Welcome to The Writer's Corner
Chapter 28 - The Mosquito’s Ugly Return
Written by Michelle Palmer
Margaret wiped her brow as she turned back to the wash tub and
scrubbed on Lucas’ pants. She couldn’t help but shake her head
at the dirt that had built up on them. Just that morning, she
had watched in horror when Lucas attempted to slide his long leg
into the pants leg. “Lucas McCain!” Her voice practically
screeched as she straightened from making the bed. “Don’t you
DARE put those filthy pants on!”
Lucas had paused and lifted his eyebrows as he looked up at his
beautiful, young wife. Even with a challenge in her eyes and her
lips pressed together in disapproval, he couldn’t resist pulling
her to him and giving her a kiss. “I’m just gonna get dirty, my
Love,” Lucas declared after pulling his lips from hers.
“Not in those pants, you’re not! I’m doing laundry!” Margaret
Lucas had proceeded to put clean pants on before going to fill
her wash tubs with water. Margaret argued that she could take
care of the chore, but Lucas didn’t like her carrying the heavy
buckets all the way from the creek. She worked at boiling water
over the hot coals in the yard while he continued his chore.
While pouring the last of the water into the tub, he declared to
Margaret that he was waiting no longer to build a well. “Today’s
the day. Next week, April will be here and I’ll have to start
the planting. Until then, we’re working on your well.”
It was as she scrubbed those filthy pants of her husband’s that
she looked up to see Lucas riding quickly into the yard. Her
heart sank in disappointment when behind him rode Lucas’ friend
from the war, Reef Jackson. So, that’s who the ‘we’ was,
Margaret thought to herself.
Margaret wiped her hands on her apron and stepped forward. Reef
stepped off his horse and smiled at Margaret. “Reef, you
remember my wife.”
Reef smiled a crooked smile as he stood beside Lucas. His hat
slowly came from his head and his big, wide eyes looked her up
and down. Margaret was wearing a blue skirt with a
coffee-colored blouse. The sleeves were rolled up half way in
order to keep them from getting soaked in the wash water. Her
hair had been pulled back in a bun, but whisps had already
escaped and hung beautifully around her face. Her cheeks were
flushed from the task of scrubbing the dirt from the clothes.
Her lips pressed together in a thin line, the corners slightly
turned up. But Reef knew what the look said. She wasn’t too
pleased to see him.
“Yes. I’ve seen her in town a few times,” Reef answered as he
gave her a slight nod. “Ma’am.”
“Mr. Jackson,” Margaret greeted him cooly as she gave him a
slight nod. She turned to focus on her husband. “I…take it he’s
going to help you with the well?”
“That’s right,” Lucas answered with a smile. He saw the look of
apprehension on Margaret’s face, but chose to ignore it for the
time being. He chalked it up to her being tired from laundry. He
turned back to Reef. “Well, I’ll show you where I wanted to
build the well.”
Margaret watched them walk to the side of the house as they
discussed their plans in low voices. They stood side by side,
Lucas’ arms waving back and forth as he explained his plans. As
she watched them talk, Margaret noticed that from behind the two
men looked very much alike. They were the same height, their
broad shoulders stood about the same length wide, even their
hair was about the same color, though Reef wore his longer and
more liberally than Lucas.
Margaret wiped an arm across her forehead then returned back to
Later, Margaret saw the men digging as she dumped the water from
the wash tubs. After replacing them on the shelf at the side of
the house, she went inside to fix lunch. As she tended to her
chore, she thought back to her first meeting with Reef Jackson.
He made her uneasy. For some reason, she felt he was undressing
her with his eyes, and that was enough to make her shudder. Upon
mentioning her thoughts to her husband, he had brushed it off
and assured her that everything was fine. Reef was a good
Margaret put the food on the table then went out to tell them
lunch was ready.
For the next several days, the sun shone on the McCain Ranch,
giving Reef and Lucas plenty of opportunity to work on digging
the well. Once they got a deeper hole dug, they would send a
candle down to check for poisonous gases that could harbor below
the surface each morning. Then after the candle showed all was
well, one man would be lowered into the hole while the other
stood top-side and emptied the buckets of dirt into the waiting
Progress was made on the well, and Margaret smiled, knowing soon
she would have running water. At lunch one day, Lucas and Reef
had discussed the plans of running a pump into the house and
another one behind the barn for washing.
Except that first day, Reef hadn’t really given Margaret any of
his eerie looks. Margaret was quite happy for this and decided
that he had come to the realization that she and Lucas were very
much in love. Reef worked with Lucas diligently. They laughed
and joked together as they worked. On the fifth day, Margaret
heard shouting and looked out her window to see Lucas and Reef
having a fist fight. Margaret had no sooner stepped out of the
house when it stopped. Both men breathed heavily as they
continued to glare at each other.
“What’s this all about?” Margaret asked as she bent down to look
at the welts on Lucas’ face.
“Never mind, Margaret,” Lucas answered as he patted her arm in
reassurance. “Just never mind.”
Margaret heeded the warning in his voice, and watched in
amazement as the two men stood up, dusted themselves off, and
went back to work as if nothing had happened. “Men,” Margaret
muttered to herself as she returned to her butter mold.
She had intended to get to the truth of the fight that night,
but Lucas was so exhausted. He almost fell asleep in his plate
and muttered that he was turning in.
The next day, Lucas looked even more exhausted. His breathing
was labored, his eyes were glassy, and he could barely listen to
what Margaret was saying. That’s when it hit her: he wasn’t
tired, he was sick!
At supper that evening, Margaret studied him as he sat at the
table and mumbled out the blessing. Concerned, Margaret lifted a
hand to his brow, but Lucas waved it away stating he was fine.
As she watched him throughout supper, however, she could tell
that he was indeed NOT fine. If anything, he was getting worse.
Lucas tried to assure her that he was just tired, but again
Margaret shook her head. It was more than that and she knew it.
She’d seen him tired, and she’d seen him sick. He was definitely
The next morning was Wednesday, April 3. Margaret studied Lucas
as he came in from doing his morning chores. She saw his flushed
cheeks and dropped the spoon as she hurried across the room.
Grabbing his arm, she could already feel the heat radiating from
his body. Then when she put a hand to his cheek, she shuddered.
“Luke, you’re burning up with fever!”
“I’m fine,” Lucas stated weakly as he went to the kitchen to
wash his face in the cool water Margaret had fetched from the
“No, Luke. You are NOT fine!” Margaret grabbed his arm. “I want
you in that bed NOW!”
“Reef will be here soon,” Lucas mumbled. “He and Hal are helping
me on the well again today.” Lucas gasped as he splashed more
water on his face. “Then I’ve got to…to…get some more seed in
“Not today, Luke!” Margaret insisted. “You must go to bed! I’m
sending for the doctor!”
Lucas swallowed and took in a few gasps of air. “Margaret, I’m
fine!” Lucas shook his head. “I need to get the well done so we
can finish the planting. I…” Lucas groaned suddenly and grabbed
onto the side of the counter. “I don’t have time to…to…”
Suddenly, he fell to his knees. Hands flew to his face as he
lifted his head. “It feels like…”
“LUCAS!” Margaret’s mind went back to a year ago when she had
worried about her fiancé and came looking for him. She had found
him collapsed in this very spot. “LUCAS! This cannot happen
again!!!” Margaret bent down next to her husband. “Please, God…I
almost lost him…Not again!” She tried to lift him to his feet,
but he was too big, and he was barely conscience.
Margaret cried as she hurried to the front door. Lifting her
skirt, she hurried across the street. Hal was just coming from
the barn. When he heard Margaret crying his name, he dropped the
pail of milk and ran to her. Margaret pointed toward her house,
hardly being able to get the words out. “It’s happening again!
Oh God, it’s happening again!” Tears welled up in her eyes and
spilled down her cheeks. Hal hurried to the McCain ranch with
Margaret on his heels.
Ann, upon hearing the commotion, hurried after the two. Entering
the house, Hal saw Lucas struggling to get up. “Margaret, help
me get him in the bed,” Hal ordered as he grabbed Lucas by the
arm. Margaret took one side of Lucas and Hal the other. Hal was
able to lift him so they weren’t dragging him. He helped
Margaret strip him, then they pulled a sheet over him. Ann
brought a pail of water and rags into the bedroom. Margaret
immediately began washing his face as tears streamed down her
“Oh please, not again,” Margaret cried as tears poured down her
cheeks. “I almost lost him last time…not again!”
Hal motioned for Ann to follow him from the bedroom. “I’m going
for Dr. Livingston,” Hal told her softly. “His fever has to be
at least 104.”
“Hal, what do you think it is?” Ann questioned.
“I think it’s back,” Hal answered simply, locking his eyes with
Ann. “I think the damn thing has reared its ugly head back into
our lives!” Husband and wife shared a brief look of grief before
Hal hurried out the door.
Jason chuckled as his son cooed up at him. Emily laughed as she
wrapped her arms around her husband’s neck from behind him. “He
looks just like you, Dr. Livingston.”
“Oh, but he has that McCain look,” Jason mumbled. Emily didn’t
like the tone in his voice.
“And just what look would that be?” Emily straightened and put a
hand on her side. Her eyes narrowed and flashed a warning.
Jason chuckled as he reached up and traced the large scar that
ran down her cheek. Ever since she had gotten that scar, Jason
had always paid special endearment to it, letting her know he
loved her all the more for wearing it proudly. “THAT look,
Beautiful,” he answered as he smiled into her stubborn face.
A knock interrupted their talk. Jason stood abruptly at hearing
the frantic knock and handed Baby Matthew back to his mother.
Hal stood before him trying to catch his breath. “Doc, there’s
“What’s wrong?” Jason asked as he took Hal’s arm and led him
inside. “Is it Ann?”
“No…” Hal took more deep, gulping breaths.
“Luke?” Emily asked as she hugged her baby to her breast and
stepped forward. Instant worry on her face.
“Doc…last year Luke had Malaria.” Jason nodded. “Can it come
Jason’s shoulders slumped as he rubbed a hand along his jaw.
Immediately, he turned and reached for his bag. “It can come
back again and again and again, unfortunately. Nobody
“Jason!” Emily hurried forward. Her eyes filled with tears. “Are
Jason paused and put a hand on Emily’s arm. “I’m not saying
anything yet, honey. We don’t know he has malaria.”
“I want you to stay here and take care of the baby, Beautiful,”
Jason said softly as he looked into her eyes, trying to calm
her. “I’ll send word on his condition.”
“I’m Luke’s sister and your nurse! If he’s sick, I want to be
there!” Emily argued.
Jason’s eyes slowly moved to their almost four month old son in
her arms. “You’re also my son’s mother. You’re staying here.”
Jason gave her a quick kiss then hurried out the door.
Emily clung to her baby as tears streamed down her face. “Oh
please God…Please…Keep my brother safe!”
As Jason hurried toward the livery to saddle his horse, he
ordered Hal to ride out and tell the Gibbs and McCain families
what was going on.
Gunfire sounded all around him. Lucas ran as fast as he could,
weaving in and out of bullets as the whizzed past his head. He
was sweating, even though it was freezing cold. A cold rain fell
from the sky. Then his eyes focused on the young man. They
stood, staring at each other. “I’m going to die,” Lucas said. He
watched the rifle point toward him. His eyes grew wide as he
watched the young man’s finger slowly pull on the trigger. “NOOOOOO!”
“Luke, help me…” The voice sounded in slow motion. The bloodied
hand stretched out toward Lucas. His eyes pleaded for him to do
something. Everything moved in slow motion. “Help…me…Luke…”
Lucas turned from the man who was trying to kill him and
stretched his arms out. He started running…his feet moving ever
so slowly as he shouted. “NOOOOOOOO!”
The bloodied face…He could recognize him now. It was Andy Gibbs,
and he was begging Lucas not to let him die. Still in slow
motion, Lucas reached out to grab Andy, but his hands went right
through him and he fell face down on the ground. “You killed me,
Luke! How could you?” Lucas heard the voice. He lifted his head
and saw Andy’s still body laying dead on the ground. From behind
him, the haunting voice came again. It hadn’t been Andy’s voice
he had heard, but he recognized that face.
Lucas buried his face in the ground. The pouring rain didn’t
seem to help the heat that radiated from his body.
Lucas was mumbling something Margaret couldn’t understand. “I’m
right here, Honey. You’re going to be okay.”
“I didn’t mean to shoot him…I didn’t mean to shoot him…” Lucas’
words mumbled as he tossed his head back and forth on the bed.
Margaret turned and looked at Ann. Her moist eyes told her
friend how frightened she was for Lucas.
A knock sounded on the door. Ann quickly left to see who it was
while Margaret continued speaking to Lucas softly and wiping his
head. “It’s okay…It’s okay…” She closed her eyes and prayed,
begging God not to make Lucas go through the ague again. She had
watched the torture the disease had sent through his body a year
ago, and couldn’t stand the thought of his going through that
Ann walked back into the room. “It was Mr. Jackson. I sent him
over to my house for more water.”
“Can he possibly get malaria again?” Margaret’s voice shook with
emotion. “If it’s back…I don’t know if…” Margaret shook her head
and began weeping.
She was still listening to Lucas’ delirium when Jason showed up.
He hurried into the bedroom and gently took Margaret’s shoulder.
“He’s sick with fever, Jason.” Margaret wept. Her eyes were
already red from crying. “He can’t go through this again.”
“Ann…” Jason nodded toward the bedroom door. Ann hurried forward
and put an arm around Margaret’s shoulders, leading her from the
“Come on, Honey. Let Jason work.” Ann spoke softly to her best
friend as if she were speaking to a child who didn’t want to
leave her mother. “Let’s make some tea.”
Lucas’ moans and cries of delium could be heard from the
kitchen. Margaret’s hands shook as she filled with the tea
kettle with water and put it on the stove. Ann led her to the
table and ordered her to sit, but Margaret shook her head. She
couldn’t sit. Reef Jackson returned with the water and sat it
down on the table. He dug his hands in his pockets and looked
toward the bedroom. “What is it.”
“Some sort of ague,” Ann answered simply.
“It’s malaria!” Margaret declared with a cry.
“We don’t know that, Margaret!” Ann argued. “We don’t!”
“Oh, but it is! I KNOW it is!” Margaret cried bitterly as she
turned and buried her face in Ann’s shoulder. Ann wrapped her
arms around her friend as she continued to cry.
“Where’s your faith, Margaret?” Ann suddenly grabbed Margaret’s
face in her hands and stared into her eyes. “Where’s your
The minutes seemed to crawl by. Reef couldn’t stand hearing
Lucas’ cries any longer and mumbled he would go work on the
well. More minutes passed by. Ann forced Margaret to drink some
tea while they waited.
The front door opened. Margaret looked up to see Abe and Peter
standing in the doorway. She jumped up and ran into Abe’s
outstretched arms. His strong arms wrapped around her as she
buried her face in his chest and wept. “He can’t do this again…”
She continued crying over and over. “He just can’t…”
“Shh…” Abe rubbed her back as she continued to cry. “There
there, Margaret. Do we know for sure it’s malaria?”
“I’m afraid it is,” Jason answered as he stood in the doorway to
the bedroom. He wiped his hands on a towel. Abe didn’t miss his
jaw working. “It’s back.”
More family soon arrived. Margaret felt she was going through
slow motions as she sat by her husband’s side as he slept. Jason
came in once in a while to check on them and would squeeze her
shoulder as she looked up into his face with question in her
eyes. “He’s holding his own,” Jason would reply. But that’s all
he could tell her. The truth was, nobody knew what the outcome
At one point in the late afternoon, Jason insisted that she
needed to lay down and get some rest. Margaret shook her head
and asked, “Why, Jason? Why has it come back after all this
“It never really left, Margaret.” Margaret turned and looked at
him. “He’s had some small episodes this past year. A few cases
of ague, but they were so light he didn’t bother you with them.
Luke knew there was a possibility it could flare up again.”
Tears squeezed from Margaret’s closed eyes as she allowed his
words to soak in. “He never told me. He never…never said a
“He didn’t want to worry you, honey.”
“How long, Jason?” Margaret turned and looked at him. “How long
will he have to fight this? How long does this…disease…have to
live inside him?”
Jason looked toward the bed as Lucas stirred. He reached out a
hand and touched his cool face. “I don’t know, honey. I’ve heard
cases of folks fighting the disease for years. I just…I don’t
know.” Jason knew Lucas’ chills were about to start. He didn’t
want Margaret there at the moment. She was exhausted and hungry.
She needed rest and food. He called out to Margaret’s mother who
quickly appeared in the doorway. “You should make her get some
food and rest,” Jason said as he started rolling his sleeves up.
“And bring me some more blankets.”
“Why? Are the chills starting?” Margaret’s eyes opened wide.
Jennifer put two strong hands on her daughter’s shoulder. “Let’s
“No! I can’t leave him!” Margaret’s cry was weak and her hands
shook from lack of food.
“You will leave,” Jason ordered gruffly as he went to the closet
where he saw another blanket. “Making yourself sick won’t help
him any, Margaret. Go on, now.”
Margaret still hesitated. “Margaret Ann Gibbs McCain, I am your
mother and you will obey me!” Margaret hadn’t heard her mother
speak so gruffly to her in years. But she saw the sternness in
her mother’s eyes and nodded.
Margaret was led out. Her mother sat beside her encouraging her
to eat. As soon as she finished, Jennifer led her into the
second bedroom where a cot was sat up. She pushed Margaret down
and sat beside her, talking softly like she used to when
Margaret was a little girl. Margaret fought the sleep. She tried
to stay awake, but soon her eyes closed in slumber.
More family arrived later that night. Children were put to be on
pallets on the floor and told to go to sleep while adults laid
there heads wherever they could find room. A prayer vigal was
held. There was always somebody praying for Lucas who was once
again fighting for his life.
The hot desert sun burned her feet as she ran. She saw him up
ahead. He was just standing there, not moving. Margaret quickly
realized that no matter how fast she ran, he remained the same
distance away from her. She had to get to him! She had to save
him! His blue eyes pleaded with her to help him, but no matter
how fast she ran, she couldn’t get there.
Suddenly, a black panther came to stand in front of him. The
panther lifted his head. A smile crossed his face and a look of
victory shone in his eyes. Margaret froze in her steps and
straightened her body. “NO!” she tried to scream, but nothing
came out. She fell to her knees and reached out her hands to the
panther. “You can’t have him!” she cried then. Her words were
quiet as the panther began easing his way toward her husband.
Margaret’s eyes grew wide as she realized to her horror that the
panther was there right beside her husband. He was going in for
“NO!” Margaret sat up on the cot. Darkness was in the room. On
this night, not even the moon shone. Margaret jumped to her feet
and raced for the door. “You can’t have him,” she cried as she
flung the door open and ran into the main room. A pair of legs
tripped her and she felt herself falling. Just when she was
about to meet the floor, hands reached out and steadied her.
Margaret lifted her face to look into her brother’s rather
“Luke?” Margaret whispered.
“He’s real bad, Margaret.” Scott’s voice was quiet as he spoke.
Margaret searched his face in the darkness but couldn’t see well
enough to make out his exact expression. Was there hope in his
eyes? Had he given up on Luke? Well, it’s just as well I can’t
see the answer, Margaret thougt. I probably wouldn’t like what I
Margaret didn’t hesitate to make her way to the bedroom. She
opened the door and hurried inside. Lucas was mumbling something
about that he’d killed a man and asked God to forgive him. At
the sound of someone entering, Jason lifted his head from the
bed where he had leaned over to sleep. The lantern was low,
casting eerie shadows on the room. Margaret froze as Jason’s
doubtful eyes turned and looked at her. She couldn’t move. Her
feet felt as if they were nailed to the floor and her mouth
opened. “No…” The word was a mere whisper.
Jason slowly stood and walked over to Margaret. “I’m afraid he’s
worse this time, Margaret,” Jason spoke. “I’ve been giving him
quinine, but it doesn’t seem to be helping.”
Jason’s words echoed through her head. She looked down at her
husband as he tossed his head back and forth. “No…No…” Lucas
cried out then. “Don’t make me kill you! Please run or
something. I don’t…I don’t want to kill you.”
Margaret’s eyes turned to Jason in question. “He’s remembering
some of his darkest moments, Honey. It’s a sign of…” Jason’s
voice drifted off.
“A sign of what?” Margaret questioned, suddenly angry. She
turned and looked at her brother and others standing in the
doorway. “You’ve all given up on him? Just like that? He’s not
dead…He’s very much alive!” Margaret raced to the bedside and
laid her hands on her husband’s sweating cheeks. “I’m here, my
Love. I won’t leave you.”
Somewhere in the dark recesses of his mind, Lucas heard her
voice. “Margaret…why are you here? No…You can’t be here.” Lucas
lifted a weak hand and tried to push her away. “It’s dangerous
here. You can’t be here. You could get…killed…”
“Oh Luke…” Margaret’s eyes filled with tears. “Luke…” She laid
her head on his chest and cried. “I’m not going anywhere, Luke.
I’m staying here. I promised until death do us part, and that’s
what I meant!”
Julie stood behind Abe as they looked into the bedroom. Abe
looked into her eyes. Both sets of eyes filled with tears. They
knew Lucas was more dead than alive at this point. Losing him
would be very hard on Margaret.
The bright sun teased the occupants of the McCain Ranch house
that morning. Just past six, the sun slowly began it’s climb
into the sky. Women sadly and tiredly began preparing breakfast,
knowing word would spread quickly on Lucas McCain’s position,
and they would probably see many stop by to visit the family.
Margaret stayed faithful to her husband throughout the night. As
the sun began shining in the window, Margaret lifted a wet cloth
to her head, still burning with fever. She kept his tongue moist
with drops of water. At this point, he was quiet and
still…deathly still. The demons still plagued him, she could
tell that from his face. She spoke softly to him, telling him
about their wedding and wonderful, intimate moments they had
shared. She told him of their hopes and dreams and reminded him
of all the reasons he couldn’t die.
Nobody bothered her, knowing this was something Margaret had to
do. She wouldn’t leave his side until it was over. “We cannot
give up hope,” Julie had finally said sometime in the night.
Everyone had nodded in agreement, and spent the remainder of the
night on their knees in prayer restoring the faith they needed
to have in Lucas.
As breakfast was sat on the table, people began dropping by. Ann
and Hal, who had put some of the McCain family up in their
house, came over for breakfast. Reef Jackson again showed up.
The Reverend, upon hearing how ill Lucas was, thought it was
best he be there just in case his services were needed. He led
the family in a prayer, begging God to spare Lucas from an early
Breakfast was eaten in silence. Even the children were quiet,
knowing Uncle Luke was gravely ill. Their mothers told them to
pray for him. Prayer was all they had to hold on to.
Jeremiah, having his own dilemma at home, made brief appearances
whenever he could, but felt torn between being at home with his
family and being with his little brother, who may have only a
small time to live. Abe saw the struggled going on inside him
and reminded him that Luke would want him to take care of the
family. Jeremiah kneeled beside his brother when tears rolling
down his cheeks. He did something he’d never done to Luke
before. He pressed his lips to his brother’s cheek for a
brotherly kiss. “I love you.” Jeremiah wiped the hair from
Luke’s sweaty forehead. “Please don’t leave us. You fight, ya
hear me? Fight.”
After that, Jeremiah wiped the tears from his eyes, stood, and
turned around to look up into his older brother’s eyes. Abe
opened his arms and welcomed Jeremiah into them. The brothers
embraced, and Abe assured Jeremiah he was doing the right thing
by going home. Then Jeremiah quietly slipped out of the house
and went home, unsure of rather he’d ever see his brother alive
Then in the silence, Jason stood up and began pacing. He
suddenly hit the wall with his fist and cursed. Emily, who had
arrived with some of her family earlier the evening before,
stood and went to her husband. “I’m a doctor!” Jason declared in
the quiet of the house. “I’ve been trained to heal and I…I
can’t!” Everyone saw the agony and guilt on his face. “I can’t
do anymore than the rest of you…Just stand here and watch
him…him slowly slip away.” Jason clung to Emily then. “Damn it…I
feel so…so hopeless.”
Reef stood and muttered that he was going to work on the well.
Hal mumbled that he would as well. They couldn’t just stand
around. Soon, several of the other men stood and said they would
go work in the fields. Jason had cried these words in
frustration, yet somehow they had brought life back to the
family. Somehow they thought that if Lucas’ work got done, he’d
The women took to their husband’s unspoken declaration and all
got to work on cleaning the house. The children were sent
outside to play and be entertained by Laura. Life suddenly
arrived back to the family who had given to grief for a death
that had not occurred yet.
Inside the bedroom, Margaret continued to speak to her husband.
Her mother brought in food, but Margaret shook her head as she
continued to talk softly. Silently, she prayed to God, pleading
with him to please not take her husband. She wasn’t finished
with him yet. There were so many things they still had to do
together as a family.
Very quickly, Lucas’ fever changed into chills. He started
shaking violentely all over. Margaret covered his naked body
with all the blankets she could find. Jason came in to assist
her with the latest symptom of ague. The chills were so bad and
had come so quickly behind the fever that it sent his body into
shock. He was shaking so badly that they had to hold him.
Margaret never stopped talking to him. Lucas chattered and cried
out his grief at Gettysburg.
They all stood there mourning for the loss of their fallen
officers. Lucas stood on one side as the cold rain fell. It was
so cold. Lucas shivered and shook, knowing he needed to calm
himself so he could bury his fellow officers. But his eyes
stared toward the rebels who only stared back. Grief was heavy
on their faces.
Then his mouth opened in a gasp when he heard her say, “Luke,
don’t leave me. Come back to me, Luke.” Then she was there. Her
face appeared in the crowd of rebel soldiers. She was crying and
held her arms out to him. “Come to me, Luke. You can do it. Come
“I can’t.” Lucas shook his head. “I can’t go over there. That’s
the wrong side.” He looked down to see a line drawn in the dirt.
Her feet were on the other side of the line. “I can’t cross that
line, Margaret. Can’t you understand? You have to come to me.”
“Luke, come here!” Margaret’s voice pleaded. “Oh please, Luke. I
still need you!”
Her face began fading. His eyes filled with tears. “No! Don’t
go! Please don’t go!”
“Don’t leave me, Margaret…” Lucas mumbled through his chilled
“I’m here, Luke. I’m here.” Margaret lifted her eyes to Jason.
It was getting worse and they both knew it. “Luke, come back to
me. Please. Honey, I love you so much. Please don’t leave me.”
Her voice pleaded with him.
“I can’t…I can’t reach you…” Lucas’ teeth chattered. “I can’t…”
Then his body began to still. Slowly, his shaking ceased and he
laid back and slept.
“Jason…” Margaret lifted her head to look into his eyes. Jason
hurried over, sticking the stethoscope in his ears. He listened
frantically, then his hands stilled. Slowly he stood and took
the stethoscope from his ears as he looked up at her. “Is he…”
“He’s asleep. The fever will soon return.” Not a word was spoken
as they stared at each other. “I’m sorry, Margaret. I wish there
was more I could do. I would give both my arms to bring him back
to you.” Margaret nodded and sat down in her chair with a plop.
She rubbed her face tiredly and felt the tears begin to fall
again. Her shoulders shook with sobs.
“Aunt Jennifer,” Jason called over her sobs. Jennifer came in
and saw that Margaret needed her. She dropped on her knees in
front of her daughter and enveloped her in her arms, allowing
Margaret to cry.
Hal stood and looked down into the well. It had been three days
now since Lucas had taken sick. Nobody knew why he was still
alive. Margaret had only left his side when forced to, but any
other time she was found right there beside Jason fighting
whatever was plaguing Luke’s body.
Reef climbed from the hole in the well and nodded his head
toward Hal. “She’s filling up. I think we’re finished.”
Hal looked out toward the fields where the men were planting
Lucas’ crops. “Everything will be ready when he gets better.”
“IF he gets better,” Reef declared. He looked toward the house.
“Doc said this morning he’s barely alive. He may not even last…”
“He’ll live!” Hal declared angrily. “Don’t you think different,
Jackson!” There was a threat in Hal’s voice. Reef narrowed his
eyes toward the rancher and wondered what gave these men all
their faith. It had wavered from time to time, but something
always seemed to make it come back. “With a little faith, you
can move a mountain.” Hal’s words startled Reef, and it was then
he realized how transparent he was.
Reef had never been a bad person. All his life, he’d tried to do
the right thing. He hadn’t been raised in church, but he lived
by the same moral standards this family lived by. Yet he felt
something deep inside him begin to grow. He wasn’t sure what it
was yet, but it scared him. He looked toward the house and
wasn’t sure if he wanted his friend to live or not.
Margaret had laid her head down for only a moment, just to close
her eyes for a few winks of sleep. But she startled awake when
she felt a hand on her hair. Margaret lifted her head to look
into her husband’s weak eyes. “My dear, sweet wife…” Lucas
mumbled. Beads of sweat were on his face. Margaret let out a
cry, believing his chills would come soon. “You never left my
Margaret lifted her head even further and studied his eyes.
“Luke? Can you see me?”
“You’re so tired, Honey. You should sleep.” Lucas’ eyes widened
just a bit. His hand was almost too weak to lift from the bed,
but he forced his fingers to lift to her face. He brushed the
back of them against her soft cheek. “I never meant to go sick
Margaret stood up even further. His eyes were clear. She put a
hand to his cheek. It was a bit warm, and there was no sign of
the chills that had always come up so quickly behind the fever.
“You’re beautiful. Did I ever tell you that? Oh, you’re the most
beautiful sight I’ve ever seen,” Lucas mumbled as he placed his
whole hand against her cheek.
Margaret straightened from him and stared down at him. “Luke!”
Her voice shouted out in joy. She fell on top of him and hugged
him tight. “Oh Luke…Luke…Luke…” She kept crying his name over
and over as she covered his sweet face in kisses. Every inch of
his face was kissed before she found his lips. He kissed her
back weakly. “Luke…Oh Luke…” She mumbled again as she laid her
cheek against his.
“It’s that all you can say?” Lucas chuckled weakly as she began
to cry. “Luke?”
“No…” Margaret lifted her face from his and shook her head. She
swallowed. “I love you, Lucas McCain. Oh, I love you so much!”
She lowered her head to his chest and just laid there. She felt
his arms slowly go around her in a weak hug. “Thank you God for
giving him back to me!” She cried the words through her tears.
Lucas hardly understood what she was saying.
The door to the bedroom opened and Jason hurried in, followed by
a pack of other family members. “Margaret what…” They stopped,
frozen in their tracks when they saw Margaret’s position on top
of her husband. His arms laid at his side and he was still…so
still…”Oh Dear God in Heaven!” Jason muttered breathlessly.
The women threw their hands to the mouths as they listened to
Margaret weep. “Oh no…” Other words of grief could be heard as
they stood in the room and watched the scene, they believed to
be a wife mourning for her deceased husband.
Margaret lifted from Lucas, realizing he had fallen asleep. She
sat up on the side of the bed and wiped her eyes. Looking up at
her family who stood in front of them, she stated, “Mama, he’s
alive! He’s going to be okay!”
Nobody moved, thinking she was suddenly denying what had
happened. Finally, Jason forced his way to the bed and looked
down at Lucas. “It’s…” He put a hand to Lucas’ face and felt the
coolness. He watched Lucas’ chest slowly move up and down in a
relaxed rhythm. “It’s true!” Jason turned and looked at his
family. “He lives. His fever broke and there are no chills! He’s
going to be okay!”
A loud shout of praise engulfed the house. Everyone began crying
and hugging. Reverend Gathers lifted his arms toward the
heavens. “Praise be to God who’s delivered a miracle on this
house today! Praise you God for all your miracles!”
A groan sounded from the bed. Margaret turned back to her
husband and looked down at him. “Margaret…” Lucas mumbled as he
turned on his side with a groan. “Would you keep it down? I’m
trying to sleep.” Margaret lifted her head toward Jason who only
chuckled. She bent down and kissed Lucas’ cheek as she tucked
the covers around him.
“Alright everyone, you heard the man,” Margaret declared as she
turned toward the group still huddled in the bedroom. “Everyone
out so he can get some sleep!”
The mood in the house that morning was much different than what
it was the previous one. Though the temperature outside was
hovering near fifty degrees that morning in early April, the
family kept the doors opened and opened the windows. They were
having a party as the man of the hour slept. Margaret, who still
hadn’t stopped shedding her tears of joy, practically floated
around the kitchen as they put the remainder of food on the
Reef Jackson, expecting to arrive and hear that the man of the
house had passed into the next life, was quite surprised to hear
laughter and shouts of joy from the house. He stepped up onto
the porch and stood in the doorway. “Did I hear a celebration?”
“Yes!” Hal declared as he hurried forward to shake the big man’s
hand. “Luke’s going to be okay. A miracle occurred this very
Reef didn’t like the feeling he felt way down deep in his gut. A
year ago, he would have never wished death on any human being,
no matter how bad he was. But today, he felt he had lost some
battle he hadn’t known he was fighting. He forced his face to
betray what he was feeling and smiled. “That’s great! And won’t
he be surprised to know the well’s all done. I was going to
suggest we work on the pump today.”
“Do it!” Margaret declared in a voice so loud that everyone
stopped talking and turned to look at her. She walked toward Hal
and Reef and folded her arms as she lifted her head in a
stubborn stance. “My man isn’t lifting a finger until I’VE
declared him one hundered precent better and then some!”
“What about my declaration?” Jason questioned as he stood up.
“Oh, I assure you, DR. Livingston, that you will declare him fit
long before I do!” Margaret answered with a nod of her head. She
shoved a finger toward the bedroom door. “But he is NOT doing
ANY work until I’m sure he’s better. And that will be quite
awhile. So please finish his crops and the pump, and the well,
and anything else that needs done this spring. He certainly
won’t be doing any planting this season!”
Abe and Peter looked at each other with lifted eyebrows. They
knew their brother well enough to know Margaret would be causing
a war. They both stood and walked over to her. “Now Margaret,
see here…” Abe started.
Margaret lifted her head up even higher and stuck her chin out
as she planted her hands on her hips. She glared up from one
brother to the other. “What?” She asked as their startled
expressions looked down at her.
“Uh…” Peter gulped. “I’ve a feeling, brother, that Margaret
McCain will win this war.”
“Yeah,” Abe answered with a nod as they sat down. “I’ve a
feeling you’re right.”
Margaret couldn’t help but smile as she straightened her apron.
“So after you finish breakfast, you boys just get to work. I
don’t want any excuses for Lucas to fight me on this.” With
that, she turned back to the kitchen to help put it back in
Margaret looked up from her Bible and smiled as Lucas opened his
eyes and looked up at her. The agony and torment that had
tortured his body during the last days had disappeared. His face
had returned to it’s normal color and his eyes proved to her he
was no longer suffering. “Hello,” Margaret whispered as she
rested a hand on his cheek and smiled down at him.
“Hi,” Lucas smiled up at her. “What happened?”
“It came back.”
“It?” Lucas lifted an eyebrow.
“Malaria. You’ve had ague for the last several days. Luke, It
was worse this time then it was last year.”
Lucas swallowed as he continued to look up into his wife’s eyes.
“I’m sorry. I felt myself getting sick, but I thought…”
Margaret’s eyes filled with tears. “Oh Luke…Why didn’t you tell
me?” Lucas slowly lifted his head from the pillow and studied
her. The room spun, but he closed his eyes to try and focus.
When he opened his eyes, they held question. “Jason told me
you’ve still been feeling…”
The door opened and Jason stepped in. “Well, it seems my patient
is recovering nicely.” Jason smiled down at Lucas as he stepped
closer to the bed and put a hand on Lucas’ forehead.”
“Doc!” Lucas cried out as he swiped Jason’s hand away. “I’m
Jason sat down in the chair and looked from Margaret to Lucas.
“Jason…why?” Margaret finally asked the question she’d been
wondering since Lucas had fallen ill. “Why did it come back?”
“I don’t know, Margaret.” He held up his hand to stop her next
question. “And before you ask, no I can’t tell you it’ll never
happen again. Swamp fever…Ague…Malaria…Whatever you want to call
it has been known to live inside a man for many, many years.
Nobody knows what causes it exactly. If we knew, maybe we could
prevent it. Many people die from it. Your husband has returned
from the grave twice now.”
“Returned from the grave?” Lucas questioned as he rubbed his
eyes to make the room stop spinning.
Jason nodded. “Luke, you were barely alive yesterday. We thought
you were…Well, it was bad.”
“How many years?” Margaret questioned then. Her voice held tears
and fright. She stood from the chair and looked down at Jason.
Her fists balled as she was finally able to let out her
frustration. “Jason, how many more times must I watch him suffer
like this? How many more years will he…”
“Margaret!” Lucas warned in a strong, stern voice.
“No, Luke! I’m so tired! I almost LOST you, Luke! What about
next time? Or the time after next? Can you guarantee me that
Lucas will live through those experiences?”
Jason sighed as he rubbed his hands together. He closed his
eyes. “No Margaret. I can’t.” Jason stood up. “I may be a
doctor, but I’m human, and the medical field is still very
limited in fighting such diseases. Something…something probably
got inside your husband’s body while he was fighting the war.
Many men grew sick and died right away, but it lived dormant in
your husband’s body for a long time before it became active.
Then it became dormant again. I had hoped, Margaret, that Lucas
was one of the lucky one’s who had ridded himself of the
monster. He’s had a few bouts with it the past year, and somehow
they were mild enough that he was able to hide them from you.”
Margaret’s head jerked around toward Lucas. Her arms folded and
her eyes narrowed, but she stayed silent.
“I told him to warn you. I was afraid the ague would come back,
but he swore me to secrecy. I had to do as he asked, Margaret.
Now…” Jason sighed. “I’m sorry I ever made that promise. I’ll
get it from you, and I’ve already gotten it from my wife. I
understand your anger, honey, and I promise you that there are
scientists working, right now, to find a cause for the disease.
They want an answer as much as you do.”
Margaret stayed silent, but lifted her head to the ceiling.
“Well, I sent Emily home yesterday. I really should get back
home myself.” Without another word, Jason left the room, closing
the door behind him.
Nothing was said for a long time. Lucas worked at propping
himself up while Margaret slowly moved her head in position to
look at him. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do…Take him in
her arms and cover him in kisses, or beat him over the head for
hiding this from her. Instead, she turned on her heels and
walked toward the door. She paused with her hand on the door
knob and spoke in a very calm, controlled voice. “I’ll…bring you
in some soup. You’ll stay in that bed until I say you can get
“I can’t talk to you right now, Luke. I have to think about
Lucas watched her walk out the door. He knew he had again messed
up royally and would have to do a lot of apologizing and sweet
talking to get back into her good graces.
Jennifer smiled as she came out of the bedroom. “He ate all of
his soup and is yelling for something that will fill him up.”
Margaret smiled as she washed the pan. “I wish he had told me.”
“He was trying to protect you, Margaret. His illness a year ago
affected you so badly. He didn’t want to put you through that
The pan dropped in the sink. Suds splashed all over her shirt,
but she paid them no mind as she whirled to stare at her mother.
“Put me through that?” Margaret pushed some hair out of her face
in frustration. “Mother, the shock of him suddenly growing ill
like that…not even knowing or understanding what was wrong! That
was almost more than I could take! If I had been warned…If I had
known he was still suffering…”
“He loves you, Margaret,” Jennifer said as she laid a hand on
her daughter’s arm. “He loves you so much. He was probably
hoping it would never come back like that…that he’d only suffer
mildly from it. That…”
“Hey, Margaret get in here!” Lucas’ voice sounded angry as he
called her from the bedroom.
“What now?” Margaret threw down the dish towel and hurried
toward the bedroom. She threw open the door. “Lucas McCain,
what…” She stopped when she realized he was up on his knees in
the bed staring out the window. “Lucas, you get back in that bed
immediately!” She demanded in a no-nonsense voice.
“I want to know what THOSE men are doing out there!” Lucas
demanded as she shoved him back down into bed.
“Those ‘men,’ as you call them are your brothers, Luke. I
believe it’s called planting.”
“I’ll be damned if they…” Lucas started angrily.
“I asked them to!” Margaret lifted her head and stuck out her
chin. “You will not be doing any seeding this spring, and that’s
“Now, you wait just a cotton picking minute!” Lucas shouted. “If
there’s work to be done on my ranch, I’ll be the one to do it! I
“Well…” Margaret placed a hand on her hip as she flipped his bed
covers back. “If you have so much bite that you can yell at me
like that, you are well enough to sit in that chair while I
change your bed coverings and then you’ll take a bath.”
“And let me tell you another thing, Lucas McCain…” Margaret
wagged her finger at her husband. “This is OUR ranch, and I gave
the orders for the well and pump to be finished as well as all
the spring chores to be done. I’m also ordering that YOU will
NOT be doing any work until I’m SURE you are better!”
“Now wait a minute!” Lucas grunted as Margaret dragged him to
the chair and shoved him down into it. “I’m the man of the house
and I make the rules here!”
“Oh HO!” Margaret straightened and glared straight at her
husband. Some of the anger left her face and her eyes clouded
with hurt and regret. Her voice was quiet when she spoke.
“You’ve never said that before.”
Hearing the hurt in her voice was enough to take the fight out
of Lucas. He sobered and looked down at the floor as if the
answer to taking his words back was there. Margaret turned from
him and quietly worked on stripping the soiled bed sheets. She
straightened with her bundle and started to leave the room, but
Lucas caught her arm. Margaret turned and looked at him and
that’s when he saw her tears. “Talk?” Margaret nodded as she
threw the bundle on the floor and sat down on the edge of the
bed. Lucas stood out of his chair a bit and scooted the chair up
closer to her. He took her hands in his own and raised his
eyebrows with a regretful sigh. “I’m sorry. I had no right to…”
“I should have consulted…” Margaret started.
“…say what I did. You know I don’t…”
“No, Luke…It’s okay…I know your right…”
“I love you. I never want to hurt you. I just hate seeing…”
“I love you too, Luke.”
They smiled as their talking stopped. Margaret reached up and
put a hand to his cheek. “Oh Luke…” Her eyes filled with tears.
“Luke…I was just so…so afraid!” Margaret put her face in her
hands and began weeping.
Lucas scooted from the chair and dropped to his knees in front
of her. He tenderly wrapped his arms around her and coaxed her
head to his shoulder. He felt her shaking against him as he
began smoothing her hair. Her tears wet his bare shoulder.
“Don’t cry, my sweet,” Lucas whispered softly. “Oh please don’t
cry…I’m sorry I hurt you. I’m sorry I said those things…” Lucas
felt his own eyes fill with tears as he realized just how deeply
his words had hurt her.
Margaret couldn’t speak as he whispered soothing words to her
and softly brushed her hair with his hand. In time, she was
spent and lifted her head from his shoulders. She sniffed and
shook her head. “I’m not crying because of what you said, Luke.
I’m crying because…because…you almost DIED!”
“But I didn’t, and I’m here,” Lucas said softly as he looked
into her eyes and continued brushing her hair with his hand. “I
made it through.”
“I was just so afraid, Luke. I was TERRIFIED! I’ve never been so
scared in my life! Even when we got that letter from the army
that you had died…this time it was different. I was right here
beside you when Jason told me you were close to death. I could
see death in your eyes…in your face…”
“Don’t, Margaret…” Lucas’ hand paused on her hair. His eyes grew
stern as he looked into her eyes. “Don’t.” His eyes softened
then. “I’m right here. I’m going to be okay.”
Margaret reached out and stroked his stubby cheek with her hand.
She smiled softly at him. “And I want to keep you here…very
close to me for some time. Jason may give you a clean bill of
health, but is there really any reason for you to rush right out
and get started again? Can’t I hold you close for awhile, Luke?
The pleading wasn’t only in her shaky voice, but it was in her
eyes. Lucas shifted his eyes toward the window where he could
hear men planting. He could hear the noise of pipes going into
the ground for the pump. Then he heard something else. He heard
a faint beating sound. He moved his eyes back to his wife’s face
and saw the agony in her features. He realized what the beating
was. It was her heart.
“Alright.” Right away, Margaret’s features relaxed. A small
smile played on her mouth. “But you’ll have to stay mighty close
to me. And as soon as I get my strength back, I want to thank
you properly for saving my life.” Margaret hugged him as tears
of joy ran down her face. “Now…how about that bath you promised
me?” Margaret nodded as she straightened from him and wiped her
eyes. She stood, gathered up the bundle of laundry, and hurried
from the room.
The Margaret Years —
Home is Where the Love Is
These stories are based on the TV series
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
The Writer's Corner
Table of Contents
around The McCain Ranch