The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Margaret Years...
 
Chapter 4 - The Rifle
Written by Michelle Palmer

Lucas picked the coffee pot off of the fire and poured another cup. He had forgotten just how bad bachelor coffee tasted. Ever since he had arrived back in Enid, he’d tasted coffee made by a woman’s hand, and soon...soon he would taste it again. Lucas smiled, wondering just when he would carry his bride over the threshold.
 
He went to work that morning. It had been two weeks since he purchased the land. Two weeks ago, Lucas had started working his land. He had a small shack up. Inside it held a trundle bed with a stuffed mattress. It wasn’t the greatest bed, but it served its purpose. A small table sat in the shack as well. There was just enough room for him to move, eat and sleep, and it was built well enough for him to keep out of the rain when it came.
 
In only a week, May would enter onto his land. Already, Lucas could see a field of wild flowers in the distance. Margaret had laughed when she rode out yesterday and was very pleased to see their land blossoming with flowers...Lucas smiled at that thought...their land. True that his name was on the paper, but he and Margaret both had a lot of love invested in this piece of land. In his mind, the land belonged to Margaret as much as it did to him.
 
Margaret rode out every day, declaring she had to make sure Lucas had plenty to eat. She brought all sorts of food, and lovingly cooked lunch and dinner over the camp fire Lucas had built up outside the shack. Lucas loved eating her cooking. He commented that everything Margaret cooked tasted sweet. Margaret would blush as he kissed her cheek. They sat beside each other...talking and eating.
 
Lucas grinned as he thought on that now. He had found himself looking forward to noon and the evening meal, because he knew that Margaret would have yet another wonderful meal to cook over the campfire. And though Ann had offered a few times to cook for Lucas, Margaret declared that Lucas was her man and she’d see to his meals. She was taking very good care of him.
 
But the rides were hard on her. As the week passed, Lucas had noticed the tiredness about her. She’d be there in only three hours, and Lucas knew that today he would sit her down and lay down the law. She could not keep coming here every day. It was too much for her.
 
Lucas worked hard as he worked on the barn. He would be happy when it was up. Hal already had a few head to sell him, and at the moment he and Hal were working on a brand. Lucas decided to keep it simple. He would bring the brand design into town that afternoon – Mc...
 
Margaret was right on time that morning. She rode in at eleven o’clock. Lucas hurried over to her and helped her down. Tiredly, Margaret made her way to the fire. Lucas eyed her closely as she prepared his lunch. Sometimes, she would bring him sandwiches, but she felt that a man needed a good, hot meal when he was working as hard as Lucas was.
 
Lucas waited until lunch was over. Then he sat down his plate, turned on the log they were sitting on, took her hands and cleared his throat. “Margaret, now...we need to talk.” Lucas said the words sternly, but lovingly, and lifted his eyebrows. The tone and look warned Margaret to listen carefully. She merely nodded her head. “Now...I appreciate everything you’re doing to take care of me. I love the fact that you want to come out here twice a day and feed me. I know you do it because you love me but...” Lucas swallowed. He forced his voice to remain very firm. “This has got to stop.”
 
Margaret shook her head. “Oh, but...” she started.
 
Lucas again lifted his eyebrows. The look alone silenced her. Margaret lowered her head, not wanting to hear the words Lucas was about to say. “Look at me, Margaret...” Margaret lifted her head and looked into his eyes. “This riding back and forth...all the way out here…it cannot continue. I see how tired it’s making you. And I won’t have you tiring yourself out for no reason.”
 
“But you have to eat!” Margaret declared.
 
Lucas nodded toward the Dodd ranch. “Ann’s offered to take care of that need. I’m taking her up on it.”
 
“Oh, but Luke…” Margaret started.
 
Lucas shook his head. “It’s final, Margaret. No arguments.” Lucas squeezed her hand. “I want to take care of you…too.” He smiled at her.
 
“But I love you, Luke. I want to see you!”
 
“I know, honey.”  Lucas reached a hand up to her cheek. “And I’ll ride out to see you every couple of days. But I don’t want you taking these long rides out here anymore. Ya hear?” Margaret nodded. “I mean it now!” He declared firmly. “Promise.”
 
“Oh Luke...”
 
“Margaret…PROMISE!”
 
Margaret sighed. “Alright. I promise.”
 
Lucas smiled. “Good girl.” He grinned as he put his hands around the back of her neck. “Now...commere.”
 
Lucas drew her against him. He wrapped his arms around her back and pressed his lips to hers. Margaret responded to his kiss. After releasing her, Lucas walked over to her horse. “You best get going.”
 
Margaret turned from the horse. “Oh Luke, I...”
 
“Come on now...” Lucas nodded toward the horse. “Someday we’ll be married and you’ll never have to leave again. Until then…”
 
Margaret leaned forward and gave him one last kiss. Then she mounted her horse and rode away.
 
After Margaret left, Lucas grabbed the drawing of the brand he had in mind, then made a quick list of the supplies he would need before riding into town.
 
*****
 
There was a man yelling on the street when he rode in. Ned Majors, his childhood friend, was standing in the middle of the street with his gun drawn. He threatened to shoot anyone who dared to move. His words slurred so badly that Lucas suspected he couldn’t shoot a thing. Lucas grabbed his rifle from the scabbard and hurried up to him. “Ned! Ned!” Lucas grabbed his arm. “What’s going on here?”
 
“A reb just rode into town,” one of the men in the crowd stated. “When he walked into the saloon, Majors…he just went crazy!”
 
“Alright, break it up!” Lucas grabbed Ned firmly by the shoulder and helped him stagger off the street. “Put it away, Ned.” Ned continued to curse and wave his gun around. He started to threaten Lucas. “I said put it away!” Lucas ordered harshly. Ned slowly lowered his gun. Marshal Williams hurried up to the two and took Ned’s gun from him.
 
“What now, Majors?” Marshal Williams asked. “You gonna just make your permanent residence in the jail?” Lucas helped Majors make his way to the jail. Marshal Williams grabbed the keys. “Hold it, Matt.”
 
“He has to go in jail!” Marshal Williams declared.
 
“I said hold it!” Lucas shouted. He sat Ned in a chair and bent down in front of him. He no longer saw a man full of anger. Instead, Ned’s eyes held failure, brokenness, and hurt. “Get me some coffee.”
 
“Lucas...” Marshal Williams started.
 
“Just do it!” Lucas shouted, but regretted his shouting when he saw Ned cringe. Marshal Williams handed Lucas the coffee. Lucas forced some of the coffee down Ned’s throat, but the man sputtered and spewed.
 
The door opened. “Hey Marshal, I have a man with a gunshot...” Jason Livingston stopped when he saw Ned. More importantly, he saw the sorrow in Lucas’ eyes. Jason bent down next to his brother-in-law.
 
“He’s drunk...I’ve a feeling he’s been drunk ever since leaving the war.” Lucas put a hand against Ned’s cheek. Ned raised his eyes to stare blankly at Lucas’. “I don’t understand...”
 
“Lucas...” Jason felt sorry for the man and for Lucas. “I know it’s hard to understand, but when I was in medical school we discussed this condition. It’s something nobody can understand, but a lot of times in the face of tragedy...men...and even some women...they turn to something to take their pain away.”
 
“I was broken once...” Lucas mumbled. “I was so broken I wanted to take my own life. But my brothers...they wouldn’t let me give up. They made me talk until...”
 
“Did you turn to the bottle, Lucas?”
 
Marshal Williams led Ned to the back and put him in a cell as he continued cursing.
 
Lucas looked away from Jason. “No.”
 
“There’s another drunk in this town. From what I hear, his family has done everything humanly possible to save him and it’s not working. Lucas, alcohol is...it captures you and...” Jason ran a hand through his hair. “During the war, a lot of men lost limbs or had other painful, painful wounds. The doctors...they gave them this new drug for the pain. It’s powerful, and it’ll kill the pain. The name of this drug is morphine. It’s a good drug, I guess, because it does what it’s supposed to do. It kills the pain. But it has another effect. It does something...something inside you that makes a person suddenly crave it like...well like some men crave alcohol. I hate comparing apples with apples, but that’s the only way I can describe it.”
 
“What are you saying?” Lucas suddenly asked.
 
“I’m saying, Lucas, that a drunk, or a man who craves morphine, many times are a lost case. It’s like you’re fighting the devil himself.”
 
“Are you saying he can’t be helped?”
 
“I’m saying, Lucas, that medicine is lacking in many areas. Maybe someday doctors can find a way to help men who turn to a bottle or a drug to fix the pain that’s inside them. But for now...” Jason looked toward the jail. “Until he’s ready to give up the bottle, he won’t do it.”
 
“I don’t understand...” Lucas stood up. “I mean he was in a prison camp and he was treated badly, but he made it through the war! You’d think that the fact he survived the war would give him a reason to live...a reason to be happy.”
 
“The mind...it’s a powerful thing.” Jason turned to Marshal Williams. “Marshal, about that gunshot wound...I think he’s a gunfighter. I thought you’d like to talk to him while I get the slug from his arm. I...don’t like Emily being in there when a man’s talking like he is.”
 
“I’ll help.” Marshal Williams nodded. He paused at the door. “See you, Luke.”
 
Lucas made his way down to the blacksmith’s and showed him the brand he wanted made.  The blacksmith informed him it would be ready in a couple days. He went to the hardware store to buy the few purchases he needed. And he was pleasantly surprised to see Margaret coming out of the General Store. He was even more surprised to see Johnny Gibbs right behind her. “Luke!” Margaret smiled as he stopped in front of her. “Luke, look who I found wondering around!”
 
“Johnny!” Lucas gave him a firm handshake. “Well look at you...growing like a weed!” Lucas exclaimed as he pumped Johnny’s hand up and down. “I heard you joined the rodeo!”
 
“I did!” Johnny smiled. “I’m meeting up with ‘em in a few days in Oklahoma City!” He laughed. “You should come check it out! Rodeoing is a lot of fun!”
 
“I raise cattle, Johnny. I don’t ride them.” Lucas folded his arms. “Well...how long will you be here?”
 
“Oh, just a few days,” Johnny answered as he shoved his hat back on his head. “I knew my family would be angry with me if I didn’t at least make an appearance…” Johnny laughed.
 
Lucas cringed when he saw the expression on Margaret’s face. Her message was loud and clear – he could take a lesson from this 17 year old teenager. Lucas just lifted an eyebrow and nodded. “Well...I’ll see you later.”
 
“Luke…” Margaret reached out and took his hand. “Luke, are you okay?”
 
Lucas smiled in spite of the burden he suddenly felt he was carrying. She could always sense his mood. “I’m fine.”
 
Margaret turned to Johnny. “I’ll meet you at the horses.” Johnny nodded and hurried away. Margaret turned back to Lucas. “What’s wrong?”
 
“Nothing...” Margaret raised an eyebrow at Lucas. He sighed. “It’s just that...I ran into Ned Majors again. He’s a...drunk.”
 
“Like my Pa?” Margaret asked.
 
Lucas nodded. “I guess so. And Jason gave me a quick lesson on a drunk. I guess I’m just a bit…down.”
 
“I’m sorry, Luke...” Margaret put a hand on his arm and looked deeply into his eyes. “Really...I’m sorry.” She smiled at him. “You come by the house and I’ll fix you supper.”
 
“Margaret...” Lucas lifted his eyebrows at her and shook his head. His look told her to behave herself.
 
Margaret lifted a shoulder in a half-shrug. “I had to try. I’ll be good.” She put a hand against his cheek and smiled. “I love you.”
 
Lucas nodded. He felt uncomfortable being this close to her on a public sidewalk. He quickly moved away from her and motioned for her to go. Margaret giggled at his bashfulness and hurried away. Lucas shook his head. He could not WAIT to take this woman as his wife. He wouldn’t have to feel so ‘funny’ about stealing a kiss from her in public.
 
Lucas mounted his horse and turned to wave once more at the brother and sister as they rode out of town. He shook his head and smiled. “I’m going to marry that gal!” he declared as he allowed his horse to rear back before galloping out of town in the opposite direction. “Yes sirree! I’m gonna marry her for sure!”
 
***
It was two mornings later when Lucas once again mounted his horse to ride into town. He hoped Margaret was doing the Saturday shopping there because he had a strong desire to take that gal to lunch at the restaurant. The blacksmith had assured him his branding iron would be done today.
 
Currently, Lucas was working on getting the hole for the outhouse dug and the barn built. Hal mentioned they could hold a barn raising, but Lucas declared his two hands were going to do all the work. He had dreamed of this for a long time, and he wouldn’t believe it ever was true unless he watched it go up himself – board by board.  Instead, Lucas mentioned to Hal that an outhouse raising would be more to his liking, and Hal laughed and said, “Good luck.”
 
The few cattle Lucas had bought from Hal were grazing on the range nearby. He’d certainly be happy to get a nice hot fire going and brand their hides! He just couldn’t wait to do that come Monday morning. That was a two-man job, and Ann had already assured both Hal and Lucas that there would be no branding done on the Lord’s day! They both groaned at her announcement but knew that when a woman’s mind was made up, there would be no arguing.
 
Lucas quickly rode out of his yard and down the road. He had a million things to do yet before he could call Margaret his wife, and he had a hankering to see them done already! As he rode into town, he smiled when he saw Lightening Bolt tied outside the General Store. The supply list must be light today! Lucas walked inside and was pleased to see Margaret standing at the counter. He softly walked up behind her. He pressed a finger to his lip at the man behind the counter, then put his hands over her eyes. Margaret gasped. “Guess who?”
 
Margaret straightened up and leaned back against him. “Let’s see now…” She put a finger to her lips as she thought. “Well now...is it Lariat Jones?”
 
“Huh?” Lucas heard the teasing in her voice, but acted very offended.
 
“Oh no…wait! It’s Richard!”
 
What?” Lucas’ voice grew louder.
 
“Oh! I’m sorry! There’s only one other person it could be...TED!”
 
Lucas removed his hands from her eyes and stepped back from the counter. “Well now, I’m going through an awful lot of work for you, girl, so there better be just one – and only one may who would put his hands over your eyes…and only one man who you would lean against like you did!” He folded his arms across his middle. “Just for that, Margaret Gibbs, I won’t take you to lunch!”
 
He looked around for some male chaperone, but didn’t see any that he would expect to be seen with her. “You came in all by yourself?” His voice hinted that she better not have. Lucas had told Margaret several weeks ago that he did not want her coming into town unchaperoned. He didn’t think it was wise for a young woman like Margaret to come into a town with so many rough and hungry-eyed men.
 
“Of course not…” Margaret giggled. “Ted brought me!”
 
“Who the he…ck…is TED?” Lucas suddenly exclaimed.
 
Margaret put a hand to her mouth and giggled. “I’m just joking with you, Luke!”
 
“I don’t think it’s very funny!” Lucas exclaimed as he turned and walked toward the door of the General Store. “And if there is no ‘TED’ as you claim...then I don’t like the idea of you coming into town by yourself!” Lucas turned back to her and lifted an eyebrow. “There are way too many good-looking, young men out here today!”
 
“I know...” Margaret giggled again as Lucas raised an eyebrow. “Okay...” She held up her hands. “The truth is...Scott and Johnny went down the street. They said they were going to the blacksmith’s, but I saw their horses stop in front of the saloon.”
 
“Oh?” Lucas turned and looked down the street. “I reckon I should go say hello.”
 
“Oh no you don’t, Lucas McCain!” Margaret declared. “And if you don’t take me to lunch, why...” She folded her arms and turned away from him. “I just won’t let you kiss me!”
 
“Oh?” Lucas chuckled. “Then I guess I’ll take you to lunch.” Lucas put a hand to her elbow and started her down the street. “Will uh...TED be joining us?”
 
“I don’t think so…” Margaret giggled again. “I don’t know a Ted.”
 
Lucas sat her in a chair then sat down himself. After ordering their food, the couple engaged in small talk. The waiter had just sat their food in front of them when Johnny Gibbs rushed inside. “Luke! Luke! You’ve got to come! FAST!”
 
Margaret and Lucas both stood up in alarm. “Johnny, what is it?”
 
Johnny turned and looked toward the door. “It’s…it’s Ned Majors! He’s got himself into trouble! A gunfight! Hurry!” Lucas grabbed his rifle and hurried out the door. There, he saw that indeed Ned had gotten himself into some trouble. He turned to Margaret. “Go inside the hotel and stay there.”
 
“Luke!” Margaret grabbed his arm.
 
“Do as I say!” Lucas ordered, giving her a gentle shove toward the hotel. Margaret started inside, knowing Lucas expected his orders to be followed. But she stood in the doorway, a fist clinching her mouth as she watched the events on the street.
 
Lucas turned back and hurried up to the men. “Where’s the Marshal?”
 
“He had to go out of town!” The gunfighter declared with a sneer. “We’ll take care of business MY WAY!”
 
Ned cursed some more, telling the gunfighter to hurry up and draw.
 
“Just what is your business, Mister?”
 
“It’s BLACK!” The man turned and looked at Lucas. “Jackson BLACK!” Lucas narrowed his eyes as he slowly recognized the name. “Yeah...Ya heard o’ me just like everyone else! My business is gun fighting, mister...and I aim ta do just that!”
 
Lucas pressed his lips together as he stared at Black. “Go ahead I said!” Ned screamed again. The order was followed by another string of harsh curses.
 
“Ned, you’re drunk! You’re too drunk to fight!” Lucas turned and pointed a finger at Black. “Is this the only way you can kill a man? Drunk? That’s not a fair fight!” Lucas shouted.
 
Black laughed evilly. “I don’t reckon I care, mister!” Black declared. “This man insulted me and an insult…is an insult!”
 
Lucas shifted his rifle. “Then I’ll fight you!”
 
“Lucas, NO!” Margaret screamed from behind him.
 
“I said get inside!” Lucas ordered as he turned and pointed a finger at her. “NOW!”
 
Johnny hurried over and dragged his sister inside the hotel. Margaret cried, begging Lucas not to fight him. Lucas turned back and glared at the gunfighter. “Well?”
 
“Stay out of this!” Ned demanded. “This is MY fight!”
 
“Ned, don’t draw your gun!” Lucas walked toward him. “Come on. I’ll take you down to get a drink.”
 
“Mister, stand back!” Black ordered.
 
Lucas stopped and looked the gunfighter up and down. Then he stepped in front of him and turned his back. “I don’t suppose a gunfighter like you would shoot a man in the back.” Lucas reached out and took Ned’s gun from his holster. Turning, he said, “Not today, Black. You just walk easy.” Lucas turned to Ned. “Let’s go.”
 
Ned turned and walked away, but he cursed the whole way. “Why did you do that? Why did you stop it?” Ned screamed. “I could have taken that yellow belly!”
 
“Ned, you’re too drunk!” Lucas declared. “I saved your life.”
 
Ned shook himself free of Lucas. “I don’t WANT you to save my life! Can’t you see that?” Ned shook his head. “Can’t you see I just want to be left alone? Can’t you?”
 
“Ned…” Lucas swallowed. “We were good friends once. Remember all the traps we set together? Remember all the schoolyard fights? Remember the war? We’ve been through a lot!”
 
“But you weren’t there when I needed you the most!” Ned cried as he dropped to his knees. “You were there when I got my foot caught in the trap. You helped me get my leg out and dragged me all the way to town. You were there when the twister came and helped me hide in the cave until it was over. You were even there when I had to quit school to work the farm.” Ned shook his head as tears streamed down his face. “But you weren’t there when I needed you the most. You weren’t with me in that prison as those guards beat me and spit on me...When I was begging with shaking hands and a pain in my stomach for food...You weren’t there when I needed you the most!”
 
“Ned, I…” Lucas felt his eyes fill with tears.
 
Margaret stepped up beside him and took his hand. “Lucas...I’m sorry.”
 
“So I don’t want you here now. You can’t help me! Nobody can.”  Ned turned and ran toward the saloon.
 
Lucas turned away to hide his tears. Margaret led him toward the clinic. When they got inside, she took him in her arms and held him while he cried. She sat down in a chair and Lucas sat down next to her. “Why, Margaret? Why do these things happen?” Lucas lifted his head. “Why does God let them happen?”
 
“He doesn’t, Luke...He doesn’t...” Margaret shook her head. “Does a father let his son fall from the tree and hurt his arm? Does a father allow him to make mistakes?” Margaret shook her head again. “No...But God’s here, Luke. He wants to help you and he wants to help Ned.”
 
“Then why was Ned out there in the street?” Lucas shot his head up and stared into her eyes. “Can you tell me that, Margaret?”
 
Margaret lowered her head. “I can’t, Luke. We don’t hold all the answers. I wish we did.” Margaret turned and took his hands. She spoke to him as if were a child trying to understand why the baby bird had to die. “Luke...Why did God allow my brother to die? Why did God allow the war to happen? Why did God allow your folks to die? Why did God allow Emily to be kidnapped and attacked?” Margaret shook her head. “We don’t know the answers to these questions, honey. But God does NOT allow these things to happen.  He’s there with us when we fall like a father is. When we scrape our knee or break our arm, God picks us up and carries us through.”
 
Lucas heard her words, but he couldn’t allow himself to understand. “Ned didn’t scrape his knee.” Lucas again lifted his head. He had tears in his eyes. “He’s going to get himself killed! And you’re telling me that God can’t stop that?”
 
Margaret bit her lip. She leaned her head back against the wall. “Luke...do you remember when you came back from the war after Gettysburg? Do you remember how broken you were?” Lucas nodded. “Your brothers had to talk to you for a long, long time. They had to break you some more before you could get better. Did your brothers let that happen?”
 
“Of...of course not. It’s just a causality of war.”
 
“Were they there to try and help you through the pain?” Lucas nodded. Margaret lifted her head. “But you resisted at first. You fought against their help.” Lucas nodded again. Margaret turned to face him. “Well then...don’t you think it works the same way with God? God didn’t...cause this war. He gave us all free will to make up our own minds. It’s a gift from God, yet it causes problems. God’s there to help you and me and everyone through those hard times.” Margaret sighed. “Life, Luke...Life is a war. And we are all causalities of war at some point. When those battle scars appear, God picks us up and tries to speak to us, but we don’t always listen. Sometimes...we...turn a deaf ear to Him...”
 
Lucas looked away, still not ready to accept this. Margaret nodded. “Just like you are doing to me now, Luke.”
 
Just then, Emily hurried from the back room. She paused at the door when she saw Lucas and Margaret. “What’s wrong?”
 
“Nothing.” Margaret smiled. “Luke just needed some privacy.” She looked from Emily to Jason. “Ned Majors almost got himself killed in a gunfight.”
 
“Almost?” Jason asked.
 
Margaret nodded. “Luke stopped it. He ran in front of Ned and stopped him.”
 
Jason sighed. “Well..sounds like you almost needed my services, brother.” He shook his head. “That wasn’t smart.”
 
Lucas glared at Jason. “What was I supposed to do? Just let that gunfighter kill Ned? Ned didn’t have a chance and you know it!”
 
Jason nodded. “I know. But Luke...Maybe Ned’s trying to get himself killed.”
 
“NO!” Lucas stood up. He turned to Margaret, suddenly not wanting to discuss the situation any more. “Let’s get you something to eat, Margaret.” They returned to the restaurant where the waitress brought out two new plates. Margaret talked Lucas into going home with her. They’d have supper then sit in the parlor and talk. Lucas agreed. After picking up the branding iron, he escorted Margaret back to the Gibbs’ ranch.
 
***
The saloon was crowded that night. Seems every man in Enid was in the saloon. Scott and Peter sat at a table in the back. Johnny Gibbs hung around the front, his brother strictly prohibiting him from getting anything to drink. But he figured a game of poker was in order. But there was another man in there that night. His name was Ned Majors and he sat at the bar. The bottle of whisky was half gone, and he was calling for another. “I think you’ve had enough, friend,” Ike advised.
 
Ned slammed his glass down on the counter and glared at Ike. “I ain’t your friend, and I’ll tell ya when I’ve had enough! Now…” Ned slammed his glass down. “Pour me another!” Ned’s hand was too shaky to pour anymore.
 
A gunfighter by the name of Jason Black watched from the end of the bar. Slowly, he removed his six shooter from his holster and opened the chamber. He slid another bullet from his gun belt and filled the empty chamber. Then another and another until he had six bullets. But all he needed was one. He closed the chamber and spun the cylinder around. Then he stood and sashayed over to Majors.
 
Johnny watched this from the door. His eyes grew wide. He looked to the back where Peter and Scott sat laughing and joking. Then he turned and hurried out the door.
 
***
Lucas leaned over on the couch and kissed Margaret softly on the cheek. Margaret smiled as she listened to Lucas tell her about their land...their cattle...”We’ll be branding the five cattle tomorrow. Oh, I know five ain’t much now but they’ll grow a few head at a time. In a couple months when things are more settled, I’ll buy a few more.”
 
The parlor door opened. Johnny rushed in breathless. “Luke...that gunfighter...at the saloon...”
 
Lucas sprung from the couch and hurried over to Johnny. “What about him, boy?”
 
“Majors is in there and...and...I think there’s gonna be trouble!”
 
Lucas grabbed his rifle. “Johnny, stay here with Margaret.”
 
“Lucas, no!” Margaret hurried toward him. “Lucas, stay out of this!”
 
“I can’t, Margaret!” Lucas hurried toward the front door.
 
“Please, Luke! Please don’t go,” Margaret begged.
 
“He’ll die!” Lucas shouted.
 
“Luke...he’s already dead!” Margaret hurried toward the door, but Jennifer and Johnny stopped her. “Please…”
 
The door slammed shut.
 
Lucas jumped on his horse and hurried out of the yard. He ran his horse to town as fast as he could. He could hear shouting all the way down the street as he jumped off his horse and ran toward them. “Don’t do this, Ned!”
 
Scott and Peter hurried up to Lucas. “Black’s been taunting him, Luke. Black wants to kill him.”
 
“Ned, walk away!” Lucas begged. He hurried up to Ned and stood behind him.
 
“Out of my way, McCain!” Black put his hand to his gun. “Out of my way!”
 
“You have him at a disadvantage! This ain’t a fair fight! He’s drunk!” Lucas shouted. Black threw his head back and laughed. Lucas stared as Black drew his hand closer to his gun. Lucas cocked his rifle, but Ned fell at Lucas’s feet.
 
It was over just like that. Lucas didn’t even have time to cock the leaver. “Ned...” Lucas dropped to the ground and put Ned’s head in his lap. “Ned…” Ned gasped short breaths. “Jason!” Lucas screamed for the doctor as loud as he could.
 
Jason hurried to the man whose head was now on Lucas’ lap. Jason bent down and tore the shirt to see the wound. He slowly lifted his head to look at Lucas. “I’m sorry.” He shook his head. “There’s nothing I can do.”
 
Lucas closed his eyes in regret. Ned groaned. “The pain...” Ned gasped. “It’s gone...” Then the life left him.
 
Jason reached out a hand and closed the man’s eyes. “I’m sorry, Luke.”
 
“He’s dead...” Lucas whispered. His eyes widened as he looked up at Jason. “He’s dead because...because I was too slow!”
 
“No, Lucas!” Jason shook his head. “NO!”
 
Lucas stood up and turned. He watched the gunfighter jump on his horse and race down the street. Lucas lifted his rifle, but the man rode away too fast. That was the second time he’d missed this murderer. Lucas bolted forward, jumping on his own horse. He felt rage boiling up inside him. “LUCAS!” Emily screamed as she ran out onto the street. “LUCAS, come back!!!”
 
But Lucas didn’t listen. He dug his heals into Bullet’s flank and raced after the man as fast as he could. “Yaw! Yaw!” Lucas slapped Bullet harder. Bullet’s legs were running as fast as they could. “Yaw! Yaw!” Lucas shouted as he gained speed on the man. Lucas had his rifle in hand. He felt rage boiling up inside him with each inch he got closer.
 
But suddenly, the gunfighter…Black…jumped a fallen tree in the road. Bullet refused to make the jump and reared back on his hind legs. Lucas squeezed his legs tight against the horse, keeping himself in the saddle as he worked at calming his horse. He clinched his jaw and cursed the fact that the gunfighter had gotten away.   Lucas patted Bullet. “It’s okay, buddy. We gave it our best shot.” Then he turned Bullet around and headed back into town.
 
Emily and Jason raced forward. “Lucas, what did you think you were doing?” Emily screamed at him as he climbed off his horse. “Are you trying to get yourself killed?”
 
Lucas didn’t say a word, but hurried toward the Marshal who was now standing outside his office. “Lucas, did you shoot him?” Jason asked then.
 
But Lucas stayed silent as he hurried up to Marshal Williams. Marshal Williams pushed himself off the hitching post and came forward. “Well?”
 
“He went that way…jumped a log.” Lucas took some deep breaths as he shifted his rifle to his other hand. “I’ll be happy to ride on the posse.”
 
“Posse?”
 
“Well, I’m assuming you’re not planning on bringing him in all by yourself!”
 
“Nope.”
 
Lucas cocked his head to one side. “Well?”
 
“Luke…I ain’t bringing him in at all. The most I would have done if he’d been here when I got back was order him out of town.”
 
“Order him…” Lucas stepped forward and shoved a finger in his face. “What are you talking about? He killed a man!”
 
“Ned drew first, Luke.”
 
“Ned drew…” Lucas was sputtering mad. He pressed his lips together in a fine line. “Ned was drunk! He didn’t have a chance against Black, and Black knew it!” Lucas shouted.
 
“Lucas!” Marshal Williams bolted toward him. “Now you listen, and you listen really good...There were a lot of witnesses! They all said that it was Majors who called him out! He was cursing and threatening...He...drew...first!”
 
“I should have killed him! I should have killed him dead!” Lucas shouted.
 
“LUCAS!” Emily hurried forward and grabbed his arm. “Lucas!”
 
“You’re not going to arrest him?” Lucas asked once more, a challenge in his voice.
 
“No. The law’s the law. I’m sorry.”
 
Lucas turned and lifted his rifle. Suddenly, he froze. His eyes grew wide as he came to a humbling realization. “This is my fault...It was my fault because I....I was too slow!”
 
“Lucas…no!” Emily hurried forward and put a hand on his arm. “No, Luke!”
 
“I want to be alone right now.” Lucas turned from the group. “I...I have to be alone.”
 
“Lucas…” Jason stepped forward and took his wife by the shoulders. “Luke...” Emily whispered again.
 
“Let him go. He’s got to figure this out for himself, Emmy.” Jason mumbled as he held her close.
 
Emily turned and looked up into her husband’s face. She put her hands to her mouth as her eyes filled up with tears. “Oh Jason...This shouldn’t have happened...I’m worried!”
 
“I know.” Jason clinched his jaw as he drew Emily into his arms. “I know...” He hugged her tight.
 
Lucas slowly mounted his horse and rode to his land. He walked out onto the range and sat beside a stream. Lucas stared into the stream for a long time as the water flowed. He remembered times when he was a kid. He and Ned used to set traps together. Ned was the more mature of the two. There were several boys who used to hang around together, none of them were any less important than the others...But today...Today it was Ned he was thinking on.
 
Lucas swallowed hard as he remembered Ned’s laughter. He saw the look of love on Ned’s mother’s face as he ran home and showed her the supper he had snared. It had been just Ned and his mother since before he was born. Now...now she had no one.
 
Lucas put a fist to his forehead and cried. “Why God? Why all this pain and suffering? I don’t understand! I don’t...” He stared down at his rifle and shook his head. If only he had been faster. If only he’d been able to shoot that gunfighter before he shot Ned.
 
Lucas stood and walked back to his shack. He laid down on the bed as he continued to question God. “You could have stopped this, but you didn’t,” Lucas told God. “Why didn’t you stop this?” Lucas closed his eyes and went to sleep.
 
Another Sunday morning came. Lucas could see the sun peaking out under the cracks of the door and in the one window in the shack. He stood and went to put the coffee on. Then he remembered the events of the night before. While he waited for the coffee to warm, he thought of how he could have been faster with his rifle. ‘No, not me,’ Lucas thought. ‘How can I make my rifle faster?’
 
Soon, he forgot all about the coffee, even when the aroma took up the whole shack.   Lucas walked over and picked up his rifle. He operated the lever several times before placing his finger on the trigger. Opened and closed the lever and trigger. The lever and the trigger… An idea came to Lucas, a rifle with a firing pin that could be made to hit the trigger as the lever closed. Without having to waste time between cocking the lever and moving one’s hand to the trigger, it could fire twice as fast. Lucas thought on this for quite some time.
 
He looked over his rifle one more time. It was an eleven shot already…a powerful weapon he had. Yet it hadn’t been powerful enough. If only it had fired faster. If only...
 
Lucas felt rage boil up inside him. That gunfighter didn’t deserve to live. Lucas knew he’d be back someday, and when he returned to Enid…Lucas McCain would be ready for him. Lucas stared at the rifle in his hand. He’d be ready alright…with a new rifle.
 
***
 
Margaret Gibbs looked around the church but found no sign of Lucas. In the weeks he’d been back, he had only been to church once, and that was because he knew he had to be there. He had run out of town quickly last night. Scott told her he was filled with rage for this man. She worried about what he was doing.
 
After church, Margaret went home and helped her mother and sisters prepare supper. She gathered around the table with her siblings and parents, her father being sober that day, and listened to Scott bless the food. Then she tried to force the food down. But the truth was she couldn’t eat. She was too worried about Lucas.
 
“Scott, saddle my horse,” Margaret finally requested after the dishes were washed and the women were working on their sewing in the parlor.
 
Scott looked up from the paper he was reading while Amanda rocked their son to sleep nearby. “Why?”
 
“I’m going to see Luke.”
 
“I told you, Margaret, that he’s fine. He just needed to be alone.”
 
Margaret turned her eyes toward Amanda and watched as she fed their son. “What if Amanda had gone away like Luke did? How long would you wait before going after her?” Scott turned and looked at Amanda. He sighed as he laid down the paper. “Alright. I’ll go with you.”
 
“No, Scott.” Margaret stood to follow him out. “I have to do this alone.”
 
Scott watched Margaret leave. He hated her going off by herself, but Margaret was an independent sort and insisted on doing this herself. He knew Lucas would never allow it, but Lucas would make sure she returned alright.
 
Margaret rode to their land. She dismounted Lightening Bolt and tied his reins to the make-shift hitching post outside the shack. After not getting an answer to her knock, she opened the door and went inside. Luke wasn’t here, but pieces of paper with drawings lay on the table. She walked over and picked them up. Underneath were some scribbled drawings on paper. Her eyes grew wide as she slowly came to the realization. “Oh God...” Margaret prayed under her breath. “God...stop him!”
 
She hurried out of the shack and yelled his name. When she got no answer, she hurried across the road and knocked on the Dodd ranch house door, but she got no answer there either. Then she jumped on her horse and raced for the McCain farm.
 
About an hour later, she banged on Peter’s door. When Peter opened the door, she clung to his arms. “Have you seen Luke?” Peter shook his head. “We’ve got to find him!” Margaret was in tears as Peter led her inside. Tiffany, also alarmed, hurried to the table and sat down. “He’s going to get himself into trouble!”
 
“What’s wrong?” Peter asked.
 
“He wasn’t in church today so I...I talked Scott into letting me ride out to his place. He’s not there, Peter.” Margaret hurried out the door and returned with the drawings.
 
Peter studied them. “Oh dear God...” Peter breathed. “How can he?”
 
“Where can he be?” Margaret asked.
 
“The blacksmith’s shop.” Peter turned and looked at Tiffany. “I bet he’s there!” Peter grabbed his hat. “Margaret, you stay here!” He strapped on his gun belt.
 
“No! I’m coming with you!” Margaret cried. “Peter, I love him!”
 
Peter turned and looked at Tiffany who nodded. “Alright.” Peter took her arm. He helped her into the saddle after saddling his own horse. Then they raced into town.
 
***
 
It didn’t take long to find him. Bullet was just outside the blacksmith’s grazing on some grass. He’d obviously been there all day. Margaret and Peter tied their horses beside Lucas’ then stepped toward the blacksmith shop. Slowly, they opened the door and went inside. Lucas turned to see who had come in. “What are you two doing here?”
 
“I was worried,” Margaret answered. She walked up to him and looked down at the rifle parts laying on the table. “What are you doing?”
 
“Fixing my rifle,” Lucas answered.
 
“Like this?” Margaret threw the sketches onto the table in frustration. Lucas’ hand froze as he slowly lifted his head up to look at her. “Is that what your making, Lucas McCain?”
 
“Where you get these?” Lucas asked angrily.
 
“I found them...” Margaret folded her arms and glared at him. “I was worried about you so I rode out to the land. When you didn’t answer my knock, I went inside and found these lying on the table. Now...you answer me, Luke. Is that what you’re trying to make?”
 
“Yes.”
 
“Why?” Margaret shot out as hot, angry tears filled her eyes. “Why are you making that rifle?”
 
“You heard what happened yesterday,” Lucas answered. “An innocent man got himself killed because...because I was too slow.”
 
“Lucas…” Margaret shook her head. “He was in a gunfight! It wasn’t your fight!”
 
“It doesn’t matter!” Lucas shouted. “I...I’ll be ready next time.”
 
“Don’t do it, Luke! Don’t do this!” Margaret shouted. But Lucas turned away. “Luke...”
 
“Margaret…I HAVE to! I have my reasons.”
 
Margaret stepped away from him. She walked to the door and covered her face with her hands. Slowly, she turned around. “So you can shoot that man if he comes back? Is that why?” Lucas’ shoulders slumped, but he didn’t turn around. “YOU ANSWER ME, LUCAS! IS IT SO YOU CAN KILL THAT MAN?”
 
“YES!” Lucas spun around and clinched his fists to his side. “YES! God help me, yes!”
 
Lucas saw the look on her face. She was angry and hurt. She burst into tears and hurried out the door. Peter stared at Lucas as they listened to Margaret gallop away on her horse. “Well...” Peter slowly walked into the room. “I hope you’re proud of yourself.”
 
“Just go away, Peter. Leave me be so I can finish.” Peter stood behind Lucas and watched Lucas screw the pin on the rifle. He shook his head. “If you do this, Luke...you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.” Lucas continued working. “Is that what you want to be known as? A fast gun? A man who can shoot a rifle faster than any other man?”
 
“If it’ll save my family,” Lucas mumbled under his breath.
 
“Save your family?” Peter grabbed Lucas’ shoulder and spun him around. “You’re going to stand there and tell me THIS...” Peter waved a hand across the table. “THIS will save your family? Don’t you know that if you DO pull this off you’ll make a reputation for yourself? You want to be known all over the West as the man with a fast rifle? A Rifle man? Is that what you want to be known for? You want your family in danger because some gunfighter wants to come and challenge you? Is that really what you want?”
 
Lucas grabbed Peter by the shirt and shouted, “I don’t want to be too slow that I can’t save a friend from dying! I should have saved him today and I didn’t!!! I didn’t save him!” Lucas turned away when he felt his eyes moisten. “He died because I was too slow.” He held the rifle up and studied the trigger. “What if it had been Margaret or Emily...or Laura...there? What if I had been too slow for one of them?”
 
Peter grew quiet. He stared at the rifle. “Are you sure you want to risk being famous for that rifle? To have men challenge you?”
 
“It’s a risk I’m willing to take if it means saving my family,” Lucas answered quietly.
 
“I hope you don’t regret this someday, Luke.” Peter walked to the door. “I’ll make sure Margaret made it home alright.”
 
Lucas didn’t turn until he heard the door firmly close. He stared at the door. He had done it again. He’d hurt those he cared about most in this world.
 
***
 
Margaret lifted her face to the sun and allowed it to shine down on her as she thought back on the night before. She was angry at Lucas, but after talking to her mother and Amanda last night, she felt more sorrow for him then anger. She loved him no matter what, and nothing could ever change that. But her heart was aching for what he was doing. She had a bad feeling about this.
 
Margaret sat down on the bank and opened her journal. Using her pencil, she wrote out her thoughts.
 
Lucas McCain is the most complicated man I’ve ever met. I have brothers and Lucas has brothers (who feel like my cousins or something) that are easier to understand. How can a person want to kiss and want to scream at the same person at the same time? Lucas stirs emotions deep inside me that I can’t explain. My heart hurts when he hurts. It laughs when he laughs. Right now my heart is crying. Oh, I’m so afraid for what his actions are going to cause some day.
 
One of our childhood friends was shot the day before yesterday and it hurt Lucas a lot. It hurt him because he wasn’t able to stop the shooting, even though it would have meant he may have faced prison for the shooting. Now he’s making a rifle that will shoot automatically when he cocks the lever and I’m so afraid. Won’t this make it easier for the rifle to go off accidently? Could someone in my family possible be hurt because of this? I worry what this will mean for Luke. I don’t want him to kill…ever again…Yet the way he’s making this rifle makes me believe he plans to kill, and I guess that scares me more than anything.
 
Oh, I do love him. I just wish that…
 
“Margaret?” Margaret turned to see Lucas standing behind her. She closed her journal as she sat it on her lap.
 
“Did you…finish it?” She asked as she stared down at the journal.
 
“Yes. It’s done.”
 
“And did it work the way the you thought it would?” Margaret lifted her eyes to his. Lucas nodded shortly. “If you want me to be happy about this, I’m not.”
 
“I know.” Lucas pressed his lips together as he felt emotion well up inside him. “I just realized that...When I marry you, I’ll have you to protect. I got to thinking...what if it’s you out there in that street? What if it was you...”
 
“Stop it, Luke.” Margaret interrupted him. “Just stop it.”
 
“Stop what?”
 
“Stop trying to make excuses. You and I both know the real reason why you made that rifle. So you can kill.”
 
“No.” Lucas shook his head. “PROTECT.”
 
“What if that man comes back to Enid?” Margaret lifted her head and looked at him. “Are you going to kill him?” Lucas looked away. He couldn’t answer her question. His silence gave her the answer she needed. “Do you honestly think you made that rifle to protect me and our family?”
 
“I did, Margaret.” Lucas grasped her hands. “Honey, it can protect you!”
 
Margaret started crying. She dropped her journal and wrapped her arms around him. Everything within her told her the truth. Lucas’ eyes told her the truth, but she believed Lucas really didn’t know why he was making the rifle. “I’m afraid for you, Luke. I’m so afraid!” Margaret clung to him and cried. “I love you, and I will always love you.” She lifted from him and put her hands on his cheeks. Then she kissed him softly. “I’ll worry every time I see that rifle. I'll worry when you aren’t around. But I’'ll love you.”
 
Lucas moved forward and wrapped his arms around Margaret even tighter. Margaret continued crying in his arms. “I’m sorry...” Lucas mumbled as he smoothed her hair down behind her. “I’m sorry for hurting you. I’m sorry you fell in love with a fellow like me. I’m sorry I’m the man I am.”
 
Margaret lifted her head from his chest and shook her head as she wiped her tears. “No, Luke...Don’t be sorry. I love you.” Then she kissed him hard on the lips. “You silly ol’ fool...I love you.”
 
Lucas smiled as she laid her head back on his chest. He laid back on the ground. Margaret cuddled closer to him and mumbled. “I’ll always love you, Luke. No matter what...I’ll always love you.”
 
And that’s how Scott found them two hours later...fast asleep and happy in each other’s arms.

The Margaret Years — Illness

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
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