The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

Deadly Hate
Written by Klara's Boy

In the great hall the noise was deafening. Men, women and children of all kind were moving around, carrying suitcases, bags and other pieces of luggage. Posh ladies in beautiful dresses were flouncing through the enormous hall, accompanied by their elegant husbands and surly children. The platforms were crowded with travelers of all ages. In between dozens of sweat-covered servants and weary bellhops were hurrying to the trains with their heavy loads. Dogs were barking, horses were nickering. Whistling rains kept arriving, others left for an unknown destination.

The modern railway station was huge and in between those masses a boy in his best suit was standing, fascinated and flabbergasted by the ear-splitting noises, the smells, the huge building itself.

In a heartbeat Mark decided to become one of those men, who kept that entire magnificent system running: maybe a mechanic, maybe a clerk, maybe even an engineer. What a life to see all those wonders of the modern times every day! Mark suddenly knew that one day he would help people to reach places as far away as New York or Chicago. The very thought to be part of this progress of mankind made Mark smile.

Then he noticed a derelict old shack behind the storehouses, maybe 300 yards away. A black locomotive could be seen through the open gate. Curiously Mark stepped closer. When he reached the wooden shack he could see how big the uncanny building really was. All the citizens of North Fork could hide in it. The locomotive itself resembled a black dragon out of the fairy tales, an iron monster, prepared to roll over anything in its path.

Mark was so impressed by the majestic machine that he was unaware of the fact that he was all alone now. As crowded and noisy the main halls were: behind the storehouses not a single soul could be seen or heard. Not even a mechanic was …

“What have we got here? A little trespasser …”
“Looks that way …”

Mark whipped around. Three young men, almost still boys had surrounded him. They were wearing torn shirts, filthy pants but no shoes. Their faces were covered with layers of black dirt. High cheekbones and narrow eyes revealed that those fellows were …

One of the squalid boys approached Mark. He was the only one wearing a cheap cap that covered his long black hair. The kid was emaciated but muscular, tall and obviously full of self-confidence. He seemed to be the leader of the gang. The other two goons were just smiling, prepared to strike.

***

Sweeney was still cleaning the glasses when Micah entered the saloon. The old Marshal tipped his hat politely.
“Howdy. How are you feeling this morning?”

Sweeney nodded slightly. His face was still mighty pale but at least he was back where he belonged.
“Much better, thanks for asking, Micah. Everything is right as rain.”

Micah was smiling happily. The old man felt a great relief in his soul seeing his friend again. He had grown even fonder of the barkeeper when Doctor Burrage had been expecting the worst only a couple of days.

“That´s just fine. You got us all worried for a while, I can tell you. Doc Burrage was trying desperately to get you up on your feet again. But he did a fine job as I can see.”

Sweeney filled a glass with whisky and emptied it in a second, enjoying the taste in his dry throat.

“Why don't you say it? Burrage saved my life. Without him …”

The good-hearted peace officer interrupted his friend, still smiling.
“We´ve got you back and that's all that counts. I am mighty glad about that, we all are. Milly took care of the saloon in the meantime and Lucas …”

“Speaking of Lucas: he has a visitor today.”

Micah frowned. It took only a single word to make him the most suspicious man west of Santa Fé.

“A visitor? What are you talking about?”

Sweeney shrugged as he poured himself another drink. His sore throat was still longing for something that washed away the bitter taste of the unsavory medicine, Burrage had tormented him with.

“This morning, a man came into the saloon. He had a beer and then he asked about Lucas.”

“What was his name?”

“Brown, Richard Brown, a former Major of the Union Army. He said he was an old friend of Lucas, served in the same unit during the war. He asked where the ranch was and I described the way. He was a mighty nice fellow, showing a rare couth as a matter of fact, not at all like most of my other customers.”

Micah eyes became small. His instinct warned him. Something was not quite right about that former officer.

“How did Mister Brown look like?”

Sweeney contemplated for a moment. Emptying the second glass seemed to jock his memory.

“He came into town riding a grey horse. He was pretty short and lean, about forty years old, maybe older, with a moustache and black hair and very well dressed by the way, with really fine manners. I have never seen him before but I wouldn't mind seeing him more often from now on.”

Micah turned around and was about to leave the saloon. Sweeney was stunned. Suddenly he had the inkling that he made some kind of mistake. But Mister Brown was an old friend of Lucas. At least that's what he had claimed and …

“Something wrong, Micah?”

The old man, already in the door, turned around.

“Lucas is not even home. He left two days ago with Mark. He had a mighty bad feeling, leaving his place alone, not to mention a sick friend, but he had to.  It was about some serious family business as far as I recall, something financial. First he wanted to leave Mark at home but the boy insisted on coming with him to the big city. The ranch is deserted right now. The way I see it your Mister Brown will be pretty disappointed.”

“I am sorry, Micah. I did not know about their absence. I spent the last two weeks in bed and …”

“Never mind. But I better take a look.”

***

Mark felt his hair standing up when the young man slowly pulled a knife with a short blade out of his shirt. Mark stepped back, trying to avoid an attack. When the gang closed in he smelled the cheap whisky.

“I … I … didn't mean to disturb you. I just wanted …”
The young leader showed a disdainful smirk, revealing his rotten teeth, spreading even more the revolting reek of whisky.

“We know very well what you wanted: being a generous white fellow you came over to give us your fancy suit, your shoes and all the money you've got. Ain´t that right?”

Three against one: Mark was well aware that you didn't stand a chance against those drunk bandits. The startled boy still tried to retreat, maybe scream for help or …

With his knife still in his hand, the leader with the cap on his head beckoned to his grinning friends.

“Show him what we do to trespassers, boys!”

But before the rest of the ruthless gang could follow his order, a distinctive sound could be heard: a Winchester being cocked, a gun like no other in the world. The young gang members turned around and froze. It was not the just the rifle the towering man wielded that stunned them. It was the menacing glance in his eyes. It was obvious that a man with such cold eyes would do anything to protect his child.

“Over here, Mark!”

“Pa!”

And Mark hurried over until he could feel his father's strong arm around his shoulders.

***

Sweeney still had a mighty bad feeling. He knew how keen Micah's instinct was about strangers. But Mister Brown had seemed such a nice fellow. After drinking another shot of whisky the barkeeper remembered another feature of that gentleman: he had been slightly limping. Without any doubt an old wound received on the field of honor, where he and Lucas had been fighting side by side, for their just cause, facing death hundreds of time. No doubt …

That very moment Milly entered the saloon. The young woman smiled at the barkeeper.
“Howdy, Sweeney. You are alright again, as far as I can see. Not nearly as ailing as you were last week.”

Sweeney nodded gratefully.
“Thanks for taking care of my place, Milly. I really appreciate that, I really do.”

Milly kept smiling. Somehow she seemed more beautiful than ever that morning.
“Don´t mention it. It was a pleasure helping you out. But you got me scared for a couple of days, I can tell you. Don't ever do that again.”

Sweeney sensed that he had enough whisky. Suddenly he felt nauseated. He was not used to drinking anymore, especially his own stuff. But he let not on his bad feeling. Really touched by her solicitousness he didn't want to worry Milly again. Knowing how vain women could be Sweeney changed the topic.

“By the way I really like your dress Milly. It sure is beautiful. Green is my favorite color, you know.”

The young woman with the shinning hair kept smiling at the barkeeper. That smile was like no other in the world …

“My uncle bought it for me in a fancy store when I came to see him in Denver last month.”

“It sure is pretty. I wish I had such a generous uncle.“

“To buy you a new dress, too?”

And then both must laugh.

***

Sheriff Curd Cutter was sneering. Being responsible for law and order in that county the railway station was also under his jurisdiction. Cutter was well aware of his power and apparently enjoying himself. His whole stance revealed how proud he was of his position as he was sitting behind his desk in his fancy office.

“McCain was the name?”

Lucas nodded. He and Mark were sitting in front of the small desk, which was decorated with the small photograph of a young woman with three children. Mark's eyes were wandering around: the office was small and stuffy with a gloomy atmosphere. A cheap painting over Cutter's head showed Jesus on the cross mourned by his followers. Although still pale, Mark was curious about that place. Lucas, still holding his rifle, on the other hand had only eyes for the smiling man behind the desk.

“That is right, from North Fork in New Mexico, Mister Cutter.”

The lawman was a bald man in his thirties, wearing a blue tunic with a shiny badge on it.

“Long way from home, ain´t you? What brought you and your boy here, Mister McCain?”

Lucas remained motionless. His sinewy fingers were near the trigger of the Winchester. It was obviously that he wanted to leave as soon as possible.

“A couple of days ago we received a letter from a lawyer called Howard. A relative of my late wife had died and we have allegedly some money coming from the heritage. That's why we came here by stagecoach and we intend to continue our trip by train. I already bought the tickets.”

The sheriff nodded. Although Lucas was grateful for Cutter's help, he didn't like the boastful man behind the desk. His way of talking showed that he from the east, a representative of the modern times just as an engineer driving one of the steaming monsters out there. Cutter pressed his fingertips together.

“And you did me a great favor, Mister McCain. That's always the problem with such a great railway station: it attracts scum from far away. But you gave me the opportunity to set an example at last. Those three bandits will face their judge very soon. They will never bother you again, son.”

Mark smiled politely but he was still kinda timid and shy. The sheer brutality of the three young men had shocked him. Lucas was still very serious, too. Father and son were wearing their best suits to meet that lawyer in the big city. Lucas had considering leaving his rifle at home but now he was glad to feel the cold steel of the gun in his palm. He gazed into the Cutter's green eyes.

“What exactly is gonna happen now, Mister Cutter?”

Suddenly the conceited lawman turned serious. His charming smile vanished and his voice became somber and deep, almost like that of a preacher. He lowered his hands.

“As you can figure, Mister McCain, I will press charges against them with all due vigor. It's not the first time those three brothers cause trouble. Their mother lives in a poor neighborhood a couple of miles away and I have already sent two of my best men to summon her. She will be here any minutes now. Frankly, it's a hell-hole here for any decent Christian. Damnable pagans all around, I can tell you.”

Lucas was about to say something when the door was opened.  Accompanied by two strapping deputies an elderly woman entered. Her emaciated body was covered in filthy rags. A threadbare shawl covered her weak shoulders and her head. Her weathered face showed that she was not white but a member of some tribe of Indians. Without paying any attention to Lucas and Mark she approached the desk and without hesitation she looked into the green eyes of the lawman behind it.

“Where are my sons, chief?”

Again Cutter showed his boastful smile, displaying his contempt for the whole family.

“First of all; I am no chief but a lawman, appointed by the lawful authorities to represent that very law, you insolent pagan. Secondly, they are in one of my cells, where they belong. The court will assemble in an hour and justice will be served very swiftly, one way or another.”

The woman seemed not even surprised by the vituperation, rather desperate. Her voice trembled and she was obviously fighting back her tears.

“Why? Why this time?!”

The bald lawman lifted his right hand, pointing over to the Rifleman and his son, displaying utter aplomb.

“You might want to ask Mister McCain here. You can be glad that your sons are still alive. A man like him can be mighty trigger-happy, especially when filthy pagans try to jump his kid.”

Now the woman turned around. Her eyes were dark and gloomy, showing her desperation and shame. She looked at Mark's pale face and remained silent for a second. Then she faced Lucas and his cold glance left no doubt that the lawman had spoken the truth. She covered her mouth with a part of her dirty shawl. But her voice was strangely clear when she uttered one sentence.

“I am sorry.”

Without another word she hurried out of the office. Lucas frowned. He seemed to think for a moment before he got up.

“I would like to have a word with that woman, if you don't mind, Mister Cutter.”

“Not at all, Mister McCain.”

“Much obliged. Stay here, Mark. I will be right back.”

With his rifle in hand, the rancher followed the distraught mother. Before he left the office Cutter's taunting voice stopped him in his tracks.

“One more thing, Mister McCain: there is something you ought to know. Some folks around here might say I am somewhat arbitrary at times. That might be true but I am also incorruptible and strict, so help me God, especially when it comes to deal with those damnable pagans. I intend to live up to my reputation. As long as I'm in charge, I'm beholden to my superiors and to the law-abiding citizens of this county but first and foremost I'm beholden to our Lord! Just remember that.”

***

Two days ago it had heavily rained for about three hours. The soil was still muddy so the tracks were easy to follow. Micah spurred his horse, keeping an eye on the wet ground. After a couple of minutes he could see the ranch in the sunshine. Everything was peaceful and quiet. But when he shadowed his eyes with his right hand, Micah noticed a movement next to the barn.

“Seems to me Mister Brown has already arrived.”

Micah turned his horse around and entered the little grove that lead almost right to the ranch. Using the trees as cover he approached the place. A small bird flew up and disappeared between the bushes. Then the prudent lawman found the mare: a beautiful grey horse tied to a mighty timber. Mister Brown was apparently a careful man, hiding his precious animal from curious glances that way. Micah dismounted and pulled his double-barreled shotgun out of the scabbard. He sure was glad to feel the weight of the deathly gun between his palms. He made his way through the tense underbrush, avoiding any noise that could give him away. Then Micah stopped, waited, listened, looked around before he continued walking towards the house. When the aging peace officer left his cover and stepped out into the open, his thumb cocked the powerful weapon.

***

In front of the door of Cutter's office the air was stuffy and hot. Only one of the deputies, armed with a Sharp rifle and a pair of side arms was enjoying a hot cup of coffee at the end of the long hallway. Besides that it was strangely quiet. Just a silent sobbing could be heard.

Lucas stepped carefully closer to the distraught woman. The rancher felt sorry for her. She looked much older than she actually was: destitution and hunger aged her before the time. What was left of her former beauty was covered by layers of grime. Her sharp nose looked too big for her haggard face and her hands were covered with scars and wrinkles. But her dark eyes were full of life, of determination, even showing …

Lucas looked down on her. The crying woman seemed even smaller standing next to the towering man. His voice was supposed to calm her down, perhaps even comfort her.

“Miss …”

Suddenly the woman turned her head and looked up to Lucas´ face. The dark skin over her sharp cheekbones was slightly trembling. And her eyes, those dark eyes …

“I hate you!”

Lucas stepped back, feeling suddenly very uncomfortable, looking into those eyes … just like those of a wounded cougar, so feral and blood-thirsty.

“I beg your pardon?”

“It´s all your fault, my sons turned out that way. I am Wild Goose, niece of Chief Black Kettle. I was there. Twenty years ago I was there, seeing it all. And you still keep on killing us.”

“Where were you?”

“It was winter! It was so cold! We were asleep at night in our camp at the Washita, a peaceful village at the river until the soldiers came. They killed! They came in and killed, made our blood run into the snow! I saw Black Kettle´s body under the hooves of their horses. I saw it! And now we are here, still at the mercy of the white man. You poisoned my sons, my whole tribe, our whole world with your bad magic. The evil magic of the white men kills us with all those guns and booze and black chariots, blowing out hot clouds.”

“Please, my son and I are surely not responsible for any …”

“It started with the red snow at the Washita. It ends in the cell of the white chief in there! Where should we go from here? We live in the reservation. Hunger and booze poison us there.  My man was Grey Fox, a good hunter. He is already with his ancestors. Soon we will be all gone, because you still keep killing us, white man!”

Wild Goose turned around and hurried down the hallway, passing the strapping deputy, still drinking his coffee. Lucas did not try to hold her back. It was no use. After an endless minute Lucas lowered his head and nodded silently, knowing how right the desperate mother was.

***

The beautiful woman was singing a little tune, she knew from her childhood. Milly was still wearing her green dress, Sweeney liked so much. When she walked over to Hamilton's bank to withdraw some money she passed the Marshal's office. It was empty. That was strange: soon the stagecoach would arrive and Micah had the habit to keep an eye on the strangers coming to town, even more so, now that Lucas was not here to back him up. Trouble was never far away and …

And then she remembered that she hadn't seen the old man all morning. Milly took a closer look. Micah's horse was gone, too. Where was the old man?

***

Lucas felt pretty drowsy. The seemingly never-ending movements of the train made him wish to be back home again, in his own bed. Turning hungry, he would have given his eyeteeth for a delish piece of apple pie, made by the gifted hands of Milly. He thought of Sweeney: the remembered how terribly cadaverous the sleeping barkeeper had looked before they had left North Fork. Silently Lucas had prayed for his sick friend. And he hoped that the ranch would be safe in the meantime. Micah had promised to keep an eye on their property during their absence by dropping by once in a while but the old man had other jobs to do. Lucas already regretted the strenuous endeavor. He felt guilty and irresponsible for leaving all behind for so long.

On the other hand: the mysterious letter in his breast pocket read something about an heritage, without naming a specific sum, bequeathed by a certain Mister John Lancaster, a distant cousin of his late wife, a man, Lucas knew almost nothing about. Whatever the amount was: Lucas could not afford to dispense with any money. Being a rancher was tough and sometimes he was seriously worried about Mark's future. They needed as much money they could get their hand on. At least the letter stated that any expenses for the journey would be replaced by that lawyer in the big city. Lucas was not able to make heads or tails of that inscrutable heritage, not yet anyway.

Lucas grew even more worried, when he thought about the roof of his house. A rainstorm had damaged it severely. Getting the battered house fixed would take at least 30 dollars or more. Sometimes he thought about giving it all up, forgetting the back-breaking work just for barely scratching a living, leaving North Fork once and for all and move somewhere else. Mark could get a better upbringing in a big city, would get better prepared for life, earning more money, perhaps fulfilling his newest dream of becoming the respected boss of a railway company one day.

Mark was still looking out of the dirty window, fascinated by the fetching landscape flying by. Lucas smiled. The boy was all that counted. Without him his life was meaningless. Yes, he would have killed those Indians in a heartbeat, despite their youth. He was prepared to take on anybody who tried to harm Mark. How easy it was to get into trouble. While Lucas had been busy buying the tickets the boy had wandered off, admiring the miracles of the railway station and when Lucas had turned around Mark had been gone, vanished somewhere in the crowd. Lucas thanked The Good Lord that he had arrived just in time to save the boy. How did Cutter put it? Damnable pagans?

And then he heard again the trembling voice of Wild Goose, saw her black eyes full of hate for anything the white man stood for …

As Cutter had announced the trial had been held the same day, only three hours after the incident at the shack. It had indeed been swift justice and Cutter had used the opportunity to live up to his strict reputation. Lucas remembered the indifferent face of the judge when he passed the sentence over the three brothers after a trial that had lasted just ten minutes: one year in prison for armed robbery. Lucas and Mark had left immediately after the verdict to catch their train. One year can be a long time. And after that?

After hours of traveling, Mark slowly got tired gazing out of the window. The train seemed getting slower, annoyingly slow as a banker agreeing to a cash loan. The rolling hills, the forests, the endless mountains started to bore the boy. He looked at his father. Lucas had closed his eyes and seemed to snooze, the rifle right by his side. Mark remembered the moment at the shack when he heard that one distinctive sound.

Then a grass-covered ridge appeared on the horizon, leading parallel to the tracks. Hundreds of dark rocks covered the green rise. But then Mark noticed that some of those rocks were slowly moving over the scarp. It took Mark some seconds to recognize the giant animals in the distance. He starred out of the window, fascinated by the sheer size of the herd on the grassy knoll.

“Enjoy the view. Those might be the last buffalos you will ever see, son.”
Lucas was awake and had noticed Mark's interest. The mighty animals wandered browsing over the green ridge, while their calves were chasing with each other playfully in the bright sunshine.

“The last …”

Lucas nodded wistfully, looking at the herd. His voices revealed how much his memory hurt him.
“Yes, Mark. I remember the time, when you could not even see the grass, because there were millions of buffalos on the plains. From time immemorial they have lived here. Not even the Indians could count them. Now they are all vanished, slaughtered by the white man for their hides and tongues. Soon they will be gone forever.”

Again Lucas remembered the frail woman's hateful words: you keep killing …

Mark kept starring out of the window long after the buffalos had vanished out of his sight.

***

Milly sat down on her bed. She could not grasp it. Now she was alone at last and very grateful for it. Her eyes were burning, her hands trembling in spasmodic movements. A throbbing headache in her temples almost dazed her. She swore never to wear that green dress again but she had no strength to change, not now. Her soul had hit rock bottom.

When other people were around, she always tried to remain strong and steadfast, a true lady. But in her small room she had no reason to hold back her tears anymore. Suddenly she felt the urge to speak out that one name, so dear to her.

“Lucas, please come home …”

***

The beauty of the huge office made Mark utterly speechless. All pieces of furniture of the law firm were made out of dark wood, the walls decorated with beautiful paintings depicting noble gentlemen Mark had never heard of. Only President Lincoln smiling down on them was familiar to the boy. A red carpet with an exotic pattern covered the floor and the high windows provided a magnificent view over the entire neighborhood. Even Lucas seemed impressed by the distinguished atmosphere of the lavish room. Father and son were greeted by a portly man with a white beard, wearing a fancy suit and a precious pocket watch.

“Mister McCain, I am pleased to meet you and your son. I am lawyer Paul Howard. Please take a seat.”

After shaking hands Lucas and Mark sat down in front of the heavy desk made out of oak wood. Mark was full of awe for the city: the long streets, the giant houses, the countless stores, the hundreds of people showed that that was truly a different world. After getting off the train, the two travelers had faced some difficulties finding the address of Mister Howard's office. But all inconveniences were forgotten now.

Mister Howard was a friendly old man and the boy was instantly fond of his warm smile. Lucas on the other hand was terribly tired after the long trip but tried his best not to let on any insecurity. He reluctantly had left his rifle outside with one of the busy paralegals.

Mister Howard himself was the personification of a noble gentleman: calm, polite, with a deep voice. His serene dignity set him apart from any other man, Mark had ever met before.

“You are fine young man, Mark. I have a granddaughter just about your age. Her name is Lillian. She is my little sunshine. You would like her.”

Mark smiled but could not say a word. He still was far too impressed by the dignity of the vicinity. His father however was still pretty suspicious when he started the conversation.

“Thank you for your letter, Mister Howard. I must say: it was quite surprised when it arrived. To be perfectly honest:  I don't know too much about the relatives of my late wife, let alone that they would leave us some money, as you wrote. Your writing was too succinct, for my taste, I must say.”

Howard smiled again, showing his white teeth.
“I can assure you: everything is correct. The late Mister Lancaster was a close friend of mine and I deeply regret his death. He owned a factory right here in town. In his last will he bequeathed most of his fortune to his four children and their grandchildren. I took care of all the formalities. That was the least I could do for a friend. But before we come to your share, I am lawyerly ordered to replace any expenses caused by your long journey:  to get here and to return home to North Fork.”

He took a large envelope out of one drawer and handed it over to Lucas. The rancher took a look in it and nodded. Suddenly his mouth turned dry.
“It´s even too much, I must say. We chose the cheapest tickets to come here, Mister Howard. I can show you …”

But before Lucas could produce the tickets the honorable proctor shook his head.
“I appreciate your candor but as long as all your expenses are covered, it is alright, Mister McCain.”

His humble decorum stunned father and son. Lucas hesitated for a moment but then he put the envelope into his pocket. He was to weary to negotiate things he didn't understand anyway. Howard opened another envelope and unfolded a document.

“I hereby will now read the testament of Mister John Lancaster.”

While carefully listening Mark didn't grasp any of the legal terms Howard was reading out loud but that fascinated him even more.

At the end Howard named the sum, Lucas should receive. The rancher was flabbergasted.

“We are speaking about 300 dollars? Are you sure, sir?”

Howard's smoky voice left no room for any doubt as he lowered the document.

“I certainly am. That is the amount, Mister Lancaster left to the husband of his late cousin. My personal impression is that he was sorry that had never any contact to your part of the family.  But now it is all documented and certified, I can assure you as attorney at law. There are also no other obligations or conditions of any kind for you, Mister McCain. The money is yours, if you accept it. All cut and dried as my granddaughter would put it. Quite a windfall, isn't it?”

Lucas exchanged a swift glance with his son, who was of course grinning like a kid on Christmas Eve. Lucas was still careful, no matter how obliging that lawyer was. The considerable amount made him even more suspicious and churlish. He felt the urge to drive his point home.

“A windfall? I hope you don't mind, Mister Howard … but how could Mister Lancaster chalk up such wealth? What exactly was his business? Tell me otherwise I will not touch a single cent of that money.”

***

When the stagecoach arrived in North Fork, Micah, Sweeney, Doc Burrage and Milly were waiting in front of the Marshal's office. The door of the stagecoach swung open and the two weary travelers were delighted to feel the soft ground under their feet. Lucas and Mark were exhausted from the long journey back home and so it was a real pleasure to see familiar faces again. Lucas was glad to stretch his long legs again after all those hours in that uncomfortable seat. There was no place like home.

“Howdy, folks! Sweeney, glad to see you! You are alright again. Micah, how …”

Lucas noticed the serious glance in his best friend's eyes. The old Marshal only half-smiled, when he shook the rancher's hand to welcome him back home.

“Good to see you, Lucas boy. We have to talk, if you are not too tired.”

“What the matter, Micah?”

“Does the name Cliff Morgan mean anything to you?”
The mere fact that Lucas lifted his rifle offhandedly was answer enough to the old lawman.

***

“When I arrived at your place, I was just in time to stop him. Morgan was about to set your ranch ablaze. He had already the match and the straw ready. When I ordered him to put his hands up he drew his gun but I was faster. I reckon he underestimated me. I fired both barrels.”

All were gathered in Micah's office, listening to the aging lawman. Mark was pale like a slice of cheese, when Micah told the story. Lucas himself was apparently horrified but remained calm, as he cast back his mind.

“Before the war Cliff Morgan used to be a slave trader in Texas, if memory serves me correctly. After that he started a second career as the worst bootlegger the world has ever seen.  The bullet I put in him when he tried to get away after killing two federal agents ended that career too. Morgan was still limping you say?”

Micah nodded calmly.
“He sure was, Lucas boy. He had first come to the saloon, using a false name, claiming to be an old friend of yours. Sweeney had no idea that you were not at home. So he described the way to your ranch.”

Lucas looked at Sweeney. The barkeeper was full of grief and guilt.
“I am sorry, Lucas. It was all my fault. If it weren't for Micah, you would be homeless now. I simply cannot understand what hate can do to a man. Please forgive me.”

“It´s alright, Sweeney. You could not know that he was my mortal enemy. Morgan was supposed to hang but then his judge pardoned him to jail, as far as I know.”

Micah showed Lucas a couple of documents.
“The way I see it his judge had been as gullible as our good Sweeney here, falling for Morgan's refined manners. That debonair gentleman obviously was able to charm the birds out of the trees and he was smart as a whip to boot. That did not save him from spending ten years in prison though. I found these telling papers in his saddle bag revealing his true identity. There was enough of his face left to identify him by comparing him with an old wanting poster to be absolutely sure. Well, I am glad that I could end Morgan's third career as an arsonist. We already buried him.”

Lucas took a look at the papers before he asked a last question.
“But how did he know about my whereabouts?”

Now Milly spoke for the first time. Her voice was also full of sadness. She now was wearing a dark dress, which seemed fitting to her mood.

“That is my fault, I am afraid. I didn’t ´t mean to …”

Mark was stunned. Suddenly he felt so sorry for the beautiful woman so he got up and put his hand on her shoulder to comfort her. Milly tried her best to fight back her tears.

“When I spent three days in Denver to pay my uncle a visit he accompanied me to shop to buy me a new dress. That shop was run by Cliff Morgan, my uncle's best friend. Cliff was such a nice man, so humble and charming. When I bought the green dress he asked me where I came from. I told Cliff about North Fork and about my friends and then … I mentioned your name, Lucas. He kept asking … and I kept talking … telling him about your rifle and that you used to be a soldier during the war … and … the next thing I know is seeing Cliff's body over that grey horse when Micah came back from your ranch … and now … now …”

“Now you gotta need some rest again, Milly. All things considered, we all were lucky. Nobody got hurt and that's what really counts, as far as I am concerned.”
Burrage was as serene as ever as he butted in. The seasoned doctor was however obviously still a little worried about the state the young woman was in. Milly on the other hand felt suddenly a great deal of anger about the old man's calm remark.

“You are right, doc. There was sure nothing you could do for my uncle's best friend anymore when Micah brought him in. Should I send the letter to Denver or will you?”

Lucas remained silent for a moment. Being exhausted from the toilsome journey he could not wait to get back to his beloved ranch. And he was still desperately hankering for one or two luscious pieces of apple pie.

“It´s alright, Milly, it was not your fault although I must recommend you not to cotton up with someone too fast. Calm down now. I think our good doctor is right as always: we all can use some rest now. Mark, be so kind and bring Milly home.”

The boy offered Milly his arm and slowly left the office with her. Sweeney, still very silent, also returned to the saloon, avoiding to look into anyone's eyes.

For a moment, Micah and Lucas were alone. The heavy-lidded rancher got up and took his rifle. When he shook his old friend's hand, no words were necessary between the two men.

***

“It sure looks pretty solid. Now it will take much more than a rainstorm to cause any damage to it, Pa.”

The boy was right and Lucas looked contently up the new roof. Mark shook his head in disbelief.

“I never would have thought that one could become rich just by hunting buffalos.”

“Mister Lancaster did not become rich just by that but his wealth was based on the money he earned as buffalo hunter, Mark. You heard what Mister Howard said: Lancaster had slaughtered far more of those animals than William Cody back in his days. He used the money he earned by selling the hides and tongues to found his fortune and now we have a new roof.”

Mark grew contemplative. He remembered the distraught woman in Cutter´s office all too well.
“Do you think that the Indians in the reservation will use their share of the money as wisely?”

Lucas shrugged. Each time he thought of Wild Goose and her sons he also remembered Sweeney's words about hate. But then he also felt hope for the future.

“Well, son, Mister Howard promised to see to it and he is an honest man with a lot of connections. But I figure 150 dollars should be enough to hire at least a good teacher for the kids in the reservation. Maybe he can even get the three boys out of jail before the year is passed but I don´t know about that.”

Mark remembered the swift trial and Cutter's grinning face when the three boys were lead away in chains. Sometimes true justice was hard to understand, one way or the other, thinking of the sanctimonious lawman's holier-than-thou grin. There were many more things Mark was still too young to catch on to.

“I am sure glad that Millie's uncle answered her letter that fast. Funny, don't you think, Pa?”

“What do you mean, son?”

“Well, he wrote that he never would have thought that a courteous gentleman like Mister Morgan could be capable of doing any wrong. I reckon that he was pretty shocked about his best friend's true face. But that letter seemed to help Milly to live it down. Anyway she was wearing the beautiful green dress again the last time I saw her.”

But then Mark turned a bit impish. He looked up to the rancher's face, giving him an arch look.

“She really looks awfully nice in it, wouldn't you say, Pa?”

The towering man put his big hand on his musing son's shoulder and tried to find the right words.
“Most people have more than one face, Mark. Just think about our good Mister Lancaster and what his fortune was based on. Sometimes it's hard to say what the true face of a man really is. And I agree with you about the dress, son: I must say it is … nice.”

Mark nodded before he went back into the house.

“We better get dinner ready, Pa, especially the apple pie. Micah, Milly, Doc Burrage and Sweeney are gonna be here in two hours. This time food is on the roof … I mean on the house.”

Lucas smiled gleefully before he followed his son to prepare the feast.

The End

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!

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