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

Chapter Four — Reunion

The Bard Ranch was a wonderful place, located only three miles from the McCain Ranch. The house was somewhat bigger and had an obvious woman’s touch inside and out. They specialized in raising and training riding horses as well as breeding prize bulls. They had over five thousand acres of lush pasture and eight hands to keep things running smoothly. The ranch made good money, and this afforded the Bard’s time to travel and enjoy some of the finer things in life. Ann’s mother, Vanessa, spent a lot of her time back east near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where her family came from. Ann and her father, Sam, spent most of their time on the ranch. Ann especially loved her horses. She worked hard to train them and ready herself for competitions. She enjoyed her life in North Fork and worked hard to better the community in which she had grown up.

Lucas and Mark made a habit of showing up for dinner often over the years, which gave Ann and her family two of the best friends they could ever hope for. Ann was good at helping Mark with his homework and Sam, could tell stories all night long. He knew Lucas well and trusted what was about to happen. Sam wanted his daughter to be happy. He knew that she was affected by Will Fulton eight years ago, but could never understand why. Lucas discussed his idea with Sam before he left for Santa Fe. Yet, somehow, Sam wanted more. He wanted to know that Will would be good for his daughter, that he could be worthy of being part of his ranch one day. He wanted to make the ride with Lucas and meet with Fulton and the warden beforehand, but his aching bones told him he better wait. They also told him that he should be ready if he didn’t like something about this reunion.

Ann was very anxious for Will to come back. She planned for this day for a very long time. Her devotion to him was a rare thing to have lasted so long. Lucas told her he would try to make it on Friday afternoon. She was used to him not showing up on occasion if the ranch work went late. But this time there could be no excuse. Will’s return required her to plan something special for the meal. First, she had Sam cut some of the largest Porterhouse steaks imaginable from the best aged sides on hand. Sam took pride in his butchering and gave it his utmost care. Ann readied the potatoes, carrots, fresh sourdough bread, and for dessert, a huge apple pie. Sam watched from the front porch while one of his hands got the huge barbeque pit fired up. Those steaks were going to be eaten whether they showed up or not.

Lucas and Will showed themselves riding over a ridge just about sundown. Sam spotted them in plenty of time to have drinks poured for their arrival.

“Get ready Ann, here they come!” Sam yelled out from the front room. He slugged back a shot of whiskey and poured another for the toast. With his best face forward, he went out front to welcome the guests. “Evening Boys! We were just about to give up on ya. Lucas, you’re looking great, and this must be Will. I’m very glad to have you in my home. Welcome to the Bard Ranch!”

“Mighty fine outfit you have here, I’m honored. Lucas tells me you raise the finest beef for a hundred miles around. From the looks of it, I’m about to have the best meal of my life.” Will and Lucas dismounted.

A hand lead Razor and Blue Boy off to the stables where they enjoyed being with the Bard’s familiar horses. Lucas brought them along often and Sam insisted that his farrier be allowed to take special care of them.

Sam hugged Lucas and gave Will a firm handshake. “I like a man with a strong hand, I can tell you are a hard worker son. I hope you can be as equally soft with a lady.”

Fear not, Ann will be in the best of company, always.” Will smiled and looked beyond the front door for signs of Ann.”

“Lucas, have I got a story for you! Do you recall me telling you about a Federal Marshall and the gang of horse thieves he ran out of Yuma?” Sam wanted to give Ann a chance to come out and take over Will’s attention.

“Sure do, you must tell me more.”

“Oh, I intend to, but first we got something to take care of.” Sam yelled again for Ann and out she came in her best dress.

“Will Fulton! Why is it really you?” The two embraced, then Will took her hand and kissed it. He didn’t feel right smacking her on the lips right away in front of her father.

Sam was pleased by this and suggested they all step inside for a drink. “To my best friend and best friends to be.” Sam was feeling good so far, looking Lucas right in the eyes.

Lucas sensed Sam’s jitter and added “And to the best cook and the best dressed.”

Whiskey had not touched Will’s lips in a very long time. He didn’t want it to affect him on such an important occasion, so he put his glass down after the first shot and asked Ann if she had any lemonade. Ann nodded yes and the two walked back to the kitchen. Sam and Lucas poured another drink then sat in the easy chairs and began to chat.

“I’ll start in about that Marshall real quick Lucas, but first I want to know what you think now about my Ann getting together with Will.”

“Will and I have formed a very close bond Sam. So far I trust him with my life. He speaks very respectfully and I know him to be honest. He is a man, and he needs friends right now. He’s just been released to me a few days ago and I don’t want anyone giving him a bad time. He needs to settle into our lives. I think you can trust him and I’ll be careful to keep an eye on him for some time to come.”

“Ann is everything to me Lucas. She has kept Will’s memory for a long time. If anything were to go wrong, why, I don’t know what I’d do. But I trust you Lucas, your word is good enough for me. You and Mark are family to us and I know you feel the same. But between you and me, we shouldn’t let him out of our sight for long until we are sure. I just don’t want to take any chances with my daughter or this ranch, you understand.”

“Yes I do Sam. I am just going through letting Mark go off on his own. I have his aunt looking after him back in Oklahoma because they know I would worry too much otherwise. Ann is very special to me also, I promise to be careful. Will’s a real hard worker and I plan to keep him busy and out of trouble.”

“Good deal Lucas. Have you had any word from Mark yet?”

“No, he is going to send me a letter as soon as he knows what is what. It’s only been a few weeks. And just like Will, he needs time to settle in to new surroundings. I trust that boy to be a man. Heck, you helped raise him. He’ll do good, whatever he decides to be.”

“One thing’s for sure, he’ll be a McCain, and that says a lot. I know he’ll make his Pa proud. Now, about that Marshall……”

Will helped Ann get the meal ready as they both enjoyed a glass of lemonade. It was hard to control his desire to hold her, but he didn’t want to over-react. Lucas lectured him beforehand on the manners that Sam would expect. Will was still a bit overwhelmed by everyone’s acceptance. Ann was too important to him to take any chances.

“I can’t believe I’m here. You are so beautiful Ann. Thank you for keeping in touch all of this time. I don’t know what I would have done without your letters.”

“I’ve missed you so much. It was hard, but our letters kept us close at heart. I know you must be reeling from all the excitement and change. I hope this is not too much for you so soon. To tell you the truth, I’m somewhat overwhelmed myself, but I’ve had some time to get ready. Lucas is such a great friend.”

“He is a true brother to me, I want to make both him and you proud, you can bet on that. And by the way, thanks for the cheese!”

“I knew that would be a welcomed treat. I make it myself. I’ve had lots of time to learn how to cook. I make many things for the church. You should come with us one Sunday soon. It has been a long time for Lucas too. But we can wait a while for that.

Let’s get out to the fire pit and cook these steaks.”

“They’re huge, what beast must they have come from? I haven’t had a steak in many years. I hope I can control myself!”

“My father only cuts the best. These are Porterhouse, the finest steak in the world.

I haven’t had one myself in over six months. I usually keep it simple unless we have guests. Daddy’s been taking it easy on the meat himself of late, but I know he’s looking forward to this meal. We better get out there before they come looking for us.”

Ann and Will marched the steaks out to the fire pit, prompting Sam and Lucas to join them as the sweet smell came from the melting fat dripping on the coals. This caused shivers to run down Will’s spine. The only meat he was used to smelling was tough, low grade, and not always recognizable as beef.

“So you are telling me that this Masterson fella ran all those outlaws off with only a cane? Lucas asked Sam as they continued to talk of the famous Marshall.

“You bet, they held him at gunpoint and took his pistol. Just as he threw it to them, he hit the closest one in the head with the cane and knocked him out. Then he rolled on the ground to grab his gun and shot two of them in the hands to remove their guns, the others took off a galloping down the road. He made each of the three he caught walk along with their hands tied behind their backs on the way into town, barefoot! It was in all the papers. They tracked the others down a few days later. I tell ya, he reminds me of you Lucas.”

“Well, that’s quite a compliment Sam. He must be good to try something like that. Where does he come from?”

The first anyone’s heard of him is in Dodge City, Kansas. He fought in the Indian Wars and his brother Ed was the Sheriff of Dodge. Ed got himself killed and his deputies, Bat and Wyatt Earp took over for him. Bat was elected Marshall of Ford County after that. But they say he likes gambling too much to be a full time lawman these days. He spends most of his time in the Arizona Territory and Colorado.”

“The best thing for him to do is not gamble, especially on the outlaws being slow to the draw. I still like my chances with the trusty Winchester. But it’s good to hear of a brave man that knows how to handle himself. I’d like to meet him one day, over a drink that is.”

“You won’t have to worry about beating him to a draw, he’s a real gentleman they say. Look for a Derby hat and a gold topped walking stick, and probably a pretty girl or two.”

“I’ll keep my eyes open for him when I’m out and about, but I don’t know what would make our paths cross these days. I need to get the ranch in shape before I go anywhere.”

“About this time, Will walked over to comment. “I heard the name of Masterson, is that the famous Bat Masterson you speak of? I know of him.”

“How do you know him son, I only heard of him a short time ago myself.” Sam replied.

“Well, where I just came from, there are quite a few guys who have met him. And all they can think about is killing him.”

“I didn’t think about that. So, he’s been busy with that cane then?” Sam asked

“I think that’s what makes them so mad. How would you feel if you had to admit to your fellow inmates that a well dressed lady’s man put you in the big house? It’s also known that he is about the fastest gun around. They say nobody in Dodge would go up against him because he put on demonstrations with targets in the streets. The town gave him a special custom Colt 45 Peacemaker as a gift. I wouldn’t want to run into him.”

“He sounds like a real hero to me Will.” Lucas added. “It’s about time somebody spreads a little justice in this wild west show we have been trying to make a living in. Maybe now things will settle down and we can all be peaceful ranchers for a change.” Lucas patted Will on the back and went over to gawk at the steaks.

“Yah, maybe, but I also heard talk of you in that prison Lucas. I wasn’t going to bring it up, but you have a reputation there too. More than one angry man wants a chance at you.”

“Well, they know where to find me. And I have many friends to watch my back in these parts. I’ve had to deal with plenty of that kind. Still here to talk about it too!”

“Maybe you and Bat can get together and put on a demonstration one day, that would shut them all up.” Sam exclaimed. “Now let’s eat, I’m starving and I bet Will there wants two steaks and the whole apple pie!

“What about me?” Ann added as she walked by with steaks in hand, headed into the house.

“Now there goes a real smart lady Will, she knows the way to a man’s heart. Better be ready to say grace my friend, or we’ll all be going hungry!” Sam slugged down the last of his whiskey and laughed his way to the dinner table.

Talk turned to Ann’s horses and the future once the steaks were devoured. Will ate every bit, including the fat. The apple pie was the perfect ending to the best meal of his life. Sam and Lucas returned to the chairs while Ann and Will went for a walk around the stables.

“This is wonderful Ann, you make me smile like nothing I’ve ever known. I prayed we could be together again one day, every day.”

“That is going to take some time Will. We both have to really get to know each other. Daddy and I have a lot at stake with this ranch, and so do you. You may not realize it yet, but you have two ranches to take care of if you want to be with me. Lucas will need you for quite some time to come. I’ll be here for you, promise me you will be patient.”

“You have my word. I wouldn’t do a thing to hurt you, even if it costs me my life. I know that now. Lucas is a great teacher. He’s done so much for me that it would take two lifetimes to ever pay him back.”

“I hope you mean that. You don’t have any ill feelings about what happened eight years ago?”

“I knew the day Hank died that Lucas killed him. It almost destroyed me. But I also know that he feared for his son’s life and did what he had to do. I want to think that I would do the same. It’s something I have to ponder for the rest of my days. And I want to be sure that we have many more days together Ann. You mean so much to me.”

“And you mean more to me Will. I loved you from the first time we met. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I am willing to take a long time to find out. Are you with me?”

“All the way my dear, for a lifetime, I love you!” They kissed then walked some more. As they made their way further back into the stables Ann stopped and grabbed Will.

“I have something I want to show you. I’ve waited for a very long time to let you know about this. Soon after the trial, I took the liberty of contacting the judge.” Ann stepped over towards a closed stable door. Will could hear hooves shuffling inside.

“You didn’t!”

“Oh yes I did!” Ann suddenly opened the door and Will’s eyes filled with tears. There stood his chestnut stallion!

“I, I don’t know what to say!” Will and Ann both cried with joy. Will walked gently up to his cherished horse and put his arms around his neck. He finally looked over to Ann in total shock. “Well, if I wasn’t overwhelmed before, I sure am now!”

“I pray that you won’t hold it against me for keeping this a secret for so long. He’s had the best of care and is the healthiest horse on the ranch.”

“How could I ever be mad at you? This is so wonderful, I’m truly speechless here, forgive me.” Tears continued to stream down Will’s face as he walked around the stall to look over his majestic Saddlebred beauty.

“Lucas told me his name was Spirit. I rode him gently and let him teach me so I wouldn’t change his personality very much. He is a real champion if you ask me. Where ever did you find him?”

“My father knew a man who raised Saddlebreds in Dallas. He was my sixteenth birthday present. This horse is the only family I have left in this world, until now. My God this is great! I was so worried about him. I figured he must have been sold off and gone.”

“Well, loving horses as I do, you know I couldn’t let that happen. It was part Lucas’ idea too. He knew how much you loved Spirit. And Lucas is just as fond of Razor of course. I’ve looked forward to this for so long, and thank God Lucas decided to hasten your return. I was very torn about whether to tell you or not.”

“I wanted to ask you in my letters all along, but I didn’t want to burden you with it. I just want to scream with joy, but I better not. Spirit might be in shock too!”

“What do you say we go for a moonlight ride? Daddy and Lucas know what we are up to, they have lots to talk about. I’ll get my Flash ready. You will find everything you need here in the stall.”

“I can’t say no to that!” Will was still trying to catch his breath as he looked around to find the blanket and saddle. His heart was beating fast. He wiped the tears from his eyes and took a few moments to talk to Spirit. This put both of them at ease, then he was able to get the blanket over his back. Next came his old familiar saddle, just as he left it eight years ago. He also found his same halter and reins. Ann kept them in perfect shape for him. Will was still mildly in tears as he lead Spirit out of the stall to meet with Ann doing the same. They mounted the stallions and rode out from the stables. Sam and Lucas were right outside to cheer as they came out.

“Now that’s what a call a lovely couple!” Sam shouted

“Keeping my mouth shut these last few days has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.” Lucas added. “Sam, you can be proud of that daughter of yours. I don’t think you have anything to worry about. Just look at those two!”

“I might be full of whiskey right now, but I know what I’m lookin’ at.” Sam raised his glass and put his arm around Lucas. “Let’s sit over by the fire old boy, they might be a while.”

Battle Within A Young Gun - Chapter 5 — Ranch Hand

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

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