The Rifleman
Welcome to The Writer's Corner
Fan Fiction

The Margaret Years
 
Chapter 14 - The Rodeo
Written by Michelle Palmer

Sometime during the night the air had grown cooler. They hadn’t needed to build a fire up to this point as they enjoyed an Indian summer, but apparently that was coming to an end. Margaret shivered, but suddenly felt a quilt fall over her. She lifted her head. “Stay there, honey,” Lucas whispered as he kissed her hair. “I’ll go start a fire. Don’t get up until it warms up in here.”
 
“Luke, there’s no reason to give me special treatment. I can…” Margaret started to again sit up, but Lucas pressed a hand firmly against her shoulder.
 
“Now, there is too,” Lucas declared sternly as she obediently laid back down. “You’re my wife and I WANT to pamper you.” He bent over and kissed her again. Then as he touched the tip of her nose, he said, “Besides, I’m coming back. You have to keep the bed warm for me.” His eyes sparkled as he turned and hurried from the room.
 
Margaret really saw no reason for the special treatment, but Lucas insisted on pampering her.  It was cold enough that she wouldn’t argue with him too much. She heard Lucas building the fire in the fireplace, then in the stove. She could tell he was putting coffee on, then she was surprised when he hurried back to bed. As he crawled back under the covers, he cuddled up close to Margaret, who let out a sudden screech. “Luke, your feet are like ice!”
 
“Oh, I’m sorry!” But as he said that, he pressed his feet up against her. Margaret again let out a squeal as Lucas wrapped his arms around her and pulled her closer. “Oh, come now my darling…part of your wifely duty is to keep me nice and warm!”
 
“Then put on a pair of socks!” Margaret declared as she playfully gave him a nudge, but Lucas started tickling her until she was laughing so hard she could hardly breathe.
 
“Now, what were you saying about a pair of socks?” Lucas asked as he lifted up and pressed his mouth down on hers. Margaret slowly lifted her arms around his neck and pulled herself tight against him. She mumbled something Lucas couldn’t understand. Lucas lifted from her and grinned. “Besides, I have my own ways of warming up, and they are much better than…an ol’ pair of socks.” Again, he kissed her long and passionately before he finally lifted from her. “And I smell coffee.”
 
Margaret laughed as he got up and started dressing. She did the same. When she came into the kitchen, Lucas handed her a cup of coffee after, of course, yet another long kiss. “What do you want for breakfast?” Margaret asked as she turned to put another piece of wood in the stove.
 
“Hm…how about some fried eggs?”
 
“Alright,” Margaret answered with a smile.
 
“To start with.” Lucas chuckled. “And then I’ll take some bacon and French toast, and then maybe a couple flap jacks and…” Lucas paused as he saw Margaret turn and lift her eyebrow. “Uh…on second thought, I reckon a couple eggs and bacon will do me good.” Lucas grabbed the bucket. “Reckon I’ll go say how-do to the animals and milk the cows.”
 
Margaret grabbed the egg basket and followed him outside.
 
Soon they were eating breakfast. Lucas announced he would be out on the range most of the day. “Darn bull of ours did some damage over in the North pasture,” Lucas declared. “I’m thinking of putting him in the smokehouse.”
 
Margaret smiled as she worked on washing the dishes. “You said he was a good seed bull, Luke.”
 
“Oh, he is! He is!” Lucas stated. “Fact is, he had two right fine gals yesterday he was trying to-“
 
“Luke!” Margaret warned.
 
“Well, there’s something about women that make him a little crazy.” Lucas grinned as he walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her. “Fact is…does the same thing to me.” Lucas began kissing her neck as he mumbled something she didn’t quite catch. “Perhaps I should just…stay in today…”
 
Margaret grabbed his hands and forced them from around her. “Luke, you just go on about your chores! I’ve plenty of my own.”
 
Margaret smiled as Lucas walked toward the door. “Oh, by the way…” Lucas tipped his hat back on his head. “I should apologize to you that I can’t work shirtless for you today…it’s a bit too…” Lucas ducked as the dishtowel came flying toward him.
 
Margaret smiled as she watched her husband walk to the barn. Soon he came out with Bullet, who had finally accepted Lucas’ promise that the barn was indeed safe, and he wouldn’t be in danger of anymore fires in the near future. Margaret watched them ride off onto the range.
 
After cleaning the breakfast dishes and putting everything away, Margaret boiled more water and went to scrub the floors.  She had worked for some time and was in the middle of the floor scrubbing when there was a knock at the door. She had been so intent on cleaning that she hadn’t even heard the knock. “Just a minute!” she called.
 
But before she could stand up, the door opened. “Well…the master has spoken, I see.”
 
Margaret quickly stood and turned toward the voice. She let out a squeal and went flying toward the tall figure who stood in the doorway. “Johnny!” She hugged him. “Johnny, I didn’t know you were in town!”
 
“Just got in yesterday. Mama told me to get out here right quick and have a look-see.”
 
Margaret pushed him away and looked him up and down. “Well now, I’m glad you did! Let’s have a look at you. Oh…” She clicked her tongue. “You are getting way too skinny, Johnny!”
 
“Not much fat in beans, sis.” Johnny laughed. “Say, how’s married life?”
 
“Wonderful!” Margaret smiled.
 
“Got a…bun in the oven yet?”
 
Margaret slowly put a hand on her hip as her mouth slowly gaped open. “Do I WHAT???”
 
“It’s just an expression!” Johnny declared.
 
“Yes,” Margaret nodded her head. “And it’s an expression I don’t wish to ever hear again! And for your information…no, as far as I know I’m not with child.”
 
“With child…” Johnny shook his head. “That sounds so…Biblical.”
 
“Now see here, Johnny Gibbs…You are only seventeen years old and I…”
 
“Well now, feisty as ever, I see.” Johnny smiled.
 
“What are you doing here, Johnny?” Margaret asked as she folded her arms.
 
Johnny walked inside and studied the bric–a-brac Margaret had over the mantle. “Oh…just came for a visit.” Johnny turned to her. “The rodeo’s in town.”
 
“You mean...you’ll be in it?”
 
Johnny nodded. “I’ll be doing some bull riding.” Johnny pulled tickets from his pocket. “Got two tickets for you and Luke right here. It’s Saturday night. You’ll come, won’t you?”
 
“Oh, of course! I wouldn’t miss it for…” Margaret smiled as she looked toward the window. “Perhaps I should ask Luke first.” She turned back to her floor and saw that Johnny had managed to spread dirt all over it again. “Lunch will be ready after I re-mop this floor. What about you going on out there and getting a side of beef from the smokehouse?”
 
Margaret quickly finished the floor and ordered Johnny to stay in the yard while she started lunch. Brother and sister visited until Lucas came home. They discussed all the adventures she and Lucas had been on since Johnny’s last visit. Margaret was just about to tell him about their latest adventure when Lucas came riding over the hill. He stopped when he saw Johnny leaning against the hitching post. Lucas quickly rode up and jumped down from Bullet. “Johnny boy!” Lucas hurried forward and took his hand. “Well…” He looked Johnny up and down. “Come for a visit?”
 
“Rodeo’s in town, Luke. It’ll be Saturday night.”
 
“Then you’ll be moving on?” Johnny nodded. “Ever think of settling down?”
 
“Me?” Johnny threw his head back and laughed. “Luke, I’m only 17 years old! Why would I want to settle down at my age?”
 
“Yeah…” Lucas bent and kissed Margaret. “Lunch almost ready?” Margaret nodded. “I’ll take Bullet to the barn so he can eat.” Johnny continued to lean against the hitching post. “Well…” Lucas turned and looked at him. “What are you waiting for, boy? Come on.”
 
Johnny grabbed the reins to his horse and followed Lucas into the barn. Johnny looked around the barn, then asked, “I thought Margaret took on Andy’s horse.”
 
“She did,” Lucas nodded without looking toward Johnny.
 
“I don’t see him. Is it out in the pasture?”
 
“Nope.” Lucas paused in loosening Bullet’s flank and looked at Johnny. “He’s dead.”
 
“Dead?” Johnny took the saddle from his horse and positioned it over the stall wall. “What happened?”
 
“There was a…” Lucas clinched his jaw. “…a fire.”
 
“Oh.” Johnny gave his horse a hard love pat over his back. “How’d it happen?”
 
“Well…I don’t really feel like talking about it, Johnny. Let’s just say I had to teach some land grabbers they couldn’t have my land and they decided I needed some new outbuildings. The horses just got in the way.”
 
“Oh, I see.” Johnny tipped his hat back on his head. “Well, can’t you get her another horse? She loves to ride after all.”
 
Lucas heard the question in Johnny’s voice. He turned and cocked his head to one side. “I’m working on it. I offered to buy her one ever since the fire but she doesn’t even want to talk about it…says that she can’t just take any ol’ horse. The horse has to be special…She gets a sense or a feeling or something…She said something magical happens when she meets the horse meant for her.” Lucas shook his head. “No siree…she won’t just take any ol’ horse, Johnny boy. She has to find “THE” horse.”
 
Johnny smiled. “That’s sis.”
 
“What else brings you here, Johnny?”
 
“I just came for a family visit mostly, Luke. I convinced the rodeo to come here too. That’s it.”
 
“Mm hm…” Lucas knew there was more. He could sense it. “Alright, let’s go eat.”
 
Margaret was happy as they began eating. Lucas loved seeing the glow on her face as she just stared at her brother. “Now, you eat!” Margaret ordered protectively. “You’re much too skinny! I aim to fatten you up while you’re here.”
 
Johnny chuckled. “Ma’s done fussed over me enough! I don’t need you fussin’ too!” Johnny took another bite of his food. “Man can’t get far on beans.”
 
“You’re hardly a man,” Lucas mumbled. He felt a glare coming from Margaret’s direction and cleared his throat. “Uh…why you eating beans? I figured that job of yours keeps you well fed.”
 
“Well…” Johnny laughed. “Don’t really make that much.”
 
“Oh?” Lucas raised an eyebrow as he looked him up and down. “The way I heard tell, you were bragging about how well the rodeo paid you. And aren’t you breaking horses for a right fair price besides?”
 
Johnny laughed nervously as he turned back to his sister. “This is a…nice house you have here.” He took another bite. “Say sis…I uh…I have a favor to ask.”
 
Margaret nodded her head, indicating for him to go on. “Well…it seems I need a place to sleep for a few days. I was sort of hoping to have a break from sleeping in the rodeo camp.”
 
“I figured you’d be staying at your folks’ house,” Lucas answered for his wife.
 
“Oh yeah well…” Johnny looked down at his plate. “You know…With Grandma Bertha there and all, they’re a bit short on rooms.”
 
“Oh?” Lucas lifted an eyebrow. “Grandma Bertha took the guestroom. Ma’s keeping your room empty.”
 
“Yes, well…” Johnny laughed uncomfortably. “You see…uh…” Margaret slowly sat down her fork and lifted her eyebrows. Johnny gave another laugh. “Gee, Sis, this stuff sure is good!” Johnny quickly popped the last bite of food in his mouth as both Lucas and Margaret continued staring at him. “Any dessert?”
 
“No,” Lucas quickly answered before Margaret could. He stood up from the chair and bent over to kiss Margaret on the cheek. “Lunch was good, honey.” He took a step toward the door. “Johnny, come help me in the barn.” Lucas grabbed his hat and rifle as he opened the door. “I love you, Margaret.” Then they were gone.
 
Margaret knew why Lucas had quickly ushered Johnny from the house, and her suspicions were confirmed when she saw the two standing in the middle of the yard talking.
 
***
 
“Okay Johnny,” Lucas stopped half-way to the barn. “Why did Scott kick you out?”
 
“How do you know Scott kicked me out?” Johnny answered quickly, losing his smile.
 
“Well, because I know your mother would never kick you out, and I know Scott has a temper.” Johnny nervously looked down at his hat. “Well, boy?” Lucas firmly urged.
 
“Well…” Johnny laughed nervously. “You see, Luke…I…” Johnny shrugged. “That is Scott and I had a…difference of opinion, you might say.”
 
“I see.” Lucas slowly started walking again. “Is there a chance you and I just may have the same difference of opinion?”
 
“Oh…” Johnny shrugged.
 
“Saddle your horse, boy,” Lucas ordered as they went into the barn. Johnny paused and looked at Lucas. “Well, since you’re here, you can help me with the cattle. Unless you have to get back to town.”
 
“Oh, we’re not practicing the routine until tomorrow.”
 
Lucas nodded. “Good. Then you’ll have no trouble helping me.”
 
“Oh…” Johnny started saddling his horse. “I didn’t come back to be a cow poke.”
 
“Why did you come back?”
 
Johnny paused in his work. “I done told ya, Luke, I…”
 
“Yeah. I know what you told me. What’s the truth?”
 
Johnny sighed. “Well…the truth is, Luke…I have to get my hands on some cash.”
 
Lucas tightened the cinch on his saddle. “Oh? How much?”
 
“Two-hundred dollars. I need it by…Saturday.”
 
“You in trouble, Johnny?” Lucas asked then.
 
Johnny laughed nervously. “’Course not, Luke! I just…”
 
“What happened to your inheritance money?”
 
“It’s gone. I had some…uh…rather unexpected expenses.” Johnny cleared his throat.
 
“I see…” Lucas folded his arms. “So have we.” Lucas looked him up and down again. “Alright Johnny, you can stay here, but you’ll earn your keep while you’re staying here, and if you wish to stay on for awhile, I’ll hire you on and pay you two dollars a day.”
 
“Two…” Johnny rolled his eyes.  “It would take a long time to earn the money I need!” Johnny slapped his horse on the rump. “You don’t seem to understand, Luke, that I need that money by…”
 
“Oh, I understand perfectly!” Lucas shouted suddenly. “Money’s our short crop, Johnny. And don’t you go asking your sister either!”
 
Johnny worked his jaw as he mounted his horse and followed Lucas up into the field. He knew that as far as the conversation was concerned, Lucas was through.
 
Margaret noticed the tension at supper that night and tried to draw the two men into a conversation, but they merely grunted their replies to her and continued eating. When he was finished eating, Lucas stood from the table. “Thanks for the good supper, Margaret.” Margaret stood to gather up the dishes. Lucas leaned over and kissed her. “I’ll be back later.”
 
“Luke, where are you going?” Margaret asked as he lifted his rifle once again.
 
“To town,” Lucas answered as he turned and glared at Johnny. “I’ve some business to do.”
 
“Luke, it’s getting dark! What sort of…” She stopped when she saw the determination in his face. “Well…bring Johnny with you.”
 
“Johnny has chores to do.”
 
“Luke! Johnny’s our guest!” Margaret’s eyes grew wide in surprise.
 
“I know,” Lucas nodded. He pointed a finger at Johnny. “Remember what I told you, boy.”
 
***
 
When Lucas got into town that evening, he found Scott in the saloon. Quite surprised that Scott would be there on a weeknight, Lucas walked inside and went to sit with him. “Beer, Ike,” Lucas called loud enough for the elderly bartender to hear him. Lucas set his rifle across the table and leaned on it as he looked at Scott. Scott didn’t even lift his eyes from the table as he spoke.
 
“Something I can do for you?”
 
Lucas chuckled softly. “Well…you’re in a rather pleasant mood tonight.”
 
“You’re in town a bit late yourself,” Scott replied as he looked up from his mug of beer.
 
 Lucas picked his up and held it in the air. “Here’s to Johnny Gibbs. The Prodigal returns.”
 
Scott glared at Lucas. “That’s why I’m here.” Scott took one final drink from his beer and set the empty mug on the table. “Another, Ike!”
 
“Don’t you think you’ve had enough?”
 
“I’m an adult,” Scott answered.
 
“I was thinking about Amanda. Don’t reckon she’ll be too pleased when you stumble in drunk.” Scott gave a short laugh. “What’s his story?”
 
Scott slowly lifted his head and gave Lucas a hard look. “He asked you?”
 
Lucas gave a short nod. “He asked me.”
 
“Luke…” Scott slurred as he picked up his mug. “Our dear brother has a problem.” He took another long drink of beer. “Seems that he enjoys betting on the rodeo. Every time he has a little bit of money to bet, he bets it.” Scott took another long drink. “In fact, when he left here months ago with his inheritance…” Scott lifted his head. “$5,000.00, by the way…He managed to lose it all within two months.” Scott shook his head. “Now you tell me, Luke, how can a 17 year old boy lose that much money in two months?” Scott shook his head. “He assured us when he came back that he was here for a family visit. That’s it, he said. Then at breakfast this morning, he announced that he needed $200.00.”
 
“What for?”
 
“Oh…it took some doing, but I got that piece of information from him.” Scott slammed down his mug. “Ike, another!”
 
“No, Ike!” Lucas replied in a stern warning voice. “Bring some coffee, will ya?”
 
“Now Luke…”
 
“I’m going to have to take you home, and the less drunk you are, the less Amanda’s going to yell at you!” Lucas sighed as Scott slowly sat back in his char. “Now…tell me why he needs the money.”
 
“A man in the rodeo is going to bust him up a bit if he DOESN’T get the money by Saturday. Apparently he decided to bet on the last rodeo without having the money…and he lost.” Scott stared at the cup of coffee that was placed before him. “Luke…five THOUSAND dollars…Do you know how much money that is?”
 
“Don’t reckon I’ve ever seen that much money before,” Lucas mumbled to himself. Then he pointed at the coffee. “DRINK!”
 
“You going to let him stay at your house?” Scott asked as he slowly started to drink.
 
“Uh huh.”
 
“Did he…ask Margaret for the money?”
 
“He was about to,” Lucas answered. “I hurried him outside before he managed to.” Lucas tapped his rifle as he thought on it. “Margaret has a big heart.”
 
Scott chuckled into his cup. “You know, Pa’s home. He’s been home for nearly a week now without a drink, and here I am…drunk.” Scott took another drink of his coffee. “Now, ain’t that something.”
 
“What did Samuel say about Johnny’s request?”
 
“Pa wants to give him the money.” Scott sat his cup down and traced a finger around the rim. “Fortunately, Pa no longer controls the money.” Lucas watched Scott work his jaw. Slowly, Scott lifted his head. “Pa’s a bit upset now…says he doesn’t want to lose another son. Johnny really played on his affections.”
 
“And your Ma?”
 
“Well…she stayed quiet on it…You know how Ma is.”
 
Lucas sighed as he stood up and picked up his rifle. “Your sister won’t stay quiet on the matter, I’ll guarantee that.” He stepped over beside Scott. “Come on. Let’s get you home.” He helped Scott stand up. After one cup of coffee, Scott was still a bit drunk and had trouble walking out of the saloon.
 
“I sure don’t envy you none,” Scott mumbled as Lucas pushed on his back side to get him into the saddle. “That sister of mine is pretty protective of those she loves.”
 
“Well…I’ll just have to be firm with her,” Lucas declared.
 
“Ha!” Scott started his horse in motion. They two men rode silently to the Gibbs’ ranch.
 
As soon as they got into the yard the door opened and Amanda hurried from the house. “Scott, where have you been all day? We’ve been worried…” Her voice died as Lucas helped him down from his horse. Amanda put a hand on her hip and stepped toward her husband. “Well…I can guess where you’ve been all day,” she said quietly. Then she leaned forward and looked into his eyes. “Drunk…” Lucas heard the anger in her voice.
 
“Now Amanda…” Scott held up a hand to stop her from yelling. “I’ve had a hard day…”
 
“You have NO idea how much harder it’s going to get!” Amanda pointed toward the barn. “The same rule you have for your father applies to you, Scott Gibbs!”
 
“Now, see here, Amanda…” Scott started.
 
“Uh…” Lucas put an arm around Scott. “Don’t make things worse. Let’s just go.” He turned Scott and hurried him toward the barn. After getting him situated, Lucas bedded down Scott’s horse then went to get his own. Amanda was still fuming and came out to see him off. “Don’t blame him too much, Amanda,” Lucas said gently.
 
“He knows better than to get drunk!” Amanda folded her arms. “He gets so angry when his father does it, and here he is doing the exact same thing!”
 
“I know. But he has a right to be angry.” Lucas gave her a nod. “I had a few choice things to say to Johnny today as well.” Lucas mounted his horse, tipped his hat, and rode for home.
 
***
Lucas quietly entered the house after finishing up his chores in the barn. He removed his boots at the door and hung his hat on the peg.
 
Then the lantern on the table came on. Lucas paused with his hand on the hat and slowly turned around. “Hi,” he said as if he were a cat caught with the canary in his mouth.
 
The look on Margaret’s face told him he was in trouble. “Hi.”
 
Lucas rubbed his hands together as he hurried up behind her. “It’s getting a bit cool out there. It’s pretty late.”
 
“I know,” Margaret nodded.
 
“You didn’t have to wait up for me, honey.” Without thinking, he gave her a kiss.
 
Margaret abruptly stood up. “Well…I don’t suppose I have to ask you where you’ve been.” He watched as Margaret blew out the lantern and went into the bedroom.
 
“Oh boy…” Lucas let his breath out slowly as he walked toward the bedroom. He stood in the doorway and leaned against the door jam. “So…am I…allowed to come in?” he asked as Margaret slipped out of her dress and pulled the gown over her head.
 
“It’s your bedroom as much as it is mine,” Margaret answered stiffly as she sat down at the dressing table and started brushing out her hair.
 
Lucas stepped inside and closed the door. “I’m…assuming Johnny’s in the guest room.”
 
“We set up a cot in there. We…” Margaret sat the brush down and went over to the bed. “…had a talk before he went to bed.”
 
“Oh.” Lucas quickly readied himself for bed and got under the covers. He turned to smile at her, but Margaret turned from him. Lucas slapped a hand on the bed. “Now see here, Margaret Ann!” Lucas turned her toward him. “We made an agreement before we were even engaged that I could drink beer on occasion, and this just happened to be an occasion. I drank one beer!”
 
Margaret quickly hushed him. “Johnny doesn’t need to hear our fight!” Margaret declared. She calmed down a bit and ran a hand down his chest. “It must have been bad if you had to go have a drink.”
 
“What?” Lucas questioned as he caught her hand.
 
“Your talk with Johnny.” Margaret laid down on her pillow. Lucas followed suit and they laid on their sides looking at each other. “I know you had words.”
 
“Did he tell you what we were fighting about?” Lucas questioned then.
 
“He said he asked to borrow money and you said no.” Disapproval was evident in her voice. Lucas sighed as he shifted his eyes away from her. “Luke, please tell me what’s going on.”
 
Lucas sighed again as he took her in his arms and rolled onto his back. Margaret laid her head on his chest and twirled her finger around some chest hairs. “Luke?”
 
“Alright, honey. I DID go into town to have a beer, but I was planning on going out to talk to Scott as well. Scott was in the saloon and he was pretty wasted.”
 
“I bet Amanda gave him what for over that!” Margaret suddenly declared.
 
“You can bet your pretty…” Lucas gasped and cleared his throat. “Uh…I mean, you bet she did. She told him to go straight to the barn.”
 
“That sounds like Amanda,” Margaret giggled.
 
“Oh, but YOU wouldn’t send me to the barn.” Lucas reached down kissed the top of her head. “Would you, Darling?”
 
“In a heartbeat!” Margaret declared. She rolled over to lay on top of him, then propped her chin up on his chest and looked up into his eyes. “Why, Scott has a fourteen month old son! What’s he thinking coming home in such a state?”
 
“Well, Scott was pretty upset. You see honey, Johnny’s broke.”
 
“Broke?” Margaret sat up in bed and stared down into his eyes. “How can he be broke?”
 
“He doesn’t have any money.”
 
“But the inheritance! The…$5,000.00 Scott gave him…”
 
“He lost it.”
 
“Lost it?” Margaret lifted her eyebrows. “How?”
 
“Betting on the rodeo. Scott said he went through that money in just a couple months.” Lucas ran a hand up and down her arm as he continued to look into her eyes. “He asked me for $200.”
 
“Two hund…” Margaret stopped as Lucas pulled her back down on top of him. “Why?”
 
“He owes someone the money and he has to pay it to them by Saturday.”
 
“Owes? Why?”
 
“He bet on money he didn’t have.”
 
“Luke…” Again Margaret sat up. “What if he doesn’t pay it?”
 
“I don’t know,” Lucas answered. “May be a professional better, or maybe a fellow rodeo man. He could just get a good beating, or he could be arrested…”
 
“Or worse?” Margaret’s eyes grew wide. “Lucas, we have to give him the…”
 
“Now Margaret, don’t you get your apron strings all in a bundle! We don’t have that kind of money and you know it!” Margaret sat up straighter, but Lucas pulled on her and brought her back down to his chest. He tipped her head up and kissed her softly. “He’s going to have to figure this out for himself, honey.”
 
“Luke, no!” Margaret shouted suddenly. “Luke, I won’t stand by and let…”
 
“Margaret, hush!” Lucas demanded in a quiet voice. “Like you said, Johnny doesn’t need to hear our fight!”
 
Margaret again rested her head on Luke’s chest. She pressed her lips to his chest as she thought. “Scott won’t give him the money?”
 
“Nope,” Luke answered. “And he shouldn’t.”
 
“I’ll talk to him.”
 
“Oh, no you won’t either!” Lucas demanded. “You will stay out of this, Margaret!”
 
“But Luke, he’s my brother!” Margaret sat up once again and pulled herself away from him. “I won’t stand by and let someone…”
 
“Suppose Scott DID give Johnny the two hundred dollars,” Lucas said as he sat up as well. “And if you plead with him enough, he will. Then the next time Johnny needs money, he’ll come right back here and ask for more.” Lucas shook his head. “We can’t allow that, honey! That’s why I’m…forbidding you to talk to your brother.”
 
“Oh Luke…” Lucas lifted his eyebrows, letting her know that he would stay firm on this. “But if he doesn’t get the money…”
 
Lucas reached out a hand and laid it on her cheek. “My love…I’ll make sure your brother doesn’t get killed Saturday. He’s a seventeen year old kid, after all. But he’s going to have to face this like a man. But…” Lucas pointed a finger at her. “You will not interfere, you hear?”
 
Margaret averted her eyes.
 
“Margaret…”
 
“Yes, Luke. I understand.”
 
“Promise?” Margaret nodded as she bit her lip. “Margaret?”
 
“I’ll promise as long as you assure me you’ll make sure he doesn’t get hurt.”
 
“I’ll make sure he doesn’t get killed,” Lucas answered. Margaret nodded. “Now then…let’s make up.” Lucas pulled her over to his side of the bed and slid down in bed as he started kissing her. Margaret responded to his kiss and soon felt his hands rubbing up and down her back. His kiss intensified and he gave a soft moan. Suddenly, Margaret pulled away from him. “What’s wrong?”
 
Margaret gave him a sheepish look. “My brother’s in the next room.”
 
“So?”
 
“So…we can’t…not when HE’S here!” Margaret argued suddenly.
 
Lucas suddenly sat up. “Now what the blazes…” Margaret pressed a finger to his lips. Lucas quieted his voice. “What difference does it make? There’s no holes in the wall!”
 
“LUCAS…” Margaret’s warning voice sounded. “We just CAN’T!”
 
“When we have children, does that mean…”
 
“Lucas McCain!” Margaret gasped.
 
“Alright, alright…I’ll…restrain myself.” Lucas pulled her back down into his arms. “But I don’t like it! I think he should go back to his own house,” Lucas grumbled. “He’s having a bad affect on our marriage!”
 
“Lucas!” Lucas chuckled as he drew her close once more. He covered her mouth with his for one last kiss, then she laid in his arms and they went to sleep.
 
***
 
Margaret mumbled the next morning when she heard a knock on her bedroom door. She rolled to her side and yawned when she heard the knock again. She looked over at her husband in the darkness and saw him swallow, but remain asleep as she stood and grabbed her robe. “What is it?” Margaret asked as she opened the bedroom door.
 
“I’m sorry, sis, but I have to get going soon.”
 
“What are you talking about?” Margaret tightened the belt on her robe. “Johnny, it’s still dark outside!”
 
“I know, but I have to ride two hours away to practice for the rodeo! You can come watch me practice if you like.”
 
“Ah…I have things to do around here, Johnny.” Margaret yawned as she walked into the kitchen and started putting wood in the stove. “Johnny, it’s awful cold in here. Would you stir up the fire in the fireplace?” Johnny went to obey. Margaret soon had a fire going in the stove. “You want coffee?” She quickly turned toward her baby brother and lifted an eyebrow. “Or are you still too young for that?”
 
“Of course I drink coffee!” Johnny declared a bit too loudly.
 
“Shhhhh!” Margaret hushed him. “You wake Luke up and he’ll be as cranky as an ol’ grizzly…”
 
“Too late,” Lucas grumbled as he walked into the family room. “I’m already awake.” Lucas put his hands on his hips. “What’s going on?”
 
“I’ve a two hour ride to the rodeo grounds, Luke. You gonna come watch us practice?”
 
Lucas scratched his chin. “Well now, I just may do that. It could be fun.” Lucas turned and looked at Margaret. “Honey, you can go too.”
 
“No, I don’t think so,” Margaret commented as she lit the lantern on the table.
 
Lucas and Johnny went to do the morning chores while Margaret started preparing an early breakfast. The sun was just coming over the horizon as the three sat down for breakfast. Johnny ate quietly, then looked toward his sister. “Luke told me you don’t have a horse to ride.”
 
Margaret shifted uncomfortably in her chair. “That’s right,” she answered.
 
“I know how much you enjoy riding a horse, sis.” Margaret nodded but said nothing. “You know…there’s a man on the other side of town who…”
 
“No.” She answered it so quickly that both Johnny and Lucas looked up at her.
 
“Margaret…” Johnny started again.
 
“Look…” Margaret sat down her fork and looked squarely at her brother. “You know how I feel about having a horse, Johnny. I can’t just go somewhere and settle for the ‘best’ horse they have. I have to have a connection with the horse…a feeling…”
 
Lucas raised his eyebrows at Johnny. “See? What did I tell you?”
 
Johnny chuckled. “It could be a long time before you find a horse like that, Margaret. Perhaps you never find him.”
 
“I will,” Margaret assured them both as she put a bite of food in her mouth. “That special horse will come along and melt my heart.”
 
“Yeah, that’s what I’m afraid of,” Lucas mumbled. “It’ll melt my pocket book.”
 
“Lucas!” Lucas chuckled.
 
Johnny stood up and finished off his coffee. “Thanks for breakfast, sis. I best get going.” Johnny grabbed his saddle bags already sitting by the door. Lucas looked over his coffee cup he held in his hand. “Luke?”
 
“I’ll be out there directly,” Lucas promised him. “I have a few uh…unfinished things to take care of here first.”
 
Margaret stood and gathered the dirty dishes. She jumped when Lucas came up behind her at the sink and wrapped his arms around her. “Well…” He kissed her neck. Then he trailed kisses all the way to her ear and whispered, “We’re alone now…” Margaret giggled as he pressed his lips to her neck and left a trail of kisses all the way down.  “What do you say about us uh…taking care of unfinished business?”
 
“Luke, you ARE a cad!” Margaret declared as they heard Johnny ride out of the yard.
 
“I am NOT!” Lucas declared. Again he trailed kisses down her neck. He pushed the collar of her dress aside and kissed her shoulder. “We’re married. My intentions are honorable.”
 
“Now, you behave yourself!” Margaret playfully slapped him.
 
“Oh Margaret…” Lucas groaned as if he were a nine year old child who was just told he couldn’t go fishing.
 
“They’ll be time for that tonight, my Love.” Margaret turned in his arms and kissed him. He pressed her body tight against his and deepened the kiss. Margaret rewarded him with a longer, more passionate embrace, then lifted from him. “Now then…” She toyed with the front of his shirt. “If you behave yourself today, perhaps soon…we’ll take care of that…unfinished business, as you call it.”
 
Lucas sighed as he kissed her cheek before releasing her. “Yes ma’am.” Then he picked up his hat and went to the door. He paused and turned around. “If Johnny asks to come back here tonight, can I tell him no?”
 
“Lucas!” Margaret gasped.
 
“Yeah. That’s what I thought.” Margaret shook her head and giggled as Lucas hurried out the door.
 
***
 
When Lucas got to the place the rodeo would be held, he found he wasn’t the only family member there. Lucas hurried up to Peter and Scott. He put his hands on his hips and gave Scott a big grin. “Well now…I didn’t expect to see you up and around so soon!”
 
“Oh, ha ha!” Scott groaned as he touched his head. “Just don’t talk so loud…”
 
Lucas turned and looked at his brother. “I wonder if the headache is from too much beer or uh…too much yelling.”
 
“Both!” Scott groaned again. “After she got done yelling at me, I figured I was better off coming and watching the rodeo practice.”
 
Lucas walked up to the corral and saw a man in a cape waving a red blanket before him. At the other end of the corral stood a big, mean bull. Lucas slowly straightened. “Say…” He tapped Peter’s arm. “That looks a lot like Jehosiphat!”
 
“Who?”
 
“Jehosiphat!” Lucas repeated the name. He rolled his eyes. “That’s my bull.”
 
“That’s your bull?” Peter pointed toward the bull in the corral.
 
“No, stupid!” Lucas shook his head. “Jehosiphat is my bull. He is a mean one – tore up the fence in my north pasture the other day…He certainly was a mad one…Had two purty cows he was trying to catch and I reckon they were playing hard to get…I don’t know, but all I know is that when I got out there, the fence was torn up and two trees were in pretty bad shape…” Lucas chuckled. “I had to go a long way to hunt that darn bull down.”
 
By this time, the man was waving the blanket and calling to the bull. The bull started pawing his foot in the dirt and snorting through the nose. Then he hurled forward as fast as he could. Lucas and Peter ducked out of the way, afraid the bull would come right through the fence, but he didn’t. “Wow!” Lucas clapped his hands at the matador. “That was something else!”
 
“I bet your bull couldn’t do that!” Peter declared. “That’s the meanest bull in the world!”
 
“Oh yeah?” Lucas crossed his arms. “I bet he could run right for the blanket!” Lucas gave Peter a hard look. “As a matter of fact, if that matador wasn’t already here, I could enter Jehosiphat into this contest…and win!”
 
“Ha!” Peter shook his head. “That in there is a trained bull! Your bull is trained to impregnate cows…that’s ALL!”
 
Lucas scratched his jaw as he turned and looked over at Johnny who was smoothing his chaffs. “Oh right…we’ll just see about that!” They watched Johnny walk into the corral and climb onto the gate. After they tied his hand into his riggin, Johnny gave a nod and the gate opened. The bull he was riding snorted and kicked as hard as he could. Johnny bounced around but managed to stay on for several seconds. When he finally was bucked off, he managed to land on his feet.
 
“What about that?” Peter nodded toward the bull. “You thinking you could do that to?”
 
Lucas laughed. “No problem!” He gave Peter his rifle, repositioned his hat, and walked toward the man in charge. Peter watched Lucas whisper something in his ear, then turn and point at him. The man looked up at Peter and motioned for him to come over.
 
“Your brother here tells me he can stay on a bull longer than you can. Is that true?”
 
“What?” Peter held up his hands. “Oh no, little brother! You aren’t getting me in trouble with MY wife!”
 
“What’s the matter?” Lucas’ eyebrow popped up. “Chicken?”
 
“Of course not!”  Peter declared. “I…just like to keep all my bones in one piece.”
 
“I’ll give you a gentle bull. It’s as gentle as Johnny started out with,” Jackson declared.
 
“It’s not the bull I’m afraid of. It’s my wife!” Peter answered. He turned back to Lucas. “Now, you know that if Margaret caught you…”
 
“She’ll never know!” Lucas declared.
 
“Ha! I bet!”
 
“Oh?” Lucas dug a hand in his pocket and pulled some money out. “Okay…I have five dollars here that says I will stay on that bull longer than you AND that my wife will never know what I did.”
 
“Oh please!” Peter rolled his eyes at Lucas. “You’re as honest as the day is long. You’ll never be able to keep this from her!”
 
Abe was there then. “What’s going on here? I heard tell you two are planning on getting on those bulls. Well, let me save you the trouble…NO!” Lucas and Peter continued staring at each other. “What’s gotten into you two?” Abe tapped them both on the head.
 
“You know what? I suddenly change my mind.” Peter lifted his hat and repositioned it on his head. “I’d love to challenge you!”
 
“Let’s go!”
 
Scott folded his arms and shook his head. “Abe, you should have kept your mouth shut! If there’s one thing those two little brothers of yours never liked, it was a bossy big brother!”
 
“What’s gotten into them?” Abe shook his head. “They’re acting like a couple spoiled brats!”
 
“I don’t know.” Scott chuckled. “Maybe it’s something in the air.”
 
“Maybe they aren’t getting enough of that air in their brains!” Abe declared.
 
Johnny stood beside Abe and Scott to watch the two brothers make fools of themselves. They put Lucas on the first bull. It took quite some time for them to get him fixed up just right, then they spoke to him before he finally nodded and they opened the gate. Lucas waved his arm around just like he’d seen other cowboys doing; but that bull, as gentle as he was, slung Lucas up in the air like he was a mouse sitting on the saddle. Lucas landed on the ground in only three bucks.
 
“Ohhhhhhh….” Lucas groaned as he stood up. “My butt!”
 
Abe and Scott chuckled. “Boy oh boy, but I’d love to be there when he explains THAT to his wife!”
 
Abe laughed. “No, I don’t think we’re ready to experience Twister Margaret!”
 
Peter was next. They prepared him, and he nodded when he was ready to go. The gate opened and Peter was bucked in the air like a mouse on a saddle, but Peter had more gumption and was able to stay in the saddle for ten whole bucks. Peter was slung off the saddle and landed on his leg. “Ohhhh!” Peter moaned as Scott and Abe hurried up to him and helped him from the corral. Peter limped.
 
“Well…at least Peter’s injury is a little more explainable,” Abe pointed out.
 
“Ha ha!” Lucas continued to rub his backside. “Man, I think I broke my hip!”
 
Peter held out his hand to his younger brother. Lucas gave his hand a hard slap. “Luke, five dollars!” Peter wiggled his fingers.
 
“Oh no!” Lucas shook his head. “The bet was that I’d stay on the bull longer than you AND Margaret wouldn’t find out what I did! You’ve only won HALF the bet!”
 
Abe laughed. “You might as well fork over the money now, Luke. Margaret WILL find out!” He nodded his head in another direction. Lucas turned and groaned when he saw Ann and Hal standing over by the corral. They had seen the whole thing! Lucas groaned as he took the five dollars from his pocket and slapped it in Peter’s hand.
 
“She’ll yell at me for losing five bucks so foolishly too!”
 
“Wild Luke!” Ann said with a smile on her face as she walked up to him. “My…my…If only your wife could see you now!”
 
“Uh huh…”
 
Jackson hurried up to the brothers. “Very good!” He looked at Peter and lifted an eyebrow. “Would you like to ride in the rodeo tomorrow? It pays a hundred dollars if you win.”
 
“Me?” Peter smiled as he turned and looked at Lucas.
 
“Ah…” Lucas held up a hand. “I have a better idea. What would you say about letting us enter into the bull fighting contest?”
 
“You mean…” Jackson put a hand to his mouth and chuckled. “You mean you two…Matadors?” He laughed again.
 
“Yeah!” Abe snickered. Lucas turned and glared at his oldest brothers. “Now see here…I have the meanest bull around! Why, Jehosiphat can fight the best of us!”
 
“Luke…bull fighting takes years of practice!” Abe declared. “Isn’t that right Mr….”
 
“Just call me Jackson. And yes, they do require years of fighting.”
 
“Well…we have two days to train him.”
 
Abe scratched his beard. “You two have a death wish! I reckon I should warn our brother-in-law that he’ll have a couple patients soon.”
 
“Hey now, who says the bull’s going to hurt us?” Peter asked.
 
“Well, one thing’s for sure…If the bull doesn’t break your bones…” Abe leaned in to give his brother’s a stern warning look. “Your wives will.”
 
***
 
As she was putting supper on the table, Margaret heard Lucas ride up. Lucas moaned as he slowly walked into the house. Margaret’s eyes grew wide and filled with concern when she saw her husband, covered in dirt and walking rather funny. “Luke!” She hurried over to him and grabbed his upper arms. “Luke, what happened?”
 
“Nothing, honey…” Lucas groaned again. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to take a bath and…soak.”
 
“Oh, but I have supper on the table!” Margaret led him toward the wash basin. “Now, you just wash up so you can eat. After supper, I’ll get your bath ready then I’ll rub some liniment on your…”
 
“…butt!” Lucas replied with a grin.
 
“Your…” Margaret pressed her fists on her hips. “Now Luke, you tell me how that happened right now!”
 
The door opened again. “Hey Sis, looks like I’m staying here tonight!” Johnny threw his saddle bags on the floor by the door. “Did Luke tell you about riding the bull? Boy, he sure was something!”
 
Lucas paused in his washing and closed his eyes as dread filled him. Slowly, he straightened and turned to stare at his loud-mouthed brother-in-law. Meanwhile, Margaret folded her arms and lifted her head. “Riding a…” Her eyes narrowed. “Lucas…”
 
The way she said his name made Lucas cringe. He had a feeling he wouldn’t be getting any sort of liniment rubbed on him that evening! He turned toward his lovely wife to see a not-so-lovely look on her face. “Is that how you got injured?”
 
Lucas sighed as he turned back to look at Johnny. “Johnny, you have a BIG mouth!”
 
“Oh!” Johnny shot a hand to his mouth. “I wasn’t supposed to mention that? Well, at least I didn’t tell her about the five dollars.”
 
Lucas cringed even harder at the mention of that. “Five…” Margaret turned and looked toward Johnny. “Lucas McCain, we’ll talk about this later. Right now, let’s eat.”
 
Lucas mumbled the blessing. Margaret was definitely miffed at him as they ate. He grumbled a bit, upset that Johnny had purposely told on him, and he knew why too: because he wouldn’t loan Johnny the money he needed. Lucas cleared his throat. “You still need that money?”
 
“Yep,” Johnny answered.
 
“Yeah, well…I’d like to offer you a job.”
 
“A…job?”
 
“On the ranch. I’ll pay you two dollars a day.”
 
“Two dollars?” Johnny chuckled. “Do you know how long I’d be working for you at that amount a day?”
 
“Yep…for 100 days.” Lucas took another bite of his food. “Oh, and you’ll have a room out in the barn.”
 
“The barn???” Margaret sat her fork down. “Luke, not in the winter!”
 
Lucas groaned. “Well Dear, he can’t just…” She shot him a warning look.
 
“Never mind, Margaret.” Johnny held up his hand. “Your husband doesn’t seem to understand that I need the money the day after tomorrow or else.”
 
“Or else what?” Margaret asked, not able to keep from asking.
 
Johnny took a long drink of coffee before answering. “Or else…I’m given a good beating and don’t get paid until it’s all paid back.”
 
“Well, I have some egg money saved up. It’s not much but…”
 
“No, Margaret,” Lucas answered in a low, but firm voice.
 
“Luke…” Margaret saw the look in his eyes and his jaw working. She immediately dropped what she was about to say. “Well, we have to do something! We can’t just stand by and watch Johnny get beaten up!”
 
“We discussed that last night, Honey,” Lucas said in an even voice. He turned to Johnny. “Who is it that you owe the money to?”
 
“Jackson,” Johnny answered.
 
Lucas’ eyes grew wide. “Jackson?” His voice rose. “The boss of the rodeo?” Johnny nodded. “And he’s going to have you beaten?”
 
“He’s given me plenty of warnings,” Johnny answered. “He has a henchman who does the job.” Johnny looked down at his plate, but lifted his eyes to look up at Margaret. “He’s ordered not to break any bones, but does a pretty good job in teaching a lesson.”
 
“Johnny!” Margaret felt her eyes moisten as she leaned forward and took her brother’s hand. “Why did you bet that money?” She didn’t wait for an answer, but turned to Lucas. “Luke, we have to do something! He’s only seventeen!”
 
Lucas sat back in his chair and crossed his arms. He worked his jaw as he looked between brother and sister. Lucas McCain had his own suspicions, and if they were right, Johnny Gibbs would definitely be getting a lesson…and Lucas would be the one to deliver it. Lucas stood from the table and groaned at the pain he felt. He begged Margaret to start boiling water for his bath and asked Johnny to take the tub into the bedroom. He stood at the window and smoked while he waited, then Margaret announced his bath was ready.
 
Lucas started to ask Johnny to help him, but Margaret ordered her brother to do the chores for him. She declared that Lucas would be going to bed after his bath. Lucas groaned as he undressed and Margaret helped lift him into the tub. With the way his lower back and backside were hurting, it was a task to get him up and over, but Margaret finally managed. She worked quietly as she gathered up his dirty clothes and put them in the wash barrel at the back of the house for a good soaking. Then she brought in a fresh towel and some fresh long johns for Lucas to put on.
 
Margaret allowed Lucas to soak for quite awhile before she held the towel up for Lucas, who didn’t have nearly as much trouble getting out of the tub as he did getting in. Without saying a word, Margaret handed him the bottle of liniment, then turned toward the door. “Aren’t you going to rub it on my lower back?” Lucas asked hopefully.
 
Margaret turned and lifted an eyebrow. “You didn’t need my help in making such a foolish decision on getting on a bull, so I don’t reckon you need my help now.”
 
Lucas heard the sting in her words as she walked out.
 
He was still reading when Margaret came in some time later and sat down at the end of the bed. “Luke…” Margaret spoke as she started dressing for bed. “I have a few things to say to you before we talk about Johnny.”
 
Lucas sat down his book. “We’re going to talk about Johnny?”
 
“We certainly are.” Margaret slipped the gown over her head then brushed her hair. “Now then…I don’t know why you saw if fit to ride that bull today, and I hope you learned you lesson. And I don’t know why you lost five dollars, but…”
 
“Peter and I made a bet,” Lucas answered. Why did he just say that? He knew why! Peter was right, he was too honest with Margaret.
 
“I see.” Margaret took off her socks before crawling under the covers. “And do I need to remind you just how much sweat you went through to get that five dollars?”
 
“No ma’am, you don’t,” Lucas answered.
 
“I hope you never ride another bull, Luke. I hope you learned something today.”
 
“Yes ma’am.”
 
Margaret nodded as she turned to face him. “Very well. Now, I’m not going to discuss this any further because we have something more important to discuss.”
 
Lucas sat the book down on the table with a thud and put his arm around Margaret as she leaned against the headboard. “Johnny.”
 
“Yes.” Margaret turned to him again. “Luke, we cannot allow this…this…Jackson to have him beaten!”
 
“I’m going to go talk to Jackson tomorrow, but I’ve a feeling Johnny’s lying.”
 
“Luke!” Margaret gasped as she turned to him. “Lucas, how can you…”
 
“I hope I’m wrong, but if I’m not Johnny’s going to get something from me, and it ain’t money.” Lucas kissed her. “Now, don’t you worry your pretty little head anymore about this, you hear?” Margaret nodded as she slid down onto her pillow. She closed her eyes as Lucas draped an arm across her.
 
“But Johnny doesn’t lie!” Margaret declared. “I think he’s really in danger, Luke!” Margaret turned to face him. “Luke, you’ve got to…”
 
Lucas hushed her with a kiss.
 
***
 
Margaret was quite surprised to see Peter arrive the next morning as they were finishing breakfast. Johnny had once again left early to practice in the rodeo. “So Peter, what brings you here?” Margaret asked as she poured him a cup of coffee.
 
“Oh…” Lucas swallowed some coffee. “I asked him to come help me with the uh…cattle,” Lucas answered.
 
Margaret slowly set the coffee pot back on the stove and turned to look at the two men. “Oh?” She lifted the butter from the counter and brought it to the table. “And why do you need his help when he has winter wheat and a big farm to tend to?”
 
“Uh…” Lucas swallowed hard. “Why?” He met Peter’s eyes. Margaret took a bite of her eggs as she waited for her husband to explain. “Well…I was bragging about the bull yesterday and he said he wanted to help me with it today.”
 
“Help you with it?” Margaret lifted her eyebrows. “Now Luke, I was raised on a ranch if you remember, so you aren’t talking to an ordinary, naïve wife.” Margaret cleared her throat. “What are you going to do with the bull?”
 
“Do with it?”
 
“You and Peter.”
 
“Oh…Well, he’s going to help me get it out of the pasture back up here into the corral. He’s been awfully mean and I thought isolating him for a few days would do him some good.” Lucas coughed into his hand and cleared his throat. Margaret didn’t miss the beads of perspiration that broke out on his forehead. She was very aware that her husband was indeed telling her a falsehood, but she decided to let him have his fun at the moment. She’d find out what was going on. Lucas quickly changed the subject by asking Margaret what her plans were for the day.
 
“I’m going to make some butter and cheese after I get the house clean,” Margaret answered.
 
“Oh yes…that’s nice, Dear.” Lucas finished off his coffee and stood up. “Well…I’ll see you.” He bent over and kissed her.
 
“Luke?” Lucas turned from the door. “Uh…be careful with the bull.”
 
Lucas tugged on the collar of his shirt as if it were a bit tight. “Right.”
 
After they left the house, Peter put his hands on his hips and shook his head. “I never thought you had it in you, Luke.”
 
“Had what?” Lucas asked as he hurried to the barn to saddle his horse.
 
“Lying to your wife.”
 
“I didn’t lie to her!” Lucas argued. “I just…didn’t tell her EVERYTHING.”
 
“Yeah?” Peter chuckled. “Well, men may not see that as a lie, but trust me…wife’s do. And if Margaret McCain ever finds out you lied to her, there will be hell to pay!”
 
Lucas paused as he turned to look at his brother. Suddenly, he wondered if the lie was worth the pain he would be feeling later. He shrugged his shoulders then mounted his horse. “Let’s go.”
 
It took some doing to get that bull into the corral, but they did it. Lucas assured Peter that he had built a sturdy fence and the bull wouldn’t do any harm. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” Peter asked.
 
“Sure!” Lucas showed him the bull fighting book that Jackson had let him borrow the day before. “I was reading this some last night. All you have to do it wave this in front of him and he comes running. Then you whip it away and…That’s it.”
 
Peter took his hat off and scratched his head. “Well, it sounds good and all, little brother, but…somehow, I think it’s a bit more complicated than that.”
 
“Oh Peter!” Lucas rolled his eyes. “You used to like to live on the edge like me! Getting married has really sissied you!”
 
“Ha!” Peter gave him a short laugh. “You go around with Tiffany McCain a few times and see how tame you are!” Lucas laughed. “I wouldn’t laugh too hard, little brother. I’ve a feeling Margaret McCain has her own taming methods!”
 
“Alright, let’s get started.” Lucas hurried inside the barn and came back with a red blanket. He went to stand at the end of the corral. “Jehosiphat!” Lucas called. But Jehosiphat was busy eating some chunks of hay along the fence. “Hey, Jehosiphat!” Lucas whistled again.
 
Peter chuckled as he folded his arms. “I don’t reckon the bull’s learned his name yet.”
 
“Oh, very funny!” Lucas waved the blanket again. “Come on, bull! Come on!”
 
“You know…This is something you would have done when you were thirteen years old. I can’t imagine a grown man with responsibilities like you would do something this crazy!” Peter waved a hand toward him. “This is like playing horse and rider when we were kids. Here we are…two grown men…I have two children whom, by the way, I would take to the barn right quick for pulling a stunt like this…and an ex-lieutenant from the United States army…”
 
“Sh!” Lucas waved the blanket even harder. “Now, I could win a hundred dollars if we win that bull fighting contest! That’s a right fine amount of money!” Lucas went and picked up the book on bull fighting. He read a couple pages then nodded his head. “Alright…here we go, bull!” He waved the blanket in front of his face. “CHARGE!”
 
The bull finally lifted his head and looked at the waving blanket in front of him. “CHARGE, I said!” Lucas shouted again.
 
The bull weaved his head back and forth a few times. Peter straightened up as Jehosiphat started snorting and stomping his foot. “Hey, it’s actually working!” Peter shouted. “I mean, he’s really doing it!”
 
“I told you he would!” Lucas waved the blanket even harder. “Charge!”
 
That was it as far as the bull was concerned. He let out a loud shout, then started running forward. Lucas’ eyes grew wide when he realized that bull was running straight toward him. “Whoa! Whoa!” Lucas jumped out of the way and got behind the water trough as the bull continued charging.
 
Suddenly, a loud crash sounded. The bull ran right through the fence and started running across the range. “Luke, he’s going towards the Dodd Ranch!”
 
Lucas dropped the blanket and picked up his rifle. “Don’t just stand there!” Lucas shouted. “Help me!” Both brothers took off after the bull. Margaret, upon hearing the noise, came outside to investigate.
 
***
 
The door to the house opened and two men that looked like they had just gone swimming in a mud puddle stood in the doorway. Margaret placed her hands on her hips and looked them both up and down. The sight of them made her laugh in spite of the anger she had boiling up inside her. She put a hand to her mouth to try and stifle the giggles. “I don’t see anything too funny about this,” Lucas grumbled.
 
Margaret shook her head. She hurried from the room, and when she returned, she had clean clothes for Lucas and Peter, soap, and towels. “You go on down to the creek and get clean.” Margaret ordered as she sobered.
 
“Yes ma’am,” Lucas answered.
 
“And when you two come back, we’ll have a talk.”
 
Lucas paused and turned to look at Peter. “You think she knows?”
 
Peter nodded. “Most definitely!”
 
***
It was some time before Peter and Lucas made their way back into the yard. And when they were there, Peter groaned when he saw Tiffany and the children. Also present at their little ranch house was Hal and Ann Dodd. “Boy oh boy…fighting that bull sure sounds really good right now!”
 
Lucas nodded. “Gettysburg sounds pretty good right now too…”
 
“You think Hal’s mad?” Peter asked then.
 
Lucas turned and looked at Peter as he rolled his eyes. “What do you think? If a mad bull just ran through your range and upset your cattle and tore your fences, wouldn’t you be angry?”
 
Hal stood in the doorway with his arms crossed. “Come on in…BOYS.”
 
They didn’t like the sound of his voice. Lucas waved a hand toward Peter to go in first, but Peter motioned for Lucas to go in first. Finally, Tiffany came to the doorway. “You’ll both receive the same punishment, so it doesn’t matter who comes in first. Just get in here!”
 
Lucas and Peter slowly walked inside. They saw that all three women held the same expression and stood just outside the kitchen with folded arms. “Looks like they’re ready for battle,” Peter mumbled.
 
Lucas looked over at three year old Ruthie who was just finishing up her lunch. “Uh…on outside, Ruthie,” Tiffany ordered softly. “But stay in the yard.”
 
Ruthie stood and walked in front of her Pa. Peter looked down at her. “Mama’s mad!” Ruthie declared.
 
Peter groaned. “I know.”
 
“Mama gonna give ya whippin’?”
 
“I don’t know,” Peter answered. He patted her head. “Do as your Mama says. Go on outside.”
 
Ruthie drew her finger toward her, motioning for Peter to bend down so she can whisper. “Ifin’ she whips ya, don’t argue…it’ll make it worse.”
 
Peter straightened as he lifted an eyebrow at his young daughter and pointed toward the door. After the door closed, Hal said, “Sit down, boys.”
 
The ‘boys’ took the two chairs that were sitting in the middle of the room. They suspected they would get a good yelling from several of the adults before everything was over. Hal folded his arms as he started circling the chairs. “We’re awfully sorry about your fence, Hal,” Lucas said in a low voice. “We’ll repair all the damages.”
 
“Hm…” Hal continued circling the two brothers. “You’re going to pay alright.”
 
Lucas looked past Hal toward Margaret. “Now honey, we can explain…”
 
Margaret took a step forward. “Bull fighting, Luke?” She picked up the book she had found laying on the ground near the corral. She stepped forward and dropped it on the table. “What were you thinking?”
 
“Well now…” Lucas swallowed hard as Margaret stood over him. He didn’t think he had seen her so angry before. “Peter and I went to watch the rodeo yesterday and…and…Well…it looked so easy, and you know how Peter and I get when we’re together.”
 
“Yeah. Lucas actually made me do this!” Peter pointed at his brother. “He told me it would be easy, then he told me that…well…I mean…”
 
Tiffany slowly walked over to him as she held the red blanket. She dropped it at his feet. “Peter McCain…” Peter saw her eyes blazing. Her breathing increased as she tried to keep herself under control, but the redder her face got, the louder he knew she was going to yell. Finally, she exploded just like that bull had. “You are a twenty-four year old man…YOU…” Tiffany closed her eyes to calm herself, but it didn’t do any good. “You have two small children and a wife…and yet YOU decided to just come out here and do some STUPID, DANGEROUS, HAIR-BRAINED stunt like try to fight a bull?”
 
Peter swallowed hard as he leaned further back in his chair. The reason for that is that Tiffany kept leaning in further and further toward him. “Well, you…you see, Darling…I…I…” Peter swallowed again. “I didn’t actually do the bull fighting. Luke did! I was just a…a spectator.”
 
“You didn’t try and stop him either, did you?” Tiffany’s eyes blazed. “You are older and more mature! You should have STOPPED him!”
 
“Yeah!” Lucas said then, jumping to his own defense. “I’m the baby brother. I…”
 
“That’s enough out of you, Lucas McCain!” Margaret declared as she took a few more steps toward her husband. “You are in this as deep as Peter! YOU are a twenty-two year old man! You fought in the Civil War and became a lieutenant! Oh boy…” Margaret shook her head. “Wouldn’t Captain Benton be proud of you now!” Margaret leaned in to him and Lucas leaned way back in his chair. “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?”
 
“When you put it that way…” Lucas swallowed hard. “I reckon we did act a little like kids.”
 
“That’s what I tried to tell you!” Peter declared then. “You getting us in all this trouble. Why, you’re lucky Hal didn’t have us thrown into jail!”
 
“Oh, by the time we’re through with you,” Ann announced then as she came to stand between Margaret and Tiffany. “You may wish you WERE in jail!” Ann shook her head. “Wild Lucas…Wild, wild Lucas…” She clicked her tongue as the two women straightened up.
 
“Did you…” Lucas averted his eyes from Margaret’s to look at Hal. “…find the bull?”
 
“Did I find the bull?” Hal yelled. “My men found the bull! He was breaking through yet another section of my fence and he was still raving mad! Do you want to know what happened to that bull?”
 
Lucas turned and looked at Margaret. He was afraid to ask. “Well Luke dear, I’m happy to tell you that we have a winter’s supply of beef.”
 
Lucas stared at Margaret, then turned to look back at Hal. “You…YOU KILLED MY SEED BULL?”
 
“I told him to!” Margaret stated.
 
“Oh.” That sort of put a different light on the subject.
 
“I don’t think you could have handled him after an incident like this anyhow. You ruined him, Luke.” Hal folded his arms and circled the boys again as the women stepped back. “Of all the stupid, senseless, wasteful, idiotic things you boys have done in your lives….I must say that this just topped them all!” Hal shook his head. “What were you two thinking? What…got into your HEADS???” Hal put his hands to his forehead in frustration. “I never would have guessed you two RESPONSIBLE men could have EVER come up with something so…so…utterly STUPID!” Hal was getting madder as he spoke. “Luke, you know how hard it is to come by a good seed bull, and you should have known how dangerous that was…You could have been stomped to death – killed! You ruined that seed bull and it was a costly bull to come by!”
 
Hal folded his arms as he stood in front of the men and glared at them. Peter and Lucas both lowered their heads. “The damage that bull did to your corral is NOTHING, compared to the damage he did to MY fence! My men are currently working on gathering the cattle and calming them down after you spooked them. They will have to make repairs to the fence immediately.”
 
“We’ll go help,” Lucas mumbled.
 
“That’s very kind of you, but I’ve a feeling your wives are going to be keeping you quite busy for awhile. When they permit you to, you both will come work for me until every penny you owe is paid back. I’m including fees for my men having to gather up my cattle. You will do whatever I tell you to until I think you have paid me back in full.” Lucas dared a peak at his wife. She lifted her head to show him that he hadn’t received his full punishment yet.
 
“Yes sir,” Lucas answered humbly. He nudged Peter.
 
“Oh, yes sir.”
 
“As for the seed bull…” Hal stood in front of Lucas. “If you work even longer for me, I have a couple calves that will be ready by spring. They will both make good seed bulls.” Lucas nodded. “And if I ever hear about you putting one of your cattle through some sort of hell like this again…” Hal leaned in until his nose was almost touching Lucas’. “…I will personally hang you from your oak tree by your toes!” Lucas nodded. Hal stood up and turned to Ann. “Well, we should get going. I’ll have to go help those men gather the cattle.” At the door, Hal turned back. “You two still coming for supper tonight?” he asked Margaret.
 
Lucas was surprised to hear the anger in Hal’s voice suddenly disappear. Margaret nodded her head. “We’ll be there. “
 
Lucas and Peter stayed seated in their chairs until the doors closed. Then they looked at each other and slowly stood up. “SIT DOWN!” Tiffany ordered as the wives came toward them.
 
Lucas and Peter slowly sat back down. Margaret and Tiffany towered over their husbands. “Uh…how did you come about in coming out here, my love?” Peter asked in the sweetest voice he could muster.
 
“Well…since you had to come “help” Luke, I decided that this would be a good time to visit Margaret. I was going to surprise you and I even brought over lunch.” Tiffany folded her arms. “Imagine my surprise at the news I received when I arrived.”
 
“Alright…” Lucas sighed. “If you’re going to whip us, go ahead and get it over with!”
 
“Oh no, my love…” Margaret lowered herself down onto his lap. Tiffany did the same. They locked their hands behind their necks and smiled sweetly at their husbands. “We have no intensions on ‘whipping’ you.”
 
“You don’t?” Peter asked as he swallowed.
 
Tiffany ran a hand down his cheek and smiled sweetly into his eyes. “Oh, of COURSE not, my Darling!”
 
Margaret followed Tiffany’s lead. “You see, my DEAR husband…You’re going to just do some work for us.”
 
“What…what sort of work?” Lucas asked then.
 
“Well…for starters, my floor needs a good scrubbing.” Margaret kissed his cheek.
 
“Yes. And so does mine,” Tiffany nodded. “Then I think doing dishes for a couple weeks will be in order.”
 
“Oh…” Lucas shrugged. “Well, I can’t say that floors and dishes are my favorite thing, but I reckon we can survive.”
 
“Oh now, don’t you worry, My love…” Tiffany kissed Peter’s cheek. “You see, we saved the best for last.”
 
“Oh?” Peter lifted his eyebrows as Tiffany continued to smile into his eyes.
 
Tiffany nodded. “You see, Julie has been quite tired with all her work, the kids, and being pregnant. She’s been looking for some time to relax.”
 
“Yes.” Margaret nodded. “And Em’s not been feeling too well lately, what with her being in the early stages of pregnancy. You know how it is…” Margaret ran her fingers through her husband’s hair.
 
“No, not really…” Lucas answered honestly.
 
“Oh…well, you will. You see, you two men will be experiencing labor pains of your own for the next four Saturdays.
 
“Oh?” Lucas raised an eyebrow. “I know they’re making advances in Science but…”
 
“You see,” Tiffany interrupted as she ran her fingers along Peter’s face. “For the next FOUR Saturdays, you and Luke will be babysitting.”
 
Lucas’ eyes grew wide. “WHAT???”
 
“That’s right,” Margaret nodded her head. “If you are going to behave like children, then you’re going to learn how children really behave.”
 
“But I don’t even have any children!” Lucas argued.
 
“Oh?” Margaret kissed him softly. “Well, for the next four Saturdays, you will!”
 
Peter and Lucas turned their heads and looked at each other. “Nine children will keep you company.”
 
“NINE???”
 
Tiffany nodded. “Abe and Julie’s five, your own daughter and son, Em and Jeremiah’s daughter, and I’m SURE Scott and Amanda would LOVE for you to watch their son as well.”
 
“And of course, we’ll have Laura, right?” Peter asked hopefully as his eyes pleaded silently.
 
“Oh no…I think Laura’s old enough to accompany us.”
 
“Accompany you?” Lucas pushed Margaret away from him a bit and stared into her eyes. “Just where will you be?”
 
Margaret and Tiffany stood from their husbands’ laps. “Well my dear, we’ll be at the McCain farm enjoying our Saturdays.”
 
“What about your chores?” Peter asked then.
 
“Oh, I’m sure you men will be able to handle them for just a bit!”
 
“What about the other men?” Lucas asked this.
 
“Well my darling, they have their own work to do!”
 
Lucas slowly stood up. “I…hate to ask this, but I will anyhow. Where will these babysitting events take place?”
 
Margaret and Tiffany both looked around the small house. Lucas groaned. “And of course you’ll have the house in the same shape I left it that morning.”
 
Peter and Lucas looked at each other. “I’d rather have jail.”
 
“Me too!” Lucas groaned.
 
“Keep it up,” Margaret folded her arms. “We’ll be happy to bed you down in the barn with the other animals.”
 
“Come along, dear.” Tiffany stood and went to pick their sleeping son up. “You have a floor to clean.” Tiffany turned to look at Margaret. “Say, you wouldn’t want to accompany me to town this afternoon? I have some material to pick out and I would LOVE for you to help me.”
 
“Oh, I’d love it!” Margaret answered as she flashed her husband a smile. “I’ll just go change.”
 
“Perhaps you can buy a new hat.”
 
“She can’t afford it,” Lucas grumbled.
 
“Yes.” Margaret folded her arms. “I’m afraid my new hat is now a new corral,” Margaret flashed Lucas a look that reminded him of just who’s fault that was.
 
Lucas followed Margaret into the bedroom. “Honey, I don’t like you going into town unescorted.”
 
“Oh.” Margaret slipped from her housedress and put on a nicer dress. “Button me up.” Lucas did so as she spoke. “Well, I don’t like you riding and fighting with bulls either, Lucas McCain!”
 
Lucas slowly buttoned up her dress. “Well, you know I have to go talk to Jackson about Johnny, honey. That’s serious. And what about the rodeo tomorrow afternoon?”
 
Margaret smiled as she turned and put her arms around Lucas’ neck. “Well…as soon as the floor’s cleaned, you have my permission to go see Jackson. Then you come on into town and get the supplies you’ll need to fix the corral fence. I’ll wait for you.”
 
“Wait for me?”
 
Margaret nodded. “I’ll stop by and visit with Emily. I’m sure your sister would love to hear all about your adventures!” Margaret kissed him before turning to walk away. “Oh…” She turned from the door and walked back over to him. A mischievous gleam was in her eye. “If you’re a REALLY good boy, I’ll buy you a piece of candy.” She pinched his cheek then giggled as she hurried from the room.
 
Lucas closed his eyes when he heard the front door close. “If you’re a really good boy, I’ll buy you a piece of candy,” he mocked. “Ha ha ha…very funny!” Lucas rolled his eyes, then went to do his chore.
 
***
 
Lucas groaned as he straightened up from mopping the floor. His back ached even more than it had yesterday. How a woman could stoop over a floor all day and mop, he didn’t know! Lucas quickly put the room back in order then went to saddle his horse. The mere thought of riding a horse for two hours didn’t appeal to him, but he had to go talk to Jackson and find out just how much of what Johnny said was true.
 
Lucas was happy when he found Jackson. He shook his hand then went to sit with him and talk. Lucas was relieved that he hadn’t figured Jackson wrong, but on the other hand he was quiet upset at Johnny’s lies he had told the night before. Lucas knew the only reason Johnny had said the things he said was because he was playing on his sister’s affections. Well, he’d set Johnny straight on a few things. Jackson nodded his head and told Lucas to take all the time he needed in ‘talking’ to Johnny.
 
Lucas found his young brother-in-law in the corral brushing down his horse. “Johnny…”
 
Johnny slowly turned around to see Lucas. “Well Luke, came to watch me again?” he asked cheerfully. Lucas merely spread out his legs, folded his arms, and glared at Johnny. Johnny lost part of his smile and cleared his throat. “Is something wrong?”
 
“Damn right,” Lucas grumbled.
 
Johnny scooted his hat back on his head and took a couple steps backward. “Something wrong with Margaret?”
 
“I guess you could say that,” Lucas answered. He paused for just a moment before announcing, “I talked to Jackson.”
 
Any trace of smile Johnny had remaining on his face quickly disappeared. He held up a hand as Lucas started toward him. “Now Luke, let’s talk about this…man to man.”
 
“Oh, I intend to!” Lucas declared as he reared back and gave Johnny a hard punch in the jaw. The punch sent Johnny off his feet. He fell to the ground and groaned as he grabbed at his jaw. “The only reason you said those things last night was to upset Margaret so she’d go to your brother and beg him for the money.”
 
Johnny quickly stood and grabbed his hat. “Think what you want.”
 
“It’s true!” Lucas shouted. He grabbed Johnny roughly by the arm. “Ain’t it?”
 
“No…no! I was just scared!” Johnny answered.
 
“That’s a lie!” Lucas shoved him up against the tree. “Your sister was very upset last night! She was CRYING, and I don’t like anybody making her cry!”
 
Johnny started to remind Lucas that he had made Margaret cry himself plenty of times, but he didn’t figure Lucas would be interested in hearing about that. So he held up his hands in defeat. “Alright…alright…I lied. So what?”
 
“Your sister thinks you are about to be beaten within an inch of your life!” Lucas grabbed his arm again. “Now, you’re coming into town with me, and you’re telling Margaret the truth.”
 
“Oh no!” Johnny held up his hands. “You’re her husband, you tell her! She’s just my sister! I don’t…”
 
Lucas reared back and gave him another hard punch. This one sent him flying across the ground. Lucas hurried over and grabbed him by the shirt. Pulling him back to standing position, Lucas shouted, “You’re going to come with me or I’ll beat you within an inch of your life and make an honest man out of you!”
 
“But Jackson…”
 
“Jackson told me you could come. You’ll be putting in plenty of time for him working off that two hundred dollar bet.” Lucas grabbed his shirt with both hands and shook him. “He was trying to teach you a lesson about betting, boy. I suggest you learn from it!” Lucas shoved him away. Johnny landed flat on his backside again. “Now go get your horse, boy!”
 
***
 
Margaret and Emily were having a nice talk when a knock sounded on her door. Emily went to answer it and smiled when she saw Lucas standing there. Behind him, Johnny stood. She let out a gasp when she saw the welts forming on Johnny’s face. “What happened?”
 
Margaret, upon hearing Emily’s voice of alarm, hurried forward. She saw her brother’s condition. “You get in a fight?”
 
Johnny lowered his head, not wanting to answer.
 
“Speak, boy!” Lucas demanded suddenly.
 
Johnny cleared his throat. “I lied to you last night.”
 
Margaret let out a quiet gasp. “What? Why?”
 
“Well, I…I thought that if I told you I would be beaten that you’d go to Scott and beg him to give me the money.”
 
“So…” Margaret turned and walked toward the window. “This…Jackson…wasn’t going to have you beaten?”
 
Johnny stayed quiet. Lucas gave his arm a gentle shake. “No.” Johnny swallowed when he heard Lucas clear his throat. “The truth is…I wasn’t going to be beaten at all. I was just going to have to do extra work for Jackson, and work for free until I paid him the money. The truth is…he let me bet to teach me a lesson. He said I was getting pretty dangerous with my betting and he was doing me a favor.”
 
“I see.”
 
“In light of the truth, I don’t think you should stay with us tonight,” Lucas mumbled. “You go get your things then ride on back to camp.”
 
“Luke…” Margaret turned from the window. Lucas raised his eyebrows. Margaret merely nodded. “We’ll see you tomorrow at the rodeo.”
 
Lucas watched Johnny ride from the yard. Margaret mumbled that they should get home so they could get ready for dinner at the Dodd’s. Margaret was quiet as they rode home. Lucas knew she was hurting. After they were back inside, Lucas spoke. “Margaret…” Lucas walked up and laid his hands on her shoulders. “You okay?”
 
“Well, I…don’t like being lied to. That’s the second time today.”
 
“Second?” Margaret nodded her head. “Now honey, that this morning wasn’t a lie. I just didn’t…”
 
“Oh Luke now don’t you go telling me that! It was a lie and you know it!” Margaret hurried into the bedroom.
 
Lucas propped himself up in the doorway as she sat down and began brushing her hair. “I’m sorry.” Lucas watched her brush for a few moments. “I love you.”
 
Margaret turned around and smiled at him. “That’s nice.” She turned and walked over to him. Slowly, she slid her arms around his neck and kissed him. “But…you still have to babysit tomorrow.”
 
“For how long?”
 
Margaret smiled. “Tiffany said she’d try to have everyone here by nine. We’ll be gone for just four hours, then we’ll come back so we can all get ready for the rodeo. Everyone’s planning on meeting here and we’ll ride over together.”
 
“Four hours?” Lucas looked toward the ceiling as he thought on this. “Wait a minute…If you’re gone for four hours, then that means we have to fix them lunch!”
 
“That’s right,” Margaret answered as she walked into the main room.
 
“But I don’t know what kids eat!”
 
“Luke…You can fix them sandwiches, and I’ll leave some fried potatoes you can warm up for them. Baby Willie and Baby Andy will need a bottle, and I’m sure their mothers will prepare that for you.”
 
“Well…I don’t like this whole idea!” Lucas grumbled as Margaret plopped his hat on his head. Lucas lifted his rifle from its holder as he followed her outside. “I don’t understand…”
 
“You aren’t supposed to like a punishment!” Margaret declared as she took his hand and started across the street.
 
“It’s not right for a wife to punish her husband anyhow!” Lucas grumbled. But he said nothing more since they had entered the Dodd yard.
 
***
 
One good thing about that Saturday morning was that it was clear and bright. If it had been rainy, Lucas may have gotten on his hands and knees begging for pardon, but at least with the sun shining the children would stay outside. Lucas wanted to get as many of his chores done before the children arrived as he could, so as soon as breakfast was over he stood, kissed Margaret on top of her head, and hurried out onto the range.
 
He had only been working a couple hours when Peter came riding out to get him. “They’re here,” Peter announced with dread in his voice.
 
Lucas groaned. “Well, let’s get this over with!” He turned his horse around and tugged on a rope he had tied around a calf’s neck. The moment they rode into the yard, Lucas was surrounded by children laughing.
 
“Uncle Luke, look!” Charlie held up a turtle he had caught.
 
“Look Uncle Luke!” David and Adam both held green snakes.
 
Lucas smiled. “That’s great, boys. Just don’t scare the girls with them.”
 
Suddenly, Ruthie put her hands on her hips and hurried forward. “I ain’t scared a snake!” She turned and stuck her tongue out at the boys. “Papa tol’ me I’s jest like th’ boys.”
 
Peter swooped her up in his arms. “That’s right, my little Ruthie! But your Mama doesn’t want you playing with snakes, so you just steer clear of them!”
 
“Oh Papa…”
 
Peter sat her down and bent down in front of her. “Now Ruthie…we’re going to have nine children here today. I’d really like it if you could help me out some.”
 
“Mama says YOU hafta change brother’s diapers!”
 
Peter stood up and rolled his eyes. “You get Baby Andy though.” He said as he pointed to Lucas.
 
The women were all in the yard waiting for the two men. The children all ran around chasing each other. Lucas and Peter approached the women as if they were going to war. The women stopped their talking and turned to look at Lucas and Peter. Julie, the spokesperson for the bunch since she had the most children, folded her arms and spoke. “Laura has offered to stay here to supervise you two men.”
 
Lucas and Peter looked at each other with raised eyebrows. “Supervise? We’re the adults!”
 
“Hm…” Julie lifted an eyebrow as she looked both men up and down. “That remains to be proven. Men who think playing with a bull and causing all sorts of mischief accounts for a hard day’s work aren’t too trustworthy….So, Laura will stay here, but I’ve given her strict instructions not to do any work!”
 
Laura smiled. “Papa Abe and Mama Julie are paying me two bits for the job!”
 
Lucas and Peter again looked at each other. “Let me get this straight…You are leaving us with ten children and…”
 
“Nine.” Julie smiled as she put an arm around Laura. “Laura’s a young lady now.”
 
“Oh…excuse me.” Lucas tipped his hat to his baby sister. “Nine children, and you are paying Laura twenty-five cents to babysit US?” The women just looked at each other.  “So will she change the diapers?”
 
“Nope.”
 
“Tell us what’s wrong when the baby’s crying?”
 
“Nope.”
 
“What’s she doing here then?”
 
Julie smiled. “To make sure no harm comes to these children. We’ll be back by one o’clock.”
 
The men were each handed a baby. The women all smiled, turned, and loaded into the wagon. Lucas and Peter stood and watched the wagon ride from the yard. Baby Andy was the first to start crying. His cries were soon followed by Baby Willie’s. Then Lucas cried out when a ball hit him in the head. “I’ve a feeling this is going to be the LONGEST four hours of my life!”
 
The children waved as their mothers rode out of the yard. Then Charlie turned. “Uncle Luke, will ya play baseball with us?”
 
“Baseball?” Lucas raised an eyebrow and looked down at the baby crying in his arms. He looked at Peter. “What do I do with this thing?”
 
“That THING, Lucas McCain, is a baby!” Laura declared as she stuck her chin up in the air and folded her arms in accusation.
 
“Oh.” Lucas held Baby Willie out toward Laura. “Here, you take him.”
 
“UH UH!” Laura shook her head. “Papa Abe gave me strict orders to…”
 
“I’m your brother as much as Abe is!”
 
“Abe’s my Papa now!” Laura shook her head. “I ain’t goin’ against him! I want to go to the Halloween party later this month.”
 
Lucas turned and looked at Peter. “What do I do with him?”
 
“I don’t know...” Peter shrugged. “Maybe he’s hungry.”
 
“It’s only nine o’clock in the morning!” Lucas declared.
 
“Maybe he’s wet.”
 
Lucas’ eyes grew big. “Then you take him!”
 
“Oh no!” Peter shook his head as he went toward the house to lay his own son down. “I have my hands full with this one.”
 
“That one…” Lucas pointed toward his four month old nephew. “…is asleep! This one ain’t!”
 
“Uncle Luke!” Charlie called again.
 
“What?”
 
“Will you PLEASE play baseball with us?” Charlie looked toward Peter. “Uncle Peter said you was the best baseball player on account thet you played all the time in the war.”
 
“I can’t play baseball with a baby!” Lucas grumbled. He walked inside the house and laid the baby on the table. After unpinning the baby’s diaper, he was able to determine that the baby was indeed wet. “What do I do?”
 
Peter laughed. “Just a wild shot in the dark, mind you, but when a baby is wet, one usually puts dry britches on him.”
 
“How?” Lucas turned and looked at Laura who only smiled. “Well, aren’t you going to show me how to make something out of this?” Lucas held up a diaper.
 
“Nope.” Laura smiled as she pointed at Peter. “He knows how.”
 
“Thanks a lot, squealer!” Peter grabbed the diaper from Lucas’ hand. He paused in his duty as Lucas gave him a strange look. “My wife…insisted I learn just in case.”
 
After Peter showed Lucas how to put a dry diaper on, he showed Lucas how to warm a bottle, sit in a rocking chair, and get the baby to sleep. Then the two men went out to join the children and play baseball.
 
Lucas and Peter decided it would be best if they were the team captains. They chose teams. Charlie, Adam, Laura, and Ruthie were on Lucas’ team. Peter got Sammy, David, Rachel, and Abby. The men agreed to play it really easy since they had children ages two to five on their teams. Ruthie pointed out to her father that her mother didn’t much care for her playing baseball, but Peter assured her it would be okay.
 
In time, the girls tired of the game and went off to play in the yard. The boys played on with the two McCain brothers. When they finally stopped playing, Peter looked around for Ruthie and discovered she was missing. He and Lucas started looking high and low while Laura just stood in the yard shaking her head. “Tiffany ain’t gonna like it much when I tell her that you lost your own daughter!”
 
Peter sat up from bending over the porch. “Not if my baby sister keeps her mouth shut!”
 
“Oh no…I can’t do that!” Laura shook her head. “I’m getting a whole twenty-five cents to do my job RIGHT!”
 
Lucas rolled his eyes. He was just about to suggest they get more help when he saw the door to the outhouse open. Ruthie stepped out with her bloomers around her ankles. “Peter…” Peter looked up and ran toward his daughter. Lucas started laughing so hard as he watched Peter help Ruthie get proper then carry her back over to the group.
 
“Shut up, little brother! Just shut up!”
 
They all went inside to eat lunch. Lucas worked at fixing the sandwiches and warming up the potatoes while Peter worked at getting all the children seated at the table. Lucas took a deep sigh of relief when he had all the children settled down with food. “Well now…it got off to a rough start, but it’s turning out to be a…”
 
“Hey, you got more than me!” Adam suddenly cried as he tore off a piece of David’s sandwich.
 
“Did not!” David argued. “We all got the same!”
 
“Now boys…” Lucas started.
 
But suddenly, David picked up a handful of potatoes and threw them toward Adam. Adam ducked, and Charlie got it right in the face. Charlie picked up a handful of potatoes and threw them. His handful hit Adam in the face. “Hey now, cut that out!” But as Lucas tried to intervene, a whole sandwich flew across the table and hit little Ruthie.
 
Ruthie let out a loud cry, then she picked up a whole piece of her sandwich and flung it across the table, hitting one of the boys in the face. Peter and Lucas both started to intervene, but this time all four boys picked up handfuls of food and tossed it across the table, hitting Lucas and Peter smack in the face. The children all started yelling and throwing food as Lucas and Peter tried to regain control of the situation. But it was hopeless.
 
The noise woke both babies up. Their crying mixed with the screaming of the other children. Lucas turned and looked at Laura who merely stood out of the way with folded arms, shaking her head as grin crossed her face. “Would you do something, Laura?” Lucas screamed. “Help us!”
 
“Uh uh!” Laura answered with a shake of her head. It was obvious she was very much enjoying this!
 
“Alright, that’s IT!” Peter picked Ruthie up. “Ruth Ellen McCain, you’re going to get a whipping!”
 
Ruthie began screaming as loud as she could and kicked her legs as hard as she could. “I didn’t start it! It ain’t fair!” Ruthie screamed out.
 
Lucas put his hands over his ears. “Stop!” he yelled as loud as he could as yet another big glob of jam hit him in the face.
 
Suddenly, the door opened. Something startled the children and they all froze. All four boys lost their smiles and didn’t move a muscle as they looked up at whoever had just walked in. Lucas slowly turned to see his brother, Abraham, standing in the doorway. Abe had his legs spread apart and his arms folded. The look on his red face showed the children that every one of them was in trouble. “Just what is going on here?”
 
“I’m sorry, Abe…” Lucas groaned as he looked around at the mess. “We tried to stop it but…”
 
Abe gave Lucas a slight nod. “Every one of you children know better!” Abe took a few steps toward the table. The children slowly sat down, refusing to look at him. “Who started this?” Nobody answered. Abe cleared his throat. “Now…I’ve a feeling it was one of my boys that started it, and the guilty party BETTER answer me NOW!”
 
David gulped and lifted a finger toward his brother, Adam. “He said…”
 
Abe shook his head, silencing his son. “Who threw the first food?”
 
“I did, sir,” David answered.
 
“Alright.” Abe walked to the side of the table where his boys stood. “Apparently my rules were forgotten. I’ve a good mind to not let you go to the rodeo this afternoon, but that would mean your Mama and I couldn’t go either and we want to go so…” Abe snapped his finger. “Front and center NOW!”
 
The boys slowly stood up. “Who?”
 
“ALL of YOU!” Charlie, being the oldest came to stand in front of his father, followed by the triplets. Rachel stayed in her chair, but her father pointed to her and snapped his fingers. Rachel joined her brothers. Abe then looked at Abby. “You too, Abigail.” Peter put his daughter on the floor and ordered her in the line as well. Ruthie knew better than to argue, it would only make matters worse. Once they were all in line, Abe spoke. “We’re going to take a little trip outside where you will each receive the appropriate punishment. EVERY one of you. Of course the smallest one’s won’t be punished a severely as the older ones who should have been teaching them how to behave.”
 
Abe turned and looked at Laura who was still standing in the kitchen. “And what were you doing this whole time, young lady?”
 
“Watching. You and Mama said…” Laura started.
 
“Your Mama and I told you not to intervene unless things got out of control. YOU will be punished as well.”
 
“Oh, but Papa…” Laura started.
 
“You go with your brothers to get water and soap. YOU will start cleaning while the children are being punished. When I’m done with them, they will all come back in and help you.”
 
“Rachel too?”
 
Abe nodded his head. “Rachel too.” Abe then turned and looked at Peter and Lucas. He shook his head as he looked them up and down. “Well, you better go tend to your babies.”
 
Laura sulked as she grabbed a bucket and headed toward the creek. It was a long walk, and it would take a few trips before she had enough water to clean up the mess. After Lucas calmed Willie down and got him on the floor on a blanket with a toy, he helped Laura fill the kettle with water to heat. Then they went to work on the cleaning. It was some time later when Abe brought all the children back inside. They all had tear streaks on their faces and were very somber. Abe gave each child their assignment and they all quietly did their work.
 
Everything was back in order by the time the women arrived. The children all were sent outside to sit down quietly under a tree. “Abe…” Lucas cleared his throat. “Next Saturday, you have to join us and tell us all your secrets!”
 
Abe chuckled. “Not a chance, little brothers. It takes years of practice, and only practice will teach you. But if they start misbehaving like that again, just mention my name. I think that’ll straighten them up.”
 
The women were surprised to find the children so well behaved when they got back. Lucas and Peter had slipped away to get cleaned up, Peter having brought a change of clothes for the rodeo. The McCain brothers all wore their fancy rodeo shirts and the women all wore nicer dresses. Soon, the whole McCain/Gibbs clan were on their way to the rodeo.
 
Not a word was said about the incident of babysitting.
 
The family all enjoyed the rodeo. Johnny did wonderfully, making his family proud, though his mother and sister did put a hand to their chests. “That boy will be the death of me yet!” Jennifer exclaimed at one point.
 
The children were let loose in a corral to try and catch the piglets. Two of the McCain boys won a prize, making their father proud. Soon, the family had to say goodbye to Johnny who would be traveling to the next town for a rodeo. Margaret shed tears on the way home, worried that her brother wouldn’t live through the next rodeo event. Lucas merely took her hand and gave it a squeeze.
 
***
 
Lucas lay in bed reading the newspaper after getting ready for bed. He was exhausted from his hard day of babysitting. Margaret turned from her table when she heard Lucas let out a grunt. “What’s wrong?”
 
“These two brothers…they robbed another bank.”
 
“Oh. I didn’t know Tom Birch had a brother,” Margaret mumbled a bit sarcastically.
 
“Margaret…”
 
Margaret knew that was a sore spot with Lucas. She had heard about the Birch gang’s being accused before Lucas had returned to Enid. Lucas refused to believe his good friend who had saved his life while they were in Texas together, was capable of robbing a bank. “I’m sorry, Luke.”
 
“No, it says here that Frank and Jesse James robbed another bank in Missouri a couple weeks ago.”
 
“Jessie James…” Margaret mumbled. “Luke, you remember my friend Clair Wheatley?” Lucas nodded. “Well…” Margaret came to get under the covers while Lucas folded the paper. “She wrote me a few weeks ago and told me that a stagecoach was robbed just outside Topeka where they live now. They think that was part of the Claremont gang. One of the gang was shot.”
 
“I don’t know.” Lucas blew out the lantern and laid down on his pillow as he took Margaret in his arms. “It would be pretty hard for them to rob a stage in Kansas when they’ve been robbing banks in Missouri.”
 
“You think they’ll come here?”
 
“I suppose…If they want to flee from the law.” Lucas pulled her closer and kissed her softly. “Don’t worry, my love, I’ll protect you.”
 
Margret giggled as she returned his kiss. They laid on their sides facing each other now. Margaret grew quiet. “So…how did things go today?”
 
Lucas paused for a moment before answering. “Fine.”
 
“Fine?”
 
“Fine!”
 
“Hm…” Margaret kissed him again. “You’re a terrible liar, Lucas McCain!”
 
“What are you talking about?”
 
“Well, I found some interesting stuff on a wall, and I suspect that the children were responsible for it. The floor was also sticky as if jam had been spilled all over it.”
 
Lucas groaned. “We did our best to clean it up,” he assured her. “Darn kids…they got in a food fight and Peter and I lost all control! Margaret…” Lucas laid a hand on her cheek. His voice turned low. “You sure we want TEN kids?”
 
“Of course!” Margaret declared. “The more the merrier!”
 
“Hm…” Lucas sighed. “Abe walked in the door and every one of those children sobered up. What does he have that I don’t?”
 
“Experience,” Margaret answered with a chuckle. “He was as green as you were when he just got married.” Margaret giggled as she gave him another kiss. “Food fight, huh…I bet Abe straightened them out.”
 
“I think there were seven children who got whippings,” Lucas chuckled. “Even little Rachel…poor thing!”
 
“Well, we won’t have all ten children at once. You’ll learn…one child at a time…I hope.”
 
Lucas chuckled. “Too bad I had to do all that for free. I deserve some sort of payment.”
 
“Oh?” Margaret kissed him again. This time her lips lingered on his and her hands went around him and softly stroked his back. “Well…perhaps I can come up with some sort of…payment.” She pressed her lips to his again.
 
“Oh?” Lucas pressed her body against his as their kiss deepened. “Should we maybe kill two birds with one stone tonight?”
 
“What’s do you mean?”
 
“Well…” Lucas trailed kisses across her cheek and down her throat. “Maybe you can pay me and we can…try working on baby number one.”
 
No more words were said as Margaret silently agreed with a kiss.

The Margaret Years — A Stranger in the Storm

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!

The Writer's Corner
Table of Contents



Site Map
around The McCain Ranch