The Rifleman
Welcome to The Writer's Corner
Fan Fiction

The Years Before
 
Chapter 13 - Leaving Gettysburg Behind
Written by Michelle Palmer

Pennsylvania, June 31, 1863
 
“Private Andrews…Private Saunders, you’ve got night watch!” Lucas announced to two of the men under his command, sitting at the camp fire. He watched them leave then sat down by the fire and pulled a cigar from his pocket. Some of the other soldiers sat around staring into the fire wondering when they would be able to go home. They hadn’t been involved in any fighting since Chancellorsville, and Lucas had to admit he was happy about that. The battle had been an unsettling event on their emotions. They’d watched some fellow soldiers die while other soldiers lost an arm or a leg. The loss had been great and costly. Most importantly, they’d lost the battle.
 
Johnny Drako looked up as he took a long puff off his cigar. He and Lucas locked eyes.   It took Johnny only a second to figure out what his friend’s thoughts were about. “You’re thinking about it again.”
 
“About what?” Lucas asked as he looked down into the fire.
 
“Chancellorsville. You’re remembering back. Captain Benton told us to look forward – not back.”
 
Lucas gave a slight nod. “I know.” He quietly took another long puff off his cigar as silence settled around them. All the men stood and went to their tents to settle for the night. Only Johnny and Lucas remained. “I was thinking about Andy and…A few years ago at school…We decided to play hooky one day. You remember? We went fishing all day instead…just needed a break from the ‘real world.’”
 
Johnny chuckled. “I remember Margaret being angry with you. The next day at school, she put those hands of hers on her hips and declared that Andy told her all about our adventures the day before. Seems to me that gal gave you quite the tongue lashing!”
 
“Yeah. Her father overheard and told my father.” Lucas rubbed his backside. “I still remember that whipping.” Lucas sobered as he looked back into the fire. “Have you ever wanted to escape from reality? Just once? Don’t you wish you could just stand up and…walk off into those woods – go home for a few days and pretend life was normal?”
 
“We can’t, Luke.” Johnny took a long puff off his cigar. “Thinking on it will only make you crazy.”
 
“I know,” Lucas said with a nod. “But…” Lucas sighed. “Oh, I don’t know…I think about Andy and all the other soldiers who have died for…I’ve been here so long that I’ve forgotten what we’re fighting for. Why are we doing this?”
 
“For freedom, Luke. We’re fighting for freedom. We want the slaves to be free – to live like human beings instead of like animals. We want the country our fathers built so long ago to be reunited. We want America back as one…not as a divided nation.”
 
“Yeah…seems I remember wanting those things at one time but…Sometimes I wonder if…” He felt guilty just thinking about it. Lucas threw his cigar in the fire as his mind focused on something else. For some reason he felt so unsettled that night and his mind raced to figure out just what made him feel this way. “Johnny…can I ask you a question? Just between the two of us?” Johnny nodded silently. “Have you ever….killed a man? I mean killed a man and know you’ve killed a man?”
 
“I saved your life, remember?” Johnny raised his eyebrows and pointed to the scar on Lucas’ cheek. “But there was another time before that…a time I never told you about.”
 
“Oh?” Lucas lifted his head and saw Johnny lower his. “Tell me about it.”
 
“My father and I rode to Oklahoma City one day when I was 16. Remember that? Well…there was this man…a gunfighter...He saw me wearing guns and knew I was just a kid, but for some…they don’t care. If you’re old enough to wear guns, you’re old enough to…Well, he decided to have some fun with me. I didn’t like it – but he didn’t give me much choice. He drew first but…all those shooting contests us boys had engaged in over the years paid off and I was faster. He died.”
 
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Lucas asked quietly.
 
“I don’t know…I wasn’t sure what you’d think of me…killing a man at 16.” Johnny grew quiet. He watched Lucas stare into the fire, deep in thought. “Have you?”
 
“Have I what?”
 
“Killed a man? Have you killed a man and knew with certainty you had done it?”
 
“I don’t know.” Lucas looked up and stared at Johnny. “I’ve fired toward the enemy many, many times. I’ve watched men fall, but…I don’t know if I actually…” Lucas closed his eyes. “How does it feel? To kill a man…To take a man’s life and know you were solely responsible for it?”
 
“Luke…” Johnny threw his cigar into the fire. “Don’t. Just…don’t think about it. I’ll admit that this conversation is scaring me because I remember a similar conversation around the camp fire. I don’t want you to end up like Andy. I want you to live, man.”
 
“Yeah.” Lucas stood up.
 
“Where are you going?” Johnny suddenly asked.
 
“To bed.” Lucas patted Johnny on the shoulder. “My heart feels very heavy tonight. I need to read something.”
 
Lucas saw the First Lieutenant and saluted him as the Lieutenant made his way to the Captain’s tent. He had no idea at the time, but they were discussing a very important matter. It was a matter of life and death.
 
As he lay down on his cot, he pulled out the Bible Margaret had sent him. He reread the passages she had underlined with a pencil. He had many of the lines memorized and knew she was praying for him. She felt so close tonight. He knew she was praying. When he felt a bit of peace fall over him, he closed his Bible and lay quietly on the cot.
 
 After a few minutes of silence, praying to God, Lucas slowly pulled the unopened envelope from his pocket. He ran a finger over the fancy handwriting on the envelope. The curves and swirls in each letter reminded him of all the times he would watch Margaret write in school. She held such intense concentration as she carefully wrote out each letter. He could picture her sitting at her desk, the lamp light turned low, carefully writing each letter as she thought of him. It brought a warm feeling to his heart.
 
Then slowly, he opened the letter and started reading.
 
My Dear Lucas,
 
This is a hard summer indeed. Not only did Julie lose her baby; but we also had to watch every blade of grass, every leaf on the tree, and every precious crop as it slowly disappeared by the gnawing of the locusts that came to visit us one day. The mere sight of it was more than I could bear. I remembered the last bout with Locusts we had. It almost killed Enid, and now it’s happening again. Families are moving away. My good friend, Claire Wheatley, announced today that her folks were leaving. She has no choice but to go.
 
Ann and Hal were to be married, but Hal can no longer provide a home for Ann. Ann’s heartbroken that Hal won’t marry her right now. He told her that until he could provide for his family, he cannot possibly marry her. He is heartsick that he can no longer join the army since he lost his toes in the blizzard. He’s going away for a time to find work. He promised Ann they’d marry upon his return.
 
Julie is recovering. She smiles when she’s around Em and Tiffany, but I can’t miss seeing the pain in her eyes. Oh, I know it’s hard for her to watch…especially Em since Em conceived the same time Julie did. Julie watches Em carefully, and I know the weeks will be painful. But she’s strong. I’m still helping out at her house every afternoon.  Abraham was planning on building additional rooms for his sons, but now he says he’ll have to wait until things get better. Your brother certainly is stubborn!
 
Your family almost lost everything the last time, but this time Abraham said you should be able to keep your head above water. Your father set some money aside for such an emergency. And…well, things will be tough, but…
 
As for my family…well, we haven’t seen Pa since the beginning of June. The hoppers did quite a job on our crops as well, but our cattle fared out of it. We’ll have to deplete some of our funds to buy food for the cattle until the grass grows, and it has been a moist year so it shouldn’t be too long. But the emotional turmoil on top of everything else is almost unbearable.
 
Lucas, I’m feeling unsettled again. I worry about you and the war. I can’t help but to feel that…Oh, never mind, Dear, just…be careful. Please remember you’re in my every thought.
 
I best close for now. I must help Beth and Mother with the chores before I go to town.
 
Take care, my love.
 
Margaret.
 
Lucas read the letter three or four times, still trying to let the words sink in. His family needed him right now. Oh, if only he could get away and go home to be with his family! They needed him so bad right now. Lucas lay back on his pillow and closed his eyes, happy they at least had his army pay to help them through these hard times.
 
He had only slept for a couple hours when he woke with a start. Something didn’t feel right. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but his heart laid a burden on him. As he sat up on the side of his cot, he knew he had to write Margaret a letter.
 
He lit the candle in his tent and got out paper and a pencil. Then he wrote the letter.
 
My Sweet Margaret,
 
The last thing I ever want to do, honey, is cause you any more worry or pain but…My heart is heavy tonight. I can sense something in the air. Perhaps it’s a feeling or maybe they are out there watching us somewhere…just waiting to attack. There’s something I must tell you.
 
Margaret, I know I’ve told you I loved you but…I don’t think I ever told you just how much. Someday I want to marry you. I can’t ask you right now, it wouldn’t be fair to you. I can’t guarantee you I’ll ever come home from this war. I’m sorry, but the longer I’m here, the more I believe. If I do come home, I want to marry you. I want to make you my wife.
 
My Darling, my heart is so unsettled. It’s one in the morning and I’m sitting here in my tent writing you a letter instead of sleeping. I just feel something…something so powerful inside me. I don’t know what it is. But I know one thing for sure: I had to tell you just how much I love you!
 
Margaret, when I get home, the first thing I want to do is take you in my arms and kiss you. I long to taste the sweetness your lips possess…Oh, listen to me! The more I’m away, the more I start sounding like a love-sick girl! Just know, Margaret, that when I look into your eyes, they’ll be a kiss waiting for you. I’m not talking about a friendship kiss, either. No…I’m talking about a long, slow kiss…the kind that maybe I’ll get slapped for, and rightly so…but at least let me get the kiss before you slap me.
 
No, honestly Margaret, I’ll try to be a gentleman! Well, I must go to sleep now. Take care.
 
I love you very much. My life seems so…empty without you here.
 
Lucas McCain
 
***
July 1, 1863
 
They were eating breakfast the next morning. The soldiers were all unnecessarily quiet as they gathered around the table. Conversation was light, but there was something in the air that made Lucas shudder. “Something’s happening,” Lucas mumbled in Johnny’s ear. “I can feel it.” He wasn’t sure what it was, but when he looked at the Captain, he knew something was wrong…very wrong. He saw the Captain nod his head. Then the bugler made the battle cry. “The Cavalry’s attacking! Let’s go!” Captain Benton declared.
 
Every man dropped their plates and ran to their mounted horses. Those who had horses jumped in the saddle and got in line as they rode out. The other men ran alongside the horses, holding their guns and shouting the battle cry. Wagons holding cannons rolled along as well. There was a strong feeling of dread in the air. Lucas knew this was big – very big! He felt dread slowly sink deep into his gut.
 
The Cavalry soldier in the front held up the United States flag as the bugler played the battle song. All the way to the battlefield, Lucas’s heart pumped hard. He rode beside his men and encouraged them as they rode. Sounds of gunfire could be heard in the distance.
 
Then they were there.
 
Lucas grabbed his rifle. He didn’t have time to think or pray. He just had time to duck as a bullet whizzed past his head.
 
They fought that whole day. There was so much fire and smoke that Lucas could hardly see. He assisted the men with the cannons at times, loading the gunpowder then standing back as the cannon took aim and fired. Through the smoke he could see men fall, but they were like toy soldiers on tin cans being knocked over. It seemed surreal.
 
 At other times, Lucas fired shots while shouting orders to his men. He watched several men fall. Among them were the two solders he had sent out as watchmen the night before. When he saw them fall, he bent over to check them. He closed his eyes in weariness when he realized they were dead. “God have mercy on your souls,” he breathed.
 
Chancellorsville was bad, but this was turning out to be worse. As nightfall came and the gunfire died down for the night, Lucas knew that as soon as the sun came up, the shooting would begin again. There was no rest for the men as they heavily stood guard over the battlefield.
 
Day two found more of the same. Lucas watched more of his men fall. How much more could he bear? How much more did he have to take before they killed him?
 
Day three found him exhausted. The men were slowing down. So many bodies lay on the battlefield. It looked more like a graveyard of unburied corpses than like a battlefield, but the firing went on. The General in charge ordered the Union Soldiers to get into a line and start pushing forward. It was time, he said, for this battle to end. They were not to stop until the battle was over.
 
Lucas was terrified. He felt sweat break across his face as he held his rifle bayonet ready – ready to use if the opportunity arose. The solders marched toward the Rebels. Lucas was sick with fear as he looked at the men who stood across from him. Cannons sounded all around them yet they marched slowly. The closer he got to the enemy line, the more afraid he became. “Just stay calm,” Lucas heard Johnny speak closely beside him. “We can live through this. It’ll be over soon.”
 
Suddenly, shouts rang out. The line broke and chaos erupted. Sounds of screams as men were stabbed with bayonets and shot with rifles all around him sounded. Men from both sides were falling. Lucas found himself tripping over downed soldiers – some alive, some dead. Shouts and cries sounded as Lucas crawled his way toward the enemy. A fear like he’d never felt before made his entire body shake. He gasped breaths of air wondering if it would hurt to die.
 
Lucas saw one of the Rebels running toward a ravine. He stood and took off after him. The Rebel ran into the woods. Lucas’s heart beat hard as he came to the realization that he and this rebel were now isolated. It was just the two of them running. The man was running deeper…deeper into the woods as Lucas chased after him desperately.
 
Johnny paused in shooting his rifle to reload when he saw Lucas hurry away after the man. “Lucas!” Johnny called. But Lucas chased the man until he could take good aim.
 
They found themselves in a canyon. Just the two of them were there. The young man turned around. His eyes grew wide when he came face-to-face with Lucas. They both hesitated. They both clinched their rifles in their hands, but their eyes locked on each other.  The look Lucas saw in the young man’s eyes was haunting. In that moment of hesitation, Lucas saw a young man just like him. He watched as the young man slowly lifted his rifle. Lucas slowly lifted his own. Terror went all through him.
 
The young man hesitated. He’d had time to lunge at Lucas, but he didn’t.
 
But Lucas did. He lifted the bayonet and lunged forward. The soldier screamed in pain as the bayonet ripped through his middle. The scream did something to Lucas deep inside. He felt the pain of the bayonet himself and wanted the pain to go away. He lunged again.
 
Lucas screamed.
 
The soldier screamed and fell to the ground.
 
In mere seconds, Lucas was looking down at the young man as he lay dying.   The young man, with blood trickling from the corner of his mouth, lifted his hand up as he lay on his stomach. He gurgled, choking on his own blood. His head lifted from the ground and he tried to say something. But he died.
 
Lucas’s eyes grew wide as he allowed a gasp to escape his throat. He had watched a man die painfully. He’d heard the man’s screams. He’d felt the man’s pain. The look in the man’s eyes had been one similar to another pair of eyes he’d seen.
 
Andy.
 
“Cease fire!” he heard General Meade shout. Lucas heard silence. But around him, a fury of activity was happening. The remaining Rebel soldiers hurried back to their side of the line. General Meade shouted out orders to the Captains. The Captains shouted out orders to the Lieutenants. The trumpeter began playing taps as he walked among the dead.
 
But for Lucas, there was only silence.
 
Lucas stared at the young Rebel soldier now dead at his feet – dead because of the fear and cowardness that had overcome him – dead because Lucas McCain had stabbed him in the gut: not once, but twice. Lucas felt his hand suddenly weaken, and his rifle slipped from his hand and dropped to the ground. Then Lucas slowly lifted his shaking hands in front of his face and stared at them. Reality was marred with imagination and pure horror of what he had done, and he saw red. Tears filled his eyes as he dropped to his knees. In his mind, he saw blood on his hands.
 
Lucas heaved. He felt sick to his stomach at the sight he had caused. Never had he ever imagined he was capable of doing such a thing – not even in war. He began shaking harder as he continued heaving until he could heave no more. His sides ached from heaving.
 
“Oh God…” Lucas wept as he stared at the body in front of him. “What have I done?” Lucas’ shaking hands covered his face as he sobbed uncontrollably. “What have I done?”
 
“Lucas!” Johnny hurried up to him. He fell to his knees beside Lucas, afraid his friend had been injured. “Are you okay? Are you…” Johnny relaxed when he realized Lucas wasn’t hurt. “It’s over! The Battle’s over. We won.”
 
But it wasn’t over for Lucas. For him, the worst part of the battle had just begun. Lucas lifted his head and turned to stare at Johnny. The image that met Johnny’s eyes made him suck in his breath. Johnny had seen Lucas cry before when they were children, and when Andy had died; but never…ever like this! He wasn’t just crying. He was…broken. “Luke…Lucas!”
 
“I did it…” Lucas swallowed hard, choking on his words. “I killed a man…I…” He turned and stared down at the body of the young man he had just killed.
 
“Lucas, come on, you’ve got to count your men and report to the Lieutenant.”
 
Lucas shook his head and held his hand up. He stared at them as if they weren’t his own. “I…” Lucas swallowed hard. “I can’t…” He bent down and turned the rebel soldier over. He looked down into the man’s face. His eyes stared blankly at Lucas. There was no life in them, but the look of death was unmistakable. “He was just a kid like me…So young…” Lucas continued to stare at the man’s face. He finally allowed his eyes to travel down the man’s body. But his eyes suddenly froze on the Rebel’s left hand. “A wedding ring…” His finger shook as he pointed at it. “Oh GOD help me…I just killed someone’s husband!”
 
“Lucas!” Johnny grabbed him by the shoulders and tried to pull him out of the despair and back to reality, but Lucas shook his hands off. “Come on, Luke! Don’t do this! You’ve got to walk away from this now!”
 
Lucas shot his head around and glared at Johnny. “Why? Because that’s what you did? Because you could just shoot a man and walk away without giving it another thought?”
 
“That’s not fair, Luke!” Johnny shouted. “This is war! You killed him because that’s what you do in war! You think you got your stripes by playing nice? No! You got your stripes because you’ve killed before! You’ve killed to save yourself…just like I did that day, and it hurts! It hurts like hell, but you had to do it!”
 
“No…” Lucas whispered as he shook his head. “No. I didn’t have to do it.” Lucas swallowed as tears fell freely down his face. He stared into the dead man’s face again. “I didn’t have to…”
 
He’s not sure what made him do it…why he didn’t just get up and walk away…But Lucas searched the Rebel’s pockets and paused when he felt something. He turned and looked at Johnny as Johnny shook his head. Lucas slowly pulled the contents from the pocket of the downed soldier. He found a letter, some papers with writing on them, and a photograph. His hands froze as he turned and looked at Johnny. Johnny stared at the contents in his hands. “Don’t, Luke. Don’t.” Johnny’s voice was quiet, but his words were loud and clear.
 
Lucas slowly lifted his hands to look at the picture. Johnny reached out to grab Lucas’ hands. “Luke, you do this and you’ll never be able to walk away from this. Don’t do this…please!”
 
“Let go of me!” Lucas demanded through clinched teeth. “Let go of me NOW!”
 
Johnny saw something in Luke’s eyes that he’d never seen before. He slowly released Luke’s hands. “Lucas…I won’t fight you, but I’m telling you…you get personally involved with this and you will never be the same again! This will torment you. You will have to live every day the rest of your life with what you think you have done. DON’T…DO…THIS…”
 
Lucas slowly turned over the photograph. He allowed his eyes to focus on what he held in his hand. The truth hit him like a thousand bullets striking his chest. “Oh God…” he breathed a prayer as he stared at the picture. “Oh no…oh no…” For what he was staring at was worse than he imagined. Because that day, he had chosen to not only kill a soldier and a husband, he’d also chosen to kill a father.
 
“Sergeant McCain!” Captain Benton suddenly shouted from behind him. “I need a count of your men! NOW!” He bent over and grabbed Lucas by the arm, jerking him up onto his feet. “I’ve given you an order!”
 
Lucas stared down at the picture and letter. Then he turned and looked at the dead soldier. “Why, Captain?” Lucas suddenly asked. “Why are we being forced to kill husbands and fathers…men who are mere boys like me…every man we kill has a family, and that family has to grieve for their loss. And who is responsible for this? Who? You…me…every soldier – a husband, a father, a son…”
 
Some of the roughness left Captain Benton’s eyes. “You shouldn’t have done this, Sergeant. You should have walked away.”
 
“I just KILLED a man!” Lucas turned and looked at Johnny. “I…killed a man and all you can do is stand there and tell me that I shouldn’t…” Lucas stopped speaking. He shook his head. “I don’t believe this. Don’t get personal? Don’t get involved? I killed a man and all you can think about is that he’s one less rebel we have to deal with.” Lucas jabbed the photo in the Captain’s face. “This, Captain Benton…THIS is what I killed! Take a good look. Aren’t you glad there’s one less of HIM in the world?” He bent over, picked up his bloodied rifle, and walked away.
 
Johnny watched Lucas walk away. He slowly shook his head. “I tried to warn him not to do it, Captain.”
 
“He’s a good soldier, Drako…a real good soldier…but he’s young and he cares. He has a big heart.” Captain Benton turned and looked down at the solder now laying dead. “You never get the image of the first man you killed out of your head. If you do…God help you.”
 
Johnny watched the Captain walk away. He looked down at the solder Lucas had killed in the last moments of the battle. He couldn’t remember what the first man he killed looked like…he couldn’t remember the second or third either…what did that make him? What would he become?
 
***
 
“Sergeant McCain!” Lieutenant Scott was stooped over the fire. He slowly stood and looked up at Lucas. “I’ve been waiting for you.”
 
“Yes sir!” Lucas saluted him. “I’ve come with my report on my men.”
 
“Mm hm…” Lieutenant Scott nodded. “First Lieutenant is dead. You were supposed to have your numbers into Sergeant Montgomery fifteen minutes ago.” Lucas said nothing. Lieutenant Scott put his hands on his hips. “Is there something wrong with your mouth, Sergeant?”
 
“No.” Lucas lowered his eyes and looked into Lieutenant Scott’s. “But I don’t appreciate your speaking to me that way, sir. I’ve busted my…”
 
“You busted your…” Lieutenant straightened up. He was several inches shorter than the 6’5” tall Lucas McCain. “Are you forgetting your rank…SERGEANT?”
 
“I arrived here with 21 men, sir. Seven are dead. Two wounded.” Lucas averted his eyes from the Lieutenant.
 
“Mm hm.” Lieutenant Scott nodded. “And do you have the names of the men you lost?”
 
“I do, sir,” Lucas answered, still not looking at the Lieutenant.
 
“May I ask, McCain, why it took you so long to get these number to me?”
 
Lucas cleared his throat. “I’d rather not discuss it, sir.”
 
“You’d rather not…” Lieutenant Scott shoved a finger in Lucas’s face. “Now, you listen to me, you…”
 
“Lieutenant!” Captain Benton walked up to the two. He glared at the Lieutenant then turned to glare at Lucas. “I’ll handle this.” He waited for Lieutenant Scott to walk away, then he turned toward Lucas. “Why’d you do it, McCain? WHY?”
 
“I don’t know,” Lucas mumbled. He averted his eyes from the Captain as he thought about it. Suddenly, he turned and looked Captain Benton in the eye. “He’s the first man I killed, sir. He was afraid…he hesitated. I looked him in the eye. I saw death in his eye. I knew he couldn’t kill me, but I killed him!” Lucas felt his eyes moisten just thinking about it. “What kind of a monster…am I?”
 
Captain Benton shook his head. “You aren’t a monster. You are a soldier in the army. You are fighting the Civil War. He was a Rebel – the enemy.”
 
“He was a man!” Lucas shouted angrily.
 
“No! He was a rebel! He was fighting against us in the battle. He was just a rebel!”
 
Lucas again held up the picture he’d taken off the dead soldier. “No sir.” He pointed to the man in the picture. “He was a husband…a father! He had the life I want! His name was…”
 
“McCain, don’t!” Captain Benton warned.
 
Lucas ignored him and looked at the envelope. “…Simon Lee.”
 
“Luke…” Captain Benton breathed out. “Luke…you…”
 
“Permission to be dismissed, sir.”
 
“We should talk about this. Come to my quarters.”
 
Lucas closed his eyes and clinched his jaw. “PERMISSION TO LEAVE, SIR!” Lucas said a bit more forceful.
 
Captain Benton nodded. “Permission granted. Sergeant, men are on burial detail. I think you should join them.”
 
Lucas had turned to go to his tent. His shoulders straightened. “Must I?” The last thing he wanted to do was go back to that place where he’d turned from a young man to a beast.
 
“It’s your job, Sergeant, so yes..you must.” Captain Benton looked down at the paper in his hands. “And we’ll be marching out in two days. Back to Virginia.” Lucas watched Captain Benton turn from him. The death and destruction was really getting to him. With a weary heart, Lucas went to obey his Captain.
 
***
 
Lucas was very weary when he crawled into his tent that night. The dead had to be buried before disease spread. There were simply too many bodies there. The men had all worked together going from body to body to determine who each soldier was. They would mark the graves so they’d know, but unfortunately, a little more than that could be done.  There was no time for a proper burial.
 
Now, it was way past midnight. Lucas took off his jacket and threw it on the ground of his tent. Then he lay down on his cot. The silence was eerie. In his mind, he pictured the man holding his little boy as he kissed his tearful wife goodbye. He drifted off into a fitful sleep.
 
“Please…please don’t leave me!” A woman’s voice echoed through the darkness. The man…Simon…held his baby in his arms and kissed him lightly on the cheek.
 
“I have to fight for what I believe in. It’s a matter of principle!” Simon’s voice echoed. The tearful Mrs. Lee stood on the porch as she took the baby from her husband’s arms. “I’ll be back…”
 
“I’ll be back…I’ll be back…I’ll be back…” Those words echoed over and over.
 
Sweat broke out on Lucas’s face. He waved his head back and forth. “No! No! Don’t go!” he shouted as he held out his hand. Suddenly, his eyes opened and he sat straight up in bed. “Don’t…don’t…”
 
It was dark. There were no voices. There was no gunfire. Only silence answered his panicked cries. He ran a hand through his hair and took deep breaths to calm his racing heart. But when he closed his eyes, he heard the man’s scream as Lucas jabbed the bayonet into the young soldier’s gut. He saw that man…that father of a little boy with blood trickling from his mouth and that horrid look in his eyes as he died. And his death was all because Lucas feared for his own life.
 
Greater is no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friend. How many times had Lucas sat in church and heard that verse? How many times had his mother and father quoted that verse to him? Who was his friend? When did a man living in Pennsylvania suddenly become his enemy? How did things get so out of control?
 
Lucas felt around in the dark for a match and lit the candle. He picked up his jacket and pulled out the picture and letter. As he stared at the picture, he imagined how that woman would react when she got the telegram declaring that her husband was dead. He imagined how she would feel knowing her son would grow up without a father.
 
He pulled out the first letter he’d found on Simon’s body. It was a letter written by Nancy Lee, his wife. He knew he shouldn’t read the personal words she had written to her husband…it was none of his business…but maybe…just maybe her words to Simon Lee would somehow bring him comfort.
 
Lucas opened the letter and read her final words to her husband:
 
My Love,
 
My heart longs for you to come home. I see no reason to fight in this ugly war. Your son has started walking. He said his first word the other day and, oh how I wish you could have heard it. Most babies, I’ve been told, say “Mama…” But not your baby. Oh my love, your son said “Papa.” That’s because I tell him all about you every day. I want him to know who you are when you come home.
 
Simon, my heart aches to see you. Oh, it’s so lonely here at night just me and the boy. I’m fearful those soldiers will come in here and take my world from me. I wouldn’t mind them taking the worldly possessions, no…but my son or you – I couldn’t bare that. I’m not sure if I could even…If they come, I’ll be moving. I can’t bear to stay here without you.
 
The memories we share get me through the lonely nights of late. It takes so long for me to fall asleep, then when I do I remember how you got down on one knee and proposed to me in front of the whole church. Oh, I remember our wedding day. I remember the day I told you I was with-child. Oh Simon, never had I seen you more pleased! I’m glad I was able to have our son before you left for war only…can you come home soon? Oh…I long to see you…to hold you…to kiss you.
 
Take care, my love.
 
Nancy
 
Lucas allowed the tears to freely fall down his cheeks as he stared at the words of the letter. She really loved him. She really wanted him to come home. But he knew the truth – a truth she probably wouldn’t know for days…not until the telegram was sent. And then…the memories of their courtship, engagement, marriage, and becoming a parent would be all she had to cling to.
 
What would that little boy have to cling to? What kind of hope did he have? He would grow up without a father unless his mother married again. Lucas thought about Julie and Abraham. He remembered sweet little Charlie and wondered if Abraham died…how would Julie feel? She’d be devastated. She and Abraham were in love – as in love as he ever wanted to be someday.
 
Lucas wiped at his tears and took a big gasp of fresh air. Then he looked at the other letter – the one Simon Lee was writing to her but hadn’t mailed yet. Slowly, he opened it. His heart began breaking as he read the last words Simon said to his wife before Lucas McCain had killed him as the bayonet had fatally wounded him.
 
My Dearest Nancy,
 
I am so nervous right now. My hands are shaking so bad I can barely write these words, but I have to. Last night, the Captain of our regiment told us that we would be attacking the Union in the morning. He didn’t say when, so when that trumpet sounds we have to go. But…I wanted to write these words down really fast. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the chance to mail this letter to you or not. If you receive it, I suppose it means I survived my first battle.
 
Last night, as I lay on my bedroll by the fire I started remembering the day I married you. You were so beautiful and I loved you so very much. I still can’t believe our baby was conceived that night. When you told me weeks later, I fainted dead away – do you remember that? But you must have been really special if God chose to make our wedding night such a lasting event. I can’t wait to get home…to hold you in my arms and
 
Lucas gasped. That must have been when the bugle announced they would attack. He never got the chance to finish the letter.
 
Lucas slowly sat the letters down. He sat on the side of his cot and put his head in his hands as he began weeping. “Oh God, forgive me! Oh God, please…please forgive me!” Lucas cried.
 
He felt such brokenness…such despair. When he closed his eyes he saw Simon lying on the ground with that look of death in his eyes. He remembered the fear that captured him – the fear that caused him to lunge at the man. The visions that plagued him tortured him over and over.
 
The bugle cried a lonesome tune, announcing it was time for the men to get up and start the day. Lucas ignored the call as he continued to sit on the side of his cot and weep. He didn’t hear someone enter his tent. But he suddenly jerked with a start when a hand landed on his shoulder. He lifted his head to find his friend Johnny there. “What do you want?” Lucas grumbled, embarrassed he’d been caught again in such a state.
 
“Did you get any sleep last night?” Lucas could tell by the sound of Johnny’s voice that it was one of those questions that didn’t require an answer.
 
Lucas stared down at his hands. “None to speak of.” He picked up the letters and held them in his shaky hands. “I read these. One’s from her and he was in the process of writing one when…”
 
“Why, Luke?” Johnny interrupted him as he lowered his head. “Why?”
 
“Why what?”
 
“Why did you take those letters? Why did you look at the picture? Why did you READ the letters?”
 
“Because I killed her husband!”
 
Johnny stood up with a gasp as he flung his hands in the air. “No, Luke! You killed a Rebel soldier who was going to kill you!”
 
“You don’t know that!” Lucas exclaimed suddenly. “You don’t know he was trying to kill me!”
 
“Of course he was trying to kill you!”
 
“You don’t know!” Lucas argued loudly. “You weren’t there! You didn’t see the look on his face. He was terrified of me! He was afraid I was going to kill him!”
 
Johnny nodded. “And you weren’t terrified? You weren’t giving him the same look he was giving you?”
 
Lucas turned away. There was silence for several moments.
 
“Luke…” Johnny stopped and stared in amazement at his friend. “Lucas…” Johnny came to stand in front of him. “This is war! During war, your enemies kill you!”
 
“He’s not an enemy!” Lucas choked out. “He’s a fellow American!”
 
“Oh Damn it, man!” Johnny shouted suddenly. “He had a gun and he wasn’t on our side! American or not, he was an enemy!”
 
“To you…Even after you look in his face, you can stand in front of me and tell me he was the enemy? You can’t tell he was a husband? A son? A father? He had a little boy who would never…”
 
“You can’t make this personal! You have a job to do – to kill the enemy before he kills you!”
 
Lucas looked down at the letters. “Do you…” he swallowed. “…know why I killed him?” Lucas looked up at Johnny. He slowly stood up. “I killed this young man…this…BOY…because I was afraid for my life! I was shaking with fear, Johnny. Do you understand what I’m saying? This battle was getting to me, and when I finally came face-to-face with a man from the other side I froze! We just…stared into each other’s eyes. I saw such a fear inside him. I saw such a…” Lucas swallowed. “Neither of us wanted to kill the other. Yet…as we stood there, we knew that one of us was going to die. When I looked in his eyes, I saw DEATH there – even before I lunged. It was like…like…he knew he wasn’t going to be able to kill me. He knew that…” Lucas stopped and turned from Johnny. “Then I lunged. I jabbed that bayonet into him as if I were a murdering savage. As I looked down at him afterwards, the death in his eyes was…”
 
“McCain!” Lucas and Johnny turned. “You both should be out for morning call!”
 
“Yes sir!” Johnny declared as he saluted the Lieutenant. But Lucas stood there.
 
“Sergeant McCain! I said…”
 
“I heard you!” Lucas shouted.
 
“Excuse me?” Lieutenant Scott placed his hands on his hips and circled Lucas. “You address me with a sir!”
 
“Yes sir…” Lucas grumbled out.
 
The Lieutenant turned and glared at him. His eyes narrowed as he came face-to-face with Lucas.  “I would punish you for that right now…but…the Captain wants to see you in his quarters. NOW!”
 
Lucas glared at the Lieutenant. He bent over and picked up his jacket but didn’t say another word as he walked out of his tent and headed toward the Captain’s quarters. He walked into the tent. The Captain was sitting in a chair writing something. “Have a seat, Sergeant. I’ll be with you shortly.” Lucas continued standing. “That’s an order, McCain!”
 
Lucas slowly sat down. He took his hat off and held it in his hands. His mind tried to focus on what was going on now, but he couldn’t help continuing to look back to yesterday out on the battlefield. He had a chance to do the right thing yet…
 
Captain Benton stood up as he sat down his pen. “I wanted to talk to you about a few things, McCain.” He pulled a chair up beside Lucas and sat down. “You are a soldier in the United States Army. You are fighting in a war, and as long as this war is happening you will continue to fight.” Lucas stayed quiet as he listened. “Some of the men watched what you did yesterday. They told me you were brave as you crawled and kicked your way through enemies. They watched you down several men as you broke through that line. I…”
 
“I didn’t kill several men!” Lucas shouted suddenly. “I killed one man!”
 
Captain Benton’s face turned angry. “Don’t you speak to me that way, Sergeant! And NEVER interrupt me when I’m talking to you!”
 
“Yes sir.” Lucas swallowed. “I’m sorry, sir.”
 
“Now, the soldiers were telling me yesterday that you were brave. You even shielded some of them, willing to take the bullet for them if you had to. You worked hard to break through the line. You and a handful of other soldiers stayed in the front and fought your way through. You, McCain, showed extraordinary courage and bravery.”
 
Lucas slowly lifted his head and looked at the Captain. “I am writing to see about promoting you, Lucas McCain, to Lieutenant for what you’ve done.”
 
Lucas swallowed as his eyes again filled with tears. He wasn’t brave. He wasn’t deserving of this honor. He had killed a man. “Well…most men in your position would feel very honored, Sergeant. Why do you look like I just announced your best friend had died?”
 
Lucas’s head suddenly shot up. He clinched his fists to his side. “Captain, I think I’ll go join the burial detail now. I’m anxious to get the work done so we can move on.”
 
“We are talking, Sergeant!” Captain Benton declared. “You can’t…”
 
“I appreciate the honor, but I have to decline.” Lucas stood and hovered over his Captain. “What I did on that battlefield the last three days was out of fear and cowardness. I killed a man, Captain. I made a woman a widow and caused a son to lose his father. I murdered that man.”
 
Captain Benton slowly stood up. “McCain…what you did yesterday was corner a Rebel and kill the enemy just like you’ve been trained to do. We’ve all killed a great number of fathers, husbands, and sons.”
 
Lucas averted his eyes and looked straight ahead. “Permission to be dismissed, sir.”
 
“McCain, I want you to be Lieutenant. But you MUST put this behind you. Stop making it personal!”
 
“Permission to be dismissed…” Lucas swallowed hard. “…SIR!”
 
Captain Benton looked down at the paper in his hand. He closed his eyes and nodded. “Permission granted, McCain.” Lucas started from the tent. “McCain!” Lucas paused and turned to look at the Captain. “If what you said is true…if you murdered that boy yesterday then…Andy Gibbs was also murdered. So what are you going to do? Are you going to allow his murderer to walk free? To kill again?”
 
Lucas sucked in his breath. His eyes narrowed as he looked the Captain up and down. Without a word, he walked away.
 
“Private Richards!” Captain Benton called to the private that stood just outside his tent. Private Richards walked inside and saluted the Captain. “Get Drako for me. Tell him to get here on the double.” Captain Benton sighed. “I’m afraid we have a problem…a big problem.”
 
***
 
July 4, 1873
 
The rain started pouring down on the soldiers as they walked back to the battlefield. Today there was no song of victory or cheerful talking. Today was one of great sadness because they knew that again they would spend the day burying fellow soldier after soldier.
 
When they arrived, they stared down at the destruction their three days of fighting had caused. Regardless of the fact that they were burying body after body yesterday after the battle ended, there were still dead bodies of soldiers laying everywhere. Some sill had rifles in the hands. Some still had the look of horror or pain on their faces when they fell. Yet others…well, they had gone unnoticed in the worst part of the war and had died slowly and painfully, scribbling out last words before they died. As Lucas walked beside his fellow soldiers, his tears mixed with the rain at the destruction of it all.
 
So much destruction. So much needless suffering. So much pain.
 
The Union soldiers all lined up close to the battle line and stared across the way at the Rebels, who stood on the other side of the battle line. Bodies lay all around them as well. Bodies, Lucas thought, with the same terrified looks on their faces and bodies with rifles in hand as they fought for their lives. The rain poured down on the soldiers even harder as the soldiers stood in their spots and stared through the rain across the field at the Rebels.
 
Lucas moved his eyes from one end of the field to the other. The men all held their rifles at their sides as they stood with corpses all around them. Their faces were withdrawn, showing signs of sadness and fatigue. They felt such loss. “Look at them…” Johnny mumbled beside Lucas as the men just stared at each other. “What makes them stay?”
 
“They want to bury their dead…same as us,” Lucas answered. He turned and looked at Johnny. “Is this what it’s come to? Look at them. The soldiers lying on the other side died uselessly, same as us. They died for no reason same as ours. Why? Why, why, why? Why do they stay?”
 
“They are soldiers fighting against us…against the United States Army…against the President of the United States.” Johnny’s eyes moved over the men. “If given the order, they’d immediately begin firing on us. They wouldn’t hesitate to do so and you know it.” Johnny nodded slightly. “That’s what they want – to kill us.”
 
Lucas clinched his jaw as he again moved his eyes across the field to scan the Rebels. So many had died. “No, Johnny. I think they want it to be over same as we do. We don’t want to lose and neither do they. We’re fighting for what we believe in and…” Lucas sighed with a nod. “So are they.”
 
“Let’s get to work!”
 
Lucas turned and picked up the shovel. But he paused as he turned his head in the direction where his killing had taken place the night before. He again saw the face of the man as they stared into each other’s eyes. He heard the man’s scream as Lucas lunged at him. Lucas pressed a hand to his forehead and closed his eyes. “Lucas…” Johnny started. “Lucas, are you alright?”
 
“Hm?” Lucas suddenly turned and looked at Johnny. He turned back and shoved his shovel in the mud and nodded his head. “I’m fine.” But the tone of voice he used told a different story. Every time he drove the shovel into the ground he saw those eyes, as if Simon was standing in front of him. As he punched his foot on the shovel, he felt the rifle as its sword pierced Simon. Each time he brought up a shovel of mud he heard the man’s scream.
 
The rain continued to pour as he saw, felt, and heard over and over. Tears mixed with the rain and he began grunting as he dug grave after grave. He couldn’t get the vision out of his head. Each time he helped lift a body into the grave he saw Simon Lee’s face – those eyes forever looking with the sign of death. Never would he be able to get those eyes out of his mind. Never would Simon’s face look any other way – it was frozen with the look of horror forever.
 
“Sergeant McCain!” Lucas turned to see one of the privates calling him. He turned back around and continued digging. “Sir, I said there are no more bodies.”
 
“There is…” Lucas grunted as he continued digging a grave. “There is another body.”
 
“Luke!” Johnny hurried up to him. “It’s time to go!”
 
“No, Drako!” Lucas shouted. “This is something I have to do! I have to dig his grave!”
 
“But there’s no one to put in it!” Johnny shouted. “There’s no one to…” He stopped, realizing Lucas wasn’t listening. The men slowly walked away. They stood in the distance and watched Lucas continue digging. When he was done, he stood in the rain as it poured down on him. He stared down into the hole.
 
The men wondered what he was going to do. He stood still for the longest time, then suddenly he lifted the shovel over his head. He slammed it down on the pile of mud over and over. He began shouting unintelligible things and shouted as he continued to slam the shovel on the ground. Finally, he kneeled down and put a hand to his face. Then he stood, turned, and walked toward the group.
 
As the men walked back to camp they started singing their victory song to the beat of their march.
 
Mine eyes have seen the glory
Of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage
Where the grapes of wrath are stor'd;
He hath loos'd the fateful lightning
Of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.
 
Johnny stopped singing and turned to look at Lucas. Lucas stared straight ahead, a blank stare on his face. He wasn’t singing. His hand clutched his rifle over his shoulder so hard his knuckles were white.
 
Glory, Glory Hallelujah!
Glory, Glory Hallelujah!
Glory, Glory Hallelujah!
His Truth is marching on!
 
Johnny slowed his pace, and Lucas immediately followed suit. Lucas continued staring straight ahead, blocking out the words of a victory song because Lucas could see no victory in this battle. Right now, all he could see was that he had murdered somebody. “God’s truth…” Lucas mumbled.
 
Johnny’s head jerked up. He decided to speak. “The Captain called me into his quarters this morning.”
 
“Oh?” For the first time since they left the battlefield, Lucas turned and looked at his friend.
 
Johnny nodded. “He told me about the promotion he’s offered you.” Lucas stayed silent as they continued walking back to camp. The men continued to sing their victory song up ahead, but Lucas and Johnny quietly talked. “He also told me you said no.”
 
“Yep,” Lucas answered shortly.
 
“Luke, it’s an honor to make Lieutenant. Your family would be so proud and…”
 
“Proud? What if I told them I had to kill a husband and father to get those bars? What if I told them…”
 
“Luke, you care too much!” Johnny suddenly declared.
 
“Oh?” Lucas stopped walking and put his hands on his hips. “Maybe you don’t care enough, Drako!” Johnny clinched his fists to his side. “Maybe you enjoy killing those Rebels! Maybe…” Suddenly, Lucas found himself on the ground in the mud after Johnny punched him hard.
 
Lucas grew angry. He got to his feet and gave Johnny a hard shove. Johnny fell backwards and Lucas jumped on top of him. They delivered some hard punches at each other as they began rolling in the mud.
 
Suddenly, someone grabbed Lucas and lifted him up to his feet. Johnny was lifted up as well. “What’s this all about?” Lieutenant Scott shouted.
 
Captain Benton hurried forward. “What is this? McCain, are you allowing what happened yesterday to cause the two of you to turn against each other? Am I going to have to stop a duel right here?”
 
Captain Benton glared at Johnny, then at Lucas. “Alright. Luke, since you can’t seem to keep out of trouble and obey orders today, pack your gear and put it on your back. Then you can march until the trumpet calls time for bed.” Lucas glared at Johnny as he clinched his jaw and wiped the blood from his face. He was caked in mud and soaked to the bone.
 
“That’s fine with me!” Lucas shouted as he glared at Johnny.
 
Captain Benton took some deep breaths to tame his anger. “GO!” Captain Benton shouted.
 
Captain Benton watched Lucas go. Johnny wiped blood from his cheek. “I threw the first punch, Captain.”
 
Captain Benton turned and looked at Johnny and nodded. “McCain’s a good soldier, Sergeant Drako. He’ll make a good Lieutenant but right now…” Captain Benton took off his hat and ran his hand through his hair. “Oh…” He slapped his hat on his thigh. “I’m about to come to a decision. It may be the only thing to help him at this point.”
 
Johnny Drako shook his head as he watched Captain Benton slowly walk away. He allowed himself to think on Lucas’s words and the reason they had angered him so much. There was a lot of truth in what Lucas had said. He didn’t particularly want to see men die, but there was some sort of joy he got in watching the enemy fall. And that scared him more than facing any Rebel could ever scare him.
 
Johnny sighed, then turned and walked away.
 
***
 
July 5, 1886
Enid, Oklahoma
 
Tiffany sighed as she pressed a hand to her swelling belly and sat the pancakes on the table. “Laura!” she called again. “Breakfast!” She turned back to look at her husband who had just picked up the newspaper. “Honey, you may have to go drag your sister out here.”
 
“Mm…” Peter mumbled as he put the cup of coffee to his lips and opened the newspaper he had been meaning to read for the last two days.
 
Tiffany sighed as she took the newspaper from Peter’s hand. “Peter, your sister!” They had been married for only 8 months, yet already Peter was learning that when she used that tone of voice with him, he had to obey…or else!
 
“Emily, it’s time to eat! Get in here!” Peter shouted.
 
Tiffany shook her head and put her hands on her hips. “Peter McCain!”
 
Emily sat the maple syrup on the table and glared at her brother. “It’s the OTHER sister!” She turned and looked at Tiffany. “Tif, I wish you’d talk to your husband. I’m getting really tired of hearing that same joke every morning!”
 
“Hm…” Tiffany folded her arms across her chest. “I may just have to give him a trip to the barn…” Tiffany declared as she looked down at her husband.
 
Peter stood up and smiled. “Well my dear…you just MAY have to!” He grinned mischievously as he kissed her before starting for the bedroom to deal with his little sister.
 
Tiffany raised her eyebrows and looked at Emily. “I’ve put up with four of them for 18 years!” Emily declared. “And I’m still trying to learn how they work.”
 
Peter turned from the girls’ bedroom and smiled. “Keep working at it, little sis…but you’ll never figure us out!”
 
Emily and Tiffany sat down to wait for brother and sister to join them. Ruth, who had been feeling a bit under the weather of late, was still in bed. Emily planned to bring her a tray later.
 
The family had just sat down for breakfast when the door opened. Johnny Gibbs, breathless, held a telegram in his hand. “Scott told me to get this to you right away. There was another battle.” He declared through gasps of breath.
 
Peter quickly stood and went to take the telegram from the fourteen year old Gibbs. He read it, then frowned and lifted his head. “Should be coming out in tomorrow’s paper,” he commented as he looked at his family. “It was in Gettysburg.”
 
“That’s in Pennsylvania, isn’t it?” Tiffany asked as she slowly stood from the table. She rested a hand on her belly. “Would your brother be there?”
 
“Most definitely.” Peter handed Johnny the telegram back. “You go on to the next farm. I’ll tell my brothers.” Tiffany and Emily eyed Peter closely as Johnny left. They sensed something very wrong.
 
“What did the telegram say?” Emily asked. “Was it bad?”
 
Peter grabbed his hat and strapped on his holster. “It’s the deadliest battle of the war. It’s suspected thousands of men were killed.”
 
Emily grasped the chair in front of her as Tiffany clutched her middle. “The…” Tiffany swallowed as she stared at her husband. “But that’s what they said about…Chancellorsville!”
 
“I know.” The ladies watched as Peter rushed out the door.
 
Emily turned to see Laura staring at the door. “Well…” she smiled as she slowly sat back down. “Seems Luke’s been quite busy, Laura Rose.” Laura shifted her eyes toward Emily. Emily forced a reassuring smile. “Just makes the time go faster for him.”
 
“Emily, Luke…”
 
Emily shook her head. “Now, don’t you go worrying about our brother! He’s fine. Don’t borrow trouble!” Laura looked down at her plate. “Now…finish your supper so you can clean the dishes.”
 
Laura did as she was told. When the women were alone, Tiffany turned and studied Emily’s face that now held worry on it. “You worry about your brother a lot, don’t you?”
 
Emily nodded as tears formed in her eyes. “It’s nerve-racking. Every time we hear about another battle, we sit and wait for word. We never know if the news will be good or…” Emily swallowed. “The news about Andy at Thanksgiving was bad enough. If Luke…”
 
Tiffany immediately put a hand on Emily’s arm. “No! Don’t think that way.”
 
The door to Ruth’s room opened and Ruth stepped out into the living quarters. “Good morning.” The way she spoke made both women turn and take notice. Emily sucked in her breath at the way her mother looked. Her face was very pale and she could hardly walk.
 
Emily stood to go to her mother. But before she could get to her side, Ruth collapsed and fell to the floor. Tiffany jumped up from the table. Emily dropped to her mother’s side. “Mama!” She put a hand to her mother’s cheek. “Oh, Mama!” Emily shouted as tears filled her eyes. She looked up at Tiffany.
 
“Laura!” Emily jumped up and ran to the kitchen. “Mama’s fainted! Go get the brothers!” Laura’s eyes grew wide with concern. She tried to look past Emily into the other room, but Emily shook her head. “Go! Now!”
 
Laura dropped the plate she was cleaning and ran out the back door. Emily hurried back into the room. “Help me get her back to bed!” Emily shouted tearfully.
 
***
 
“No. This isn’t good,” Abraham mumbled as Peter told him the news Johnny Gibbs had brought by earlier. Abraham scratched his beard and went to look out the window. “This isn’t good at all. I’m afraid that…” His voice died as he focused on something outside. Then he gasped. “Laura!”
 
Abraham rushed to the front door of his house and hurried towards Laura. Laura was sobbing as she ran up to Abraham and jumped in his outstretched arms as he dropped to his knees on the ground. “What is it, Rosebud?” Abraham asked as she cried hysterically. “Is there trouble?”
 
“It’s Mama!” Laura cried. “Emily said she…she…she fainted!” Laura clung to Abraham. She was so scared.
 
“Mama!” Abraham rushed inside. “Peter, Ma’s fainted!” Peter rushed out the door and started running down the hill. “You stay here with Julie.” Abraham ordered as he sat her on the floor.
 
“No! I want to see Mama!” Laura cried.
 
“I’ll come back for you soon!” Abraham promised her as he kissed her cheek. Julie reached out to put her arms around Laura. Abraham looked up at Julie. He saw the fear and worry in her eyes. They had a bad feeling about this. But he didn’t say a word as he hurried out the door.
 
Laura tried to run after him, but Julie kept her arms firmly around Laura. “Shhhh….” Julie said as she bent down behind Laura and pressed the girl’s head into her chest. “Abe will be back for you as soon as he can.”
 
Laura struggled in Julie’s arms. She wanted to go to her mother. Julie grasped the child tighter. “You have to stay here so they can take care of Ma.” But Julie’s voice broke.
 
Laura gasped as her sobs became louder and she clung to Julie.
 
Abraham and Peter both got into the yard at the same time. They rushed inside and to the bedroom. “What happened?” Abraham asked as he hurried to the bed and laid the back of his hand on his mother’s forehead.
 
“She’s so pale, Abe!” Emily declared. “She’s…so…” Emily threw her hands to her face. “Oh Mama!” She sobbed.
 
“I’ll go for the doctor!” Peter shouted from the doorway. Then he turned and headed out the door.
 
“Mama…” Abraham laid his hands against her cheeks. “Hold on, Mama…” His eyes filled up with tears. She looked so terribly bad. He knew the situation was desperate. “Please…just hold on.”
 
“Owwwwwww!” Tiffany suddenly clutched her middle and let out a loud cry.
 
Emily turned and looked at Tiffany. Tiffany doubled over as another horrible pain came over her. “Owwwwwwwww!” She screamed even louder this time.
 
She was about to collapse herself as her face turned white from the pain. Abraham stood and hurried over to her. He picked her up and carried her to her bedroom. After laying her gently on the bed, he said, “Stay with her, Emily. She needs a woman right now.”
 
“But Abe…she still has a month!” Emily cried.
 
Abraham paused and turned in the doorway. They locked eyes, both pairs held worry. Abraham started toward his Mother’s door. “Dear God…help me!” he cried out. “Help my family!”
 
***
 
It was a good hour before Peter returned with the doctor. Dr. Stevens hadn’t been in the office, so Peter had to hunt him down. As he rode his horse into the yard with Dr. Stevens pulling up in the buggy, he heard screams of pain coming from the house. His eyes grew wide. “That sound like my wife!” He jumped off the horse and rushed inside. “Tiffany?”
 
The door to his bedroom opened and Emily rushed out, quickly closing the door behind her. Peter hurried toward the door, but Emily put a restraining hand on him. “Peter…it’s bad! Something’s wrong! Something’s terribly wrong!” Emily shouted worriedly.
 
“Doc…” Peter swallowed. “The baby’s not due for another month yet!”
 
Dr. Stevens looked toward Ruth’s bedroom door, trying to decide what to deal with first. “Alright. Emily, just stay with her. I’ll be there in a minute.”
 
“Emily!” Tiffany screamed. “Emily!” Peter and Emily looked at each other than hurried inside.
 
Peter’s eyes filled with tears when he saw Tiffany flinging herself from side-to-side on the bed. “Honey!” He hurried over and sat down on the bed, cradling her head in his lap as she screamed with pain. “I’m here, baby…” Peter kissed her forehead. “I’m here…” Peter lifted his head and stared into the fearful eyes of Emily. They both knew this wasn’t good.
 
Dr. Stevens rushed into Ruth’s bedroom. Abraham stood. “What happened?”
 
“My sister said she just collapsed. She came out of the bedroom with a pale face and…”
 
Dr. Stevens shook his head. A deep sigh escaped him. “I’m afraid it’s coming over her a lot faster than I thought it would.”
 
“What, doctor?” Abraham asked, quite surprised at his comment.
 
Dr. Stevens slowly lifted his head up toward Abraham. “Abe…you know she’s been sick…” His voice died as he came to a stunning revelation.
 
“A bit under the weather, but she told us it was because of all the excitement that’s been going on…” Abraham stopped, suddenly realizing it was much worse than Ruth let on.
 
“That didn’t help any, but she was sick before your father died. There’s something inside her eating her alive, Abe. I’m afraid…” Dr. Stevens put a hand on Abraham’s shoulder. “…your mother’s dying.”
 
The words didn’t sink in at first. Abraham just stared at the doctor. Slowly, the words penetrated his thinking. He swallowed hard as his eyes filled with tears. “D…dying, doc?” Dr. Stevens nodded. Abraham turned and stared down at his mother. “Mama…” he slowly sat down on the bed. “Oh…Mama…” Abraham began sobbing as he laid his head on her chest.
 
“I told her months ago. It’s…cancer.”
 
Abraham slowly lifted his head when he heard that word. He’d heard that word before. His grandmother had died from that same disease, and he didn’t understand it any better now than he did then. “Cancer…” he breathed quietly and closed his eyes, trying to gain control of his emotions. “How…how long?”
 
“I don’t know. It could be days or…weeks…” He sighed. “I’m sorry. I warned her she should tell you months ago. I just assumed that...”
 
Shouting suddenly pierced the house. Abraham turned his head toward the door. “You should go to Tiffany. Save her…” Abraham turned and looked up at Dr. Stevens as tears ran down his cheeks. “Don’t take her from us too.”
 
Dr. Stevens hesitated, wishing there was more he could say. But the truth was – death was death. There was no way to sugar-coat that. It was something the family would have to come to terms with in their own way.
 
But right now, he had another patient to look after. He shook his head, then hurried out the door and into Peter and Tiffany’s bedroom. Tiffany was clinching the bed frame. Her face was baptized in extreme pain. Her body was drenched in sweat as she continued to fling herself from side-to-side. “Dr…” Emily rushed over to him. “There’s something wrong…something terribly wrong!” Emily cried.
 
Dr. Stevens hurried over to the bed and examined her. “The baby’s breached!” he announced over Tiffany’s screams. He looked at Peter. “I’m sorry, son. I may be able to save both of them…or…” He was unable to finish his sentence.
 
Peter swallowed as he held his wife’s head in his lap. “Save them, Doc! You must save them both!” His voice was broken and desperate. His tear-filled eyes pleaded for the life of his wife and child.
 
“If we have to choose…” Dr. Stevens started. “Which one…”
 
Peter’s eyes grew wide. He shook his head. “No!” he cried. “I need them both! I can’t choose! You HAVE to save them both!!!”
 
“I’m going to try to turn the baby.” Dr. Stevens rolled up his sleeves as he went to the foot of the bed and climbed up on it. He positioned himself so he’d be able to do this. “Hold her tight.”
 
“Oh God…” Peter cried out suddenly as he grabbed a firm hold of his wife’s hand. Emily grabbed the other hand and held her as tightly as she could. “…God…Please save them…Please…If you save them I’ll do ANYTHING…ANYTHING…you ask!!! PLEASE DON’T TAKE THEM FROM ME BECAUSE OF MY STUPIDITY!!! PLEASE!!!”
 
***
 
Abraham laid his head on his mother’s chest and sobbed. “Mama…Oh Mama…What are we going to do now?”
 
He felt a hand slowly move to rest on his head. He lifted his head and stared into his mother’s face. She had a weak smile on her face. “Abe…there’s something I have to…”
 
Abraham shook his head. “The doctor told me about the cancer. Mama…why didn’t you tell me? Why?”
 
“I’m sorry. I…”
 
Her words were lost as a loud scream pierced the air. It was immediately followed by silence…Nothing but silence.
 
Peter cried as he lowered his head to his wife’s face. “Help her, God…Please help her!” Her face was white. Her eyes lay closed but he continued to hold her. “God…God…God…” Peter whispered as he sobbed into her neck. “Oh why God? Why?”
 
There was no answer. After that final scream, her eyes had closed and her head had fallen back against him. There was no cry from the baby either. Peter continued sobbing. It felt as if he was losing his whole world.
 
Emily wiped her eyes and turned away. She couldn’t stand to watch what was happening. She hurried over to the doctor who was working on the baby. He gave the baby another hard smack and rubbed his chest hard. “Come on…breathe! Breathe!” The doctor shouted desperately.
 
Tears streamed down Emily’s cheeks as she watched the baby’s blue face lay so still. There was no movement – none at all. “Please…please…” Emily whispered quietly as she watched the doctor continue to massage the baby’s chest.
 
Suddenly, the baby coughed and let out a loud, long cry. “Oh…thank God!” Emily shouted as she threw her hands to her face. She fell to her knees. “Thank you, Jesus! Oh, thank you!”
 
“Take over here,” Dr. Stevens said quietly as he turned toward the bed. “I must see about the mother.”
 
Peter continued sobbing. “Oh God…please forgive me for what I did! I’m sorry…so very sorry!”
 
“Peter…” Dr. Stevens lay a gentle hand against the new father’s shoulder. “Peter…”
 
Peter slowly lifted his head and stared at the doctor. Dr. Stevens realized what Peter was thinking. The look on his face said everything. The doctor slowly shook his head. “She’s not gone, son. She just passed out from the pain.”
 
Peter stared at the doctor as he realized his wife was not dead. His face relaxed as he lowered his eyes to his wife, whose head still lay on his lap in the bed. “You mean…”
 
Dr. Stevens went to examine her. “I’ll have to do some stitching, but she’s going to be okay.” Peter closed his eyes and gasped deep breaths of air. “But I don’t know if she’ll be able to have any more children…I’m just warning you, son…Sometimes a birth like that damages a woman’s insides and…”
 
Peter nodded as he wiped his tears. “That’s okay. I don’t care if we have any more children! I just thank you for saving my family.”
 
Dr. Stevens lost part of his smile as he looked toward the door. “Well…” he turned back and looked at Peter. “Do you want to hold your daughter?”
 
“My…daughter?” Peter whispered as Emily turned with a baby wrapped in a blanket. She smiled as she slowly walked over to the bed. He stared down at the bundle in Emily’s arms. “Oh, but she’s so…so little!”
 
“Now, you’ll have to keep her inside for the next month. And I don’t want a lot of people around her. You, Emily, and Tiffany but nobody else! She’s a month early and can pick up sickness really fast.”
 
“But…” Peter swallowed as he stared at his daughter’s small face. “…she’ll be okay? I mean she…”
 
Dr. Stevens smiled. “Both wife and daughter will be fine. I’m glad I was able to save them.” He sighed. “I wish I could save everybody.”
 
“Well…” Emily smiled. “You want to hold her Pa?”
 
Peter shook his head. “I’m afraid I’ll break her!” he declared.
 
Emily chuckled. “Get up from there and come sit down in this chair, Pa.”
 
Peter looked down at his wife. “Oh…don’t you worry about her. I gave her something to help her sleep. She’ll be asleep for quite awhile. I’m afraid she’ll be in pain for awhile.” Dr. Stevens picked up his bag. “I’ll be out as soon as I can with some special milk for her.”
 
Peter slowly stood up. He gently kissed his wife’s sweaty cheek then sat down in the chair. Emily giggled as she told him how to hold his arms. Then she laid the baby in his arms. Peter smiled down at her. “Oh…She’s so…Why, she can’t weigh but a few pounds!”
 
“I’d say about five is right,” Dr. Stevens nodded. “Now, you make sure your hands are clean anytime you touch her. I’ll bring out some bottles later, but you must keep the tops clean.”
 
“The bottles?” Emily stood up slowly and turned to look at Tiffany.
 
“In a few days. Her body wasn’t prepared for the event. Probably the shock of your mother…”
 
Emily suddenly gasped. “Mother…” She turned and looked down at Peter. “I’ll be back.” Emily made her way out of the room, firmly closing the door behind her. When she opened the door to her mother’s room, she saw Abraham crying as her mother softly spoke to him. “Mother?”
 
Ruth held out a hand to her daughter. “Tiffany…” she swallowed. “…How is she?”
 
“She and her daughter are wonderful, Mother,” Emily smiled. “How are you?”
 
Ruth looked up at Abraham. Abraham slowly stood from the bed and walked toward the door. He put his hand on the doorknob then slowly turned around. “Emily…we should get the family together. There’s something we need to discuss.”
 
***
Abraham slowly walked across the field to his home. The news he had received weighed on him like a ton of bricks. Just when he thought things were getting better…
 
He paused before he entered the yard. There was a little girl in there who would be very confused and shaken. She was about to lose her mother, and there wasn’t a darn thing Abraham could do to stop it. He sighed and slowly shook his head. Then, forcing a smile on his face, he opened the door and walked inside.
 
Laura jumped up from the table where she was helping Julie make cookies. “Abe!” She hurried over and jumped into his arms. “Mama…How’s Mama?”
 
Abraham kissed her and slowly lowered her to the floor as his eyes filled with tears. “I…” He stopped and took a deep breath. “We need to gather the family up and get everyone to the main house. There’s something we have to discuss.”
 
Julie’s face saddened when she heard the deep despair in her husband’s voice. She wiped her hands on her apron and started forward. “Abe, what is it? What’s happened?”
 
Abraham locked eyes with Julie and slightly shook his head. Then he forced a smile on his face. “Well…for one thing, Tiffany and Peter have a daughter.”
 
“What?” Julie cocked her head to one side. “How?”
 
“She gave birth just a little bit ago. Fortunately, the doctor arrived soon after her pains started. It was a fast delivery.”
 
Julie nodded. “I’d say! You’ve only been gone three hours.”
 
“Well…” Abraham reached over and took David out of the high chair. “Let’s go.” He took Samuel in his other arm.
 
They made their way down the hill to the main farm. Jeremiah and Em had been summoned by Emily who had been unable to hide her distraught emotions. They were already sitting at the table when Abraham got there with his family and Laura. After everyone was settled, Abraham cleared his throat. “I’m afraid…” His voice broke and he lowered his head with a sigh. He cleared his throat and tried to speak again. “I’m afraid I have some bad news…”
 
“About Mama?” Laura asked from her seat at the table.
 
Abraham turned and took Laura onto his lap. He protectively put his arms around her and kissed the top of her head. “Yes. About Mama, Laura Rose.” He cleared his throat again. This was one of the hardest things he’d ever had to do. “Um…as you know, Mama collapsed earlier today.”
 
“Collapsed?” Laura questioned.
 
“Fainted.” He closed his eyes. “She’s not well. She woke up and spoke to me for a few minutes while ago, but she’s very weak and in a great deal of pain.”
 
Concern and worry shone on Emily’s face. She leaned forward and touched Abraham’s shoulder. “Abe…what is it?”
 
“It’s uh…” Abraham closed his eyes as he breathed the word. “…cancer.”
 
“Oh dear GOD, NO!” Jeremiah breathed upon hearing this word.
 
“Oh Ma…” Julie breathed as she put a hand to her shaking lips.
 
“What’s…cancer?” Laura asked in a shaky voice.
 
“It’s something really bad, Laura Rose.” Abraham tried to speak softly as he smoothed her hair. “There’s something inside her eating her insides. She’s…she’s….” Abraham stood and sat Laura on the chair. He turned and hurried toward the window as he put a hand to his mouth and burst into tears.
 
“She’ll be joining Pa very soon…” Julie swallowed. “Won’t she, Abe?” Abe nodded.
 
Peter and Jeremiah both slowly stood up. “Abe…what are you saying?” Peter asked as he walked over to him.
 
Abraham turned as Jeremiah lifted his sister from her seat. He comfortingly put his arms around her as he stood in front of his brother. Abe closed his eyes to gain strength. “I’m afraid she is…dying.”
 
Abraham felt Laura’s gasp more than he heard it. His eyes filled up with tears, as did the eyes of all the other adults in the room. “Mama…no…” Laura cried out suddenly. She jumped from Jeremiah’s arms and ran toward her mother’s bedroom. Jeremiah grabbed her before she could get there. “No! Don’t you leave me too!” Laura cried out.
 
Jeremiah stroked his baby sister’s hair as she began sobbing. “Oh my darling,” Julie cried as she kneeled in front of Laura. “She doesn’t want to! She wants to stay here and watch you grow up!”
 
“Then why?” Laura asked as she lifted her head. “Why is she gonna leave me?”
 
Julie pressed her lips together as tears slipped from her eyes. “Oh honey! It’s not her will…Her body’s hurting and tired. There’s something inside that’s eating it.”
 
“Then tell the doctor to fix it!” Laura shouted. “That’s what he’s for! He needs to fix it!”
 
“He can’t, honey!” Julie cried. “He’s tried, but he can’t!”
 
“No!” Laura shouted again. “No!” She ran out the door.
 
Julie turned and looked at everyone. The three brothers were clinging to each other crying. Emily and Em clung to each other sobbing hysterically. Her children played quietly on the floor. “Laura! Wait!” Julie cried as she hurried out the door.
 
Emily suddenly fell to the floor. Her knees hit the floor hard as she pressed her hands to the floorboards and cried. “Oh God…why?” Emily cried. She lifted her head. “Abe…how long have you known?”
 
Abe turned and wiped at his tears. “The doctor told me today. She’s been sick for a long time but didn’t tell anyone. She…” Abraham swallowed. “She’s near the end.”
 
***
 
“Laura! Come back!” Julie hurried after the little girl. She could hear Laura sobbing up ahead. By the time Julie caught up with her, Laura was sitting out on a ledge overlooking the valley below. Julie stopped. She had an incredible fear of heights. “Laura…” Julie swallowed as she stood behind Laura. “Honey…please…come to me!”
 
“No! Go away! You want to take Mama from me!” Laura cried as she drew her legs to her chest and stared out over the valley.
 
“No, Sweetie” Julie swallowed hard when she saw how far down the valley was. “I don’t want your Ma to die. I…” Julie took a step forward. She took a deep breath as fear began capturing her. “Honey, c…can you please come to me so we can talk?”
 
“No!” Laura screamed. “I hate you! I hate Abe! I hate God! I don’t wanta talk! Go away!”
 
Julie closed her eyes. Laura’s words hurt her, but she knew she hated death, not them. “Honey…I love you! Oh, I love you so much!” Julie stretched out her arm. “Laura, did you know that  I’m afraid of heights?” Laura shook her head. “Well I am…” Julie swallowed hard as she took another step forward. “I think you’re afraid of death. That’s okay to be afraid. It’s normal.”
 
“I hate God! Why does He have to take Mama?”
 
Laura longed to reach out and touch Laura – to take the girl in her arms and try to explain things to her, but her fear was overtaking her. “D…don’t say that, honey. I….” Julie breathed as she forced herself to take another step forward. She slowly sat down. “Laura…I’ve met you half way. Please..come to me.”
 
Laura turned and looked at Julie. Her face was wet with tears, as was Julie’s. Laura slowly stood and walked back to where Julie was sitting. “If you’re so scared, why’d you come out here?”
 
“Because you were here…” Julie slowly turned toward Laura. “Honey…your Mother…and God…they both love you very, very much. I know you are afraid. I know you are confused, and that’s okay. I don’t understand either but Laura…God’s not taking your mother by giving her cancer. God didn’t give your mother cancer…Cancer is BAD, and God is good…so…good. He wants to take your mother home because…”
 
“NO!” Laura cried out again. “I don’t want Him to take her!”
 
“Laura Rose…” Julie sighed, trying to find a way to explain it to her. “You remember when your Pa got really sick? You remember how much pain he was in?”
 
Laura nodded. “It was cause his heart was bad. Papa said it was just running out ‘cause of how hard he had to work.”
 
Julie nodded. “Mm hm. And he was in a whole lot of pain, wasn’t he?” Laura nodded as she wiped at her eyes. “And we knew that Pa was ready to go home. He was so very sick and he said it was a blessing that God was calling him to heaven.” Laura nodded again, but stayed quiet. “Well…” Julie sighed. “Laura, this is the same kind of thing. Your mother’s body has something bad inside and if she goes to heaven, her pain will end. We don’t want her to be in pain.”
 
“No…” Laura started sobbing. “But I want Mama!” She leaned against Julie. “I want her!”
 
“Julie?” Julie turned to see Abraham behind them. He bent down to sit behind his wife and sister.
 
Julie turned back to look down at Laura. “Honey, I KNOW that you want your Ma and it’s not fair that you have to grow up without her…It’s not fair at all! But…I want you to know something…” Julie took Laura’s face in her hands. “I’m going to be here…right here with you. If I have to sit out on a ledge with you, I WILL! If I have to swim across the deep ocean to help you, I will. We will hurt together! And you can cry as much as you want. I’ll hold you while you cry.” Laura clung to Julie and sobbed.
 
Abraham patted Julie’s back. “And I’ll be here to hold you both while we cry.” Abraham paused. “Well…if you want me.”
 
Julie forced a small smile on her face as she looked down at Laura Rose. “Well? What do you think? Do we want Abe?” Laura nodded. Then the three of them hugged together.
 
“Abe…” Laura swallowed. “Can…can I see Mama?”
 
“I’ll let you look in on her before you go to bed. Okay?” Laura nodded. Abraham stood and picked Laura up in his arms. But Julie stayed stark still. “What’s wrong?”
 
Julie closed her eyes. “Abe…There’s something I haven’t told you about myself…” Julie’s heart started pumping harder. “When I was six years old…I got too close to a ledge and slipped. I had to be rescued so…” Julie swallowed. “I don’t cotton much to heights.”
 
“Oh.” Abraham turned and wiped some tears from Laura’s cheek. “Well, you are awfully high right now…And you are awfully close to the edge.”
 
“Abraham McCain…” Julie swallowed. “Help me!”
 
“Why did you come out here in the first place?”
 
“Because…” Julie turned and looked up at Laura. “Laura was out here. I came out here for her.”
 
“Oh…” Abraham, happy for the distraction from the news he’d received earlier, kneeled down beside Julie and gave her a small smile. “So it looks like you and Laura Rose will need my assistance after all.”
 
“You just…” Julie swallowed as she shakingly accepted Abraham’s hand. “…tell your sister that next time she runs off, to please…please find someplace else to run to!”
 
After she was back on safe ground, Julie looked up at Laura. “Honey, I don’t know how much longer your mother has, but I promise you that I will be there right beside you through this whole thing.”
 
“And so will Emily and the rest of the family. We’ll all be together through this…however long we have!” Abraham declared as they walked back home.
 
***
 
Julie closed the door to the girls’ bedroom where all five children were sleeping soundly. She had to sit with Laura for quite some time before Laura fell to sleep. As she sat at the table, Abraham handed her a cup of coffee then sat down beside her. “Thank you for helping her,” Emily mumbled as she stared blankly into her coffee cup. “The news was quite…shocking…” Emily swallowed. “Abe…how long?”
 
“I don’t know.” Abraham looked toward his mother’s bedroom. He rubbed his forehead in despair. “If we had known maybe…”
 
“Abe…don’t.” Julie laid a hand on top of his. “It’s done. We have to concentrate on what is – not what could have been.”
 
“We’ve been discussing something, Julie. This is going to be rough. Tiffany’s not going to be much help around here until she recovers, which will be for quite awhile. Peter’s responsibilities around the farm are quite heavy. And Emily….”
 
Emily cried softly. “I want to take care of Mother, Abe…We’ve always been so close. She’s done so much…I want to do this.”
 
“I know. I’ll see if Margaret can help you care for her.”
 
“Abe…” Emily swallowed. The adults could tell that what Emily had to say next was very difficult. “Abe…I can’t…” She put a hand to her face and shook her head.
 
“What, Sis?” Abraham reached out and took her hand. “What is it?”
 
“Laura…” Emily looked from brother to brother to brother. “She’s such a handful and I don’t think I can…Oh Abe…I just can’t handle her right now! God forgive me for even thinking it! I…”
 
“Hush…” Peter said softly. “Nobody’s going to blame you for what you’re thinking. Laura IS a handful. She’s a McCain.”
 
“I want her here close to Mama, but…I’m afraid caring for her and Mama both is going to be so…”
 
“She can move in with us,” Julie stated immediately. “I think its best.”
 
“Oh…I didn’t mean to…”
 
Abraham held up a hand. “Laura was here and watched Pa die. It was so hard on her. Watching Ma die like this is going to be incredibility painful. Emily, you have a big burden on your shoulders – caring for Ma; and it’s a burden you will not be carrying by yourself. We will ALL be here to help but…” Abraham took a sip of his coffee. “I just think it would be best…for all concerned if Laura wasn’t underfoot here. Julie and I can help her understand and adjust.”
 
“I’m sorry. I feel so terrible…” Emily whispered. “I love Laura with all my heart.”
 
“Honey.” Julie laid a hand on Emily’s hand. “You are only 18 years old. If you hadn’t brought it up, I would have because you are very correct in saying that Laura IS indeed a handful. You need to concentrate on taking care of Ma. Peter needs to take care of Tiffany and the baby…and this farm. Laura loves to help take care of the boys. It’s good for her. I don’t want her to stay here and dwell on death all day. Besides…” Julie looked up at Abraham. “…She needs to start letting go, and that will be easier to do if she’s staying with us.”
 
“Thank you.” Emily shook her head. “It happened…so fast…”
 
“We’ll see that Laura comes to see Ma every day if she can. I think it’s important, but we have to be careful not to let her stay too long.”
 
“Abe…” Peter looked up at his brother. “What about Lucas?”
 
“Luke…” Abraham paused as he took another sip of his coffee. “I’ll send a wire to the army in the morning. Luke told me they can contact him in emergencies if they are near a town. I’ll send it in the morning.”
 
“Abe…they won’t release him to come home…would they?”
 
“After so many men died in Gettysburg? I doubt it. They’ll need ever available man.”
 
***
Peter helped Abraham set up cots in the main room for Julie and Abe to sleep on then saw Jeremiah and Em to their wagon. His heart was so heavy as he slowly walked into his bedroom. He made his way over to the cradle at the end of the bed and kneeled down beside it. Softly, he touched his daughter’s cheek. Emily had just fed the baby and put her down. She promised Peter she should sleep for the next few hours. “Oh…baby girl…” Peter sighed. “My heart is so heavy tonight!” Peter allowed a tear to slip from his eye and roll down his cheek. “Ruth Ellen McCain. That’s what we’ll call you. You came into the world early because somehow God knew we needed you. Ma’s leaving us Ruthie…”
 
He heard Tiffany moan from the bed. Peter wiped his eyes and forced the tears back. Then he stood and walked over to the bed. Tiffany groaned in pain and turned to look at her husband as he lit a lantern. “Hi.” Peter forced a smile as he looked down at her.
 
“Peter…” Tiffany moaned as she drew a hand to her middle. “Th’…The baby?”
 
Peter nodded as he lay a hand on her cheek. “Your daughter, Mrs. McCain, is lying fast asleep at the end of our bed. She’s okay.”
 
“I’m sorry I was so much trouble…I’m sure your family thinks I’ve gone loco…carrying on the way I did.”
 
“No, Baby,” Peter shook his head as his eyes filled with tears. “The truth is…we almost lost you. I thought we had there for a minute and do you know what I discovered?” Tiffany shook her head. “I discovered that I couldn’t live without you.”
 
“Really?” Tiffany smiled through her pain. “You…really love me that much?”
 
“Mm hm…” Peter slowly stroked her cheek. Then he lowered his head and kissed her softly on the lips.
 
“What’s wrong?” Tiffany suddenly asked. Peter suddenly turned away. He stood up and walked toward the door. “I’ll go get you some medicine for the pain. The doctor left…”
 
“Peter, come back!” Tiffany suddenly ordered as she held out her hand. Peter turned at her cry and hurried back to her. “Please…” she swallowed. “If there’s something wrong…I want to know.” Peter hesitated. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned over these past eight months, it’s that this family doesn’t keep things from each other. It’s a rule.”
 
“Yes. One my Mother chose to break…” Peter’s eyes filled with tears. “Oh…Tiffany…” Tears fell from his eyes. “My mother’s dying!”
 
“What?” Tiffany reached out and grabbed his hand.
 
“She’s very sick. She has…c…c…cancer!”
 
“Oh Peter! Oh!” Tiffany forced herself to sit up painfully and took her husband in her arms. “I’m so sorry, Peter…” Tiffany cried as she remembered how Ruth had taken her aside that very first day and laid down the law. She knew Ruth was something special that day. “I’m so sorry, Peter!” Tiffany cried as Peter sobbed in her arms. “I’m so very sorry!”
 
In time, Peter lay down beside Tiffany, putting his head on her chest as he continued crying softly. “The baby…” Peter started as he laced his fingers through hers. “…she came at a time we needed her. My mother’s dying, but she’ll live on through…” Peter swallowed as he slowly lifted his head and looked into his wife’s eyes. “…Ruth Ellen.” Peter lifted his eyebrows, hoping…praying she’d approve. He needed this so badly.
 
“Ruthie…” Tiffany smiled as she lifted a hand to wipe her husband’s tears. She nodded. “I think it’s beautiful. Our little Ruthie will bring us joy through our heartache. Peter…” Tiffany smiled as she looked into her husband’s eyes. “Our God is…amazing!”
 
***
July 6, 186
Enid, Oklahoma
 
Abraham walked into the telegraph office and picked up a piece of paper. “I need you to send this wire immediately, Amos.”
 
To Sergeant Lucas McCain, U.S. Army
13th Indiana Calvary
 
Mother is very sick. Does not have long to live. I am sorry to tell you this way, but I thought you should know as soon as possible. Please pray for us. Abraham
 
Amos took the telegram. He read it and his eyes grew wide. “Are you serious?” He lifted his head and stared at Abraham. “Your mother is dying?”
 
“Amos, just send the telegram!” Abraham ordered roughly.
 
“How? Why?” Amos suddenly asked. “Abe, I…”
 
Abraham didn’t want to talk about it. He leaned over the counter. “Amos…just send the damn telegram!!!” He slapped the money on the counter, turned and hurried out.
 
***
July 6, 1863
Near Gettysburg, PA
 
Lucas stared down at his hands as he again remembered that night. He was exhausted from lack of sleep. He hadn’t eaten hardly anything since it happened. The lack of sleep was due to horrible nightmares.
 
“Luke…” Johnny spoke softly from the opening of the tent. “The Captain…wants to see you.”
 
Lucas nodded. “Alright.” He slowly forced himself to stand from the cot. He would have to go to the Captain rather he wanted to or not. He knew they were heading out today to go back to Virginia. Lucas felt the stares and heard the whispers as he slowly made his way toward the Captain’s quarters. He knew the men thought he had gone loco, and maybe he had. But he couldn’t let the images, the sounds, or the feelings go. He had caused quite a scene yesterday.
 
At the door, the private announced he was there.
 
“Sit down, Luke.” Lucas was a bit taken aback by the Captain’s informal words. But he sat down without question. Captain Benton slowly stood up. “Lucas…I remember the first man I killed. It was out of anger because he had killed my best friend. It was before the war started. The killing was justifiable, but it was unforgivable. I went a long time without forgiving myself. It ate at me until I was raw, then I started behaving irrationally. I knew I had to come to terms with this.” Captain Benton sighed as he sat down in front of Lucas. “Now…what happened out on the battlefield that day was a lot more justifiable than what I did. But…I see why a man like you would feel so guilt-stricken over this.”
 
Lucas nodded.
 
“I think you would make a good Lieutenant. I think you have the makings of a fine officer, McCain, but…Right now you are broken. I’m afraid that putting you on the battle lines right now would only mean sure death to you. So, yesterday I sent a telegram to my superiors and they granted you a short leave for one month.” Lucas slowly lifted his head and stared at the Captain. “There’s really no need for a second Lieutenant right now, and it could be awhile before we get enough men for you. I…hope that this month off will help you come to terms with some things. I hope that upon your return, you will be willing to take the position.”
 
Lucas slowly stood up. He pressed his lips together. “Sir…your giving me a month’s leave? To do what?”
 
Captain Benton stood up and went to his make-shift desk. He slowly lifted a piece of paper from it and stared down at it. “To go home to your family. Seems they need you.”
 
“What?”
 
“This morning, I received this telegram. If more time’s needed, I’m sure we can arrange to extend the month. It’s your mother.” Captain Benton lifted his head. “She’s dying.”
 
***
 
July 6, 1863
Enid, Oklahoma
 
Laura shifted her food back and forth on her plate but didn’t really eat. She had awaken in the middle of the night crying. Emily had gone to her, but there was little that could be said to console her. Laura would have to come to terms with this in her own way.
 
Nobody forced her to eat. They all knew how terrible of an ordeal this was going to be for her.
 
The door to Ruth’s bedroom opened and Julie came out with the tray. Abraham looked up from feeding David. “How is she?”
 
Julie sighed as she sat the tray on the counter. “She can’t eat. She…she’s too weak.”
 
Abraham shifted his eyes from his wife to his sister. Laura closed her eyes as tears slipped from them again. “Honey, after you eat I’ll let you peak in on your mother.” Laura didn’t move. “Laura Rose…” Laura lifted her head to look at Abraham. “Uh…after you went to bed last night, we came to a decision. Honey, we all think it’s best if you stay with us.”
 
Laura’s eyes grew wide. “NO!” She shook her head. “I want to stay here…to help take care of Mama!”
 
“No.” Abraham knew his words were causing her upset. “Laura, Emily has her hands full taking care of Ma, and she doesn’t need…”
 
“Uh…” Julie hurried in and stooped down in front of Laura. “What your brother is trying to say is that…” Julie grasped Laura’s hands and smiled up into her eyes. “Laura, we’re going to see if Margaret can help Emily. Emily will need a friend during this time, and she and Margaret have always been good friends, you know that.”
 
Laura lowered her head. “Laura Rose?” Laura lifted her head again to look at Julie. Julie licked her lips. “Do you remember when you were getting better after you almost died in that cave?” Laura nodded. “Well, we were all here for you…but who was it that made you happiest when you were really sad about being in that bed?”
 
“Jessie,” Laura answered.
 
“That’s right, honey.” Julie lifted a hand to stroke Laura’s hair. “And just like Jessie was there for you when you really needed her; Emily needs Margaret here really bad.” Laura nodded. “Which means…that I’m going to need you really, really bad!”
 
“Why?” Laura asked suspiciously. “Is this a trick?”
 
Julie chuckled. “No, Laura…you know I would NEVER try to trick you! Honey, the truth is…we DO want you away from here. It’s not good for a little girl to dwell on what has to come, and it’s good to stay busy. Now, I’ll need your help with the triplets and Charlie. Charlie’s getting to be more and more underfoot and I need somebody I can trust to keep track of him when he’s outside. And the triplets…they are starting to walk!”
 
Abraham kneeled down beside Julie. “And I thought that you could help me build a fence.”
 
“A fence?”
 
Abraham nodded. “I have a lot of fencing boards in the barn from when we were fencing the garden to keep the cows out, remember?” Laura nodded. “I want to work on putting a fence up in our yard so the boys can play outside without running off. I’ll need your help.”
 
“Abe…” Julie turned and looked at her husband. “Laura’s a young lady!”
 
“Oh, now who are you fooling?” Abraham asked as he pecked his wife on the cheek. “She’s a Tom boy, and you know it! There’s nothing wrong with her helping me!”
 
“I can honestly help ya?” Laura asked. “Honest?” Abraham nodded.
 
“Yes.” Julie smiled. “And Abe’s also got a couple bedrooms to build VERY soon! Five children in one bedroom isn’t going to cut it. I think Laura needs her own bedroom!” Julie turned and looked at Laura. “What do you think?”
 
“My own…” Laura looked from Abraham to Julie. “You mean I’ll be living with you for…forever?”
 
Abraham smiled. He loved this woman he had married. “Would you want it to be forever?”
 
Laura turned and looked at Emily. “Well…”
 
“I think it’s wonderful!” Emily declared. “I’m so happy!” She reached out and took Laura’s hand. “How about if you and I go to pack your things?” Laura nodded.
 
She followed Emily into the bedroom. “Only…I don’t wanta leave you, Emily! You’re my big sister!”
 
“I know.” Emily took the carpet bag from the closet and started folding Laura’s clothes. “I don’t want you to go. I’ve been teaching you how to be a big sister now for eight years. It’s time you started being a big sister to your nephews. They’ll need somebody to teach them the McCain ways.” Emily kept her tears at bay. “Besides…you can come here as much as you want!”
 
***
 
“You know something?” Abraham asked as he kissed Julie. They were still kneeled on the floor in front of the empty chair. “You are the most…” Abraham kissed her again. “…amazing…” he kissed her left cheek. “…intelligent…” he kissed her right cheek. “…creative…” He kissed her lips. “Woman in the whole world!”
 
“I know.” Julie smiled. “You were about to send that girl back to that ledge. I didn’t much feel like going through that again!”
 
“What?” Abraham shrugged. “I was going to tell her the same thing…”
 
“Yeah.” Julie nodded. “From a rough and tough brother perspective. Laura needed it in a creative way that she could understand.”
 
“Oh.” Abraham stood and pulled her to stand up beside him. “So uh…she’s going to live with us…permanently?”
 
“Are you upset?”
 
“No.” Abraham shook his head. “I was going to try and find a way to break it to her subtly.”
 
“Oh.” Julie turned and looked toward the door. “Laura’s scared, Abe. She needs to understand that even though Ma’s dying…she’s still important and we still care. Her knowing she’s going to have a good home…”
 
“But THIS…” Abraham pointed…”This IS a good home!”
 
“Abe…” Julie shook her head and folded her arms. “Peter and Tiffany are just starting out. They’ve only discovered they are in love with each other and now have a new baby to care for. Emily…she’s young…eighteen, and she’ll be getting married someday. She doesn’t need the added burden of a hand-full like your baby sister! We have been married for quite some time and have four children already. I really COULD use her help.”
 
Abraham shook his head. “Like I said, you ARE amazing!”
 
Julie kissed him. “I know. That’s why God made women!”
 
The door opened and Laura walked out. “Can I come back tonight and help you with Ma?” Laura asked.
 
“Well…” Emily looked up at Abraham. “I’d say that’s up to your brother.”
 
“We’ll come back tonight and look in on Ma,” Abraham promised. “Let’s…” he looked up at Julie. “Let’s get our other children and…go home.”
 
Emily watched the family walk up the hill toward Abraham’s house. She allowed her tears to fall as she waved goodbye. It hurt something awful to think that Laura would no longer be living with her, but Emily knew that this was for the best. Her heart would adjust and she would lean more on Tiffany to help her through the hard times.
 
***
Near Gettysburg, PA
 
Lucas wiped his eyes as he folded his tent and packed it with the rest of the gear. “Luke?” Lucas turned to see Johnny standing behind him. “I just heard.” He folded his arms and raised his eyebrows at his friend. “Look…I’m sorry I punched you.”
 
“Yeah. Thanks.” Lucas tied his pack together and stood up.
 
“Oh…this is where you tell me you’re sorry for the things you said to me.”
 
“Oh.” Lucas quickly wiped a tear that escaped his eye and started to brush past Johnny.
 
Johnny grabbed his arm. “Luke…look…I’m a man and I’m not too good with mushy stuff. You know that but…Your folks have always been nice. They’ve put up with me all these years and all and…well…” Johnny sighed. “I’m very sorry about your mother.”
 
“Thanks.”
 
“I hope that during your month off…you can reflect on what’s happened and come to terms with it somehow. Like the Captain said, you’re a good soldier. You really are. You have a big heart, though and I don’t want to see it harden over this.”
 
“Right.” Lucas turned to leave. But he felt guilty for the way he’d treated his friend. He quickly turned around. “Uh…I’m sorry for…you know…I shouldn’t have said it…even if it’s true.” Lucas walked to the Cavalry horse and loaded his gear on it. He was indeed sorry about all the trouble he had seemed to cause, but right now he felt so broken. Normally, he would care if someone offered to give him a month off.
 
But today, he didn’t give a damn.
 
He turned and nodded to his fellow enlisted men. Johnny had lost several of his men too and would be taking charge of Lucas’s until he returned. Then if he accepted the Lieutenant’s job, a fellow Corporal would step up to be his replacement. Lucas saluted the Lieutenant who only stared at him with a scowl on his face. Then he turned toward the Captain.
 
“I must ask you one thing before I go, sir.”
 
“McCain…Your leave officially started five minutes ago so just call me Tom.” He smiled at Lucas.
 
Lucas nodded, but didn’t smile. His heart was aching too badly to smile. “Tom…how’d you ever get to be Captain?”
 
“How do you mean?” Tom asked.
 
“I mean…the Lieutenant over there…He never smiles and is pretty mean. He’s the sort of man who would make Captain. You’re too…”
 
Tom smiled. “Nice?” Lucas nodded. “Well…let’s just say I’m a lot like you, McCain. I care for my men. They like me…all of them.”
 
Lucas nodded. “Thanks…for everything.”
 
“You’re a strong man, McCain. You let that woman of yours heal your heart.”
 
Margaret’s face popped into his mind. Lucas nodded as the slightest smile played at his lips. He knew that if anyone could help him through this it was Margaret. Lucas nodded as he looked around. “Well, I’ll catch up with you in Virginia…or wherever.”
 
Tom nodded. “Ride easy, McCain. God speed and…I’m sorry about your mother.”
 
Lucas nodded. Without saying another word he mounted his horse and rode for home.

The Years Before — The Fight

 

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