The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Margaret Years
Chapter 5 - The Illness
Written by Michelle Palmer
Lucas woke early one morning to silence.  Rain had poured for two days, and this morning the sun was shining in small pieces inside the cabin. As Lucas jumped up and hurriedly dressed before starting the fire in the pot-bellied stove to warm his coffee, he noticed that his joints were stiff. It seemed to ache everywhere he could bend. He knew that he'd been working out in the rain the last two days, but he still didn't expect to be this sore.
He stepped out of the shack and looked around proudly as he tried to stretch the soreness away. The barn was finally completed, and he was able to shelter his horses from the storms that had occurred over the last two days. As a gift, Scott had given Lucas a young milk cow that was currently at her peak in milk production. Lucas knew that no matter how little food he had, he got plenty of milk every day. Bessie lived in the barn and was milked every morning.
Lucas also had a shed up so he could store all his tools.
Now that the barn and shed were up properly, Lucas could concentrate on the corral fence, which was his next project. During the storms and downpours of rain, Lucas had continued to work on his ranch, taking the wet boards and pounding nails to build his fence. He was quite pleased with the results. Lucas thought that as he gave a loud sneeze. He may have gotten a bit of a cold doing the work in the pouring rain, but he was anxious to see the job done.
Lucas turned and gazed over his range. His newly branded cattle – all five of them – grazed gaily, happy the sun was finally drying everything out. As soon as he got the corral up, Lucas would be traveling to the next town over where he heard tell about some good seed bulls for sale. That bull would increase his heard considerably.
Then he could start on the house.
The house! When he wasn't working on the corral fence, he was sitting at the table working on plans for the house. Lucas spent painful hours over the sketch pad drawing here and erasing there. He knew what Margaret wanted, but he felt she deserved a few pleasantries. After they were engaged, he would show her the plans, then he'd start building.
Lucas' heart began beating fast as he thought about the prospects of becoming engaged to Margaret Gibbs. He was planning on talking to Scott tomorrow night. That's the night he had chosen to ask for Margaret's hand.   He remembered the look on Scott's face two days ago when he ran into him in the General Store. Margaret had been in looking over some material, and quietly, he had cleared his throat and said, "Mind if I come for dinner Saturday night? There's something important I have to discuss with you."
Lucas almost choked when Scott's accusing eyebrow shot up and he turned toward Margaret. Margaret too had a question in her eyes. Lucas shook his head slightly, daring her to ask the question that he knew was on his mind. When Scott turned and looked back at Lucas, he nodded his head slightly then said, "Alright. As long as you come for dinner Friday night so I can discuss something else with you."
That something else had Lucas wondering. The way Scott said that ‘something' else made Lucas' heart beat faster. Did Scott think he had done something to offend his sister's honor? Scott held some sort of accusing tone in his voice, and it was that tone that worried Lucas. Now that he thought on that, he wondered if maybe…just maybe…he had imagined the whole thing.
 It was now mid-May, and Margaret had ‘hinted' about getting married by the end of summer. Lucas wanted to leave her plenty of room to get ready, though he suspected she was already getting ready for the big event. The material she had been looking at in the store left little doubt in his mind.
Lucas sneezed again as he returned to the shack and took the coffee off the burner. He was already on his third cup this morning. He had chills from the rain, and he knew Margaret would chastise him if she knew he'd been working in it for the last two days. Lucas was just about to take a drink when he heard someone calling outside.
"Lucas! Lucas!" Hal's voice sounded frantic, causing all sorts of alarms to go off in Lucas' thinking. Lucas hurried out the door and toward the road Hal was running across. "Luke, you've got to go for the doctor! NOW!" His voice was frantic and his eyes were full of fear.
Lucas saw the panicked look on Hal's face and bolted forward. "What is it?"
"It's Ann! I think she's losing the baby. She's in an awful lot of pain Luke! Please! Hurry! I've got to get back to her! I've got to…" Hal turned and ran back across the road, nearly tripping in the mud. "HURRY!"
Lucas wasted no time. He hurriedly saddled his horse, knowing he'd have trouble riding bare back so far on the muddy road. Then he mounted and raced from the yard. After two days of rain, the road was pure deep with mud. The horse's legs sunk into the mud and slowed to a crawl several times, but Lucas slapped his flank and ordered him to go. It took double the time to get there, and he feared he would be too late. "God, please keep her safe!" Lucas prayed.
Lucas raced into town. He was shaking as if he were freezing cold, and he did feel rather cool, despite the fact the sun was shining down on him. He ignored it, deeming it was nerves as he pulled his horse up outside the doctor's office. He hurried inside. "Jason! Emily!" He called, but no one was there. Lucas raced around the back to their living quarters and banged on their door. Emily hurried to the door, her robe tight around her and her hair a mess. She blushed at being caught in such a state at eight o'clock in the morning.
"Uh…" Her disheveled state caught him a bit off guard, and he had to pause a moment to regain his composure. "It's Ann! You have to come!" Lucas declared in an excited, yet shaky voice.
Jason rushed up behind Emily as he snapped his pants. "What's wrong?" Jason asked.
"Hal thinks she's losing the baby!"
"NO!" Emily threw a hand to her mouth. "Jason?"
Jason turned and reached for his shirt thrown over the back of a chair. "Emily, go get dressed. She'll need you more than me." He quickly buttoned his shirt, but paused when he saw Lucas shaking. "You okay?"
Lucas nodded. "I'm just a bit shaken from running the horse so hard." Jason lifted an eyebrow, not sure his explanation matched what he was seeing, but he didn't have time to doctor his brother-in-law right now. He hurried to the clinic to get his bag while Lucas went to the small stable and hitched up their wagon. Then Lucas rode with Jason and Emily as they all hurried toward the Dodd Ranch.
As Jason opened the front door of the Dodd home, he could hear Ann's mournful cries coming from upstairs. "Emily…" Jason motioned for her to go up first, then he hurried behind her.
A very shaken Hal could be heard arguing with Jason. Finally, his grieved form could be seen descending the stairs. "Hal?"
Hal shook his head, not trusting his voice, then walked outside. Lucas followed him out. Hal paced back and forth in the front yard, but couldn't speak. Finally, Lucas said…"I suppose my father would be praying at a time like this. You want me to?"
Hal stopped and turned to look at Luke. "What do you pray for? Should we pray that the blood coming from my wife isn't the baby miscarrying – that's it's something else? Should we pray…"
"That Ann's okay," Lucas interrupted as he laid a hand on Hal's shoulder. "That's all we can do."
Neither man was much on praying on a regular basis, but this was a time Lucas' upbringing kicked in. He remembered his father on his knee in the yard crying out to God the day his twin siblings had died during the drought. He could recall many, many times one or both of his parents had stopped whatever they were doing and prayed for some little thing that was happening. Now, Hal and Lucas bowed their heads. Their lips moved but their prayers were silent.
The door to the house opened and Jason walked out. He had tears in his eyes. Jason was always wearing his emotions on his shirtsleeves, so to speak. One could tell the minute he left a patient if the news he had to deliver was good or bad. He shook his head. "The baby's gone."
"I'm sorry." That's all the condolence Jason could muster.  "If it's okay, I'll leave Emily here for the night.  Miscarriage is more of an emotional pain than a physical one. Right now, Emily can do her more good than I can.  I'll come get her tomorrow."
"Thank you, doctor." Jason and Lucas watched Hal slowly walk up the stairs and into the house.
Jason turned and focused his attention on Lucas. "You still look shaken. And you're pretty pale. Are you getting sick?" Jason lifted his hand to feel Lucas' head, but Lucas shot away from him.
"Now, don't ya be going and babying me! I was just uh…working in the rain a couple days. Probably got a chill from that."
"You hurting anywhere?"
"No," Lucas lied. The truth was, the joints in his body were all still pretty sore, but he didn't want Jason to think he was a pansy. The fact that he was sore had nothing to do with being chilled from the rain.
Jason shook his head. "I just hope you don't catch pneumonia!" He sat his bag in the wagon and turned back to look at Lucas. "You know…it's not too smart working in the rain. You could catch pneumonia or a bad cold which could set you back a lot longer than a couple days."
"I'm fine, Doc," Lucas answered. "I'm a grown man, not a child."
"Stubborn…" Jason observed. "You take it easy for a couple days. No reason to get any worse. Perhaps I should examine you just in case…listen to your lungs or…
"I said I'm fine, Jason. Thanks for coming out." Jason nodded and climbed up on the wagon. Without another word, he rode out of the yard.
Lucas was never one for taking advice too well. He mounted his horse and rode back across the road to his own land. After taking a long swig from his whisky bottle to dull the pain in his body, Lucas went to work on the corral. Emily came from the house around noon and ordered him to come over for lunch. Lucas started to protest, but Emily put her hands on her hips and gave him one of those looks that dared him to argue with him.
"Bossy women…How does a man get any work done around here with all these McCain and Gibbs women telling a body what to do? Good thing she wasn't here earlier in the week…I wouldn't have gotten any work done!" By this point, he was right behind Emily. Emily stopped and asked him what he had said. "I said you women don't let a man get any work done!"
"Yes…" Emily nodded. "Seems to be what my own husband thinks as well. But a woman has a job to do as well…take care of her men folk, and I aim to do just that!"
Lucas seemed to be shaking even worse as he ate lunch. Emily, being a good nurse for her husband, raised her eyebrows and question Lucas on how he was feeling. Lucas assured her that he was feeling fine. Her husband had already had a good talk with him. Hal commented that he probably had chills from working in the rain the last couple days, and Lucas shot him a look. Emily sat down the tray she was just about to take up to Ann and shook her head. "Lucas McCain!" She declared. "You just wait until I tell Margaret!"
"You wouldn't…" Lucas stopped, because the smile on his face told him that she indeed would the first chance she got. After Emily left the room, Lucas glared at a sorrowful Hal. "You had to open your big mouth…"
Lucas went back to work that afternoon, but he quit working and went inside to lay down later that evening after experiencing some harsh chills. The chills kept him chattering under the covers for several hours. Even when he was in the army camp in the middle of January snowstorms, he didn't ever remember being this cold. The whisky he drank didn't seem to help with his chills in the least. Lucas didn't even think about the dinner he had waiting for him at the Gibbs', and thankfully Emily would assume he was over there so she wouldn't come to fuss at him.
Sometime in the night, Lucas fell asleep, but when he woke up the following morning, every joint in his body ached even more. He hoped the chills were over and slowly, he forced himself from bed and went to work on his morning chores.
Later that morning, as he checked on his five cattle – a feat which didn't take long at all, Lucas heard Hal's fast approach on his horse and his name being called. Lucas turned his horse around and rode towards Hal. "How's Ann?"
Hal shook his head. "She's really down, Luke. I was wondering if you could keep an eye on my place for a few days. Dr. Livingston thought it might help for her to get away so I'm taking her to see her folks. They moved closer to Oklahoma City a few months ago and she's been hankering to see them anyhow. My ranch hands will do most of the work, but if you could just see that they stay in line…"
Lucas nodded. "I can do that. When are you leaving?"
"As soon as Ann gets our things together. Ann's feeling okay…miscarrying isn't too hard on a body physically.  But emotionally…" Hal shook his head. "I think going away for a few days will do her good. Times like these…a woman needs her mother."
"I understand. I'll keep an eye on your place for you." Lucas patted Hal on the shoulder. "I…hope she's okay when you get back."
Hal nodded. "She's strong and has a lot of faith. She'll be okay."
Lucas watched Hal walk back with his shoulders slumped. He felt for Hal and prayed to God his family would never have to go through anything like that. But the chances were…
Lucas rode his horse to the barn and unsaddled him.  He was due over at the Gibbs' at two o'clock for a late lunch, early dinner. Lucas had requested this before leaving Scott in the General Store the other day. He went to do a few more chores before heading down to the creek to get cleaned up.
Lucas didn't show up. Margaret was upset and Scott grumbled under his breath about Lucas being irresponsible. Margaret argued, declaring Lucas wasn't irresponsible. She feared something was wrong.  He hadn't shown up for dinner the night before, and now missed tonight. If Lucas had on his mind what she thought he had, she could see nothing short of tragedy to keep him from his engagement. "You see…he's not ready to marry you. I assure you, sweet sister, that I will remember his behavior when he finally gets around to asking me the question!"
Margaret bit her tongue. Her heart told her that something was wrong…terribly wrong. The food she tried to force down sat heavy on her stomach. Her heart raced as if trying to tell her to send help, but after Scott's reaction she didn't feel comfortable voicing her concerns. Scott finally stood up and wiped his mouth. "Come on, Pa. Let's get back to the herd." Scott strapped on his gun belt and grabbed his hat. Turning, he directed his next order to his sister. "Margaret, if that no good…" He stopped and cleared his throat. "If Luke shows up, you tell him that he better not even think about asking…"
"Scott Gibbs!" Jennifer Gibbs shook a finger at her son. "Never mind that! You just get on out to the herd!"
Margaret chewed on her lip and assisted with cleaning up the dishes in silence. Beth helped her and tried to take her minds off her worries by telling her all about her new boyfriend, but Margaret couldn't seem to keep her mind on what was being said. She remembered the times she had felt dreadful about Lucas during the war, and most of the time she was right…he had been in trouble. Margaret washed the last dish then wiped her hands on the dishtowel. "Mama?" Margaret removed her apron as she came into the parlor where Jennifer was cleaning. "I know I promised to make cream this afternoon, but…"
Jennifer walked over to her daughter and shook her head. "I understand. It's okay if you ride out to your land."
Margaret smiled in spite of her worries. Even her mother referred to the piece of land Lucas had recently purchased as ‘their' land. She bent over and kissed her mother on the cheek. "I shan't be too long. I'll make the cream when I get back."
"Margaret…" Margaret paused and turned back to her mother. "I'm sure he's fine. And I'm sure he has a very good explanation as to why he didn't show. You let him explain before you chastise him."
Margaret smiled, but the dreadful feeling in the pit of her stomach refused to relax. "I will."
 She hurried to the barn and saddled her horse. Saddling her horse was work that her brothers and father referred to as "man's work, so it wasn't something she had to do too often. But being raised on a ranch, she had to know such things for herself. She had no desire to bother her brother or father which such a minute task. She patted Lightening Bolt lightly on the rump, then mounted him. After turning her toward the road, she kicked her heels lightly on Lightening Bolt's flank then hurried down the road.
The closer Margaret got to the land, the harder her heart pumped. Something was wrong. She could feel it deep inside her. In her mind, she was already imagining what could have happened. He knocked himself out with a board or he cut himself with an ax…Margaret gasped suddenly as she remembered the confounded rifle he had made. Her biggest fear had come true…He had shot himself with it!
"Yaw! Yaw!" Margaret hollered to the horse as she dug her heels into the horse's flank. She was just picturing herself dressed in black standing over a hole in the ground when she caught herself. Stop it, Margaret Gibbs! It could be nothing more than getting caught up in his work. And here you are burying the man! Margaret bit her lip and leaned her body forward to make the horse go faster. She was trying to tell her heart that nothing was wrong, but deep inside the dreadful feeling was growing.
Each step of the horse took her closer to the truth, and each step brought more agony to her already worried mind. She remembered the kiss he had given her after pulling her out of the store and around the corner, much to Scott's disapproval. She wondered if that was the last kiss. Then again, she stopped herself, ordering herself not to think that way! He's fine! She told herself that. Her voice whispered those words over and over, matching the rhythm of the hoof beats. "He's fine…He's fine…" She said out loud. Tears welled in her eyes, but she fought them away. "He's fine!" She told Lightening Bolt as she turned down the fork that would lead her to the truth.
 God, please keep Luke safe. You know how much we love each other, and you know how hard these past few years have been on us. I've been patient for so long, Lord. Please…please don't let anything happen to him now. Margaret prayed harder the closer she got. Help him, Lord. Keep him safe. Amen.
Margaret wondered why something had to happen today of all days. She felt in her heart that Lucas was going to ask her brother for her hand in marriage that evening. Now, it seemed they were having yet another delay. She remembered, though, what her parents taught her growing up . Sometimes when a good thing is coming, the devil does everything in his power to stop it. She'd fight that blasted devil and she'd win!
She could hear the beating of her heart as she pulled back on the reins and slowed her horse. She took her onto the land and suddenly felt an eerie feeling. Stopping the horse's movements completely, she turned in the saddle and looked back across the road. Something didn't feel right. There was something terribly wrong here, but she couldn't decide what it was.
The Dodd house seemed eerily quiet. From her position, of course, she didn't expect Ann to come running from the house, but there was something about it that didn't set well with her.
Clucking to the horse, she ordered her to ride forward until she was standing beside the shack. Margaret's heart fell when Lucas didn't bound out to greet her. Of course, if he had she would have been furious. Maybe he was inside sleeping or reading…though why he would be in the middle of the afternoon she didn't know. But she had to have hope.
After tying her horse's reins to the hitching post, Margaret slowly walked to the door. She lifted her hand to knock and closed her eyes. "Please God…Let him be in there alright!" she prayed. Then she knocked. But there was no answer. She knocked again and called his name, but Lucas never appeared. "Well good…he must be out on the range checking his cattle. She turned from the door, but suddenly turned back. She touched the door, willing her hand to push it open.
"Luke?" Margaret called as she gently pushed on the door. The door only cracked so she pushed harder. "Luke?" She slowly stepped inside. It was dark and smelled of burned coffee. Margaret hurried to the pot bellied stove and lifted the scorching coffee pot off the stove.  "Luke?" she called again. She didn't know why…it was clear looking around the small one –room shack that nobody was there. Margaret turned to exit back into the sun but suddenly gasped when she saw his rifle still leaning beside the door.
Now she was worried! She slowly moved a hand to rest on her chest as she forced her other hand to touch the rifle. She looked around, as if the rifle would tell her where he was. He couldn't be far…not if he had left his rifle behind!
Margaret ran from the house to the barn. She lifted the latch and swung the door opened. As soon as she saw his horse grazing in his stall, she knew something was wrong. He wasn't on the range – not without his horse. And his rifle told her that he hadn't gone far. She hurried to the horse and patted him. Then she looked in every nook and cranny as if he were playing hide and seek with her, but she had no luck. He wasn't in the barn either.
 "Luke!" She screamed as she ran from the barn and continued her search over the land. Panic took over the more she looked. She ran here and there looking for him, but found no sign. She raced to the top of the hill where their house would someday sit and looked down.
A scream caught in her throat when she saw his still form lying in the crest. "LUKE!" she screamed. She lifted her skirt and raced down the hill, tripping twice before finally crawling to his side.
"Luke!" Margaret cried as she turned him over. Lucas mumbled but could say nothing more. His face was broken out in sweat. His skin was on fire. "Oh Luke! You're sick!" She rejoiced for only a moment that he was still alive, but her rejoicing turned to fear as she felt over the rest of him. He was VERY sick!
Margaret stood up and turned, looking over the range that ran forever, hoping upon hope she would see somebody that could take this dreadful burden from her. "HELP ME!!!!! SOMEBODY HELP ME!!!" She screamed until her throat was raw, but nobody came. "Dear God, HELP ME!" Margaret cried as she lifted her face to the sun. "You've got to…to help me!"
In anguish, Margaret turned back to Lucas. She had to get him inside out of the sun so she could take care of him. Margaret bent over him. "Luke! Luke, can you hear me?" Nothing more than a groan escaped his lips. "Oh God, HELP ME!" she screamed again. She bent over him and put her arms under his shoulders. She struggled and cried as she tried to drag him, but he was a big man and he was strong. She was strong but much smaller. "God, PLEASE! Give me strength!" Margaret cried out.
"Stop…" Lucas said in a little more than a whisper. "Stop…"
"I can't!" Margaret cried as hot, angry tears crawled down her face. "Why won't they answer?" She felt panic coming over her but knew this was indeed no time to panic. "Luke…" Margaret dropped down beside him and took his face in her hands. "Luke…We have to get you back to the shack…You're in a bad way! Can you hear me? YOU"VE GOT TO HELP ME! Please, Luke!" Margaret felt tears pour from her eyes as she watched him start to shake. She knew his fever was indeed very high. She had to get him inside!  "Luke…" She swallowed hard and kissed his forehead. "Please…try to help me get you back."
"I can't…" Lucas mumbled as he groaned.
"You HAVE TO! There's no one else! HELP ME!!!"
Lucas rolled over and tried to get on his knees, but his fever was so high. He finally succeeded and Margaret bent down next to him. He put his arm around her shoulders and she lifted him, but his feet dragged across the dirt. Margaret collapsed several times under the pressure, but the harder she fought, the more strength she felt she possessed. She cried out to God, begging him to help her. She screamed at Lucas to help her all he could. Then she slowly dragged him to the shack. This took some doing, but she made it to the door. "Hold on…hold on…We're almost there!"
She didn't think Lucas was even conscience at this point. Her body was drenched in sweat. Her sweat mixed with his. She dragged him inside and let out a loud cry as she threw him onto the bed. Her back ached from her heavy labor, but she proceeded to bend over him and scoot him further up on the bed. Margaret worked at taking his boots and socks off. Even his feet were hot to the touch. She then went to work on his shirt and pants, struggling to remove the sweat-drenched clothing. After stripping him of all his clothing, she put a sheet over him.
"Water…" Margaret found a bucket by the small sink. "We need water…as cold as we can get!" She knew she'd have to leave him for a moment. She had to get him cooled off.  "I'll be back, my love." She bent over and kissed him on the forehead then she ran out the door.
She had no idea what was wrong with him and wished she could go get help, but she couldn't leave him for that long! Margaret looked down toward the creek. That water would be nice and cold, but it would take quite awhile to walk so far. She turned and looked across the road. "Ann!" She hadn't even thought on asking her best friend for help! Of course Ann and Hal would know just what to do! Hal could go for a doctor. Now everything would be okay.
Margaret hurried across the road and banged on the Dodd door, but nobody answered. Her heart sank as the sickening realization that Ann wasn't even home! But her heart lifted as she thought of the ranch hands. She hurried to the bunk house but nobody was there. "God…" Margaret closed her eyes as she raced to the house. "Show me mercy…"
She had to get back to Lucas, so she tried the door to the Dodd house. After finding it unlocked, she ran into the kitchen and filled the bucket with water. Then she hurried back to Lucas.
Inside, he was moaning again and tossing from side to side. She hurriedly pulled the sheet back over him . Margaret saw that he had relieved his stomach of the little contents there had been. "Oh, it hurts…" Lucas mumbled quietly as he continued to toss and turn. "Pain…Pain…"
"I know, Luke…I'm sorry!" Her voice was soft as she spoke into his ear. After lighting the lantern on the table, she started scurrying around the small shack to find some rags. Finally, she found the few he had.  "I'll help you, Luke. I won't let you die!" Margaret cried as she dipped a rag into the bucket. "You just hang on! HANG ON!" She lovingly began washing his body with the rags. It's all she had…all until somebody returned. As she washed his body with the cool water, she softly spoke of him. Whatever thought entered her mind is what she said. She was scared to death…TERRIFIED…but she had to keep talking so she could keep herself calm.
"It's getting dark, Luke," Margaret finally whispered as she continued to bathe him over and over. "Somebody will come looking for me. They knew I was coming to the land. They'll be here." Lucas moaned. Margaret hurried to look for something…anything…to help him. He was in so much pain and she could hardly stand it. She found some whisky and figured it was better than nothing. After pouring some in the glass, she lifted his head and forced some into his mouth. Finally, he fell unconscious again. "You hang on, Luke…just hang on!" She put her hands to his cheeks and groaned that his fever was still dangerously high. "Don't you dare die on me, Lucas McCain! Don't you die!!!"
Margaret had run back across the street twice to get more water. His skin was so hot that it just drank the water up. She ran as fast as she could, not wanting to stay gone too long. She knew she was getting mud all over Ann's house, and water was spilling out of the bucket as she ran across the beautiful rug, but she couldn't help that now. She had to save Lucas!
Margaret began singing softly as she bathed his face again. His fever was so high that the water was becoming warm. She'd have to go for more very soon. "Luke…Luke…" She kissed his forehead. Then she lifted his head and sat down on the bed, putting his head in her lap. "Hold on, honey! Please hold on!" She bent down and kissed him again. "Please know that I love you! I want to marry you, Lucas."
Margaret had washed and wiped as long as she could. His groans had stopped and he was resting comfortably so she just laid her head back against the wall and kept his head in her lap as she softly sang a hymn of hope. It was another hour before she heard a horse quickly approaching. She hushed her raspy voice to listen. When she determined that it was indeed a horse, she jumped from the bed and hurried to the door. "Oh, thank you, God!" Margaret shouted as she threw open the door and rushed from the shack to see Scott.
"Margaret, what the hell????" Scott raced up to her and grabbed her arm.  "Don't you know we've been worried sick about you???" His voice was angry and sharp.
"Oh Scott…" Margaret cried as she clung to him. "Scott…He's sick! I don't know what it is…" A mixture of sweat and tears shown on her face. Scott saw her panicked expression and pushed her away from him so he could rush inside and see why she was crying.
Margaret was right on his heels as he rushed inside. Margaret clinched her hands as she watched Scott quickly kneel on the floor and take Lucas' face in his hands.  "Luke?" Scott turned, concern and worry in his eyes. "Margaret…he's in a bad way!"
"I know! I've been caring for him the best I could. But…I'm scared, Scott!"
"Why didn't you ride for help?" Scott asked accusingly.
Margaret threw her hands to her face. "I didn't want to leave him! I didn't know!" She began shaking with sobs. "Oh Scott…I can't lose him!"
 "You found him like this?" He grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her gently.
Margaret nodded. "He was down on the other side of the hill. He's hot with fever and couldn't move much. I managed to drag him back here and undress him but…he needs a doctor bad!"
Scott took Margaret into his arms and held her as she sobbed. "I know, honey…I'm sorry. I shouldn't have yelled." He took Margaret's face in his hands. "You did all you could. You've got to believe that!" Margaret nodded. "Alright. I'll go for the doctor."
 "Scott, wait!" Margaret grabbed the bucket. "Get me some cold water before you go…PLEASE!"
Scott raced across the road to get some more cold water. The Dodd ranch was closer than the creek they would have to use until Lucas had a chance to dig a well. In five minutes, Scott was back with the water. "I'll go for Jason." Scott paused in the doorway. He suddenly felt a heavy sense of guilt as he looked at Lucas who was so close to death. "Lucas…HOLD ON!" Scott's voice was heavy with emotion as he hurried out.
Margaret turned back to Lucas and started washing him with the cold water. He woke up again and vomited, but there wasn't much to come out. Lucas moaned as pain wracked his body and weakly lifted a hand to his forehead. Margaret bit her lip and forced her tears back as she bent over and hugged him. "Luke…can you hear me?"
"Margaret? Is that you?" Lucas mumbled quietly as he reached out for her.
Margaret grabbed his hand. "Yes, my love. It's me. I won't leave you Luke…I won't leave you until your better! Do you know what's wrong with you?"
Lucas swallowed. Margaret held his head up and gave him some water. After he laid back on his pillow, he forced the words out. "Chills…" Lucas swallowed. "Last night…I think…and…Fever…came on…fast…" Lucas fell asleep.
"Lucas? Lucas!" Margaret shook him gently. "Oh God!" She lifted her head toward the ceiling as she cried out to Him. "God please carry us through this!" Margaret sat down in the chair and pressed the cool rag to his bare leg. "Hold on, Luke…Hold on…" Margaret put a hand to his hot cheek. "Jason will be here soon."
When the water was gone, Margaret sat beside his bed with her face in her hands, silently praying to God. In the silence she heard the sound of horses. "Luke…" Margaret felt her heart lift a bit as she stood up and touched his cheek.. "Luke, help's here!"
The door opened and Scott walked in with Jason. Jason hurried over to the bed and threw the sheet off so he could examine him. "What is it?" Margaret asked after just a few seconds.
Jason shook his head. "I don't know yet." Jason didn't like the sight of this. He had to get Margaret out of there. "Scott, take Margaret outside."
"No!" Margaret protested. "I told him I wouldn't leave him!"
"Get her out of here!" Jason ordered.
Margaret cried as Scott led her from the shack. She clung to her brother and cried. Her body shook with fear at the mere thought of losing him. "He came back from the dead once…" Margaret shook her head. "I can't do that again, Scott…I…I can't!"
"Just hold on, sis. Maybe it's nothing."
"We both know it's bad! I saw the look on Jason's face. He's worried too! What could it be, Scott? What?" Scott just tightened his arms around her and kissed the top of her head. "I ran for help across the street, but nobody was there!"
"I know." Scott nodded. "Ann had a miscarriage and Hal took her to her Ma's for a few days. Jason told me on the way over here."
"Oh…" Margaret felt a stream of fresh tears as she continued crying in Scott's arms. "Poor Ann…"
The door to the shack opened. Jason stepped out with a somber look on his face. He sighed heavily as he ran a hand through his hair. His eyes held tears as he faced Margaret and Scott. "It's ague."
"Ague…" Margaret closed her eyes and sobbed. "Ague…"
"Malaria." Jason hated saying the word. He knew it was bad, but he couldn't sugar coat this.
Margaret shot her head up. Scott gasped and stepped forward. "Malaria? Are you sure?"
"Yes. I saw many men die from it during the war. I'd know the sight anywhere."
Margaret felt the strength leave her body as she fell to her knees and cried even harder. "Oh God…God…" But she didn't even know what to ask for. Should she ask God to save him? Should she ask God to take away the agony that wracked his body? What was the right thing to pray? She had prayed to know what was wrong, but never did she think it was something so terrible. Lucas had written home letters telling her about the disease that seemed to sweep through the soldier camps like a wild fire. It had wiped out half his infantry once. He told her about the moans and the smell of death as their bodies sweated and chilled over and over for weeks on end. He told her things that she didn't even want to think on right now. She pressed her hands to the ground as Jason bent down beside her. "Where…Where…" That's all the question she could get out.
Jason put his arm around her shoulders. "Margaret…Malaria can sit dormant in a person's body for months or…years. He probably contracted it during the war."
"I heard it came from swamps or something," Scott said confused.
Jason shook his head. "That's what they thought during the Civil War. Many believed that during the war because they were around swamps…swamps where bugs…mosquitoes live. That's what caused it – a bite from a little mosquito." Jason stood and lifted Margaret back to her feet.
"Doctor…will he…" Margaret couldn't finish the question.
 "He needs quinine." Jason said this with regret.
Margaret and Scott looked at each other. "So?" Scott prodded him to go on.
Jason's voice was heavy with emotion as he spoke. "I have quinine ordered…ran out of it a few weeks back. It's in Oklahoma City, but it could be days before it gets here." Jason sighed. "I'm sorry, Margaret. We'll have to do the best we can." Jason put his hands on her shoulders. "But…without the medicine…he will…"
"Can somebody go for it?" Scott asked.
"I can send a telegram to the doctor there. I'm sure he'll allow the General Store to sell you some. He assured me just the other day he got a large shipment in.
"We'll send someone." Scott hurried toward his horse.
"I'll stay with Luke."
"NO!" Scott argued as he hurried back to his sister.
Margaret whirled around. Anger flashed in her eyes. "You just try and make me leave!" Margaret's eyes challenged him. "Scott, I love Luke more than anybody else in this whole world. I'm going to marry him and we both know he was going to ask your permission tonight." Margaret lifted her chin. "For better or worse…in sickness and health…until death do us part." Margaret choked down more sobs. "Nothing's going to stop me."
Scott sighed. "Your right, honey. You should be here with Luke." Scott turned. "I would ride to Oklahoma City, but my leg would never allow for such a trip. I'll go tell his family. I'm sure they can go."
"Tell them he needs this medicine badly." Jason turned to Margaret. "You'll have to keep him as cool as you can during the fever. And when the chills come, he'll get the shakes. He may even have convulsions."
"I understand." Margaret lifted her head and wiped the remaining tears from her face. "No more tears, doctor. I'll take care of him."
Jason nodded. "I'm sure others will be here to help you out. You know…this could go on for weeks or…"
Margaret nodded. "Luke told me all about malaria. He wrote about it in some letters. I know how bad it is."
"Margaret…ague…It comes and goes. His weakness and pain won't go away, but his fever will break. Sometimes the chills will be right behind, and sometimes he'll be alert – maybe even joking. But this isn't going to go away for quite awhile. I just want to warn you so you don't get your hopes up when…if…he wakes up."
Margaret lifted her head as high as she could and squared her shoulders. "I understand."
"I have to get back to the Johnson's. Her baby's coming and she needs me. My midwife…" Jason gave her a small smile. "She has more important business to attend to."
"Thank you, doctor." Margaret reached out and took his hand.
"Hey, if you're going to marry Luke, you can't be calling me doctor!" Jason declared. He leaned into her and spoke softly. "I'm going to dance with you at your wedding." Margaret smiled sadly. "Give him that whisky. I'll have someone bring you more tomorrow. I'll stop by the General Store and order the supplies you'll need. He doesn't have much here." Margaret nodded again. Her emotions were too great to speak. "And don't give him too much of that whisky, but just enough to help with the pain."
Margaret nodded.  "Thank you."
"Margaret…You know his chances of living are…" Jason couldn't finish the sentence. He was overcome with emotion.
"He'll live, Jason. He'll live."
Julie yawned as she walked into the sitting area and sat down next to Abe. "Oh, I'm so exhausted!" She declared as she laid her head on Abe's shoulder and closed her eyes.
"The children were hard on you today, huh?" Abe asked as he kissed her forehead. Julie nodded. "I'm putting all four of those boys to work after church tomorrow. They need to learn…" Abe stopped as a knock sounded on the door. He started to stand when the door opened.
"Abe…" Scott limped in and gasped deep breaths. "Abe…"
Abe and Julie stood up, suddenly alarmed. "What is it, Scott?"
"It's Luke. He's…he's…" Scott limped further in as he tried to catch his breath. "He's sick."
"Sick?" Julie hurried forward. She could tell by the sound of his voice that it was a very bad sick. "Oh no!"
Abe turned and looked at Julie. His eyes filled with tears as Julie slowly put a hand to her mouth. They too had heard Lucas' retelling of ague during the war. They knew death was prominent with the disease. "Dear God…" Abe breathed a prayer up.
"There's more…" Scott held out his hand to stop Abe from hurrying out the door. "He needs…quinine. Jason's out of it. It's in Oklahoma City." Scott lowered his head in shame. "I would go but my leg…it would never get me there!"
Abe hurried to the door and grabbed his gun belt. Strapping it on, he turned to Julie. "I'll go tell the others. You get me some provisions together so I can go. I ain't planning on stopping any. I'll ride my horse in the ground to get to Oklahoma City, so you remember that when you pack."
Scott started to follow Abe out. "I'll saddle your horse while you..."
"No." Abe pointed to Scott. "You sit down and let Julie take care of that leg. You don't want to go lame."
"I'm fine!" Scott argued.
"No." Abe could tell Scott was having a lot of trouble walking. "You're not."
"Abe…" Scott sighed. "I…I've been really hard on Luke lately. I feel I owe him a lot and I just want to…"
"Then do Luke a favor and rest that leg. Let my wife take care of it then you can ride on home." Abe hurried out the door.
"Margaret's with him now. He's in good hands," Scott hollered as Abe hurried away. He turned back as Julie went to get some water warmed for a compress. "Blasted leg!" he muttered.
Abe hurried to Jeremiah's and filled Jeremiah in on the details. Em hurried to the bedroom and lifted their sleeping daughter from her bed. Jeremiah grabbed her from Em as they hurried to the main house and told Peter. Em decided to leave her daughter with Tiffany and Peter so she could stay with Margaret and help care for Lucas. The men decided they would take shifts. They didn't want the woman folk left out there without a man.
Abe hurried back to his own home. He paused as he looked at Scott's leg, but could tell it was still bothering him. Abe ordered Scott to stay put until the swelling went down. Then he kissed Julie and promised to be back soon. Julie hurried out onto the porch. "God speed, Abe!" She called after him.
Abe nodded. "Take care of my brother."
Julie watched him race out of the yard. "God…give that horse of wings so he can fly…"
Lucas' fever had gone down and he had quieted as the night grew later. From what she had been told about the disease, fevers could last from hours to days, then chills would come. The disease had no set duration and could last days, weeks, or even months. Margaret prayed the quinine would get here before it was too late.
Oklahoma City was quite a ways away. It could be a couple days of hard riding before a person got there. She wasn't sure Lucas had a couple days, but she held his hand and prayed. She heard horses approaching and hurried to the door to see Jeremiah and Em dismounting. Em hugged Margaret and shed a few tears, but Margaret lifted her head and declared, "They'll be no tears around my man until he's better…Then it'll be tears of joy! I don't want him to wake up and think he's dying!"
Em smiled in understanding and wiped her tears. Jeremiah kneeled down beside the bed, stifling his own tears from his eyes. Margaret could tell he was praying and softly speaking words of encouragement to Lucas. Finally, he stood. "I'll check the horse in the barn. Margaret, I'll bed down your horse with ours. I'll sleep in the barn tonight. They'll always be someone here to help you."
Margaret wanted to thank the couple for allowing her to be in charge of Lucas' care. It made her feel accepted into the family, but she knew she would start crying, so she picked up the Bible and began reading it aloud. Things grew quiet. Em put a hand on Margaret's shoulder and suggested she lay down on the cot Jeremiah had set up and get some sleep, but Margaret shook her head, declaring she could sleep right where she was. She leaned over in the chair and laid her head on Lucas's chest. Then she fell asleep.
It was only a few hours later when Margaret woke to a hand brushing her hair. She lifted her head and saw that Lucas was awake. He weakly smiled up at her, but she didn't miss the pain in his eyes. "I love you."
Margaret moved her head slightly to kiss his lips. When they parted, she asked, "How you feeling?"
"Weak," Lucas answered. "You took care of me?"
"I found you. Don't you remember?"
Lucas grinned. "Vaguely. It's all kinda fuzzy. You got me back here all by yourself?"
Margaret nodded. "You didn't help too much."
Lucas realized he had no clothes on. Margaret blushed as she realized what he was thinking and stood up. "I'll get you some water."
Lucas grabbed her hand. "What was wrong with me?"
"Is…" Margaret sat down as she pulled a blanket over him and pulled it up around his chin. "Lucas…you are very sick."
"I'm weak now but…" Lucas paused when he saw her face. "What is it, honey?"
Margaret lowered her head. Right now, she was having a lot of trouble sticking to her promise of no more tears. "It's…" Margaret swallowed. "Ague."
Lucas let his breath out slowly as he allowed the truth to set in. "Malaria?" Margaret nodded. "But how?"
"Dr. Livingston said you contracted it during the war. It can lay dormant inside you for a long time. You'll have chills and fever. Abe's gone for medicine." Margaret took his hand and squeezed it.
"Malaria…" Lucas closed his eyes. "That's bad." Margaret nodded. Lucas suddenly clinched her hand and stared pleadingly in her eyes. "Don't leave me, Margaret…" He swallowed hard. "Please…don't leave me!"
"I won't!" Margaret shook her head. "I'll be here until your better."
"I hurt…all over."  Lucas suddenly realized what he had asked Margaret. "I'm sorry…" He lifted a shaky hand and brushed her hair back. "I had no right in asking you to…"
Margaret shook her head as she kissed him again. "You can't get rid of me, Lucas McCain. So don't even try." She smiled. "I can think of no other place I'd rather be then right here with you."
"When will the medicine be here?"
"Abe had to ride all the way to Oklahoma City to get it." Margaret stood, but Lucas didn't release her hand. "Let me get you some water." She helped Lucas take a drink. "Em brought some broth. We can warm it up." She hurried to the pot-bellied stove and wiped the tears that had foolishly escaped her eyes.
Em stirred. She jumped up when she saw Lucas awake. "How are you feeling?" Lucas nodded. "I'll go get my husband."
Margaret continued to wipe at her tears as her back was turned to Lucas. She stirred the broth, wishing her tears would dry up with the heat. "Margaret…come to me." Lucas' voice was soft as he spoke.
"I…I can't…" Margaret's voice broke. "I made a promise…"
"I heard your promise, darling. I heard your voice, but…" Lucas weakly sat up and reached out to pull her back to him. "Tears are okay." He wiped the lone tear on her cheek. "It means you're alive."
Margaret turned from him. "I can't! I promised you…"
Lucas weakly sat up further. He groaned as his body protested. He reached out for her and pulled her into an embrace. He kissed at her tears as they started falling. "I love you, Margaret," he whispered softly in her ear. "No matter what happens…promise me you won't forget that." Margaret nodded, not being able to speak. Lucas kissed her cheek as he wrapped his arms around her and sighed. "I feel chills coming on…" he mumbled.
"Then let's get some clothes on you!" Jeremiah declared from the door. "Em…Margaret…give this man some privacy!"
Margaret kissed Lucas one more time before she and Em slipped outside to let Jeremiah help Lucas.
The next two days were painful for all who cared for Lucas. He had several bouts of chills and fever. Sometimes the chills would come so swiftly behind the fever that his body went into shock. Margaret never left his side.
Em and Jeremiah were relieved by Peter and Tiffany on Sunday. Jason stopped by Sunday afternoon during one of Lucas' swift changes over to chills and shook his head, knowing he was very close to death. On Monday, Julie and Emily stayed with Margaret, but Jason didn't want the women left alone after dark so he left a note at his clinic and took over the chores, sleeping in the barn that evening.
On Tuesday morning, Margaret had dozed off as Lucas' chills had calmed. She felt his hand again brushing at his hair and lifted her head up to look into his face. He was so weak. His face was pale and he looked as if he was barely hanging on. "Luke…" Margaret put a hand to his cheek and kissed him softly.
Lucas, even in his sickened state, could see the weariness in Margaret's eyes. He weakly brushed at her hair and licked his lips to speak. "You need rest…" he mumbled.
"No." Margaret shook her head. "I'm fine."
"You haven't left my side. Please…" Lucas swallowed hard. "Please rest."
"No, Luke. I…I'm fine." But her voice shook from weariness, and her eyes were weak. She couldn't keep the truth from him.
Emily stood from the cot and walked over to Margaret. "Just lay on the cot…for awhile, honey. Just get…"
The door opened. Jason hurried in waving a piece of paper. "Abe's in Oklahoma City. He'll be back in two days."
The news was supposed to make Margaret rejoice, but she quickly stood and hurried to the pot-bellied stove, once again occupying herself with the broth. Jason hurried to Lucas to check him. He knew two days would be cutting it close. "Make her rest…" Lucas swallowed. "She's so…tired."
"I know." Jason pressed a hand to Lucas' forehead. "You feeling okay? Can you eat?"
"I'm okay right now, Doc. But I…" Lucas heard the sobs from Margaret and saw her shoulders shaking. "Please make her sleep. I don't want her sick."
Emily hurried over to Margaret and took her hands. "Let's go."
"No!" Margaret shook her head. "I…I won't leave him!" Margaret put a hand to her mouth and sobbed, trying to keep Lucas from hearing and seeing.
"Margaret…" Lucas weakly called. "Come here now."
Margaret wiped her eyes and went back to the bed. Lucas took her hand. "You're hiding the tears from me to keep me alive, but what do you think my worrying will do?" Lucas shook his head. "You can't go on like this. You need rest!"
"I won't leave you!" Margaret insisted.
"Then go sleep on the cot!" Emily begged. "Jason…"
Jason grabbed Margaret by the shoulders and turned her away. "I'll give you something to make you sleep if you don't obey. If there's any changes, we'll let you know."
Emily sat with Margaret and softly read from the Bible to relax her. In time, Margaret fell asleep.
"No! No!" Margaret tossed her head from side to side. "Lucas!" She sat up on the cot, fear gripped her. Em turned and hurried back to her side. "Luke…" Margaret asked.
"He's out again. His fever has returned." Margaret stood and hurried over to him. "Jeremiah's gone for more cold water."
Margaret noticed that he had once again been stripped of his clothing to try and cool him. She didn't say a word, but picked up the wet rag and began washing him. "You'll be okay, Luke." She bent over and kissed his forehead. "You'll be just fine." Softly, she began singing to him. Jeremiah came in and sat the cold water beside the bed. He went to stand beside Em as they listened to her sing.
"How is he?" Jeremiah asked softly.
Em lifted her head and looked at Jeremiah. "He's so weak. Did you see the look on Jason's face when he left?" Jeremiah nodded. "He can't hold on much longer."
Margaret heard their conversation. Tears filled her eyes, but she continued singing softly to Lucas as she bathed him over and over. Jeremiah and Em left the room. Margaret paused in her singing as her eyes filled with tears. "Oh Luke…Please don't leave me. You've got to fight this…You just have to fight!"
But Margaret was slowly losing hope. Lucas mumbled weakly, barely able to open his eyes. Margaret reached for her Bible and began reading it out loud, hoping the words would be heard by Lucas.
The medicine did come the following day. Margaret threw her arms around Abe's neck and cried harder than she had cried yet as Jason administered the first round of medicine. Abe whispered softly that Lucas would be okay. The family stood outside the shack and waited…and hoped.
But quinine was not a miracle drug. Jason had warned them that it would take a lot of time, and even then, there was no guarantee that the medicine would take effect. They all hoped, though. And they prayed.
Margaret continued to sit at his side while Lucas' family held vigil with her.
It was late one evening when the couple made their way home. Ann wrinkled her brow and pointed to the shack across the street. "Hal…what would Lucas be doing up this late at night?" Ann asked.
Hal merely shook his head as he pulled the horses up beside the barn. Ann headed for the house while Hal went to put the horses up. Ann stepped inside and lit a lantern, happy to be home. Her heart was still healing, and she knew in time she and Hal would feel up to trying for another baby. Ann was so deep in her thoughts that she didn't see the mud on her rug. Then she went into the kitchen. "HAL!" Ann yelled when she saw the mud all over her floor. "Hal, come quick!"
Hal raced inside and paused in the doorway. "What the…" He saw mud all over the rug in the living room. Walking into the kitchen, his eyes grew wide. "What happened in here?"
"It's those ranch hands of yours! They went and made a mess of my clean…" Ann's eyes grew wide as she looked over Hal's shoulder. Hal turned and startled when he saw Peter McCain.
"I…" Peter whipped off his hat and wiped an arm across his forehead. "I'm terribly sorry, ma'am…Hal…" He nodded to them.
"What's going on?" Ann looked down at the bucket in Peter's hand.
"Luke…he took sick a few days ago and we can't move him so we're caring for him over there." Peter cleared his throat as Ann continued to stare at him. "Uh…We need lots of water and the creek is so far away that we've been…" Peter looked down at the floor and shook his head. "I'm awful sorry, Ann. It's been awful. I hope you ain't too angry."
"Luke's sick?" Ann pressed a hand to her belly. Suddenly her miscarriage didn't sound so bad. "Is it bad?"
"'Bout as bad as a body can get, I reckon," Peter answered. "It's Malaria."
Ann shot a hand to her mouth to stifle a gasp. Hal's eyes grew wide. "If you prefer, I can get the water at the creek."
"No!" Ann moved out of the way for Peter to get some water. "You just have all the water you need."
"We'll be cleaning up this mess…Pay for any damages to the furniture and carpet. It's just been…hard…"
"Don't mention it!" Ann declared. "After being gone for so long, I need to get back into scrubbing anyhow." Ann reached out and took Peter's hand. "How's Margaret taking all this?"
"She's the one who found Luke," Peter answered as he lifted the bucket from the sink. "She hasn't left his side since he took sick." He started out of the kitchen. "Well…this will keep us for about an hour. I'm afraid that when his ague is fever, we have to use a lot of water to cool him." Peter shook his head. "What we wouldn't do for a big snow storm so we could have ice."
"Hal…" Ann turned to the kitchen. "Why don't you go on over there and see what they'll be needing. Peter, consider this house yours for the time being. Any food or…anything…it's yours."
"Well now…we could use some meals cooked on a real stove instead of a camp fire." Ann raised her eyebrows. "Oh, I'm not saying my wife ain't good at cooking over a camp fire, but…" He cleared his throat. "Well…I reckon I am. I'll get this water over to Lucas."
Hal hurried across the street and assure the family that Ann would fix them three square meals a day, as well as have plenty of broth on hand for when Lucas was able to eat. They would also take a shift so the others could get more rest. Ann suggested the McCain children come to stay at their house as well. It would take a lot of burden off of the parents. Peter and Tiffany thanked her and said they'd have the children over there tomorrow.
The next day, Ann made her way across the road to see how Margaret was holding up. Margaret was again leaning over Lucas praying fervently to her God. When Ann said her name, Margaret stood and spun around. She collapsed in her best friend's arms. Ann could tell she was purely exhausted and tried to convince Margaret to come to her house for a spell, but Margaret refused. She had assured Lucas that she wouldn't leave him. Ann told her she'd see that she got plenty of food to eat.
A week after the medicine arrived, Lucas woke up and stared into Margaret's face. "Hello," He smiled weakly at her.
"Hi." Margaret smile down at him.
"How long has it been?"
"Almost two weeks," Margaret answered. She didn't think the sickness was over, but he seemed stronger than before. He was talking, and that in itself was an improvement.
"Two weeks…" Lucas mumbled weakly. "You been here the whole time?" Margaret nodded. Lucas suddenly gave her a strange look. Margaret wrinkled her brow, wondering what that look was for. Lucas lifted a shaky, weak hand and laid it against her cheek. "Marry me, Margaret. Marry me!" Lucas' voice pleaded with her. His eyes filled with tears.
"Lucas…" Margaret breathed, surprised at the proposal.
"Margaret…" Lucas swallowed. "I don't know if I'll ever come out of this, but I need to hear your answer before I go out again. Please…" Lucas swallowed hard. "Please marry me, Margaret." Margaret was speechless. "I want to wake up every morning looking at your beautiful face. I want to go to sleep with you in my arms. I want to have a baby with you. Please…say yes."
Lucas' words made her blush. Were he not delirious with fever, she would give him a good tongue lashing for saying such fresh things. But he was feverish, and she knew that's why he was saying these things. She seriously doubted Lucas would even remember the conversation when he was better. She put a hand to his forehead. Her heart sank just a bit when she felt the warmth against her hand. But she smiled, wanting to make Lucas happy before his fever returned. "Yes, Luke. Oh, yes…I'll marry you." Margaret's voice was heavy with emotion.
"Kiss me, Margaret."
Margaret leaned over and kissed him softly on the lips. Lucas groaned as their lips parted. "Margaret…Margaret…" Lucas could feel the fever returning with a vengeance. "When will this stop? Help me, Margaret!"
Jason, who had been standing back to give them privacy, hurried forward with another dose of the medicine. This time Lucas' fever wasn't nearly as bad. Everyone rejoiced about that.
It was another week before Jason finally announced that the quinine was having its effect on Lucas. Jason worried that Lucas' teeth would begin rotting if he gave anymore quinine. He slowly lessened the dose until Lucas didn't even take it anymore. When Margaret woke up later that day, Jason announced to her that Lucas was on the road to recovery. Margaret proceeded to throw her arms around him and kiss his cheek.
But the disease was still there. It was everywhere. She could smell it, taste it, feel it…even see it. Margaret saw it on the floor, on the walls, in Lucas' clothes and in his hair. She couldn't stand the thought of that horrid disease lurking around, threatening to take Lucas' life again. As Jason waved goodbye to Abe and Julie who were taking their shift at the shack, she assured herself that the next day she would be killing that horrid disease.
Margaret went to work on the small shack that next day. She boiled water and got down on her hands and knees and scrubbed every inch of the floor. When that was finished, she scrubbed the walls and everything else. She knew the disease couldn't spread, but she wanted to make sure every germ was out of the shack.  Lucas didn't need anything else.
The following day, she and Ann worked together scrubbing every piece of clothing and bedding that Lucas wasn't using. Hal hung a clothes line where Margaret told him to and she hung his clothes out to dry. She declared finally that the only place in the cabin needed cleaning was Lucas and his pitiful bed, and Margaret had every notion to make sure those things were taken care as well.
Margaret was inspecting her cleaning when she heard Lucas moan from his bed. He put a hand to his forehead and groaned. "Don't ya got anything for a man to eat around here? I'm starving!"
Margaret jumped up and hurried over to him. She threw her arms around him and cried. They kissed, then Margaret assured Lucas that there was plenty of broth.
"Broth???" Lucas groaned. "Good Lord, woman! Are you trying to kill me?"
Margaret stood up and put her hands on her hips. "Lucas McCain! I've been here nearly a month trying to keep you from dying! How dare you lay there and accuse me of trying to kill you!"
"But I want something more than that ol' broth!"
Margaret shook her head. "Well, if you'll be good, I'll go see if Peter can go kill you a mean ol' grizzly bear!"
"Ohhhhhh…" Lucas groaned again.
As it turned out, Hal Dodd assured Peter, Tiffany, and Margaret that Ann was fixing up a big pot of beans and cornbread. Ann fixed a portion large enough for all of them to eat, and after Margaret had her eating done, she went to feed Lucas.  Before she allowed him to eat, she ordered Peter to give him a bath as she handed him a bar of lye soap. Then Peter helped him put on a freshly washed pair of pants and shirt.
Margaret sat down in the chair and began feeding Lucas as he leaned against his pillow. Each bite that went into his mouth did not go down his throat without a groan. Finally, Margaret had had enough. "Luke, you are the biggest baby!"
Margaret fed him another bite and shook her head as he groaned. "Honestly! Must you groan like an ol' bear?"
"Can I ask you a question?" Lucas asked suddenly as he took another bite. "When we marry, is it going to be like this?"
"Like what?" Margaret asked as she dipped the spoon in the bowl.
"You feeding me supper every night? Why…I practically have you eating out of my hand!" Lucas laughed shortly. "Er…I'm eating out of your hand."
"Well, you're going to live alright," Margaret declared as she sat his bowl down. "Your sense of humor's back." She stood up and went to the sink. "Or should I say…lack of…"
"Hey, what about the rest of my food?" Lucas griped.
"You can make jokes like that, you can feed yourself!"
"Oh, but Margaret…I'm just getting over a terrible sickness!" Lucas tried to make his voice very pitiful. "I'll be good."
Margaret picked the bowl up and began feeding him again. Lucas scratched against his shirt. "What'd you wash these with anyhow? They're all itchy!"
"I used soap and starch!" Margaret declared. "Every piece of clothing and every stick of furniture is clean. That horrid disease of yours is gone!"
Lucas looked down at the bed. "These sheets aren't clean."
"And that's why Peter's going to help you onto that cot after awhile. I'm giving that bed a good cleaning this afternoon!" Margaret declared sternly.
"Oh…" Lucas groaned as he took another bite. "Now honey, this is my bachelor pad! It's not supposed to be clean!"
Margaret shook her head at him and stuffed another bite in his mouth. "And another thing, Lucas McCain…" Margaret's eyes flashed him a warning as she spoke. "If I EVER hear of you working in the rain again, you will LIVE to regret it!"
"Oh…Ann told you."
"Yes! Ann told me!" Margaret shook her head as Lucas groaned again.
"Well, you see honey…"
Margaret leaned forward and kissed him. "What am I going to ever do with you?"
In a week, Margaret and the whole McCain family was about ready to stuff something in Lucas' mouth and hog tie him to stop his belly aching and complaining. Margaret, feeling a bit better about Lucas' condition, left for short spells. But she and someone else stayed with Lucas every night. Lucas had a couple bouts of ague, but nothing too bad was detected in them. Jason said the disease was still trying to give up the fight.
On the one month anniversary of Lucas' first chill episode, Jason straightened up from the bed and declared Lucas a well man. Lucas rejoiced that Jason finally allowed him to get up, but Jason sternly warned him not to overexert himself. Peter suggested Lucas should come home for a while and forget the ranch, but Lucas was anxious to get started. Jason put his foot down and declared Lucas was to slowly work his way up to building fences. He ordered Lucas to go home to the McCain farm so he could get back into the rhythm of things slowly, and under close supervision of his brothers.
The McCain and Gibbs Families prayed that Lucas' getting to start working again would keep his belly aching down to a minimum. They were all about ready to leave him to his own misery with all the complaining he had been doing lately.
On the first Saturday in July, Margaret came to the McCain house for supper. She reminded Lucas that church was the next day; and before Lucas could start with any excuses, she also informed him that Jason said attending church was permissible.
Lucas lifted his hat from the hook and walked Margaret outside. As they sat on the porch, Lucas looked up at the stars and formed his question. "So…have you set a date yet?"
"A date?" Margaret asked, confused with his question.
"For the wedding."
"What wedding?"
Lucas turned and stared at her. "And I thought I was the one with the delirium….He shook his head. "OUR wedding."
"Our wedding?"
"You said yes when I asked you."
"Oh." Margaret stood up and walked out into the yard. Lucas stood and slowly walked toward her.  "That didn't count."
"It didn't…" Lucas took his hat off and slapped it on his leg. "Well if that don't beat all! I poured my heart out to you and asked you to marry me and…"
"Lucas…You were sick with fever. Do you even remember what you said?"
"Well, I…" Lucas scratched his head. "I said…Margaret Ann Gibbs…Will you marry me?"
Margaret folded her hands behind her and shook her head. "Nice try." She walked away from him a bit more and turned back to him. "Who told you?"
"Told me?"
"That you proposed to me. Who told you?" Lucas opened his mouth to speak. "Oh yes…your dear, sweet brother-in-law was there." She folded her arms across her middle. "You don't even remember it…" She walked up to him and stared him in the eye. "…do you?"
"Well, I…" Lucas sighed. "I'm sure I will…in time."
"Nope." Margaret shook her head. "You were high with fever when you asked me and you don't even remember! That ain't a proposal!"
"You said yes, didn't you?"
"Oh no…" Margaret waved her finger in front of his face. "Oh no you don't, Lucas! I'm not saying a single word until you propose to me!"
"But I haven't asked your brother yet!"
"That's right!" Margaret smiled. "So AFTER you ask my brother, then you can ask me." She gave him a kiss on the cheek. "And it better be a proposal you'll always remember, Lucas McCain!"
Lucas put his hands on her shoulders and looked down into her eyes. "So tell me, Miss Gibbs…was my proposal when I was sick with fever not one you'll remember?"
Margaret blushed. "I suppose I'll always remember it." She turned from him. "But you didn't really say…much…"
"Oh?" Lucas turned her back around. "Margaret Gibbs, I want to wake up every morning looking at your beautiful face. I want to go to sleep with you in my arms. I want to have a baby with you."
"Lucas McCain!" Margaret's eyes grew wide. "Now, I excused you when you were sick, but…you mustn't say such things to me! It ain't proper." She turned her head to one side and gave him a long, puzzled look. "I thought you don't remember."
"Oh now..." Lucas folded his arms as he grinned coyly at her. "But Jason was more than happy to tell me just what I said. He got some sort of sick joy out of it." Lucas shook his head. "I must admit I was quite shocked!"
"As well you should be! And if you mention those intimate details in your second proposal, why...I'll say NO!"
Lucas chuckled as he took Margaret into his arms and kissed her long and deep. When they parted, he rubbed her cheeks with his fingers. "Well then, Miss Gibbs…I reckon we'll just have to see that you get that proper proposal!"
Margaret turned away from him, but she knew she couldn't refuse him anything he wanted because she was so glad that God had chosen life for him. Her heart leaped when Lucas said quietly, "Well then…let's get you home so I can have that there talk with your brother!"

The Margaret Years ― The Final Proposal

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
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