The Rifleman
Welcome to The Writer's Corner
Fan Fiction

The Orphan
by Michelle Palmer

Chapter 1
 
Mark sat at the table doing his homework. The house was quiet. He had finally finished the dishes and his father was out on the porch smoking his cigar. Mark looked down at his math book and shook his head. He always did hate math. The older he got, the worse math got.
 
Lucas came into the house and saw Mark struggling. “Son, someday you’ll-“
 
Mark sighed. “I know, I know. Someday I’ll appreciate you forcing me to do all this schooling!”
 
“By the way, son. On your way to school tomorrow, would you please stop by and tell Neils I need to have Blue Boy and razor shod? Ask him if he can do it Friday.”
 
“Telephone…” Mark sighed.
 
“What’s that?”
 
Mark stood and ran over to Lucas, who was pouring coffee into his cup. “Telephones. My teacher’s been telling us about this man named Alexander…um…something. He made a new invention a few years ago called the telephone. They already have them in the East and are stringing up wires.”
 
“Yes,” Lucas sat down at the kitchen table and grabbed Mark’s notebook to look over his math problems. “I’ve read about it in the paper.”
 
“You have this contraption in your house, and if a wire is connected to it all the way across town, you can talk to a person. Why, we could call Nels right now and set up a day. We could call the President of the United States or-“
 
“-or your teacher.” Lucas sat the notebook down. “Mark, you’ve gotten ten of these problems wrong, son.”
 
“Oh Pa, you know I hate math!” Mark exclaimed. “If I had a telephone, I’d call Billy up right now and ask him what the answers are!”
 
“Well, the point of doing homework son is so you can learn. Now, I want you to erase these problems and do them over again – this time correctly!” Lucas stood up. “As for this telephone business, it’ll never take! All that nonsense will die down in a few months when they realize how ridiculous of an idea it really is.” Lucas grabbed his hat and gun. “I’m going to go bed down the stalk. I expect to see those problems answered correctly when I came back in.” Lucas pointed his finger right at Mark and gave him a stern look.”
Mark swallowed and shook his head. “I’ll do my best, but you know how I am with fractions!”
 
Lucas made his way to the barn. He lit the lantern and started bedding the horses down for the night. Suddenly, he saw pieces of hay falling from the loft and heard muffled crying. Lucas cautiously climbed the ladder to the hay loft and gasped. He saw a boy, not much older than five or six. His face was smeared with blood and his clothes were torn. He had tears streaming down his face.
 
“Hey there, son. How did you get here?”
 
The boy looked at Lucas cautiously. Lucas reached out to touch him gently. “It’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you.”
 
“The wagon…” the boy sniffed. “My ma and Pa were on the wagon and now it’s gone!”
 
The boy burst into tears and threw his arms around Lucas. Lucas held him and let him cry, not understanding what was going on.
 
“Can you walk?” Lucas asked.
 
The boy was shivering in his arms. “Hey, if you can just get down the ladder, I’ll let you put your arms back around me, okay?”
 
The shaking little boy turned and made his way back down the ladder. As soon as Lucas got down, the boy stretched his arms up and Lucas picked him up, allowing the boy to wrap his arms around his neck, shaking like a leaf.
 
Lucas hurried inside with the boy. Mark jumped up from the table and hurried over to Lucas. “What-“ he started.
 
“Son, go finish bedding down the stock for me, will you?” Lucas sat the boy down on the cot in the living room, but the boy wouldn’t take his arms from around his neck. “It’s okay. I need to look at you. I need to see if you are okay.”
 
The boy allowed Lucas to carefully take his arms away. “Where are you bleeding?”
 
The boy lowered his head, tears squeezing from his eyes. Lucas lifted his chin. “What is it, son?”
 
“It’s not mine,” the boy answered, his voice heavy with sobs.
 
“What’s not, son?”
 
“Th-the blood. It’s not mine.” The boy buried his face in Lucas’s chest and cried.
 
Lucas grabbed his head and lifted it back up. “Whose is it?”
 
“Sir, my folks were travelin’ and the wagon flipped.” The boy couldn’t go on.
 
Mark hurried in. “It’s done Pa-“ The boy’s head jerked around and he let out a loud cry.
 
“Go to bed, Mark.” Lucas ordered.
 
Mark stared at the little boy. “What’s wrong?”
 
“Go to bed. I’ll explain it to you in the morning when I know more.”
 
Lucas turned back to the little boy. “What’s your name?”
 
“Matthew.”
 
Lucas smiled. “From the Bible?”
 
“Yes sir.”
 
“Do you live around here, son?” Lucas kept his hands on the boy’s shoulders and a small smile on his face.
 
Matthew shook his head. “We were Passing through.”
 
“With your Parents? Where are they, son?”
 
“Dead, I think…” Matthew again threw his arms around Lucas and cried.
 
“Can you tell me where the wagon is?”
 
The boy shook his head. I just runned. I don’t know.”
 
Lucas tried to stand up, but the boy held tight. “Okay. I’m going to get you something to sleep in. We’ll get you cleaned up and you can sleep in the bedroom with Mark.” Lucas stood, carrying Matthew. “Are you hungry?”
 
Matthew shook his head. “I can’t,” he stated.
 
Lucas understood. He carried Matthew into the bedroom, grabbed a shirt Mark had grown out of, then carried him to the Basin and started washing him off. After he had him all snuggled into bed, he sat with him and told him a story until he fell asleep. When Lucas was sure the boy was asleep, he pried his hands out of the boys’ and went to Mark’s bed. Mark woke up at Lucas’s soft shaking. “Son,” Lucas whispered. “The boy’s folks were in a wagon accident. I don’t know if they are alive or not, but we have to check. I’m going to get a search Party together. If he wakes up, I need to you sit with him.”
 
Suddenly, Matthew started crying. Lucas hurried over to him and rubbed his back. Memories flooded him. Mark was about this age when his mother died, and he had nightmares like this. Lucas lost many nights of sleep rubbing his son’s back and sitting with him. “I don’t want to leave him.” After Matthew had calmed down, Lucas stood up. “I’ll try not to be gone too long.”
 
 
Chapter 2
 
Mark heard Lucas come in at about 4:30 AM. He quietly got out of bed and went into the living room. Lucas had a long face and was visually exhausted. He sat down in his chair and put his head in his hands. “Pa?”
 
Lucas looked up. Tears were in his eyes. “How’s Matthew?”
 
“He’s still asleep. He finally settled down and hasn’t made a sound. What’s wrong?”
 
“They’re dead. We found them about a mile up the road. The mother was in the back of the wagon. She must have put the boy under her to protect him. I had to bury them.
 
Will you go unhitch the team? I have to spend some time alone with the Lord before the boy wakes up.”
 
“What-what’s going to happen to him, Pa?”
 
“He’ll stay here for now, son. He has no where to go and he needs a lot of love.”
 
***********************
 
Lucas would cut off his right arm if he didn’t have to listen to this boy’s lonesome crying. He would take the last 24 hours back if he could. The boy’s lost both of his Parents, and he’s terrified. “Son, I’ll take care of you. You aren’t alone.”
 
Matthew wiped his eyes. “Forever?”
 
“Do you have any family? A grandpa or aunt or anything?”
 
The boy shook his head. “I don’t know,” he sobbed.
 
Lucas took the boy into his arms. “Okay. Do you want to go to the graves and put some flowers there?”
 
“No! Please, no!” Matthew cried.
 
“Okay. You don’t have to.” Lucas sat with the boy on his lap. “Have you ever gone fishing?”
 
Matthew shook his head. “My Pa…he tended a store. I don’t do much in the town.”
“School?”
 
Matthew shook his head again and sniffed. “When Mark comes home from school, you want him to show you how to fish?”
 
Matthew lowered his head. “I just want to sit here alone.”
 
Lucas nodded. “Okay. For awhile, then Mark can take you fishing. Sitting and thinking about bad things can hurt you more. You understand?”
 
When Mark came home, Lucas told him to take Matthew fishing. They were gone for two hours. When they came back, Matthew still had a sad look on his face, but Mark informed Lucas that Matthew had hooked his first fish. “I’ll show you how to clean them.”
 
“You give them baths?” Matthew asked.
 
Mark laughed. “No! We can’t eat their scales though. We’ll have fish for supper.”
 
Lucas allowed the boy to grieve that week. He talked to the boy everyday and made sure the boy talked about his Parents’ death. Lucas explained that talking about it was important in the healing process. By the weekend, the boy was happier and less frightened. When Lucas got up on Saturday morning, the boy was already outside.
 
Lucas went looking for him and found him in the yard chasing the chickens. “Hey, boy!” Lucas hollered.
 
Matthew ran over to Lucas, who kneeled down beside him. “We don’t chase the chickens, son. These chickens live here. We feed them and take care of them. They give us eggs for breakfast and eventually provide us good fried chicken.” Matthew shrugged, as if he didn’t care. “Okay son, let me show you where the feed is. This will be one of your morning chores.”
 
“I don’t want to do no chores!” Matthew folded his arms and stomped his foot.
Lucas bent down to the boy’s level. “Lets get some things straight, boy. We don’t use that kind of attitude here. Everyone does chores – including you. If you don’t, you will be punished. Do I make myself clear?”
 
The boy shook his head. “Another thing, Matthew.” Lucas looked into his eyes. “It’s ‘yes sir.’”
 
After he showed Matthew how to feed the chickens, he showed him how to gather the eggs. “Tomorrow I’ll show you how to milk the cows.” Lucas declared. Matthew opened his mouth to comment, but saw the stern look on Lucas’s face and closed his mouth.
 
“Why don’t you explore around the yard? Mark and I have to make some rePairs on the roof. Then we’ll go check the herd. This afternoon we’ll go into town and see about getting you some clothes.” Matthew slowly walked away. “Stay where I can see you!” Lucas called.
 
Lucas and Mark worked on the roof. They had just one more shingle to replace when Lucas realized he hadn’t seen Matthew in a while. He called his name, but got no answer. Mark couldn’t help but smile. “You just get me raised and-“
 
“Hush, Mark!” Lucas warned as he climbed down the ladder. “When you get that done, hitch up our horses. I’ll go track down the boy.” Lucas called Matthew’s name a few times with no answer. He finally went into the house and found Matthew in the bedroom with a can of Paint. He was Painting the bedroom wall red! Lucas grabbed the brush out of Matthew’s hand. “What are you doing, boy?”
 
Matthew jumped up and shrugged. “I was bored.”
 
“You were-“ Lucas sighed and stared at the wall. “Well, we’ll see what we can do about that!” He grabbed a bucket and filled it up with soap and water. Start scrubbing. I want if off before it dries, boy!”
 
Mark came in to announce the horses were hitched up. He saw the wall and gasped.
 
Lucas held up a hand to hush him. “You go ahead and check the cattle, son. I’ll be along as soon as Matthew gets this mess cleaned up!”
 
It took awhile. Matthew complained that it was hard work, and Lucas lectured him on behaving himself. When the work was done, he helped the boy on the back of his horse and they rode off to finish checking the cattle. It took most of the morning checking the cattle. He promised Matthew that he would teach him how to ride a pony soon. They would have to get him a pony that fit him and a saddle. The boy jumped up and down about this.
 
They headed back to the ranch for some lunch before going into town. Matthew complained when he was told to wash his hands, but with a threat of not getting the candy from the General Store promised to him earlier, Matthew finally decided that washing his hands before lunch wasn’t so bad after all.
 
They went to town. Lucas took the boy to the doctor to get checked out, and he was given a clean bill of health. The doctor agreed not to charge Lucas for this visit, and they headed over to the General Store. Lucas knew money was tight.  To get the boy clothed properly, he would have to sell a few head of cattle to Pay the bill at the store. Milly stated that it would be no trouble, however. So Lucas got the clothing he needed for church, school, and chores. “I wasn’t able to recover anything from the wagon. Everything was pretty messy.” Lucas had explained. Milly wanted to help Lucas with the boy’s supplies, and Lucas finally relented and agreed to only pay half-price for the items the boy needed.
 
Mark wanted to talk to Lucas alone, so Milly kept the boy at the General Store to look at the stuff while they went out to talk. “Pa, with all this stuff you are buying and promising to buy him a pony and all…does that mean you are thinking of…well…keeping him?”
 
Lucas looked back toward the General Store. “I wouldn’t make it permanent without consulting you first, son,” Lucas stated. “He doesn’t have a family, though. I can’t say I’ll keep him forever, but-“
 
“Aren’t you, Pa?” Mark grinned. “You love that boy, don’t you?”
 
“Well, there’s something about him, Mark.”
 
Mark smiled. “I’m not a child anymore, Pa. I know you are a great father, and he needs that right now. But,” Mark looked around, as if someone was about to walk in on the big secret. “He’s seems to have a mischievous streak in him, like I never had!”
 
Lucas smiled. “You have had some pretty mischievous moments, son. But I know what you mean.”
 
Mark nodded. “I think that unless we find a family member, you should keep him.”
 
Chapter 3
 
“I ain’t going to no school!” Matthew declared Sunday afternoon. They were sitting in the hotel restaurant after church when Lucas made the announcement. He was talking very loudly and people were staring.
 
Lucas folded his arms. “You are. Tomorrow. And don’t talk so loudly, son.”
 
Matthew Paid no heed to Lucas’s warning. “I said I ain’t going to no school! You can’t make me!”
 
Lucas threw down his napkin, grabbed Matthew by the arm, and dragged him out of the restaurant. When they were outside, Lucas got down on the boy’s level and grabbed him by the shoulders. “You do not ever talk to me like that, boy!” Lucas snapped. “I am telling you that you are going to school tomorrow.”
 
Matthew folded his arms and stomped his foot. Lucas gave him a warning smack on the backside. “When we get home today, you and I will have a little talk in the barn. Now, I have never whipped Mark – never had to. And I’m not going to whip you unless you give me cause to. We’ll discuss your punishment at home. Right now, I want you to march back into that restaurant and finish your food. And,” Lucas pointed a finger at Matthew. “-I don’t want you to say another word until we are home. Do I make myself clear?”
 
Matthew did stay quiet until they were home. He did listen to Lucas’s “talk,” and agreed to do the extra chores that evening for back-talking at the hotel. But the next morning, he pleaded not to go to school while they were eating breakfast. Lucas took a drink of his coffee and stood up. “Okay, boys. Let’s get going.”
 
Matthew stood and folded his arms. Lucas gave him a stern look. “Remember our talk from last night, Matthew. I think you should think hard before saying or doing anything.” Lucas reached for the boy’s books. “Here are the first years’ books Mark used. If there are anymore, the teacher will tell me.”
 
Lucas rode them to school and Matthew sat quietly, sulking that he had to go to school. Lucas hopped off the wagon. “Come on, Matthew.”
 
Matthew slowly got down and grabbed a hold of Lucas’s hand. Lucas could tell he was terrified to go into the school, so at the steps, he stopped and bent down onto the boy’s level. “What is it, Matt?”
 
Matthew sniffed. “Back home I-I was going to go to school, but the first day all the kids made fun of me. It really hurt my feelings.”
 
Lucas shook his head. “I’m sorry about that, son.”
 
Matthew looked towards the door. “I was the store keeper’s son, and they didn’t like my folks cause they was real mean an’ stingy.” Lucas looked into the boy’s eyes to show that he really cared. “They were. My folks was mean, Mr. McCain. But they taked care of me.”
 
Lucas smiled. “Well, they don’t know your folks here, Matt. You go on in there and learn hard. I’ll be here to pick you up at 3.” Lucas stood and took the small boy’s hand in his and they walked inside together.
 
**********************
 
Lucas sat down at Micah’s desk with a grin. “There is something about that boy, Micah. He’s so…mischievous, but he is so special.”
 
“You’ve taken to him, Lucas boy. That’s for sure.”
 
The door to the Marshall’s office opened and Mark walked in. “Pa, if you are busy, I’ll take Matt with me until you are done.”
 
“Is it that late?”
 
Mark nodded. “You got all your chores done?” Lucas nodded. “Pa, Matt had a rough first day. I think you should talk to him.”
 
Lucas followed Mark to the wagon. Matt was sitting in the back eating some candy. “Where’d he get that?”
 
Mark shrugged. “Where’d you get the candy, son?
 
Matt pointed to a young man up the street. “He bought it for me cause I told him I’m an orphan.”
 
Lucas rolled his eyes. “Son, you aren’t an orphan. You are living with us. And you don’t ever let strangers or even friends buy something for you. We Pay our own way – that’s very important.”
 
Matt said nothing. When they got home, Matt stated he wanted to play. Lucas told him that he had afternoon chores to do, then homework. “There’s not a lot of time to play, son. I want you to go feed the chickens.”
 
Lucas decided to talk to Matt about his day once he was done with his chores. The problem was, the boy was taking too long in doing them. Lucas went outside to find the six-year old. He called his name several times with no answer. Finally, he looked up and saw him in a tree. “All right, son. Come down from there.”
 
Matt shook his head. “I ain’t never comin’ down! Never!”
 
Lucas thought for a moment. He looked at Mark who just shrugged his shoulders. Then he shrugged his own shoulders in defeat. “All right, son. Have it your way.” Then he winked at Mark. “Mark, there’s fried chicken on the table. Let’s go eat.” He said it loud enough for Matt to hear.
 
They went inside and shut the door. Supper was almost done when they heard a bump at the door. The door opened and Matt walked in. “Can I eat some too?”
 
Lucas Patted the chair next to him and Matt came over. Matt started eating. Lucas folded his arms on the table and looked sternly at the boy. “Now, what do you have to say for yourself, boy?”
 
Matt grinned. “I can’t do my chores in the tree.” Lucas shook his head at the boy and frowned. “An’ I can’t go to school in a tree.”
 
Lucas stared at Mark in disbelief. Mark stood and started clearing the table. “I need to hurry with these dishes so I can do my homework.”
 
“Go ahead and start on your homework, son. I think Matt will do the dishes tonight.” Matt gave Lucas a pouting look. “Not only tonight, but every night until I say differently.”
 
Matt had a piece of chicken in his hand and threw it down on the table. Lucas stood up and grabbed Matt by the arm. “It seems your own folks never punished you!”
 
“As long as I stayed out of their hair, I could do it my way!”
 
“Well that’s not the right way to bring up a boy. And it’s not the way we do things around here. Around here, we do things MY way, boy.” Lucas dragged Matt kicking and screaming out to the barn. He sat him down sternly into a chair and sat down beside him. “Now, the other night you and I had a talk about what happens if you are naughty like this. Matt, I told you that I never whipped Mark – there were always other way to punish him. Did your folks ever whip you?”
 
Matt shook his head. “They didn’t care what I do’d as long as I stayed out of their hair!”
 
“I see. Well, Mark told me you had a bad day at school today.”
 
Matt folded his arms and gave the pouting face again. Lucas stood up, lifted the boy from the chair and gave him a hard smack on the back side. The boy let out a hard cry. Tears sprang to his eyes. “I didn’t want to learn!”
 
“You aren’t going to be a child forever, son. Someday you are going to be a man, and you are going to have to make your own way in this world. How will you do it if you can’t read or write or add figures?”
 
Matt’s expression softened and he shrugged his shoulders. “Matt, you are a very special boy. God made you for an important purpose, and I am here to help you. I want to be your friend.”
 
A grin played at the corners of Matt’s mouth. He stood up and crawled into Lucas’s lap. “Sir, my folks never wanted to be my friend. They never let me sit on their lap. They didn’t let me cry.”
 
Lucas smiled. “Nothing wrong with hugs and kisses from your folks. There’s nothing wrong with crying either. I cry sometimes too.”
 
Matt’s mouth popped open. “Honest?”
 
“Honest.” Lucas saw tears pop into the boy’s eyes. “What’s wrong?”
 
“Never met no one like you before…I wish you were my Pa.”
 
“You are special to me, son. Did you only come to me a week ago?” Lucas sighed and hugged the boy close. “I would love for you to be my son. Mark told me he wants you to stay.” Lucas looked into the boy’s eyes. “I’ll punish you when you are bad, son. But it’s only out of love.”
 
“Love? You mean you…you love me?”
 
Lucas nodded. “I mean I love you.”
 
“Can-can I call you Pa?” the boy asked softly.
 
Lucas smiled. Tears came to his own eyes.  “When you are ready, we’ll talk about it. Okay?”
 
They did understand each other. The boy nodded. “Are-are you going to still lick me?”
Lucas smiled. “I’m not going to lick you. But, I don’t want another trip to the barn.” He shook a warning finger at Matt. “Now, let’s show you how to do dishes, then we’ll do your homework.”
 
**********************
 
The days Passed quickly. Lucas drove the boys into school every morning and picked them up every afternoon. Mark got tired of such attention and gained permission to ride Blue Boy so he could hang out with his friends after school. Lucas was spending a lot of time teaching Matt how to do his daily chores. After supper, he and the boy sat down at the table and worked on his lessons. Lucas was proud of how well the boy was doing. Within in couple weeks the boy was able to write his whole alphabet and read any three letter word. The boy seemed to take after Mark when it came to math, and Lucas knew he had several years of fighting the math bug. Now that Mark was 14, he thought that was all behind.
 
Lucas made sure to put aside time for Mark every day. He talked to Mark each night on the front porch before bedtime. Matt went to bed at 8:00, so he and Mark had time alone together before they went to bed. “What do you honestly think of all of this son?” Lucas asked, taking a puff off of his cigar.
 
“What do you mean? What should I think of this?”
 
“What do you think about the boy being here?”
 
Mark sighed. “I think that he’s good for you, Pa. I think you need each other.”
 
Lucas turned and stared at Mark. “Well, I agree he needs me – never had a Pa to teach him right from wrong. But how do I need him?”
 
“Oh Pa!” Mark rolled his eyes. “I’m growing up. You love being a Pa and taking people under your wings. Pa, you know I’ve been talking about what I want to do in a couple years when I’m done with school. Well, I think maybe I should try to go to school. I know you’ve been setting money aside for me in the bank just in case I wanted to. Well, with me gone, you wouldn’t have anyone to boss around.”
 
Lucas laughed. “Mark, you are my son and no one can ever replace you.”
 
“I know that.” Mark looked out over the land. “Pa, you’ve given me good values to live by. You’ve taught me so many lessons. You always let me know you loved me and taught me the Good Book.” Mark sighed. “I guess I just want to see someone else get those same values from you. You have so much to offer.”
 
Lucas put a hand on Mark’s back and smiled. “I want to give that boy everything I’ve given you, son. He wants to call me Pa.”
 
Mark nodded. “I know. He told me. Pa, he still has a mean streak in him, and when the newness of this wears off, he’ll bring it out again. But I want him to call you Pa. I want him to be as special to you as I was, and I want you be as special to him as you are to me. And you are, Pa. You are special.”
 
Lucas smiled. “I think you are pretty special too, son.”
 
“I call you my best friend, Pa. I know I joke with you about you being my Pa and bossy and all, but you know you are my best friend. You will stay my best friend even if I move to the big city and become a fancy lawyer or something.”
 
Tears filled Lucas’s eyes. “I’ll be proud of you no matter what you decide to do, son. Good night.”
 
Chapter 4
 
A month had Passed. Matt was finally settled in school. Though they were having some small problems, Lucas knew how to handle them. Lucas was still nervous about letting a little six year old boy out of his site for so long, so where he went, the boy went unless he was in school. There had been a couple times he had to leave the boy with Mark or Milly while he helped Micah deal with some law and order business. Other than that, though, things seemed to be pretty calm.
 
Things were going so well, that Lucas was a bit surprised at the boy’s actions one day. He was trying to finish rounding up the stray cattle before it was time to pick him up from school. Suddenly, he saw Mark and Matt riding up on Mark’s horse. Lucas watched them ride up. Mark helped Matt down and Matt came and stood in front of Lucas. “Here’s a note, Pa. I gotta get back to school. I have a test to finish.”
 
Lucas watched Mark ride off before opening the note. “You got in a fight at lunch, talked back to your teacher, and threw a-“ Lucas closed his eyes to keep control of himself. He slowly folded up the note and walked towards his horse. “Get to walking to the house, boy!”
 
Matt started walking. He hadn’t been very far when he plopped himself down on the ground and refused to move. Lucas came and sat down beside him on the ground. “Son, you are getting yourself into more trouble.” He said sternly.
 
“I’m not walking any further! It’s too far.” Matt declared.
 
“You’ve been so good the Past three week, Matt.”
 
Matt looked at Lucas. “I’m not walking!”
 
Lucas stood up. “Suit yourself.” He got on his horse and started riding away. He hoped the boy would call his bluff. Lucas rode very slowly, then he saw the boy run Passed him toward the ranch. He was crying.
 
Lucas tied his horse to the fence and pointed toward the barn. Matt hung his head and stood in his spot near the house. “Okay, I’ll do extra chores.”
 
Lucas grabbed him by the arm and headed toward the barn. “Before I punish you, we’re having a little talk, son.” He took him into the barn and they sat down. “Now, tell me why you misbehaved in school today.”
 
Matthew stuck out his lower lip. “I’m sorry, sir.” Then he sighed. “Why do I have to be in the barn to talk?”
 
Lucas sighed. “I want you to understand that this is our punishment spot. Any time we meet in this spot, you know you are in trouble.”
 
Matt hung his head. “Are you angry with me?”
 
Lucas took off his gloves. “Angry? I can get there really fast. Right now I just want to understand what happened today.”
 
“Well, I-“ Matt looked up. “I guess I was just mad!”
 
“Mad about what?”
 
“Well, that John…He said that you were…were…” Matt hung his head.
 
“I’m what?” Lucas asked. He could see the hesitation in the little boy’s eyes. “It’s okay. I can take it, son.”
 
“You were going to send me away.” Matt looked up at Lucas. “He said Mark is done growin’, and you won’t want to grow up another one.”
 
Lucas raised his eyebrows and shook his head. “What do you think about that?”
 
Matthew shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m only six!”
 
Lucas laughed. “Well, let me tell you what’s true, son. You aren’t going anywhere. I can promise you that I want you here always with me.” Lucas took out the note. “Why did you yell at the teacher?”
 
Matt lowered his head again. “I didn’t do all my homework, and she told me I had to do extra.”
 
“I see.” Lucas looked into Matt’s eyes. “You told me you didn’t have any.”
 
“I-I didn’t want to do it.”
 
“Hmmm….And what about throwing the eraser and hitting her in the back of the head?”
 
“I lost my temper.”
 
“Is that all?”
 
Matt raised his head and nodded. “Yes sir.”
 
“Okay.” Lucas stood up. “You know you have to be punished, son.”
 
Matt nodded. “Stand up, son.”
 
Matt froze in his seat, afraid of his punishment. “Stand up I said!” Lucas said a little louder. Matt slowly stood up. Lucas stood directly in front of him and Matt raised his head back as far as it would go to look into the face of the giant of a man that stood before him.
 
“First of all, we are going into town. You are going to apologize to the teacher today. Second of all, since it’s her you offended, you will do some chores for her with my approval. Thirdly, the next stunt you pull will mean a licking. Son, I don’t want to lick you, but I’m not going to tolerate anymore of this. Do you understand me?”
 
They did go to the school and Matt apologized to the teacher. It was agreed that he would stay after school and dust the erasers for a week. He would also have extra homework. For the lie he told Lucas, he would not be able to go swimming with his friends as planned on Saturday.
 
****************
Two more weeks Passed without any major incidents. Small matters still came up, but nothing untypical of a six year old boy. Lucas knew that Matt’s surprise would be waiting for him that Friday when he got home. He and Mark had been going crazy, trying to keep the secret. Mark finally came galloping in, Matt securely hanging on behind him. “Well son, it’s been close to two months since you came to us. I think it’s time for a new step!”
 
Suddenly, a pony whinnied and Matt realized there was a small pony in the corral.  Mark and Lucas looked at each other and smiled. Lucas laughed as Mark took Matt over to see the pony. “Who’s is this?”
 
“Yours,” Mark smiled.
 
“Who-“
 
“Pa and me, silly! I put in some of the money I’ve been saving too. It’s about time for you to learn how to learn to ride,” Mark Patted Matt on top of the head. “He’s all broke and everything!”
 
Matt climbed up on the fence and laughed. “Can we start learning today?”
 
Lucas smiled. “In the morning, son. It’ll take some time.”
 
“Then can I ride him to school like Mark?”
 
“With Mark,” Lucas stated. “When I think you are ready. When you are ready, I don’t want you riding by yourself until I say so.” Lucas knelt down in front of Matt. “Owning a horse is a privilege and a big responsibility, son. Disobedience will result in not riding the horse for a time. You understand?”
 
“Yes sir!” Matt declared. Tears popped into Matt’s eyes. “Thanks…Pa.”
 
Mark and Lucas smiled at each other. Lucas hugged Matt, tears in his own eyes. “You’re welcome, son.”
 
Chapter 5
 
Mark watched Lucas teach Matt how to ride the horse. He laughed every time the boy made a mistake. Lucas came to Mark, “He’s doing great, isn’t he?”
 
“Almost as good as I did when I learned.”
 
Lucas gave Mark a swift Pat on the bottom. “You had your own troubles, son!” he declared. “He’s been working on it for two weeks now, so I think we can let him ride with you Monday.” They watched for a few minutes than Lucas said, “Don’t you have chores to do, boy?”
 
Mark sighed, “Yes sir.”
 
Monday morning dawned clear and bright. Lucas couldn’t decide who was more excited – Matt for getting to ride his horse, Mark for watching his little brother ride his horse to school with him for the first time, or Lucas for watching his two boys ride off to school together.
 
Mark helped Matt saddle Painter. Then they mounted up. Lucas watched from the doorway and tried to keep himself in tack, but he finally hurried out. “Now Mark, remember to stay close beside him.”
 
“I will, Pa. Don’t worry.”
 
“And Matt, remember not to run him. Just trot him like I showed you. Don’t get in a hurry. Be careful and-“
 
“Pa, he’s in good hands!” Mark declared.
 
“I know, but he’s only six, and I don’t want-“
 
Lucas saw the looks his boys were giving him and stopped. “Okay, it’s just hard for a father to let go.”
 
Mark nodded. “Don’t I know it! Don’t you worry, Matt. You’ll get used to it.”
 
He watched the two trot off together, pride swelled his heart, and a big smile grew on his face. Lucas went to saddle his own horse. He had a few errands to do in town and wanted to get back early so he could work with the cattle all afternoon.
 
As he rode into town, Lucas saw Micah drinking coffee outside his office. “I was hoping you would be in town today, Lucas Boy. I didn’t really want to send word home through Mark.”
 
“What word?” Lucas asked.
 
“Well, I think you better come into my office.”
 
Lucas sat down. “Matt rode his horse to school with Mark today. You should have seen those two ride off together! They love each other – like two real brothers! I don’t like to brag, but I can’t help saying that I’m mighty proud of my two boys!”
 
Micah held a frown on his face. Lucas shifted in his seat. “Something wrong?”
 
“I’m afraid you’ll think so.” Micah answered.
 
“What? What is it? Something happened here in town?”
 
Micah picked up a piece of Paper and held it out for Lucas to take. “Got that telegram yesterday afternoon.”
 
Lucas read it. “An aunt in Chicago?”
 
Micah nodded. “She’ll be here tomorrow. She wants to take him back with her.”
 
Lucas stood up and walked to the window. He didn’t trust his voice, so he just stared out the window. Micah stood up and put a hand on Lucas’s shoulder. At the feel of human contact, tears came to Lucas’s eyes. “She can’t just come in and take him. She’s a stranger. A boy needs a Pa.”
 
“She’s family, Lucas. The judge will rule on her side.”
 
“No,” Lucas turned. “I don’t believe that, Micah! He’s my boy now!” Lucas hurried out the door before Micah could say another word.
 
Lucas hurried over to the General store, stuffing the telegram into his jacket. “Hi, Milly!” Lucas greeted. “I need some supplies.” He handed her the list. “I’ll take a bag of the boys’ favorite candy too. A bag for each of them. Oh, and I need to get Matt another Pair of Pants. I tell you, that boy is rough on those Pants!” Lucas was trying to be happy, but there was a fear in his eyes.
 
“What’s wrong, Lucas?”
 
“Nothing, Milly. Can you just get that stuff together quickly? I have to get back to the ranch.” Lucas turned toward Milly. “I’m fine, Milly.”
 
Milly nodded. “Okay, Lucas.”
 
Lucas did go back to the ranch. He tried to concentrate on his work, but thoughts of Matt flooded him all day. As he roped the stray cattle, he pictured Matt there screaming, “You got him, sir!” Then running excitedly to help steer the stray in the right direction. As he repaired the fence, he pictured Matt standing beside him, ready to hand him a nail. As he rode back to the ranch, he pictured Matt mischievously chasing the chickens, even though he was told over and over not to do it.
 
It was a long day, but Lucas finally saw the two boys riding up to the ranch. He hurried forward and lifted the boy off the saddle, giving him a hug before sitting him down. Matt stared at him, unsure why Lucas had given him such a tight hug. “I’ll go start my chores.”
 
“No, let’s go fishing. All three of us.”
 
Mark came over to Lucas and looked at him. “What about our chores, Pa?”
 
Lucas gave a tight laugh. “One day without doing your chores won’t hurt, son.”
 
Mark studied his Pa. Then he turned to Matt. “Okay. Why don’t you go get the fishing poles, Matt.” He watched Matt go. “Pa, what’s wrong?”
 
Lucas sighed, then gave Mark a faint smile. “Nothing, son. Nothing’s wrong.”
 
“Pa, do you remember that we don’t keep anything from each other?”
 
Lucas nodded. “Yes, I remember.” He started toward the barn. “I can’t right now, Mark. Please understand.”
 
They did have a fun afternoon fishing. Mark knew his father wasn’t okay. His laughs were forced and he couldn’t keep his eyes off of Matt. He could tell Matt was bothered by Lucas’s forced happiness too, and he tried to make up for it by keeping light conversation going. Try as he might though, his father’s demeanor was still strained throughout their family outing.
 
They had lots of fish for supper that night. Lucas didn’t care that Matt was picking at his food. Nor did he care that Matt’s table manners were poor that night. At the end of supper, Mark told Matt to start scraping off the supper dishes and then he would help him wash.
 
“I scraped them off last night! You scrape them off!” Matt stated.
 
Mark shook his head. “It’s your job to slop the hogs, so it’s your job to scrape off the dishes!”
 
Matt stood up. “I said I’m not scraping off the dishes tonight!”
 
“Yes, you are!” Mark declared.
 
“All right, both of you just stop it right now!” Lucas suddenly boomed.
 
Both boys gasped and stared at Lucas. Lucas closed his eyes in regret, but said nothing. He stood up and rushed out the front door. Mark watched him leave. “Matt,” he said softly. “Please start scraping off the dishes. I’ll wash and rinse and you can dry tonight.”
 
“Okay,” Matt said quietly. “Mark, what’s wrong with Pa?”
 
Mark patted Matt on the head and gave him a smile. “He works hard all day. Keeping a ranch is really hard work. He’s really tired and our arguing just got to him. I’ll be right back.”
 
Mark found Lucas sitting inside the barn in the spot where he always talked to Matt about their punishments. Lucas was rubbing the seat where Matt usually sat. “It’s about Matt, isn’t it, Pa?”
 
Lucas looked up. Tears were running down his cheeks. “What is it, Pa? Talk to me!” Mark came to sit down beside him.
 
Lucas took the telegram out of his pocket and handed it to him. He gave Mark a moment to read it. “Pa, she can’t just…take him!”
 
“She can, son. She’s his aunt – his flesh and blood. It’s the right thing to do.”
 
“How are we going to do that?” Mark had tears in his own eyes. “How can I give up my brother?”
 
“I don’t know, son. I don’t know!” The two embraced, grieving for what was to come.
 
As they walked back toward the house, Mark asked when he was going to tell Matt. “I don’t know.”
 
“She’s coming tomorrow afternoon.”
 
“I know!” Lucas shouted. Then he stopped and closed his eyes to regain composure. “I’m sorry. I know.”
 
“Do you want me to help you tell him?”
 
Lucas shook his head. “No. I have to do this alone.”
 
Mark saw Matt sitting at the table. “I’ve been waiting!”
 
“I’ll do the dishes myself tonight.” Mark announced. “I think Pa needs to talk to you.”
 
*****************
 
“Well, I know I’m not in trouble, cause we aren’t in the barn.” Matt stated as they sat down on his bed.
 
Lucas patted his knee. “No, your not are in trouble, son.” He forced a smile on his face.
 
“I actually have some good news. We got a telegram and they located an aunt.”
 
The smile on Matt’s face disappeared. “Aunt?”
 
“Yes. Your Aunt Jenny is coming.” Lucas announced. “She’ll be here tomorrow when you get out of school.”
 
“Aunt Jenny…” Matt said quietly. “I don’t like her.”
 
Lucas’s head shot up. “It’s not nice to dislike anyone, son.” Lucas stated firmly.
 
“I told you how my folks are – they never punished me like you. They let me do what I wanted and all…well, my aunt…she-“
 
Lucas studied Matt intently. “What?”
 
“I don’t remember much, but I remember her slapping me.”
 
Lucas’s heart skipped a beat. “We all have our opinions on discipline, son.” Lucas stated. “I’ve given you a couple smacks on the back side too.”
 
“No, on the face. It hurt something awful and…” Matt sighed… “Pa?”
 
Lucas looked into Matt’s eyes. “Pa, don’t you want me?”
 
“Yes, son. I do. Very much.” Lucas took the little boy into his arms. “But, the law will side with your aunt. She’s family.”
 
“I don’t want her. I love you, Pa!” Matt shouted. He started crying. “Please let me stay with you! I promise I won’t argue anymore.”
 
Lucas couldn’t speak. He couldn’t think of anything to say that would make the hurt any less. “You best get ready for bed, Matt.”
 
************************
 
“Can I stay with you today, Pa?” Matt asked at breakfast the next morning.
 
Lucas took a sip of his coffee. “You need to eat so you can get to school, Matt.”
 
Matt sighed. “I-“
 
Lucas sighed. “I think I’ll take you and Mark to school in the buckboard today. I’ll pick you up a little early so we can be there to meet the stage.”
 
Matt sniffed.  “Best hurry up, boy.” Lucas ordered.
 
Mark watched his father go out the door. He was hurting himself, but he didn’t know what to do about it. He knew Lucas dealt with grief in his own way – alone. But he also knew that Matt was confused and needed to understand. “This is really hard for Pa, Matt.” Mark explained. “He loves you just as much as if you were his own son – that’s Pa’s way. He feels like he’s losing his son.”
 
Matt fiddled with his food. Mark took the food from him and put it on his own plate. “Pa’s grieving something awful, but he wants us to go on as normal. I think its best you go to school with me. We’ll be together.” Mark quickly ate the food off his plate before Lucas came back in. “Pa also doesn’t like you not finishing your food.” Matt stared at all the food Mark had just eaten. “This is what brothers are for – we help each other out.”
 
Matt stood up and threw his arms around Mark. “Oh Mark, I just love ya!”
 
Mark smiled through his tears. “Best go wash your face.” He pushed the boy away from him so he could look into his eyes. “Pa’s the best man I know. But when he’s upset he doesn’t always make sense. Just stick with me, little brother.”
 
They exchanged a loving smile. Then they stood to finish getting ready for school.
 
****************
 
All three stood nervously as they watched the stage coach approach. Matt stood between the two men – Mark on one side and Lucas on the other. He chewed on his lip as he watched the stage coach come. He didn’t want to see her. He couldn’t stand her.
Lucas watched the stagecoach come. The woman on there was about to take his boy away from him forever. He squeezed Matt’s hand and closed his eyes, trying to keep his tough composure. He had to be strong for the boy. He couldn’t let his true feelings show.
 
Mark watched the stagecoach as he came closer and closer. He gave Matt’s hand a squeeze. Tears filled his eyes, and one even escaped and ran down his cheek. He quickly wiped it away before Matt saw it. He loved this boy like a brother. How could he say goodbye? How could he allow a stranger to take his brother away from him forever? He sent a silent prayer up to God as the door to the stagecoach opened.
 
All three watched the woman step off the coach. She looked around, then looked straight at Matt. Matt let out a gasp.
 
The woman wore a red, shiny dress. She had black lace gloves on her hands, and a fancy hat with a blue bird on it. She looked more like someone who needed to be in the White House then someone who was guardian to a rambunctious boy. She held a Parasol in her left hand, and a bag in her right. Another Passenger helped her from the stage and she stood in front of the little boy. “Well, so there you are!”
 
Lucas stared at her. “I must go freshen up, then we’ll get set to go. We’ll leave on the morning stage, boy!” With that, she walked past the three of them with no other acknowledgement.
 
Lucas looked down at Matt who had a fearful expression on his face. “Um…Mark, take Matt over to the hotel and buy a piece of pie.” Lucas handed Mark a couple silver pieces, then walked off after the woman.
 
“Ms. Stevens!” Lucas called. She was about to go into the telegraph office when he stopped her. “I wish to talk to you!”
 
She turned around. “Well, cowboy, I can’t possibly think of one thing we have to say to each other!”
 
“I’ve had Matt in my home for nearly three months now, and you have nothing to say to me?”
 
“Oh, well…I’m sure you’ll be glad to get the little varmint off you hands, sir!” She stated, turning from him.
 
Lucas grabbed her by the arm and spun her around. “Listen lady, I don’t let people see my temper very often, but you are about to! The boy has settled in my home and has come to care about my son and I like a family. You drop news that you are taking him home with you in a telegram the day before you show up, and then you greet the boy like he was a puppy about to come live in your home!”
 
She laughed. “Oh, he’s not coming to my house! That’s for certain!”
 
Lucas stared at her. “What are you talking about?”
 
“There’s a nice boarding school just outside of Chicago. He’ll stay there until he’s old enough to make his own way. I’m too busy to keep up with a snotty nosed kid! He’s an evil one, I tell you!”
 
“No thanks to his parents, from what I gather! How dare you treat the boy in that respect!” Lucas boomed. “Why take him away from here?”
 
“No kin of mine is going to grow up in a wilderness around half-men!” she declared. “Now, if you will let go of my arm, I need to send my new hubby a telegram.”
 
Lucas was in shock. He couldn’t believe what was happening. This bright, loving little boy was about to enter a life where he had no loving parents, lots of work and studying. He didn’t hear good things about boarding school, and he will die before he allows his boy to be treated like that! He stared into this woman’s cold eyes for a second before releasing her. “He wants to live with me.”
 
“Too bad for him. He’s only five. He’ll get over it.”
 
“Six.”
 
“What?”
 
“He’ll be seven in four months. He doesn’t like green beans. He loves horses and cattle. He has nightmares at night and has to be held for awhile before he goes back to sleep. The boy likes to go fishing, but he doesn’t like to eat catfish – only trout. He likes apple and peach pie, but not cheery pie or chocolate cake. His favorite candy is licorice sticks, and he doesn’t much care for the rock candy in Milly’s store. The boy is always pulling at his shirt collars because he doesn’t like them on his neck. He also likes to play ball with his friends after school. He likes to chase chickens and has to be given an extra chore every now and then to be reminded not to do it, but then he’ll be pretty good. His full name is Matthew Andrew Thompson. He wakes up happy, and doesn’t like to go to bed. Matt struggles in math, but is excellent at learning to read and spelling. I work with him for about an hour every night on his math, and we have a good time doing it. He and Mark ride the range after school every day to check the cattle and they are usually late getting back because they have so much fun together. The boy plays with bugs, reptiles, and any other animal that comes his way. He is a boy, Mrs. Stevens. He’s not a dog or a varmint. He’s a little boy who wants and needs a lot of love and discipline like any other boy!” Lucas had raised his voice more and more thought his monologue. He stopped now, too upset to go on.
 
People had gathered on the street to watch the interaction. Jenny stared at him for another moment. “Well, if you’ll excuse me-“
 
Lucas turned and walked off toward the hotel. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do now, but he knew that little boy could not go with such an evil woman. He suddenly turned toward the church and went in to pray.
 
He had been in there quite awhile, kneeled at the alter praying. He didn’t know what else to do. His heart was broken, and the alter was wet with his tears. He couldn’t recall a time he had cried so much since he had mourned the death of his wife. He felt a total loss for his little boy, and he didn’t know what to do. Suddenly a hand was on his shoulder. He looked up into Mark’s eyes. “Where’s Matt?” Lucas asked in a broken voice.
 
“I took him to Milly’s. She gave him a fun chore to do in the store so I could come talk to you.”
 
“Mark,” Lucas licked his lips and put a hand on each of Mark’s shoulder. He looked into his son’s eyes. “Son, don’t think I don’t love you.”
 
“I don’t. You feel like you’re losing your son, Pa. I totally understand. I know you love me as much now as you did 15 years ago.”
 
“No son,” Lucas shook his head. “I love you so much more. My love for you grows everyday.” Lucas quickly recounted the conversation he had with the aunt.
 
“Any insight from Him?” Mark asked as he turned toward the alter.
 
Lucas sighed. “I don’t know. I haven’t prayed so hard since-“
 
Mark knelt down beside his father. “Mind if we pray together?”
 
Lucas smiled and they bowed their heads together, hand on each other’s backs, as they each cried out to God.
 
Suddenly the door to the church opened. They heard footsteps behind them. Both Lucas and Mark looked behind them. It was Jenny Stevens. Lucas started to stand up, but she motioned for them to stay still. “I’ve been looking for you for quite awhile, Mr. McCain. I was actually looking for you to tell you just how rude and inhuman I think you are!”
 
Lucas opened his mouth to retort, but she again held up her hand. “I’ve been standing outside the church listening for quite awhile. I know your words were private. Do you know how long you’ve been in here?” She looked at Lucas, then Mark. “Two hours. You’ve been praying for two hours.” She sat down on a pew. “I’ve never known anyone who went to church, much less prayed to someone for two hours.”
 
Lucas stood up and sat down beside her. “Ma’am, God is important to us out here.”
 
“I’ve heard.” She gave a hint of a smile. “I guess we’re too busy for Him in my area of Chicago.” She sighed. “I-I think the boy…I mean…Matthew…Matt should stay here with you.”
 
Lucas and Mark looked at each other and smiled gleefully. Then Lucas took the woman’s hand. “I think you should visit with him, ma’am. You are the only connection he has to his parents.”
 
“His parents were lazy and self-absorbed like me, Mr. McCain.” She shook her head. “He’ll be better off not knowing me. I will say good-bye in the morning if you’ll let him miss just a little of school in the morning.”
 
“What made you change your mind?” Mark asked.
 
“Um...” She looked toward the front of the church.  “You introduced me to someone I want to get to know better. God.” Then she stood up and walked out of the church, never looking back.
 
The Final Chapter
 
“He’s in there.” Milly pointed to the back storage room “The reality of his leaving in the morning just hit him. He said he wanted to be alone and cry like his Pa does.”
 
Lucas patted Milly’s shoulder and motioned for Mark to stay out. He made his way into the room and saw his little boy hunkered over, his body shaking with sobs. He came up behind him silently and knelt down. “Matthew…”
 
Matt turned around. His eyes were red from crying. “I can’t stand it, Pa! I just can’t stand it!” He threw his arms around Lucas and cried.
 
Lucas pushed him back so he could look into the broken boy’s eyes. “Okay. Now, if you will stop crying, I have something to tell you, young man!”
 
Matt watched Lucas as he tried to keep from crying himself. “We need to get you home so we can get your chores done. I hear you have a math test tomorrow, and we have some work to do tonight, son.”
 
Matt stared at him. “You mean-“
 
“You will be my son forever.”
 
Matt cried again. This time, though, he was crying tears of joy. He threw his arms around Lucas. Lucas picked him up and they walked out together. Mark saw them and rushed up to them. He came behind Lucas to look at the boy’s face. “Well?”
 
“Looks like I’m your brother forever!” Matt declared.
 
“Well, okay. But don’t think I’m doing the dishes for you tonight, little brother!”
 
The three laughed as they walked out of the store. Milly walked to the porch and watched the three climb into the wagon. As they rode out of sight, she heard the boys. “Okay. Tonight I’ll scrape the dishes and you do the rest!” Matt said.
 
“Oh no!” Mark argued. “Tonight I’ll wash and that’s it!”
 
“But I have a test tomorrow!” Matt retorted back.
 
“No matter, you do your share!”
 
“Quiet boys!” Lucas said jokingly. “Before I take you both to the barn and lick you!” Milly heard as the wagon turned around the corner and disappeared.

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
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