The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Years Before
 
Chapter 20 - The Measles
Written by Michelle Palmer
 
Laura and Jessie raced into the school one morning in late October. “Gotcha!” Jessie declared. Laura turned and tripped. A lose floorboard gave way, causing Laura’s foot to fall through. “Ouch!” Laura cried.
 
Johnny Gibbs hurried inside when he heard Laura’s cry. He sat down his school books and bent town beside Laura. She was crying and blood was coming from the cut on her leg. “Oh Laura…” Johnny slowly lifted her foot from the floor board. “You’ll have to go see the doctor, I’m afraid.”
 
“No!” Laura cried. “He’ll give me a shot and try to sew my leg up! I don’t want that!”
 
Mr. Richards hurried inside. “What’s the problem?” he asked. He stopped when he saw blood oozing from Laura’s torn stocking. “Oh drat!” He bent down in front of her. “Johnny, you best take her to the doctor.”
 
“NO!” Laura cried. “I ain’t going to the doctor!”
 
“Johnny, best run and get one of her folks.”
 
“Yes sir.” Johnny hurried out while Mr. Richards helped Laura as she limped to her seat.
 
Mr. Richards walked up to the front of the class. “It seems we have a lot of repairs. Two broken windows, some of the seats need badly repaired, and the floor is rotting…” Mr. Richards shook his head. “It’s a shame more can’t be done. I’ve been thinking on something lately, and I’ve come to a decision.” Mr. Richards turned and looked at the class. “How would you like to have a carnival to raise money for the repairs?”
 
“A carnival?” Jessie asked as she leaned forward. “You mean like…a dunking booth and shell game and such?”
 
“Yes!” Mr. Richards declared.
 
“And a…fortune teller?”
 
“Absolutely! If we can find people willing to do these things. We may even have a couple artists and such. What do you say, class?” Everyone was enthusiastic. “Very well.” Mr. Richards walked to the calendar. He scratched his chin as he studied it. “Oh, this is perfect! Saturday is Halloween. Why don’t we plan the carnival for Halloween afternoon?” More enthusiastic voices sounded. “Very well! We’ll sell tickets for twenty-five cents a head. I’ll get the tickets at lunch.”
 
 
Laura and Jessie looked at each other and smiled. This DID sound like a lot of fun! Mr. Richards turned and began writing the history lesson on the board. Laura sighed, suddenly not interested in what the teacher had to say. But as he spoke, Mr. Richards suddenly stopped and looked toward the back. “Mr. McCain.”
 
Abe nodded as he hurried up to Laura. He bent down and pulled the stocking away from her ankle. “Oh honey, we have to let Doc see this.”
 
“No!” Laura cried. “It don’t hurt that much.”
 
“I’m sorry.” Abe shook his head as he stood up. He held out his hand. “Come on.”
 
Laura knew from the warning in his voice that she really had no choice. She had to go. Abe held her elbow as they walked to the horses. Abe lifted Laura onto hers and mounted his own horse. Laura was quiet all the way to the office. When they were in front, Laura hung her head. “I don’t want a shot!”
 
“He may not give you a shot, honey,” Abe pointed out as he lifted her down. “It’s just a cut. It may not even need stitches!” They walked inside. Abe called for the doc. When he appeared wiping his hands, Abe explained to him what was wrong. “Oh…I have a patient back here. Just let me finish with him and I’ll see what I can do.”
 
“But you can’t give me a shot!” Laura declared.
 
“Oh…” Dr. Stevens chuckled. “Well, I’ll have to see about that.”
 
Abe sat down on the chaise longue next to her. “He’s gonna give me a shot! I just know it!” Laura declared.
 
Abe turned and looked down at her. “Now…when did he ever give you a shot?”
 
“When I was five years old!”
 
“You remember that?” Abe asked as he raised his eyebrow. Laura nodded. “Yes. Well, you had pneumonia. You were very sick. Seems to me Papa and Mama both had to hold you down.”
 
“And I didn’t like it!” Laura declared. “I ain’t gonna get a shot!”
 
“Calm down now, Laura!” Abe shook his head as he leaned his head back against the wall. “He won’t give you a shot for that cut. He may sew it up and…” He stopped when he heard Laura suck in her breath. “Laura, you are eight years old. You’re old enough to realize…”
 
The door opened. Dr. Stevens motioned for them to come back. He told Laura to hop up onto the cot as he sat down. “Well now, let’s get the stocking off.”
 
Laura sighed. “Julie’s gonna be sore I tore my stocking.”
 
“I think she’ll be happy you’re not hurt any worse,” Abe reminded her. Then he gave her a stern look. “What happened to you, young lady?”
 
“Well…” Laura bit her lip as she took her stocking off. “There was a lose board on the floor in the school and I was running inside chasing Jessie when…Oh…uh…”
 
Abe crossed his arms. Laura looked up at him. “Mm hm…We’ll talk about that later, young lady.” Abe looked at the doctor. “Well, Doc, is she going to live?”
 
“For a long time,” Dr. Stevens answered as he stood and walked to the cabinet. He got some cotton and a bottle. “But I’m going to clean this out really good so that…” Laura gasped. Dr. Stevens paused. “You don’t want to get lock jaw, do ya now?”
 
“Lock jaw?” Laura looked up at Abe. “What’s that?”
 
“It’s something you don’t want,” Abe answered. “Now, let the doctor clean it.”
 
Laura flinched a bit as he cleaned her wound, but he finally got it clean. He got a bandage and wrapped it up good and tight. “Now, I’m not going to give you stitches, Laura. You may have a small scar there, but it’s better than sewing your leg up, I reckon. I want you to keep this clean until it heals. That means no rough playing. I don’t want you outside running around in the dirt. Understand?”
 
“Yes sir,” Laura answered. “Just for today.”
 
“No ma’am. For at least a week.” Laura groaned. Dr. Stevens looked up at Abe. “Have Julie clean it with strong soap and water every night, then wrap it up good and tight.” Dr. Stevens smiled as he handed Abe some bandages. “If it looks red, bring her in so I can clean it out again with my…special stuff.”
 
“What IS your special stuff?” Laura asked as she cocked her head to one side.
 
“Nevermind, Laura. You need to get back to school.”
 
“School?” Laura groaned. “I have to go home! I’m awful hurt!”
 
“Get to school!” Abe ordered as he raised his hand in warning. Laura hurried to her horse and mounted. “And keep that wound clean, young lady!”
 
The kids were happy to hear that Laura wasn’t hurt too badly, and, Laura announced, she didn’t have to have a shot like she had suspected after all!
 
When school let out, Abe was there with his brother, Peter. He sent Laura along home while they went inside to have a talk with the teacher. Mr. Richards stood from his desk as Abe and Peter walked inside. Abe stomped on the floorboards a few times. Mr. Richards sat down his pen and stepped off the platform. “You’re upset because your sister was hurt. I’m sorry. I was just coming in when…”
 
Abe held up a hand. “I’m not blaming you. But our children are precious. Laura could have been hurt a lot worse. We just don’t want something like this happening again.”
 
“I know,” Mr. Richards nodded. “Things have been tight here lately and the town just doesn’t have the money for repairs. We have broken windows, a rotting floor, and several other repairs that need made.” Peter bent down and picked up a piece of floorboard. “That’s where she fell in. I’ve told the children to be more careful.”
 
“Yes.” Abe nodded. “I realize it wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t been running, but…” Abe turned and looked at Peter as he stood up. “I want her to be safe.”
 
“We’re having a carnival to raise money.”
 
“Oh, I’m sure the parents of this town would be more than happy to have a work day to fix these things!” Abe declared.
 
Mr. Richards held up his hand. “Mr. McCain, let me explain something to you. The McCains’ and Gibbs’, and some other families..you are very prideful people and give anytime you need to without expecting anything in return. But a lot of the families…they take whenever they can. I’m trying to teach these children, and I take that teaching seriously. Please…allow me to have this teaching moment – to show them that this is their school and they can raise the money for repairs. When the money’s raised and the materials are bought, then we’ll discuss repairs. Please…allow the children to do this.”
 
Abe turned and looked at Peter who smiled. “Alright, sir.” Abe shook his hand. “I was wrong about you. You really do care.”
 
“Yes. Well, I admit I’m a bit harsh. I think the children have taught me a lot these last two years.”
 
“I…do hope you’ll be here when my daughter starts to school.”
 
Mr. Richards nodded. “So do I, Mr. McCain. So do I.”
 
“Mr. Richards, when it’s time for the repairs, my brothers and I…we’ll be happy to take charge of that if you like.”
 
“I’d appreciate that, Mr. McCain.” Mr. Richards nodded. “I’m a school teacher…not a carpenter.”
 
 
***
 
“And we’re gonna have a dunking booth and a cake walk and sack races…Oh, it’s gonna be so much fun!” Laura declared to Julie as Julie tried to get supper fixed.
 
Abe came inside as she finished her announcement. “What’s going to be so much fun?”
 
Laura ran up to her brother. “Papa Abe, we’re gonna have a carnival at school on Halloween to raise money! You gonna buy some tickets?”
 
Abe raised his eyebrows and looked over Laura’s head. “How much?” Abe asked.
 
“Only twenty-five cents a head!” Laura declared.
 
“Twenty…” Abe shook his head. “That’s a lot of money, Laura Rose!” Abe scratched his beard. “I’ll have to think on it.”
 
“Oh, but it’s Saturday!” Laura declared.
 
“Then I’ll tell you Friday!” Abe answered her.
 
“Oh, but…”
 
“Right now, young lady, I want you to go outside and get the clothes off the line before supper. Then I want you to go in your room and do your homework.”
 
“Then will you tell me?” Laura asked hopefully.
 
“Not tonight!” Abe answered.
 
Abe chuckled as he watched Laura go outside. “What’s so funny?” Julie asked as she continued buttering the bread fresh from the oven.
 
“Oh…I talked to Mr. Richards after school today and know all about the carnival.” Abe took the heel of the bread as she cut it up and started to eat it, but Julie slapped his hand and took it back. Instead, Abe stood behind her and wrapped his arms around her. “Peter and I are in charge of making sure the repairs are done, once the money’s raised.”
 
“Oh…and you have to think about it if you’re going to buy tickets for our family?” Julie asked as she turned and looked at her husband.
 
“No. We’re going to buy tickets,” Abe answered with a chuckle.
 
“Oh.” Julie shook her head. “Then why, my love, did you tell her you’d answer her on Friday?”
 
“Oh…I guess I’m just being ornery,” Abe answered. “It’s good for a child to learn patience.” Abe again reached over her and grabbed the heel of the bread. This time, Julie slapped his hand harder. “Ouch!”
 
“And you think your sister needs to learn patience????” Julie turned around and pointed a finger at her husband. “Now Abraham McCain, you march right out there and tell Laura we’ll buy tickets, and we’re all going to that carnival on Saturday!”
 
“I will…after supper.”
 
“You will NOW!” Julie demanded. She planted a fist on her hip. “It gets awfully cold in the barn this time of year!”
 
“Oh.” Abe reached out and took the heel and hurried toward the door. “Yes ma’am!” The boys all followed Abe outside. Abe turned and grabbed the four little coats hanging on the hooks, then tipped his hat to Julie and closed the door.
 
***
 
It was all Laura could do to concentrate on her studies that afternoon. Laura was growing more and more excited. On Tuesday afternoon, Laura brought home the tickets and sold them to the entire McCain family. Peter, of course, had to tease his sister a bit. When Laura told him he had to pay for little Ruthie as well, Peter held up a hand in protest. “Now wait a minute there, little sister!” Peter declared. “Ruthie’s only four months old! She won’t have any fun there so she should be free!”
 
“Pay her!” Tiffany ordered.
 
“Yes ma’am!” Peter answered as he handed her a silver dollar. “I was going to use that money in town for a b…er…” Peter turned and smiled at his wife. “…a new bonnet for Ruthie.”
 
“Uh huh!” Tiffany shook her head at her husband. “Laura, I assure you that dollar was wisely spent, thanks to you!”
 
Abe even took Laura into town on Wednesday after school and allowed her to sell tickets to the local town folks. Some had already bought tickets from other children who lived in town, but Laura did manage to sell more.
 
The children spent all day Wednesday and Thursday gathering the supplies and organizing for the event. Mr. Richards was proud at how well the students were coming along. But some of the children were absent on Wednesday, and even more on Thursday. There seemed to be an outbreak in Enid, and they were now asking parents of the children to pitch in and assist the event.
 
And then, on Thursday afternoon, Laura’s world came crashing down.
 
***
 
Thursday around noon, Julie looked outside to see Laura ride into the yard. “What…” Julie started.
 
She hurried into the yard, shivering. She looked up at the sky and saw gray clouds gathering. It was cold enough to snow by now. Again, winter was coming early. Julie hurried toward Laura as Laura slowly dismounted her horse. “What are you home so early for, Laura Rose?”
 
Laura sighed and handed Julie a note. Julie opened it and started to read it. “Oh dear…” Julie looked up at Laura.
 
“Does this mean I can’t go to the carnival?” Laura asked as her eyes filled with tears. “Oh…PLEASE tell me I can still go!”
 
Julie bent down in front of Laura and felt her forehead. “I’m sorry, honey.” Julie shook her head in sympathy. “You are warm.” Laura started coughing. “Does your throat hurt?” Laura nodded. Julie bit her lip in worry. “Go on inside and get in bed, Laura. I’ll be in there shortly.”
 
Abe was in the fields with his brothers trying to get the last of the winter wheat planted. Laura scanned the hills, but saw no sign of him. He should be returning home for lunch soon, at least that was his plan when he kissed her goodbye that morning. Julie shook her head and hurried back inside.
 
She hurried into the bedroom. “Teacher says he’s closing the school down cause of the measles,” Laura said as she started coughing again. “Does that mean I can’t go to the carnival?”
 
Julie brushed Laura’s hair back from her face. “I’m sorry, sweetie, but it could be a week or two before your better.” Laura coughed again as Julie hurried to close the blinds. “We’ll have to keep it dark in here for awhile.”
 
Julie turned when she heard Laura’s sobs. She hurried back over to the bed and kissed the child’s forehead. “Oh Laura Rose…if there truly is an outbreak of measles, the carnival will have to be postponed. The tickets are all paid for, so we can just have the carnival when this dreadful illness has passed.
 
“But what if I die? Then I’ll never get to go!” Laura cried.
 
“Laura, I can assure you that you aren’t going to die!” Julie pulled the covers over her young charge. “Now, you just lay there like a good girl.” Julie stood and walked toward the door. “I’ll bring you in some water in a bit. Just lay still now.”
 
Julie closed the door and went to feed her sons. She was just getting the last one cleaned up from lunch when she heard a horse approaching. Julie hurried to the window and looked out. It was Abe. She cracked the door just enough to let him see her. “Stop right there, Abe.”
 
Abe froze with his foot on the step. “What’s wrong? Did I forget something?”
 
“Have you had the measles?”
 
“The…” Abe cocked his head to one side. “The measles? No, I haven’t had the measles.” Abe gasped. “Why? Who has them?”
 
“Laura. She came home from school a half hour ago. She has a fever and is coughing…”
 
“Probably just a cold…” Abe shrugged.
 
“No!” Julie held up her hand when he started forward. “She has some spots around her ears. That’s where it starts.”
 
“What about the boys?”
 
Julie sighed. “It’s best they’re exposed to them now. The younger they are, the easier it will be for them. You go on for the doctor.”
 
“What about you, honey? Have you had the measles?”
 
Julie nodded. “I had them bad when I was eight. I almost…” Julie lifted her head and looked at Abe.
 
“But the baby…” Abe started.
 
Julie shook her head. “I have to stay with the children. You ride for the doctor!” Julie demanded. Abe stood there and looked in the window. “Go!”
 
Abe turned and jumped back on his horse. Julie watched him ride fast from the yard. She wiped her hands on her apron and hurried back inside. “Let’s get you boys down for your naps.”
 
“No nap!” Charlie declared.
 
“Yes! A nap!” Julie answered firmly. “And no arguments less you want your father to spank you when he gets home.”
 
Charlie gasped as he put his hands to his backside. “Papa hurt Charlie!”
 
“Then Charlie be good!” Julie declared as she pointed toward his room. After she got the triplets down, she went into Charlie’s room and picked up a book to read to him. “Mama, Lala take nap too?”
 
“No honey, Laura’s sick.”
 
“I don’t like sick!” Charlie shook his head. “Kiss Lala’s booboo?”
 
“I’ll do that, Charlie. Now, let’s read this book.”
 
Julie was just leaving Charlie’s room when she heard horses approaching. She hurried toward the door. Dr. Stevens came inside. “Julie, you can’t be here. Your baby’s in danger.”
 
“But I’ve had the measles!” Julie insisted.
 
“Yes.” Dr. Stevens answered. “But that doesn’t mean you’re unborn child is safe. You must leave.”
 
“But they’re my children!” Julie insisted.
 
Abe came into the house. “Come on, honey. He’s not letting me stay either. Let’s get our clothes then we’ll go stay with Peter and Tiffany.”
 
“No!” Julie declared. “I have to be here for the children.
 
Dr. Stevens stepped forward. “Julie?” He put his hands on her shoulders. “Do you remember how worried you were about losing your baby again?” Julie nodded. “We don’t want that to happen. Now, there’s no proof, but some doctors believe that a pregnant woman exposed to measles…even if she’s had them…can have effects on her unborn child. It’s better to play it safe.”
 
“Wait a minute!” Abe snapped is fingers suddenly. “Julie, Margaret had the measles!”
 
“She did?” Julie asked suddenly.
 
“Yes! I remember, because Pa had to practically hog-tie Luke to keep him away from her! And even then, he wasn’t very successful.”
 
Dr. Stevens shook his head. “I remember telling your folks not to fight it so hard – to expose you children when you’re young so that you could get that out of your system, but your mother was quite adamant on keeping you McCain’s safe from the disease.”
 
“Yes.” Abe folded his arms. “Luke sure did get into a lot of trouble over that!” Abe chuckled. “He sat outside her window. Boy, when Pa found out…”
 
“Mama Julie!” Laura called suddenly.
 
“Oh Abe, I have to go to her. I…”
 
“No.” Dr. Stevens held up his hand. “Abe, go for Margaret. She’ll help the children understand.”
 
“But Margaret can’t manage all five children on her own!” Julie declared. “It’s too much for one body…especially if thy get sick!”
 
“Then we’ll find someone else to help her,” Dr. Stevens answered. “Now, you stay out here while I check her. Be ready to leave when I get out.”
 
Dr. Stevens went to Laura’s room. Julie shed tears over the thought of leaving her children behind, especially Laura while she was sick. She knew it was better this way, but it still broke her heart. Abe led her from the house and put their bag on the porch. He turned and took Julie in his arms. “You’re okay, honey.” He kissed her forehead, and then he drew her against his chest. “You’ll be okay. We’ll come check on them every day. You can look in the window just like Luke did.”
 
Dr. Stevens opened the door and stepped out onto the porch. “Doctor?”
 
He nodded. “She definitely has the measles. I’ll stay here until Margaret comes.”
 
Abe nodded. “Come on, honey. She’ll be in good hands.” Abe led her down to the main house. When they entered, Emily turned from the stove. “What…”
 
“I’m afraid we’ll have to stay here for a few days,” Abe answered with a sigh. “Dr. Stevens kicked us out of our own house.”
 
“What is it?” Emily asked as her heart started beating faster.
 
“It’s measles,” Julie answered. “Laura has them.”
 
“Oh…” Emily put a hand to her chest and sighed in relief.
 
“I’ve had them but the doctor doesn’t want our baby exposed, so…”
 
“You’re baby?” Emily and Tiffany both stared wide-eyed at Julie. “Julie, you’re expectin?”
 
Julie smiled in spite of herself as Abe put an arm around her and squeezed her close to him. “Yes. We are.” Abe smiled into Julie’s eyes. “She’s about three months along now,” Abe declared proudly.
 
“Three months?” Emily folded her arms. “And how long have you known?”
 
Julie smiled as she looked at her husband. “We found out on my birthday.” Julie lowered her eyes. “That’s what all my trouble was about.”
 
“OH!” Emily shook her head in wonderment as she turned to look at Tiffany. “Have you had the measles?”
 
“I have!” Tiffany declared as she untied her apron. “I’ll go right away!” She paused as she turned at her bedroom door. “Are you telling me that none of you have had them?”
 
“No. Mama kept us isolated when the epidemic came around. Margaret’s had them as well. I’ll go see if she can stay.”
 
“Alright.” Tiffany picked Ruthie up. “I’ll be back as soon as I can, my sweet baby.” She kissed her on the the cheek. “You be good girl for Aunt Julie and Aunt Emily!”
 
“Tiffany…” Julie stopped her as she went toward the door. “Tiffany…thanks.” Tiffany nodded. “Tell Laura we love her.”
 
***
 
Margaret giggled again as she looked at the under things Anne had chosen to wear under her wedding dress. “Well, Hal’s going to see them, so I don’t want any ol’ thing!” Anne declared.
 
“Oh!” Margaret threw a hand to her mouth. “I never really thought…” A deep blush settled into Margaret’s cheeks. “How can you stand there without blushing?”
 
Anne shrugged. “Well, he’ll be my husband! He…” She gave a short laugh. “Well…I suppose it is a bit…uncomfortable at that….The fact that Hal will…”
 
She was interrupted by a knock at the door. Abe hurried inside. Anne quickly covered the clothes she had been showing off. “Oh, excuse me…” He took off his hat. “How are you, Anne?”
 
“Well, I’m just fine, thank you,” Anne answered. She looked at Margaret and laughed.
 
“I came for you, Margaret. I need to see if you can stay at our house for a few days.”
 
“Oh?” Margaret turned and looked at Ann. “Is there a problem?”
 
“Yes. Laura has the measles. As you know, I haven’t. Julie’s had them, but…”
 
Margaret nodded. “The baby. I understand. Gosh…I was only six when I had the measles!” Margaret shook her head. “I sure was miserable.”
 
“Yes. When Luke wasn’t sitting outside your window!” Abe declared.
 
Ann giggled. Margaret turned and lifted an eyebrow at Ann. “Oh…uh, I’ve had the measles as well.” Ann smiled. “The truth is…I sort of got them from Margaret. I snuck in to see her one day.” Ann shook her head. “My, but we’ve changed a lot since then!”
 
“So, can you come?” Abe asked.
 
“Let me pack some things and leave a note for Scott and Amanda.” She hurried around as fast as she could. “They went on a picnic this afternoon. Mother’s at a lady’s meeting in town and Johnny…well, who knows when Johnny will be here.”
 
Abe escorted Ann and Margaret both to his house. Ann assured him she could help out for as long as necessary. Abe lingered outside the door. He waited until Dr. Stevens came out. “Doc, how is she?”
 
“Her temperature’s at 103. I have the ladies monitoring her temperature. If it gets over 104, we’ll have to use cold compresses and possibly ice.” Abe sighed. “Abe…this is a common childhood disease.”
 
“Yes.” Abe nodded. “But people do die from it. And I’ve heard they can go blind and have brain damage and…”
 
Dr. Stevens chuckled. “Abe…there’s always a risk. A common cold can turn deadly. But there’s no reason to fret that your children are going to have any trouble. Usually, it’s the malnourished children that run the risk of complications. I’ve never known a McCain to be malnourished…no matter how bad things get.” Abe nodded. He knew the doctor was right. “I understand, Abe. She’s your sister and she’s very special to you.  Your sons are all fine for now, but I suspect they will come down with the disease.”
 
“I want to get them out.”
 
“Sit down, Abe.” Dr. Stevens sat down on the steps. He folded his hands in his lap and sighed, trying to find an easy way to explain this. “Years ago, your mother heard about the measles epidemic and panicked. You see, when she was a child, her youngest sister contacted the disease and died. Her sister was only three months old. Now…When a child gets over a year old, they build up more of a tolerance for diseases. God made these childhood diseases for a reason – because he made a child’s body stronger…more able to endure diseases…then an adult. I tried to explain that to your mother, but she couldn’t…or wouldn’t…accept that.
 
“For an adult to get Measles, mumps, or chicken pox, it’s bad. An adult can easily die from such a disease because their bodies have matured and gone beyond the strength of childhood diseases. They usually get a lot sicker. Also, women who are pregnant…rather they’ve had the disease or not…they have a higher rate of miscarriages. But your children…the triplets and Charlie…they have a high tolerance to contact the disease and fight it off. I’d much rather they get it now so they can get it over with and not have to worry about it anymore. Then when their children get it, they won’t be separated from their parents.”
 
“I’m sure my mother did what she thought was best,” Abe declared defensively.
 
“Yes.” Dr. Stevens nodded. “I know she had her best intentions when she kept you from the disease. But Julie is strong and brave to allow her children to be exposed to this. She isn’t being cruel. She just knows from experience…” Dr. Stevens stood. “We’re doing all we can.”
 
“Alright.” Abe stood. He looked toward the house and smiled. “I think it’s best we don’t try to look in on them. If they see us…”
 
“Yes. The boys can play outside and stuff. Perhaps you can come spend some time with them as long as they are healthy but…” Dr. Stevens stopped. “They are usually the most contagious before you even know they are sick. They get little blue spots in their mouths, and when those appear…they can spread the disease like…that…” Dr. Stevens snapped his fingers. “So, you can chose to come spend time with them while they are healthy, but it’ll make the separation that much harder when you have to leave.”
 
“I understand.” Abe nodded. “I’ll send Peter to do the chores. I’ll try to convince Julie to stay away. Tell Margaret to…to try and help them understand.”
 
Dr. Stevens smiled. “They will, Abe. They’ll understand.”
 
***
 
Though Laura wasn’t happy with the arrangement, the way Margaret explained it made sense. She understood. “You mean, Mama Julie’s REALLY gonna have a baby?” Laura asked as Margaret fed her another spoonful of stew that evening.
 
Margaret smiled. “I guess they didn’t tell you. I hate to ruin the surprise, but…I didn’t know any other way to explain it to you. She wants to protect her baby that’s growing inside…you can understand that.”
 
The next morning, Laura was worse. Margaret continued to put cool, wet clothes on her forehead in hopes that her fever would stay down. Margaret didn’t leave Laura’s side, even when she was asleep. One time that afternoon, Margaret looked up to see Laura scratching. She hurried out to get some oatmeal she had ready for such an occasion, then she put the oatmeal on the spots Laura scratched. “You ever have Measles?” Laura asked once she was settled back in bed.
 
Margaret nodded as she tucked the covers in around her. “I was only six years old.”
 
“Will you tell me about that time?”
 
Margaret smiled as she remembered back. “Oh…in some ways, it seems like yesterday….Yet in others…
 
***
12 Years earlier
 
Lucas McCain skipped into the school yard and sat down his books. As he sat down under the tree he bent over to see what Margaret was holding in her hands. “Where’d you get that?” Lucas asked when he saw the blue bird.
 
“She fell out of a tree. I found her on my way to school,” Margaret answered. “I’m gonna feed her!”
 
“How you gonna feed a bird?” Lucas asked as he shook his head. “Ya shoulda just let him be and die in peace!”
 
“What a rotten thing ta say!” Margaret cried as she hugged the bird to her. She cried and stood up. “Lucas McCain, I don’t want to ever speak to you again!”
 
Lucas turned to see the other young boys staring at him and shaking their heads. Lucas sighed and walked up behind Margaret. “I was just saying that…”
 
“Just never mind!” Margaret gently laid the bird in her hand and patted him. “You’ll be okay, Mr. Bird. I’ll see to it personal-like!” Margaret coughed, causing the bird to peep and jump. Her coughing became harder. She was about to drop the bird, and Lucas found himself springing forward to save the bird. Lucas took the bird in his hands and helped Margaret sit back down under the tree. “You okay?”
 
“I…I don’t know…” Margaret shook her head.
 
“Margaret!” Scott called a short distance away. “Will you come on? I wanta get home an’ get to my chores so I can go fishing.”
 
Margaret hurried up to her two older brothers. “Look at th’ bird.”
 
“What ya have that ol’ thing for?” Scott asked.
 
“It’s not an old thing!” Margret pouted. “It’s a hurt bird! I think his wing is broken is all…” Margaret stopped as they got to the road leading into town. “I should take him to the doctor!”
 
“Ya can’t take a dumb ol’ bird to th’ doctor!” Andy declared. “Why, he’d think you were loco!”
 
“I can to!” Margaret declared as she lifted her chin. “An’…an’…I will!” Margaret started down the road.
 
“Hey, get back here!” Scott hurried up to her. “Pa will lick us all if you don’t get home!”
 
Margaret stopped. “What if you fell from a tree and broke your arm Scott Gibbs? Ya think I would just stand there and watch you suffer?”
 
“Of course not, but…”
 
“Then come on! Let’s go!” Scott grabbed her by the arm. The bird started peeping again.
 
“Yer hurtin’ his feelings!” Margaret cried as she jerked her arm free from her brother’s.
 
“He don’t have no feelings!” Scott declared as he rolled his eyes. “Stupid girls!”
 
“I ain’t stupid and I’M goin’ to the doctor’s!” Margaret coughed again as she hurried up the road.
 
“Margaret! Margaret!” Scott sighed and shook his head. “Girls!”
 
“Pa’s gonna lick us if we’re late in gettin’ home!” Andy declared.
 
“Pa would lick us if we left Margaret here by herself. Come on!”
 
“You follow Margaert. I’ll…” Andy started.
 
“Oh no!” Scott declared. “If Margaret’s going to make the Gibbs’ look dumb, you’ll gonna be right there lookin’ dumb with me! Besides, Pa don’t want you wondering around by yourself. He says you have to stay with me.”
 
The boys hurried after Margaret. Margaret went straight to the doc’s office and knocked on his door. When he opened it, he bent down in front of Laura. “Well now, young lady…” Doc smiled at her. “What brings you here?”
 
“A bird…” Laura sniffed. “He fell out of a tree! My brothers and Luke say I should leave him there, but I can’t! I just can’t!”
 
“Well, of course you can’t!”  Doctor Stevens declared. He gently took the bird from Margaret’s hands. “I need…” He stopped when he felt warmth radiating from her hand. He looked closer at her face. “Margaret…aren’t you feeling well?”
 
“It’s the bird, not me!” Margaret answered.
 
“Alright.” Doctor Stevens stood up when he saw Scott and Andy hurry up to them. “Boys, you run along and get your folks. Tell them I have Margaret here and they should come right away.” Scott and Andy looked at each other. “Go along now! Hurry!”
 
“Doctor…the bird?”
 
Doctor Stevens looked down at the bird. The bird was really hurt…too hurt for him to do any good, but he wasn’t about to tell Margaret that. He remembered making that mistake a month ago. That time it was a baby squirrel she had found. “I’ll take care of him.” Doctor Stevens turned and sat the bird gently on a cot. “There. He’ll be as good as new in a few days. But right now, I’m more concerned about you.”
 
“Nothing’s wrong with me, Doctor. I…” Margaret started coughing again. Doctor Stevens told her to open her mouth. There, he found the spots that indicated she had the measles. “I’m afraid, little girl, that you are sick. Let’s go lay down until your parents get here.”
 
***
Lucas followed his three older brothers to school. Abe stopped again and turned around. “Now Luke, if I have to tell you to walk faster one more time, I’m gonna bop you one!” he declared.
 
“I can’t help it if I’m short!” Luke argued. “I’m only six, you know!”
 
“Well, you best walk faster then.” Abe turned and hurried toward the school.
 
When they got inside, Luke made his way up front where the youngest children had to sit. He was surprised to find the seat on the other side of the isle empty. Margaret was always there before he was. He stared at the seat, then turned and looked toward the door. His brother, Peter, sat right behind him. “Where’s Margaret?” he whispered. Peter just shrugged.
 
School started, but Margaret still wasn’t there. Even at six, Lucas worried about his best friend a lot. He remembered the crack about the bird yesterday and wondered if he had hurt her feelings so bad that she never wanted to come to school again. Lucas turned and looked at Andy. “Where’s…”
 
“Mr. McCain…” Mr. Sage called. “Would you mind facing the front please? We would like to get started.
 
“Yes sir.” But Lucas turned and looked at Andy.
 
“Mr. McCain…NOW!”
 
Lucas turned and looked at the teacher. “Yes sir.” But as Lucas started practicing writing his letters in his tablet, he felt a tap on the leg. He slightly turned to see Peter passing him a note. Lucas looked up to see Mr. Sage writing, so he hurried and took the note. He slowly opened it. There was one word on it: sick. Lucas turned and looked at his brother. Peter bent in and whispered, “Measles.”
 
“Peter and Lucas McCain!” Mr. Sage suddenly stood up. “You both come up front this instant!”
 
The brothers slowly stood up and walked to the front of the classroom. Mr. Sage picked up the switch. “Since you find talking and passing notes more important, perhaps we should teach you what the consequences are.” He motioned for them to turn around. He gave both boys a good switching before they took their seats. Lucas wiped his eyes with the back of his sleeve. The skin on his backside stung like mad, and he knew that his ratty big brother would tell on him when they got home.
 
But Lucas was worried about Margaret. He wondered what measles were.
 
***
“Please don’t tell Pa, Abe! He’ll lick me!”
 
“Ha ha ha!” Abe laughed mischievously. “Of course I’m gonna tell Pa!” Abe ran into the yard. “Pa! Pa! Luke and Peter got a whippin’!”
 
“Why’s he so mean?” Peter grumbled as he and Luke slowed.
 
“He’s the oldest an’ thinks he knows everything! That’s why!” Lucas declared. “You just wait…someday I’m gonna be bigger ‘an him and I’m gonna punch him good!”
 
Sure enough, Marcus McCain came stomping across the yard. “You two get in that barn now!”
 
It was several minutes later when Lucas and Peter came out of the barn with tears in their eyes, rubbing their backsides. They both stopped and glared at their brother who was chopping wood and chuckling to himself. “You best watch it, boy, or I’ll whip you next!” Marcus warned.
 
Lucas went to pick up the woodchips to take to his Ma. “Papa?” Marcus stopped as he bent down beside Lucas. “Papa, what’s…Me…me…Me…”
 
“Measles, dummy!” Abe rolled his eyes.
 
“Abraham…” Marcus warned.
 
“Yeah…what is it?” Lucas asked, ignoring his brother’s rudeness.
 
“It’s a disease, son. Lots of children get it…” Marcus stopped to wiped sweat from his brow. He knealed down in front of Lucas. “Son…why are you asking about that?”
 
Lucas’s bottom lip started to quiver. “Ya mean…” Lucas swallowed hard. “She could…could…die?”
 
“Who, son?” Marcus asked.
 
“M…m…Margaret…Andy said she has…” Lucas stopped as his eyes filled with tears. “Oh, Papa!”
 
Marcus hugged his son. “There, there now, little one…” He pulled Lucas from his embrace and looked into his eyes. “Margaret ain’t gonna die, so you just wipe those eyes.”
 
“Promise?”
 
Marcus averted his eyes. “Luke…come here, son.” Marcus sat down on the ground and pulled his son onto his lap. “Anytime a body gets sick he runs the chance of death. Why, a little sniffle can turn into pneumonia or something worse and kill you, but the chances are pretty slim. Margaret’s young enough that she’ll bounce back right fast.”
 
“Ya sure?” Lucas asked, still not convinced.
 
“I’m sure, son.” Marcus smiled. “I tell you what…why don’t you come help me lay down fresh straw for the horses.” Lucas nodded and wiped his eyes.
 
***
 
Margaret sighed as she stared toward the darkened window. She hated being in bed, and Beth’s moaning about her own measles didn’t make Margaret feel any better. After her mother left, Margaret went to the window and pulled back the blanket that was blocking out the light. She bit her lip as she peered out the window. The sun was going down. She wished she could go out and play.
 
She was just about to turn away when she saw a silhouette cross the yard. She gasped, excited when she saw who was coming. “Luke!” Margaret pushed up her window and waited for Lucas to approach. “Luke!” she greeted her best friend warmly.
 
“Hi.” Lucas held out a bunch of wild flowers. “Mama says a girl likes flowers.”
 
“Your Ma sent ya over?” Margaret asked, a bit surprised.
 
“No. Actually…” Lucas looked around as if someone had followed him. “Mama said I had to stay clear away from here. She’s keeping us home until the disease passes. Two more kids caught it.”
 
“Beth has it and she’s only four. Scott has it too. He says it’s all MY fault!” Margaret shook her head. “I don’t feel sick at all! Mama said I have a mild case…whatever that means.”
 
“Oh.” Lucas climbed up onto the wood piled just outside her window and sat down. “I got scared when you weren’t at school the other day.”
 
“I couldn’t go. Mama wouldn’t let me. She said I could give the spots to someone else, and that wouldn’t be nice of me…”
 
“I wanted to come yesterday…only, Papa caught me sneakin’ out. I got a lickin’.”
 
“Oh Luke…I don’t want ya ta get in trouble on account of me!” Margaret sniffed.
 
“Want me ta tell ya a story?”
 
“Is it scary?” Margaret asked. “Last time ya told me a story, it was about a giant spider.
 
“No. This one’s good. Mama tol’ it to me the other night.” Lucas settled down on the wood pile and crossed his legs. Margaret continued peeking out the window as he started.
 
“One day I found this rope an’ it was a long rope. I was able to swing it all the way to the sky and lasso a cloud with it…”
 
“Luke…Ya suppose we could really do that?” Margaret asked suddenly. “I mean…ya suppose we could just throw a rope around a cloud? I wonder what they’re made of…”
 
“Abe says they’re made of water.”
 
Margaret cocked her head to one side. “How can they be made of water? How could it stay up there?”
 
Lucas shrugged. “Well…maybe it’s a different kinda cloud…You know…the kind that DOES pour out water when it rains!”
 
“Yeah.” Margaret smiled. “But what are THESE made of?”
 
“Beats me!” Lucas shook his head. “An’ don’t interrupt me when I’m tellin’ th’ story! You’ll make me forget!”
 
“Sorry.”
 
Lucas cleared his throat in that little six year old way and straightened up really tall to go back to his story. “Well…I climbed all the way up until I was sitting on the cloud. Then I lay back and folded my hands behind my head. I just laid there for a long, long time.”
 
“What did ya see?”
 
“I saw Heaven!”
 
“What’s it like?”
 
“Well…my Grandma and Grandpa were there waving at me. An’ my dog…Sunny…The one that died last year? He was there! Everyone was just sittin’ around laughing and talking and this GREEEEEEAAAAATTTTTT big man with a really long white beard was floating over ‘em!”
 
“Who was that?” Margaret whispered.
 
“It was GOD!” Lucas declared. “And he looked right at me an’ he said…” Lucas deepened his voice as deep as a six year old’s voice would go. “Luke…You get back down there and do your chores before I spank ya!”
 
Margaret laughed out loud. She threw a hand to her mouth and turned to look toward the door. “Oh Luke…you’re so funny!”
 
“Well, I ran lickety split ‘cause my Papa whips hard enough…I wonder what it would feel like to be whipped by God…”
 
Margaret giggled again. Suddenly, her bedroom door opened. “Margaret Ann Gibbs! Get back in that bed!” Samuel Gibbs warned, shaking a finger at her. “If I catch you again, you’re going to be sorry!”
 
Luke jumped off the wood pile and started to run. But from out of nowhere, Samuel Gibbs reached out and grabbed his arm. Lucas cried out at the pain he felt. “Luke McCain, you stay clear away from here! I know your folks don’t want you around here while there’s sickness…What are you trying to do, boy? Catch your death? Now go on home! And you best tell your folks where you’ve been or I’ll do it for you!”
 
***
Present Day
 
“Well…Luke told me later that he ran all the way home. He snuck out a few other times and when he was out there, he would tell me more stories that made me laugh. I think we both ended up in a lot of trouble before all was said and done, but…I got so sick a couple days later…probably because I didn’t stay in bed….and Mama realized that having Luke sitting outside the window wasn’t so bad after all because he really DID make me feel better.”
 
Margaret leaned her head back and rested it against the wall as she closed her eyes and remembered. “Your brother was always so wonderful to me. Oh…he could be a pest at times…still is, I reckon, but he was so sweet and caring and…” Margaret bent down to look at Laura. She had fallen asleep. Margaret giggled and bent down to kiss the girl’s flushed cheek. “Well…anyway, I think I’ve always loved him.” Margaret stood and walked to the door. She turned back to look at Laura sleeping soundly. “And I reckon I always will.”
 
Margaret closed the door and went out into the main room. Ann was at the sink washing up the supper dishes. “How’s Laura tonight?”
 
Margaret still held a deep smile as she continued to think about Lucas. She leaned on the counter. “What do you suppose Luke’s doing right now?”
 
Ann turned and studied her friend. “Well now…he’s probably sitting around a camp fire thinking about how much he misses you…Trying to decide how to hurry up and get back here so he can marry you!”
 
Margaret laughed. “Yeah…” She looked around. “Where’s Tiffany?”
 
“I sent her home.” Ann untied her apron and went to sit down in the sitting area. “Do you know that today’s her and Peter’s one-year anniversary?”
 
“Oh. I didn’t realize that but now that you mention it…” Margaret shook her head. “I suppose it is Halloween tomorrow…”
 
***
 
“Margaret…Margaret…” Margaret slowly opened her eyes when she felt someone gently shaking her. She looked up to see Ann’s worried expression hovering over her. “You best come. It’s Charlie!”
 
Margaret jumped out of bed and hurried across the room to Charlie’s bedroom. She hurried inside where Charlie was screaming. Pressing a hand to the toddler’s head, she turned and looked at Ann. “Go get some cold water from the creek! Then you ride in for the doctor!” Margaret put her cool hands against his hot cheeks. “Hurry!”
 
While waiting for the doctor, Margaret put cold rags on his body. “Mama…Mama…” Charlie cried hoarsely as Margaret held him still. She sang to him softly, but it did little to calm him. Margaret was happy when Dr. Stevens arrived. He examined the little tyke and nodded his head. “He’s got it now. His temperature’s 104. Ann, you go on down the hill and ask one of the McCain brothers to go for some ice.”
 
“Will you stay, doctor?” He nodded.
 
“Oh Ann…” Doctor Stevens turned. “He’s okay. Tell his parents not to worry…especially his mother. Little one’s run high fevers. He’s in no danger.” Ann nodded and turned to hurry out. Dr. Stevens went to check on the triplets.
 
Of course, when Julie heard Ann’s announcement, she went into a panic and ran for the door. But her husband’s strong arms held her at bay. He and Peter led her to the table and forced her to sit. “He’s two years old, honey. You know little ones run high fevers. Let’s not worry. He’s in good hands.”
 
“My baby!” Julie cried. “He needs me and I can’t be there for him!”
 
Abe patted her hand. “I know…but we both know this way is best for the baby you’re carrying.”
 
Peter said he’d go for the ice, knowing Julie needed Abe with her.
 
***
Em felt so tired as she and Jeremiah sat at the table eating lunch that Halloween day. She rested a hand on her plump belly and heaved a long sigh. Jeremiah raised an eyebrow as he reached out and took her hand. “Uncomfortable?” Em nodded. Jeremiah stood up and began rubbing her shoulders.
 
“It’s in my back,” Em declared as she slowly leaned forward. Jeremiah moved his hands down her back and gently rubbed. “Right there…” Em groaned as Jeremiah continued massaging.
 
“I feel sorry for Laura…having to have measles,” Jeremiah mumbled as he continued to rub her back gently.
 
“Abe said they’re postponing the carnival until the epidemics over. OHHHHH!” Em groaned.
 
“Am I hurting you?” Jeremiah asked anxiously.
 
Em slowly stood up and grasped her belly. “No…no…” She took deep breaths. “I just felt some sharp pains is all.”
 
Jeremiah took his wife’s arm. “Should I help you into bed?” Em nodded. “Is your back feeling better?”
 
“No…” Em shook her head. “It hurts even worse now.”
 
Jeremiah helped her into bed. He poured a glass of water and let her drink. “Should I go for the doctor?”
 
“Not yet. He said to wait until the contractions are closer together.” Em bit her lip. “We need to see how far apart they are.” Jeremiah timed her until the next contraction hit. It was ten minutes.
 
A knock sounded on the door. Jeremiah came from the bedroom to find Abe standing in the front room. He greeted his brother. “Came to tell you that little Charlie’s come down with the measles. He’s got a high fever, but Doc doesn’t think there’s any danger.”
 
“Is he at your house?”
 
“Who Charlie? Of course!” Abe declared.
 
“No stupid! The doctor!” Jeremiah asked in frustration as he heard another cry come from the bedroom.
 
“The…” Abe gasped. “Ohhh! You mean it’s time?”
 
“Yes, I mean it’s time! Will you go tell the doctor to get over here? I don’t know anything about this female stuff, and I don’t want to learn how to deliver a baby!”
 
“Alright.” Abe turned to go. He stopped and turned. “Uh…Maybe you should go. My kids…seeing me will upset them.”
 
“Fine!” Jeremiah threw his hands up in the air and grabbed his hat. “Em, I’m going for the doctor!”
 
Abe watched him leave, then suddenly realized he was alone in the house with a woman in labor. He hit the palm of his head against his forehead. “OHHHHH! What was I thinking?????”
 
***
 
Ann hurried to answer the knock on the door. She saw a nervous Jeremiah standing there. “Is the doctor here?”
 
Dr. Stevens hurried from Charlie’s room. His sleeves were rolled up and his forehead sweaty. “What is it?”
 
“It’s Em! It’s time!”
 
“Contractions?” Dr. Stevens asked as he turned to wash his hands.
 
“Yes. They’re about seven minutes apart.”
 
“Mm hm…Is she in a lot of pain?”
 
“Well yeah! Of course she is!”
 
“Well…I just got more ice on Charlie. He’s not feeling too well and I really don’t feel comfortable in leaving just yet. I have to make sure…”
 
“I’ll go.” Margaret hurried to the basin and washed her hands. “Just let me change clothes and freshen up then I’ll come.”
 
“Margaret…” Jeremiah started.
 
“No, no! She can go. She delivered three babies. I think your wife would be in capable hands with this midwife in training.” Doctor Stevens turned and smiled as Margaret disappeared into the bedroom. “She has assisted me on a few deliveries already. She’ll know if anything’s wrong.”
 
They stopped by the house to tell the family. Julie stood and hurried forward. “I’ll help.”
 
“NO!” Emily shook her head. “Julie, you can’t…I mean…”
 
“No. I can.” She pressed a hand to her chest. “I…I have to.”
 
“Julie…” Emily started.
 
Tiffany hurried forward. “Let her go. Maybe this is what she needs.” Emily nodded and allowed Julie to go.
 
Jeremiah and Julie hurried to his house as quickly as they could. Abe ran out into the yard when he saw them coming. “Where’s the doctor?”
 
“He doesn’t want to leave while Charlie’s fever’s so high. I told him I’d come.” Abe narrowed his eyes and studied Margaret. “I’ve been assisting him on several births the last few months.”
 
“Alright.” Abe nodded. “Go on in.”
 
Julie followed Margaret inside after one quick look at Abe. She saw the concern in her husband’s eyes, but ignored it. Margaret hurried into the bedroom where they found Em taking deep breaths. She asked Julie to assist her in preparing Em. Then Margaret checked the baby. “We have to wait,” Margaret mumbled. “It’s not time yet.”
 
Julie went to sit beside Em and wiped the sweat from her face. Margaret hurried into the other room. “We’ve still got some time.” Margaret went into the kitchen to put some water on. “I’ll need some water to bathe her. Jeremiah, I want you to watch the water. When it starts boiling, take it off and pour it in this pan.” Margaret sat the pan on the counter. “We’ll need to bathe him as soon as he’s born.”
 
“He?” Jeremiah questioned.
 
Margaret smiled. “Or she…” Margaret opened the drawer and pulled out a knife. She turned to see Jeremiah’s eyes grow wide with concern. She looked down at the knife in her hands. “Oh! It’s to cut the cord.”
 
“The…the…cord?” The color drained from his face.
 
“Uh…Abe, perhaps you should take him out to get some fresh air. He looks a little green.”
 
Abe chuckled. “He does at that. Come along, Pa.”
 
Margaret hurried back into the room. “We’ll have to watch the water. Julie, can you find some fresh sheets and towels?”
 
“What happened to the men folk?”
 
Margaret smiled. “Jeremiah was looking a little green. He needed some fresh air.”
 
“Oh.” Julie giggled. “I remember Abe looking the same way when Dr. Stevens told him he saw the head. In fact, if I remember right, there was a loud thud.”
 
The women worked at getting everything ready. In time, Margaret announced Em was ready to deliver. She stayed at the foot of the bed and calmly reminded Em to breathe. Julie assisted in the delivery, trying to make her as comfortable as possible. Em let out a loud scream as the baby broke from the womb and popped out into Margaret’s hands. Margaret laughed as Em laid back on her pillow and sucked in deep breaths of air. “It’s a little girl!” Margaret announced.
 
Julie’s eyes filled with tears as she hugged her sister-in-law. “Did you hear that, Em? You have a little girl!”
 
Both women watched as Margaret tied the cord and cut it. Then she turned the baby upside down and patted her back hard until she finally cried.
 
The sound of the cries brought more tears to Julie’s eyes. This time, she felt an ache inside her as she remembered that she should have been giving birth about right now. Margaret wrapped the baby and laid her in her mother’s arms. “Congratulations, Mama!” Margaret laughed.
 
Em cried as she looked into the face of her daughter. Julie pressed a hand to her mouth. “Oh…she’s so beautiful!” Julie said. Em looked up at Julie and raised her eyebrows weakly. Julie shook her head. “I’m okay. Really…I am…” And she knew she would be in time. Julie stood up. “Well…I’ll go get the new father.”
 
Margaret walked out. She would bathe the baby as soon as Pa got acquainted with his new daughter.
 
“Jeremiah!” Julie called as she hurried from the house. Jeremiah turned from the corral,  nervous look on his face. Julie stopped and smiled as she looked into his eyes. “Go inside and say hello to your daughter.”
 
Jeremiah suddenly felt weak in the knees. “My…my daughter?” Julie nodded as tears once again filled her eyes. Jeremiah ran toward the house.
 
Julie watched him go. She jumped when she felt Abe’s hands on her shoulders. “How are you, my love?”
 
Julie turned and wrapped her arms around him. She allowed her tears to fall. “It hurts…” Julie mumbled as she bit her lip. “But in time I’ll be okay.”
 
The two just held each other for a long time as the last bit of Julie’s grief died away.
 
***
Jeremiah hurried inside. Em was sitting up, their daughter suckling at her breast. Jeremiah pushed the blankets away and watched their daughter suckle. “My little girl…” Jeremiah murmured.
 
“Isn’t she just beautiful, honey?” Em asked quietly. Her eyes filled with tears. “She’s so…perfect!”
 
Jeremiah felt himself crying. “Oh Em…We did it! We made this baby from our love.” Jeremiah softly laid his hand on his daughter’s head. He bent down and kissed her cheek. “She’s so…beautiful.”
 
“Yes.” Em smiled as she looked up at her husband. “She is.”
 
“Em?” Jeremiah mumbled as he lifted his head and looked into his wife’s eyes.
 
“Hm?” Em asked as she continued to smile down at their daughter.
 
“Seems we have a small matter to work out.”
 
“Oh? What’s that?”
 
Jeremiah softly kissed her. He pressed his forehead against hers. “We discussed names but Benjamin and Thomas just won’t work since we had a little girl.”
 
Em giggled. She looked down at their sleeping daughter sill against her breast. Gently, she pulled her away. “When I was little, I wanted to name my daughter Abigail. I always thought that was a beautiful name…don’t you think so?”
 
“Abigail?” Jeremiah nodded as he kissed her again. “Abigail it is. Abigail Rose McCain.”
 
Em giggled. “Laura may be jealous.”
 
“No.” Jeremiah chuckled. “I think she’d be honored.” He reached out and took the baby from his wife, gently holding the baby in his arms. “You know, it’s a good thing we’ve had practice with the other babies. Least wise…we know what to expect now.” Jeremiah slowly stood up. “I’ll go introduce her to her uncle.”
 
Em laid back on her pillow after Jeremiah left. She closed her eyes and went to sleep.
 
***
 
Julie leaned against Abe as they stared in wonderment at the baby that now lay in the cradle on the table. “Look at her,” Julie smiled. “Just…look at her. She’s so little.” Julie turned and looked at Abe. “Have you ever seen anything so tiny?”
 
Abe smiled. “Well honey, I know it’s hard to believe, but Laura was once that small. If I remember right, the doctor told my folks that she only weighed a little more than six pounds. She was tiny.”
 
“Hm…” Julie leaned over and continued to stare into the cradle. “She’s beautiful…absolutely beautiful!”
 
Margaret rolled down her sleeves as she stepped over to the table. “I should get back.”
 
“Oh.” Julie held out a hand to Margaret. “How are the children?”
 
“Well…the triplets are all still fine. Dr. Stevens checked their mouths, and there’s still no indication of anything. Charlie’s fever is still high, but the doctor’s not too worried since children’s fevers run high. Laura…” Margaret shook her head. “She’s sick but she won’t stop scratching. I’m threatening to tie her hands down if she doesn’t stop!” Margaret giggled. “Of course, I remember when I was six…I nearly got a licking from my Pa.”
 
“Yes. Luke DID get a licking when he came home that first night. But I don’t think my Pa put much effort in it since he knew how much he cared for you…” He turned and looked at Julie who was chewing on her lip. “Maybe we should stay here for a few days…help out the new parents.”
 
Julie’s eyes filled with tears. “I’d rather be home with my children. Oh Abe, I’m so worried…Little Charlie and…”
 
“Now honey, you are the one who said it would be better to leave them there.”
 
“I know.” Julie nodded. “But now I’m realizing just how cruel that sounds and I’m feeling…”
 
“And Dr. Stevens said this was best for them too. I think we can settle in here. Em will be in bed for a few days and Jeremiah…well, he’ll be beside himself. I’ll help him stay focused on his chores. You…be there for Em. You know her mother’s down with the measles right now and can’t be here.”
 
“Alright.” Julie smiled as she turned back to Margaret. “Give them all a kiss for me. Tell them I love them very much.”
 
“I will.” Margaret nodded. “Don’t worry. Ann’s there with me, and Tiffany comes down to help some as well. They are surrounded by family who loves them.”


***
The days passed slowly for Julie and Abe as they spent their first days EVER away from their children. Margaret made sure that someone kept the family informed as to the happenings. She, Ann, and Tiffany continued to take care of Charlie and Laura. Dr. Stevens had shown Margaret what to look for in the triplets’ mouths so they would know if they were about to come down with the infection themselves. A week after Laura came home from school, she was beginning to recover. David began coughing and grew fussy, but after Margaret sent for the doctor, he declared it was only a small cold.
 
Charlie was the sickest of all. Margaret hardly left the little boy’s side as she sang to him and talked to him. She rocked him to sleep and tried to feed him broth. Charlie cried for his mother, but Margaret merely held him knowing she couldn’t explain to the little boy where his mother was.
 
Julie and Abe stayed with Em and Jeremiah the days following the latest birth. The day after Em gave birth, she was already up and moving around. Jeremiah tried to convince her to stay in bed, but Em declared she wanted to be up . Julie turned to look at Abe, who declared women were all alike. He remembered the trouble he had keeping Julie in bed the days following the birth of her babies.
 
Julie didn’t argue with Em about being up so soon, but she did assure Em she needed to take it easy. The doctor had stopped by to check her and the baby, and declared Margaret had done an excellent job. When Julie and Abe anxiously asked him about their children, Dr. Stevens assured them everything was fine.
 
On Sunday, the family gathered at Jeremiah’s house for a small time of Bible Study and prayer. The town had been quarantined due to the measles outbreak, and the family was worried about the children who were sick at Abe and Julie’s house. Their prayers that Sunday morning had focused on their health.
 
The triplets never became infected. The doctor wasn’t sure why except that perhaps they had remained isolated enough. The moment Charlie had gotten the spots in his mouth, Margaret had contained him away from the triplets. God had made his decision. Julie shook her head, declaring that she hoped when it was the triplets’ time to get the childhood disease, she wouldn’t be with child.
 
Then on November 10, Julie and Abe received a surprise. The wind had been picking up all morning, and Julie fretted that her family would be separated from the outside world during a storm. Abe didn’t think the storm would be bad, but he did believe they were in for a good snowfall. A knock sounded on the door around noon. Julie went to open it and let out a cry when she saw Laura, all bundled up, standing in front of Ann who was smiling. “Hello, Mama Julie.”
 
Julie fell on her knees and hugged Laura in a tight embrace. “Oh, you’re all better!” Julie cried as she hugged her tighter. Abe hurried up to the group and took his turn at hugging his sister. Everyone else in the house followed suit.
 
Laura came inside and declared she was hungry. “All Margaret would give me was soup! I got so tired of soup!” Laura complained as she sat down.
 
Ann laughed. “The doctor says she’s all better. Her fever broke two days ago, but Margaret wanted to keep her inside for a couple extra days. We have every confidence that Laura is completely well.”
 
“And Charlie?” Julie asked anxiously. “How’s he?”
 
“He’s fine! He’s wanting to see his mother, but Margaret wasn’t quite ready to let him out in the cold yet.” Ann smiled. “Dr. Stevens just left and said you are welcome to go home now. The danger has passed.”
 
Julie put her hands to her mouth and cried. “Did you hear that, Abe? We can go home!” Julie declared happily.”
 
“That’s good news!” Abe said. “What do you say, Laura Rose? Would you like to go home and have Julie fix you up a good meal?”
 
“Yes sir!” Laura declared as she jumped up and down. “I’m ready!”
 
Julie couldn’t get home to her babies fast enough. She hurried into the house and embraced her children as tears filled her eyes. “Oh, I’m so happy you are all okay!” Julie cried. “Oh…I can’t believe we’re finally together again!”
 
Julie hurried to the kitchen. She started shouting out orders for Abe to bring in wood and Laura to start cleaning off the table. “We’ll have a great pan of chili tonight!” Julie declared. “And some tomato soup for the boys.”
 
Abe and Julie smiled as they sat around the table with their family. It had been a long week and a half, and they were so happy to finally be home. Charlie laughed as he sat at the table. He was happy to have his Papa back and couldn’t take his eyes off of him. Suddenly, Julie burst out, “Oh Abe…let’s have a party!” Julie declared. “A winter party with turkey and dressing and cranberries…”
 
Abe chuckled. “Julie, my love…That sounds a lot like Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving is a few weeks away yet.”
 
“Yes.” Julie nodded. “But today feel like Thanksgiving. Can we have a party? Please Abe?”
 
“Charlie wants a party!” Charlie declared, jumping up and down in his father’s arms.
 
“Oh you do, huh?” Abe smiled. “I can never say no to you.”
 
When supper was over, Julie stood to gather the dirty dishes. Laura hurried and stood up, announcing she would do the dishes so Julie could get the boys down. Julie lifted an eyebrow and looked at Abe. “She must have missed us,” Abe said with a chuckle.
 
“How long will it last?” Julie wondered.
 
“Oh…I’d say her ailment will wear off in a few days.” Laura rolled her eyes at her brother.
 
Laura went over to the sink and lifted the bucket. “Should I go get some water?” she asked.
 
Abe stood up. “No. It’s dark out there.” He smiled down at her. “But if you put your coat on, you can walk along and keep me company.” Laura nodded her agreement.
 
But Julie heard Abe calling for her as she started to undress Charlie. She picked Charlie up and hurried into the other room. Laura and Abe stood in the doorway staring at the sky. “Boy, it’s sure coming down!” Laura declared.
 
Julie hurried forward. She laughed. “Well now…we just may all be stuck in this house together for a few days!”
 
Laura turned and looked at Abe. “That’s alright by me!” She smiled as Abe bent down in front of her. She kissed him on the cheek. “How about you, Papa Abe?”
 
“It’s just fine with me too!” Abe declared. “Come on!”
 
***
When Laura got up the next morning, she ran to look out her window. The world was white with freshly fallen snow. Small footprints could be seen in the snow where a rabbit or squirrel had scurried by, but no other footprints could be seen. Laura ran out of the bedroom. “Papa Abe! Mama Julie! Come quick!” she shouted.
 
Julie came from the bedroom yawning as she tightened her robe. “Laura, don’t wake the boys!”
 
“But look!” Julie looked out the window and smiled. “Winter’s here, Julie! Winter’s here and left us a present!”
 
“Yes he did.” Julie smiled. “There’s probably a foot of snow out there.”
 
“Does this mean we don’t get to have Thanksgiving early this year?”
 
“No siree!” Abe answered as he walked up behind him. “But it DOES mean I’ll have to go over to the Gibbs’ and see about using the sleigh to fetch our family. I’ll deliver them here safe and sound by tomorrow night!” Abe hurried back into the bedroom to finish dressing.
 
The news of the party spread fast. It was planned for the following day. Emily and Tiffany arrived early with baby Ruthie. Abe dragged in one of the cradles and put it in Laura’s bedroom so Ruthie could sleep without being disturbed. While Julie and Tiffany worked on the turkey, Emily went to work on getting the first pumpkin pie ready.
 
Margaret and Beth soon arrived. As Margaret came inside, she shook snow from her cloak. “It’s really coming down out there, ladies!” Margaret announced.
 
“Again?” Julie and Tiffany rushed toward the window. “Maybe after while we can play in it.”
 
“Oh, I’d love to!” Julie declared. “If Abe would let me.” The women turned and looked at Julie. “Oh…you know how over-protective a man can be at times!”
 
“All men are, I expect,” Tiffany said with a nod. “That’s because they think we’re delicate!”
 
The ladies went back to work. The men had gone to get the firewood chopped. Margaret told Julie her mother would be coming later with Scott and Amanda. “Mother is glad we’re celebrating Thanksgiving early this year,” Margaret stated. “With the…memories of last Thanksgiving…”
 
“Yes. So much has happened.” Julie smiled as she put the turkey in the oven. “Oh, have you heard from Luke?”
 
Margaret blushed. The women giggled, knowing that was a yes. “Okay, what is it?” Tiffany asked.
 
“Oh, dear me…It’s been so crazy around here lately that I guess you ladies don’t even know!” Margaret giggled. He…wrote Scott and asked him…”
 
“Yes?????” Emily asked with a giggle.
 
“If he could court me.”
 
“That’s all?” Julie asked, sounding disappointed.
 
“Well…he realized that he never asked Scott and he wanted to do it proper. He said something about his brothers telling him all about courting and…well, stuff…”
 
“Oh.” Julie shook her head. “If that’s the case, then I feel sorry for you! It took quite a while to train my husband!”
 
“To do what?” The women turned to see Abe and Peter standing in the doorway. Abe was covered in snow. He took his coat off and started stomping the snow from his boots.
 
“Abraham McCain!” Julie declared, shocked. “I…I mean…Margaret JUST cleaned this floor yesterday! You know better than to track mud and snow in here!”
 
“Yes ma’am.” Abe walked toward her and enveloped her in his arms. He kissed her cheek. “Oh, by the way…Peter said Em and Jeremiah plan to bundle the baby up and come.”
 
“Oh.” Julie turned and hurried back into the kitchen. “As soon as we get everything done we need to do this morning, we’re going to bundle up and go play in the snow.”
 
Julie heard her husband’s sharp intake of breath. She cringed as his feet crossed to the kitchen. He leaned over and said in her ear, “You’re going to WHAT???”
 
“Just for a little while, Abe.”
 
“Papa, Charlie go play in snow!” Abe turned and looked at Charlie who had gotten into his father’s boots and was trying to slide across the floor. Everyone laughed as Abe hurried over and picked Charlie up. “You CAN go play in the snow just as soon as we get you bundled up!”
 
The ladies hurried to finish their morning preparations. They bundled up and laughed as the front door opened. Abe grabbed Julie’s arm and pulled her aside. “Do you really think this is a good idea?” he muttered worriedly.
 
“It’s a WONDERFUL idea!” Julie declared. The men shook their heads as the women and children began making a snowman and threw snowballs at each other. They were all so happy. Peter turned and looked at his brothers. “I think a snowball fight sounds like fun! Let’s go!”
 
Soon, everyone in attendance were laughing so hard as snow began to fly. The rest of the guests arrived, but the snow-players were nice and warm as they ran around in the snow. Jeremiah helped Em into the house with the baby, then came to join the rest of his crazy family.
 
It was an hour later when everyone hurried back into the house. The adults drank coffee while the younger one’s had warm cocoa. The women soon returned to their tasks of preparing Thanksgiving dinner while the men went to work on getting the tables arranged.
 
Finally, it was time for the traditional announcements. Abe cleared his throat. “Let’s take a moment of silence for those we lost this year.” An eerie silence fell over the hushed group. Laura sniffed and leaned closer to Julie as she remembered her mother. Then Abe cleared his throat again. “Well, I’ll start. Seems Thanksgiving came a little early this year. Gosh, so much has happened. We lost Andy…Julie suffered a miscarriage. Laura Rose and Charlie had measles. Lucas went through one of the worst experiences of his life, and we lost all our crops…Yet here I am surrounded by so much happiness and love. A man can’t help but to be proud.” Abe smiled. “And now in less than six months, we’re going to have a new addition to our family…this time it’s bound to be a girl!”
 
“Bet it’s a boy,” Peter mumbled.
 
“I heard that!” Abe declared.
 
Jeremiah took Abigail from Em’s arms and stepped forward. “Wow…so much has happened in my life this year too. But I think the most important thing is…” Jeremiah smiled as he held up his daughter. “The angel God has given us. Nothing can top what I feel right now. I feel so very proud to have this little joy in my life.” Jeremiah bent over and kissed Em, who was standing beside him. “And to think that this woman just had a baby, yet here she is!”
 
Peter smiled. “I too became a father this year. Little Ruthie seemed to come to us at a time when we really needed her. I guess it was last Christmas that my mother…” Peter heaved a sigh at the memory. “My mother…announced Tiffany was pregnant. The pregnancy helped us fall in love, I think. Last Thanksgiving, I couldn’t tell you that I loved my wife. But today…” Peter turned to Tiffany and put his arm around her. “I love her more than I love my own life. Thank you for being patient with me, honey.”
 
Emily stepped forward then. “I lost somebody very dear to me this year. It’s been hard, but I’m thankful I have all of you to help me and support me. Thank you.”
 
“Well, I guess it’s the Gibbs’ turn.” Laura cleared her throat. Abe turned and looked at Laura. “Oh, I’m sorry! I promised Laura she could make her own speech this year.
 
Laura stepped forward. “I’m thankful I don’t have to stay in that crummy bed anymore with the curtains drawn. I’m also thankful for my Mama Julie and my Papa Abe, even if they really ARE my brother and sister-in-law. I’m ALSO VERY thankful that Charlie stopped messing his diaper and…”
 
“Laura Rose McCain!” Abe declared. Laura sighed and stepped back to hide behind Julie.
 
Scott stepped forward. “Mother asked me to speak for her. She’s not sure she trusts her voice. Mother is thankful for our family. She’s thankful that a long time ago, our Pa’s promised each other to be best friends. She’s also thankful that Lucas and Margaret are FINALLY courting!” Scott cleared his throat. “I’m thankful for my…” He stopped and turned to grab her hand and pull her up beside him. “As I was saying, I’m thankful for my wife. Our marriage sort of got off on the wrong foot, but…”
 
“Uh, if I remember right, it got off on both wrong feet!” Abe declared. The men began chuckling. Julie poked him in the ribs and told him to shush.
 
“We’ve been married now for uh…awhile…and I wish we had something to announce but we don’t.”
 
Everyone laughed. Margaret spoke next.  “I am thankful for the love of each and every one of you. I’m thankful you are praying for Luke. I’m thankful for the two weeks we had to spend together. And I’m thankful that Lucas told me he was going to marry me!”
 
“He hasn’t asked me yet!” Scott declared as he winked at his sister.
 
“And I’m thankful Luke finally told Margaret that!” Beth declared. “Because she was about to make me loco with her pacing around every night wondering if he really truly did love him!”
 
“I did not!” Margaret gasped.
 
“Oh right..that was me!”
 
Johnny chuckled softly. “I’m thankful that I get to finish school in two years then go on my adventures! I can’t wait!”
 
Abe nodded. “Now, if we’ll all join hands, we’ll pray.” Abe delivered the Thanksgiving prayer, thanking God for all the blessings the family had received the past year. When they were finished, Margaret cleared her throat and began the family on “We Gather Together.”
 
Soon, the room was filled with chaos and laughter as everyone sat down to eat their Thanksgiving dinner.
 
Later that evening, Julie and Abe stood in the doorway of their home and watched their guests leave. Abe slipped an arm around Julie’s shoulder as he led her into the sitting area to sit down. He pulled her legs onto his lap and took off her shoes. As he rubbed her feet, he looked over at Laura who was playing with her rag doll. “It’s time you were getting to bed, young lady.”
 
“In a minute,” Laura mumbled as she continued to play.
 
“Laura…”
 
“Do I have to?” Laura questioned in her whiney voice.
 
“Yes.” Laura sighed as she stood and slowly made her way to her bedroom door. “Go on, now.” The couple watched as the door slowly closed.
 
Julie closed her eyes and laid back as she moaned softly. “Thank you.”
 
“For rubbing your feet?”
 
“No.” Julie chuckled. “Thank you for being so good to me. I just…I couldn’t ask for a better family.”
 
Abe bent in and kissed her softly. Julie wrapped her hands around his neck and scooted onto his lap. She kissed him deeper. “I love you.”
 
A throat cleared from the doorway. Abe held Julie tight when she tried to slip off his lap. “What?” Abe grunted, annoyed their moment had been interrupted.
 
“I just wanted to ask…Are we still having our party?”
 
Abe smiled. “Actually…it’s turning into a Christmas party. I talked to Mr. Richards yesterday and we’ll have a Christmas carnival with the tickets we all bought. They’ll be food and dancing and games.”
 
“Really?”
 
“Really! Now…go to bed…”
 
“Alright.” Laura paused at the door. “I just hope I don’t come down with chicken pox at Christmas!”
 
Julie and Abe watched Laura’s door close. Julie turned back to look at Abe. “Chicken…pox…???” Julie’s face screwed up. “Abe…have…”
 
Abe shook his head. “Nope. Not a single pox in all my born days. Have you?”
 
Julie nodded. “I had them just six months after the measles.”
 
“Oh. Well…” Abe shrugged. “Tonight, let’s not worry about that.” He settled her back onto his lap then drew her head down to him. Everything else was forgotten for the moment.

The Years Before — Return to Gettysburg

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman

Here are some other great stories.  Enjoy!
 

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