The Rifleman
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Fulton's Fury

 Dear Pa: Mark McCain returns to North Fork
Wedding plans — Chapter Twenty Six
Written by Frank Charles aka weinerdawgy

Lucas awoke the next day with a nagging purpose in mind. While everyone else was busy getting breakfast, he sat at his desk with pen in hand. He wanted to tell Mark about his adventure and the changes to the ranch. It was too much to cover in a telegram, but he thought he would send one of those too. It was best to write the letter now while everything was fresh on his mind. After three pages and a cramped hand he knew what really had to happen. Mark needed to come home.

After a huge welcome home breakfast, Lucas took Aubrey into town on the buckboard to mail the letter and send a telegram. They spent a good part of the day introducing Aubrey to the folks of North Fork. She loved the small town charm and enjoyed everyone she met. Lucas found many wanting to know how his trip was, but once they met Aubrey they seemed to forget about that. It was great to be back home and in love.

Meanwhile, Will took Bat along for a better look around the ranch and to do some chores. The physical work felt great after so long at traveling, eating fancy, and sleeping in soft hotel beds. Will was happy to have his mentor and friend back by his side.

“Do you think you can stay for a while Bat?”

“I’m sure the day will come when I regain my traveling fever, but I hope that’s far off. After all, we have more gun shows to perform, and a wedding to conduct! Emma will be here in a few weeks also. So we have plenty of time to enjoy together.”

“Yah, there’s still a lot to do in Dallas too. I hope you can feel at home here. You let me know if you need anything at all.”

“I want for nothing so far, but one day soon we should have target practice.”

“We can do that any time, Lucas has a range nearby. I want to thank you Bat. You’ve done so much for me, for all of us. I’m still restless over what happened in Dallas and then you do so much more in New York. I wouldn’t have known what to do without you!”

“It is my pleasure to aid you in your foray my dear William. What you experienced in Dallas had to be done. We didn’t expect so much to happen, but who ever does? Your parents met a tragic end and that powerful pain led you through the very fires of hell. But you have stood the test and regained your strength ten fold.”

“I feel more like you and Lucas stood the test for me. I don’t know what I can ever do to repay the both of you. And Sarah! My God what an angel!”

“Our payment is seeing you succeed, and for you to develop the same satisfaction in doing for others when the times come. You’ll know when that is. You’ve already shown that wisdom. Sarah has a vast family to look after. Lucas could never be happy if all he had to do was think of himself. That my boy is why you are here right now!”

“I realize that and thank you for helping that happen. You risked your life and took most of the trouble to gather evidence. What makes you so willing to do that?”

“You know, I spent so much time in my early days seeing bad things happen to innocent people. Being a lawman in Dodge City was a dangerous and usually short lived profession. It didn’t really hit me until I saw my brother die. I simply can’t stand to see evil win over good. The bullies of the world make me mad! Real lawmen have an unspoken creed to see justice prevail at all cost. Many have lost their lives in the pursuit. I expect that I might one day. But the price is too high to look the other way.”

“I hope I can live up to that. But I also hope that the need never comes my way. You’re a hero Bat. Anything you want, just say so. You and Emma are part of our family in every way. Stay on and show up anytime. I won’t ever make money an issue, I owe you so much more. When Sarah gets the farm straightened out, everyone gets to take part in it.”

“I appreciate that Will. You know I feel the same way. I’m honored to be part of this growing family. You and Ann have a great future. Raise some smart children and be happy. Keep these men working and make the empire thrive. I’ll be here to see it happen and know I’ll be keeping a watchful eye, as will one Lucas McCain!

“You know, with Sam for a father, Sarah for a mother, Lucas and you as brothers, and Ann as my wife, I do have a great family. I know I can count many others too. Since the moment I decided to get off my horse and help Mark from the cliff that fateful day long ago, I do feel as if I’ve been in God’s classroom. Hank almost convinced me that this world is hell and after what happened it was easy for me to think so. But Lucas saw something in me. His persistence and faith is what made the difference. My realizing what his fatherhood meant to him through Mark turned the tide. And I’m here right now because of that man.”

“He surely is something special Will, a blessing to us all, as we are to him. That’s what makes life worth living and we are blessed to know it.

Don’t ya love how he has all of us saying that? It’s the smile on his face that proves it with everything he does.”

“I agree. We better get these chores done before he gets back from town or we won’t be living much longer!

So off to work they went as they would for many days to come. Bat would always want to travel as his life frequently led him to do, but he knew he had a home and returned often. New York eventually called his name for good and that is where he would spend his final years. It was fitting that he wound up working in the newspaper business and very much involved with boxing.

As the days turned into weeks the wedding drew near. Lucas was in town getting supplies one day when he received a letter from Enid. He opened the envelope quickly as he’d been wondering what took so long to hear back from Mark.

Dear Pa,

I’m very sorry that I wasn’t able to reply to your letter sooner. I know that you have been through a lot and I want so much to hear about it. My school year is almost over and we have been in the midst of final exams. I’ve been staying at the school dorm of late and didn’t come home to see your letter until a few days ago. I’m sure my grades will be very good. I worked a great deal and saved a lot of money. Thanks to you, I didn’t have to buy any candy! I fished your favorite spots and did real well. I guess it was nothing compared to your recent catch though. I put new flowers on Ma’s grave several times. The Harrington’s have been real nice to me. I went there for dinner a few times and they let me ride around our old ranch. It sure is a great place. It makes me feel good to go there to talk with Ma and discover where my life started. I know Ma is real happy for you and Aubrey. It’s a wonderful blessing that you have found someone to be happy with. It makes me happy too. I know that I have worked on you for a long time but I understand that you need to do this on your own terms. I look forward to her friendship.

I plan to be in North Fork well before the wedding. Aunt Ruth, Uncle Dillon, Kyle, and Andrew will all be able to come. I’ll travel with them. I want to pay for the train ride for everyone! I’m so happy for Will and Ann. It sure will be a grand time!

I know you have been through some dangerous things in your travels and I remember what we talked about on your Christmas visit. I want you to know that I realize it has nothing to do with your gun shows with Bat Masterson. I will never try to talk you out of working with him. What a thrill that you were able to perform with Buffalo Bill! I can’t wait to hear about it. We read the articles in the paper. Some people recognized our name and figured out that you are my Pa! It’s been a good thing and I haven’t had any trouble. Even if I do, I won’t back down or do anything dangerous. I’m proud of you Pa. It’s great that the world is learning who you are. It makes for a better place and I trust you to know what you’re doing when you face danger. I love you Pa and I can’t wait to get there to meet everyone. I guess my leaving for school gave you time to make some new friends.

Your Loving Son and Partner Forever, Mark.

This was another one of those times when Lucas almost formed a tear. Even by himself though, he couldn’t quite let that happen. He missed his boy and no matter how much adventure kept him distracted during these many months, he couldn’t get over the loneliness that the separation brought on. He knew it was for the best, in another year he would have a clear direction. Lucas could see the benefit of his being on his own. It helped make him more dedicated to his goals. As the ranch progressed, Mark would be torn between staying in school or coming back to North Fork. But his father could never let him slip away from his education. Lucas sent a telegram back to Mark right away.

Dear Son,

I don’t care what it costs. Let me know if you need money. Get here as soon as you can! Love Pa.

Mark had one more week of exams before school was over for the summer. Ruth and Dillon prepared the ranch for their absence. The wedding was now three weeks away. Mark had enough money for train tickets. They decided it best to shop in North Fork for gifts. On the last Friday, Mark found out he got an “A” on his geometry final exam. He worked hard for that one in particular. He cleaned the last of his belongings from the dorm room and was home late in the day. Ruth had everything ready to go and they were on the train Saturday morning. The rugged terrain and warm weather made the two day train ride well worth its cost. A family would have much more of a struggle by wagon. On Monday morning there was a large gathering at the train station in North Fork to welcome Mark and the Bedford’s. Lucas was up close and ready to hug as Mark came off the train.

“It’s so good to have my boy back!!!!!!” Lucas grabbed Mark and all but squeezed the life out of him.”

“Pa, I, I can’t breathe!” Lucas released him and took Ruth in one arm as she also rushed to him.

“Ruth, did I ever tell my sister how beautiful she is?”

“Not lately!” Ruth kissed brother Lucas on the cheek and joined with Mark in a group hug.

“Uncle Lucas, Uncle Lucas!!!!!!” Kyle and Andrew ran to join in the hug.

Finally Dillon jumped off the steps and they all gathered around so Lucas could introduce them to the welcoming committee. He did his best but the noise level rose quickly. It became obvious that they needed to make their way from the depot. They got the luggage loaded onto the buckboard and the entourage headed for the McCain ranch. What a great place it was for such a joyous occasion. Kyle and Andrew were at the pool table right away. Many friends from town came to welcome the newcomers and enjoy the big party. A large barbeque pit was just outside the lodge, the coals were ready and Sam’s famous steaks were soon on the grill. Lucas and Mark stole a few moments away from the bunch and went into their renewed house.

“Pa, this is amazing! I don’t recognize the place!”

“I’m still trying to get used to it myself. They did everything we could never find the time to do and more. Aubrey and I have been staying here some of the time. We got your bedroom ready for you. Aunt Ruth and all will stay here also. You should see the new log home behind the Bard’s place. Aubrey and I will be there most of the time. You can stay there with us when you want. It’s probably bigger than this place.”

“I can’t get over this! A pool table? What brought that on?”

“Will developed an interest in the game while we were in Fort Worth. They have a very famous gambling establishment there so we shot pool while Bat played poker.”

“You must mean the White Elephant! That’s one fancy place! I read about it in the paper too. When I saw that Bat was involved in the Luke Short incident I knew that you guys had to be there.”

“You don’t miss a thing, do ya Son?”

“Not when it comes to my Pa!”

“I missed you so much Mark. It may seem as if I was running around the country having fun, and I’ll admit we had plenty of good times, but I missed our being together most of all. I had a hard time in New York being away from Aubrey too. We want to get married Son. Can you accept her?”

“I don’t know her yet, but if she makes you happy Pa, I’m all for it!”

“We’ll have a while to get to know each other. I hope you can make her feel welcome. She has family in Santa Fe. They had to get to know me, but we didn’t have much time. Their ranch is very nice and her son runs it well. Aubrey’s husband was killed in a gun fight. We met one night in Santa Fe while out for dinner. Our eyes met and we danced. It was magic Son. We spent time in Santa Fe together and talked things over. The pieces of the puzzle fit natural like. She agreed to go to Dallas with us and we grew closer. I love her very much. But I also want you to know that both of us are still in love with our lost partners. We realize that and are willing to support each other. She is a rare and understanding woman.”

“What more can a man ask for? She’s beautiful too. I want you to be happy so bad Pa. There’s nothing to worry about from me. I have close to three months before school starts again. One more year and I’ll be able to move to a better school.”

“Do you think this is doing you right? How were your grades?”

“I like it fine Pa. I made “A” grades in every class so far. I do my work as part of my grade. The survey job is the best thing I could be doing. I’m helping to lay out a town. Enid is growing fast. I know I probably won’t stay there in the long run, but just think of what I might be doing in the coming years. North Fork may even need to expand and I’d love to be part of that work.”

“I’m sure you will be called upon when that day comes. Maybe you can take a look around the ranch while you’re here. I’d love to know what you think about how straight things are being built. You can teach me some of your new tricks. I never have had the far fence line checked. We just eyeballed most of it.”

“I’d be happy too. I learned a great deal when we surveyed for the railroad tracks. They have to be very accurate over a great distance. And there’s plenty of property line issues to clear up along the way. That’s when things get interesting!”

“I bet they do Son! I can’t get over how grown up you’ve become. I’m very proud of you.”

“And I’m very proud of you! I’m getting to see my father spread his wings after such a long time taking care of me. You know, it took me a while to realize just how fortunate I am to have you as my Pa. Now that I’ve been away, I know what it means to be a man. Every lesson we ever had together has brought me to this point of self reliance. You really did have your hands full with me when we first came here. I hope I wasn’t too much trouble!”

“Trouble! Why you whipper snapper! I’ll show you how much trouble it was!” Lucas grabbed Mark and wrestled him back out of the house and they barged into the lodge to rejoin the party.

Mark walked right over to Will and took him aside for a long awaited chat.

“Hi ya Will! Seems I’ve been missing all the action around here! I sure was a small one last time I saw you!”

“Mark! It’s been, almost ten years I reckon. I’ve been wondering about you a whole bunch. I bet you had quite a surprise seeing all this change around here!

“That’s an understatement. Pa told me how he brought you here to do my chores. I’m right happy that you decided to keep him company while I was gone. I was very worried about him. Now I see how well you took my place!”

“I wouldn’t exactly say that I took your place. We’re more like brothers than father and son.”

“I understand, but I know my Pa, he thinks of you like a son. It’s me that’s proud to have you as a brother!”

“Why thank you Mark! I really appreciate that. Don’t you ever think for one second that I‘d try to take your place. But I have to say that your Pa gave me a chance to get my life back. Ann is very special and her father has taken me in as one of his own.”

“Sam is a great friend. Ann helped me with my homework often. Pa and I spent many evenings with them for supper. We’ve been as family for many years.”

“And many more to come. We have so much to catch up on Mark. Our wedding is going to be very soon. I hope you have time to stay here a good long while.”

“Most of the summer I would say, a couple of months at least.”

“I have so much I want to talk about. I hope you don’t mind if I’m a bit busy until after the wedding. Do you think you could be my best man?”

“No foolin’!!!!!! How can I say no to that!”

“No fooiln’. Your Pa is to take the part as father of the groom. I can’t think of anyone else I would rather have as my best man.”

“Why I’d be honored Will. I haven’t been part of a wedding before. I wasn’t expecting this, Wow!”

“I already talked to your Pa about it and he was very happy. It means a lot to me after all that we have been through.”

“That’s great. I want to thank you again for saving my life from that cliff. I was such a dummy for hiking alone. What a miracle that was!”

“You sure said a mouthful there. If that hadn’t happened, none of this would have come to pass. Miracles occur for a reason. I’ve come to realize that in so many ways. At that time, you forced me to make a decision between right and wrong, one that changed my life forever. It’s me that should be thanking you. I’m deeply sorry for the way I treated you and your Pa. I was just about your age then and I still wasn’t half as grown up as you are. I had way too much on my conscience and was struggling to handle it. I hope you understand.”

“It was hard as a small boy, but I fully understand now. Pa had a way of telling me what grown up things were about after they happened.”

Lucas is a very wise man. His eyes have witnessed more than all of us combined. He’s had to make the hardest decisions and there is none better in times of need. We are all richly blessed to be in his presence. Even in my darkest hour he knew to treat me with tough love. He put things straight right away and gave me the option to chose to do the right thing. That’s what made it work for the best.”

“I know this is a hard question but I feel a need to ask it, please forgive me. Do you hold my Pa responsible for how your brother died?”

“We’ve had many long talks. I may have felt that early on. Hank was a very sick man in his soul. None of us were responsible for why he was that way. We both had a bad case of resentment for what happened to our parents. Hank made his choice and went for his gun first. We all made our choices that day and your father had to protect you. I hope that I could make the same choice now that I have grown up. I can never feel bad about Lucas McCain. Hank and I had no right to threaten you guys in the first place. Can you imagine how selfish I would be if I tried to hold that against your father?”

“You put that very well brother. I want you to know that I hold no grudge from those days. Pa has explained most of it to me over the years. I feel just like he does. I’d rather help a guy on the way up rather than hurt him on the way down. We cross paths for a reason and we can either choose to pass or fail the test. I think you were there to teach us a lesson just as much as we taught you. What we have now is the product of those lessons and it sure looks to me as if we passed the test.”

“As long as we don’t allow ourselves to become arrogant and start to think that we no longer need lessons, we’ll be alright. We have a long time left to enjoy the party Mark. I’m glad we had this talk. I feel so much better now, just like I did when I first talked about this with your Pa. Now, you see that man over there with the derby hat, do you know who he is?”

“I sure do, Bat Masterson. Pa told me plenty about you guys. I read a lot in Enid because they like to write about him in the newspaper.”

“I suppose they do. They knew of him everywhere we went. Well, you go introduce yourself and get to know that man. You’ll never regret a moment.

Will and Ann were very close to finally getting married and busy with the many preparations. Emma arrived on the Saturday before the wedding and now the group was almost complete. Ann’s mother, Vanessa Bard, came by train on Sunday with two nephews to keep her safe. Sam was less than comfortable but put up a good front as they met for the first time in several years. Divorce was not an acceptable solution for their differences and neither of them wanted to admit that love had ended for them long ago. She took up residence in the house and began to rearrange her former nest. Sam let her take over the bedroom and moved to the log home.

Yet another welcoming committee was required for Sarah Cockrell and Turley as they arrived on Tuesday. The lodge was getting a great deal of use as did the new log home. All of the bedrooms were now full. Food preparation became a huge job and many meals were held at the lodge because it was the only place big enough. Lucas put many miles on the buckboard back and forth for supplies in town. He took visitors to shop and others to take care of business. It became hard for him to take care of his own affairs. But this was a very special time and sacrifices had to be made.

The June wedding was to be held Saturday at the church and the reception was to be at the new lodge. Sam was busy getting together enough meat to feed the ever growing list of guests. A band was hired in order to have a barn dance across from the lodge. Ann worked very hard to get the dress finished, her friends met with her almost every day. Emma was helpful because of her costume making experience. She prepared to sing at the service before the wedding and was invited to join the choir. Her show had been a great success and promised to do even better in larger cities later in the year after a summer break.

It seemed odd to those in close company with Will and Ann that neither of them were nervous. Others grew anxious as the day came close. Sam had the most work ahead preparing the beef and seeing that everything was ready for the reception. The hands kept the animals happy. Flash required daily workouts so he would be ready for the competition Ann was scheduled for soon after the wedding. There was still much to do to finish the remodeling of the ranch. Will took Bat out for chores almost every day. Bat felt honored to have a hand at building something for the ranch.

On Thursday a wedding rehearsal was scheduled for late in the afternoon and a dinner at the church afterwards. Lucas was able to break free in the morning as he joined Will and Bat to ride out to the target range. The long awaited time had come! They hitched the horses away from the firing line and the guns came out to play. They had plenty of cards and the holders, but no glass to shatter.

“Are you getting any last minute jitters Will?” Bat had to ask.

“Not so far. I think we have waited so long for this moment that our nerves are very used to the idea. It will be good to get on with our lives once this is done. To tell you the truth, I feel very much married already. I’m dedicated to that angel and nothing can get in the way!”

“Something tells me that the many years of waiting have prepared you both well for marriage. I feel for you Will and I admire your dedication. Ann is a very special woman. It sounds old but it begs to be said, if there was ever a marriage made in Heaven you guys are surely one.” Bat turned and let go of six rounds hitting all six cards in rapid fire. “Does that ever feel good!”

Lucas warmed up by hitting some cards placed at a further distance. “I think Ann wants to get started having a family. She’s going to put you to work more than you know!”

“We’ve talked about that a great deal of course. Naturally I want a boy first and Ann thinks the oldest should be a girl. We’ve even talked about names.”

“Will it be Lucas Bartholomew Fulton or perhaps Sarah Emma Fulton?” Bat laughed and patted Will on the back. I think you should give them family names if you ask me. After your father or mother for instance. And Sam needs to find his way into the mix.”

“I’ve thought about that. I would love any of your names involved, and Mark’s too. But I’m getting way ahead of life here. It’s fun to think about though. The first boy could be after my father, so I have considered Paul Samuel Fulton. And a daughter might be Sarah Ann or Emma Lou. Ann is still thinking on that one. Lou is close to Lucas anyhow. I would love another son to call Lucas though. I guess we need a large family to cover all the people we revere! You guys cause me so much to consider. One thing I can tell you, all of my children will know who you are and what you mean to me. I want to be sure there are some good pictures taken of you both at the wedding.”

“As long as you won’t use them for targets!” Lucas set up some cards for Will who pumped his Lucas McCain Winchester and riddled them with holes.

Will spun the rifle around with ease and gave them a serious look. “Targets? I hope that’s all I ever have to shoot at! Well, maybe a deer or two along the way. I hope we can do that soon, I love venison. We hunted quite a bit in Dallas when I was a boy. Rabbit would be good too.”

“I can see you’ve been practicing Will, very good! After your married, Mark can join us on a hunt. It’s been a long time for me too.” Lucas set some cards up sideways and they all took turns at the split.

Will went first, pumping his rifle from the hip. He hit several cards out of the rapid fire, leaving plenty for Bat and Lucas to kill. “I’ve been practicing, but not that much!”

“I’m still impressed with the way you handle your sword Young Fulton. You will be a showman one day, I can see it now!” Bat chuckled and blasted six cards in a row with his long barreled Colt.

Lucas remained silent with the rifle cuddled in his arms. “Gentlemen, this is the last time this old friend of mine will be fired. I’m taking it home and mounting it over the fireplace after this. From now on I shoot only new rifles, I’m confident of the workmanship and this one has earned its retirement.” He tossed it up, caught it in the air, pumped ten rounds and split ten cards! After a familiar spin he ejected the eleventh round and put it into his shirt pocket. “That’s the last round in the chamber for this baby! It stays right here for good luck!

The evening rehearsal was full of interesting conversation and joking around. Reverend Jamison kept things in order or it would never have been finished. Emma sang a hymn and said a few words to the newlyweds, which was not actually what she was going to say during the ceremony. At the start of the dinner, Reverend Jamison said Grace and gave a brief talk.

“Now that the rehearsal is over and work at starting married life is about to begin for William and Ann, I want to say a few words about these two young people. They are very precious to our community. We all know Ann well because she was raised here, but do we really know her dedication in everything that she does? We all benefit from her giving ways and tireless work at church and around town, but most of all, I want to point out her dedication in waiting for Will and her support for him through his troubling times. Most of you know that I have had to work hard in my life to be forgiven of my past. And we know too that William Fulton has had experience with these matters. In my brief time of knowing him, I have found sincere admiration for the way he has come to North Fork and made a place in our hearts. I look forward to a long time of being his friend. I want him to understand that forgiving is a two way street. It wasn’t easy for him to return here, but are we ever glad that he did! I hope you can find forgiveness for those of us that made it difficult for you in the beginning. I can assure you that this town has nothing but love for you and welcomes you to be one of our own.”

Will stood up to the applause from the group. “Thank you Reverend. I hold no grudges and it wasn’t that bad when I first got here. I guess Jack Donaldson is learning a tough lesson though, but I have found forgiveness for him. My life has been both richly blessed and terribly torn. I almost lost my soul to the rage of revenge. I was on that path when I first came here. If it wasn’t for Mark and Lucas, I may have fallen completely. As it turns out, they have lifted me to new heights. And all I can say for this powerful woman next to me is, I love you. I promise to be one with you for the rest of my life. And I also promise to be part of North Fork, my home. I only have reason to love everyone here and I pray that they can forgive me for the path that I chose early on.”

Ann started to cry with joy and the Reverend stood there quiet for a few moments.

Lucas shuffled uneasy in his chair and whispered to Mark.

“You haven’t told Will about my past with Jamison have you?”

“No Pa! Never would I do that. I thought you probably already had though.”

“Well, I just never found the right time with all he’s been through. I haven’t said a thing about the fires because I thought it would bother him.”

“I understand, I won’t say anything. But someday he’s bound to find out. You should be the one to tell him.”

“Like usual, I think you’re right son. Comes a time for all things. He should be ready to know about it by now. I just don’t want to spoil the wedding or anything.”

“I know what you mean Pa. I try to never bring up the bad things that happened to us. It doesn’t serve any good purpose as far as I can see. I’m sure you’ll find the right time.”

“It’s just that I’m nervous that Jamison will say something to him. You know how he likes to go on about being forgiven for his past.”

“I know, we talked about that plenty Pa.”

“Thanks for your wisdom Mark. I’ll get to it soon.”

The Reverend went on about Ann before she got up to respond.

“Thank you Reverend Jamison. I just want to say thank you to everyone for supporting us and being such great family and neighbors. My life has certainly been richly blessed by all of you. I want to express my extreme gratitude to Lucas McCain and Bat Masterson for their unending forgiveness and aid in bringing William back to North Fork.” Ann gazed into Bat’s eyes. “And for helping him to regain his rightful place in this world. I love you William. I am proud to be your wife and I promise to be one with you for the rest of our lives.”

Will stood up and they kissed for a moment. “Guess I’m feeling married already!” Everyone applauded the new couple to be and then dinner was served. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and corn on the cob was a favorite at times like these. It was hard to break the monotony of a mostly beef diet and there was plenty of that to look forward too in the coming days.

On Friday it was the custom to have a party for the groom with men only present. This was not used in the traditional way of celebrating a last day of bachelorhood, but it was a great reason to have a roaring party at the lodge with many guests from town. Will held court at the pool table and tried to keep his drinking to a minimum. He didn’t want to admit it, but he was getting pretty good at pool. So were most of the hands. Bat kept the poker table busy with Sam and Lucas at his side. Will eventually joined in and proved his skills there as well. The beer and whiskey flowed free and everybody enjoyed a turn at both tables. It was starting to become more of a saloon than a lodge, but Sam and Lucas loved the idea as they could keep the men out of trouble and give bigger parties without worries from strangers in town. Mark was allowed to join in the fun, but he didn’t want to drink. He played pool and cards with good skill. It was a great time for him to learn the fine points of poker from a master. When it became rather late, Lucas nudged Will and said they should go take a walk.

“Will, it occurs to me that we haven’t had a good talk in a while. I know it’s a busy time and all, but I want to put a few things at ease before tomorrow. We both have a pinch of liquor in us and it might be a bit easier for what I have to tell you.”

Will got a puzzled look on his face and rapped Lucas on the shoulder. “There can’t be anything troubling you now!”

“It’s not really trouble, but I want to tell you about something before it gets around to you from any other source. I haven’t told you everything about my past or Mark’s.”

“Ah, that’s alright brother. What could be so important now?”

“It has to do with Reverend Jamison. We go back a long way, kind of like it was with Simon Battle. He used to be part of a bad crowd in Oklahoma. And it has to do with burning settlers out of their farms and ranches.”

“Oh my, I had no idea! What should we do?”

“I hope there’s nothing needs being done, but I just want you to know. It’s similar to Simon Battle because I had to come to a point of forgiveness with this man some years ago. He showed up in town after being in prison. I was convinced he was hiding as a coward and could not really be a preacher. I told him long ago that I would kill him if I ever saw him again. And wouldn’t you know it, I was right there near the church on a Sunday when I saw him. The town had just voted to make him the new preacher.”

“And why did you want so bad to kill him?”

“That is the hardest thing I have to tell you about. I could never talk about this, especially after what you had been through. Jamison was what we called a border rider. They tried to protect their interests in the land from the many settlers coming that way. He burned my father’s entire farm, our house, the barns, and the crops. It was the most rotten thing I ever saw in my life. He didn’t kill anyone, but he laid waste to everything we had. It broke our hearts and my father died a sorrowful death not long after. Our family struggled for a very long time until we were able to start the ranch that Margaret and I wound up living on when we had Mark. Even then it was not easy, but we made due until a few years after Margaret died. That’s when we decided to move on and found North Fork. I hope you can understand how I felt for you when I learned of your family’s story. I couldn’t find a way to let you know I had been through almost the same thing.”

“That is incredible! All of this time I’m thinking that I’m the only one with a tragic ordeal before me, and you have been through the very same thing! I don’t know what to say.” Will looked to the ground and thought for a few moments.

“There is more. When Mark and I first bought the ranch here, men from the neighboring ranch came along to run us off. They burned our first house to the ground right in front of us. My Boy had to stand there and watch them horse drag me and shoot the place up before they set the fire. So you see, we have been affected by this and many other tragic things. I don’t tell you about this now to get you all bollixed up before your wedding tomorrow though. I simply don’t want you hearing about this from anyone else. I could never find a right time to tell you about it. It had been many years and I had already forgiven and put it all behind me. I didn’t want any of it to affect you.”

“I know this must be hard for you Lucas. If I had known, I would never have expected you to put up with me. I have always felt uneasy about being amongst you all because of my trouble. I never meant to cause you any pain!”

“You haven’t Will. If anything, it carried me through and convinced me to stand by you at all cost. I want you to feel good about what happens here and I know that if you heard about it from Jamison or even Mark, that it might not be such a good thing. And I thought it only fair that you know about Jamison before he performs your wedding ceremony. I forgave him, and that was tough, but after what you have been through, it’s my hope that you can see past it too. Reverend Jamison has been here a long time now and has proven his worth many times over. We are both humbled by the past and renewed by finding that forgiveness. I knew you were doing the right thing when we visited your parent’s grave site. I wanted you to come to your own terms without my interfering. Can you understand that?

Will looked up from the ground with a smile on his face. “I don’t call a man my brother lightly Lucas McCain! We are wed as family as much as anyone else on this earth. You saved my life as have many others now. I can’t fault you for holding any of this back. Maybe it would have affected me in a bad way, maybe not. I’m just glad that you felt right about telling me. I respect your decision to keep it to yourself all of this time. And I can’t let it bother me now. Reverend Jamison has been a good friend. I have no reason to let any of this affect what is going to happen tomorrow. Your forgiving him is good enough for me. And I’ll let him bring it up on his own if he chooses too. I can only thank you for bringing me to this point here and now, what a blessing you have been to me brother!”

“Thank you Will. I feel much better now that we have this over with. We can rest easy and concentrate on building on our blessings for the future.”

“Now that we talk of this, I still have something to get off my chest. I need to forgive Hank. It’s been bothering me greatly and I want to take him to Dallas next time. It’s only right that he is together with our parents. And I need to find forgiveness for Carlson somehow. If you can forgive Jamison, I can do the same for Carlson.

“I have looked that man in the face and witnessed him under interrogation. He has been the lowest of the low. But he was able to care about Gerald Beckwith. I still don’t believe his story, but we needed to get the statement to prove our case. It would do no good to destroy his life. Carlson eventually broke down and admitted who he was. He was tired of his paranoid life in hiding. Carlson, Renfro, and the rest hurt so many people. Many underworld criminals from New York to Texas may be missing a few friends, but the problems they cause will always be there. I have to tell you that memories of Jamison went through my mind as I first saw Carlson on that boat. Now tell me the Lord wasn’t looking after me on that day!”

“I know he was. You sure took it on faith to foil their plan. I bet that fish got on your line on purpose too. You could have let him go Lucas. Nobody expected you to risk your life for that. Carlson wasn’t that important. You had enough proof.”

“I know we did. But we felt so bad that we let him slip through our fingers. Part of me knew it was my fate to catch him. With all of the methods he could have chosen to get away, how did it work out that I would be there? It was too much to be coincidence.”

“Thank you Lucas. You and Bat put your life on the line. Not just for me, but for all who were wronged. I would rather have been with you, but it was right for one of us to be with the girls.”

“Everything fell into place. New York thugs couldn’t deal with our guns. When I was walking on the dock with that rifle in my hands I had no fear. Bat came right along and we put them to shame. Somehow we knew, it was the same feeling I had when I went out the door with Simon. So many times in my life I’ve been confronted by criminals and the same feeling comes over me. I know that God is on my side. When I watched Simon walk up on the last man I was aiming right at him ready to kill. I knew not to, and so did Simon. I’m glad I only wounded Carlson’s men that day. I’m tired of the killing. Bat doesn’t like it either. He prefers to give them time to think about their crimes. I see what he means now.”

“I don’t want to see Carlson hang. I may even try to see him next time I’m in Dallas. He can have my face in his memory after that as well. Thanks for talking to me about this stuff Lucas. It does put my mind at ease. I’m glad I know about Reverend Jamison and it is fitting that a man such as he can join us in matrimony tomorrow. It forms a perfect circle of forgiveness and I’m proud to be part of it.”

“Your welcome William Fulton, my brother. I think we know each other pretty well. We have great weight off our shoulders now, let us go on together never to look back.” Lucas turned quick as he heard the door to the lodge slam.

“Pa, Pa…. look here….Pa! I just won twenty dollars off of Bat Masterson! I’m gonna frame this, Oh Boy!”

“Mark, your gonna spend that before you know it. And not on candy mind you!” Lucas ruffled Mark’s hair and the three went back into the lodge to enjoy the rest of the evening.

Fulton’s Foray — And Wedding Bells Will Chime

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!

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