The Rifleman
Welcome to The Writer's Corner
Fan Fiction

The Years Before

Chapter 4 - Faith
Written by Michelle Palmer

Dearest Lucas, So much has happened since you left.  We are still trying to adjust to Uncle Marcus being gone.  Abraham, especially, is having a hard time.  He’s had so much happening lately and has had to take on so many responsibilities, but we had a family meeting last night and things seem to be better.

I’m sorry I hadn’t written you sooner, but things have been pretty busy.  Oh Lucas…Abraham told me I could tell you.  I wish I could see the look on your face when I tell you about what’s happened.  Well, there was a fire in town.  Nobody knows how it started, but the old warehouse caught on fire – you know, the one where we used to go when we were kids?  Do you remember that night you and I went in there and got locked inside?  Our Pa’s looked for us for hours before they finally found us.  You tried all the windows, but they wouldn’t budge.  Of course, you wanted to break one but I told you not to – I didn’t want you to get into trouble.  Because you cared about my feelings, you appeased me but boy, did we both get the dickens from our fathers!  Your Pa just whipped you right there.  I cried so hard when you started crying.

I guess I got off the subject remembering back to those days.  Anyways, the warehouse burned down, but before too much damage could be done to the buildings around it, a thunderstorm came.  I was in the middle of a storm of my own.  I was at Abraham and Julie’s house.  You see, Mother didn’t want Julie to stay alone, since she was so close to her time.  Neither did Abraham.  He asked Peter to send me over, but Peter forgot.  You can imagine how mad Abraham was when he found that out!  Anyway, it’s a good thing that I DID go there.  I hadn’t been there very long when Julie went into labor.

Maybe you don’t want to hear this next part, Mother said you wouldn’t, but I’ll tell you anyhow.  Her labor wasn’t like I always heard.  I heard it’s a long process when you have labor pains that come and go until you have the baby; but Julie just had one big labor pain until the babies came.  That’s right, Lucas.  I said babies.  They have all boys:  Samuel Marcus, David John, and Adam James.  They had three boys – triplets!  Can you believe it!  Triplets are very rare, but very possible.  You can only imagine what that did to Abraham!

I guess Abraham got pretty low.  He was feeling a lot of responsibility with all the happenings and all.  Monday, he came down pretty hard on Laura.  I guess it resulted in a trip to the barn and it was a pretty ugly deal.  I could tell everyone was really upset with him, but Julie took Abraham to the barn and straightened him out.  We are going to the orchard today – all of us – to get the apples harvested.  I helped last year too, as I recall.  Do you remember the apple tree incident my love?  Do you?  I sure thought Abraham or Uncle Marcus was going to whip you for sure after what you did to me.  Oh, I just blush thinking about it now…

I wanted to get this letter out yesterday when I started it, but I had to go help at the orchard.  Jeremiah made an announcement yesterday.  He and his fiancée, Emily (we’ll call her Em to save confusion), will be getting married in July.  I think they set the date for July 16.  Oh, I wish you could be here for that, but Jeremiah said it was doubtful the war would end that soon.  Will it end soon, Lucas?  It’s already been raging for over a year.  How much longer can it go on?

Oh, Laura sends her love.  I come to Abraham and Julie’s house in the afternoons to help out.  That’s what keeps me so busy.  Laura’s got a bit of stomach flu and Aunt Ruth and Emily had to go into town to buy some supplies.  Aunt Ruth didn’t want her at home by herself and the boys are delivering the apples today, so I’m at your house watching her until someone gets back.  I’m trying to keep her in bed, but you know Laura…so much like her brother (I’m talking about you, Luke).

Laura said to kiss the dollar.  She just kissed hers.  She wants you to hurry back and so do I.

I love you, Lucas.

Margaret

***
“Triplets?” Lucas declared as he folded the letter.  “I can’t believe she had triplets!”

“Who?” Johnny asked as he stopped by the fire to pour some coffee.

“Julie.  She had triplets,” Luke declared again.  But he couldn’t help but laugh.  He couldn’t think of anyone better for such an ordeal to happen to than his big brother!

Johnny smiled into his cup.  “Well Abe, you little devil you!” Johnny mumbled.  “Boy, you McCain’s sure must know how to…”

“Watch it!” Lucas grumbled.  “I’ll belt you one!”

Johnny sat down across from his friend and handed him a cup of coffee.  Lucas had received the letter yesterday, but Captain Benton had immediately ordered him, Johnny, and six other men on a patrol.  They had to make camp and Lucas was so exhausted he had forgotten all about the letter.  He was sort of glad he had now, because with a letter like that he would have never gone back to sleep.  “So, how is the family?” Johnny asked.

“I don’t know.  Margaret said Abraham had some sort of trouble, but he seems to be better now.  She wrote this on…” Lucas pulled the letter out and looked at the date.  “June 10, 1862.”  Lucas gasped.  “What is today?”

“July 16,” Johnny answered as he took another sip of his coffee.

“July…” Lucas gasped.  “This letter is over a month old!”

“Mail wagon’s not always too reliable,” Johnny answered.  Then he stood and went to kick the others awake.  “We have to leave soon!” Johnny declared.  “Up and at ‘em!”  Johnny turned back to look at Lucas.  “What’s wrong?”

“My brother’s getting married today!” Lucas declared.

***

“I don’t wanta wear that thing!” Laura declared as her sister held the dress up for her to try on.  “No!  No!  No!”

“Laura Rose, now you cut that out!” Emily ordered.  “Your brother’s getting married in two hours!  You want to look pretty for him, don’t ya?”

“Luke says I’m pretty without a dress!” Laura cried.  “I don’t wanta wear that dress.  It has too many things on it!”

Emily rolled her eyes.  “Now look, I don’t have time to argue with you!  I’ve got to get over to the church and finish decorating.  So you just put this dress on!”  Emily smacked Laura on the backside as she hurried toward the door.  Laura just sat down in a chair and pouted.

Emily hurried out of the bedroom.  “She won’t put the dress on, Ma.”

“I suspect she’s upset because Luke isn’t here.  She misses him terribly.”  Ruth put the knife down and wiped her hands on her apron.  “I’ll talk to her.”  She slowly made her way into her daughter’s room.  Laura sat in a chair with her back toward the door.  “What’s this I hear about you not wanting to wear this beautiful dress Emily made for you?”

“I don’t want to!” Laura declared. “I don’t want to!”

“To what?  Wear the dress or go to the wedding?”  Ruth sat down beside her daughter.

“I want to go to the wedding but…” Laura shook her head.  “I’m NOT wearing that dress!”

“Why not?” Ruth asked.  Laura didn’t answer.  “Laura Rose, you answer me this instant!”

“I don’t like that dress!  It has too much stuff on it.”  Laura kicked the wall with her boot.  “If I have to go to that wedding in that dress, then I’m not going!”

“That would hurt your brother’s feelings.”  Ruth waited, but Laura said nothing.  “Do you want to hurt your brother’s feelings?”

“NO!” Laura cried loudly.  “But I don’t want to go!  I don’t want to go!”

“You are acting like a three year old.  You are seven years old, Laura.  That is old enough to understand…”

“Ma?” Ruth turned to see Abraham standing in the door way.  He motioned for her to leave.  Laura turned and saw him.  Her eyes grew wide, but she turned back around and stared at the wall.  Ruth quietly left to allow Abraham to take care of the situation.

“Do you realize I could hear you all the way outside?”  Laura said nothing, nor did she move.  Abraham closed the door.  “Now then, young lady, what’s with this defiant little attitude of yours?”  Laura hung her head knowing she was in trouble.  “Well?” Abraham’s voice rose as he started across the room to his sister.

“I don’t want to wear the dress!” Laura declared.  “I don’t want to wear it!”

Abraham picked up the dress.  “It’s a very pretty dress.  I think you’d look very pretty.  Why don’t you want to wear it?”

“I just don’t!” Laura declared.

Abraham cleared his throat.  “Do we need to take a trip to the barn?”

“No sir,” Laura answered in a quiet voice.  She still remembered her last trip to the barn, and she didn’t like it at all.

“Well?”

“You wouldn’t understand!” Laura said as her eyes filled with tears.

Her tears melted Abraham’s heart.  He bent down in front of her and lifted her head to look into her eyes.  “Try me, honey.  Tell me what’s wrong.”

“Luke ain’t here…” Laura sniffed.

“No.  Luke’s at war,” Abraham stated.  “You know that.”  Laura hung her head as she shed more tears.  “They can’t just stop the war because Jeremiah’s getting married, sweetie.  They have to keep fighting.”

“Luke always tells me I look pretty in the dress.  He won’t tell me that today.”  Laura sniffed.

“Well, I’ll tell you.”

“It ain’t the same.”  Laura looked up at her brother.  “Something happened to Luke.”

“No, honey.  He’s fine!” Abraham saw the sincerity and fear in her eyes.  It scared him.  “He’s okay.”

Laura shook her head.  “No, Abe.  No, he’s not fine!  I know he’s not!  He’s hurt!  I know it!”  Laura clung to him and cried.

***

The hike was slow as they walked through the woods.  The man in front kept a firm eye out for rebels.  Some had been spotted around these woods yesterday, which was why they were out on patrol.  The men kept their hands on their rifles, ready for shooting if they met up with trouble.  “Do you see anything?” Lucas whispered as they quietly walked through the woods.

Johnny turned his head from side to side as he scanned over the whole land.  They didn’t see a thing, but there was an eerie feeling over them as if they were being watched.  The men in the patrol stopped as they got to a cliff.  “Let’s go that way,” one of the men advised.  They started walking away from the high cliff.

Lucas had scouted this very area just a few days before.  He had been on horseback then.  But there hadn’t been the eerie, creepy feeling that day like there was today.  Lucas could feel his heart pumping out of his chest as they slowly walked deeper into the woods.

“Wait!  Stop!” one of the men ordered.

“What’s wrong?” Johnny asked.  But the man placed a finger to his lips as they started looking around.

They noticed a wide-open field ahead, but if they got caught by rebs in there, they’d all be dead.  They felt safer if they went around the bluff, easy not to run into anyone.  The leader of the group pointed toward the end of the bluff.  “Let’s go that way,” he whispered.

Lucas had a really bad feeling about this.  His heart started beating rapidly as they slowly and deliberately made their way toward the side of the bluff.  Lucas reached in his pocket and touched the letter.  He needed strength right now, and since his mind was too busy to pray, he tried to allow the letter from his sweetheart to give him the strength he felt he needed badly right now.

***

Margaret stood just outside the church.  Everyone was in there already.  The wedding was to start in only five minutes, but Margaret couldn’t budge from her spot.  Her heart was heavy.  She thought about Lucas, but the only image that came to her was his bloody face as he lay in a field dying.  The image was so real.  She couldn’t shake it.  “Margaret?”

Margaret jumped as her best friend, Ann Pritchard, came up behind her.  “Oh!” Margaret gasped.  “I’m sorry.”

“What’s wrong?  Aren’t you coming inside?” Ann asked as she and Hal stood beside her.

“N…no, not right now,” Margaret answered.  “I…” she swallowed.  “I feel a bit ill.  I best stay outside for now.”

“Do you want me to stay with you?” Ann asked.

“N…no, I’m fine,” Margaret tried to smile at her friend.  “Really.”

She watched as Ann and Hal made their ways up the steps.  Margaret sat down on a bench in the church yard and took deep breaths.  She could almost hear Lucas calling out to her.  It was as if he was crying to her for help.  “Oh God…” Margaret prayed as tears filled her eyes.  “God…help him!  Please…” Margaret swallowed.  “Please help him!”

“Margaret, what’s wrong?” Emily rushed out to her.  “Ann said you weren’t feeling well.”  Emily stopped when she saw the tears in her friend’s eyes.  Emily sat down.  “You’re upset what is it?  What?”

Margaret shook her head.  “I’m sorry…I just can’t go into a wedding when my heart’s so heavy!” she declared.

“What’s wrong?” Emily pleaded to know.  “What is it?”

Margaret allowed her tears to fall.  “It’s Luke…” Margaret cried.  “I think something’s happened to Luke!”

***
The eight union soldiers slowly made their way toward the bluff.  Lucas could hear his heart beating as he continued to squeeze the letter in his pocket.  As they approached the bluff, however, he lifted his hand out and put his hand on the rifle he had ready to fire just in case.  The men felt like ants at a picnic as they slowly readied themselves to round the bluff.

And that’s when it happened.

Gasps erupted as the eight union soldiers came face to face with a whole mess of Rebels.  Lucas felt his heart beat faster.  He felt a grave fear suddenly come over him as he quickly assessed that there were about twenty Rebels against the eight of them.  They had been waiting for them!  No matter where they had gone, the Rebels probably had the soldiers in their sights the whole time.

The air was suddenly filled with sounds of gunfire.  Lucas began firing as rapidly as his rifle would let him, but he had no way of knowing if his bullets met their targets.  Shouts from the rebels sounded as moans and cries from his fellow soldiers sounded around him.  A soldier on the left side of him fell.  Blood oozed from his gut and onto Lucas’s boot.  He had no time to think about it.  All he could do was continuing firing.

Another fellow soldier fell and another…and another…They had no choice but to try and retreat.  He didn’t look to see who the soldiers were, but there were only four of them left.  They ran until they got to a bluff.  Then to Lucas’s horror, he realized they were trapped!  Another shot fired in the air and Lucas let out a loud cry and fell to his knees.

***

“By the power vested in me…” Margaret gasped suddenly as a hand flew to her chest.  She suddenly felt very ill.  Margaret jumped up and hurried from the church to relieve herself.  She fell to her knees and heaved.  Tears filled her eyes at the incredible sense of loss she suddenly felt.  As she stood up, Margaret turned to see her mother and Emily hurrying toward her with a worried expression on their faces.  “What’s wrong?” Emily suddenly asked.

“Nothing!”  Margaret shook her head.  Then she looked at her mother.  Her eyes filled up with tears.  “Oh Mother!”  Margaret fell into her mother’s arms and began crying.  Tears flowed freely down her cheeks as her mother slowly lowered her to the ground and continued holding her as she wept.

The church started emptying as the happy couple raced from the church.  But when they saw the two on the ground, their laughter died.  Julie and Em (who was now Jeremiah’s wife and they had agreed to call her Em to make things simpler for the family) hurried over to the group.  Em held her wedding dress up as several of the other ladies hurried forward.  “What’s wrong?” Julie asked as she dropped beside the two women.

Jennifer shook her head.  “I don’t know!”  She spoke in a confused voice.  “She’s too upset to tell me.  I can’t get her to talk.”

Emily slowly lowered herself to the ground as well.  “Before she came inside, she said that she thinks something happened to Luke.”

“Luke?”  Abraham asked as he hurried up to the group.  Then he stopped and turned around.  Holding up his hands, he shouted orders. “Alright, everyone please give us some privacy!”  He called to those gathered around.  “Please!”  He turned toward Jennifer and Margaret.  “Let’s get her inside.”

“What’s going on?” Samuel Gibbs asked as he rushed up to the group.

“I don’t know!” Jennifer declared again.  “Something’s wrong with Margaret!”

Abraham bent over and picked Margaret up in his arms.  “Let’s get her to the hotel.”

“No!” Margaret cried suddenly.  “Take me to the church!  Please Abe!”

The McCain and Gibbs family followed Abraham as he carried Margaret into the church.  He sat Margaret down on a bench and kneeled in front of her.  “What’s wrong?” he asked.  “What’s this about Luke?”

“I don’t know!  I…” she started, but she burst into tears.

“Luke’s hurt!” Laura declared as she hurried up to Margaret and threw her arms around her.  “I just know it…he’s hurt really bad!”

“No, honey!”  Abraham shook his head as he grabbed his little sister.  “We don’t think that. I told you this morning that you just had a bad dream.”

Ruth stepped forward, wringing her hands.  “I wonder if it was just a dream, Luke.”  As she spoke, her eyes filled with tears.  “The heart can be powerful.  It…”

Margaret slowly stood on shaky feet and made her way up to the front.  She kneeled down at the altar and folded her hands as she cried out to God to protect Luke.

They watched as Laura walked up beside Margaret and did the same thing.  Margaret put her arm around Laura as they prayed in earnest together.  “What’s going on?” Abraham asked quietly.

“I think we should pray,” Ruth answered.  “I think we should all pray.”

“Ma, what…” Abraham tried again.

“Abe, when two people love each other as deeply as Margaret and Luke, they can sense when something’s wrong.  It’s one of those things that no one can explain. Luke and Laura have always been very close.  You know that.”  Ruth shook her head.  “I can’t explain it, but I think we should pray.”  Ruth dropped to her knees and bowed her head.  The rest did the same.


***

Lucas threw a hand to his head as blood came from a wound.  He could hardly see as he grabbed Johnny and pulled his head down beside him.  “There’s a…a…box canyon to our right!  Just keep firing.  Get me there!”

“Are you shot?” Johnny asked.

“Yes!” Lucas groaned as pain shot through the left side of his face.  “Let’s get the men there!  Hurry before any more get killed!”

Johnny grabbed Lucas and motioned for the other men to follow him.  He found the canyon.  It was only about fifty feet across and very small, but they were all able to get inside.  Lucas fell at the entrance and cried out in pain.  Johnny looked up to see a Reb point a rifle directly at Lucas.  “Luke!” Johnny shouted as he jumped in front of Lucas.  The shot fired and Johnny cried out in pain as the bullet hit his shoulder.  His shoulder had been blocking Lucas’s head.

Johnny fell to his knees and dragged Lucas the rest of the way in.  There was only enough room for a few Rebs to get in.  “Load up, men!” Johnny called.  “Be ready to shoot!”

Lucas held his head as pain went through him.  He groaned as he tried to load his rifle.  “Just let us take care of it!” Johnny shouted, ignoring the pain in his shoulder.

“No!” Lucas screamed as he flinched in pain.  “They aren’t going to get me lying down!”

The men readied their rifles.  Two Rebs came through the entrance just then and Johnny and Jake Stryker shot them.  They heard scurrying outside the canyon.  “It’s too small!  We’ll wait for them out here!”  They heard a soldier call.  “They have to come out sooner or later!”

Johnny turned to Lucas.  “You alright?”

Lucas nodded as he grabbed the kerchief and wiped the blood from his face.  “Yeah.  Thanks to you.  You saved my life.”  Lucas flinched as Johnny touched the wound on his head.  “Didn’t you think you could have been killed instead?”

“I didn’t stop to think,” Johnny answered.  “I was just hoping.”

“Hoping?” Lucas groaned as Johnny wiped at the wound.  “Hoping what?”

“For a miracle.  How’d you know about this place anyhow?” Johnny asked as the other two men stood guard at the mouth of the canyon.

“Remember those Greek lessons we were complaining about taking when we were in school?” Johnny nodded.  “Well, let’s just say I think they paid off.  One in particular just saved our lives.”  Johnny raised his eyebrows, but Lucas shook his head.  “How’s the shoulder?”

“The bullet just grazed it.  Doesn’t hurt nearly as bad as your head.”  Johnny looked toward the entrance.  “The rest of our regiment should be coming anytime now.”

Suddenly, they heard more gunshots.  “Got another one!” Jake declared.

Johnny grabbed Lucas and helped him sit down.  “They still outnumber us….” Lucas could feel himself getting dizzy.  He reached in his pocket and pulled out Laura’s special dollar.  He kissed it as he felt himself drifting off.

“We’ll be okay, Luke,” Johnny said as Luke’s eyes began to close.  “We’ll be okay!”

***
In time, Margaret stood and wiped her eyes.  She took Laura’s hand as Laura stood beside her.  “How are you feeling honey?” Jennifer asked.

“Better.  He’s in God’s hands now.  I don’t know what…” Suddenly, Margaret’s eyes focused on Jeremiah and Em as they stood with the rest of the family.  “Oh, I’m so sorry!” She started crying.  “I never meant to ruin your day!”

Jeremiah shook his head as he hurried forward.  “Don’t!” He put his hands on her shoulders.  “You had a bad feeling.  Laura had the same feeling.  This was more important than Em and I…” Jeremiah turned and put an arm around her shoulders.  “We have the rest of our lives together.  If our being here and praying for Luke saved his life, then I think we can both have a happier marriage.”  He turned and smiled into his bride’s eyes.

“I tried not to…” Margaret blushed, a bit embarrassed. “Oh, I don’t know what came over me.”

Ruth walked up to Margaret and put her hands on her shoulders then.  “Sometimes, God lays it on our hearts to pray for someone.  I don’t want to embarrass you, but maybe the wedding made it even harder…I mean, your visions of Luke lying hurt somewhere and watching his brother marry…wondering if maybe…” Ruth allowed her words to die.

“Margaret?” Laura smiled up at her.  “I feel a little better.  How do we find out if…”

She stopped as Aaron from the telegraph office came inside.  “I don’t mean to interrupt you, but this telegram just came for Abraham.”

“No!” Margaret gasped as Abraham walked forward and took the telegram.

Jennifer walked up to her daughter and put her arms around her shoulders. Jeremiah put his hands on his bride’s shoulders.  Laura clung to Emily.  The Gibbs brothers huddled around their father and Beth stood close by as Abraham slowly unfolded the telegram.

The family watched as Abraham’s eyes closed in regret and sadness at the words he had just read.

***
Johnny leaned his head against the wall of the canyon and closed his eyes.  He held Lucas’s head in his lap as darkness began to settle.  Lucas had moaned a bit but finally settled down.  “You think they’re still out there?” Ben Harness mumbled as they nervously stared through the bushes.

“I’m sure they’re there,” Johnny answered as he began wiping away some blood from his friend’s wound.  “They know we’re in here alone.  Where are we going to go?”

“I wish Benton would show up with the rest of the men!” Jake Stryker declared nervously.

Johnny bent down and studied the gash on Lucas’s head.  “I wish we could get Luke to the doctor.”

“And you,” Ben said.  “You took a shot for McCain.”

Suddenly, gunfire erupted.  Johnny slowly lowered Lucas’s head to the ground then crawled over to the other two.  “What is it?”  They didn’t answer.  They didn’t know what ‘it’ was.

“There’s only four Union bodies here!”  Johnny heard someone shout then.  “Where’s the rest of them?”

“I don’t know…” Johnny heard someone mumble softly.  The same voice spoke louder. “This is Captain Benton!  If you’re alive, show yourself!” he ordered.

Johnny turned his head to look at Lucas who mumbled as he slowly woke up.  He tried to sit up, but his head felt as if it was spinning, uncontrollably.  Lucas groaned as Johnny helped him to his feet.  “Harness, help me!” Johnny ordered.  Ben hurried over and grabbed Lucas by the arm.  “We’re here, Captain!” Johnny called.

Jake Stryker slowly walked from the canyon and back into the clearing.  Captain Benton turned toward the shadows.  “Privates, the torches!” he ordered.  He smiled when he saw four men come from hiding.  “What happened?”

“Well sir,” Jake answered for the group.  “There were about twenty of them.  They were waiting for us when we turned the corner over there.  We didn’t have much of a choice, sir.  The minute we left camp, we could feel their eyes on us.”

“You men alright?” Captain Benton asked then.  But he gasped when he realized Johnny and Ben were practically carrying Lucas.  Benton laid down his rifle and hurried forward.  “Men, make a travois!” Some of the men started scurrying around as Johnny and Ben slowly laid Lucas to the ground.

“He’s been shot!”  Deep worry lay on Johnny’s voice as he spoke.

“I’m all right!” Lucas declared as Captain Benton shined a light to look at the wound.  He started to sit up.

“Now, you just lay still!” the Captain ordered.  “We’ll take you back to the camp and have the doctor look at you.”

Lucas was getting used to this Captain’s peculiar way of caring for his troops like they were children.  Benton tried to explain to Lucas that he wanted to treat his troops like they were humans, not animals.  And when he went to the time of training them, he expected them in top shape.  “Let’s go men!” Benton shouted.

The travel back to camp was slow.  Lucas soon fell into a deep sleep as they roughly dragged him over the rocky field.  It took them two days of traveling to get back to the camp.  This was the first real skirmish they had been in and they were saddened over the men they had lost.

Benton and Johnny Drako had done their best to keep the wound cleaned out, but the doctor still had his work cut out for him by the time Lucas had come to him.  “Sir…” one of them men stopped in front of Benton and waited for permission to speak. He and another soldier had arrived later, having been left behind for burial detail.

Benton ran a hand across his forehead and sighed.  “What is it Private?”

“Total of six Union officers are dead!” the Private answered.  “One of them was the lieutenant.”

Benton sighed as he ran a hand through his hair.  “It’s hard finding good lieutenants!  I’m sorry we lost him.”

The doctor-or sawbones, as he was better known-came out of the tent as Benton started to pour some more coffee.  “How is he?” Benton asked.

“I need to cauterize the wound,” he answered.  “It’s superficial so he’ll be fine in a few days.  But since the wound happened two days ago, it’s infected.”

“He’ll have a scar?” Johnny asked.

“A small one maybe,” the doctor answered.  “That should be no concern of yours!  There’s a man over there badly wounded who’s leg I’ll have to cut off!  Just be happy your friend’s escaping with a little scar.”  The sawbones looked around at the men.  “I’ll need a couple of you to help hold him down while I cauterize it.  Any volunteers?”

Johnny looked around at the group.  “I saved his life once tonight.  I suppose I can do it again.”  He hurried into the tent.  Lucas was awake.  “You have to do things the hard way, don’t you boy?”  Johnny asked with a shake of his head.

The doctor began pouring some whisky for Lucas to drink.  Spirits were not allowed in the army camp, so if one needed a drink, he had to get himself shot up.  “I don’t need whisky!” Lucas declared.  “I need to get back to work!”

Johnny shook his head.  “He’s always been a stubborn cuss!” Johnny told the sawbones.  “But I hate to see good whisky go to waste.  I’ll take it.”

Johnny reached out for the glass.  “Private Drako!” Captain Benton yelled from the entrance.  “I’d hate to put you through a mess of drills for violating the rules of the camp!”

Johnny sighed as he shook his head.  “Well, if whiskey is only for those who got shot, reckon I qualify,”Johnny pointed to his shoulder.

Benton looked where Johnny was pointing and then raised an eye brow.

“Can’t blame a guy for trying, if I’m lucky it’ll be a long time before I see a good drink again.”  He took his position.  “Let’s get to it.”

The doctor took the small piece of hot iron from the fire.  He looked at the two privates ready to hold Lucas down.  “I’m sorry, son,” Sawbones said with a small shake of his head.  Sweat broke out on Lucas’s face as he bit on the stick in his mouth and watched the tool slowly make its way to his face.  He closed his eyes as he tried to think about his sweet Margaret and the kiss they had shared months ago.

Then when he felt the hot instrument touch his face, he let out a loud yell.

The men outside the tent knew when the small hot iron landed on Lucas’s cheek.  They could hear him scream from miles around.

***
Abraham sat down slowly and sighed heavily as everyone held their breath.  Grief covered his face.  He slowly looked around the circle of family gathered around him.  “It’s not Luke,” he mumbled as he stared at the telegram.  He looked up at Julie.  “Honey, I think you should sit down.”

“Why?  What is it?” Julie suddenly cried as her heart began to race.

With a heavy heart, Abraham patted the bench right beside him.  “Honey, come…sit…”

“No…” Julie shook her head.  “No!”  Her eyes grew wide.  She knew her brother was in the war.  He’d been in since the beginning.  Julie started to back up toward the door.

Abraham stood up and reached out to his wife.  She fought him, thinking if she just ran she wouldn’t have to hear the words.  “You can’t fight this, Julie,” Abraham said sternly.  “Now sit down here.”

Julie sat as tears filled her eyes.  She looked down at Sammy sleeping soundly in her arms.

“Ma” Abraham motioned toward Julie.

Ruth came and gently took the baby from Julie’s arms.  She held the baby tightly against her cheek as they all waited for the announcement.  Abraham took Julie’s hand and lifted the telegram up to read.

“The parents of Julie Johnson-McCain asked this telegram be sent to you.  They received it earlier today.  We regret to inform you that Private Caleb Johnson was killed in the line of duty on Tuesday, July 15.  The Army of the Confederacy wishes to express its deepest sympathies to you and your family.”

“NO!” Julie suddenly cried out as she slid from her seat and fell on her knees.  “Oh God, NO!”  She began crying as the news penetrated her mind.  She clutched her middle as Abraham sat down in front of her and took her in his arms.  Julie fought against him.  “It’s not true!  It’s not!” Her voice screamed bitterly.

“I’m sorry…” Abraham’s grieved voice answered.  “I’m so sorry…” Julie began weeping as she clung to her husband as if he were a lifeline.  “I’m sorry.”

Emily and Margaret both threw their hands to their mouths as tears began falling from their eyes.  The Gibbs and McCain families had received the first telegram.  It felt so real now as they watched Julie mourn for her brother.  “Caleb…” Julie whispered as she wept.  “Oh Caleb…”

“Oh, Julie!” Ruth cried as she sat down and put a hand on her daughter-in-law’s shoulder.  Abraham rocked his wife back and forth as she wept in her husband’s arms at the loss of her brother.

The day had started out joyously with the wedding of Jeremiah and Em.  But now as Jeremiah and Em looked at each other, they no longer felt like celebrating.  Jeremiah put an arm around Em’s shoulder.  “Let’s go home,” he said sadly.

He took Em’s arm and led her out to their buckboard all decorated and fancy.  Rice still lay on the seat from where it had been thrown earlier in the day.  Em stood beside the wagon.  Tears lay heavily on her cheeks.  Jeremiah put his hands on her shoulders.  “I…” Em swallowed.  “I just don’t think we can…” She turned and looked at her husband.  “I mean…my heart’s so heavy and you…”

Jeremiah nodded.  He brushed his fingers against her wet cheek.  “Tonight can wait.”  He turned back toward his family as they slowly began coming from the church.  Peter slowly walked up to him.  “We’re going home now.” Jeremiah said.  “Staying here any longer will make certain people think they’ve ruined our day.”  Peter nodded.  “Peter, our hearts are grieved with the rest of the family.  Em and I will be praying for the family tonight.”  Peter nodded as he patted Jeremiah on the shoulder.

Jeremiah helped Em into the wagon then lightly tapped the horses and left for home.

An eerie silence was over the family.  Laura walked quietly beside her mother as they made their way outside to leave the grieving couple alone.  Jennifer followed close behind with David in her arms.  Emily held Adam as she and Margaret started down the steps.

But that was as far as Margaret could go.  She sat down on the steps and clung to the rail.  She began crying.  “I can’t do that!  I just can’t!” she cried.  “I can’t sit there while Abraham or Pa reads those words to me!  I know I can’t!”

Emily handed the baby to Beth who quickly hurried away from the two.  She sat down and put her arms around her friend.  “Luke and Andy will be fine!” Emily cried.  “We won’t have to hear those words about either one of them!  They’ll both come back and tell us all their war stories!  I know they will, Margaret!” Emily laid her cheek against Margaret’s as they cried.

Margaret watched Jeremiah and Em slowly ride away toward their new home.  “If we ever get a telegram like that, I don’t know what I’ll do!  I’ll die!”  Margaret wiped tears from her cheek as she listened to Julie’s moaning filtering outside.  Margaret had always had so much faith.  For the first time, she found herself lacking it, and that scared her.  “Julie…” Margaret swallowed as more tears fell from her eyes.  “With the feelings I’ve had this morning and now…What if…” she swallowed.

“No!” Emily shouted.  “You’ve got to have faith, Margaret!  You’ve got to have faith!”

“You don’t know!”  Margaret cried.  “You don’t know the things I saw today…I…I don’t understand…I…” Margaret swallowed.  “What if we get a telegram tomorrow?  What if…” Margaret put her face in her hands and moaned.

“NO!” Emily shouted.  “Margaret, you cannot give up!  You can’t! Because I won’t let you!”

“I’m so worried!  I just feel it deep inside me that something isn’t right!” Margaret declared.  “Something…”

Scott hurried over to his sister and bent down in front of her.  “Let’s go home, sis,” he said softly.

Margaret grabbed Scott’s arms and stared into his eyes.  “Please…” she swallowed.  “Please tell me Andy and Luke are okay!  Please!”

Scott stared into his sister’s eyes.  He wanted so badly to tell her what she needed to hear, but he couldn’t do it.  Scott slowly shook his head.  “I can’t do that, Margaret.  You know I can’t.”  Margaret’s eyes grew wide.  “All I can say, sis, is…” Scott swallowed.  “…have faith.”

“Faith…” she mumbled.  “I can’t…I just…” Scott put an arm around her and lifted her to her feet.  “Come on, sis.  Let’s go home.”

They slowly walked down the steps.  They turned when the doors to the church opened.  Abraham supported Julie, practically carrying her down the steps and toward the wagon.  Ruth walked over to her son.  She laid a hand on his arm.  “We’ll keep the children until you come for them,” she mumbled softly.  Abraham nodded.  His heart was so grieved, watching his wife suffer the loss of her only brother.

Abraham helped Julie up onto the wagon seat.  Then he started around the wagon.  He paused at the back.  Margaret saw the pain in Abraham’s eyes.  “Damn war!” he cursed out loud as he punched the back of the wagon.  “Oh, this damn war!”

Julie heard the words and lowered her head, again weeping as Abraham slowly climbed up on the wagon seat.  “Let’s go home, honey,” he mumbled as they quietly pulled out of the church yard.

“Let’s go, sis,” Scott whispered as he helped her to their waiting wagon.  Margaret closed her eyes as more tears fell from her eyes.  She knew she wouldn’t get any sleep that night.

But Margaret wasn’t the only one who was losing faith.  Laura clung to her mother’s legs as she cried.  Julie’s brother had been killed today.  She knew that tomorrow it would be Luke.  She knew she’d never see her Luke again.  Ruth handed the baby in her arms to Samuel Gibbs who wasn’t exactly sure what to do with it.  Then she lowered herself and took Laura in her arms.  “Mama’s here, Laura.  Mama’s here.”

Laura wept in her mother’s arms as she clung to the silver dollar Luke had kissed before he left.

***
Lucas groaned as he slowly opened his eyes the next morning. He still clung to the silver dollar in his fist.  “Water,” he mumbled.  He opened his eyes to find himself alone in the tent.  “Hello?” he called.  Soon Johnny Drako appeared with his arm in a sling.

“What happened to you?” Lucas asked.

Johnny shook his head.  “Well, you must have gotten hit in the head harder than I thought!” Johnny declared.  “You don’t remember my jumping in front of you to take a bullet that would have gone into the back of your thick skull?”

“OH…” Lucas swallowed.  “Is it bad?”

“Sawbones just wants it in a sling for a few days.  I’ll be ready when the next battle comes.”

Lucas pressed the silver dollar to his lips before putting it back in his pocket.  “Andy…” Lucas swallowed.  “Is Andy…”

Johnny nodded.  “He’s fine, Luke.  He’s scared, but he’s fine.”

“Mm,” Lucas tried to sit up.  “He shouldn’t have come.”

“I know.”  Johnny sat down.

Lucas painfully sat up.  “What’s for breakfast?” he asked.

“Salt pork.  Have some good strong coffee.  I smashed the beans and made it myself,” Johnny declared.

“Alright.”  Lucas waited for Johnny to return with his food.  As Johnny sat with him, he asked, “Aren’t you doing drills today?”

“The other’s are,” Johnny answered.  “I’m off for the day.  Captain ordered me to take it easy.”  Johnny took a sip of his coffee.  “Uh…We lost Lieutenant Hayes.”

“When?” Lucas asked.

“When the rest of the regiment showed up the other night.  Two soldiers were killed.  One other soldier was shot in the leg.  The Sawbones cut his leg off last night.”  Johnny looked into his coffee cup.  “He’ll be going home tomorrow.”

Lucas closed his eyes in regret.  He felt bad for the wounded soldier.  “No one said this would be easy.”

There was silence as Johnny left Lucas to his thoughts.  Lucas reached in his pocket and took out Margaret’s letter.  He knew he’d read it hundreds of times before her next one came.  “I’m sorry you missed your brother’s wedding,” Johnny said softly.

Lucas sighed as he sat the empty plate down.  “Would you go to my tent and find my paper.  I want to write some letters today.  I’ll send my pay home to the family.”  Lucas laid his head back against the wall and sighed.  “I can do that much for them at least.”

“What do you mean by that?” Johnny asked.

Lucas lifted his head from the wall and looked at Johnny.  “Nothing.”

“Nothing?” Johnny leaned forward.  “McCain, are you losing faith?”

Lucas closed his eyes.  “I’m wondering if this was all…” He allowed the rest of his thoughts to die.

“It is all worth it, Luke!  It is!” Johnny declared passionately.  “Half of our country has separated from us.  When we were sitting in the Circle Q three months ago, you said that there was something deep inside you that made you know you were doing the right thing!  Are you doubting that now?”

“I’m doubting I’ll ever see my family again!” Luke screamed suddenly.  “I’m doubting that…” Luke turned his head and swallowed.  “Just go!”  He felt tears welling in his eyes and didn’t want his friend to see him cry.

“Alright, I’ll leave you be.”  Johnny stood.  “But if you think I’m not feeling lonely…if I’m not missing my own family…” Johnny rubbed a hand to his eyes.  “You’ve got to find a way to keep the faith, Luke!  If you want to live, you’ve got to!”

Lucas could feel the tears squeezing from his eyes as Johnny left the room.  He put the letter to his chest and cried.  He felt so very lonely.  He longed so much to see his family…to see home…to be in that barn being yelled by his brother…to be in Margaret’s arms.  Never in his life had he ever felt so faithless!

***

For the last three days, Margaret’s heart had been heavy.  After Abraham had received the telegram from the army, Margaret had felt herself withdrawing.  She had gone home and cried herself to sleep that night.  The next morning, her mother had brought in some warm milk to help settle her stomach, but Margaret felt so sick.  Jennifer sat down on the side of the bed and smoothed her hair back.  She looked into Margaret’s puffy, red eyes and said, “You can’t give up on Luke.  You must keep the faith.”

“Faith…” Margaret had mumbled as she looked away from her mother.  “That word has always been on my lips as passionately as anyone’s, but today…” Margaret closed her eyes and buried her face in her hands.

“Now, now…” Jennifer had lifted her daughter’s head.  She put her hands on Margaret’s face.  “You have always been one of the strongest, faithful people I’ve ever met!  Please don’t let that change now, my darling.”

Margaret slowly stood and walked across the room.  She stared out the window.  “You know what I was thinking about last night, Mama?”  Margaret paused for only a minute as she felt tears fill her eyes again.  “I was remembering back to when I was 14.  My first kiss happened right there.”  She pointed toward the corral on the edge of the yard.  “Lucas stopped me and it just happened.  Last night, I longed for…I prayed…to have that moment back!”  Margaret bit her lip to stop it’s trembling.  “I…” She lowered her head.  “I just don’t know if I’ll EVER feel that again.  Oh, if I had only known how much it would hurt I…”

“You would have begged him not to go?” Jennifer finished for her daughter.  She stood up and walked across the room.  Jennifer stood behind her daughter and laid her hands on her shoulders.  “You MUST have faith, my darling.  “You must!  There’s no other way to survive.”  Jennifer turned her daughter from the window.  “That’s why God didn’t show you how hard it would be.  Because God knew you would have begged him to stay.”

“I’ll worry…I’ll worry something awful until I hear him again!” Margaret declared.  “A day won’t go by that I won’t cry until I hear from him!”  Margaret turned away from her mother again.  “And Andy…sweet Andy…He’s so…” Margaret laid her forehead against the windowpane.  “Oh mother, how do you stand it?”

“I pray every night.  And I cry.”  Jennifer turned and walked toward the door.  “I think it’s best if you don’t go to Julie’s today.  Give her and Abraham a couple days to themselves.”

Margaret had finally wiped her eyes and gone about her day, but her heart was so heavy.

That had been two days ago.  Now she wiped her hands after drying the last dish.  Her mother had given her permission to go to Julie’s today.  But first she had to write a letter to Luke.  She had to tell him how she felt.

***

Dear Luke,

It is with a heavy heart that I write this latest letter.  I don’t know what to say, but my heart is so heavy.  I must hear from you soon!  I had this feeling on the day your brother got married that something was terribly wrong.  I’m afraid I ruined the happy moment for Jeremiah and Em, and I hope they can understand.  Luke, I…I’ve lost faith.

That’s hard for me to admit, but I want us to always be honest with each other.  I want to speak to you through my heart, and my heart wants you to know that I love you more than anything else on this earth.  I think about you all the time, but on that day, all I could see was your bloodied face as you lay on the ground.  Your eyes were closed and…Oh Luke, it put such fear in my heart!  I don’t know if I can live if…

After I prayed for you at the church, I felt better; but then Abraham received a telegram from the army.  Julie’s brother was killed the day before in battle and Julie was so distraught.  I began wondering what if it was you or Andy?  Could I survive?  Could I go on living?  Luke, please write to me and tell me your okay!  I need to hear from you!  I need to know!

Emily just stopped by.  She demanded I come into town with her and get a care package ready to send to you.  Your mother has some new socks and…I blush to even say it, it feels so inappropriate…but other things for you to wear underneath your clothes…Oh, and I’m sending you your favorite candy.  When you eat it, remember how we used to sit under a tree when we were kids eating it as we thought about our…

Emily asked me to wrap it up.  My heart’s so heavy, Luke.  Please…please stay safe so you can come home.

Margaret

Lucas closed his eyes as he slowly folded the letter.  He wondered if it was her prayers that saved his life that day.  But even more, he wondered how Margaret could lose her faith.  “Hey Luke, we’re about to play a game of baseball!” Andy hollered into his tent.  “Johnny’s team captain on the other team.  Who’s team you gonna be on?”

“I can’t right now.  I’ve a letter to write!” Luke shouted as he opened the paper and began writing a letter.

“But you’re the best player!  You have to play!” Andy shouted.

“I said I’m busy!” Luke shouted back.

There was a pause.  “Alright, Luke.”

***
That same day, hundreds of miles away, Margaret sat by the pond.  She looked out over the water as she kept her journal firmly on her lap.  She bent her head down and began writing on the very first page.

“Today I purchased this journal to put my thoughts in.  Julie suggested I do it.  She seems to think it would help restore my faith somehow.  I told her the words I wrote to Luke and how terrible I now feel about it.  Julie told me it was best not to write such deep sad things to Luke since his faith is probably wavering as well.  I want to have faith.  I just need to hear from Luke, to know he’s okay.

August has approached and I’ve still not heard a word.  Julie said he’s probably alive or we would have heard something by now.  They wasted no time in telling her about her brother, after all.

I’ve been thinking about this war lately and how Uncle Marcus wanted us to stay out of it.  I do understand because he knew the pain it would cause for the family, but after a lot of soul searching, I’ve come to the realization that Luke is right.  He’s where he should be.  If I had begged him to stay I would have forced him to live with the guilt when his friends didn’t come back…or when something even worse had happened.

So today, I…

“Margaret?” Margaret looked up to see Scott.  He sat down beside her on the bank.  “What are you writing?”

“It’s a journal,” Margaret answered as she closed it.  “Julie suggested I get one to write my thoughts in so I won’t write such horrible things to Luke.”  Margaret lowered her head.  “I…miss him so much, Scott.  I miss both him and Andy, and I’m feeling sort of guilty.”

“Guilty?” Scott asked as he raised his eyebrows.

Margaret nodded.  “Ever since Luke and Andy left for the war, I…I’ve focused my worry and concern more on Luke then on Andy.  I…”

Scott smiled.  “That’s because Luke is the man you’re going to marry someday.  Everyone knows you’re worried.  Nobody blames you.”

“I know.”

Scott cleared his throat.  “How…would you feel if I brought you some good news?”  Scott raised his eyebrows at his sister again.  “Would I…maybe…be the best brother in the whole world?”

Margaret’s eyes widened as a smile spread across her face.  She grasped Scott’s hands.  “Have you?  Have you brought good news?”

“Luke’s alive, honey.  At least he was when this letter was mailed.”  He pulled the letter from his pocket.

“Ohhhh!” Margaret suddenly squealed as she threw her arms around her brother.  “Oh, I’m so relieved!”

Scott laughed as he hugged her.  “You haven’t read it yet!  Maybe he’s called you and old goat and wants you to move to Africa!”

“As long as he’s there, I’ll go!” Margaret declared as she stared tearing the envelope open.  “How about Andy?”

Scott smiled.  “We got a letter from Andy as well.  But…somehow I felt you wanted to read Luke’s first.  Mother has Andy’s letter at home.”

Margaret giggled excitedly as she started to remove the paper from the envelope.  She suddenly realized Scott was still sitting there.  “Do you mind?” She asked impatiently.

“What?”  Margaret narrowed her eyes at him.  “Oh!  Right!  You want to be alone!”  Scott stood up.  He started to walk away, but he turned.  “Margaret?” Margaret looked up from the letter. “I’m glad you heard from him.”  Margaret nodded.

***
My dearest Margaret,

I’m thinking about you as I write this letter.  Oh, now that’s a silly thing to say!  Who else would I be thinking about when writing to you.  Except maybe Christy Peterson who always made the best strawberry pie for me!  Oh, I can just see your face now, and it’s beautiful.

The truth is, I’m a bit homesick.  Okay, I’m really homesick and I’ve lost my faith.  We’ll be going to church tomorrow and maybe it can be restored somehow, but hearing from you will help restore it immensely.  There are some days when I just feel so lost and alone and this is one of those days.  I guess I’m just feeling sorry for myself, but I just feel so lost.

Something happened Wednesday, the day you said my brother was supposed to get married.  I won’t go into the details, but Johnny and I found ourselves in a very dangerous situation.  We had a surprise attack and half of the men died (there were only 8 on the patrol).  I was hurt, just a little scratch on the head, but I’m afraid that I’ll have a scar.  Can you live with that?  Johnny Drako saved my life.  He acts rough and tough sometimes, but you couldn’t ask for a better friend.  He took a bullet in the shoulder for me, Margaret.  I’ve never been so grateful.  I owe him a lot, and hope that someday I can repay him.

You may think I don’t have much time for letter writing, but we don’t spend that much time fighting in the war.  Most of it is working on drills, and we do that six days a week about five hours a day.  The rest of it is free time.  We pass the time by playing baseball, checkers, and cards.  Now, before you get your dander up, Margaret, I assure you that no money exchanges hands.  The Captain has a strict policy, and he said that gambling just leads to trouble.  It’s all done in fun.

And something else that will make you feel better is knowing that the cooking we eat here is nothing like what you and Ma fix for me.  For breakfast, we get a little salt pork.  If we’re really lucky, we get some eggs every once in a while.  Sometimes we go hunting and once in a while we even find some meat, but the game seems to be pretty scarce where we’re at right now.  Usually we eat baked beans and dried up biscuits.

Most of us go to church on Sunday.  One thing we have here is a parson, and he can deliver a fiery sermon that doesn’t always leave us feeling good at the end.  You’d be amazed at how many men out here find religion.  Even Johnny Drako attends the services on Sunday.  I even saw him praying last Sunday.  You see, Margaret, army camp life is rough but we find ourselves lonely and crying for home a lot as well.  There are some evenings after mail call that men hurry to their tents and we just read our letters over and over and over…

I’m glad my family’s keeping you busy.  I wish I could have been there to see the look on Abraham’s face when he found out Julie had triplets!  Oh, I can just picture him carrying a child on each hip while the other one chokes him!  I can’t think of a better person that could have happened to!  Just writing these things to you makes me feel better.

I am also very glad to hear that you got to help with the apple harvest again this year.  I’m sure that was a joy remembering back to the year before.  Would it have helped if I mentioned to my father and Abe that the apple tree incident was purely accidental?  YOU are the one who chose to climb that tree, after all.  I wanted to spank you myself when I found you up there!  So the fact that you landed on my shoulders and your dress got torn was no fault of mine, but then I suppose ever convincing Abe or…Funny, I started to mention Pa, but…I guess I’ll have to see it to believe he’s really gone.

Oh, before I close I thought I should tell you one more thing.  After I recovered from my battle wounds, Captain Benton called me to his quarters.  The Captain isn’t anything like I imagined a captain should be.  Oh, he’s rough and tough alright, but he’s becoming a good friend.  He treats us like humans and really cares about our health and our emotions.  He talks to us all the time, and I’ve even seen him read his Bible every now and then.  Anyways, our lieutenant was killed in the scrimmage.  The Captain said one day I had the makings of a fine lieutenant, but I’d have to earn the rank.  Guess I’m on my way, because of the events that Johnny and the others reported, he promoted me to corporal.  Did you hear that, Margaret?  The Captain said me, wild, irresponsible Lucas McCain, would make a good lieutenant.  My promotion means I would be getting a little more pay – not much, but then I’m not in this war for the money.  I accepted with honor.

I love you.

Lucas

***

Margaret read the words over and over as tears fell from her eyes and onto the letter.  “Lucas…” she whispered.  “Oh Lucas, I love you.”

“Margaret?” Margaret looked up to see Emily.  She sat down beside her friend.  “You heard from Lucas?”  Margaret nodded as tears flowed from her cheeks.  “So did we.  Did he tell you the news?”

Margaret bit her lip as she wiped the tears from her cheeks.  “Oh, about making Corporal?”

“I’m proud of him.”  Emily smiled.  “But that’s not the news I was talking about.  “Did he tell you what happened on the day of Jeremiah’s wedding?”

Margaret nodded.  “It’s amazing isn’t it?  He’s so far away, yet I could still sense that something was wrong.”

“I just picture Luke laying there all bloodied up as Johnny drags him to safety.  I shudder to think just an inch closer and…” Emily stopped when she saw the fear in her friend’s eyes.  “I thought….I thought he told you.”

Margaret slowly shook her head from side to side.  “He…He told me that there was an attack and that he just got a little scratch on the head!”  Emily threw a hand to her mouth.  “Just a scratch…that’s what he said!” Margaret’s voice became frantic.  “Emily, what are you saying?”

“Margaret, Luke was shot.  A bullet grazed the side of his face.  He…” Emily closed her eyes in regret.  “Oh, I’m afraid I stuck my foot in my mouth!”

“He was shot?” Margaret gasped.  “Lucas was…shot?”

“But he’s okay!” Emily declared.  “I’m sure he didn’t want you to know.  Oh…please don’t tell him I told you!”

Margaret shook her head as her eyes filled up with tears.  “That day…” Margaret swallowed.  “That day in the church I saw his bloodied face.  Your telling me that was…was…”

“Margaret, he’s okay now!  He’s okay!” Emily declared as she grabbed her friend by the shoulders and stared into her moist eyes.

“What about next time, Emily?” Margaret asked.  “Will he be okay next time?”  Emily pulled Margaret into an embrace as she cried.  When Margaret was done, she lifted from her friend’s shoulder and wiped her eyes.

“How’s your faith?”  Emily asked softly.  “I mean…you’ve heard from Luke.  You know he and Andy are okay.”

“My faith…” Margaret whispered.  She gave a short laugh.  “You know…” Margaret squeezed the letter in her hand, hoping it would give her the strength she’d need.  “My mother told me I’ve always been one of the most faithful people she knew.  I hold close to my God and His ways.  I hold close to what the Bible says.  I believe in everything I’ve always been taught, and I believe in Luke.”  Margaret lifted her head.  “I even believe in what he’s doing for our country but…” She stopped.

“But…”

“But the truth is, I won’t rest.  My heart or faith won’t be fully restored until both my brother and Luke come back and stand here in front of me.  I feel like a doubting Thomas.  A letter will never convince me either my brother or my…” Margaret swallowed as a tear ran down her cheek.  “..or Luke are alive and well.  I must touch them as they stand in front of me before I’ll believe.”  Margaret clasped the letter.  “The letters won’t restore my faith.  They’ll give me a thin rope to hold on to, but they won’t restore my faith.  I’m sorry.”

Both women sat on the bank looking at each other.  Life around them went on as if nothing had changed.  The bird continued to fly in the sky and care for its family.  The fish continued to come to the surface of the water to get a bite to eat.  And the trees continued to grow.  But Margaret’s life had changed forever.  She would never be the same again.

But still, even though her faith was wavering, Margaret couldn’t help but think to herself, “I’m going to marry him someday.”

The Years Before — School Days

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

The Writer's Corner
Table of Contents

Site Map
around The McCain Ranch