The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

Her Family
A Mother's Day Story
by Michelle Palmer

She looked down at her sleeping boy and smiled lovingly.  His lips were gently closed as a small smile played on his lips.  He must have been having a sweet dream.  His eyelids were closed, revealing soft eyelashes that fluttered occasionally during his sleep.  His hair was falling over his eyes, and she suddenly had the urge to brush it back, but as she reached out to do so, she suddenly remembered that she couldn’t.  “Sleep, my little calf,” she gently whispered, knowing that no sound actually came from her lips.  She wanted so badly to kiss him one more time, but she knew she couldn’t. Then she looked at the father as he bent down next to their son and smoothed the hair from his eyes.  He tucked the covers in tighter around him and he gently bent down and kissed his forehead.  Then he just stood there for a moment and looked at their sleeping boy as he softly laid a hand on his cheek.  “You’re looking more and more like her everyday!”

 She watched him stand up and slowly walk out of the room.  He sat down at the table with her picture in his hand.  A tear slipped from his eye.  “It’s been exactly five years, my Sweet Margaret, and this day has gotten no easier.”  He sighed as he looked at her picture.  “I miss you so much!  My mood all day has been bitter, and I know I was too rough on our little boy but-“ His voice broke then as he just stared at her picture and allowed a tear to fall onto it.  She knew he had been waiting for this moment all day.  This moment that he could cry over her picture like he did every year since her death.

Margaret wanted to cry herself, but she knew she couldn’t.  She wanted so badly to wrap her arms around him and whisper those sweet words into his ear, but she simply stood and watched his heart break all over again.  “I’m so sorry I had to leave you, my dear, dear husband.”  Margaret reached out a hand and acted like she was wiping his tears away.  “But Jesus needed me so badly.  Please know I watch over you and will always, always love you and Mark.” She then watched as her husband stood up and took a deep breath.  After one final look at her picture, he sat it back down on the desk.  “Thank you, Sweet Margaret.  Thank you for being here.”

Then she watched as he walked back into the bedroom and closed the door.  She didn’t go back in.  She knew he was once again restored and would probably try to make his bad mood up to their son the following day by taking him fishing.

But now, she reflected back to when she was alive, and the day she got the greatest revelation of her life.

Chapter 1

They hadn’t been married for very long before she knew that she was carrying a precious child in her body that God had created from the precious love between her and Lucas.  Never in a million eternities could she forget the moment she knew for sure.  She had been feeling different for several days, and was no longer able to keep down food and felt so tired all the time.  Yet she smiled through all this each day as the realization became more and more real.

Then one day she told Lucas while he was settling at the table for the evening.  She was standing at the sink finishing the dishes when she suddenly turned and told him he was going to be a father in a very casual voice.  Then she waited for the explosion.  At first, Lucas just said “Oh,” then went back to reading his paper.  But the next thing she knew, he had jumped from his chair, rushed over to her, and firmly turned her around.  Then he threw his arms around her and asked, “Are you sure?”

She merely nodded her head as Luke put a hand on each of her cheeks and gave her a long, slow kiss.  When their lips finally parted, he smiled deeply into her eyes.  “A father?  I’m going to be a father?”

She remembered Luke’s preparing for fatherhood.  He was already talking about having a partner in the ranch and teaching “him” everything he knew.  She couldn’t help but smile at his excitement, knowing he would be happy no matter what the baby was.  They talked about all the babies they would have together, and she assured Luke that she wanted several if God saw fit to give them several.

Then when the time came, it was the middle of the night and she giggled as Luke almost ran out of the door without his pants on to get the doctor.  By the time the doctor got there, she was struggling.  All night the pains came and she let out screams.  She watched Luke just sit at her bedside holding her hand.  Finally, when the sun came up, she begged him to work with the cattle.  She couldn’t stand to see the worry in his eyes any longer.

Luke didn’t want to leave her.  He cried and clung to her hand begging her to stop asking.  But she finally mustered up a huge smile through her incredible pain and said, “Luke, it will be easier for me if you go work.  It will be some time yet, and I’m sure the doc will send someone for you if my time comes.”

She was so happy when he finally left the house and went to work with the cattle.  She would rest easier knowing that he wasn’t dwelling on her suffering.  He stayed gone all day, and when he arrived back, it was all over and she was barely aware of his presence.  It took days…weeks for her to recover from that birth.  In that time, Luke had formed a bond with their new son, whom Luke called Mark.  Mark Warren McCain.  That’s the name they had both agreed on months ago.

By the time she was well enough to hold her son, he was almost a month old.  She remembered crying for her precious boy so many times but being so weak that she couldn’t hold him.  She cried when Luke finally put that baby in her arms and he kissed her softly on the lips for the first time since this had all happened.  She wept bitterly as she realized that she had lost a whole month.

But when Luke finally allowed her out of bed a week later, she watched the interaction between her two boys and realized that God had again performed a precious blessing on her family.  Her husband was no longer the wild Lucas McCain she had married.  He was now soft and loving.  The most important thing to him was now this little boy whom he sat with in the chair and fed a bottle to.  She watched him lovingly change his soiled diapers.  And she even heard him sing a precious lullaby as he put their boy to sleep each night.

They had formed a bond, and she knew the bond would never be broken.  Many mothers would be jealous, but she wasn’t other mothers.  She was Margaret Gibbs McCain, and she had prayed for this moment ever since she found out her wild husband was going to be a father.  Suddenly, all the pain and suffering she had gone through was worth it.  They had formed a bond that no one could ever break.

But now, she was able to hold their precious son in her arms again.  She was able to feed him from a bottle, change his diapers, and sing him the lullaby.

Margaret couldn’t help but to smile as she watched Luke come home every night by supper.  The first thing he would always do was go to the cradle where their baby laid, pick him up, and give him a gentle kiss on the cheek.  He wouldn’t stop there!  He’d proceed to kiss each foot and each hand before snuggling his chin next to Mark’s little face.  “Have you been a good boy for your mama today?” Luke would always say.

Then he would come up to her and wrap his arms around her, giving her a slow kiss and smiling into her dancing eyes.  He would be done with his ranching for the day, and he was always there for them in the evenings unless he had something pressing to do.

Margaret watched these things and stored them all up in her heart.

On Sundays, Luke would sometimes send Margaret along to church while he stayed behind to get some chores done.  But spending that month or so alone as the mother and father had changed that habit as well.  The first Sunday Luke permitted her to go to church, he came out of the bedroom dressed in his Sunday clothes.  She was a little surprised, but simply smiled at her husband.  Nothing was ever said about his returning to church on Sundays, but she couldn’t name a Sunday after Mark’s birth that he wasn’t in church singing and worshiping as if he had always done so.

Margaret didn’t mind at all standing back and watching her two men’s bond grow stronger and stronger.  In fact, she couldn’t name a time when she was ever happier.  As Mark grew, Lucas’s love and pride grew as well.  What a blessed mother she was!  She had the perfect family, and she couldn’t ask for anything more.

Margaret could still remember the day Mark said his first word.  Luke was sitting at the table reading the paper and Mark was in his highchair that his father had so lovingly built for him with his own hands.  Suddenly, a small whimper came from him.  Margaret turned from the stove and asked Luke to see to him, but Luke was too involved in the paper.  Mark’s arms reached out for his pa, and his whimper got just a little louder.  Luke suddenly looked up and smiled at his son.

Mark let out another cry.  “Papa!” he suddenly cried.  Luke had gone back to his article, but suddenly looked up.  He stared at Mark then suddenly jumped up and grabbed him from the chair.  “Oh, that’s my boy!”

Margaret sat the meat on the table as she stared at the interaction.  “What’s wrong?”

“He just said Papa!  My boy said Papa!” Luke laughed.  “Nine months old, and he’s already talking!  That’s my boy!”  Then he swirled around the room with him, hugging Mark close and humming to him.

And his first step!  She and Luke had been working with Mark for awhile, trying to get him to take that first step and begin walking.  Luke was determined he’d be walking by his first birthday, and Margaret chided him, ordering him not to rush the boy.  Luke wanted him to walk so bad, though, that he would neglect his ranching duties until Margaret shooshed him out the door with a light threat.

But one day as she was working on supper, Luke came in and hung up his hat.  When he turned around, he got the biggest surprise of his life.  There he was – walking towards him on wobbly feet.  His boy took three steps, then sat down hard on his rear end and let out a loud scream.  “Oh now, that’s just fine, boy!  That’s just fine!”

Margaret had seen that happen, and she rushed over as the three embraced.  She watched the two with pride as Luke put the boy on his shoulders and carried him around the house, pretending to be a wild stallion.  Mark giggled, and that giggle was always music to her ears!

She tucked all those things away in her heart.

Chapter 2

She heard mumbling coming from the bedroom as she walked around the house and looked at all the stuff her family had acquired.  Margaret stepped inside the bedroom and saw her boy tossing in his sleep.  “No, come back!” he was crying.  “Come back!  Don’t go, Ma!”

If she could have cried, she may have done so at that very moment.  It was only once a year she was allowed to peak into her family’s life, and it was because her presence put a calming effect over the family as they remembered their loss on the anniversary of her death.

She watched her dear, sweet husband jump from his bed and run over to their sleeping child.  In one swift move, he lifted Mark from the bed, sat him on his lap and cradled him in his arms like he used to do when Mark was a small child.  Then he rocked Mark back and forth, saying softly, “It’s okay, son.  It’s alright.  You’re Ma’s in Heaven with Jesus.”

Mark opened his eyes and let out a cry.  “I miss her something awful, Pa.  You think she’s watching us?  You think she’s watching me grow?”

Oh yes, my sweet, sweet boy!  I’m watching everything and I’m enjoying every minute.  I’m so very, very proud of you, my sweet, sweet child.  So much like your Pa…You are so much like your Pa!

Lucas smoothed back Mark’s hair and hushed him.  “Yes, yes Mark.  She’s here.  Your Ma is here.  I can feel her so strongly sometimes.  I know she’s watching over you.”

They sat still, holding each other.  Margaret saw the tear in her husband’s eyes as he tried to help their little boy through the pain. She bent down and drew her hand to Mark’s head, but she couldn’t touch it.  She moved her hand up and down as if to soothe him.  Sh, my boy.  I’m here.  I’m right here, and I’m always watching you.

Mark sat quietly in his Pa’s arms for a few minutes.  Then he suddenly realized where he was.  He started to lift up, to break the embrace, but Lucas’s arms tightened around him.  “Stay still, son.  Just rest.”  That’s right, my husband.  Hold him every chance you get.  I can’t do it, so you must!

“When will it get easier, Pa?” Mark sniffed.  “When?”  Mark suddenly lifted his head to look into his Pa’s eyes.

“I don’t know, son.”  That was the only answer Lucas could give him.

Margaret watched Mark’s eyes slowly close as Lucas softly rocked him back and forth.  “There, there.  Stop your shaking, son.  I’m here for you.  I’m here,” Lucas said softly.

“Today’s the day, isn’t it?” Mark asked.  Lucas only nodded.  Margaret knew then that Mark would be crying for her all day.  I’ll be here all day!  I won’t leave you for a second!

She saw that Mark was finally asleep and stood as Lucas laid him down and tucked him in.  Lucas wiped the tears that were now drying on Mark’s cheek from his face, and he stumbled to his own bed.    Margaret followed him over, wishing she could tuck him in.  She gently bent over him and laid a kiss on his cheek, hoping somehow that it would bring him comfort.  Then she sat and watched Lucas struggle with his own sleep.

Margaret sat down on the floor beside her husband’s bed.  That boy is getting so big!  You are doing a wonderful job with him.  I remember how hard it was for you to get on to him at first, but you knew you had to.  She laughed softly as she remembered the incidents in their lives.

“Up, Pa!  Up!” Mark cried as Lucas buttoned up his coat.  Margaret had his clothes to dress him, but Mark would not allow her to touch him until he saw his Pa.

Lucas chuckled and bent down to pick him up.  He threw him up in the air as Mark giggled, thinking that was the funniest thing in the world.  Then Lucas hugged him.  “I have to go do my chores in the barn, son.  You stay here with Ma.”

For eighteen months old, Mark had a strong grip.  “No, Pa!  Mark go!”

“You aren’t even dressed, son.  I’ll take you with me some other time,” Lucas promised as he started to hand him to Margaret.

But Mark couldn’t stand being away form Lucas.  “Mark help Pa!  With cow!”

Lucas raised his eyebrows at Mark.  Then he looked at Margaret.  Margaret smiled, but cocked her head to one side, silently telling him to stay strong.  Lucas looked back at his son and looked at him sternly.  “You must stay here, son.”

Mark started to cry.  “Mark!” Lucas warned.

Even at eighteen months old, Mark knew that a firm pat on the bottom would be next, followed by taking a seat in the corner.  He hung his head but continued sniffing.  Margaret came and took him and he hugged her as if his little heart was breaking.

Lucas made his way to the door, but when he had his hand on the doorknob, he suddenly turned.  “Get him dressed, honey.  I’ll take him out to help with the cow.”

Margaret watched him leave.  Then she plopped Mark down on the floor in front of the fire, shaking her head.  “You’re Pa is an old softy!” Margaret declared.

True to his word, Luke did come back in later and grabbed Mark’s coat.  “It’s cold outside, so let’s go!”  When the two came back in several minutes later, Margaret watched their flushed faces.  Pride was shining in Luke’s eyes.  “Won’t be long now!  No sirree!  He’ll soon be doing those chores like a man!”

Another whimper escaped Mark’s throat as he was once again dreaming about that horrible day – the day she had to leave them.  She turned to look back at Lucas.  He was sitting up in bed staring at their now calm son.  A deep sigh escaped him as he stood up and walked into the living room.  He sat down at the desk and picked up her picture.

Margaret walked up behind him and pretended to lay a hand on his shoulder.  Oh, I still love you so very much, Lucas!  You are doing such a wonderful job with the boy, and I know you’ll make it.  I just know you will.  I remember all the trouble Pa would give you and you would always get in a bad mood when you heard he was going to come around. Margaret let out a short laugh.  You complained, stating you didn’t want Mark exposed to that kind of behavior – his drinking.

Margaret walked to the window and looked out into the darkness.  Oh Luke, Mark loved his grandpa so much!  And I loved how you were so protective of him and he of you!  Why, I remember a time when he was only two years old and some mean looking man came up to the house…I couldn’t hardly keep Mark inside!  He thought he had to protect you even then.

She stopped talking as she watched Lucas open the front door of the house and step out onto the porch.  He sat down on the step, reached down and plucked one of the Marigolds growing along the porch.  They are beautiful, aren’t they, my dear husband?  You know why I love them so much?  Margaret closed her eyes and smiled as she thought back to that wonderful day.

Chapter 3

She was recovering from a miscarriage.  It had been a hard time for the whole family.  She had been so ill, and loosing the baby was devastating for her, as well as for Lucas.  The doctor told them that her body had been through so much after Mark’s birth, and she likely may not be able to carry anymore.  Mark may very well be the only child they ever had!  She knew Mark’s birth had left her weakened, and anytime she got ill, she would get very ill, causing Lucas to fret.

But one day while Mark was crying for her, she suddenly got out of bed and walked into the living room.  Luke had been trying to convince the three year old to eat the food he had prepared, but Mark refused until he knew his mother was okay.  Lucas stood when she came out.  He rushed to her side and grabbed her by the arm, begging her to go lay back down.

Margaret held up a hand.  “Enough!” she stated.  “My body may be weak, but my mind is strong, and I know my mind!  I know what I want – I want to be a wife to my husband and-“ Margaret sat down beside Mark and hugged him.  “-a mother to my little boy!”

Luke didn’t allow her to do any work for a whole week after she got up, and because she knew Luke better then he knew himself, she allowed him to pamper her.  But then Monday morning, she stood in the kitchen shaking the spatula at her husband.  “Now Luke McCain, you listen here!  I will not be pampered anymore!  I am as fine as I’ll ever get, and I want my jobs back!”

She had something special she suddenly wanted.  Laying in bed for those two weeks after the miscarriage, she came to a realization that Mark was going to be their only child, and she would do her best not to put her body through another miscarriage.  But she knew one thing she wanted.  “Maridolds?” Lucas suddenly asked when she told him.  “What is that?  Some kind of weed?”

Margaret put her hands on her hips.  “It’s a flower!  A very beautiful flower, and I want them planted all around my porch, Luke McCain!”  Lucas chuckled, knowing what they were and promised he would see about getting the flowers.

It was only a few weeks later that Mark came in from helping his Pa with the morning chores.  She was fixing breakfast at the stove when she suddenly heard his wee little voice.  “Ma, for you!”

She turned around and saw Mark holding a fist full of flowers.  She suddenly threw her hands to her mouth and cried.  “Marigolds!”  She picked Mark up and hugged him.  The she walked out the door.  “Oh Luke, they are beautiful!  Simply beautiful!”

She sat down on the porch.  Luke sat down beside her.  He had a million things to do, she knew, but he took her hand in both of his and smiled lovingly at her.  They laughed as they watched Mark run around the yard, allowing a butterfly to fluuter all around him.  “Are you happy?” Luke had to ask.

She allowed the happy tears to appear in her eyes as she laid her head down on Luke’s shoulder.  “I could never be happier!” She answered as she watched Mark run around the yard.  Then Luke lifted her head from his shoulder and stood up.  “Here I come, Mark!  You’re gonna get it now!”

Margaret laughed as Luke and Mark played together.  She sat on the porch for a solid hour as they raced around the yard, Mark pretending Luke was a vicious animal trying to get him.

After supper that night, she and Luke sat out in the yard.  She laid her head on Luke’s shoulder as he put his arm around her and drew her close.  He kissed her cheek softly.  “Luke, thank you for the flowers,” she sighed.

“I can tell they made you happy,” Luke said softly, his lips close to her ear.

Margaret smiled.  “It wasn’t just the flowers.  It was Mark bringing those flowers into me, then coming out here and watching you two.  You have a special bond, Luke.”

“We’re like every father and son,” Luke stated.

“No.”  Margaret lifted her head and turned to him, smiling.  “God made you two special, like you are going to need each other someday.”  Luke looked away.  Margaret gently laid a hand on his leg.  “I didn’t mean to upset you,” she said softly.

“I know.” Luke turned and smiled at her.  “That boy…he’s so special!”  Luke turned his whole body to her and laid his hands on her shoulders.  “The first time I laid eyes on him, it was like…magic!  Like I had met someone who made me complete…someone who…”

Margaret smiled with tears in her eyes.  “He’s completely changed your life.”

Silence came around them again as Luke took her in his arms and they looked up at the stars.  “Luke?”

“Hm?” Luke asked blissfully.

“Promise me something?”  They didn’t move, but continued looking up at the sky.

“What?” Luke whispered.

“No matter what happens, always plant marigolds around the porch.”

There was silence for several minutes as Luke thought on this.  She felt him tense up at first, but then he lifted her face to his and smiled.  “I promise.”

Suddenly, Mark woke up crying.  Luke jumped up and hurried into the room.  “Oh, did you have a bad dream?”  Luke took their son into his arms and smiled.  “Well, let me tell you a story about a beautiful horse named Snowball.  This horse had a long horn on the front of it’s head and wings.  Why, he could fly clear up…” Margaret smiled as she stood in the doorway and listened.

She packed all these things away in her heart.

Chapter 4

Margaret sat down on the porch next to Lucas as he twirled the flower around in his hand.  “Oh Margaret,” he sighed.  “Usually, I can go on smiling but today…today, it’s going to be hard.  I need you…so…badly!”  Lucas lifted the flower to his nose and sniffed it.  “It’s been five years, but every anniversary of your death…it’s like you died yesterday!”

Margaret pretended to lay a hand on his cheek.  I know, but I’m here.

She sat there with Lucas as he just sat in silence, watching the sun rise.  Suddenly, they heard Mark’s cries from the bedroom.  Lucas jumped up and ran into the bedroom.  Margaret followed him in.  “Ma!  Don’t go Ma!  Pleas come back!”

Lucas lifted Mark up again and held him close.  “Oh son, I’m so sorry you have to go through this with me!” Lucas closed his eyes as Mark cried.

“It’s been…five…years,” Mark cried as his body shook.  “Tell me, Pa.”

Lucas allowed a tear to slip down his cheek.  “Tell you what?”

“About her. Tell me something about her so I don’t forget.”

Margaret nodded as Lucas began telling Mark about another memory that the three shared together.  “Well now, let’s see.”  Lucas started as Mark sat down on the bed and Lucas scooted onto the bed to sit beside him.  “I remember how you loved to climb trees.  It scared your Ma to death!  ‘He’s too little!’ she’d always declare, demanding me to make you get down.  I did my best to tell her that you were just a boy.  But then something happened when you were only five years old.

Ah yes, Margaret smiled as she remembered that horrid day.  The tree!  She sat down to listen to her husband tell Mark the story.

“It was this tall oak tree in the front yard.  You just turned five years old, and the minute you figured out how to climb a tree, you didn’t stop!  Your mother had already gotten onto me the night before because I didn’t stop you from climbing that tree, and I told you before I left to tend the herd that morning, ‘Mark,’ I said as I shook my finger at you.  ‘Now boy, don’t give your Ma no cause for scare!  You stay out of that tree!’”

Margaret smiled as Mark’s eyes grew big.  “Did I?”

You climbed that tree the moment your father rode off! Margaret declared.

“You climbed that tree the moment I rode off!” Lucas stated.  Margaret smiled and nodded her head in satisfaction.  “Your Ma was in the kitchen baking, I believe.”

Actually, I was getting ready to do your laundry, my dear husband…

“I had ridden back to get something I forgot in the barn when suddenly, I heard your Ma scream.”  Lucas let out a blood-curling scream and shouted, “My baby!  My baby!” in a really silly voice.

Margaret rolled her eyes.  I hardly screamed like that, Lucas Dear!

Mark laughed.  Margaret didn’t mind Lucas mocking her since it made their boy laugh, and she knew that’s why he did it.  “Well, wouldn’t you know that you fell right out of that tree?”

Mark’s eyes grew wide.  “I fell out of the tree?”

“You don’t remember that?” Lucas asked.  “I’m sure you remembered your-“

“Breaking my arm and-“ Mark suddenly remembered.

Knocking out your two front teeth!  Oh, how I remember that!

“You knocked out your two front teeth,” Lucas stated.

And the screaming.  Ohhhhh…

“But I think it was your screams that scared your mother and me the most.  Those screams were-“ Lucas started.

Terrifying!  Margaret stated.

“Terrifying,” Lucas finished as he shivered.

Mark nodded.  “I remember you picking me up.”

Lucas nodded.  “Yeah, after I peeled your mother off of ya!  Your mother was leaning on you.  You were holding your arm and screaming, but she just saw this blood!  She froze.  I’m not sure who was screaming louder.”

Margaret wanted to roll her eyes at him.  Oh, I wasn’t that bad!  Was I?

“Your mother would say she wasn’t that bad, but take my word for it – she was that bad!  I finally convinced her that it was your two front teeth that got loose.  I sure was glad you hadn’t lost your two front teeth yet!”

Mark smiled at the memory now.  “I remember crying cause my arm hurt…something awful!  Even after all these years, I can still remember that.”

Lucas nodded.  “I sat you carefully in the back of the wagon and your mother climbed in and laid your head on her lap.  She was in tears, worried about you.  I wanted nothing more then to pick you up in my own arms and run to town with you, but I knew this was your mother’s time.”

That was the longest ride into town! Margaret remembered.

“Thankfully, it was just a short ride into town and when we got there, your Ma was demanding I hurry and carry you inside.  She had held a cloth to your mouth to wipe the blood away.  But your arm was hurting something awful.  The doctor put a splint on it and told us it was just a bad break.”

Mark chuckled at the memory.  “Oh, I do remember that splint…”

You hated it!

“I hated it!” Mark remembered.

I had to practically sit on you to make you keep that thing on!

Lucas smiled.  “Your ma had to practically sit on you to keep it on.  I think you tired her out something awful those next few weeks!”

“Let’s see now,” Mark said as he drew his knees up to his chest and remembered back.  “I remember a trip to the candy store.”

Lucas smiled.  “I gave you more candy then your mother wanted.  I don’t think she ever found out how much spoiling I gave you that day while she was at the dress shop.”

Yes I do.  I watched you two from the window.  Mark was still pouting, and his arm still hurt.  You were holding him close in your arms, and he laid his head on your shoulder and cried softly.  Then you got a piece of candy and nudged him softly.  Hm…I remember the smile that suddenly appeared on his face when he saw that candy in your hand.  He stuck that whole thing in his mouth, and you reached for another piece.  I’m not sure who held the bigger smile…you or him…I couldn’t stop watching you two.  By the time you two walked out of there, you were both laughing and feeling better.

Mark smiled.  “I remember climbing that Oak tree again.”

Lucas laughed.  “I think your Ma learned her lesson that you were a boy, and there wasn’t much she could do to stop it.”

She listened to her two men laugh.  Then Mark’s smiled disappeared.  “Sometimes I can hardly remember her.”

“Mark,” Lucas suddenly put an arm around his shoulder.  “I knew this day was coming yesterday.  That’s why I was so moody with you.  I’m sorry I yelled at you.”

Mark nodded.  “Do you?”

“Do I what?” Lucas asked.

“Remember her?  Do you remember her?” Mark lowered his head in shame.

“Oh yes I do!  I remember how her hair hung down the middle of her back when she got up in the morning.  I remember her rolling it up in that bun as breakfast cooked on the stove.  I remember her smile – the most beautiful smile in the whole world!  Why, her smile would light up the entire house on the darkest night!  And her smell…I remember her smell.”

Mark smiled.  “You know, I can remember her, Pa.  I remember her sitting me on her lap in the rocking chair and rocking back and forth as you sat at the table reading from the Bible.  I remember you and her kneeling by my bed every night as I said my prayers, then you would tell me a story while she listened.  I remember-“ Suddenly, Mark threw his arms around Lucas and cried.

Margaret stepped forward and pretended to lay a hand on his shoulder.  I remember you to, my little boy!  I remember your deep love for me.  I remember…

Chapter 5

Margaret laughed as Mark sat at the table eating the cookie dough.  “I’d wanta stay and help you an’ Pa!” Mark declared.

“Well, school starts Monday, Mark.”  Mark got a pouting face on and Margaret wiped her hands on her apron and sat down next to him.  “Your Pa went to school for many years.”

“I don’t want ta,” Mark declared.

“I went to school too,” she tried then.

Mark bit his lip and took another big gulp of cookie dough.  “You need me here.”

“I need you to go to school.  I promise we’ll leave work here for you.  You’ll still have your morning chores like milking the cow and feeding the chickens.  When you come home, you can help me bake cookies or cakes.  Then you can help your Pa on the ranch.”

Mark didn’t look at her, but simply shrugged his shoulders.  Margaret squeezed him tight and laughed.  “Oh, but you have such an important job of going to school!”

“Job?” Mark’s head suddenly turned and he stared at his Ma.

“Yes, son.  School is a job.  You have to learn how to read, write and add numbers so that some day you can have a ranch of your own.  It would be hard without school.”

“Will you miss me?”

Margaret turned Mark towards her so he could see the tears in her eyes.  “Yes, my little calf.  I’ll miss you oh, so very much!  But,” she laid her hands on his cheeks.  “We all have our job to do.”

Mark suddenly smiled bravely.  “I’ll do it!” He declared.

But when Monday morning came, Mark didn’t want to go.  Lucas was getting angry with Mark’s disobedience that morning, and Margaret finally suggested he go hitch the team and let her handle Mark.  Lucas left with an exasperated sigh.

It didn’t take her long, what with her gentle smile and loving eyes, to get him dressed.  Lucas shook his head in disapproval as she carried him to the wagon and plopped him on the seat.  But they were soon on their way.

When they pulled into the schoolyard, Lucas lifted Mark down and sat him on the ground.  Mark stared at the big, tall building in front of him and suddenly walked behind his mother.  Margaret looked at Lucas as she quickly took his hand to calm him.  She bent down and looked lovingly into his eyes.  “I’m right here,” she smiled.

Mark grabbed a hand of each parent as the slowly walked inside.  They stood in the back and watched as Lucas went up front and officially registered their son into school.  He looked up at his Ma and saw tears shining in her eyes.  “Why you crying?”

Margaret kneeled down in front of him and put a hand on his cheek.  “Because you are becoming a little man!”

Lucas came back and grabbed Mark by the hand.  “You stay here,” he told Margaret.  Then the two went up front.  She watched, still bent down on her knees, as Lucas got Mark adjusted.  She watched Lucas sit Mark down on the bench.  Then he kneeled down beside him, putting his hand on his shoulder, and squeezing.  He was smiling as he talked and Mark nodded his head slowly, fear returning to his little face.

But Lucas continued talking.  When he stood, Mark stood.  The teacher hurriedly walked over to Mark and placed a restraining arm around him to hold him back.  Margaret’s heart leapt into her throat as she heard Mark cry, “Don’t leave me here!  Please Pa!”

Lucas quickly walked back, tears brimming in his eyes.  Margaret was hesitant to leave him in such a state, but Lucas firmly pulled her up and motioned for the door.  But she turned and looked back.  Lucas put his arm around her and firmly led her out.  She threw her hands to her mouth as she listened to Mark’s cries.  “Just keep walking,” Lucas muttered in his broken voice. “Don’t stop.”

Lucas helped her up over the wheel and onto the seat as she began crying.  He suddenly took her into his arms and allowed himself to shed a few tears.  “Our boys growing up, honey.  He just doesn’t realize it yet.”

Then Lucas grabbed the reins and started for home.

It was a long day.  Margaret couldn’t concentrate on her work.  It seemed so strange not to have her little man here helping her.  Lucas came in for lunch not looking much better.  “It’s strange,” she stated as they sipped their coffee together.

Lucas nodded.  “But it’s for his own good.  I just…I’m saving some of my chores for when he gets home…”

“What time will you go get him?” Margaret asked, anxious to see her little man herself.

“The teacher…she told me that first year students only stay until 1:30.  I’ll get him then.”

She nodded as she looked at the wind up clock sitting on the mantle.  “An hour,” she stated.

But she had done all that worrying for nothing.  Mark had survived his first day.  He excitedly told his parents all about the fun stuff he had learned just that first day.  “So, you do want to go back tomorrow.”

Mark suddenly turned toward his mother.  “No, Ma.  I don’t.  But I know I have to?” Then he turned to his Pa.

Margaret laughed as Lucas just raised an eyebrow but didn’t answer out loud.  She knew his looks told Mark everything he needed to know.

Chapter 6

They sat on the bank and fished in silence, sensing that the other needed silence to reflect on his own thoughts.  Margaret sat next to them as she watched.  Suddenly, Mark spoke up.  “That first day of school was probably the most exciting.  I remember crying as you and Ma left thinking you were the meanest folks in the world!”

Lucas raised an eyebrow at their son.  “You really thought that?”

Mark laughed.  “Not anymore.  I know it was for my own good.  But…” Mark suddenly lowered his head.  “Thanks, Pa…I mean, for not making me go to school today.  I just…couldn’t…”

“I know,” Lucas smiled.  “I was pretty rough on you yesterday.”

They sat in silence again.  “How long was she sick?”

Lucas sighed.  “Two weeks.  Two long, painful weeks.”

“I remember the small pox epidemic.  It was awful!” Mark said quietly.

Oh, don’t think about it, my two boys!  Don’t think of that dreadful time!

Lucas nodded.  “It was bad.  But son,” Lucas suddenly turned to Mark and smiled.  “Even those last two weeks…and knowing that your mother would die…those were blessed.”

Margaret listened in silence as her mind drifted back to those final days.

She knew the moment it hit.  Lucas had just come home days before announcing that Enid had been hit by a small pox epidemic, and the doctor was ordering a quarantine for the entire town.  She was taking care of Mark as usual since school was canceled, but she was suddenly so very weak…weak and tired.

She knew it was small pox.  Her heart told her.  Her heart told her so much.  She suddenly stood up and ran to her room.  “Mark, I love you, honey!  I love you so much!” she cried.

Mark stood and started toward her.  But she put up a hand.  “No!” she cried, startling him.  “Oh Mark, your Pa loves you so very much, son.  Please take care of him.”  She knew Mark didn’t understand what she was saying.  She also knew that she may live through the disease.  But with her weakened body, she wasn’t sure how she’d make it through.  “I love you, honey.  Go get your father!”

She ran to her bedroom and wept.  Mark came to the door afraid.  He banged on it, but she wouldn’t let him in.  “Oh Mark, I love you so much!  Please go get Pa!”

“What’s wrong, Ma?”  Mark begged to know.  “What’s wrong?”  But Margaret couldn’t speak.  She didn’t want their last conversation to be a tearful one.

Maybe that’s why she did what she did.  Maybe it was because she loved Mark and wanted him to remember her happily.  But she suddenly wiped the tears from her eyes and composed herself.  “God, please protect my baby!  Please protect him!”  Then she opened the door and took Mark into her arms.

That’s where they were when Lucas came inside an hour later.  She was on the floor holding their little boy.  “I have to go now, son.  You be good.”

Lucas rushed over to her and felt her forehead.  “Oh Dear God, NO!” He suddenly cried as he placed his head in his hands.  “Oh, please God, no!”

They held each other as a family and cried.  Lucas and Margaret both knew how weak she had been ever since Mark’s birth.  They both knew, though, that God could spare her.  So before he took Mark out, they joined hands and prayed.

Lucas waited until Mark was in bed that night.  Their friend, Ann Dodd, stopped by to check on Margaret, and she confirmed their suspensions. Margaret had small pox.  Mark was already exposed, and they knew taking him from his family would have no real effect.  If he was going to get the disease, he would get it for sure now.  Besides, there was no well person who would dream of taking a child so exposed to the disease.

Margaret got pretty sick pretty fast.  She couldn’t remember much.  All she could remember was Lucas at her side and Ann’s caring for her even though her own husband and son were sick.  But she couldn’t really remember much.  It was near the end that she was having a somewhat better day.  She knew by this point that she would die.  There was medicine that could help, but with the epidemic so bad, it was hard to get.  Lucas bent down and whispered that day that he was going to go get the medicine.

He didn’t know how near to the end she was.  She had some things to say to him and she begged him to send her father who had shown up the day before.  “Send Pa,” she begged with desperation in her eyes.  “Please, send Pa!”

Lucas didn’t trust him.  He was a no good drunk who did nothing but hurt Margaret and her family, but he finally agreed.  After he left, Margaret licked her lips and asked to see their son.  Lucas brought Mark in and she laid her hands on his shoulders.  “Mark, my precious little boy…” she started.

Mark held up a picture he had drawn in school a few weeks ago.  He smiled proudly.  Margaret studied it closely, but her eyes were blurry as she knew the end was very near.  “Tell me about it,” she stated.

“It’s Heaven, Ma.  I want to go there someday.”  It was said in innocence, and his words were so precious.

She looked to Lucas then.  “Can…can we be alone?”

Lucas nodded as he stood and left the room.  She smiled at Mark.  “I love you, my precious, precious little boy!”

“You getting better?”

Margaret shook her head.  “No, son.  That picture you drew…of heaven…that’s where I’ll be very, very soon.”

Tears suddenly clouded his eyes.  “Your gonna…die?”

Margaret nodded as she began crying.  “But your Pa will need you now more then ever, son.  I need you to do something for me.”

Mark was crying.  Tears were running down his cheeks as he looked at his ma.  “Please don’t go!”

Margaret smiled through her tears.  “I need you to take care of your Pa for me – to make sure he…” Margaret stopped.  She was fading fast.  “To make sure he gets happy.”

Mark hugged her.  “Please, Ma!  Please don’t go.”

“Oh, I don’t want to!  But Jesus needs me.  There’s lots of little boys in Heaven just like you, and He wants me to help him out.” Margaret closed her eyes, hoping Mark would understand someday.  “It’s okay to cry for me.  I love you.”

Suddenly, Lucas was there as her breathing got harder.  She grabbed his hand.  “I love you,” she gasped.

She was suddenly ready to go.  She suddenly heard Mark’s broken voice singing the lullaby as he tried to sing her to sleep.  “Just rest, Ma.  Just rest.”  She knew he still didn’t understand she wouldn’t wake up, but she was so happy that the last thing she heard as she breathed her last breath was Mark humming the song.

“My family,” she gasped.  “My precious family…

Margaret stared at Lucas and Mark now laughing joyously together.  They had made their amends and gotten through another anniversary.  “That’s a big mess of fish you have there, boy!” Lucas commented as they started for home.  The sun was setting now and Margaret knew it was time for her to go home.

She walked with them back to the cabin and watched them laugh together as they cleaned their fish.  “All this thinking about Ma…” Mark started.  Then he shook his head.

Lucas stopped cleaning his fish and looked up at his son.  “What is it?”

Mark shook his head and went back to cleaning.  “Mark?” Lucas stopped him.  As Mark looked up into Lucas’s eyes, he smiled.

“Well, I’ve come to realize something today…I do remember so much about her.  I remember her smell – kind of like the Marigolds that grow outside our house, mixed with bacon and lye soap… and scent of…” Mark started.

Lucas smiled.  “Lemon Berbina.”

You bought it for me after we were just married.  Kind of a peace offering when you were late on that second night…I wore it every day since.

“And I remember her voice…It sounded like a bird singing when she was happy.  It was really soft and…soothing.  And her eyes were a blue like robin’s eggs.  Her hair was…crimson…a really light, soothing color.  She was beautiful and-“

Lucas laughed.  “Is that all you remember?”

Mark shook his head.  “I remember her saying goodbye to me.  All those months after her death that I cried for her and you held me, I didn’t let that come to me.  But today, what she said to make it easier, I realize now…”

“What did she say?” Lucas asked.

“She said that Jesus needed her in heaven so she could help take care of all those little boys up there.”

Oh, you did hear me!  You do remember! Margaret laughed with happiness.

“I know she was just trying to make it easier,” Mark stated then.

Lucas suddenly slapped a hand on Mark’s shoulder.  “Mark, let me tell you something about your mother.  If there’s a way she can take care of little boy up in Heaven, I guarantee you that she’s doing it right now!  She certainly knew her mind, and in her dying breath, I think she knew what her purpose was.”

They stared at each other and smiled.  Mark started to walk away.  Five years is long enough.  I won’t be back.  You two are ready to let go now.  You will never forget me and I’ll still look down from Heaven.  I love you two very much.

Suddenly, Lucas and Mark looked up toward the sky as if they heard her speak.  “I love you, Ma.”

“I love you, Margaret.”

Margaret laughed as she left them.  I love you, my two men!  I’m so proud…so very proud of…my family.

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!

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