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Duchess' Daydream
Lincoln County Story: Part 2
Written by Duchess McCain

Lucas looked out over the plain at the cattle and sighed. 10 days in Lincoln on the Tunstall Ranch. In that time, there had been three different attacks, 2 of them on his herd. 2 of the cows were injured, and 1 was dead from the cross-fire. Lucas reached up and rubbed his stubble; he hadn’t had time to shave recently. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he saw something. Lucas cocked his rifle. As the figure neared, it appeared to be Jason. Lucas didn’t relax, not until he was sure.
“Luke! Luke.” Jason reined his stallion to a stop. “I know that you wrote a letter for Margaret that you were gonna mail. Could you take mine for Jenny too?”
Lucas smiled, and took the white envelope. “By the time we’re done here, maybe you’ll have enough to buy a house instead of building one!”
“I was thinking the same myself. I don’t know though. I mean, it’s not really my money. If there’s something that Jenny would rather have, like a fancy stove, than I might be inclined to get her that.”
Lucas put his hand on Jason’s shoulder. “You’ll make a fine husband Jason, and Jenny knows it. I just hope we can get home soon. Mark needs to see his Ma.”
“Is she home yet?”
“No, but she’s hoping to be in a just a few more weeks. And it can’t come soon enough. I miss her so much! And you can’t imagine how hard it is suddenly having to meet all the needs of a going on seven-year-old boy.” Lucas paused, thinking about Margaret. Finally he spoke again. “If you’re taking the next shift, I’ll take this in to town right now.”
“Sure Lucas, that’s why I rode out. Say, maybe you should take Mark with you. He’s been itching to do something.”
Lucas nodded. This had turned out to be more than just a cattle drive. He wanted Mark to know that it was serious, but he didn’t want to scare him. He turned Alcor, and urged him into a canter.
“I. . .please, I didn’t mean to!” Mark put his hand up to shield his face, but the blow came anyway.
“What did you think you were doing you fool kid! Well look at me! You ain’t ever gonna be doin it again.”
The man grabbed Mark by the shirt and shoved him hard to the ground. Mark tried to scramble back, but there was no way that he was going to get away. He began to sob, shedding huge tears. His breathing got heavier and heavier as the man picked up a stick, brandished it like a club, and advanced towards him.
Click, click!
“Get away from the boy!” a voice boomed. Jesse turned and saw Lucas staring down his rifle straight at him. Silently, he swore, that this was not part of the plan.
“McCain, I caught your boy trying to steal from me!”
Lucas took several steps closer. He gritted his teeth, and glared at Jesse. “I don’t care what you thought my boy was doing! I’d better never again see you lay a hand on him, or you’ll wish you’d never seen New Mexico Territory. Never!”
Lucas thrust his rifle into his left hand and threw a right before Jesse had time to blink. Stunned by the blow, he fell backwards against a tree. Lucas hit him hard in the gut once, twice. The rancher stretched out his long arm and grabbed the outlaw’s shirt in a vice like grip. He jerked Jesse towards him, until they were almost touching.
“Now you get out of here before I lose my temper, and forget that the boy is watching.”
Mark had stopped crying to watch his Pa shove Jesse to the ground. Mark held his breath, waiting. The smaller, battered man glared with hate up at Lucas. He touched his bleeding face as he backed away into the woods. Lucas turned to see Mark rushing towards him. Lucas embraced him in a hug, and then pulled him back to look at him.
“Did he hurt you son? Are you all right?”
“He hit me kind of hard Pa. I’m not bleeding, but it hurts.”
Lucas gently ran his hand through Mark’s hair as he hugged him again. This was some kind of conflict. Waging war on defenseless cattle and young children! He closed his eyes, wondering what would be next and praying that whatever it was, that they would be able to stop it.
“I just don’t understand John! Why would Evans take this so seriously? And why on earth would he lure Mark out into the woods like that, just so they could hurt him?” Lucas was trying to work out the anger. He knew he needed to; keeping it bottled up would have him acting like William, too fast with the gun.
“I don’t know Lucas. This ‘war’, if you can call it that, is very strange. The longer it goes on the harder it is to see who’s in the right.” Tunstall frowned as he paced his office. “I don’t know why, but they’re trying to provoke us. Lucas, you’ve got to help the men. They respect you for how good you are with your rifle, some of them have even started calling you ‘The Rifleman.’ No one on my ranch is going to be provoked into murdering someone. We got to remember that the law isn’t on our side! Sherriff Brady is working for Murphy. I already have a lawyer, maybe I should see about getting some type of law in here too.”
“Well I’m riding into town, do you want me to ask Alex to come out here and speak with you?”
Tunstall stroked his beard. “Yes, do that.” He paused. “Lucas, I don’t want you going into to town alone. Too many things have happened. Why don’t you take William with you?”
“I’ll do that.” Lucas nodded.
They rode for a mile in complete silence. William slouched in his saddle. Lucas glanced at him.
“Mark sure thinks an awful lot of you.”
The boy didn’t acknowledge Lucas’s statement. He kept staring off at the horizon.
“I don’t understand McCain. I just don’t get it! If Mark were my boy, I swear I would have beat Evans dead right then and there. How come you have a soft spot for people that mistreat you?”
Lucas looked over again. “Suppose I had killed him. The Bible says the pleasures of sin are only for a season. That’s exactly what would have happened to me. Now you look at me boy, and you get this. Whatever you do in selfishness to please yourself, it’s gonna hurt somebody. If I had killed Evans, I would be dead in less than 5 days, for sure. That means I would leave behind a widow, a fatherless boy, and town without a deputy. I would have hurt Mark more than helped him. You can’t go through life just thinking about what you want.”
William shot a look at him. “What are you trying to say McCain?”
Lucas exhaled and spoke a little softer. “I’m trying to say that life is a lot better when you’re living for something other than yourself.”
William didn’t say much the rest of the trip. The more he thought about Lucas, and what he said, the more it seemed his conclusions had been wrong. He remembered John. John Henry Tunstall had taken in the boy that nobody wanted, and given him a chance when everybody else dismissed him. He had said, “William, you are young, but that doesn’t bother me. I am looking for a man to do a man’s job. You prove that you can do your work, then you’ve earned my respect.” He had always believed the mark of a man was being able to stand up for yourself, and let no one push you around. But as he looked at all the real men around, they were all distinguished by restraint.
“I’ve got an awful lot to learn,” he said to himself, as they rode back to the ranch.
“Please Pa!! I want to do it with you.” Mark looked up longingly into his father’s face.
“Mark, I’m sorry. I need to go check on Jason, give him a break from watching the herd.” Lucas saw the dejected look on his son’s face.
“Mark, I have tomorrow off. We can spend it together.”
“I’ll go fishing with him McCain.”
Lucas turned to see William standing in the doorway. Mark instantly warmed to the idea.
“Can I go with him Pa, please? I’ll be careful.”
“Yes Mark, you can go with him, but one condition. You know that sometimes it’s not always safe. You better listen and obey William, you understand?”
“Yes sir.” Mark ran to the doorway. “Come on William! Let me go get my pole!”
As he saddled his horse, Lucas could hear Mark’s voice slowing fading away as they headed toward the stream. He thought of Margaret, and the letter he’d sent. The idea of being home again, with his wife, where his son would be safe. . . Lucas had been deep in thought. Now as he was half way across the range something jumped out him. Everything was so quiet. No birds, no cattle to hear, even the crickets were silent. Lucas urged his horse on; something was wrong.
Jason had tried to draw, but it was too late. Now he lay wincing, and breathing heavily. Jesse had 7 men with him, two of them Jason recognized. Jesse called to one.
“Hey Tom! Who’d you and Will get?”
“We got Dick Brewer and one of the Coe boys.” Tom spotted Jason. “Hey, he was with that sodbuster that licked you.”
Jesse backhanded Tom. “That sodbuster jumped me from behind!!  And he’s gettin what he asked for. You just keep your mouth shut.” Jesse walked over to Jason. He picked him up by his hair, and looked him in the eye.
“Now you tell me, is that sodbuster the only one coming out here?”
Jesse didn’t like the silence that he received for an answer. He screamed the question in Jason’s face once more. Again, he was given no answer. Jesse stalked away in anger, telling his men to have some fun. The one named Tom told some to saddle a horse. He instructed two others to take Jason’s boots and his shirt. Jason felt the rope start to burn against his bare chest. He clinched his jaw shut as the horse and rider drug him over the rough terrain.
His head was still throbbing. One of his eyes was swollen shut. Although his hands were tied behind him, he could still feel the blood that oozed down his face and chest. He closed his eyes momentarily. But suddenly there was chaos. He heard a horse whinny, a rifle shot ring out. He heard a scream. As he turned to look on the scene, an intense pain filled his side. The feeling of fire spread throughout his right side and began to overtake his whole body. He gasped, and instantly felt very parched. The pain stole him away into a bitter sleep.
Will watched through the trees and they wrestled Lucas off his horse. His rifle was taken. Jesse instructed his men to hold Lucas as he returned the punches he had received. Lucas took several, and then pulling himself together, he landed a kick square in Jesse’s gut. Will didn’t wait to see their response. He turned his horse, and rode back to the ranch.
Lucas lay on the ground, beaten, and trying to regain as much strength as possible. He leaned down, and spoke to his friend.
“Jason. Jason are you all right?”
“Oh Luke. I wanted her. I was going to give . . .give her a nice home.” He breathed heavily. “Like the, the home you made for Margaret and little Mark.”
“What are talking about Jason?”
“I’m spent Lucas. They shot me when you rode up.”
Lucas could hear him struggling. “You’ll pull through. Just keep holding on.”
Jason made an effort, and shook his head. “Not this time. Tell her I love her. And Lucas, give her my share of the pay. Maybe it’ll take care of her for a while.” He took several breaths. “though I walk . . .through the valley of death, I will fear no evil. Father, I have no fear. You’ll take care of my girl. I am ready.”
“All right, you boys get that sodbuster back up.”
“Jesse, what are you doing?”
“I intend to get full satisfaction. I want to hear him scream louder and longer than his son was. He’s gonna suddenly understand the meaning of the word fear.” Jesse spat on the ground and smiled, humored by what was about to take place.
Since it was his idea, William chose to be the rider. He trotted him horse us the grassy slope and stopped. The more time he gave the others, the better this would come off. He started moving again, this time no faster than a walk. Once again in the cover of the trees, he saw the gang relaxing. Finally he spotted Lucas, motionless on the ground. William took a deep breath and rode into plain view towards the gang.
Tom noticed him first. At once the bullets started to fly towards him. William hesitated to draw. He saw the signal. With a smile he drew his gun out of its holster. A volley of shots rained down on the Jesse Evan’s gang, only it was from behind. Mass confusion took over. Several of them started shooting wildly; one of the shots took another gang member. Others took cover and tried to put up a fight, only to realize they were outnumbered and beat. As they began to flee into the forest, one stopped and looked down as Lucas. He sneered, figuring that Jesse would be proud of him. He lifted his gun slowly. . . but never got to fire. William jumped down from his horse, and kneeled down by the half-dead man.
Mark had seen the men ride off. No one would tell him what they went for. Alex McSween, and his wife Susan had come in suddenly. When the men did come back, he was told to stay in his room. He put his hands in his head. Pa had been gone too long. He looked up quickly. He could hear William outside his door. He’d said something about Lucas! Mark burst through his door, and ran straight into a startled William.
“Oh William, please tell me where my Pa is!!! What’s happened?” Mark cried.
William looked up at Alex for guidance. Finally he spoke. “Your Pa had a lot of action today. He’s very worn out and tired. You’d better let him rest Mark.”
“No! I want to see him!” Mark ran for the door next to his. He felt two strong arms quickly reach to stop him. They picked him up and set him back away from the door. Mark started to pound his fists in opposition. The hands gripped him harder, and William set him down in his room. Mark fell on his bed crying, accepting defeat. Susan McSween came up softly, and began to rub his back.
“There. It’ll be all right son.”
Upon hearing her voice, Mark turned and threw himself into her arms. She sat down in the rocking chair, and held him until his sobbing gave way to sleep.
Lucas was staring out the window of their brand new house. Two years later, and yet it seemed like yesterday. Eliza fingered the carving once more. She looked up at Lucas.
“What happed?”
“It took weeks for the burns on my back to heal. They had heated up a metal rod, and then hit me with it. I was unconscious for several days, which is why William didn’t want Mark to see me. When I did come to, first thing I asked was for William. I had him write a letter for me. Then I asked him to take Mark into town, put him on a stage going home, and tell the driver to give the letter and Mark to the Miller family. I didn’t want to send Mark away, but Lincoln was no place for a boy. We hugged and cried a lot before he left, but I knew that soon his Ma would be home, and everything would be okay again. William gave this to Mark just before he got on the stage.” Lucas fingered it, and then handed it back to Eliza. He crossed the room, and faced out the window again.
“In the month it took me to heal, a lot happened in Lincoln. Tunstall was looking into getting law, but then tragedy struck. Tunstall was murdered in cold blood. William was never the same again. Anger and hate just piled up inside of the boy. But I didn’t have a chance to help him, I was needed at back in my home town. When I got there, I found our ranch was empty. Margaret wasn’t there. I found her and Mark in town at the Miller’s place. Margaret had taken sick, and so Mrs. Miller had them stay there. We went back to the house. Margaret never got better. I never quite got around to telling Mark about the things that had taken place in Lincoln. He had so much to deal with already.”
Eliza looked at him. “But Luke, is that going to be a problem? Shouldn’t you tell him?’
Lucas sighed. “It’s big problem. William grew so full of hate, that now he has the name Billy the Kid. You know, Billy said once that Tunstall was the only person that had treated him like a free-born and white. That doesn’t seem right. Why couldn’t someone else with a Christian heart like John’s reach out and help him?”
“I don’t Lucas. People don’t usually think about how they’re affecting others.”
“They should though. Billy has a price on his head. Someone taking time for him could have saved his life.”

The Lincoln County Story — Chapter 3

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
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