Chapter 18: Goodbyes

Things moved rather quickly after that. Soon after, Sheriff Bridges arrived from Willow Springs with several men. Micah quickly explained what happened. The sheriff sent one of his men back to town for the doctor and told him to meet them back at Ed Bailey's place. He and the remaining men stayed behind to take care of the unpleasant but necessary business.

It was late in the afternoon by the time they made it back to Ed Bailey's ranch. The doctor met them there. "Looks like I'm going to have my work cut out for me," he remarked as he looked at the battered and beaten group that entered.

While Mark anxiously waited for the doctor to look at Will, he told Lucas some of what had happened over the past several days. Lucas listened intently, making no moves to interrupt, his face grave.

After what seemed like a very long time, the doctor finally came out of the back room. Will had lost a lot of blood and was very weak but thought he'd eventually recover. He wouldn't be allowed to move him to town for several days though. With a little prodding from Sarah, Ed Bailey reluctantly agreed to let him stay, but insisted the sheriff leave a deputy behind to guard him. Micah would make the arrangements when the sheriff returned.

Mark asked to see Will, but the doctor wanted to check him over first. He sat impatiently as the doctor tended to his scraps and cuts then checked his ankle. It was sprained, but not seriously. "Can I go see Will now?" Mark asked.

The doctor nodded. "But only for a few minutes. He's pretty weak."

Mark hobbled into the back room with Lucas closely following. He made no attempt to stop him. He knew this was something Mark needed to do.

Will looked lifeless on the bed, pasty and pale. But at the sound of Mark's approach he opened his eyes and turned his head, as if expecting him. Lucas pulled up a chair for Mark to sit down, then stepped back near the door.

Mark didn't know quite where to begin. "I'm glad you're going to be all right Will." he said at last.

Will smiled weakly back. "That's what the doc tells me." He looked at the scraps and bruises on Mark's face. "Looks like you didn't fair much better."

"It's nothing."

Will looked over at Lucas. "You got quit a kid here, Mr. McCain."

"I know." Lucas replied proudly.

"What's gonna happen to ya now Will?" Mark asked.

"I don't know."

"That will have to be up to a judge, son." Lucas told his son softly.

"I know Pa, but Will saved my life!" he said desperately. "It should count for somethin'."

"Mark, come here," Will said quietly. Mark leaned closer. "Don't worry about me. Your pa's right. I've got a lot to pay for, but I'm willin' to face up to whatever lies ahead."

Mark looked solemnly down at his friend. Lucas knew Mark was facing one of those hard roads in life when things weren't always black and white.

"Listen Mark, whatever happens I'm not afraid anymore. I'm done running."

Mark nodded in understanding.

The doctor came in and ushered them out, telling them Will needed to rest.

By the time the doctor finished checking Micah's wrist and setting it, it was quite late. He closed his case and said he'd be by first thing in the morning. Lucas thanked him.

Sarah fixed them all a hearty meal then Ed Bailey set Mark and Lucas up for the night in the barn.

But Mark had difficulty sleeping that night and sat up with his father for quit a while talking. It was something they'd always been able to do. He continued to worry about Will and wished there was something he could do. Eventually Lucas promised he'd talk to Micah in the morning. Perhaps they could make arrangements to talk with the circuit judge and put in a favorable word on Will's behalf.

Mark was satisfied with this, but he insisted on being allowed to speak with the judge himself. He felt he owed Will that much. Lucas didn't argue the point.

Eventually Mark fell asleep and slept the first good sleep he had in days. As a matter of fact, he slept almost the entire next day as well. Lucas did not wake him.

While Mark slept, Lucas stopped into see Will.

"Mark told me all you did for him," Lucas finally broke the silence. "I'm grateful to you for saving his life, and mine."

Will fiddled with a loose thread on his blanket. "I know I've made a lot of mistakes, Mr. McCain," he began, then gave a little ironic smile. "Seems like that's all I've done my whole life. But for what it's worth, I'd like to try and make amends."

There was something about the young outlaw that reminded Lucas of himself in a lot of ways. "My son thinks you deserve a second chance."

"Do you think I've got a chance, Mr. McCain?"

"Depends on how much you want it, son. But I believe a man can change if it's really in his heart to do so."

"That's what Mark told me once. I can see why he looks up to you so much."

But Lucas shook his head. "I'm just a man that's been down a similar road. Sometimes it's not so easy to find the right way out."

"I'd like to give it a try anyway, Mr. McCain. I've already seen what the end of the other road looks like." He was thinking of his Uncle Lloyd and all that he'd become.

Lucas gave Will's shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "For what it's worth, I think you'll make it son."

"Thanks, Mr. McCain."

Lucas nodded and left.

Later that day Lucas had a long talk with Micah. He valued the lawman's opinion. "Pretty brave kid to go up against the likes of that bunch. I expect Judge Thorpe might be open to a hearing. He's tough but fair."

The sheriff came by the next day. The posse had returned back to town. The sheriff showed Lucas and Micah the satchel he'd found.

Micah sifted the grain through his fingers perplexed. Lucas and Ed Bailey stood quietly by as Mark limped into the room. "Doesn't look much like fifty thousand dollars."

"We searched the whole area, Marshal. This is all we could find. What do you make of it?"

But Micah could only shake his head. It didn't make much sense. Twice in its history the money seemed to have vanished.

It was then Mark stepped forward. "I know where it is."

All four men turned their attention to Mark.

"What do you mean son?" Lucas asked.

"I'll show ya." Mark hobbled across the compound to the barn with the men following curiously behind. Once in the barn, Mark pointed to the wooden barrel in the corner.

Lucas removed the loosed items from around it, then removed the rags on top. He pulled out several stacks of bills.

Micah whistled. "Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle."

"Why didn't you mention this before?" Micah asked.

Mark flushed a little embarrassed. "Sorry Micah, but after all that happened, I kinda just forgot."

Mark felt his father's gaze heavily upon him and looked to the ground. "I'm sorry Pa. I know it was a stupid thing to do but I thought they'd killed you and Micah with that avalanche and Mr. Bailey too. I just wanted to hurt them back some."

Lucas' mouth compressed into a thin angry line. Mark shifted his weight uneasily. Lucas read his son's thoughts and placed his hands gently on his shoulders. "That was a mighty risky thing to do." He tipped his son's chin upward until Mark was staring at his father's face. "But I'm not angry with you, I'm just thankful you're all right."

Mark smiled and Lucas gave his son a hug.

The sheriff chuckled. "Pretty gutsy kid you've got there McCain."

Micah replied. "Didn't doubt it for a second. He's a McCain after all."

Lucas couldn't agree more.

Sheriff Bridges looked down at Mark grinning. "Well, it wouldn't surprise me any if there was a reward for the recovery of this money."

Mark's eyes widened. "Really?"

The sheriff nodded.

Then Mark thought for a minute. He turned to his father and asked if he could give the money to Will.

Lucas raised his brow in surprise. "Why son?"

"Will's gonna need a good lawyer," Mark said matter-of-factly. "It's all right, isn't it Pa? I mean, I owe him an awful lot."

Lucas had never been prouder of his son. As usual his son never thought of himself first.

"We'll talk about it some more later, okay?"

"Sure Pa."

The next day Lucas and Mark prepared to go home. Micah was staying behind a few days to wrap things up. He'd let Lucas know when the circuit judge would be back in town.

Mark said his goodbyes. Ed and Sarah Bailey had been most sympathetic and kind. Ed had even repaired Mark's frayed cinch on his saddle. He thanked him.

Then he went to see Will one last time. Sarah was in the room with him. She blushed slightly as Mark entered then picked up the tray of food and left.

Will was pale and still pretty weak, but he turned his head towards Mark as he approached the bed. There was an awkward few minutes of small talk before Mark told him he was heading home with his Pa.

"Thank ya for everything Will."

"If it hadn't been for me you would never been in this mess to begin with," Will replied solemnly.

"Ya know what I mean," Mark said wringing his hat in his hand. He wanted to let him know about Micah's decision to talk to the circuit judge to put in a favorable word.

Will stared at him for the longest time. "You never cease to amaze me kid. But I guess I could use all the help I can get now. Thanks Mark. The Marshal seems like a pretty fair man."

Mark agreed. "He is. That's why my Pa and he are such good friends."

There was a long silence.

Then suddenly Mark seemed to remember something. He dug into his jacket pocket. "I wanted to give ya somethin' else."

Will held up his hand. "You've given me more than enough already."

"But I want to," he insisted and pulled the snake charm Billy Whitefeather had made for him. Handing it to Will, he said, "It's not much, I know. But it's supposed to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck."

Will took the charm and held it in his hand.

"Thanks, Mark."

He shrugged. "I…I just wanted to give you something to remember me by."

Will smiled and curled his hand into a closed fist then pretended to give Mark a punch on the chin. "Kid, I don't reckon I'm gonna forget about you for quite some time. Kinda like havin' a pesky little brother around."

Mark laughed. Then his eyes became serious again. "I sure hope everything works out for ya."

"Don't you worry about me Mark, I'll survive. Who knows, maybe I'll even be able to visit you in North Fork one day"

"I'd like that," Mark said sincerely. He gripped his hat. "I…I guess I better be goin' Pa's waiting for me outside."

"So long Mark."

"Goodbye Will," he replied softly and quietly closed the door.

Lucas watched his son cross the compound towards the coral. He still had a limp and his step seemed a little heavier that it used to be. Mark had been forced to do a lot of growing up these last several days and Lucas worried it might have affected his son too greatly. He placed his hand reassuringly on Mark's shoulder. Mark looked up at his father. "Ready to go son?"

Mark nodded and mounted up. He patted Blue Boy on the neck. It felt good to be on top of the sorrel again.

Micah, with one arm in a sling, waved goodbye as Lucas and Mark headed home at last.

Lucas took the return trip without haste using the opportunity to spend time with his son. As they got closer to home he could see Mark's spirits begin to rise.

When they finally crested the last hill and saw their little ranch house below, Mark reined Blue Boy to a halt. He stared down at the small house intently.

"What is it son?"

Mark took his time in answering. "You know Pa that's the best sight I've seen in quite a spell," Mark said happily. He turned and smiled up at his father, laughter once again in his voice.

Lucas looked down at his son. "I couldn't agree more," he said softly.

Father and son rode down the last hill, together again.

Later that evening, Lucas quietly closed the bedroom door after checking on Mark. His son was fast asleep in his own bunk. Lucas crossed the room and set the oil lamp down on the small table next to his leather chair. He pulled out a cigar and lit it, then picked up a book and tried to read. But his eyes kept drifting across to the picture that sat on the table next to him.

Finally giving up the pretense of even trying to read, he set the book aside and picked up the silver frame. The brown eyes, the same ones he saw in his son everyday, looked back at him from the faded photograph.

Lucas took a slow drag on the cigar then blew the smoke gently into the air. He stared at the image for the longest time, a smile drifting across his mouth. When he finished his cigar he placed the photograph gently back on the table.

Lucas rose and stoked the embers of the fire one last time before turning in himself. In the soft gentle glow from the fire the image in the photograph flickered and seemed to smile in the quite little room Lucas called home.

THE END