The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Years Before
 
Chapter 9 - The Search
Written by Michelle Palmer
 
The year 1863 blew in a few inches of snow but little more. By mid-January, the weather was a little warmer as the temperatures hovered right around freezing. School came back into session a week late, and Abraham made sure Johnny returned to school. Because of the cold weather Laura was usually ridden into town. These days, Abraham was a bit overprotective of his family but they had a rough year in 1862.
 
Samuel Gibbs did as promised and worked the ranch like he had always done, though now the understanding was he was no longer in charge. He had disappointed his family, and rightfully given Scott the ability to make important decisions. Because of Scott’s leg, the two hired hands and Samuel did most of the work while Scott took care of chores in town and the books. Samuel Gibbs occasionally took supper with the family, but for the most part he kept himself isolated.
 
Abraham took it on himself to make sure things stayed in line at the Gibbs house as well. He knew his father would have wanted it that way. Though there was no blood relation between the Gibbs and McCain family, the children of the two families had been raised as if they were family. Abraham knew Scott was very capable of running his family, but Scott had physical barriers that limited his ability. On occasion, Abraham had to again give the ranch hands a firm lecture and remind them that they were very replaceable. This too, Scott could have handled but he didn’t have the authoritative voice of a McCain, and he gladly allowed Abraham the pleasure.
 
Johnny grumbled a bit about going to school and assured his family that as soon as he turned sixteen he would be pursuing other ambitions besides school. At the age of 14 he was biding his time. The family knew, however, that he would indeed stick to his word if at all possible. Until then, he was ordered to stay in school.
 
One evening around the end of January, Abraham read President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation that had been published in the newspaper. The families listened happily, and saw this as a sure sign that perhaps the war would soon come to an end. There had been no fighting recently and Margaret treasured the words of Abraham Lincoln in her heart.
 
February was soon upon the families. The weather was still mild, which was a relief to the McCain family. They nodded in satisfaction as they watched their winter wheat continue to grow. It would be a bumper crop come April.
 
Margaret occasionally heard from Lucas, but there was nothing major going on with him. The winter had been pretty quiet and peaceful. He expressed his desire to come home, of course, and Margaret could read his home-sickness in his letters. She would immediately write Lucas back, encouraging him to hold on until the end. She prayed for him and kept his letters close by so she could read them again and again.
 
As far as courting was concerned, Margaret was saving that time for when Lucas returned. She had several gentlemen call on her, each would be stopped at the door and grilled by her brother Scott, but Margaret immediately let him know that she was already spoken for. Most of the gentlemen were understanding, but Margaret occasionally got a caller who insisted she shouldn’t wait for a man to return from a war as deadly as the Civil War. Though the words bothered her, she immediately assured the caller that he could leave. She would stay hopeful and believed in her heart that Lucas would indeed return and marry her.
 
One evening, Margaret sat down at her desk to write a letter. “Oh, must you tonight!” Beth moaned loudly as she lay down to go to sleep. “It’s awful late!”
 
Margaret smiled as she dipped her pin in the ink well. “Now, now sis…Just because you and your latest beau broke up doesn’t give you cause to talk like that. I’ll try to keep it short.”
 
“Yes, but…” Beth declared with a sigh as she fluffed her pillow up and lay down. “You always toss and turn after writing a letter to Luke. Did you get a letter from him again?”
 
“Yesterday.” Margaret picked up Lucas’s letter and smiled. “Would you like to hear part of it?”
 
“Not all of it?” Beth grinned as she propped her head up with her elbow.
 
“Well…” Margaret blushed. “I can read all of it…except for the very beginning.”
 
“Why?” Beth asked as her smile widened and her eyes grew big. “Does it talk about kissing or marriage or something?”
 
Margaret rolled her eyes. “Do you want to hear it or not?”
 
“Alright…alright!” Beth sat up in bed and smiled. “I’m ready.
 
Margaret skimmed through the beginning again. She blushed at the words Lucas had said:
 
My Dearest Margaret,
 
We’re a bit south, but still far enough North to feel the icy, bitter cold and it seems we’ve had nothing but snowfall after snowfall this winter. I sure wish I had someone to keep me warm. I’m, of course, thinking of a beautiful brown-haired beauty whose kisses taste like honey straight from the comb. Her eyes look like sapphires. Her cheeks are probably a pretty rose color around about now.
 
Oh, I shouldn’t write such things, but remembering our last encounter with each other does seem to bring a smile to my face and warmth to my body, which is something I really need right now. My sweet Margaret…you’re 19 years old now. I wish I could have been there to watch you blow out the candles on your birthday cake. I reckon a fellow should come along and marry up with you, but I do hope you can wait to get married until this war is over. Wartime is not a good time for a gal like you to marry up anyhow. Can you wait that long? This war could go on for years, you know.
 
Oh, thank you for the blanket you made for me. It is nice and warm in these winter months. We don’t get anything more than a bedroll and sleeping with your blanket makes me feel so special. The guys here have teased me quite a bit. Johnny explains to them that I have a pretty good catch of a woman back home, and I corrected him immediately. I told him that’s no way to talk about someone as sweet as you…After all, you, my sweet gal, are the best catch of the whole sea!
 
Seriously, though, things are pretty quiet. Every now and then we get a few skirmishes, but nothing major. Oh, but I do have a bit of good news. A couple weeks ago we had a few rebs try to sneak up on us. Well, I spotted them and was able to get my men to surround them. We took all six of them prisoner without incident. The way I carried it out was so fascinating to the Captain that he requested I become Sergeant. It is an increase in pay and I’ll wear my sergeant stripes with pride. It does mean I’ll have a bit more responsibility but it allows the time to pass more quickly.
 
How is your family? I do hope you are coping alright. I worry about you so much and hate the days when my mind isn’t occupied with other things. During the snow storms, we stay huddled up in our tents isolated from each other so we don’t get much chance to talk. It leaves a man a lot of time to think. I’m hoping winter has slowed down a bit.
 
Well, I love you Margaret; and the longer we stay apart the longer I begin to realize that…I’ve always loved you. I suppose those things are hard for a man to admit, but like I said, out here a man has a lot of time to think and I want to make sure to get my true thoughts out to you.
 
Take care of yourself. Give Laura a great big kiss for me. Tell everyone I said hello and that I’m still holding in there.
 
Love,
 
Lucas
 
 
“Mushy! That’s what it is!” Beth declared.
 
“Oh now, don’t play innocent with me!” Margaret declared. “I saw you and Benny just the other day behind the General Store!”
 
“Whatever are you talking about?” Beth asked as she sat up straight.
 
“Well, if you like I can remind you…when brother Scott’s around!”
 
Beth gasped. “Don’t you dare!” Then she quieted her voice. “Besides, Benny’s no good. He’s too forward.”
 
“Hmmm…” Margaret mumbled as she stared at the letter. “You think President Lincoln’s proclamation means the war’s almost over?”
 
“What do I know about politics?” Beth asked. “I’m a refined girl!”
 
“I hope so…” Margaret shook her head. “Do you know that Lariat Jones has ALREADY asked me to the sweetheart dance in April?”
 
“Are you going to go?” Beth asked then.
 
“I don’t know…I’m in love with Luke. I want to marry Luke, so I don’t feel like going with anyone else.”
 
“Well…” Beth punched her pillow and lay down. “You have a few months to think on that.” She yawned. “Goodnight.”
 
Margaret turned back to the desk and again dipped her pen in the ink well. She looked toward the ceiling as she pondered on what to write, then smiled and began writing.
 
My Dear Luke,
 
As I sit here in the darkness, I can’t help but to wonder if you are staying warm enough. If it’s as cold as you say how are they keeping you from getting sick? I hope you don’t contact pneumonia again. That was a horrid time for us all.
 
I don’t suppose there are other women who come around. I suppose it’s been months since you’ve seen a woman, huh? Do you ever get to go into a town? Can you ever see families or do anything fun in a town? Of course I suppose the towns you are close to are in ‘enemy’ territory, huh? So I suppose going into town could indeed be dangerous unless you’ve been able to successfully overtake that town.
 
There are several men here who have offered to keep me company but I’ve turned them all down. Beth thinks I’m foolish. I told her, though, that I’m waiting for a certain blond haired, blue-eyed man to come back from the war. I’ve been waiting for nine months now, and yes if I have to I can wait two more years. Oh…but the mere thought of you being gone that long just frightens me! Abraham read the Emancipation Proclamation to us tonight. We were wondering if that could perhaps end the war. Maybe if the states mentioned think they may be held responsible…Oh, I know I’m grasping but I want you home!
 
I am proud for you making Sergeant. As proud as I’d be of you making Captain, I’d much rather have you home with me our family. I worry, you know. Since Andy’s death, I worry about you so much more. I just wish I could see you – even if it’s only for a moment! I wish you could come home. I wish…
 
I know, I’m very lonely right now and that’s what has me talking like I am. I DO try to keep my chin up and concentrate on other things like…oh, can you believe the triplets are already seven months old? And Peter’s expecting his first child…well, actually Tiffany is but Peter is very, very nervous. I don’t think he was quite prepared to become a father this early in his marriage. The men are, of course, up to their teasing the newly expectant father.
 
Scott’s been calling on a girl. Her name’s Amanda. They are talking about perhaps getting married next fall when things settle down around here. Scott’s so busy keeping the ranch up. He could never be a rancher…that was more Andy’s ambition…but he’ll be happy keeping the books and hiring out for people to run the ranch. Maybe someday, he says, Johnny will want the ranch but I have my doubts. Johnny is a free spirit and I worry about him. I’m afraid as soon as he’s old enough, he’ll leave us and explore the world. He talks about doing that a lot, you know.
 
I better close. Some of the girls and I are going to be working on care packages to send soldiers tomorrow. Yes, my sweet, that includes you! I will PERSONLLY pack yours. Can you believe it’s February already? Soon it’ll be planting time again. You best get home so you can plant your potatoes!
 
I love you too.
 
Margaret
 
***
Margaret slipped on her riding gloves the next morning as Scott shook his finger at her. “I don’t like it!” he declared as he began pacing. “It’s grown colder and I just don’t think you should ride into town! I want to take you in the wagon!”
 
Margaret smiled. “I’ve some chores to do in town before the women meet at the town hall, Scott. Besides, it’s been a while since Golden has had exercise. I want to ride him.” She stepped out onto the porch. “Look, there’s not a cloud in the sky, Scott. I’ll be fine.” She kissed him on the cheek. “Really.”
 
Scott watched Margaret walk out to her waiting horse and mount him. Johnny waved from the yard as she turned Golden and galloped out of the yard.
 
***
Emily hurried into Abraham’s house and picked up one of the triplets as Julie finished dressing. “Now, your mother will be here to help with the children soon,” Julie was assuring her husband as she gave him a kiss. “We’ll be in town until mid-afternoon. I put a pot of beans on this morning and they should be okay. Ma will stir and add water to them when necessary.”
 
Abraham nodded at his sister before following Julie into the bedroom. “I just have a bad feeling about this. I don’t think today’s a good day…”
 
“Why?” Julie asked as she drew a hand around. “It’s a bit warmer than it has been and a perfect day for us to do our chores in town!” Julie took her scarf down and wrapped it over her head before tying her hood on. “You just don’t want to be stuck here with all four children! Your mother will be arriving soon.” She turned to leave, but Abraham grabbed her elbow. Julie turned back toward him. “Abe…if there’s a reason, just tell me.”
 
Abraham just stared at her for a moment. Then he bent down and kissed her softly. “There’s not. I’ve just a feeling and I guess that’s no reason.” He smiled. “Have a good time.”
 
Abraham watched Julie and Emily climb up into the wagon. Then Julie clucked to the horses and started from the yard.
 
***
Clair Wheatley smiled at the items Margaret removed from the box. “Is all that for the suffering soldiers?” she teased.
 
Ann Pritchard giggled as she stood behind her best friend. “I think it’s for one suffering soldier in particular.” She held up the long johns. “These for Luke?” She raised an eyebrow.
 
Margaret blushed as she took them from her teasing friend. “As a matter of fact, they are! Luke lives in a tent. For crying out loud, he’s no Indian…he’s not used to such primitive conditions and needs to be properly dressed!”
 
“And uh…long johns are what you see as properly dressed?” Ann asked then.
 
“They go UNDER his uniform!” Margaret declared as she put a second pair in the box.
 
“Oh. I see. And he’s like a red flag to a bull…with the red long johns!”
 
“He needs some color!” Margaret sighed as she put some wool socks into the box. “All they wear are those blue uniforms. They should be able to wear something besides blue all the time. Besides, nobody should know what color they are.”
 
“Except his wife.” Claire folded her arms and shook her head. “And unless they found a way to get married by mail, I don’t think he has one of those!”
 
Emily giggled, but sobered as soon as she saw Margaret’s annoyed expression. She put an arm around her friend. “Now ladies! Let’s be nice to Margaret. After all, she and Luke are practically engaged. I suppose she can buy his underwear for him if she wants to!”
 
“Emily McCain!” Margaret gasped as her eyes grew wide. “This is NOT underwear! It’s simply extra clothing to keep him warm!”
 
“Speaking of engagements…” Ann interrupted as she cleared her throat. “I know a rancher who will be getting married soon.”
 
“Yes.” Margaret nodded as she added Lucas’s favorite candy to her care package. “Scott said he and Amanda should be getting married next fall. I suppose she’ll be moving in with us at the ranch.”
 
“Oh…I didn’t know about that one.” Ann put a finger to her chin and lifted her eyes skyward.
 
“Then who ARE you talking about?” Margaret suddenly asked.
 
“Hal Dodd, of course!” Ann declared with a roll of her eyes.
 
“Hal…” Claire shook her head. “You mean he’s marrying somebody else? I thought…”
 
Margaret interrupted Claire with a squeal. “No, you silly goose! She’s marrying him!” Margaret threw her arms around Ann. “Oh, I’m so happy for you!”
 
“Thank you.”
 
“When?” Julie asked. “When’s the wedding?”
 
“Oh, probably sometime this spring.” Claire picked up a care package and put it in the pile to be shipped out. “But the honeymoon will be short.” She turned and lifted her eyebrows at the group. “He’s joining the Union Army a week after we’re married.”
 
“Oh no!” Emily breathed.
 
Ann shook her head. “I want him to. Andy was a wonderful young man and what he did was brave. Hal’s been thinking about it for awhile and finally decided to do it. The paper said they are running low on men. The states are thinking about a mandatory enlistment of some sort, so even though we aren’t in the states, Hal still feels it’s his duty to help out. We talked it over before deciding to get married.”
 
“I think it’s wonderful!” Emily declared. “In fact, maybe Margaret and Luke should have done that!”
 
“Oh no!” Margaret declared as she shook her head. “When I marry Luke, I’m not planning on letting him out of my sight for a long time!”
 
“And she won’t need the red long johns to keep track of him either!” Julie declared as the girls giggled. Margaret felt her face grow warm.
 
It was already three o’clock when the ladies locked up the front door. Margaret mounted her horse, stating she would ride along-side the wagon a ways. Claire and Ann both climbed into the back of the McCain wagon to be dropped off at home. The sun disappeared behind some clouds as the wagon stopped by the school and picked up Laura. The rest of the children ran from the schoolyard. Emily clucked to the team and they started on their way.
 
But suddenly, a fierce wind started blowing. “Oh my!” Emily shouted above the wind. “It looks like a storm’s coming! We best get home!” Emily called to the horses to move a little faster. But within minutes, the snow was falling down so hard and the wind was blowing so swiftly that nobody could see where they were at. The horses whinnied loudly and refused to budge another inch. The women climbed down from the wagon, but held tight to it as they yelled at each other on what to do.
 
“It’s cold!” Julie shouted. “We’ve got to find shelter and fast!” She held tight to Laura.
 
The humor from earlier had been blown away as the blizzard came upon them. Emily yelled out that there was an old shack just down the road. She knew the general direction the shack was in by the way the wagon was pointed.  The horses suddenly started crying, however, as the wind picked up and they felt spooked. “The horses can lead us home!” Clair suggested as they held onto the wagon.
 
“No!” Margaret shook her head. Her horse was nowhere to be seen. “They are too spooked! It’s too dangerous!”
 
“Are we gonna die!” Laura asked Julie as she shivered in her coat.
 
Julie bent over and picked Laura up as the horses whinnied even louder. They reared back on their feet and let out a piercing cry. “We’ve got to get them loose from the wagon!” Julie declared. “Then they may get to shelter!”
 
“I still think they can pull us!”
 
“No!” Julie shook her head. “The storms too bad! Let them go!” She turned to Laura. “You just hold on to me! You’re not going to die! I promise!”  She sat Laura down, but Laura started screaming. “You have to walk! If you keep walking, you won’t be as cold! Let’s go.”
 
The women and Laura started walking in the general direction. Snow was piling up fast as they tried to find their way through the blinding snow.
 
***
 
Abraham stepped from the barn when he heard the wind. Pitch blackness was the only thing that met him. He lit a lantern and started toward the house as fear clinched his heart. He knew Emily, Julie, Laura, and Margaret were all out there and he knew they had to be on their way home by now. The lantern did little good as the blinding snow kept him from seeing his way. Abraham tried to count his steps to the house but when he reached out, he felt nothing but cold air. His feet were beginning to freeze as he turned in another direction and tried to find his way.
 
“God, help me!” Abraham screamed into the wind. Just then he saw a faint flickering of something and took two steps forward. He bumped into the porch. Abraham felt his way around the front and rejoiced when he was able to step up and open the door. “Mother!” he cried as he shoved the door closed. “Mother, they’re out there!”
 
Ruth hurried in and pushed Abraham down in a chair. She took his boots off and shook her head as she started warming his feet. “I’m sure they found shelter, Abe. I’m sure they did!”
 
“They were on their way home, Ma. Emily was going to pick Laura up on their way home. They’re out there!” Abraham stood up from the chair and slid his boots back on. “I’ve got to find them! I’ve got to!”
 
“No!” Ruth grabbed his arm. “It took you a long time to find your way from the barn. The storm started thirty minutes ago. You can’t go out there.”
 
“Mother, my world is out there!” Abraham shouted desperately. “My wife and sisters and…”
 
“Papa!” Charlie hurried to his Pa. “Where’s Mama?”
 
Abraham took his hat off and ran a hand through his hair. “I have to go, Ma!”
 
“Abe, be sensible! You can’t see two inches in front of your face. However will you find them? The storm’s too bad.”
 
“But Mother, you don’t understand!” Abraham shouted.
 
“I do!” Ruth declared as she laid a hand on his chest and spoke in a calming voice. “Both of my daughters, my daughter-in-law, and possibly my future daughter-in-law are all out there. I’m frightened, but you CANNOT go out there. It would mean a sure death.”
 
Abraham walked to the window and looked out, but he couldn’t see a thing. “Four-thirty in the afternoon and it looks like midnight…” Abraham grumbled as he banged the wall with his fist. “God help me!”
 
***
Peter hurried to the door when the wind started up. The door swung open and he shivered as the icy wind hit him in the face like a thousand knives piercing his skin. “Tiffany, help me!” he shouted. Tiffany dropped the spoon she was using to stir the stew and hurried over to the door. Together, they shoved the door closed. Peter’s eyes grew wide with fear as he slowly lifted his head and looked at Tiffany.
 
“They’re out there!” he declared.
 
“Maybe not,” Tiffany tried to assure him. “Maybe they made it to Abe’s before the storm hit. Or maybe they haven’t left town yet.”
 
“No.” Peter shook his head. “They left town. Emily had to pick Laura up from school at 3:00. They’ve had little time to…” Peter’s eyes grew wide. “What if…”
 
“We can’t think like that. We can’t!” Tiffany declared.
 
Peter started pacing the floor of the house as he ran a frustrated hand through his hair. “Drat it!” he declared as he hurried toward the door.
 
“What are you doing?” Tiffany suddenly cried out.
 
“I’m going to go out looking for them,” Peter answered.
 
“No! You mustn’t!” Tiffany shouted. “You can’t! You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. Going out there would be suicide!”
 
“What do you want me to do?” Peter shouted in frustration as he turned and glared at his wife. “Just sit in here where it’s nice and warm while my family’s out there dying?”
 
Tiffany’s eyes filled with tears at the harshness in her husband’s voice. “I’ve been learning stuff in church, Peter.” She got on her knees. Peter hovered over her. She grabbed his hand and pulled him down beside her. “When trials and tribulations come up, one should pray.” She folded her hands and cried out to God.
 
***
 
Jeremiah was carrying a stack of wood inside when he heard the wind come across the prairie. He turned and watched the snow start falling from the sky. Then he hurried inside. “It’s starting to storm out there. Looks like a bad one.”
 
“Oh, I DO hope nobody’s out there in this!” Em declared as she turned from frying the salt pork. “Some of the ladies were going to go into town and work on care packages. They asked me to go with them but I wasn’t feeling well.”
 
“I know.” Jeremiah walked over to the window and stuck his hands in his back pockets. He twitched his mustache as he studied the storm. “Well, it’s too stormy for anyone to go out. We’ve got a blizzard on our hands.”
 
Em hurried forward. “A blizzard?” She walked up behind Jeremiah and clasped her hands together. “Oh, I do hope they are alright.” Jeremiah was quiet. “Honey, how long do you think it’ll last?”
 
“Hard to tell,” Jeremiah answered. “I’ve seen them last as long as a week before.”
 
“A week?” Em’s voice sounded alarmed. “Jeremiah, if it storms for a week…”
 
Jeremiah nodded. “The animals will die unless it let’s up a bit so I can get to the barn. This isn’t good for the animals, that’s for sure!”
 
***
 
Scott and Johnny were out checking cattle when they noticed the sky growing gray. “I hope Margaret’s on her way home,” Scott said worriedly. “I think we better head on back there ourselves. Looks like a storm’s coming in.”
 
“A storm?” Johnny gasped. “Oh no!”
 
They started racing toward the ranch, but were still quite a ways away when the storm hit. The wind suddenly picked up and the light disappeared. Scott grabbed tight to Johnny’s horses’ reign. “Stay close to me, boy!” Scott hollered above the wind. “We’ve got to get home fast!”
 
The day had been warmer when they left, so they had on their lighter coats instead of the heavy winter one’s. Scott was able to get their horses to an old lean to that still sat on their property, but that was by pure luck. “We’ll have to stay in here!” Scott yelled as they opened the door and hurried inside.
 
“What about Margaret?” Johnny asked worriedly.
 
“There’s no way.” Scott’s voice was filled with worry. “I pray to God she’s home because I can’t see anything. There’s no way we can go out there looking for her! We were lucky to make it here.”
 
“What if she’s still out there?” Johnny asked. “What if she’s by herself…alone?”
 
Scott turned from the pot-bellied stove as he stared at his brother in the darkness. Only a small lantern flame shone in the darkness. “I pray to God she’s not. This is a bad storm, Johnny…a blizzard…the worse one I’ve ever seen.”
 
Scott rubbed his leg as it grew colder. His leg had been given him fits all day. That’s why he felt uneasy about sending Margaret out that morning. Something had been wrong, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. Then that afternoon when the pain increased he knew what it was – his leg was telling him a storm was coming and he’d failed to listen.
 
Up at the ranch house, Beth and Jennifer paced the floor wondering where their family was. Would they ever see them again? What was going on out there in that big, dark world?
 
***
“My feet are frozen!” Laura shouted above the wind. Everyone’s feet were frozen, but they couldn’t stop. “Julie, my feet…”
 
“I know!” Julie shouted above the wind. She picked Laura up and held onto her. “We’ve got to keep moving, Laura! We’ve got to!”
 
“How long will this last?” Laura shouted in her sister-in-law’s ear.
 
“I don’t know!” Julie shouted as she carried Laura on down the path. “I have no idea!”
 
The women walked side-by-side hoping they weren’t missing the shelter they were looking for. One wrong turn could mean a certain death for every one of them. “We’ve just GOT to keep moving!” Margaret shouted to Laura from beside Julie. “We can’t stop!”
 
“I’m scared!” Laura started crying.
 
The women moved along the path slowly. “Do you have your lucky dollar?” Margaret asked. “The one Lucas gave you?”
 
“Yes!”
 
“Then you’ll be okay! And God’s right here beside us. He’ll show us the way. Just pray.”
 
Julie slid Laura down and she grabbed Margaret’s hand as they kept walking. But it was only a matter of minutes before frost bite and death could overtake them.
 
***
 
Abraham paced the floor as he drank another cup of coffee. It was now 6:30 in the morning. He slammed his cup down and hurried to the window. “Maybe we can see well enough to go out now!” He bundled up and grabbed the lantern from the table.
 
“Charlie go!” Charlie said as Abraham started to open the door.
 
“No son, you stay here.”
 
“Charlie go to Mama!” Charlie shouted.
 
“I said stay here!” Abraham turned and shouted as his little boy in anger. Charlie turned and clung to Ruth. Abraham hurried out the door and studied the storm.  It had let up considerably. He could wait no longer to find the women. “Ma! Ma!” Abraham hurried back inside. “I think I can make it to the main house. I’m going!”
 
“Be careful!” Ruth pleaded with her son. “Bring them all back to me!”
 
“I’ll try!” Abraham looked at Charlie in his mother’s arms. “I’ll bring Mama home.” He gave Charlie a small smile then ruffled his hair. Then Abraham hurried down to the main farm.
 
***
 
“I have to go, Tiffany!” Peter shouted impatiently as he buttoned up his coat. “I can’t just stay here when my family’s out there somewhere!”
 
“What about me?” Tiffany asked as she hurried up to Peter. “I’m your family too, aren’t I?”
 
“But you’re safe!” Peter shouted. “You aren’t going to freeze to death.”
 
“I’m begging you!” Tiffany cried as she grasped Peter’s arm. “I’m begging you not to go!”
 
Peter shook her hand off. “Stop it!” Peter turned and shouted at her even louder. “Get a hold of yourself! My family’s out there! They are my world!”
 
Tiffany’s mouth opened in surprise. “And what am I?”
 
Peter opened his mouth to answer, but then turned from her. He grabbed his hat and headed toward the door. They had been fighting all night. Tiffany had been patient at first, but she had soon grown protective and possessive. He couldn’t handle that right now. “I’ll be back.”
 
Suddenly, the door opened. Abraham hurried in half-frozen. “Are they here?”
 
“No,” Peter answered. “I was just heading to get you.”
 
“Let’s get Jeremiah then get started.”
 
“So that’s it!” Tiffany cried. “You’re just taking all the men-folk and leaving us all widows and your children fatherless?”
 
“What?” Abraham stared at Peter.
 
“Never mind! Let’s go!” Peter grabbed the lantern from the table and hurried out the door.
 
***
 
“Another cup of coffee?” Em asked. Jeremiah turned from the window and raised his eyebrows. “I said another cup?”
 
“Oh…no.” Jeremiah turned back to stare out the window.
 
Emily sat down the coffee pot and walked up behind her husband. She wrapped her arms around his waist. “You didn’t sleep all night. You’re worried, aren’t you?”
 
Jeremiah scratched his mustache. “Yeah, I guess I am.” He patted her hand at his middle. “I’d just feel better if…” He was interrupted by a knock at the door. He hurried over and opened it. “Abe, Peter!”
 
“The girls here?”
 
“The…” Jeremiah looked from one brother to the other. “No, of course not! Aren’t they at home?”
 
“No. None of them are home!” Abraham answered. “Emily, Julie, and Laura are all missing.”
 
“Maybe they’re in town.” Jeremiah grabbed his coat and started slipping his feet into his boots while Em grabbed his gloves. “Maybe they saw the storm clouds and found shelter in town.”
 
“Or at the school,” Em suggested.
 
“The school will be our first stop.” Abraham wrapped the scarf back around his face. “We have to hurry!”
 
Jeremiah picked up the lantern and headed out the door. Em hugged herself as the door closed behind them. She hurried to her bedroom to pray.
 
***
 
The school was being turned into a hospital. The men filtered in as the storm weakened a bit and waited for the Marshal to arrive to give the orders. Two children – little girls – had been found frozen to death by Hal Dodd as he rode into town. He knew his fiancé was still out in the storm somewhere because she wasn’t in town nor at home. “He’s dead,” the doctor announced from behind him.   Hal turned to hear a mother screaming over the body of her son. “I’m sorry.”
 
“We’re wasting time!” One of the men shouted.
 
Just then, the door opened. The McCain brothers hurried inside. They saw several children wrapped in blankets on make-shift cots around the room. “Laura! Is Laura here?” Abraham shouted desperately.
 
Stanly Richards slowly turned from the blackboard. He shook his head. “She left with the other children shortly before the storm hit.” The blood drained from Abraham’s face. “I’m terribly sorry.”
 
“How soon?” Jeremiah was the only one who could speak, and his voice cracked at the end.
 
“It wasn’t long. Maybe…ten minutes. His sisters and some other women stopped in a wagon to pick her up.”
 
“I believe Ann and Clair were with them as well,” Hal said as he stepped forward. “We’re waiting for the Marshal to get here.”
 
As if on cue, the door opened and Marshal Williams walked in. “They found the Johnson boy.” He looked from the McCain’s to the rest of the men. “He’s dead.”
 
Abraham closed his eyes in regret. The odds of finding all of them alive were looking slimmer and slimmer.
 
“Four…” Hal shook his head sadly. “That’s four children found dead already.”
 
“Didn’t you know a storm was coming?” Abraham suddenly shouted toward the teacher. “How could you let all the children go?”
 
“Abe, none of us knew!” Jeremiah declared. “Lay off.”
 
“I knew,” Abraham whispered suddenly. The other men turned and looked at him. “I had a bad feeling. I asked Julie to let me take her but…” Abraham shook his head. “If anything happens, it’s…”
 
“It’s nobody’s fault! We had no way of knowing this would happen!” Peter declared. “Instead of finding blame, let’s just find the girls!”
 
“Alright. We’ll take the path they should have taken home. We’ll have to search every house…every…every…” Abraham couldn’t bring himself to say every snow drift, but he knew the chances of finding them alive were very slim.
 
The door opened again. Samuel Gibbs stumbled inside. “I come to help.” His voice slurred and his eyes were bloodshot.
 
“You’re drunk,” Marshal Williams declared. “We can’t use you. You’re better off staying here…or even better…go back to town and lock yourself in jail.”
 
“What the hell!” Abraham shouted as he clinched the front of Samuel’s shirt and twisted hard. “What the hell are you doing here???? Where’s your family??? You were out drinking when your daughter is missing!” Abraham was angry. His face was pure red. He gave Samuel a hard shove backwards. “Get out of my sight!” Samuel straightened up and stared at Abraham. “Get out of here now!”
 
Samuel turned and stumbled out the door. “He’s so drunk, he may not find his way to shelter in the storm!” Jeremiah declared as he started after Samuel.
 
“Let him fend for himself,” Abraham shouted as he grabbed Jeremiah’s arm. “We’ve more important things to do.”
 
Everyone knew Abraham’s anger was justified, but they hated the fact that Samuel was out there fighting for his life.
 
The men filled their lanterns with oil as the Marshal assigned them to their section to search. The wind was beginning to pick up again. “We’ve got to find every missing person before the storm gets worse. The telegram yesterday said this storm could last for days.” He shouted out the names of people who were still missing. “Now…let’s get going!”
 
The men worked in pairs. The Sheriff wanted nobody to go out alone. The three McCain brothers stayed together as they searched for their loved ones. Before they left, one of the local ranchers walked in. “Marshal, we found two more bodies. They’re women.”
 
“Where did you find them?” the Marshal asked as he stepped toward the rancher.
 
“North of here about…oh…two miles.”
 
The McCain brothers gasped as they stared at each other. They stood frozen in their steps. Finally, Abraham forced himself to walk toward the back of the school. “Wh…wh…who?” he asked in a shaky voice. He grabbed one of the school benches to steady himself.
 
The rancher led Abraham outside. Abraham slowly walked over to the wagon. “We can’t recognize their faces, but…” He lifted the blanket. Abraham felt himself go sick as he closed his eyes and turned around. “It’s not them.”
 
Relief flooded Peter and Jeremiah.
 
“Are you sure?” the Marshall asked.
 
“I’m sure.” Abraham nodded. “It’s nobody we know.” He quickly walked back into the church and shook his head. “But let’s go find the girls.”
 
They slowly walked down the path the girls would have taken. Jeremiah was the first one to spot the abandoned wagon. “It’s ours,” he declared as his heart sank. “The horses must have spooked and they let them go to find shelter.”
 
“Then where are they?” Peter shouted above the storm. The temperature was dropping  and the storm was starting to pick up again. “We won’t be able to stay out here very long! Not with this storm picking up!”
 
“Let’s go.”
 
The brothers walked. There was no telling what way the girls had headed off toward. They had no idea where any of the women were. “What way?” Jeremiah shouted as he held the lantern up to look at Abraham.
 
Abraham looked up toward the sky. They could only see shadows now. “I need some clue!” He shouted in desperation to nobody in particular.
 
Abraham felt someone brush up against him from behind. He turned and shined the light. It was Scott. “Scott, they aren’t at your house, are they?”
 
“Who?” Scott asked.
 
The wind picked up even more as Abraham shouted. “They’re all missing! Clare and Anne are with them!”
 
Scott shook his head. “Johnny almost froze to death last night when we took shelter in the lean to! I had trouble keeping him warm. Ma’s tending to him now.”
 
“We found the wagon back there,” Abraham shouted. The four men walked together. They turned their heads from side to side. This was like looking for a needle in a haystack. As the wind picked up, the light only shone inches in front of them. The snow began falling in heavy sheets again.
 
“This way!” Peter suggested.
 
“Why?” Abraham questioned, hoping Peter could see something they couldn’t.
 
“I don’t know! We have to start somewhere!”
 
Suddenly, Scott toppled over. Abraham bent over and lifted him. “It’s not a good thing being out here with your lame leg!” he said. “You’ll slow us down!”
 
“No!” Scott shouted over the wind. “It’s not my leg!” He shone his lantern down on the ground. “I tripped over something. He bent over and started wiping away the snow. Abraham bent down beside Scott. He too could feel a hard lump. Something had been buried there.
 
Abraham’s heart raced as he turned his head. “Peter, Jeremiah, bring your lights!” They all shone their lights as they continued removing snow from the mass.
 
“It’s a horse!” Scott shouted. They removed more snow. The light shone on the Gibbs brand. “It’s Golden.”
 
“How do you know?” Abraham asked. “It’s so dark out here!”
 
“It IS Golden!” Scott pointed to the brand. Abraham shone his light down really close. He looked up at Scott as his eyes grew frightened. “If Golden’s…”
 
“We can’t do anything for her now,” Abraham answered in a grieved voice. “I just hope we can find them before it’s too late.” Abraham stood up. “Come on. Let’s go!” He helped Scott to his feet. “We’ll find them, Scott! We’ll find them all and bring them back!”
 
The men were growing cold, but they kept walking. Any trace of anything dropped or any sign of the women had long vanished under the deep snow. The snow was already two feet deep, and their legs were growing cold. “We need to find shelter!” Peter shouted. “We can hardly see and Scott…”
 
“I know!” Abraham agreed. Ahead they saw a house. The men knocked on the door. Old man Smithy answered the door. He dragged all four men inside. “Etta, get some hot water!” he hollered as he started helping the men from their boots.
 
“Smithy…We have several women missing!” Abraham gasped as Smithy rubbed life back into his feet.
 
Jeremiah and Peter closed their eyes as they leaned against the wall. Smithy and Etta worked at rubbing their feet. Scott took his boots off, but his feet weren’t too bad yet.
 
“Two came in late last night. They said they got separated from the others.” Smithy announced as he rubbed at a pair of feet to bring warmth to them.
 
“Two?” Abraham stood up. He cringed as feeling started returning to his feet, making them sting. “Where?”
 
“One’s mighty sick. The other has mild frost bite. They’re in there.” Smithy led Abraham toward a door. Two women lay on cots in the bedroom. One was Ann Pritchard. The other was Claire.
 
Claire coughed as she turned and looked at Abraham. “I’m sorry!” She cried. “We tried to find shelter, but we just kept wondering around! Julie thought we should split up – that maybe if we went separate ways one group would survive.” Claire put a hand to her face. “They were getting pretty cold! Laura…she hadn’t spoken in a while and Julie was carrying her. They were growing very tired.”
 
Abraham remained kneeled beside the bed but slowly turned and looked at his brothers and Scott. Their eyes grew moist as they lowered their heads. The room grew quiet as the men tried to accept what was quickly becoming a reality.
 
“They’re still out there?” Jeremiah asked in a quiet tone. “Was Margaret with them?”
 
Claire coughed again. Ann sniffed from her cot. “I’m sorry! We shouldn’t have left the school, but…We didn’t think it was going to be a blizzard.”
 
“Was Margaret with them?” Scott asked then.
 
Claire looked up into Abraham’s eyes. She started crying as she nodded her head.
 
“Dear God!” Scott breathed. He put his hands to his face. “First Andy and now…”
 
“No!” Abraham stood and rushed over to Scott. “We can’t think like that! Do you hear me? We have to have faith that they’re still alive somewhere. We HAVE to!”
 
The men grew quiet. An eerie, scary silence fell around the room. They knew the chances of finding the remaining girls alive were not good.  This was the only house in the area. “Do you have any idea…” Jeremiah started, but his voice died.
 
“We couldn’t see a thing! Not a single thing.” Claire sniffed as tears fell from her eyes. “I’m afraid…Julie told us to try and save ourselves. She said that if we made it to tell you…” Claire stopped as she started sobbing.
 
Anne spoke up when Claire couldn’t go on. “Julie said to tell you that she loves you, and to go on living and raise her children right.”
 
“She can’t be dead!” Abraham shouted. “Oh, Dear God please don’t let them be dead!”
 
He stood and pushed past his brothers as he grabbed his wet socks and started to put them back on. “What are you doing?” Jeremiah asked suddenly.
 
“I’m going back out!”
 
“The storm has picked up! We couldn’t see a single thing right now, Abe!” Peter declared. “I want to find them too, but we can’t go out blind like this!”
 
“I have to find them! It’s my wife and sisters!” Abraham shouted as he started toward the door.
 
“And they are my sisters!” Peter shouted as he put a restraining hand on his brother’s arm. “We’re either too late or they’ve found shelter. We have to wait!”
 
“No!” Abraham hurried toward the door. “NO!”
 
Jeremiah grabbed his other arm and helped Peter sit him on the floor. “Look!” Peter shouted as he got right in his brother’s face. “You have four children at home who will need you if our worries come true! They can’t lose both parents!”
 
Abraham buried his head in his hands. “They can’t be dead…they just can’t be dead!”
 
The four men sat in a huddle on the floor together. Jeremiah started praying for their sisters while Smithy’s wife warmed up some stew for the men. They ate in silence. Every few minutes, they’d check to see if the storm had died down enough to go out. In only hours, another night would be upon them and the chances of finding the women in the storm would be impossible.
 
Two hours later, the storm died down considerably. Scott was sent back to announce that Claire and Ann had been found. He wanted to keep searching, but the McCain brothers managed to convince him that he’d only slow them down. Scott finally accepted that as true and hurried back to bring the town the message.
 
The brothers traveled on. They felt they were going around in circles as they tried to find any form of shelter. “It must be close to supper time now!” Peter shouted as the wind started to pick up again. “We must find them soon!”
 
“I know. I…” Jeremiah stopped. “Wait! What’s that?” He pointed at something.
 
The two brothers turned to see a shack that was nearly buried in snow. “Of course! I forgot about this old shack!” The men ran over and started digging the snow away. The found the door and tried opening it as the wind again picked up some more. “It’s frozen shut!” Abraham shouted. They began beating on the door with no luck at first, but then the door started to give way.
 
The door opened. Abraham, Peter and Jeremiah stepped inside and saw a small fire burning in the middle of the floor. “Abe!” Julie jumped up but quickly crumpled to the floor. “OW!”
 
Abraham gasped. “Julie!” He dropped to his knees and picked her up. Sitting on the floor, he cradled her on his lap as he cried. “Julie! Oh, Julie!” He rocked her back and forth. “Thank God you’re alive!” He kissed her softly. “Oh, thank you, God!” he cried as he hugged her close to him. Julie was still in shock. She couldn’t say a word.
 
Emily crawled over and hugged Jeremiah. She sobbed uncontrollably as Jeremiah held her. “I thought we were going to die!” Emily cried. “I thought…”
 
“Shhhh….” Jeremiah gently brushed her hair as he rocked her back and forth. “You’re safe now. You’re safe.” Emily wept tears of relief as Jeremiah continued to comfort her.
 
Peter bent down next to Laura who lay still. “You okay, Rosebud?”
 
Laura cried. “My feet hurt! They hurt something AWFUL!”
 
Emily turned back toward Laura. “We’ve been rubbing them all day. They were so numb this morning, but the color’s returned. I think they’ll be okay.”
 
Abraham lowered the lamp to look at Julie’s feet. “Are yours numb?” Julie shook her head. “They hurt?” She nodded.
 
“That’s a good sign,” Peter nodded. “Hurting means they are still alive. You are all going to be okay.”
 
“Margaret…” Abraham suddenly shone his lantern around. “Where’s Margaret?” Worry laid heavily in his voice.
 
Julie’s shock lifted as she suddenly started weeping and clung to Abraham. “We lost her!” she cried. “She let go for just a second – she was gone!”
 
“You mean she’s still out there?” Abraham asked. “She’s out in this storm?”
 
“Oh Abe…” Julie swallowed as she clung to her husband. “We were so scared! I was afraid…” Julie stopped for a moment as she slowed her breathing. “I asked God to protect my babies. I told Clare and Ann to tell them I…” She suddenly stopped. She lifted from Abraham’s embrace. “They separated from us…”
 
“They’re safe.” Peter assured her. He took off his gloves and looked around for something to burn. “As soon as the storm let’s up we’ll get you to town.”
 
Abraham kissed Julie one last time before moving to Laura. He took Laura from the floor and hugged her close. “I’m so glad you’re okay.”
 
“I knew you’d find me!” Laura cried as she clung to him. “I knew you’d find me!”
 
Peter and Jeremiah worked together to build a big fire. The storm was again raging outside. Abraham kept Laura on his lap as he sat down beside Julie. He drew her close and kissed her again, but this time their kiss lingered. Laura laid her head against his chest and was soon asleep. “My babies are okay,” Abraham mumbled softly. He stroked Laura’s cheek as she slept peacefully against his chest. Then he laid a soft kiss on Julie’s forehead as she closed her eyes and slept against his shoulder. “You are both okay.”
 
***
 
“Okay, let’s go.” Abraham finished buttoning up Laura’s coat then pulled the coat around Julie tighter. He gently picked Julie up in his arms as they started out. Peter picked Laura up.
 
The wind had died down considerably. A gentle snow was now falling. It was already after dusk, but the lanterns lit their way towards town. Laura announced that Julie had carried her when her feet started hurting. Abraham admired the sacrifice his wife had suffered for Laura. He knew Julie was in the condition she was in because she had pushed ahead for Laura.
 
As they got close to the school, Scott ran up to the group. “Margaret? Where’s Margaret?”
 
“I don’t know. She got separated from them,” Abraham answered. “Let’s get these women out, then we’ll go look for her. How many more are missing?”
 
“There’s only two,” Scott answered. “Two women. Margaret’s one of them.”
 
Lariat Jones walked up to the group. “We found one of the missing women. She’s dead.”
 
The men all turned and stared at Lariat. “Who is it?”
 
Lariat looked at the group. “It’s not Margaret. She’s the only one missing.”
 
“Let’s go then!” Abraham lowered Julie on a cot and told the doctor she and Laura needed checked. Then he kissed her. “I love you.”
 
“I love you too,” Julie smiled. “Abe…” Abraham froze. Their faces were inches from each other. “Save her for Luke.”
 
Abraham nodded. “I will, honey. I’ll find her.” He turned and hurried out with the other men.
 
***
 
 It was that first night of the storm when the old man tripped over a body laying on the ground. The skin was quite cool, but he grabbed her hands and dragged her into his shack. The shack was in the middle of the woods. But he enjoyed being so far away from civilization. He didn’t like being around people. “Now, how did you get way out here, little lady?” the man asked as he realized it was a woman. He lit a lantern and shone it on her face. She was unconscious, but breathing…barely. He quickly took her out of her coat and lifted her onto the cot. Once he had her covered, he removed her wet dress, but left her under things on, and put more covers on top of her. “Sorry ta ‘barrass ya like this, but ya have ta get warm!”
 
The old man put a big kettle of water on the stove. “My…my, but ye close ta death, little lady!” He dipped the rag in some warm water he already had and wiped her face gently. “Sure ‘er a purty thing though…Yessiree!” The old man began rubbing one arm and then the other. He did the same with the legs as he slowly rubbed life back into her body. “Yes…don’t ye worry none at all, little lady! I been near dead too but th’ good Lord brought me right back, he did!”
 
After warming her, the old man positioned her to give her a good steam. “Keep the lungs clear. That’s ‘portant, ya know! Don’t want no raspy lungs!” He laid her back on the bed and covered her up. “Now…ya sleep, little lady! Just sleep!”
 
***
 
Margaret smiled as she sat under the tree by the river. Lucas got off his blackie and hurried over to her. He wore a giant smile on his face as he sat down next to her and kissed her softly. Their kiss deepened and she felt her arms grow warm. Her legs grew warm. As he continued to kiss her, she felt warmth crawl over every inch of her body. Finally, their lips parted and Lucas laid a gentle hand against her cheek. “I do love you, Margaret Gibbs.”
 
Margaret smiled as she felt warmth come over her like a cocoon over a caterpillar. “And I love you, Luke.” She smiled as he stared into her eyes and softly stroked her cheek.
“You stay alive, honey. I want to marry you when I come home.” Lucas kissed her softly. “Stay alive…stay alive…That’s my Love…Just stay alive.”
 
“Lucas…” she whispered softly, but his touch suddenly disappeared. He became transparent and slowly began to fade away. Margret lifted her hand out to him. “Luke…come back! Come back, Luke! Come back…”
 
***
 
“Come back, Luke…Come back!” Margaret flung her head from side to side. Her eyes suddenly opened and she saw an old man with a thick beard and dirty clothes looking down over her. She gasped and drew away from him as he smiled down at her. “Wh…who are you?”
 
“Names’ Petey,” the old man answered. “Jest call me Pete. I found ya…out in the snow!”
 
“The…” Margaret started to sit up but the room started to spin. “The snow…my friends, they’re out there!”
 
“If they are ma’am…it’s too late to save them.”
 
“No!” Margaret tried to swallow as she lifted from her pillow. “No! They are out there in the snow! You’ve got to…”
 
“Ma’am, I found you last night! You done been here a day and a night!”
 
“Then my family’s worried,” Margaret declared. “Where am I?”
 
“Deep in the Ol’ injun woods!” Petey answered. “’Fraid yer folks won’t find ya here!”
 
Margaret suddenly realized she had no clothes on. She drew the blankets up around her. “My dress! Where…”
 
Petey stood up and got her dress for her. “I’m sorry, little lady. You were so cold and wet. I had ta get ya dry!” He chuckled at her innocence as he walked to the door. “I’s hafta get some dry wood anyhow. Ya just get dressed then we’ll take ya into town in a spell!”
 
Margaret was dressed in record time. After putting her boots and coat on, she left with the old man toward town.
 
***
 
The four men walked through the darkness. The wind was almost gone, but the snow was still falling. They were quickly losing hope of ever finding Margaret alive. “Our lights are fading,” Abraham announced. “We’ve got to turn back soon.”
 
“Wait!” Peter stopped the men. “What’s that?”
 
“What?” Jeremiah asked. Suddenly, two people came into their light.
 
“Margaret!” Scott cried out as he ran forward. He took her in his arms. “Margaret!” He hugged her close. “Oh…Margaret!”
 
The McCain brothers hurried forward. Abraham hugged Margaret as Scott went to thank the old hermit. “Thank God you’re okay!” Abraham said softly as he hugged her. Then he pushed her away. “Are you okay? You’re not hurt?”
 
“No. Petey here…he took good care of me. Said he gave me steam to keep me from getting pneumonia and took off my wet clothes…rubbed the life back into me…I was almost dead when he found me, but I feel so good.” Margaret smiled. “Luke was there too. He took good care of me.” She blushed as she remembered the kiss he had given her the night before.
 
Abraham smiled as he helped her through the deep snow back toward the school. When Margaret walked inside, she was greeted by many friends. It was quiet a reunion for the women who had gotten lost together. They clung to each other and cried.
 
Margaret was the last missing person in the blizzard, and finding her meant the tragic storm was now over.
 
***
 
Everyone stayed at the school until the next morning. Sleighs were brought in to transport the families to their homes. Mr. Marvin loaded essentials from the General Store on the sleighs and ordered the driver to stop at all the houses on their way to make sure the families had plenty to eat. He wanted to give the essentials to the families, and if there was anything more they needed, the drivers were to come back immediately for the items, free of charge.
 
Everyone was quiet as they rode home in the sleigh. Anne had reunited with Hal, who had been seriously hurt during the process. He had searched for her for hours before frostbite set in. The doctor had to remove one of his toes. Hal Dodd was no longer able to join the army, but he and Anne would still be married that spring.
 
Claire Wheatley was kept in town. Her cough had grown worse and the doctor didn’t think it was safe to move her quite yet. Abraham stopped by her house to let her parents know. Then he traveled on toward the Gibbs house.
 
Scott and Margaret stepped from the sleigh. “Thank you, Abe…for everything.” Scott held out his hand to Abraham and shook it.
 
“Thank you.” Abraham turned and looked at his wife. “Let’s go home.” Julie smiled as she reached out her hand to him. She turned and waved to Margaret.
 
Margaret waved as the sleigh pulled away. “Come on. Let’s get you inside, sis.”
 
But the door opened. “Margaret!” Johnny rushed out and threw his arms around his sister. “You’re okay! We were so worried!”
 
“Johnny Gibbs, you get back in here!” Jennifer hollered from the doorway. Then she stopped and threw a hand to her mouth. “Margaret!” She lifted her skirt and ran out to her daughter. “Oh, Margaret!” Mother and daughter embraced. Beth rushed from the house and hugged Margaret as well.
 
“How are you?” Scott asked his little brother as he raised his eyebrows.
 
“Well, Ma said I’ll live but…my feet sure are sore.”
 
“Yes.” Jennifer smacked Johnny on his backside. “So get yourself back in the house and soak them some more, young man!”
 
“Oh, Mama!” Johnny rolled his eyes as the family went inside and closed the door.
 
It wasn’t until after they had lunch that Margaret told her family of the ordeal. When she finished, she asked, “Did Golden make it home?”
 
Scott lost his smile as he lowered his head. Margaret stared at him. “She didn’t come back?”
 
“No, honey…” Scott took her hand. “I’m sorry. We found Golden…dead.”
 
“Dead?” Margaret swallowed hard as her eyes filled with tears. “My horse is…dead?”
 
“Oh Scott, are you sure?” Jennifer asked as her eyes filled with tears. “It couldn’t be a…mistake?”
 
“I’m sure.” Scott turned back to his sister. “I’m sorry, sweetie. I know what she meant to you.”
 
Silence surrounded them as Margaret tried to accept the news. She slowly lifted her hands to her face and shook her head as she began sobbing. “Oh no…Poor Golden…” Margaret had that horse since she was seven years old. It had been given to her for Christmas. She had raised her from a colt.
 
“I’m so sorry.” Jennifer rubbed her hand up and down Margaret’s back as Scott continued to hold her hand. “I know she was special.”
 
“Luke helped me raise her, remember, Mama?” Jennifer nodded. Margaret laid her head against Jennifer’s shoulder and cried.
 
“We can find you another horse,” Scott said, trying to console her. “Come spring, we’ll find you another horse…a fine horse.”
 
“No.” Margaret answered quickly as she lifted her head from her mother’s shoulder. “I don’t want another horse. I’ll ride Copper.”
 
“Andy’s horse?” Scott looked toward his mother. She nodded slightly. “Okay, honey. Until you’re ready for your own horse.”
 
“I should have listened to you. You told me…” Margaret started. “I shouldn’t have ridden Golden like I did.”
 
“This isn’t your fault, Margaret. Storms like this are unpredictable. We had no way of knowing.”
 
“But you had a feeling…didn’t you?” Margaret lifted her eyes to Scott. “Your leg was telling you.”
 
“I didn’t realize it at the time either, honey.”
 
“The important thing is…” Beth laid a hand on her sister’s. “…that you’re okay now. You’re alive.”
 
Margaret nodded as she allowed tears to slide down her cheeks. She wrapped her arms around her mother and cried.
 
***
 
Abraham pulled the sleigh up to Jeremiah’s house. Jeremiah jumped from the sleigh and waved to his family as the sleigh pulled away. He hurried inside. Em turned from the stove. She dropped the spoon and hurried to her husband. “Jeremiah!” She threw her arms around him and covered his face in kisses. “Oh, I was so terrified!” She cried softly as he held her. Then she pulled away and took her face in her hands. “Are you okay?” Jeremiah nodded as he kissed her. “Your sisters? Are they okay?”
 
“Everyone is just fine, honey. They are all just fine.” He kissed her again. “How are you?”
 
“I’m much better now that you’re back!” Emily covered his face in kisses again. “Oh, I was SO worried!”
 
Jeremiah welcomed her lips and returned her kiss more passionately. “The animals?” he asked between kisses. “How are they?”
 
“They are all fine. I just finished your chores for you.” She pulled away from him. “Seems I’ve been doing the work of two around here the last two days!”
 
“Well…honey…” Jeremiah kissed her sweetly. “What did you expect me to do?”
 
“I expect you to make it up to me! It’s time I relax a bit!”
 
Jeremiah lifted his eyebrows. “What about the stew?”
 
“It’ll simmer for awhile,” Em answered with a mischievous grin.
 
“What will simmer?” Jeremiah asked then.
 
“The stew!”
 
“Oh. Good.” Jeremiah picked her up in his arms and started for the bedroom. “Because I think we need a nap!”
 
“Oh? Are you planning on going right off to sleep?” Em asked then.
 
“Oh no!” Jeremiah laid her on the bed. Soon they were making love as the wind outside once again began to howl. The winter was cold, but the bedroom of Jeremiah and Em McCain was nice and toasty as Em welcomed Jeremiah back home. In time, they laid in each other’s arms under the covers and allowed sleep to capture them – sleep that had been absent for the last three days.
 
***
 
After leaving Jeremiah’s house, Abraham drove Julie home and picked up his mother. Julie, of course, was very happy to see her babies. Abraham hugged Charlie when he came running to him, but announced he had to get the family down the hill.
 
The whole way home, Abraham could tell something was troubling his youngest brother.  Peter sat beside him on the sleigh as they drove home.  “You want to talk about it?” Abraham asked as he looked at Peter.
 
“Not really.”
 
Abraham chuckled knowingly as he pulled the sleigh up to the house. The brothers stepped down and helped their mother and sisters from the sleigh. They all walked inside, very tired. “Come on, little brother. Help me unhitch these horses.”
 
Peter was quiet as he looked toward the house. He remembered what he had left there earlier. “Gladly.”
 
“I take it something going on between you and Tiffany?” Abraham worked at unhitching one of the horses as Peter worked on the other.
 
“We argued and I suppose, it’s her being pregnant.” Peter wanted to say more but he didn’t.
 
“Are you…having second thoughts about marrying her?” Abraham paused as Peter slowly lifted his head, genuinely concerned. Peter nodded slightly. “I figured.”
 
“I shouldn’t have married her. I barely knew her and we weren’t in love. We just…” Peter stopped as he started carrying the harness to the pegs on the barn wall.
 
Abraham said nothing as he lit the lantern. After the horses were in the stalls, he came to sit down beside his brother who was staring off to the other side of the barn. “You married her because you…uh…couldn’t wait?”
 
“Something like that.” Peter sighed. “And now she’s pregnant.”
 
 “Something happened and you’re seeing a different side of her?” Abraham asked.
 
Peter turned and looked at his brother. “She didn’t want me going out to look for our family, said that I had to stay with her. If I left, I’d make a widow of her…”
 
Abraham sighed as he rubbed his hands together. “Brother, she’s trying to understand what being married is all about, same as you. She was scared, and I imagine had Julie been home and I had told her that I was going out in that blizzard -  she might have argued with me. But you two, you’ve only been married a short time, she doesn’t realize how close this family really is. Marriage isn’t just about showing affection toward a lady like holding her hand, stealing a kiss when nobody’s around, holding her as she falls asleep…those are sometimes hard for a man to do, especially when you’re not in love with the woman yet. But a woman…she needs those things. She needs to be held and hugged and kissed. She needs to know that you’re going to be there for her. She’s in love with you, Peter.” Peter wouldn’t look at him. Abraham knew the feeling wasn’t mutual. “Look…I don’t want to pressure you, but you made the choice of marrying her. Whether it was in the church or at the Justice of the Peace, in God’s eyes, you are husband and wife. And sometimes, you have to work hard to keep the marriage alive.”
 
“But, now she’s pregnant…” Peter paused.
 
Abraham shook her head. “There are other ways of being intimate. Tonight...talk to her. Hold her. Be honest with each other. Being intimate can be something as simple as bearing your soul to her, not just your body. Let your defenses down. Let her inside your heart. Talk to her about our family, but you have to instill that she’s a part of our family too. Let her know that, had she been out there, you would have gone searching for her too.  Even against our wishes. She needs to know…and believe that.
 
Peter waited while Abraham left the barn. He had a lot to think about. His feelings were all messed up. He hadn’t loved her, he knew that now. And aside from that first night he hadn’t been intimate with her. He wasn’t sure why…but then maybe he was. Maybe he was waiting until the right moment, but his brother was right. The fact was he was married, and though he didn’t love her the way Abraham loved Julie, he knew that in time he would grow to love her.
 
It was still mid-afternoon. Peter didn’t want to face his family, not until he could be alone with Tiffany and talk to her. So he waited. The sun went down and it grew later in the evening.
 
He finally got the courage and walked into his home and to their bedroom. Tiffany, already in bed for the night, turned on her side, facing away from the door. Peter tried to be quiet as he walked to - and sat down - on his side of their bed. First he removed his boots. It didn’t take long for Peter to realize Tiffany wasn’t sleeping.
 
He didn’t turn and look at her, but faced the wall as he spoke. “Tiffany, I may not be the best husband in the world, but I am devoted to my family. And you have to understand, this family means a lot to me. But… Maybe I shouldn’t have rushed out, without explaining things calmly; but then, I tend to react and don’t think about the consequences until later.”
 
Peter listened to hear if Tiffany would say anything. She didn’t.
 
She wasn’t going to make this easy for him…not that he deserved for it to be easy…“Tiffany, I am growing to love you and…Dang it! You’re my wife and had you been out there instead of Julie, why I’d of gone against Abraham and the rest of my family to search for you.”
 
Peter felt her turn her head toward him. “You would have?” Tiffany quietly asked.
 
Peter turned his head around and looked into her eyes. “I’d have fought any many who tried to restrain me from going after you, but by the same token, I’d fight you to go after my family. And that’s exactly what you made me do the other night.” Peter hung his head. “I won’t apologize for leaving you alone, but I will apologize for how I went about it. Abraham told me you probably were reacting the way you did because you were scared of losing me.”
 
“Oh, Peter, I was.” She sat up. “I guess I didn’t take time to consider, had the situation been different, you’d of come after me. I didn’t feel I was important enough to…” She paused as Peter lifted his eyebrows at her.
 
“You are my wife.” Peter bent over and laid a hand on her cheek. “Regardless of how we came to be joined together, it happened. ‘What God has joined together, let NO man put asunder…’ That’s what the justice of the peace said that evening. Oh Tiffany…” Peter sighed as he lowered his head. “I am growing to love you but…you have to be patient with me.”
 
 “I’m sorry I argued with you. I’m usually not that way,” Tiffany spoke as tears fell down her face.
 
“Abraham said you could also be reacting the way you did, because of your being pregnant.”
 
“That would answer a lot,” Tiffany stated as she looked to her husband.
 
Peter crawled up onto the bed and wrapped his arm around his wife’s shoulder, “I need you to understand, that I’d do anything for my family, and my family includes you. Abraham told me that it takes work to keep a marriage alive, that I needed to bear my soul to you and let you know the real me.”
 
Tiffany reached over and grabbed Peter’s other hand and placed it on her stomach. “You have to be pretty special if God blessed us with a child on our wedding night.”
 
Peter lifted his hand from his wife’s stomach and placed it to her chin, lovingly he pulled her face close to his as he leaned towards her and gave her a gentle kiss. The kiss was returned with even more depth.
 
“I am growing to love you too, Peter.” With an embarrassed look on her face Tiffany stated as their lips parted, “Are you going to take your brother’s advice? “ She reached forward and started to unbutton the top button of her husband’s shirt.
 
“But you’re pregnant?!” Peter stated, a little shocked. He saw the sincerity and the longing in his wife’s eyes, he finally started to relax. “Guess Abraham knows what he’s talking about when it comes to making a marriage work.”
 
“He should be the one to talk, he’s the father of triplets,” Tiffany stated and could not keep a straight face. Before long, Peter was laughing alongside his wife.
 
“If you’re up to being my wife tonight, I think I’d rather enjoy being your husband tonight.” With that, Peter lowered her to the bed as he kissed her passionately. Soon, they were under the covers enjoying the warmth from each other’s bodies. Peter enjoyed the loving caresses from his wife, and he gently caressed her as their kisses intensified. He sensed she was ready and they made love.
 
It had never felt like this before. The first time was out of a desire of a man and a woman. This time, it was making love. Their gentle words to each other had lit a flame in Peter’s heart and that evening, he found himself falling deeply in love with her. This made their love-making so much better. The night grew later and later as their love-making went long into the night.
 
In time, Tiffany lay on Peter’s bare chest. She listened to his heart beating before she finally whispered, “Thank you for showing me that you really DO love me.” Then they opened their hearts to each other. Neither husband nor wife got any sleep that night as they quietly talked.
 
***
 
Abraham opened the door to Charlie’s bedroom again and tucked the covers closer around him. He had watched with curiosity earlier as Julie moved the triplets cradles into Charlie’s bedroom. Now, she smiled as she took his hand and moved him out the door, quietly closing the door behind them. “I take it you think it’ll be warmer in there for the children?”
 
“No warmer than in our bedroom,” Julie answered as she started toward the bedroom.
 
“Oh. Then why?” Abraham asked as he put his hands on his hips and looked down at Julie.
 
“Well now…that’s an interesting question, Mr. McCain. You see…” She unbuttoned the top button on his shirt as she smiled up at him. “The boys are getting a bit old to be in our bedroom when we need privacy.”
 
“Privacy? Whatever would happen in there to give us privacy?”
 
Julie just looked into his eyes as she slowly continued to unbutton his shirt. Then she ran her hands up and down his bare chest, finally drawing her hands behind his neck. She stood on tippy toes and planted a long, steamy kiss on his lips. “Is that a good enough answer, or do you need more?”
 
“Ohhhhhhh….Abraham smiled. “More…much, much more!”
 
Julie suddenly giggled like a school girl as she turned and ran into the room. Abraham chased after her and pressed her down on the bed. He intertwined his fingers with hers as he kissed her hard on the mouth. Julie shivered as Abraham ran his hand up and down the side of her body. He stared into her eyes and kissed her on the tip of her nose. “I’m so glad you’re okay. Were you scared?”
 
Julie scooted up onto the pillow of the bed as Abraham lay on his side next to her. He playfully began unbuttoning her dress as she talked. “I was scared.” She smiled. “But my knight in shining armor came and rescued me!”
 
“Yes…” he moved his eyebrows up and down rapidly. “So what’s my reward?”
 
Julie stood up and allowed her dress to fall to the floor. Abraham grinned as they got under the covers. Their bodies pressed against each other as their kisses turned more passionate. Julie shivered at his touch as he began caressing her. In time, she allowed her hands to caress him as well. Julie moaned as his kisses deepened. Soon, they were lost in each other’s embrace.
 
The wind howled outside as the couple made love. Julie enjoyed being in her husband’s arms that night like she had many nights before, except tonight was different. Only two nights ago she thought she’d never feel this way again, yet tonight he was once again revealing himself to her. Their love-making intensified. Abraham silently thanked God he was able to save his wife. “I love you,” he breathed as they made love.
 
“I love you!” Julie whispered passionately.
 
In time, they laid quietly in each other’s arms. Abraham gently caressed her back as she lay against him. “You know…” Julie mumbled. “If we aren’t careful we just may have another baby soon.”
 
“Hm…” Abraham chuckled. “I’ll tell you the same thing I told Peter.”
 
“Oh? What’s that?”
 
Abraham chuckled as he whispered it in her ear. “Abraham McCain, you didn’t!” Julie declared.
 
“Oh, but I did!” Abrahams chuckled. “I also told him it was one of the risks he takes when he gets married.”
 
Julie chuckled. “Well…I suppose we could uh…refrain from certain activities in the near future.”
 
“HUH?” Abraham gasped as he tickled her.
 
As if on cue, crying erupted from the bedroom. “Another disadvantage to being married…” Abraham grumbled as he begrudgingly let her go. “Interruptions!”
 
Julie giggled as she slipped into her robe. “I’ll be back.”
 
***
Dear Lucas,
 
We’ve had ourselves quite an adventure already this year. You see, some of us traveled into town to send off care packages, which we did, by the way. I certainly help you like your care package. Anyways, a blizzard came up as we were travelling home. Claire, Anne, me, Emily, Julie, and Laura all got lost in the blizzard, but we all managed to somehow find shelter. Laura, Julie, and Ann all suffered from minor frost bite with no permanent damage. I was rescued by an old man in Injun Woods. He took me to his shack and nursed me. I slept for 24 hours, but woke up feeling refreshed. I almost died. It is truly frightening to think about.
 
All together, I think there were five children who died. School had just let out and most of the children got caught in the storm. I’m sorry to say that was a sad time. Two men and four women also died. It’s been the most tragic event this town has seen in a long, long time. I pray that is the worst tragic event we ever see!
 
There was one more casualty. Golden died. I’m grieved over her death. I mean, I’m thankful we all survived, but Golden was so very special. I got her when I was only seven years old and you helped me raise her. I’m so very sad. Scott said he’d help me find another horse, but I don’t want another one. Not now, and maybe not ever. Golden was such a good horse. The saddest part of this whole thing is that Scott had a feeling I shouldn’t go out. Now, we know how I always have feelings before something tragic happens, and you’d think I would have learned but I didn’t. I reckon I was being strong-willed (or stubborn, if you will) and determined to take Golden for a ride. I feel so bad for my choice, but I guess it’s like my Pa always used to say: live and learn, that’s what mistakes are for.
 
I do hope you don’t get blizzards where you are at. I love you, Lucas. Please take care.

Margaret


The Years Before — A Spring of Surprises

 

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

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