The Rifleman
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The Rifleman's Serenade
Chapter 7 - Wedding Plans
Written by Frank Charles aka weinerdawgy

There never was any doubt. Lucas loved Aubrey more each day. After his talks with Lou he felt better and knew he still had a great friend. His strong feelings for both her and Milly had their places in time, but for whatever reasons they just did not materialize into marriage. Lucas always told himself that it was more important to be there for Mark. It would have been easy to come back and bark up Lou’s tree had he not met Aubrey, but fate had its way of making the unexpected happen. That first encounter in Santa Fe was still magic to Lucas and the way they fell together as kindred spirits reverberated through his soul. As much as he wanted to feel that way about Lou or Milly, his search for that same feeling he had for Margaret, above any other thing, is why it never came to be. He surely tried, and had Milly remained in North Fork it may have happened. But Lucas was a determined man, one who had to be sure of his feelings. It wasn’t until he was confident of Mark’s direction in life that he could trust himself to decide on a new path for his own sake. He had that confidence now and so did Aubrey.

Aubrey took her place among the North Fork community with ease and great acceptance. She was cut from similar cloth and knew the way of life well. There was much potential for her to share in Lucas’s life and for things to improve for her family in the process. Aubrey was able to connect well with Mark and this alone was a great blessing since they had this brief time to get to know one another. Likewise, it was soothing to both Lou and Aubrey to understand each other. Lou finally found time to visit at the ranch after the big weekend. It was hard for Lou at first to see another in what used to be her place at times. But once she witnessed how Aubrey and Lucas clicked, it was easy to get over. Aubrey was going to need friends not competitors, Lou was gracious and accepting of this. The Fulton Wedding and the Gun Show gave Aubrey a chance to meet just about the entire community. Having so many guests at the ranches kept things busy and there was little time for her to get bored or have second thoughts. She and Lucas craved each other romantically and they were more than ready to join souls permanently.

Aubrey sent for her family to come within the week before the wedding. By then, the bells would be ringing and one of the grandest occasions in North Fork’s history would be taking place. Before that could happen, a date had to be announced and formal invitations delivered to close friends and family. Most everyone knew it was going to be soon and were making preparations as it was, so the formality wasn’t that big of a deal. Otherwise, two weeks would not be enough time.

It was a matter of courtesy to the many guests at the ranch to have the wedding soon. Dillon and Ruth needed to get back to Oklahoma, this was the longest they had ever been away. Mark was thinking to return with them. This was even more the case for Sarah Cockrell and Turley. Along with the others, it was a full house at both ranches and people were starting to desire more privacy. The wedding gown was complete and the men still had their fancy suits, so there wasn’t a whole lot to do except get the food and other details taken care of. There was much to do for that because the big gun weekend drained supplies both in town and at the ranches. Sam, Bat, and Lucas set about to prepare the beef. The butchered supplies on hand were growing thin.

Ann and Will took off for their first horse riding event and would return in a little over a week. After the wedding, they were going to be gone for a longer time, progressing towards Dallas, the true place for their honeymoon. Bat was comfortable in his routine of working on the ranch and playing cards in town. Emma knew that they had to get on to Denver before very long. They were hoping that Lucas and Aubrey would be willing to travel with them soon after the wedding. And so it was that everyone had a great many things to accomplish within the next few weeks in order to bring this eventful summer to a climax. For many, that was the gun show, and for the ranches it was the wedding. Since the decision to merge, there had been few easy going normal days to savor. The challenge was steep and the rewards tempting.

Mark got help from everyone he could find as the drain work for the hot bath came to a successful completion. Micah spent the days sitting in the shade keeping Mark company and the evenings at the lodge with the men. Will wished he could be there to see the finishing touches go into the brickwork but that pleasure went to Dillon and his boys as well as Lucas and Bat. A small gathering formed near the weekend of that first week leading up to the wedding. They took turns pumping water into the fire box water heater and on into the sauna. There was no structure over it, but that could wait. They watched patiently as the water entered. There were no leaks in the pipes and the water level rose steady. Micah was ready for a soothing warm bath. Groups of four were chosen to take their turn. Micah was joined by Mark, Lucas, and Bat for the inaugural splash. Sam joined Dillon, Turly, and the boys for the second group. Others came along until the evening air drove them all to the lodge for dinner. This was one luxury the ranch could make good use of. Talk immediately turned to when could one be made for the Bard half of the organization!

After dinner, Lucas and Aubrey sat on the porch of the ranch house in great content. The warm baths gave an easier personality to the entire ranch scene. The moon was high and so were the feelings.

“It’s all going to be over soon Lucas. I haven’t felt this happy in many years.”

“I can promise you this my love, as long as I’m drawing air it will never be over.”

“Won’t we ever have time to settle down and watch the grass grow?”

“I think the time will come soon enough. For now, we have a busy life ahead. That’s the way I wanted it ever since Mark left for school. The isolation drove me nuts after a few weeks. I had only to strike out along this path you are witnessing, and now a part of, to have things start to happen.”

“I’m right proud to be alongside you on this path Lucas. You make me strong and North Fork makes me feel wanted. I never had this feeling of closeness in Santa Fe. Too big of a town and I had so much to do on the ranch. It’s different here, like a big family.”

“It wasn’t always that way. North Fork had to be tamed like any other cattle town.”

Lucas gave out a short chuckle and tossed his hat aside. Wiping his hair back, he looked up at the moon. “I came here with a reputation for my gun fearful of what that could mean for Mark. A lot of bad with the good, but we have it now. North Fork has settled into a kinder time.”

“I’ve seen the results over this short time, remarkable. And just what has it all meant to Mark? He is going to carry a load over your reputation for life. And that reputation is growing even more now. Have you considered that lately?”

“I like to think I have. We had a good talk about it on several occasions. He hasn’t said anything though. I guess we should talk.”

“Well, you sure filled his eyes. He was talking a great deal with Lou during the show. I saw him with her on more than one occasion. He must have been seeking her guidance.”

“He’s been close to her for many years now. It’s obvious he’d go to her. He’s still a boy in ways, even though going away to school has had a good effect on him. I hope that doesn’t bother you.”

“Not at all. It’s Mark’s right to keep Lou close, she’s a great lady. I like her plenty. But I’ve talked to Mark some also. You talk to that young man soon Lucas. He needs to get it right with you.”

“That’s true. It must have been shocking for him to see this commotion over the gun show. And I don’t want him feeling left out as our time draws near.”

“All of this being busy can distract us from reality. I don’t blame you for being absorbed in your performance. But now is the time to go to Mark and let him know you want to be right with him. He’s had time to think. It can all still be good. He needs to know that you are thinking of him. He’s already thinking of you.”

“He knows I’m thinking of him. But you’re right, we haven’t been in touch as the show went on. And I sure don’t want him feeling left out about us. I think the sauna project has kept him occupied and now is a perfect time for us to come together and have that chat. While we’re at it…. How are you feeling about all of this?”

“You know that I love it. I’m looking forward to so many things. I’ve seen a great deal in the time that I’ve been here. I was ready to get out like this and let Daniel run the ranch. I miss the family, but I’m very taken by all that has come to be since we’ve met. I’m not having any second thoughts if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“I have no sense of that, you make me so happy. I just want to know that you’re confident of what you see and what we have become. I want us to be one so very bad.”

Aubrey smiled and shifted closer in his grasp. “I’m anxious for our union too my love. My mind is set and I know we’ll have a wonderful life. We’ve both waited for too long and yet it has been just the right amount of time as well.” Aubrey made a move towards Lucas and they kissed. For a long time they sat in each other’s arms saying nothing. The time of their waiting would soon be over. Their families would be joined, their ranches united, and their friends would be there to witness it.

“Your love makes it all worthwhile. Please keep me pointed in the right direction. There’s so much riding on what we’re going to do next.” Lucas tightened his hold.

“That’s what faith is for. I admire the faith it’s taken you to come this far and trust in our faith is what inspires me to move forward with you.” Aubrey kissed Lucas once more.

The next morning Lucas sought out Mark and asked him to take a ride to inspect the fence line and have a day together before the wedding excitement to come would leave them with little time to talk. Mark was very happy that his Pa thought of this. They took off on Razor and Blue Boy just as in the past. Lucas knew that Razor liked to run and gave him a nudge to let him raise some dust. Mark let Blue Boy run a little too, but did not try to keep up. Soon they were at the fence and ready for a stop. It was starting to get hot and the canteens were opened quick.

“Horses first son!” Lucas laughed as he saw Mark take a swig,

“Ah Pa, you know I could never resist that first draw on my canteen.”

“I know, you’ve probably been gnawing on that rock candy again, makes ya thirsty in this heat, don’t it?”

“Yes sir. But it keeps me from eating so much dust on the trail, and you’re always in front raising it on me.”

Lucas chuckled and thought silently for a moment as the horses drank. “I guess I kinda been raising a whole lot of dust on ya of late son. I’ve been meaning to talk with you more. Now that the commotion over the guns is over, maybe we should revisit that talk we had last Christmas. I know it must have been a lot for you to witness.”

“It sure was Pa. I don’t reckon I ever seen anything quite like it. People sure get excited when you put on a show.”

“Do you think you’re alright with what happened? Were you worried?”

“I have to say that I was scared about the big crowd and so many guns around. Sure can be dangerous if’n somebody was to be out to get ya. But once I got a taste of how much you’re respected that feeling faded on me.”

“There’s so much I need to tell you. I want you to know that it is dangerous. I keep that in mind at all times. And I don’t want to hide a thing from you. I also know that there’s so much changing for both of us right now and I need to know you are alright with it. That means Aubrey too.”

“Yes sir. It’s a lot to reckon on, but Aubrey is real nice and easy to talk to. She knows everything about ranching and likes to work hard just like you. It’s more important for you to be happy though Pa. I don’t want there to be any doubts for any of us. I respect your feelings too much and I feel fine.”

Lucas smiled and bit off the end of a cheroot. As he lit the cigar he looked out over the range with great contentment. “In all that’s changing Son, the one thing that has to remain the same is how you and I relate. We had too many hard lessons to let anything slip between us now. I have to tell you about something that happened during the contest.”

“You can tell me anything Pa. What is it, you seem worried.” Mark fixed his canteen back onto the saddle.

“It’s about Ron Fitch. He’s not who most think he is. This might change how you feel about me doing gun shows. It may be changing me too.”

“Alright, let’s hear it then.” Mark looked his Pa in the eyes and for once felt more like a man than a boy.

“Well, when Ron first came to town he told everybody he was a rancher from Fort Worth. Before long Ann got to chatting with him and felt that he was hiding something, he didn’t know so much see. It was evident that ranching was not his real game. He shot too well for the average cowpoke too. She brought this up and Bat shook him down. Turns out that he is a New York gangster sent to kill William, Bat, and me. It was both a revenge thing for our actions in New York and they wanted to eliminate the risk that we pose to their organization. But we managed to turn the tables on Fitch. He is now working for us and under constant supervision until we know that we can trust him. That’s the short version of it. I can tell you much more, but for right now, we must reckon with our personal feelings about the entire issue of me doing these shows.”

Mark was shocked by the abrupt change going on in his mind. “Before you told me about this I was all settled on you going ahead. Now I’m not so sure. I don’t think you are either, are ya Pa?”

“No, I’m not. We played it pretty well once Ann alerted us, but before that there was no clue. It was a good thing that Fitch was not the silent type. We were too wrapped up in the moment and anyone could just walk up and shoot any one of us. If not for Bat and his wisdom things could have gotten out of hand. We did the best thing we could think of to keep from exposing his plans to the public and causing any trouble. It’s a good thing that he seems to like it out west and wants to get away from his New York life. I hope it can stay that way. But how can we ever be sure?”

“If they sent him this time, there’s nothing to keep them from trying again, is there?”

“No Son. I had to accept the fact that it was going to be dangerous from the start. Wasn’t so much to consider until the trouble in New York happened. Those boys are a mean bunch and have lots of money and people to work with. I’m very torn about this and you are the first one I have talked to about it.”

“Not even Bat?” Mark’s eyebrows raised.

“Not even Bat. Lucas looked long into his son’s eyes. “I want you to know that you will always be the most important thing to me. I trust others a great deal, but you are it. We both need to know to trust each other completely. I’m going to give this more thought until after the wedding. Bat and I are considering a show in Denver. That is a huge place and we won’t be able to watch our backs so close in a big city.”

“I told ya back at Christmas I was willing to understand and go along with what you thought best. I will tell you now that I will be worried no matter what. There doesn’t need to be a gun show for an assassin to come looking for you. They’ll always be able to find you unless you hide real good. You’re too well known for that. Guess I’m gonna have to do me some thinking too.”

“I’m glad you’re not getting real upset over this Mark. I’ve had to look over my shoulder most of my life. I’ve been determined to keep it from stopping you or me from living our lives the way we should. Once I put that badge on and went to New York, the risk was always looming. Not that things haven’t been dangerous enough for us in the past. I guess I sure have walked right into it this time!”

“You sure did Pa. Did ya think all this was going to happen when ya first chose to shoot in Yuma?”

“I did me some powerful thinkin’ back then, but nothing like this came to mind. Seems as though we took care of most of my ghosts from the past by then. Simon was one of biggest ones and I was sure at peace with him. Nobody else has troubled us for quite some time otherwise.”

“I can think of another Pa. Hayden’s man, Mario! Now that was surprising, wasn’t it? Just goes to show that you can never plan for what’s going to come up on ya. It’s fate and your nature to step up Pa. I don’t blame ya for any of the things that happened to us.”

“I know Son. I love ya for it too. Now that you mention Mario, I really have to be careful. Still, I knew something was wrong from the start when he showed up. Thank God that man had a conscience. We wouldn’t be here right now otherwise!”

“Do ya still think he wanted to die Pa?”

“Yes I do. There was no way a professional killer should have let us get the best of him. I hadn’t thought about that for quite some time. It seems that Ron Fitch has found himself in a similar spot. Only difference is, he wants to live. Say, let’s ride over to the rifle range and let this all settle on the way. We can talk more there.”

“You got it Pa.”

The ride was a quiet one. Lucas took his time and drew hard on his cheroot. Mark worked on his piece of rock candy. They rode side by side at an easy pace. The hot sun gave the dry hillsides a heat wave effect as they approached the canyon. Once at the rifle range, Lucas took up as many cans as he could hold and set them up on a rail. The two shot them off and Mark went back out to set them up again. They went back and forth at this for about an hour. Finally, Lucas spoke up.

“Mark, it appears to me that your life could be in danger too. If they know about you then they may try to get to me through you. The bottom line is your safety. I’m not going to go on after Denver. Until we can put this danger to rest it will always be a problem. There may never be a way to be safe.”

Mark kicked at the dusty ground. “I hate to agree with ya Pa, but I do. I know it means a lot to you and it must be good money. Maybe you and Bat can figure out a way to have better security if ….”

“That’s the problem, “IF”. If we can protect everyone all the time. We bit off a big chunk of tough meat when things broke loose in Fort Worth. Will’s troubles were of a serious nature to begin with and sure enough we woke up a dragon. A huge monster of a Mob. Not since the war have I felt so troubled. Will is the one we must watch closely. Bat has handled this kind of thing plenty. But I’m thinking of you. I’m not willing to risk your life to be a show off. Denver may give us enough exposure to keep the rifle sales going for quite some time. Maybe we can do a few other shows along the way. But the more I see this ranch grow and understand the security it can bring, the more I feel the need to be here most of the time. Things can change, of course. But we are going to take it slow until we know for sure what the dangers are. Fisk may be able to help us straighten things out with his people in New York if he is going to be honest. That will take time though.”

“I understand Pa. The danger can go for Uncle Dillon’s family and anyone at the ranch. Even Sarah must be thought of. Once the dragon wakes up, ya gotta watch his every step.”

“Good way to put it Mark. We have to slay the dragon before we can go back to a normal life. I’m very sorry this has to be. Once you go back to Enid I want you to be very careful. Don’t go around talking about me or any of this. Keep to your mission, get that education and work at those things important to you. I’m sure Dillon and the boys will keep you busy too.”

“Yes sir. I understand. I don’t have other plans anyhow. If things get rough I can always come home. I know you don’t want me to have to do that during school. This ranch means a whole lot more though. I can always work here and school elsewhere.”

“We’ll do what we have to do. For now I think you’ll be alright. Might even be safer there than here. This is more than we have ever had to face and from a greater distance and power. I wish I had never taken part in New York. The intrigue got the better of me and I couldn’t help myself on that boat. I’m just one of those guys that can’t stand to see the bad guys win. It don’t help much when Bat is involved, he’s worse than me!”

“It’s not a bad thing Pa, it’s what heroes are made of. I’m proud of it and willing to take the risk right along with ya. Haven’t we always worked good together?”

“We sure have. The hard lessons almost cost us our lives enough times though. We better keep that in mind. I don’t ever want to get stranded out on the desert of life again!”

“I got ya Pa. Say, do you think I should get a pistol like yours? I haven’t ever been keen on the idea before, but maybe it would be good protection when I’m on the road alone. I do that a lot of the time.”

“If you’re willing to ask the question, then I’m willing to answer it yes. I know better than to fear you becoming a gun fighter. You know the dangers more than most. Many was the time I wish I had carried a pistol when we got into trouble. A rifle is a great tool, but I’ve learned that a pistol has its place too. Here, you fire mine a few times now and see what you think.”

Mark took the gun and rattled off a few shots at the cans. He didn’t hit one, but he reloaded and tried again. Lucas showed him the best way to hold it and coached him until he could shoot straight. He explained how Annie Oakley taught the police in New York how to hold a pistol because many of them had never been shown.

“It’s a whole lot different than shootin’ a rifle, that’s for sure. But I think I should have one. It doesn’t have to be a fancy one, just something I can get to quickly when I’m on a horse.”

“The Colt is the best way to go Son. I’m taking you into town tomorrow. No need to fool around.”

“You’re the best Pa. What else we got for today?”

“I want us to finish looking over the ranch and then if there is time, we need to go talk to Micah. Have a soak in that hot bath and I got a big question for him.”

“Whatcha’ gonna ask him Pa?”

“If he would like to perform the wedding ceremony!” With that Lucas picked up his rifle and blasted the remaining cans off the rail the fast way. “Let’s hit the trail boy, sorry, guess you’re not a boy anymore. You’ve grown up to be a very wise young man. I’m very proud of you Mark. Don’t ever feel different. I may not always be able to say it or show it, but you know our spirits are always together.”

“I sure do Pa! I’m right proud of you too. I want you to do exactly what you think is best and I’ll never doubt you.” Mark reached out and they hugged.

They rode the range into the early afternoon. The heat was getting to them and their canteens were getting low. It was time to head back and find Micah. Mark was anxious to see the reaction when his Pa put it to his old friend. Mark knew the reason why Lucas wanted this, it was more than pure friendship. Mark had a lot to think about after their talk. He was afraid something like this would happen when they talked of things last Christmas, but this was more than he could imagine. He learned long ago that being the son of the Rifleman had its risk. Something he never really had a choice about and his father never found a way to totally eliminate. Somehow, the risks got bigger each time.

Micah was resting on the front porch trying to stay cool in the heat of the late afternoon. He was enjoying the slow days since the weekend. His hip was feeling much better now that the sauna was a regular evening ritual. He was eating better at the lodge too. He missed his beers with his pals at Sweeney’s, but some of his friends were planning to visit for an upcoming wedding. Mark and Lucas rode up quietly and walked onto the porch to sit next to him. Micah was snoring away so Lucas reached over and tipped his hat back to startle him into to awareness.

“Wha…Who….????? Oh Lucas, it’s you! What ya sneakin’ up on an old man fer?”

“Got sumthin’ to ask ya old friend.”

“Must be real important to interrupt my snooze! Better be anyhow!”

“Sure is. Aubrey and I were talkin’ the other night and we agree that it should be you that does the hitchin’ at the church wedding!” Lucas rocked back in his chair with a big old smile.

“What!? You’re not serious…….. are ya?” Micah took his hat off and sat forward to let what he just heard soak in.

“Sure am serious. Can’t think of a better friend or official to perform the duty.”

“What about the reverend? He must be assuming it’s his job.”

“You know better than that Micah. I know I have reached a certain peace with that man, and I would consider him next in line, but you are the one that should set me upon the straight and narrow path. I want you to do it. Please say you will do this for me.”

Mark couldn’t help himself but pipe up. “After all Micah, you’re the real marshal around here!”

“I don’t know what to think. Perform a wedding. Been a long time. Had to do it once in a while, but never in front of a large gathering. You sure about this Lucas Boy?”

“Never been more sure of anything in my life, Marshal!”

“What will I say? Do you want it traditional? We better write something down.” Micah looked uneasy but Lucas knew this would be the case.

“I want you to say the first things that come to your mind. We want you because of what would be on your mind. Anybody can have a preacher say the same old things. You can put a personal touch to a very special occasion. It’s just what’s needed.”

“What about the Bible and all that?”

“If you feel it should be included then fine. We can even have the reverend say a few words to begin with, but it’s going to be you that joins us in matrimony!” Lucas gave Micah the eyebrow treatment and Mark gazed at their old friend longingly.

Micah sat silent for a spell, studying the Rifleman’s face. The eyebrows quivered on and on…. The forehead wrinkled until Micah could take it no longer. “ALRIGHT! ALRIGHT! If that’s what you really want, then that’s what you’re gonna get! No asking ahead of time what I’m gonna say neither! You’ve asked for it this time Lucas Boy!”

Mark and Lucas let out with a huge laugh. They stood up and leaned over to hug Micah as he remained seated. “Let’s go have a drink and get out of this heat. Bar’s open early today!” Lucas exclaimed.

“I’ll agree to that right quick!” Micah got up and they strolled across the yard and into the cool large front room of the lodge. “I’ll be needing a tall beer Lucas.”

Lucas checked the tap and drew out three beers. “Mark, I expect a man to drink a beer with his Pa!”

“Yes sir! Pa.” Mark took a sip and watched the other two drink long until only a small amount remained. “I can’t keep up with you old timers, but maybe I’ll learn!”

The Rifleman's Serenade — Long Awaited

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
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