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The Battle Within A Young Gun
Written by Frank Charles aka weinerdawgy

Chapter Sixteen — A Warm Fire

Will and Ann sat by the fireplace sipping hot cider while Sam sat cozy with a book in his overstuffed chair. A well decorated Christmas tree loomed nearby making the house feel full and warm. It was two days before Christmas as snow lightly fell. Everything seemed right with the world and rightfully so. This was a time to reflect upon the hard work and many blessings from the past year. Will pondered what might be going on with Lucas in Oklahoma.

“Do you think Lucas and Mark can see eye to eye over the shooting demonstrations?

“If I know Mark, he will object strongly. We talked about guns quite a lot over the years.”

“Yah, I don’t know Mark so well, he was just a small boy when I met him. Still, we became close for what little time we had. I blew up at him after I told you I couldn’t come to dinner, I was already crazy about you! He didn’t understand at first, but I think he saw the frustration in me at the time.”

“I knew something was wrong, Lucas would have told me about you otherwise. Mark may have been small, but his heart is bigger than all of us. I suppose the many troubles he encountered with his father made him face disaster so much that he seeks to avoid what he knows will bring it on again.”

“I know that Lucas thought long and hard over it before he decided to take part and he made Masterson promise there would be no gun fighting involved. I hope it all works out.”

“I’m not so sure I like the idea myself. Times may be changing but there is always a chance that some gun crazy idiot will come along to ruin things. You all even talked about the many inmates waiting to get out and take revenge. Who needs the worry?”

“I can see your point. I don’t like the danger any more than the next person. It’s not easy for Lucas, but he has everyone’s future in mind. I think he can be careful and do alright. It will be the sale of the commemorative rifles and rights to the lever design that will make the real money. Lucas won’t have to do the shooting for very long. Besides, he needs to get out into the world and experience some change.”
“I can understand his reasoning but I still think he is taking a big risk. I know Mark won’t like it. All the world needs is more rifles. Guns are a tool, like Lucas always says. There is one among my possessions and I like to hunt on occasion, but I can’t imagine playing with the thing.”

“I can’t argue with you Ann. I have used guns in both the wrong way and the right way. I‘m not allowed by law to own one, but I would rather break the law and have it just in case. I don’t feel safe without knowing I can protect myself. It is the great equalizer between good and bad whether we like it or not. Like so many other things in life, once you let the cat out of the bag, there is no going back!”
“If the Civil War didn’t teach us that, nothing will!” Sam had to yell out from behind his book. He set the book down and looked Ann in the eye. “You know how I feel about guns daughter. I had you learn to use one from an early age too.”

“Yes Daddy, I know. I wouldn’t try to argue with Lucas either, but I do feel that there are better ways to make money.”

“Lucas has been the best at making his money count. He deserves a chance to capitalize on his talent as a sharp shooter. If there is one thing that man knows, it’s how to handle a gun. And that’s a whole lot more than just hitting your target!” Sam got up to pour another drink from his decanter.

“Do you know enough to trust this Bat Masterson character Daddy?”

“No I don’t. I know what I read and I am very impressed with him though. I plan on meeting him when I go to Santa Fe with Lucas next month.”

“I do feel better that you are going with him. Please keep a close eye on him, don’t let anyone take advantage of his kindly nature.”

“Lucas and I know how to watch out for each other, rest assured. He is far smarter than you may think. Will can back me on that, how did it go in Yuma once again?”

“Well, Lucas has a good many years on me. I wouldn’t have done any of the things we did on my own. But I did come back with a much better perspective than when I left. Lucas walked among many strangers and left friends with them all. He has my respect in every way.”

“Well put son. Not many have seen what Lucas has witnessed in this life. That man is a genuine hero no matter what Masterson has ever done.”

“And let’s not forget Simon Battle. Both he and Bat showed me the same strength of character.” Will added.

“Lucas knows a changed man when he sees one, I trust his opinion of him. Sometimes I wonder about what went on in their earlier times, but the story we know is true. Battle developed a vaccine that saved thousands of lives. No matter what he did in the past, he deserves our thanks now. And let’s not forget that all three of these men have faced guns and death many times over and yet decided to put on the demonstration. What they have at stake goes beyond a lifetime. Their legends will travel much further into the future and it is important to each of them that the truth be known. What others will write about them can do more damage than a bullet if they are allowed to make up their own stories. Even this book on the Civil War I am reading is hard to believe. The way these fancy writers try to build up a story clouds the truth. It has to be made romantic in order to sell to those who have no idea what really happened. And worse yet, if the writer has an agenda behind the lies, well that is how wars get started. Yup, I say give Lucas a chance to do this right!”

“I understand Daddy. As usual, you know how to see deeper into the truth.”
“These eyes see deeper because of years of experience, which is the best teacher. Take this book for instance, I wonder if the author ever was in a war. He tries to write as if he was holding the rifle himself. But I know better. I was in some of the battles he writes about and he has things wrong so much. I bet he talked to the generals and not even one soldier!”

“I guess he got his information from the guys who ran away on their fast horses instead of the ones who stood and fought.” Will added with a smile on his face.
“There’s more to what you just said than you may realize. It was smart of many of the generals to retreat before their men. It was necessary for the whole to survive. But it was the soldiers who saw the worst of it, and like Lucas, few will talk about it.”

“Yes sir. I understand. I guess many soldiers learned to resent their generals for it though, you hear about that often.”

“Yes you do. I won’t try to tell you that there weren’t bad generals either. As the legends go in the Navy, a captain goes down with his ship. You can’t blame a ground soldier for thinking the same thing. The problem came about due to the fact that the generals had to trust what their underlings were telling them much of the time. But some of them hung in there and saw for themselves, just enough to sway things our way. Trust me, nobody won that war. As time will be the judge, the lives lost were nothing more than tragedy played out to line the pockets of the politicians and the businessmen. It all comes down to resources, who has them and who is denied. The north had the railroads, the factories, the shipping, you name it. All the South had was the will to fight and almost enough gumption to pull it off. We must never forget what it took the Revolutionists to defeat the British, in one word, defiance. They faced the largest world power, had to scrape for every bullet and every man. It was a different world back then. They were willing to take chances and fight dirty. The British believed in overwhelming numbers but didn’t have the spirit. The same goes for the Civil War, but the North had too many things going for it. Now, those men still have the defiance, some still think the war is on. It took years for the killing to stop after the end was declared. And that says the same thing for gunfighters anywhere. No matter how long Lucas lives, his war will never end.”

After several days of relaxation and good meals at the Bedford Ranch, Dillon asked Micah, Lucas and Mark to join him on a ride around the ranch and then off into the countryside. The weather was cold but clear. They made their way to some of the familiar places that Lucas once called home. He showed them where he used to fish in the creek nearby. Dillon and his boys fished there often as well. Mark made note of some of the holes that his father told stories about. They visited a site where many buffalo were slaughtered, bones were still scattered about. Finally, they rode along a ridge that brought them to the place that Lucas wondered about the most, the site of his former ranch. In the old days, Lucas and Ruth lived together there and the Bedford Ranch was not far away. Once Margaret and Lucas married, Ruth met Dillon and they soon married. It was a very happy time until the droughts and fever came along. Mark was just five years old when Margaret became ill trying to help those who were already sick. This was the first return for Mark also. His memories were not as vivid as his father’s. Losing his mother was still a haunting theme in his life though. He looked over at his Pa and he nodded back, motioning to ride on. They made their way to the house where a stream of smoke came from a pot belly stove inside. Lucas dismounted and knocked at the door. A rather staunch looking woman answered.

“After noon Ma’am, my name is Lucas McCain. How do you do?”

“Right well I guess, what brings you to my door?”

“Well, I once owned this ranch and we were riding by on our Christmas visit. We haven’t seen this place in many years. Our curiosity naturally got the best of us.”

“Not much to look at here I’m afraid. We keep it simple, the husband is off working on the range. We’ve been here a little over four years now. Can I offer you some water?”

“Well thank you Ma’am, we’ll be quick and on our way. There is one thing I would like to ask you. Would you mind if we go up on that ridge for a moment?” Lucas pointed towards the close by hillside where a few trees were clustered.”
“I suppose so, no hunting or camping though. My husband don’t like strangers around. Just too much trouble anymore with the likes of so many drifters since the railroad came through.”

“We won’t take long I assure you. You see, my wife passed away here, her grave is up there on the hill.”

“Oh my, I can see you still have some roots here then. I’m very sorry for your loss. You go right on up there and take as long as you like mister McCain.”

“I thank you. Tell your husband that we appreciate this also. We do have some happy memories from here. This is fine land and I pray you do well.”
“Your prayers should go far in making our efforts worthy. Is there anything else you would like to see? I don’t suppose this is the same house is it?”
“No, ours was smaller and we didn’t have a potbelly stove. Those corrals are different and so is the barn. But this place looks real good, I feel a warm spirit standing here.”

“That’s mighty kind of you, may I call you Lucas?”

“I would be honored, this is my son, Mark, and his Uncle Dillon, my sister’s husband. They own a ranch a few miles from here. And this is my best friend, Micah Torrance.”

“Ah yes, seems I may know of Dillon, Bedford isn’t it?”

“Yes Ma’am, Dillon and Ruth.”

“Pleased to meet you. My name is Mary Harrington and my husband is Robert. You all are welcome here anytime.”

“That’s very kind of you Mary, we will always remember this and perhaps we can visit again one day. It is very nice to know you. We’ll be getting along for now, we are expected back soon, holidays and all you know.” Lucas got back on his horse and tipped his hat.

“Best of the holidays to you all, thank you for stopping by. I hope we see you again.”

The ride up the hill was a somber one. Dillon and Micah hung back a short distance as they approached the trees. They all took their time dismounting. Mark already had tears in his eyes, he grabbed his Pa’s hand and the two of them walked over to where the small headstone stood among some rocks and weeds. It was hard to read the writing, Lucas had engraved it himself with the iron tools in the barn at the time. They both took off their hats and knelt down to pray. They remained that way for some time. Lucas finally stood up and grabbed Mark by the shoulders.

“Do you recall how your mother would sing to you? I can still hear her voice.”
“Sure do Pa, don’t think I could ever forget something like that.”

“It rings in my ears every day son. She was the finest woman a man could ever want. After all these years she is still the first thing I think of each morning.”
“I know that Pa. I’ll never stop missing her.” Mark began to cry as he stood up and grabbed his Pa into a bear hug.

“You go ahead and let it flow son. Cry like you never cried before. Cry for me too.” Lucas did his best to hold back his tears, he wanted to be strong for his son. After all the emotional times he shared with Mark he thought he could take this moment with courage. But this was one death that he never found a way to reckon with. He looked up into the clear cold sky and asked his God why?

The holiday spirit usually meant a time of joy for everyone in North Fork. But one family in particular was having a hard time being happy. Walt Donaldson did not make as much money as his neighbors for the year. He was having a hard time keeping his help and Jack was not being very cheerful either. Walt was an honorable man and he would never think to ask for help unless things got bleak. He heard the news that Sam and Lucas had formed a partnership. This made him wonder if Lucas was having trouble also. Everyone knew that the Bard’s did well. Perhaps there could be room for another partner. But for now, this was out of the question. Christmas would have to pass before he could think of approaching Sam. They too were sitting by a warm fireplace on this cold night before Christmas eve. But there was no warm cider or a friendly girl for Jack to cuddle up to. His grudge over Will ran deep. There was no way for him to let it go. He could still feel a tinge of pain in his throat as he sipped on his glass of whiskey. His mind boiled with anger at the thought of Will and Ann enjoying the good life.
There wasn’t anything he could do about it though. Jack sank his own ship a long time ago before Will ever came around. It wasn’t easy for him to take the rejection that Ann gave him back in their school days. She went to a few dances with him early on, but soon found her interests in church and horses more satisfying. Jack wanted more attention and Ann told him no. Jack was angry and wouldn’t take no for an answer. He became a pest and taunted Ann until she agreed to see him at the next dance. That didn’t go very well and Jack made a scene causing Ann great embarrassment. She wound up hurting Jack both physically and mentally that evening, they never had a thing to say after that. This was something Ann didn’t like to talk about and she never did mention it to Will.

As Jack sat nursing his whiskey the memories of that night tortured him. His throat reminded him of a second injury due to his spite. His father lectured him when they got back from the cattle drive. He tried to tell Jack that no woman is worth this much aggravation and that he should concentrate on meeting others. He also told him that he could ill afford to lose him if he got into bad trouble over this. Everyone knew that he was jealous of Will and there was no way he could get away with doing him any harm.

Everything seemed to have a negative affect though. Jack was tired of cattle work, tired of bad weather, tired of sitting around the house with little to take satisfaction in, and especially tired of being told what to do and how to think. “Maybe it would be better if I just got away from here for a while”, he thought. So Jack told his father he was going for a ride in the morning and that he would be back in a few days. He didn’t need to be home for the holiday. This gave his father a chance to spend the time in town with his friends. Both of them agreed that they didn’t need the tension that hung over their heads for Christmas.

The next morning Jack gathered enough provisions to load a pack horse, borrowed his father’s tent, and headed for the snow covered hills. It didn’t matter to him how cold it was or if he went home any time soon. He had enough jerky and coffee to last over a week. The storms were about to end and this would be a perfect time for him to get some target practice and have himself a nice big campfire. The three bottles of whiskey in his pack were all the company he desired.

Battle Within A Young Gun - Chapter 17 — Christmas Day

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

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