The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Margaret Years
 
Chapter 26 - The Family Feud
Written by Michelle Palmer
 
The golden sun cast rays into the windows of the Enid Community Church as families entered the small building that Sunday morning. Men hastily opened windows, knowing that regardless of it being only March, this many people would cause the heat to quickly build up in an enclosed building. A gentle breeze flowed through the windows. A bird sang from a nearby tree, announcing that spring would soon arrive.
 
Fathers gave their children stern looks, reminding them silently that they were to sit quietly and straight, not taking their eyes from the preacher who would soon come in to speak. Mothers held their small ones on their laps. The nice, pleasant weather brought more worshipers out than ever. Margaret frowned that their reason for coming wasn’t to worship God, but rather to enjoy the pleasant air while soothing their guilty souls after a round with the devil the night before.
 
The door at the front opened and the reverend stepped in. His black suit was pressed, and his graying hair slicked back. He stepped up to the pulpit as voices suddenly died in the crowd. He held his arms up and requested everyone to stand. “This is the day the Lord has made! Let us rejoice, and be glad in it!” His voice boomed over the crowd. Quickly, he led the congregation through hymns. It was only the second verse when the children started fidgeting. The boys pulled at their collars, messing up the ties around their necks. The girls pulled on their dresses. Parents gave their children firm looks, but little did they know just how bad things were about to get.
 
Earlier that morning, the parents had gone through great pains to make sure their children were prepared for church. Julie had asked her husband to go ‘prepare the boys’ for church. Abe, knowing this was a weekly ritual, had gone out and called to his sons. After all four of the small McCain boys were lined up in front of their father, he folded his arms and asked them to repeat the rules for church. Then he held out his hand and told Charlie, “Hand it over.”
 
Charlie, being more like his Uncle Luke was when he was little, put his arms out to the side and innocently asked, “What, sir?”
 
“You know what,” Abe had declared. “Come on now. Hand it over.”
 
“Oh Papa…” Charlie started to roll his eyes, but when he saw his father’s eyes suddenly narrow, Charlie sighed. “Yes, Papa.”
 
Charlie reached in his pocket and removed the frog he had caught earlier. Abe took the frog and sat him on the ground. Turning to his son, he said, “That could have cost you a trip to the barn, you know that.” Abe turned to his other sons. The triplets were often in cahoots with their older brother. Today was no exception. “Well?”
 
Adam and David looked at each other and shrugged. Adam proceeded to take the small baby garter snake from his pocket while David took the worms from his own. Abe rolled his eyes. “Is there anything else you should be freeing before we go to church?”
 
“No sir,” they answered.
 
“Good.” Abe walked back into the house and assured his wife it had been taken care of, but apparently it had been many years since Abe was a boy himself. He had forgotten that you never turn your back on four mischievous McCain’s.
 
Surprisingly, the scene at Peter’s house wasn’t much different.  Tiffany came from the bedroom all dressed and checked on her roast she had put in the oven that morning. “Peter, you should go have a talk with Ruthie now,” Tiffany announced sternly.
 
“Now Honey, I…” But Tiffany pressed her lips together and glared at her husband. He sighed. “Yes ma’am.”
 
Peter walked to the bedroom and opened the door. Ruthie sat quietly on her bed talking to her doll. “It’s about time to go, baby doll,” Peter said.
 
“K, Papa.”
 
Peter stepped into the room and bent down beside her small bed. “Your Mother…” Peter sighed. “Ruthie, you know how a young lady behaves in church.”
 
“Yes sir,” she answered.
 
“You don’t…have any surprises today, do you?”
 
Ruthie flashed her beautiful, innocent-looking eyes at her father. “Like what?”
 
“I think you know…Like something that will cause a whippin’ like last Sunday?”
 
Ruthie turned back to her doll. “Can Miss Polly go with us, Papa?”
 
Peter chuckled. “I think she should probably stay here, Little Ruthie.” Peter waited for her to answer. “Well?”
 
Ruthie slid off the bed and hurried to the door. “Don’t worry, Papa. I don’t wanta spankin’!”
 
That was the best he was going to get!
 
***
 
“Our text today comes from Psalms. The greatest King of Israel wrote this Psalm…”
 
Charlie started. He wiggled against the back of the pew and tugged at his tie. Abe barely moved his head and only lowered his eyes to his son. Charlie stilled the moment he caught his father’s warning glare.
 
Ruthie coughed into her hand and was quickly nudged by her mother.  Then the triplets each took a turn at coughing. This time, Abe DID turn his head around to look at his sons. The triplets knew he was warning them to stay quiet and look straight ahead at the preacher.
 
It was Sammy McCain who glanced at his Pa before slowly removing the living thing from his pocket. He saw that his father was engrossed in the sermon and slowly leaned forward. His cousin, Abby, sat quietly beside her father (her mother hadn’t returned to church since the death of their son). She was the most well-behaved of the cousins, and they resented her for it. Suddenly, Abby let out a loud scream. The boys burst into laughter. At that moment, the snake David McCain had retrieved from the ground slid from his pocket and down the bench. A girl across the way saw it first, her eyes growing wide as she let out a cry and climbed on top of the pew.
 
Total chaos suddenly broke out. The boys all took various creatures from their pockets and turned to the girls and women who would scream. Ruthie clapped her hands and jumped up and down as she too removed a small bug from the pocket of her dress where she had hidden him earlier. Tiffany’s eyes widened.
 
Reverend Gentry had stopped in his sermon and stood in utter shock in front of the church.
 
The snake continued to crawl across the floor. Parents quickly tried to corral their children. Girls stood on benches and pointed in horror at the snake, the mouse, and two other creatures they couldn’t make out. The boys all chuckled and pointed at the silly girls.
 
“Help me, Luke!” Abe shouted as he grabbed the arms of two of his offending boys. Lucas jumped over the short pew and grabbed the arms of the other two McCain brothers and ushered them outside. Tiffany threw a shocked hand to her mouth as she watched her three year old daughter giggle and chase her cousin Abby with the bug. Jeremiah went to work at getting hisr frightened daughter out of there immediately.
 
And Margaret…Margaret stood and watched all the chaos that had erupted in front of the church. This was the third Sunday in a row. Enough was enough!
 
***
Charlie, David, Samuel, Adam, and Rutie all stood side-by-side outside the church as Abe stood in front of them. His arms were folded and his face was red. Not even his thick beard could hide the anger on his face. Not a word was spoken as Abe preceded to look into the eye of each of the offending children.
 
A few yards away, Tiffany had her arms folded and glared at her husband. “Oh now honey…” Peter started. “She’s a McCain. You can’t expect her to be…”
 
But Tiffany turned away from him. “Peter McCain, I told you this morning to talk to her! You let her tug at your heartstrings AGAIN!” Tiffany whirled around. Her fists were clinched to her sides. “I don’t want her to grow up a tom boy! My daughter will be a GIRL!”
 
“Now honey…” Peter laid a hand on her shoulder. Tiffany’s head shot up even higher and her eyes blazed balls of fire. Peter jerked his hand back as if the mere look in those eyes caused his hands to burn. “It’s the way she was made,” Peter tried again. But he knew the damage was done.
 
Tiffany McCain would expect Peter to dish out his punishment to their daughter who was currently under the stare of her uncle. “Abe should NOT be the one to punish your daughter,” she pointed out sternly. She knew Peter had a soft spot.
 
Abe finally spoke as he turned and looked at his boys. “WHY???” His voice boomed like thunder. His sons straightened their backs, unable to speak. “Somebody better start answering me…NOW!” The boys all swallowed knowing their father was just about to hand out whippings. Peter hurried to stand behind his daughter, Ruthie. “It seems,” Abe said as he tried to calm his voice. “…that we took care of the ‘critter’ problem before church. I even warned you that a trip to the barn would be in order if you disobeyed me. Now, WHY did you do it?”
 
All four boys looked at each other. Ruthie lifted her head up into her father’s face as he stared down at her. He was angry with her and she could tell. But what she didn’t know is that he was more angry with her because her mother was angry with him. She knew she was in for another whipping as well. “Well?” Peter asked his daughter in a quiet, controlled voice.
 
“Sorry, Papa,” Ruthie said as she widened her eyes and forced the tears to come.
 
“That won’t work, and you know it,” Peter growled. “You were very naughty.”
 
“We’s just bored, Pa!” David finally confessed. “It’s hard to sit still in that dumb ol’…” David cleared his throat when his father narrowed his eyes. “…I mean in that church. Two hours, Pa! That’s a awful long time.”
 
Abe folded his arms and again glared at his sons. “That doesn’t excuse you. Your behavior was just plain old defiance. You deliberately brought those critters after I ordered you not to!”
 
“Yes, Pa,” David said as he lowered his head. “Charlie said…”
 
“Hey!” Charlie stopped him. “Don’t say it!”
 
“But you did…” Adam started. “You said it’s worth the tannin’ we’d get not to be bored and…”
 
Abe stepped forward and looked down at his oldest son. “Is that true, son?” Abe’s voice was just louder than a whisper.
 
Suddenly, the McCain family heard laughter. It was low at first, as if the person laughing was trying to keep it from happening. Then suddenly, he busted. He began laughing uproaresly. Abe turned to glare at his baby brother. His face turned red as a beet as he stepped toward him. Lucas held up his hands, trying to get his laughter under control. “WHAT IS SO BLASTED FUNNY?” Abe questioned Lucas.
 
Margaret put a hand to her mouth in horror that her husband would dare to laugh at a time like this. These children had just misbehaved in church and were deserving of any punishment they were getting. They had interrupted church to a point that the minster had to cancel the remainder of church. Yet, here was her husband laughing as if it were the funniest thing he’d ever seen.
 
Lucas cleared his throat when Abe folded his arms and glared at him. “I’m sorry, Abe. It’s just that…”
 
“That WHAT???” Abe asked.
 
“Well…I recall a time when…you were a lot older than Charlie and you almost said the exact words your son said just now. I also remember what Pa said. ‘I hope you have a son who does this to you some day. Maybe then you’ll understand the grief you put me through!’ It seems that was quickly followed by forty lashes.”
 
“Luke!” Margaret gasped.
 
“Okay, okay…maybe not forty, but it sure DID feel like it!”
 
“That true, Papa?” Charlie asked then, feeling a bit hopeful that maybe he wouldn’t get the punishment he feared after all.
 
Abe continued to glare at his brother. “I’m not perfect. I never claimed to be,” he growled out, ignoring his son’s voice. “But it was those lashes that learned me, Luke…just like they learned you.”
 
“Papa, ya do that?” Adam asked loudly.
 
“I did it,” Abe answered.
 
“Papa bad too!” Adam laughed. “That means that…”
 
Abe looked around at his family. “We’ll be along in a bit. You all just go along. Peter and I will bring these five children home…AFTER they’ve had their punishment.”
 
Margaret couldn’t help feeling sorry for the five children who all hung their heads. She watched as Abe slowly started unbuckling his belt. Margaret bit her lip. She remembered when they were children. She remembered watching Lucas and Peter as they were led away to get the strap nearly every Sunday. Her heart went out to those children.
 
“Come on, Margaret,” Lucas said softly as she took her arm and led her to the wagon. Margaret sat in the seat, but continued watching as Abe removed his belt from his waist. “This doesn’t concern us, honey.”
 
Margaret felt the jolt of the wagon as Lucas started it in motion. “Luke…” Margaret waited for him to look at her. “If we had a son and he behaved like that in church…would you…I mean….”
 
Lucas sighed. “I remember all the whippings I got as a child, Margaret. I know that Abe strongly preaches the spare the rod and spoil the child, and I agree with it to a point.”
 
“Like today?”
 
Lucas sighed. “They DID cause such a distraction that the remainder of church had to be canceled,” Lucas answered carefully.
 
“They’re just children, Luke…Active children!  It’s hard for them to sit still for two hours!”
 
Lucas shook his head. “This goes far beyond the sitting still, Honey. They intentionally brought critters inside the church.”
 
“Today. But some days it’s just the boys wiggling because they have to go to the bathroom, or Ruthie crying out when her father gives her a light smack to stop wiggling. Luke, they need a…” Margaret paused. She could tell Lucas wasn’t paying a bit of attention to her. “Well…something simply MUST change!”
 
***
 
“Amen.” There was a tense silence in the air as the prayer ended and Abe lifted the plate to pass around. Margaret listened to the clatter of silverware against dishes and turned her head to look at the five solemn children who sat on a bench along a wall of Peter McCain’s house. Their cheeks were still wet from tears after receiving their whippings. Their feet sat flat on the floor and their hands were folded in their laps.
 
Margaret bit her lip, feeling sorry for the five children. She wanted to voice her opinion, but knew it wasn’t her place. She remembered back to her own childhood. Their folks had made them sit straight and respectful in church as well. Unlike today, however, they had to continue sitting through the afternoon. They weren’t allowed to make noise or play on Sunday. After church, the children were expected to read quietly or sew, but not much else would be allowed.
 
She had heard Abe’s lecture to the children and knew he was speaking from his own experience as a child. But still…Margaret couldn’t help but feel sorry for the children, especially children as lively as these.
 
When she could no longer stand the silence, she cleared her throat. “I was wondering if I may discuss an idea I’ve been thinking on.”
 
Her words being the first spoken since the prayer, heads lifted and turned toward her. She felt her husband’s eyes studying her carefully. Though she had been thinking on the matter the last three weeks, Margaret hadn’t discussed the matter with him yet. But she couldn’t allow another Sunday to go by without at least voicing her thoughts. “What is it?”
 
Margaret turned her head sideways and again glanced toward the children. “Abe…Peter…Please?” Margaret asked softly.
 
“Perhaps it should be discussed later,” Lucas spoke quietly. He wasn’t too happy that Margaret had something to discuss with the family before speaking to him about it.
 
Margaret heard the warning in his voice. She knew it would be best to heed his warning, but something inside her made her press on. “Please…”
 
Abe grunted as he stuffed more food in his mouth. The children still hadn’t moved a muscle, so afraid of receiving more punishment. “Abe…” Julie dared to speak. “Maybe you should…” Her eyes pleaded with her husband.
 
Abe nodded then stood up. “Children…” He wiggled his fingers toward his sons. They all stood quietly and stepped forward. Peter nodded toward his daughter as well, permitting her to stand. Abe ushered them outside and followed them with the bench. “The same rules apply out here.” He moved the rest of the children on the porch to finish eating.
 
Margaret didn’t think making them go without Sunday dinner was appropriate punishment, but she bit her tongue knowing this was none of her business. She waited for the door to close before speaking. “I wish to discuss the…incident…that happened in church this morning.”
 
“The incident?” Abe gave a short laugh. “It was a disaster, plain and simple!”
 
“It was a nightmare!” Peter declared, giving his angry wife another side-ways glance.
 
“I recall four McCain boys doing the same sort of stuff when they were children,” Margaret pointed out carefully. “And my brothers were right there with you.”
 
“I believe Beth was as well,” Luke grunted.
 
“Yes.” Margaret took a sip of her tea and lifted an eyebrow when she heard Laura snicker.
 
“Laura Rose…” Abe’s voice warned the child. “Would you like to join the others?”
 
Laura quickly wiped the smirk off her face. “No sir,” she answered as she stuck another bite in her mouth.
 
Abe cleared his throat and turned back to look at Margaret. “Regardless of the fact that we behaved that way…That’s no excuse for what happened today, Margaret.”
 
Margaret nodded in agreement. “I’m not trying to excuse them, Abe. I’m merely pointing out that…”
 
Lucas tapped her leg, warning her to tread lightly with whatever she was about to say. She was on a thin sheet of ice and it wouldn’t take much to crack it. Margaret took another sip of her tea as she gathered her thoughts. “I’ve read recently about how some churches back East are creating a Sunday School for the children.”
 
“School on Sunday?” Jeremiah questioned, his eyebrow lifting in a skeptical arch.
 
“It takes place during church,” Margaret explained. “While the preacher is preaching to the adults, the children are being taught a Bible story and singing songs they understand.”
 
Margaret paused as the men looked at one another. Nobody said anything. Abe picked up his coffee cup and swirled the contents around as he worked his jaw. Jeremiah continued arching his eyebrow as he slowly chewed on a thick piece of roast beef. Peter rubbed his jaw and slowly sat back in his chair. Lucas raised both his eyebrows doubtfully and pushed the remaining food around on his plate.
 
The women sat quietly, knowing their husbands were thinking on how to answer her. Finally, it was Jeremiah who spoke. “When we were children, Margaret, we got up and did our chores before church while Ma fixed us a hearty breakfast. As soon as breakfast was over, we were dressed in our Sunday best, rather there was church or not. If there was no church, we were expected to sit at the table and listen to our father read from the Good Book. If there was church, we had to WALK, not run or ride in a wagon, to church. There was no loud talking in the church yard. There was no talking inside the church. The preacher would preach for two hours, then we would quietly walk home and eat our lunch.
 
“Afterwards, Pa expected all of us kids to sit and read or whittle on a piece of wood while the girls could sew quietly. Sunday’s were pretty calm.”
 
“I know that,” Margaret stated quietly. “Sundays were like that for us as well.”
 
“Sometime along the way,” Jeremiah continued as if Margaret had never spoken. “Our folks let up on us some. Maybe it was because they had to work on Sundays to get everything done…Maybe it was because they realized how hard it was on us…But now, we don’t limit the children to sitting on Sunday afternoons. They can ride the wagon to church. They can play, go fishing, and carry on normally after church. We don’t require them to have chores unless they misbehave. Like Abe, I make my daughter sit on a bench like we used to have to when we were children, because it teaches them just how well they have it today.”
 
“Jeremiah…” Margaret started again.
 
Abe shook his head slightly and held up his hand. “Margaret, all we ask of the children on Sundays is to sit quietly and still for two hours out of the respect for God while the preacher delivers his message. I don’t think that’s asking too much. Children need to hear about the Lord as much as we do.” Margaret turned and looked at Lucas, hoping to receive his support, but Lucas kept his eyes shifted away from her. “I don’t think we are asking too much for the children to behave while the preacher delivers his sermon.”
 
“Part of the problem is that Reverend Gentry delivers a sermon that’s easy for adults to understand, but not children. In Sunday School, they would learn about Noah and the flood, Jesus and the twelve disciples, the Cross, and the Ten Commandments…”
 
“They can learn about that stuff in church, worshiping with their families as well,” Abe said quietly. “That’s the way it’s always been Margaret. The families should be together on Sunday morning, worshiping God as one.”
 
“But in Sunday School…”
 
“Margaret, I’m not much on church going,” Peter spoke then. “But I must agree with my brothers on this. It’s the way it’s always been. A child’s place is with his parents on Sunday morning. If they don’t understand, it’s the parents’ responsibility to…”
 
Margaret lowered her eyes and studied the tablecloth. Slowly, she lifted her eyes. “’Suffer the little children , and forbid them not, to come to me, for as such is the Kingdom of Heaven.’ Jesus himself spoke those words.”
 
Abe lifted his eyes and looked at his brother. Lucas cleared his throat, knowing that the look in Abe’s eyes was a silent warning. “Margaret, that’s enough,” Lucas said through clinched teeth. “Let’s drop it.”
 
“Oh Luke…” Margaret started.
 
“I mean it, Margaret. Drop it.”
 
Margaret looked around the table. She knew she may have trouble convincing them of the idea, but she had no idea it would ever be like this. She was disappointed that they had such closed minds. She was especially disappointed in her husband, whom she expected support from.
 
***
 
After bedding down the animals, Lucas stepped into his house. The house held a cold chill in it, and it wasn’t from the weather. His home was usually a pleasant, welcoming place to come; but tonight, he’d much rather sleep in the barn. He wouldn’t be so worried about the weather inside the house if Margaret was banging things around and yelling. It was her silence…the sadness and disappointment in her eyes that he couldn’t bear. She hadn’t said a word – not one word since he had told her to drop the matter she had brought up earlier. She had managed a very stiff ‘goodbye’ to their family, but had remained silent all the way home. Lucas had no desire to go into the house when they arrived home and had found things to take up the remainder of his day and evening outside.
 
But he could no longer stay away. There was a searing pain in his heart, and he knew the longer he stayed away the harder things would be. Bravely, he stepped into the house and allowed the door to shut a bit hard. Margaret’s back was to him as she stood at the stove preparing dough to bake the next day. Margaret’s head lifted at the sound of the door.
 
Then there was silence…an eerie silence.
 
When Lucas finally spoke, his voice sounded loud in the silence that had hung over her all evening. “Margaret, I’d like to speak with you please.” His words were deep and measured.
 
Margaret didn’t move for a moment. Lucas watched her lift her hands to her cheeks and swipe away her hidden tears. Then she lifted her head and turned around. Her lips were pressed together in a thin line. “Certainly,” she answered obediently and quite stiffly.
 
Lucas motioned toward the table. “Sit down,” he grunted. Margaret lowered herself in the chair he had pulled away from the table. Lucas pulled out his own chair and positioned it directly in front of her. He straddled it then lifted an eyebrow. “I want to know why you are upset with me.”
 
Margaret averted her eyes and slid her eyelids down over her eyes. A small sniff escaped her throat. Slowly, she opened her eyes and turned back to look at him. “The fact…that you have to ask that makes it even worse, Luke.”
 
“Margaret…” Lucas reached out to take her hand, but her head lifted and her eyes pierced through him. Lucas shot his hand back as if he’d just touched a snake. “You’re upset because I made you stop talking today?”
 
“No, Luke. You were right. The time had come for me to hold my tongue.”
 
“Then you’re upset because you didn’t get your way?” Lucas questioned. Margaret’s eyes continued boring into him. “That’s a bit childish, don’t you think?”
 
“You want to know why I’m upset…No…” Margaret shook her head. “I’m not upset with you, Luke. I’m furious. I’m disappointed that my own husband would…” She fisted her hands and punched the air. “Oh Luke…how could you all be so…so…close minded?”
 
“Close minded?” Lucas lifted an eyebrow at her. “Margaret, it’s how we believe! You can’t judge us because…”
 
Margaret stood abruptly from the chair and stepped away from him. “You can’t even…” She turned and again fisted her hands to try to keep control of her emotions. “You wouldn’t even give me a chance to speak! I tried to explain, but you…” She started sputtering her words. “You wouldn’t even let me speak, Luke! It was YOUR opinions…none of the other women DARED to speak to the almighty…”
 
Lucas watched in complete surprise as Margaret whirled around and hurried out of the house.
 
His head was spinning. He couldn’t understand why she was so upset. She had expressed her opinion, then the men had politely explained to her why she was wrong. She WAS wrong. Lucas knew that without a shadow of doubt. Why would she want to try and change a tradition that had been in place for hundreds…no, thousands of years? Wasn’t she taking the scripture out of context when she had quoted the words of their Lord earlier? Didn’t Jesus expect the children to come to Him at church with their parents?
 
Lucas slowly stood up and walked to the window. He saw the barn door close. Lucas went to sit in his chair and opened his Bible. Lucas said a quick prayer, asking God to guide him to the answer. It took several minutes of searching, but he finally found it. It was right there in Matthew 19. Lucas read that the parents brought their children to Jesus. His own disciples rebuked them, telling them not to waste Jesus’ time on the children, but Jesus rebuked his disciples. “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
 
Lucas slowly lifted his head and leaned it against the back of the chair. His own disciples had tried to hinder the children from talking to Jesus. Is that what Margaret felt they were doing? Was forcing the children to listen to a two-hour long sermon directed toward adults hindering the children from learning everything they needed to learn about their Savior? Lucas wasn’t a praying man. Margaret prayed that someday he would become more prayerful, but Lucas found himself getting on his knees. He felt he needed to ask for forgiveness for not seeing the truth his wife tired to show him earlier.
 
***
 
The barn door slowly squeaked open. Lucas found the barn dark and slowly lit the lantern. There she was. She was weeping in the stall as she hugged her filly. She had been out there for a good hour. The sight of her red eyes and tears was almost more than his heart could stand to see. Lucas slowly made his way to the corral. He bent down beside her and petted the filly. Taking her in his arms wasn’t something he could do at the moment, but he hoped that before the sun came up the next morning he’d be able to hold her.
 
“I’ve hurt you.” It was a quiet statement of fact. Margaret merely nodded her head, but still didn’t look at him. “I looked up that scripture you quoted, Margaret.” Margaret then lifted her head and looked at him. There was a look of surprise in her wet eyes. Lucas chuckled in spite of the situation. “I know. It surprised me too. But when you ran from the house, I knew the situation was desperate.”
 
Margaret continued petting the filly, still not ready to trust her voice, or the words that may come out. She wasn’t an angry person, and she always believed one should be slow to anger. Since they were married, Margaret hadn’t always lived up to her belief, but Lucas had a way of making it rough at times. They just sat in silence, both petting the poor filly that was probably ready to flee the confines of the barn so she’d be left alone.
 
Finally, in the silence of the barn, Margaret allowed herself to speak. “I was wrong too, Luke.”
 
“No, Margaret,” Lucas shook his head. “I asked God to show me, and He did. You are right about the children.”
 
“I think so,” Margaret agreed. She blinked and wiped the tears with the kerchief Lucas held out to her. “That’s not what I was wrong about.”
 
“What then?” Lucas coaxed gently.
 
“I was wrong about…” Margaret hiccupped. “I was wrong about speaking out before talking to you first.” She lifted her head. “I just can’t stand to see those children…It just seems so unfair and I couldn’t…I just couldn’t bite my tongue today.”
 
“It’s painful, I know.” Lucas smiled. “I’ve bitten it before.”
 
“You?” Margaret stared at him in mock surprise. “When did you ever bite your tongue, Luke?”
 
Lucas nodded. “I deserve that, Margaret.” Lucas stopped petting the filly. He scooted a bit closer to his wife and slowly lifted a hand up to her cheek. Gently, he touched a tear that sat there unknowingly. The touch was butterfly light. He removed his finger as Margaret’s head turned toward him. “I’m willing to listen to what you have to say now, Margaret. You’re right. I have been close minded.”
 
“You’re a McCain,” Margaret gave a slight shrug. “Us women…we come to expect it from you.” Lucas lifted an eyebrow in disapproval to that statement. “So…will you forgive me?”
 
“Mm hm,” Lucas answered softly. Then he touched her cheek with two fingers. “Will you…forgive me?”
 
Their eyes locked. Margaret’s eyes softened, then she let out a loud cry. “Oh Luke!” She threw her arms around him and wept into his shoulder. “I hate fighting with you. I just hate it!”
 
Lucas kissed her hair and wrapped his arms tightly around her shoulders. He slowly moved his hand up and down her back, soothing her as she cried. He felt tears filling his own eyes as they held each other. “I hate it when you are cross with me, My Love,” he mumbled into her hair. “Margaret, I…I love you…” He pushed her back and took her face in her hands. “I just love you so…so much!”
 
Their lips found each others’ and they kissed a long, passionate kiss that held volumes of forgiveness. They were in each other’s arms. Their kissing lengthened and grew deeper. Lucas pressed his body against hers, pressing her back up against the wall of the stall. Suddenly, the filly gave a protesting kick.
 
“Ouch!” Lucas cried as he straightened and rubbed his leg where Sunshine had kicked him. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you told her to do that.”
 
Margaret giggled as she pressed her forehead to his. “Oh Luke…I love you. Thank you…Thank you for agreeing to listen to me.”
 
Lucas stood up and chuckled. “Should we continue this discussion in the house?”
 
“Mm hm…” But Margaret wrapped her arms around him and stared lovingly into his eyes. Lucas lowered his mouth to hers and they again gave into passion. Slowly, he lowered her down onto a soft blanket of hay. The harsh words spoken earlier were soon forgotten.
 
***
Margaret poured coffee in Lucas’ cup and slowly sat down at the table. She tried to stifle a yawn, but didn’t quite succeed. Lucas reached out and squeezed her hand. “I’m sorry our fighting kept you up all night.”
 
Margaret blushed, remembering what had occurred in the barn earlier. “It wasn’t just the fighting…It was the making up, I think.”
 
“Maybe we should fight more often,” Lucas teased. But he lost his smile when he saw the worry enter his wife’s eyes. “I’m ready to listen.”
 
Margaret shifted her eyes toward the window. “The sun’s coming up, Luke. We’ve got our morning chores to do.”
 
“They can wait,” Lucas declared. “Clemintine can wait for her milking, and I don’t reckon those eggs in the coop will go far either.” Lucas took a sip of his coffee and stretched his legs long under the table. “I can’t think of anything more important than discussing our children’s future.”
 
“Our…children?” Margaret questioned.
 
Lucas nodded. “I want our children to learn about Jesus at church as well as here. I want church to be a positive experience for our children, Margaret.” He took another sip of his coffee. “Tell me about this Sunday school.”
 
Margaret’s eyes lit up. “Well…it would occur during church, Luke. We could let the children stay inside while we sing the songs, then they could be dismissed just before the preaching starts. While Reverend Gathers is delivering his sermon inside, we can be outside…or if weather won’t permit that…at a nearby building teaching the children Bible stories. We could even give them Bible verses to learn. Then when church is over, the children will rejoin their parents.”
 
“It sounds simple enough,” Lucas nodded. “Who would do the teaching?”
 
“Well…I could.”
 
Lucas slowly sat down his cup. Margaret could tell he was mauling this over and she didn’t like the way he was looking at her. Slowly, he leaned over the table. “I don’t like the idea of you never hearing a sermon, Margaret. I don’t think…”
 
“I could see if some of the ladies would help, Luke. We could take turns. Then at Easter and Christmas, the children could put on a program for the whole church. We could work with them…teach them Bible Stories and…” Lucas stood and went to the window. He stared out across the land deep in thought. “Oh Luke…” Margaret jumped up and hurried up behind him. “Luke, please say I can do it…PLEASE!” Her voice pleaded as if she were a little girl wanting to walk herself to school for the first time.
 
Lucas turned from the window and placed his hands on her shoulders. “Margaret…” Lucas sighed and lifted an eyebrow. He knew he would have to tread softly to keep her from getting upset with him again. “I have a few things to say. Now, I value your opinion, and I ask you to value mine. I don’t want you to get angry or defensive. You can speak after I’m through. Agreed?”
 
Margaret lowered her head and looked down at his boots. She felt two fingers touch her chin and lift it until she was again looking straight into her husband’s eyes. “Agreed?”
 
“Agreed,” Margaret answered a bit hesitatingly.
 
“Okay.” Lucas motioned her back to the table. Margaret, knowing breakfast wouldn’t come that morning, quickly got the cinnamon bread from yesterday and the butter. After buttering a piece of bread and handing it to Lucas, she did the same for herself. Lucas took a bite, then cleared his throat. “Now, whatever we decide, we’ll decide on it together and we’ll agree together. We can’t go against each other on this.” Margaret nodded as she took another bite. “First of all, the reaction you got from my brothers yesterday is nothing compared to the reaction the rest of the town’s going to give you. We are just a bunch of closed-minded fools, and I’m afraid to say that a lot of the husbands don’t allow their wives to have any sort of voice in their homes.”
 
“What about your brothers?”
 
Lucas held up a finger. “My brothers have been known to silence their wives in the past, but then so have I.” Lucas cleared his throat. “But the McCain wives are all head-strong and will eventually break through the wall that separates them. My brothers are open to allowing their wives to have a voice, as well as your brother, I believe.” Margaret nodded in agreement. “Remember, you’re listening now.”
 
“I’m sorry.”
 
“Now…I just want to warn you that this could be opening a crate full of rattle snakes, Margaret. Change is something a lot of the men…and women…around here don’t come by easily, and you know that.” Margaret nodded. “I want you to ask yourself if this Sunday School thing is really worth the chance of opening up that crate of rattlers. I want you to think long and hard on it, Margaret. Then I want to remind you how close our family has always been. Something like this…it could put us at odds, and I don’t want that to happen.”
 
“Oh, neither do I, Luke! I…” Margaret slapped her hand over her mouth when Lucas sternly held up his hand.
 
“So, I’m going to say that if you still want to pursue this after thinking long and hard on it, and I want you to take a week to think on it…”
 
“A week? Luke!”
 
“A week,” Lucas nodded sternly. He cleared his throat. “Then we can approach our families cautiously on this issue. If we can get our families in agreement – and only then – will I permit you to take this any further. Nothing can be accomplished with the children if it can’t be accomplished within our family.” Adding this last statement softened Margaret’s expression. She knew that was true. “If it goes further, I will go with you to discuss this with Reverend Gentry. Then it’ll have to go before the deacons. If we can’t get full agreement there, we’ll pursue it no further.”
 
Margaret lowered her eyes to the table and thought. “Can I speak now?”
 
“I’m done…for now.”
 
“What if…what if we can’t get agreement, Luke? Does that mean we allow the children to suffer…go against God’s Word and…”
 
“No, Darling.” Lucas took her hand and squeezed it. She lifted her eyes to his. “You know better than I do that if God’s hand is in something, we can overcome the barriers that stand in our way. It’s God’s timing, not ours. Just because Margaret McCain is ready for Enid, Oklahoma to see Sunday School doesn’t mean Enid, Oklahoma is. God knows the answers already.”
 
“He’s put this on my heart, Luke. Oh, I KNOW His hand’s in this!”  Margaret declared suddenly.
 
Lucas laid a gentle hand on hers. “Then it will work out, Margaret. You’ve taught me that as long as we let go and let God, we’ll do right by Him.” Margaret smiled at him and nodded. Then Lucas held a stern warning finger in the air. “One more thing, young lady…You will not take this on yourself. I permit this if, and only if, you can find some other ladies willing to work with you. Regardless of the decision, I’m sure none of the other men will want their wives to devote so much time to the children that their own worshiping suffers.”
 
“Alright, Luke.” Margaret smiled at him. Lucas stood and leaned over and kissed her. “Thank you, Luke.”
 
“Remember…you must wait until next Sunday…pray about it and really think hard on this BEFORE we bring the matter up again. Then if next Sunday you still feel you want to pursue this matter, you tell me and I will talk to my brothers in private first. Agreed?”
 
Margaret jumped up from the table and threw her arms around her husband. “Yes! Oh, YES Luke!”
 
***
 
As requested, Margaret prayed about Sunday School every day. She thought about it after going to bed in the evenings and before her days got too busy. One evening as the couple were retiring for bed, Margaret listened to Lucas speak of their sister-in-law, Em. He said she was doing better, but Jeremiah had still not been able to see the sparkle in her eyes. Margaret mumbled that it would take time, and Lucas agreed. He mentioned that she felt lonely just having the one child to tend to and longed to hold a baby in her arms.
 
Then Margaret laid in bed and silently thought on that. She began to wonder if maybe…just maybe…helping her organize Sunday School could give Em the distraction she needed and give her more children to love. Then Margaret thought about Anne and how depressed she had been since her last miscarriage. Both women loved children and desired to fill their lives with them, but both women had been heart-broken in that area of their lives. Ann’s arms ached to hold a baby of her own. Em had her daughter, but she was quickly growing. Em had come from a large family and had hoped to have several children.
 
“Luke…” Margaret finally said quietly as she laid on her side. “Do you suppose Ann and Em could help me?”
 
Lucas, who wasn’t quite ready for sleep, was sitting up reading a newspaper in the dim light. He turned his head toward her. “Help with what, Honey?”
 
“Sunday School.”
 
There was a pause. Margaret heard the newspaper rattle. Lucas didn’t speak until after he had blown out the lamp and laid down beside her. “Do you really think that would be wise?”
 
“Why not?” Margaret asked as she turned on her other side and faced her husband in the darkness.
 
“Well…I mean being around the children may remind them that…”
 
“They love children, Luke. Maybe God’s put the special love in their hearts so they would love His children – not just their own. Maybe He’s called them to this moment.”
 
Lucas chuckled as he wrapped an arm around her and nuzzled his nose in her neck. “You sound like John the Baptist or one of them revival preachers!”
 
“Oh Luke!”
 
The following Sunday when Lucas and Margaret were getting ready for church, Lucas glanced at his wife in the mirror as he tied his tie. “You really want to do it, don’t you?”
 
Margaret paused in pinning her hair up and looked at her husband in the mirror. Their eyes met through the glass. Margaret smiled and nodded her head. She saw a hint of regret on Lucas’ face and turned. “Oh Luke…you will try, won’t you?”
 
Lucas sighed and returned to tying his tie. He didn’t want to tell Margaret about all the reservations he had about this. He too had petitioned God that week. Deep inside, he’d hoped God would bring Margaret to her senses. He didn’t much like to see Margaret going against the town, and he knew that’s what she could be up against. “Now Luke, you promised!” Margaret declared suddenly.
 
Lucas sighed again. “Yes, Honey. I promised.” Margaret stood from her dressing table, turned, and took over her wifely duty of tying her husband’s tie.
 
***
Before entering the church, the McCain children were all sternly lectured and forced to promise to be good. For the most part, they behaved. A small giggle, shuffling, and one outburst during a song from one of the younger McCain’s was the only problems that arose for that family. However, there were children on the other side of the room who had decided to misbehave, and again, the preacher’s sermon had to be interrupted because of the outburst.
 
Margaret gave Lucas a knowing look after he helped her back onto the seat. Lucas picked up the reins, and before calling to the horses, he said under his breath, “Maybe this idea of Sunday School ain’t such a bad one after all. I’ll see what I can do.”
 
Margaret smiled, knowing Lucas too had reached his boiling point with the rowdy children in church. It was hard enough getting Lucas to come to church on Sunday mornings. This would only discourage him more.
 
The McCain/Gibbs family gathered at the Gibbs Ranch for Sunday dinner. The children all chatted, the babies sat on their mother’s laps, and the adults chatted. After they had finished their apple pie, Margaret watched Lucas wipe his mouth with his napkin then clear his throat. “It was all very good, Mother Gibbs…Amanda.” Lucas slowly stood from the table. “How about you men joining me outside?”
 
Peter, who was enjoying have some adult time with his wife by his side mumbled that he didn’t rightly feel like it. Lucas raised his eyebrows at his brother and motioned toward the door. Peter kissed Tiffany on the cheek then hurried after Lucas. “You too, Scott,” Lucas suggested lightly.
 
The women watched the men exit the house and the door close. “Well…I wonder what THAT’s all about?” Jennifer stood to start gathering the plates.
 
Margaret jumped to her feet. “Oh no you don’t, Mother!” Margaret put a hand on her mother’s arm. “You look tired. Just sit down. We’ll take care of these.”
 
“Now Daughter, washing dishes won’t tire me out any!”
 
“We insisted, Mother,” Amanda declared as she put her hands on Jennifer’s shoulders and pushed her back down into the chair.
 
Margaret was nervous as she helped clean the dishes. The women questioned her on it, but Margaret merely shook her head. She wasn’t one to eaves drop on conversations, but if she had her chance, she would have eaves dropped today! The women watched Margaret chew on her bottom lip and knew there was definitely something amiss.
 
***
 
Lucas didn’t speak as they walked out onto the range. Lucas pulled a cigar from his pocket and lit it as the other men waited for him to speak. Lucas blew smoke from his mouth as he nervously turned the cigar between his fingers and put a hand to his forehead. “You know…” Abe folded his arms and stopped, forcing everyone else to stop as well. “I remember a time when Luke had something to tell us and he was as nervous as a cat in a pen full of bulldogs.” Abe raised an eyebrow at his baby brother. “You going off to war again?”
 
Lucas narrowed his eyes at his brother. Abe had no idea how close he was to the truth. “I just may be…” Lucas sat down under a tree. His brothers, Jason, and Scott followed suit. And it very well could be a Civil War.
 
Lucas finally spoke. “Margaret and I had a long, heart-to-heart talk after leaving Sunday Dinner last Sunday,” Lucas said gently.
 
“You straightened out her thinking?” Abe questioned.
 
“Abe!” Jason gasped; shocked that Abe would say such a thing.
 
“No. The truth is…She straightened out MY thinking.” Lucas looked from man to man and could tell they were all understanding what he was saying. “This is something Margaret feels God laid on her heart. It’s very important to her.”
 
“Now Luke…” Jeremiah stated.
 
But before Jeremiah could say much, Lucas questioned, “What did your wives have to say about all this?”
 
Scott shook his head. “Wait a minute. I don’t understand any of this! You all left the church in such a tizzy after what happened last Sunday that we didn’t even come for Sunday dinner. So, if Luke wants to include me in the conversation…”
 
Abraham quickly filled Scott in on the conversation from last Sunday. His version of things, however, weren’t exactly the way Lucas had remembered them. He was happy when Jeremiah added a few phrases to give Scott the true impression of what had transpired. Abe turned back to Lucas and stated, “Julie and I talked afterwards as well. She’s agreed to support me in my opinion.”
 
“Which is?” Lucas questioned.
 
“Which is that children should be in the church with their parents. It’s a family matter, Luke.” Lucas heard the defense in his brother’s voice.
 
“Okay, before we go any further, I want to make one thing very clear. I agreed with Margaret after much, much talking and soul searching. BUT, I informed her that this would only be pursued if I could get our family in agreement. If not, it will go no further.” Lucas cleared his throat. “I think Margaret had a right to be angry. We didn’t let her speak her peace. Abe, you and Jeremiah took over the conversation, and that was it as far as you’re concerned.”
 
“What would Pa say?” Abe asked then.
 
Lucas raised an eyebrow as he stood and walked away from them. He looked over the range as he took a few more puffs from his cigar then threw it into the dirt. Slowly, he turned around. “Things were different then, Abe. That was then and this is now. I remember when you approached Pa about buying one of those hayers. Do you remember that?” Abe nodded. “Pa cussed a mile about not wanting anything to do with that hayer, and in his lifetime we never DID see it.” Lucas grinned at his brother. “I noticed we have one now.”
 
“That’s different, Luke.” Abe shook his head. “Pa was set in his ways. He resisted anything new that came along and…” He stopped when he saw Lucas lift an eyebrow and heard a snicker from Jason. “Well?” Abe asked his brother-in-law.
 
Jason stood along with the rest of the men. “I didn’t say anything last Sunday, because I don’t feel my opinion matters much.”
 
“I don’t agree,” Lucas stated. “You are a McCain now, Jason. And you are impartial. I think your opinion matters a great deal.”
 
Jason looked at Scott. “How do you feel?”
 
“I believe our children should be with our families. They’re taught by a stranger five days a week already. My wife and I can teach my children all they’ll ever need to know about the Bible. If they have questions they can come to us and we’ll explain the best we can. It’s been done this way for thousands of years and…”
 
“That’s just it,” Jason said as he interrupted. “Being a doctor schooled back East, I can offer some practical insight. Since the horrid things that happened as recently as our Nation’s war, the medical personnel have learned a lot about medicine. Doctors having to cut legs off as bullets whizzed around them…Arms held by flesh ripped off with no pain killers whatsoever…More men died from infection and disease then were killed by a bullet or canyon.”
 
“It was bad,” Lucas mumbled.
 
“Many were given a drug called morphine.” Jason lifted his head to Abe. “As a matter of fact, I gave you that drug after you were shot, remember?” Abe nodded. “But unlike those men in the war, you were warned that you could become dependent on that drug. Men are finding now that they can’t put it down. They have to have it to stay alive like we need water. It’s an addiction.” Jason shook his head sadly. “You see, we may have practiced sawing off legs for thousands of years. We may have practiced many things for thousands of years, but…that doesn’t make it right.”
 
“Now just a minute…” Jeremiah started angrily.
 
Jason held up a hand. “I’m NOT saying having the children inside the church is wrong. Don’t think that for a second. There’s something special about having a family together in church. Now days, there’s so many women who have to bring their children to church because their husbands are too busy or too proud or…” Jason shook his head. “Back East, we had the same struggles. People change. Attitudes change.“ Jason pointed at Abe. “You and Jeremiah said yourself last Sunday that you don’t make your children sit quietly all afternoon like you did when you were children. In fact, when your father was alive he changed that. Why?”
 
“I don’t know exactly,” Abe answered. “It happened subtly over time. I never really asked why.”
 
“Could it be that your folks were wise enough to understand that it made you think negative of the Lord’s Day? Was it a day you dreaded rather than looked forward to?” The brothers’ eyes met. Slowly, they nodded their heads.
 
“I know my Pa used to do the same with us,” Scott mumbled. “He stopped making us do so one day as well, but that’s because his ranch grew and he needed to work with his cattle even on Sunday, but he made sure we all spent the morning Worshiping.”
 
“What’s your point, Jason?” Peter asked then.
 
“I’ve seen Sunday School started in my town, Peter. It started there for the same reason it started here. The children were restless. They didn’t enjoy sitting for two or three hours on a Sunday morning to listen to a sermon that really WAS above their heads. Why does something that used to work when we were children no longer work with ours?” Jason shrugged his shoulders. “I can’t answer that. But I will tell you that the children started enjoying church. They didn’t fight to put on their Sunday best. They would be excited on Saturday night to go to Sunday School, and they learned their Bible like you wouldn’t believe. Maybe it’s education that’s caused the change. Maybe it’s something else…But wouldn’t you rather bring the children in to learn…something…Where we’re at now, they aren’t learning a thing in church.”
 
Lucas cleared his throat. “I searched out the verses Margaret quoted the other day. The children wanted to come to Jesus, to listen to Him speak to them…to hear His voice. But the disciples felt they were bothering Jesus. Back then, I suppose the children listened and gained insight from their folks, but Jesus told His Disciples not to hinder the children – to let them come to Him.” Lucas rubbed a finger over his nose as the men stared at him, dumbfounded. “Now…I know I’m not much on church and Bible reading and the like, and maybe someday that will change, but I DID stop and ask myself if we were keeping the children from coming to Jesus.”
 
There wasn’t a sound as the men each soaked in the words that had been spoken. Abe finally turned and looked at the other men. He saw understanding in their eyes. Finally, he turned back and looked at Lucas. “Well now…If I wasn’t standing right here hearing it come from your own lips, I never would have believed it, Luke. You…PREACHING to us, and a good sermon it was too.”
 
***
 
Margaret had to grab hold of the chair to keep from running out to meet the men as they walked toward the house. As it stood, everyone who even glanced at Margaret could tell she was quite anxious to learn about the talk. The women, oblivious to what was going on, watched with keen interest as Scott opened the door to his house and stepped inside. The men all stood in front of the women and removed their hats. Margaret looked into Lucas’ eyes, but they wouldn’t reveal the outcome to her. Her heart pounded as she waited to know what had been decided.
 
Scott cleared his throat. “I think we should all go into the parlor to talk.”
 
Abe turned to Laura who had been watching with much anticipation. She was very interested in knowing what was being discussed as well. “Laura, I want you to keep an eye on the children while we talk.” His voice was firm, and his eyes warned her not to argue.
 
Even a year ago, Laura would have stubbornly ignored that look, but she had matured a bit; and learned, sometimes the hard way, that when Abe told her to do something, she was to do so. She made sure he saw the disappointment on her face, however, as she stood and dropped the book she had been reading with more force then was necessary. As she brushed past Abe, he grabbed her arm and lifted his eyebrows at his oldest child. “Laura…” he said quietly. “I would love to have you in there with us, but we need someone responsible looking out for the children. I assure you I’ll tell you about everything later.”
 
Well, put that way Laura couldn’t help but lift her head and smile at her Papa Abe. His eyes crinkled at the corners as he gave her a gentle pat on the back. “Yes, Papa,” Laura finally said as she hurried out the door. The door hadn’t closed yet when the adults heard Laura’s quite bossy voice laying down the ground rules to her nieces and nephews.
 
The adults chuckled. Lucas was a bit relieved to hear the laughter. It would decrease the tension that was obviously around them. Abe stood as everyone else sat. “Margaret, Luke told us of your feelings to continue the conversation from last week, and we have all…” he motioned to the men who sat on one side of the room. “…agreed to listen to what you have to say. We’ll discuss this issue rationally, and before we leave this room today we’ll come to a consensus.”
 
Margaret smiled. She wasn’t sure if that meant they were leaning towards or against her proposition, but she knew this was the best way to handle things. Their family had always been close and she didn’t want to do anything to cause turmoil among various members.
 
And as a family, they discussed both sides of the issue. They all spoke of the pros and cons, weighing each. They talked all afternoon. By the time the adults left the room, they had reached their decision, Lucas and Margaret would approach the preacher the following day.
 
As Margaret was lifted onto the buckboard, she was still smiling. Lucas put an arm around her and hugged her close. “What if it had gone the other way?”
 
Margaret looked straight in her husband’s eyes. “It wouldn’t have because God’s hand was in this. But if it hadn’t, I would be okay. Because I know it would be for the best.” As they rode for home, Margaret was already picturing her children gathered around her listening as she told a story about God’s love.
 
She would forever treasure this day in her heart.

The Margaret
Years — The Sound of Children
 

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
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