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Duchess' Daydream
The Lincoln County Story: Part 1
Written by Duchess McCain

The sun was high outside, and Lucas wished he could be out in it. Instead, he was stuck inside, unpacking their belongings and trying to make something that looked like home for him and Mark. It had been two weeks since the shoot-out with the Jesse Evans gang. He had enrolled Mark in the school and bought the house. It was nice place just outside of the town. Even though he was a deputy, Lucas didn’t want to be a city dweller. They owned 10 acres of land, complete with a barn, coral, a well, and the back of their land was wooded with a small stream running through the property. Lucas would have to make the chicken coop. The wood of the house was light, and there were many windows. The inside was bright and open, just like Margret would have wanted it.
 
“The bedroom is all clean. We can start moving stuff in.”
 
The young woman leaned a broom against the wall, and looked up at Lucas. The woman . . . wasn’t Margret. Her laughter, her smile- gone. The only other house he had moved into before was the one they picked out together. They had raised little Mark there. . .
 
“Luke, is everything all right?” Eliza’s green eyes were soft. Lucas returned her gaze and smiled. The gentle care and concern, that was the same.
 
“Everything is fine. I was just remembering back.”      
 
Lucas regained his focus, picked up a leather bag, and walked into the bedroom.  There was one bed against the wall, and a place for the other one.  It had been Mark’s idea.  After staying together on the trail and then in the hotel, he wanted to sleep next to Lucas.  “I got used to it Pa.  I always know that you are there, with me.”  Lucas set the bag on the bed, and began to pull out the things that Mark had chosen to bring, things he held dear.  

“What’s this?” Eliza picked up a carving of a man with a rifle.  “It’s so pretty.”

Lucas smiled as he remembered.  “That was made for him by a friend.  William McCarty was his name.  Mark and I were in Lincoln County doing a cattle deal.  William was just a boy, and that was his way of saying thanks to Mark and me both for helping him stand up to Jesse Evans.”

Eliza sat down on the bed, waiting for more.

“Well I guess it’s only proper for me to start at the beginning.”  Lucas pushed his hat back, and once again got the far off “remembering back” look.

~“Pa, Pa!!”  Mark came panting up to his towering father. “Look Pa!  It’s a letter from Ma!”
Lucas stuck his ax in the block, and placed the letter next to it.  

“That’s nice Mark, but aren’t you forgetting something,” he said with a wink.  Mark wrinkled his brow, and his lower lip stuck out at an odd angle.  Lucas choked down a laugh.  

“Uhhhmmmm . . . “

Lucas pushed Mark’s hat down to cover his eyes, and swooped him up in his arms.
“How about my big boy finishing his first year of school!”

Mark giggled, and then squirmed to look in his Pa’s eyes.  “I got a 100 on my words for the year!  I only missed two all year long!  Pa, I bet I can read every word that Ma wrote!”  

“Bet you can son.  How about your numbers and figuring?”  Mark looked down and looked like he was going to cry.  Lucas pulled out the ax and stood Mark up where it had been.  He got down on a knee and put his hands on Mark’s arms.

“I . . . I tried real hard Pa!!!  I promise!”  Mark’s big eyes were filling with tears.  

“I know you did son, and that’s what counts.  You remember that verse we read the other day?  God only wants us to do things as hard as we can, to please Him.  That’s all that your Ma and I want, your best.  If you did that, then I’m proud of you.”

“You are?”
Lucas nodded.
“I got a 87.”

“That’s still pretty good Mark.  Math isn’t so easy subject to pick up.  But you and me will work real hard, and next year you’ll get a 92.”  Lucas picked up the letter.  “Why don’t you show me how well you can read.”

Mark smiled and hopped off the block.  Lucas grabbed his hand, and they walked inside together to read the letter.

*

‘Dear Margaret,
     I’m sorry that Ma is feeling worse.  Tell her that I am praying for her.  I’m sure she’s in better care now that you’re there to help her.  

  Mark finished school today.  When I asked him if he wanted to tell you something, he said that he would write it.  Our little boy is growing up fast!  He did very well in grammar and spelling, but he’s after my own heart when it comes to Math.  He misses you a lot, and asks just about every day when you’re going to come home or write.  It wouldn’t be as hard except that it just reminds me how much I miss you.  

 Marshal talked to me on Sunday.  He said that I can have the job as soon as I sell my cattle.  I’ve been putting it off until you came back; Mark’s still young to go on a drive.  I don’t think I can put off much longer.  I corresponded with a cattleman in Lincoln several months back.  That’s not too far, and I’ll get plenty of help.  I’d been planning on 4 hands, I’ll make it 5 plus Mark.  We should be back in two weeks for sure.

 I’m sure Mark will have lots to tell you when you come back.  I love you Margaret, and I can’t wait for you to get home.  

Your devoted husband,
Lucas  

~

The clouds covered the sun like a blanket as Lucas plodded through the mud. If they could have seen the sun, it would show to be approaching evening. The wind started to pick up, and Lucas pulled his denim jacket tighter around him.
 
“Lucas, how much further you reckon we have to go?” Jason unbuckled the cinch on his saddle. A young man of 23, he had a lot of respect for Lucas. He was hoping that after this job he would have enough money. Enough money to marry his girl and start a good home like Lucas’.
 
“Not too much further Jason. If the sun comes out tomorrow, hopefully the ground will dry and the going will be easier. With good time, we’ll be to Lincoln by 3 o’clock tomorrow.”
 
Lucas placed a hand on his horse, and reached into his pack. Mark was running around inspecting various rocks, leaves, sticks, and insects. Lucas called to him.
 
“Here Mark, put on your jacket. It’s getting cool from the rain.”
 
Mark ran up, and Lucas helped him wiggle into to it. Before he fastened the buttons Mark started to dash off again. Lucas stretched one of his long arms out and grabbed his sleeve. Pulling Mark back, he gave him a mock stern look.
 
“Hold on mister, we’re not done.” He finished fastening the buttons, and still held on to his sleeve. “Now before you go running off again, how about helping me out some.  If we need 10 pieces of kindling till midnight, and 12 more to make it to morning how many do we need?”
 
Mark bit his lip. “Um, 24?”
 
Lucas picked up a stick and started to write in the mud. “Okay, you have 10 +12. But we’re going to make it easier. We’re going to split up 12, so now we have 10+10+2. So what is 10+10?”
 
Mark answered 20. Then Lucas told him to add 2.
 
“22!!!” Mark said loud enough that all the hands stopped and looked over at them.
 
Then he added, “Isn’t that kind of like cheating Pa?”
 
“No Mark it’s not. That is called using your brain. Sometimes there are simple ways to do good honest work. Cheating would be asking someone else instead of using your own brain. How about you and me go find those 22 pieces before it gets too dark to see?”
 
~
 
“Lucas! Lucas!” Jason was riding as fast as his pinto would take him. He pulled the reins quickly beside Lucas’ bay.
 
“I was scouting what would be the easiest way for us to cross the Rio Hondo, when I came up on them. I’m real glad they didn’t see me.”
 
“Who is ‘they’ Jason?”
 
“It was a gang of rustlers. I know it was, and one of looked like one called Jesse Evans. I’ve heard that they’re all over the New Mexico Territory, and even raided the Mescalero Apache reservation!”
 
Lucas frowned, and he slowed Alcor down to a walk.  He glanced at the herd as they sloshed through the mud that was slowly drying. He leaned back in his saddle.
 
“Well, I’m not gonna stop the herd. I guess we’ll just push on. I’ll ride ahead, and you spread the word about them. Oh, and tell Mark to tie his pony to the wagon and to ride on it next to Morris, no questions.”
 
Lucas urged Alcor on, and pulled his Winchester from his saddle. He turned once, to check that his order to Mark had been obeyed. Satisfied, he rode on, quietly begging God to keep them safe and from harm. ‘Oh Please Lord! Don’t make me have to tell Margaret. Mark’s so young. Don’t let anything happen to the boy.”
 
As he crested the hill, he got a glance of other horses. The picture gradually came together. There were five of them; all worn and ragged men. Three of them wore a brace of pistols, the other two tied their gun belt down. Lucas considered the odds to be in their favor: 5 men mounted who could shoot well, and just as good a shot driving the wagon.  A man with tanned skin and dirty blonde hair rode out from the group. Lucas recognized him as the leader of the gang.
 
“Howdy stranger.”
 
Lucas nodded at him.
 
“Those your cattle?”
 
Once again Lucas nodded, as he reined his horse to a stop.
 
“Where you-all headin?”
 
Lucas shifted in his saddle and cocked his head. His patience was already running low. “Look mister, you’re askin’ an awful lot of questions that aren’t your business. My men and I are just passin through and want to cross the Rio Hondo. I didn’t know that called for interrogation.”
 
Jesse let out a small laugh and a smile lingered on his lip. “So quick to judge, stranger. The Boys and I are movin’ out here to find a job. Our last one was on a ranch, surely you could use some extra hands.”
 
“I got all I need.”
 
By that time the herd was near the water, and even the wagon had crested the hill. Mark looked down anxiously on the scene. He saw the man’s hand drop to his side.
 
“How bout I straighten out your thinking.”
 
Lucas swung his rifle and fired a shot that was a mere inch from Jesse’s hand. His tanned face was turning pale. He remembered hearing about a rancher that wielded a rifle. His eyes suddenly flashed with the realization that he’d been stood up by a rancher. He backed his horse up.
 
“I won’t be forgetting you stranger! I’ll be seein’ ya.” He waved the rest of him men to ride on. Just before disappearing, he turned back to see that a boy had jumped off the wagon and was running toward the rancher. He began to sneer, and his sneer turned into a smile, and finally low chuckle.
 
~
 
Lucas lit a cigar as he sat at the desk and waited. The man in the mercantile had told him he could find Tunstall in the bank. There was a frown on Lucas’ brow as he observed the town. Everything looked so tense, the people hardly even looked at each other. Presently a taller man stepped into the room. He looked to be only a few years older than Lucas, his hair dark, a curved pipe in his mouth. Lucas stood, and turned to him.
 
“Are you Mr. McCain?”
 
“Yes, and I presume that you’re Mr. Tunstall.”
 
“Call me John, or John Henry.” Tunstall sat, and indicated for Lucas to do the same. He rested his chin on his hands. Finally he spoke. “I thought I sent you a letter Lucas. I don’t know what to do now. Since our first correspondence, things have gotten increasingly violent. My cattle have been constantly harassed, to the point I hired gunmen to protect them. I’m not sure if I can take on any more.”
 
Lucas sighed, and rubbed his head.
 
John Henry continued “You see that bank and store over there? That’s owned by Murphy and Dolan. When I first met my lawyer, Alexander McSween, he encouraged me to move out here because of the potential this county has. My business has done remarkably well, and that is where the conflict began. Murphy has the Sherriff on his side, and on top of that hired the Jesse Evans gang to rustle my cattle.”
 
Lucas jerked up. “Jesse Evans? We ran into him when we were crossing the Rio Hondo. He only had a few men with him.”
 
Tunstall stood, and lamented that they were probably new recruits.
 
“Did he get you into a gunfight?”
 
“No, he wanted to though. I made it clear that we weren’t going to have that, and that if he wanted it the odds were against him.”
 
“You should have shot him while you had the chance.” Lucas turned to see who spoke and saw a young man, who looked about 16. His hair was dark and wavy, and he had eyes like clear blue water. His smooth face was set like stone as he stood up from where he slouched against the wall. Lucas frowned, such hard words from only a boy!
 
“I know him. He won’t give you a second chance. I’m not fast to draw the gun, I’m not like them. But when it comes to Jesse, the scum doesn’t deserve any better.”
 
Lucas took a step closer to him. “Look boy, I don’t like the way you’re talking. I especially don’t like using my gun. I only do it to protect my family and to get us food. Seems like there’s a thing or two you could learn about using a gun.”
 
The boy slammed his fist on the table and spat at the ground. Tunstall quickly stepped between them.
 
“William, this is Lucas McCain. He’s here to sell cattle. Lucas, this is William Bonney. I hired him and some others to watch after the herd. He is good with the gun, however not everybody who hired him in the past had noble purposes. William, will you please go ask Alex McSween to join us at the ranch this evening?”
 
William threw Lucas a look of contempt then returned his gaze to Tunstall. “Sure Mr. Tunstall, whatever you say.”
 
Tunstall sighed as he sat back down. “William is a good boy at heart, but he’s been on his own since he was 14. He’s been in gangs and with rustlers most of that time. I’ve never been the type to settle down and have a family, but if I can help that boy, I’ll feel that I’ve done some good. He’s eighteen, and most boys that age are ready to start making something of their own life. But he never had a father to show what the right path to make was.”
 
Tunstall paused, and then returned to the problem at hand. “I’m not going to say that I can’t buy your cattle McCain. I want to talk it over with John and Alex.”
 
“John?”
 
“John Chisum, I’m sure you’ve heard of him. You and your men come out to the ranch and join me for dinner. We can sort things out then.”
 
~
 
Mark was awed at the scene around him as he rode. Just about everywhere he turned there were cattle! His Pa was ahead having ‘adult’ conversation with Jason and Tunstall. The rider on Mark’s left looked a little younger. He slouched in the saddle, and looked like he had something on his mind.
 
“Wow! Who owns all these cattle?”
 
He looked over at Mark as if he were a fly buzzing around his head.
 
“These are Mr. Tunstall’s.” He looked away again.
 
“Well he’s done a real good job! My name is Mark, Mark McCain. What’s yours?”
 
“William Bonney.”
 
“That gun is nice. I bet you’ve been using it awhile. My Pa says I’m gonna have to wait a long time til I get one. When did your Pa give you one Mr. William?”
 
He rolled his eyes at Mark. “No, just William. And my Pa never gave me gun. I don’t even know who my Pa is. I learned to shoot when I was 10, bought my own gun at 13. Nobody owns my gun expect for me, and I’ll do whatever I see fit with it.”
 
Mark looked at William quizzically. “How come you don’t know who your Pa is?”
 
Lucas turned Alcor around and rode back towards them. “Mark! I’ve told you that some things aren’t nice to ask people, and that’s one of them.”
 
Mark turned a little pink and hung his head. Somewhere under his breath he muttered a ‘sorry.’ William raised one of his eyebrows.
 
“No McCain, I’ll tell him why. I don’t know my Pa cause he’s the scum of the earth. He’s a filthy, no-good. . .“ He stopped when he saw the looks Lucas was giving him. “The only person I’ve met that’d I want to hurt more than him is Evans. It’s a pity your Pa didn’t shoot him when he had the chance.”
 
William smiled inwardly, knowing that it would bother McCain that he’d said it in front of Mark. Lucas took a deep breath, realizing that the boy was testing him. He thought on it for a while.
 
“William you said that you’re not like them.”
 
“That’s right. For awhile I was with them because I had nothing better to do. But I ain’t ever gonna do anything for Evans again! He’s cruel, and only does something for his own gain or pleasure, including killing. I ain’t like him, and never plan to be!”
 
“When you’re thinking things like wanting to kill people, you’re settin’ yourself up to be like him. Nobody should be proud to kill. Life is a gift from God, and it’s not yours, or anybody’s to take.”   
 
William rolled his eyes once more, and pushed forward to join Tunstall.
 
“He’s real nice, ain’t he Pa?”

~
 
Dinner was finished, and the men stayed in the large dining room talking and smoking. The walls were bright with wallpaper, and the floor had red and black patterned carpet, on the wall hung a painting of the Enlish countryside. McSween asserted that Tunstall was definitely in the financial position to buy more cattle, and that it would be a good investment. Chisum agreed that it would help the business, but he didn’t like the attention that it would draw to their herds. Finally Tunstall spoke.
 
“I’m not against the business, but I’m worried about the danger that will pose to my herd as a whole. We barely have enough men to guard the herd as it is, and he just got more men. The only way I could take on 30 more cattle is if I had more men to guard. I’ll try to hire some more, but what to do right now?”
 
Chisum replied, “I’ll send over two of my men.”
 
Lucas leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. “I’ll talk to my guys, see if any of them want to stay. I guess Mark and I will stay until your new recruits come in John Henry.”
 
~
 
When Lucas had finished all of the deals for the evening, he suddenly began to wonder about Mark. He smiled knowing that he could probably find him in the barn. The ‘barn’ was more like a large house! After wandering around for a while, he finally found him talking to William, who was bedding the animals down. Lucas crossed his arms and looked down at Mark.

“Isn’t it about you headed to bed young man?”
 
“Oh but Pa, we’re not gonna be here very long and William has some of the coolest stories! He told me about one time that he escaped from a jail through the chimney, and he’s worked in a cheese factory, and . . .”
 
Lucas reached down and picked Mark up. “I’ve got something to tell you son. We’re going to be here a little longer than we planned. We’re going to stay and help Mr. Tunstall look after his herd until he can hire more men.”
 
Mark wrapped his arms around Lucas. “Oh Pa that’s so exciting!!! Tell me about what you and Mr. Tunstall talked about.”
 
Lucas started to describe the meeting as he walked out of the barn. By the time he reached the house, Mark had leaned his head against Lucas’s chest and fallen fast asleep. Lucas held his son, wondering if he would regret bringing to Lincoln, the county where everything was solved by the bullet.

The Lincoln County Story — Chapter 2

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
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