The Writer's Corner
Another Man's Life
a Rifleman story..... by Karen Emerson
Lucas and Mark McCain had just ridden into town for supplies on their once-a-week journey. Work on the ranch had been hard and steady, with both man and boy welcoming the chance to get away for a while. As they pulled to a stop in front of The General Store, they saw a commotion down the street. "What's going on Pa?" asked Mark. "I don't know, son, but it doesn't look good. You wait here while I go find out." Lucas handed the reins to Mark, grabbed his rifle, and headed towards the gathering crowd.
When he pushed his way to the front, he saw two of the town bullies shoving an elderly negro back and forth. The bigger of the two bullies was saying, "Listen here, you uppity darkie. We don't want none of your kind polluting our town. We want you out of town as fast as your legs can carry you." The other bully shoved the man hard enough to send him sprawling. "Yeah. You ex-slaves cause a lot of trouble--stealing and rapeing and all. Brands mean trouble and we don't need any of that here. Why don't you go back where you belong?" He aimed a kick at the negro's side. "I wouldn't do that if I were you, Billy." The two bullies turned, only to look down the barrel of Lucas' rifle. "Why don't you help the man up and then go about your own business." "But Lucas, he's a troublemaker -- look at the brand. And you know how dangerous they can be," Billy protested. "It was his kind that ran me and my family off land that was rightly ours." "That may be. But, his being a troublemaker isn't for you to decide. I see you causing a lot more trouble right now than he is." Lucas motioned with his rifle. "Now help the man up. We'd hate to have this town get the reputation for being rude to its visitors, now wouldn't we," he said, making it a statement of fact rather than a question. The two bullies grumbled, but complied with Lucas' order. There wasn't much else they could do with Lucas' rifle trained on them. But they managed to get in one last shove when they propelled the negro in Lucas' direction. They hurried off toward the saloon, muttering under their breath. Lucas caught the man, then said to the crowd, "All right. The fun's over. Go about your business."
Just then the sheriff hurried up. "What's the problem, Lucas? I had a little trouble at the jail getting a rowdy drunk cowhand settled." Lucas answered in a disgusted tone of voice. "A few of your town's self-appointed deputies, headed by Billy Nelson, decided to 'clean' the place up, starting with this gentleman here." "Nelson, Nelson," mumbled the sheriff. Didn't he fight on the Southern side of the war?" Lucas thought a moment. "I think so. Why?" Seems to me he's talked about losing his two brothers--one at Gettysburg and another in one of the prison camps up North." The sheriff paused a moment. "And that wound he got in the arm came from the gun of one of the northern negro brigades made up of freed escaped negroes. He held quite a grudge against anyone who's a different color than he is,
Indians included." "No wonder he's been picking on negroes coming through," said Lucas. "I've never seen him this rough though." "Neither have I. Something had to have set him off." "Did you do anything unusual when you came in to town?" asked Lucas, turning back to the negro. "Hey, we don't even know your name. What is it?" "Brandon, sir, Brandy for short," the man mumbled toward the ground. "And no, I didn't do nothing to make them mad. I just came into town and started to The General Store. That's when one of them grabbed me by my shoulder and ripped my shirt."
"Looks like you got everything under control here, Lucas," said the sheriff. "But, I'd like to ask you a few questions, Brandy. Do you mind?" Brandy looked up startled. "No I don't mind, sir." "I heard the men call you an ex-slave. Any truth to that?" "Well, yes sir, when the war ended, my master set me free, but offered to pay me to work his land. He wasn't bad, but he wasn't the best. I decided to go live with my son, and he sent some money to me. He works in one of the mining towns." Brandy saw the sheriff looking at the brand on his arm which showed through his torn shirt. "The Brand," he said reluctantly. At the sheriff's nod to continue, he said, "My first master heard tell of a large escape being planned, which wasn't true. But to keep us from running, he has all of us on the plantation branded--man, woman, and child, even infants. I was only six at the time. The brand never went away, even though I've changed hands several times." As Brandy trailed off, Lucas asked the sheriff, "Enough for you?"
As the sheriff nodded uncomfortably and walked off Lucas turned to Brandy. "You got a place to stay for the night?" Brandy shook his head. "I was going to sleep outside town after I got some food and things at the store." "You'll stay with us. It won't be safe for you to stay by yourself near here. Come on." Lucas led Brandy to the wagon where Mark still sat, watching.' "Brandy, meet my son Mark. He and I work a ranch south of town." "Glad to meet you sir," said Mark as he stuck his hand out. Brandy slowly extended his hand and shook Mark's surprise written all over his face. "Glad to meet you, too." Lucas asked, "Where's your gear at, Brandy?" "I don't know, sir," Brandy looking around frantically. "I had a mule loaded with my bedroll and gear. He got taken from me when those men started pushing me around." Mark had a higher vantage point on the wagon, looked around, then pointed. "there's a mule down the road. No gear on him though." Brandy turned and looked, then headed down the street, relieved. "That's him. See the lighter gray patch on his rump? We've been through a lot together and I'd hate to lose him." He then looked puzzled. "Where's my gear?" It's gone."
Taking the reins from Mark and tying the team to the railing, Lucas suggested, "Mark, since you know the town and Brandy doesn't, you help him look for his gear while I get the supplies we need." As Mark hopped off the wagon, Lucas turned to Brandy and said, "Looks like those who accuse you of being a thief are thieves themselves. What's okay for them to do isn't okay for someone else." "Yes, sir," replied Brandy glumly, then he slowly turned and followed Mark down the road.
Half an hour later, the three met again in front of the store. Lucas had just finished loading the supplies when Mark and Brandy returned. Brandy led the mule and Mark carried an armful of clothing and supplies. "We found these in the alley behind the hotel, Pa." said Mark, putting the things in the back of the wagon. Brandy broke in. "They blame me for taking things that don't belong to me. Most of my stuff is gone or no good any more." He looked at what little he had left of the food. "They left most of my clothes and my bedroll. I guess they don't want anything that's been used by a colored man," he added bitterly. "Has this happened to you before?" Questioned Lucas. :The shoving and pushing and name calling has but they've always left my mule and things alone." Lucas nodded. "We'll stop by the sheriff's before we leave and let him know what's happened." Brandy got a panicked look on his face. "Oh no, sir, not the sheriff." "Why not?" Asked a puzzled Mark, who had been listening to the conversation and not understanding much of it. "It'll only make things worse. Those men will really come after me." Brandy looked around in fear. "Okay, we'll just let the sheriff know that you have some things missing but that you don't want to have the guilty men found and punished. Maybe that way we can at least try to prevent it from happening again. The sheriff will keep an eye out for those men," Lucas tried to calm Brandy. "If you say so, sir, but I still don't like it. The law has never been on my side before." Brandy was somewhat calmer, but still looked around nervously.
The sheriff wrote down the complaint and made a list of the missing items. He then reluctantly promised Lucas and Brandy that he would keep the incident quiet unless something else happened.
Mark, Lucas, and Brandy then headed back to the ranch. Lucas talked Brandy into staying after he refused to take supplies from the McCains without repaying them. Lucas then set up a system whereby Brandy would help with the chores on the ranch in return for enough supplies to last several weeks.
Brandy insisted on bedding down in the barn with his mule and the horses. Lucas didn't argue too long, but in turn did insist that Brandy eat in the house with them.
Several days went by without any problems. Brandy fit in well with the McCains, and Mark was soon pestering him for stories of his life. Brandy, who hadn't had so much attention in a long time, happily obliged, telling Mark some of his happier childhood experiences and some of the aspects of his journey.
Then, late one night, the McCains were awakened by the hoof beats of several horses being ridden into the yard. Lucas pulled his pants on and grabbed his rifle, reaching the porch just as the men reined their horses to a halt.
"What do you want?" Demanded Lucas, holding his rifle at the ready. "We want the darkie your hiding," said a man Lucas recognized as being Billy, the leader of the bullies who had initially tried to run Brandy out of town.
"Why do you want him, except maybe for spite? He's done you no harm." "We know he's the one who's been looking in the windows in town scaring people, and stealing clothes and food from supply sheds," replied Billy belligerently. Lucas burst out laughing, but didn't lower his rifle or his eyes off the men. As they looked at each other in confusion, he said, "Brandy has been here at the ranch since you roughed him up in town. And he's smart enough to stay here out of the way." "I don't care what you say, Lucas McCain," Billy said angrily. He fits the description of the man who's been doing this, And it's darkie's nature to steal things. It's in their blood."
"A description you put into the townfolks heads?" Lucas was now starting to get a little angry at himself. "All it takes is a few men with a grudge to get people believing in things that aren't true. You take your petty little problem back to town and tell it to the sheriff. He can help you find the real thief better than I can." "The sheriff's always on your side, McCain, and you know it." The man hesitated a moment, then continued. "Besides, we know who the thief is. We came for the darkie, and we ain't leaving without him." He looked around for support. Getting nods from the other men, Billy again went on. "His kind are never any good. Especially when you put guns in their hands. The should've been sent back to Africa where they belong. That way they wouldn't have driven honest people out of their homes and land. Branded ones are the worst. Never know one to do any good. And since the war they've been putting on airs like they are as good as white folks, and they need to be shown their proper place." He got mumbles of agreement from his pals." "So we know your darkie friend is the one we want."
Lucas brought his rifle up higher. "Well, you're going to leave without him, unless you want to tangle with me." He glared at the now nervous men. None of them had thought to draw before riding in, and didn't dare now, knowing how fast Lucas was with his rifle.
Billy looked down at the rifle, the second time in several days. "Okay, we'll leave. But you can be sure we'll be back. don't you worry." He gestured to the other men. Turning, they all galloped off.
Lucas turned to see Mark standing behind him. "You shouldn't be out here, son. You might get hurt. Now back to bed. We have a long day ahead of us."
"Why do they want to hurt Brandy, Pa? He hasn't done anything to hurt them. He's a nice man." He's a different color, Mark, and some people can't stand anyone who's different than they are. Especially someone who's color was the cause of the war." At Mark's confused look, Lucas sighed. "Go on to bed, son, and we'll talk about it more in the morning." "Okay Pa," answered Mark dutifully. "Good night." "Good night, son." Lucas took one more look around the yard before returning to the house.
When Lucas entered the barn the next morning, he saw Brandy loading his mule. "What are you doing Brandy?" Brandy looked up startled. "I'm going. I don't want to bring you and Mark any more trouble. I've brought you enough already. I don't want to see you hurt on my account." "Brandy, if you run now, the folks in town will really believe that it was you all the time. You can't go running from your problems for the rest of your life, especially when you're innocent. You've got to learn to stand up for yourself." Lucas said. "I know, Mr. Lucas, but the way I was raised it has always been said that being colored means that you are always wrong, especially when a white man is the one who's saying it," Brandy sighed. "I've been whipped for standing up for myself. And it ain't never going to be different, at least not for a man who wears a brand." Why Brandy?" Lucas turned to see his son silhouetted in the doorway.
"Come over here, Mark and I'll tell you." Mark walked over and stood next to his father, and waited for Brandy to go on. "You see, I was a slave once." At Mark's confused look, he elaborated. "A white man owned me like you own your horses." At Mark's look of understanding, and slight horror, Brandy went on. "As a slave, I had no rights. I had to do everything my master said, no matter what, or be whipped. He could do anything to me he wanted, and not have to answer to the law for it." "Slaves who have done wrong could be branded by their masters. Runaways and thieves were the ones most often branded. I was branded by my master when I was too young to even think of running--all I remember is the pain. But, a brand always showed to others that you were a troublemaker--someone who had to be watched." Brandy stopped to catch his breath. "So since then other white men have always labeled me as a troublemaker, never wanting to hear my story. If they look close at the brand, they would have seen that it was a very old one, too old for my age. I keep the brand covered most of the time, but the men back in town saw it when they ripped off my shirt. You know the rest." Brandy turned back to the mule. "I best get going." "No Brandy," said Lucas. You'll stay here until this blows over. Those men will expect you to run because they think you're guilty, and that's what they expect all guilty people to do. They're probably waiting for you to leave the ranch right now, and they'll catch you before you even get a mile. You'll be defenseless. I'll go in and talk to the sheriff again about this." "Yeah, stay, Brandy," added Mark. "You don't want to get hurt...well, I don't want to see you get hurt for something you didn't do. You don't deserve it any more than we do. And besides, you haven't finished telling me about the time you and your friends went skinny dipping. Anyway, you still need more supplies to get to your son." Brandy sighed, unwilling to go against both father and son. "You've talked me into it. But any more trouble and I'm going." Secretly he was surprised and glad that someone had thought of his safety over and above their own. Nobody had ever treated him that way before. Lucas nodded. It was the best he could hope for. "Then let's get to work. There's a whole section of fence that needs re-doing. I'll talk to the sheriff when we go to town again for supplies."
It was well toward evening before disaster struck again. The men from town had set up an ambush in a gully a short distance from the ranch house. Mark as youngsters will do, had lagged behind Lucas and Brandy. Before the two men had ridden full into the ambush, one of the ambushers jumped the gun and fired at Lucas. Either the man was a bad shot, or too excited, because the bullet missed both men. Lucas had time enough to yell at Mark to ride for the sheriff and pull Brandy behind some rocks before the rest of the men let loose with rifle fire.
"We're going to get that darkie and make him pay for what he's done if it's the last thing we do!" Yelled a very familiar voice. Billy again. "And your boy ain't gonna get very far either, McCain."
"You harm that boy, and it will be the last thing you ever do," Lucas yelled back. "Brandy isn't going anywhere, especially with you. You'd as soon lynch him as turn him over to the sheriff for a fair trail." "Lynching's too good for a troublemaker like him. He almost raped one of the women this morning before we scared him off," another man hollered back. "You and who else? Brandy has been with me all morning, and unless he's a magician, he can't be in two places at once." Lucas hoped to keep them talking, and stall any attempt to rush his position. He wanted to give Mark enough time to get the sheriff and return with the lawman. If the men had captured Mark, he would have known by now. They'd be using him as a trading tool to get Brandy.
He watched the area around them closely, looking for someone on the other side of the gulley to get careless and show himself. He took a shot at one and got a yelp of pain in return. "You got witnesses that saw him?" "You bet, McCain," the first voice answered. "Bought and paid for, too, if I know you at all, Billy," replied Lucas sarcastically as he took another shot.
After that exchange there was silence except for whispered conversation among the ambushers. After about ten minutes, Billy spoke again. "McCain, you give up that darkie to us or you'll see your ranch up in smoke, or maybe die alongside your friend. My men are getting kinda impatient here."
Lucas glanced around his position. He had been lucky and wound up in a position where anybody trying to get to the ranch house had to cross his line of fire. He also noted that his position was fairly defensible without exposing himself too much.
Brandy turned to Lucas. Mr. Lucas, I don't want to see you hurt. "Why don't you just let these men take me? I'm not worth getting your home burned." "Brandy, a human life is worth far more than a house. A house can be rebuilt, but a human life can never be replaced." Lucas paused, "And I know if I let those men take you, your son will never see you alive."
Billy hollered again at that point. "I'm waiting for your answer, McCain." "You already know it, Billy. I am not turning over Brandy to you for your sort of justice." "The suffer the consequences, McCain." With that a volley of shots erupted from the other side of the gulley. Lucas ignored the fire, and concentrated on watching for men trying to sneak out of the gulley toward the ranch house. He didn't have much ammunition, and didn't care to waste it on unseen targets.
He saw one man edging out of the gulley and took a shot at him, and was rewarded by the man dropping his gun and cursing. After a few near misses, men stopped attempting to reach the ranch house.
Brandy had the sense to remain down and out of sight, but at one point Lucas had to lean around his cover to get a shot at one of the men. He earned a bullet crease across his upper arm. Lucas cussed under his breath while Brandy bound the wound with a bandana, but never took his eyes off of the other side of the gulley.
The shooting stopped long enough for the ambushers to regroup, then Billy yelled. "Last Chance, McCain. Either you give us the darkie, or you will die with him." "He not going to be turned over to you to die, Billy. Either you and your's drop your weapons and come out with your hands in the air, or me and my deputies will come in shooting." The sheriff and his men had come up behind the ambushers and spread out.
They managed to round up all the men except two. who slipped away in the growing darkness. Luckily, Billy wasn't one of them. The deputies tied the men to their horses, and led them off to the jail in town.
Lucas and Brandy came out from behind the rocks that had sheltered them, and Mark ran over to his father. Concerned, Lucas asked, "Are you alright, son?" "Just fine, Pa." Mark grinned, his eyes sparkling with excitement. "I outran them easy!" They couldn't keep up with me."
"And we found the one who's been raising havoc in town," the sheriff grinned. "How these men could convinced town folk that a scared ten year old Indian boy was an elderly black man is beyond me." Lucas laughed. "Then I guess you won't be wanting Brandy here." Brandy looked on with a grin mixed with relief.
"Hell, no," the sheriff said in a shocked tone of voice. "That never even crossed my mind. I knew that he was out here with you, and that you wouldn't let him go into town alone. I've just been waiting for a chance to get these troublemakers off the streets," nodding in the direction his deputies had taken the ambushers. He looked at Brandy. "At least now you don't have to worry about those men any more."
Brandy grinned at the sheriff, then looked thoughtful, "Will I have to speak against those men?" "Only if you want to, Brandy," replied the sheriff. "Lucas can do all that for you since it happened on his land. But I don't think you'll have any more problems from the folks in town. They are all pretty sheepish about letting things get out of hand because of a grudge of one man." The sheriff turned to Lucas. "Billy has been telling everyone how negroes can't be trusted, especially branded ones. Apparently he and some friends and their families tried to appropriate some land after the war, and were run off by the people who actually rented the land--negroes. And some of them wore brands." He turned to Brandy. "Anyway, you're welcome to come into town and do what you need to do." "Thank you, sir," said a grateful Brandy. "But it looks like I'll be heading for California in a few days." "We'll be sorry to see you go, Brandy," said Lucas. "You've been a big help to us."
The sheriff said his good nights, and headed back to town. Lucas, Mark and Brandy headed back to the ranch house for a hot dinner and a good night's sleep. A week later Brandy packed his mule and said goodbye to the McCains. He no longer had to fear being attacked by Billy and his crowd, and hopefully the rest of his journey would go smoothly. Lucas and Mark wished him luck in reaching his son. Brandy again thanked them for their hospitality and willingness to take in a stranger.
As Lucas and Mark watches Brandy ride off down the road, Mark turned to his father and said, "You know, Pa, the world would be a much better place if everyone liked everyone else, despite the color of their skin." "Son, you're right. Maybe one day it will happen." Lucas looked down fondly at Mark and smiled. Then rumpling Mark's hair, Lucas said, "Come on son, we have a lot of work to do before we go into town tomorrow. And if we don't start now, it'll never get done."
With one last look at the figure riding down the road, a figure who seemed to sit straighter and prouder then when he had first ridden in, Mark turned and followed his father to fix another fence.
This is a story based on the TV series “The Rifleman”
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around The McCain Ranch