The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Years Before
 
Chapter 24 - Taken
Written by Michelle Palmer
 
The wind outside was howling that morning. Julie woke to feel Abe quietly slip out of bed. She sat up and looked toward him in the darkness as he looked out the window. “Abe?” Julie called softly.
 
Abe turned and hurried back to the bed. “Just lay down and go back to sleep. I’ll get my own coffee and breakfast,” Abe whispered as he kissed her forehead and straightened up.
 
But Julie slipped out of bed and grabbed her robe. She shivered as her bare feet touched the cold floor.  Then she slowly walked over to the window. There was no moon. She could see nothing, but she certainly could hear the wind whistling through the bare trees. “Abe?” Abe turned from the bed where he was putting his pants on. “Honey, it looks like a storm’s coming. I think you should postpone your hunting trip.” Julie’s voice shook. She had a bad feeling, though she couldn’t put her finger on just what that meant.
 
“Oh Julie…” Abe moaned. “I told you yesterday we’ve been planning this trip for three weeks. We’re busy, you know and won’t have a chance to go hunting again for quite some time.”
 
Julie nodded as she tightened her robe. “I know that, Abe but…”
 
Abe stood and hurried toward the door. “Look Julie, We’re just going to be gone for two days. Scott and Johnny will be by to check on things.”
 
“Abe, I have a bad feeling about this! I…” Julie put a hand to her swelling middle as she felt a soft kick. “Abe, I’m fearful. Something’s not right...I think you should wait!”
 
Abe reached over the mantle for his rifle. “Just a couple eggs for breakfast, honey. We need to get started soon.”
 
“Abe! You’re not listening to me!” Julie shouted in a whisper. “You are the most stubborn man!”
 
Abe paused in filling the stove with wood and turned to look at her. “Alright.” He folded his arms as he spoke impatiently. “Why shouldn’t I go today?”
 
“It looks like it’s going to storm!” Julie exclaimed.
 
“Yes.” Abe nodded. “There’s plenty of caves up there at Dalton’s Ridge for us to hide out the storm.”
 
“Alright, Abe.” Julie sighed as she folded her arms. “Call it woman’s intuition! I…”
 
“Oh!” Abe rolled his eyes as he lifted from the stove. “Woman’s intuition! Julie, I…” Abe stopped when he looked toward Laura’s bedroom door. The door stood ajar. He cleared his throat. “Alright, young lady…” Abe said sternly as he folded his arms. “Come on out of there!”
 
The door slowly opened and Laura walked out. She hung her head. “What are you doing out of bed?”
 
“I heard you shouting,” Laura answered.
 
“I was not shouting,” Abe declared. “I’m just talking to Julie.”
 
“You were shouting.” Julie turned to get a couple eggs from the bowl.
 
“Papa Abe, are you gonna bring down a deer?”
 
“Nevermind, Laura. Go on back to bed,” Abe answered as he loaded his rifle.
 
“Papa Abe, it’s cold!” Laura grumbled.
 
“Then get back under those covers, young lady,” Abe ordered sternly. “It’s just a late winter storm coming. They come sometimes in early March. Go on. It’ll warm up later in the day, I’m sure.”
 
Julie cracked an egg into the pan as the door to Laura’s bedroom closed. “Abe, I really don’t want you to go today. I think you should wait…just until tomorrow!”
 
Abe groaned. “Oh now Julie, don’t be ridiculous! We have to harvest the winter wheat when we get back and…”
 
Julie stayed silent as Abe ate his eggs. He stood and walked over to the mantle to take down the shotgun. “I’m leaving the cartridges to the shotgun here on the mantle. I don’t expect you’ll have to use it, but just in case…”
 
Julie shivered at the mere prospect. She stared at the shotgun. Suddenly, the uneasy feeling intensified. “Abe…” Julie rushed up to him and grabbed his arm. “Abe…please…please don’t go!” She pleaded with him.
 
Abe slowly turned around to face her. “Listen, honey…You just had a bad dream or something.” But Julie shook her head. “Honey…” Abe took her hand and led her to his chair. He sat down and pulled her down onto his lap. “You remember two years ago when I was about to go on that fishing trip and you begged me not to go? I stayed and nothing happened. You were worried for nothing.”
 
“You don’t know that, Abe. It could have been…”
 
Abe pulled her down to him and kissed her softly. He laid a hand against her swelling belly. “The baby’s not due for ten more weeks yet and things are going fine. The wind’s howling a bit but I don’t think it’s going to storm. Johnny will be here in a bit to do the chores. I don’t think there’s anything to worry about.” He kissed her softly before standing from the chair.
 
“Abe, I…” Julie started again.
 
“I have to go.” Abe picked up his rifle and gunpowder pouch. He grabbed the box of shells and put them in his saddlebag. “I love you. You remind Laura and the boys that if they give you any trouble, they’ll have me to deal with when I get back.” Julie shook her head. Abe kissed her. “I’ll be back in a couple days.
 
“Abe!” Julie suddenly lunged forward. “Please, Abe…Please don’t go.”
 
Abe playfully nudged her cheek and smiled. Then he walked out the door.
 
Julie stood for a long time in the doorway. The cold wind blew right through her as she watched him leave the barn with his saddled horse, mount, wave to her, then take off toward the main farm at a trot. “Be careful, my love,” Julie mumbled before going back inside.
 
***
“I’m certainly grateful that Julie sent you down here to help me, Laura Rose,” Emily commented as she stirred the contents in the pot over the fire. “With Tiffany up helping Em out today, it does get lonely here by myself.”
 
Laura turned from wiping off the table. “Anything else you need me to do? You have laundry?”
 
“Oh no!” Emily smiled. “But you could go straighten up Ruthie’s room for me.” She smiled as Laura slowly walked toward Ruthie’s room. A knock sounded on the front door. Emily wiped her hands on her apron and smoothed her hair before going to the door. When she opened it, she found a man standing there smiling at her. He was quite pleasant looking. “Hello there, Ma’am.” He tipped his hat.
 
Emily nodded toward him. “Uh…is your husband home?”
 
“Oh.” Emily blushed. “I’m not married. My brother’s away hunting right now. Can I help you with something?”
 
“Well now…” The man pushed his hat way back on his head. “Name’s Earl. I had to shoot my horse a ways back and have a job waiting for me in town. I…was wondering if I could buy a horse from you.”
 
“Oh…my…” Emily bit her lip. “I don’t know, I…” She shook her head.
 
“Perhaps I could wait until your brother gets back.”
 
“Oh no…he won’t be back for two days. My brothers all just left on a two-day hunting trip early this morning.”
 
The man leaned forward, planting his hands high on the door jam. “Well now…then you’re here all alone?”
 
“Not exactly. I…” Emily suddenly felt nervous. “Listen, Enid’s just about 30 minutes down that road. I think you’ll be able to buy a horse there. I…”
 
“Now…you KNOW I don’t want a horse.” The man grinned as he slowly walked inside. Emily backed up, suddenly regretting offering so much free information to a stranger. Her brothers would tan her if they knew what she had done. “I think you know what I want.”
 
“No…please…” Emily cried suddenly. She turned and looked at the shotgun hanging over the mantle, but knew she couldn’t get to it.
 
Earl whipped a gun from his holster and pointed it at her. “Now Miss…you are so purty…” he traced the barrel of his gun down her cheek as tears filled Emily’s eyes. “Yes ‘em…You are surely th’ purtiest thing I’ve seen in a long time!”
 
“Emily!” Laura cried suddenly from the doorway of Ruthie’s room.
 
Earl shot his head around when he saw Laura. “This your daughter?” The man asked.
 
“Sh…sh…she’s my sis…sis…sister!” Emily cried. “Stay back, Laura! Stay back!”
 
“You come here!” Earl ordered. “Get over here!” Earl reached out for her but Laura bolted away.
 
“Run, Laura! Run!” Emily screamed. “Get out of here!”
 
Emily bolted forward, but Earl grabbed her around the waist and held her against him. “One more word from you and I’ll shoot ya!” He shouted. “Now SHUT UP!”
 
Emily sobbed as she looked down towards the gun against her cheek. She was shaking with fear. “Please…please…” she begged in a whisper as a tear fell from her eye. “Don’t hurt my sister!”
 
Laura paused at the back door and her eyes grew wide with fear. She slowly started backing up and bumped into the door.. Without thinking, her hand was turning the knob. When she found her chance, she turned and ran. “Get back here you little…” Earl ran to the back door and aimed his gun. He fired a shot but missed. Laura let out a scream in fear as the shot whizzed past her.
 
“Run, Laura! RUN!!!” Emily shouted from behind Earl. “Get help!”
 
Earl ran back into the house. “Alright! Out!” He demanded as he grabbed her roughly by the arm and pulled her out of the house. He led her to a horse tied up to the hitching post out front. “Up! Get up there NOW!” He climbed on behind her and took the reins. Emily cried as he kicked the horse into a gallop and they hurried away.
 
***
Laura was screaming. Tears ran down her face as she stumbled over things that weren’t even there. Her legs were shaking so bad that she could hardly run. “Julie!” she screamed. “Mama Julie!” Laura ran into the yard and fell down on the ground.
 
The door opened. Julie rushed out, the boys running right behind her. “Laura!” She ran to the little girl and dropped to her knees. “Laura, where’s your coat? What’s wrong? What is it?”
 
Laura clung to Julie and cried hysterically. Julie grabbed her face. “Laura, you’ve got to be my brave girl now…you’ve got to…Is something wrong with Emily?”
 
Laura shook her head as she took deep breaths. “A…a man…came with a…a…gun!” Laura cried trying to catch her breath. “He was pointing it at Emily an…and…when I ran away he shot at me!” Laura collapsed against Julie and sobbed.
 
“Dear God!” Emily gasped as she stood and hurried into the house. She grabbed the shotgun from over the fireplace and put two shells in it. Slamming the breech shut, she said, “Laura Rose, you stay here with the children! Keep them inside and away from the kitchen!”
 
Julie started down the hill without another word. But when she got there, she found the front door open. She slowly raised the shotgun and went inside. It didn’t take long for her to realize that nobody was there. An overturned chair, an open door, and Emily’s coat and gloves still on their hooks were the only indication that anything was amiss. She heard sizzling and saw a pot boiling over in the fireplace. Quickly, she took the pot off so there wouldn’t be a fire. Before exiting, she grabbed Laura’s coat hanging by the door. Then she hurried back to her house.
 
“Laura Rose!” Julie called from the yard. “Get your coat on!”
 
“Why?” Laura asked in a shaky voice. She was still very fearful.
 
“Just do as I say! Then come out here to the barn!”
 
Julie hurried to the barn and saddled Laura’s horse, Star Bright as fast as she could. She heard the boys’ cries behind her. It was cold outside and they could catch sickness, but right now she had to get Laura off. “Okay, get on up there!”
 
“Why, Julie?” Laura asked.
 
“I want you to go to town and get the Marshal!” Julie stated.
 
“But Abe said I ain’t allowed to go to town by myself!” Laura argued. Her voice was shaking with fear.
 
“Never mind, Laura! This is important!  You’ve got to do this! Tell the Marshal about the man and that he took Emily.” She helped Laura into the saddle. “Send him out quickly. But you stay in town until I come for you, you hear?” Julie gave Star Bright a hard slap on the rump. She shivered as she watched Star Bright gallop quickly out of the yard. Then she turned back to usher her boys inside. She couldn’t take them down to the house. The stranger may come back.
 
Adam started crying. Julie bent over and picked him up. “Oh, it’s okay, honey,” she said softly. “Everything will be okay.” Julie closed her eyes. “God…” she swallowed hard. “Please get Laura to town. I hated sending her but I had no choice! Help her do this!”
 
Julie hurried out and rang the bell Abe had put up for emergencies. She prayed Tiffany and Em could hear it from Jeremiah’s place. She rang it for several minutes as loud as she could. The triplets started screaming, fearful of the noise. Charlie merely watched her ring as he planted his hands over his ears. Her ringing became fiercer, and sobs escaped her throat in hiccups. Julie was relieved when she did see Em and Tiffany hurry toward her house with their daughters in their arms. She ran off the porch and grasped Tiffany’s arms. “It’s terrible…just…terrible!” Julie cried.
 
Tiffany took Julie’s arm and led her inside. After laying down the baby, Tiffany sat Julie at the table. After Em had joined her, she asked, “What’s happened?” Tiffany looked around. “Where’s Laura?”
 
“I sent her into town for…for…the Marshal,” Julie answered as tears poured from her eyes. “I know she’s only eight but…I had no choice!”
 
“Why? What’s wrong?” Em asked.
 
“Emily…” Julie put her hands to her face. “Laura was there. She said a…a…a man came and…he held a gun on Emily.”
 
“Oh no!” Em’s eyes grew wide as she covered her mouth with her hands.
 
“The man took her! I don’t know where…I don’t…” Julie started crying again.
 
“Alright…” Tiffany scooted closer to Julie. “I know this is bad, but you’ve got to calm yourself. I don’t want you to lose the baby.”
 
“I know I shouldn’t have sent Laura, but I…”
 
“We understand.” Em stood. “You want me to saddle a horse and go after her?”
 
“N…no.” Julie shook her head. “I…”
 
“I’ll go get Scott. Maybe we can send Johnny for the brothers. Scott will know what to do.”
 
Julie nodded. Tiffany stood up. “I’ll fix some coffee.” She hurried into the kitchen.
 
“I think I should go back down…” she started.
 
“No!” Tiffany shouted. “I think we should stay here until Scott or the Marshal gets here. We don’t know who that man is. We don’t know what’s going on.” She heard a horse quickly gallop away. “Scott will be here soon.”
 
***
 
Scott sighed as he closed his eyes and leaned back in the chair. “Is it any better? “ Amanda asked as she continued to rub his leg.
 
“Not really.” Scott cringed as he tried to lower his leg. “Oh, I hate these winter storms! Makes a man like me feel so helpless!”
 
Amanda helped Scott to his feet. Margaret looked up from the letter she was writing. “Amanda, winters have always been hard on him. I…”
 
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. “Johnny, get that, will you?”
 
Johnny sighed as if answering the door was the biggest chore in the world. He walked toward the door, but it opened before he got to it. “Scott…” Em gasped as she rushed inside and ran up to him. “Oh Scott…there’s trouble!”
 
Scott grasped her arms. “What is it, Em?”
 
“He took Emily!” Em cried.
 
“What?” Margaret slowly stood. “Who took her?”
 
Em shook her head. “I don’t know! Laura was at the house and saw him pull a gun on Emily. She ran to get Julie but…but…” Em took a deep breath. “Apparently, the man ran off with her.”
 
Scott hurried and got his rifle. “Johnny, I want you to go up to Dalton’s Ridge. You know where that’s at.” Johnny nodded. “I want you to find the McCain’s and tell them there’s trouble. Get them back here as fast as you can!”
 
Scott strapped on his gun belt as he spoke. Then he grabbed his hat and rifle. “Em, you stay here with Amanda.”
 
“No! I need to get back…”
 
“I’m going to tell Julie and Tiffany to come over here. I want them out of danger.” Scott turned to Jennifer. “Ma, you ladies get the house ready for the children. I don’t know what’s going on, but I know there’s something very, very wrong.”
 
Scott hurried out the door. “What should I do?” Samuel asked as he slowly stood from his chair.
 
Scott paused and turned to look at his father. “Nothing.”
 
***
 
Star Bright rode into town as if she knew just where to go. Laura was in tears as Star Bright ran fast. A man, seeing the horse racing through town, stepped forward and stopped him. He caught Laura as the horse reared back suddenly, and pulled her from the saddle. Laura’s face was white as a sheet. “Laura?” The man recognized her as one of his son’s schoolmates. “Laura, what’s wrong?”
 
Laura’s lips were shaking. She lifted her head and looked into the man’s kind eyes. “He…he…he…he…took her!” Laura suddenly clung to the man and cried.
 
The man lifted the girl into his arms and ran toward the Marshal’s office. “Marshal Williams! Marshal Williams!” He raced inside as the Marshal stood from his desk.
 
“Wayne, what is it?” The Marshal asked.
 
“I don’t know. Laura McCain here came racing into town on her horse. Something’s sure got her spooked.”
 
Marshal Williams motioned for him to sit her down. “Go and get Mrs. Pritchard.” He studied Laura’s face. “You may want to bring the doctor over here too.”
 
“Right!”
 
Marshal Williams kneeled down in front of Laura. “Laura, can you tell me what’s wrong?”
 
“A…a…a man…” Laura swallowed. “He…took my sister!”
 
“Your sister? Julie?” Laura shook her head. “Emily?” Laura nodded. “What man?”
 
“I don’t know! I was in the bedroom helping Emily and then I heard her crying and when I came out…” Laura suddenly burst into tears.
 
Mrs. Pritchard hurried inside. She stopped when she saw the little girl in tears. “Marshal?”
 
“Take her home with you, will you? We might see if the doctor can give her something.”
 
“What’s wrong?” Mrs. Pritchard asked as the Marshal went to strap on his guns and filled his rifle with bullets.
 
“Trouble. At the McCain’s.” He snapped the chamber shut on his rifle. “I think there’s been a kidnapping.”
 
Upon hearing this, Laura’s cries became louder. Marshal Williams hurried out onto the street. He jumped on his waiting horse, then hurried out of town.
 
***
 
Scott rode his horse straight to Abe’s house. Julie ran from the house with her children behind her. “Oh Scott!” She cried as she clung to him. “She’s gone! Somebody took her!” Tears poured down Julie’s face. “I begged Abe not to go! I told him something was wrong…I told him…”
 
Tiffany came to take Julie into her own arms. Scott turned toward the house. “Are they still there?”
 
“No…” Julie swallowed and took a deep breath. “I went down there and…”
 
“You what?” Scott turned and stared at her. “You shouldn’t have done that!” He looked toward the house. “Alright…Tiffany, you get Julie back inside. I sent Johnny to find the men. Get inside and lock the doors. Don’t come out until we tell you to!” Scott mounted his horse. He winced as pain shot through his leg. He cursed his lame leg under his breath, then turned and slowly rode to the main house.
 
Upon his arrival, he studied the fresh prints outside the front door. It looked like there had been a struggle, then one horse rode from the yard. Scott slowly made his way inside. He found an overturned chair but nothing else.
 
Just then, he heard someone approaching. He readied his rifle, but relaxed when he saw it was Marshal Williams. “Scott, any sign?”
 
“No. I’ve no idea who they are or how many or…anything!”
 
“Laura told me a man. Can you tell how many horses?”
 
“Only one, near as I can tell. But who…and why…and…” Scott pushed the hat back on his head and sighed in frustration. “Why would someone take her?”
 
Marshal Williams sighed as he walked inside. He stood the overturned chair upright. “Scott, I’ve seen a lot of sick things in my life. The fact that this man came into the house and took her worries me.”
 
“What does Laura say?”
 
“Not much of anything, I’m afraid.” Marshal Williams ran a hand through his hair. “I’m afraid the child’s hysterical. We won’t get much out of her for awhile.”
 
“I sent Johnny for her brothers. I’m sure they’ll ride on a posse with you.”
 
“Where are they?”
 
“They left this morning for a two day hunting trip up to Dalton’s Ridge.”
 
“Might be better if they stayed there for a couple days…” Marshal Williams muttered. “Her brothers are going to be mad as hell. I’m afraid they’ll have death in their eyes….and I don’t blame them.”
 
“Marshal…what kind of man is he?”
 
Marshal Williams shook his head. “Well…I got a telegram warning me about a man named Earl Bridges.” He shook his head. “I pray to God I’m wrong, because this man  is wanted dead or alive…for murder.”
 
Scott sucked in his breath. He took a step forward then cursed when his leg gave out. He grabbed the hitching post and rubbed it. “Scott, I’m afraid you won’t be much help.”
 
“Look Marshal, Emily’s like a sister to me. In case you haven’t noticed, I have blood in my eyes too. Dead or Alive?” Scott walked to his horse. “If I find him, he’ll be dead.”
 
Scott started to mount his horse, but Marshal Williams put a firm hand on his arm. “Wait.”
 
“Marshal, we’ve got to find him! He has Emily!”
 
“I know! But we can’t go off half-cocked. We need to get back to town and form a posse.”
 
“A posse? A posse to do what? We don’t even know where they ARE!” Scott argued. “I just want to follow the trail. I…”
 
“Oh come on, man!” Marshal Williams rolled his eyes. “If this is Bridges, he’s smart enough to cover his trail. You won’t get far doing that. Even if you do catch up with him, he wouldn’t hesitate to kill Emily. He has a price on his head and won’t hesitate to kill her or you, if you corner him.”
 
“Then what are we supposed to do?” Scott suddenly shouted in frustration.
 
“First of all, we get these women and children into town…”
 
“My house!” Scott argued. “I told the women to get ready for them already.”
 
“Alright. Your house. And then we get into town to get a posse ready. I want the doc to give your leg a good rubbing because if it’s still lame when it’s time to ride, you’ll stay behind.” Marshal Williams mounted his horse. “We’ll need every man in town who’s willing to ride! We have to cover as much territory as we can.”
 
Marshal Williams went into the McCain barn to hitch the wagon while Scott went to get the women and children ready to travel. When they got them to the Gibbs house, Julie declared she was going into town. “NO!” Scott declared.
 
“Scott…” Julie gave him a small shove with her hand. “My daughter’s there! She’s frightened and all alone and I’m getting her back!”
 
“I’ll bring her to you!” Scott argued. “Julie, I…”
 
“NO!” Julie shouted angrily. “I want to go to her! She needs me!”
 
“But your condition…you should take it easy!”
 
“NO! I’m going! Either I’ll ride a horse or you’ll take me in the wagon, but I’m going!”
 
Scott ran a hand through his hair. “Alright!” He turned and looked at Marshal Williams. “I’ll ride the wagon in. We’ll have to bring them back before we ride out.”
 
Julie jumped on the wagon as Tiffany and Em stood in the doorway and watched them leave. They corralled the six children as the wagon raced from the yard.
 
Julie ringed her hands as they hurried toward town. “I’m going as fast as I can!” Scott informed her in frustration. Marshal Williams stayed right beside them. He didn’t want to take any chances.
 
“I know…but I saw fear in her eyes. She’s so scared, Scott.”
 
Scott turned and looked at her. “Back there…you called her your daughter.”
 
“I did?” Scott nodded. Julie smiled in spite of her worry. “Well…I guess she is.” Scott smiled back at her, then hurried the team a little faster.
 
Julie jumped from the wagon as soon as they got into town. She hurried toward the Doc’s office, but when she got there nobody was with him. “Laura…where’s Laura?”
 
“Mrs. Pritchard took her home. She’s mighty upset.”
 
“I know!” Julie hurried from his office and lifted her skirt as she ran toward the boarding house as fast as she could. She felt hot tears fall down her cheeks as she walked up the steps. But before entering, she quickly wiped her eyes dry. She had to be strong for Laura.
 
When she entered, she saw Laura sitting on the chaise lounge.   “Laura…” Julie said softly as she dropped to her knees in front of the little girl. Laura started crying as she threw her arms around Julie. “Oh baby…” Laura clung to her and cried.
 
“Mama Julie…” Laura hiccupped. “I’m so scared. That bad man killed her! I just know it!”
 
“What do you mean?” Julie asked. She grasped the girl’s face in her hands. “Laura?”
 
Laura shook her head as she clung to Julie and shook. Julie could feel her whole body shaking. “Come on. Let’s get you home.”
 
She started to stand and lift the girl in her arms, but Scott put a hand on her shoulder and shook his head. “I’ll get her.”
 
“No!” Marshal Williams pushed him aside and picked up the little girl. “You get on down to the Doc’s. I’ll have my deputy take them home.”
 
After he had Laura settled in the wagon, he turned to Julie. “Marshal…Emily?”
 
“We’ll form a posse. Johnny was sent to fetch your husband and brothers. We’ll find her.”
 
“Alive?” Julie suddenly asked. “Will you find her alive?”
 
“Take it easy, Julie. Think about the baby.”
 
Julie put a hand to her belly. “I know.” She closed her eyes and tried to calm herself. “I’m just so worried about Emily.”
 
“We’ll do our best. You take care of Laura. And let the other women do the work. You’ve an unborn child to think of.”
 
“Yes Marshal. Thank you.” Julie started to allow him to help her up into the wagon, but she paused when she saw some men riding down the street. She turned as they rode toward the Marshal. “Go on, now. Get going.”
 
Julie turned in the seat as the Deputy drove the wagon on down the road. She bit her lip as tears welled up in her eyes. The men stopped to talk to the Marshal. She wondered if maybe…possibly…the conversation pertained to her sister-in-law.
 
***
Johnny rode his horse like mad up the side of the mountain. In some places it was steep, but Johnny knew he had to find the McCain brothers and fast! The wind had picked up. Johnny used his free hand to tighten his coat around him, but the wind still ran right through him.
 
He was almost to the top when the horse suddenly whinnied, stumbled, and fell to the ground. Johnny toppled from him, and rolled a bit down the side of the mountain before catching onto a tree. He hurriedly climbed back up to where his horse laid softly whinnying and stood over him.
 
Johnny was a lover of horses and couldn’t stand the thought of his horse – the horse he had raised from birth – having a broken leg. He pulled on the horse’s rein and forced the horse to stand, but he only stood on three legs. He could put no weight on his back left leg. In frustration, Johnny let out a loud scream and fired his rifle in the air three times.
 
***
The McCain brothers stopped and turned when they heard the rifle shots. “What was that?” Jeremiah asked as they scanned the ravine below.
 
“I don’t know. Maybe we’re not the only ones dumb enough to hunt when the wind’s blowing like this.”
 
“No…” Abe shook his head.   He suddenly felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. He found himself wishing he’d been more sensitive to Julie’s warning this morning.  “Something’s wrong. I think we should go check it out.” Each brother made his way down the side of the mountain slowly as they walked their horses behind them. When they got to the ravine, they paused. Peter pointed to a figure stooped over his horse. “Isn’t that Johnny?”
 
Abe bolted forward. Now he KNEW without a doubt that something was wrong…very wrong at home. “Johnny, what…” He stopped when Johnny turned. He had tears on his face. Abe hurried forward. “What is it? Why are you here?”
 
“Something’s happened,” Johnny answered in a shaky voice. “Emily.”
 
“What?” Abe suddenly asked as he grabbed Johnny’s shoulders. “What happened to our sister?”
 
“She…A man…I think…” Johnny shook his head. “I’m not sure. But there’s trouble…bad trouble! Laura had to go for the Marshal.”
 
“Laura….” Abe’s eyes grew wide. He turned and looked at his brothers. “Let’s hurry!”
 
The men started to walk their horses further down, but Johnny hesitated. “Well, come on!” Peter ordered.
 
Johnny turned back to his horse. “He can’t walk…right now.” The brothers heard the sadness in Johnny’s voice.
 
Peter turned and looked at his brothers. He walked to Johnny’s horse and felt his leg. Slowly, Peter stood up and turned to face the young man. “Johnny, I’m sorry. I know what this horse meant to you.” Peter unholstered his gun. “We have no choice.”
 
“NO!” Johnny shouted as he bolted forward.
 
Abe hurried up to the two. “Grow up, boy! It’s time you learned the facts of life.” Johnny stared at Abe. “I’m sorry, but we’ve got to get back down there! My sister…my wife…” Johnny understood, but he turned to look at his horse. Abe turned him back around to distract him. “Johnny, I’m sorry, but we don’t have time to stand around and let you accept this! We’ve got to get down there!”
 
“Then you go on!” Johnny cried. “Just leave me!”
 
“We can’t do that, Johnny! We can’t leave you here with a mad man out there.” Abe grabbed Johnny’s arm. He nodded toward Peter as he dragged Johnny away.
 
Johnny tried to speak, but he froze when a gunshot sounded. He turned and stared at Peter. “You can ride behind me,” Peter said as he emptied the cartridge. “Let’s go.”
 
They wasted no time. Johnny didn’t have much time to think about the fact that his horse was laying up there dead to be eaten by buzzards. The men raced back into town. They stopped in front of the Marshal’s office and started inside.
 
“Abe!” Marshal Williams hurried up to the brothers. “I’m glad your back.”
 
“What’s this about Emily?” Peter suddenly asked.
 
“She’s missing.”
 
Abe paused in tying his reins to the post. “What do you mean…she’s missing?”
 
“Just what I said.” Marshal Williams ran a hand through his hair as he heaved a sigh. “Look…Laura was at your house earlier, Peter. Apparently someone came to the door and kidnapped your sister.”
 
“Kidnapped?” Abe turned and looked at his brothers. “Who kidnapped her?”
 
“I don’t know.”
 
But Abe didn’t miss the hesitation in the Marshal’s eyes. “Look…I’m not going to play games with you, Marshal. You know something. Now…what is it?”
 
“Abe, it’s nothing. I…”
 
Abe grabbed the Marshal by his shirt. “WHAT?”
 
“Alright!” Marshal Williams stepped into his office. “It could be a man by the name of Earl Bridges. He’s wanted for murder and was seen heading this way.”
 
“You mean…our sister was kidnapped by a…a…KILLER????”
 
Marshal Williams nodded. “That’s what it looks like.” He folded his arms. “Now then…I’m going to let you three on the posse but…”
 
“Damn right!” Peter declared. “But first we have to check on our wives.”
 
“They’re at the Gibbs’. They’re fine.” Marshal Williams held up a hand. “We’ll ride out in an hour, but I don’t want you men to get out of line.”
 
“OUT OF LINE???” Abe shouted. “What the hell are you talking about??? A KILLER kidnapped my sister and you are telling US not to get out of line?”
 
“MCCAIN!” Marshal Williams pointed a finger in his face. “I’m still the law here and as long as I’m the law, you’ll do EXACTLY as I say or you won’t ride!”
 
“You just try and stop me!” Abe threatened him. “Now…we’re going to go check on our wives and children. When we return, we’ll ride out.”
 
Abe turned and hurried out. Jeremiah and Peter hurried out behind him. They jumped on their horses and hurried out of town. The door to the Gibbs’ home opened and women and children bounded out. Em ran into her husband’s arms and wept as he held her tight. Tiffany hugged her husband. “I’m glad you’re okay, baby,” Peter whispered as he kissed her. “How’s the baby?”
 
“Both little girls are sleeping,” Tiffany said.
 
Julie practically fell into her husband’s arms. Abe caught her before she fell. Julie burst into tears, then suddenly banged her fists on his chest. “I told you not to go! I told you!” She cried.
 
Abe grabbed her wrists and held her at bay. “Stop it, Julie! STOP IT!” Julie froze as he yelled at her. She clung to him again. He kissed her temple and allowed her to cry.
 
“You shouldn’t have gone away! You should have listened to me!” Julie cried. “Oh…why didn’t you listen to me?”
 
Abe closed his eyes in regret as he held his hysterical wife. He knew she was blaming him, and maybe rightly so. After all, if he had just listened to her pleas…Emily wouldn’t be missing right now.
 
Abe pulled her away and looked into her eyes. “We can argue about that later.” He looked around. “Are the children okay?”
 
Julie straightened and wiped her eyes. “I’m sorry.” She sniffed, suddenly regretting her outburst. “I try to be strong, Abe. But this is bad…really bad.”
 
“I know.” Abe nodded. “Laura?”
 
“Oh Abe…she’s so scared. She thinks it’s her fault and I can’t get her to talk!”
 
“Where is she?”
 
“She’s in the parlor just sitting there.” Abe started inside. “Can we go home, Abe?”
 
Abe turned and shook his head. “No. We’re joining the posse to go search for Emily. Julie, we don’t know anything about this kidnapper. I want you here. At least Uncle Sam’s here with you. I feel safer that way. I want you and the kids to stay here until we’re back.”
 
“Abe…Emily?”
 
“I don’t know, honey.” Abe slowly walked into the house and into the parlor. He paused in the doorway when he saw Laura sitting on the couch. Her knees were drawn up to her chest and her arms hugged her legs. “Laura?”
 
Laura jumped from the couch and spun around. “Papa Abe!” She ran to him. Abe bent down and swooped her up into his arms. “Oh Papa Abe! Please don’t hate me!” Laura cried against him.
 
Abe hugged her tight as he sat down on the couch. “There, there…” He smoothed her hair. “Why would I hate you?”
 
“It’s my fault! It’s all my fault!” Laura cried against his chest.
 
Abe put his hand under her chin and lifted her head. “This is NOT your fault, Laura!”
 
“Oh, but it is! If I had stayed in the bedroom instead of coming out…or if I hadn’t run…”
 
“You’re only a child. You did what you should have done. You ran and got help.”
 
“He had a gun to her head. Oh…it was awful…just awful!” Laura laid her head against his chest and closed her eyes as if that would remove the image from her mind.
 
“A gun?” Abe grabbed her roughly by the shoulders and pulled her away. “He held a gun on her?” Laura nodded. “Where?”
 
Laura formed her fingers in the shape of a gun then pointed it toward her temple. Abe saw her face grow white as she started shaking. “Laura…” He licked his lips. “Your brothers and I…We’re about to go and look for Emily and this bad man. I need to know…”
 
“You gonna kill him?” Laura’s voice was filled with hate and regret. “I want you to kill him! Kill him dead!” Laura sneered.
 
Abe hated seeing his sister so full of hate. He shook it off, knowing he had a more pressing matter right now. “Honey…can you tell me what he looked like?”
 
“Well…he had blond hair and a black cowboy hat with a silver band around it. His pants were grey and his shirt was uh….sorta green and sorta blue.”
 
“Did he have any marks? Any scars?’ Laura looked away, shaking her head. She didn’t want to think about that. “It’ll help us, honey. Anything you can remember will help us find them.”
 
“Will you kill him?”
 
“I don’t know, honey,” Abe answered honestly.
 
Laura thought about it for a minute. “He had a scar on his arm. A great big ugly scar.”
 
“Okay, honey.” Abe stood up. “Laura…would you do something for me?” Laura nodded. “Would you help Mama Julie and the others with the children? I want you to be my big helper while I’m gone. Can you do that?” Laura nodded. Abe bent down in front of her. “I love you, Laura Rose.”
 
“I love you too, Papa Abe. Bring Emily home.”
 
“I’ll do my best.”
 
Abe left Laura in the parlor and stopped when four boys tackled him. He picked each of them up and kissed them before setting them back down. “I have to go now. You mind your Ma.” Abe motioned for Jennifer to come over to him. “Aunt Jenny, Julie’s really upset. I don’t want her doing any work. Please…make her take it easy.”
 
Jenny nodded. “Marshal Williams already ordered us to. She won’t lift a finger.”
 
Abe kissed her cheek then hurried out the door. The brothers mounted their horses. Julie, Em, and Tiffany stood in the doorway and watched them ride off.
 
***
 
They only had a few hours of daylight. The posse of about twenty-five men met. Marshal Williams paired the men off and assigned each of them a section to go over with a fine-tooth comb. But as darkness came over the land, not a single sign was found. The brothers knew it was like looking for a needle in a haystack.
 
They made their way back to the Gibbs’ Ranch. Scott cursed as his leg throbbed. He had lied to the Marshal in order to ride. When they settled in the barn to sleep that night, Abe mentioned that Scott should stay behind. “It’s important to have a man here guarding all the women anyhow,” Abe mumbled wearily as he lay down on the fresh hay.
 
“Johnny’s here. And Pa’s here.”
 
“No offense,” Abe mumbled. “But your Pa isn’t exactly reliable. And Johnny’s a fifteen year old boy.”
 
Scott sighed. “I…I want to find Emily as much as you do.”
 
“We know,” Jeremiah stated as he yawned. “But your leg won’t do you much good lame…and we really DO need someone here we can trust with the women. We really don’t know what this kidnapper is capable of.”
 
Scott knew they were right. “I wish I didn’t have this lame leg.” He muttered as he went to sleep.
 
They woke before the sun was up the next morning. As Jeremiah opened the door of the Gibbs’ barn, they saw that the house was already light and busy. He turned and looked toward the others as they slowly started toward the house. Abe opened the front door and the other men followed him inside. He saw Julie at the table pouring coffee in cups. Abe bolted forward and took the pot from her. He snapped his fingers and pointed to a chair. “SIT!” he ordered.
 
“Abe…”
 
Abe poured the coffee in the remaining cups. “You aren’t listening very well, Julie. You aren’t to lift a finger!”
 
“I’m sorry, Abe. She got away from us!” Tiffany folded her arms and glared at Julie. She turned. “Any luck?”
 
“No.” Abe handed Tiffany the coffee pot. Tiffany accepted Peter’s kiss before going back into the kitchen.
 
Abe turned back to his wife. “What are you up so early for?”
 
“We saw you go into the barn last night.”
 
Abe raised an eyebrow. “It was pretty late when we got in.”
 
“Emily’s missing. We aren’t sleeping too well either. We thought we’d fix you a big breakfast before you left again.”
 
Abe nodded as he kissed her. “But you have to behave yourself, Julie.” He laid a hand on her flushed cheek. “Honey, I don’t want to worry about you while I’m looking for my sister. I want you to promise me you’ll obey.”
 
“Abe…”
 
“Uh uh…Promise me!” Abe demanded.
 
“Alright, Abe. I promise.” She motioned for him to sit down while Margaret sat the big plate of flapjacks on the table. “But just find Emily.”
 
Even in this trying time, the men bowed their heads and prayed. Jeremiah’s voice was heavy with emotion as he begged God to protect their sister and give them the wisdom to find her. As they ate, Jennifer asked about the search. “It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack,” Abe commented. “We’ve no idea where to look.” Abe swallowed. “You ladies should pack us some provisions. We may be gone for a few days. Depends on where the search leads us.”
 
Peter swallowed the bite in his mouth and took a big swig of his coffee. He turned to Jennifer. “How’s Johnny?”
 
“He’s very upset.” Jennifer took a sip of her coffee. “He’s upset with you.”
 
“I’m sorry. I wouldn’t have killed his horse if I didn’t have to. You know that.” Jennifer nodded. “After his announcement about Emily, I knew we had to go. We didn’t have time to stand around and let him accept this. And we couldn’t leave him behind and trust he’d do the right thing. Besides…” Peter shrugged. “With the news, we didn’t want to leave him out there by himself.”
 
“I understand.” Jennifer nodded. “He’ll be okay.” She gave Peter a small smile. “He’s a Gibbs’ after all.”
 
The brothers stood up. Scott groaned as he slowly stood from the table. Amanda hurried forward. “Scott, you can’t go! Not with your leg in that condition!”
 
“No.” Scott hung his head. “And it shames me to…”
 
“No!” Jeremiah practically shouted as he put a hand on Scott’s shoulder. “You are not being shamed. First of all, we do want a man here guarding our women folk and children. Second of all…you could get yourself killed going out there like that and you know it.”
 
 “I know.” He held his hand out to Jeremiah. “Good luck.”
 
While the men were in the barn, Laura got up and went to the window in the bedroom. From there, she saw Peter as he stood in the doorway of the barn patting his horse. Laura gasped, excited her brothers were back. She hurried from the bedroom and ran out the door before anyone could stop her. “Papa Abe! Papa Abe!”
 
Abe hurried from the barn. Laura looked around. “Where is she?”
 
Abe bent down in front of her. “We haven’t found her.”
 
“Then why are you here?” Laura asked accusingly. “Why aren’t you looking for her?”
 
“Because, Laura Rose...It got dark. We can’t search for her in the dark. Especially when there’s no moon.”
 
“You mean…” Laura’s eyes grew wide. “She was…out there all by herself…all…night with that…that…”
 
“Laura, I want you to help the women today. You hear? I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
 
“Don’t come back without Emily!” Laura ordered. “Bring her back!”
 
“We’ll do our best.” Abe gave his little sister a hug. Margaret hurried up behind Laura and put her hands on the girl’s shoulders as they watched the men hurry from the yard.
 
***
The men were all ready to ride at first light. The Marshal again reminded the men that there was an eighteen year old woman with the wanted man, and she was not to be harmed. Keeping her safe may require them to put themselves into a dangerous situation, but that’s the job they signed up for. Marshal Williams looked at his watch. “Let’s ride.”
 
Abe turned and looked at his brothers. “Marshal…what if we find something?”
 
“If you find something, you shoot the signal. I’ve ordered a twenty-four hour curfew for everyone in this town. Nobody is to leave their farms and they shouldn’t even be outside unless it’s absolutely necessary. We don’t know what this man’s capable of.” Marshal Williams saw the hesitation in the brothers’ eyes. “And if you disobey my orders, I’ll find you and lock you up!”
 
Abe glared at him, then turned his horse around and rode off. The three brothers stuck together that day. They searched every piece of the territory they were assigned to cover for any clue. Around noon, the brothers were just about to stop for lunch when they started noticing small twigs on the tree were bent down at a strange angle – as if pointing in a direction. “Hey Abe…” Peter pointed to the twig. “Does this look familiar to you?”
 
They rode a bit further and again found a twig on the tree bent down at an angle. “When Emily was about ten or eleven…we taught her how to leave signs for us were she ever lost. Remember?”
 
Peter nodded. “She must be leaving us clues...But…if he’s got her on his horse how is she managing to do it?”
 
Abe bent down and looked at the ground. The footprints were faint now, but he could still see them a bit. Slowly he stood up. “Son of a…” he muttered suddenly as pain wrapped around his heart.
 
“What is it?” Jeremiah asked as he hurried up to his older brother.
 
Abe pointed to the ground. “The monster has her walking behind the horse. I think he…”
 
“…Has her tied up like an animal???” Peter sneered. “I’ll kill him! I’ll kill him on sight!”
 
“Looks like her feet are dragging. I’d say this was last night before they made camp…if he even let her rest.”
 
“But where?” Peter asked. He punched a nearby tree. “Damn it! We’ve got to find her! There’s no telling what that son of a…” Peter swallowed hard to regain control of his emotions. “We need to fire the signal!” Peter took his gun from his holster.
 
“NO!” Abe shouted harshly as he grabbed Peter’s arm. “What if Emily and her kidnapper are nearby? He could hurt her.”
 
“Then what do we do???”
 
Abe turned and looked at Jeremiah, who nodded slightly. “Peter…I want you to ride back and find the Marshal.”
 
“NO!”
 
“It’s an order, Peter!” Abe shouted as he stuck his finger in his brother’s face. “We need every man over here to find her! Now get going!”
 
Peter knew his brother wasn’t leaving the matter up for discussion. He had no choice BUT to go back. Abe and Jeremiah watched him leave. “You think she’s still alive?”
 
“I pray that she is.” Abe answered.. He heaved a deep sigh. “I pray that she’s alive. She’s somewhere safe waiting for us to find her.”
 
“I pray you’re right…” Jeremiah grabbed the reins to his horse. “Let’s go.”
 
Jeremiah and Peter continued tracking the trail that their sister was undoubtedly leaving behind. They spoke softly about how glad they were to see that their sister was keeping her wits about herself. She was staying calm enough to remember everything her brothers had taught her. The brothers stopped to investigate any sign Emily left. At times, it was simply a twig turned a certain way, or a bunch of leaves pushed aside..subtle things that her kidnapper obviously wasn’t paying attention to. “I don’t get it,” Abe declared one time while he pushed his hat way back on his head.
 
“What?” Jeremiah asked.
 
“For a man who’s apparently so ruthless, he certainly isn’t paying much attention to what his captive is doing.” Abe pointed at something else. “Look.”
 
Jeremiah bent down in the dirt and studied what Abe was pointing at closer. “They must have stopped to rest.” Abe stared at the piece of material that had been tied to a fallen branch. “I can’t believe he didn’t stop her from leaving a trail.”
 
“Yeah.” Abe sighed as he straightened up. “That worries me.”
 
“What do you mean?” Jeremiah asked as he stood to his feet.
 
“He doesn’t care. I think he’s planning on…” Abe swallowed hard as his voice shook. “I don’t think he plans to…” But he couldn’t finish the thought.
 
“He’s planning on doing what he wants with her then killing her.” Abe made no indication. “That’s what you’re saying, isn’t it?” Jeremiah suddenly shouted, emotion laying heavily on his voice. “Or you figure he’s using her to lure us somewhere?”
 
Abe turned and gave Jeremiah a slight nod. He worked his jaw as he said, “Let’s go.”
 
The two traveled deeper into the woods. They continued to track her. But suddenly, Abe stopped dead in his tracks. They found a bigger piece of material on a thorn bush. And this time, it was obvious that it wasn’t a clue left by Emily. Abe picked it up. “It’s Emily’s.” His heart pumped harder. “Now we know for sure she’s here.”
 
The brothers pushed hard. They were exhausted and needed to eat, but they pressed on. Nothing was going to stop them now. It was nearing three o’clock when the Marshal and his men caught up to them. Abe showed Marshal Williams the material. “She’s here somewhere…” Peter confirmed. “That’s the dress she had on yesterday.”
 
“Men…” Marshal Williams ordered. “Now we know we’re on the right trail. But they have a 24 hour lead on us. We need some men to ride ahead and scout to see if you can pick up the trail. Some will continue to follow her trail here. I want half of you to ride on down to the nearest farm and see if they’ll feed you. When you’re done, come back and we’ll send the other half down. I want to cover as much of these woods as we possibly can before dark.”
 
The McCain brothers were forced to go with the first group. They put up quite a fight, declaring they didn’t need to eat; but Marshal Williams assured them they would spend the night in jail if they didn’t obey his strict orders.
 
They were back in an hour. Men had picked up the trail ahead and Deputy Rogers stayed back to let the men returning know where to go. They followed the trail for hours. Men were sent ahead to find traces of the trail. “Your sister is very trail wise,” The Marshal stated. “She’s leaving us all sorts of clues.”
 
“I know.” Abe nodded. “And that worries us.”
 
Marshal Williams didn’t have to say anything. They all knew they were thinking the same thing. “Abe…I grew up with you. You sister goes to school with my boy. I knew Emily when she was just a wee thing. If she’s out there…alive…we’ll find her.”
 
“She is alive!” Abe declared suddenly.
 
Marshal Williams nodded. He patted Abe on the shoulder. “Then let’s go find her.”
 
They continued traveling. The hope of finding Emily before another night fell was becoming very bleak. Abe stopped and turned to look at Marshal William who held a deep frown on his face. “Exactly what kind of murders did this…Bridges…commit?”
 
“Well let’s just say that those he killed were missing for less than twenty-four hours when their bodies were found.”
 
Abe turned and looked at Jeremiah and Peter. They all closed their eyes as tears formed. The men came to a clearing and found an old run-down shack. There, they left their horses and made their way inside. Marshal Williams lit the lantern he had brought with him and shone it inside. Peter let out a gasp and ran forward. He stared down at a cot. “Marshal, the light!”
 
The brothers ran over to look. There was dried blood on the blanket. Abe and Jeremiah closed their eyes as they wrapped an arm around the other’s shoulder. They spent a moment of mourning for what was quickly becoming a reality. Then as Jeremiah lifted his head, he let out another gasp. Marshal Williams shone his light in the direction Jeremiah was looking. Words were scribbled on the wall. “Help me. He’s going to kill me. EM.”
 
“Dear God!” Abe prayed as he fell to his knees. “Oh…God help us!” he pleaded.
 
“Come on. Let’s try to get a couple more hours of riding in before we make camp.” Marshal Williams tapped Abe on his shoulder. Abe, grieving for what he feared had more than likely already happened to his sister, slowly stood and made his way out of the shack.
 
***
 
Waukomis, Oklahoma
 
Two hunters in the nearby woods hurried toward the deer they had just shot. But suddenly, one of the hunters tripped over something in the brush. He stood up. “What’s wrong with ya?” the second man asked.
 
“I don’t know…” He straightened up and moved the brush aside. His eyes grew wide. “Frank! It’s a woman!”
 
Frank hurried over to his hunting partner, Andy, and bent down beside him. They pulled her from the brush and carried her out into a clearing. “Someone sure did a number on her!” Andy declared as he quickly covered her with a blanket. “Is she alive?”
 
Frank laid his head on her chest to listen. “Barely! We’ve got to get her to town!”
 
“This girl needs a doctor bad! Let’s get her in the wagon and take her to Enid!”
 
“It’s too risky!” Frank declared. “She could die before we get there!”
 
“We don’t have a doctor! We’ve got to get her to Enid fast!” The men carried her to their waiting wagon. Frank sat with the girl’s injured head in his lap while Andy drove the wagon. He covered her body tighter in the blanket to keep her warm, knowing that the tattered remains of her dress wouldn’t be enough to keep her warm.
 
The wagon pulled into town long after dark. The saloon down the street was alive with men hollering, taking advantage of the Marshal’s absence; and refusing to obey his curfew law. The wagon pulled up at the end of the street. Andy jumped down and ran to the doctor’s office. After banging on the door a few times, Dr. Stevens opened the door. “What is it?” he asked the stranger.
 
“We found a woman outside Waukomis! She’s almost dead!” Dr. Stevens ran toward the wagon as a much younger man followed close behind him. As the lantern light shone on the woman’s face, Dr. Stevens closed his eyes in sorrow. “Oh Merciful God in Heaven!” He turned to look at the younger man. “It’s her. It’s Emily McCain.”
 
***
 
It had occurred to Dr. Stevens just a month before that Enid was growing. He was getting on in years, now birthing babies of the babies he brought into the world years earlier. He hadn’t been exactly young when he became Enid’s doctor. Dr. Stevens had encountered many diseases and overcome every one of them. But lately, he wasn’t able to keep up with the demands from all those who needed him. He needed someone to help him with a lot of the work. And just yesterday, his help had arrived.
 
Dr. Jason Livingston was young and fresh out of medical school. His family had scraped every penny they could to put him through the years of schooling so that Dr. Livingston could accomplish his dream. He’d had plenty of practice in frontier medicine, and Dr. Stevens really felt he would fit in. But he wasn’t quite ready to give the young doctor an experience quite like this.
 
Through the entire exam, Dr. Livingston kept a professional attitude. But Dr. Stevens saw the sorrow in the man’s face as he assisted in caring for the patient. In time, he heard the doctor’s muffled cries as he relieved his emotions after doctoring the cuts and bruises on the girls’ face. And he saw the hopelessness in the young doctor’s eyes as together; the two doctors realized a cold, hard truth. This young woman had been through hell over the last 48 hours.  Once they were sure they had done all they could for their patient, they went to inform her family she was found.  Both doctors had agreed that the family could wait to be told what kind of hell she had been through.
 
***
 
Julie sat down at the table and took a long breath. Tiffany sat down beside her and took her hand. “I’m worried too.” She squeezed Julie’s hand. “They’ll find her. No matter where she is, they’ll find her.”
 
Julie closed her eyes and took a deep sigh as she placed a hand on her swelling belly. Inside, she felt the baby kick and she tried to ignore the small twinge of pain that played at the bottom of her belly. She had to be strong for her children…especially for Laura. There was a possibility that…
 
“What if she’s…” Julie shook her head.
 
“She’s not! She’s alive and well! Our husbands will find Emily. They’ll bring her back to us alive!”
 
“Yeah…” Julie sighed again. “I’m trying to believe that.” She lifted her head. “She’s been missing since Saturday. It’s Monday morning.”
 
“I know.” Em came to sit down at the table as well. “Laura’s crying again. She wondered if she had to go to school.” Em sighed. “I know I should have asked you, but I told her that for now she could stay home…until we know more.”
 
Julie nodded. “They aren’t having school anyhow. Scott said the marshal ordered twenty-four hour curfew until the man’s found.” Julie put her head in her hands. It wasn’t only Emily she was crying for. It was Laura, who carried a huge burden on her shoulders. She had spent hours holding her adopted daughter as she cried, but nothing Julie said seemed to help. Laura’s nightmares would continue until Emily was found. And if she wasn’t? Well…Laura’s nightmares would continue.
 
Just then, a knock sounded on the door. The women all turned to look at Scott who sat down his coffee and hurried to the door. Opening it, he found Silas from the telegraph office there. “What is it?”
 
“She’s back!” Silas announced. “She’s at the Doc’s office!”
 
Julie stood and reached for her shawl. “How is she?”
 
Silas looked into the house. Even the children stopped to look at him. “Uh…I don’t know, but it don’t look good. You should come right away.”
 
Julie turned and looked at Tiffany. Tiffany hurried forward and grabbed her coat. “Margaret…keep the children here,” Scott ordered. “Don’t let them outside. Keep the door locked. Pa should be back from checking the cattle soon. I’m taking Julie, Em, and Tiffany into town.”
 
“I wanta go!” Laura suddenly cried as she hurried from the bedroom.
 
“No!” Scott answered as he turned toward her. “You just stay here with Margaret.”
 
“No! I want to see Emily!” Laura cried.
 
Julie turned and kneeled down in front of her. “Laura…honey…try to understand, sweetie. Silas says she’s been hurt. I don’t want you there until I know what’s going on. Besides, you know Papa Abe wouldn’t want you there…don’t you?”
 
Laura nodded and sniffed. She wanted to see her sister so badly. Julie kissed her on top of the head, then turned and hurried out the door.
 
Their ride into town was silent as the women wondered what they would find when they got there. Scott pulled the wagon up outside the doctor’s office and got down. He helped Julie from the seat as Tiffany and Em climbed from the back. They hurried forward. When they got inside, Dr. Stevens stopped them at the door and motioned for them to sit. Unwillingly, the three sisters-in-law sat and waited for him to speak.
 
Dr. Williams sat down across from them and folded his hands. “Some hunters found her. But she was near death. She’s been badly beaten. I…think the kidnapper must have thought she was dead.”
 
“Oh God in heaven…” Tiffany breathed as she closed her eyes.
 
“I’m afraid the beating is the least of our worries.” Dr. Stevens bowed his head. “Out there in just here tattered dress and on the damp ground…” Looking to Tiffany and Em, Dr. Stevens stated why don’t you two go sit with her?
 
“The three of us will…” Julie started to say.
 
“Not yet, Julie, I want to examine you, to make sure the baby is doing well. The stress you’ve been under… Please.”
 
Julie nodded and watched as Tiffany and Em were shown from the room by another man who was introduced to them as Doctor Livington.
 
Julie followed Doctor Stevens into one of the other examination rooms.
 
“Julie, I wanted to talk with you in private. What I’m about to say, must not leave this room.”
 
“What are you talking about?”
 
“Julie, from some of the bruises and cuts on your sister’s body, and the stains on what remained of her dress…there’s a good chance that she may have been violated by that man.”
 
“Violated?” the word died on Julie’s lips.
 
“We won’t know for certain until Emily wakes and can talk about this ordeal. If she was…”
 
“No…” Julie whispered as tears filled her eyes. “Oh God…NO!” She stood and hurried forward, but Dr. Stevens stood and put a restraining arm on her. “Julie, I must warn you…She’s in bad shape. I’ve read journals that when such traumatic events happen, a person’s subconscious can block the memories out, as if they never happened or happened to someone else. And one day, those memories can surface.”
 
“I want to see her!” Julie declared. “I need to see her!” Dr. Livingston entered the room. l “I need to see her NOW!” Julie demanded suddenly.
 
“Alright.” Dr. Livingston looked her up and down. “But only for a moment. Your condition appears to be critical right now.”
 
Julie stood and followed the two doctors to her sister.. But nothing could prepare Julie for what she saw. Tiffany and Em admitted to Julie they too had stopped cold and stared at the still form in the bed. Her face was hardly recognizable. The color drained from Julie’s face and she started to go down when Dr. Livingston caught her until Dr. Stevens brought over a chair and helped slowly lower her into a chair. The sight that met her eyes brought the other two sisters to their knees as well.
 
***
 
Weariness shone on their faces as the brothers rode back into town. They had searched all day with no more signs of their sister. It had been hard for the brothers to go back into town, but they were exhausted and hungry…desperately in need of sleep. The moment the men stopped traveling forward, they huddled in a circle and cried for what they believed had happened. “We still have to find her!” Jeremiah had declared. “Even if she’s…She deserves a proper…”
 
Abe nodded his agreement, but all the brothers were worried about their wives and children. They had to get back to check on those they had left behind.
 
The Marshal had returned to town earlier in the day to see if there was any news. Now, as the men dismounted their horses, they walked toward the Marshal’s office. The brothers were surprised to see their wives coming from the doctor’s office.
 
“Abe, we found your sister!” Marshal Williams announced as he hurried up to the brothers.
 
All three brothers bolted forward, sudden hope filled their eyes.
 
“Is she alright, Marshal?” Abe asked, rushing up to the Marshal. The Marshal hesitated. “Is she alive?”
 
The Marshal nodded. “She’s alive.”
 
“Oh, thank God!” Peter breathed.
 
“Not so fast…” the Marshal held up his hand. “I said she’s alive but…”
 
“But WHAT?” Abe asked as he grabbed the Marshal’s shirt. “WHAT???”
 
“She’s been hurt, real bad.” The Marshal hesitated again.
 
“Shot?”
 
“Not hurt in that way…” The Marshal sighed. “I’m afraid you can’t see all the hurt that’s come to her.”
 
Jeremiah rushed forward as the women walked up to them. “Marshal…what are you saying?”
 
“I’m saying…” The Marshal started as he licked his lips. “…that I think Emily will need your wives…really bad right now.”
 
“Doc…” Peter rushed forward. “What did that BEAST do to my sister?” The Marshal hung his head. “Tell me or so help me I’ll…”
 
“Peter!” Tiffany rushed forward and grabbed his arm. “Marshal…please…” Tiffany begged.
 
“Exactly what happened to our sister?” Abe asked.
 
Julie took her husband in her arms as tears filled her eyes. “He’s saying…that Emily is alive, barely.”
 
Peter sank to his knees as well. His wife was right beside him as he cried for the loss of innocence his sister had suffered. “Let’s go see the doctor,” Tiffany whispered as she lifted her husband to his feet and put her arm around him to give him strength from within.
 
Abe slowly stood and wiped his eyes as he and Julie walked weakly toward the doctor’s office. They couldn’t think straight. They couldn’t put their thoughts into words. Jeremiah walked stiffly and quietly beside his wife.
 
They walked inside. Doctor Stevens hurried forward. “I’m glad you’re here.” He motioned for everyone to sit down. Dr. Livingston came to sit down beside Dr. Stevens and Dr. Stevens introduced him to the McCain brothers. “Right now, we have Emily sedated. I need you to tell me, Abe, what you want me to do. When she wakes up…it’s going to be horrible but she’s going to have to face it sometime.”
 
“What’s the other choice?” Abe asked.
 
“I could keep her sedated for a few days and hope she heals on the outside a bit. She hurts in ways that you can’t imagine, and keeping her asleep is helping with the healing. But the real healing will be a slow, painful process, and it can’t start until she wakes up.”
 
“We’ll be here for her. We can help her!” Abe declared.
 
Dr. Livingston cleared his throat. “You can’t help her. I think her best bet is your wives. She’ll need them more than ever right now. I’ve seen a few cases like this, and this is a very difficult thing for a woman to cope with. She’s going to need a lot of love, a lot of privacy, and a lot of understanding. This is going to be rough for her…Rougher than you can ever imagine.”
 
“Son of a…” Peter cursed under his breath as he stood up. He went to the door and banged it with both of his fists. “I’m going to kill that beast! I’m going to KILL him!”
 
“How could this happen?” Abe ran his hands through his hair as he tried to come to terms with this. “Why Emily? Why?” Abe stood. “I think it’s best if we let her wake up. It’s better she deals with this sooner than later.”
 
“Good.” Dr. Livingston nodded. “I agree.”
 
“We’ll work out shifts so someone will be there with her at all times,” Tiffany decided. “I know Margaret and Aunt Jenny have already signed up. And between the five of us…”
 
“No.” Abe shook his head. “Four of you. Julie can’t do this.”
 
“Abe!” Julie started. But she slowly sat back down. “I need to go to Laura. She needs me badly.”
 
“Laura…” Abe mumbled. “What do we tell her? How do we even begin to…to explain this to a…nine year old little girl?” There were no answers to his question. Abe turned and looked at his brothers. “Let’s go check on the children. Then we’ll go back and join the posse. I want this man dead.”
 
***
 
Laura stared out the window. Margaret couldn’t get her to budge from her spot. Laura watched anxiously for any sign that someone was returning with news on Emily. While Margaret was changing a diaper, Laura saw a wagon pull up outside. It carried her family. Laura let out a cry and hurried out the door. “Papa Abe! Mama Julie!”
 
Abe bent down and swooped her up into his arms. “I was so scared!” Laura cried. “Where’s Emily?”
 
Abe looked over Laura’s shoulder at Julie. The McCain’s had always been raised to have no secrets, but Abe couldn’t even begin explaining things to Laura. “She’s hurt. She’s at the doctor’s.”
 
“I want to see her!” Laura cried.
 
“No,” Abe answered sternly.
 
But Laura’s love for her sister was too great for her to give up the fight that easily. “But Abe, I want to see her! I have to!”
 
“No.”
 
“She’s dead! I know she’s dead!” Laura started punching his chest with her fists. Abe let go of her and she dropped to the ground. Laura turned and ran to the barn.
 
“Laura! Laura!” Abe called her name desperately as tears filled his eyes. He turned and looked at Julie who was hugging her sons.  
 
Julie stood as Adam wrapped his arms around his mother’s neck. “Abe…she’s hurting…Maybe…”
 
“No! We can’t!” Abe shouted.
 
Peter rushed forward. He had tears in his eyes. “How would you feel if you were told you couldn’t go see your sister?”
 
“I’m not a child, Peter! Laura is!” Abe shouted at his younger brother.
 
“Yes. She IS a child! But she has to see her sister to believe she’s alive just like we did! Laura’s a lot tougher than you think! You HAVE to let her see Emily, Abe!” Peter would always stand up for his little sister when she needed it.
 
“How do we prepare her for something like that?”
 
“She thinks Emily’s dead. We have to let her see Emily so she’ll know….”
 
“I can’t!” Abe shook his head. “Oh…I just can’t!”
 
Julie shoved Adam toward Abe, forcing her husband to take their son. Then she ran to the barn. She could hear Laura’s muffled crying in the hayloft. She started to climb up the stairs, but when her foot was on the bottom rung, she heard from behind her…”Julie, don’t do that.”
 
Julie turned to see Abe standing in the doorway. Adam sat comfortable in his arms as their other three sons hung on his legs. “Laura, would you please come down here?” Abe called up into the hayloft, but he got no reply. “NOW!”
 
Laura slowly made her way down the ladder. Abe smoothed out a place for his family to sit. He helped his wife sit down and handed Adam to her. Then he patted his lap for Laura to sit. Abe felt lost as he took his sister’s face in his hands and spoke. “Laura…the man…He hurt our sister very…very badly. When he left her he thought she was dead.” Laura’s eyes filled with tears. “Laura…She has a lot of bruises on her face and it’s all swollen up and not very pretty looking. It’ll go away and she’ll heal but…it’s going to be really hard for her for awhile.”
 
Laura swallowed. “Can I see her? Please?”
 
Abe opened his mouth to deny her request, but he heard his name said sharply from his wife. He lifted his head and looked into her face. Then he knew he couldn’t say no. “Alright. But…you have to be prepared, and you can only stay for a moment.”
 
Abe was very unsettled about this, but he didn’t know what to do. He stood up and carried Laura from the barn. His brothers were there waiting impatiently. “We need to ride,” Peter said. He held a rifle in his hand. His eyes were full of hate.
 
Margaret came from the house and hurried to the men. She saw Scott with a rifle in his own hands. “Why the rifles?” she asked in a shaky voice.
 
“They have a longer range,” Peter answered, turning his horse.
 
“So you’re going to ambush him?” Margaret walked up to the horses. She grabbed Scott’s horse by the reins and pulled the horse’s head down so she could look her brother right in the eye. “Is that what you’re planning on doing?”
 
“Yes.” Scott nodded. “We’re going to kill him as dead as we can!”
 
Margaret felt more tears fill her eyes. She bit her lip to process her thoughts. “Listen to me…all of you.” She turned and looked at Abe who still had Laura in his arms. “What that man did to Emily is unspeakable and he deserves to die. I’ll be the first one to admit that. He’s a wanted man and I’m sure will be…” Margaret stopped for the benefit of the children…”Let the law handle this.”
 
“NO!” Peter shouted. “If the law does find him, Emily may have to testify and I cannot put her through that!”
 
“So you’re going to kill him in cold blood?” Margaret shook her head. “You can’t do that. You are ALL good men and if you do this…you won’t be able to live with yourself!”
 
“I’ll live with myself just fine!” Abe declared. “I’ll do just fine! I’ll rest easy knowing the scum of the earth is DEAD!”
 
Abe sat Laura on the ground. “You women get in the house and stay there. We’ll be back.”
 
Abe mounted his horse. He motioned for the boys to start riding. “Papa Abe…” Laura shouted. Abe turned and looked down at his sister. “I hope you kill him! I hope you kill him DEAD!” Laura shouted. The hate in her voice was so real and so bitter.
 
Abe watched the women and Laura hurry back into the house. He sucked in his breath at the words that came from his nine year old sister’s mouth. They haunted him in an unspeakable way. He shook his head, turned, and rode out.
 
***
 
Tiffany came to relieve Em at the doctor’s a couple hours before sunset Tuesday afternoon. Only an hour later did she hear mumbling from her sister-in-law’s lips. Tiffany slowly stood and watched as Emily slowly turned her head from side to side. “Doctor!” Tiffany called.  “Doctor!”
 
Dr. Livingston came into the room. He examined Emily quickly and nodded. “She’s waking up. I’ll go get Mrs. McCain from the hotel. Is there anyone else I should send for?”
 
Tiffany nodded. “Someone should fetch Julie at the Gibbs’ ranch. Julie should be here.”
 
Dr. Livingston nodded and hurried out.
 
Tiffany held Emily’s hand as her mumbling became fiercer. Emily’s eyes opened and she looked around. Then she turned and looked at Tiffany. “Hi there, sis.” Tiffany smiled at her.
 
Emily just stared. She slowly lifted a hand to her face and groaned at the pressure she felt. She hurt everywhere.
 
Emily’s eyes grew wide as the memories came back. She started screaming and thrashing around. Tiffany stood and tried to hold her down, but Emily’s thrashing became greater. “Stop! You’re hurt!” Tiffany cried.
 
“Keep him away from me!” Emily screamed. “Keep him away!”
 
“DOCTOR!” Tiffany screamed. “DOCTOR, hurry!”
 
Dr. Livingston hurried into the room and came to help hold Emily down. Soothingly, he spoke as he locked eyes with her. “You’re alright. You’re safe.” He had a way about him. It had a calming effect. Emily slowly stopped moving and laid back on the bed. Dr. Livingston nodded. “That’s it. That’s right…” He continued speaking softly to her until she had calmed. Then he smiled kindly at her. “Hello. My name is Dr. Livingston. I just started here helping out Dr. Stevens.” Dr. Livingston continued to speak to her. He spoke of things unrelated to her problem.
 
“I grew up in the mountains of Missouri. Spent my boyhood fishing and hunting and…well, doing all the things a boy does.” He smiled at her as she continued to stare at him. “I’ve met your brothers and sisters-in law. They all seem wonderful and love you very much.”
 
He paused. Emily looked at Tiffany as tears filled her eyes. She slowly moved a hand to her forehead. “Laura…”
 
Tiffany nodded. “Laura’s fine. She came all the way into town to get the Marshal. She’s really worried about you..”
 
“Doctor…” Emily swallowed but could say no more. She began sobbing uncontrollably. Dr. Livingston stood and hurried from the room. Tiffany took her in her arms and allowed her to cry. Em hurried into the room and comforted her as well.
 
Emily was still crying when Julie and Margaret hurried in. All the women gathered around her, staying silent while she cried. Finally, Emily laid back on her pillow and pulled the covers around her. She wanted to speak of it, but couldn’t. “I want to go to sleep now,” she whispered as she turned on her side and closed her eyes. The sisters looked at each other. They just sat quietly and watched her sleep.
 
“I think I should bring Laura in while she’s sleeping.” Julie stood and left the room. In a moment, she returned with Laura. She had done her best to prepare Laura, but nothing she said could prepare her for the image that met her eyes. Laura took one look at her sister, then turned and ran out. Julie hurried after her and put a hand on Laura’s shoulder from behind as Laura sobbed. “I tried to tell you, honey.”
 
“She’s not pretty anymore!” Laura cried. “I want Abe to kill that man!”
 
“No…” Julie shook her head. “We can’t think that way.”
 
“Yes I can!” Laura cried. “He took my sister away from me! He did THAT to her! I want him dead!”
 
Julie took Laura in her arms and held her tight. “Laura…we mustn’t hate! We can’t hate!”
 
“This is ALL my fault! I shouldn’t have come out of that room! I should have tried to help. I…”
 
“NO, LAURA!” Julie shouted. “No! You…” Suddenly, a sharp pain pierced Julie’s middle. She doubled over on the floor and cried as she grabbed her middle. Dr. Livingston turned when he heard her cry. He hurried to the door where the sisters were and called, “I need you out here now.”
 
Dr. Livingston hurried to Julie and gently pulled Laura away from her embrace. Julie cried as another cramp came over her. “It’s too early…” Julie mumbled. “It’s way too early!”
 
“Get this child out of here!” Dr. Livingston ordered. Em hurried Laura from the office. Laura cried for Mama Julie, but right now, things were too bad.
 
Dr. Livingston bent over and picked Julie up in his arms. He hurried into the other exam room and placed her on a cot. “Ladies, undress her for me. I need to examine her. Dr. Livingston turned to wash his hands. Julie continued to cry as pains came from her middle. “When is she expecting the baby?”
 
“The beginning of May,” Tiffany answered. “It’s too soon! It’s way too soon!”
 
“Yes. If the baby is indeed to be expected in early May; I’m afraid it’s way too soon.” Dr. Livingston examined her. He went back to the sink and washed his hands. “We’ve got to stop the pains.” He poured some powder in a cup and stirred it. Lifting her head, he put the cup to her lips and told her to drink.
 
“Doctor…” Tiffany walked over to him so she could speak in a whisper. “Doctor, I was a month early and I almost lost the baby. If she delivers now…”
 
“The baby can’t survive.” Dr. Livingston ran a hand through his hair. “Dr. Stevens is way across town with a family that has Yellow Fever. He won’t be much help. Listen…we’re going to have to keep her quiet and still. She can’t move from that bed, and we’ve got to keep her calm. I need someone with her at all times, as well as someone with Emily.”
 
Margaret nodded. “I’ll stay with Julie.” She looked at Tiffany. “You’re closer to Emily since you live with her.”
 
Tiffany nodded. “I’ll sit with her.”
 
“Laura…” Julie mumbled softly as she felt herself begin to float. “Laura…”
 
“Don’t worry! She’ll be okay.” Tiffany smoothed Julie’s hair. “She’ll be fine.”
 
***
 
They rode into town early the next morning. About twenty-five men dismounted their horses, glad the search was finally over. Abe, Peter, Jeremiah, and Scott all leaned against the hitching post exhausted and grateful it was over. But none of them smiled.
 
Em hurried down the street with her skirt lifted. She watched as a man was led into the jail, cursing and sputtering the whole way. “Is that him?” she asked as she froze. “Is that the monster?”
 
Jeremiah walked to his wife and quickly turned her away from the scene. “Yes. That’s him.”
 
“You…you didn’t kill him?”
 
“No.” Abe turned and looked at her. “But we’re damn well going to see him hang! I want to see him swing at the end of that rope…to know he’ll never…ever get a chance to beat another woman again!” Abe slowly turned around. “How is she?”
 
“She woke up last night. She cried then went back to sleep. This morning she woke up but refused to eat or drink. The doctor seems to be the only one who can talk to her. He has a soothing way of talking to her that she needs, and he’s there trying to get her to eat some broth right now.”
 
“Dr. Livingston?” Em nodded.  “Abe…” Em lowered her head. “Something’s happened.”
 
Abe heard the hesitation in her voice. “What?” he suddenly asked. “What happened?”
 
“It’s Julie. She…She brought Laura into town yesterday to see Emily when word was sent she was awake. It upset Laura badly and Julie was trying to calm her when…when…She started cramping.”
 
“Cramp…” Abe bolted forward. “The baby?”
 
“Dr. Livingston gave her some powders, but she’s still hurting a lot. The doctor said if we can just keep her from delivering for a few weeks…the baby will have a better chance of surviving.”
 
Abe ran to the doctor’s office as fast as he could. His heart raced at the prospect of Julie’s worst fears becoming a reality. He busted into the office as Dr. Livingston stood up. “My wife?”
 
“She’s okay. She hasn’t had anymore cramping for the past few hours. I…think she’s going to be okay.” Dr. Livingston held up his hand. “But I’m ordering her bed rest until the baby comes. I don’t want any unnecessary stress on her. Things are crucial right now.”
 
“Can I see her?” Dr. Livingston nodded and motioned for him to go in. Abe took off his hat and walked inside. He sat down on the side of the cot and took her hand. “Hi.”
 
Julie smiled up at him. “I’m sorry.”
 
Abe shook his head. “Don’t be. I’m just glad you’re okay. But you’re going to have to stay in bed, young lady.”
 
Julie nodded. “Just like last time.”
 
“No.” Abe shook his head. “No, because this time the baby’s going to be okay. We’re going to have ourselves a little girl.”
 
Julie smiled. “It’s what I want so badly, Abe.” She swallowed. “Laura? How’s Laura?”
 
“I don’t know. But I’ll find out. I’m going to find her and then the three of us are going to talk. I think there’s a few things we need to get straightened out.”
 
“Did you find him, Abe?” Julie asked after Abe kissed her and stood up.
 
Abe nodded. “We found him.”
 
“And did you…”
 
Abe walked to the door then slowly turned around. “We found him. I’ll be back.”
 
***
 
Abe hurried to the Gibbs’ ranch. Beth hurried from the house with Laura close behind her. Laura cried as Abe once again took his sister into his arms and held her close. “She’s been so worried about so many things,” Beth said softly. “She’s been watching for you.”
 
“Thanks, Beth.” Abe smiled as he tugged on Laura’s pony tail. “I appreciate everything you and your family have done.” Abe hugged Laura tight again. “I’m taking her in to Julie.”
 
But his sons bounded from the house then. Charlie ran ahead of his other brothers. “Papa! Papa!” They all cried.
 
Abe sat Laura down and dropped to his knees to hug his children. “Have you been good?” They nodded. “Really good?”
 
Charlie lowered his head. Abe put a hand under his oldest son’s chin and lifted his head. “Son?”
 
“I just had to sit in the naughty chair two times today!” Charlie declared.
 
“I see. The way you said that makes me believe you’ve been trouble. Is that true?”
 
“Yes sir,” Charlie answered.
 
“Alright. We’re talk about your behavior later, young man. And thank you for being honest with me. Now…when I get back, I’m taking my family and going home.”
 
“NO!” Laura cried. “I want to stay in town with Mama Julie!” Abe heard the fear in Laura’s voice. He chose not to address it right now.
 
“Papa, I want to come with you!” Charlie cried. “Please, Papa!”
 
“Son, you can’t. You wouldn’t have any fun anyhow. You stay here and play.”
 
“Papa, we all go!” Adam cried then. “Please Papa!”
 
Abe felt his heart breaking. He gathered all his sons around him and sat down on the ground. “Listen…I know this is hard on all of you kids. Something happened to your Aunt Emily, and we’re trying to get her back home. You’ll get to go home soon. And hopefully Mama will come with us. Then we can return to normal with you boys playing in the yard together and Mama and Papa tucking you in bed every night. But sometimes…” Abe saw four pairs of very sad eyes looking at him. He looked up at Laura who also had very sad eyes. “Oh…I wish I could protect all my children from the bad stuff, but I can’t. I’ll come back and get you soon. It’s almost all over. I promise.”
 
“Papa?”
 
Abe sighed heavily when he heard the question in his son’s voice. “Yes, David?”
 
“Give us candy?”
 
Abe laughed. “I think I can do that!” He ruffled his son’s hair. “Now…You all be good boys for Aunt Jenny and Uncle Sam this afternoon.” He raised his eyebrows. “Understand?”
 
“Yes, Papa,” the triplets all answered.
 
“Well?” Abe asked Charlie.
 
“I want to go with you, Papa!” Charlie declared again.
 
He lifted the boys from his lap and stood up. “You boys get back inside. I’ll be back in a spell.” He walked toward the house. Jennifer came out. “I’m sorry they’ve been ornery.”
 
Jennifer shook her head. “No ornerier than their father and uncles were!” she declared. She shook a finger at him. “So don’t you even think about giving those boys a hard time!”
 
Abe grinned. “I’m their father. I’m trying to raise them to be better than we were.”
 
“Humph!” Jennifer straightened. “Is everything…taken care of?”
 
“We found him.” Abe nodded. “It’ll be over soon.” Laura started to ask, but Abe shook his head to silence her. “I’m taking Laura into town with me. When we come back, I’ll take them home.”
 
“NO!” Laura cried again. But Abe turned and mounted his horse. He sat Laura securely in front of him then hurried toward town. Laura didn’t say anything as they rode into town. Abe lifted her from the horse than dismounted himself. He motioned for her to go inside.
 
Abe said nothing as they went into the room Julie was in. Laura ran up to her and hugged her. “Is the baby okay?”
 
Julie nodded as she stared at the little girl’s face. “The baby’s just fine. How are you?”
 
“I’m okay.”
 
Abe cleared his throat. “No, Laura Rose. You aren’t okay. And I’m afraid that I’m partly responsible for that.” He sat down. “Now, you sit down in the chair so the three of us can talk.”
 
Laura obeyed, wondering what this was about. “I told Mama Julie earlier that we found the man who hurt Emily.”
 
“And you killed him dead, right?”
 
“No, Laura. I didn’t kill him dead.” Laura gasped, but Abe held up his hand. “I allowed him to live for you.”
 
“Me?”
 
“Yes.” Abe folded his arms. “Laura, no matter what a person’s done, God put him on this earth for a reason and I have no right to take the life from him. Our town has hired men to decide when a man should be removed from this earth for his crimes, and we should leave it up to those men.”
 
“But…”
 
“Wait a minute. Let me finish. Laura, I want to tell you that letting this man live was hard. But I cannot kill a man to satisfy you, Emily, or anybody else. We had him unarmed. Someone had a gun to his head and was going to pull the trigger but…”
 
“Who?” Laura asked then.
 
“It doesn’t matter who, Laura. The point is I was able to convince him that he had to stay alive so that I can teach you a valuable lesson. Laura, you’re my responsibility, and God trusts me to raise you right. If I had allowed that man to be killed like that, I’d be teaching you it’s okay to hate. It’s not. Hate is ugly, and when we hate someone it destroys us. Margaret was right when she said we’d regret it for the rest of our lives. We would have. I know.”
 
“But he hurt Emily!” Laura cried.
 
“Yes. And he’s killed others. He’ll be prosecuted by the courts. He’ll more than likely be sentenced to hang and that’s justice—in a court of law. But I didn’t have the right to carry that out..no matter what he had done.” Abe lifted Laura onto his lap as he looked at Julie. “Allowing him to live is very painful for me. But God allowed us to capture him alive, and I think it’s because He wanted to show us that we can’t hate…no matter what.”
 
“You mean…I have to forgive him?”
 
“No, Laura. I can’t ask you to do something I can’t do myself. I don’t think he even cares to be forgiven. But I am telling you we can’t hate…somehow we have to find it within ourselves to move on.”
 
“I don’t want to go home, Papa Abe. I can’t!”
 
“We have to, honey. We have to start putting our life back together. Because when Emily comes home she’s going to need us to help her put her life back together. And you have to be part of that. We’ll need you in a big way.”
 
Big tears escaped Laura’s eyes and dropped onto her cheeks. “But Papa Abe, I’m scared!” Laura cried. “I’m so scared!”
 
“I know,” Abe nodded. “So am I. I’m scared about ever leaving Mama Julie and you children alone again. But we have to face our fears. I’m keeping you home close to me for a few days.  Then we have to move on. We have to Laura Rose…”
 
Julie slowly sat up on the cot and reached out for Laura. Laura crawled onto the cot next to Julie. The three shared a hug.
 
Dr. Livingston came in and motioned for Abe and Laura to leave while he checked Julie’s condition. He frowned as he straightened up from examining her. “Mrs. McCain, I’m giving you strict orders. I want you in bed at all times. I’m going to even suggest your husband brings in a chamber pot. You can spend time with your children, but I don’t want you lifting them at all. I can feel your muscles tensing and that worries me. It’s very, very important that you try not to worry or anything.”
 
Julie gave a short laugh. “Doctor, that’s hard to do knowing my sister-in-law is suffering like she is.”
 
Jason nodded. “Yes. I know. The next several weeks…or months…are going to be difficult. But remember that she has a lot of people on her side…”
 
***
 
Later that day, Abe drove toward the McCain farm. He stopped the horses in front of what was now Peter’s home. Laura turned her head away. She never wanted to see the sight again. “It’s your home, Laura. That’s the house you were born in. That’s the home we all lived in when we were growing up. Remember all the good times we shared there as a family, not just one incident. Don’t let that man take away the special feelings for the house our father built.”
 
Laura looked up into her Papa Abe’s eyes. Julie took her hand as they turned and looked at the house together. “It will be hard…” Julie bit her lip. “…sending you down here the first few times, Laura. And I’ll worry. But we have to do this. We have to do it for Emily and for ourselves.”
 
Laura nodded in understanding. Abe drove the wagon toward home.
 
Abe ordered Julie straight to bed and Julie put up no argument. He allowed the boys to gather around their mother on her bed so she could read to them. Laura went to warm up the food Margaret had sent with them that evening.
 
Abe tucked his sons into bed and kissed them goodnight. Then he told Laura to crawl into bed. After he assured the animals were all fed and the children were indeed asleep, Abe found himself locking the door to his house. He closed his eyes in regret at feeling so unsafe, but knew that it would take time for them to return to normal. Soon, he would leave his front door unlocked, but until that comfortable moment came, he would continue to take extra precautions to protect his family.
 
Abe undressed and crawled into bed beside his wife. Julie turned on her side and looked at him. Abe bent in and kissed her softly. “How’s Emily?”
 
Abe sighed as he rested his head against hers. “Tiffany said she’s talking, but she doesn’t even mention what happened. She seems to cling to Dr. Livingston. He’s able to look her in the eye and say just a few words to calm her. I’ve never seen anyone who was able to calm a person like he does. She has a long road to recovery. Her bruises will get better in time.”
 
“Yes.” Julie nodded. “But Abe…You can’t even begin to imagine the recovery she has before her. The physical bruises and cuts will heal, but her heart…it will take quite some time. A woman…she can’t just forget something like this. It’ll take a lot of patience, and a lot of love.”
 
“I can’t wait until she’s home. I want my sister back.” Abe laid his head back on the pillow and stared up at the ceiling. “She told me that she wished she had died. I can’t believe…”
 
“Like I said Abe…she’s living that night over and over and over. You can’t begin to understand the horror she experienced that night. Now, let’s take Dr. Livingston’s advice and just wait. He’s talking to her, and I’m sure that soon she’ll open up to that night.”
 
“Yeah.” Abe turned back to look at Julie. “I’m glad you’re going to be okay, honey. And I’m glad for our baby.”
 
No other words were said as Mr. and Mrs. Abe McCain fell asleep, happy their family was finally back together.

The Years Before — Learning to Live Again

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman

Here are some other great stories.  Enjoy!
 

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