised eyes as her grandmother continued to cry in her arms. Aunt Gertrude escaped the doorway and hurried down the stairs.
 
In time, Margaret was able to coax her grandmother to let her help her dress and brush her hair. Then they made their way down to breakfast. The meal was eaten in silence. Margaret could tell her Aunt Gertrude was seething with anger. She clinched her jaw several times, trying to hold her tongue. Finally, Aunt Gertrude said in a very calm voice, “Mother, would you leave Margaret and me? We need to talk.” Margaret didn’t like the look in Aunt Gertrude’s eye.
 
Margaret turned to see Grandma Bertha looking at her. She stood and helped her grandmother from the chair. “Let’s get you out on the porch. I’ll come out in a bit and read the Bible to you.” Only AFTER Margaret had Grandma Bertha all settled did she come into the dining room and sit back down. “Well?” she asked as she lifted an eyebrow.
 
Aunt Gertrude took a sip from her coffee cup, then sat it down on the saucer with a ding. “Margaret…I’ve been very patient with you. I’m not sure where your grandmother went wrong as far as your mother’s concerned, but your mother has not raised you to be respectful and understanding the way you should be.” Aunt Gertrude folded her hands in her lap and straightened her shoulders. “Now…I’ve done everything I can to show you that there are things more important in life than simply falling in love with some…farmer…”
 
Margaret held up a hand. “YOU haven’t been respectful or understanding!” Aunt Gertrude started to speak, but Margaret shook her head. “No! You will listen…and you will listen good…” Aunt Gertrude was a bit taken back with Margaret’s firmness and anger. “Back in Enid, you told me that you had buried that young man you were so in love with, but you didn’t! You have brought him back to life and are fighting with everything you have. You are miserable because you didn’t have the courage to stand up for what was right. You want to strike out at my mother any way you can, and if you can hurt her through me, you will! Well, I won’t have it! I will not stay here another day and be insulted.”
 
Margaret stood up and went to the doorway. “I’m going up to pack.” She paused and turned around. “And I’m taking Grandma Bertha with me!”
 
“No!” Aunt Gertrude cried. “You’re not taking my mother from me!”
 
Margaret turned around and glared at her aunt. “Why not?! You don’t love her.” Margaret swallowed again. “You told me…back in Enid…that Grandmother doesn’t love you…but the truth is…it’s you who holds all the bitterness. You hate her because of what she tried to force you to do. The truth is, Grandmother wanted what she thought was best for you, and in the end she learned the truth.” Margaret had tears falling from her cheeks. “She gave you life! She loves you, and you cannot see that. What you are doing is on purpose and for spite.”
 
“NO!”
 
“YES!” Margaret yelled. She took a step toward Aunt Gertrude. “Why aren’t your brothers around? What, did you poison them too?”
 
“They want nothing to do with Mother because they know she’s mean and evil!”
 
“NO!” Margaret shouted again. “You filled their minds with lies! You poisoned them…Its you they hate. Isn’t it?” Aunt Gertrude turned away. “Isn’t it?????”
 
“YES!” Aunt Gertrude turned around. “Dear God, YES!!!!!”
 
Margaret lowered her head and sobbed. Then she cleared the tears from her throat and spoke. “I owe it to my Mother…and to my Grandmother. When I leave, I’m taking her with me. Either you pack her things for me, or I’ll do it myself.”
 
Margaret left the room. She went to her room to pack before going to the stage depot to purchase two tickets. Afterwards, she’d get that wedding dress. She was excited about leaving this town with her grandmother and returning home to Luke so she could prepare for her approaching wedding.
 
Margaret came from her room to find Aunt Gertrude in her Grandmother’s room packing a trunk. Aunt Gertrude felt more than saw Margaret behind her. “I’ll only pack those dresses she’ll need on a FARM. You’ll be sorry. She’ll hate you as much as she hates me.” Aunt Gertrude’s back slumped as she continued speaking. “Your Mother has always been jealous of what I had. Our brothers left home the moment they could because they couldn’t…couldn’t…” She couldn’t go on, because she knew the truth. It was her they had run from.
 
“I’m going to send a telegram to Luke and purchase the tickets to go home. Then I’m buying that dress.” Margaret turned. “You can forget the dishes. I wouldn’t take them now anyways.”
 
Without another word, Margaret slipped down the stairs. She picked up the Bible and read to her grandmother for a few minutes. Then she kissed her Grandmother’s cheek. “I’ll be back, Grandmother. I’m taking you with me.” Margaret saw the smile on her Grandmother’s face. She knew she was doing the right thing. Finally, the years of misery her Grandmother had been living in would end.
 
***
 
Lucas STOP Will leave on the afternoon stage today STOP Should arrive home on Saturday STOP Things weren’t as expected STOP Bringing Grandma with me STOP I love you and cannot wait to marry you STOP See you soon STOP Margaret
 
Margaret stepped out of the telegraph office and started toward the stage depot to purchase the tickets.
 
But she never made it…
 
***
 
August 18, 1866
 
Lucas whistled as he walked into the doctor’s office and kissed his sister on the cheek. “She’s coming home today.”
 
Emily turned and smiled at Lucas. “I know. You’ve missed her, haven’t you.”
 
“I’ve been worried sick!” Lucas declared. Then he wrinkled his brow. “I must admit that I’m still a bit puzzled over the telegram. She said things weren’t as expected and she’s bringing Grandma Bertha back. Why would she be doing that?”
 
“I’ve no idea.” Emily turned away and began arranging bottles of medicine again. “But I’m sure everything’s going to be fine.”
 
Jason came in then and frowned at his wife. “You look tired. Best lay down for awhile.”
 
Emily folded her arms and shook her head at her husband. “I’m with-child, not sick…DR. Livingston!”
 
Jason slowly walked up to her. “Yes. And as your doctor, I’m ordering you to lay down.”
 
Emily rolled her eyes. “Oh now, don’t give me that doctor stuff! I know it’s my HUSBAND who wants me to lay down! The doctor KNOWS…”
 
“Emily…” Jason gave her a stern look as he gave her a warning. “Now, let’s not start something.”
 
She sighed and turned to Lucas. “You’d think a doctor would know better.”
 
“Emily…” Lucas laid his hands on her shoulders. “You are looking a bit peaked. You should get some rest.” Lucas raised his eyebrows up at her. Emily threw up her arms and went to obey.
 
As the two men chuckled, Lucas heard the stage coming. “She’s here!” He hurried across the street, followed by Jason. Lucas wasted no time, but opened the door with a big grin on his face. “Margaret…” His smile died when he realized Margaret wasn’t on the stage. “Amos…” Lucas roughly grabbed the stage driver’s shoulder and turned him around. “Where’s Margaret?” Panic was in his voice.
 
“She wasn’t there,” Amos answered with a shake of his head. “As far as I know, she wasn’t supposed to be there.”
 
“She was!” Lucas took the telegram from his pocket and showed it to Amos.
 
Amos read it and shook her head. “Well Luke, I didn’t see her anywhere. Nobody said a word to me about it. I’m sorry.”
 
“She said she’d leave that afternoon!” Lucas argued, still gripping Amos’s shoulder.
 
“Maybe she changed her mind.”
 
“No!” Lucas shook his head violently. “She wouldn’t worry me like this. She would have told me.”
 
“Lucas…”
 
Lucas turned to look at Scott and Amanda who had also come to meet the stage. “Something’s wrong!  Something’s terribly wrong!” Lucas breathed. “She’s in trouble!”
 
“Let’s get the horses ready,” Scott said.
 
“You’re not going,” Lucas declared. “I’ll go!”
 
“Luke…”
 
Jason stepped forward. “He’s right, Scott. Your leg would never stand that kind of ride.”
 
“She’s my sister!” Scott argued, his face reddening with anger. Amanda put a concerned hand on her husband’s arm to try and calm him.
 
“And she’s about to be my wife!” Lucas put a hand on Scott’s shoulder. “We both know you’d never make it to Oklahoma City.” Scott looked away from Lucas. “I’ll go.”
 
“Cursed leg!” Scott grumbled. “I should be going to look for my sister instead of…”
 
“You just try and keep the family calm, Scott. I’m sure she’s fine.” Lucas hurried to his horse. “Tell my family not to worry. I’ll send word when I know anything at all. And I’ll not come back without Margaret!”
 
Lucas jumped on his horse, but Jason grabbed the reins before he could take off, keeping the horse from moving. “Before you go, you get over to the cottage and ask Emily to pack you some provisions, understand?” Lucas didn’t want the delay, but he did as told knowing he’d get what for later if he didn’t.
 
***
 
August 20, 1865
 
When Lucas got into Oklahoma City that morning, he made some inquiries as to the whereabouts of Margaret’s family. He made his way for the big, yellow house with the white picket fence that stood on the outskirts of town. He quickly dismounted his horse and hurried through the gate. After climbing the steps, he knocked loudly on the front door. When the door opened, he came face-to-face with a surprised Aunt Gertrude. Lucas wasted no time, but pushed his way inside. “I’ve come for my fiancée,” he stated angrily. Aunt Gertrude said nothing. Lucas turned around. “Where is she?”
 
Aunt Gertrude coldly looked at Lucas,. “She’s not here.”
 
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN SHE’S NOT HERE?!” Lucas’ voice boomed.
 
“I mean she’s…she’s…” Aunt Gertrude proclaimed, “She left.
 
“LEFT WHERE?! And don’t tell me for home, because she didn’t leave Oklahoma City!” Lucas argued.
 
“She’s missing!” Aunt Gertrude answered in a quiet defiance.
 
“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?” Aunt Gertrude whirled around, away from him, . Lucas roughly grabbed her by the shoulders and turned her back around. “TELL ME NOW!!!!”
 
“Oh Lucas…All I wanted was for her to marry weathly, to never have to want for anything again!”
 
“What???”
 
“I’m not sure…I…” She looked away from him, unwilling to look him in the eye.
 
Lucas shook her gently. “You’re not making sense! WHERE’S MARGARET? WHERE???”
 
“Luke…We had a…a big argument the other day. She said some uppity things to me…Like mother, like daughter. Jennifer could have had it all, but she threw it all away and raised children with no appreciation of their elders…She said she was leaving early because…because she couldn’t stand being here another day. She went to town to send you a telegram, purchase some tickets and buy a wedding dress, and she NEVER came back!” Aunt Gertrude stated. “That’s all I know! I SWEAR IT!!!” she screamed.
 
It took a moment for the news to sink in. He paused in his rage to think on that. “That was…FOUR days ago!!!” Rage again boiled up inside him. “ARE YOU TELLING ME SHE’S BEEN MISSING FOR FOUR DAYS???” Lucas screamed at her as his heart filled with fear. “WHERE is she????”
 
“I…I…I don’t…I mean…I’m not…” Aunt Gertrude couldn’t think of anything to say.
 
Lucas grabbed a firmer hold of her shoulders. “ So help me God, tell me NOW!!!” Lucas demanded. “WHERE THE HELL IS MARGRET???”
 
“A man…” Aunt Gertrude turned around…”I brought Margaret here to meet a…a…rancher…”
 
“YOU DID WHAT?!” Lucas yelled again as he rushed up behind her and held up his hands. He made fists and pulled them down to his side to control himself.
 
“I just thought that…” Aunt Gertrude whirled around. “I mean she could…” She threw her hands up in frustration. “She could do so much better than you!”
 
Lucas grabbed her shoulders. He tried not to be too rough, but he was furious! “WHAT MAN??? WHAT RANCHER???” Lucas was getting very frustrated. His voice shook with both anger and terror.
 
“Dallas…Dallas Parnell…”
 
“Dallas…” Lucas’ eyes widened. Fear gripped his very being. He HAD heard that name. When he was in Texas last year, he’d heard about how Parnell had bought up a lot of land by any means he wanted. He owned land down in Texas, then he came to Oklahoma City and began threatening and burning families out of their land. “OH DEAR GOD!!!” He again tightened his grip on her shoulders. “DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHO THIS MAN IS???? DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT YOU’VE DONE???” Lucas had to regain control…He HAD to stay focused on finding Margaret. Now was not the time for him to get angry. He’d deal with Aunt Gertrude later! “WHERE’S HIS RANCH?”
 
Lucas had to get quite firm with her before she finally would answer where he lived. Lucas turned to leave, but her voice once again stopped him in his tracks. “You’re probably too late.”
 
He whirled around and pointed a finger in her face. “Do you have ANY IDEA WHAT YOU DID?!!” He had never been more angered against a woman in his life! Lucas’ voice got louder and louder as he spoke those words.
 
“Luke…Luke…” Lucas turned to see Grandma Bertha hurrying toward him. She was obviously upset by the yelling she had heard. “Margaret…she said she’d…take me…”
 
“I know. She told me.” Lucas nodded. He saw the worry in her eyes. He forced his voice to be gentle, and his eyes tried to calm her. He took her hand gently and turned her around. “I’ll find her, then we’ll…” Lucas turned and looked at Grandma Bertha. “Margaret and I will take you home.” He patted her shoulder gently to calm her, but inside, his mind was racing mad. He turned back to Grandma Bertha and spoke directly to Gertrude. “Now, I don’t know what is going on here, but you better stay with your mother and TRY to show her some comfort!”
 
Lucas shifted his rifle in his other hand and hurried out the door. After leaving the house and riding toward the ranch, Lucas realized he had no idea why this woman had kept this information to herself. Why hadn’t she told someone? Had she talked to the Marshal? Perhaps the marshal was the first place Lucas should go to – that would be the best idea, but time was of the essence. The woman he loved had been missing for four days already!
 
This was partly his fault. He should have trusted his instincts. He should have NEVER allowed Margaret to go on this trip!
 
“If anything’s happened…I’ll kill him!” Lucas dug his heels into Bullet’s flank and rode like the wind. When he got to the A.P. Ranch, he was surprised to find the Marshal and several men already there. Lucas hurried up to the group. “Marshal…what’s going on?” Lucas’ voice was aggressive and ordering.
 
The Marshal raised his eyebrow at Lucas. “Who are you?”
 
“Luke McCain.” That’s all the information he felt he should need to give. His eyes were hard and demanding. He again shifted his rifle to his other hand as he kept his eyes locked on the Marshal.
 
The Marshal shook his head. “That name don’t mean a thing around here.” He looked Lucas up and down. “You from around here?”
 
“No,” Lucas growled. “I’m from Enid. I’m here for…”
 
“Margaret Gibbs,” The Marshal answered with a nod of his head. “Her aunt told us yesterday she was missing.”
 
“YESTERDAY???” Lucas turned and glared at all the men. “She’s been missing for four days!!!”
 
“I know.” The Marshal nodded his head. “I’ll deal with her later. Right now we have to find your friend.”
 
“My fiancée!” Lucas corrected him. “We’re getting married in less than TWO weeks!” Lucas turned an accusing eye at the group. “What are you all doing here standing around? You should be out looking for my…”
 
“If you intend to help, McCain, you just get a hold on yourself!” He cleared his throat. “Now, what we’re doing here is trying to pick up her trail. We can’t go about this thing half-cocked, you know!”
 
“You’re trying to pick up her trail here???” Lucas shook his head. “She’d never come here!”
 
“She did.” The Marshal pointed to some tracks. “This here…the horse was ridden by Margaret Gibbs.”
 
“NO!” Lucas closed his eyes to again regain control of his senses. “Marshal…”
 
“Larson.”
 
“Marshal Larson, I’ve heard of Parnell from down in Texas. Some suspect he…”
 
“Killed his wife…” Marshal Larson nodded. “I know. I’m sorry.”
 
“Sorry?” Lucas again stared at the men. “No need to be sorry…Just…FIND HER!!!”
 
“Mr. McCain…” Marshal Larson started.
 
“I said find her!” Lucas shifted his rifle in his other hand.
 
The Marshal looked down at the rifle in Lucas’ hand and stared at the large ring. “That’s an…interesting rifle you got there, mister. You plan on using it?”
 
Lucas pressed his lips together. “Maybe. If it’s needed.”
 
“Alright.” Marshal Williams turned. “You men go that way…the other half…go that way!” He watched the men leave as Lucas climbed down from his horse. “I think you should…”
 
“Tell me…Tell me EVERYTHING!” It was evident that Lucas thought he was in control, and as long as he held that rifle in his hands, the Marshal reckoned he was.
 
Marshal Larson took off his hat and ran a hand through his hair. “Mr. McCain…”
 
Lucas grabbed him by the shirt and got nose to nose with the Marshal. “Now, you listen to me…I’ve been in love with that woman since I was a kid, and no man is going to keep her from marrying me! I want to know everything you know and I want to know NOW!” Lucas’ upper lip curled as he gave his final orders. His hot breath stung the Marshal’s face.
 
“Alright.” Marshal Larson consented. “Alright. I’ll tell you everything I know.” Lucas released his hold on the man and waited for him to go on. “We know she sent the telegram.” Lucas nodded. “And we know she never purchased the stage tickets. Some say they saw a woman riding out of town around that time with Parnell. They said she was riding toward the ranch.”
 
“Did they check the house?”
 
“Of course.”
 
Lucas bent down and studied the tracks, one by one. Finally, he turned and pointed a finger at Marshal Larson. “Are you sure you checked the entire house?”
 
“Yes.”
 
Lucas pointed to the tracks. “These are leading in. They don’t go back out.”
 
Marshal Larson pointed to some more tracks. Lucas shook his head. “I learned all about tracking in the war, Marshal. That horse was not carrying Margaret.”
 
“How do you know?”
 
Lucas lifted his head. “We’ll discuss that later. Right now, let’s find Margaret.”
 
Lucas rushed through the gate and went inside. “Is Parnell here?”
 
“No. We’re not sure where he is at the moment.” Lucas started walking through the house. He searched every inch of the house, being careful to not miss anything, but could find nothing. He searched for a long time, sure she was in there. It wasn’t only the tracks that told him so, it was the feeling he had deep inside. “You’re right. She’s not here.”
 
They walked back outside. Lucas slapped the post on the porch in frustration as he closed his eyes and leaned his head against the post. Marshal Larson watched him. “What are you doing?”
 
Lucas turned to look at the Marshal. “I’m praying.” Lucas grabbed his horse’s reins and went to track.
 
The one set of tracks going out led straight to town. This was a bad thing since the entire road was littered with tracks. Lucas cursed under his breath as he realized they had lost any possible sign. “What now, Marshal?” Lucas asked as he stayed in his saddle and looked around town.
 
“Well…I sent the men North and South. I reckon we’ll head East.”
 
“How about if I head East and you head West? I’ll fire a shot if…”
 
“Oh no!” Marshal Larson held up a hand. “Now, up to this point I’ve let you think you were in control.” Marshal Larson jabbed a finger into his own chest. “But I’m the Marshal here and I am in control! And I’m telling you right now that there’s no way in hell I’m letting you go off by yourself!” He pointed a finger at Lucas. Marshal Larson shifted uncomfortably in his saddle. “If you find her dead…er…there’s no telling what you’ll do!”
 
“There is telling what I’ll do!” Lucas declared. “Well then, I’ll tell you what I’ll do! If one hair on that precious head of hers is out of place, I’ll bury him where he drops!” Lucas had pure rage in his eyes. Marshal Larson knew he had a desperate situation on his hands. He knew there was no talking straight to Lucas. He would just have to try and make sure any gunplay was legal.
 
Lucas and Marshal Larson rode East. There was no sign of the men…absolutely NO sign at all! As the sun went down, the posse met up and made camp for the night. They all agreed to start searching at first light in the morning. Until then, it was hurry up and wait. Lucas laid on his bed roll that night and closed his eyes. “Eight hours…” He turned his head around to look at the Marshal. “Eight hours for that beast to hurt Margaret…And I’m just laying here staring at the stars!” Lucas cursed under his breath again. He felt so frustrated!
 
“You were in the war,” Marshal Larson pointed out calmly. “You know how hard it is to track at night.”
 
“Yes.” Lucas nodded his head. “I know how hard it is, but sometimes we had to do it anyhow.” Lucas turned on his side and stared into the fire. He didn’t sleep, but he watched the memories of his and Margaret’s life together dance in the flames all night.
 
***
August 21, 1866
 
Lucas dismounted his horse and sighed in frustration. “Oh Margaret…where are you?” He felt his eyes fill with tears. If only he could hold her in his arms again. If only he could kiss her sweet lips and whisper ‘I love you.’ Lucas clinched his lips together. “I’ll find you, Margaret…I’ll find you.”
 
Lucas slowly sat down on the log. They had stopped for a rest. “I should have never let her come here. I knew it was a bad idea, yet I thought I was being over…” Lucas rubbed his hands through his hair and lowered his head toward the ground as he thought. “It’s like you’ve…vanished into…”
 
Lucas suddenly stopped. “Vanished…” He whispered the word as a new thought entered his mind. It was a far-fetched idea, but it was worth a shot. The more he got to thinking on the idea, the less crazy it sounded. At this point, he was desperate enough to try anything if it would help Margaret! He stood up and turned to look at the Marshal. His eyes grew wide and the color drained from his face as he began to think harder on the possibility.
 
“What is it?” Marshal Larson hurried over to Lucas, alarmed at the expression Lucas was wearing.
 
“Marshal…” Lucas swallowed hard. “Do you remember how I told you the tracks showed us that she had never left the ranch?”
 
“Yes. But we searched the whole house, Lucas.”
 
Lucas shook his head as he held his mouth open in shock. “No sir…I don’t think we did. I…” Lucas held out a hand to the Marshal. “Marshal…When I was in the war, I heard tell about people on both sides of the war who would hide runaway slaves in secret rooms of their houses.” The marshal nodded as a confused look crossed his face. “Yesterday when we were at Parnell’s…I remember…that bookcase in the office…There was something rather strange about it…”
 
Marshal Larson’s eyes widened. “That wall WAS thick.” He jumped up and hurried to his horse. “Let’s go!”
 
Lucas and Marshal Larson raced back to the house. They barged in and hurried toward the library. Lucas shifted his rifle to his other hand and pointed to the wall. “Yes. If we go into the next room, it looks like its awful thick.” Lucas and the Marshal started looking for a handle or something to pull the wall out. The more they looked, the more they realized that this was indeed a trick wall. Lucas started throwing books from the shelf as fast as he could, his heart pumped harder as he began working faster and faster. “Keep looking! It has to be here!” Lucas cried excitedly and desperately.
 
They were working so intently that they didn’t hear a man enter the room. “What’s going on here?” Lucas and Marshal Larson turned to stare into the angry eyes of Dallas Parnell. He had his gun drawn and was pointing it straight at Lucas McCain. Lucas and Marshal Larson looked at each other, neither sure what should be done. “I asked you a question, Marshal.” Parnell didn’t take his eyes off of Lucas.
 
“Where is she, Parnell?” Lucas sneered.
 
Parnell moved his eyes down toward Lucas’s middle where he held the rifle at a good aim. “That’s an interesting rifle you got there, mister.” He nodded toward it.
 
“Answer my question!” Lucas demanded. “Where is she?”
 
“Who?”
 
“You know who!” Lucas declared. “Answer me or I’ll drop you!”
 
Parnell laughed. “Ain’t even cocked.”
 
“As soon as it’s cocked, you’re dead!” Lucas lifted the rifle a bit more. “Now, where is she?”
 
Parnell didn’t take his eyes off of Lucas. “Who is this, Marshal?”
 
“Lucas McCain.” Marshal Larson didn’t move a muscle as he held his gun on Parnell. “Margaret’s fiancée.”
 
Instead of startling, Parnell allowed a small smile to cross his face. “Well…a sore loser, aren’t you, McCain? I guess the best man won.”
 
Lucas gave him a confused look, the man’s sneer was revolting. Lucas narrowed his eyes and nodded toward him. “I don’t think so,” Lucas answered. “I’ll kill you before I let you get your hands on her.”
 
“I’m afraid you’re too late!” Parnell laughed. “Well, seeing as how there’s a gun at your head, I’d rethink that if I were you.” Lucas slowly turned his head. He heard the cock of a pistol and soon felt the cold steel pressing against his head. Lucas closed his eyes and dropped his rifle on the floor. The Marshal did the same. “Now…who’s won?” Parnell laughed. He walked over to the bookcase and lifted three books out. “You heard of me, Mr. McCain?”
 
Lucas glared at him. “I heard of you.”
 
Parnell laughed. “All good, I’m sure.”
 
“Heard you killed your wife,” Lucas said. “Heard you are a monster…despicable…a snake that needs his head bashed in before he strikes again…that’s what I heard!”
 
Parnell laughed. “Well now…that’s not far from the truth I reckon. You see, folks here never heard tell of my going-ons in Texas. But a big ugly cuss like you with a rifle like that…you’ve probably heard of me. I reckon that you’ve also heard that…I…always…win.” Parnell slid the bookcase open. An evil smile widened on his face.
 
Lucas looked over Parnell’s shoulder into the secret room. His eyes widened with surprise. “Margaret…” Lucas whispered. His eyes filled with tears. That was the most beautiful sight he’d ever seen! She was alive!
 
Margaret stood from the chair. Her face was dirty and her dress torn a bit, but she looked okay. Lucas’ eyes opened wide when he saw her tears smeared with the dirt on her face.
 
“Lucas!” Margaret cried. “Thank God you came!”
 
“Stay there!” Parnell held up his hand when Margaret started forward. “Or I’ll shoot your man!”
 
“Luke…” Margaret pleaded.
 
“Just do as he says. You’ll be okay. I’m here. I won’t let anything happen to you.” Lucas continued glaring at Parnell. “Well?”
 
Parnell laughed. “You see…she’s going to marry me. A woman as pretty as this is bound to make beautiful children and I’m sure she’ll enjoy all the finest…Traveling around the world and…”
 
Lucas took a step forward. Parnell held his gun up higher. “Uh uh uh…” Parnell shook his finger at him. “I will treat her like a queen, but I just have to have a little more time to uh…convince her, you might say.” Parnell turned and looked at Margaret. “Ain’t that right…HONEY?”
 
“Keep quiet, Margaret,” Lucas ordered. “Just stay back.”
 
“No, no, no…” Parnell reached out and grabbed her, pulling her in front of him. Margaret let out a fearful cry as he grabbed her roughly. “Don’t say a word!” Parnell ordered through clinched teeth. Parnell wrapped one arm around her neck and the other around her middle. “You see, she takes orders from me now.” Parnell held his gun, still pointed at Lucas. Lucas felt the steel move away from his head. Suddenly, a shot rang out and the man behind him fell to the floor.
 
“Alright, Parnell…It’s all over.”
 
Lucas turned to see a deputy standing behind him. “Well now…” Parnell gave a little laugh. “It looks like I’ll have to raise the stakes.” Lucas turned back in time to see Parnell point the gun at Margaret’s temple. Margaret saw the gun from the corner of her eye. Tears filled her eyes. “LUCAS!” She cried out, suddenly frightened. “Luke, HELP ME!” she screamed as loud as she could. “Oh PLEASE HELP ME!!!”
 
“Shut up!” Parnell ordered as he tightened his grip on her. “Just shut up!”
 
“Parnell, you hurt one hair on her head, and I swear to God, I will hunt you down and I will KILL you!” Lucas felt his eyes filling with tears. He fought them back. This was no time to get emotional. “Now, LET HER GO!”
 
“I don’t think so. You see, she’s my shield.” Parnell laughed.  “You see…You can’t shoot me and protect her…”
 
Lucas looked into Margaret’s eyes. They were filled with pure fear. “Did this man hurt you, Margaret?” Lucas asked. Margaret stayed silent. She was so fearful, she could hardly talk. Her lips shook. She closed her eyes and prayed for God to help them out of this situation. “Answer me, Margaret. Did this man hurt you?”
 
“N…no!” Margaret cried. “Lucas, help me!” Her voice was so desperate, yet at the moment Parnell was holding the ace. “Oh, please, Luke…HELP ME!”
 
“I will, sweetheart. You just hold on.” Lucas looked at Parnell. “Alright…What do you want?”
 
“You just let us go. That’s all. You let us go and get on the stage. We’ll ride to Texas and you’ll never have to see me again.”
 
“Not a chance in hell,” Lucas snarled. His eyes shifted back to Margaret. “Honey, no matter what happens…I love you. Did you hear me? We’ll always be…” Lucas swallowed, hoping she’d read his message loud and clear. “…partners.”
 
Margaret suddenly relaxed in this man’s arms. She shot Lucas an understanding look. They both knew what had to be done, and it sickened her to even think about it. But this was the only way. Her face went into disgust as she began talking. “No, Lucas, he’s right. It’s the only way.” Margaret turned her face toward Parnell. “Dallas, I understand now. I want to travel the world with you.”
 
“You do?” There was still doubt in Parnell’s voice.
 
Margaret nodded. She hoped she wouldn’t have to stoop too low to his level to help Lucas, but she would do anything she could. It took everything in her to do so, but she gently reached up and put a hand to his cheek.
 
She could feel her hand shaking. She knew this was hurting Lucas as much as it was hurting herself, but she had to help him. Please God…Please don’t let this go too far…I can’t stand touching this man!
 
 “I…I’ll marry you. I just have to…have to go buy a wedding dress.” Margaret forced a smile on her face. “Then we can go to Texas. I can’t wait to see that big ranch house you told me all about!”
 
Parnell began relaxing a bit more. Lucas hated watching this, but he knew it was the only way. He prayed Margaret’s subtle seduction would work. He prayed she wouldn’t have to carry it too far. “Margaret, what are you doing?” Lucas forced his voice to sound mortified.
 
Margaret bit her lip as she forced her eyes to stare into his. She rested her other hand on his other cheek. “Oh Dallas, let’s go to the preacher right now. I just need to freshen up some. I want to…” Margaret swallowed as she threw her head back to toss her hair. “I want to look beautiful for you.”
 
“Margaret…” Lucas acted out his most hurtful voice he could.
 
The way she was looking at him brought lust to Parnell’s heart. He relaxed even more and lowered his gun just a bit. He drew his head toward hers to kiss her as a smiled crawled across his face.
 
But suddenly, Margaret gave him a hard shove. “Lucas!” she shouted as she ducked and rolled out of the way. Margaret covered her head with her hands as she listened to the exchange of gunfire.
 
Then it was quiet.
 
Slowly, Margaret lowered her hands and sat up. She saw Parnell laying dead on the floor, a pool of blood slowly growing around him. Then she saw Lucas, rifle in hand, with smoke still coming from the end of the barrel. He was still on one knee, staring at Parnell.
 
She sat frozen in her spot. Lucas slowly lowered his rifle and turned to look at her, pain and regret on his face. They stared at each other. Lucas’ eyes softened as he tried to decide if she was really okay.
 
“Lucas!” Margaret cried out suddenly as she crawled over to him. She burst into tears as Lucas dropped his rifle and took her into his arms. “Oh Lucas…” Margaret wept as he sat her on his lap and cuddled her like a he would a child. “I was so scared…so scared…”
 
“Shh…” Lucas smoothed her hair and kissed her forehead as he tightened his other arm around her. “It’s okay now, Honey. It’s okay.” He rocked her gently as she continued to shake and sob. She clung to his shirt and allowed all her fears and frustrations from the past five days to leave her body. “It’s okay, honey. He’ll never hurt you again.”
 
“I knew you’d come! I knew you’d come!” Margaret swallowed hard. “I…I’ve never been so scared in my life…” She continued to cry as Lucas continued to hold her. He kissed her forehead over and over, whispering quiet words of comfort to her. It was a long time before either moved.
 
In time, Margaret lifted her head from his chest and laid her hands on his cheeks. “I love you.”
 
“I love you…” Lucas tightened his arms around her as she laid her head back on his shoulder and just rested quietly. When Lucas thought he could trust his voice, he asked, “Are you okay? Did he…hurt you?” Margaret shook her head. “It doesn’t look like he fed you either. Was it bad?”
 
“He…He…” Suddenly, sobs returned and she clung to him again. “Oh Luke…It was awful! Just…just awful!” Margaret gripped her arms around him tightly. “Luke, hold me…Oh, just hold me!”
 
But this time, Lucas stood and lifted her into his arms. Margaret kept her head on his chest and her arms around his neck. Her body shook. “I’m c…cold…so c…cold!”
 
Lucas looked up at the marshal as he came back into the room. “She’s in shock. You should get her over to the doctor.”
 
 Lucas nodded and hurried outside. It took some coaxing to get her to mount his horse. She didn’t want to let go of him…ever…But finally, she was in the saddle with Lucas behind her. He rode her to the doctor and carried her inside. The doctor examined her and assured Lucas that, aside from malnourishment and shock, she was fine.
 
“I gave her something to help her sleep. That’s what she needs right now. Perhaps when she wakes up she can talk.”
 
“Should she talk, Doctor?” Lucas asked. “Would it be better if she just forgot it?”
 
“You should make her give you enough information to know he didn’t hurt her, Mr. McCain. She doesn’t have to give you details…but she needs to know that you’re there to listen. Don’t try for every detail, just enough to know that…that she’s okay.” Lucas nodded in understanding.
 
Suddenly, the door opened and Aunt Gertrude walked in. “I heard you found her!” There was sincere concern in her eyes, but Lucas was blinded by his anger.
 
“Get out!” His words snarled at her like a mad dog. “I don’t EVER WANT TO SEE YOU AGAIN! NOT AS LONG AS I LIVE!” Lucas shouted. “YOU STAY AWAY FROM HER AND HER FAMILY!”
 
“Please…let me…” Aunt Gertrude held out a hand, but the look on Lucas’ face made her snatch it back.
 
“She’s asleep. I gave her a sedative. You go on home and care for your mother,” the doctor ordered firmly.
 
Aunt Gertrude put her hands to her face, “Lucas…please…when Margaret’s better…before you leave, please allow us to talk once more. You can be there too, and you can remove her at any time.”
 
“NO!” Lucas shouted. “I despise you! I despise what you’ve done to her!”
 
“After all I’ve done…I only wanted what was best for her!” Aunt Gertrude answered.
 
“Three days!” Lucas glared at her. Anger laid heavily on his voice. “She was held hostageTHREE days before you did anything!”
 
“I thought she had left that day on the stage, but one of the ladies said they saw her ride with Mr. Parnell. I thought she had changed her mind, that she came to her senses. But…” Aunt Gertrude turned from him, no longer being able to look at him. “But no…I knew that wasn’t true because she wouldn’t have left Mother behind…”
 
“What about your Mother?”
 
“She was going to take her away from me because…because…” Aunt Gertrude turned and looked at Lucas. “I did everything just to spite my sister who followed her heart and had the courage to stand up for what she believed. Her courage changed my mother, but…but…” Aunt Gertrude shook her head. “I felt more hatred for my sister. That’s why I did this. I NEVER thought he’d hurt her! NEVER!”
 
Lucas only glared at her. Aunt Gertrude turned and hurried out.
 
Lucas turned back to the doctor. “How long will she sleep?”
 
“A few hours,” Doctor Rogers answered.
 
“I have to send a telegram. Then I have some things to buy. I’ll be back.” Lucas left the office and hurried down the street.
 
***
 
Margaret moaned as she opened her eyes. She felt a hand press against her shoulder when she tried to sit up. “No, no honey. Just lay still,” his gentle voice orderd softly. She opened her eyes wider and saw Lucas leaning over her with a big smile on his face.
 
“Luke…” Margaret mumbled. “Luke…I…I love you.”
 
“Hmmmm…” Lucas smiled .. “Seems I’ve heard that before.”
 
Margaret slowly sat up. Lucas tried to convince her to lay back down, but she assured him she was fine. He helped her sit up on the side of the cot. He sat down beside her on the cot. “Luke…I’m sorry I let this happen.”
 
“You didn’t.”
 
“You didn’t want me to come. I knew that.” Margaret slowly shook her head. “I…should have listened to you, Luke.” Margaret pressed a hand to her head and cried softly. “My stubbornness almost got me killed.” Lucas said nothing as he pressed her head into his chest and held her tight.
 
“We don’t have to talk about it now,” Lucas whispered. “When you’re feeling better…”
 
“I have to now, Luke.” Margaret swallowed. “Because when I leave this room, I never want to…”
 
Lucas kissed the top of her head. “Alright, honey. Talk.”
 
“I went to buy the tickets, then I started for the dress shop where I was going to buy my wedding dress. Mr….” Margaret swallowed hard. “That man…he approached me and told me something was wrong with my aunt…that she had raced out to the ranch in a panic. I don’t know why I believed him except the way he said it was so..so…real.” Margaret put a hand to her forehead as the memories came flooding back. “When I got there, his foreman…Jed, I think his name was…He helped me out of the saddle, and then he took me inside…told me to wait in the library. The next thing I know, he was shoving me into that room.”
 
Margaret stopped. Lucas sighed as he clung to her tighter. “I heard of Parnell when I was in Texas. He was no good…He was pure evil, Margaret.”
 
Margaret licked her lips as she lifted her head from his chest and stared into his eyes. “He was so strange, Luke. He tried to make me put on a dress that I guess belonged to his wife. I refused and it made him angry, but he didn’t even try to strike me. He had a whole feast prepared and brought into the library. He let me out and told me I could stay out if I would accept his dinner invitation. I wouldn’t, Luke! I refused to eat anything he offered me…except water...I’d drink water to stay alive, but I wouldn’t eat.” Margaret shook her head. “He kept me in there for four days…kept telling me if I agreed to marry him…”
 
“Margaret…” Lucas swallowed hard. A tear escaped his eye and traveled down his cheek. “Honey…” He took her face in his hands. “There’s only one more thing I have to know and then we can drop it.” Lucas clinched her face tighter, letting her know he wanted the truth. “Did he…did he hurt you?”
 
“No, Luke.” Margaret looked him right in the eye as she answered. “Not in the way you’re talking about. He hurt me emotionally and…my pride was hurt but…physically…no.”
 
Lucas continued to stare in her eyes, searching to make sure she wasn’t holding anything back. When he was finally satisfied she had told him the truth, he released her.. “You don’t have to say anymore, Margaret. I think I understand. It’s over. He’s dead.”
 
“Oh Luke…Luke…I was so scared! I kept praying…begging God to help you find me. I could hear you and the Marshal in there the day before, but you left. I didn’t think you’d find me.” Tears again fell down her face.
 
Lucas again took her in his arms as she started sobbing. “You’re okay, now honey. He’s dead. He’ll never hurt you again.”
 
Margaret shed a few more tears then sat up. She wiped the last of her tears and smiled. “Then it’s over.” She kissed him softly. “Luke, how’s Grandma Bertha?”
 
“She’s fine, honey.” Lucas smiled at her. She was focusing on the health of others instead of herself now. He knew she’d be okay. “But right now, I want to get some food in you. The doc said you can go to the hotel and eat when you wake up.” Lucas looked down at her torn dress. “But I suppose you want to get cleaned up first.”
 
“No.” Margaret shook her head. “No. I…I want to go home.”
 
“To Enid?”
 
“Soon. I’ll talk to you about it while we eat.”
 
Lucas led Margaret over to the restaurant and ordered her some broth. She said she was starving and needed something a bit more substantial, but he frowned and shook his head. He didn’t want her to overdo it. “You haven’t eaten in five days, Honey. I think you should try the broth first. If you do okay with that, I’ll…buy you a whole feast!”
 
He didn’t allow her to talk until she had eaten every ounce of the broth. Finally, she sat down her spoon and spoke. She told Lucas all about her adventures after she arrived in Oklahoma City. She told Lucas about Grandma Bertha and Aunt Gertrude. “Luke…I know it’s a burden, but I really want to bring her home. She begged me…Aunt Gertrude…she can’t take care of Grandma Bertha…or won’t…She hates her, Luke…Grandma Bertha needs to be around family who loves her.”
 
Lucas laid a hand on hers. “Alright. We’ll take her home.” Lucas smiled.
 
“Grandma Bertha and I can take the stage,” Margaret mentioned. “It won’t be any trouble.”
 
“Oh no you can’t!” Lucas shook his head and waved his hands from side to side. “I’m not letting you out of my sight for a long time!”
 
Margaret giggled as he bent in and kissed her. His lips lingered on hers for a bit. She could feel people staring, and Lucas suspected her thoughts. “Let them stare,” he declared as he again kissed her, this time a bit deeper than the first.
 
After he finally leaned back in his chair, she turned serious. “She won’t be a burden, Luke.”
 
“I understand, honey.  She’s your grandmother. She won’t be a burden.” Lucas smiled. “I think your mother will be very, very proud of you.”
 
“We’ll have to find her a place to live. If Mother doesn’t…”
 
“Margaret…” Lucas laid a hand on her. “If she has to live with us, then she’ll live with us.” Lucas rested a hand on her cheek. “I’ll make sure she’s always cared for. I promise.”
 
“What about Aunt Gertrude?”
 
Lucas clinched his jaw at the mere mention of her name. “What about her?”
 
“I want to talk to her.”
 
Lucas sighed. “Well, I don’t want you to.” He gave a short laugh. “But it looks like there’s no way around it. We have to go back to her house and get your stuff and your grandmother.”
 
“Luke…” Margaret started.
 
“Margaret, she told me what she did. I’m not happy about it and I told her to stay away from you and your family from now on.” Lucas took a sip of his coffee. “She could have gotten you killed.”
 
Margaret sat quietly and sipped her coffee. Lucas finally stood and paid for the food before lifting her from the chair. “Let’s go.”
 
***
 
Aunt Gertrude stood back from the door and allowed Margaret and Lucas to enter. Lucas started for the stairs, mumbling for Margaret to finish packing. “Mr. McCain…” Aunt Gertrude stopped him. “Could we talk before you go up?”
 
Lucas turned and stared at Aunt Gertrude. “I’ve nothing to…” he started to say.
 
“Margaret…” Grandma Bertha stood in the doorway with a big smile on her face. “Margaret…come.” She stretched out her arms to hug Margaret. Margaret accommodated her. Grandma Bertha began crying. “You’re safe…You’re safe…”
 
Lucas came to stand behind Margaret. He smiled as he laid a hand on Grandma Bertha’s shoulder. “She’s safe, Grandma,” Lucas said quietly. “I found her and brought her back to you.”
 
Grandma Bertha lifted from Margaret’s embrace and clasped Lucas’ hand. “Thank you…Thank you…” Tears filled her eyes. “You stay?”
 
Margaret turned and looked at Lucas, then turned and looked at Aunt Gertrude. “Grandma Bertha…” Margaret turned back to look at her grandmother. “Let me take you out to the back porch and get you settled. Luke and I will be out to talk to you soon.” Lucas stood with his hat in his hand as he watched Margaret go. There was dead silence in the room as they waited for Margaret to return. Both Luke and Aunt Gertrude knew there was nothing more to be said to each other. Lucas loathed the woman, and that was plain to see.
 
When Margaret returned, she suggested they all sit down in the living room. When they were seated, Margaret folded her hands in her lap as Lucas put a protective arm around her shoulders, and waited for her Aunt Gertrude to speak. Aunt Gertrude’s eyes filled with tears and started falling down her cheeks. “You can turn off the tears, Aunt Gertrude,” Lucas grumbled.
 
“Lucas!” Margaret warned him.
 
“I deserve everything you have to say to me. I had…no…idea Mr. Parnell was that way! I never knew he’d…he’d kidnap Margaret and…and…”
 
“For your information, Aunt Gertrude, The officials in Texas suspect Dallas Parnell killed his first wife. He’s burned out and threatened many small ranchers and farmers in Texas to acquire a large amount of land. He came here intending to do the same thing…built a house awful fast with a secret room…Makes me wonder what his intentions were. YOU…Aunt Gertrude…ate right out of his hand…with MY fiancée!”
 
Aunt Gertrude lowered her head. “ Margaret, I…I wanted to get back at your mother…any way I could. I was using you to hurt my sister, and I know now that was wrong.”
 
“That…” Margaret suddenly stood from the couch as she clinched her fists in anger. “THAT was wrong? Aunt Gertrude, everything you’ve done has been wrong! Setting me up with that…that…monster was just one of many, many things you’ve done wrong.” Hot, angry tears tempted to burn from her eyes, but Margaret forced them back.
 
“I only did it to hurt your mother.” Aunt Bertha clasped her hands. “I never meant to hurt you.”
 
“YOU NEVER MEANT TO…” Margaret turned away and hurried to the window. She stared out the window hoping to calm herself, but it just served to make her even angrier. She turned, clinching her fists, and began yelling and crying at the same time. “MY MOTHER DID NOTHING BUT LOVE YOU…ALL THESE YEARS, SHE CONTININUED TO MAKE EXCUSES FOR YOU!!! ‘YOUR AUNT GERTRUDE’S HAD A HARD TIME,’ SHE SAID. ‘HER HEARTS’S IN THE RIGHT PLACE…’ YET ALL THIS TIME…ALL THESE YEARS…”
 
Margaret turned away and closed her eyes as her shoulders shook with sobs. Lucas jumped from the couch and went over to hold her as she cried. He turned and looked at Aunt Gertrude. “You’ve managed to do what you set out to do. You’ve used Margaret to hurt your sister…You almost cost her her life.” Lucas smoothed Margaret hair and whispered words of endearment in her ear as Aunt Gertrude watched from the couch in desperation.
 
Finally, she spoke. “I…I don’t know what to say. I…I…” Aunt Gertrude stood and started over toward the couple. She reached out a hand and laid it on Margaret’s shoulder.
 
“Don’t touch me!” Margaret cried as she pulled away and clung closer to Lucas. “Don’t you EVER…TOUCH ME!”
 
“Margaret…I want to apologize. I…I want another chance.”
 
Margaret shot her head up. She angrily wiped her tears as she stared at her aunt. “Another chance?! How dare you even ask for such a thing!” Margaret shook her head. “Are you willing to give up all that bitterness and show compassion?” Margaret stepped away from Lucas. “ARE YOU WILLING TO LOVE MY MOTHER…MY FAMILY…YOUR MOTHER???”
 
The two women stared at each other for a long time. Finally, Aunt Gertrude turned away from her. “No.” She shook her head. “I…I can’t.”
 
Margaret fled the room in tears. Lucas watched her leave then turned to Aunt Gertrude. “You know…I feel sorry for you. You don’t have a friend in the world…The one person who believed in you no longer believes in you…She is the most compassionate and forgiving person on earth…I oughta know…yet you’ve managed to isolate even her. I hope you’re proud of yourself.”
 
“Well!” Aunt Gertrude shouted as Lucas started to leave the room. Lucas turned and watched Aunt Gertrude plop herself down on the couch. She lifted her head. “Are you really taking my mother from me?”
 
“Yes. We’re definitely not going to let her stay so you can feed off of your anger through her.” Lucas turned and left. He found Margaret crying in the kitchen as she watched her grandmother gently rock back and forth on the back porch. Lucas sat his hat on the table as he stood behind her. He clasped her shoulders with his hands and pressed a kiss to her head. “I’m sorry she’s hurt you.”
 
“She has so much hate, Luke…” Margaret sobbed. “So much…”
 
“She was hurt a long time ago, and she never forgave her mother. She’s fed off of that bitterness all these years, honey.” Lucas turned her around.
 
Margaret turned back to look at her grandmother on the back porch. “What now?”
 
“We go home.”
 
Margaret gave an involuntary shiver. “Oh Luke…Just thinking about being in that room and that man…”
 
“Honey, it’s over.” Lucas turned her back around and gave her a stern look. “We left it back there in that room, remember?’ Lucas shook his head. “And we’re never coming back here!” He smiled and hugged her to him. “You need to put this behind you.”
 
“I was so stupid…” Margaret laid her head against his chest as she sighed. “She promised me fancy dishes and a dress and I came running. I should have listened to you…”
 
“Love is blind…” Lucas mumbled. “You’re far from stupid, Margaret.” He lifted her face and looked sternly into her eyes. “And I NEVER want to hear you say that again.” Lucas waited for her to nod. “I should have listened to my instincts, but I was afraid that if I said no…you’d resent me.”
 
Margaret saw the question in Lucas’ eyes. “I don’t know, Luke.” Margaret bit her lip. “But from now on, I’ll listen to you.”
 
“Hm…Well, I’m wrong sometimes too. But for now on, we’ll talk it out. We’ll both discuss it then come to a decision.” Lucas smiled at her. “I don’t want to make all the tough decisions on my own, honey…Not when I have myself such a smart wife.”
 
Margaret smiled. “I don’t mind you making the decisions…That’s the way God intended it, but…if you want my opinions, I don’t mind that either.” Margaret and Lucas laughed together. “Shall we go talk to Grandma Bertha?”
 
Lucas and Margaret made their way to Grandma Bertha. Lucas took one of her feeble hands while Margaret the other. “Margaret and I have been talking,” Lucas started. “Margaret told me you’re not happy here. Is that right?” Lucas saw the answer in her tear-filled eyes. “Well, Grandma Bertha, what would you think of…coming back to Enid with us?”
 
The answer was evident in her face. Grandma Bertha smiled. “Yes…Yes…” She nodded her head as she smiled. “Yes…Yes…”
 
Margaret squeezed her hand as she wiped tears from the older woman’s face. “We don’t know all the details yet, Grandmother. But you’ll be loved…and well taken care of.” Margaret smiled at Luke. “The whole family…we’ll sit down and talk about what to do. But you’ll ALWAYS be loved.”
 
“Thank you…” Grandma Bertha pressed a shaking hand to Margaret’s cheek, and then to Lucas’. “Thank you…”
 
“Alright.” Lucas nodded his head. He turned to Margaret. “Honey, why don’t you go get her things packed as well as yours. I’ll go into town and see about getting a wagon to bring you home.”
 
Margaret smiled. She leaned over and kissed him. “Thank you.” Lucas smiled at her, then stood and hurried out the door.
 
***
The day was late by the time Lucas was able to rent the horses and wagon with a canopy. Lucas prepared the back for Margaret’s grandmother so he could make it as comfortable as possible. When he got back to Aunt Gertrude’s house, he loaded the trunks, telling Margaret to keep just enough for their travel for the next week. Margaret made sure she did as Lucas suggested. Aunt Gertrude allowed Lucas to take as many types of linen and other supplies as needed to make the trip home comfortable. Lucas made sure to only take as much as he needed, and not a thing more.
 
Margaret helped Grandma Bertha take a bath and wash her hair, then helped her to bed. After her task was done, she came downstairs where Lucas was sitting in the living room. Lucas stood up, kissed her on the forehead, then excused himself, stating he’d sleep in the wagon that night. “Can’t you stay for awhile?” she asked.
 
He winked at her. “Goodnight.”
 
Margaret turned to look at her Aunt Gertrude. So many things had been said. She opened her mouth to speak, but really didn’t know what to say. Instead, she excused herself to draw her own bath so she could be ready for travel first thing in the morning.
 
The next morning, Margaret prepared breakfast for the three of them. Aunt Gertrude did not join them. In fact, she hadn’t left her room by the time Margaret had put breakfast on the table. After Lucas said a quick prayer to bless the food and their trip.
 
They ate in silence for awhile. After a few minutes of silence, Lucas sat his coffee cup down and laid a hand on hers. He saw the look in her eyes. “Honey, she’s hurting. She’ll eat when she’s ready. For what she’s done to you, she deserves to be left alone.”
 
“I know, but…” Margaret stopped when they heard a noise behind them.
 
Margaret and Lucas turned in their chairs to see Aunt Gertrude standing in the doorway of the dining room. Lucas slowly sat down his cup and watched her enter the room. Aunt Gertrude clasped her hands together. “I’m not going to apologize. I’m not going to even try to beg for you to stay.” Aunt Gertrude looked at her mother. “I don’t want you to take my mother from me.”
 
Margaret lowered her eyes to the table. “The discussion’s closed, Aunt Gertrude. We’re taking Grandma Bertha with us.”
 
Aunt Gertrude turned and walked out of the kitchen. Margaret started to stand, but Lucas gently restrained her, telling her to eat her breakfast. When she was finished, Lucas mumbled that he would help her with the dishes. After the dishes were washed, Margaret and Lucas walked into the living room to see Aunt Gertrude standing in the middle of the room with her hands clasped in front of her. “I know you’re doing what you think is best.” Lucas turned and looked at Margaret. Margaret nodded. “
 
“I think we should get going.” Lucas turned to Margaret. “Honey, get your Grandmother.”
 
“Wait.” Margaret and Lucas turned to look at Aunt Gertrude. “Margaret, I promised you a wedding dress and dishes.”
 
“And I’m leaving without either,” Margaret answered simply.
 
“I…want you to have them,” Aunt Gertrude stated. “They are just in the closet…”
 
“No.” Lucas and Margaret both answered at the same time.
 
“But they are…”
 
Lucas took Margaret’s hand. “I’ll provide for my wife. We don’t want your dishes.” He turned to Margaret. “We should get going.”
 
Margaret nodded and went to get her Grandmother. As they walked into the living room, Grandma Bertha walked up to Aunt Gertrude and stopped in front of her. She clasped Aunt Gertrude’s hands and said, “I love you.” Aunt Gertrude lowered her head and hastily turned around. Margaret didn’t miss the sad look in Grandma Bertha’s eyes as she was rejected by her daughter. Margaret walked Grandma Bertha out to the waiting wagon. Lucas helped her into the back of the wagon, and they got her situated against the back of the wagon.
 
“We’ll try to take it easy,” Lucas promised Grandma Bertha. She smiled and nodded, but there was a sadness in her eyes.
 
Margaret scooted out from the wagon and stood back on the ground. Lucas took her arm and started to lead her up front, but then she paused and turned around to look at the house. “Luke…I’ll be right back.”
 
Lucas took a firm hold of her arm. “Hasn’t she hurt you enough?”
 
“Please, Luke…I’ll just be a minute.” Lucas unwillingly let go of her arm and watched her walk back inside. But what met Margaret’s eyes when she came back in was more than she could bear. Aunt Gertrude was on the floor in front of the fire sobbing uncontrollably. Margaret stepped up behind her, but said nothing. Finally, Aunt Gertrude realized someone was behind her. Margaret stooped down as Aunt Gertrude turned around. “Aunt…”
 
“GO AWAY! I DON’T NEED ANYBODY! JUST GO AWAY! GET OUT OF HERE AND LEAVE ME ALONE!!!”
 
“Oh, Aunt Gertrude…I just wanted to say, I can’t hate you, but it will be a long time before I can ever forgive you,” Margaret cried.
 
 “JUST GO AWAY! GO AWAY!!!”
 
“Aunt Gertrude…”
 
“Margaret.” Margaret turned to see Lucas standing in the doorway. He slowly walked over to her and put an arm around her. “Let’s go.” Margaret hesitated, but Lucas firmly moved her from the house. He helped her up onto the seat, then started the wagon in motion. Lucas left Margaret to her own thoughts as she sat silently beside him. As they rode their wagon out of town, with Bullet tied behind, Margaret allowed the tears to fall, but still she said nothing.
 
“We’ll take the longer road. It’ll take us longer to get to Enid, but it’ll be gentler on Grandma.”
 
Margaret turned and looked at Lucas. “Why didn’t she do that? Why didn’t she take the longer road?”
 
Lucas turned and searched her face. “Your aunt?” Margaret nodded. “I don’t know. I guess that…sometimes the shorter way looks better…easier, but then we start down and realize that it’s rough, but by then it’s too late...”
 
Margaret turned and looked behind her. Lucas squeezed her hand. “There’s no looking back. From here on out, we look forward.” Lucas patted her hand as it rested on his thigh. “We’ve come too far.”
 
“Will she be okay, Luke?”
 
Lucas leaned over and kissed her cheek. “Only time will tell, honey. Now…what do you say we start from here?”
 
Margaret wiped her eyes and smiled at Lucas. With a nod, she said…”There’s no looking back. We’ve come too far.”

The Margaret Years — A Promise Kept

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
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