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

Chapter Six — Rails and Tales

When Will got home from the dance he found Lucas asleep at his desk. He looked over his shoulder to see two train tickets and an itinerary for travel to Yuma, Arizona. This was puzzling, why would Lucas want to go to Yuma? And why two tickets? Who would watch the ranch if he were to go along? The cattle could get there by rail alone if need be. Will wanted to tell Lucas about what happened at the dance and figured he better wake him up. He placed his hand on his shoulder and, with a lighter touch than Big John, jiggled Lucas awake.

“What? Was I sleeping?” Lucas turned and looked up at Will. “It seems I was just reading here a moment ago. What time is it?”

“Oh, must be after one in the morning, not sure. I just got back from taking Ann home from the dance.”

“How did things go?”

“Well, we had a wonderful time, for the most part. Some jerk had to try and spoil things though. Before the dance started a guy named Jack Donaldson got drunk and called me a convict, said I wasn’t good enough for Ann.”
“You two didn’t fight did ya?” Lucas all of a sudden seemed more awake and concerned.

“I wanted to smash his face, but I remembered what you told me and kept my wits. I told him Ann didn’t deserve to have this evening ruined and we could settle things another time. Ann was the one who wanted to fight when he started to going at it again as we left. So I rushed her away to the wagon and down the road.”
“Good Boy Will, I’m proud of you. The last thing you need is trouble on your first big night out. That Donaldson kid has been trouble before. They have a ranch a few miles past the Bard place. Jack worked for me looking in on the ranch when I would leave over the years. He really liked my rifle and was a good shot. I took him out to the range once in a while When he got older I found another kid to work for me. Jack wasn’t happy at the time, but Mark got older and could stay behind more often when I would leave. Jack needed to grow up and find something better to do. He didn’t always do what I asked either. The same old story I guess.” Lucas got up and poured a glass of water.

“That explains it then. He’s jealous of me. I bet he liked Ann, living so close. She knew him, that was for sure. She said, “You know what happens when I get mad, don’t you.” All I wanted to do was to get out of there. Ann really knows how to handle herself and she brings out the best in me. We danced all night and I met so many nice people otherwise.”

“North Fork can be a great town Will. We’ve had our share of trouble, but most folks these days mind their business and the outlaw game is going out of style. But, be careful of Donaldson. He knows how to handle a gun and I may have taught him too much.”

“I know the same teacher, and I’m learning more about why not to shoot. I won’t let him hurt Ann or anyone else though. It is better to walk away, I know that.”
“Good, I wish I had walked away so many times, there’s a lot of dead men that wished I had too. Learn from my mistakes and you won’t have that kind of agony on your conscience. Now, I have something to tell you. How would you like to travel to Yuma with me?”

“I couldn’t help seeing those tickets on the desk, what’s up?”

“I received a letter from an old friend of mine, somebody I want you to meet. I almost killed him long ago. Now he is a doctor and a friend. The cattle must go in that direction and I thought this would be a perfect opportunity for the both of us to get away for a few weeks or so. What do you say?”

“I suppose that would be good. I haven’t been that far away, at least not that direction. I’m going to miss Ann, but she’ll understand.”

“I know she will, I asked her to keep an eye on things while we are away. She can have a hand come over if need be. We leave in two days. We have to drive the cattle south to Lamy where the railroad can take them from there. It’s over a hundred miles, damn Southern Pacific couldn’t come to Santa Fe, said the roadbed would be too sandy or some such thing. But it’s a straight shot to Yuma after that. I want you to meet Simon Battle. He can tell you what shooting is all about.”
“I’ve heard of Simon Battle. They say he was the fastest of the fast. You almost killed him, how?

“With a rifle like the Winchester. It was a different time in Oklahoma. I was younger and had a wild streak of my own to overcome. You know of that. But what I am going to tell you next is not to be repeated. I am not proud of that time in my life, Mark doesn’t even know the entire story.” Lucas knew it was late, but this was heavy on his mind.

“I’m ready to fall asleep Lucas, but you have my curiosity up now.”
“OK, I’ll keep it brief. Back in Oklahoma, times were pretty rough, like I told ya before. I had just met Margaret. We were in love, much like you and Ann. The war had ended about 5 years before. I had to take work where I could find it. Well, I still had pretty hot blood in those days. All the killing in the war had me quicker to shoot things out. There was this ranch that said they had to drive a large herd west and they needed some hands. That’s where I first met Simon Battle.

He was a hired gun more than a ranch hand. I should have known better. We both had reputations for being fast at the draw. Things on the drive went sour once I figured out what was going on. They were actually stealing cattle along the way to Nevada. I saw Simon kill what I thought were rustlers more than once. We wound up in gunfights with them many times, and I have to admit that I shot a number of them myself. Before long, I figured out that the herd was getting larger, these weren’t strays and some of them had funny looking brands where they tried to re-burn them. The ranch back home was not doing well, we eventually lost everything. So I was compelled to finish out the drive and collect my pay.
About a year later I ran into Battle while I had Margaret in town and he tried to talk me into joining him on another job. I told him I would have nothing to do with him ever again after what I saw him do. I won’t even try to describe it. He started to give me trouble and told me that my rifle was a toy. I kept myself calm at the time, having Margaret with me and all. But Simon kept up with his rough talk as I would see him in town over the next few weeks. Finally, he caught me alone one day while he’d been drinking at the saloon. His friends kept him over confident, joining in with the mockery. Battle was just a bit too brave that day and he made his move. I was ready for him though. He may be able to draw that gun faster than me sober, but once I get set, you know how the lead will fly. He went down fast and they rushed him off. Nobody really knew, but he was gone after that. I had him figured for dead. He wasn’t seen again. Not too long after, our ranch went downhill, but we kept at it and soon Mark came along. Some years later, Margaret died trying to help others with the small pox, then the ranch became too much for me, so I took Mark and moved here. I never told anybody about this as we got started in North Fork.

“Then, one day Mark and I found this wounded fella along the road into town and tried to bring him into the Doc. The Doc was out and wouldn’t you know it, Simon Battle was across the street staying the night on his way through town. I was shocked when he came into the Doc’s office. We even had a brief fight. Then we find out that four hands from the Lobo Ranch were interested in what was happening with the man we found. They wanted him dead, turns out they had shot him. You can guess the rest. Well, Simon insisted he was a doctor but I didn’t believe him at first. His daughter was with him and she backed up his story. We were forced into a gunfight with the hands. Simon saved my life by pushing me out of the way as one was about to shoot at us. Lead flew and the next thing you know three of them were dead and we had the fourth dead to rights reloading behind a barrel. I had my sights on him, but Simon nudged me away, saying this one is mine. By this time, I was wondering again about Simon, he could still take care of himself with that gun. So I held still and Simon walked right up to this guy and told him he was going to give him a chance to live. The man drew on him with his rifle and Battle drew like lightening and shot the rifle out of his hands. Then he asked the guy, “Are you satisfied?” He nodded yes, and Simon said ‘Well I’m not!” and he decked him with a right hand. It was then that I realized that Simon had truly changed. He cared about the man in the Doc’s office and gave a break to a complete stranger who was trying to kill him. We parted friends and Simon went on to doctor near Yuma. He told me he would write and we did several times over the years. I’ve never met a tougher character, and rarely have I found forgiveness for a killer. But something happened to me that day. Mark even saw it, he told me that it kind of makes life worth living as they rode off. I had shook hands with my worst enemy that day and went away friends. So you can see Will, miracles do happen.”

“After hearing all that, I think I need a miracle. I can’t wait to meet this man. For someone like me, who is trying to give up a gun habit, I sure am finding myself surrounded by gunfighters. Just as much as Battle was a miracle for you that day, you are a miracle to me Lucas. Let’s get to sleep, we have a long day tomorrow if we’re going to leave so soon. Thanks for telling me about that, I know it isn’t easy for you.”

“You’re welcome Will. I’m forever amazed at how things like this work out. And I’m more than happy to see you as the one to benefit from it. But, remember, it hasn’t kept me from killing when I’m threatened, it does serve to make me think before I shoot. It taught me that even the worst you run across can be changed. So killing somebody has to be the final straw. Keep that in mind if Jack tries to unsettle you. Chances are, you won’t have a gun with you. He will. And neither of you has killed a man. Nobody wants to be a first!”

“You are so right, brother.” Will replied. With that, it was time to hit the rack.

Dawn woke the slumbering ranchers even though they had stayed up so late. Both men were anxious to get underway. By mid-day Ann arrived with baskets full of food and clean clothes. Lucas agreed to join up with some of the nearby ranchers for the cattle drive to Lamy. This part of the trip was going to take at least 6 days and they couldn’t pack everything for the train ride and visit to Yuma on horseback. Several ranchers provided wagons for the trip. Lucas and Will would be gone a long time, so they didn’t want to take their favorite horses or wagon from the ranch. They could board their work horses in Lamy.

It was hard for Will to say goodbye to Ann so soon after the dance. He was still warm from her hugs and kisses when the wagon showed up the next morning. Several hands came along and the McCain herd of almost 1500 was rounded up and added to the massive group assembled just over a mile away. Things were happening fast for Will. Lucas forgot to mention something to him the other night that was going to make things happen even faster. The Donaldson Ranch was part of the drive.

When they arrived to join the rest of the men Jack Donaldson was right there for Will to see. He stared through Will just as Simon Battle had at Lucas so many years before. Lucas had the pistol and holster in his saddlebag. His intention was to give it to Will as soon as they got underway. Upon seeing the two in a stare down, Lucas decided to keep it for a while. Pretending to check his gear, he reached into his pocket and installed the repeating screw into the lever of his rifle. No words were exchanged but others nearby could sense what was going on. There had been talk of the dance incident going around beforehand. It took Will a few minutes to break his glance at Donaldson, so Lucas nudged him and told him they should head over to the wagons and forget about Jack. Jack noticed that Will was not carrying a gun and thought it odd, then realized that being a convict he probably wasn’t allowed.

The first day of the drive was over quick and nothing else happened between Will and Jack. Lucas made sure they set up camp out of sight from the Donaldson’s. After an evening of story telling with some of the friendly sorts in camp, Lucas and Will had a talk before bedding down for the night.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you that the Donaldson Ranch was to be part of this drive. It slipped my mind with all that we had to do.” I hope there won’t be any trouble.”

“You saw how he looked at me didn’t ya?”

“Yes, and I don’t like it. I have been thinking about letting you have the gun. It’s not safe to be on a drive without one if you ask me. I thought I would wait and talk to you about it now though.”

“I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that I’d feel better if I had it. But I don’t think I should wear it. Do you mind if I keep it in my saddlebag?
“I trust you Will. I don’t think Jack will try anything as long as there are so many others nearby. Guys like him are cowards at heart, otherwise they wouldn’t have to bully people.” Lucas reached over and grabbed the gun out of his saddlebag.
 
“Yes sir, I know you’re right. I’m more concerned about protecting myself from the cattle or a wolf. I’d rather not display it and invite problems at this point.”

Will checked the gun quickly then stuffed it away in his bag.
 
 “Good thinking Will, you know the score. Try to relax and stay away from him if you can. I’ll be watching most of the time. If we get separated, look for me on the western side of the herd. I’ll do my best to stay there. I noticed Jack has been on the other side most of today.

You know, I’m surprised that there hasn’t been more trouble over my being a convict than just this. Most everyone is so accepting of me. Why is that?”
“They all know me for one. I have a lot of influence in these parts. Many have had me pull them out of a fire a time or two. These people are not sheep, but most know what I’m about and respect the fact that I trust you. I haven’t spoken to any of them if that is what you’re wondering.”

“No, it’s not that. Just part of getting used to being here I suppose. I realize that I’m in good company and it’s a great feeling. Jack is still acting like a school kid with a broken heart.”

“Well, I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that there has been more than a few broken hearts over Ann Bard. She is a fine woman and an easy one to set sights on. She never really got serious with any of them though. I think she likes horses better than men.” Lucas laughed and puffed on his cigar.

“I never expected her to wait for me, but I’m glad she did. She’s everything in the world to me now. I won’t endanger that.”

“I’m glad to hear it. You’re a good man Will. I know Ann loves you. Keep that in mind and troubles will fade. The thought of Margaret did the same for me, most of the time. But I also know how it is to be provoked. Like I said, many wished that I wasn’t. Let me tell you, that Simon could hit as hard as a horse kicks. And Jack is no pushover either. If it comes down to it, don’t wait for him to hit you. Ranchers have tough hands and hit hard.”

“I know a trick or two. You have to know how to fight to survive prison as long as I did. Heat has a way of making men quick to anger. So does bad food. And lack of women, did I mention lack of women? Will and Lucas laughed hard at that one as they drifted off to sleep.

Two days went by and Will had no trouble with Jack. In fact, one of the Donaldson hands talked with him and they were becoming friends. As it turned out, Jack was not well liked by most of the employees of his family’s ranch. Lucas was pleased to see how well Will was getting along. The heat increased as the drive progressed southward. By the fourth day, it was starting to take its toll on the men’s energy. Will was riding along the western flank as usual, but the heat caused him to slack in his looking out for Jack.

Jack had been bidding his time waiting for the right moment to play his hand. He worked his way in behind Will and was now within fifty yards, then thirty. Before Will knew what was happening, Jack spooked some of the cattle and caused them to crowd around Will. A large bull brushed against his horse. Will had just enough time to pull his leg out of the way and almost fell off. When this happened he looked back and caught sight of Jack. There wasn’t much he could do about it, but he knew what he was up to. Jack laughed and rode up closer.
“You alright there Fulton? I wouldn’t want anything to happen to you. Don’t let this heat make you lazy. Animals spook easy at times like this. I guess maybe you do too.”

“Try that again and you’ll find out Jack.”

“Try what? I was trying to warn you when I saw a snake back there, maybe you didn’t hear me. I was kinda far back. Anyhow, try to stay more to the outside of the herd, you’ll learn.” Jack took off ahead, leaving Will a bit shaken.
Will had several more hours to think about it before it was time to stop for the night. He wasn’t fooled by Jack in the least. Lucas told him to relax and forget about it, but Will didn’t like being put in danger like that. If Jack was willing to cause him to be injured or worse, then he would probably try it again. The next day brought more heat and more tension. Jack tried to ride in behind Will several more times, but didn’t spook any cattle. All he wanted was to keep Will on edge. Near the end of the day, Jack came alongside and tried to tick Will off by grabbing at his hat. Will was ready for him. He had taken off his belt some time before and had it in a loop in his right hand. He whipped it around hitting Jack square in the throat, leaving a mark from the buckle. Jack gasped for air and came to a stop. He almost fell to the ground getting down from his horse, too stunned to think of retaliating. Will sped up and caught Lucas as if nothing happened.
Nobody else saw the scuffle, but a hand came along and helped Jack regain his breath and get back on his horse.

“Did you see that? Fulton whacked me with his belt, for no reason. I knew that convict was no good.”

“Nope, not a thing” The hand replied.

“Well, I’m not going to let that go, mark my words. Fulton doesn’t belong outside prison walls. He’s trouble I tell you.“

“You shouldn’t mess with him then, his kind don’t take lightly when it comes to a fight. Why don’t you get a drink of water and simmer down.”

“I’ll settle down when I know he’s back behind bars, where he belongs!” Jack took off and brought up the rear for the rest of the day. Inside, he was smiling, delighted in the fact that he had gotten to Will.

That evening in camp, Jack tried to talk and found that his throat hurt so bad that all he could do was whisper. He had an even harder time swallowing his food. There wasn’t anybody along that could do anything for him as his breathing became labored. Before long, it was obvious that he needed help. His father decided to put him in a wagon and go ahead into town, still more than a day ahead for the drive. Will saw what was happening and became concerned that he had made a bad mistake.

“Lucas, I have to tell you something. Jack tried to unnerve me today again. Right before I rode up to you earlier, I hit him with my belt as he tried to grab my hat going by. I must have injured his throat. All I wanted to do was to let him know I meant business.”

“It was bound to happen. You just lay low for the time being. We’ll see if he has the nerve to tell anyone. But if he does, most know he has been picking on you.”
“I’m sorry Lucas, I tried, I really tried to shake him off.”

“I know you did. I would like to have hit him myself. I was about to say something to his father, but I never got around to it.”

“I hope he’ll be alright. When will I ever learn?” Will took the pistol from his saddlebag. “Here, you better hold onto this for now, just in case this gets worse.”
“Good idea. We don’t need the law seeing this in your possession when we get into town. I’ll keep a close eye on you the rest of the way, stick close from now on.”

“You got it Lucas. I’m mad at myself more than anything else.”
“I know that feeling all too well. I was hoping Jack would control himself, but I can see now that he has the curse of stupidity in a bad way. If I know Walt Donaldson, he will want some answers. We get along, but we haven’t spoken in quite some time. Let me try to handle things from here on out.”

“Yes sir. I wanted so much for this to go well, for Ann’s sake and yours.”
“Let’s head back to camp, you need to settle down, we still have a few days of hard riding left.”

Nothing more happened over the next two days. Finally, they made it to the stockyards. It took several hours for the men to get the cattle penned, then it was time for the saloon.

As Will and Lucas made their way to board the horses, Walt Donaldson came upon them from the opposite direction.

“We need to talk McCain. My son is in the Doc’s ward with a crushed voice box. He was able to write today when he came to after they did surgery. He claims your hand did this to him. I’m willing to hear your side before I go to the law.”
“Thank you for that Walt. Do you know there has been trouble between the two before this happened?”

“Yes, Jack has never been a dull boy I’m afraid. But what brought this on? He claims there was no reason.”
 
“Jack has been sneaking around trying to upset Will, he must be jealous that Ann likes him. He caused a stir at the Fall Dance last Saturday.”

“Ah, that’s just child’s play Lucas. He never meant no harm by it. Drinkin’ man’s game, you know.”

“A man’s got no place acting like a child Walt. Will has a lot at stake and can’t afford any trouble. I hope we can find a way to mend things without the law getting involved.”

“That surgery just cost me over five hundred dollars. That’s a good part of my herd and I can’t afford this winter without it. You gonna help me out?”
“Why, I’ll do what I can. It means a lot to me to keep Will out of trouble. Can I give you three hundred now and the rest when I get back from Yuma?”
“That will be fine, I know you are good for it. I know it’s not all your fault too. Maybe we can settle it at this, let’s see when you get back.” Walt stuck out his hand and Lucas did the same.

“Thanks Walt, you are a good neighbor and reasonable in tough times. We can work together through the winter, you know that.”

“The same goes for you Lucas, we always have gotten by, haven’t we?”

“Yes we have, I won’t forget this Walt, thank you.”
 
“Say, you boys heading to the saloon later on? I’ll buy us a round.”

“We might just do that, but we can’t stay long, gotta big day tomorrow. We’re heading out on the train to Yuma after we settle on the price of the cattle.”
“I’ll be looking for ya. My nerves are shot. I’m getting over there right now while there might still be a table left.”

“We’ve been worried sick ourselves Walt, we’ll join you as soon as the horses are taken care of and we have a room. I hope Jack’s alright.”
“Doc says he’s going to be ok, but he won’t be doing any fancy talkin’ for a while.”

“See ya Walt, I owe ya one. Lucas breathed a sigh and looked at Will as Walt went on his way. “Whew, that was a close one. For a minute there, I thought he was going to go the other way with the law.”

“Me too!” Will replied, “I had a hard time keeping my mouth shut, but I knew you had to do that. I’ll make it up to you Lucas. You shouldn’t lose out because I lost my head. You spend so much on me as it is. You sure you still want to go to Yuma?”

“Now I won’t have any of that talk Will Fulton. You know better. I value a brother much more than that. I should know to expect some trouble. The cattle should bring a good price, and I have enough saved to get by through the winter. There’s a lesson to be learned for all of us in this. I expect that Jack won’t be around for a good long while, I hope he learns there’s no good in being a fool.”

“It’s time I grow a thicker skin too. I promise to be a better student.”
“The lesson begins when we hit Yuma. Let’s get on with it, this old man’s getting mighty tired”

Battle Within A Young Gun - Chapter 7 — Train of Destiny

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

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