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

Chapter Fifteen — Mark’s Place

In the years prior to Mark going to school near Enid, Oklahoma, life along the Chisholm Trail was dominated by the Indian Nations and cattle drives from Texas. The land was leased from the Indians to the ranchers in order to graze the massive herds. Lucas settled here after the Civil War in a time when the Texas ranches began to drive the longhorns to the stockyards of Kansas. The once endless buffalo herds were destroyed to both drive off the Indians and make room for the cattle. The site where Enid now occupied was more of an unsettled encampment and watering hole along the way to the stockyards. In these times, Lucas attempted to ranch and raise a family. He worked for cattle drives when things were tough. The soil did not support farming very well, there were droughts, and attempts to fertilize with buffalo bones and other materials did not work well. Lucas became disgusted by the way the Indians were treated and how the Army, ranchers, and hunters decimated the buffalo. It was very difficult to make a living and once his wife, Margaret, tragically died it became impossible to remain. At this point, Lucas uprooted his life and took Mark on a journey to find a new land to call home. That new land was Northern New Mexico and the small town of North Fork.
Some years after, the government ratified a treaty with the Indian Nations to assume the territory which started one of the largest land grabs in U.S. history. Enid was formed virtually overnight when the railroad settled on the location for a station by that name. Enid was only recently founded as a city when Mark arrived. These were tumultuous times and violence was still a part of the culture as the early life of this newly formed city transpired. Yet there was a peaceful side of life, schools, churches, and kind people did exist. Lucas had a sister, Ruth, who lived with her husband and two children on a ranch to the south of Enid. This provided a safe place for Mark to live. The area also gave Mark a chance for adventure and discovery of his early roots.

The Garfield Preparatory School was a relatively new institution located just to the south of Enid and not far from the ranch. Its existence predated Enid by a few years, giving rise to higher education in an otherwise untamed land. Being a part of one of the early classes gave Mark a chance to break new ground rather than follow in other’s footsteps. This fit in well with his leadership qualities and independent nature. It also made Lucas happy because he wasn’t one who enjoyed joining an established crowd. He also hadn’t been one to look backwards or visit his old stomping grounds since Margaret passed. Mark was able to stay on the ranch or at the school, but neither of these places suited him for privacy. So he asked for permission to build himself a small cabin on the ranch for the times he could be by himself. He enjoyed spending time with his Aunt’s family, but a young man also craves his own place. He wasn’t finished building it, but it did have four walls and a roof before the rains came. Mark was so happy that his Pa was coming to visit, just as he promised he would. It was going to be a very merry Christmas.

The buckboard bounced Lucas and Micah through the ruts as they passed through the barren flatlands on the way to Enid. When it rained, it was muddy and slow going, when the sun came through, the mud hardened into the worst ruts imaginable. Micah’s backside ached and he did his best to keep a pillow underneath him. Lucas could feel the strain on his back but the joy building in him over the prospect of seeing Mark made him forget the pain. The cold nights were spent in the tent playing checkers and yakking over the old days. Lucas and Micah were never at a loss for words when they were off by themselves. Lucas felt as if he were traveling backwards in time. This was the first opportunity he had to see his old territory since leaving to find North Fork. The letters from Ruth over the years told him what it might be like to return, but Mark and the new ranch kept him plenty busy with no time to take such a trip. Micah was curious to see where his best friend came from. It was a good thing for him to get out of town and onto the trail. After six days of travel the end of the trip was near. It was time for a final evening of camping out.

“Lucas, Old Boy, ya got me again. What is it about this game of checkers that keeps us so pacified?”

“I don’t know Micah, but a thing like this can go on for a lifetime. I suppose it takes our minds off of the everyday things that bother us all. Makes the conversation move along a bit smoother as well.”

“Yah, we sure have worn paths onto this old board alright. Say, do you think Mark has somebody to play with where he’s livin’?”

“I imagine he plays a few games with his cousins, but he also needs most of his time to study. I’m restless to see what he’s up to. I’m not so sure the area is that good for him, but the school sounded alright as we looked into it. I wanted him to have some time to be away without committing to a big school right off. I also wanted him to get to know his cousins and see where our lives started. He was so young when we left.”

“I’m used to him being a boy and thinking of him at play, now he’s gone and grown up. Heck, I still think of you as a boy, yet I’m not that much older than you.”

“Our kind only grows up when we have to, but life dictates that we must. It’s good that you and I can still be boys at heart. I don’t always feel that way around others. Take Will for instance, I’m watching him grow up and fall in love. I have to be a big brother and sometimes a father figure to him. But we do get along without being too serious. Spending so much time with Mark kept me in touch with boyhood alright. But I have to tell you that being around Bat and having a good time with sharp shooting brought back the boy in me like I never felt before.”

“I can’t get over that. You walked right into his line of fire so to speak.”
“Can’t explain it better than that. He’s the world’s greatest salesman and showman.

But I do have a feeling that I can trust him. He’s definitely still a boy at heart. Who else is more addicted to playing a game? I could never enjoy poker that much, but he makes the game a way to socialize and pry into his interests in others. He studies the people more than the cards.”

“I’ve seen most card players get into trouble over petty things if you ask me. I’m sure Bat’s had his share. To last so long at being a gambler and a lawman is a rare combination. I wonder which one wins out in the end?”

“Isn’t part of being a lawman a gamble Micah? You’ve got enough lead in ya to know that.”

“Sure do. Drinkin’ is a gamble too. I’ve lost at them all and survived to talk about it. I know Bat and I will get along. He’s put some big names behind bars. That is a hero in my book!”

“Yes, he has the hero quality alright, and the ability to capitalize on it. He sold me on the idea of cashing in on my reputation. I guess it goes further than I realized. If that rifle deal happens, I just might be able to afford to be a boy once more.”

“I want to see it happen for you Lucas. You’ve worked hard all of your life. Now that’s a good thing, but time is coming to let it pay off somehow. Not many can shoot like you do, it’s a real marketable talent with all these Wild West shows and such going around.”

“I saw first hand how that’s true. Those people in Yuma flocked to see the show. Bat has seen it many times over in Denver. I want to explore it more, I hope Mark can understand. I’ve lectured against gunplay for so long, he’s suffered enough from it.”

“We’ll just have to let the boy in him see how the boy in you wants to come out and play. Don’t over explain it, give it to him straight and quick. Let him know how well you and Will are getting along and that Sam and his men are going to do a good job with the partnership. He may be able to see you more often because of it. He’ll come around.”

“He’s becoming an adventurer in his own way, I’ll think of an angle, don’t you worry.”

“Only thing I’m worried about is my backside giving out if those ruts get any worse, this old boy better get some rest. Get me there in one piece Lucas.”
“We’ll take it easy Micah, I’m feeling it too, Good night.”

The last night’s sleep before they were to arrive in Enid was a good one. The long rough road gave the old boys good reason to be tired. With No Man’s Land behind them they were able to make Enid by the end of the next day. Lucas recognized the vast plains where the buffalo once roamed as far as the eye could see. Now it was dotted with ranches and cattle herds. The road was better now that they were near town. They stopped at the Government Camp to water the horses and take a brief rest before finding the ranch. It was four days before Christmas and people were milling around in every direction.

Mark was busy making final preparations in order to have visitors in his cabin. Most of the time would be spent at the ranch house, but he wanted to have his Pa at the cabin as well. It was a way for him to let his Pa know that he could do things for himself. He was able to make a little money part time working with a survey crew. The growing town was in great need of such services. This was desired experience for Mark and it helped put him in touch with one of his great interests, exploring new places. He was able to watch as railroad engineers determined direction for the roadbed. He saw how to lay out streets in town. The school gave him time and credit for this work. The money he earned helped to finance his cabin.

Ruth was beginning to wonder about Lucas, his letter told her that he should be arriving soon. She was preparing a pot of beef stew when she heard the sound of horses out front. It had been many years since she laid eyes on her big brother. Lucas brought the wagon to stop and felt in his pocket to make sure the telegram from Masterson was still in there. As he got down and planted his feet he was met by a charging Ruth. The two hugged for a long time.

“Now stand back sister…. Let me get a good look at you! Oh my, are you beautiful!

I’ve missed you so much. How can I ever say I’m sorry for taking so long to come see you!

“Don’t even try brother! Life is too short to concern ourselves with the past. What counts is right now. We have so much to share, and you have a son to catch up with.”

“That I do. Let me introduce my best friend in the whole world, Micah Torrance.”

“Pleased to meet you ma’am. I’ve waited a long time to see where Lucas comes from.

I’m honored to know you and thanks for having me.”

“You’re welcome Micah. You are part of our family. Lucas told me plenty about you in his letters. I’m sure we’ll have many stories to tell. There’s so much to do, I’ve got supper on the stove and the boys are still out on the range. I’ll be ringing the bell soon enough. Mark is out back somewhere, I’ll let him tell you what’s going on. Let me get you guys something to drink.”

“Ruth, we can’t wait to get off our feet and into soft chairs for a spell. Our backsides are road weary as can be. I’m so darn glad to be here, let me ring that bell for you.”

“Well now brother Lucas, you just go right ahead, I’m sure they’ll all know it’s you once they hear your bell ringin’!”

“That’s exactly what I had in mind. I can’t wait to see everybody! We’ll unload the wagon later. Micah, you get in there and help Ruth with those drinks. I’ll be right behind you.”

Lucas picked up the iron rod on the porch and started to hit the dinner bell as hard as he could. He gave it the familiar ring that only Mark would recognize. It was a code they developed back home so they would know who was signaling in an emergency. This let everyone know something was up and they all dropped what they were doing and made a bee line to the house.

Mark instantly recognized the ringing and ran to the house as fast as he could. As he came within view, Lucas gave the bell a final ring and dropped the rod on the porch. He went down the steps just in time to reach out and grab his son.

“Oh Pa, Pa, I’ve missed you so much, I can’t believe you’re here!”

“I’m here alright, I’ve missed you too son, more than you’ll ever know.” Lucas hugged Mark for a long time. He held him back for a moment and looked into his eyes. He could tell that his son was doing just fine and he hugged him once again. “I love you son, it’s so great to see my young man growing up!”

“You look great too Pa. I can’t wait to hear all about back home and your trip.”

“And I can’t wait to see what you’ve been up to. I brought Micah along, he wants to see you too. Your aunt’s inside with him getting us something to drink.”

“That’s great, I miss everybody. Are Will and Ann going to get married?”
“Whoa! Now don’t go jumping ahead of things son! We’ll get to that subject soon enough.”

“I’m sorry Pa, guess I’m just overanxious to hear about everybody. I bet Will is doing real good. I wish I could be there with you guys.”

“There’s been many changes, more than I could write about in a letter. We’ll get to it all after supper. Will’s a fine man. He’s taken on a great deal of responsibility in a short period of time. He’s a real part of our family now. I can’t wait for you two to meet, but all good things must come in time.”

“I suppose you’re right. I’ve been real busy Pa, ya got to come see my cabin!”

“A cabin! Now where did you get time and means to build a cabin?”

“Didn’t I tell you that I’ve been working on a survey crew?”

“Well, yes, but I didn’t think you would go and start something like that.”

“I didn’t want to be in the way all the time, so I asked Uncle Dillon if I could build a cabin out back a ways. It gives me a place to call my own and I can use some of the things I learn at school as I do it. It’s just like when we had to build our house way back only smaller. I even get some of the materials free from the construction sites we work on. I wanted it to be a surprise. I hope you like it!”

“I’m sure I will son. Let’s go see it right after we eat. I’m glad you’re keeping yourself busy. I hope you help out with the chores around here.”

“Now Pa, you know I do.”

“It looks pretty good around here, somebody has to be working.” Lucas ruffled Mark’s hair and put his hand around his shoulders as they went into the house.
Soon after, the drinks were served as Dillon and his two sons, Kyle and Andrew, arrived from working with the cattle. Dillon Bedford was a hard working cattleman just like Lucas. His father worked the land before him. Ruth met him before Lucas left with Mark long ago and it was her decision to stay. Lucas never told her she should leave, it was his desire to have new surroundings more than the hard times that made him want to move on. Now that he came back to see the fruits of their labor, he could see that Ruth made a good decision.

Micah was delighted as he witnessed the family reunion and enjoyed the conversation over supper. It had been some time since he got away from his familiar group of buddies in North Fork. A family gathering did wonders for his spirit. Now he understood something about the manner of Lucas and his hardworking ways. Dillon gave him much the same impression and he saw many similarities between Lucas and Ruth. When they were all through with the meal, Micah asked if they didn’t mind if he went to bed early. Lucas mentioned that the trip was exhausting and that he needed to have a short talk with Mark. He promised to return quickly once he got a chance to look at Mark’s cabin. Father and Son excused themselves and went for an evening walk as Lucas began to tell Mark about how things were going at home.

“Son, I have to tell you that I can’t run the ranch by myself. At first it seemed that I could, but times are changing for all of us as we age. Will has worked out real well and I thought we could run things by ourselves. He helped me fix things up and get over the loneliness once you came here. If it were all so simple we could go on for a long time together, but Will is realizing that he needs to be more than just a ranch hand. Ann is going to be his wife one day, you can be sure of that. And Sam is getting older now as well. He is fortunate to have as many men working for him as he does, but he can’t go on helping me all of the time.”

“So what does that mean Pa? Do you want to sell the ranch?”

“Oh no! nothing like that. In fact, I am trying to make sure the ranch will be there for all of us in the future. What I have done is to form a partnership with Sam.”

“A partnership?”

“Yes son, I’m going to let his men run the ranch for a while. It will still be yours in the long run. Sam is a great friend and Will can remain also. But he will want to become more a part of the Bard Ranch once he and Ann marry. I have something else to tell you about. It’s why I want some time to be away from the ranch.”
“I was wondering why you wanted to do all of this. It can’t be just because of Will and Ann. You haven’t mentioned the trip to Yuma and Doctor Battle yet.”
“That’s right, there is a whole lot more to the story. We had a great time like I told you in the letter, but something happened to me there that I never figured on. You recall about how we met Bat Masterson?”

“Yes, that was unusual to say the least. But what I really want to know about is Vicki.”

“I told Tom that you would be jealous of him. She has grown into a real fine woman. You would love her alright. Simon has become a great man. We had the best of times.”

“I sure did like her back when, she looped me good for a youngin’ huh.”
“That was sure true! But you have to understand something about what went on in Yuma. I didn’t want to talk about it in the letter. I want you and I to decide about a few changes that I want to make.”

“I want you to be happy Pa, you can tell me anything. Say, you aren’t wanting to get married yourself are ya?” Marks eyes lit up at this possibility.

“Now, now son, we have been over that road many times. You’ll know first if that ever happens. What I intend on doing is to take part in some sharp shooting exhibitions with Bat Masterson. Simon and I did this once already in Yuma. Will helped us out and it went over real well. I think it can make us some good money and I can do a little traveling to boot. Now I know how you might feel…..”
Before Lucas could continue Mark cut in. “Pa, I’ve seen first hand how guns can entertain. But the pain is so much worse. What good can come of promoting gunplay?”

“You have every right to feel that way, I know. You’ve suffered under the cloud of my reputation many times. No boy should ever have to grow up that way. It took me a long time to come to grips with this myself. Bat worked on me a long time before I agreed to try this. I’m not going to tell you this is a safe thing to do. But you have to understand that my reputation is well known and I can’t escape it whether I do this or not. Masterson has seen it all and I feel that he knows what he is doing. We both feel the need to set the record straight when it comes to the stories others will tell about us. I want them to see that I am a real person and not a vicious killer.”

“All of us who care know you Pa, you have nothing to prove.”

“Maybe that is so, but I need to prove it to myself. At this point in my life, I need to give this a try and maybe make things better for all of us. I have something else to share with you. Bat took an interest in my rifle. He knows some very important people in the business and they are willing to take a chance on me.” Lucas took the telegram out of his pocket and placed it in Mark’s hands.

“Oh my, a model made in your honor! That is special Pa, I have to admit. I know who John Browning is. So you really want to do this after all we have been through?”

“Yes Son, I do. I made Bat promise me that there will be no mock gun fighting, only target skills. We will only deal in the truth and perform in controlled conditions. And the potential for success is real. You should have seen the interest in my rifle after the show. My pockets were stuffed with requests, I have many addresses and more arriving each day. I may not last very long at the target shooting, but the rifle design can carry on for many years. All I have to do is ride the train and get some attention. Bat is a great man. Chances like this only come once and let’s face it, we need more than the ranch to keep up with these changing times. I want you to have the best education.”

“Alright Pa, you have been right most every time so far. I have to give this a chance and I know you didn’t come to this conclusion in haste. But I want you to promise me you will quit if there is any trouble. Don’t go risking your life, I can work hard and make it without this. I need you to know that.” This was about the time that they came upon the cabin. Mark looked his father straight in the eyes and proclaimed his independence. “This is only a start in how I intend to make my own way in this world Pa. You’ve worked harder than anyone I know to get me to this point in life. It is up to me to make it now. This cabin may not be a castle, but it is a start. It makes me feel good to accomplish something on my own. What do you think?”

“I think you have been listening to me all along son. I love it! Together, there is nothing we cannot conquer. And I feel so much better that you have this spirit. Time once was that I had to prove the very same thing to myself. And, somehow, that is what’s happening to me all over again. Only I have to prove it to my son this time instead of my father!”

“You always have a way to sum things up Pa, it must be rubbing off on me. Kinda makes life worth living, don’t it?”

“Sure does Son. Let’s go inside and see what you’ve been up to.”

Lucas and Mark went into the cabin and talked for hours. That promise to return quickly was not taken too seriously by Ruth and her family. They understood the close bond between father and son. Ruth knew that Lucas had every bit the character that their father had and she expected nothing less from this reunion with Mark.

Finally, Lucas felt the need to return to the house and say good night to the others. This also required some time. Mark stayed behind and went to sleep in his cabin. Ruth and Dillon were still up, sitting together in the front room.
Good evening Sister, Dillon, I hope I didn’t keep you too long.” Lucas sat down in a soft chair next to Dillon.

“Not at all Lucas, we knew you would take some time to be with Mark. You just relax a spell, I’ll get you another drink.” Ruth replied as she got up.

“That is very appreciated Ruth. Whew, a long ride and a long talk. I suppose you’ve had a busy day yourself, aye Dillon?”

“Is there any other kind? The days go by fast though, and my kids are growing up too.

You and I have a lot to be thankful for.”

“Thank you so much for helping Mark. I am very impressed with what is going on here. You are all very generous.”

“You are very welcome Lucas. Mark is a fine boy. He works hard and is most polite. You did a great job raising him.”

“Thank you. He did a great job raising me in return.”

Battle Within A Young Gun - Chapter 16 — A Warm Fire

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

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