The Rifleman
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Duchess' Dream
The Rifleman - Sharper: Part 1
Written by Duchess McCain
 
For miles in all directions the campfire could be seen, that is, if anyone where there to see it. The land was dry and treeless. A quick breeze made the small fire come alive as it danced from side to side. The man was tall with golden hair and eyes so pure they seemed to be made of the purest river known to man. He stood by his horse, a muscular bay, unpacking the gear as night set in around them. He began to unroll the blankets.
 
 “Come on Mark. Time for you to be going to bed. We have a lot more travelling we have to do tomorrow.”
 
Reluctantly the youth put down the knife and wood and went to his father.
 
“Pa?”
 
“Hmm.”
 
“How much longer will we have to go?”
 
“If we get an early start, we’ll be there tomorrow. A town that’s booming as Buckville is sure to have a place where we can sleep indoors,” Lucas said with a smile as he stood up from laying out their beds. But Mark was not smiling.
 
“What’s it going to be like? You don’t have any cattle. And tell me how we’re gonna remember Ma when we can’t visit her grave, and plant flowers by it. You told me I’d feel better over time, but I feel worse. We should’ve stayed Pa! I could have worked. I know I’m only nine, but I know I could have got a job!”
 
“No you couldn’t,” Lucas said shortly. It was already hard on him. Why did his son have to make it harder? He took a breath and remembered that they had left the only home that Mark had ever known. The place where Margaret was laid to rest. He sat down on his saddle, which was set up as his pillow. He motioned to Mark.
 
“Come here son,” he said. Mark came, and Lucas set him down on his lap. “I know this is really hard. I didn’t want to have to move, but things weren’t working out and we needed a new start. Anyway, you need a place where you can get a good education. After the school closed, I just didn’t have enough time to teach you.”
 
He paused. Thoughts about leaving Margaret did hurt, but it wasn’t something to be avoided.
 
“Mark, your Ma loved you very much and she always wanted the best for you. And in this case, moving was the best thing. I know we can’t visit her grave, but we’ll always plant marigolds, just like we did there. And we have her picture, which will always be with us to remember her by.”
 
Mark slowly nodded. He was trying desperately to fight back tears. In the middle of his thoughts he faintly heard Lucas tell him once more to go to bed. He gladly obeyed, hoping that sleep would dispel his ache for a while.  

*
It was late afternoon the next day when Lucas and Mark rode into Buckville. The town was indeed booming. Building after building lined the streets. Right in the front of the town something new was being constructed. Next they rode by the General Store, a Hotel and restaurant, the school, a blacksmith shop and livery stable co-joined, the jail and marshal’s office. Another street led to the doctor, a vet, the bank, a telegraph office that double as newspaper printer, an attorney, several houses, and a church.
 
“Well, what do you think son?”
 
“It’s awful big, and . . .”
 
Suddenly Mark was interrupted by shouting the front of town.
 
“YEEHAW!!!!” shouted one of the men.
 
“Come on boys, drinks on me!!!” shouted the next. The 7 men were mounted and riding into town before anyone had time to blink. Lucas swung off his bay and pulled Mark and his horse to safety just as the men stampeded through the streets shouting and running into people who didn’t have time to clear out. A woman stepped out of the doorway closest to where Lucas and Mark were standing.
 
“I don’t suppose you came to town to join that lot, did you?” she asked, looking at the dust they had left behind fiery disgust.
 
Lucas took off his hat. “Well ma’am, I came looking for work, but that doesn’t seem to be the kind I’d be applying for. My name’s Lucas McCain, and this is my boy Mark.” Lucas raised an eyebrow at Mark and gave him a slight nudge. He quickly removed his hat and said a quiet “How do you do?”
 
In the fast setting sun, her brown hair shone with a tint of red. Her eyes softened at the newcomers, and she gave a warm smile to Mark.
 
“My apologies, Mr. McCain. I regret to say that it’s been like that every day since they started building that confounded saloon.” She sighed and tucked a wisp of falling hair behind her ear. “Things were a lot more peaceful when the last one shut down. But the town began to grow, and Freeman bought the land to make what he calls ‘the most lively entertainment west of the Mississippi.’ Ever since then our peaceful town has been flooded with people seeking the *entertainment.*”
 
Lucas smiled, and tried hard not to laugh at the way she spat out ‘entertainment.’ Boy was she a feisty one. Feisty and pretty. He glanced up at the sign over the door: House O’Neal: Hotel and Restaurant.
 
“Is this your place, ma’am?”
 
“Yes, it is. My name is Eliza. Eliza O’Neal.”
 
“Well, Ms. O’Neal, do you have room for two tired travelers looking for somewhere to sleep other than the ground?”
 
“Of course Mr. McCain. I’d be happy to treat you to supper as well, if you don’t have previous engagements.”
 
“Well I’m sure your cooking is a sight better than mine over a campfire,” Lucas said with a smile.
 
“Do you have any apple pie?” Mark added enthusiastically.
 
“Mark!”
 
The young woman laughed. “It’s all right Mr. McCain. As a matter of fact, I made one just this afternoon. I have another girl that helps me with the cooking, but I like to make the dessert. Come right in and I’ll show you your room.”
 
~
 
Mark put down his fork and smiled, having finished his gigantic piece of pie.
 
“Take another small one Mark,” said Eliza. Lucas grabbed Mark’s hand has he went for another.
 
“Oh no you don’t. A piece that big will suit you till next week!” He lifted Mark out his chair and set him on the floor. “Now it’s about time you went up stairs and did some studying. I don’t want you getting behind in school,” Lucas said with a meaningful look.
 
“Oh, Pa!”
 
Lucas got up from his seat.
 
“Yes sir,” said Mark quickly, and headed for the stairs. “Thanks for the pie Ms. O’Neal.”
 
“You’re welcome Mark. Maybe we’ll save that piece for tomorrow night,” she said with a sparkle in her eye.
 
Lucas began to pick up the plates and take them back to the kitchen. Eliza started to protest, but was stopped short.
 
“I’m trying to teach my boy to act like a gentleman. But that’s not something I limit to just teaching.” There was a smile slowly creeping its way into the corners of his mouth. She abandoned protest, and began to wash the dishes that he had brought.
 
“You’ll be looking for a job tomorrow?”
 
“That’s right. I figured in a town this size there’s got to be someone decent who needs a hand.” Lucas paused as he thought about Mark. “I’ll leave Mark here; he shouldn’t cause any trouble. If you would, just make sure he doesn’t decide to explore the town. I want to be out with him for awhile, until he and I both get the hang of things around here.”
 
“Don’t worry; I’ll keep him away from the apple pie.”
~
As Lucas walked into their room, he saw Mark’s books scattered in a wide circle around him. He was frowning at them, but immediately turned to address his pa.
 
“I like it here Pa! She was nice, and boy did she make some good apple pie!”
 
Lucas laughed as he sat down on his bed. “How’s the studying going?”
 
Mark frowned again. “I’m having a hard time with the math, and there are a few words in my reader I don’t know.”
 
“It’s getting late son, you had better start cleaning things up. I’ll look at it tomorrow with you. First thing we do after I find a job and get us a house is enroll you in school!”
 
“Oh, well I didn’t mean it’s not that hard! I’m sure I could keep going without having to be in school.”
 
“Maybe son, if all I did was teach you. But with a job and everything I’m just not going to have time.” Mark had finished putting his books away, and Lucas motioned for him to sit down on the other bed beside his. “I’m going out tomorrow to start looking for a job. I know how badly you want to look at the town, but I don’t want you leaving here tomorrow, not unless I’m with you.”
 
Mark looked down at his shoes. “You understand me?” asked Lucas a little louder, demanding an answer.
 
“Yes sir.”
 
“I’ll take you down to the General Store, day after tomorrow. And there’s bound to be a good place to fish somewhere around here!”

*
The sun was climbing in the sky, and the whole town was abuzz. In the midst of everything else, Lucas could constantly hear the “Bam, Bam, Bam BAM!” of the construction of the saloon. It seemed to bore its way into him as he went through town. The Blacksmith/Livery Stable owner had been very nice. Clarence Martin was his name. “I’m sorry Mr. McCain. I just hired someone last week,” he had said. Lucas was making his way to the Marshal’s office. Two men looked up at him as he walked through the door.
 
“Howdy gentlemen,” he said tipping his hat. “My name is Lucas McCain. I just came into town yesterday and I’m looking for a job. I was wondering if I could speak with the Marshal.”
 
The taller of the two men took off his brown leather jacket to reveal a star pinned on his shirt. He stepped forward.
 
“I’m Marshal Jake Adams, and this is Louis Baxter, our banker. What can I do for you?”
 
“Pleasure to meet you Marshal Adams, Mr. Baxter. Like I said I’m looking for a job. I served almost a year as a deputy back in the New Mexico Territory. I thought you might be looking for one, with the town growing as much as it is.”
 
“Well nothing personal Mr. McCain, but I just don’t need the help right now. On occasion I have to swear in some deputies. I’ll keep you in mind for it. You have any family with you Mr. McCain?”
 
“An independent minded 9 year-old boy,” Lucas smiled.
 
“I know what you mean,” said the Baxter. “I have two boys myself. One’s 12 and the other is 9. They always are getting into something, or coming up with some new idea. I’m sure they’d be happy to meet your son.”
 
“Thank you. I’m sure Mark will be happy. I promised him that I’d take him to the General Store tomorrow. Maybe we’ll stop by the bank too.”
 
“Thanks for the help Marshal, Mr. Baxter.” Lucas once again tipped his hat, turned, and ducked out the door.
~
Mark gazed out the window. The sun was shining bright outside, and the town was so busy with activity. He looked over at the construction sight. It was so fascinating! He couldn’t understand why his Pa didn’t want a job there. It seemed like good hard work.   The men working were all sweating, and a few had taken off their shirts. He remembered Pa working on some buildings before, so this just didn’t make sense. The sound of the hammers almost seemed to be calling him: Bam, Bam, Bam, Bam, BAM!
 
“Ms. O’Neal.” Mark went into the next room. “Ms. O’Neal, I finished folding the table clothes liked you asked me to.”
 
“Thank you Mark. And you can call me Ms. Eliza.”
 
“All right.” He paused. He could still hear the hammers boring their way into his mind. “Uh, is there, um, anything else you want me to do?”
 
Eliza didn’t look up from the laundry she was folding. “Oh no Mark, nothing else. You’ve been very helpful though.”
 
“Well, I think I’ll go up to our room now.” And with that he went into the main lobby. He glanced back once more to make sure she was occupied . . . and quickly slipped out the door into the fresh air of the town. 
~
 The sun was still hot, but sinking when Lucas went back to the hotel. He had talked to many different people, but all to no avail. He sauntered down the boarded side walk. He knew it would be a big deal moving. Surely there would be a good job he could get, he told himself. Being teacher, Ma, and Pa to Mark was rough. He knew he had to get a job, and then Mark could go to school. He exhaled and started to shake his head. He couldn’t let himself think this way. Things are going to work out. They would make it, he just had to find the right place. He pushed his hat back and walked into the Hotel. Hearing the door, Eliza left her folding and came to the lobby.
 
“Any luck?”
 
“No, I’m afraid not. Did Mark behave okay today?” He mentally reminded himself that it was hard on the boy too. Not only hard on him, but hard for him to understand.
 
“He was good as gold. He even helped me with laundry. It is a lot washing, drying, and folding sheet, blankets, tablecloths, napkins, and everything else. He’s up in your room now.”
 
“Thank you Ms. O’Neal.” He turned to go, but was stopped by her correcting him.
 
“Call me Eliza.”
 
“Thank you, Eliza.”
 
Lucas trudged up the stairs. He would be happy to see Mark again. Something about the boy’s boundless energy kept him going when things were rough. They would make it . . . they had to! Suddenly he stopped. He couldn’t see him in the room. “Mark?” he called, but no answer came. Bam Bam BAM! He went to close the window, to shut out the constant noise. Gazing out the window he saw a young boy standing near the construction site, very near. The boy was talking to a man that was dressed too well to be working. The boy looked incredibly like Mark. Lucas crossed the room in 4 strides and slammed the door shut behind him.
~
“Where did you say you were from boy?”
 
“New Mexico Territory. My Pa worked awful hard there, but he decided we should move to somewhere with more opportunity. He went out looking for a job today.”
 
“Funny, he never came by here. Seems like that would be the first place a man would look, where there’s money, cheap whiskey, and girls,” the man said with a smirk.
 
Mark frowned, he didn’t see any women. He shrugged it off, the man was pretty nice. “Well, my Pa doesn’t drink wh. . .”
 
“Mark!”
 
Mark spun around to see Lucas advancing towards him at a fast pace. Mark mentally groaned. He hadn’t meant to be out more than a few minutes. He bit the inside of his lip.
 
“Is that your Pa, boy?”
 
Mark meant to speak, but he couldn’t even manage a ‘yes sir.’ He swallowed once, and figured he needed to start talking, and fast!
 
“Uh, Pa this here is Mr. Freeman. He’s owns this place that their building. He’s real nice, and he said. . .”
 
Lucas barely even glanced at the man; instead he focused on his son. “Mark, what did I tell you?”
 
“I’m sorry Pa,” said Mark wincing a little. “I didn’t mean to be gone this long. I was gonna go straight back, honest!”
 
Lucas was exasperated with his son’s response. He paused, not wanting to hurt Mark with an angry response. “All right get inside. Go to the room, and I’ll be up in a while to talk about it.”
 
Mark heard the shortness in his father’s response. Without delay he made his way back to the hotel. Eliza was by the door, and Mark looked down, not wanting to face her. Lucas turned to follow Mark.
 
“Ahem, Mister McCain! Your boy says that you’re looking for a job. I’m always hiring, and of course,” he said with a disturbing smile “it does have its ‘benefits.’”
 
Lucas raised his eyebrow at the man. “I’m not interested in the kind of work you have to offer.” With that he walked back into the Hotel.

 Lucas waited awhile before he went upstairs. He found Mark sitting on the edge of his bed, staring out the window. He walked to the end of Mark’s bed and leaned against the dresser opposite of Mark.
“All right son, start talking. What happened?”
 
Mark licked his lips, and forced himself to look at Lucas. “It was just such a pretty day, and, well I wanted to see them build. You never let me watch you and the men build the new barn because you said I was too little and I would get hurt.”
 
“And you’re still too young, Mark. Builders are too busy to take time to look out for curious boys. I told you then and I’ll tell you now, you’re lucky you didn’t get hurt. But that’s not the point son. Why did you disobey me?”
 
“I just . . . I just wanted to go outside.”
 
“Anything else?” Mark just looked down at the floor. “Mark, answer me.”
 
“I, I told Ms. Eliza that I would be up here, and that’s when I left.”
 
Lucas crossed his arms, and looked sternly at Mark. “Mark, you have never lied to me and I’m thankful for that. But lying to other people is just as bad. I left you here with her in watching over you. You should listen to her like you listen to me, you understand?” Mark nodded. “First thing you do is go down stairs and apologize to her. When you come back, you’re going to straight to bed. I’ll still take you out tomorrow like I promised, but we won’t be getting anything other than what we need.”
 
At this point Mark bit his lip again. He knew he’d disappointed his Pa, and he hated to think what kind of stress he caused. Lucas put hand under Marks chin and gently lifted it until his now soft eyes met Mark’s.
 
“And son, even when you disobey, I love you more than anything else.”
 
“I know Pa. I love you too.”
 
Lucas stilled leaned against the dresser as Mark went to find Eliza. The worry was still there, but now in the silent cool of evening he felt that they could make it. He and Mark together, as iron sharpens iron, could make a new life for themselves here in Arizona.  

Sharper - part 2

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
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