The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Margaret Years
 
Chapter 31 - The Rifleman on Trial
Written by Michelle Palmer
 
“WHAT THE HELL HAVE YOU DONE TO OUR FAMILY???????” Lucas knew he deserved his eldest brother’s angry words. Abe had come in ten minutes ago red-faced and started yelling. Many curse words had been mixed with tears of anger, bitterness, grief, and worry. “Hasn’t our family been through enough hell? What did you think you were doing? Didn’t you even think about your wife? Are you trying to live up to the reputation that newspaper article has given you?”
 
“Abe, stop!” Jeremiah demanded in a low, firm voice. “I think Luke’s worried enough. He needs our support now.”
 
“SUPPORT???” Abe yelled. “I was supporting him this morning when we discussed the article. I was ready to help the family come up with some solutions!” Abe turned back to glare at Lucas. “I’ll have you know that your SISTER heard all about what happened in town! She is quite upset. Of all people, couldn’t you have had a little consideration for your baby sister? Hasn’t she been through enough grief? Now she’s going to have to watch you hang!”
 
“Nobody’s going to hang!” Peter sputtered at his older brother. “You are way out of line, Abe! If you can’t calm down, I think you should leave!”
 
“I’ve got as much right to be here as you do, Peter! It’s your loud mouth that got our sister upset in the first…”
 
“Stop it! Both of you!” Jeremiah’s voice rose in anger. It was his order that shut both brothers up. Peter and Abe’s tempers got the best of them many times, but Jeremiah was usually pretty calm. “Now then…instead of laying blame and reminding Luke of the trouble he’s in, why don’t we see about getting him out of this mess.”
 
Abe rolled his eyes. “Because God KNOWS we are always getting Luke out of some kind of mess!”
 
“Abe…” Jeremiah warned.
 
Abe sighed and held up his hands. “Alright…alright…” He ran a frustrated hand through his hair and turned back to Lucas. “Now then, tell us word for word what happened.”
 
Lucas signed and pressed his forehead against the bars of his cell. “I think you should get Johnny Morgan.
 
“He’s gone home for the night.”
 
Lucas glared at Abe. “I don’t give a damn if he’s gone to China! Go get him NOW!”
 
Jeremiah turned to look at Peter and nodded for him to go. Peter gave his brother a mock salute and turned to do their bidding. Lucas sat down on the cot. “I think Margaret should stay with her mother until this is all cleared up.”
 
“We’ll take care of her,” Jeremiah promised. “Is there anything we can get you?”
 
Lucas sighed. “The last twenty-four hours back. I’d give anything to do this day over.”
 
Abe allowed a loud, long sigh to escape his lips. “You and me both, Baby Brother. You and me both.”
 
***
Lawyer and good friend, Johnny Morgan sat with Peter, Jeremiah, and Abe in the Marshal’s office in the wee hours of the next morning. “…so, before the shooting happened, Lucas made everyone get out. I suppose he didn’t want anyone around to witness what happened.”
 
“There are no witnesses?”
 
“Not that I know of thus far.”
 
“What about Ike?” Peter questioned as he winkled his brow.
 
“Ike…He ducked behind the counter and missed the whole confrontation. As far as we know nobody was there.”
 
Johnny looked at Abe. Their eyes locked, and Abe read the hopelessness there. “From what I got form Luke,” he started as he cleared his throat and tried to keep his lawyer composure.   “…Black grabbed for the rifle.”
 
“Hm.” Marshal Stevens agreed. “But Lucas can’t tell me if he pulled the trigger or even if Black actually touched the rifle before he was shot.
 
“He’s just in shock…” Abe tried.
 
“It happened so fast,” the marshal explained.
 
Silence surrounded them. Finally, Peter spoke. “Johnny, what are his chances?”
 
Johnny stood up and went to stare into the darkness. His shoulders dropped. Finally, he turned around. “I’d say the cards are stacked against him.”
 
“Meaning…”
 
“Meaning…” Johnny sighed. “Lucas McCain may very well hang.”
 
Abe pounded his fist on the table.  “How could he do this???” his voice roared. “How could Luke get himself in such a mess?”
 
“Because, he’s hot headed like all you other McCains’,” Marshal Stevens answered. “And I’ve a feeling that article already had him riled up. Black’s riding into town was more than Luke could take.” He snapped.
 
Abe rubbed his beard as he stood up and started pacing the floor. “Johnny,” Abe turned to their lawyer friend. “Tell me honestly…is there a chance we can get Luke’s charge lowered so he won’t hang?”
 
Johnny sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “I won’t lie to you, Abe. Judge McIntire is a pretty harsh judge. If Luke’s found guilty, he’ll hang.”
 
“Okay, but if there’s no proof Black didn’t grab for the rifle, did they…”
 
“What was heard outside the saloon will be what the judge makes his decision by.”
 
“Jury.”
 
“If Lucas wants a jury, that would help him. When I talked to Luke while ago, he didn’t want one.”
 
“He didn’t…” Abe stood, his face growing red with anger. “WHAT DO YOU MEAN HE DOESN’T WANT A JURY??????”
 
“He said he believes the judge will make a fair decision.”
 
“Over my dead body!” Abe declared as he started back towards the jail. Peter rushed forward and grabbed Abe. “Let me go! I’m gonna pound some sense into that stubborn, bull-headed brother of ours!”
 
“That’s not the way to go about it!” Peter shouted. “You’ll just make him more determined to do this his way.”
 
“Doesn’t he realize this is his LIFE we’re fighting for? Doesn’t he realize he’s already got a noose around his neck?”
 
“Abe…” Johnny put a gentle arm on his friend. “Luke’s in shock. He can’t remember half of what happened. He’s overcome with guilt and remorse. He’s very depressed. Jason had to give him something to make him sleep. We’re hoping when he wakes up he’ll be calmer, more rational.”
 
“What can we do to help him?”
 
Johnny sighed. “Pray. The trial will probably be in a couple days. Judge McIntire doesn’t wait long to try, convict, and uh…” He allowed the rest of his sentence to die.
 
“Yes.” Abe nodded. “I remember the trial after Emily was kidnapped. Seems that trial was speedy and the man died very soon after.” Abe looked at the faces of his brothers. Then his eyes filled with tears. “Dear God…” he moaned.
 
***
Darkness had long fallen, but Margaret couldn’t stop her pacing. She looked from Anne to Hal as they sat at the table drinking coffee. “Margaret, I really DO think you should go to bed. You aren’t looking well. Maybe…”
 
“NO.” Margaret went to fix more coffee. “My husband’s fighting for his life. I couldn’t sleep know that fact.” Margaret kept her back turned to her best friend. “I can’t give up hope. I just know there’s some way out of this.”
 
Ann and Hal exchanged doubtful looks. Hal started to say something when a knock sounded on the door. Margaret spun around, clasping her hands as Hal stood and went to answer the knock. “Scott.” Hal greeted Margaret’s brother. “I’m glad you’re here.”
 
Margaret rushed into her brother’s arms the moment she heard his name. “Oh Scott!” Margaret allowed her tears to fall. She felt secure in her brother’s arms. “You heard?”
 
“I heard.” Scott’s body was tense as his arms held Margaret. His voice held anger.
 
“Oh Scott…Don’t blame Luke.”
 
Scott pushed her back and handed her a kerchief. “Don’t you go defending him, Margaret!” Scott shouted. “I warned him…” Scott shook his head as he punched the wall. “I warned him when he came back that if he ever hurt you again…”
 
“He didn’t murder that man, Scott.”
 
“The way I hear tell…” Scott started, but Margaret held up a hand to quiet him.
 
“I’ve “heard tell” the stories too. But there’s more! We weren’t in that room when it happened. We don’t know!”
 
“Nobody knows…except Lucas and Jackson Black. Black’s dead and Luke…” Scott punched the wall again and cursed.
 
“God knows.”
 
“God?” Scott laughed sarcastically. “I’m afraid God’s not going to be put on the witness stand, dear sister.” Scott took his hat off and ran a frustrated hand through his hair. “Anyhow, Mother told me to bring you home.”
 
“I can’t leave!” Margaret argued as she stuck out her chin.
 
“Now, don’t you start that stubborn stance on me, little sister…It won’t work! We’re going to go pack some of your things, then we’re going home.”
 
“That’s not my home anymore. I live there…” Margaret pointed toward the door. “…with Luke.”
 
“Peter, I said I’m not going…”
 
“Margaret…” Ann put a hand on her best friend’s shoulder. “It’s best if you go. You’ll need to be close to your family right now.”
 
Margaret bit her lip in a nervous habit. “Don’t worry, honey.” Hal put a hand on her other shoulder. “We’ll take care of the ranch. You need your family.”
 
“I brought the buckboard and lanterns to light our way, Margaret. We should go. Ma’s beside herself with worry about you.”
 
Margaret silently walked out the door.
 
***
Julie wiped her hands on her apron and turned to check on her children as they sat at the table. Baby Scarlet cried and she went to lift her daughter into her arms. Laura threw down her pencil and sighed. “When’s Papa coming home?”
 
Julie rubbed a hand against her forehead and sighed. “I don’t know. I’m sure he’ll be here…” She stopped when she heard his horse beating up the path. “He’s here.” The children started to jump up, but Julie ordered them all to stay seated. “Laura Rose, take the baby and stay in here,” Julie ordered gently. She kissed Laura on top of the head then straightened her shoulders and walked out the door.
 
Abe took his time tying the reins to the hitching post.  Julie stopped beside him, her hands clasped in front of her. “Abe?”
 
Abe didn’t look up. He tried to keep his voice controlled. “The trial will be in two days,” he mumbled. “We just spoke to the judge.”
 
“So he did it?” Julie’s words choked in her throat.
 
“I don’t know,” Abe answered. His voice broke. He suddenly felt tears well up in his eyes. “Oh Julie, I just…I can’t lose my brother!” He threw his arms around her and wept. Julie held him tight, wishing she could take the pain away.
 
The door to the house opened and Laura stepped out onto the porch. “Papa?”
 
“Laura, I told you to…” Julie started to speak harshly to their oldest child.
 
“No.” Abe held his hand up to stop her. “She’s twelve years old. He’s her brother. She has a right to know.” Abe wiped the tears from his eyes and slowly walked over to her. He held out an arm for her and they walked away a bit. Julie watched Abe kneel in front of her and talk softly to her. “NOOOOOO!” Laura suddenly cried and collapsed against Abe.
 
***
Margaret stopped pacing and ran to the door when she heard a horse approaching. Peter stepped inside and greeted her family who surrounded her. Even Sam, who had heard of the trouble, was there to support his daughter. Peter stood silently as he looked at Margaret, trying to gather the words.
 
“Peter, please…” Margaret swallowed. “Just tell me.”
 
“He’ll stand trial in two days,” Peter answered.
 
Margaret felt her knees giving out. Scott grabbed her and lowered her into a seat. “How could he do this?” Scott grumbled.
 
Amanda came to stand beside the chair her sister-in-law sat in. “How does it look?”
 
Scott protectively took Amanda in his arms. “This can’t be good for the baby, honey. I don’t think we should…”
 
“No!” Amanda held up a hand to stop her husband’s protective warning. “I have to know.” She swallowed and looked at Peter. “Just tell us.”
 
Peter lowered his head and stared at his hat. Tears filled his eyes. “Johnny said it doesn’t look good.”
 
“No…” Margaret whispered as she slowly stood from the chair. She walked over to Peter and grabbed his shirt. “NO! Tell me it’s not true!” Her eyes pleaded with Peter. “Please! Tell me he’s coming home!”
 
Peter chocked on his sobs. It took several moments to find his voice. “I can’t tell you that, Margaret. I’m sorry.” Then he turned and hurried out, leaving the family alone to comfort Margaret.
 
***
“Margaret, what are you doing?” Scott questioned sternly as she filled a plate with eggs, bacon, hash browns, and toast.”
 
“I’m going to take Luke his breakfast.”
 
“NO YOU ARE NOT!” Scott demanded harshly. “I don’t want you anywhere near that jail!”
 
“I’m going! I want Luke to eat decent. Getting sick isn’t going to help him when he stands trial.”
 
“Margaret, I forbid it! I don’t want you going!”
 
“My husband is in that jail!” Margaret shot back angrily, her eyes blazing into her brother’s. “You cannot stop me from going to see my husband!”
 
“I won’t allow this to…”
 
“Scott Gibbs!” Jennifer hurried into the kitchen. The door swung wide. Not a sound could be heard as brother and sister glared at each other – except for the swishing of the door as it slowed.
 
When the door finally came to a stop, Scoot took deep breaths. His piercing eyes didn’t leave his sister’s. “Yes Mother?”
 
“You will NOT raise your voice to your sister.”
 
Scott worked a muscle in his jaw. “Yes Mother.”
 
“And you will go get the buggy ready. You’ll drive Margaret into town to see her husband.”
 
“Mother, I…” Scott started.
 
“No matter what the man has or hasn’t done, Margaret has a right to talk to her husband. Especially if…” Jennifer stopped and took a deep breath. “You’ll do as I say, Scott.”
 
Scott didn’t like taking orders, never had done too well with it. But the years had taught him that a sound slap was still possible if he chose to talk back to his mother. He forced his eyes to leave Margaret’s and turned toward the door. “Yes mother.”
 
After Scott left, Jennifer turned to Margaret and pressed her hands against Margaret’s cheeks. “You give that man all the love you can give him, my darling.”
 
“He didn’t murder that man, Mother. I know in my heart he didn’t.”
 
Tears sprung to Jennifer’s eyes. “I believe you. Margaret, your father has taught me a lot. One of them is that no matter how much trouble he gets into, my love for him doesn’t change. I love him with my whole heart.”
 
Margaret closed her eyes in regret. Tears streamed down her face and her lips trembled. “Luke’s always had a temper, Mother. He’s done some stupid things…He made several mistakes yesterday, and I won’t deny that. But Mother…Lucas McCain could NEVER kill a man in cold blood. I know he can’t.”
 
Jennifer smiled as she kissed her daughter on the cheek. Then she pressed a hand to her daughter’s other cheek. “You were always so sensitive, Darling. You always try to see the good in people…Sometimes you have stood behind your father when nobody else…including me…”
 
“You should have seen him, Mother. He didn’t do this! I KNOW he didn’t!”
 
“Margaret, let’s go!” Both women turned to the door when they heard Scott’s angry words from the living from.
 
Jennifer turned back to look at her daughter. Her hands rested easily on Margaret’s shoulders. “Don’t be angry at your brother. He’s always tried to protect you. Scott’s a natural born protector and controller. When things don’t go right in his world, he takes it out on everybody. You know that.” Margaret nodded. “He’ll come around. When the truth comes out, he’ll come around.”
 
Margaret lowered her head as more tears escaped her eyes. “What is it, Margaret?”
 
Margaret bit her lip. The mere thought was killing her. She could only whisper her question. “Will the truth come out, Mother?”
 
Jennifer couldn’t answer. She hugged her daughter tight then released her. “Give him all the love you can, Margaret. Then go to the church and pray.” Jennifer followed Margaret into the living room. “Scott, I think it’s best you leave her in town.”
 
“I can’t do that, Mother!” Scott said in a more forceful voice than he intended.
 
Jennifer narrowed her eyes. “I believe you have ranching responsibilities waiting for you here at home. You can go pick Margaret up this afternoon.”
 
“Mother, I…”
 
“Scott Gibbs…” Jennifer warned.
 
Scott slapped his hat against the table. He turned and looked at his wife and son who was staring at him, waiting to see what he would do. He sighed and threw his hands up in the air. “Yes, Mother.”
 
***
Lucas lifted his head from his hands when he heard the door to the jail opening. He slowly stood when he saw the marshal come in with Margaret. “You have a visitor, Luke.” Lucas stared at Margaret as the marshal opened the cell and allowed Margaret in. Then he closed the cell and exited the jail, the door banging behind him.
 
“How are you, Luke?” Margaret asked in a shaky voice as he continued staring at her.
 
“I’ve been better.” Margaret suddenly threw her arms around him. Lucas didn’t return her hug at first. “You shouldn’t be here, Margaret. I…I…” Lucas swallowed as he pushed her away from him. “I don’t want you here!”
 
He regretted his words, expecting to see hurt on her face, but she merely smiled as tears slipped down her cheeks. “I have to be here.”
 
Lucas looked her up and down. “I’m surprised your brother allowed you to come.”
 
“Mother told him he had to.” The corner of Margaret’s mouth quirked up when she said that.
 
Lucas tried to fight the grin and was almost successful. “I would have loved to see that.”
 
“Luke, can you understand that I have to be here? I have to, Luke.”
 
Lucas’ resolve melted as he took her in his arms and hugged her tight. “Was it just yesterday morning I made love to you?”
 
“Was it just yesterday morning I asked you to promise me nothing would ever change…that it would always be like that?” They didn’t speak for a long time. They just held each other close. Finally, Margaret lifted away from him a bit and leaned her forehead against his. “Oh Luke…What’s going to happen?”
 
“I…” Lucas sighed. “I don’t know.”
 
Margaret gasped and stepped away from him. “Oh, I brought your breakfast!” Lucas started to protest, my Margaret pushed him down on the cot and began taking out his breakfast. “You’ll need your strength for the trial, Luke.” Margaret smiled as she tucked a napkin into the front of his shirt. “And until the trial’s over and I take you home, I’ll be brining you every meal.”
 
“Margaret…” Lucas started. But Margaret stuffed a bite of fried egg in his mouth.
 
“It’s impolite to talk with your mouth full, Luke,” Margaret chided softly.
 
The couple kept up with their light banter until Lucas ate every crumb. Then Margaret stood, stating she had some people to see while she was in town. “Alone?” Lucas asked in surprise. Margaret nodded. Lucas stood and hurried toward the bars. “Stevens! Hey, Stevens!”
 
Marshal Stevens came into the jail. “Would you see that my wife gets to my sister’s safely? Ask Emily to go with Margaret on her errands. I don’t want her alone. I’d like Jason to keep a close eye on them…You know what I mean.”
 
Margaret looked from Lucas to the Marshal. “I don’t need…” she started.
 
But Marshal Stevens held up his hand. “He’s right, Margaret. In light of all that’s happened…”
 
So Margaret talked to Emily for a long time. Emily was still quite distraught, but seeing Margaret helped her a bit. Jason was relieved to see Emily and Margaret go to the General Store together. He had worried about her so much since she read the article, and some fresh air and girl talk was just what Emily needed. Jason joined the two women for lunch at the hotel restaurant then purchased Lucas some food. Margaret announced she would take it over to Luke, then Jason would drive Margaret and Emily to the McCain farm to visit with the family.
 
***
“No jury???” Margaret turned from the window where she had been watching the McCain children play. “He can’t do that! He must have a jury!”
 
Em and Julie looked at each other but stayed silent. They were all in agreement of that fact, but in the end it was Lucas’ choice.
 
Margaret brought up that very subject the day before the trial. She told Lucas that he had to have a jury. She begged, pleaded, and cried until Lucas finally gave in. Her heart ached over the lack of concern Lucas seemed to be feeling over his impending trial that would begin early the next morning. But when she finally voiced her concern, she wasn’t ready for the explosion that happened.
 
“I don’t care??? Margaret, this time tomorrow I may very well be standing on a trap door with a rope around my neck and you don’t think I CARE? How dare you say that to me!” For the first time, Margaret noticed how Lucas’ hands shook as he held them out to her. “I’m scared to death, Margaret! I’m afraid that when you walk out that door, that’s the last time I’ll ever see you. I fear I’ll never be able to hold you in my arms again…my memories of making love to you pierce my heart with regret that I may never be able to express my love to you again.”
 
Lucas turned from her then and jammed his fist against the wall, cursing loudly. Margaret jumped at the sound as her eyes filled with hot, burning tears. “And why you still love me…why you devote every waking minute to spend your time with me in this hell…I’ll never understand! I ache to see the pain I’ve caused you and your family. I hate myself for what I’ve done! I don’t deserve to ever be a free man again and nothing any jury tells me is going to change my mind on that matter. Sure I’ll be happy to be able to go back to my life, but deep down…deep down, I’ll know that I KILLED THAT MAN!”
 
Margaret buried her face in her hands and wept. The cell was growing dark as the sun began sinking. She suddenly needed to see him once more. Margaret hurried across the room and grabbed his shoulders, turning him around. “I just have to see your face once more before the sun sets, Luke…” Margaret whispered. Her finger touched his forehead, his cheeks; they traced his nose, his eyes, and his lips. Then she gently laid her fingers to his lips and closed her eyes. “I love you, Luke. I”ll love you everyday for the rest of my life.”
 
She felt Lucas’ tears on her fingers as they slid down his cheek. She opened her eyes and stared into his wet eyes. They just stared at each other for a long time. Neither moved a muscle as they just stared. Their thinking was on the following day and what would happen, but tonight they said nothing. They continued looking at each other as the room went into complete darkness. The door opened and Marshal Stevens walked in. He lit lanterns to cast an eerie glow on the couple.
 
“It’s time for you to leave, Margaret,” Marshal Stevens announced with much regret.
 
Margaret bit her lip as regret filled her eyes. “Just another minute, Ned? Please?” Lucas pleaded in a husky voice. The door soon closed, leaving them alone once again.
 
Lucas swallowed. “Margaret…I want to…to thank you for giving me your unconditional love. But I don’t want you to grieve for me. I made the choices and I don’t deserve your devotion. If I die tomorrow, I…”
 
“No Luke! Don’t say it!” Margaret begged.
 
Lucas put a hand over her mouth to hush her. “Hush now, Sweetheart,” Lucas ordered in a whisper. “I want to say this.” Lucas swallowed. His broken voice spoke. “You deserve to be happy. If I die, you’ll grieve for me for a time…burry me…try to come to terms with all that’s happened. But then I want you to move on. I want you to find love again.”
 
Margaret pressed her forehead against Lucas’ and closed her eyes. Their faces were wet with tears as Lucas put his arms around her and drew her as close to him as he could. “Just this once more I want to feel you…” Lucas put his hand under her chin and lifted her face to his. “And I want to kiss you…”
 
Their kiss was powerful, more powerful than most of their other kisses. So many emotions were spoken as his lips moved over hers. He told her he loved her. He grieved for the hurt he had caused.
 
Lucas finally broke the kiss as she burst into tears. “You must go now.” Lucas’ words were hard and stern. “Marshal!” he called. “Margaret, If they hang me, I don’t want you there.”
 
“Luke, we promised until death do us part. I meant that!” Margaret declared.
 
“You can come to the trial, but not the hanging! I mean it, Margaret!” Lucas ordered. “I don’t want you there.”
 
Margaret turned then and walked toward the jail. “You’ve lost all hope, Luke. I’m leaving her with every intention of seeing you tomorrow. Tomorrow night, Luke, you’ll be in my arms. Tomorrow night we’ll make love under the stars like we did after we first married.” She took in long breaths to calm herself. “You’ll see. “
 
Lucas turned to her.
 
She was gone.
 
Then Lucas did something he hadn’t done in a long time. He fell to his knees and cried out to God, begging him to have mercy on his soul.
 
***
 
Margaret felt her mother sit down beside her on the porch that night. “You’ve been out here for a long time. Scott’s ready to drag you in, but I talked him into letting me talk to you instead.” Margaret stared blankly up at the stars. “Those have been in the sky for a long time…”
 
“They keep shining no matter how dark the world gets. If only they could talk, Mother. They saw what happened that day.”
 
“You’re scared.” It wasn’t a question.
 
Margaret nodded. Her lips trembled as she lowered her head and stared straight across the land. “Terrified. I’ve never been so afraid in my life.” Margaret turned and looked at her mother then. “I’m trying to keep the faith…keep telling me that God knows the truth…He knows what really happened and He won’t let Luke die.” Margaret lowered her eyes and swallowed hard. “But then I remember all those stories I’ve heard about men who were hung being found innocent after the fact and my heart begins to mourn all over again. I believe in his innocence, Mother. But right now, I…”
 
Jennifer put her arm around her daughter and pulled her close. “I wish I could promise you that he’ll be found innocent tomorrow, but I can’t do that, Margaret.”  Jennifer pushed some hair out of her daughter’s face and stroked her wet cheek. “The truth is…it looks like this time we have to face the fact that it’s hopeless. It seems to be against him.”
 
“I know,” Margaret whispered. Margaret turned again and looked out over the land. “Lucas is terrified too, Mother. You should have seen how his hands shook tonight. He’s given up all hope. I tried to leave him with hope, but I don’t think it stayed behind.”
 
“Of course he’s scared. He understands the odds are not in his favor. He knows the trouble he’s in, maybe better than all of us. He wants to stay here with us, but it may not be his choice.”
 
“The day it happened…” Margaret lowered her head and sighed. “I keep remembering how I told him just before the Marshal picked him up…that he has to face this head on. That he should not fight the arrest or trial or…” Margaret swiped some tears off her face. “You don’t know how many times I’ve regretted those words.”
 
“I know.” Jennifer reached out and rubbed her daughter’s back. “What are you thinking now?”
 
“I’m remembering the last time we made love…that morning…and I remember how I felt like things were about to change. I asked Lucas to promise me it would always be like that and he couldn’t. Something told me…told me that it was about to change forever. When we made love that morning, Mother, it seemed…I don’t know…different…Like…Like…”
 
“Like you needed to store it up because it may be the last time?” Jennifer asked then. Margaret turned and stared at her mother. “I remember some times in my own life when I felt that way with your father. The last time…” Jennifer lowered her eyes. “Was the night before we got the news of your brother.”
 
“Oh Mother!” Margaret fell into her mother’s arms. The women clung to each other for a long time and cried.
 
In time, Jennifer helped Margaret to her feet, turned and walked into the house.
 
Margaret didn’t sleep that night. She couldn’t even write her thoughts in her journal. Instead, she crawled from her bed, got on her knees, and begged God to send them a miracle.
 
She was still on her knees when Amanda announced an early breakfast the following morning.
 
***
“Hi, Luke.”
 
Lucas lifted his face from his hands and looked at his brothers as Marshal Stevens opened the cell and allowed them inside. Abe held out a tray to his brother. “Julie sent this for you. She told Margaret yesterday she would fix your favorite breakfast this morning…thinking Margaret wouldn’t be up to it.”
 
Lucas saw the hearty helping of pancakes on the tray. He doused them with syrup then started eating, but after a couple bites he sat the plate aside and stood. “They’re wonderful, of course but…”
 
“Nervous?” Peter questioned then. Abe turned and glared at his brother. Peter’s face reddened. “Of course that was a stupid question. I’m sorry, Luke. I just…” His words died.
 
Abe cleared his throat. “Laura was talking to the boys last night, and she told them she’d try to talk you into taking the boys fishing next Saturday. We can make a picnic of it. Oh, I know we’ll have our hands full with crops and such, but we need a day of family fun and…” Abe’s voice broke.
 
“Yeah, and Paul is DYING to go fishing with you. He’s heard the stories…” Jeremiah’s voice died when he realized the word he had just used.
 
An eerie silence fell over the group. Abe stared into Lucas’ eyes. Jeremiah and Peter stood behind their older brother, hands in their back pockets. Abe swallowed. “I still remember the day I told you about Pa. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do. Then Ma died and…We’re all we have left of them, Luke. I just…I wanted to protect you. All those things I’ve said…all the things I yelled…” Abe’s voice broke. “Um…” He finally spoke in a shaky voice after several moments of silence. The only sound coming from Peter and Jeremiah were sniffles. “Laura and Emily’s waiting outside. I’ve asked the Marshal, and he said it’s okay.”
 
Without another word, Abe turned. “We’re ready now.”
 
The brothers all moved out of the way to allow the Marshal inside. He led him from the cell. They walked into the front room where Emily and Laura were waiting. Laura broke from Emily’s backward embrace and ran to her brother. She threw her arms around him and burst into tears. “Oh Luke…I don’t understand! Will they really tell you that you have to die today?”
 
“I don’t know, Rose Bud,” Lucas answered, using his pet name for her. He dropped to his knees in front of her. “All we can do is tell them the truth of what happened.”
 
“I want to be there, Luke! I want to go to the trial!” Laura cried then, her lips quivering.
 
“I know you do. But Abe’s right. A courtroom is no place for a little girl.”
 
“I’m not a little girl anymore!” Laura shifted out her chin and raised her head. “I’m becoming a woman! Mama Julie says so!”
 
Lucas smiled slightly and tweaked her nose. “Yes you are. And I’m so very proud of my Rose Bud.” With that, Laura fell into his arms and wept.
 
Jeremiah cleared his throat and the others gathered around the brother and sister. They clung to each other as Jeremiah cleared his throat and talked to God. The Marshal stood in the distance, knowing the words spoken in earnest were private. Jeremiah asked God to allow the truth to be revealed – to spare the family from such heartbreak. He prayed that if anyone had information, they step forward at the trial. After several minutes of tears and prayer, Jeremiah stood up. Lucas stood on shaky legs and hugged Jeremiah. The two clung to each other for a long time.
 
Peter hugged Lucas next, apologizing for all the harsh things he’d said to Lucas. Then Abe took his turn. Finally, Lucas stepped back. “I thank you for your apologies, but I don’t deserve it. I was wrong the other day…The killing was an accident, but I wanted to kill him when I walked in there.” Then he took Emily in his arms. She wept against him and didn’t want to let go. Abe gently pulled her away as the Marshal stepped forward.
 
“It’s time to go, Luke,” the Marshal said quietly. Lucas nodded and allowed the Marshal to lead him toward the door.
 
Suddenly, Laura bolted forward. “NO!” She clung to her brother’s legs. “NO! Don’t let him go! I’ll never see him again!” Laura wept.
 
“We don’t know that!” Abe argued as he lifted her into his arms and cried. “He may be found not guilty, Laura.”
 
“You don’t believe that!” Laura shook her head as she stared at Abe. “I heard you and Julie talking last night. You both think he’ll hang! I heard ya!”
 
Abe closed his eyes in regret and pressed his forehead against Laura’s. “I’m so sorry you heard that. I just…”
 
Laura turned.
 
Lucas was gone.
 
***
The small room was filled with people. There were more people who turned out for the trial than lived in the small town of Enid, and that was for sure! Margaret was given a seat right behind her husband, and she leaned forward and placed a gentle hand on her husband’s shoulder. The judge reviewed the facts with the jury then call the first witness. Every witness that came forward gave the same story. They heard Lucas McCain threaten to kill the man. They heard the gun go off. Nobody gave any different testimony. Ike the bartender who had ducked behind the bar admitted that he too had only heard the exchange. When Lucas ordered everybody out, he had gotten down.
 
Then Lucas came forward. He gave his story, but there was nobody there to back it up. The judge merely frowned and the jury finally stood and left to make their decision. They were only gone for thirty minutes. Lucas, who had been allowed to go outside for a drink of water, was quickly ushered back into the courtroom.
 
Margaret held tight to her mother’s hand as she sat down. Her heart beat quickly. She saw the solemn look on the faces of the jurors and knew what the verdict would be. The judge, wanting a variety of people on the jury, had forced Hal Dodd to take part in the proceedings. He frowned, his face white, as he sat with the other jurors.
 
Silence was in the courtroom as Judge McIntire took his seat behind the desk and banged his gavel.  “Has the jury reached a verdict?”
 
The foreman stood, clearing his throat as his hands shook from tension. “We…We have, your honor.”
 
“Very well,” the judge turned and looked at Lucas. “The defendant will rise.”
 
Lucas couldn’t stand on his own. Johnny Morgan took Lucas under the elbow and helped him to his feet. Lucas cleared his throat, straightened his shoulders, and lifted his head, mustering up all the courage he could. His eyes focused on the lips of the juror as he made the announcement.
 
“We the jury find the defendant…” The foreman stopped, clearing his throat as he wiped his forehead with a kerchief.
 
“Go on, Mr. Merck. Don’t keep us in suspense,” the judge ordered.
 
“…guilty of murder.”
 
Cries were heard all over the courtroom. Margaret’s knees gave out and Jennifer had to lower her daughter down into the chair. “Luke…Luke…” Margaret cried softly, her heart feeling as if it was coming apart.
 
The judge banged his gavel again and declared order in his court. He sat the gavel down and cleared his throat. “Do you have anything to say, Mr. McCain, before I pass judgment?” Lucas lowered his head as he sat down. He buried his face in his hands in response. “Very well. As judge of this district, I must explain that I do not play favorites. The McCains’ have always been upstanding citizens and have helped this community tremoundously. I’m sure they will continue to do so. But Lucas, you acted out of hatred and haste. May none of you forget this day that when we make choices, we also suffer the consequences of those choices.
 
“Therefore, I will pass the same judgment on you, Lucas McCain, as I would any other cold-blooded killer.” Judge McIntire cleared his throat. “Lucas McCain, for the murder of Jackson Black, I sentence you to hang from the neck until dead.”
 
“NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!” Several screams could be heard in the courtroom. Margaret and Emily both burst into tears at the sound of the Judge’s order.
 
“This sentence will take place in one hour.”
 
“Sir…” Marshal Stevens stood up to address the judge. “If it pleases the court, may we wait until morning to…”
 
“What purpose would that serve other then postponing the unaffordable and putting his family through more agony?” Marshal Stevens sat down. “The gallows was built last night for the purpose of the hanging. Everything’s ready. I see no reason to put this off.”
 
Margaret squeezed a hand over her mouth and shook with sobs, mourning for her husband. The judge stood up and stuffed his papers in his folder. “I understand the family has already said their goodbyes before the trial. Therefore I suggest you make haste and get the women and children out of town. Lucas McCain will be escorted back to the jail to wait the hour. His only visitor can be the minister, if he so chooses it.”
 
The judge turned and hurried from the room. Lucas didn’t turn to look at his family. He kept his face buried in his hands and allowed the marshal to hurry him out the front door so nobody could see him. The McCain/Gibbs family stayed behind and clung to each other for a long time. Finally, Abe cleared his throat. “You women wait for us at Scott’s. We’ll be along after…I mean when…” Abe’s voice broke. He closed his eyes. “In a bit. We’ll be there in a bit.”
 
Margaret’s eyes grew wide, her mouth gaped open in mourning as she stared at the door Lucas had just walked out. “Luke…Luke…” Margaret whispered. Scott took her arm to turn her around. “Luke…”
 
“We must go now, Margaret,” her mother whispered softly.
 
“NO!” Margaret raced for the door Lucas had walked out. “NO!” She screamed as she opened the door and hurried toward the jail.
 
Scott ran after her and caught her around the waist. Margaret struggled, trying to escape his embrace. “It’s over, Margaret!” Scott declared sternly. “It’s OVER!”
 
Margaret froze in Scott’s arms and began crying. She allowed Scott to hold her as she mourned for her husband’s impending death.
 
Her mother came to her then and placed her hands on Margaret’s cheeks. “Let’s go home, Darling,” Jennifer said softly. Margaret allowed her family to escort her in the waiting wagon. Julie drove the wagon out of town.
 
***
“Marshal, here’s your mail,” the boy announced as she shoved the mail on Marshal Steven’s desk. The Marshal nodded, but had no desire to look at it at the moment. “Can I look at the wanted posters? Can I?” The boy asked then.
 
“Sure, son.” Marshal Stevens stood as the door opened. Chester Maney stood in the doorway and nodded his head. “You stay in here, you hear me, boy? Stay here until I get back.”
 
“Yes sir.” The boy sat down in the desk, took his hat off, and started shifting through the wanted posters. He took his time, reading every detail of every poster.
 
Without a word, Lucas was escorted outside. He didn’t say a word as Marshal Stevens led him to the outskirts of town where the gallows was. He looked toward his brothers, their faces ashen with the grief they would soon be feeling. Lucas turned then, unable to look at them any longer. Before he went up the stairs, he turned back. To Abe, he asked, “Take care of Margaret for me. Make her go on. Tell her…” Lucas sighed. “Tell her I’m sorry.” Abe nodded but was unable to speak.
 
Lucas turned back to the stairs. Tears filled his eyes as he stepped onto the first stair. As he climbed the stairs, he remembered his father’s face as he advised him against acting in haste. He remembered sitting on his mother’s lap as she told him a Bible Story about Cain who killed his brother and warned him not to do the same. He remembered Margaret…Sweet Margaret…and her beautiful smile.
 
Lucas turned to take his position on the platform. The rope came down around his neck. He remembered Margaret in his arms as they made love. He closed his eyes. Maybe…just maybe…if that was the last image he saw it would hurt as bad.
 
The Marshal lifted his hand as the hangman waited for the hand to lower so he could cut the rope. The hangman lifted the knife…
 
***
Nobody said a word. Margaret just sat in her chair and stared at the door. The children knew something terrible was happening and sat quietly next to their mothers. Some of the women occupied themselves by making a stew, but nobody would feel like eating tonight, not when the men got back.
 
Minutes turned to an hour, then two, then three. Still the men hadn’t come. Margaret didn’t move from the chair as she stared at the door. She knew it had to be over by now. She was now a widow, but she couldn’t come to terms with that. Not yet. Not until she saw her husband’s body, not until she buried him.
 
She felt a hand on her shoulder, but she didn’t look up to see who had placed it there. Darkness came and somebody in the house lit a lantern, but she didn’t want light. She didn’t want to see the look on the faces of the men when they…
 
Suddenly, it was no longer silent. Her heart sank when she heard the approaching horses. Tears once again ran down Margaret’s cheeks. “It’s over,” she heard someone say behind her. “Dear God, he’s dead.”
 
Margaret covered her face with her hands. She didn’t want to see them as they opened the door. Her body shook with sobs. She was a widow now. She’d never hold her husband in her arms again. He’d never caress her or smile. His eyes were now cold and lifeless. Never would he give her a child to hold.
 
Everything seemed meaningless.
 
The door opened, but Margaret kept her hands over her face.
 
She heard footsteps.
 
She heard gasps.
 
She heard cries of joy.
 
Joy? Why were they rejoicing? Her husband had just been hung! Why were they rejoicing? All around her, she heard people praising God, but still she kept her face in her hands.
 
“Margaret.”
 
It was Lucas’ voice, but he was dead!
 
She felt his hands grasp her wrists. “Look at me, Honey.”
 
Margaret lifted her head from her hands and stared into the blue eyes of her husband. “Luke?” Her voice questioned quietly…not believing what she was seeing. “Lucas?”
 
“Yes, my Darling. It’s me.”
 
“Luke…I don’t…” Margaret shook her head and swallowed hard. “No…I don’t understand, Luke. How?”
 
“Margaret, I’m alive. I’m alive.”
 
Margaret suddenly threw her arms around him and kissed his cheek. She allowed his lips to claim hers in a hard kiss, then she stood on shaky legs and took his face in her hands. Her hands touched every inch to make sure it were true – that he was really there. “Please…tell me I’m not dreaming. Tell me you really came back to me.”
 
“I’m back, Margaret. I’m back.” Lucas’ voice was husky. She saw so many emotions in his eyes. He was happy to be alive, yet he seemed to be wrestling with so many things. Margaret bit her lip, unsure on what to say. Lucas drew her back in his arms and held her tight.
 
***
It was a long time later. Margaret sat on Lucas’ lap enjoying the feel of his hands clasped around her waist. Lucas couldn’t speak. His eyes just stared at her. He had so many things to work out.
 
That’s when Abe cleared his throat to tell the story…
 
***
“Marshall Stevens! Marshal Stevens, WAIT!” The boy shouted. Marshal turned to see the boy who had delivered his mail running toward him, a piece of paper waving in his hand. Marshal Stevens held up his hand to stop the hangman. He hurried down the stairs.
 
“I thought I told you to wait in the office, boy!” Marshal Stevens declared.
 
“Yes sir, but look!”
 
Marshal Stevens looked at the paper the boy was holding out to him. He stared, his eyes growing wide and his mouth slowly opening. “Well I’ll be a…” He looked up toward the hangman. “Well, get that noose off his neck! Lucas McCain killed a Wanted Man!”
 
Scott, Jason, Abe, Peter, and Jeremiah all hurried forward. Abe grabbed the paper from the marshal’s hands and stared at it. “It’s true! ‘Wanted dead or alive, Jackson Black for the murder of a deputy in Three Forks Junction. Reward $500.’” Abe swallowed, his lips quivering as he looked up toward his brother. “You’re free, Luke…You’re not going to die!”
 
Abe rushed forward and up the stairs, taking his brother in his arms and holding onto him for dear life. Lucas stood there speechless, still not able to believe what was happening. “Did you hear that, brother? You just killed a wanted man! That means your free!”
 
Lucas rubbed his neck where the rope had been only moments before. In shock, he looked down at the trap door still closed, then his eyes went up to the rope as it dangled down from above. He was going to live? He was going to be able to go back to his wife? To his family? He’d be able to hold her tight, to take his nephews fishing, to work his cattle like he’d always wanted to? Lucas’ hands shook. He still couldn’t quite believe it.
 
His heart beat hard as he looked out over the crowd. Some rejoiced, but others shook their heads in disbelieve, feeling justice wasn’t being served. Lucas couldn’t speak for a long time. His brothers each came up the steps and hugged him tight. Finally, he held up his hands. “I’ve got something to say.”
 
The crowd quieted to listen to what he had to say. “I could confess right now to shooting Jackson Black and nobody could do a thing about it. Why? Because Jackson Black killed before me. There is some other man out there in a grave. He didn’t know it, but he didn’t die in fain. NO! He died so that he could save the likes of me. I don’t deserve this. I don’t deserve to live because I allowed my anger and hatred for this man to take over. I went into that saloon with the intention of killing that man.”
 
The crowd quieted then. Lucas’ lips trembled as he looked from left to right at every man standing in the crowd. “But what I said in that courtroom was the gospel truth. I would swear to each and every one of you on a stack of Bibles that this is what happened: Black grabbed for my rifle and it went off. Did my finger pull the trigger? Did his?” Lucas swallowed hard. “I can’t answer that.” Lucas felt a tear escape his eye. He didn’t attempt to wipe it away. “I killed a man, rather it was intentional or not…I put myself into that situation. And I will spend the rest of my life living with that fact. And I will pray every day that nobody I love will EVER have to go through the kind of hell I’ll have to go through – to live with the fact that my actions killed a man…”
 
With that said, Lucas silently went down the stairs and past the crowd. He didn’t look anywhere but down at his boots as he walked out of town.
 
***
 
***
The boy stood outside the town hall and drew a picture in the dirt with his foot. He heard voices down the street, but didn’t understand what they were saying. Suddenly, the voices came closer. “He’s going to hang.”
 
“Looks that way for sure,” the other man agreed.
 
“He killed Black alright. Yep, he sure did! Leaving a wife behind. They’ve loved each other their whole life, I hear. What a waste.”
 
The boy stared at the backs of the men as they continued down the street. His heart pounded in his chest. He had stayed silent because his Pa would give him a licking to know he was in the saloon, but he couldn’t let an innocent man hang. His hands shook as he made his way across the street.
 
***
“Will the prisoner please rise.” Lucas stood on shaky feet. The judge turned to the jury. “Has the jury reached a verdict?”
 
“We have, your honor.”
 
“Go ahead.”
 
The foreman pulled at his tie and cleared his throat. His forehead broke out in sweat as he stared at Lucas. Lucas saw the answer in his eyes. He knew it was the hardest decision that ever had to be made. Lucas turned and looked at Margaret who put a hand to her mouth. “We the jury find the defendant, Lucas Mark McCain gu-“
 
“NO!” A voice sounded from the back of the room. “Wait! Stop!”
 
Everyone turned and mumbled as the boy, about fourteen years old, quickly made his way up the aisle. The judge pounded his gavel on the desk. “Silence in the court room!” After a few moments, silence was reestablished. “Now then young man, would you mind telling me just what is the meaning of this?”
 
The boy walked through the gate and stood humbling in front of the judge’s desk. He hung his head. “I saw it. I saw the whole thing.”
 
Muttering and shouts erupted from the court room. The judge again pounded his gavel on the desk. “Just what did you see, son?”
 
“I saw the…the shooting, sir,” the boy answered. “I saw it all.”
 
“What is your name?”
 
“Hank, sir.”
 
“Hank, did you know Mr. McCain was on trial for murder?”
 
Hank hung his head. “Y…Yes sir.”
 
“And did you know the law has been looking for a witness?”
 
The boy nodded without lifting his head.
 
“Then why did you wait until now to come forward?” The judge’s voice was loud and demanding.
 
“I…” Hank sighed.
 
“Look at me when you speak!” Judge McIntire demanded loudly.
 
The boy lifted his head and swallowed. “I hoped they wouldn’t find him guilty, sir.”
 
“Why, son?”
 
Hank let a sob escape from his throat. “I weren’t s’posed to be in the saloon, sir. My Pa would give me a hard licking if he caught me.”
 
“So you put a man’s life at stake because you didn’t want to get a tanning that you deserve?”
 
“Ye…yes sir.”
 
“Alright, son.” Judge McIntire sat back in his chair and cleared his throat impatiently. “Get on up there and raise your right hand.” The Marshal swore him in. The boy took his seat. “Now, tell me what you saw happen.
 
“Well sir…they was fighting…I mean arguing. I saw Mr. McCain over there with his rifle. Then I saw that gun fighter laugh at Mr. McCain and jump forward. He grabbed the rifle and they struggled.”
 
“There was a struggle? You know that for sure?”
 
“Oh, yes sir! It only lasted a second. Then Mr. Black tried to jerk the rifle out of Mr. McCain’s hand and it went off. Mr. McCain didn’t shoot him so, I know it!”
 
“Son, where were you sitting?”
 
“I was under a table in the middle of the room. I could see the gun fighter’s hand plain as day. He grabbed for the rifle. I’m sure!” Hank spoke in a very strong and convincing voice.
 
The judge looked toward the jury who were all whispering among themselves. “Does the jury need more time to decide?”
 
“No sir.” The foreman stood. “We the jury find Lucas McCain NOT guilty of murder.”
 
Cries could be heard all over the courtroom. Margaret rushed forward and threw her arms around Lucas. She cried into his chest, deep, heavy sobs soaking his shirt. Lucas held her tight and kissed her cheek, his own eyes filled with tears.
 
Soon, he found himself surrounded by friends and family. “You’ll come to the house!” Tiffany declared. “We’re having fired chicken to celebrate!”
 
“And beer!” Peter declared. “I’m buying a keg of beer!”
 
“Peter Mc…” Tiffany started as she put a hand on her hip.
 
“I think they deserve it tonight!” Julie declared as she stopped Tiffany’s protest. “Tonight, the men can have their beer!”
 
***
 
Lucas forced the smile to stay on his face as everyone rejoiced in the verdict Lucas being saved from hanging. Lucas knew he had caused all this grief. He didn’t deserve the feast the women had immediately set out to fix. He didn’t deserve everyone laughing and joking with him as if he were some hero. He wasn’t a hero. The children all sat around him, commenting on the story he told. Even Paul had a look of pride in his eyes at that exciting happenings surrounding the day. It pierced Lucas’ heart to see the look of pride in their eyes.
 
He was guilty, even if the judge the Wanted Poster had declared him a free man.
 
Everyone laughed as Tiffany apologized for her sudden bout of dizziness and blamed Peter for being the cause of her being in the “family way.” Lucas didn’t even look to see Margaret’s reaction. He didn’t join in the congratulations. Slowly, he stepped outside and walked toward the woods behind the house. The laughter could still be heard from the doorway.
 
He didn’t deserve this. He didn’t deserve any of this! Why were they having a party for him when he’d been the cause of a man’s death, gunfighter or not…His anger had caused so much hurt!
 
Lucas heard footsteps behind him. “Luke?” He heard his twelve year old sister question.
 
Lucas turned and looked at Laura. He bent down in front of her and forced himself to smile in his eyes. “Sometimes I do bad things and Papa punishes me. He said that’s how we learn…making mistakes makes us wise.”
 
“Yeah.” Lucas sighed. “But this wasn’t a kid mistake. This was a bad, bad mistake.”
 
“Mama Julie says God don’t measure sin. He just calls it sin.” Lucas nodded. He’d heard that too, but he couldn’t believe God would see what he had done the same as what Laura would do wrong. “Mama says everything we do bad makes the death on the cross that much worse.” Lucas nodded again.
 
Laura took his hand. Lucas recoiled from her touch as if she were a deadly snake. “I don’t deserve it, Laura!” Lucas suddenly shouted. “I don’t deserve your forgiveness!”
 
“Luke…”
 
“Go back inside and celebrate the fact that I got off when I should have been hung!” Lucas saw the pain in Laura’s eyes. Her eyes filled with tears and she let out a loud moan as she turned from him.
 
Laura ran back inside. Her cries sounded from the doorway. Abe dropped to his knees and held out his arms. She ran into them and buried her face in his chest. “What’s wrong, Rose Bud?” Abe asked softly as he smoothed her hair.
 
“Luke…” Laura tried, but she was shaking. “He wants to die!”
 
***
Lucas left soon after. He knew Laura was hurting, but he couldn’t find the words to comfort her inside him. Instead, Laura kept her arm firmly around Abe’s waist and buried her head in his side. Abe kept a comforting arm around Laura’s shoulder and gave him a look, warning him to hurt her anymore than he already had. “I guess we should get home, Margaret,” Lucas said, his voice distant.
 
Margaret stepped forward. Some of her excitement from earlier died when she saw the tortured look on Lucas’ face. When he had first arrived, he seemed relieved. But now he seemed to be filled with guilt and remorse. Well, she’d straighten out his shaking and help him seek forgiveness from God, the true judge, when they got home.
 
But after a uncomfortable silence all the way home, Margaret was disappointed when Lucas took a long time in the barn. Then he slowly walked into the house and sat down in his chair. He didn’t even attempt to pick up his Bible and read it like he had done so many times before. He just stared across the room into the firing place. Margaret moved over and sat on the arm of his chair, dropping a kiss on his forehead. “Luke…”
 
Lucas said nothing. He took her hand and pressed it between his two big ones as he remembered the events of the last few days. “Hal’s been keeping up the place. I’m sure your anxious to get started on the-“
 
“Why did God let me off?” Lucas’ voice suddenly questioned quietly. His voice was husky as he continued to stare blankly across the room. “I didn’t deserve it. I deserved to hang. I killed that man, outlaw or not.”
 
Margaret slid to the floor and looked up into her husband’s eyes. “You can’t let your guilt eat you up, Luke. It’ll destroy you.”
 
“Who’s responsible for that ad in the paper? What are they going to print next? Why is someone doing this to our family?” Lucas wasn’t asking her. He was only asking unanswerable questions out loud.
 
“Luke…” Margaret tried again.
 
“Why did you let me go into town with that rifle, knowing the state I was in? Why didn’t you try to stop me, Margaret? Why did I kill that man? Am I really a bad person? Can I ever show my face in this town again?”
 
Margaret laid her hands on Lucas’ cheeks and forced his eyes to focus on hers. “Let’s go to bed, Luke. We’ll talk more tomorrow….After church.”
 
“Church…” Lucas voice spoke bitterly. “I won’t be going to a church for quite awhile.”
 
“Luke!”
 
“Go on to bed.” Lucas sighed. “I’ll be there in a bit.”
 
“Lucas, I need you to hold me tonight.”
 
“I can’t, Margaret,” Lucas mumbled. “I just…I can’t.”
 
“Luke…”
 
Lucas cut her words off abruptly and harshly. “I’ll be along in a bit.  Goodnight, Margaret.”
 
***
Margaret reached out for Lucas the next morning, but the bed beside her was cold. She stood from the bed and opened the bedroom door. “Luke?” There was no fire in the stove. The room was still lifeless, the way she had left it last night. She had gone to bed alone, Lucas promising to be there as soon as he got his chores done. But she had fallen asleep.
 
It took Abe and Julie some time to calm Laura down. Lucas never came back, but waited out in the yard for Margaret to come out. Then he quietly told her it was time to go home. Margaret couldn’t get Lucas to talk to her. All he said was he didn’t deserve any celebration. He deserved to die.
 
“Luke?” Margaret called now. She started for the door, but noticed a piece of paper lying on the table. She lit the lantern and sat down to read the note.
 
My Dearest Margaret,
I can’t be the husband you want me to be right now. The court may have found me innocent yesterday, but I’m guilty.  I may have gotten out of hanging, but I’m still guilty. I cannot remain there as your husband until I can understand why God has allowed me to live. I’ve gone to search for answers. I don’t know when I’ll be back.
Please always know that I love you.
 
Luke
 
The note fluttered to the floor. Her scream of “NO!” pierced the morning.

The Margaret Years — Coming.....

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

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