The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

Saving Vernon
by Michelle Palmer

Chapter 1

Mark was happy that school was finally over for the day.  It was a nice spring day, and the last thing he wanted to do was sit in some stuffy room listening to lots of boring history and math lessons!  For the last two hours, he had been thinking how nice it would be to go to Hattie’s store and get some sucker sticks.  He had a nickel his father had given him that morning as his allowance for the week.  His father told him the same thing he told him every week:  “Make sure you save that money for something important, son.”  But to Mark, candy was important.  He tied Blue Boy up outside and hurried into the General Store.  “Have you seen my pa today, Miss Hattie?” Mark asked as he gave her his nickel.

Hattie shook her head.  “I don’t think he’s been in town, Mark.”

Mark nodded.  “That’s fine.  I was just wondering if he’d walk in here and catch me spending my nickel.”  Hattie gave him a questioning look.  “Oh, he didn’t say I couldn’t buy candy with it,” Mark declared hurriedly. “He would just remind me that it’s important to save it.  I should only buy a penny’s worth instead but…I really like sucker sticks!” Mark gave Hattie a boyish grin.

Hattie laughed.  Just then, Mark heard a lot of commotion going on outside.  Walking out the General Store door, he noticed a crowd gathering at the Saloon.  Like any twelve year old boy, Mark was curious, so he made his way toward the Saloon.  When he got there, he had to squeeze through several people so he could see what was going on.  His curiosity was getting the better of him, and he seemed to have forgotten his father’s rule about him going into the saloon.  Mark stood just inside the doors and watched two men fighting.  Finally, one of the men gave the other one last, hard punch.  The younger man fell to the floor, passed out cold.  “What happened?” Micah demanded as he rushed in.

Sweeny came from behind the bar. His face was baptized in anger as he sputtered out an explanation. “This young man here just came in here drunk and stated he wanted a drink.” Sweeny stated.  “I told him I don’t serve drunks and he drew out a gun.  Micah, his hand was shaking so bad that he couldn’t have shot me even if he wanted to!  Well, this man here-“ Sweeny pointed toward the stranger who had thrown the last punch – “he started punching him and before I knew it, they were in a big fist fight!”

Mark looked towards the younger man lying on the floor.  The man looked familiar.  Mark cautiously walked up to the downed man and bent down next to him.  Micah suddenly realized Mark was in the Saloon.  He bent down and placed a hand under Mark’s arm. “You best get out of here, Boy.  Your father catches you in here and he’ll-“ Micah started in a stern voice

Mark gasped as memories came flooding back.  “I know this man!” Mark declared.

Micah bent down next to him.  “Who is he, son?”

“Vernon.”  Mark declared.  “His name’s Vernon Tippert and he’s a friend of mine!”

Micah stared at Mark in surprise. “Are you sure?” Mark nodded. “I don’t know that name, but I know someone named Mark McCain who’s gonna get a wood-shed yelping if he doesn’t leave at once!” He lifted Mark by the arm and pushed him toward the door.
 
“Oh, but Micah!” Mark started to argue.
 
“Now, I mean it, boy! You don’t want your father to get angry at you!” Micah was trying to protect Mark from trouble.
 
The crowd spread as Mark walked out of the saloon doors. “Micah, listen to me! I know that-“ Mark’s voice suddenly died and his eyes grew as wide as saucers.

The reason for his sudden silence was simple. Mark discovered that his father was indeed in town! In fact, he was crossing the street right now and had a really ugly look on his face! Mark sucked in his breath as Lucas grabbed him roughly by the arm and hollered,  “Mark, what were you doing in there?” His voice sounded angry and demanding.

Mark turned to face his father.  “Pa, I’ve got-“  he started.

Lucas wouldn’t let him finish.  “Mark, I’ve told you a hundred times that you aren’t to go into the saloon, haven’t I, boy?” Lucas asked as he raised his eyebrows at his boy.

Mark nodded.  “Yes sir, but I-“ He tried to explain again, but again he was cut off.

Lucas shook his head.  “There are no buts about it, Mark!”  Lucas led him into the Marshall’s office.  “You were supposed to get yourself home right after school so you could help me with the stock!”

Mark gasped as his eyes again widened.  “Oh gosh, I forgot, pa!”

Lucas nodded.  “Well, you will remember next time because for the next week, you’ll be doing-“ Mark sure was happy he didn’t finish that sentence. He had looked up to see Micah and Sweeny dragging a young man onto a cot in the cell. “Who’s that?” Lucas asked. The man looked vaguely familiar.

Mark let out a loud sigh.  “THAT’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, Pa!  That is Vernon!”

“Vernon?” Lucas wrinkled up his brow, trying to think.

“Pa!” Mark gasped, a bit put out that his Pa didn’t remember Vernon.  “Vernon’s our friend.  You remember the day of the turkey shoot when you killed Jim Lewis and-“

“Ohhhhhhh.”  Lucas declared.  “What happened to him?” He walked toward the cell, seemingly forgetting that he had been in the middle of yelling at his son.

Micah ran a hand through his hair.  “He’s out cold.  He got into a fight at the saloon.  Sweeny said he came in there drunk and looking for a fight.”
 
Lucas made his way over to the cot and grabbed the wet cloth from Micah.  “I’ll take care of him.  He’s a good friend.”

Lucas rubbed the cloth over Vernon’s face as he started mumbling.  “Leave me alone…just leave me alone!”

“It’s me, Vernon.  It’s Lucas McCain,” Lucas spoke softly.

Vernon opened his eyes, but immediately closed them.  He shot a hand to his head.  “Oh, my head hurts!” he moaned.

“You took quite a beating in there, son.” Lucas announced with a hint of accusation.

Vernon moaned.  “Mr. McCain, it’s been a long time!”  He opened his eyes and sat up slowly.  The room was spinning. Lucas grabbed his arm and helped him the rest of the way. Then Lucas handed him a cup of black coffee.  Vernon started drinking it, but cringed at the taste.

“Drink it, Vernon!” Lucas ordered in a sharp voice.

Vernon drank it.  
 
Lucas, as if he just remembered Mark, turned to his son. “I want you to get on your horse and ride on home, son. I’ll be there in a bit.” Mark stared at him. He opened his mouth to protest. Lucas raised his eyebrows.
 
But Mark couldn’t stop it. “He’s my friend too, Pa! I want to stay!” Lucas stood up and started toward his son. “On second thought, Pa…” Mark held up his hands and started backing away. “…I think they’ll be plenty of time for visiting later!” He turned and hurried out the door.
 
Vernon drank two more cups after the first.  After he was done with the third cup, Lucas said, “Now maybe you can explain.”

“How’s Mark?” Vernon asked.

“You’ll meet him when you get to the ranch.  He went home to tend to the stock.” Lucas sat down. He raised his eyebrows as he asked, “What are you doing here?”

Vernon looked at his shaking hands.  “I need a drink.  Can you get me a drink?”

Lucas shook his head.  “I’d say you’ve had enough to drink today, wouldn’t you?”

Vernon sighed.  “As long as I stay numb I don’t have to think about it.”

“About what?”

“My life.  It’s empty.  It’s all so empty.” Vernon’s voice sounded so pitiful – as if he had nothing to live for.

Lucas laid a hand on Vernon’s shoulder.  “You are alive and breathing, so it can’t be empty, son.”

“Mr. McCain, for the last three years, I’ve just been wondering from town to town trying to figure out what I’m gonna do.  My uncle made my gun my whole life.  But ever since that day…I can’t shoot anymore.  My wrist didn’t heal well and I can no longer shoot!”

Lucas sighed.  “I was afraid of that.  Son, any man who makes a gun his life is set to fail and-“ Lucas stopped as Vernon suddenly stood up.
 
He tried to push Lucas out of the way.  “Well, I’m gonna go back to the saloon.” His words slurred. He was obviously not completely sober yet.

Lucas shook his head.  “You are coming back to my ranch with me, son.”

Vernon shook his head. “I’m not!  I’m going to get a drink!”  He yelled.

Lucas grabbed Vernon by the shirt and got right in his face.  “I said you are coming back to the ranch with me.  We’ll get you sobered up, then we’ll have a talk, BOY!”
 
Vernon swallowed hard, but didn’t dare talk back.  He nodded his head slowly, then followed Lucas out of town on his horse.


Chapter 2


Mark rode Blue Boy back to the ranch as he wiped his brow.  It had taken him nearly two hours to finish all his work and his stomach was growling.  As he got closer to home, he noticed an unfamiliar horse tied outside. Excitedly, he kicked Blue Boy into a run and rode up to the house. He quickly tied Blue Boy’s reins to the hitching post and hurried inside, hoping it was Vernon.  “Vernon!” Mark called excitedly as he rushed inside.

“Mark!” Lucas warned quietly but sharply.  “He’s not feeling well, so lower your voice.”  Lucas came over to where Mark was standing and placed a hand on his shoulder.  “Is the stock all taken care of, son?”

Mark nodded.  “Can I eat now?”

Lucas smiled.  “Wash up and you can eat.  Then after you wash dishes, you can go clean the barn.” The order was given quite sternly.

But Mark had to protest. “Clean the barn?  Tonight?” He groaned. Cleaning the barn wasn’t his favorite chore…not that he REALLY had a favorite chore… “That’s not on my list of chores!”

“Well, first of all, Vernon will be staying out there for a couple nights until he gets to feeling better.  And second of all, I think you know why you have to do an extra chore tonight if you think about it?” Lucas raised his eyebrow.

Mark sighed.  “The saloon?”  Lucas nodded.  “But pa, it’s Friday night!”

Lucas folded his arms and raised his eyebrows.  “And um…did I hear that you would like extra chores tomorrow as well?”

“Oh, NO SIR!” Mark answered quickly. “All right, Pa.  I’ll clean out the barn.”

Vernon sat at the table.  His hands shook as he tried to take a drink of the water.  He managed it but let out a grown.  “This won’t do!”

Lucas continued eating.  Mark looked over at Vernon.  “Would you like some coffee instead?”

“Just eat, Mark.” Lucas ordered.

Mark ate in silence knowing his actions from earlier already had his father a bit riled.  Mark finished eating and stood up to leave.  “Would you like me to do dishes?”

Lucas shook his head.  “I think dishes will be a good way for Vernon to take his mind off…” Lucas hesitated only a second so he could look into Vernon’s eyes.  “…his troubles.”

Vernon pounded a fist lightly on the table.  “Your right, Mr. McCain.  I have troubles.  I need a drink.”

Mark watched from the doorway until his father lifted his head and gave him a stern look by raising his eyebrows.  Mark quickly walked out the door and to the barn.  He cleaned the barn and soon heard Lucas and Vernon making their way there.  “I’ll be staying here with Vernon tonight, son.  I want you to go ahead and get to bed.”

Mark nodded and made his way for the house.  His father had told him some things about people who drank too much and how it made them feel afterwards.  He knew that there would be some things he did not want to see, so he put up no argument to stay and help.

Mark already had breakfast on the table by the time Lucas made his way into the house.  He looked very tired.  “Everything go okay?”

Lucas yawned.  “As expected, son.  He’ll probably sleep all day.  He’s pretty exhausted.”

Mark nodded knowing his father didn’t want to go into detail, and knowing he probably didn’t want to know the details of what happened.  “Is Vernon a drunk?”

Lucas nodded.  “They call it alcoholism.  Some think it’s like a disease.”

“You mean he can’t help it?” Mark gasped.

“Oh, he can help it.  He can stop drinking if he wants to, son.  ‘Least that’s how I feel about it.  Hard work and talking will help him.”  Lucas poured a cup of coffee and sat down at the table.

Mark stuffed his fork into his scrambled eggs and sighed. “I hate seeing people like that.” Lucas looked at Mark, waiting for him to go on. “It scares me. I remember Micah being like that and I didn’t like it…not one bit! It…it just doesn’t make any sense…” Mark put the fork up to his mouth. “Why does he drink like that, Pa?” He stuffed the eggs into his mouth.

Lucas sighed as he took a bite of his scrambled eggs.  “Mark, do you remember the day of the turkey shoot when I had to go to the saloon and fight those guys?”

Mark nodded.  “I was scared you wouldn’t come out.”

Lucas gave Mark a soft smile.  “I know.  Well, Vernon was shot in the hand and it kept him from being able to draw a gun like before.  As you know, his uncle took care of him most of his life and his uncle was a hard man – saw that Vernon was good at sharp shooting, so he made him into one.  After Vernon’s hand healed, he couldn’t draw fast with that hand anymore, so he felt like his life was over.”

“Just because he can’t shoot?” Mark asked in surprise. Lucas nodded. “Pa, surely there’s something else he can do!”

“There is, son.  There’s plenty of things he could do.  I don’t think farming or ranching is really in his future, but I know that God has given him some talent that can earn him an honest living.  We just have to help him figure out what those talents are.”

Mark looked toward the door.  “Is Vernon coming in to eat?”

Lucas shook his head as he took another bite.  “Like I said, son, Vernon had a rough night.  He’ll be sleeping most of the day.  I’ll get him to working when he wakes up.  I want you to get your chores done then go fishing, son.  I’ll stick close by the house for when he wakes up.  I don’t know how he’ll be, so it’s best you are gone when he wakes up.”

Mark sighed.  “He was so gentle that day, Pa.”

“Drinking does terrible things to us, Mark.”


Chapter 3


She slowly stepped off the stage and looked around.  It had been a while since she had been in North Fork, but nothing seemed to have changed.  She looked around the town and smiled, happy to be home again.  Instinctively, she looked towards the Marshall’s office, almost expecting to see her uncle walk out the door to greet her.  But she frowned as she remembered that a man she had put her trust in had shot her uncle in cold blood.  She had left right after the funeral, never looking back.  But now that she was looking for a job, she thought North Fork would accept her with open arms.

Nancy sighed and shook her head slowly, as there was no one to come take her bags.  Suddenly, a tall man stepped out from the General Store and smiled at her.  “Hello, ma’am.  Do you need help with those bags?”

“Why, Mr. McCain!” Nancy exclaimed with a small smile.

Lucas cocked his head to one side and studied her.  She watched his mind reel as he tried to figure out who she was. She saw recognition in his eyes as confusion was replaced with surprise.  “Nancy!  Nancy Moore!” he smiled softly as he took her hand.  “How are you?”

Nancy smiled.  “I’ve been better.  I’m hoping to find a job here in town.” She said as Lucas continued holding her hand and smiling at her.

A young man stood behind Lucas.  Nancy noticed desperation in his eyes.  She smiled at him, but he didn’t smile back.  He only stared ahead at the doors to the saloon.  Nancy allowed her eyes to turn in that direction as well, knowing that was where her uncle’s murder took place.  She suddenly removed her eyes from the door and turned them back towards the young man, who had a blank stare on his face.  There was something about this young man, something that made her want to hear all his troubles. Nancy opened her mouth to speak to him, but then quickly closed it. The look in his eyes was terrifying…because she recognized it as a similar look she had been feeling…It was a look of total helplessness and confusion.
 
He was lost – and he needed somebody to save him before he sank so deep he would drown…
 
Lucas grabbed her bags and told the young man to take the other one.  The young man simply picked it up and followed Lucas, never acknowledging there was a lady in his presence.

The young man sat the bag on the hotel floor and quickly turned to leave.  But Nancy placed a hand on his arm.  It was then that she realized he was shaking.  
 
Her mere touch had increased his shaking. The man looked up into her eyes. She gasped at the look they held – he was so lost! “My name’s Nancy.” Nancy smiled softly.

The young man swallowed.  “Vernon, ma’am.” He quickly touched the tip of his hat and nodded.

“Are you sick?” Nancy asked kindly, noticing the paleness in his cheeks.

Vernon shook his head. “I need a drink.”

Nancy took a step back as if he had lifted a hand up to strike her. “Well, thank you for carrying my bags, Mr. McCain and Mr. –“ Nancy stopped, wondering what the man’s name was.

“Just call me Vernon, ma’am.” Vernon stated.

Nancy nodded with a small smile.  “Vernon.”  She watched Vernon as he lifted his eyes toward hers.  She saw a deep sadness in his eyes – as if he had suffered a great loss.  She turned to Lucas and raised her eyebrows.

Lucas gave a slight nod.  “We’ll have to have you out to the ranch real soon, Nancy.  It’s been nice seeing you.”

Nancy watched the two walk off.  She shook her head sadly, wondering why that man was indeed so sad.  Then she went to freshen up before going to look for a job.


Chapter 4

“What have you been doing all these months, Vernon?” Mark asked at supper that night.

Vernon looked up from his plate and shrugged.  “Drinking mostly.  I didn’t really have much else to do.
 Since I couldn’t use my hand anymore, my sharp shooting career was over.”

Lucas took a drink of his coffee and sat back in his chair.  The sun’s setting rays could be seen just below his head in deep red and orange colors.  Lucas’s blue eyes narrowed as he watched Vernon in silence for a moment.  Then he said quietly, “Well, perhaps that’s for the best.”

“That’s what I was good at, Mr. McCain!” Vernon said quite loudly.

Lucas shrugged.  “Until you try other things, you won’t know that you aren’t good at anything else, will you now?”

Mark stood and started clearing the supper dishes.  Lucas nodded toward Vernon.  “Help Mark with the dishes so he can get started on his homework.”

Mark and Vernon did the dishes quickly.  Then Mark sat down to do his homework while Vernon sat by the fire, staring into it as his mind drifted back to happier times.  Suddenly, a loud smack sounded out in the quietness and Vernon and Lucas turned to look at Mark.

He looked from his father to Vernon and back to his father.  “I’m sorry Pa, but these math problems are so hard!”

Vernon cleared his throat.  “What kind of math?”

Mark sighed.  “It’s adding dollar and cents, and doing decimal problems.

Lucas watched in wonder as Vernon came to stand beside Mark and help him work through each problem.  He could tell right off that Vernon had a lot of math sense.  Vernon took Mark’s notepad and studied it for a minute.  “You’ve done three of them, and they are all wrong.  But look…”
 
Vernon pulled up a chair to sit beside Mark. He picked up the pencil and quietly erased the wrong answers. Then he looked up at Lucas. “Oh, I’m sorry…May I?” Lucas nodded, but held a puzzled look on his face. From his seat, he watched Vernon softly explain how to work the problems. After several tries, Mark got a look of recognition on his face.

Lucas came over to observe and was amazed at how quickly Vernon was able to get to the answer.
 Lucas cleared his throat.  “Vernon, where did you learn to do math like that?”

“Where?” Vernon shrugged his shoulders.  “Well, I guess I learned in school. “  Vernon again bent his head down as Mark showed him the problems he had to do, and one-by-one, Vernon talked Mark through them.  After they were done, Mark simply shook his head.  “I’m still confused.”

Vernon gave a weak smile.  “Well, my uncle always told me that math was a God-given talent.  Either you have it or you don’t.”

Lucas cleared his throat.  “Mark, since your homework’s all done, I think you can go to bed.”

“Oh, but Pa me and Vernon are talking.” Mark turned back to say something else to Vernon.  But suddenly, he heard a sharp tone in his father’s voice when he called his name.  Mark turned and saw the warning look on his father’s face.  “Well, I think it’s time to turn in.  Goodnight.” Mark quickly stood up and hurried to the bedroom. But as he passed his father, he felt a hard smack on the backside.

Lucas waited until the bedroom door was firmly closed before he turned back to present his idea to Vernon.  “Vernon, have you ever thought of working in a bank?”

Vernon sucked in his breath. Quickly, he stood up and started for the door.  “Well, I think it’s time to turn in.  Good night, Mr. McCain.” Vernon put his hand on the doorknob and started to turn it, but suddenly Lucas’s hand smacked the door. He pressed his hand against it, forcing it to stay closed.
 
Vernon didn’t even look up, but stared straight at the door. “I said I want to go to bed,” Vernon said in a low voice through clinched teeth.

Lucas kept his hand against the door. “Oh yeah, you’d love to just keep on running, wouldn’t you, Vernon?” Lucas sneered. “Just what are you afraid of, Vernon?  Are you afraid of failing?  Or are you afraid that you might actually find you are better at something then sharp shooting?  Or maybe-“ Lucas grabbed Vernon by the shoulder and forced him to turn around. He looked Vernon straight in the eye.  “Maybe you are afraid that no one will feel sorry for you.  Is that what you are afraid of, Vernon?  Because if you are, then let me set it strait for you.  Mark and I don’t feel sorry for you.  You made the bed your sleeping in.  It’s time you get off that high horse you’re on and admit to yourself that you aren’t as bad off as you think you are.”

Vernon stared at the door.  “I said good night, Mr. McCain.”  Lucas moved away from the door and watched Vernon make his way for the barn, and toward another night of sleepless despair.


Chapter 5

Nancy closed the door to the hotel and started toward the church.  She was happy to be working for Eddie in the hotel again, but it felt strange not having her uncle next to her.  She walked to church alone.  The last time she had walked to that church, her Uncle had been there, reminding her that the young men were staring at her.  She let a tear go down her cheek unbidden as she remembered her Uncle Fred’s warm smile and the touch of his hand as he led her to church by the arm.  Today she would be all alone, just like she was when her uncle took her in at the age of 12 so many years ago.

Nancy stopped in her tracks when she saw the McCain’s approaching in the buckboard.  She was surprised to see the young man, Vernon, with them.  Nancy couldn’t help but smile as Vernon slid off the back of the wagon and watched Lucas and Mark go into the church.  Lucas turned and said something to him, but Vernon just waved them inside.  He then turned and walked toward the saloon, staring at it for a minute before bowing his head and closing his eyes.  
 
Nancy decided to approach him.  He looked like he was searching for answers – like he was looking for his place in the world.  “Going to church?”

Vernon’s head shot up and he spun around.  “What?” he asked, a bit annoyed as he shot a shaky hand to his forehead.  
 
“I asked if you were going to church.”

“What I need can’t be found in there,” Vernon snapped at her.

But Nancy smiled a determined smile.  “What you need cannot be found in there!” Nancy motioned toward the saloon.  “You seem to be doing fine sober.”

Vernon let out a gasp.  “Haven’t had a drink in over a week and I can’t hardly stand it.  I don’t want to feel anymore.”

“Feel what?” Nancy asked as she sat down on the bench.

Vernon found himself sitting down beside her.  “I was a sharp shooter.  A darn good one.  Then my hand got shot and I can’t shoot right anymore.”

Nancy turned and looked into his eyes.  “Because you can’t shoot a gun, you think your life is over?  Then I don’t think your life was worth much to begin with!”

Vernon narrowed his eyes.  “You wouldn’t understand.”

“Oh,” Nancy sighed.  “My uncle was like a father to me and he was Marshall here in North Fork.”
 
Vernon heard the pain in her voice and looked into her eyes.  “Where is he now?”
 
“Dead.”  Nancy wiped a tear from her eye.  “He was shot in there.” She motioned toward the saloon.
 “They didn’t even want him.  They wanted Marshall Torrance.  My uncle just got in their way.”

“That saloon is where I was shot in the wrist.”

Nancy suddenly turned to him. Her eyes were soft and tearful as she spoke. “You have your life…your health…you voice…yet you are wasting it.  Why?”

Vernon looked toward the church.  He heard singing.  “Go ahead and go.”

Nancy looked toward the church, and then turned back to Vernon. She raised her eyebrows. “Why?  So you can sit out here and feel sorry for yourself, wishing that you could get something to numb you so you don’t feel?” Her voice was pleading. “Don’t you see that feeling is part of the healing process?  You have to feel the loss, Vernon.  And believe me:  the loss of a good shooting hand isn’t much of a loss.”

Vernon didn’t look at her. He just sat there and rubbed his hand as he spoke. “It is when your whole life revolved around it.”

“What were you going to do?  Become a hired gun?”

Vernon jerked his head up. “Well…I…I guess I never really thought about it.” He put his hands in his hands and sighed heavily.  “I got my first gun when I was six.  That’s all I knew – shooting. My uncle raised me up to make a profit on my shooting, and I did I suppose.

Nancy shook her head.  “Uncle Fred always taught me that we make ourselves what we want ourselves to be.  You are an adult now, and you make your own choices.  You, Vernon, are the one deciding that the gun was your only motivation in life.

Vernon stared toward the saloon.  Then he turned back to Nancy.  “Well, I reckon I can wait on that drink.”  He let a small smile turn up the corners of his mouth.  “Mr. McCain thinks I might be good in a bank.”

Nancy smiled.  “You like numbers and figuring?”

Vernon nodded.  “Figuring’s always come natural for me, I reckon.”  For the first time, he REALLY looked at Nancy.

She smiled shyly at him and turned away. “My uncle…he was Marshall here for three years or so before he died.  My folks died when I was twelve during a house fire.  My father got me out, and then ran back in after my ma.  They never came out.”
 
While she spoke, they stood and walked toward the saloon. Nancy found herself following him as she quit talking. Vernon sat down in a chair outside the saloon.  “I’m sorry.” He motioned for her to sit down also.  She did.  “You had no brothers or sisters?”

She shook her head sadly.  “Not anymore.  I had a brother, but…”  She let out a lonesome sigh.  “Uncle Fred was Marshall there.  He came and took me.  He picked me up in those strong arms of his and told me everything would be okay.  We were really close.  I loved him very much.  He was always protective of me…”

Vernon could tell she wanted to say something more.  He waited, but she remained quite.  “Nancy,” Vernon stopped.  “Oh, may I call you Nancy?”  She nodded.  “Listen, Nancy.  I can tell you are upset about something.”

Nancy nodded.  “It only happened 2 ½ years ago, but it seems like yesterday.  This man and his friends were checking into the hotel and-“ She lowered her head, not wanting to go on.

Vernon instinctively took her hand.  He hadn’t felt this alive in three years, but it all felt right.  “Please, go on.”

Nancy allowed a tear to slip down her cheek.  “I feel I’m partly to blame for my uncle’s death.”

Vernon stared at her.  He had felt the same way about his uncle.  That’s another reason why he started drinking.  He allowed her to cry, his heart breaking at the sound.  “Why, Nancy?  Why do you feel that way?”

Nancy bit her lip.  “This man – he was charming and had a really nice smile.  I could tell my uncle didn’t approve of my seeing him, but I-“ Nancy sighed before saying the words.  “I kept asking him all that day, Vernon.  He finally told me I could invite him over for dinner.”

Vernon nodded.  “Go on.  I’m listening.”  He kept his hand firmly on top of hers and turned his whole body in the chair as he listened to her.

Nancy sniffed back some more tears.  “If I had listened to him, perhaps he would have shown us who he really was sooner.  If I hadn’t asked my uncle to trust him –“ Nancy stopped and sobbed.

Vernon took the back of his free hand and wiped the tears from her cheek.  “Don’t cry, Nancy.  Please don’t cry.” He whispered this softly.

Nancy lifted her head to look into his eyes.  “I could have stopped it.”

Vernon suddenly stopped and sat back in his chair.  He let out a long, slow breath as revelations came to him.  “Well, we’ve come full circle I guess.”

“What?” Nancy asked, confused.

“We started out by you trying to help me see the truth.  Now I’m making you see the truth.  Maybe we should have gone in there to seek it.” Vernon nodded toward the church.  Nancy kept staring at him.
 “I’ve been wrong and I see that now.  You’ve helped me see it.  Now that Mr. McCain…Lucas…has sobered me up, I see the truth for what it is.  My uncle raised me to do something to help him.  That day, Mr. McCain…Lucas…had ordered me to stay out of the saloon – to let him deal with it.  But I had to prove that I was as good as him.  In the end, I was shot.”  Vernon let out a short laugh.  “Well, I guess maybe that’s a good thing.  I’m going to go talk to the banker tomorrow and see if there are any jobs.”

Nancy stared at him.  “What…what did I say?”

Vernon smiled.  “I was listening to your story about how it’s your fault your uncle got killed.  You know what I was thinking?  That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard!  How can a beautiful lady like this think she had anything to do with that?”  Vernon turned back toward her and laid a hand on her soft cheek.  “I want you to listen to me, Nancy.  You had absolutely nothing to do with your uncle’s death.”

“But you weren’t there!” Nancy started.

“I didn’t have to be there.  Your uncle was doing his job.  He went into that saloon to do what he always does – to bring peace back to the town.”  Nancy opened her mouth to speak, but Vernon placed a finger over her lips.  “What if I was to tell you that the real reason I was numb was because I was blaming myself for my uncle’s death?”

Nancy rolled her eyes.  “That’s just plain crazy.  I remember that day and what happened.  Your blaming yourself for his death is-“ Nancy stopped.  “Well, I guess it’s easier to blame ourselves.  It helps us answer that question.”

Vernon nodded his head.  “Yeah. Why?”

They watched the church doors open.  Lucas and Mark walked toward them.  “Well,” Lucas folded his arms and cocked his head to one side.  “You two skipping church already?”

Vernon smiled at Nancy.  “No, I think we’ve had our own church right here this morning.”  He stood and offered his hand to help Nancy stand.  Then he took her arm in the crook of his.  “We are going to go eat at the restaurant.  See you back at the ranch.”

Lucas and Mark stared at each other for a moment, then they looked straight ahead as they watched the young couple walk toward the restaurant.  “Why do I get the feeling we missed out on something?” Mark asked.

Lucas put an arm around his son’s shoulders and tosseled his hair.  “Well, because I think we did.”

They looked at each other and laughed as they watched the couple disappear into the restaurant.


Chapter 6

Lucas came out of the barn and heard an approaching horse.  It wasn’t time for Mark to be out of school yet, so he turned and shaded his eyes to see who it was.  “Vernon!” Lucas smiled.  “Well, what are you doing out this way?”

Vernon jumped off his horse with a big whoop.  “Things are looking up, Mr. McCain!” Vernon shouted


Lucas laughed.  “It’s Lucas, remember?” It had been a month since him and Nancy had talked.  Vernon had moved into the boarding house in town so courting the “fabulous Nancy Moore,” as Vernon put it, would be easier, and they’d be able to spend more time together.

Vernon smiled.  “Well, you know that Mr. Hamilton was going to ask around about a job?”

Lucas nodded.  Vernon had been working for John a few hours every week, and John was very impressed with his banking skills.  John had promised Vernon to help him find a good job in a bank.
 Vernon handed Lucas the telegram that was in his hand.  “Well, I got a job.”

Lucas read it.  “In Yuma?”  Lucas patted Vernon on the back.  “I’m proud of you.”

“And,” Vernon had a wide grin on his face.  “As soon as I got that telegram, I showed it to Nancy.  She’s coming with me.”

Lucas smiled.  “You’re getting married?”

Vernon nodded.  “Next Saturday.  We leave for Yuma on Monday.”

**************************

Two Years Later

Mark galloped up to the ranch and jumped off his horse.  “I got the supplies you wanted from the store, Pa.” Mark said.  “And there was a letter.”

Lucas wiped his hands with a towel and held out his hand.  Mark grinned and held the letter out of his father’s reach. “Well, give it here, son.”

Mark smiled.  “It was addressed to both of us, so I opened it.”
 
Lucas folded his arms.  “Who’s it from, Mark?”
 
“It’s from Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Tippert.”

Lucas smiled.  “Did she have the baby?”
 
Mark nodded.  “He’s president at the bank now, Pa.  And they are getting a two-story house built.”

Lucas grinned.  “Well, that’s great!  Did they say what they named the baby?”

Mark grinned.  “They sure did.”  Mark opened his mouth to say, but Lucas shot up a warning finger.
 
“Now either you hand over that letter right now, boy, or I’m going to bend you over my knee!  And if you think you’re too big, you just go ahead and try me!”

Mark handed him the letter with a smile.  He sat down on the porch beside his father as Lucas read the letter.

“Lucas, you will never know how much of an influence you’ve had on both of our lives.  Not only did you help me see that I could do so much better in life then use a gun, but you introduced me to the most wonderful woman in the world.  You were right that day.  I did feel sorry for myself, and I wanted you two to feel sorry for me also.  The next day, talking to Nancy confirmed my suspicious that I was putting myself through something I didn’t need to be going through.  Not only that, but I almost missed out on a wonderful life.  I haven’t had a drink since that day you saved me from myself.  As for using a gun, well, I realized that my aim wasn’t as bad as I thought it was, and I’ve been asked to help out a few times when someone escapes from the jail or when outlaws come into town.  Mostly, I try not to shoot, but when I do I remember you and how you’ve taught me that a gun is to be used as a last resort.  Nancy had a beautiful baby boy two weeks ago.  We didn’t have to even think about what to name him.  We both knew there was only one choice.  Lucas, you and Mark gave me my life back.  And Nancy feels like she has her life back because of you also.  So we decided to name the baby Frederick McCain Tippert.”

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
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