The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Years Before

Chapter 3 - A Distraction
Written by Michelle Palmer
 
There was hardly a moon that humid, Sunday night in early June. Just a tiny sliver hung in the dark sky.   The lights previously shining along the street had recently been darkened by the Marshal as he made his final rounds. Now, the only light that lit the way was the moon.  The street was quiet at this dark hour, except for the saloon that was still alive with the sound of men’s drunken laughter as the piano played. Still, the night was eerie and quiet.
 
The silence at the end of the street was slowly interrupted but a drunk old man’s singing  as, he slowly stumbled up the road, stopping every once in a while to take a long, slow drink from his last bottle of whisky. He came to the old warehouse – the one that had closed down a year ago. The old man slowly stepped on the first step. He stopped, laughing at his own drunkenness, then grabbed a hold of the post and stepped up the second step, though it took some doing. He took one more long drink from the bottle, then cursed when he realized it was empty, his voice slurred as he threw the bottom down. The bottle shattered on the boardwalk.
 
He stumbled a few more paces before lifting the cigar to his lips. The old man struggled to take a puff off of it, but his hands shook. He groaned as he felt dizziness come to his head; and he reached up a hand to his forehead, his words slurred as he cursed again.  The cigar slowly slipped from his fingers and landed at his feet on the boardwalk.
 
The old man cursed as his world began spinning out of control. After taking one more step, he fell to his knees. His head swirled around for a few minutes and his eyes rolled in the back of his head before he finally fell, face down on the boardwalk. He was out cold. The music down the street filtered through the darkness as the cigar continued to slowly burned.
 
May had been a dry, hot month that year, so it didn’t take long for the boardwalk to catch on fire. The entire boardwalk was engulfed in flames in mere moments. The men at the saloon down the street were unaware that a fire was starting to rage in their nice little town; a fire that could easily destroy it.
 
The old man on the boardwalk never woke up as the flames consumed him.
 
****
 
Julie McCain awoke that Monday morning early in June when she felt her husband’s arms slip around her. As was often the case for the entire McCain family, they were awake before the sun. But this was the time of day, when everything else was still asleep, that Julie and Abraham were able to spend some time alone together. This was when they could really talk to each other before the day awoke and demanded their attention.
 
Julie mumbled as Abraham, laying against her with her back to his chest, gently moved his hand down to her fat belly and rested it there. The life growing inside her seemed to protest at his touch. Julie smiled and placed a hand on top of his. “Good morning,” he mumbled. The baby kicked his hand. They both chuckled as the baby made his presence known. “Good morning to you too!” Abraham declared.
 
Julie rolled onto her back and smiled into her husband’s eyes. “He’s been doing that all night!” She exclaimed. “It feels like a regular wrestling match going on inside!”
 
‘Oh…” Abraham bent and kissed her lips. “What do you know about wrestling matches, my dear?” He loved teasing his gentle blond-haired beauty.
 
Julie gave a short laugh and stared at her husband’s face in the darkness. The tension from the last month could be seen in every line, and she could tell he was trying really hard to hide it from her. “You have three brothers that you ‘wrestle’ with all the time! I know about wrestling matches!” Her voice was teasing, yet gentle and soothing. Abraham smiled quietly as he scooted down in the bed and laid his head on her chest to listen to her heart. It was small, comforting moments like this that helped get him through his rough days. Slowly, Abraham slid his hand under her gown and gently ran his hand over her belly as the baby again protested his touch.
 
Julie sighed contentedly. She always loved feeling her husband’s hands on her. It always amazed her that they could be hard as steel one moment as he pushed a plow or took it on himself to give one of his siblings some old-fashioned discipline, yet so gentle the next as he touched her soft skin in a way that made her shiver. As they quietly lay in the dark, Julie began thinking on those things that had recently occurred in their family. “Abraham…how do you think Margaret’s doing?”
 
“Hm?” Abraham mumbled, a bit annoyed his own thoughts had been interrupted. His hand paused only for a second as the question slowly penetrated his mind. “Oh, I don’t know honey. I wish she had something to occupy her days. I couldn’t imagine having to wait for my love to come back to me.” He lifted his head and kissed her cheek. Then he lowered it back to her chest. “I talked to Scott the other day when we were in town and he said she can’t seem to concentrate on her chores these days, she’s so worried about Luke.”
 
“How about you?” Abraham stayed quiet as he continued to run his hand in circles on her bare belly. “How are you dealing with all this?” Julie coaxed him to speak. Abraham still didn’t answer. He never liked to talk about his own thoughts and feelings. Julie touched his bearded face with her hand and lifted his head toward hers. “Do you have any hard feelings toward Luke?”
 
Abraham sighed as his hand again rested on her belly. “I don’t know, Julie. Luke and I did a lot of talking when I saw him a few weeks ago, but…” Abraham kissed her lips softly. “I guess I just miss Pa terribly bad. I still expect to see him out in the fields or sitting at the table stealing a kiss from Ma. I just never expected the time would come when…” Abraham allowed his thoughts to die as he again kissed Julie, this time a bit deeper.
 
Julie returned the kiss as his hand again began caressing her belly. When their lips parted, Julie kept her hand on his bearded face as she spoke softly. “Suddenly being the head of the McCain family…having to make the decisions…it’s hard.” She could see the pressure he felt in his eyes. She could hear confusion in his voice. And his touch, as gentle as it was, felt different as he weighed so much on his mind. She longed to draw those intimate thoughts from him so she could help remove the tension he was feeling.
 
“I think every day about what I’d give to have Pa back here with us,” Abraham spoke quietly. These were intimate thoughts for him. They were hard things to share with his wife, let alone the rest of his family. “With Pa gone and Luke in the war, we’re really short-handed on the farm. Jeremiah’s working on his house, which is a slow painful process with having to care for the crops as well. Peter and Jeremiah both are feeling a bit…resentful that I’m in charge now.”
 
Abraham continued running his hand across her belly as the baby again began kicking. “You’re the oldest, Abe. That’s the way Pa wanted it, for you to be in charge,” Julie mumbled tiredly.
 
“Yeah. But they don’t always agree with the way I want to do things.” Abraham sighed as he removed his hand from her belly and lay back down beside her. Julie suddenly felt like she had lost him as far as talking him through his worries. “You aren’t sleeping either.” That was just another thing Abraham felt he had to worry about.
 
“It’s hard for a woman to sleep this late in the pregnancy, Abe,” Julie tried to explain. “If you remember, I was just as tired with Charlie.”
 
“I know,” Abraham mumbled as Julie turned on her side and laid her head on his chest. She started moving her hand across his chest in gentle circles as they continued to talk. “I’d take some of it away from you if I could.”
 
“You say that,” Julie smiled. “But I don’t think you mean it!”
 
“Oh no?” Julie heard the challenge in his voice. He put his hand under her chin and lifted her face up as he planted a long kiss on her lips. His arms went around her as they continued to kiss. He ran his hands up and down her back.
 
When their lips parted, Julie let out a soft moan as she laid her head back on his chest. “If you remember right, it was a kiss like that that got me in this predicament in the first place.” She moaned again, but this was a moan of pain as a foot kicked her hard.
 
“Oh Julie…” Abraham ran his hands through her soft hair. “I have to put so much work into the farm now. I’m away so much and you’re so close to your time. I worry about you, honey. I hate leaving you here all alone with Charlie!”
 
Julie smiled. “I’m fine, Abe.” She lifted her head from his chest and lay back on her pillow. Abraham turned on his side to face her. “You put that bell right outside for me,” Julie said as she stared into his eyes. Their hands touched each other’s cheek as she softly spoke. “ I can ring it if my time comes. You already told me you could hear it from the farm.”
 
“Yes.” Abraham finger traced her cheek. “But regardless, I worry about you and our baby.”
 
“Oh.” She lowered her head and circled her finger around a hair on his chest. “Some of the ladies in town told me I was the fattest pregnant lady they’ve ever seen! I must admit I’m much bigger than I ever was with Charlie…Mrs. Robinson said it looked like I was having an elephant instead of a baby!”
 
“Ol’ Mrs. Robinson…” Abraham mumbled as he kissed the top of her head. “She just likes to say cruel things. Don’t let it bother you, honey.”
 
Quietly, Julie asked, “What if I stay fat after the baby like Mrs. Robinson says I will?”
 
Abraham chuckled softly as he lifted her face up to his once again. He drew her pregnant body against him as best he could, and again began kissing her. Their kisses deepened as they enjoyed being in each other’s arms. He desired intimacy, but knew it was impossible in her present condition. Abraham ran his hands down her back as she returned his kisses. Her kisses always left him tingling all over, even after three years of sharing a bed together.
 
Their intimate kisses were suddenly interrupted by a desperate knock on the door. Abraham groaned as he jumped out of bed and pulled his pants on. Julie sat up and reached for her robe. When Abraham opened the front door to their house, Peter was standing there. Julie lit the lamp on the table. The light revealed the worry on Peter’s face. “Well? What is it, boy?” Abraham grumbled.
 
“Abe, Hal just came by…” Peter stopped as he took some deep breaths. Something had gotten him really excited.
 
Abraham grabbed Peter’s shoulder and pulled him inside. “Alright, just stay calm!” Abraham demanded as he began buttoning up his shirt. “Tell me what happened.”
 
“The old warehouse…” Peter gasped. “…in town! It’s on fire!”
 
“ Oh no!” Abraham breathed.
 
“What is it, Abe?” Julie asked as she hurried up behind her husband holding the lamp.
 
“The town’s on fire!” Abraham grabbed his boots and sat down to put them on. Without looking up, he started shouting orders to his brother. “Peter, you run to the Gibbs Ranch and get Uncle Sam.”
 
“What about Scott?” Peter asked.
 
“No!” Abraham yelled as he shoved his head upwards. “If I wanted Scott there, I would have said so!” Peter’s face showed signs of annoyance, but Abraham quickly shook his head. “With his lame leg, he’d be better off staying at the ranch with his family.” Abraham worked on his other boot. “Oh, and send Margaret over here to stay with Julie. With all us men gone, she’ll need someone with her just in case.” Abraham slipped his boot on and jerked his head up when he realized Peter was still there. “Get going!” He yelled.
 
Peter turned and hurried back toward his horse without saying a word. The sun was just beginning to peak over the hill. Julie stayed quiet about sending Margaret over, knowing that her husband was very worried about her. Besides that, she wouldn’t mind having Margaret here to visit with.
 
Abraham stood and turned toward her as he tucked his shirt into his pants. “Julie, get Charlie dressed. I’ll drop him off at the main house.”
 
“Abraham, no!” Julie protested suddenly.
 
“Do as I say!” Abraham ordered as he fastened his belt. “I don’t have time to argue!” Abraham grabbed his hat and started out onto the porch. “I want him ready by the time the horse is saddled!”
 
Though Abraham did tend to be a bit overbearing and liked to throw out orders, he was usually not so forceful with his orders toward her. But he was worried about many things and had a lot of pressure on him. So Julie brushed his crude orders off and hurried to obey him without arguing.
 
Julie grabbed the clothes from the chair and hurried over to Charlie’s bed. She pulled the covers off of her one year old son and bent over to kiss him. “Charlie?”
 
Charlie slowly opened his eyes as his mother’s voice. “No Mama, no!” Charlie cried. He wasn’t used to waking so early and wanted to go back to sleep.
 
“Come on, we have to get you dressed, honey.” She lifted him from the bed and sat him on her lap.
 
“Mama!” Charlie cried as she began dressing him. “Mama, no,” he fussed.
 
“Your going to visit grandma this morning, honey. Papa will take you.”
 
“Mama…” Charlie cried again. “Mama!”
 
“Shhhh….” Julie slipped his shirt on over his head then stood up as she picked him up. She hugged him close as she hurried into the front room. “I bet grandma will have a nice big breakfast all ready for you when you get there!” She sat him on her lap as she put his shoes on.
 
“No, Mama! No!” Charlie cried. Julie saw Abraham coming as she slipped Charlie’s last shoe on.
 
Abraham hurried inside and reached out for Charlie. “Come on, my little one.” Charlie cried as Abraham took him in his arms. Abraham held tight as Charlie continued to protest. He was definitely not a morning person, and his folks did their best to ignore his behavior first thing in the morning. “Julie, I want you to stay inside and don’t try to do any work!” Abraham’s voice ordered her as he plopped Charlie firmly on his hip. He grabbed a piece of bread from the plate Julie had just uncovered and handed it to Charlie. “You make sure to eat something and be careful!” He hurried out the door. Julie followed him off the porch as he wrapped Charlie’s arms around him and mounted his horse.
 
“Abraham, be careful!” Julie begged.
 
Abraham paused and looked down at her. He gave her a nod, then turned his horse and hurried off. Julie pressed a hand to her belly as she watched her husband ride across the prairie toward the main house.
 
Julie turned to go back inside. It was hard for her to even move right now! She felt so fat and tired all the time! Julie breathed a quick prayer for all the men involved in fighting the fire, then went to get dressed.
 
Though Abraham had ordered her to stay inside, Julie had to go milk the cow so she’d have some fresh milk. She also gathered eggs from the few chickens they had. After fixing a small breakfast, she began to wash dishes.
 
***
 
Samuel Gibbs and Scott were just getting their boots on at the Gibbs Ranch when a loud knock sounded on their front door. Scott hurried to answer it. “Scott, there’s trouble!” Peter exclaimed. Samuel walked up behind his son to see what the trouble was. Peter immediately lifted his head to look over Scott’s shoulder and rushed inside. “Uncle Sam, Abraham sent for you…” Peter gasped breaths of air to calm down his exciting breathing. “The warehouse…it’s on fire! It’s burning!”
 
Abraham reached for his hat and gun holster. “I’m coming with you!” Scott declared.
 
“No! You stay here with the family,” Sam ordered. “With your lame leg you couldn’t do much!”
 
Scott’s leg had been lame since he was a little boy. It had gone lame after an accident and was no one’s fault. Nobody blamed him. But still, Scott didn’t like being treated like less of a man because of his handicap. “But Pa!” Scott started.
 
“I said stay here!” Sam ordered.
 
“Pa, can I help?” Johnny asked as he hurried from the bedroom.
 
“Abraham said we just need your father!” Peter answered.
 
“Abraham’s right. You both stay here and tend to your chores!” Samuel ordered.
 
Peter hurried out after Samuel. In all the excitement, he forgot all about sending Margaret to Abraham’s house.
 
***
 
Something had suddenly awakened Margaret from her sleep. She wasn’t sure what it was, but got up and lit the lamp in her room. Beth mumbled from her bed across the room as the light flooded in. “It’s time to rise and shine, sleepy head!” Margaret declared to her 16 year old sister. She sat down at the table and opened the latest letter from Lucas so she could read his words once again.
 
Margaret,
 
Yes, I did receive your letter. I read it through five times before I allowed your words to sink in. I’m glad to hear that you love me.
 
I have been able to rejoin Johnny and Andy, as well as the rest of the men, but Margaret, if it’s all the same to you I’d rather not talk about the war too much. We are awaiting orders and that’s all I want to say to you. I’m afraid our chances of writing will be few and far between very soon, so when I get the chance to write I’d rather focus on happier moments.
 
I do hope everyone’s well. I’ve written a letter to Ma as well, but now that Pa’s gone, I suspect she’s keeping pretty busy. I hate the strain my being gone has placed on the family. I wish I could be there to help the family.
 
How’s Julie? Has she had the baby yet? How’s little Charlie? Oh, but I bet he’s growing fast! He just turned one a few days ago, huh? Is Jeremiah married yet? I laugh that he’s marrying a woman named Emily. That sure will be confusing in our family.
 
Yes, I’m eating and trying to put the meat back on my bones. The doctor has ordered that I get a double helping of rations until I look fit and healthy again. They don’t like us with too much meat, just enough to make us strong. The food is nothing like you or our mothers can fix, but it keeps me alive.
 
Oh, I wish I could write more, but the Captain is calling us to line up. I’ll send this with the cook when he goes for more supplies.
 
I love you.
 
Lucas
 
Margaret folded the letter and allowed a lonely tear to slide down her cheek. There were times when she didn’t have time to think about Lucas, but this wasn’t one of those days. “Margaret!” She heard her mother calling. “Margaret Ann!”
 
“I’m coming, Mama!” Margaret called back. She opened her desk drawer and gently laid Lucas’s letter inside. Then she wiped the tear from her eye and stood up. She walked into the living room. “Yes, Mama?”
 
“Margaret, Peter just rode by. There’s some sort of trouble in town this morning. He came to get your father and they all rode out together. Margaret, Julie’s so close to her time and I doubt anyone’s with her. I don’t think she should be left alone right now. Would you go check on her? If she’s by herself…”
 
Margaret nodded. “I’ll go stay with Julie, Ma.”
 
Jennifer quickly went into the kitchen and picked up an apple turnover she had made for breakfast. She wrapped it up in a cloth and handed it to Margaret to eat as she waited for her horse to be saddled.
 
Margaret hurried outside where Scott was bringing her horse out of the barn. She hurried up to the horse, but Scott held up a hand and shook his head. “You eat that first!” He demanded.
 
Margaret obeyed. Then she handed him the empty cloth as he helped her up then waved as she raced away.
 
Margaret couldn’t help being a bit excited as she raced across the prairie to Abraham and Julie’s house. The arrival of Abraham and Julie McCain’s second baby was expected any day now. They hadn’t been in church the day before. Emily assured Margaret everything was okay, but Julie in her advanced pregnancy could no longer travel into town to attend church.
 
Margaret raced into the yard and jumped from her horse. After tying Golden to the hitching post, she knocked then entered. When she got inside she found Julie working on washing the dishes. “Does Abe know you’re doing that?” Margaret could tell from the look on her friend’s face that Abraham would not approve of such a thing. “Now, you just come sit right over here!” Margaret exclaimed.
 
“I’m fine, Margaret! I’m pregnant, not sick! Just leave me be!” Julie argued, but Margaret kept a firm hold on her friend and insisted she sit. “For Pete’s sake, I’m TRYING to talk this baby into coming out! If my doing dishes makes it happen, I…”
 
“The baby will come out when he’s good and ready!” Margaret declared as she took over washing the dishes. “You’ll need every ounce of strength when your time comes.” Margaret turned and watched Julie slowly sit down at the table. “Where’s Charlie?”
 
Julie smiled. “He’s over at the main house. Peter rode out here before sunup and said Hal Dodd stopped by their house. Apparently there’s a fire and they need every able-bodied man there to help put out the fire.” She shook her head. “Abraham demanded he take Charlie to the main house for Ma and Emily to watch over him. I was given strict orders not to argue.”
 
“Oh, I see.” Margaret went to open the window. She knew Abraham was under a lot of pressure. She also knew not to get involved in the family matter.
 
But Margaret couldn’t help being upset with Abraham. Why did he leave his wife alone? He should have sent for her or Emily to be here! But this wasn’t something she wanted to bother Julie with. She’d tell Abraham what she thought of it later. “It’s going to be another hot day!” She continued to wash the dishes while Julie sat at the table fanning herself with her apron.
 
“Have you heard from Luke?” Julie asked then.
 
The dish slipped from Margaret’s hand and fell back into the soapy water. Margaret gasped as water splashed all over her. “What?”
 
“I said, have you heard from Luke.” Julie chuckled softly. “My, but you are as nervous as a mouse in a cat’s mouth when that name is mentioned!”
 
“I’m…sorry.” Margaret tried to calm her shaking hands. “I bet you never felt this way when you and Abraham courted!”
 
“Oh…” Julie smiled as she stared into Margaret’s eyes. “So, you do admit you’ve been courting!” Margaret blushed as she turned back to work on the dishes. “Yes, Margaret. I was nervous. I still get nervous at times when Abe’s not here…like right now, he’s fighting that fire and…”
 
“At least you know where he is,” Margaret mumbled to herself. “Oh, blasted!” She turned from the sink and threw a hand to her forehead. “How much longer will this cursed war last?” Margaret gasped and widened her eyes in horror as she realized what had just come from her mouth. “Oh! I’m…” Margaret blushed.
 
Julie leaned back in her chair and put a hand to her swelled belly. “I don’t’ suppose now would be a good time to bring up the Hundred Year War?”
 
Margaret gasped again. Julie nodded. “Luke’s only been gone for two months, Margaret.”
 
“It seems like it’s been two years!” Margaret declared as she turned back to the dishes. She lifted her head and stared out the window. “I can’t stop thinking about it, Julie. Everywhere I go reminds me of Lucas. Everything I do…Why, even standing here washing these dishes like this. I remember the night at our house when Lucas made the announcement and…” Margaret stopped.
 
“Well,” Julie cringed as she stood from the chair. “I think you need to find something to take your mind off of him.”
 
“Like what?” Margaret asked. “I have my responsibilities at home, but I…” Margaret stopped and turned back toward Julie. “I just don’t know what to do with myself!”
 
“We just need to find you some sort of distraction is all!” Julie walked over to Margaret. “This heat is so…” She suddenly stopped and grabbed her middle.
 
Margaret dried another plate, but stopped and turned when Julie suddenly let out a groan. “Julie?” She sat the plate down and hurried over to her. Julie was clutching the chair so hard her knuckles were turning white. “Julie, is it the baby?” Margaret asked desperately.
 
Julie tried to answer, but the pain was so intense she couldn’t speak. She nodded as she took deep breaths. Then she clutched her middle. “Oh!” she gasped as a large puddle began forming on the floor at her feet.
 
“What’s that?” Margaret asked as her eyes grew wide.
 
“My water just broke!” Julie’s voice was pained as she made the announcement. She tried to stay in control of her situation. “Oh, where’s Abe?” she groaned suddenly. Then she reached out and grabbed Margaret’s hand. “Help me to bed, Margaret,” she suggested painfully. “Then you need to get the doctor!”
 
They started for the bedroom. “It’s not…” Julie began breathing harder. “It’s not going away! I don’t…OHHHHHHH!” Julie suddenly stopped as she started to drop to her knees on the floor. She continued to groan as the pain again intensified.
 
Margaret grabbed Julie under the arms and dragged her into the bedroom. Julie slowly sat down on the side of the bed. Margaret helped her undress, then Julie got under the covers.
 
Julie lay back on the pillow and closed her eyes, trying to quietly get through the pain. She knew right off that this wasn’t going to be a regular delivery. She wasn’t having contractions, per se. Julie had a feeling the baby was going to make his presence known very, very quickly.
 
“I’ll go for the doc!” Margaret announced as she turned toward the door.
 
“No!” Julie shouted. She flung her head from side to side as the pain once again became more intense. “There’s not time!”
 
“What?????” Margaret’s eyes grew wide. “I thought these things take lots of time!”
 
“Not always,” Julie moaned out. “Sometimes…” She groaned again. “You’ll have to help me, Margaret!”
 
 “Julie, I don’t know anything about birthing babies!” Margaret argued.
 
“Well, you’re going to learn today!” Julie took a deep breath as the pain subsided briefly. She reached out and grabbed Margaret’s hand. “You’ve helped your father and brothers birth cows and horses, Margaret. You can do this.”
 
“It’s not the same!” Margaret declared.
 
“Margaret, we have no choice,” Julie stated. “We’ll do it…together.”
 
“No!” Margaret exclaimed. “You need the doctor!”
 
“There’s no time!” Julie bit her lip and pressed her head deeper into the pillow as the pains started again. “With Charlie, it was a…a…” Julie swallowed. “It was a slow process, but this baby wants born right quick.” Julie grabbed a firmer hold onto Margaret’s hand. “I need you to go put some water on to heat. We’ll need it once the baby’s born. He’ll need a good washing.”
 
Margaret hurried back into the kitchen and quickly dug through the cupboards for a large pan. She finally found one and filled it with water to heat. “Margaret!” Margaret hurried back into the room. “We’ll need a knife to…to cut the cord and…and…some towels and sheets.”
 
Margaret hurried and gathered up everything she would need. Then she hurried back into the bedroom. “We need the doctor!” Margaret exclaimed. She knew how dangerous child birth was. She had personally known women who died during childbirth, and babies who never made it into the world alive. She didn’t want this to happen to Julie.
 
Julie saw the hesitation in Margaret’s eyes, but she had to stay strong for Margaret. She had to convince her friend. “We can do this, Margaret. We can!” Julie closed her eyes as another pain went through her body. “It won’t be long now. Not long at all.” She again dug her hands into Margaret’s and gasped loudly as the contraction wracked her body.
 
***
 
Meanwhile, in town things were heating up, and not all the heat was from the fire. The men worked diligently on putting out the fire in the building, totally engulfed in flames. “Maybe if we start watering down the next building, it’ll weaken the fire!” Jeremiah suggested to his brother. “Then we could…”
 
“No!” Abraham shouted. “Jeremiah, you get over to the fire wagon! Peter, you come with me to the creek! We’ll get more buckets!” As Abraham threw out orders, he pointed with his finger. His voice held a tone that warned for everyone to do exactly as he said.
 
“Why can’t we try?” Peter asked. “It won’t hurt to try!”
 
Abraham whirled around and glared at his brother. “Now’s not the time to argue with me! I’ve given you my orders, now get going!” Abraham yelled as he took Peter roughly by the arm and hurried toward the creek.
 
“What’s his problem?” Hal Dodd asked from behind Jeremiah.
 
“The same thing it’s always been. He thinks this fire’s bad…just wait until it’s over! Then we’ll really give him something to yell about!” Jeremiah declared as he hurried to do his brother’s bidding.
 
***
 
When Julie had quieted again, she said, “Tell me about how you feel…I mean how you feel about…Lucas.”
 
“This isn’t the time to…” Margaret started.
 
“Take my mind off the pain, Margaret. Tell me about Lucas.”
 
“Well…” Margaret smiled in spite of the situation she was in. “What are you wanting to know?”
 
“Did he…” Julie licked her lips as the contraction intensified. “Did he ask you to marry him?”
 
“Marry me?” Margaret asked, shocked. “Of course not! He just admitted he loved me, and had since I was 14.”
 
“You two were the last to know!” Julie gasped as she smiled.
 
“Know what?” Margaret asked.
 
“That you were in love with each other. They say love is blind…” She sucked in her breath. “Okay Margaret, I need you to check the baby.”
 
“How?”
 
“You have to go down to the end of the bed and look. See if you can see the head.” Margaret lifted the blankets and looked. “Do you see anything?”
 
Margaret’s eyes grew wide. “I…I…” she gasped. “I see something, alright!”
 
“Margaret…” Julie licked her lips. “I can’t hold out any longer. I’ve got to bare down! I’ve got to…” Julie cried as she gave a giant push. Margaret watched but saw no movement. “Did he actually say I love you?” Julie asked as she rested between pushes.
 
“Who?” Margaret asked.
 
“Luke!”
 
“Oh. Ye…yes. Several times.” Margaret watched as Julie pushed again. Julie grabbed on to the top of the bed and let out a loud cry, but the baby still didn’t budge. She gasped as she gave another hard push.
 
Margaret watched helplessly as Julie continued to bare down and rest. She made no progress.
 
“Nothing!” Margaret announced after ten minutes of Julie’s pushing. “What do we do?”
 
Julie gasped. “My mother…she had to have my help once and I…” Julie sucked in deep breaths. “You may have to pull.”
 
“Pull?” Margaret asked.
 
“Like you pull a calf out sometimes. You have to pull!” Julie declared.
 
“But sometimes that kills the cow, Julie! I don’t want to hurt you!” Margaret argued.
 
“It’s hurting me more to have this baby inside me! You have to pull! NOW!”
 
***
 
“This isn’t working, Abraham!” Peter yelled. “We should try Jeremiah’s idea!”
 
“It has to work!” Abraham shouted. “The fire’s already spread to the freight station next door. We’ve got to…”
 
Peter threw down his bucket. “This fire is out of control! We should try Jeremiah’s idea!”
 
“I said no!” Abraham shouted.
 
“You aren’t the leader in this operation!” Peter shouted.  “You can’t boss all these men like you boss us! And you can’t boss us anymore!”
 
“Look, this isn’t the time to…”
 
Nobody noticed that the sun had suddenly disappeared under a dark cloud. A loud clap of thunder suddenly sounded and the sky opened up as rain began pouring. The men cheered as they watched the fire slowly die down as the rain continued to pour.
 
Abraham turned and started to walk away, but Peter suddenly reached out and grabbed his arm. “I’m not finished with you yet!” his voice boomed louder than the thunder.
 
“What are you talking about?” Abraham asked as he turned back around. “What’s gotten you so riled!”
 
“Ever since Pa got sick, you’ve been acting like the foreman of the farm, the family, and this town! I’m getting fed up with it!” Peter yelled.
 
“I’m the head of this family now, Peter! What I say goes!” Abraham boomed out as he shook his arm out of Peter’s grip.
 
“To the point of overlooking a whole mess of wrongs?” Peter pointed toward the blackened building. “You were wrong about the fire today! You were wrong about how to plant the wheat field! You were wrong about telling Lucas our father died before he actually died! You were DEFINITELY wrong on ordering Lucas around the way you did!”
 
“I am doing my best to run my family!” Abraham shouted.
 
“Run your family?!” Peter laughed sarcastically. “Oh yes, nobody argue with Abraham Almighty! He knows all! Abraham doesn’t need to sit down and discuss important decisions with the family! When it comes to giving orders, you certainly do your best!”
 
Jeremiah hurried up to the two fighting brothers. “It’s my job to make the decisions of this family!” Abraham declared. “It’s a big responsibility!”
 
“Pa always talked to us about his decisions. He always discussed why and asked for our thoughts before rendering a final decision! You could care less what we think!” Jeremiah shouted then.
 
“You stay out of this!” Abraham shouted back.
 
“No!” Jeremiah shouted as he pointed a finger in Abraham’s face. “I am right in the middle of this! I’m your brother!”
 
Town folks watched as the three brothers continued to fight in the middle of the street while the storm raged around them.
 
***
 
Back at the Abraham McCain farm, there was another storm happening as the thunder boomed outside.
 
Julie began pushing again as a loud clap of thunder shook the house. Margaret dug her hands around the baby’s head and gave a great big pull.
 
She felt the baby give way and slide the rest of the way out. Margaret laughed as the baby slid out onto the bed. “Oh my gosh!” She stared in wonderment. “The baby’s out! He’s out!” she exclaimed excitedly.
 
“He?” Julie laughed painfully. “It’s a boy?”
 
“I…think so.” Margaret grabbed a towel and started wiping the baby off. Through deep gulps of breaths, Julie told Margaret how to tie and cut the cord. Margaret cut the cord and held up the baby wrapped in the towel. The women laughed only for a minute.
 
“Oh my…Oh my…” Julie gasped as she grabbed her middle. “I think it’s tw…tw…twins!”
 
Margaret still had the baby in her hands. She looked down to see another baby quickly sliding out. “Oh!”
 
She turned and laid the baby down in the cradle behind her. Then she grabbed the second baby as he slid out. “It’s another boy!” Margaret laughed. “I can’t believe it! You didn’t tell me you were having twins!”
 
“I didn’t know!” Julie exclaimed in disbelief. Margaret started wiping that baby off too.
 
Margaret laughed as she held the baby up for Julie to see. “Now you and Abraham are in trouble! You have three boys to contend with.”
 
Julie reached out for her baby. Margaret laid him on her chest. Julie laughed as she stared into his eyes. “He looks just like his father!”
 
Margaret couldn’t help but smile. She would love to have a baby boy just like him someday. She wondered if she and Lucas…
 
Margaret stopped herself. She felt her face reddening at the mere thought that crossed her mind. But she couldn’t suppress the thought of marrying Lucas someday and giving him a son. It was a powerful feeling that came from deep inside her.
 
“Margaret!” Her thoughts were interrupted by Julie’s painful shout. She shot her head up, concerned something was wrong. ‘You better take the baby. Something’s wrong. I…” Julie let out a loud scream as Margaret took the second baby. She laid him in the cradle opposite of the first one.
 
Another clap of thunder sounded. Lightning flashed outside the window as Julie let out a long, loud yell.
 
 Margaret turned and looked down. Her eyes grew wide. “Make that four boys!” she declared as she stared at another life coming from Julie’s body. “Or three boys and a girl.” Margaret looked up at Julie. “Push, Julie! Push!”
 
“I can’t!” Julie cried. “I’m just too…too…exhausted!”
 
“You have to, Julie!” Margaret held her hands up. Julie was falling asleep, she was so exhausted. Margaret rushed up to Julie. Margaret shook her as she shouted, “I told you to push! Now push!”
 
The rain poured.
 
 Julie opened her eyes and leaned herself forward as she gave every ounce of strength she had left. Margaret hurried to the foot of the bed and grabbed the third baby as he came out.
 
Julie laid back on her pillow feeling completely exhausted. She sucked in deep, cleansing breaths. “No more…” she whispered. “Please…no more!”
 
Margaret was praying the same thing. She didn’t think she could handle anymore herself! She waited for the final afterbirth to make its way out. “Triplets!” She laughed as she worked on cleaning off the third baby. She held it in her arms “I’ve heard of them, but never…” Margaret stopped when she saw that Julie was asleep. “Well…” she looked down at the little fellow in her arms. “I hope you don’t mind waiting a few minutes. Then we’ll see if she can feed you. I’m sure you’re starving!”
 
Margaret turned and looked at the two babies in the cradle. They were doing their best to cry. “Well…” Margaret wrapped the third baby up in the last blanket. She hurried across the room and grabbed a drawer from the dresser, while holding onto the baby, she dumped the contents out on the floor. After lining the bottom with another blanket, she gently laid the baby down. “I’ll check the water,” she assured baby number three.
 
For the first time since the babies had been born, Margaret saw the sun shining . She shook her head at the wonders of Mother Nature and how quickly the weather changed this time of year. Opening the front door, Margaret breathed in the fresh morning air. It was only then that she realized just how tired she was. Every bone and muscle in her body ached, and she felt she’d been running all morning!
 
 She looked up towards the sun. That’s when her eyes focused on the bell. The bell that she could have rang hours ago! She couldn’t help laughing to herself. She had been so busy with all the activity that she hadn’t even thought about the bell. Margaret rolled her eyes as she gave a good ring on the bell, hoping someone would hear it and come running. With three babies and an exhausted mother, she sure could use some help!
 
Margaret didn’t waste much time waiting for help to arrive. She had three babies she needed to get fed and cleaned up.
 
Margaret hurried back inside and checked the water. She prepared water to bathe the babies, then prepared a nice, soft bed on the table to lay them on as she bathed them. She walked back into the bedroom and shook her head at the sleeping mother. Helping herself to the dressers, she found some gowns to dress the babies in along with diapers. Then she prepared to bathe them.
 
Carefully, Margaret picked up baby number one and carried him to the table. She carefully bathed him and dressed him.   She was unsure of exactly how to put the diaper on; she’d never had to put a diaper on before. She had watched Julie diaper Charlie and tried to remember exactly how it was done. After she dressed the first baby she tied a piece of white string around his wrist. Next, she swaddled him in a blanket as he screamed his protest and laid him back in the cradle. She did the same for baby number two, except the string she placed around his wrist was black. Then baby number three had no string on his wrist.
 
Margaret knew the babies had to eat. She shook Julie gently to wake her up. Margaret helped Julie sit up so she could feed her babies. Margaret could see the pain and tiredness in her friend’s eyes. Her heart reached out to Julie. She wished she could let Julie rest, but this was something that just could not be put off!
 
Margaret took babies 1 and 2 in each arm and sat them at their mother’s breasts. Margaret smiled as she watched Julie gently coax them to eat. It didn’t take long before the babies began suckling. “Ohhhhhhh….” Margaret laughed softly.
 
Julie laughed tiredly. “Triplets…” she mumbled. “Wait until Abraham hears about this!”
 
“I rang the bell some time ago!” Margaret declared. “Nobody came.”
 
“They must all be busy,” Julie mumbled.
 
“They can’t be any busier than we’ve been!” Margaret declared with a nod of her head.
 
Julie smiled as she looked down at her sleeping babies still at her breasts. “I guess they’re satisfied,” Julie whispered as she allowed Margaret to take them and lay them down. Margaret handed her baby number three. “I guess your Pa will have to build a couple more cradles!” Julie kissed him on top of the head. She shook her head, still in shock. “Triplets! I can’t believe it! I just can’t believe it!”
 
Margaret stood and readied the drawer with clean sheets. When the third baby was done, she laid him down. She knew Julie needed cleaned up, so she helped Julie out of bed and to the chair. Julie sat down and began bathing herself while Margaret went to work on a clean bed. Soon, Julie was in a gown and back in bed fast asleep. Margaret smiled at the babies, all asleep in their swaddled blankets.
 
After seeing Julie and the babies sleeping, Margaret hurried around the house and gathered up all the dirty linens and clothes. She shook her head at the piles they had accumulated in the short time. Margaret found herself humming as she heated up more water and dragged out the wash tubs.
 
 She had just hung the first sheet on the line when she saw a trail of dust far down on the prairie. She shaded her eyes and shook her head when she realized who it was. Then she went to scrubbing the next sheet.
 
Abraham rode into the yard and started to tie his horse up. “Never mind that. Best go for the doctor,” Margaret announced with a smile. She didn’t even pause in her chore.
 
“The…doctor?” Abraham asked.
 
“Yep.” Margaret looked up at the father. “He needs to check your sons and wife.”
 
Abraham walked up to Margaret and raised his eyebrows as he took off his hat. “My…sons?”
 
“Go on inside and meet them.” Abraham hurried toward the front door. “But be quiet!” she warned. “All your babies…and your wife are sleeping.”
 
Abraham’s eyes slowly narrowed as he gave Margaret a strange look. “All my…” Abraham slowly turned his head and looked toward the door. He was suddenly afraid of what he would find inside. “What exactly went on here while I was gone?”
 
Margaret shrugged as she went to hang a sheet on the line. She smiled. She could hardly stand waiting to see the look on his face.
 
Abraham turned and rushed inside. He hurried toward the bedroom, Margaret came in just behind him. Abraham opened the door and froze. He saw his wife asleep in their bed. He looked down to see a baby in a drawer. Then he went to the foot of the bed and looked into the cradle. Two babies looking very content were sleeping in the cradle.
 
Abraham was speechless. His mouth gaped open as he again looked at the baby in the drawer. He again looked at the babies in the cradle. He scratched his hand as he continued staring. “Where did all these babies come from?”
 
Margaret folded her arms and shook her head. “Men!” Abraham turned and looked at her. He had a very perplexed look on his face. Margaret smiled. “Those are your babies, Abraham.”
 
“All of them?” Abraham asked as he swallowed. “All…three of them?”
 
“We’ve been pretty busy while you’ve been gone.”
 
Abraham bent down and picked up baby number 3 from the drawer. He held the little boy in his arms as he walked over to the bed. He gently sat down on the bed and nudged the little boy’s cheek. “Now, don’t go waking him!” Margaret warned.
 
Abraham turned and lowered his head down to his wife as Margaret quickly left the room and closed the door. Abraham kissed his wife’s cheek as she slept. Julie mumbled as she slowly opened her eyes. “Abe…” she mumbled softly. “Did you see them? Did you see all of them?”
 
“Yeah.” Abraham looked down at the baby in his arms, still in shock. “All three of them! That explains why you were so big and so exhausted!”
 
“Yeah…” Julie smiled up at him. “That explains it alright.”
 
Abraham scooted down in the bed as he laid the baby on his wife’s chest and cuddled her close to him. “How did this happen?” he wondered, still in a daze.
 
Julie grinned tiredly as she stared into her husband’s eyes. “I think you can remember back, my dear husband. It was last September. We were…”
 
Abraham kissed her. “I remember that part!” He declared. “I remember everything. But this isn’t the first baby you had. In fact, we have a little boy just across the fields from us who’s going to be so surprised when he comes home.” Abraham kissed her again. “What I don’t understand is…how we came to get triplets.”
 
“God has blessed us?” Julie mumbled as she closed her eyes and leaned her head against her husband’s chest.
 
“Blessed?” Abraham shook his head. “It sounds more like a…”
 
“Abraham McCain, don’t you dare finish that sentence!” Julie ordered. Julie laid back tiredly. “By the way, how’d things go in town?”
 
“Oh…” Abraham stood from the bed and went to the cradle. He bent down and nudged each little baby on the cheek. “The rain put out the fire, but…I’m afraid we’ve started more.” He smiled at the beauty of his sons. “I can’t believe, three of them?” Abraham stated.
 
“Three of them.” Julie lifted painfully from the bed and groaned. “What do you mean you started more fires?”
 
Abraham quickly stood and hurried back to his wife.  He gently pushed her back down and tucked the covers around her.  “You lay back down until I get the doctor out here. After an ordeal like that, I’m surprised you can even move!” Abraham declared.
 
“You have no idea…” Julie mumbled as she looked up at Abraham. “What kind of fires did you start?”
 
“We’ll…talk about that later, honey. I need to go get the doc.” Abraham started for the door, but then he turned and hurried back to her. “Three boys!” He  bent over and kissed her, then hurried into the front room.
 
As he walked back toward his horse in the front yard, Margaret looked up from her washing. “Well? What do you think?” she asked.
 
“I don’t know yet! It’s a lot to take in.” Abraham mounted his horse. “I’ll stop by the farm and tell the family. You’ll stay here?” Margaret nodded. “I’ll let your family know what’s going on too.” Abraham turned his horse around. Then he shook his head toward the house. “Triplets…” He chuckled. “Unbelievable!”
 
Margaret smiled as she went back to her washing. She was hanging up another sheet when she saw Ruth and Emily hurrying over the hill with their skirts lifted as they ran. Emily had Charlie in her arms. “Is it true or has my brother gone loco?” Emily asked.
 
Laura came over the hill then and Margaret smiled at all of them. “It’s true. Julie had triplets this morning.”
 
“Why didn’t you go for the doctor?” Ruth asked.
 
“There wasn’t time!”
 
“Why didn’t you ring the bell?” Emily asked.
 
“Well, I did when it was all over. You never came. Before, it was too busy inside to even think about it! It all happened pretty fast.” Margaret shook her head. “It was nothing like birthing a calf or foal.”
 
The two women hurried inside while Margaret went back to the washing.
 
***
Abraham paced the room as he and the ladies anxiously waited for the doctor to emerge from the bedroom. Margaret worked on fixing supper of fried chicken as she bounced Charlie on her hip. “Abe, would you sit down?” Ruth asked gently.
 
“I can’t, Ma. I’m too worried.” He stopped and hurried back to the table. “Ma…how did this happen?” He just couldn’t stop wondering that.
 
If he expected a different answer from his mother than he got from his wife, he was very disappointed. He heard the back room fill with the sound of babies crying. “My dear son, you are 26 years old, and if you need to ask me that question…well, maybe you should ask your brothers. Unmarried or not, I reckon they could answer…”
 
“Mother!” Abraham declared. “I mean triplets!” Abraham bent down in front of his mother. “Have you ever known anyone who had triplets?”
 
Ruth smiled. “Read about it in a magazine once. I remember feeling sorry for her.”
 
A knock sounded on the front door. “Is it true?”Jeremiah asked as he and Peter rushed in. “Did Julie have the baby?”
 
“THE baby?” Abraham asked sarcastically. “No, dear brothers, she didn’t have A baby. She had THREE babies!”
 
Jeremiah and Peter stared at each other. Their mouths gaped open. “You mean…it’s true?” Peter asked. “Ol’ Matt down at the Circle Q told me that, but I couldn’t believe it! She really had triplets?”
 
The door to the bedroom opened before Abraham could answer. Abraham hurried to the doctor. “Well?”
 
Doctor Stevens sat his bag down and went to pour himself a cup of coffee. “I’ve never seen healthier babies.” He shook his head. “They are all as healthy as can be!”
 
“Doctor…” Abraham sighed as he tried for the third time. “How did this happen?”
 
Doctor Stevens turned to the perplexed father and looked up at him as a grin spread across his face. Abraham held up his hand before the doctor could say a word. “I mean the triplets!” he practically shouted.
 
“It’s a complicated medical process, Abe,” the doctor answered. “Sometimes a woman’s body just releases more than one egg at a time and….well, if they’re in the right place at the right time…”
 
The women at the table giggled. Abraham turned and glared at all three of them. Laura sat quietly beside her sister. “Nevermind, Doc!” Abraham sighed. “What I want to know is…all those times I brought Julie in to be checked and not once did you determine she was having twins or triplets! How could you miss that?”
 
Doc. Stevens scratched his head. “Abraham, I birthed you and all your brother and sisters. I birthed most of the citizens of this small town; I’ve even birthed twins and never did we get a surprise when it was time. I just have no answer for you.” Doc Stevens took a drink of his coffee. “None at all!”
 
“Stay for supper, Doctor?” Ruth asked.
 
“No. No,” Doctor Stevens shook his head. “I’ve got a patient at the Circle Q.” Doctor Stevens sat down the cup. “Abraham, make your wife stay in bed for a week. I gave her some stitches and I don’t want them to break open. She needs time to heal anyhow. Those babies, though…” Doctor Stevens shook his head. “They’ll probably sleep a lot of the time, but I don’t envy you when all three decide to wake and want fed or changed!” He picked up his hat.
 
As he watched the doctor leave, he saw the rest of the Gibbs family coming. Margaret stayed busy on the kitchen while the men went to greet the family.
 
The remainder of the evening was spent rejoicing in the special births of the triplets.
 
***
 
If Abraham and Julie thought they’d get any sleep that night, they were sadly mistaken. Abraham put Charlie to bed then carefully climbed in beside his wife as the babies slept. He laid awake remembering everything that had happened that day. It had started out well enough with cuddling with Julie that morning, but the knock on the door had ruined any peace he would have for a long time.
 
Abraham sighed as he put a hand behind his head and stared upwards in the dark. The fire had been bad enough, but what had come after the fire…that was worst than bad, and he wasn’t sure what to do about it. Things had been said. Not only had his brothers spoken out of line, but he’d said some pretty rotten things himself. They had stood in the rain and yelled at each other, in front of the whole town. Finally, Peter turned and walked into the Circle Q, even though Abraham had ordered him to get back home and work on the farming. Then Jeremiah had declared he was going to go see his fiancée, Emily.
 
So much had been left unsaid. Abraham turned and looked at Julie as she slept beside him. He got up and checked on his three newborn sons. Then he quietly walked out of the bedroom. After checking on Charlie, he walked out onto the porch and sat down.  Abraham stared up at the stars. His father had only been gone for a few weeks, yet the foundation he had spent years building was slowly crumbling. Abraham wanted so desperately to fix it so the house wouldn’t come crumbling down.
 
The foundation his father had built was the McCain family. Marcus had always been proud of his family. He’d always been able to handle the family quite well, and everyone was happy with the way things had been.
 
Abraham sighed as he leaned against the post. He had to find a way to keep the farm running. He had to come up with a plan. He had to convince his brothers he wasn’t there to take control of everything. He didn’t want to be a foreman, but as the oldest he had certain responsibilities. He had…
 
A cry sounded from inside the house. Soon, another one sounded. “Abe! Abe!” Julie called from the bedroom. Abraham shook his head as he turned toward the door. The triplets…that was just another thing he now had to worry about…
 
***
 
Emily stepped outside and called to Peter announcing breakfast was ready. Peter and Jeremiah both emerged from the barn and told their sister they would be there soon. After washing their hands and blessing the food, they began eating. The meal was shared in silence. Emily and Ruth looked at each other as they wondered why the two men were so upset.
 
The door opened. Abraham stepped into the house. “Well boys, I hope you eat plenty. We’ve a lot of work to do today,” Abraham announced.
 
“I’ve got crops to weed,” Peter mumbled as he stared into his plate. He refused to look up at his oldest brother.
 
“And I’ve got a house to work on,” Jeremiah declared as he too refused to look at his older brother. “Peter and I have already decided what we’re doing today.”
 
“Peter and you…” Abraham crossed his arms as he walked inside. The door slammed behind him. “Since when did you two make the decisions without me?”
 
“Abraham Lee McCain!” Ruth stopped him. “I don’t know what’s going on here, but I don’t want any fighting at the breakfast table!”
 
“What about the apple orchard?” Abraham asked softly as if he hadn’t even heard his mother’s warning. “Who’s going to harvest the apples? They are getting ripe, you know. We’ll need to sell them.”
 
Peter and Jeremiah said nothing as they continued eating. “Did you hear me? I said…”
 
“Brother Abe?” Laura stood up. “I’ll help.”
 
“No, I’m sorry honey. You’re too young.”
 
“I’m seven years old!” Laura declared as she lifted up her chin. “I’m stout! Luke says so!”
 
“Yeah? Well Luke ain’t here right now!” Abraham announced. Peter and Jeremiah finished eating and stood up. They grabbed their hats and walked outside.
 
Abraham followed them out. “Now, would you mind telling me what the…” Abraham closed his eyes and clinched his fists to his side. “Jeremiah, I understand your need to build your house, but there are so many things that need done here on the farm.”
 
“Abe…” Jeremiah turned and stared at his brother. “I don’t really want a rematch from yesterday. Pa gave me some land, and I plan to plant my own fields and crops there next year. You should do the same with yours.”
 
“That’s not the way Pa wanted it!” Abraham shouted. “Pa wanted this farm to keep running like it always has! He wants…”
 
“Pa’s dead!” Peter shouted. His voice echoed as the brothers stared at each other. Peter sighed. “I’m…sorry.” Peter turned away from Abraham. “I don’t want a rematch from yesterday either, Abraham. As long as you are trying to control everything we do, this farm won’t stay like Pa wanted it. You just can’t see that!”
 
“I’m trying to keep everything running like it always has!” Abraham shouted. “That’s why…”
 
“No, Abe!” Jeremiah shouted. “You are trying to run it the way Abraham wants it to be. Pa always consulted his family on things. We were all able to give our thoughts on decisions he made. We sat down as a family. Then Pa made the final decision.”
 
“Look, I…” Abraham felt he was quickly losing control of everything. He threw up his hands. “Whatever!” he shouted. “Fine, if you think this farm can run without my contribution, then fine!”
 
“That’s not what we’re saying!” Jeremiah shouted as Abraham started to walk away. “We want you to be head of the family, like Pa wanted! We just want to have a voice!”
 
Abraham continued to walk away. His shoulders slumped as he slowly walked toward his horse. Without another word, Abraham rode back to his own home.
 
But when he got inside, everything was in chaos. Margaret had come over that morning to help out. Julie held two babies in bed with her while Margaret chased one year old Charlie around the house, attempting to dress him. The other baby lay screaming in the cradle. Abraham caught Charlie as he ran around the table. “Whoa there, cowboy!”
 
Margaret put her hands on her hips and blew strands of hair from her face. “Abraham, where have you been? Can’t you see you’re needed here? Julie’s beside herself! This house is a mess and…why did you run out on her this morning?”
 
“I didn’t run out on her this morning, young lady!” Abraham answered angrily. “I went to talk to my family, but apparently they don’t need me anymore!” He sat Charlie down on the table and started dressing him. “When I left here this morning, everything was okay! I told Julie I’d be back as soon as I…”
 
“Just like you did yesterday morning?” Margaret lashed out at him then.
 
“What are you talking about?” Abraham planted a fist on his hips and turned to her.
 
“When you heard there was a fire in town you dropped everything and went running! You just left your wife here all by herself and didn’t even think about the fact that she could go into labor while you were gone!” Margaret accused him as she began walking baby number three. Charlie began screaming as Abraham tried to dress him. “You didn’t even think about staying with her just in case or sending for someone!”
 
“I did!” Abraham shouted over the noise. He picked Charlie up and sat him down on the floor. Then he turned toward Margaret. “I told Peter to send you over when he want to get your father!” Abraham voice suddenly died as realization hit him. “Didn’t Peter tell you? Isn’t that why you were here?”
 
Margaret closed her eyes and turned from Abraham. She had really allowed her tongue to run away with her this time. She threw a hand to her mouth in regret. “Oh, I’m sorry Abraham! I shouldn’t have…”
 
“Then why were you here?” Abraham asked.
 
Margaret turned back around. “Because Mother and I thought Julie may need some help. We were right.”
 
“So my brother didn’t…” Abraham angrily turned from her. “And he is accusing me of not giving him enough responsibility…”
 
Margaret slowly turned toward Abraham. “Abe…” She walked toward him and gently laid a hand on his arm. “Abe…I think we’re all still in shock over Uncle Marcus’s death. Maybe…maybe you should give everyone some…time to adjust.”
 
Abraham suddenly turned toward her. His eyes turned colder. “We don’t have time! The crops must be cared for or we won’t be able to feed our families through the winter!”
 
Abraham hurried toward the door. “Where are you going?” Margaret asked as she stood in the middle of chaos.
 
“Out to the barn…to do my chores!” Abraham shouted.
 
Margaret stared at the door as it slammed shut. She couldn’t believe the attitude of Abraham. He had always been a bit bossy and had a “take charge” sort of attitude, but he had never been like this!
 
***
 
Abraham rested his head against the back post of the barn as he tried to calm his nerves. He felt so much pressure. It was hard having to make the decisions for his family. And now his brothers were angry with him. Jeremiah was about to get married, throwing more work into the mix. Abraham would have to help Julie out a lot now that they found themselves with triplets. And with Lucas gone, that left a full man’s shift that needed filled. Abraham just didn’t know what to do.
 
He’d give anything to have his father back…to ask him what to do.
 
Slowly, he sat down the pitchfork and walked out of the barn. Abraham didn’t hear any screaming escaping the house, so he hoped it would be safe to go inside. Slowly, he approached. When he walked inside, he found Margaret wiping the counter. The chaos from earlier had finally disappeared as the house was quiet. “Where’s Charlie?”
 
Margaret pointed toward the cot in the corner. Charlie was fast asleep, curled up into a ball. “Margaret, I appreciate all you’ve done. You can go home now.”
 
“Abraham, I can stay if…” she started.
 
“No. You go. Thank you.” Abraham started toward the bedroom. Julie turned to look at him as she sat up in the bed. Her face held disappointment and hurt. Then she quickly looked away.
 
Abraham knew that even she was upset with him. “I’m sorry. I should have stayed this morning.” Julie said nothing. Abraham stuffed his hands in his pockets and began pacing the floor. “I just feel so much pressure right now, Julie…I…I…I just don’t know what to do!”
 
Julie turned toward him. “What happened in town yesterday?”
 
“In town?” Abraham ran a hand through his hair.  “Oh…in town.” He walked to the end of the bed and stared at the three babies all wrapped up, sleeping as if they had no cares in the world. “I was trying to tell Peter and Jeremiah what to do and they got upset with me. They said they were fed up with me trying to act like the foreman of the family.”
 
“You’re taking on too much, Abraham. Something got to give!” Julie exclaimed.
 
Abraham shot his head up and glared at her. “What part do you want me to give up, Julie? Do you want me to reject my father’s wish for me to become head of the family? Or maybe you want me to reject my responsibilities of helping Laura now that Pa’s gone. Or maybe I should not worry about being your husband or their father!” Abraham felt himself losing control, and there wasn’t a thing he could do about it. “Which one of these things do you want me to give up, Julie? Which one???”
 
Julie felt hot tears well in her eyes as she listened to her husband’s angry words. “Abraham, what’s happened to you? Yesterday morning you desired to make love to me, and now you…you don’t even want to be near these children! What’s going on? Talk to me!” Her voice pleaded.
 
Abraham turned from her. He had to bring his anger back under control. Finally, he turned back. His angry expression was replaced with a forced smile. He slowly walked over to the bed. “We need to name the babies, Julie.”
 
“Abe…” Julie whispered pleadingly. She stared into his eyes as he sat down next to her.
 
“Then I’ll get to work on making the cradles. That’s one thing I can do without anyone getting angry with me. Right?” His voice was lined with sarcasm.
 
Julie bit her lip and closed her eyes. She hated seeing her husband cut her off like this, but she knew him well enough to know she couldn’t press him right now. Swallowing, she decided to discuss the matter at hand. “Well, we discussed Samuel and David. We never agreed on which one.” Julie swallowed. “Now we have to decide on one more name.”
 
Abraham took her hand and kissed it. He felt horrible for how he was treating her, but he had so much confusion inside. He felt so lost and was striking out at everyone these days. “How about if baby one is named Samuel Marcus McCain?”
 
Julie nodded as a tear slipped from her eye. “And how about if baby two is named David John McCain?”
 
“I love it.” Abraham kissed her forehead softly. “And for the last one, we could name him Adam James?”
 
“Perfect.” Julie laid a hand on his cheek. “You see? We made those decisions as a family.” But she could tell from the look on his face that he didn’t understand a word of what she had just said.
 
Abraham stood up abruptly and walked toward the door. “Well, I best get started on those cradles.”
 
 
“Abraham?” Julie called.
 
“What?” His voice snapped at her.
 
Julie hesitated. “Nevermind.” She felt her eyes fill with tears as Abraham turned and walked out of the room. The she laid back on her pillow and sobbed.
 
***
 
“Margaret, eat your supper,” Jennifer coaxed her daughter.
 
“I’m sorry, Ma…” Margaret moved her peas back and forth on her plate. “I’m just…not hungry.”
 
Samuel sat down his fork and peered sternly at his daughter. “Just how much longer is this moping for Luke going to go on, daughter?”
 
“Moping for…” Margaret slowly lifted her head. “Pa, I’ve been so busy I haven’t even had time to think about Luke!” Margaret shook her head. “I’m worried about Abe and Julie.”
 
“Yeah! How about that!” Johnny declared from his place at the table. “Three babies at one time!” He turned toward Scott. “Say, how did that happen anyway? You didn’t tell me that part!”
 
“Scott…” Samuel sighed as he peered at his son with raised eyebrows. “When I’m ready for Johnny to hear about it, I’ll be the one to tell him.”
 
“It’s a little too late now, Pa…” Johnny declared with a chuckle. “Scott’s done told me all I need to know about women!”
 
“Johnny, go to your room!” Samuel declared. Johnny threw down his napkin and walked away without argument. Margaret turned and watched her brother’s bedroom door closed. “Now, why are you so worried?” Samuel asked.
 
“Oh Pa…” Margaret shook her head. “Abraham’s under so much pressure! I mean he’s suddenly finding he’s the head of the family. He lost his father, Luke’s gone leaving even more work on the farm and now…he’s just become the father of triplets.”
 
Samuel sat down his fork and wiped his mouth. He sat back in his chair and studied his daughter. “Honey, I remember when you were three years old. You found a little scrawny kitten that was so near death. You begged me to allow you to care for him and he lived. You want to fix everything that’s broken, and now’s no different. But honey, you can’t get involved in their family matter.”
 
“But we’re part of their family!” Margaret declared.
 
“Honey…” Samuel started.
 
“Pa, you and Uncle Marcus have always said that the McCain and Gibbs couldn’t be any closer if we were blood related! We’ve always dealt with problems together – always helped each other out!”
 
Margaret watched as her parents spoke to each other through their eyes. “Uh…Scott, Beth, if you two are done…” he nodded toward the door. They nodded and walked out, leaving the three alone at the table to talk. “Alright, Margaret.” Samuel sat down his coffee. “What’s on your mind?”
 
“I’d like to help Julie out.” Her words came out in a rush as she looked from her mother to her father.
 
“How?” Jennifer asked.
 
“I’d like to offer to come over every day and do some of her chores, help with the kids, and stuff. She’s going to be in bed for another week, and after that she’s still going to need help.” She saw her parents look at each other. “Oh, I know it’s asking an awful lot! I know I have my own responsibilities here on the ranch but..”
 
Samuel chuckled as he patted her hand. “Since Luke left, you haven’t been able to concentrate on the responsibilities of the ranch yet, daughter. Maybe this is what you need – a distraction…Something to take your mind off Luke.” Samuel took another drink of his coffee. “Besides, unless I miss my guess, I think we’ll have to learn to live without you since you and Luke will probably marry once he gets back from war.”
 
Margaret blushed. “So I can help Julie?”
 
“We’ll go talk to them about it in the morning. If Abraham says it’s okay then you can do it.”
 
“Abraham?” Julie rolled her eyes and groaned.
 
“You have to have his permission, honey,” Samuel gently reminded her.
 
“I know, Pa. It’s just that…” Margaret looked up from her plate again. “Pa, he’s not treating his wife right. She was in tears when I got there this morning. Has four little ones to care for and she can’t even get out of bed! I don’t understand.”
 
“Julie’s not the only one he’s treating badly these days, Margaret.” Samuel sat back in his chair again. “He’s treating his brothers the same way.” He looked over at his wife. “They got in a big yelling match in town yesterday. You wouldn’t believe some of the things said!” He turned and looked at Margaret. “He’s under a lot of pressure right now, honey. The McCain family is strong…as strong a family as I’ve ever seen. They’ll weather this storm.”
 
“I just don’t know how much more they can take before somebody explodes!” Margaret declared.
 
***
 
Abraham couldn’t sleep again that night. As he got out of bed, he kissed his wife on the cheek then bent down to look at his babies. He loved those babies already, and felt such responsibility. But he wasn’t sure if he was ready to be a father to these children all at once. He didn’t know how they were going to handle their growing family. Julie hinted that she needed him around the house more, but how could he stay around when he had a farm to run and brothers to try and control?
 
Abraham walked outside again and sat down on the porch. He was so tired and had so many questions to ask, but he didn’t know who to ask. He’d never really been able to talk about his feelings and problems too freely – liked to keep things to himself and deal with them in his own way…But this was almost too much for him to handle. In the last three weeks, he’d become the head of the McCain family, the main decision maker on the ranch, and a father of triplets.
 
He thought of everything he had to do. Between tending his family’s farm and his own, he didn’t know where he was going to find time to help out his wife or build on to their small house so they’d have more room.
 
He heard crying erupt from his quiet house once again. “Abraham!” he heard Julie call from the bedroom as all three babies once again started crying. Abraham leaned his head against the fencepost and closed his eyes. “Abraham!” He stared out over the prairie, suddenly wishing he could run as far and fast as he could. He hesitated going into the house. But finally, he stood and walked inside, closing the door on the peaceful world he had been sitting in only moments before.
 
***
 
Abraham grunted as he picked up a sack of grain and carried it toward the barn the next morning. He was half-way there when he heard riders coming. Turning, he saw Samuel Gibbs and Margret riding into the yard. He sat the sack of grain down and slowly walked up to them. After helping Margaret from her horse, he folded his arms. “What brings you here so early in the morning?” His voice was gruff. The last thing he needed right now was visitors.
 
“Could we go inside and talk?” Samuel asked. Abraham turned and looked toward the house. They had no idea the mess that was inside. It really wasn’t too presentable. “Well, on the porch then?” Samuel asked in understanding.
 
Once they were settled on the porch, Samuel cleared his throat. “Margaret asked her mother and I for permission to come help you and Julie out for awhile and…”
 
“I appreciate the help she’s given already, but I don’t need…” Abraham started to rush out.
 
Samuel held up his hand. “Please let me finish.” Samuel cleared his throat. “Now Abe, the McCain’s are a proud family, and I understand that. When your father was starting out, he was much the same as you. He wanted to believe he could do everything himself. I don’t know if you remember, but when Luke was born, your mother was sick for a spell. They had four growing boys and Ruth was feeling very overwhelmed. We finally convinced your father to allow a neighbor girl to help out. She was there for almost a year. I’m surprised you don’t remember her.”
 
Abraham bent his head down and rubbed his hands together. “Like I said, I appreciate the offer, but I’ll care for my own family.”
 
“I want to help, Luke!” Margaret declared.
 
“Margaret Ann,” Samuel warned. He stood. “We got our answer.”
 
But Margaret couldn’t accept that answer. She was too concerned for Julie and the strain all this was putting on Abraham. “Think about Julie, Luke! Think about someone other than yourself!” Margaret suddenly shouted at him.
 
“Margaret Ann Gibbs!” Samuel’s voice shouted in disbelief.
 
“I’m sorry, Pa, but I can’t stay quiet about this!” Margaret glared at Abraham. “When I came yesterday, Julie was in tears. All I want to do is help out – do some of the chores inside the house and help care for the babies. That’s all!”
 
“I can’t pay you!” Abraham said. “Our family can’t…”
 
“I was just telling my parents last night that you are part of our family. Maybe I was wrong.” She paused as Abraham sucked in his breath. “Regardless of what you think, I want to be here for the family. And I don’t want paid for it. I thought you knew me better than that.”
 
Abraham turned from her. He thought on the situation then turned back around. “Alright. You can come for a few hours. Say around lunch time, that way you could help with lunch and the children through the afternoon. That would free me up for other responsibilities.”
 
She knew how much that had cost Abraham to say.
 
So with the agreement in place, Margaret started that very day. Beth took over gathering the eggs until Margaret was able to return to her regular duties. Margaret’s parents watched their daughter leave everyday with excitement on her face. They wondered if her love for Luke made her feel more like part of the McCain family, and caring for Abraham and Julie was like Margaret caring for Lucas.
 
Every day, as soon as Margaret arrived to help with the caring for the babies, Abraham would leave without a word to either Margaret or his wife. The mornings were spent working on chores around his farm, while in the afternoons he would go to the main farm and try to find some sort of control over his life.
 
After Abraham had ridden out of the yard the other morning, Jeremiah and Peter decided to allow Abraham to boss them, hoping time would show that he had too much responsibility on his plate. They kept hoping he’d come around.
 
When Sunday came, Julie got out of bed, assuring her husband she was feeling quite well. Abraham lifted an eyebrow at her, but stayed silent as he prepared to go finish the cradles that sat in the barn. Julie sucked in her breath at the announcement. Though she and the triplets weren’t quite ready for church, she had hoped Abraham would lead his family in a short Bible study at home, but Abraham declared he had too much work to do and started to leave the house, again in a huff.
 
Once again, Julie began crying. Abraham didn’t comfort her, but instead hurried to the front door and opened it “Even God rested on the seventh day!” she spat out angrily.
 
Abraham froze in his steps. Julie watched her husband lift his body to his full height, then slowly turn toward her. His face held anger and his hands clinched at his sides. “God wasn’t a farmer with a whole mess of responsibilities!” Abraham said in a controlled voice.
 
“No,” Julie answered curtly. “He asked Adam and Eve for help.” Her words came out slowly and deliberate. She waited for Abraham to lash out at her, but instead he merely turned and walked away.
 
That’s when Julie realized the pressure Abraham was putting himself under. He had even turned his back on God. And for a McCain, that was bad.
 
Margaret didn’t come over on Sunday, but that afternoon, Emily and Laura walked over to check on things. Emily told Julie she and her mother were going to work on canning that week She assured Julie they would can plenty for her and Abraham as well, since Julie had her hands full and would be unable to help.
 
Abraham came inside at one point and nodded his head toward his sisters. Laura jumped up and ran over to her big brother. “Abe! Abe!” Laura hugged him. “Peter says you’re picking apples this week!”
 
“That’s right,” Abraham answered without looking up from his desk.
 
“Can I help? Can I please?”
 
“No,” Abraham answered.
 
“Why not?”
 
“You’re too little,” Abraham mumbled as he searched for something.
 
“I ain’t too little!” Laura argued. “I want to help! Ma and Emily won’t let me help with canning. They said I get underfeet…so I wanted to help with…”
 
“NO!” Abraham shouted as he lifted his head toward his sister. “Now, unless you want me to punish you, you won’t say another word about it, Laura Rose!”
 
Emily stood as tears filled her sister’s eyes. Laura hung her head. “Yes, Abe.” Then she slowly walked out of the house.
 
“You had no right to talk to her that way, Abraham McCain!” Emily suddenly declared as she started for the door.
 
“She’s got to learn not to talk back!”
 
“She just wants to help the family. She sees how much pressure you’re under and…”
 
“That’s right,” Abraham answered as he slammed the drawer shut. “And I’m too busy to listen to my little sister lecture me!” Emily watched Abraham stomp out of the house and back toward the barn.
 
She hurried out to hug Laura who was in tears. Then she turned and said goodbye to Julie as they started for home. “I wanta see the babies!” Laura cried.
 
“Maybe tomorrow, honey,” Emily answered as she led her sister home.
 
***
 
The next morning, the tension in the McCain family was growing. When Emily came home to report Abraham’s behavior toward Laura, both Peter and Jeremiah were all set to go give Abraham a piece of their mind. Emily begged them not to and they finally agreed to bide their time a bit longer.
 
At breakfast on Monday morning, Jeremiah turned to his sister. “Laura Rose, I have some small pieces of wood that you can carry in after breakfast.”
 
“Yes, Jeremiah.” Laura ate another bite of her eggs. “Then can I help Ma and Emily?”
 
Jeremiah looked up toward his mother and sister. They shook their heads. “Honey, the jars are awful hot and they don’t want you to get hurt. Maybe next year.”
 
“Then can I go to Abe’s and see the babies?” Laura asked.
 
“I’m sorry, honey. Things are really busy around here and with Abe’s temper... I think it’s best you stay here,” Peter answered for his brother.
 
“Do I have to?” Laura asked.
 
“Yes,” Jeremiah answered. “You obey us, Laura Rose. Understand?”
 
“Yes sir,” Laura said as she started to stand from the table. Jeremiah suddenly cleared his throat. “May I be excused?” Jeremiah nodded.
 
Meanwhile, at the Abraham McCain farm, things were just as tense. Julie had stayed quiet after witnessing the confrontation the day before, but Abraham could tell she was very upset with him. He didn’t have the energy to ask her why, not that he really needed to. He had a pretty good idea why. “Will you be here this morning?” Julie asked, trying to bring some sort of peace back to her home.
 
“I’ll be chopping wood this morning,” Abraham answered coldly.
 
Again, Julie wanted to cry at the coolness in Abraham’s voice. She felt like there was a wall between them.
 
Silence fell over them again. Julie tried to think of a way to reach out to him. Finally, she decided to bring up the incident from the day before. “Abe…your sister is feeling lost and confused. She’s only seven years old, and she just lost her father. Her favorite brother just left for war. She doesn’t understand…”
 
“Julie, I think I know how to discipline my seven year old sister!” Abraham suddenly shouted as he stood and walked out.
 
Julie shook her head. She knew something was just about to break, and she wasn’t sure how the McCain family was going to take it. She didn’t pretend to understand the pressure her husband was under, but she did know that shutting God out and refusing to ask anyone for help was only going to cause more problems. Soon, he would break and she wondered who would be the victim when that happened.
 
The answer to her question was closer than she ever dreamed.
 
***
 
Abraham looked up from the wood he was chopping to see Emily, coming up the path. She hurried into the yard, worry shining on her face. “Abe, have you seen Laura?” she asked.
 
Abe sat the axe down and hurried toward Emily. “Not today. Why?”
 
Emily sighed. “She wanted to come see the triplets, but Peter told her he felt it best she stay away, until things settled down and one of us could bring her over.. After breakfast, she got underfoot, so we told Laura to go out and feed the chickens. Mama and I are working on canning beans today. Jeremiah’s over working on his house. Peter’s in the fields trying to get the crops watered. I went out to check on Laura and she was gone!” Emily threw her hands to her face. “Oh Abe, we’ve been looking for her everywhere!”
 
Abraham grabbed his sister by the arm to calm her. “Now just don’t get so excited. Did you check the pond?”
 
“Yes,” Emily answered.
 
“How about the barn?” Emily nodded. “Did anyone check…” Abraham stopped when he heard a noise from the side of the house. Slowly, he sat his axe down and walked toward the noise. He heard shuffling. Abraham turned and looked at Emily who gave him a slight nod. Abe cleared his throat as he turned back toward his house and folded his arms. “Alright, come on out of there,” he ordered.
 
The culprit of the shuffling didn’t move. “NOW!” Abraham’s voice boomed.
 
He and Emily watched as Laura slowly walked around the corner of the house. She hung her head low. “Laura Rose McCain…” Abraham said in a stern voice. “Come here, young lady!”
 
Slowly, Laura stepped in front of her brother. She kept her head down. “Stand right in front of me, young lady.” She softly padded toward Abraham, but kept her head down. “Laura Rose,” Abraham warned as he heaved a deep sigh.
 
Slowly, Laura lifted her head all the way up until she was looking at the angry face of her brother. “What do you have to say for yourself, young lady?”
 
“I…” Laura gulped. “…I jest wanted ta see the babies,” she answered quietly.
 
“Did you ask Ma?” Laura gulped as she nodded. “And?”
 
“Peter said no.”
 
“And why did Peter say no?” Abraham asked.
 
“He said with your temper yesterday, I best stay away,” Laura answered.
 
Abraham slowly lowered himself to be eyelevel with his sister. “So why did you disobey?”
 
“I…I wanted to see the babies,” Laura answered again.
 
“Do you realize you worried your mother and sister half to death? You were given a chore to do and you didn’t do it!” Abraham spoke with a loud voice.  
 
“I’m sorry, Abe. I won’t do it again!” Laura cried. “I…jest wanted to..”
 
“…see the babies, I know,” Abraham answered. “But you know better. Don’t you?”
 
Laura hung her head as she started crying. “Laura Rose, answer me now!”
 
“Yes sir,” she answered.
 
“Abraham,” Emily warned.
 
Abraham lifted his head and looked at Emily. “Stay out of this.” Then he looked back down at Laura. “You disobeyed Ma, Emily, Jeremiah, and Peter. You broke the rule about leaving the yard without permission. You didn’t feed the chickens like you were supposed to. You will be punished, Laura.”
 
Abraham stood up. “Abe, I don’t think you…” Emily started again.
 
“Emily, I’ll handle this!” Abraham answered. “Alright, let’s go.” Laura raised her head. He pointed toward the barn.
 
“Abe, ya gonna lick me?”
 
“Yes. I am,” Abe answered gruffly as he took her arm and led her toward the barn. Emily threw her hands to her mouth. Laura screamed, begging Abraham not to whip her, but he paid no mind.
 
Just then, Julie hurried form the house. “What’s going on?”
 
“Oh Julie! Laura’s been wanting to see the babies awful bad! We’ve been so busy…it’s partly our fault for not taking the time to explain things to her. It’s hard for a child to understand why we all work so hard and…well, she disobeyed. She should be punished but not like this…not right now…” Emily cried.
 
Julie wiped her hands on her apron. She hesitated for only a moment before she hurried forward. “Abe! Abe!” Abraham turned from the door of the barn. “Abraham, let’s talk about this!”
 
“Julie, Laura disobeyed. She must be punished!” Abraham said. His voice held finality. His face held anger for being challenged in front of Laura. “I’ve spanked her before.”
 
“Yes, Abe. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t spank the child, but we should talk…” Julie declared.
 
“Julie…” Abraham sighed. “We’ll talk about it later.”
 
Julie watched the barn door close. She stood and stared at the closed door. Soon, she heard Abraham spanking Laura as Laura cried. She hurried back toward the house shaking her head.
 
Abraham soon opened the door. Laura came out with tears running down her cheeks as she cried. “Now then young lady, I want you to go home with Emily. Do your chores and then sit in your room for the rest of the day. I’ll be over later to talk to you.” Emily slowly walked up to Laura and put her arms protectively around her sister as Abraham walked past her and went back to chopping wood.
 
Margaret came up the lane just as Emily and Laura were leaving. She saw tears on both their faces. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
 
“Ask Abraham!” Emily shouted angrily as hot tears fell from her eyes. Margaret stared as Emily angrily hurried away.
 
Abraham didn’t look up as she came into the yard. “What’s wrong with Emily and Laura?”
 
“I had to punish Laura. Emily didn’t like it,” Abe answered.  He went back to chopping wood. Margaret  stood and waited, but that was all the explanation she was going to get. She knew she was to ask no further questions on the matter. She hurried into the house.
 
Julie wiped her eyes as Margaret walked in. Charlie toddled over to her and raised his arms. Margaret bent over to pick him up. “What’s going on? Emily and Laura are crying, and now you.”
 
Julie didn’t answer. She untied her apron and sat it on the counter. “Margaret, would you stay in here with the children? I need to talk to my husband.” Her voice shook as she tried to control her emotions. Margaret nodded as she watched Emily slowly walk out. She could tell Julie was very angry.
 
“Abraham,” Julie called as she closed the door to the house. Abraham stopped chopping as he turned toward his wife. “I want to talk to you.”
 
“I’m busy,” Abraham answered gruffly.
 
“In the barn.” Julie folded her arms. “NOW!”
 
Abraham watched Julie’s angry form march toward the barn. Never in their three years of marriage had his wife ever spoken to him in such a manner. Abraham slowly sat down his axe and followed her. Once they got inside, Julie closed the door. Then she pointed to the bench. “Sit!” Abraham was in such shock at the anger in her voice that he sat down without argument. “Now…” Julie stated in a controlled voice. “I have a few things to say to you, Abraham Lee McCain, and I don’t want any interruptions until I’m finished.”
 
Abraham nodded as his mouth gaped open. Julie began pacing the barn as she prepared herself to speak. “I understand that you are overwhelmed with responsibility. With your father gone, you are now the head of the family. You have to make some decisions that you haven’t had to make before. And…you now find yourself having to discipline Laura when she needs it. To add on top of that, you are now the father of triplets. You are under a lot of pressure…”
 
“Yes I am,” Abraham nodded. He wasn’t sure where this is going.
 
“I’ve put up with a lot over the past week, Abraham.” Julie stopped pacing and turned to look at him. “I’ve put up with watching you refuse to ask for help. I’ve watched you treat your brothers like…like…disrespectfully. I’ve watched you walk out on me and the children. And I kept telling myself that you just needed time. Then yesterday you turned your back on God.” Julie’s eyes filled with tears. “But what you did today was downright inexcusable!” Julie declared.
 
“Laura disobeyed!” Abraham shouted. “She…”
 
“I’m speaking!” Julie stomped her foot and put her hands on her hips. “Laura is a seven year old CHILD who just lost her father! She doesn’t understand what’s going on! She is confused and hurting. Everyone’s too busy to stop and explain to her just what’s going on. No one will take time to show her how to do more responsibilities! We all just expect her to understand all this…this stuff that even we don’t understand! She sees the strain on the family and wants to help, but you all won’t let her!”
 
“She’s too little!” Abraham declared.
 
“No, Abe. She’s not. You’re too busy!” Julie paused as she stared into her husband’s eyes. “Oh Abraham!” She bent down in front of her husband and put a hand to his bearded cheek. “I love you…I love you more than anything else in this world, but I don’t love the man you have turned into this week! You can’t do this alone! You have managed to isolate yourself from the entire family. Everyone is miserable and you can’t see that instead of bringing this family together, you’re driving it apart!”
 
Abraham couldn’t say anything. He just stared at his wife as her face pleaded with him to understand. He’d only seen her look at him that way once before in his life, and that was just after his father had taken sick and she begged him not to shut her out from talking about his emotions. It broke his heart to see his wife in such a state. Abraham suddenly stood and turned away. He couldn’t look into her face anymore.
 
He was so ashamed.
 
“Abe, your father is dead! He’s gone!” Julie spoke, still crouched from her position. “Nothing you do will ever bring him back.” She watched his head slump down. “We all love you and want to help you.” Julie slowly stood and walked up behind her husband. She wrapped her arms around his middle from behind him. “I want to help you. Will you let me?”
 
Finally, Julie’s words penetrated his heart. He slowly slid to the floor as flashes of all the things he’d done the past week ran through his mind. His thoughts abruptly turned to the latest event with his baby sister. “What have I done?” His voice broke suddenly. “Oh Julie, what have I done?”
 
Abraham’s voice held such regret and shame in it.
 
He wasn’t a man too easily given to tears, and now was no exception. But Julie turned his face toward hers and stared into his moist, shameful eyes. “You panicked, just like anyone could do in your position. Please speak to God, Abraham. Ask His forgiveness. Then you can talk to me. And then…” Julie lowered her head. “I think there’s a little girl who desperately needs to talk to you.” She saw that Abraham needed to be alone. She suspected he needed to cry, but he couldn’t do it in front of her. She kissed him softly then stood and walked toward the barn door.
 
“Julie?” Abraham’s voice broke as he called her name. Julie turned, silently lifting her eyebrows “Um…ask Margaret to get the families together for supper tonight. I think we…we have a lot to talk about.” Julie nodded. “…about how to go about making all this work. I want to include the Gibbs in this. I think that’s how Pa would want it.” Those were the last words Abraham could speak. He forced his tears to remain at bay until his wife left.
 
Julie nodded. “I’ll be waiting for you. I’ll send Margaret home so we can have privacy when you’re ready.”
 
Abraham turned and closed his eyes. He sat quietly on the floor of the barn. Then finally, he allowed tears to fill his eyes. “Oh God!” Abraham suddenly cried out. “Forgive me!” Then he wept as he prayed.
 
***
 
Emily came out of the kitchen when she heard the front door open. She stopped and took a deep breath when she saw her oldest brother standing in the doorway. Abraham took his hat off and stood in front of her quietly. Emily turned her head sideways. “Mama!”
 
Ruth hurried from the kitchen wiping her hands on her apron. When she saw Abraham standing there, she stopped dead in her tracks beside her daughter. “Hi.” The two women merely looked at him. “Uh…did Margaret come by?” Emily nodded. “You’ll be at our house tonight at six?” Emily nodded again. “Julie’s fixing a roast with all the trimmings. We’ll talk then.”
 
“Abraham…” Ruth started.
 
Abraham looked up when his mother spoke. Both women could see the regret and shame in his eyes for what he’d done. “Ma…I’d rather not right now. I…” Abraham’s voice broke. “I have a little girl who’s very hurt and I need to talk to her.” Ruth nodded. “Is she here?”
 
“She’s in her room,” Emily answered coldly, not quite ready to trust him yet. “She said she’ll stay there until you come. She doesn’t want…” Emily swallowed as a tear fell from her eye. “…another…spanking.”
 
Abraham raised his head and sighed deeply. “I’ll take her with me. We have a lot to talk about.” Abraham started for Laura’s bedroom. “If that’s okay with you, Ma?”
 
“I don’t want her hurt anymore,” Ruth answered in a reserved voice.
 
“Yes ma’am.” Abraham swallowed. “I’ll try to make amends.” Ruth nodded. Abraham turned back toward the bedroom and softly knocked on the door. There was no answer. “Laura Rose?” Abraham called her name softly.
 
There was still no answer. Abraham slowly turned the doorknob and opened the door. He saw Laura sitting on the opposite side of the bed with her back toward him. “You knew I was here?” he asked softly. Laura nodded her head as she sobbed.
 
Abraham closed the door and slowly walked to the bed. He sat his hat on a nearby chair and sat down on the opposite side of the bed, his back toward her. “I guess you’re pretty mad at me, huh?” He got no answer. “You know, I was thinking that…” Abraham swallowed the tears in his throat. “I was thinking that it’s been a while since you and I went on a ride together.” He turned on the bed. “Remember how you used to ride in front of me?” Laura nodded. “Would you like to ride with me today?”
 
Laura shook her head no. Abraham slowly stood up and walked around the bed. He bent down in front of Laura to talk to her, but Laura quickly turned from him and moved to the other side. Abraham sat down on the floor and lowered his head. “Laura, I…I’m sorry.” Abraham felt tears again well up in his eyes. “I shouldn’t have whipped you. I should have talked to you.” Laura stayed silent. “What do you want me to say, Laura? Just tell me!” Abraham pleaded.
 
Laura turned around. Abraham’s eyes widened when he saw the look of extreme sadness and hurt on her face. Her eyes were red from crying, and her lips quivered. “Promise me you’ll never spank me again!” Laura begged.
 
Abraham slowly stood up. He walked toward the door. Then he turned and held out his hand. “Laura Rose, come here.” Laura gasped. “I’m not going to lick you. But we are going to talk…just the two of us.” Laura stood from the bed and took a step towards him. Then she stopped. “You’re not in trouble. I am.”
 
“You are?” Laura asked then as her eyes grew wide. “Mama gonna spank you?”
 
“No.” Abraham dropped to his knees in front of her. “But Julie took me to the barn.”
 
“Did she give you a whippin’?” Laura asked then.
 
“No. She just told me I was wrong. She helped me to see some things. You know what?” Laura shrugged. “You…” Abraham tapped a finger on her chest. “You are the first person I want to share those things with.”
 
She still wasn’t ready to hug him or forgive him, and that broke his heart. But Abraham knew he had done her a great wrong in treating her the way he had. It would take some time to gain her trust back. “I’d really like for us to talk. Can we go to the pond?”
 
“Like where Luke takes me when I’m upset?” Laura asked. Abraham nodded. Laura took his hand. They walked out of the bedroom.
 
Emily and Ruth came from the kitchen and looked at the brother and sister. “I’ll have her with me until tonight,” Abraham assured them. They nodded.
 
All the way to the pond, they walked in silence. Laura kept her hand in his big one until they got to the bank. Then they sat down together. When Laura sat down, she kept her back towards him. Abraham looked out over the water. “I sure miss Pa…” he mumbled. “Things just aren’t the same without him here.” Abraham turned and looked at his sister. “Do you miss Pa?” Laura nodded. “You know Pa’s in heaven?”
 
Laura turned then and looked at Abraham. “Margaret told me all about it but…” Laura bit her lip. “It’s not fair, Abe!”
 
“What’s not, sweetie?” Abraham asked as he reached out and touched her cheek.
 
“All you…even Emily got him for a long time. I only got him for seven years.” She lowered her head. “I’m afraid he left ‘cause of me.”
 
Abraham leaned forward in surprise. “Why would you think that, Laura?”
 
“I’m bad. He didn’t want to stay and watch me grow up ‘cause I’m bad!” Laura began sobbing again as she put her head in her hands.
 
Abraham felt like he’d just been kicked in the gut. All these weeks, he was worried about trying to fill his father’s shoes, yet he wasn’t being a father to Laura like she so needed. “No Laura!” Abraham declared. “No! You are not bad!” Abraham leaned forward and picked her up. Then he sat her on his lap and began cradling her. “You are a seven year old, inquisitive child. Pa loved you very, very much!”
 
“Then why did he leave me? Why?” Laura sobbed.
 
“He didn’t want to!” Abraham answered tearfully, “Papa didn’t want to leave any of us. It hurt him to leave, but his heart…”
 
“I asked Jesus every night to give Papa a new heart. Why didn’t he?” Laura asked as she cried into his chest.
 
Abraham squeezed his arms around her. “Oh Laura, I don’t know honey! I don’t know!” He felt tears fill his eyes as he shared the pain with his sister. He suddenly felt closer to Laura than he’d ever been before. “I ask myself the same question. But…” Abraham put his finger under her chin and tilted it upwards. “But Laura, you cannot blame God. God made us. If God took Pa early, it was for a VERY good reason!”
 
Laura grew quiet. She had finally been able to cry all her concerns out. Abraham could tell she felt relieved. “Oh honey, why didn’t you talk to Ma about this?”
 
“Ma’s so tired, Abe. She and Emily are so busy!” Laura answered. “They say I get underfoot.” Laura sniffed. “I just wanta help.”
 
“And you should!” Abraham answered. “Laura Rose, we’re having a family meeting tonight and we’re going to talk as a family to make things better.” He kissed her on the top of her head.
 
“Things? Like your temper?” Laura asked suddenly.
 
Abraham raised his eyebrow at his sister. “My temper?”
 
Laura nodded. “Peter said not to bother you cause your temper..”
 
“Oh, I see,” Abraham cleared his throat.  “How’d you like to get some new responsibilities?”
 
“Like what?” Laura asked.
 
“Well…” Abraham grinned as he looked down at her. “Like picking apples.”
 
Laura gasped excitedly. “Honest?”
 
“Honest!”
 
“Then you promise you’ll never spank me again?” Laura asked.
 
Abraham allowed his smile to die. He thought of how to answer her question. “No, Laura. I don’t.” Laura started to pull away from him, but Abraham held her tight. “Whoa there, little one! I would love to just be your brother, but I have a big responsibility now. With Pa gone, I’m now the man of the house. You know what the man of the house means?” Laura shook her head. “Well, it means I help make all the important decisions. I try to run the house the best I know how, and…when little girls misbehave, I’ll punish them.” Abraham raised his eyebrows at her.
 
Laura lowered her head. “Like today?”
 
“No, Laura. Not like today.” Abraham sighed. “I was very, very wrong today, Laura. I’ve said and done some things over the last few weeks that I’m not proud of. And spanking you like I did today was the worst thing I did. I should have never whipped you the way I did. I should have talked to you first to figure out why you did what you did. I never should have spanked you without understanding.”
 
“You were wrong?” Laura asked
 
“You were wrong in the things you did today. I’m not saying I shouldn’t have spanked you, but I think I understand why you did what you did. We’ve all been so busy that no one’s taken the time to talk to you about how you feel about all this. Well, tonight we’re going to. Can you tell everyone how you feel?” Laura nodded. “And I should have given your more responsibilities. I was wrong in that too. But…” Abraham held up a finger when she started to speak. “You better obey your Ma, sister, and brothers next time. Or there just may be another trip to the barn!”
 
“Yes Abe,” Laura answered. “Abe?” Abe continued looking at her. “I miss Luke.”
 
“Me too, Laura. Me too.” Abraham pushed her away from him a bit. “Now then…will you forgive me?”
 
Laura put a finger to her chin as she thought about this. “You gonna fix your temper?”
 
“I’m definitely going to try to fix my temper!” Abraham declared with a chuckle.
 
“Then I’ll forgive you!” She kissed him then threw her arms around him.
 
He stood up. “And I know I’m not as great as Luke, but if you need a brother to talk to, I’m always here for you.”
 
“Abe!” Laura lifted her arms and Abe picked her up. She ran her hands through his beard. “I think you are as great as Luke…now!”
 
Abe kissed her and nuzzled her face with his beard until she giggled. “Let’s go! I want you to help Julie and Margaret with the babies and supper!”
 
“Honest?” Laura asked excitedly.
 
“Honest!” Abraham declared as she climbed around to his back and rode all the way back to the house. Then, after Abe mounted his horse, Laura sat in front of him as he tightened one of his arms around her and they rode for his home.
 
Laura was certainly happy to see the babies. Julie and Abraham laughed as they watched their little sister coo over them. She commented that they were almost as small as her doll. Abraham just laughed as he motioned for Laura to leave the room.
 
Julie sent Abraham in search of more tables and chairs while she and Margaret…and Laura…worked on finishing supper preparations. Laura felt very useful as she learned to peel the carrots without cutting herself. Soon, Emily arrived to help. When Abraham returned with the tables and chairs, Julie left to shout out orders on where to put them. Like most women, she had to have everything just perfect, and today was no exception! After all, in their three years of marriage, Julie hadn’t ONCE hosted a Gibbs/McCain dinner at her house!
 
Laura was sent out to watch for guests while everyone diligently worked at getting everything ready. Laura soon saw a wagon coming up the road and hurried inside. “They’re coming! They’re coming!” Laura cried excitedly. Julie gasped and took her apron off. She ran to the mirror and smoothed her hair down the best she could. “Why you gettn’ all prettied up? They’re just our family!” Laura declared.
 
“Because, young lady, I’m the host and the host always tries to look her best!” Julie declared with a nod. Then she pointed at her young sister-in-law. “And don’t you ever forget it!”
 
Laura wasn’t one for dressing and fancying up. She had even begged to wear britches every now and again, but her mother had forbade such a thing from happening and her father had put his foot down on the matter too. Laura began to wonder how Abraham felt about it. But after remembering the trip to the barn earlier, she decided that now wasn’t a good time to mention it.
 
Laura hurried to the door and held it open as the members of the Gibbs clan came in. The only missing guests were Jeremiah and Peter. Abraham turned and looked at Julie who only shook her head. But within a few minutes, Abraham saw his brothers ride up. They dismounted their horses and tied them to the hitching post. Then they slowly walked toward the door.
 
Abraham knew automatically that they were angry with him. Jeremiah saw Laura standing close to his brother and looked down at her. “How are you, Laura Rose?” Jeremiah asked protectively as he glared at his brother.
 
“Don’t be mad, Jeremiah!” Laura begged. “Abraham promised to work on his temper.”
 
“He better,” Jeremiah grumbled. “Because if he EVER whips you like that again, I’ll belt him one!”
 
“Jeremiah McCain!” Ruthdeclared. “I told you not to say anything about it until after we hear what your brother has to say.”
 
“It’s okay, mother,” Abraham said as he closed the door. “I deserve that.” He cleared his throat as he motioned for everyone to sit down. The food was still simmering on the stove until after they had the talk. “Now then…” Abraham started as everyone looked at him. “First of all…I want to apologize to each and every  one of you for my behavior these past few weeks.” Abraham sighed. “I…don’t really have an explanation for it. I was just trying to do everything myself…” Abraham cleared his throat. “Not only have I been rough on all of you, but I haven’t been a very good husband…” Abraham turned and looked at Julie who lowered her head. “…or father…or brother…” Emily laid a hand on her sister’s shoulder as Abraham looked down at her. “But I rejected God and today I took my anger out on a little girl who so desperately needed to understand this…too.”
 
Abraham looked at his two brothers who were keeping their eyes averted. “My brothers…tried to tell me that I wasn’t handling things like Pa did. Their words made me angry, not because they were wrong…but because they were right. We always had family meetings to discuss important things. When there was a decision to be made, Pa would sit us down and ask us for our opinion before he made it. I haven’t done that…Well…” Abraham dug his hands in his pockets. “We have some big problems, and tonight I want us to all get our feelings out in the open and try to build our lives up in a way that would make Pa proud.”
 
Ruth cleared her throat. “I think you should go first, Abraham. We all really want to know what you’re feeling.”
 
“Ma, I…I’ve never been good with…” Abraham shook his head.
 
Julie laid a hand on her arm. “Well now’s a good time to start, Abe. We all love you and want to help you. Just tell us what you’re feeling.”
 
Abraham stared into her eyes as he tried to gain strength. “Well I…” Abraham swallowed. He looked down at his hands folded on the table. “I…” He felt tears well up in his eyes and tried to push them away. He didn’t want to reveal this side of himself to his family. Some of them had never seen him cry, and he didn’t want that to change now. “I need to be strong for all of you. I…” Abraham shook his head and quickly stood from the table. He went to the window so nobody could see his tears.
 
Everyone stayed silent waiting for Abraham to continue. They could hear him crying and allowed him to his privacy and dignity. “Before I left to go to Luke, I went in to say goodbye…” Abraham choked. He cleared his throat before continuing. “I never…never thought he’d still be alive when I got back.”
 
“Go on,” Samuel urged quietly.
 
Abraham swallowed. “Well, I…Pa took my hand and he said ‘You’re the man of the house now, son. Make me proud.” Abraham lowered his head to his hand and began weeping quietly. Ruth stood from the table and went to her son. She took his hand and kissed it, then reached up and put a hand on his cheek. Abraham nodded as he wiped his eyes and turned back to the group. “Those words…they’ve haunted me ever since because I DO want to make Pa proud.”
 
Samuel cleared his throat as he leaned back in his chair. “Come, sit down Abraham. I have something to say.”
 
Abraham slowly sat down at the table. Julie took his hand and squeezed it as Samuel began talking. “Being the man of a house isn’t something to be taken lightly. You have a big responsibility. Part of that responsibility is learning to depend on your family. Nobody ever said you could do it alone. Your father always consulted his children before making important decisions. If you remember right, he would sit down with you boys every spring and discuss who would do what and you would all be in agreement. Why do you think he did that?” Abraham lowered his head. “Part of it was to keep the peace and make sure you all understood why things were done the way they were. But part of it was to…show you, Abraham, how to do things.”
 
Abraham looked at his brothers. “I’m…sorry…I reckon that’s when Jeremiah said he wanted to do his own crops the other day I…”
 
“My words were spoken in haste, Abe,” Jeremiah explained. “I never should have spoken them.”
 
“So…we still want to keep the whole farm together, right?” Abraham asked. Peter and Jeremiah nodded. He looked at his mother and nodded. “Would you two be interested in…being equal partners?” They nodded.
 
“And as partners,” Samuel stated as he cleared his throat. “You three should sit down with Emily and your mother here to discuss how you’re going to carry things out. Your father always included them in the discussions.”
 
“What about me?” Laura asked, feeling left out.
 
“You too, Laura!” Abraham declared. “There’s plenty you can do to help.”
 
“What about Julie?” Laura asked then.
 
“And Julie!” Abraham declared as his wife squeezed his hand.
 
Everyone laughed. The McCain’s began discussing everything that still needed done as the Gibbs listened. Abraham watched his brothers’ anger slowly melt away as they came up with a plan to run the ranch. They allowed that Abraham should still have the final say since he was the head of the family, but they also agreed that he should ASK them what they thought before coming to the final decision.
 
Then they turned to the apple orchard, which was always one of their profit making projects. Even when the crops failed, the apples gave the McCain family a sizeable sum. There were a lot of apple trees, and all the recent events had really sat them back to harvesting the apples. “I can help, right?” Laura asked as they discussed picking the apples the following day.
 
“Yes indeed! You’ll get a bucket and pick up apples!” Abraham declared.
 
“Why don’t we ALL help?” Margaret asked then. She looked at her father. “Pa, you can spare one day from the ranch to help, can’t you?”
 
Samuel smiled and nodded his head. “Yes. I think every member of this family should help bring in the apples.”
 
“Oh no!” Abraham protested. “Uncle Sam, this isn’t…”
 
Samuel Gibbs held up a hand to hush Abraham’s protest. “Now, Abe, you’ve called me ‘Uncle Sam’ ever since you were knee high to a grasshopper and that’s because we’ve always thought of each other as family. Just because your father’s gone home to heaven doesn’t mean that’s going to change. We want to do this…to help your family!”
 
Everyone started discussing plans to meet the next day and decided to make a family day out of it. Jennifer Gibbs and Ruth McCain would babysit Julie and Abraham’s little one’s while the rest went out to the orchard. At lunch, Jennifer would take out a hearty picnic for everyone to enjoy.
 
Everyone grew excited, but Abraham sat silently and listened to his family…his family around him. He couldn’t help but smile. This was much better than trying to do everything by himself. Julie held up her hand to quiet the group. “I’m afraid the farm’s not the only thing that’s been bothering Abraham,” she said as she turned back toward her husband and motioned for him to go on.
 
“Well, I will admit I was a bit overwhelmed to learn my wife had three babies instead of one,” Abraham declared with a grin. He took her hand. “I did a lot of thinking on that in the barn after you left, and if I’m overwhelmed, you certainly are. I’m going to be there to help you the best I can.”
 
“And we’ll have Margaret,” Julie reminded him.
 
“Yes.” Abraham chuckled. “We’ll have Margaret…for as long as she has time to help us.”
 
“I want to!” Margaret declared. “I really want to!”
 
“And as far as Pa’s concerned,” Abraham took his sister’s hand and squeezed it. “Laura and I had a long talk today. We both got our feelings for Pa out in the open.” Abraham cleared his throat. “Speaking of Laura…”
 
“I think all’s forgiven, Abe,” Peter nodded. Everyone else nodded as well. “And we understand that your new responsibilities are hard on you. With Pa gone, she needs someone to take Pa’s place.”
 
“It doesn’t have to be me,” Abraham stated. “I…”
 
“It does…” Ruth declared as she looked toward her son. “That’s how your father wanted it. You’ve done so well with her up until today. I don’t think that should change.”
 
“But she does have two other brothers that can very well help out!” Emily declared.
 
“And don’t think I’ll hesitate on bending you over my knee if you get out of line, young lady!” Jeremiah declared. “But…since I’m getting married, I don’t feel comfortable with taking charge of her.”
 
Everyone understood.
 
“And I definitely don’t think I’m mature enough to do such a thing!” Peter declared as he held up his hands. “I still get her into trouble!”
 
“Yes!” Ruth declared. “You do!”
 
Abraham turned to his little sister. “What do you think?”
 
“About what?” Laura asked.
 
“About me being in charge of your upbringing…like Pa was,” Abraham asked.
 
“Really? You’re asking me?” Abraham nodded. Laura smiled. It made her feel proud to be included in such an important decision. “Well…” Laura looked at Peter. “I like Peter getting me into trouble, so maybe…”
 
“Laura Rose…” Ruth warned then.
 
“But mama, Abraham spanks HARD!” Laura declared.
 
“And it’s for your own good,” Abraham answered. “I’m trying to help Ma bring you up as a young lady – one Pa would be proud of.”
 
“You won’t lose your temper with me?” Laura asked.
 
“Only if you rile me, sis,” Abraham answered.
 
“Alright,” Laura got on her knees in the chair and wrapped her arms around Abraham’s neck. “As long as I deserve it though!”
 
“It’s a deal!” Abraham declared. “Oh, and come Sunday I expect to see every one of you here at church!”
 
“Me too?” Peter asked.
 
“You too!” Abraham declared. “Which means no staying in town and…” Abraham stopped himself as he looked down at his young charge. “…socializing all night Saturday night! My family will go to church on Sunday proud! Six days God labored, and on the Seventh day, he rested.”
 
Ruth nodded her approval as she smiled. “Your father would be so proud!” She clapped her hands together. “Now, let’s get the food on the table!”
 
The rest of the evening was filled with laughter as the family mended their bond.
 
After everyone left, Julie looked so exhausted that Abraham decided to put off their talk until she was better rested. He helped her get the triplets settled down for the night. Then he watched her crawl into bed, turn over, and go to sleep. He quietly walked out onto the porch and looked up at the stars. “It took some time, Papa,” Abraham said as he looked skyward. “But I think I’m ready for the responsibility…”
 
The next day was filled with activity. By the time Abraham got over to the McCain house Ruth had a hearty breakfast on the table. Laura was so excited about helping that she could hardly control herself. She assured Abraham she didn’t need to eat. She wasn’t a bit hungry. Abraham gave her quite a stern look, however, and pointed for her to sit. Remembering the whipping handed down to her the day before, Laura decided it wasn’t a good idea to press her brother; so she sat down without argument.
 
Several times Laura began fidgeting around in her chair, declaring she couldn’t eat; and several times Ruth ordered her to start eating again. Abraham, who was enjoying his second breakfast of the day, finally told Laura that if she had to be told once more, she would not be going to the orchard, but would instead be going with her mother to his house with the other children. That was all Laura needed to settle down and finish eating.
 
After her last bite was gone, she started to stand from her chair, but she heard several throats clear at the same time. She looked around the table at her sister and three brothers and sighed as she sat her elbows on the table and rested her chin in her hands. She wasn’t sure she liked having so many adult brothers and sisters. “Laura Rose…” Ruth warned.
 
“Laura Rose!” Abraham warned. Laura looked from her mother to her brother. Then she realized she wasn’t using proper table manners. She quickly put her hands in her lap. “Well?” Abraham asked as he raised his eyebrows at her.
 
“May I be excused?” Laura finally asked. Everyone nodded their heads. “Boy, I can’t wait for you to get married, Jeremiah!” Laura stated then. “At least I’ll only have three bossing me at the table since Abe’s not normally here.”
 
Abraham started to stand up, but Laura held up a hand. “I’m sorry!” she declared suddenly. “I just can’t stop my mouth from talking.”
 
“A good bite of lye soap will be in order the next time you speak like that, young lady!” Ruth declared.
 
“And you may be excused,” Abraham answered for his mother. “Take your dishes into the kitchen; then maybe we can talk your mother and Emily into letting you help me with the buckets while your brothers get the buckboard ready…”
 
“You softy!” Emily declared suddenly.
 
“Yeah! That’s not fair!” Peter said. “I want to get the buckets!”
 
Abraham laughed knowing his family was having fun at his own expense. Laura hurried back in from the kitchen after delivering her dirty dishes. “Well Mama?” She asked hopefully.
 
“Well, I don’t think your brother Abraham is as rough and tough as he wants you to think!” Ruth replied. “Go on! Have fun!”
 
Laura worked hard helping her brother get everything ready. When the Gibbs wagon appeared, they all sang merrily as they drove toward the apple orchard. The family worked all morning gathering the apples. Abraham made Julie take several rests, and gave her the job of picking out the rotten apples. Laura did well helping to pick apples from a short step ladder her brother allowed her to climb, but she soon tired and joined her sister-in-law in her chore.
 
When Jennifer Gibbs arrived with the lunch, everyone sat together and laughed as they remembered previous outings they’d been on together. Jennifer cleaned up as she watched the family go back to work. Julie worked on picking apples for a bit longer that afternoon, but Abraham sternly told her to go sit down and rest. He knew she was still recovering from having triplets a week ago, and he would not allow her to push herself too much. She had to do a lot of sweet talking to even get to help at all!
 
By the time supper time came, most of the apples had been harvested. The brothers asked Scott to go into town with them the next day to sell their apples and Scott agreed enthusiastically. By the time the families got back to Abraham’s house, Ruth and Jennifer had a hearty meal of beans and cornbread on the table. “What’s for dessert?” Johnny Gibbs asked after prayer was said.
 
“Apple pie,” his mother answered.
 
Everyone groaned.
 
***
 
The house was finally quiet. Abraham sat at the table reading the latest happenings in the newspaper as his wife tiredly sat in her rocking chair sewing on a new shirt for Charlie. “Looks like Lucas’s regiment was in a battle a few weeks ago,” Abraham mumbled as he read. “Wonder how he’s doing.”
 
“I don’t know.” Julie stood up and yawned. “I’m turning in, honey.”
 
Abraham smiled as he stood. “I think I will too.” He was hoping to have a talk with her once they were in bed.
 
He watched Julie slip from her clothes and into a gown as he began undressing himself. They crawled in bed under the covers at the same time. Abraham blew out the light then laid down beside his wife. He reached out and pulled her over to him so they could cuddle. “Tired?” he mumbled as his lips pressed against the back of her neck. Julie mumbled something he didn’t understand. “Too tired to talk?”
 
Julie heard the hope in his voice. She turned over in his arms until they were facing each other. After gently kissing him, she said, “No. Talk.”
 
“I haven’t had a chance to…Well, to apologize to you for how I’ve treated you. It was very rude and irresponsible of me.”
 
“Yes it was!” Julie declared. “And I forgive you.”
 
“Well…that was easy!” Abraham gave a short laugh. “I almost expected to get a lecture.”
 
“I gave you the lecture in the barn yesterday, honey. And I can see the relief in your eyes.”
 
“I’m surprised you let me come back to our bed after the way I treated you!” Abraham declared. “I deserve a cot in the barn.”
 
“Now…” Julie cuddled up closer to him as he drew his arms around her. “If I did that, who would cuddle with me?” she teased.
 
“Nobody, I hope!” Abraham retorted.
 
“Abe…” Julie sighed. “I understand you don’t like to talk about your feelings, but if you ever start feeling…”
 
Abraham hushed her with a long kiss. After their lips parted, he mumbled, “I’ll talk to you. I don’t want you to take me to the barn anymore!”
 
“Next time I just may spank you!” Julie declared as she kissed him.
 
Abraham chuckled as he pressed his lips to hers. After enjoying a long, passionate kiss, he groaned as he laid on his back and she laid her head on his chest. “Soon, honey. Soon I’ll let you make it up to me…” Julie mumbled as they fell asleep in each other’s arms.

The Years Before — Faith

 

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories.  Enjoy!

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