The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Years Before
 
Chapter 5 - School Days
Written by Michelle Palmer
 
Laura stood at the table and carefully cut out the star-shaped cookies. Emily smiled as she placed the cookies on the cookie sheet. “That’s the last of them, Laura Rose,” Emily declared.
 
“Now can we?” Laura asked as she jumped up and down.
 
“Alright.” Emily sat down at that table and opened the letter they had received from Lucas earlier. Emily unfolded the paper and read the words.
 
Dear Laura,
 
I can’t wait to taste some of the things you are learning to cook. No, we don’t get many eggs out in the army camp. For breakfast, we mostly eat salt pork or mush. Once in a while we get to eat pancakes, but they’re nothing like Ma cooks up. We did have a few good laying hens, but…we all had a craving to eat chicken so we no longer have them.
 
I do get plenty of time to play cards or checkers in the evening. Our Captain doesn’t let us play cards for money. He says it causes trouble, and I reckon he’s right. But my favorite game is baseball. Of course I always play on opposite teams with Johnny because he can’t play very well. But I enjoy it when I get Andy on my team. Sometimes I hit the ball so hard that the boys won’t even go find it. They’re afraid the enemy has caught the ball and are now having their own baseball game. Ha ha ha, I have to laugh at this, but then they make me go make another one, and that’s usually costly out here!
 
I kiss your dollar every night before I go to sleep. I’m so glad Abraham has agreed to take Pa’s place in raising you. Even if I was there, I’d want it to be Abraham. I think that sometimes his bark is worst than his bite. I’m sure I’d help you get into plenty of trouble, were I there. Don’t worry too much about Abe. He’s pretty mean, but he’s a nice brother I reckon…when he’s not yelling. He likes to yell when you rile him, and he spanks really hard!
 
I have to go now. I love you, Laura. Kiss it quick!
 
Lucas
 
“Luke don’t have to tell me Abraham spanks hard!” Laura declared. “I know! He reminded me of that yesterday!”
 
“Well…” Emily shook her head. “You should have known he’d whip you after you hit Jessica like you did!”
 
“But she deserved it!” Laura declared with a firm nod of her head. “She was mean!”
 
“I declare, Laura Rose! Abe expects you to act like a lady. Ladies don’t go around punching girls!”
 
“Well then, who should I punch? Boys?” Laura asked sarcastically.
 
“A lady doesn’t hit at all!”
 
“This lady does!” Laura lowered her head when she saw the look on her sister’s face. “Well, Maybe I just don’t want to be a lady!” Laura declared then as she lifted her chin.
 
“I declare!” Emily shook her head. “I’ve never met anybody as stubborn as you! I’m warning you, Laura Rose, you’re gonna get yourself into more trouble than I can EVER get you out of!”
 
“Laura,” Ruth came in with the berry bucket. “I want you to go on down and pick me a big batch of blackberries so I can fix a cobbler tonight.”
 
“Oh, Mama! I don’t like picking blackberries!” Laura groaned.
 
Ruth put her hands on her hip and held out the berry bucket. “Laura Rose…” she warned.
 
“You see?” Emily shook her head at her sister. “You just can’t seem to obey! You’re gonna get another whipping before the week’s out!”
 
Laura groaned. “But Mama, I don’t like the thorns! They make my finger bleed!” She tried again. “Can’t Emily do it? I…”
 
“Laura!” Laura turned to see Abraham standing in the doorway.
 
 Laura swallowed and slowly stood up. “Yes Abraham?”
 
 Abraham jabbed a finger outside the door without saying a word. But he didn’t need to say a word. Laura saw his orders on his face. She merely nodded and slowly made her way toward the door. She turned sideways so she wouldn’t get a smack on the back side, but Abraham stopped her in the doorway and twirled his finger around, indicating for her to turn around. She swallowed hard, but did so. Abraham brought his hand down firm on her back side. Laura gasped as she hurried out the door and ran up the hill.
 
“She certainly is head-strong!” Emily declared as she sat down to peel potatoes.
 
“I know.” Abraham came inside and walked over to the desk where they kept all the important papers for the farm. “What’s this?” Abraham asked as he picked up $13 from the desk.
 
Ruth turned from her task. “Oh, that’s the money Luke sent from his pay in the war.”
 
“But he only gets $13 a month. Are you telling me he sent his whole pay?” Abraham asked, a bit surprised. “He should keep some of it for himself.”
 
“Don’t you worry, Abe. Margaret and I sent Luke a big care package the other day with plenty of stuff. I’m sure the sulter’s store expects him to pay a lot more than we can get it for,” Emily declared.
 
“But…you didn’t spend his money on the package,” Abraham pointed out. “What are you going to do with this money?” He smiled at Emily.
 
“Well…” Emily smiled up at her brother. “You being the man of the house, we thought we’d let you decide that.”
 
“Oh.” Abraham studied the money then folded his arms. “Mother?” Ruth turned toward her son again. “I tend to get into trouble making decisions without consulting my family, so…what should I do with this money?”
 
“Well, if you ask me I think if at all possible, saving the money Luke sends home would make quite a nice nest egg for him and Margaret when they get married. You know the parcel of land he always had his mind on ranching, he could purchase that property to start a nice little ranch. Don’t you think?”
 
“Then that’s exactly what we’ll do.” Abraham folded the money and put it in his pocket. “I’ll just put it with the $13 he sent last month.” Abraham grinned.
 
Emily and Ruth rolled their eyes at him.  Then Emily cleared her throat to brace the next family problem at hand. “Uh…By the way Abe, school starts Monday. I think as the man of the house, you can break the news to our dear sister.” Emily looked up to see the look of disgust on her brother’s face. Nobody wanted to make that announcement to Laura because Laura had made her position on going to school very clear. Emily turned toward her mother. “Don’t you think so, Ma?”
 
Ruth looked up from rolling out the dough for the cobbler. “I think that would be a great job for the man of the house!” Ruth smiled.
 
“Mmm….” Abraham mumbled. “You two are just chicken! What’s the worst she can do to you?”
 
Emily ignored that question all together. She didn’t like listening to Laura whine, but she couldn’t be as stern with her sister as Abraham could. Neither Jeremiah nor Peter could either. Abraham had the right looks that got results, and Emily had noticed that Luke was picking those looks up to use for his advantage. “Ma’s been sewing some new dresses for her to wear to school.” That was another matter that would not appeal to Laura. She didn’t have a hankering to wear new clothes. Emily took a step toward her brother. “Uh…Laura’s already told us that she thinks she’s too busy to go to school.”
 
Abraham lifted his head from looking at the bills he had to pay. “She’s going to school and that’s final!”
 
“And I’m sure, my dear son, you will find a very sensitive method of convincing your little sister of that fact,” Ruth smiled as she walked back into the kitchen.
 
Abraham grunted as he turned and walked out.
 
***
 
Laura sat down next to the blackberry bush and sighed. She looked over at the tabby kitten that always followed her around. “You know…I don’t understand why God ever invented blackberries! They always seem to just get in the way of things. I hate eating blackberries, but Mama makes me pick them anyhow.” Laura screwed up her face. “Whoever would want to eat berries with seeds in them anyhow? Ew!” Laura sighed as she rested her chin in her hand. ‘You suppose that I can think of a really good story to tell Mama about not getting any blackberries?”
 
The tabby just purred in answer to her question. “I guess you’re right. And if Abe found out…” Laura shuddered as she remembered her trip to the barn yesterday. Abraham had come up in time to see her punch Jessie. He had grabbed her by the arm and dragged her to the barn. After it was over, Laura had cried to her mother and Emily hoping for sympathy, but they had sided with Abraham. Laura suspected today would be no different.
 
Laura shook her head as she stood up and slowly started picking the berries. “Hi.” Laura turned to see Abraham coming up behind her. “Need some help?”
 
“You have time to help me?” Laura asked.
 
Abraham laughed. “Well, actually I do. Things are a bit slow for us right now. I’ll have more time to spend with my baby sister. But, I suppose things will soon pick up again and I’ll be busy.” They worked together filling the bucket with blackberries. When the bucket was filled, Abraham sat down. “I think we need a rest.”
 
Laura sat down beside him. “You want to tell me something,” she said.
 
Abraham turned and looked down at her. He nodded his head. “You know what next week is.”
 
“It’s September!” Laura declared. “It means that things are going to pick up on the farm and I’ll have plenty of chores around the farm and…” Abraham cleared his throat as he raised an eyebrow at his little sister. “Yes. I know what Monday is.”
 
“And you know you have to go to school.”
 
“Well…” Laura lowered her head but tilted it sideways and lifted her eyes up to look at Abraham. “I don’t HAVE to go. Mama said that when she was a little girl…”
 
“Things were different when Mama was little,” Abraham reminded her. “She didn’t have the opportunities you have. Ma and Pa wanted all us kids to finish school with our certificates, and we’ve all done that…except for you.” Abraham folded his arms. “And I intend to see that you, my sweet little sister, finish with your certificate as well.” Laura stayed quite. “Well?”
 
“Yes Abraham,” Laura answered quietly, but she still wouldn’t look at him. “But I don’t know why I hafta.”
 
“Because it’s important for you to learn how to read and write, add and subtract. Maybe you’ll want to be a teacher or a nurse when you grow up.“
 
“No I don’t!” Laura declared. “I just want to be a mama.”
 
“Then you’ll need to go to school so you can help your kids with their homework,” Abraham pointed out.
 
“Hm mm!” Laura answered. “I won’t make my kids go to school either!”
 
Abraham narrowed his eyes at his sister. “Oh, I see.” He sighed. “Then I’ll give you another reason, Laura Rose McCain.” Abraham lifted her head up to look into her eyes. “If you don’t go to school, or if you give Ma, Emily, or Peter any trouble, we’ll take another LONG trip to the barn.”
 
“Oh. That’s a pretty good reason,” Laura mumbled. “How long do I have to go to school for?”
 
Abraham laughed at her improper grammar. “For many years.” Abraham smiled. “Maybe until your 15 or 16.”
 
“That long?” Laura groaned.
 
“Some even go until their 17 or 18!” Abraham declared. “But I think you can finish earlier if you try.”
 
“I wish I didn’t have to go at all…” Abraham never knew a child who had such a mouth as this one sitting beside him.
 
“You know, you should consider yourself blessed. Most children don’t stay in school to finish. Most children are out by the time they’re twelve because they are needed badly on the farm. Be glad our father had a dream to see us all graduate with a certificate in hand.”
 
“I think I’d rather have to stop at twelve because there’s too much work to do on the farm…” Laura grumbled. She heard her brother’s sharp intake of breath and knew she was very close to another tanning. “Alright, alright…I’ll go! But how will I get there? Luke always took me to school!” Laura declared. “Oh! Can I walk by myself this year?”
 
“Oh no!” Abraham declared. “We’ll make sure you get there somehow.”
 
“But Abe, I’m old enough! Honest!” Laura tried to assure him. Abraham turned and looked at his sister. “Honest! I can walk to school!” She saw the hesitation in his eyes. “I’m seven years old!”
 
“Well…” Abraham frowned. “Let’s think on that for awhile. We’ll walk with you and see how it goes this week. I’ll talk to Ma.”
 
“Can I…” Laura swallowed. “Can I wear pants?”
 
“Pants?” Abraham stared at her. “Of course not!”
 
“But the boys won’t let me play kick ball with them or…”
 
“No!” Abraham declared “Absolutely not!”
 
“Jessie wear’s ‘em! She wears ‘em every day!” Laura pointed out.
 
“Yes. Well, I’m not in charge of bringing up Jessica. I’m in charge of Laura Rose McCain, and Laura dresses like a lady!” Abraham stood up and helped her to her feet. “Let’s get these berries to Ma. I’m looking forward to blackberry cobbler for supper tonight!”
 
“I’m not!” Laura declared as Abraham lifted her into his arms and they headed home.
 
***
 
When Laura got up the next morning, her Ma had a new dress all ready for her to wear to church. If there was something Laura hated wearing more than fancy dresses, it was a NEW dress! Her mother always washed it with something that made her itch, and even with her chemise on! “Do I have to, Ma?” Laura moaned.
 
Ruth pressed her lips together. “Yes, young lady, you have to!”
 
“But Mama, I’ll itch something AWFUL!” Laura complained. Her mother said nothing, but Laura could tell saying more would get her into trouble. “Yes Mama.”
 
Laura itched as Peter drove the wagon into town. She scratched all the way there knowing she would not be allowed to scratch as soon as they got into the church. Peter lifted her out of the back and she ran to say hello to her friend, Jessie, who was also wearing a dress. But unlike Laura, Jessica only had to do so on Sundays. “I’m going fishing this afternoon!” Jessie announced. “You wanta come with me?”
 
Laura smiled. Lucas would always take her fishing when he went on Sundays, even though her mother didn’t care much for her doing such an activity. Emily was all lady-like and her Ma didn’t see any reason for Laura to be any different. Emily never liked fishing or doing boy things, but Laura did. She figures it’s because she’s been doing them with Lucas ever since she could remember. “I’ll have to ask Ma,” Laura mumbled.
 
“Come along, Laura,” Emily called to her sister. Laura knew better than to even ask her sister! It would be a flat out no.
 
The Enid Community Church had pews. Lucas had told Laura once that pews were hard to come by in small towns, and they should feel very blessed to have such things. There were three pews that were always used by the McCain/Gibbs family. Abraham and Julie were already in their seats. Charlie sat between his parents while Abraham and Julie held the triplets. Ruth slid in next to Abraham and took one of the triplets. Then Emily sat next to Ruth. Laura sat next to Emily and Peter sat on the end. Then on the next pew Jeremiah and Em sat down. They arrived a little late. Laura watched her brother turn and say something to Jeremiah. Jeremiah just gave Abraham a look as Em’s face got all red.
 
Laura started itching again. She wiggled her back against the pew as she scratched. “Sit still!” Emily ordered, but Laura didn’t want to sit still. She itched too much and nobody seemed to understand! She kept twitching her back against the pew to scratch it. “Laura, I said sit still!” Emily ordered as the preacher walked in.
 
“I can’t! It itches!” Laura complained loudly as she continued scratching. The room had grown quiet so her words were heard all over the church. From the corner of her eye, she saw Abraham bend his head toward her. He gave her what she called the “bad eye” and she immediately stopped scratching. But she folded her arms across her chest and stuck out her lip to let them all know she wasn’t happy.
 
The preacher was always long-winded too. At one point, he reminded all the children that school would start at 7:30 AM the next morning. She didn’t mean to, but Laura let out a loud groan. Everyone in her family turned and stared at her. Laura especially didn’t like the look her mother gave her. She expected her Ma would give her a good lecture on the way home from church.
 
As soon as church let out, Jessie ran up to her. “You coming or not?” she asked.
 
“Ma, can I go play with Jessie?” Laura asked as they walked toward the wagons.
 
Ruth straightened from talking to one of the other ladies in the church yard. “Maybe after lunch. Where will you be playing?”
 
Laura started to answer, but Jessie interrupted. “At my house! She’ll be at my house!”
 
Ruth turned and looked toward Abraham. Abraham sat Charlie down and walked up to the two girls. “What are you going to play?” he asked.
 
“We like to play hide and seek! Don’t we, Laura?” Laura nodded.
 
“Alright.” He turned around. “Ma, it’s not that far. I think she can walk over there alright.” He turned back to Laura. “But you have to be home by 4:00 and not a minute later! Understand?”
 
“Yes sir!” Laura declared.
 
As was the custom, The McCain’s all gathered at the main house for Sunday Dinner. They always had roast with potatoes and carrots, and it was always ready by the time they got home from church. Laura was more than happy to take her new dress off and slip on her old play dress. She hurried out in her bare feet, another thing she was allowed to do while at home. The family gathered hands as Abraham led his family in prayer. Then everyone chatted as they ate around the big table.
 
Laura was anxious to go fishing. She didn’t feel guilty in the least about not telling her mother and brother where she was going because she really WAS going to Jessie’s house and she really DID like playing hide and seek. As she finished her last bite of dessert, she stood from the table. Manners wasn’t something she was learning too easily, and she was reminded of that fact when she heard Abraham clear his throat. Laura sat back down and started to ask to be excused.
 
“Now young lady, I don’t think we should have to remind you at every single dog gone meal to ask for permission to be excused from the table. The next time will result in your going without dessert for a time.”
 
Laura nodded and licked her lips as she prepared herself to ask the next question. “When do I get to stop asking permission?” Abraham started to lift from his chair and Laura held up a hand. “May I be excused?”
 
Abraham turned and looked toward Ruth. Ruth shook her head slightly. “Yes. You may be excused,” he answered. “You may march in there and help Emily clean the kitchen before you go out to play.”
 
By the time the dishes were done, Abraham was hitching up the team to go home. Laura hurried from the house and started out of the yard. But her brother sternly reminded her to be back by 4:00.
 
As soon as she got in the yard, Jessie came running out of the house. She hurried to the shed and picked up the fishing poles. “You can use my Pa’s. He said it was okay. I done dug the worms. Let’s go!”
 
They raced down to the fishing hole. As they sat down on the bank and cast their lines into the water, Laura turned to her friend. “How come your Pa don’t care about you dressing and acting like a boy?”
 
Jessie shrugged. “It’s always been my Pa and me. He says I have to do a man’s work on account that I killed my Ma when I was born.”
 
“You…you killed your Ma?” Laura asked.
 
Jessie nodded. “My Ma died borning me. Pa said that makes it my fault, so I hafta work out in the fields like a boy would.”
 
“Boy…” Laura shook her head as she looked into the water. “My brothers would never let me work in the fields! I help Mama in the vegetable garden, but I’m not even allowed in the fields. Abe won’t let me wear pants, and he said I don’t need to learn how to shoot a gun! Even when I’m older!”
 
“You want to learn how to shoot a gun?” Even Jessie was shocked at that.
 
“Why not?” Laura shrugged. “Can’t girls do anything boys can do?” She knew what that question would get her if her family heard it. But she had been around Luke so long that she wanted to do everything Luke did. Except she didn’t think she’d enjoy fighting in a war.
 
The girls fished quietly for awhile. “Laura?” Jessica turned and looked at her friend. “Why can’t ya wear pants? You sure could play the boys games at school if you wore pants! And it makes fishin’ a lot easier!”
 
“Mama an’ Emily want me to be lady-like. Mama says girls don’t never wear pants! She says girls don’t go fishing or play kick ball! If that’s the truth, then I don’t want to be a girl!”
 
“Papa said I can be lady-like on Sunday, but come Monday morning, I’ve plenty of chores to do before and after school.”
 
“I don’t understand adults much.” Laura looked up at the sky and gasped. “Jessie, I hafta go! Abe will skin me if I come home late!” The girls jumped up. Laura gave Jessie her fishing pole then waved to her. “See you tomorrow!”
 
When Laura got home, her mother and sister were busy with supper. She greeted then and asked if there was anything she could do to help. “Yes.” Ruth turned toward the table where a basket sat. “You can run these up to Abraham and Julie. You brought me plenty of blackberries back for two extra pies. I sent one with Jeremiah already.” Laura looked inside the basket at all the stuff her mother had packed. Not only was there a freshly baked pie, but there were also two loaves of bread, cookies, and several jars of canned vegetables. “Well, get going, Laura!”
 
Neither Ruth nor Emily had ever actually turned to look at the child. If they had, they would have noticed that Laura had been behaving very unladylike that afternoon!
 
Laura hurried through the field to her brother’s house. She knocked on the front door before entering as she had always been taught to do. Julie turned from the counter in the kitchen and hurried toward her sister-in-law. “Oh, she shouldn’t have!” Julie exclaimed when she looked inside. “Tell your mother thank you.”
 
“You can have all the blackberry clobber you want!” Laura exclaimed. “I don’t like it…not one bit!” Laura turned to hurry outside.
 
Julie looked down at Laura’s feet. Her eyes grew wide and her mouth slowly opened in surprise. “Laura…” she tried to stop the girl before walking outside, but she was too late.
 
Abraham waved to Laura from the yard where he was working. He slowly walked up to her. “You remember what I said, young lady. You get to bed early so…” Abraham suddenly stopped as his eyes focused on her feet. “Laura, did you go to Jessie’s house like that?”
 
Laura looked down at them to find the bottom of her dress and her feet caked with mud. She gasped when she realized she had forgotten all about being barefooted. “I thought you went to Jessie’s house!” Abraham declared.
 
“I did! I…” Laura started.
 
“It looks like you were down by the creek.” Laura lowered her head. “Laura Rose, were you at the creek?” Abraham asked gruffly. Laura kept her head lowered as she nodded. “I don’t recall Ma giving you permission to go to any creek.”
 
“You and Ma said I could go play with Jessie,” Laura argued. “Well, it just so happens that Jessie wanted to play by the creek!”
 
Abraham folded his arms. “Maybe with two fishing poles?” he asked then. Laura nodded. “And you knew that before you went over there. Did you not?” Laura nodded again. Abraham sighed. “You know how Ma feels about you fishing.”
 
“Ma’s wrong!” Laura suddenly declared. She saw the angry look come over her brother’s face. She planted her hands on her hips and glared into her brother’s eyes. “There’s nothing wrong with a girl fishing or a girl wearing pants or going barefoot if she has a mind to…” She stopped. “Nobody understands me! Nobody!”
 
Laura turned and ran out of the yard. She ran all the way home and attempted to wash the mud off of her feet. Ruth came out of the house to call her to supper. Her eyes grew wide when she saw the mud still caked on the hem of her dress and all over her feet. “Laura Rose McCain! Did you go to Jessica’s house without your boots on? What have I told you about that?” Ruth declared as she lifted the hem of the dress and stared at the mud.
 
“I’m sorry, Mama! I forgot to put my boots on before leaving!” Laura cried.  “But I don’t see why I can’t go barefoot like the other kids!”
 
“You certainly will not go barefoot!” Ruth declared. “My children have always worn shoes to school, church, and visiting, and that won’t stop now!” She turned to Emily.
 
Laura slowly went inside and ate her supper in silence. Ruth sent her to bed directly after supper. Laura was so sad that everyone was upset with her. She just didn’t understand. Nobody understood anything about her. She cried until she fell asleep.
 
The next morning Emily awoke Laura early. She was in no hurry to get her new dress on that was sure to itch all day. Nor was she in too much of a hurry to sit down and eat her breakfast. Ruth handed Laura her boots and her second year books as Laura walked out of the room and sat down at the table. She didn’t speak to anyone as she sat down at the table. As she started eating her oatmeal, Laura dared to speak the words that had been on her mind all morning. “Ma, I don’t wanta go to school.” She had this harsh feeling deep inside her that made her not want to go.
 
“Laura, just eat your breakfast,” Peter said quietly as he continued looking at the newspaper and eating.
 
Laura lowered her head toward the table and ate in silence. She slowly lifted her head again and spoke. “Mama, don’t you think there are people who aren’t fit for school? Don’t you think…”
 
“Laura, this is your final warning,” Peter declared as he lifted his eyebrows to her.
 
“Yes sir.” Laura could feel the tears in her eyes, but she knew better than to cry. She also knew better than to refuse to eat so she ate the rest of her oatmeal in silence.
 
Emily stood up from the table and motioned for Laura to stand. She did so and Emily straightened out her sister’s dress and straightened the ribbon in Laura’s hair. She didn’t want to wear that stupid ribbon either. She wanted her hair to just fall down her back. “Let’s get your pinafore on, Laura, so we can get you to school.”
 
“Oh Emily, do I hafta wear…” Emily gave her a look at the same time her brother cleared his throat. “Alright.”
 
Laura indeed felt very stiff as she walked beside Emily a few minutes later. She didn’t like the new stockings or the new dress. She didn’t like wearing the pinafore. And she certainly didn’t like the ribbon in her hair. But Emily and her Ma both insisted she needed to look lady-like at school. She didn’t understand how she’d ever be able to play kickball or race at recess. Emily told her those were not lady-like things to do at recess. She doubted anyone cared that she didn’t want to be lady-like.
 
As Laura walked into the schoolyard she saw all the other kids. Last year had been her first year of school and Luke had walked her in everyday. Laura couldn’t help but feel a little sad about the fact that Luke wasn’t beside her right now.
 
As Laura looked around at the other kids, she noticed some of the girls sitting off by themselves talking softly to each other. Then she saw her best friend playing kickball with the other boys. “You be good now, Laura Rose.” Emily bent over and kissed her. “I’ll see you this afternoon.”
 
Laura watched her sister walk out of the yard. She turned as Jessie hurried up to her. “Boy, you DO look all lady-like, Laura!” Jessie declared as she shook her head. “How are you going to play kickball in that?”
 
Laura shook her head. She felt so sad. “Mama don’t make me wear this stuff at home, and I understand looking nice when we go into town or to church…But why do I have to look like this going to school?”
 
“Well…” Jessie lifted her hand and untied Laura’s ribbon in her hair. “Your ribbon just fell off and I bet your apron could fall off too.”
 
“It’s called a pinafore!” Laura declared. Then she lifted her eyebrows. “And I bet it WOULD if you unfastened the top!” Jessie did just that, and sure enough the pinafore came right off. Laura took her boots and stockings off as well. That was as close to Jessie as she would be able to look.
 
The girls ran up to the other kids playing in the game and insisted on playing. “She can’t play in a dress!” Jimmy Peters declared as he looked Laura up and down.
 
“I can too, Jimmy Peters!” Laura declared as she put on her meanest face. “And I can beat ya too!”
 
“Whatever!” Jimmy rolled his eyes. “You can be on their team! I’ll take Jessie.”
 
Laura smiled. When it was her turn to kick, she gave the ball a firm kick with her bare feet and laughed when she watched the ball go clear across the school yard and right between Jimmy’s feet. She ran around the bases, but she fell flat on her backside before getting back home. When she stood up, she saw the dirt on her new dress…and a tear. She knew her Ma would give her a good tongue lashing for that.
 
The bell began ringing then. The kids grumbled as they picked up their books and slowly walked inside. Laura had heard they were getting a new school teacher, and she was surprised to see that it was a man. As she climbed the steps, she looked into his eyes. Somehow she had a feeling that he would be a lot meaner than the one she had last year. He looked her up and down, obviously not too impressed with her appearance. Laura, being the strong-willed child she was, lifted her head and proudly nodded at him. Then she walked inside and found her seat.
 
After introducing himself and the class rules, he assured the children he would not hesitate to punish anyone that didn’t follow the rules. Laura shivered to hear some of his punishments, including standing in a corner with her nose in a circle, writing sentences, getting rapped on the knuckles with a ruler, and a good switching. Laura knew she had a mischievous nature, so the strict rules of her teacher did scare her a bit.
 
It didn’t take long for Laura to realize she didn’t enjoy being at school this year anymore than she did the last. The first assignment they had was to rewrite the rules that Mr. Richards had just given them. She wasn’t very good at writing, partly because she had stubbornly refused to put much effort into it the last year. And when Mr. Richards saw how badly she had written the rules on the paper, he ordered that she rewrite the rules properly at home that evening. The tone of voice he used wasn’t too nice either. “Any student that writes papers like this should be in the first year! And don’t you think I wouldn’t hesitate to move you right back there if I think that’s where you belong!”
 
Laura felt her face grow warm as the children around her chuckled. She didn’t dare allow the tears to climb to her eyes, because she didn’t want this mean ol’ man to know how much his words had hurt her. The mere thought of being treated like a first year student was downright humiliating!
 
The first school work they had to do was reading. Reading wasn’t one of Laura’s favorite things to do either. When it came her time to read, she struggled with the words. Some of the kids in the class laughed at her and Laura felt her eyes filling up with tears as she again tried to pronounce the words. Mr. Richards silenced the laughter as he smacked his stick on the desk in front of him and demanded silence. Laura jumped at the noise and bent over her book to continue reading. “Very well, Miss McCain. I want you to practice this story tonight at home, should your family find the time to allow you to read. Tomorrow, you will re-read it to me at lunch, and I hope that you will at least try to learn some vocabulary tonight.”
 
Again, Laura felt embarrassed that she was being singled out from all the children. She sat down quietly as she felt her eyes fill with tears. Mr. Richards asked the five second year students to open their math book and begin working the problems. Laura stared at the page of figures. She had just begun to grasp the concepts of math last year and was certainly not ready to understand the problems sitting before her. She turned and looked at Jessie. “Do you understand this?” she asked in a whisper.
 
Mr. Richards had been talking to the higher grade students, but immediately stopped when he heard Laura speak. “Laura McCain, stand up!” he ordered.
 
Laura swallowed the lump in her throat as she slowly stood from the seat. She stared into the angry eyes of her teacher and waited for him to reprimand her. Slowly, he walked to her seat. “You will stay in at morning recess.”
 
Laura’s eyes grew wide. She had been told hundreds of time by her parents and siblings to guard her tongue, but as of yet she hadn’t learned the concept. “I just asked a question!” she argued.
 
Mr. Richards turned and looked at her. His eyes grew wide at her questioning his authority. “Miss McCain, would you please repeat rule number two to the class?”
 
“I…” Laura lowered her eyes. “Yes sir.” She swallowed. “There will be no speaking during class without permission.”
 
“And since you found it necessary to argue, you will stay in at afternoon recess as well. It appears you have not been taught at home on how to guard your tongue, so it becomes my job to teach you this lesson here. If I must, I shall use the switch to teach such a lesson.”
 
Laura opened her mouth to argue, but Jessie tapped her on the leg in warning. Laura clamped her mouth shut and nodded. Then she sat back down.
 
It was a miserable morning. Mr. Richards told Laura she should know how to add and subtract by her age, and he told her so in front of the other children. Laura felt so embarrassed.
 
“I hate school!” Laura declared to Jessie as she sat on the bench eating lunch. She turned to her friend. “I hate this school and I hate him!”
 
“You mustn’t speak such a way!” Jessie argued. “Mr. Richards will give you the switch! I’ve a feeling he doesn’t care if you’re a girl or a boy.”
 
“Neither do I!” Laura shouted. “He’s mean and rude and ugly! I hate him!”
 
The afternoon session didn’t go any better. By the time school let out, Laura was ready to run far, far away. She found herself in even more trouble when she bounded down the steps and came face-to-face with her sister, Emily. “Laura, what happened to your ribbon?” she asked.
 
“It fell out,” Laura answered.
 
Emily folded her arms as she looked her up and down. “And am I to believe that your pinafore ‘fell’ off as well?” Laura lowered her head. “And where are your boots and stockings, young lady?”
 
“Emily, I…” Laura closed her eyes with a sigh. “I don’t want to talk about it!”
 
“Well, I do!” Emily folded her arms and glared at her sister. “You tell me why you did this right now!”
 
“Leave me alone!” Laura shouted suddenly. “Just…leave me alone!” Laura threw her books and slate down then ran out of the schoolyard as fast as she could.
 
“Laura!” Emily called after her sister. “Laura Rose, you get back here!” But Laura didn’t stop. Tears blinded her as she ran as fast as she could.
 
***
 
Laura stopped suddenly. She found herself at a creek. She sat down on a rock and cried as she remembered the terrible day she had had. She wasn’t going back to school – not ever. Nobody could make her go back!
 
“Well, there you are.” Laura didn’t turn around. She heard the voice of her brother, Abraham. “What do you have to say for yourself, young lady?” Laura shrugged. She heard Abraham’s footsteps behind her. He bent down next to her. “Do you know we’ve been looking for you?” Laura nodded. “Well?”
 
Laura lifted her head up to look into her brother’s angry eyes. “I’ve had a bad day,” she mumbled quietly.
 
“Mm…” Abraham paused as he looked at her. “Emily told me about your bad day.”
 
“She doesn’t know.” Laura glared at her brother. “None of you know! You don’t understand!” she yelled angrily.
 
“The only thing I understand, young lady, is that you tore and dirtied your new dress; took off your pinafore, stocking, and boots; took the ribbon from your hair; and then ran away from your sister when she questioned you about it.” Abraham studied her.
 
“That’s not what made me have a bad day,” Laura said quietly.
 
“Oh?” Abraham sat down and pulled his legs up to his chest. “Then why did you have a bad day?”
 
“The teacher’s mean, Abe. He’s real mean!” Laura’s eyes filled with tears again as she remembered his getting onto her. “I hate him!”
 
Abraham’s eyes narrowed. “Laura Rose McCain, don’t you EVER say the word ‘hate!’ It’s a terrible thing to hate a person!”
 
“He didn’t like me writing or my reading or my math! He just yelled at me all day, Abe! He made me stay in at recess for whispering to Jessie; then he made me stay in at afternoon recess for arguing. He’s not fair! He’s not fair! I don’t like having to dress so lady like and I don’t like that mama is making me look that way at school! I ain’t going back there! I ain’t!” Laura spat out the words as tears ran down her cheeks.
 
Abraham listened to her speak. Then he looked out over the water as he thought on his response. “Laura…” Abraham sighed. “Life is full of responsibilities. For instance, I have a wife and four little boys to take care of. They depend on me every day to tend to the farm and chop the wood…tend to my chores…every single day. Then your brothers depend on me. I have responsibilities to work the farm, help them bring in the crops and tend to the stock. It’s a big job and I don’t necessarily want to do it.
 
“Then there’s you.” Abraham turned and looked at Laura. “I have a big responsibility to discipline you and teach you the way Pa would expect me to. I have to take time out of my own responsibilities to give you the guidance and discipline you need so that you can grow up to be the responsible young woman Ma and Pa would want you to be.”
 
Laura lowered her head as Abraham continued to speak. “Ma and Emily have a lot of work. With Pa gone and Peter the only other one to live on the farm now; they have a lot more work. Then they have to contend with a little girl who doesn’t want to do as they ask.” Abraham cleared his throat. Laura looked up at him. “Which brings me to you. You have responsibilities too, Laura. And you’re most important responsibility is to go to school and learn. You are also expected to obey Ma’s wishes. Ma raised Emily to be a proper young lady and she wants you to be the same. She’s not doing it out of meanness, honey. She’s doing it because she loves you.”
 
Laura again lowered her head. She knew better than to argue and after the day she had, she wouldn’t argue. “Now, I want you to get home and tell Ma and Emily you are sorry. Then I want you to wash your face. Then after your chores are done, you are to do your homework.”
 
“All of it?” Laura asked, remembering all the trouble she had gotten into that day.
 
Abraham nodded. “ALL of it.” Laura sighed. “Honey, I know you don’t understand, but everything we do is for your own good. We love you.” Abraham stood up and reached out his hand to her. “The next time you behave like this, I’ll be doing more than talking. Do you understand?”
 
“Yes, Abe,” Laura answered. But inside her heart, she was devising a plan. It was the only thing she could do. No matter what anybody said, she wouldn’t go back to that school and that MEAN teacher!
 
***
 
Laura was quiet as she walked to school the next morning. She hadn’t gotten half her work done before Emily told her to go to bed. She had lost an hour last evening because of her actions at school, and she didn’t even bother explaining that she didn’t have her homework done.
 
She wasn’t going back. Laura looked up at Emily as they walked toward the school. She squeezed her book against her chest and kept a straight face as she continued walking. No matter what, she wasn’t going back. If it meant Abraham would take her to the barn, then so be it because she wasn’t…not in a million years…was she EVER EVER going to go back and face that mean, hateful teacher!
 
She stopped when they got to the schoolyard. “Leave me here, Emily. Oh please let me walk from here!” Emily nodded and told her to have a good day. She watched Emily round the corner and disappear.
 
“Laura, what’s wrong?” Jessie asked from behind her.
 
“I’m waiting,” Laura answered as she stared in the direction her sister had just gone.
 
“Waiting?” Jessie asked. “Waiting for what?”
 
“To run away.”
 
“Laura McCain, what are you talking about?” Jessie asked then.
 
Laura turned and stared at her friend as her eyes filled up with tears. “I can’t go back in there. I didn’t finish my work last night and I didn’t want to anyhow! So I’ll go hide in one of the caves my brother showed me. I’ll hide there all day and hurry back here in time for school to let out.” Laura swallowed. “I have to.”
 
“You mean…play hooky?”
 
“Don’t you tell, Jessica Layton! Don’t you tell a soul! My brother will whip me if he finds out!” Laura declared quietly. Laura turned and looked toward the school. “I can’t go in there! I just can’t! He hates me and he’s mean talking to me like he did. My brother doesn’t care either. He just told me I need to be responsible. I can’t go back! I just can’t!” Laura turned and hurried away before Jessica could say anything. She watched her run around a corner and disappear.
 
Then the school bell rang.
 
***
 
“What do you mean she’s not here?” Emily asked Mr. Richards that afternoon. “I walked her here this morning!”
 
“She’s been absent all day, Miss McCain.” Mr. Richards turned from locking the door to the school. “Your sister is a defiant sharp-tongued young lady. She needs a firm hand!”
 
“My brother’s hand is very firm, Mr. Richards!” Emily sighed. “I admit that Laura has a dislike for school, like many other children, but she didn’t seem to have too much trouble last year.”
 
“Maybe that’s the trouble, Miss McCain. She can’t read or write; and apparently she can’t add or subtract. I had to reprimand her several times in front of class yesterday.”
 
Emily’s eyes widened. “What are you talking about?”
 
“I asked her to write the rules on paper. Her grammar was very poor, as was her spelling and handwriting. Then I asked her to read from her reader. She faltered so many times that I couldn’t understand her. I ordered her to read it again at home. Then at math, she couldn’t even do simple addition and subtraction problems.  I told her that obviously she didn’t learn her lessons from her first year.”
 
Emily glared up at Mr. Richards. “Are you aware, Mr. Richards, that Laura McCain is a seven year old child who has had a VERY rough summer? She lost her father and watched her brother go off to war.”
 
“That is no concern of mine, Miss McCain,” Mr. Richards answered as he ripped his spectacles off and twitched his mustache. “Family matters stay out of the classroom. I am only concerned with her ability to learn, and I’m not sure if her ability is up to standard.”
 
“Up to…” Emily’s glare became even angrier. “Of all the low down…” Emily turned from him and hurried away. She turned back. “Thank you, Mr. Richards, for opening my eyes to so many things! I will be speaking to my brother about your rude behavior!”
 
Emily hurried as quickly as she could back home. Her sister had no doubt ran away from school that morning, and Emily couldn’t say she blamed her a single bit! As she quickly walked toward home, she thought on how she and her mother had insisted for Laura to be so proper without even stopping to explain the reasons. And Mr. Richards certainly didn’t help Laura’s state of mind any.
 
“Ma!” Emily called as she ran into the yard. “Ma!” Ruth hurried from the house at Emily’s frantic call. Her brothers hurried down the hill from the wheat field when they heard her frantic cry. “Is Laura here?”
 
“Of course not,” Ruth answered as she hurried up to her daughter. “What do you mean…didn’t you pick her up from school?”
 
Emily felt tears come to her eyes as all three of her brothers hurried up to her. “Emily, what’s wrong?” Abraham asked as he grabbed her shoulders. “Where’s Laura?”
 
“I don’t know!” Emily cried. “She never showed up at school!”
 
“Didn’t you take her this morning?” Peter asked as he began buttoning his shirt.
 
“Yes!” Emily wiped the tears from her cheek. She looked from brother to brother to brother as she explained. “I think it’s the teacher. You should have heard the terrible things he said!” Laura quickly began repeating everything. Abraham kept his hand on her shoulder as they listened. “Where would she go? Oh…what if…”
 
“Now sis…” Abraham held up a hand to quiet her. “Don’t start filling your mind with ‘what if’s.’ “
 
“This is all my fault!” Emily shouted. “It’s my fault!”
 
“No, Emily.” Abraham buttoned his shirt. “This is all of our faults. None of us were willing to listen to Laura. We all just expected her to do as told with no questions asked.” Abraham hugged Emily. “We’re all guilty.” He pulled her away and softly laid a hand on her cheek. “You ride on into town and check with everyone there. See if anyone’s seen her today.” Emily hurried with Peter to the barn to saddle her horse.
 
Abraham turned to his mother. “Ma, you stay here just in case she comes back.” Ruth rung her hands on her apron. “Ma…take it easy. We’ll find her.” He led her inside and sat her down at the table. “If she comes back, you fire the shotgun.” Abraham took the shotgun off the rack over the mantle and put a cartridge in it. “You stay here, Ma. You hear me?”
 
Ruth nodded as she folded her hands. “Find her, Abe. Find my baby,” she pleaded as a tear fell from her eye. “She’s so little. She…”
 
“We’ll find her, Ma. I promise we’ll find her!” Abraham squeezed her shoulder then hurried back outside.
 
Abraham watched Emily race off toward town. He turned to his brothers. “We need to split up. We need to check all the creeks and caves. She may have decided to hide there. I’ll go to my house and let Julie know what’s going on. Then I’ll go by Jessica’s house and see if she’s heard from her. Whoever finds her fires three shots in the air.”
 
Abraham hurried toward his house to tell Julie. The moment Margaret heard the news, she declared that she was joining the search. Julie nodded, telling Margaret it was okay. Abraham and Margaret hurried toward the Layton farm. Mr. Layton was in the yard and when they asked him about Laura, he hollered to his daughter. Jessie hurried from the barn, but stopped when she realized it was Abraham and Emily. “Come here, girl!” Mr. Layton ordered.
 
Slowly, Jessica walked up to the group. “Mr. McCain here says his sister’s missing. They are very concerned. Do you know where she is?” Jessica stared at the visitors but didn’t say a word. “Jessica Layton, unless you want thrashed with a belt, I suggest you answer me!” her father ordered harshly.
 
Jessica swallowed as she stared at Abraham. “Laura made me promise not to tell. She said you’d whip her if I did!”
 
Abraham turned and looked at Margaret. He sighed. “I’m not going to spank her. Not this time. I just want to know where she is, honey. We are worried.” He bent down in front of Jessica. “If you’re her friend, you’ll tell us.” Jessica looked away, still unsure on rather she should. “She could be hurt somewhere, honey. Do you understand? She could be hurt!” Abraham pleaded with Jessica.
 
“Well…” Jessica shook her head. “I don’t know exactly but…she said she was going to hide in a cave Luke used to take her to. She said she’s gonna remember back to the times she was in that cave with him.”
 
Abraham slowly stood up. “That could be half a dozen caves!” he declared.
 
“Those are dangerous, Abe!” Margaret shouted suddenly in a panic. “She could have fallen and gotten hurt or…”
 
“Stop it, Margaret!” Abraham ordered. “Now, we cannot start thinking that way. We must stay strong for Laura!”
 
Margaret nodded. “Luke and I used to go to those same caves when we were kids. We should go to the two on the North Ridge. I know Laura’s gone there before.”
 
They turned and hurried off back to Abraham’s farm. Abraham and Margaret mounted their horses then quickly rode toward the north ridge. When they arrived, Margaret said she’d check the one across the field. She turned from Abraham and hurried away. When she approached it, she found a pile of rocks over the mouth and the cave-in was recent. She relaxed a bit, not believing Laura was there, but then she looked down she saw a piece of red ribbon.  Margaret gasped as she slowly bent over and picked it up. Her eyes grew wide.
 
“Laura!” Margaret shouted. “Laura, are you in there?”
 
There was no answer!
 
“Laura, if you’re in there you answer me!” Margaret begged. She put her ear up to the rocks and listened. She heard a tiny muffled cry coming from the inside of the cave. “Laura? Laura!”
 
“I’m here!” Laura cried louder. “I’m here! I’m here!”
 
“Abraham!” Margaret turned and screamed. “Abraham, I found her!” Margaret began tearing the rocks away as best she could. “Over here!”
 
Abraham hurried over to her. “What happened?”
 
“She’s in there!” Margaret cried. “I heard her!”
 
“Laura? Laura?” Abraham shouted. “Honey, can you hear me?”
 
“I’m here!” Laura cried again. “I’m here! Help me, Abe!”
 
“Okay.  You just stay still, honey. We’ll get you!” Abraham stood up. “Keep talking to her, Margaret. Just keep talking to her!” Abraham took his gun and fired it into the sky three times.
 
They worked together trying to get rocks and debris away. “You’re going to be okay, Laura!” Margaret called to her. “Your brothers are on their way and they’ll get you out.”
 
“It’s dark!” Laura cried. “It’s dark and I’m scared!”
 
“You’re okay, honey! We’re going to get you out of here!” Margaret continued tearing the rocks away. “We’re going to get you out! Then we’ll go to your house for supper!”
 
Abraham heard the horses behind him. He hurried toward his brothers. “She’s in there!” he shouted as he pointed a gloved hand to the cave. “She’s in there and I can’t get her out!”
 
They hurried up to assess the situation. “We’ll need tools!” Peter declared. “Some of these rocks are big.”
 
Abraham turned toward Margaret. “Go get your father and Scott. Tell them we need help getting her out.”
 
“What about your mother and Emily?” Margaret asked.
 
“Tell Ma to make sandwiches…lots of them! It’ll take us hours to get her out. We’ll need lanterns and leavers. Go into town and find some good strong men. We’ll need all the help we can get!”
 
Margaret wasted no time. She immediately became the town crier and soon had a lot of able-bodied men heading toward the cave. She, Jenny, and Beth helped Ruth and Emily prepare sandwiches for the men. Em went to stay with Julie until they heard something.
 
The men worked desperately to get to the little girl. It was like a solid wall of rock and they had no idea what Laura’s condition was. She cried more than anything. By the time the sun went down, the men had managed to break a small hole in the top of the wall to offer more oxygen. They could hear Laura’s fearful cries a lot better and no one was happy that they couldn’t get to her.
 
Ruth talked to her daughter until her throat ached. Margaret hurried to the cave as Emily dragged her mother away and began speaking to the little girl. “You’re going to be okay!” Margaret assured her. But she had no idea if her words were true or not. The little girl’s cries were slowly dying.
 
The more time that elapsed, the harder the men worked. The women all took turns talking to Laura, but Laura had not said a word in over an hour. It was now well past midnight and the men continued working trying to get the wall of rock torn down. The process was very slow and painful. Abraham hadn’t stopped working since he and Margaret found the little girl. Margaret could tell he felt guilty for the state his sister was in. “Pa! Pa!” Margaret hurried up to her father. “He’s got to stop. He’s going to kill himself!” She pointed toward Abraham.
 
Samuel nodded and hurried toward the eldest McCain brother. “Abe, it’s time to rest and eat something,” Samuel said gently.
 
“No!” Abe shouted. “No! She’s my sister!”
 
Jeremiah helped Samuel by grabbing Abraham’s other arm. “We’ll keep working, Abe, but Uncle Sam’s right. You’re going to hurt yourself!” They dragged him away from the cave and forced him to sit down. “We’ve all taken breaks and now you will!”
 
Abraham put his head in his hands. Emily hurried up to her brother and put her arms around him. “This isn’t your fault anymore than it is mine!” Emily assured her brother.
 
“I had her…” Abraham whispered as he rested his head on her shoulder. “I had her right there on the creek bank. She was trying to tell me how bad things were and…all I could do was…lecture her on responsibility!” His voice broke.
 
“And it was a good lecture, I’m sure!” Emily insisted. “You worked with the information she gave you, right?” Abraham didn’t answer, but merely nodded his head. “Then you did the best you could, Abe. There is no perfect parent. Ma and Pa weren’t perfect, and you aren’t either!”
 
“But it’s that imperfection that could kill my sister…” Abraham threw a hand to his mouth as he began sobbing. “It could kill her…”
 
“No, no…” Emily hushed him and gently smoothed his hair. “She’s going to be fine. She’ll be okay…”
 
Emily heard the steady breathing of her brother and realized he’d fallen asleep. She had no choice but to stay still and allow her shoulder to be his pillow.
 
***
 
The sun peaked at the busy activity among the friends and family of the McCain’s as it slowly made its way into the sky the next day. As it began to shine, a bigger hole could be seen inside. Darkness had been the enemy for the concerned family members. But now that the sun was once again shining, they could see into the cave better. Breaking the rock away was a very slow and tedious process, but the men had been able to get a hole big enough to look into. Laura could be seen, but she was pinned down with even more rock.
 
“Laura!” Abraham called. “Laura!” She didn’t move. Abraham ran a hand through his hair in frustration at the situation.
 
As he was shouting into the cave, Julie and Em arrived with the children and the ladies all began preparing a breakfast over a campfire. Julie hurried up to her husband and put an arm around him. “How is she?”
 
“I don’t know,” Abraham answered quietly. “She’s not moving.” He slammed his fist into the rock wall. “I don’t know how long she’s been in there! I don’t know…”
 
“Abe…” Margaret hurried up to him. “Let me in there! You can lift me up and I can climb over. I’m small enough!”
 
“No!” Abraham answered.
 
“She needs water, Abe! She needs nursing. I can do that. I can fit through that hole!” Abraham turned and looked toward Samuel. Samuel nodded his head. Abraham turned back toward Margaret. “Please!” Margaret begged.
 
“Alright.” Abraham turned. “Let’s get Margaret a canteen of water. She’s going in!”
 
The women stood and hurried over to watch. Margaret put the canteen over her shoulders and climbed onto Abraham’s shoulders. She squeezed through the tight hole and lowered herself into the mouth of the cave. Margaret hurried over the rocks and bent down beside Laura. “She’s hurt!” Margaret shouted. “She’s hurt really bad!” Margaret brushed Laura’s hair out of her face. “Laura…honey…”
 
Laura mumbled but couldn’t open her eyes. Margaret took the lid off the canteen and gently lifted Laura’s head. “Here honey. Here take a sip.”
 
Laura managed to swallow a few sips before passing out again. Margaret stood and hurried over to the mouth. “She needs the doctor really…really bad, Abe! She’s hurt something awful!” Margaret studied the wall from the inside. “We’ve got to get this rock down! We’ve got to!”
 
Abraham turned to the other men. “Blasting powder?” he asked.
 
“It’s risky,” Jeremiah answered. “It could cause another cave in.”
 
“Look…our sister’s in there dying!” Abraham suddenly shouted as raw emotion took charge of his voice. “It’s risky to wait! This wall is going to take days to tear down!”
 
Jeremiah laid a hand on Abraham’s shoulder. He turned and looked at the women who were occupied at getting the food ready. “Don’t cause a panic, Abe!” Jeremiah warned in a low voice. “Your right. Tearing this rock wall down could take days. Why don’t we try using blasting powder? We can try to get Laura loose from the rocks first so we can hurry and get her out.”
 
“What if it doesn’t work?” Abraham asked. “What if…” His eyes filled with tears.
 
Julie saw her husband’s tears and hurried up to him. “Is it bad? Is it really bad?”
 
Abraham looked into her eyes. His answer was revealed to her. Julie threw a hand to her mouth. “Oh God in Heaven, help us…” she prayed.
 
“The rocks…their crushing on her legs!” Margaret called. “We just need to get these rocks off!”
 
“We’re working on it!” Abraham shouted suddenly. He turned and saw the men eating. “Alright…” He ran a hand through his hair. “I think Laura’s far enough back in the cave that blasting here…” Abraham pointed toward the pile of rock. “…will be safe. Anybody in town an expert on blasting powder – how much we can use without causing a big explosion?”
 
“Hal Dodd’s worked with blasting powder.” Peter hurried to get him. As the men ate breakfast, they devised a plan on how to go about in getting Laura out.
 
They all decided that Laura needed out right away. Johnny Gibbs was lowered into the cave to try and help Margaret free Laura. Brother and sister worked together trying to free the little girl. The work was slow. Tension grew on the outside. The triplets grew fussy and some of the older children from town were asked to take the McCain boys home and watch them.
 
The women stood and watched as Hal Dodd made his way to the cave with the blasting powder. He shouted out orders to the men on what to do. Ann Pritchard watched her boyfriend work bravely, but no one missed the sweat on his face.
 
“What are our chances on this working?” Abraham asked suddenly.
 
“Not good,” Hal answered. “If that hole you dug is big enough for Margaret and Johnny, then pray they can get her unburied and then can drag her out. After looking this over, if we were to blast, it would bury her alive for sure.”
 
His words weren’t good. Nobody said a word as they prayed that the Gibb’s children could get Laura out.
 
But Abraham wasn’t satisfied. He hurried up to the doctor who was waiting. Dr. Stevens paced back and forth anxiously. “Dr. Stevens…”
 
Dr. Stevens grabbed Abraham’s arm. “Any news yet?”
 
“She’s hurt bad, Doc. She hasn’t said a word in hours and Margaret said her legs are pinned. I know they removed some rocks from her middle earlier. Is it safe to move her?” Abraham’s voice held tears. His eyes showed a heap of worry. His face held desperateness.
 
“Abe, I don’t know what’s wrong with her. But I’ll tell you this: We don’t know how long that child’s been in that cave, but we DO know it’s been at least since 4:00 yesterday. We’ve got to get her out!”
 
“But moving her…” Abraham scratched his head. “Look…we have a hole at the top. We can get her out if the kids can get the rocks off, but…she could have busted ribs or worse and I…”
 
“Get her out, Abe. Just get her out.” Abe nodded in understanding.
 
By mid morning, Margaret and Johnny had managed to drag Laura out from the pile of rocks. The women all stood in a circle huddled together in prayer as the men tried to make the opening a little larger. They prayed in tears that everything would work.
 
“She’s free!” Margaret shouted. “She’s free. Now what?”
 
Abraham turned and looked at the doctor. Dr. Stevens hurried up to the opening of the cave. “Listen, she could be seriously hurt so please be careful…We’ve got to get her out of there.” He asked for a blanket then asked Abraham to toss in into the kids. “Now…I want you to wrap Laura up in this. Wrap her up tight.”
 
Hal Dodd hurried forward. “Margaret, do you have something you can stand on? Can you make a ledge or something?”
 
They waited anxiously for her answer. “No!” Margaret replied. “I don’t see any…”
 
“Alright, forget that!” Abe stepped up onto the ladder they had propped against the hole. “Margaret, you get her head and Johnny her feet. You two have to lift her up until I can reach her!” Abraham bent through the hole, but he could only get his head and arms through. “Get her wrapped up tight now…really tight!” Abraham watched as Margaret swaddled Laura in the blanket. They wrapped her as tight as they could. Then Margaret picked up the girls top while Johnny lifted the bottom.
 
Slowly they made their way over to the opening and began lifting her up…up…up…
 
Everyone outside the cave watched in anticipation as the men crowded around the opening.
 
“A little more!” Abraham urged. “Lift her a little higher!” Peter and Jeremiah held the ladder steady as Abraham leaned over on the ladder into the cave. Abraham grabbed the bundle the Gibbs kids handed him. “I got her!” Abraham shouted. He slowly lifted his head from the cave and wrapped his arms around the bundle. “I’ve got her!”
 
Cheers erupted and prayers of thanks were breathed throughout the large group of people who had come to help free Laura from the cave.
 
Abraham held the precious bundle close to him and hugged her as he hurried away from the mouth of the cave. Jeremiah and Peter stayed to help Margaret and Johnny from the cave. Ruth let out a cry and hurried up to her baby. “My baby! My baby!” she cried when she realized Laura wasn’t moving at all.
 
“Aunt Jenny!” Abraham called when Ruth tried to take Laura from him. “Take Ma away!”
 
Abraham laid his sister down on the quilt as Jennifer forced Ruth to step away. Ruth fell to her knees and cried softly as the doctor hurried up to Laura. He bent over her and began examining her. Laura began mumbling. “Mama…Mama…Help me…”
 
“You’re okay, baby!” Ruth cried. “You’re okay!” Tears flooded her eyes as she realized that for now, her child was alive. There was no longer a dry eye among the crowd – man or woman.
 
“Give her some water,” the doctor muttered softly. Abraham took the canteen from Margaret and put it to Laura’s lips. Dr. Stevens injected a shot into Laura’s arm. “This will put her to sleep for awhile. Get as much water into her as you can until she goes to sleep.” Laura moaned softly as Abraham forced the water into her mouth.
 
She fell asleep. “It’s better this way,” Dr. Stevens mumbled to Abraham. “I’m afraid she’s in a lot of pain.”
 
Abraham looked toward his mother. She laid her head on her daughter’s chest. “Oh baby…” she whispered.
 
Abraham stood up to talk to the doctor. The brothers gathered around, as did Emily, Julie, and Margaret. “She has a cracked rib or two. Her leg may be broken. I won’t know the full extent until I get her back home and examine her.”
 
“Emily, take mother home.” Abraham turned to his brothers. “We’ll carry Laura gently.”
 
Dr. Stevens splinted her leg and wrapped her ribs before they moved her. She was very ill due to lack of food and water, but the sedative Dr. Stevens had administered was light enough that she wouldn’t sleep for long. He just wanted to get her examined and cared for before she woke up. Emily stayed in to assist the doctor while everyone else waited inside or out in the yard to hear the news. It was getting close to dinner and Margaret helped Ruth prepare a meal while Jenny and Julie worked at putting the boys down for a nap in Ruth’s bedroom.
 
It had been nearly 34 hours since Emily left Laura in the school yard. As Margaret set the ham on the table, the door to the sisters’ bedroom opened and Emily walked out followed by Dr. Stevens. Silence fell in the room as everyone waited for the news. Em handed Dr. Stevens a cup of coffee as they waited for him to speak. “She took some more water when she woke up, but she’s a rather sick little girl,” Dr. Stevens stated. “I’ve sedated her and only time will tell us if she’ll get better. I’ve wrapped her up tight. She has two cracked ribs. I also put a splint on her broken leg. If her fever breaks, she’ll be okay.”
 
“When will we know, doctor?” Julie asked.
 
“Soon.” Dr. Stevens picked up his bag. “I have to go. Emily has instructions and the medicine to give her if she wakes up.” He paused at the door and put a hand on Ruth’s arm. “It’s…best if she stays sedated until the pain’s a bit better. The ribs and leg on anyone is pretty painful. On a little girl…”
 
Ruth collapsed into a chair after the door closed. She began crying softly. “Why…why…why?” she asked no one in particular.
 
Emily hurried over to the chair and bent down beside her. “Ma…let’s eat. Then you can sit with her awhile.”
 
“I’ve been terrible!” Ruth cried. “I’ve expected too much. I’ve…”
 
Abraham bent down on the other side of Ruth. “No, Mama. You haven’t!” He stroked her hand as he spoke softly. “We’ve all played a part in this.” He stood up. “And I’m going to give that so-called school teacher a piece of my mind as soon as we know how she’s doing!”
 
Nobody argued with him. Everyone was pretty frustrated with all that had happened. Supper was eaten in silence. Ruth took a few bites of food, but finally stood and walked into Laura’s room. She closed the door firmly behind her. Everyone knew she was crying over her baby. After supper, Emily went in to check on her mother. Ruth was bent over her daughter stroking her hair. “Mother?” Ruth turned. “You should rest.”
 
But Ruth wouldn’t budge from her baby girl’s bedside. She would stay there all night if she had to. At one point in the evening, Abraham came in and gently laid his hands on her shoulders and led her out of the room. “You have got to get some sleep, Ma.” His voice was very stern as he led her toward her own room. “Julie and the kids have gone home. Margaret’s staying with them for a few days. I’ll be right here with you.”
 
After he had gotten his mother settled in bed, Abraham went into the kitchen and poured a cup of coffee. He sat down at the table but simply stared into the cup. “She’s bad, Abe,” Emily mumbled. “She was so dehydrated…by the time Margaret got to her she was…” Emily couldn’t finish her statement.
 
“I know.” Abraham closed his eyes and put a hand to his forehead. “I could just kick myself! I had her…” Abraham banged his fist on the table. “I had her right there…She was trying to tell me and I missed it!” He banged his fist on the table again. “I missed it! I just gave her some damned lecture about responsibility!”
 
Emily sat down beside her brother and put an arm around him. “I know! I feel terrible too, but we can’t get angry. She needs us!” Emily stood up and walked into the bedroom. The three brothers continued to sit at the table while Emily went in to sit with her sister.
 
***
 
Two days passed. The family couldn’t concentrate on their work. All the members of the family took turns sitting with Laura. She continued to run a high fever and the doctor suggested she stay sedated until her fever passed. When she did wake up, she would cry in pain. No one could stand listening to her cries, but Abraham would force some water down her while she screamed. When they were satisfied she had enough, they allowed her to go back to sleep.
 
Abraham sat with Laura on Friday. He kept the Bible open on the bed as he read. A low moan sounded as he dozed off. Abraham’s eyes opened up and he lifted his head. Laura was staring at him. Pain shone in her eyes, but she didn’t look as uncomfortable as she had before. Abraham pressed a hand to her forehead. “It’s gone,” he whispered. He closed the Bible and sat on the side of the bed. “Oh thank you, God.” He hugged her as best he could without hurting her. He brushed a hand against her cheek. “How are you, Rosebud?”
 
Laura didn’t speak. She just stared at her brother. She looked confused.
 
Abraham swallowed, trying to keep his eyes dry. “You went into a cave and…” he swallowed the tears. “There was a cave in. It took us a long time to get you out.”
 
Laura continued to stare at him.
 
Abraham sighed as he smoothed her hair down. “This is Friday. You had the…accident…on Tuesday. You hurt some ribs.” Abraham gently laid a hand on her middle where her ribs were. “Those are in here. They protect your lungs…And you broke your leg, but you’re okay.”
 
Abraham’s heart broke when he saw a tear slip from her eye and roll down her cheek. “Am I…” She swallowed. “Am I in trouble?”
 
Abraham couldn’t keep the tears from his eyes. He shook his head. “No…No, not at all!”
 
“Your not…mad at me for playing hooky?” Laura asked then.
 
Abraham shook his head. He turned away, unable to control his emotions. Then he turned back and kissed her forehead and stood up. “I’ll get Ma.” His voice choked. Abraham hurried out of the room. “She’s awake.” Everyone jumped up and hurried into the room. Abraham hurried outside and went around the corner of the house. He sat down on the chopping block and stared down at the ax. Then he put his hands to his face and sobbed. His shoulders shook as he cried. “I’m sorry…I’m sorry…” he cried.
 
After his tears subsided, Emily came around the side. “She’s back asleep. She’s exhausted, the poor child.” Abraham didn’t look at her. “She’ll be okay now.” Abraham nodded. He stood and started out of the yard. “Where are you going?” Emily suddenly asked.
 
“To town. There’s someone I have to see!” Emily hurried forward to beg him not to go, but he was on his horse and gone before she could get the words out.
 
Emily hurried inside. “Peter, get Julie! I think there’s going to be trouble at the school house!”
 
“What do you mean?” Peter asked.
 
“Abraham. He just took off on his horse.”
 
***
Stan Richards turned from locking the door to see Abraham McCain riding up. Abraham didn’t bother tying his horse, but hurried toward the stairs. “Thought you might want to know my sister’s fever broke today.”
 
“That’s wonderful.”
 
Abraham folded his arms. “Now that I’m not so worried about her anymore, I must ask…what did you do to her Monday?”
 
“Do to her?” Mr. Richard’s shook his head. “I didn’t DO anything to her, Mr. McCain.”
 
“Did you…or did you not single her out in front of the class?” Abraham asked in an accusing voice.
 
“Mr. McCain, I…”
 
“I asked you a question.”
 
“Well…” Mr. Richards took a step down. “I merely told the child that she obviously didn’t study her math over the summer. Nor did it seem she had worked too hard the year before. She’s not at the level she should be.”
 
“Did you bother asking…” Abraham started.
 
“Mr. McCain, as I told your sister, your personal life is NOT my concern. The fact that your sister played hooky on Tuesday is obviously proof that there are some things going on at home that are interfering with-“
 
Abraham reared back and punched Mr. Richards. Mr. Richards fell to the ground. He put a hand to his bloodied nose. “We are ALL at fault for my sister’s current condition. And let me tell you something…”
 
“Abraham!” Jeremiah hurried up to his brother. “Abe, stop it!”
 
Mr. Richards stood up, still holding his nose. “Well, I rest my case, Mr. McCain!”
 
“I mean it!” Abraham yelled as he pointed a finger at him. “I…”
 
Jeremiah grabbed him from the back under the arms. “Come on, Abe! Not now! Not like this!”
 
“If you ever…”
 
“Abraham!” Jeremiah shouted. “I said come on!”
 
Abraham mounted his horse and rode away. He didn’t wait for Jeremiah. He didn’t stop riding hard until he got to his house. He went into the barn and sat down. He didn’t hear the door open behind him.  “Abe?”
 
He jumped as he turned around. Julie walked up to him. “I heard you went riding into town.”
 
“Yep.”
 
“Please…” Julie bent down in front of her husband. “Tell me you didn’t act in haste.” Abraham turned his head from her. “Abe…” Julie put a hand to his cheek and turned his head back around. “You…know that Laura disobeyed you that day. She was told to go to school and in the end, Laura chose to play hooky and Laura went into that cave.”
 
“But I should have listened to her. I should have…” Abraham closed his eyes. “She was trying to tell me, honey. I’m responsible for her and I failed her.”
 
“Just talk to her, Abraham. Just talk to her….tomorrow…” She put her arms around him and hugged him close. Then she pulled away and smiled into his eyes. “We miss you.”
 
Abraham stood up. As they walked into the house, he slipped an arm around her. “How are the boys?’
 
“Growing,” Julie answered as she smiled up at her husband. Abraham smiled tiredly as they walked inside and closed the door.
 
***
 
“And they lived happily ever after.” Margaret smiled as she closed the book.
 
“Margaret?” Laura cringed as she tried to turn over. She laid back on her pillow. “You suppose Sleeping Beauty really slept for a hundred years?”
 
Margaret laughed. “No, Sweetie. I think Mother Goose made the whole story up.”
 
“Who made Mother Goose up?” Laura asked then.
 
“Well…” Margaret looked down at the book. “I don’t know.”
 
“I bet she was really pretty…” Laura mumbled. She turned her head toward Margaret again. “Sleeping Beauty I mean. I want to be really pretty like her.”
 
Margaret smiled as she brushed Laura’s hair back. “You ARE beautiful.”
 
“Is that why Mama and Emily want me to wear a dress?”
 
Margaret frowned. “What do you mean?”
 
“Well…I put up such a fuss about having my hair up in those fancy ribbons and being all dressed up and such. My Mama didn’t let me have dessert Monday night because I took my shoes off at school…said I wasn’t being lady like.”
 
“You weren’t.”
 
“What’s so important about being lady-like?” Laura asked.
 
“Well…” Margaret licked her lips as she tried to think of an answer. “You ARE a lady…well, at least someday you WILL be a lady. Your Ma and Emily want you to learn what it’s like to be a lady. They want you to learn how to be a lady.”
 
“You’ve always been a lady!”
 
Margaret laughed. “Oh, you ask Luke about that.” Laura narrowed her eyes. “I don’t suppose you ever heard about the mud fight your brother and I had when we were seven years old?” Margaret giggled as Laura’s mouth opened. “And I don’t suppose Luke ever told you about our climbing trees together?”
 
“You?” Laura threw a hand to her mouth and giggled. But she grabbed her middle and groaned suddenly.
 
“I’m sorry.” Margaret cleared her throat. “And I got into trouble for not behaving lady-like. You see, most mothers want their daughters to grow up with all the lady-like qualities she grew up with. Now mind you, I’m not nearly as lady-like as my mother. My mother would never ride a horse like a man. Nor would she ever play with a piglet or climb a tree. But I understand now that I’m an adult why she taught me all those things. And someday you’ll understand too.”
 
“But…I hate wearing those pretty dresses and ribbons. Those boys won’t let me play kickball dressed all pretty like that!”
 
Margaret smiled. “Well…there ARE advantages to dressing like that, you know.” Naturally, Laura wanted to know what the advantages were. “Well…” Margaret blushed as she thought about Lucas. “You’ll learn about those things when you get older.” Margaret stood up. “Goodnight, Laura.”
 
***
 
Abraham walked into the house Sunday morning. Ruth was just leaving Laura’s room with an empty bowl. “She seems to be getting her appetite back, son.”
 
“Ma…” Abraham walked up to her. “I was wondering how she’s doing. Has she talked much about…why she didn’t want to go to school?”
 
“No.” Ruth sat the bowl in the sink and turned back around. “But Margaret talked to her the other night about the reason’s we want her to be lady-like.” Ruth sighed. “Then Margaret and I talked. I think I’m being rough on her. She is different from your sister, and it’s not her fault. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that she has four older brothers, one of which is Luke…”
 
“Yes.” Abraham nodded. “Luke loved to take her to caves and take her fishing…almost like he wanted a little brother.”
 
“I suspect so.” Ruth chuckled.
 
“Ma…You go on to church. I’ve a few things to talk to Laura about this morning. Peter will drive you, Julie, and the boys then we can stay the afternoon for lunch if you’ll feed us.” Ruth nodded. She knew Abraham needed this time with his sister.
 
Abraham sat down beside his sister’s bed and read her a Bible story. Then he closed the Bible and cleared his throat. “How are you feeling?”
 
Laura turned her head toward him. “Tired of being in this silly bed!” Laura sighed. “How long does it take for ribs to mend?”
 
“About as long it takes for your leg to mend.” Laura gave him a funny look. Abe chuckled. “About six weeks.”
 
“Six weeks?” Laura squeaked out. “I have to be in bed for six weeks?”
 
“Well now…” Abraham folded his arms and grinned at her. “You should have thought about that before you went into that cave young lady.” Laura sighed and nodded. “I’m sure that when Luke took you in there, he also told you to never go in there without an adult.” Abraham waited for an answer. “Or do I have to go out on the battlefield and whip my brother for not teaching you right.”
 
“Yes sir.” Laura answered. “He told me.” She sighed. “I messed up…again.”
 
“Well…” Abraham cleared his throat again. “You aren’t the only one who messed up. I’m afraid I didn’t do much listening the other day out by the creek. I was a little upset with you for the way you behaved and I didn’t take time out to figure you had cause for behaving that way.” Abraham bent over the bed and looked into her eyes. “You want to tell me about it?”
 
“Oh Abe, it was just awful…just AWFUL!” Laura declared. “Monday morning, I go into the school and he gives us all these rules. So I write them down the best I can. I can’t spell ‘absolutely’ or ‘permission!’ But I wrote the words as best I could.” Laura pointed to her books on the table.
 
Abraham stood and got the tablet. He opened to the first page and read what she had written. “Well, I’d say this is good for a seven year old,” he mumbled.
 
“I did the best I can! Honest, Abe!” Laura declared with a shake of her head. “Then he gave us reading. I’ve only had one year and Mama tried to work with me this summer but we were so busy. I read the best I could, but Mr. hateful…”
 
“Laura Rose…” Abraham warned.
 
“Sorry.” Laura sighed. “Mr. Richards…he just tapped that stick in his hand and sighed really heavy as I tried to read. I couldn’t concentrate! The other kids…they started laughing. Then Mr. Richards banged that stick really hard on his desk and told me I had to re-read it at home then read it to him the next day again!” Laura felt her eyes fill with tears. “Oh Abe, it’s not that I got into trouble for not knowing the words, but…the way he said it and in front of everybody! It made me feel so ashamed! And everyone was staring at me!”
 
“I’m sorry, Laura.”
 
“Then he made us do math and I didn’t understand! He just told us to open our math books and start working the problem. I whispered to Jessie and asked her if she knew how to do the problem, then he told me I had to stay in the whole recess.” Laura sighed. “I know I shouldn’t of, but I argued and he told me I had to stay in the whole afternoon recess too. But..it’s what he did in the afternoon that was the worstest of all!”
 
“What?”
 
“Well…I was working on my reading some more and he told me that my folks didn’t seem to care about my schooling so he’d have to see to give me extra attention. He said he wished Ma would give me some sort of schooling at home in the summer.” Laura’s eyes filled with tears. “That’s why I hate him. I hate him, Abe! I hate him!”
 
“Now wait just a minute there, young lady!” Abraham wiped the tears from Laura’s face. “We don’t go around hating people who we don’t agree with. I’m going to have a talk with your teacher…tell him I don’t appreciate him treating you that way. But you must admit that you didn’t put much stock in your studies last year.” Abraham sighed. “Laura, I owe you an apology. I should have asked you what happened the other day but…I thought you were just being…well…Laura. I understand why you played hooky, but it’s still not okay.”
 
“I know.” Laura nodded. “And I’m sorry. When I was sitting in that cave, I got this really funny feeling down deep inside me and I decided that I better go on to school…even if I did get a whipping. But when I stood up I heard a funny noise. Then all these rocks started falling.”
 
“And you learned a really hard lesson, Laura. You learned why parents give their children rules.” Laura nodded. “And you learned why Ma and Emily wants you to dress and act like a lady.” Laura nodded again. “I think Mr. Richards was way too harsh to you and I’ll speak to him. But you will have to do your part to make school work. Right now…I want you to understand something, Laura. You have to go to school rather you like it or not.”
 
“Yes sir.” Laura shook her head. “But not with him! Not with Mr. Richards!”
 
“We’ll see.” Abraham stood up. “Now, I’ll bring schoolwork home with me after I talk to him in the morning. And you WILL do it. You understand?”
 
“Yes sir.”
 
“So?” Abraham raised an eyebrow. “Do you forgive me?” Laura smiled and nodded her head. Abraham bent over and kissed her forehead. “How about if you get some rest?”
 
Immediately, Laura closed her eyes. Abraham smiled as he scratched under his nose and shook his head. He sure had his work cut out for him!
 
***
 
Abraham watched Mr. Richards step from his buggy early Monday morning. His arms were crossed and one foot was bent and his foot propped on the wall. Mr. Richards turned and froze when he saw the McCain brother standing there. Then slowly, he approached the school. “You’ve…come to finish the job, Mr. McCain?” Mr. Richards asked.
 
“No. I’ve come to set some things straight. I will not resort to violence unless you force me to.”
 
“And what exactly is that supposed to mean?” Mr. Richards asked.
 
“I think you know.” Abraham waited for Mr. Richards to unlock the door. Then they both walked into the schoolhouse. “Now then…” Abraham took out the rules his sister had written the week before. “First of all, I want to know what’s so terrible about the rules my sister wrote for you. She did exactly as she was told and worked hard at sounding out the big words.”
 
Mr. Richards studied the sheet. “Mr. McCain, half of these words are spelled incorrectly. She left out several words, and the grammar is all wrong!”
 
Abraham leaned forward. “Okay…” He tried to stay calm. “First of all, she’s a seven year old child. Second of all, she has had a really rough summer. Her favorite brother left to join the war and she worries about him all the time. Our father died a few months ago. We’ve all been struggling to adjust to this new life we’ve been given. My sister did the best she could.”
 
“Like I said before, Mr. McCain, her personal problems…”
 
“I know what you said!” Abraham boomed out. “And frankly, I don’t give a…” He stopped and closed his eyes to regain composure. Through clinched teeth, he spoke…”Her personal problems are important because they affect her. A seven year old child doesn’t just leave her problems outside the door. She carries them deep inside her like the rest of us! Now then…about her reading aloud in class…My sister may seem a bit behind the other children in her class, but I assure you my mother, sister, brothers, and I will make sure she applies herself. But if you ever…EVER…speak to her the way you spoke to her in class on Monday, I will personally come down here and beat you into a pulp!” Abraham leaned over the desk. “Do I make myself clear?”
 
“You’re…beginning to, Mr. McCain.” Mr. Richards stood up and checked his watch. “I’m afraid it’s about time for school to start. Is there anything else?”
 
“Yes. What did you do before you came here?”
 
“I taught in a boy’s school in Philadelphia. I taught grades 5 and 6. They were taught with strict discipline and all turned out very well.”
 
“Well my sister is in grade two,” Abraham reminded him. “And rather you like it or not, she has and still is going through a very hard time. So you better take that into consideration when she’s here. Now then…” Abraham sighed. “My sister is a very mischievous child. I’m supposing it comes from having four older brothers…and I will deal with her behavior if I need to.” Abraham turned and looked at the switch. “I also understand you use the ruler and the switch. I have spanked my sister on several occasions as her behavior warrants; so I say this as clearly as I can. If you lay one finger on my sister, you better darn well have proof that it was justified or I will personally see that you are taken out into the street and flogged!”
 
Abraham turned and started out. He stopped. “Oh, I have a few errands to run in town. I’ll be back at noon to pick up my sister’s assignments for the week. She won’t be back to school until she’s completely healed.” With that, Abraham walked out.
 
Mr. Richards stared at him as he left and slowly shook his head. “Sod busters…They’re nothing but savages!” he muttered under his breath as he slapped down the papers he was holding in his hands and went to ring the bell.
 
***
 
The healing was slow and painful. It was a fight to get Laura to lay still. Ruth gave Laura some herbs that helped with the pain to the point that she could sit up, but that was as far as she was allowed to go. As the days went by, Laura became grumpier and grumpier. She knew she couldn’t be taken to the barn or punished so she grumbled all she wanted. Usually, though, a stern look from one of her brothers quieted her down for a bit.
 
Emily worked with Laura on her lessons every day. The fact that Emily had to devote so much time to Laura put the farm chores in a bind, so Abraham asked Margaret to help them out for awhile, and sometimes Margaret would even bring Charlie along and left Julie with the babies.
 
Margaret did write a short letter to Lucas and informed him of what had been happening. A short letter was all she had time for at the moment. Between her chores at home and helping the McCain family out, Margaret had little time to worry about Lucas.
 
Then the day arrived. It had been six weeks since the accident. Everyone had been counting to Monday afternoon for the last several days. Keeping a rambunctious child like Laura in bed was like trying to keep a bear from a pot of honey. Everyone waited in anticipation as the doctor went in to examine the child.
 
Julie, Emily, and Margaret worked at preparing the meal while Ruth and Em entertained the children. The three brothers paced outside anxiously waiting to hear the news. Finally, the door to Laura’s room opened and Dr. Stevens walked out. Beside him stood Laura who was smiling. “She’s okay. Her ribs are a bit sore and she’ll walk with a limp for a week or so until it gets all kinked out, but she’s going to be alright.” The room was filled with shouts of joy as everyone hugged Laura. “Have her take it easy for a few days. I say she can return to school Monday!”
 
“Oh…if I have to stay out later, I…” Laura started.
 
“Laura Rose!” Laura heard several shouts of her name. She smiled as she turned and looked at her brothers.
 
Dr. Stevens picked up his bag and started for the door. “Oh, and stay away from caves, young lady!”
 
“At least that one!” Laura declared. But when she saw the look Abraham shot her, she said, “And all the others too!”
 
Abraham walked the doctor out, promising to pay him as soon as they delivered the wheat crop to market. Then the family celebrated Laura’s recovery.
 
But the following Monday came too soon as far as Laura was concerned. She had all her lessons done the best she could and was dressed up all pretty when Abraham stopped by. He had a surprise for her. All her brothers and sister stood outside the door as he made the announcement. “I think you are big enough to walk to school all by yourself.”
 
“You mean it?” Laura shouted excitedly. “You really mean it?”
 
“I do.” Abraham folded his arms and lifted his eyebrows. “This is an important day for the McCain family. The last McCain is finally allowed to walk to school by herself. Laura, I want to trust you, and I’ll try. I trust you’ve learned a lesson from what happened recently. And I trust that you won’t hesitate to let us know if there’s any trouble.”
 
“You mean…” Laura swallowed, realizing for the first time that she was going to face her teacher alone. “…that I hafta do this alone?”
 
Abraham smiled. Nobody answered her question, but Laura knew that was the truth of the matter. The only way for her to face this was head-on. “But you will go directly to school and come straight home afterwards.”
 
The family watched as Laura slowly walked out of the yard. Abraham put his arm around his mother as she sniffed. “My baby…going at it all alone…”
 
“You know she has to, Ma. She knows what she did was wrong, and she has to face that alone.” Ruth nodded. “She’ll be okay.”
 
Margaret was out for her morning ride. She stopped Golden and smiled when she saw a lonely seven year old girl walking toward school all by herself. She waved and Laura waved back but never stopped laughing. With a prideful smile on her face, Margaret turned her horse toward home.
 
***
 
My Dearest Lucas
 
Well here it is the middle of October already. I miss you more than ever, my love, and long for the day when you will come home.
 
I know I’ve written you, at the family’s request, and told you about Laura’s ordeal. But I just had to write you about what I witnessed today. Today Laura Rose walked to school by herself. She didn’t know it, but I watched her the whole way. I just couldn’t help myself. She looked so little and scared, but she did it; and she did it proudly!
 
So for now, things are restored in our small town here in Oklahoma. As the winter approaches, I can think of only three things that are missing. Your father is one of those things. The other two are you and Andy. I pray that, like Laura, our family will soon be restored. I pray, Lucas, that you are all well.
 
I hold you always in my heart and my thoughts. And though I can’t always write you and tell you what I’m thinking, please know I carry you around with me everywhere I go.
 
I love you.
 
Margaret
 
Lucas smiled as he laid on his cot and reread the letter. “My little Rosebud,” he mumbled. “I’m so proud of you.” He closed his eyes and tried to picture Laura…little Laura Rose…walking to school all alone. The mere thought frightened him, but not nearly as much as the thought of her dying alone in that cave. He was grateful that Margaret was brave enough to go inside and care for his sister. She would make a great mother someday; and Lucas found himself hoping that someday she would be the mother of his child.
 
Lucas put the cigar in his mouth and sat up. He reached for the paper as he wrote the letter home.
 
My Dearest Margaret,
 
You have made my heart so happy today. I’ll rest easier knowing my little Rosebud is so much better. Please give her a big hug and kiss from me. Wrap your arms around her and tell her I love her. Then ask her to give you a kiss…It’s the best I can offer under the circumstances.
 
I received a letter from Laura the other day and was hoping you confess in the letter. But I suppose I should tell you Laura told me you and she talked about how much trouble we got in as children.
 
So…did you tell Laura who’s fault the mud fight was? Did you tell Laura that YOU, my dear, pushed ME into the mud puddle? Did you tell her that you then smeared my face in the mud and I actually ate mud that day? Oh, or did you make it seem that the mud fight was something we both participated in?
 
She also told me we climbed trees together. But did you also mention that I had to climb the trees to come after you? You had no trouble getting up them; but you certainly had trouble getting down! I certainly wouldn’t want to ruin your “lady-like” image when you are trying so hard to convince Laura it’s in tact.  Your secret’s safe with me, my sweet.
 
I’m so tired, Margaret. It seems the captain’s expecting a skirmish or battle soon because he’s been working us very hard.
 
I better close for now. I think about you every day and read your letters often. Please stay beautiful until I get back. Oh, and happy Halloween.
 
Love, Lucas

The Years Before — Mischief Night

 

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

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