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

Chapter Two — Reckonings

Lucas wasted little time at getting under way the next morning. There were neighbors watching the ranch for him, however, he didn’t like leaving it alone any longer than he had to. Most neighbors in North Fork looked out for each other and soon, there would be a new face contributing to that cause. Lucas brought a fresh ranch horse for Will, packed with enough food and gear for the ride.

“I hope you like beef jerky, biscuits and coffee Will. I’m not much for eating fancy on the trail. But Ann did pack you something special.” Lucas reached into his saddle bag and pulled out a towel-wrapped slice of cheese. “I had the prison staff get this cold for you, better eat it now.”

Will opened the towel to smell the sweet homemade aroma. “Ann! Is she still thinking of me? What a gal!” Will bit into the cheese as if he hadn’t eaten’ in a week.”

“Oh Ann’s had you on her mind alright. I think you’ll find her more than happy to see you. “

“What a wonderful woman. She’s kept my mind busy with letters all these years, let me tell you. It’s a miracle she hasn’t married by now. I haven’t seen her face since the trial.”

“ Ann’s kept herself busy with her family and ranch work my boy, you should see her handle a horse. She’s very competitive, most guys can’t keep up with her.”
“In the short time we had together I could tell she was something very special. I prayed so hard that I would see her again one day. You’ll never know how much this means to me Lucas.”

“I believe I do Will. I’ve had a few prayers answered myself you know.”
Lucas and Will mounted up and started down the hot sandy trail. The quarter horses took the heat well at a slow pace.

As the two men rode along Lucas told Will of the many things that had changed over the years. Ann not only grew up into one of North Fork’s finest equestriennes, she was also a leader in the community, heading up a church social group and attending city council meetings. North Fork grew up as well. There were more stores and things to do in town. Lucas spoke of Mark and their many adventures and close calls with outlaws. Will was very impressed by the way Lucas spoke of so many dangerous experiences, such as being taken hostage, getting into shootouts, and serving as a lawman. The list seemed endless. After many miles in the hot sun they were both ready to make camp for the night. They found a lone tree in the barren landscape and commenced to gathering firewood.
“I tell ya Lucas, You and Mark have sure had a wild time of it. I almost think I was safer in that prison.”

“You’re probably right. One has to be ever mindful of bad intentions when dealing with strangers. I’ve had to be that way almost all of my life. This is an untamed land, trouble comes looking for you, I seldom go looking for it. I understand more now about how you must have felt back when we first met. Yours’ wasn’t the only stolen farm or murdered family.”

“I’m sorry for the way we met. You’ve been so good to me and I had to go and be one of those troubles from the start. I hope you can forgive me. I owe you my life.”

“Your life is your own, but you do owe me one thing, Loyalty. I’ve had many hands come try to work on my ranch, but every one of them gave me a bad time once they learned they would have to work as hard as I do. Maybe I expect too much, maybe the military instilled it in me. Sometimes Mark even thought so. But to look at him now, you’d think I was the one who was lazy. Promise me one thing, if it gets too hard for you, let me know. Don’t hold things in and get mad. As much as I put my nose to the grindstone, I can also be understanding. But I need someone I can trust. Can you be that person?”

“Like I said first thing at the prison, anything you say, anything. The best thing for me right now is to have something to be loyal to. Many men return to their outlaw ways when they get out because they never knew what loyalty is. I know you are the best man around and I can’t think of anyone else I would rather be loyal to. And don’t be concerned about hard work, Lucas, if you could have seen what I was doing in that hell of a prison yard then you would know that I welcome a tough job. It’s kept me out of trouble and from feeling sorry for myself.”

“I think we understand each other real well. I can still hear the words you spoke to Hank that fateful day. I felt a bond with you back then and I know you have learned many times over one of the toughest lessons there is. It always hurts to lose a family member, good or bad. And it takes a long time to get over that pain. Sometimes I still think I’m not over the pain of losing my wife. But our love was stronger than that pain, that’s what keeps me going.”

“Yes sir, you got that right. I loved my brother. He never learned how to get over loss. All he ever did was lash out at the world for what was taken from us. The rest of our family was murdered and our farm taken away. Hank and I barely escaped with our lives. We became outlaws to survive and Hank had me convinced that bitterness was the only way. I was on that path when we met. You and Mark showed me a better way, thank you Lucas. You have my loyalty for the rest of our days, you can be sure of that.”

“What Mark and I have is called love. And that is what we have for you. That’s what I know you have for Ann. If you stay loyal to the good people around you everything will be just fine. Now, let’s get this fire going and warm us up some coffee, I’ll get my canteen and mix some biscuits and soften up this jerky, it’ll be getting dark soon.”

Will loved the hot biscuits and meat. Lucas could whip up camp food in his sleep and ate this meal many times over. “It’ll stick to your bones and last ya ‘til you’re home!” Lucas exclaimed as they both eagerly consumed their supper. Conversation ceased until the last morsel was gone. Lucas remained quiet for a short while, letting Will reflect on what was going on. It had to be quite a shock to all of a sudden be outside of those prison walls.

Reflection also became important to Lucas. He hadn’t spoken of Margaret in a long time. Now that Mark was gone, he was all of sudden faced with that stark reality of really being alone. When he was referring to loyalty, he actually meant that he wanted Will to be as a son to him. It was going to have to be that close in order for the two to get used to each other and really trust. Lucas was usually a man of few words, yet today required a whole lot more than normal. It was going to take even more before this day came to a close.

“Will, I’ve got something I want to get out of the way right off. It occurred to me that your brother’s death was very traumatic. When the gunfire took place, it happened very fast. I didn’t have time to think once I committed to snagging that saddlebag. I saw the other two men drawing their guns before Hank and I let them both have it. At least I think that’s what happened. But I must tell you that I am for sure the one who shot Hank. You must know that. And you must know I only did it out of self defense. Can you forgive me for making all that happen? I realize that it is part my fault for insisting on saving that money.”

“It would be a lie if I told you those thoughts hadn’t crossed my mind a time or two. For eight years I had plenty of time to think about it all. I know we both admitted to shooting during the trial and not really being sure of who shot who. But now I have to admit something to you. I never fired my gun that day. I drew it out, and I intended to shoot. That sure wasn’t the first time I ever drew down on a man, but I was standing right in front of Hank’s horse, just so that I couldn’t have an angle on any of the three. It was all you that day Lucas, until now, I’ve never spoken of this. It all went by so fast, then I fell over Hank and the rest is a blur.”
“It will still do my heart good to hear you say that you forgive me. And I’ll say it myself, I forgive you for bringing trouble to my doorstep in the first place, my son didn’t need to see all that go down. But I came to realize that things are meant to happen, we learn or we die each day. And I owe you my life for saving my son from the ledge. I think the Good Lord was working his miracles on that day, saving both you and Mark.”

“And you! Oh, I more than forgive you Lucas. In my way of thinking, there is nothing to forgive you for. Hank made his decision as soon as he went for his gun. It was going to be us or them from the start you know. The first thing out of Hank as they rode up was that they were heading for Dallas. Do you think they were going to ride away without making sure they wouldn’t be followed?”
“I suppose you’re right. I kind of figured on that at the time and that was the determining factor in my decision to shoot it out. The bottom line is my son’s safety, and I’ll kill anyone that threatens my family. And now that family includes you Will. I want you to consider yourself part of my family. I need for you to consider yourself so.”

Thank you Lucas, I’ll think of you as a big brother. This is a fresh start for me, a chance to learn. You have been a successful man for a long time. God couldn’t have come up with a bigger miracle than giving me a chance to know you. I should say love you. I can hardly wait to get to the ranch and be at work. Thank God!”
“Yes, thank God, the ranch is only one more day away, I miss it so much. I’m not bothered that you didn’t shoot on that day. Once I cross that line, I’m a flurry of lead until I know it’s over. You learn to act fast once you’ve seen warfare. Every time Mark was in trouble I knew it could come to violence. I’ve shot perfect strangers who were endangering others I didn’t even know for that matter. I have had to reckon with death many times. It never stops being difficult. You ever kill a man Will?”

No. I’ve had to beat men to the draw and protect Hank when the robberies occurred. But it was Hank and the others who did the killing. Hank liked it. He hated honest people. He thought they were stupid like sheep. I know better now. It’s a strength that the blind cannot see. I almost killed an inmate in a fight some years back. He was a real troublemaker, maybe a bit like Hank. Had to run things, had to be the top dog. He threatened my safety one too many times and I beat him senseless. It was Big John that saved him by yanking me off and dragging me kicking and screaming into a cell. Still I marvel at your bravery and quickness to act. I’m not sure I would be good with the death of another on my conscience. I know that because I couldn’t leave Mark on that ledge. Now, I understand why you did what you had to. Still, I wish Hank would have had a chance to make a change. ”
“Greater love hath no man than to give his life for a friend. There’s something very special about that Bible verse Will. It all comes back to that word, loyalty. It is the brightest our light can shine in this world. It’s what gives me the strength to carry on. Thinking on things even today, I know that is how Margaret was. I know that I must reckon with God for the way I must be, I have to lose the selfishness in grieving over having had to give her up so soon. I know you and I will be good for each other, I’m thankful we have this chance to move on. I’ve killed a lot of men, too many. I can’t promise it won’t happen again. You don’t know until you have to do it or die. You may have to do it yet one day.” Lucas reached into his saddlebag and brought out a nice left handed gun belt, and a brand new .45 revolver. “I’m not supposed to give you one of these. But I know it could become necessary working on a cattle ranch. This is a tool just a sure as an axe can chop wood. I expect you to treat it with equal respect. It’s not for you to wear downtown on a Saturday night. I want it kept out of sight unless we think there might be trouble. On the ranch, it is not to be displayed otherwise.”
“Wow Lucas, you really do trust me. Why don’t you have one of these for yourself?”

“I wore one during the war. I learned to use it well. But my rifle has been my sword ever since. I found it only invited a fight to wear a pistol in public. I’m better with my rifle now. Ask Mark about the turkey shoot someday, he’ll tell you.”

“Oh, I believe you. I practiced quite a bit in my youth. I guess just about every boy goes through the fantasy of being in a gunfight. I made a gun out of wood so I could practice the draw when I was little. It came naturally to me all along.” Will fondled the gun and tried on the belt. Lucas was impressed with the way he could spin the pistol and slap it into the holster. “How’s that Big Brother?”

“Not bad, but can you hit a target? A living target?”

“If anyone threatens my family, I’ll kill ‘em deader than a door knob!”

“We’ll practice out in the canyon one day soon. I’ve got the perfect target range. It never hurts to keep improving your skills. Time will come when you’ll know if you can kill or not. It is bound to happen if you hang around with me long enough. That’s why I want to know I can trust you Will. I want you to be the best you can be.” Lucas again reached into his saddlebag and brought out a knife and a box of ammo. “Here you go, the most useless thing in the world is an unloaded gun. God loves a soldier brother, we ride at sun up. Let’s get some shut eye. We’ll have plenty of time to talk on the way. I’m so tired, must be getting old.” Lucas stretched out his arms and yawned like a bear.

“I’m going to dream well tonight Lucas. I already have visions of Ann dancing in my head. The Good Lord sure made a beauty in that desert flower! Can I see her soon?”

“She wouldn’t forgive me if I didn’t bring you right over for dinner. She is one flower that can cook. And she’s had eight years to cook something up for you. You may have to eat there often, unless you like my cooking better.” Lucas fell back on his bedroll with a grin, waiting for a reply.

“I can’t complain, but I wouldn’t want to kiss you after, brother!” Will laughed out loud like he hadn’t done in many years. Lucas was already snoring.

Will not only dreamed of Ann during the hot night. There were many questions to be answered. After the trial, he was hurried away to prison without as much as a final visit with Ann. He was never told what became of his horse or his brother’s body. He never asked about any of this while in prison. He was so happy that Ann wrote to him at all and he didn’t want to risk bothering her over such matters. He missed his saddle bred stallion, the chestnut that Mark marveled at so long ago. He was the closest thing to family he had left from his days on the farm in Texas. After their escape from Carlson, they never had a chance to go back and find out what happened to the rest of their family. All he knew was that they were dead and now so was Hank. All seemingly lost as dust in the wind.

Battle Within A Young Gun - Chapter 3 — Home with A Blast

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

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