The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

Pa's Treasure
Written by Michelle Palmer

A Mark’s Memory Production
 
The memory of my mother’s death was still so fresh in my mind. It had only been about seven months or so since her death and we were now living in Claypool, Wyoming. Some days I could go all day without really thinking about her; and others, everything reminded me of her and I would hurt so terribly bad. I could see the hurt in my Pa’s heart too. He tried to bury it and carry me along the way, but there were some days when I wished I could share in that hurt.  Even at the young age of seven I knew that.
 
Today, Pa was having to work and I didn’t have school, because it was Saturday.. Pa didn’t much care for taking me with him to work on account that I got pretty bored, and when I was bored, I was underfoot…I mean really underfoot. At least that’s what I overheard Pa tell Mr. Michaels one day. Pa said, too, that I liked to talk a lot – and sometimes my talk was an… annoy… annoying. I reckon that was what he called it and I guess it was true, but I still remembered Mama telling Pa that if I didn’t talk, I wouldn’t learn anything.
 
I sat in the chair across from Pa’s desk. I planted my elbows on my thighs and rested my head in my hands. I heaved a great big sigh. “Pa?”
 
Pa was at the desk working on paperwork. He said he had to get it in the afternoon’s mail – it was mighty important that he did! “Hm?” Pa mumbled, not looking up from his work.
 
“Why do I have to be here?” I groaned.
 
“Because I can’t leave you at the house alone,” Pa answered.
 
“Why not?” I asked.
 
“Because you’re too little,” Pa stated.
 
“But I’m seven years old!” I declared.
 
“Yes. You are.” Pa was still mumbling.
 
“That’s plenty old enough ta stay at home by myself.”
 
“I don’t think so, son.” Pa suddenly looked up from his paperwork. “Now, stop talking. Why don’t you spend this time reading your lesson? You didn’t do very well on your reading last week. I think you can use the practice.” I just sat in the chair and sighed. “Mark?”
 
I looked up at Pa then. “Yes Pa?”
 
“The book.” Even at the young age of seven I knew that look. I slowly stood up and shuffled my feet across the floor as I went for my book. Then I plopped myself down on the couch and opened the book to read.
 
I didn’t read very long. I closed it and shuffled back over to Pa. I stood right beside him and tapped him on the shoulder. Pa paused in his writing and looked up at me. “How long we gonna be here, Pa?”
 
“Until the Marshal comes back, son,” Pa answered.
 
“How long will that be, Pa?” I asked then. Pa suddenly slammed his pencil down on the table and looked up at me. I jumped at the sound. “I’m sorry, Pa.” I hung my head and started back for the couch.
 
Pa suddenly reached out to me and grabbed my arm. “No, son…I’m sorry.” I saw the pain in Pa’s eyes. “Now…please, son…go read, huh?”
 
“Yes, Pa.” I slowly walked back over to the couch and sat down. I read for a few more minutes. Then I heard laughter from the street. I stood and walked over to the window. There I saw Bobby and some of his friends playing. I hurried over to Pa lickety-split like and tugged on his arm again. “Pa, Pa!”
 
“Hm?” Pa mumbled.
 
“Bobby and some of the others are playing outside. Can I go out? Please Pa? Can I?” I jumped up and down as I pleaded.
 
Pa looked up at me. “You remember what happened last time I let you go out there? You started making fun of a little boy. That won’t happen this time?”
 
“No sir!” I declared. “A big bite of that lye soap you buy at the store sure did learned me, it did! Honest!” I gave him the best cute little boy expression I could muster. “Please Pa?”
 
Pa scratched under his nose as he thought on it. “Well…alright.” I started to run out the door. “But, if you get in trouble, they’ll be more than just lye soap to contend with! You hear me, boy?”
 
“Yes sir! Thanks, Pa!”
 
I hurried out on the street. Some of the boys were already leaving. “I’m too late?” I asked.
 
Bobby shrugged and held up his hands. “Sorry.” Bobby sat down with me on a bench out on the side of the street. “But hey, I was about to go exploring in some caves. Wanta come with?”
 
“Caves?” I asked excitedly. “Where?”
 
“Come on! I’ll show you!” I raced off with him. It was quite a ways to that pile of big rocks outside of town. But we finally got there and walked. “Who do you want to be? Lewis or Clark?”
 
“Lewis or who?” I asked. “Who’s that?”
 
Bobby turned and stared at me. “You mean…You don’t know who the great explores – Lewis and Clark are?” Bobby’s eyes grew wide.
 
“Well…” I planted my hands on my hips. “Maybe not, but do you know who General Sheridan is?” I sat down. “Pa was tellin’ me ‘bout a poem that was written for him. He’s gonna make me memorize it when I get a little bigger.”
 
“Well…okay. You be Lewis and I’ll be Clark. Okay Lewis, you go first!” Bobby announced.
 
“Why me?”
 
Bobby rolled his eyes. “It’s called Lewis and Clark – not Clark and Lewis! Now, go on!” He gave me a little push. “Let’s go!”
 
I started into the cave. “It’s awful dark in here, Bobby! Ya sure we won’t get in trouble?” I asked. I didn’t like how dark it was. “There could be a great big bear in here and I wouldn’t even see it!”
 
Bobby rolled his eyes at me again. “Oh Mark!”
 
I went inside. It sure was cool in here – that’s for sure. “Gee, this sure is a swell place, Bobby! I’ll hafta remember this when it’s hot outside. I walked further back into the cave. I sure would feel better if there was more light though. Suddenly, I tripped over something. I landed on my knees. The jagged rocks on the floor of the cave poked into me. I felt the sting as my knees were skinned. “Ow!” I cried out.
 
I turned and felt around. “I think I tripped over a big rock! I-“ But then my hand touched it. It wasn’t a big rock. It was something. I felt around, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. “Bobby! Help me get this outside.”
 
Bobby and I both lifted it. We grunted as we carried it out. “It sure is heavy!” Bobby declared.
 
“Yeah!” The sunlight hit us as we exited the cave. I looked down at the item we were carrying. I gasped. “Bobby, it’s a chest! It’s like a…
 
“Treasure chest!” Bobby declared.
 
“Yeah!” I breathed. “Hey, let’s open it!” We tried lifting the latch. It wouldn’t budge. “You reckon it’s locked, Mark?”
 
“Ain’t no keyhole! Let’s find something to pry it open!” Bobby found a big stick and a skinny rock. We sat on the ground taking turns. Finally, the latch gave way. Bobby and I looked up at each other. “Now we can open it!” I reached out. “I’ll do it.”
 
“No, I’ll do it!” Bobby shouted.
 
“No! I’m Lewis, remember?” I reminded him sarcastically.
 
“You got to go first in the cave, so I get to go first this time! It’s fair!” Bobby argued.
 
“You made me go first, Bobby!” I whined.
 
“Mark…” Bobby said in a warning voice.
 
I closed my eyes with a sigh. “Oh…alright.”
 
Bobby slowly reached out his hand to lift the lid. We looked at each other with keen anticipation. My heart began beating faster and faster. What would we find inside the camp? Was it jewels from far away? Was it gold? Was it…We both looked down into the chest and gasped. The treasure that met our eyes was more then we could EVER imagine!
 
Chapter 2
 
“Wow!” I breathed. Bobby repeated me. We just stared down into the chest. “Have you ever seen so much money before?”
 
Bobby picked up a handful of the coins and let them fall. “There has to be at least…a hundred million dollars in here, Mark!”
 
“Hey, let’s count it!” I said as I grabbed a handful of it.
 
Bobby rolled his eyes at me. “Mark…Can YOU count to a hundred million? Why, that’s more then…well…that’s more than a zillion…I think.”
 
“No…” I shook my head. “But I reckon split among us it’s more than our Pa’s will ever need! They won’t ever have to work again! My Pa can get that ranch he’s always wanted and..”
 
“Wait! What if pirates hid this money here and they took it from somebody’s ship.” We looked down into the chest again. “Somebody’s just gotta be missing it…a hundred million dollars an awful lot of money for a person to be missing!”
 
“Yeah…” I nodded. “Let’s hide it back in the cave. We’ll run and tell my Pa what we found.” I looked up into the sky to see the sun. I gasped. “Bobby, it’s…it’s…the sun’s sinking fast! My Pa’s gonna be awful sore!”
 
“Let’s go!” We closed the lid and dragged it back into the cave. “Hey Mark, what if some pirates take the money afore your Pa get’s here? Maybe we oughta…”
 
“I think it’ll be safe, Bobby. Sides, I’ll be dead if I don’t get home soon! You don’t know how my Pa worries. Especially since…” I hung my head.
 
“Since what?” Bobby asked.
 
I shrugged. “Nevermind. Let’s go!”
 
We ran as fast as we could across the prairie. The house we were renting was a lot closer then town so we thought we’d stop there. Outside were two horses – Pa’s and Sheriff Browning’s horses. “Oh no…” I groaned. “He IS worried – the Sheriff’s here!”
 
We hurried toward the house. Pa and the Sheriff came out as we were running. I hurried up in front of him talking a mile a minute. “Pa, Pa…you gotta come! You just ain’t gonna believe it! Not in a million trillion years you ain’t Pa! I…”
 
Pa had his hands on his hips and a very angry look on his face. He started towards me. “Where have you been young man?”
 
“Pa, that’s what I’m trying to tell you! Bobby and me…we found…” I started to explain again.
 
“I don’t care what you found, Mark!” Pa shouted. “All I know is that I gave you permission to go outside and play with the boys in town. You weren’t where you are supposed to be! Do you think I enjoy worrying about you? Huh?” Pa’s voice boomed. He looked like a great big red monster at the moment. I swallowed. I’d suddenly lost my ability to speak as he stood over me.
 
Pa turned to Bobby. “Bobby, go home!” Pa nudged toward the road. Bobby backed off and obeyed. I watched him run off for home. Pa reached out and grabbed me by the ear. “As for you, my little one, you get in your room.”
 
“But Pa, I…”
 
“NOW!” He boomed as he pulled my by the ear into the house. He led me toward the bedroom and opened the door. I went to sit on the bed. He jabbed a finger at me. “I’ll deal with you later!” Then he slammed the door shut.
 
I jumped about a foot off my bed and sighed. I hadn’t seen Pa this angry since I decided to paint the walls in our house back in Oklahoma green…I still wasn’t sure who was more angry – Pa or Ma…I sighed as I put my head in my hands. I missed her something awful! When I thought about her, something way down deep inside me started hurting. Then it grew and grew until…
 
“I’m sorry, Sheriff. That boy…sometimes I don’t know what I’m going to do with him!” Pa declared.
 
I suddenly realized I could hear pretty clearly through the door. I quietly made my way over to the door so I could listen. “Well, he’s only seven. You can expect such antics from a young boy.” Sheriff Browning laughed. “You’d worry if he never got himself into trouble.”
 
“Yeah.” Pa said in a voice that told me Pa wasn’t laughing.
 
“So anyway…about this money…It’s been missing for months. No one’s been able to find it. It’s a lot of money – something like $50,000.00. And it’s all in coins. The person that finds that is going to get a hefty reward!”
 
“And they never found the men who stole it?” Pa asked.
 
“All we know, Lucas, is that one day it was in the safe, and the next day it wasn’t. They don’t have any trace of who…or what…took the money.”
 
“What?”
 
“Strange noises were heard in town. It scared everybody pretty bad. I reckon that’s how they got off scot-free with the money. No trace of it!”
 
“Well…I’ll keep my eyes and ears open, Sheriff. How long ago did this happen?”
 
“About three months ago. These notes started showing up about a week ago. They just appeared in my mailbox at the post office.” Sheriff Browning shook his head. “It sure is queer to me.”
 
“Well…like I said…I’ll keep my eyes and ears open.” I heard rattling of paper. “I’ll keep those notes and look over them carefully. I may be able to see something you don’t – what with my being pretty new in the area and all.”
 
I stood and walked from the door as I thought on this. Now, I was a pretty practical-thinking sort of guy, and right now I was thinking REALLY practical! If Bobby and I could find the person responsible for hiding the money in the cave, we could claim the reward. I didn’t know what it was, but it must have been an awful lot the way the Sheriff was talking. I knew I had to keep this secret from my Pa, but boy oh boy, would he EVER be excited when I revealed the big surprise to him. Why, he’d be busting out proud of me because we’d have money aplenty to get the ranch!
 
I heard the front door open and close and knew the Sheriff was leaving. I went to look out the window. Pa and the Sheriff were shaking hands and talking. Pa smiled at the Sheriff as he got on his horse and rode away. Then Pa turned back toward the house. His smile disappeared. I gulped.
 
I hurried over to the bed and sat down. The door to my bedroom started opening very, very slowly. The door grew wider and wider. Pa looked like a giant standing in the doorway with his hands falling on his hips and his legs spread out a bit. “Mark…” Pa’s voice sounded loud in the quiet bedroom. He took a few steps forward into the bedroom. “Mark McCain, come here.”
 
I stood up from my bed. Slowly, I took steps toward my Pa. I went to stand right in front of him. Then I lifted my head up higher…and higher…and higher…He really was a giant! I’d never noticed before. I swallowed hard the lump in my throat. Then I managed to say in a weak voice. “Yes Pa?”
 
Pa folded his arms across his chest. “You disobeyed me today, son.”
 
“Yes sir,” I answered.
 
“You ran off with Bobby without telling me.”
 
“Yes sir,” I answered again.
 
“Now, I want you to tell me where you went, son.”
 
I tried to decide on what to say. I couldn’t lie to Pa, and yet…I couldn’t tell him the truth! I was about to solve the mystery of that would get him the ranch he always wanted!
 
“Well?”
 
“Well…” I gulped again as I lifted my head back up towards him. He was so far up there. I didn’t scare easy, but looking at my Pa in this instance…I was really scared! “Well…” I tried again.
 
“You said that already.” He waited. “You were all set to tell me everything while ago. What happened?”
 
I swallowed. “Alright…I’ll tell ya where we were, Pa.” Pa kneeled down in front of me. I felt a little better now that I didn’t have to look up so far. I could see that some of the angry stuff had left his eyes and I was sure happy about that! Maybe I would live after all! “Bobby and me…we went explorin’!”
 
“Exploring?” Pa lifted one of his eyebrows that always told me he was trying to figure me out. “Where?”
 
“In some caves.”
 
“Caves?” Pa sighed and folded his arms. “Now Mark, you know better! There’s all sorts of dangers in those caves! I’ve told you before…” Pa suddenly looked me up and down. He saw my torn pants. “Mark!” Pa hollered at me suddenly. “Do you know how much those pants cost me?”
 
“I…I’m sorry, Pa. I…I fell in th’ cave…It was just so dark and..” I sniffed then, sorry I had upset him so much. “I’m… sorry.” I hung my head.
 
“No, son.” Pa put a hand under my chin and lifted it. “I’m sorry. I guess I’m forgetting that you’re a boy. I just…” Pa sighed. “It’s just so hard being both a Ma and a Pa.”
 
I lowered my head in spite of Pa’s hand holding it up. “I miss her somethin’ awful, Pa.”
 
“Me too, son.” Pa wrapped his arms around me and hugged me. “Me too.” I felt more tears fall from my eyes.
 
The hurt was getting bigger. I felt as it grew and grew until I was once again crying for my mother. “Why won’t she come back to us, Pa?” I cried. “Why?” Pa lifted my head from his shoulder and pushed me away from him. “God made the whole world in six days, Pa. You told me that yourself. And you said that he put Adam here…If God can do all that, he can bring me my Mama back. That ain’t so hard for a man like God…Is it?”
 
Pa lowered his head. He laid his forehead against mine and sighed. “No son…One wouldn’t think so.” Then he cleared his throat. “Now, we’ll take a look at those knees. Then you’ll spend the rest of the evening in your room. I’ll bring you in a sandwich in a bit. Tomorrow after church, you will sit in here for the remainder of the day and think about the worry you put me through…and all the reasons you shouldn’t have done what you did.”
 
“But Pa, I-“ I started.
 
But Pa held up his hand to stop me. “Not another word, Mark. Less the punishment be greater.” He looked me squarely in the eye then. “And trust me…you won’t like it.”
 
“Yes sir.”
 
Chapter 3
 
I sat in Sunday School the next day. Bobby sat down beside me. “You get in a lot of trouble, Mark?” Bobby asked.
 
I nodded. “Pa’s makin’ me sit an’ think all day today. You know how hard it is for a fella like me to sit and think, Bobby?”
 
“Yeah…” Bobby sighed. “My Pa did an awful lot of yelling himself last night.”
 
“But your Pa…he’s a decon!” I declared.
 
“So?” Bobby shrugged.
 
“That would be like…well…like God yelling at us! You reckon that God would yell too?” I wondered then.
 
“Well…” Bobby thought on this. “I reckon if one got him mad enough God would do an awful lot of yelling. I can’t imagine everything he said to Adam and Even when he kicked them out of their home.” He shivered. “I reckon my Pa’s yelling at me ain’t nothin’ compared with God’s. So I reckon I’m glad it was Pa.”
 
“Yeah!” I shook my head. “Say…you didn’t tell your Pa nothin’ about the money, right?”
 
“I started to, but Pa didn’t want to hear anything of it. When he found out we went to the caves, he was awful sore, Mark!” The teacher was beginning to talk now so Bobby bent down closer to me. “You tell your Pa?”
 
“No. But I hafta talk to you about somethin’! Meet me at the big oak tree at lunch tomorrow. We’ll be able to talk in private. Don’t say anything at all about the treasure chest! You won’t believe what I found out when I was listenin’ at the door yesterday!”
 
Bobby’s eyes grew wide. He just stared at me. I shook my head, telling him I could tell him nothing more at the moment. “Bobby Michaels!” Miss Michaels cleared her throat. “Do you want me to get your father?”
 
“No ma’am!” Bobby declared. All the kids laughed at how Bobby said that. They knew Miss Michaels was Bobby’s aunt. “Now, I was saying, today, we are talking about treasure in Heaven.”
 
I didn’t listen…because then I started thinking about the treasures that I knew were hiding in a cave not far off. And soon…very soon…my Pa would have all the treasure he ever needed!
 
***
 
As soon as the sun hit the valley I was up and getting dressed. When I left the bedroom, I saw Pa in the kitchen trying to fix the oatmeal. “Mornin’ son.” Pa suddenly cried out. “Ouch!” I saw him put a finger to his mouth. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to all this domestic stuff!”
 
“What’s domestic stuff?” I asked.
 
“The stuff your…” Pa turned and looked at me. For some reason, he didn’t want to finish that sentence. “Uh…cooking and cleaning and stuff.” Pa wiped his hands on his pants as he took the pan off the stove.
 
“Well, I’m gonna go do my chores, Pa. Then I’ll eat breakfast so’s I can get an early start to school.”
 
Pa gave me a strange look. “You sick or something, Mark?”
 
“No sir.”
 
“You don’t have some big plan to play hooky today, do you? Because if you do…” Pa lifted a finger to shake it at me.
 
“No sir! I’m going to school, Pa.” I hurried out the door. I ran to the barn and milked the cow. In fact, I was milking so hard she started mooing. I apologized to ol’ Molly and slowed down. But I still filled the bucket up past the allowed level. Pa didn’t like me filling the bucket up. He said I splashed it around too much and it wasted good milk. I grabbed the second bucket and started milking her again, but I knew Pa would yell about the first. He’d tell me I weren’t on mind of my chores.
 
I hurried the milk inside as fast as I could. First the one bucket, then the other. “Mark, you filled…” Pa started.
 
I grabbed the basket for the eggs. “I know, Pa…I know!” I hurried out the door. At the chicken coop, I hurried and looked for all the eggs, dropping two in the process. Pa walked out while I was still working on gathering the eggs.
 
“Alright Mark, what’s going on? In all my born days I’ve never seen a little boy so excited about school.”
 
I knew I wasn’t doing a good job at covering up the secret. Pa took the basket of eggs for me and pointed at the two broken eggs on the ground. “I just…” I sighed. “I’m working on a surprise for you at school, Pa…honest!”
 
Pa studied my face. He cocked his head to one side as he tried to decide if he wanted to believe that or not. He finally sighed and put a hand on my shoulder. “Alright son. Get inside and eat.
 
I breathed a deep sigh of relief. Whew…that was a close one! “Uh…Pa?”
 
Pa looked down at me. “Yes, son?”
 
“Uh…are you deputying today?”
 
“Yes son,” Pa answered. “But when you get out of school, come straight home and start on your chores. I’ll be home just after you.”
 
I smiled to myself. “Alright, Pa.”
 
***
 
“It’s what????” Bobby gasped.
 
I put a finger to my lips to shush him. “Not so loud!” I sighed. “This is top secret!” I folded my arms. “Now, after school, we have to go to the house. I think my Pa has a clue to the mystery in his desk. Pa said he’ll be home shortly after we get there, but we should have time to look at the notes…”
 
“What notes?” Bobby asked.
 
“Notes the robber left about the money. The Sheriff took ‘em to my Pa Saturday.” I threw the remainder of my apple in the grass behind me. “Now…when we get done with school, we can’t waste no time in talkin’! We have to get right to our farm house. Ya hear?” Bobby nodded.
 
I stood up to start toward the school. Bobby jumped up. “What if there is a clue in the note?” Bobby asked. “What do we do?”
 
“We follow the clue!” I declared.
 
Bobby shook his head. “But our Pa’s!”
 
I rolled my eyes. “Bobby, we have $50,000.00 in the cave! We’ll probably get half of it and our Pa’s will be happy and overlook any of the wrong we do!”
 
In my little seven year old mind, it all made sense…If only it had really been that easy…
 
Chapter 4
 
The house was quiet when we hurried inside. “We have to hurry!” I ran over to Pa’s desk and started opening the draws. “Pa will whip me if he catches us.” I felt a little guilty about breaking the rules. Pa’s desk was off limits. This is where he kept all his important stuff. But today I had something important to do, and I knew Pa would forgive me when he saw all the treasure we found. “Aha!” I pulled the notes out of the drawer. There were two of them.
 
“Give ‘em to me!” Bobby ordered as he reached out for them.
 
“No!” I held them over my head.
 
“But I’m older then you!” Bobby shouted!
 
“Not that much!” I shouted back. “’Sides…this is my house. It’s rude to act selfish in somebody else’s house…” I opened the first note. I still couldn’t read too good. “It says uh…I am with the…” I shook my head….” With the…”
 
Bobby grabbed it from me. “I am with the mer…mer…me-chen-dise…” Bobby looked up at me. “What’s that mean?”
 
“I don’t know,” I answered. I gasped. “Maybe it’s another word for money!”
 
Bobby shrugged. I opened the second note. “Ro…Ro…”
 
“Oh you!” Bobby snatched the note from me. “You can’t read anything!” He looked at the note. “Roses don’t grow in the winter.” He looked up at me. “Huh?”
 
I took the notes from him and stuffed them back in the drawer. Then I slammed the drawer shut. “The robber must be at the cave!”
 
“We can’t go down there, Mark! Our Pa’s…”
 
I hurried over to the table and grabbed the lantern. “We have to!” I turned and looked at Bobby. “Bobby, you don’t understand.” I shook my head. “Pa…he’s been so…so sad ever since…” I shook my head. “Well, I have to do something to help Pa. He works way too hard, what with working for the Sheriff and then all the farm work too. My Pa…he wants a ranch more than anything, and I think that would make him the happiest. Anything I do wrong will be forgiven once he realizes what I done for him!”
 
I ran to the kitchen and found some matches. Bobby gasped. “Mark! Are you allowed to use those?”
 
I looked down at the match. “Well…” I knew it would be breaking another one of Pa’s rules. He had told me I could light the lamps when he was there, but I wasn’t to mess with matches when he weren’t around. “It’s like I said…we HAVE to do this…for our Pa’s!” I reached out and grabbed Bobby’s arm. “Ain’t there anything your Pa wants? I mean more than anything?”
 
“Pa told Ma he wants Prosp…prosp…” Bobby shook his head. “Well, anyhow, it must be something big, cause he told Ma that he wants it more than anything.”
 
“And my Pa wants his own ranch more than anything!” I declared. “We have to take risks! Now…let’s go before my Pa gets home.”
 
“Mark, if you come back with nothing, your Pa will skin ya!”
 
I thought on that. “I know…” But then I pictured how Pa would look once I handed that big treasure of money over with the robber. “But I also know that my Pa will be mighty happy with the money.  He…he works so hard! And just this morning he said he don’t like all that dom…dom…well…If we had money, he wouldn’t have too cook or clean and such…” I lifted the lantern and stuffed the matches in my pocket. “Come on! Let’s go!”
 
Little did I know that I was forgetting something important. And little did I know what was about to happen to Bobby and me.
 
Chapter 5
 
“Is this…the right cave?” Bobby asked.
 
I nodded as I took the match from my pocket. “This must be where the treasure is!” I declared as I struck the match on a rock and lit the lantern. I turned the light up. “Let’s go!”
 
We stepped into the cave and looked around. We didn’t see the treasure chest anywhere. “It’s not the right one, Mark! I know it ain’t!”
 
I looked down on the ground. Something caught my eye. I bent down and picked it up. It was my Ma’s locket I had in my pocket. “It is the right cave!” I declared. “This musta fell out when I fell.” I stuffed the locket in my pocket as we walked deeper into the cave. “But where’s the money?”
 
“I told ya, Mark! The pirates…” Bobby started.
 
I rolled my eyes. “Oh Bobby! There weren’t no pirates! It was just plain ol’ robbers!” I walked even deeper into the cave. “There has to be a clue around here somewhere. I just know…” I stopped, frozen in my tracks. There in front of us was the remains of camp fire. “See? They HAVE been here!” I declared.
 
“Yeah but…” Bobby started.
 
“What you kids doin’ here!” We slowly turned. There in front of us stood a man with a beard. He looked really mean! “We…we…” I turned and looked at Bobby. “Hey…wait a minute…” the man snapped his fingers as he pointed at us. “Yeah…Yer the two little ones who found the money!”
 
“Money?” Bobby said with a swallow.
 
“Ain’t you two a little far from home? Your folks know you’re down here in these caves?” The man growled.
 
“No…No sir!” I answered as I swallowed.
 
“You two know how much trouble you just caused for yourself in comin’ back here?” The man growled.
 
Suddenly, My Pa’s hovering over me in anger didn’t look scary at all. In fact, right about now…I’d welcome it – even if it meant he gave me the lickin’ of my life! I looked to Bobby. “Well, I think he’s right. I think we better go…”
 
Bobby and I started forward, but the man stuck out his rifle to block our path. “Sorry, boys…But there will be two grieving fathers tomorrow. You see. You’ll be buried alive…I’m afraid you know too much!”
 
“No.” I shook my head. “I won’t tell him…I won’t…”
 
The man snapped his fingers. “Hey…yer Pa’s the deputy…” The man nodded as he gave an evil laugh. “Yeah…I think some call him ‘The Rifleman.’” He laughed.
 
I gulped. “Honest, mister…I won’t tell…Honest!”
 
Bobby leaned over and whispered in my ear. “Forget it, Mark. I know who he is. That’s Mr. MacEntire. He’s th’ mean ol’ man that lives in a shack on the other side of town.”
 
“That’s right, kid!” The man laughed again. “So you see…I have to kill you.”
 
The man started toward the entrance of the cave. “Say good-bye, boys!”
 
“NO!” I screamed.
 
“NO!” Bobby screamed.
 
Suddenly, a shot rang out in the cave. We uncovered our ears. There was no harm and the man was gone. “What…” I started. Then suddenly we heard a rumbling. The ground started shaking. Just as quickly as the rumbling started, everything went black.
 
Chapter 6
 
I opened my eyes. It was pitch dark in here. “Bobby?” I coughed. “Bobby? You okay?” I felt around. I found the lantern and drew out a match from my pocket. This was one time I was glad to have broken one of Pa’s rules. I struck the match and tried to light the wick, but it was very weak.
 
“Mark?” Bobby groaned. “You okay?”
 
“I think so. Parts of me is stinging, but I don’t think I lost any bones. You?”
 
“Same here.” I heard Bobby sit up. “What’s wrong with the light?”
 
“I don’t know.” I shook my head. “It’s having trouble staying lit.”
 
“You did check and make sure there was plenty of oil in it, right?” Bobby asked then.
 
“Oil?” I groaned. “Oh…I didn’t think of it…” I was beginning to understand the importance of all Pa’s rules. “I’m sorry.”
 
“We…we have to get out of here.” Bobby said. “It’s dark!”
 
“Must be a cave in. Pa warned me that could happen.” I sighed and reared my head back. “Ouch!” I turned and felt. There were rocks piled up everywhere. “What do we do?”
 
“I don’t know.” I looked at the lamp. I watched as the little bit of light went out. “You scared of the dark, Bobby?”
 
“N…No…Not normal dark but…” Bobby sniffed. “Mark, I’m scared now!
 
I felt tears fill my own eyes. “It’s all my fault, Bobby…It’s all my…” I started crying. “I want my Pa!”
 
“Me too!” Bobby sniffed.
 
I buried my head in my arms and cried even harder. Suddenly, I felt a hand on my back. “Now Mark, we can’t just cry!  My Pa always ways that when we find ourselves in a mess, we have to pray and..and do…cause God helps those who helps themselves.”
 
I lifted my head and turned it in the direction Bobby was. I couldn’t see anything. That scared me. “Bobby…I don’t know what…what to do.”
 
“Me neither…” Bobby sighed. “I…don’t know what to do.”
 
There was silence in the cave. I lifted my head and turned to Bobby. “You reckon that this is what hell’s like? I mean…if heaven’s full of light then hell…”
 
“Hell ain’t cool, Mark.” Bobby stated. “My Pa said that hell is hot and dark…”
 
“Dark like…like this?” I asked then as I shivered. “You think…You think I’ll go to hell?”
 
“Of course not!” Bobby declared.
 
“But…” I swallowed. “But…I’ve been so bad.”
 
“Pa told me that even in one’s darkest hours…God can save you.” Bobby rubbed my back in comfort. “He said God’s always there if you just ask him.”
 
“Even now?” I asked. “I mean…are we gonna…die?” I was afraid. I knew my Mama was in Heaven, and I wanted more than anything to be there too… If only to feel her arms wrap around me. But…I didn’t want to die and leave Pa alone. I wanted to help him – and I knew that if I died… “I mean…you think that-“
 
“I think we should ask for help, Mark.”
 
I looked up…at least, I think it was up. In the darkness, I wasn’t really sure. “God?” I swallowed. “I know I ain’t deservin’ of your forgiveness and all.” I lowered my head. Then I lifted it back up. “I mean…if you wanta yell…well…I reckon you can, cause I deserve it but…God, will you forgive me and help me? I want to go to Heaven and…” I sighed. “Well…I know that…well…that Pa’s told me you gave us Jesus and he died for me and all so…” I sighed. “well…I thank ya. If you can raise your own son from the dead, then you can save two little boys for their Pa’s…right?”
 
I grew silent, but I suddenly felt some sort of peace fall over me. I heard Bobby speak to God then. In his darkest hour, he was confessing his own need for forgiveness. Then we grew quiet. I started to wonder about my own Pa. “Bobby?”
 
“Yeah?” Bobby whispered.
 
“Well…You reckon that…that my Pa will forgive me?” I asked.
 
“I think so, Mark. I think they’ll punish us, but they’ll forgive us cause…they love us.”
 
“I’m all Pa has left.” I sniffed. “What if…”
 
Bobby shook his head. “You just prayed and asked God for help, Mark! You have to believe He’ll help or it was a waste of breath! Now, since I’m eight years old, this is more my fault then yours, and my Pa will tell me so. Let’s just…Do something…anything…”
 
“HELP!” I screamed. Bobby joined in. We yelled for help as long as we could.
 
Finally, Bobby laid a hand on my arm. “It’s no use. They can’t hear us.” It didn’t seem like it was as easy to breathe as normal. I wondered if it was because we were upset. Sometimes when I was crying really hard, it would get hard to breathe. Then Pa would tell me to take deep breathes to calm down. I tried that, but it hurt my chest so I stopped.
 
“Bobby?”
 
“Yeah?”
 
“My Ma…She’s in Heaven.” I sighed. “Since God forgave me, maybe I’ll see her real soon.”
 
“We have to believe, Mark. They’ll find us, you just have to believe,” Bobby said.
 
“What do you think Heaven’s like, Bobby?” I leaned back against the wall of rocks and closed my eyes. “You reckon it’s real pretty?”
 
“I don’t know…” Bobby sighed. “Ma said that it has streets made out of gold. And the water is like shiny diamonds. Have you ever seen diamonds, Mark?”
 
“No…I don’t think so.”
 
“Arkansas has lots of diamonds. You ever been to Arkansas?” Bobby asked.
 
I turned my head toward Bobby. “How do you know so much?”
 
“Oh…”Bobby laughed lightly. “I like to learn. I read most anything I can get my hands on and…and I talk to folks a lot. It’s the best way to learn.” Bobby grew silent. “Don’t you like to learn much?”
 
“Not really. I like to work with my Pa.” I started crying again. “Bobby…you think he’s looking for me?”
 
“I know our Pa’s love us and they’ll realize somethin’s wrong. They’ll be looking for us.” Bobby answered. “Why’d she die?”
 
“Who?” I asked.
 
“Your Ma.” I heard Bobby shuffle. “Why’d your Ma die?”
 
“She got real sick…It was a bad disease that put spots all over her. It was awful.” I felt that pain inside me again. It started bawling up. I turned from Bobby. “I…I don’t want to talk about it anymore!” I cried.
 
It grew silent in the cave again. I didn’t mind much. I didn’t like to talk about my Ma or think on that time. It was still too fresh in my mind. Pa said we’d never forget – but that we’d learn to live with it. I didn’t want to do either. I just wanted my Ma. I wondered if I could ask God to send her back to my Pa so he could have that dom…dom…that thing he was talking about this morning. I knew I was a pain…always underfoot and such. Maybe if I asked God to take me, he’d send Mama back to make Pa happy again. These days…Pa did an awful lot of yelling and it weren’t no fun to get yelled at all the time. I know I caused problems and maybe…just maybe…
 
I sighed as I talked to God in my head.  God…I know Pa loved Mama a lot. I mean…they were always smiling at each other and talking – even after I went to bed. Well…I think I’m justno good for my Pa and Pa works too hard with me around. I mean he has to take care of me like a Ma does and do the work like a Pa does. Then Imisbehave – some days I can’t seem to do nothin’ right. I just wonder if maybe…Maybe you take me up there…well since I’m in this mess anyhow – and you give Pa Ma back well…maybe you cen make Pahappy and make him stop yelling so much.
 
I started crying as I talked. My heart hurt. He cries a lot to, and I’ve heard tell that when a man cries it’s shameful. I don’t want Pa to me shamed. I want him to be happy…to whistle and hum like he used to, when he had my Ma. I want him sit down at night and read a newspaper if he sees fit. I want you to put that smile back on his face. So…So please, God…Please send my Ma back and take me instead.
 
“Mark?” Bobby broke the silence.
 
“Yeah?”
 
“I don’t want the reward no more. I just want…” Bobby stopped talking.
 
He didn’t have to say it. “Yeah. I reckon I’d rather have my Pa then the money if I had to choose,” I said quietly. “I want my Pa to be happy most of all.”
 
Chapter 7
 
I opened my eyes. Something had awoken me. I wasn’t sure what it was. I looked around, but there was only darkness. I coughed. My chest hurt really bad and it hurt more each time I tried to breathe. Coughing made it hurt worse. “Bobby?” I called.
 
“Yeah?” Bobby coughed. “I’m awake, Mark.”
 
“How long we been here?” I asked. My voice wasn’t very strong though. I didn’t know what was happening. I had to take deeper breaths just to breathe.
 
“I don’t know. A long time.” Bobby took in a gasp of breath. “Mark, you ever wonder what…what makes us breathe?”
 
“Pa told me it was ox…ox…Oxygen.” I coughed. “I don’t think there’s much in here.” I sighed. “You think it’s running out or somethin’? You know…sorta like you keep eating food and it’s finally gone? You reckon the…the rocks keep it from coming?”
 
“I don’t know…” Bobby said softly. I could tell he was scared too.
 
“Well…” I started. But bobby suddenly hushed me. “What?”
 
“Listen!” I listened. I could hear something scratching on the other side of the rocks. “You think it’s an animal or…” I swallowed. “That man?”
 
“I don’t know. It could be our Pa’s.” Bobby raised his voice. “Help!” But he couldn’t yell too loud.
 
“I hope you’ll be rescued, Bobby. But me…I’m goin’ to heaven so God can send my Ma back.” I listened. The sound was getting louder. “So if you can, you go and tell Pa not to worry. Ma will give him the dom…dom…whatever that word is…The cooking and cleaning and stuff.”
 
“What are you talking about, Mark?” Bobby asked as he bent down beside me.
 
“I want my Pa to be happy again, so I asked God in my head to give him my Mama back so he can be happy.”
 
“It don’t work that way, Mark!” Bobby argued. “God can’t do that!”
 
“He will!” I shouted. Then I coughed. “He…he hasta. That’s what I want more then…then anything!” I sighed. “I only cause him trouble. My Ma…she made him happy. I’m always underfoot. I talk when I shouldn’t, I break his rules…I do everything wrong. Mama…she always made Pa laugh – made him happy.”
 
The scratching was getting louder now. In another instant, a very thin dot of light shined like a sunbeam through the cave. We could hear voices outside. “Bobby! Mark!” I heard in the distance.
 
“We’re here, Pa! We’re here!” Bobby shouted.
 
“Is Mark okay?” I heard the pain in Pa’s voice.
 
“You see? I’ve hurt him again!” I sighed. “Ma’d never hurt him. He needs her.” Those thoughts made me cry harder.
 
“Mark’s okay, Mr. McCain!” Bobby said. “It’s…it’s getting hard to breathe!”
 
Suddenly, another rock busted away and light filled the cave. Air filled my lungs like a balloon and I suddenly felt like I was floating. God, if you’re gonna take me, now’s the time. You have to come before it’s too late!
 
“I think I can squeeze through now, Pa!” I heard Bobby shout.
 
I layed down onto the floor, and curled up into a ball, and looked up at Bobby. “So long, Bobby.”
 
Bobby bent down next to me and grabbed my arm. “Come on, Mark! Come with me!”
 
“No!” I shouted. “I’m staying here! God will come get me soon…I know he will.”
 
“You don’t mean that.” Bobby shook his head. “You…You CAN’T mean that!
 
“I do!” I shouted. “I do!” Tears filled my eyes. “I love my Pa! I want to be here with him – but I want him to be happy, and since Mama went away, he hasn’t been happy. I can’t make him happy. I’m tradin’. I’m giving Pa his treasure. My Ma.”
 
“Mark, it don’t work that way!”
 
“Bobby? You comin’?” Mr. Micahel’s shouted.
 
Bobby stood up. “Come with me, Mark! Oh, please come with me!”
 
 Bobby grabbed my arm and tried to pull me up. I pulled my arm away from him and curled up tighter.
 
“No!” I shouted. “I’ve made my decision!”
 
Through my tear filled eyes I saw Bobby grab the rope and allowed himself to be pulled out of the cave. I heard mumbling. Tears filled my eyes again. The hurt inside me grew…and grew….and grew…
 
“Please God,” I prayed. “Do what ya hafta, to make my Pa happy again!”
 
“Mark!” Pa screamed into the opening. “Come on! Come out of there!”
 
“NO!” I shouted! “I’m waiting for God!”
 
“You can’t trade like that, son. It doesn’t work like that!” I stayed quiet. There was silence inside and outside for a bit. Finally, Pa said, “Come on out so we can talk, son.”
 
“No, you haft be happy and I can’t…” I cried. “You need a treasure and that treasure is Ma, not me.”
 
“I want you, son.”
 
“No!” I shouted. “I’m nothin’ but trouble!” I cried. “I’m just nothin’ but trouble! You’re always yelling…always crying because of me and you ain’t got that dom…dom…” I stopped.
 
I heard talking outside the cave. More rocks were removed until a bigger opening was made. I watched in horror as Pa climbed through the hole. He hurried through and took me in his arms and hugged me. But I pushed him away.
 
“NO!” I cried. “This is wrong! I can’t go back on a promise I made to God…Bobby said that even in our darkest hour…”
 
“He was here to help you, son. He helped me get to you before you died.” Pa looked me in the eye. He laid a hand on each one of my cheeks as tears filled his eyes. “YOU…Mark…YOU are the only treasure I’ll ever…ever need!”
 
“No!” I grabbed his hands and flung them off. “I’m trouble! I can’t do nothin’ right!” I moved away from him and cried.
 
I heard Pa move to stand right behind me. “Son…” he swallowed loudly. “Mark, you are a seven year old boy. It’s a boy’s nature to get into mischief. Maybe I’ve been a bit hard on you, but it’s because I…” Pa’s voice broke. He grabbed my shoulders and turned me around. “It’s because I have a hole…” Pa swallowed again. “I have this great big hole in my heart where your Ma once was. It hurts and, maybe,I take that hurt out on you. But Mark, I couldn’t live without you. And maybe, I forget you’re a boy up to normal mischief.”
“Then you need ma! She don’t cause you no trouble!” I shouted. “She made you laugh! She made you hum and whistle and…and…”
 
“No, Mark. If you went away and she stayed, I’d have a whole other hole…maybe even bigger because you are my son! ”
 
“You need Ma!” I cried as hard as I could. “You were happier with Ma,” I cried again.
 
“I was happier with both of you. But son, I need you. You may not understand, but through you, your Ma lives. I see her in your eyes. I see her in you when you laugh, though we may have to work on getting you to laugh more. I see her in you when you… when you tell me you love me. Mark, I need you because your Ma’s in there.” Pa hesitated as he put his hand to my chest. “But more importantly I need you because you are my son and God gave you to me.”
 
I stayed silent. I started crying again, but this time it was for a whole other reason. I no longer wanted to make the trade. I wanted to stay with Pa. That hurt more then anything. “I don’t know what to do!” I cried. “I made a deal with God, Pa! I told him that…that he could take me and give you Ma back.”
 
I felt pa sit down. “Come here, son.” Pa grabbed me and pulled me down on his lap. He laid his hands on my cheeks and smiled into my eyes. “I think…” He looked up toward the ceiling of the cave. “I think…that God has made His decision.”
 
I threw my arms around Pa. “Oh, I’m sorry! I’m sorry, Pa! I wanted to get you the ranch you wanted! I wanted to help you with the dom…dom…”
 
Pa chuckled as he clung to me. “Son, don’t you know I’d pass up a thousand ranches just to have you?”
 
“But…” I lowered my head. “Ain’t I a lot of trouble?”
 
Pa put his hand under my chin and lifted my face to his. “YES!” he declared. “I mean look at us right now! Instead of doing the chores and homework at home, as we should be doing, I had to rescue you from a cave!”
 
“I’m glad you did Pa,” I told Pa.
 
“Earlier, you said your Ma was my treasure, when you said I needed her and not you. Why did you call your Ma my treasure?”
 
“Pa, in Sunday School, Miss Michaels talked out treasures in Heaven. Well…I got in this mess because I was gonna give you money for the ranch you always wanted, but…but as Bobby and me were trapped, I thought that you’d want Ma more. And she’s in heaven and she meant so much to you, so I just kind of thought she was your treasure.” I quietly answered. There was silence.
 
“Mark, right now, you’re the only treasure I have, that’s worth having.”
 
“Bobby and me, we found a treasure chest, filled with money. We were going to give it to you and his Pa. But then that old man…”
 
“I know. I had to shoot that old man who was trying to take off with $50,000.00! After I shot him, we followed his tracks back here. Guess God wanted me to find my real treasure.”
 
“Honest, Pa?” I asked excitedly. “You shot the man with the treasure chest?” I asked.
 
“Yes.”
 
“Dead, Pa? Is he really dead?” I asked, again excitedly.
 
“Nevermind, Mark!” Pa declared. He shook his head at me. “Anyway, the point is that even with all the trouble you’re causing…I’d rather have you then a thousand little boys that cause no trouble at all. I love you, son. And no matter if it was your mother or you…or both of you that died…the pain would hurt just the same. My heart is broken either way, but you, son…You help me to go on.”
 
“I love you too, Pa! Oh, I do!” I threw my arms around him again. “And I’m glad you don’t mind having a bad little boy like me!”
 
“Mm…” Pa patted me on the back side. “But I know a bad little boy who’s gonna get a good, long talking to when I get him home!” Pa declared as he stood up.
 
He picked me up as we started out of the opening of the cave. “Pa?”
 
“What?” Pa asked.
 
“Does…does this mean I don’t get a share in that treasure?”
 
Pa laughed as he pushed me up the wall. “That’s exactly what it means!”
 
***
 
Bobby and I sat in the Sheriff’s office as the Sheriff paced in front of us. I watched him as he walked back and forth…back and forth. Mr. Michaels stood on one side of the room with his arms crossed, and Pa on the other standing the same way. Me and Bobby looked at each other. “That’s about it,” Bobby said.
 
The Sheriff stopped. He turned and placed his hands on his hips. “So, let me get this straight…you two ran off on your own and went into a cave where you found a treasure chest?”
“Yes sir,” I answered.
 
“So instead of telling your fathers, you decided to take matters into your own hands…You…two little boys…” Sheriff Browning started pacing back and forth. Then again, he stopped. “And you…” He pointed straight at me. “You decided to eaves drop on a conversation between your father and me.”
 
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t much like the look the Sheriff was giving me. I started to wonder how tall that hanging tree was. Pa cleared his throat.  I gulped. “Y..Yes sir.”
 
“So why did you go back to the cave?” The Sheriff asked.
 
I looked to Pa. “Go on, son,” Pa said without moving a muscle.
 
“I…” I hung my head. “I went through Pa’s desk and found the two notes…sir.”
 
Pa gasped then. He started over to me. I wasn’t sure what he was gonna do when he got over here, but I sure was glad the Sheriff was there to protect me! He held up a hand to stop Pa. “What did the notes say?”
 
“I…I don’t remember…exactly,” I answered.
 
“Spill it, Mark!” Pa ordered in a stern voice.
 
“Well…” I closed my eyes and thought. “I got the merch…merch…”
 
The Sheriff turned and looked at Pa. Pa put a hand to his mouth. “Merchandise?”
 
“Yeah! That’s it!” Bobby declared. He slapped a hand to his mouth.
 
“So…we had two boys invading my privacy,” Pa declared quietly. I heard Mr. Michael’s suck in his breath. I had a feeling we were both gonna be hung from that tree…feet first!
 
“And what did the second note say?” Pa asked.
 
“Roses…Roses…” I started. I looked at Bobby who shrugged. “Something about Roses not growing in the winter.”
 
“Hm…” The Sheriff paced the floor some more. “And in your little boy minds, you put those together to think up that the robber was hiding in the cave with the treasure.”
 
“Oh, no sir!” Bobby declared as he pointed at me. “He thought that all on his own!”
 
“Well…” Sheriff Browning smiled. “Thank you for being honest…Bobby.” The Sheriff clasped his hands behind his back and started pacing back and forth as if he were in deep thought or something. “And uh…what if I were to tell you that the two notes you found in your father’s desk…ARE NOT the notes I gave him?”
 
I turned and looked at Pa who gave me a stiff nod. “I’d say now I really did it!”
 
“Yes you did,” Pa smiled. “The first note was indeed written by the Sheriff himself telling me that I didn’t need to pick up our order at the General Store because he had already gotten it. For your information, boys, the word ‘merchandise’ is another word for ‘supplies’ or ‘goods.’” Pa bent down in front of me. “As for the second one…well, that, my boy , was in MY hand writing, and it was the title of a poem I wanted to look for in some poetry books Mr. Michaels has at his house.”
 
“Oh.” I sighed. “Boy, I really done it!”
 
“Yes you did!” Pa declared again.
 
The Sheriff turned back to me. “Is there any other wrongs you committed?”
 
“Well…I…” I looked to Bobby who shook his head slightly.
 
“Oh, we know about the lantern and you uh…using matches…” Pa said.
 
“Oh.” I sighed.  “Then no…I think you know everything.”
 
Sheriff Browning shook his head. “Well, well, well…And all because you two boys thought in those wild imaginations of yours that you could buy your folks the things they really needed.”
 
“Yes sir.” We both said together.
 
“What did I really need?” Mr. Michaels asked Bobby.”
 
“Well…” Bobby cleared his throat. “You told Ma once that you wanted prosp…prosp…”
 
“Prosperity?”
 
“Yes sir!” Bobby declared.
 
“Do you know what prosperity is?” Mr. Michaels directed the question at both of us. I shook my head. “Well…I’ll tell you that I sure wasn’t going to get it the way you two were going at it.”
 
“Boy, oh boy!” I shook my head. “I REALLY did it!”
 
“Yes you did!” All three men declared at once. I felt I was in the biggest amount of trouble I’d EVER be in. Here I was…a little seven year old boy being “talked to” by a Sheriff, a Deacon, and a Rifleman!
 
Sheriff turned to me then. “And uh…what did your father need more than anything?”
 
“A ranch!” I declared. “Oh Pa, it was going to be a grand ranch! Lots of cattle – more than the eye could see and a great big house with lots of rooms…oh…and someone to do all those dom…dom…” I rolled my eyes again.
 
“Domestic?” Pa asked.
 
“Yes sir!” I sighed. “I thought maybe that would make you happy.”
 
Pa bent down in front of me. “Son, like I told you in the cave…I’d rather have you then a thousand ranches. You make me happy. Don’t you know, son, that you are the reason I was able to move on?”
 
I smiled. “I think I do now, Pa.”
 
I looked up at the Sheriff. “You gonna hang us, Sheriff?”
 
The Sheriff winked at my Pa. “No, son. I’ve made my quota for hangings this month. Sorry.” The Sheriff started pacing again. “But I am gonna tell you two a story. You see, there was this man who wanted to buy a little house on a hill more than anything. Well, one day he found a treasure on a far away island, he did!”
 
The Sheriff sure had my attention! We both leaned forward to listen. “Yes sir! He told himself he would take just enough gold for this little house on the hill he always wanted, so he took just that much gold and bought that house on the hill.”
 
The Sheriff started walking back and forth as his hands moved. My eyes grew wide as He told the story with much emotion. “Yes sir! He sat back in that ol’ chair of his sipping that nice homemade whis…” Sheriff stopped and cleared his throat. From the corner of my eye I saw Pa raise an eyebrow. “Er…sipping that nice homemade lemonade. Yes sir…he had it made! Well boys, that man didn’t stay happy long. He looked outside his window and said ‘Well, I need myself a great big barn for my horses!” So he went back to the treasure and got out just enough money for that barn. He built the barn and brushed down his horse in his own great big stall. Then he looked around and said…”Well sir…I need a nice carriage for courtin’ all those pretty girls…”
 
The Sheriff stopped. He turned and looked at us. “Well…I think you get the picture. This man, he went back for more and more and more. Suddenly, his horses started dying and his pigs starved and the wind came and blew down his house. ‘No problem!’ he declared to himself. ‘I’ll just go back for more gold!’ And he did. But when he got there, he realized there was no more gold. He had no cattle, no horses, no pigs…no food in his barns because he’d forgotten to buy food and plant his crops. He had no money to build a new house and he became like a tumbleweed blowing across the prairie. Soon…he was no more.”
 
Bobby and I looked at each other. I sure felt small all of a sudden – a lot smaller then I was already! “Well boys?” Pa folded his arms and looked at us. “Either of you want to tell the moral to this story?”
 
I didn’t answer. I knew the moral, I was pretty sure, but that was a lot of medicine to swallow! Pa cleared his throat. That’s when I realized it hadn’t been a suggestion. I looked up at Pa. “Like you say, Pa…Build treasure in heaven cause the treasures on earth will go away.”
 
“Mm hm.” Pa nodded.
 
I knew he wanted more. “Bobby?” Mr. Michaels said then.
 
Bobby cleared his throat. “The man was too concerned on finding money the easy way that he didn’t build a good foundation.”
 
We all looked at Bobby. “Huh?” I asked.
 
Mr. Michaels cleared his throat. “Uh…he’s been talking to his aunt again!” he declared.
 
“Son,” Pa sat down next to me. “The only way we’ll get a ranch is to work hard for it. That’s why I work for the Sheriff here and why you don’t always get what you want. Because I’m saving that money. That’s a good way to learn what’s important.” Pa raised an eyebrow. “The greatest treasure on this earth I have is my family – you. I think Mr. Michaels would say the same thing. You see, if you gave me the money for a ranch, I may get it in my head that money comes easy and I might forget to buy food for my animals or plant my crops for us or…any number of things that help us KEEP what we have. You understand?”
 
I nodded. “You mean we have to sweat for what we want – not go looking for buried treasure.”
 
“That’s about it.”
 
The Sheriff cleared his throat. “Well…I take it we can close the case of the two bad little boys.”
 
“What about the robber who tried to kill us?”
 
“He’s being buried in Potter’s field,” the Sheriff answered. “The money is being sent back to the bank…ALL of it. We don’t reward boys for being bad.”
 
“Oh, and don’t you worry about the domestic responsibilities, son. I’ve been meaning to train somebody for that stuff, and I think I found the perfect person for the job.”
 
I didn’t have to ask. I groaned. “For free?”
 
Pa nodded…”Well, let’s just say that your pay won’t be in money – it’ll be repayment for all the wrong you’ve done.” Pa stood up to his full height. Suddenly, he got one of those look on his face that told me he had a even better idea. He reached in his pocket and took out a coin. “You know what this is, son?”
 
I nodded. “It’s a nickel, Pa.”
 
“That’s right!” Pa declared. “And since you’ll be taking over some of the domestic duties after I teach you how to do them such as cleaning the floors, washing the dishes, and helping me with the laundry and such…You’ll get one of these every Friday for doing your job.”
 
“Honest Pa?” I asked as a great big smile spread across my face.
 
“Honest, son!” Pa stated. “It’s called an allowance and I think you’ve proved yourself worthy of having one today.”
 
“How’s that Pa?” I asked then.
 
“Well…because you understand what a “real” treasure is and have learned that money doesn’t come by you easily. I’ll start giving it to you when your punishment for me is finished, but I’ll expect you to work for it, son. Is it a deal?”
 
“Sure Pa!” I declared happily. “Oh, and about me staying home by myself…”
 
“Mark…” Pa’s warning voice spoke.
 
“I had to try!”
 
Mr. Michaels cleared his throat. “And as Deacon of the Claypool Community Church, it’s my duty to remind you, Mark, that part of that money goes to God.”
 
“How much?” I groaned.
 
“Ten percent,” Pa answered. I wrinkled up my face – I had no idea what that meant. Pa laughed. “For you, that’s a ½ penny a week.”
 
“How’d I do that? Cut a penny in half?” I asked.
 
“Uh…” Mr. Micaels held up a hand to me. “You just give God a penny every other week.”
 
I scratched my head, but I was sort of scared to ask. Pa saw my question in my face and bent down in front of me. “Is there…a question?”
 
I nodded. “I hate to ask though, Pa.”
 
“Go ahead, son,” Pa said.
 
“Well…how do I get the money to God?”
 
Sheriff Browning started laughing, but Pa gave him a really mean look and he suddenly started clearing his throat as if he had a frog in it or something. “We give it to the church, son. When they pass the basket around.”
 
“Oh…” I scratched my hand. “Then the preacher gives God the money?”
 
At that, everyone laughed. “Something like that, son,” Mr. Michaels answered.
 
“How long will this job last, Pa?” I asked then.
 
“Well…” Pa crossed his arms. “I’d say you should be free to seek other employment in oh…about 10 years or so, son.”
 
I groaned. “So…that’s my punishment for all the things I did wrong today?”
 
“Oh…no!” Pa declared. “We’ll talk about those when we get home!”
 
“Oh…”
 
“Come on, boy. Let’s go!” Pa patted my back as he stood up to his full height.
 
“Oh, Pa?” Pa bent down in front of me. “You were wrong about the treasure, you know.”
 
“How’s that?” Pa asked as his eyebrow popped up.
 
“I think I did get a reward today. I think we all did.”
 
And I got another one. I watched as a great big grin spread across my Pa’s face – from one ear to the other. Then he lifted me up and plopped me on his shoulders. “That we did, son! That we did!”

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!

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