The Writer's Corner
The Battle Within A Young Gun
Written by Frank Charles aka
Good Bye’s are always a hard thing. Lucas needed to get back so he could meet with Masterson in Santa Fe. He knew this was going to be a frequent requirement in the future. For several days after Christmas, Lucas was able to spend time with Mark. He helped him get some things done on the cabin that he couldn’t do alone. Micah joined in the construction at the beginning, but he had such a good time telling stories with Ruth and the boys that he spent most of the visit with them. Mark and Micah took time to play checkers with the new set at the cabin. They were very close over the years and had a great time talking. Lucas enjoyed being with Dillon at work around the ranch. He was impressed by the way he and the boys had things so well organized. Dillon explained that it came from his upbringing and experience learning with his father. The two men sat on their horses upon a hilltop surveying the ranch as they had a final conversation.
“It’s all in the family Lucas, this ranch is a reflection of four generations. Even my grandfather ran things this way. We have rarely ever hired help, mostly during round up is all. The cattle drives give us some good business when they come through. We let them graze when we can. Sometimes, I have been able to trust them to take our cattle to market and stay home. This gives me more time with Kyle and Andrew.”
“It certainly shows Dillon, your boys are so well mannered and get the work done without a whimper. And they know horsemanship so well for a young age.”
“Thanks brother, I am proud of my boys. I know they will love this ranch as I have. They didn’t need any push either, cattle have been in their blood all along. Ruth is the best, she has these boys so well behaved and respectful of others. I have to say that we both brought them up to love horses and made it a fun thing from the start. They don’t just think of the work as a chore, it’s part of building their future adult life. All they have to do is look at the children at school to see that it doesn’t pay to be lazy.”
“I know how that goes. I fought hard to keep Mark from getting those wrong notions during his early school days. He was never lazy, but outside things had a way of distracting him. He didn’t have a brother or sister to consider though. He may not become a full time rancher but that may turn out to be a good thing, just look at him now. I’m very impressed with his cabin, I never framed a house that straight. His ambitions are to be admired and I know he’ll find the right path. That’s all I can ask of him.”
“You’ve done a great job raising Mark, it is a pure joy to have him with us. My boys look up to him in many ways. He has a wisdom far beyond his years, a reflection on you my good man!”
“From one good man to another, thank you Dillon. My heart is at rest now that I have come here to see the blessings in our families. I hope I can get closer with you all as time goes by, but I do have to go soon. I feel a great weight lifted by coming here. I had many things on my mind before this trip and I can say now that it’s all for the best.”
“We have thought of you often over the years Lucas. Ranch life is very demanding and neither of us has had time for travel, I know it takes a lot of effort and we appreciate this visit very much. This has been a merry Christmas indeed. I can tell you that the same weight has been lifted from Ruth. She’s always worried about you, she devoured every letter you wrote and keeps them as if they are gold.”
“I have all of hers as well. I promise to come back soon, and you guys are welcome at my ranch any time. I know that won’t be easy unless you can find some help to watch this wonderful place.”
“I have friends, it can happen. The boys need to get off on a trip, maybe as soon as they are out of school for the summer. And I know Ruth wants to do this in a big way. She’s missed you so much and wanted to travel to North Fork for a very long time. If for any reason we cannot all go together, I’ll see that Andrew travels with her before another year goes by.”
“I hope that you all can come, you keep in touch and I will do what I can to make it happen. If things go well with what I am about to do, money will be no object.”
“I can’t wait to hear about your adventures with Masterson, and the partnership with your ranch sounds like a great idea. I know the business is getting tough, the big ranchers are making it harder for us all the time. The only reason I survive is because we live along the main trail to market.”
“You have a good thing here, keep the faith. When that wedding I mentioned comes to be you’ll all be invited. If I know Will and Ann, they’ll wait until this summer. Ann is very proper and isn’t one to hurry a good thing. Will has a way to go before taking on a leadership role at the ranch. I want to see this partnership last for everyone’s benefit.”
“You seem to have it all under control, we’ll all come together when the time is right. I want Mark to be there also. This summer seems to be the plan then. We better get back to the house before dinner is ready. You need to get to bed early if you’re going to leave in the morning.”
“Right you are, we have rested here long enough!” Lucas gave his horse a kick and they took off at a gallup towards the house.
After dinner Lucas and Mark went for a final walk to the cabin. This wasn’t going to be an easy good bye. They walked slow and enjoyed the cool night air. They had talked all they could about old times and family matters during the visit. All that was left now was the future and Mark was still very concerned about what his Pa was about to do.
“I want to know you approve of my plans Mark. You are an adult now and the ranch is going to be yours’ some day. Even if Will and Ann don’t get married this summer perhaps you should come home to see what’s going on.”
“I sure will. I want to see Will so bad. But I’m most concerned about your plans with the guns pa, please be careful.”
“I promise son, you have my word. There’s always going to be danger wherever I go, you know that. If you could only have seen the people in Yuma, I have a good feeling about this.”
“I trust you Pa, but you can’t blame me for being nervous. Not after all we’ve been through.”
“I respect your feelings, I have thought about this for a very long time. Please give this a chance, it can be good for all of us. You know I worry about you a good bit too. Enid is a wild town, cowboys and drifters are not nice people for the most part. If North Fork didn’t teach you that, this place will. This is where I used to be a part of that life. It was my rifle that kept me alive in most cases I’m sorry to say.”
“I understand and I’ve seen what you are talking about. I keep to myself when I’m in town and I almost never use my last name. Uncle Dillon tells me to say I’m a Bedford if I need to.”
“That’s a good idea son. I suppose there might be a few old timers around here that would remember my name. If I do become popular from working with Masterson that will be even more likely. For all I know, we may even put on a show nearby. I’ll do my best to discourage that.”
“Now that you mention it, I better be more careful, even at school.”
“I must admit that I had not considered this so much, but you’re right. If this becomes a problem I cannot go forward with Masterson. I have no right to endanger you, Lord knows there has been enough of that already. You must promise to let me know if you have any trouble son.”
“You know I will Pa. I don’t think anyone has noticed the name so far, but I’m going to keep it to myself until we feel it’s safe. Even if they find out my name is McCain, I don’t have to tell them you’re my father. I know this sounds crazy, but it is for the best.”
“Let’s talk this over with your Aunt and Uncle some more when we get back to the house. I want a good understanding before I leave and get started with my plans. There’s no reason to be ashamed of the name, but I think it’s a good idea to be safe. I don’t plan to be doing this for a long time anyhow, just enough to promote the rifle sales. By that time, you’ll be on to a bigger school and we’ll know the score.”
“You see Pa, there will always be something lurking from your past that will affect me. I don’t hold that against you in any way. It may have made me grow up fast and it almost killed me a time or two, but I am proud of what you have done with your life. You have taught me well and I won’t ever run from your past, present, or future!”
“That makes me feel real good son. You teach me things at every turn. We both still have some powerful thinking to do. I’m so glad we can talk like this.”
“Me too, I love you Pa!”
“I love you son, let’s get inside the cabin and sit for a spell.”
“I guess it isn’t easy for anyone who becomes famous, there’s always going to be a reason to look over your shoulder.”
“Just think about what Abraham Lincoln had to contend with. He wouldn’t let this kind of thing bother him and it cost him his life.”
“But he will not soon be forgotten, and neither will you Pa.”
“I’m flattered to be mentioned in the same conversation, but we have the advantage, as long as we don’t become politicians!”
“You don’t have to worry about me Pa, I’m too honest for politicin’.
“Good to hear that son, kind of makes life worth livin’ don’t it?”
“You bet. Now you just sit down here and we’ll have us a real good game of checkers with these gold and silver pieces.”
“I’ve been lookin’ forward to this. Micah and I will have plenty of time to face each other over our old battlefield, but I guess you two have already broken this new one in some.”
“That’s right Pa, we played a long time while you were out with Uncle Dillon.”
“Good old Micah, he never lets up does he?”
“Not for one second. He says that is why he is still alive. Never let your guard down.”
“I’ve got a feeling he’s right. Now I understand how we can be playing this game for so long without going crazy. It’s the same for the game of life.”
After several hours of checkers they went back to the house to spend the end of the evening with the others. Mark could feel the tears building already as he realized that time with his father was growing short. As they entered the house Micah was in the middle of yet another wild story about a shoot out in North Fork. Andrew and Kyle were paying close attention. Lucas motioned to Dillon and Ruth so they went to the kitchen table for a serious talk about name recognition. Everyone agreed that it was best if Mark went by the last name of Bedford for the time being. It was a good thing that Mark had not yet become well known in town. School was the only real concern and that shouldn’t be too much trouble. As long as Mark didn’t get around the unsavory crowd in town he should be alright. Ruth assured Lucas that she didn’t think the name of McCain would cause any problems as she had never heard a word in her travels about town. Dillon said the same thing. Once the matter was discussed, Dillon excused himself and went to his chair for a fresh pipe. Mark could sense that maybe Lucas and Ruth would like some time to talk before retiring for the night, so he yawned and said that he was going back to the cabin so he could get up early.
“Well Ruth, we sure have put our brand on this Christmas, haven’t we? Lucas sighed.
“Ach, this is trrrrue!” Ruth responded with her best Irish accent.
“I haven’t heard that voice in over ten years Sis, I sure have missed you!”
“And I missed you big brother. We are all that is left from our generation of McCains. I don’t ever want to miss you again. Now that we’re older, we must take more time to share in our lives. You took the first step and I promise to visit you real soon.”
“I regret that I didn’t take the time to visit you before this. It’s too easy to say we are busy. What is it all about if we can’t see each other?”
“I understand why you had to leave, it was for the best. Mark is proof enough of that. It wouldn’t have been good for you two in this land of memories, the sorrow would have dwelled upon you in a very harsh way. I think the new life did you more good than you realize.”
“Thanks Ruth, I appreciate your way of thinking. I feel so good coming back here. You all have been wonderful, I wish I could stay forever and watch Mark grow up to be a success. But I know he will thrive at whatever he does. And I feel real good that his aunt and uncle will be looking out for him. Promise me you’ll let me know if anything happens, he may not.
“I’ll keep a watchful eye on that young man. He means a lot to us and is very much a part of this family. We talk plenty as it is, I’ll know if something is up.”
“It’s very important for him to have this experience. I was always concerned for the way I had to bring him up alone, without a woman’s influence, you understand.”
“That I do. I worried about you two so much over the years. However did he turn out so good?”
“It is a strange thing, but I must tell you that he kept just as close an eye on me as I did on him. He was one child that could never stop asking questions. He observed things in people that I wouldn’t have thought to. It was a challenge, but we did have some influence from the opposite sex. Several women in town took an interest and there was always Ann Bard. She would help Mark with his homework and I became close with her father, Sam. He gave us help so many times over the years and now we have become partners, heck, we practically have been all along. It’s been a good life Sis, don’t ever feel bad over it. New Mexico is a great land. It has a lot of growing up to do still, just as it does here.”
“Now that our boys are getting older, I think we can take the time to see such things happening. We’ve been living here for so long now that the changes creep up and are hardly noticed. When the railroad came through, that was when I started to pay attention.”
“Yes, the railroad can be an important influence. I guess it just about made the town of Enid come to be. I don’t even recall a name for all of this country from my days here. It was always an Indian territory. I never liked how they were treated, by the ranchers or the government. What I saw happen to the buffalo was an outrage. My buddy, Masterson, even took part in the slaughter. But then, so did many, it was a way to make a living in a very hard time. I enjoyed buffalo meat myself. The Indians taught me how to prepare it and make jerky. I wish we could have learned to respect the land as they did. Look at it now, all we do is take advantage of each other and rush to make a profit.”
“That’s right. But we also bring a modern way to life that makes it easier to survive and improve our lives. I have to remain positive about our being here, whether the Indians like it or not. Our sons and daughters deserve a better life. Every generation has the responsibility to improve upon what has been given to them. We can’t go backwards at this point, it could never happen.”
“That may be true, but right is right. We destroyed the Indians and the buffalo. I’ll never feel good about that. I fought, and many have died for this country, so others could be free. Then what happens? Well, you have lived it, I don’t have to tell you. I’m over it now, raising Mark took my focus off of the inequities and I have raised cattle just as much as the next man. But I also keep a deep respect for the Indian ways and seek to gain their respect whenever I can. I wish I could say that for most Americans.
“I’ll always remember you as the young man who could walk among the Indians. You stood tall above the others in those days. You did fight for what you believed to be right and you have nothing to be ashamed of. Now tell me brother, will there ever be another woman in your life?”
“I can’t answer that right now. I’ve had a few times when I thought I could, but the memory of Margaret was too powerful. Mark used to keep after me, still does in fact. When we went to her grave the other day I had a feeling come over me that I can’t begin to describe. I almost broke out in tears when Mark did. As I looked into the sky and held him tight I realized that Margaret would want me to be with another and not lonely. Until Mark left to come here I hadn’t felt so alone. I sought to fill that void with another that I considered a son. I told you about Will Fulton. Now I am watching him reunite with Ann, fall in love, and they are about to be married. I’m very happy for them and it takes up much of my time keeping things in order for the ranch. But the loneliness keeps creeping back to remind me that I need something else. I took Will off to Yuma to meet Simon Battle, you remember him. That is how we met Masterson. His adventuresome nature rubbed off on me, it brought back memories from my childhood. That’s why I want to explore his ideas, if for no other reason than to see where they lead. You know, he didn’t marry until later in life, to a woman that is as independent as he is, an actress even. Maybe I will learn something when I see them together in Santa Fe.”
“I have faith that the right things will happen for you Lucas. You are a great soul and the spirits know what is best. You seek to learn rather than mourn, even in the face of the worst things that can happen to a man. You place others before yourself even after they do you wrong. I remember Simon Battle. How you guys can be friends now is beyond me. When you wrote to me after meeting him in North Fork I was shocked. We all thought he was dead. We were relieved that you wouldn’t ever have to face his torment again. The law was glad when you shot him down, there wasn’t even an investigation. But now you can see how God works in mysterious ways. Forgiveness is a powerful healer. I still need to learn to forgive Simon I suppose, I watched as he made you miserable. I saw you have to look over your shoulder as if he was behind you every step. I was happy when you thought he was dead. I saw a change come over you that day. You thought it was over, it cleared your mind. How did it feel when you first saw him in North Fork?”
“It was like seeing a ghost. It all came back to me in a flash and I tried to hit him, but he got me first and I slammed against the wall. Nobody had ever hit me like that before. He never flinched and warned me not to continue. All of a sudden it was me that had to change. We had to band together to face those gunfighters. I learned about how he found a new perspective on life and lost his wife in the process. I still couldn’t believe that he became a doctor. It was his daughter that brought it all around for me. Vicki urged him not to fight those men, she reminded him about her mother and his promise to never kill again. He told her that he had no choice but to defend himself. I saw a different man when I looked into his eyes before we walked out that door. Then he saved my life by pushing me out of the way. We killed all of those men except the last one. Nobody would have blamed us if we killed that man, but Simon held me back and walked up to him. He even gave him a chance to put his rifle down. Instead, he drew and Simon should have killed him then. But he shot the rifle from his hands and gave him another chance. He said that perhaps he will live to change somebody else.”
“That is remarkable. It must have been one powerful lesson.”
“I’ll say, even for Mark. He was the one who saw the light as Simon and I shook hands when he rode off for Lone Pine. He said, “Kind of makes life worth living, don’t it Pa?” We still use that phrase to this day. My son is the best natural student of human nature that I have ever seen.”
“God is watching over him Lucas, you can be sure of that.”
“He wouldn’t be here right now if that wasn’t true! God knows that I have put him through the fires of hell with my past coming back to haunt me as it has. I still wrestle with my conscious about it.”
“That is God’s way of teaching you Lucas, we must all learn through our children, just as much as they must learn from us.”
“That’s for sure. I’m so thankful that our parents instilled such wisdom in us. The way they had to survive gave us a deep respect for life. Now we must improve on what they taught us. And I know Mark will improve on what we teach him.”
“I think we have put our finger on the meaning of life my brother, we see it in the children every day.”
“Look, everyone else is sleeping in their chairs, we’ve put them asleep with our talking. I guess that is a good sign.”
“We’ve needed to talk about these things for a long time. We almost let this visit slip away without doing it now. I haven’t cooked so much or been so busy keeping things straight in a long time. Staying busy isn’t always a good thing. We need to slow down and pay attention to one another more often.”
“You are so right Ruth, we get wrapped up in everyday life and seldom stop to look at the world around us.”
“Well, I’m looking at you now Lucas, and I see one heck of a man. One that needs to get some sleep if he is going to embark on such a long journey in the morning.”
Lucas took Ruth’s hands in his and stared into her eyes. “I see more love and strength in you than ever before. Your family is the very reflection of this. You and I are blessed with a vision from years of hard work and clean living. No matter how far away from each other we ever are, we shall always be in touch in our hearts. I will keep this vision of you always my dear Ruth.”
“And I will do the same big brother, we have always been close.” Tears ran down both of their faces as they sat looking at each other, neither one wanting to let go.
“I better go to bed, like you said, it is going to be a tough ride.” They stood up and hugged for a long time.
Ruth woke the boys and Micah to send them off to bed. Then she went over to Dillon’s chair to help him on the way to their room. A long final day’s visit came to an end. When the sun rose, Mark was up before the rest and already cooking breakfast. Lucas heard the noise and joined him. This gave them some time to chat before the others woke. Then Ruth came in and chased them out of the kitchen. Lucas and Mark went outside to load the wagon and prepare the horses. The emotion over leaving was building as they worked.
“I’m gonna miss you Pa!” Mark dropped what he was doing and they hugged.
“I don’t want to leave you son. It hasn’t been easy without you, it never will be.”
“If you want me to come home I will.”
“That would be the easy way out for both of us. You stick to your plans young man.”
“I know, it can never be the same once we decide to make a move. I’ll be alright.”
“Yes you will. I’m going to be looking in on you again before you know it, so just keep focused and you will be thankful that you finished what you have started.”
“You’re right Pa, and you do the same, I know you can make things work. I trust you no matter what you decide to do.”
“Thank you son, you will be on my mind at all times. You be sure to let me know if there is any trouble, don’t ever hold it back.” Lucas brushed Mark’s hair back and kissed his forehead. A brief tear came to both of their eyes.
Soon, breakfast was ready and everyone gathered for the final time. Ruth gave a touching prayer and Dillon began to serve the food. It was difficult to part after so many years away. After the meal Lucas and Micah packed the rest of their gear and gave things at the wagon a final inspection. The water barrel was full and the feed bags ready, in the blink of an eye the wagon wheels were on the roll.
“Good Bye Rifleman!” Ruth yelled as they pulled out. She fell into Dillon’s arms and sobbed as the wagon disappeared in a cloud of dust.
This is a story based on the TV series “The Rifleman”
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
Battle Within A Young Gun
- Chapter 19 —
Back to Work
The Writer's Corner
Table of Contents
around The McCain Ranch