Author's Notes: I wrote this one early in Season 3, and it had a working title of "A Son for a Son." I was bummed when there was an actual episode in Season 4 with that name. Guess there really are just a limited number of ideas out there. But aside from the fact that my "episode" and the actual one have a crazed father seeking revenge, there's not much similarity.
I like this one. I put a lot of effort into crafting it and making it a quality piece. It's set after the new church is built, but before Matt and Kathleen are married. I'm posting it in two chapters, since that works for this one. Give me a shout out after chapter one if you're reading it. Always wonder if there is an audience for a show that has been off the air for so long.
Matt and Rob are riding in the high meadows. Matt looks around at some freshly cut small trees. He frowns.
MATT: I don't like the looks of this. No one should be cutting wood up here.
They ride some more and come to the carcass of a steer, mostly stripped of meat.
MATT: We've got trouble.
MATT: I don't think so. It's been butchered. Rustlers would have stolen it.
ROB: Squatters, then?
MATT: More than likely. Rob, you ride around the other side of the ridge; I'll look some more up here. And be careful.
ROB: Sure, Dad.
Matt and Rob part, and Matt rides slowly through the meadow, but he sees nothing. Rob crests the ridge and begins to ride down the other side, when suddenly a man about Rob's age, or slightly older, angles in front of him on a horse and points a rifle at him.
MAN: That's far enough.
Rob reaches for his rifle, but the man shoots his rifle at Rob, barely missing him.
MAN: I wouldn't do that if I were you.
At the same time, Matt hears the rifle shot and rides quickly behind the two men. He surveys the situation, then shoots his rifle in the air. The man turns.
MATT: I've got this trained on the back of your head. You fire one more shot, and you're a dead man. Now drop the rifle.
The man instead keeps the rifle aimed at Rob, and just as he is about to fire, Matt fires his rifle, shooting the man in the arm. The man falls from his horse and lands heavily on the ground, his head slamming against a large rock. He is unconscious and blood is coming from his head. Matt and Rob quickly dismount, and Rob rushes to him and tries to rouse him. He feels his neck for a pulse and then looks at Matt and shakes his head.
ROB: He's dead, Dad.
Matt checks him also, not believing. He shakes his head.
MATT: I never meant for this to happen.
He looks at the man for a moment, then turns to Rob.
MATT: Come on. Let's see if we can get him back to his people.
Rob looks at Matt uncertainly.
ROB: Dad, maybe...
MATT: Look, Rob, we can't leave him here for someone to find and ask unanswered questions. They have a right to know what happened to him.
Later. Rob and Matt ride toward a camp, Matt leading the man's horse, the dead man tied across the saddle. The camp has a tattered tent, several poor horses, and has much debris around. A man is chopping wood, and a teenage boy has gathered some chopped wood in his arms and is taking it toward a cooking fire. Two women, one older, the other young, are bending over a spit of beef on the fire. The teenage boy sees Matt and Rob and drops the wood on the ground, running back to his father.
BOY: Dad! Come quick!
The man stops chopping and looks up. He runs to the dead man and lifts his head, seeing that he is not alive. He unties him and gently lifts him to the ground. The two women rush to the body, the younger one reaching it first. She takes the man's head in her lap and begins to moan, rocking back and forth. The older woman tries to kneel down also, but the man holds her back. Matt and Rob dismount and watch, uncertain of what to say or do.
OLDER WOMAN: Willie! Willie!
She sobs against her husband, and he holds her, then leads her to the teenage boy and the boy puts his arms around her. The man goes to Matt and Rob.
MAN: What happened to my boy?
MATT: I'm sorry. There was an accident. He fell from his horse and hit his head.
The man goes to the body, pushing aside the young woman. He sees the gunshot wound on his son's arm, then goes back to Matt.
MAN: He's been shot.
Matt and Rob look at each other uneasily.
MATT: I didn't mean for him to be killed. He had a rifle pointed at my son. He was going to shoot him. I didn't have a choice.
The man lunges at Matt and they fight, Matt clearly having the advantage. The teenage boy tries to join in, but Rob holds him back. Matt hits the man in the jaw with a powerful swing and the man lands on the ground. He looks up at Matt with hate-filled eyes.
MAN: I want your name. I want to hear the name of the man who killed my son.
He struggles to his feet and sways unsteadily in front of Matt.
MATT: McGregor. Matt McGregor, and this is my land.
MAN: You hear this, Matt McGregor. My name's Will Stokes, and you're never going to forget it. Because I'm the man who's going to kill you.
Rob lets go of the boy and steps between Stokes and Matt.
STOKES: Oh, don't worry, boy. I'm not going to kill him now.
He looks over at the body of his son.
STOKES: No, right now I have other business to attend to.
Stokes nods toward the young woman on the ground.
STOKES: You see that girl, McGregor? That there's Evvie. She's my Will's wife. She's going to have a baby. How does that make you feel, McGregor?
MATT: Look, I...
STOKES: She loves that boy. We all love that boy. You've ruined this family, McGregor, and you'll pay for that.
MATT: I'm sorry about your son, but this has gone far enough. You are trespassing on my land, and I want you off.
STOKES: You want? You kill my child, my firstborn son, and I should care what you want? I swear I'll kill...
Suddenly he looks at Rob and studies him for a moment.
STOKES: No, no I won't. I'll not kill you. That wouldn't be justice. Are you an educated man, McGregor? Can you read? Can you read a Bible? Well, I can read my Bible. It says an eye for an eye. I say a son for a son.
Stokes fixes his gaze on Rob.
STOKES: Do you love your son, Matt McGregor? I hope you do. I hope you feel about him the way I feel about mine. And someday, when you find him dead, I hope you feel the way I feel now. That would be justice.
Matt takes another swing at Stokes and knocks him to the ground.
MATT: You harm him, and I'll kill you.
Stokes doesn't try to get up, but he looks up at Matt and speaks unemotionally.
STOKES: Oh, I believe you will. But it won't matter none. Because it won't bring your son back, and all you'll be left with is the hurt of losing him. Like what you've left us with now.
MATT: If you're not off this land by sundown, I'm sending for troopers.
Stokes gets up and faces Matt.
STOKES: We'll be off your land, but we won't be far away. Wherever your boy is, that's where I'll be. I'll be watching him, waiting for a chance. And then I'll kill him.
MATT: Be gone by nightfall, Stokes.
He nods to Rob and the two of them mount up and begin to ride away. Stokes shouts after them.
STOKES: You hear me, McGregor? I promise you I'll kill him! I'll kill him!
Later. Matt and Rob are riding toward home.
MATT: You're awfully quiet. We can talk about this, Rob.
ROB: What's to say? We told a family their son was killed.
MATT: Look, Rob, I don't want you to think too hard on what was said back there. That was a father's grief talking, nothing more. I doubt he even knows what he's said. Let's get into town before the post office closes and send a cable. We need to get a trooper up here to take a statement.
ROB: Is that all we need a trooper for?
MATT: Yes. I'm sure Stokes will be gone by the time a trooper gets here.
They ride a bit more and Matt stops his horse and looks at Rob for a moment.
MATT: Rob, I don't think we should say anything to the family about this. Even if it was talk from a crazed man, it's not a very pretty story.
ROB: I wasn't planning on talking about it ever again, Dad.
Matt puts his hand on Rob's shoulder and the two of them ride on.
Later that evening, at Langara. Matt is reading a paper and Danni is sitting in a chair winding yarn. Rob is sitting next to her, catching the yarn on his hands. Colin is writing at the desk, his Bible open in front of him. Emily comes into the room with a tray of tea and begins to hand cups to everyone.
ROB: Just set mine down, Emily. You'll have to ask Miss Danni if I'll be able to drink it before it gets cold.
DANNI: Oh, stop complaining. I'm almost finished with you.
Emily laughs and hands tea to Matt and then to Colin. She puts her hands on Colin's shoulders and massages his shoulders.
EMILY: You've been at this a long time.
COLIN: I just can't get it right. It won't come together.
MATT: What are you working on?
COLIN: The sermon for Easter Sunday. I want so much for it to be special, but I just can't get a grasp on it.
DANNI: Well, you have some time to work on it. Almost two weeks.
COLIN: At the rate I'm going, that might not be enough.
EMILY: Maybe you're trying too hard. Something will come to you. It always does.
Colin laughs at her.
COLIN: I'd like to be as confident about this as you seem to be.
MATT: A hard day's work is what you need. Come up to the south ridge with me tomorrow. We still have some strays to bring down.
COLIN: Didn't you and Rob finish up there today?
Matt looks at Rob and then turns back to Colin.
MATT: No, not quite. And I could use the help. I have some things I need Rob to take care of here.
ROB: You don't want me to come with you?
MATT: Not this time. I need you to stay home tomorrow.
Rob looks at him questioningly, then turns his focus again to the yarn.
The next morning. Matt and Colin are on their horses, ready to ride out. Rob is standing next to them. Matt turns to Colin.
MATT: Go on and head out. I'll catch up to you.
Colin rides off and Matt looks at Rob.
MATT: I meant what I said, Rob. I don't want you to even saddle up today.
ROB: Aren't you the one who said Stokes didn't know what he was saying?
MATT: I know what I said. I'd just feel better about the whole situation if you'd stay put until the trooper gets here.
ROB: That could be days. I think you're carrying this a bit far, Dad.
MATT: Rob, do this for me. Please. Besides, if you work on everything I've suggested, it will take you days to finish.
Rob looks at him closely, then nods. Matt smiles in relief.
MATT: Thanks, son. It's just for a few days.
Matt rides out through the gate.
Later. Matt and Colin are near the ridge where Matt and Rob were the day before.
COLIN: You're right, Dad. This is just what I've needed. I'd almost forgotten how beautiful it is up here.
MATT: Yeah, well, just don't forget what you're here for. You check those gullies over there. I'm going to ride on the other side of the ridge. I'll meet you back here.
Colin nods and rides off. Matt rides to the camp where he and Rob were the previous day. He looks around, but it is obviously abandoned. He scatters the stones from the fire circle, looks around once more, then leaves.
Colin has found three strays and has rounded them up. Matt comes back to him.
MATT: Well done. I'd hate to think you'd forgotten how to do this.
COLIN: Never. I'm here when you need me. You know that, Dad.
MATT: And I appreciate it, believe me. Come on, let's get these back to the mob.
They ride off with the cattle. Behind them, on the ridge, is a man on a horse, watching. It is Stokes.
Later. Stokes and his family are sitting around a camp fire.
STOKES: He came back, just like I thought he would.
Evvie, Stokes's daughter-in-law, looks at him anxiously.
EVVIE: Well, what happened?
STOKES: Nothing happened, Evelyn. He didn't have the boy with him. He had someone else. A hired hand, maybe.
EVVIE: You have to kill that man's boy. Just like he killed yours. You promised me.
STOKES: I know I did, Evvie girl, and I will. But we need to find out more about him. Let's go into town tomorrow. We need supplies, anyway. We can ask around, find out more about this McGregor. Where he lives, the boundaries of his property.
MRS. STOKES: You mean just ride into town, pretty as you please?
STOKES: Honey, we done nothing wrong. This is a free country, and they can't arrest a man for asking questions. Besides, I wouldn't care if McGregor did see us-remind him of what's going to come.
The next day, in town. Stokes and his family are entering the store just as Colin, Emily, and Danni are leaving. Colin is wearing his suit and collar. Stokes nods to him.
Colin smiles at him, and Stokes stares after him.
MRS. STOKES: You're going to watch a hole in that parson's head.
STOKES: He seems familiar somehow. Like I've seen him before.
MRS. STOKES: How could you? This is our first trip into this town.
STOKES: You're right. It's nothing.
He goes to the counter and talks to the clerk.
STOKES: We'll be needing what's on this list, and some information, too, if you'd be so kind.
CLERK: I'll help if I can.
STOKES: I met a man yesterday, spoke to him about buying some cattle. Name of McGregor, I think.
CLERK: That would be Matt McGregor of Langara Station.
STOKES: Could you tell me where that is, please?
CLERK: About an hour's ride south of town. You can't miss it. You'll see the gate.
STOKES: Much obliged.
He waits for the clerk to finish the order, then leaves with his family. Outside on the street, a trooper has just ridden into town.
At Langara. Matt is in the stable saddling his horse. Rob is filing a hoof of one of the horses.
MATT: I'm going to ride into town and see if there's any word about the trooper.
ROB: I'll come with you.
MATT: Stay here, Rob.
ROB: Dad, you can't keep me penned up here.
MATT: I'm not trying to. But it looks like you have things to do, and I don't need any help in town.
ROB: That's not it, Dad, and you know it. You're more worried about this than you're letting on. You believe what that Stokes said, don't you?
MATT: Just stay, Rob. I'll be back soon.
Matt finishes saddling his horse and rides out. Stokes is hidden in some bushes, holding the reins of his horse and watching Matt ride away. When Matt has gone, Stokes ties his horse and then takes the rifle from its scabbard. He cocks the rifle and then walks closer to the property until he is in firing range of the stable.
Rob comes out, holding the file. Stokes sights him in, then takes aim. He fires. At the same instant, Rob drops the file on the ground and bends to pick it up. The bullet misses him, passing over his bent back. Rob drops to the ground at the sound of the shot. He stays on his belly, scooting back inside the stable. Inside, he leans against the wall and closes his eyes for a moment, visibly shaken.
In town. Matt and the trooper are in the police station, seated at a table.
TROOPER: Well, I don't think I need any more information from you, Mr. McGregor, but I'd like to take your son's statement.
MATT: Is there a problem?
TROOPER: No. It's clear the death was an accident, but we like to get the statements from all of the witnesses.
MATT: We can ride out together.
The two get up and go outside, mounting their horses.
Later. Matt and the trooper ride through the gate of Langara. Rob is on the veranda, holding his rifle. He puts it down when he sees who is approaching.
Matt and the trooper dismount and tie the horses to the rail. Matt watches Rob with concern.
MATT: What's the rifle for?
ROB: He was here.
ROB: Took a shot at me.
MATT: Are you all right?
ROB: He missed, if that's what you mean.
TROOPER: Did you see him?
ROB: No. Just heard the shot.
MATT: We've got to go after him.
TROOPER: Mr. McGregor, I can appreciate how you feel, but I can't go after a man because your son heard a shot. Unless he saw him do it, there's nothing I can do. There's no evidence of any wrongdoing.
MATT: What about the threats?
TROOPER: You can't get arrested for threatening to kill a man. Our prisons would be full if you could.
TROOPER: And you'd better not go after him, either. You do anything to that man before he does something to you, you'll be the one behind bars.
MATT: It's worth it if it stops him from getting to Rob.
TROOPER: I'm going to forget you said that, Mr. McGregor, and hope that you don't really mean it. Now, I need your son's statement, and then I'll be on my way. I'm sorry, but there's nothing else I can do.
The next morning, at breakfast. The family is seated at the table. Colin is dressed in his suit and collar.
MATT: I take it you won't be chasing strays today, Colin.
COLIN: Just stray thoughts, I'm afraid. I've been so worried about the Easter sermon that I've barely worked on the one for this Sunday. And I need to get it to Kathleen today so she can get it in next week's paper.
ROB: That sounds like a miserable way to spend a sunny day. I'd rather chase strays. I think I'll ride north today, Dad.
MATT: Take some men with you.
ROB: It's not a big job.
MATT: Maybe I'll come with you.
Rob rises from the table angrily.
ROB: I can't live this way, Dad. You can't be my keeper. You can't protect me from this. You have to let me do what I've always done.
Rob leaves and the rest of the family looks at Matt.
COLIN: Is everything all right?
MATT: Yeah, fine.
DANNI: What is it you can't protect him from?
MATT: It's nothing, sweetie.
Later, in town. Colin is in the newspaper office, giving a copy of his sermon to Kathleen.
COLIN: Sorry this is so late. I've been a bit distracted.
KATHLEEN: So I've heard.
KATHLEEN: Danni told me you were having a bit of trouble with the Easter sermon.
COLIN: I love that girl, but she can't help airing the family business.
KATHLEEN: Why, Colin McGregor, I believe I've just been insulted. I thought I was family.
COLIN: My apologies, Kathleen. Of course you are. In fact, Dad wanted me to ask you and Michael to supper tonight.
KATHLEEN: We'll be there. And this will be in the Monday paper.
COLIN: Do you think people really read it? I mean, they've just heard it in church the day before.
KATHLEEN: I'm sure they do. And besides, this is an opportunity for those who can't come to the church to hear your words.
COLIN: Thanks, Kathleen, but they're not my words.
Kathleen smiles at him.
KATHLEEN: See you tonight, Colin.
Colin leaves and goes to the store. Stokes is at the stable, having his horse shod. He watches Colin enter the store, then follows him in.
Colin goes to Emily, who is fingering a shawl on display.
COLIN: I thought I'd find you here.
EMILY: Oh, Colin, isn't this beautiful?
COLIN: Yes, it's very pretty.
EMILY: It would look so lovely with my new dress I made for Easter.
COLIN: A new dress and a new shawl? You are getting extravagant, Mrs. McGregor.
Stokes has been standing near them, looking at items on a counter. He looks up quickly when he hears Colin call Emily "Mrs. McGregor."
The clerk comes over to Colin and Emily.
CLERK: Reverend McGregor, Mrs. McGregor. Is there something I can help you with?
Emily backs away from the shawl, but she looks at it longingly.
EMILY: No, nothing, thank you.
Colin takes the shawl and hands it to the clerk.
COLIN: We'll take this.
EMILY: No, Colin, really...
COLIN: I want you to have it. What good is a new dress without a new shawl?
Emily smiles at him and he pays for the shawl. The two of them leave the store arm in arm, Colin carrying a package.
Stokes goes to the clerk. The clerk recognizes him from the day before.
CLERK: I hope your cattle purchase went well.
STOKES: What's that?
CLERK: Yesterday. You had asked for directions to the McGregor station.
STOKES: Yes, it went very well. I couldn't help overhearing just now. The parson is also McGregor?
CLERK: Reverend McGregor is Matt McGregor's son.
STOKES: Oh, I thought...
CLERK: Is something wrong?
STOKES: No. I thought I had met Mr. McGregor's son, is all.
CLERK: You must have met young Rob at the station. The reverend is the older McGregor son.
STOKES: You've been most helpful. Good day.
He leaves the store.
That evening, at Langara. Matt is standing on the veranda and sees Kathleen and Michael drive up in their sulky. Matt goes to them and helps them down.
MATT: You didn't see Rob on the road, did you?
KATHLEEN: Not even a "Hello, Kathleen"?
Matt kisses her.
MATT: I'm sorry. That wasn't much of a greeting, was it?
KATHLEEN: No, it wasn't, but you're forgiven. Are you expecting Rob?
MATT: Hours ago.
KATHLEEN: He's a hard worker, Matt. Like his father. He probably won't ride in until the sun is down.
MATT: How do you manage to know my children so well?
KATHLEEN: I watch and listen. And right now I'd like to watch you fix me dinner.
Matt smiles and takes her arm. They go into the house.
Later. The family is just finishing dinner, and Emily and Danni begin to clear the table.
DANNI: I'll keep some warm for Rob.
EMILY: It's starting to get chilly. We could use a fire, Colin.
COLIN: I'll go get some wood.
He leaves and passes Rob, who is just entering. They greet each other.
ROB: Sorry I'm late. I'm starving. I'll just go wash up.
MATT: You couldn't get here in time for supper?
ROB: Sorry, Dad. I found a calf in a gulch. It was a real struggle getting him out of there.
MATT: I told you to take some men with you. If you're going to work on this station, then you're going to have to learn to take orders.
The others watch Matt in surprise, not understanding his anger.
MATT: This is between Rob and me.
Rob faces him angrily.
ROB: No, it's not. It's not between me and anyone. Not even you. Because there's nothing you can do about it. And you won't accept that, that there's something out there beyond your control. You're not used to that, are you, Dad?
Rob leaves the room and goes outside, the door slamming behind him. Matt gets up to follow him and Kathleen takes his arm and looks at him questioningly.
MATT: It's all right.
Matt goes out on the veranda and stands next to Rob, who is leaning on the railing. Colin is gathering wood at the wood pile, but he stops to watch and listen.
MATT: I'm sorry, Rob.
ROB: Me too. This is what he wanted, isn't it?
ROB: Stokes. If he could have seen me today. Or maybe he did see me, I don't know. I jumped at every sound in the bush, Dad. Every crack of a twig sounded like a rifle being cocked.
MATT: Oh, Rob.
ROB: And look at you. Are you going to go through this every time I'm late for dinner? This is no good, Dad. This is what he was after.
MATT: You're right. It's no good. And you're right about something else, too. I don't know how to accept this. All I've ever worked for, really, is to protect my children, keep them safe. And I don't know how to do that this time. I feel like I've failed you, Rob.
ROB: No, Dad. You haven't. Look, we all take a hundred chances every day. This is rough country. A snake, a storm, a misstep on a horse, all those things have taken men. They could take me, or you, or Colin, but we don't think about it much. We still do what we have to do. Why should a threat from a crazed man be any different?
MATT: I don't know, Rob. Maybe because I know he's out there.
ROB: It's all out there, Dad.
Matt looks at him a moment, then puts his hand on Rob's shoulder.
MATT: You're really something, you know that? I don't want you to have another day like this, looking over your shoulder at every moment. That's no good. Even if that's what will keep you safe, that's not how I want you, or any of my children, to live. I won't be that selfish. But, Rob, be as careful of Stokes as you are of the storms and the snakes. That's all I'm asking.
ROB: Sure, Dad.
MATT: Well, you'd better go get yourself something to eat.
The two of them go into the house, and Colin watches them go. Then he picks up an armful of wood and also goes inside.
Same time. The Stokes family is sitting around their fire, eating supper.
EVVIE: Did you do it today?
STOKES: No. I'm not going to kill that boy.
STOKES: He's not the one we want, Evelyn.
MRS. STOKES: What are you talking about?
STOKES: I'm talking about justice. Justice for Will. I'm talking about a son for a son. A firstborn son for a firstborn son. You remember that parson we saw in town, how I thought I had seen him before? I had seen him. On the ridge with McGregor. That parson is McGregor's son.
EVVIE: The parson?
STOKES: Don't you see, Evvie girl? It's like God handed him to us, like it's meant to be. God means us to take him for Will.
EVVIE: Do you know if he has...a wife?
STOKES: A gal about your age, Evvie.
EVVIE: Then take him. Let her feel what I feel. Let her arms be empty at night.
She begins to cry, and Mrs. Stokes comforts her.
STOKES: You just leave everything to me. We'll wait a while, a week maybe. I'll take a few more shots at the young one in the meantime, keep McGregor on edge. Then, when he's least expecting it, he'll find the other one dead. It's God's will.