The Rifleman
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The Years BeforeÖ
Chapter 26 - Death of a Lieutenant
Written by Michelle Palmer
Lucas McCain laid on his cot that morning and stared at the picture of his beloved Margaret. Being away from her was harder some days than others; and today was one of the hard days. He had such a longing to hold her in his arms and kiss her. Oh, today heíd settle just to hear her sweet laugh or stare at her face from a distance. "Margaret..." Lucas mumbled. "My sweet Margaret, I miss you so very much! Oh, I wish this war would end soÖ"
Lucas shook his head and reminded himself he was a lieutenant. Lieutenants didnít lay on a cot staring at a womanís picture and talking to it. He had work to do...important work. Lucas picked up the letter lying on the makeshift table beside his bed. He opened it and reread those words heíd read yesterday.
Another year is upon us, my love. Itís another year I have to face without you. I make the same wish every December 31, and every year I get the same answer. Oh, Iím trying to be patient, Lucas. Really, I am. Some days I think that I can because I got so much work to doÖIím still helping Julie with the children. Yet other days, I...Oh Lucas today I feel so lonely. I just want to see youÖto feel your arms around me. Oh, how I wish you could come home. I...donít know how much longer I can bare this.
I love you, Lucas. You are always in my heart.
Lucas stuffed the letter back in the envelope and stuffed it back in his jacket pocket. He grabbed his Bible and opened it. He placed the picture inside the Bible so he could feel they were reading the Bible together, then he began reading. But heíd only read two words when he heard the trumpet sound the battle cry. Lucas quickly placed his open Bible on the cot, grabbed his rifle, and ran out of the tent.
The picture never made it back in his pocket.
Lucas shouted out orders to his men. Those men who had horses mounted and quickly got in formation. The United States flag always went first. The Captain held up his hand and called the charge. Then they all hurried to do the job they were paid to do.
The fighting was dirty and exhausting work. Captain Benton continued shouting out orders to his men, while Lucas did more of the same. Lieutenant Lucas McCain hurried toward the cannon to tell the men to work harder. Captain Benton fired another shot from his rifle, as he watched Lucas go. He was proud of what Lucas had become. Lucas, he must admit, was one of the finest Lieutenants he had ever had. Lucas knew how to get the job done without taking much flack from his men. Lucas was good at giving out orders, and it only took one of his many facial expressions to get his point across. Only a few men had dared the expression, and none of them remained standing after doing so.
Captain Bentonís thoughts were suddenly brought back to the present when  the air was suddenly filled with a loud explosion. Captain Benton shielded his face from being hit by debris, then turned to look in the direction of the explosion. There was too much smoke to see what the damage was. Captain Benton hurried toward the place of the accident. Some of his men started to follow him, but he shouted at them. "Keep working! Nobody told you to stop! Just keep shooting the enemy! Push them back and make them run."
Captain Benton felt his heart beating faster and faster as he ran toward the explosion. He had last seen one of his favorite soldiers...a man he counted as a dear friend...go in this direction. Oh God...please let Luke be okay! Please! Captain Benton prayed silently.
But he had a sinking feeling deep in the pit of his gut. He knew what he was going to find. Some of the smoke lifted away, and he saw a sight heíd never seen before. Captain Benton felt the contents of his stomach begin to swirl as he walked through the smoke and stared at the charred remains of soldiers heíd eaten breakfast with earlier that morning. There was no way of knowing who they were. There was no way of knowing even how many...
Captain Benton looked through the sickening heap. He looked at the jackets hoping...praying...he wouldnít see any with charred bars on them. But then his eyes stopped. He stared at one of the bodies. It was obvious the man had been tall and strong andÖthere was no way of knowing who it had been, but Captain Benton dropped to his knees and searched the pocket. The bars on the jacket wasnít enough. He had to know for sure.
Captain Bentonís hand paused from inside the deceased soldierís pocket when his hand brushed against something. Slowly, he pulled the charred remains of a letter from the pocket. He stared at the writing mixed with blackness. Unfortunately, he could still make out enough of the words to know the truth. Captain Benton felt his eyes fill with tears as he stared at the name.
Lucas McCain
Johnny rushed toward Captain Bentonís tent. When he got to the opening, he stopped dead in his tracks. The image that met his eyes was much, much more than he could stand. Captain Benton was on his knees with his head in his hands. Johnny could hear his sobs from deep within.
Thatís when he knew the news he had heard was true. "Captain Benton?" Johnny called softly. Captain Benton paused and lifted his head, but he didnít turn. "Is it true?  Is he really dead?" Johnny watched as the Captain bobbed his head up and down. Johnny wasnít one given to crying, but in that moment, he felt tears he hadnít cried since his boyhood suddenly come to his eyes. Johnnyís legs felt shaky as he slowly sat down on the cot. "" Johnny shook his head. "NoÖIt canítÖit just canít be true!"
"Iím afraid it is." Captain Benton turned and slowly walked over to Johnny. "The cannon exploded. The bodies were unrecognizable, but I  found this in the jacket pocket of one of the bodies." Captain Benton picked up an envelope and handed it to Johnny. Johnny saw Margaretís name on the envelope. He saw her beautiful handwriting as she had lovingly written his name on the front. "Iím sorryÖ" Captain Benton swallowed hard as he again lowered himself to the cot. "Iíd give my own life for it not to be true."
Johnny could say nothing as he stared at the envelope. He was remembering the conversations he and Lucas had had around the campfire. He was remembering all the fights theyíd had growing up, and all the jokes they had played on each other. Tears filled his eyes and slowly flowed down his face. He put the envelope to his head, his hands folded, and he sobbed deep sobs. Captain Benton put an arm around Johnny as they both wept some more for the truth that had happened that day.
Finally, the men were quiet. "I have to send a telegram to the family..." Captain Benton spoke in a whisper.
"No." Johnny shook his head. "We canít...we just...We canít! They donít deserve to find out in a telegram...Thatís so just canít!"
"Itís procedure, Drako!" Captain Benton declared. "No family deserves a cold telegram when they are told their loved one has died, but itís the only way we have to contact the family. A would take too long. You and I both know they have the right to know as soon as possible. I have no choice."
"OhÖ" Johnny sighed as more tears fell from his eyes. "This is going to kill Margaret...I wish I could tell her myself."
"Iím sorry. We need you here." Captain Benton stood up. His knees shook as he walked to his desk. "I donít want to do this anymore than you. But I do want to send the family a personal note home as express my condolences to them...And send his personal things."
Johnny stood. "Iíll do the same. I..." Johnny turned and looked at Captain Benton. "What do I say to them?"
"Youíll have to let your heart speak."
Johnny nodded as he turned away. His feet felt like jelly as he forced himself to walk. "Iíll get his things ready." Johnnyís voice broke.
"Johnny..." Captain Benton hurried up to him. "Johnny, no one would expect you to do that. Iíll get one of the Privateís too..."
"No." Johnny shook his head. "No. I....Iíll do it."
Johnny felt numb as he left the tent. How does one get over the death of a best friend Ė a man who had been a mentor all these years? If anyone had survived this war, Johnny was sure it would have been Lucas McCain. But now...Lucas was no longer on this earth. Johnny stopped at the entrance of the tent and turned back. "His body..."
"Weíll have a small ceremony later. Why donít you pick the spot."
"And Iíll dig the grave!" Johnny declared.
"Heíd do the same for me. He deserves so much more respect than we can give him!" Johnny declared. "Sir, please let me do this."
Captain Benton nodded. "Alright. You bury Lucas."
Johnny slowly made his way from the tent. He felt tears on his cheeks and didnít care at the moment. "Sergeant Drako, is it true?" He heard some soldier ask a question, but he brushed him off. He felt the stares and watched men without faces bow their heads in mourning. In spite of Lucasí rough and tough attitude, the men held him high in respect and loved him. He was a wonderful Officer to work under because he listened to them. He tried to feel their pain.
"Drako!" Johnny continued to ignore those who called his name. He paused at the tent Lucas had stayed in and closed his eyes. He wasnít much of a praying man, but in this moment he found himself speaking to the Creator. How do I do this, God? How do I say goodbye? Please give me strength.
Johnny swallowed hard, then licked his lips as he slowly went inside the tent. He hurried to the table and lit the lantern. The small light cast a haunting glow over the tent. Johnny shivered. Though it was freezing outside, he was used to that cold by now. But this was a different kind of cold. It ran through his whole body and he shook from it.
Johnny wiped his eyes and picked up the bag that would hold the contents Ė heíd make sure it made it back to Enid. He started to pick up a small book on the makeshift bedside table, but his hand froze. He turned and stared at the open Bible sitting on the cot. He slowly lowered himself to his knees and stared at the Bible. The picture of Margaret poked upwards from the spine. Johnny sat down as he picked up the picture. It never left Lucasí least he never knew it to. But today, here it sat.
Johnny wept as he held the picture in his hand and balled his fist up against his forehead. His body shook as he allowed himself to grieve for Lucas in the privacy of the tent. Those going by could hear the grief, but it wasnít exactly unheard of in the camp. Others had lost loved ones, both in the war and at home. What happened in the tent was never mentioned so Johnny felt safe on allowing himself to express his grief.
Heíd known Margaret for about as long as heíd known Lucas. Margaret Gibbs was always a wonderful woman, and Johnny had an eye on her himself when he was younger. But he was loyal and immediately stepped away when she and Luke went to the dance together that first year. Johnny didnít deserve her, after allÖheíd been one of the boys to refuse to ask her since she still had pox all over her face from the recent chicken pox she hadÖ
Johnny wiped his eyes as he lifted the open Bible from the bed. He stared at the words written in the margin. "I need strength every day, Lord. And every day you give it to me. Blessed be your nameÖ" He read the Psalm Lucas had apparently spent hours memorizing. The page was well worn Ė obviously a place that was often looked toward.
Johnny read the words out loud in his broken voice:
"I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.
He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is thy keeper: the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand.
The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.
The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.
Johnnyís voice quieted. He heard muffled crying coming from the tent entrance and looked up to see his Captain standing there. Captain Benton cleared his throat, trying to clear the grief from his shaky voice. "We...need to get to the burying..." He walked into the tent and kneeled down in front of Johnny. "Those words you read...they can give you strength during this time as well."
"Iím not much of a Bible reader myself," Johnny declared as he closed the Bible.  "But Iíll send this home to the family. He has a lot written in the margin. I think that ití them a side of Lucas they didnít know existed."
"Alright." Captain Benton laid a hand on Johnnyís shoulder. "You know Iíd send his body home to the family if I could. I know that I would..."
Johnny stood up. "No matter. I donít think Lucas would care one way or the other." Johnny forced his rough attitude to resurface. He hurried and packed the remainder of Lucasí belongings. "Well...I guess someone can sleep a bit warmer tonight. They can use Lucasís bedroll."
But Captain Benton heard Johnnyís voice shake. He simply nodded his head and patted Johnny on the shoulder. "Letís go."
Silas heard the telegraph buzzing and hurried to transcribe the message that was coming from the United States Army. But it didnít take long for his hand to begin shaking. His eyes filled with tears as he forced himself to record the message. "This canít be..." he mumbled. "Oh, this canít be..."
Mike, his assistant, looked up from sorting mail. "What is it?"
Silas stood up, not acknowledging his assistantís question. "Mike, I have to run an errand. You stay here until I return." There were tears in his voice as he hurried from the office.
Abe McCain laughed as he listened to Laura tell the latest happening at school. His four sons laughed with him, even though they didnít understand everything that was being said. Julie held their daughter, Rachel on her lap as she tried to get her to sleep. But then Abe heard a knock on the door. "Well, I wonder who would be coming at this time of night!" Abe wondered as he went to answer the knock.
When he opened it, he saw Silas standing there. "Silas! What brings you here? Donít you know itís..." But Abeís voice died when he saw the pained look in Silasí face. He looked down and saw him clinching a telegram. "Silas?" Abe suddenly said. His face turned to worry as Silas continued to stare at him.
From behind him, he heard Julie come up. "Julie, go get the boys ready for bed."
"Abe, IÖ" Julie started.
Abe turned his head sideways. "DO AS I SAY!" His voice boomed with emotion. Julie hurried to gather the boys up. "Laura, you go help her."
Abe stepped onto the porch and closed the door. Silas finally spoke. "Abe...I donít want to do this. You know I donít want to do this."
"Is it Luke?" Abe suddenly asked.
"I asked you a question!" Abe shouted. "Is it Luke?"
Silas grew very quiet. His lips trembled as he tried to get the words out. "Yes. Iím sorry." Abe took the telegram from Silas and watched Silas mount his horse and hurry away.
Abe stared down at the telegram in his hand. His eyes filled with tears at the mere thought of reading the words. Without hesitation, Abe stuck the unopened telegram in his pocket and hurried toward the barn. He slowly sat in the darkness of the barn and remembered back over the years to all the times he and Luke had been together. The memories were good for the most part. Abe just stared as he sat in the darkness and remembered.
He was so deep in his thoughts that he didnít even hear the door open. Julie lit the lantern and gasped when she saw her husband staring at the ground as he sat still. His face was white. Julie slowly walked over to him and kneeled down in front of him. "Abe?" she said softly. Abe looked at her, but his eyes didnít focus. "What is it?"
"I think you well as I do..." Abe answered as his voice choked. Abe sighed. "I donít have to open it to know what it says."
"Let me have it, Abe," Julie ordered softly.
"No." Abe shook his head. "You canít do that. I..."
"AbeÖ" Julie took her husbandís hand. "Let me have it."
Abe reached in his pocket and pulled it out. Julie stared at the writing on the front:
To: Abraham McCain.
From: The United States Army.
Julie felt her eyes fill with tears as she slowly sat on the floor of the barn. She bit her lip as she slowly turned the envelope over and opened it. Abeís moist eyes focused on hers as she bravely removed the single piece of paper and opened it. Silently, she read it and started weeping. Abe felt his own eyes fill with tears. Julie forced her tears down. She had to get the words out before she completely broke down.
To the family of Lieutenant Lucas McCain. We regret to inform you that Lieutenant Lucas McCain was killed in the line of duty on Friday, January 13, 1865. He was a fine Lieutenant and will be dearly missed. Iím so sorry for your loss. A letter will follow. Captain Tom Benton.
Julie allowed the telegram to fall from her hands and float to the floor of the barn. She felt the sobs deep within herself. Her body started shaking as she allowed the sobs to come. At the sound of her deep, painful sobs; Abe slid to the floor and buried his face in her shoulder. They held each other tight, and didnít move for a long time as they cried for the loss of his brother, Lucas McCain.
Sleep didnít come to Abe and Julie that night. They laid in bed holding each other, trying to come to terms with the truth. The darkness was appropriate, for it matched their grief. Abe wondered how they would break the news to the others. Everyone would need to be told as soon as possible, yet Julie and Abe didnít feel telling everyone together was appropriate.
Regardless of the dark mood, the sun decided to shine as usual on that January morning. The rooster crowed as he always did, announcing that it was time to start another day. Abe went to feed the animals and milk the cow. Laura rose from the bed and dressed for school, but when she came out she sensed the mood her mama was in, and she didnít like it. She knew that something was wrong.
"When youíre finished eating, Laura, I would like you to help get the children dressed," Julie said quietly as she sat the oatmeal in front of Laura.
"What about school?"
Julie turned from her and put a hand to her mouth. "You wonít be going to school today." She tried to keep the tears from her voice, but didnít quite make it.
Abe came in and sat the milk on the counter. He saw Julie trying to keep from crying in front of Laura. As Laura went to help the children dress, he took his wife in his arms and they shed more tears. "Weíve got to be strong, honey. Lauraís going to need us so badly."
"How do we tell her? How do we make her understand?" Julie asked. "Oh Abe. This is something I neverÖnever wanted to do!"
"I know." Abe sighed. "I think weíll take the children down the hill. We can break the news all at once, then Iíll go tell Jeremiah and Em."
"What about Margaret?" Julie asked.
"MargaretÖ" Abe mumbled. "Thatís one I donít want to do."
"Perhaps we should tell Scott. Then he and Amanda can tell Margaret." Julie sniffed as fresh tears ran down her cheeks. "Oh AbeÖthis shouldnít be happening!"
Abe clinched his jaw as he forced himself to be strong. "Julie, we knew this could happen when Luke joined the army to fight this war. We just have to come to terms with it!" Abe turned and went toward the door.
"Where are you going? I have your breakfast!"
"Out," Abe answered. "I couldnít eat a bite."
The children were sent to Ruthieís room to play. After Tiffany closed the door, she poured coffee and sat down. "Whatís this all about?" Peter asked, not liking the look his older brother was giving him.
Abe cleared his throat. He looked at Laura and took her hand. "Iím afraid that...I have some news."
Peter and Tiffany looked at each other. Tiffany took Peterís hand and held it tight. "What is it?" Peter asked.
"We...received a telegram last night..." Abe pulled it from his pocket and sat it on the table. Peter stared at it. He felt his mouth grow dry and looked up at Abe. His eyes held a silent question. Abe gave him a slight nod. Then, slowly, he lifted his hand to take the telegram. He lifted the telegram and opened it. Abe turned away, not being able to stand the look that would soon cross his face.
Peter fell on his knees from the chair. "Oh Dear God..." Peter cried. He put his face in his hands and wept. "No...Oh God, please NO!" Peter cried out.
Tiffany got on her knees in front of her husband and took him in her arms. She had a pretty good idea what the telegram said as she smoothed his hair and spoke to him softly.
"What is it, Papa?" Laura asked, suddenly very alarmed. "Whatís wrong?"
Abe reached out a hand to his sister and lifted her onto his lap. "Laura...the telegramís about...Luke..."
Lauraís mouth opened. Her eyes filled with tears. "No..." She shook her head slowly. "No..."
"Iím sorry, honey." Abe pressed her to him and wrapped his arms around her. "Oh, Iím so sorry!" Abe began crying as he listened to Lauraís sobs. "I would do anything...ANYTHING to make this not true!"
"It canít be!" Laura gasped in deep breaths. "He canít be dead!"
Abe and Julie held Laura as she cried.
Abe hated leaving his family at such a time. Everyone was gathered at the McCain house to grieve the death of their beloved brother, Lucas. Emily was the only other McCain who didnít know. Abe made his way into town to give his sister the bad news.
His heart was heavy as he slid from his horse and walked toward the clinic. "Abe!" Abe stopped and turned when he heard his name. Abe sucked in his breath when he saw Scott hurrying toward him. "Abe, I didnít figure on seeing you in town today. I..." Scott stopped when he saw the saddened look on Abeís face. Suddenly realizing that Abe was on his way to the clinic, he lost and smile and asked, "Abe, whatís wrong? What is it?"
Abe sighed as he put a hand to his face. "Yes. Somethingís wrong, Scott." Abe felt his eyes fill with tears. "Walk with me to the clinic." His voice was again broken.
When they came in, Jason hurried from the back room. "Abe!" He called his name cheerfully, but stopped speaking and lost his smile when he saw the somber look on his face. "Abe, whatís wrong?"
"Whereís Emily?"
Jason folded his arms. "Sheís in the house cleaning."
"Oh." Abe sat down on the chase lounge. "Itís just as wellÖ" Scott and Jason sat down beside him. "We got some bad news last night." Abe lifted his head. "AÖtelegram."
"AÖ" Scott allowed the words to sink in. "NoÖOh NO!" Scott jumped up and started pacing the floor. He put a hand to his forehead. "NO!!!!!" He cried out suddenly.
Abe lowered his head and rubbed his hands together. "Iím willing to tell Margaret if you want. But I thought you should know first." Abe sighed. "Iím sorry. This is going to be hardest for her, Iím afraid."
"Pa came to town last night and got smashed." Scott mumbled. "Sheís already upset about that. Now this..." Scott shook his head. "This is going to kill her..." Scott stood up. "Iíll go home and tell her now. I..." Scott turned. "Would you like us to..."
"I hoped you would. We all need each other right now." Abe looked toward Jason.
"IíllÖclose up the office then go tell Emmy." Jason shook his head. "This...This is going to set her back..."
"If you want, Iíll tell her."
"No." Jason shook his head. "Iím her husband. Itís my job. Iíll break it to her as gently as I can."
Abe suddenly broke into tears. "Itís just so hardÖso hard to believe!" He suddenly cried out.
Jason put his hand on one of Abeís shoulders while Scott did the other. The three men just sat there for awhile, silently letting Abe know they were all in this together. They would have to lean on each other more now. Scott sighed as he stood up. "Come on. Letís get you out of town. Weíll let the others know tomorrow. But for now...I think we should keep this just between us."
Jason nodded. "Weíll be at the farm soon, Abe."
Amanda smiled when she saw Scott riding back into the yard. He had been so upset the night before about his father that she hadnít had time to give him the news. She imagined how happy he would be to learn that he would soon be a father. Amanda hurried to the bedroom and ran a comb through her hair, then hurried out to meet her husband.
But as she ran towards him, she saw the sagging in his shoulders and the wrinkles on his forehead. "Did you find your father?"
"No," Scott answered. "I heard he was there all night but..." Scott punched the door with his fist. "Right now I donít give a damn where Pa is. We have bigger problems."
"What, Scott?" Amanda had hardly ever seen her husband cry; but right now he was on the verge of it. She saw his eyes fill with tears.
"Lukeís gone," Scott said simply.
"Luke McCain?" Scott nodded. "You meanís heísÖ"
"Heís dead."
"Oh noÖ" Amanda pressed a hand to her belly as she tried to come to terms with what this would mean. "Poor MargaretÖ"
"Where is she?"
Amanda turned and looked toward the house. "ShÖshe received a letter from him yesterday. Sheís at the pondÖ.writing him anotherÖ" Scott nodded and started toward the pond. "Scott..."
"If you could tell the rest of the family for me...Iíll handle Margaret."
"No, Scott!" Amanda hurried forward and grabbed him. "I think Mama Jenny should tell her."
"Iím her brother!" Scott shouted suddenly.
"I know." Amandaís eyes filled with tears. "Scott...This is something that takes a lot of thought and sensitivity. I love you dearly, but youíre not exactly the most sensitive man in the world...Please, let your mother handle her."
Scott nodded. He walked toward the house to tell his mother.
Jennifer wiped her eyes as she stepped out into the bright sunlight. She shivered as she tightened the coat around herself and looked toward the pond. Jenniferís legs felt shaky and weak as she started forward, but she stopped when she heard a horse quickly approaching. Jennifer turned to see Emily racing into the yard as if the devil was after her. Emily jumped from her horse and ran over to Jennifer. "Oh Aunt Jenny!" Emily cried. "Itís just awful! Itís awful!" Emily laid her head on Jennyís shoulder. She was the closest thing to a mother Emily had now, and she needed a motherís comfort so badly.
Jennifer didnít disappoint her. She put her arms around Emily and held her while they both cried. "I know, baby. I know."
"Why? Why did he have to die?" Emilyís screaming question was muffled.
"I donít know." Jennifer lifted Emilyís head and looked into her eyes. "Does your husband know youíre here?"
"NÖnot exactly," Emily answered. "He went to tend to a last minute patient and I couldnít stay there. I just couldnít! Not when Margaret is..." Emily clung to Jennifer again and cried.
Jennifer called to Scott. The front door of the house opened and Scott stepped out. "You need to go into town and tell the doctor Emilyís here so he wonít worry." Scott, still numb from the news, looked towards his mother and Emily. "Donít just stand there! Do it!" Jennifer looked down at Emily again. "I havenít told Margaret yet. I was just on my way to.."
Emily quickly wiped her eyes. "Iíll come...if you want."
"I do." Jennifer nodded. They started walking out onto the range as Jennifer kept a strong arm around Emily. "This is a hard time. I remember when we learned of Andyís death...I couldnít get out of bed for several days afterwards, but in time we learn to...well, to accept the hard things in life. Now I can smile because I remember all the good times my boy had on this earth. Even though his life was short, he was  a wonderful young man and Iím proud of how he died."
"But MargaretÖ"
"Iím worried, Iíll admit that. She and Lucas have always been so close. She has so many happy memories of Lucas and sheíll move on eventually. Eventually, itíll be those memories that take her through these hard times." They paused when they saw Margaret stand up from the bank and turn. She started toward them. "Letís be strong, Emily...For Margaret."
Both women straightened their shoulders, grabbed hands for mere strength, and waited for Margaret to approach. "Mother!" Margaret smiled as she approached the women. "You shouldnít be here. Itís so cold. I was just about toÖ"
"Margaret, we need to talk." Margaret looked from her mother to Emily. Emily couldnít stand to look Margaret in the eye. She quickly lowered her head away.
"Talk, Mother?" Margaretís voice suddenly grew shaky. "Talk about what?"
"Margaret, letís sit..."
"NO!" Margaret shook her head. "I can see it in your eyes, Mother. And in Emilyís. Something dreadful has happened. What is it?" Emily and Jennifer looked at each other. How would they get the words out? "Is it Pa?"
"No." Jenniferís eyes filled with tears. "Itís not your father, Margaret. Itís..." Jennifer swallowed hard as she reached out for her daughterís hand. "Itís Luke, honey."
"Luke?" Margaret looked from her mother to Emily again. Her eyes grew wide and her mouth opened. She slowly shook her head. "Nooooo.....Youíre wrong!" Margaret held up the letters in her hand. "See? I just got a letter from Luke yesterday. He misses me and wants to come home to marry me. Look!"
"Oh Margaret..." Emily reached out for her hand but Margaret snapped her hand back. "Margaret, Iím afraid Lukeís...heís..."
"No..." Margaret shook her head as she slowly walked backwards away from them. "NO! Youíre...youíre wrong! Youíre both wrong!"
"Honey..." Jennifer started. But Margaret turned and ran away onto the range as fast as her legs would let her run.
"Iíll go after her," Emily mumbled.
"Weíll go to her." Jenniferís voice broke into a whisper as tears slid down her face. "Soon...But for now, let her heart speak to her." Jennifer put her arm around Emily and they turned back to the house.
Margaret ran blindly for some time as tears clouded her vision. She ran until her feet would go no more than she collapsed to the ground. She stayed face down on the ground and allowed her body to shake with sobs. She couldnít think...She could hardly even breathe. All she could do was cry. She began shaking all over,. "Itís not true!" Margaret cried. "Oh God, it canít be true!" Margaret found some strength to stand up. She clinched her fists and stood in the middle of the field as the icy wind started to blow through her. "GOD, TELL ME ITíS NOT TRUE...PLEASE..." She hugged herself and closed her eyes. Her voice was a mere whisper. "Please...tell me..."
Something inside her snapped. She ran blindly through the field as she sobbed out loud. But she didnít see the tree in front of her. She felt the thud as she ran into the tree, then she fell to the ground.
She felt her feet running...running through a tall field of grass as she called the name of her beloved over and over, but there was no answer. She looked one way, then another; but as far as they eye could see, she saw nothing. "LUKE!" she screamed with all her might. "LUKE!"
Suddenly, she stopped short. Ahead there was a grave, only it hadnít been covered yet. Margaret slowly made her way forward. She had to see. She had to know for sure. Slowly, her feet moved until she was finally at the grave. Margaret lowered her head and looked into the grave. Then she threw her hands to her mouth and gasped.
The grave was empty! It was empty!
"Luke!" Margaret called again. She screamed his name over and over, waiting for her beloved to answer.
"Margaret, Iím here..." His voice was faint and so far away. "Iím here, my love! Iím here! Iím alive! Help me!" Margaret turned and raced toward the sound of his voice, but her feet suddenly tripped. She felt herself falling...falling...falling...
"Heís alive..." Margaret mumbled as she shook her head from side to side. "Heís alive...Heís alive..."
Margaret felt a warm blanket cover her. A hand pressed to her head as she forced her eyes to open. She blinked rapidly as the figure over her came into focus. It was a man. Margaret gasped. "Dr. Livingston!"
"Welcome back," Jason said as he smiled down at her.
"Jason..." Margaret turned to look at her surroundings and found that she was in her own bed. "How did I..."
"That wasnít smart running like that, young lady! You tripped and fell...hit your head on a rock. Donít you remember?"
"No, I..." Margaret saw her mother standing behind her. "Mother...Lukeís alive! Heís alive..."
"Oh Margaret..." Jennifer shook her head. "Honey...Heís not! Heís dead."
"No!" Margaret shook her head. "You know how I feel when Lukeís in danger? Well, I donít feel that! I feel heís safe somewhere. The army made a mistake! Lukeís alive!"
"No, honeyÖHeís not! Heís dead!" Jennifer declared. She laid a hand on Margaretís cheek. "You must accept that."
"No!" Margaret flung her motherís hand from her cheek. She tried to sit up, but the room suddenly started spinning. "No! Heís alive, Mother! Heís alive!"
Jason pressed his hands on Margaretís shoulders and forced her to lay back. "You have a concussion. You just lay still there!" Jason ordered. He turned to Jennifer. "Thatís enough. Sheís too sick to take the emotions of this right now. Just leave her be."
His voice was harsher than he than he had intended, but he couldnít help it. He had to think first about his patient.  He heard Jennifer let out a cry then turn and hurry from the room. "Now, you just lay back there and rest. Just rest. Youíll feel better tomorrow."
"But he IS alive, Dr. Livingston! He IS alive! I know he is!"
"Alright." Jason nodded. "We can talk about this later."
"NO!" Margaret licked her lips. "Heís in trouble! Youíve got to find him."
"Margaret..." Jason turned to see his wife standing behind him. "Honey..." Emily dropped to her knees. "You must calm yourself. You got a very bad hit on the head."
Jason turned and opened his bag to get out a sedative. Margaret was too upset. She needed to sleep.
"Wonít anybody listen to me?" Margaret cried as hot tears burned her cheeks. "Wonít you listen? Emily, heís ALIVE! Your brotherís ALIVE!"
"Why do you say that?"
"Because..." Margaret's voice became weaker as she felt a sting in her arm. "Emily.if he were dead, my heart would tell me so. But he spoke to me...Heís alive and heís hurt! He..." Margaret suddenly felt like she was floating. "He's...he's...alive." Her eyes closed as the sedative took affect.
Emily stood and tucked the blankets around Margaret. She turned and looked at her husband. He hardly looked at her as he remembered the scare heíd given him earlier. "Are you...still angry with me?"
"What do you think?" Jason asked with a hint of hurt in his voice.
"JasonÖmy heart was breaking! My brother and I...we grew up together. We were the closest in age and I..." Emily started crying. Jason put an arm around her shoulder and led her out into the other room.
Jennifer stood in alarm as she clinched her hands together. "Jason...Margaret?"
"Sheís okay. I gave her something to help her sleep."
Jason sat Emily down at the table, then went to pour himself a cup of coffee. He could see the grief in the Gibbs' eyes. "Iím sorry for your loss," Jason said as he turned back to them. "I wish I could have met him."
"Maybe...Maybe he is alive," Emily mumbled. "MaybeÖ"
"Emily!" Jason hurried over to his wife and dropped in front of her. "No! Donít even think that! Margaretís heart is breaking. Sheís hit her head pretty hard andÖ"
"No, Jason..." Emily shook her head. "You donít understand the bond between Margaret and Lucas. If he were dead, sheíd feel it in her heart. She would."
"No, honey." Jason shook his head. "Sheís in denial right now. She hasnít accepted the truth..."
"I donít know. Maybe...just maybe..."
Yesterday, I received some bad news. I feel Iím not grieving enough to suit everyone. They keep asking me if Iím accepting of the news, butÖSomethingís not right. When Lukeís been in trouble before, I felt so afraid, as if he was saying goodbye. But I feel such a peace in my heart. I feel that heís alive and heíll come home to me soon.
I justÖcanít believe heís dead. I wonít believe it because my heart tells me different. My heart screams that heís alive.

Four Days Earlier
Lucas ran across the field. His face sweaty in spite of the cold temperatures. He watched another man fall as he ran to the men behind the cannon.  "I want you men to blast them!" Lucas ordered. "You need to get that cannon going faster!"
Lucas started to turn away, but paused when he saw a man without a coat shivering in the cold. "Whereís your coat?" Lucas asked the Private.

"SirÖthe attack came so fast thatÖI had no time to put it on! I had to run Ė to fight for my country!" The man answered proudly. "Iíll be okay! Honestly, I will!"
Lucasí heart swelled at the devotion this man felt. He smiled as he took off his coat and handed it to the Private. "Wear mine. I think itís hot out here! I donít need it right now."
"But sirÖ" The Private started to protest as Lucas held his coat out to him.
"Itís an order!" Lucas declared. He nodded as the Private put his coat on. "Now, letís get moving!" Lucas bent down to open the keg.
Lucas heard the explosion, but he didnít see it. He coughed as he felt pain in his head from the blast. It only took a second before Lucas realized he had to get out of there. He forced himself weakly on his feet and ran through the thick smoke. Gunshots fired all around him and he felt a bullet hit him in the shoulder, but he kept running. Lucas screamed, then fell to the ground.
Lucasís heard sounds and a voice, but he couldnít make out what the noises were. He felt someone touch his forehead. He screamed out in pain, but he couldnít open his eyes. Lucas shook from head to toe. He was so incredibly cold. He felt something rub down his shoulder, then across his chest. What was that, he wondered? Lucas tried to move his lips, but a soothing voice stopped him. He laid back on the pillow and went to sleep.
Sometime later, consciousness returned. Lucas again heard the soothing voice speak to him. He forced his eyelids to open, and they did a bit, but he could only see a blur. Lucas moved his head and touched his face. He felt bandages wrapping his head. "Margaret..." Lucas mumbled from somewhere in the recesses of his mind. "Margaret..."
He again heard that soothing voice, but he couldnít open his eyes enough to see who was speaking to him or where he was. He once again drifted off to sleep.
But this time, he dreamed. He couldnít hear any sound, but he saw Margaret crying.  Her lips silently cried his name. Lucas tried to focus, but her face faded away.
This time when he awoke, he sat straight up in bed. A man...a stranger...hurried across the room and pushed him back down onto the pillow. "Ya jest lay still now, ya hear?" Lucas focused on the manís face. It was a black man, and he held a comforting smile on his face. "Ya been out cold fer days."
Lucas laid back as the man pressed a cup up to his lips. "Nameís Tom."
Lucas took deep gulps of water then laid back on his pillow. "What...what happened? Where...where am I?"
"Found ya in the woods." Tom stood up and wet another damp cloth. "Iís had ta dig a bullet out a yer shoulder and lots a metal out a yer head. Ya still have quite a lump on yer head. What were ya hit with?"
Lucas forced his mind to go back, but he couldnít. "I...I donít know. I..."
"Ya a soldier. Ya remember thet?"
"Yes. A Lieutenant. But itís all burry. IÖ" Lucas shook his head. He groaned at the severe pain in his head. "How did I get in the woods? Why wasnít I found on the battlefield? I donít understand!"
Lucas was becoming agitated. Tom pressed a hand to Lucasí good shoulder and pushed him back down. "Now yaís jest sleep. I hafta change those bandages again in a while. Itís quite painful and you scream awful loud when I change Ďem. Ya must have quite a hard head not to have kilt over!"
"You found me?"
"I was out huntiní and came across ya, sir. Thought ya were dead, I did! Yer head was all bloodied, and yer shoulderÖDonít know how ya got there, but Iís sure glad I found ya!"
"Yeah. IÖ" Lucas suddenly felt very weary. He felt sleep coming over him once again.
Lucas cried out in pain as Tom washed his wounds out. He cursed at the pain he felt and took another swig of the homemade whisky the kind man gave him to drink. "Iís sorry Iís hurtiní ya, Mista. Iís hafta clean those so gangrene donít come in. Iís seen a plenty of thet, and it ainít purty!" Tom continued to wash his face, then moved to his shoulder. Lucas continued to scream, curse and drink. He finally relaxed and laid back on the pillow after Tom wrapped his head.
"Nameís McCain," Lucas said. "Lucas McCain."
"Iís didnít know. Iís..."
"Didnít you check my jacket pocket? I should have had my name in there. It always is."
"No sir," Tom answered. "Ya had no jacket aní I canít read."
"Oh. Iím sorry...I should have realized..." Lucasí eyes suddenly grew wide. "I didnít have a..." Lucas gasped and sat up. "Oh NO!"
Tom was a strong man and forced Lucas back onto the bed. "Mista, ya not fit ta move around!"
"I remember! It was cold and we were fighting a battle."
"Yes sir, Iís heard the gunfire and cannons. Iís heard it all!" Tom answered with a nod of his head. "Iís stayed here til the fire died down, then I went out to look while Iís hunted fer my suppa, but Iís come across ya a ways from where the shootiní was happeniní. I brung ya back here."
"I gave my coat to a private because he didnít have his. I was hot and he was shivering, just standing over the cannon stuffing gun powder into it. So I gave him my coat..." Lucasí eyes grew wide as he continued to think on it. "Oh....I bent down and an explosion happened. I felt sharp pains in my face, then I ran to get out of there...trying to survive...I was shot and I kept running, but I couldnít see anything. My face was on fire and I..."
"Sounds like ya did all ya could do!" Tom declared. "Thí others werenít so lucky, I bet."
"The others..." Lucasí eyes suddenly grew wide. "They think Iím dead! They..." Lucas tried again to get up, but Tom again pushed him down. "They think Iím dead! You donít understand! A man had my jacket on and he was about my size. Theyíll think..."
"SirÖYou are very hurt! Youíre shoulder will start bleediní again!"
"But I have to send word! I have to get back to the camp andÖ"
"No!" Tom shouted. "Ya canít, Mista! Ya jest canít!"
Lucas cringed when he felt the pain in his leg. He lowered himself back down on the cot and groaned. "Whereís my pants?"
Tom hurried across the room and grabbed his pants. "Ya musta hurt yer leg going down, Mista!"
Lucas dug through his pockets for the picture. "Where is it?" Lucas dug fiercely. He needed her strength right now. "Whereís her picture?"
"Margaretís?" Tom asked. Lucas raised his eyebrows. "Said her name time aplenty when ya was out of yer head, Mista. She yer woman?"
"Yes." Lucas nodded. "I need her picture! IÖ" Lucasí eyes grew wide. "Itís on the way back to Enid! I left it in the Bible!"
Lucas sat up. "Tom, listen to me. Youíve got to get me back to that camp. Iíve got toÖIíve GOT to send word that Iím alive!"
"Itís a long way and itís a snowiní!" Tom declared. "Yaís gonna hafta wait!"
Lucas hit the wall beside his bed and cursed. "They think Iím deadÖIím causing them all such grief because they think Iím dead!"
The snow storm lasted three long days. Lucas and Tom had no choice but to sit around the cabin and talk. Lucas enjoyed talking to Tom. Tom was very intelligent about the woods, as well as so many other things. One day, Tom even told him Bible stories from memory. Lucas wondered where heís learned the stories with such detail.
Lucas enjoyed listening to the man very much, but felt frustrated that his family was mourning his death. "Iíve got to get home!" Lucas declared the morning they heard the winds stop howling.
Tom bundled up and went outside. When he came back in, he shook his head. "Snow is deep, mista!" Tom shook his head. "Yaís in no condition to ride. Yer cuts er still a healiní!"
Lucas sat on the side of the bed and rubbed his leg. It was really swollen now, but he clinched his jaw. "You donít understand, Tom. I have three brothers and two sisters! I have a girl who loves me, and right now they all think Iím dead! Iíve got to get back! Iíve got to let them know Iím alive!" Lucas groaned and grabbed his head. It still hurt something fierce, but telling Tom that wouldnít get him what he needed. "Look...donít you have a horse?"
"I have an olí mule," Tom answered. "Mista, it wonít get ya fer!"
"Help me get on him. You can lead me into the camp!" Lucas demanded impatiently.
"But mista, yer headís still woozy!"
"I have to get out of here! Today!" Lucas declared.
"But MistaÖ"
"NOW!" Lucas shouted.
"Yes sir."
Lucas closed his eyes in regret as Tom turned from him and grabbed his old, raggedy coat. "Iím sorry. I appreciate all your doing for me. But you have to understand..."
Tom stepped over to Lucas. He saw Lucasí head wobbling around from dizziness. "Listen Mista, I know what ya feel. Had me a family once myself. Had me a wife and two young Ďuns."
Lucas slowly lifted his head toward Tom. Tom shoved Lucas down onto the cot and covered him up. "Iíll go saddle my mule. Then I hafta clean yer cuts and wrap Ďem real good. Then Iíll ride ya to thí camp."
Lucas screamed in pain again as Tom doctored his wounds. Tom shook his head as he looked at them. "Mista, I feariní ya in need of a docta!" Tom declared. "Themís infected." He wrapped the cuts. Lucasí head was throbbing from pain right now. His shoulder ached as Tom wrapped it up tight. Then Tom helped Lucas stand. Lucas cried out as pain shot through his leg. "Ya canít ride, Mista!" Tom declared. "Yaís a sick man."
"I knowÖ" Lucas pressed his lips together. "But I have to! I just have to!"
It took an hour for Tom to get Lucas up on that mule. Lucas felt pain shoot through his entire leg. He screamed a curse and only half sat in his saddle. Tom took a rope and tied him down to keep him in the saddle, then he took the reins and led the mule away from his small cabin.
They traveled for quite awhile. Lucas felt as if he were about to pass out as Tom walked the horse through the snow and toward the camp where Lucasí regiment was last seen. But when they got there, they were gone. "Ya sure this is where they was?" Tom asked.
Lucas pressed a hand to his forehead and groaned as his vision went blurry. "Get me downÖ" Lucas mumbled. Tom untied the ropes and slid Lucas from the saddle. He laid Lucas against a tree and wrapped him in a blanket. Lucas swallowed. "We have toÖrestÖuntilÖI canÖ"
"Ya canít travel no more, Mista! Yaís runniní a fever. No sirÖ" Tom pressed a hand to Lucasí forehead. "Yaís stay here and Iís bring back help!"
Lucas didnít even hear. He passed out. He drifted in and out of consciousness until finally he felt himself being lifted and slung over a horse. Lucas could hear his friend talking rapidly beside him, then he passed out again when he started moving. The next time he woke up, he was in a bed and again, somebody was messing with his bandages.
"Mister?" Lucas opened his eyes to see a young woman standing over him. "Mister, I must change your bandages."
But Lucas grabbed her hand. He licked his lips to speak, but no words came out. The young woman lifted a cup to his lips and Lucas took several sips. Then he laid back on his pillow. "My nameÖis Lieutenant Lucas McCainÖ"
"Lieutenant?" The young woman looked down at him. "I didnít know you were a soldier."
"Tom didnít tell you?"
"No sir. Heís downstairs praying. Black men arenít allowed up here. ownerís rules."
Lucas licked his lips. "Heís my friend. IÖ" He shook his head. "I need a telegram sent to the 13th IndianaÖ"
"Mister, we donít have any way to send a telegram!"
Lucas turned his head and looked at the woman through squinted eyes. He felt such pressure on his head and wanted to go to sleep, but he forced himself to stay awake. "NoÖMy Captain sent telegrams here before. HeÖ"
"The snowstorm knocked it out, sir." The young lady shook her head. "Iím sorry."
"Oh, IÖ" Lucas started to lift himself from the bed. The room spun.
"Mister, you shouldnít move! Youíre in a bad way and need a doctor!" The woman pressed against his shoulder and Lucas let out a loud scream. "Iím sorryÖListen, I can have your friend ride out further East of here. I believe thereís a Union Regiment camped there. Some of them came into town yesterday."
"Alright." Lucas licked his lips. "Can you write?" The woman nodded her head. Lucas gasped deep breaths as he felt himself start to fade away again. "Tell themÖLucas McCain of the 13thÖIndianaÖ"
"Mister?" Jenny shook him, but he was out cold. She hurried out to give Tom the message.
Johnny Drako stared into the flames. He watched the ambers pop from the fire as he took another long puff off his cigar. Johnny allowed a small smile to play at the corners of his mouth as he remembered all the nights he and Lucas had sat there together. "Mind if I sit?" Johnny turned to see Captain Benton standing behind him. Johnny motioned for him to sit down. "Weíll leave to go further East in the morning."
Johnny looked back West where heíd buried his friend. "I wishÖ"
"I know. Itís hard, but Luke wouldnít want us to stop living." Captain Benton shook his head. "I didnít realize just how much of a friend he was until now."
"Yeah." Johnny threw his cigar into the fire and started to stand up, but they heard a horse rapidly approaching.
Captain Benton removed his gun from his holster and hurried forward. He and Johnny stepped into the light as a black man rode into the light of the fire. "SirÖ" Tom dismounted his borrowed horse. "I come with important news."
Captain Benton took the note from Tom and opened it. "Great God in Heaven!" he declared as he read the words again. He lifted his head. "Who are you?"
"Nameís Tom. Iís the one thet found him in the woods!"
"YouÖ" Captain Benton turned and looked at Johnny. He slowly handed Johnny the note.
Johnny read the note. His eyes popped as he stared at the words. "HeísÖheís alive? Lukeís alive?" Johnny started to smile, but then shook his head. "NoÖI buried him! The coatÖ"
"Mista, Iís donít know who ya buried in thet hole, but it werenít McCain! Iís found him Ďmost dead in them woods! Heís bad off aní needs a docta!"
"But how?" Johnny mumbled as he looked at Captain Benton.
"Heís give his coat to another who didnít have his. Heís a real nice man and love a woman named Margaret, he does. I reckon heís worried they think heís dead."
Captain Benton dropped the cup in his hand. He turned to the First Lieutenant. "Take over here! Iím going to town!" Captain Benton and Johnny hurried and jumped on their horses. Then they rode away Ė FAST Ė with Tom right behind them.
A soft knock sounded on the door. Jenny looked toward the lieutenant who was tossing and turning on the bed, his fever was causing him much discomfort which only added to the other problems he was having. Jenny opened the door and smiled at the Captain and Sergeant standing outside with their hats in their hands. "Maíam." Captain Benton nodded at her. "Is it true? Is Lucas McCain really alive?"
They heard Lucas mumbling from the bed in his fevered state. Johnny wasted no time in pushing the door open and hurrying in. "Great Jehosephat!" Johnny declared as he dropped to the chair beside the bed. "Captain, it is Lucas!" Johnny reached out for Lucasí hand and held it in both of his. "Lucas, olí buddy! Youíre alive! Thank the good Lord almighty!"
Captain Benton hurried into the room. "Whatís wrong with him?"
"I think some of his cuts are infected. Iím doing the best I can, but without a doctor..."
"Johnny...Thereís an army hospital about twenty-five miles from here. Weíve got to get him there! Itís a miracle heís a live and I want to send word to his family that heíll be coming home to them." Captain Benton started unwrapping the bandages on Lucasí face and shook his head. "Yes...They ARE infected! Johnny, you go on to the livery and see about getting a covered wagon." Captain Benton stood up and hurried over to Jenny. "Miss, weíll need a lot of blankets to keep him warm. Find as many as you can find. And send some broth we can try and feed him." Jenny and Johnny ran from the room.
"Margaret! Margaret!" Lucas cried out suddenly.
Captain Benton turned back to Lucas. "You just hang on, Luke! Hang on! Weíre going to get you home to her just as fast as we can!" Lucas cried out in his delirium. "Thank God youíre alive! Thank God we were wrong!" Captain Benton felt tears of joy fill his eyes.
When everything was ready, together Captain Benton and Johnny carried Lucas downstairs and laid him gently in the back of the wagon. Captain Benton inquired at the hotel, asking for a couple responsible men that could ride with Johnny to the army hospital. Two men were chosen and soon they were all on their way. "God speed. Protect him with your life, Johnny. Letís try to get word to his folks."
"Right!" Johnny clucked to the horses and took off. Captain Benton smiled as he watched the wagon disappear. He still couldnít believe Lucas was alive!
Moving on was something Abe struggled to do. He found himself pausing throughout the day to remember his brother. It just didnít seem like Lucas was dead. Heíd come near death so many times with his reckless behavior as a youth, came near to shooting his own face off when cleaning his rifle once. Abe wiped a tear that started to roll down his cheek and slowly walked into the house.
Julie turned from her place in the kitchen and saw the saddened look on her husbandís face as he bent to kiss Charlie on top of the head. She hurried over to Abe and gave him a gentle hug. "Things will get easier, honey. They will!" Julie tried to assure him. But she saw the truth in his face. Getting over the death of his little brother was going to be hard. This was the third member of the family Abe had lost in as many years, and Abe was beginning to wonder if it was ever going to stop.
A knock sounded on the door. Julie hurried to go pick up Baby Rachel while Abe went to open the door. "Silas..." Abe put his head against the door jam. "If youíve come with more bad news, Iím afraid I canít bear anymore." Silas had a strange expression on his face. Abe slowly lifted his head and looked at the telegrapher. "What is it? Why are you looking at me like you just saw a ghost?"
Silas opened his mouth to speak, but when he saw Laura come up behind her brother, he said, "Can I...see you outside?"
Abe turned and looked at his children. He nodded and stepped outside. Snow was falling again as they walked out into the yard. "I received a telegram from the United States Army earlier today and, quite frankly, Iím not sure what to make of it." He held out the telegram for Abe.
"Lucas is dead. What else matters?" Abe asked.
"Just read it, Abe. Iím a bit confused..."
Abe sighed and took the telegram from Silas. He opened it and slowly began reading. Color drained from his face and he suddenly felt an urge to sit down. Abe stumbled to the chopping block and lowered himself down as his hands shook. "How can this be?" Abe mumbled. "How can this be?"
"I donít knowÖLike I said, Iím not sure what to make of it. Could it be true?"
Abe read the words again:
Abe. Lucas is alive and in an Army Hospital just outside Charlottesville, VA. I have permission to stay until you arrive. Doctor said he will be fine in time. Please hurry. Johnny Drako.
Abe shook his head. "I canít believe it." He lifted his head. "Silas, my brotherís alive?"
Abe turned when he saw the door open. Julie came out carrying Baby Rachel. "Silas, youíll stay for supper?"
Abe stuffed the telegram in his pocket as Silas declined her invitation. "Iím afraid I have to get going," Silas answered. He tipped his hat then mounted his horse and rode out.
"Abe?" Julie didnít miss the pale look on her husbandís face. "More bad news?"
Abe slowly shook his head as he watched Silas leave. "To tell you the truth, JulieÖI donít know what to make of itÖ"
"Abe, what is it?" Rachel fussed in her arms. She shifted her to her shoulder. "Abe, talk to me! Youíre scaring me!"
"JulieÖ" Abe turned and laid a hand on her shoulder. "Julie, I have to go away for a few days. Iím going to see if Peter can ride with me. Jeremiah can keep an eye on you women."
"Abe, whatís this all about?" Julie asked.
"Julie...I got some news, but...Iím not going to tell you until I know more."
"Abe, we donít keep secrets from each other!" Julie reminded him tartly.
"Yes, honey, I know that but.." Abe closed his eyes. "Honey, this is one time Iím going to have to. Look...thereís harm that can come to the family if I tell you. I want to find out more before I say anything. Please...Please understand."
"You arenít in any danger?"
"No maíam." Abe kissed her. "I assure you itís nothing like that. But please...please trust me." Julie nodded as she watched Abe make his way down the hill.
An hour later, Abe and Peter ate a quick meal in silence. Julie couldnít make out the expression on their faces. She didnít like being left in the dark, but she knew that Abe had very good reasons for not telling her anything. Laura questioned Abe on why he had to leave, but Abe told her heíd explain everything when he got back. "But where are you going?" Laura asked as Abe and Peter stood from the table.
"Laura, I want you to help your Ma with the children and obey her while Iím gone." He kissed her on top of the head.
"But PapaÖ"
"I mean it now, Laura Rose. You do as I say." Abeís voice was firm, and Laura could only reply with a meek yes sir. Abe bent down and hugged his four boys. "You mind your Mama now. You know what happens if I come back and find out you were bad."
"Yes, Papa."
Julie went to the doorway to say goodbye. Abe bent down and kissed Baby Rachel. Then he gently laid a hand on Julieís cheek. He smiled at her. "Donít you worry none, honey. Weíll be back just as soon as we can. If the news is good, Iíll send a telegram."
"What news?" Julie asked. But Abe turned and hurried to the wagon. He and Peter waved one last time then quickly rode from the yard.
Johnny turned from the tent entrance when he heard Lucas mumble Margaretís name again. He went over and put a hand on Lucasí forehead. The nurse stepped up behind him. "His feverís broke," Johnny said. He turned to her. "Thatís good, ainít it?"
Nurse Dorothy smiled at Johnny. "Yes sir. Thatís very good. She took a bandage from his wound on his cheek. "Itís healing nicely. I think your friendís going to be fine."
A commotion sounded at the entrance. Johnny excused himself and hurried to the opening. There he froze when he saw the two men standing in front of him. "Johnny Drako!" Abe declared as he hurried forward and shook his hand. "Johnny, youíre a sight for sore eyes!"
"Abe! Peter!" Johnny put a hand on their shoulders. "Itís been a long time! Iím glad you got here so quickly. I bet the familyís relieved."
Peter and Abe looked at each other and smiled. "So itís true? LukeísÖLukeís alive?"
"Yes!" Johnny suddenly heard Luke cry out. "And I believe heís awake! Come on in here!"
Abe and Peter hurried forward. Their hearts leapt in their throats when they saw the figure trying to sit up on the bed. The brothers hurried forward. Abe grabbed one shoulder while Peter the other. "What the hell are you doing!" Lucas suddenly cried as he gave Peter a hard shove back. "Trying to inflict more pain on me?"
"Heís a bit moodyÖ" Johnny declared. "Luke, donít be treating your brother that way!"
Lucas allowed his eyes to focus. "Peter?" He turned his head toward the other brother. "Abraham?" He embraced them both, cringing at the pain that shot through his shoulder. "Itís so good to see you!"
Abe pulled from the embrace and pointed a finger at him. "Are you giving this nice nurse a hard time?"
"Iím tired of laying in this bed!" Lucas declared. "Iím ready to get up!"
Nurse Dorothy shook her head. "Youíre lucky to be alive!" She turned to the brothers. "Gentlemen, when Sergeant Drako brought him in, he was more dead than alive. A bad infection settled in his cuts. And still, we had to hog tie him to keep him in bed!"
"Heíll be okay though?" Peter asked, concerned.
"Heíll be fine!" Nurse Dorothy declared. "He wonít be walking for awhile Ė has quite a break in his leg from falling or something. The bullet wound in his shoulder will take some time, and the cuts and bruises on his faceÖ"
"Looks like he had a fight with dynamite or something!" Abe declared as he shook his head.
"It was gunpowder. A cannon exploded," Johnny explained.
Lucas laid back on his pillow. A somber mood suddenly came over the group. "Luke...we thought you were dead."
"I know." Lucas sighed. "And Iím sorry. I woke up in a manís cabin. He nursed me and I was getting better, but I ordered him to get me back to camp so I could send word that I was aliveÖOnly, the camp moved on. It was cold and I was still in a bad way. I guess thatís what made the infection set in. Anyway, Tom found the camp and told them where I was."
"But why did they think you were dead?" Abe turned and glared at Johnny. "What sort of a regiment is your Captain running? Donít they know to declare a person missing in action when thereís no body?" Abeís voice started to boom. "Your captain put my family through hell!"
"Abe!" Lucasí voice sounded sharply. Lucas put a hand to his head and groaned. "Abe...I..."
"He was being the good officer that day," Johnny interrupted Lucas. "There was a fellow private who was in such a hurry to fight in his first battle that he didnít stop to get his coat. He was shivering and Lucas felt sorry for him, so Luke gave him his own coat, insisting that he was hot."
"I was! Running around the battlefield giving orders and making sure all you men were doing what you should be doingÖ"
"Yes." Johnny nodded. "He certainly is good at giving out orders." He chuckled as Lucas glared at him. "Captain Benton found a charred letter from Margaret and..."
"MargaretÖ" Abe and Peter looked at each other. "I guess she was right."
"What?" Lucas asked suddenly.
"Well Luke, Margaret insisted that you were not dead. She said if you were dead, her heart would tell her so."
Lucas smiled proudly. "Thatís Margaret!"
Abe stared at Lucas and again shook his head. "I still canít believe it! I canít believe youíre really here!" Abe stood as the doctor approached them. "Doctor? How soon can he travel?"
"Well far will you be going?" The doctor answered as he folded his arms.
"WellÖWeíre going to Oklahoma. Thatís where we live. Weíll probably travel through Kentucky and Tennessee, then into northern Arkansas and finally to Oklahoma. Itíll take us a solid week of hard riding, but our family will be mighty anxious to see our brother, seeing as how they think heís dead."
"Yes. I heard about that."
Lucas heard the conversation. "As much as I want to return home, Iíve still a war to fight and..."
Johnny cleared his throat. "I received the telegram from Captain Benton yesterday, Luke. The doctor expressed concerns about your leg and shoulder. They will take months to heal proper and..."
"Iím going back!" Lucas shouted.
"Lucas, listen to Johnny!" Abe ordered in a stern voice. Even after all his months as Lieutenant, the sternness in Abeís voice quieted Lucas.
Johnny cleared his throat. "It was decided by your superiors, after Dr. McVey here gave his report, that you will receive a medical discharge from the United States Army." Johnny nodded as he kept his stern, professional posture. "So as far as youíre concerned, Luke, the war IS over."
"But I signed up to fight!" Lucas declared as he cursed under his breath. "They canít do this to me! They..."
"Mr. McCain..." Dr. McVey made it a point to stress Ďmister.í "If you use that leg before itís healed, you can cause permanent damage to it and may never walk again. Is THAT what you want?"
Lucas grumbled. "No sir."
"Then I suggest, Mr. McCain, that you go home and proudly report that you were a fine officer in the United States Army. From what Sergeant Drako here tells me, you were one of the finest officers. Thatís something to be proud of."
"Yes sir," Lucas nodded. He watched the doctor walk away then turned to Johnny. "Just like that?" he asked with a snap of his fingers. "Captain Benton dismissed me just like that?"
"Captain Benton is your friend, Luke. You should have seen how broken up he was over your death. But heís also in charge of the regiment and must abide by the regulations, and one of those regulations is to do whatís best for his men. After reading the doctorís report, he couldnít, with good conscience, allow you to return to fight and possibly risk having to have your leg amputated."
Lucas nodded with a disgruntled sigh. "When can we leave?" Lucas asked. "Iím ready to get out of here."
"If the doctor gives us permission, weíll take you home tomorrow," Abe answered.
"UhÖand maybe as youíre heading home, you can stop by and uhÖsay farewell to the boys?"
Lucas smiled with a nod. "Iíd say thatís a good plan!"
Jeremiah had received a telegram a week ago to let the family know that Abe and Peter were on their way home and would be bringing a surprise with them. Jeremiah was happy his brothers were on his way back. Even with Johnnyís Ďforcedí help and Samuel Gibbs pitching in every now and then, tending three farms was almost more than he could handle. Every night when he returned home, he assured Em that as soon as those two lazy brothers of his got back, they would be taking over all the work on the three farms while he took it easy!
Every day, the family watched for the men to return, wondering what the telegram Abe had received was all about. One day when Jeremiah was in town, he even tried to get the truth from Silas, but Silas mumbled something about his oath of confidentiality. None of Jeremiahís threats seemed to make a difference.
Margaret made a few appearances in town, but she mainly stayed home or at Julieís helping with the children. People quickly learned not to mention Lucas to her, and Margaret continued to insist that Lucas McCain was still very much alive. Her faith was unnerving for the others who had already accepted his death as a reality and moved on. Her mother and brother fretted over her refusal to admit the truth; but when Dr. Livingston was questioned about it, he said that it just took time.
Then one day in early February, men came to stand out on the boardwalk as the two missing McCain brothers slowly rode their wagon into town. A canopy covered the wagon, so the contents couldnít be revealed. As they made their way through town, snow was just beginning to fall. The men watched as Peter and Abe slowly drove their wagon towards the doctorís office.
Emily stepped from the office and shivered. She let out a gasp when she saw that it was her brothers. "Jason! Jason!" Emily called. "Theyíre back!" Emily lifted her skirt and stepped from the boardwalk, running toward her brothers. She crossed her arms and watched the brothers jump down from the wagon and stand in front of her. Abe smiled and tipped his hat. Emily folded her arms. "Well, I must say that you two are a fine pair! You left your family for weeks on end with no explanation as to where you were going or what you wereÖ"
"EmilyÖ" Peter stopped his sister as he planted a kiss on her forehead. "Iím afraid we have a patient back here to get inside. Heíll be needing some doctoring before we take him on home."
"Who is he?" Emily asked as she started to the back of the wagon.
"Emily, wait! I think we shouldÖ" Abe started, but his words were interrupted by a loud screech.
Jason rushed from his office at the sound of his wifeís scream. "Whatís wrong?"
Emily backed away from the back of the wagon. Her hands covered her face and she looked as if she were about to pass out.  "Emmy? What is it?" Jason bolted forward and took her protectively in his arms. He turned and looked at the two brothers. "What has happened here?"
"ItísÖitís Luke!" Emily declared as a crowd began gathering around. "HeÖHeís..."
Jason turned and looked at Abe who merely smiled at his sister. "Abe?"
"He ainít dead," Abe announced. "And if youíll help us get him inside and treated, you can both come to the McCain house where weíll explain it all to you!"
Emily reached out and gave her brother a hard punch in the arm. "Is THIS why you went away?" Abe nodded. "Why didnít you tell us? We were beside ourselves with worry and..."
Abe held his hands up in surrender. "Now Sis, if youíll just let us explainÖBut first, letís get Luke inside!"
Emily looked back inside the wagon. Lucas was propped up on his good elbow and grinned at her. "Hello, little Sis."
"Well..." Emily folded her arms. "Arenít you a sight!" She shook her head. "Scaring us all like thatÖmaking us believe you were dead!" Peter grabbed her shoulders and pulled her back from the wagon so men could carefully lift him out of the wagon. "What sort of trouble did you get yourself into this time?"
"A cannon," Lucas retorted at her tongue lashing. "I wanted to see how it would feel to have one blow up in my face!"
"I donít think this is funny! Not at all!" Emily declared.
"Now Emily, you just mind yourself!" Peter shook a finger at his sister. "Lukeís been through through a lot these last few weeks. He almost died!"
Emily watched as the men hurried Lucas toward the clinic. They stepped inside and took Lucas to the back. Emily put her hands to her face as she watched them go and started crying. Jason turned at the door and saw her tears. "Emmy?" He held out his arm. Emily ran toward him and buried her face in his chest. "I know itís an emotional time for you right now, but we DO need to clean his wounds and check his injuries. I need my nurse." Jason smiled at her as he wiped her tears with his finger.
Emily nodded. "But they better have a very good reason for putting us through this!" She declared.
The wounds on Lucasís face still hurt him a bit, but he was able to bear the cleaning without too much discomfort. But when Dr. Livingston cleaned the bullet wound in his shoulder, he announced that it was becoming infected again. Abe and Peter apologized, stating they did the best they could in following the doctorís orders. Jason cleaned it out very well, Lucas cursing and wincing the whole time; then he wrapped it up and checked his leg. Jason shook his head, stating it would be some time before Lucas would be doing any work.
When they were finished with the doctoring, Jason ordered two men to carry Lucas back out to the waiting wagon. He grabbed his and Emilyís coats, then after helping Emily into her coat, announced to the citizens out on the street that they would be leaving town for the evening. There was no question as to where the Livingston's would be found, should their assistance be needed in town.
Abe decided to let Emily and Jason ride in the wagon while he borrowed a saddle horse from the livery and went ahead to prepare the family for what was coming. He didnít want Dr. Livingston to send them a bill for having to pass out smelling salts to any women who may faint upon seeing a Ďghostí. As he got closer to home, he began wondering how he would prepare his family with this without causing them to drop dead of a heart attack.
Abe hurried into this yard. The door opened and Julie hurried out with Rachel in her arms and five children running beside her. Laura was actually the first one to arrive to Abe, and she jumped into his arms. "Papa! Papa!" She kissed his bearded cheek and cried, so happy he was back.
Abe passed out hugs and kisses, and didnít miss the stiff kiss given by his wife. He scratched his beard as he tried to find an easy way to put his announcement. "LetísÖgo on down to the main house. I think I want to get this piece of news out once. That way, when you squeal with delight, itíll be all at once instead of several times today!"
Abe offered no other explanation as he jumped on his horse and went to get Jeremiah and his family. The wagon was just arriving when Abe rode his horse back into the yard. He held up a hand. "Now, just stay there until I get this all out!" Abe demanded.
He hurried inside and felt every eye of his family on him. Peter and Emily slipped inside as well. Jason stayed out with Lucas. "Alright nowÖYou know that sometimes, mistakes can happen. And sometimes itís those mistakes that help us understand just how much a person means to us."
"Whatíd you do, Papa? Is Mama gonna yell at ya for being gone so long?" Laura suddenly asked.
Abe turned and glared at his sister. "NO!" He cleared his throat. "As a matter of fact, itís not me who made the mistake." He turned and looked at his family. "It was the United States Army."
"The army?" Jeremiah wrinkled his brow. "What sort of mistake?"
"Well nowÖsometimes during a battle, the army does its best to figure out whoís who and whatís whatÖBut sometimes appearances can be deceiving andÖ"
"Abraham McCain, will you just tell us!" Julie declared as she stood to her feet.
"Alright. Itís about Luke." Abe cleared his throat. "Heís alive."
He wasnít sure what to expect, but he didnít expect what he actually got. Dead silence was in the room. Even Baby Rachel laid quietly in the cradle by the fire. Abe watched as the expressions on his familyís faces changed. Some appeared doubtful, while others looked rather shocked. Laura was very confused. "We received a telegram a few weeks back that he was aliveÖfrom Johnny Drako. But we couldnít tell anyone just in case it was some sort of sick joke or something. Julie, I couldnít tell you because you wouldnít have been able to keep it from Laura or Margaret. Iím sorry."
"LukeísÖalive?" Julie breathed as she put her hands on Lauraís shaking shoulders. "How? Why?"
"Well now..."
Emily cleared her throat. "Abe, if you would go into my old bedroom and clean off that bed so we can bring him inÖHe must be exhausted from all the travel!"
Tiffany wiped her hands and stood up. "Iíll...Iíll go." She hurried from the room.
"HeísÖheís alive?" Laura asked quietly. "Lukeís...alive?"
Abe knew he had caused quite a shock. He cleared his throat and motioned toward Peter and Jeremiah. "Help me get him inside."
But he was overrun by screaming women and children as they ran from the house to see just who it was in the back of that wagon. Julie was the first to arrive, and when she saw Lucas laying in the back, she threw her hands to her face. "Luke!" She cried. "Itís true! are alive!"
Soon, Em and Laura had joined her. They stood there talking a mile a minute in disbelief. Jason held his hands up from the back of the wagon to quiet the shouting. "Now...I know you are all excited and anxious to know the details of his rather frightening ordeal, but I want him to rest a bit before he has any visiting! This man is still ill and needs his rest!"
With that, the women and children stood in the cold and watched the men carry Lucas inside. Julie let out a gasp. "A party! We must have a party!"
"NO!" Jason declared. "Not tonight!"
"Oh, but Jason..." Emily started to argue with her husband.
"Now Emmy..." Jason shook a finger at her. "You know as well as I do that Luke needs his rest! And I am going to see that he gets that! Your questions and party will have to wait until tomorrow!"
Jason did allow one person at a time to go into the room and greet Lucas, but several of them still couldnít believe he was alive. Eventually, Abe and Jeremiah took their families home. Jason and Emily eventually left with Peter, who would return them to town. Tiffany stayed behind to take care of her brother-in-law until Peter returned.
Lukeís alive. Margaret stopped in the doorway to her room, unsure she was hearing those words out loud, or if her heart was saying them. She stepped back into the shadows and listened as her brother and Amanda spoke.
"He was hurt really bad by a cannon explosion and the Captain found Margaretís letter in his jacket. But Luke had loaned his jacket to another man on the battlefield. Lukeís alive, Amanda! Heís alive!"
Margaret slowly shot a hand to her mouth. As Scott and Amanda slowly made their way to the bedroom for the night, she heard Scott say, "Unfortunately his injuries got him discharged. Peter said heís resting comfortable at home. He..." Their bedroom door closed. Margaret stepped from the shadows. Tears filled her eyes as she allowed the words to sink in.
Lukeís alive!
Margaret gasped as she scribbled out a note and grabbed her coat. Then without another thought, she hurried from the house and ran to the barn.

In no time, Margaret was on Andyís horse riding toward the McCain Ranch. Oh, her brother would thrash her when he found out she had ridden out in the middle of the night, but she had to know! She had to see him Ė to hold him Ė to kiss...
Margaret dug her heals into the horseís flank and told him to get moving faster. She lowered herself in the saddle and leaned forward to give the horse more speed down the road. The cold wind blew bitterly at her face. Her hair flew around her, but she raced forward.
When she got into the yard, she slid from her horse and tied him to the hitching post. Margaret lifted her hand and knocked constantly on the door until someone opened it. "Margaret!" Peter greeted her. He stepped out onto the porch. "Did you come by yourself?"
"Is it true?" Margaret asked without answering his question. "Is he really alive?"
Peter leaned against the door. He folded his arms and smiled. "Itís true." He lifted an eyebrow. "But you shouldnít be..."
Margaret pushed him out of the way and hurried inside. "Luke?" She whipped off her coat and slung it over a chair on the table. "Luke!"
"Margaret?" She heard his beautiful voice coming from the closed bedroom door. "Margaret, Iím in here!"
Margaret threw all discretion into the wind and hurried toward the bedroom. Without hesitation, she flung the door open and hurried to the bed. "Lucas?" She struck a match and lit the lantern. Turning the wick all the way up, she stared at his face. "Oh...Oh Lucas!" Margaret put her hands to his cheeks. She sat down and leaned forward to kiss his lips. "Luke...Luke..." She said his name between short kisses. "I told them you were alive! I told them!"
Lucas leaned his head forward as he put his good hand to the back of her head. He pressed her lips against his and kissed her passionately. "Oh Margaret..." Lucas allowed their lips to part. He pressed a hand against her cheek. "My sweet Margaret...Oh, I missed you so!" They shared another kiss.
"Alright you two!" Peter folded his arms and stood in the doorway. "Margaret Gibbs, you..." But suddenly, Peter was grabbed by the collar and yanked from the room by his wife.
"Peter McCain, Margaret is a very proper young woman! You just leave them be!" Tiffany ordered.
Margaretís eyes smiled into his. "Oh Lucas...they said you were dead! I wouldnít believe it!" Margaret whispered as she ran a hand down his cheek. "You were hurt! What happened?"
Lucas smiled. "Itís a long story, my darling."
"We have our whole lifetime." Margaret smiled as she kissed him again.
"Youíre right!" Lucas declared. They kissed again. Lucas hugged her as he rested her lips near her neck. "And Iím never letting you go!" He kissed her softly. "Marry me, Margaret! Marry me!"

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman

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