You know, sometimes the answer to a mystery is right under your nose and hits closer to home then you ever thought! Well, the wool was certainly pulled over my eyes in this one!
You see, one day Mark was on his way home from school when he saw a stray calf stuck in some bushes. He stopped to go help him and send him on back home. While he was going back to his horse, he suddenly tripped over something. When he went to investigate what it was he tripped over, he thought he was going to be sick! It was a body someone had attempted to cover up with old leaves and weeds.
Immediately, he jumped on his horse and raced back to the ranch to tell me. He called my name a couple times as he rode up, but I couldn’t get to him in time from where I was. So he quickly jumped off Blue Boy and raced into the barn to look for me. Going into the barn, he shouted, “Where are you pa?”
Suddenly, a hand grabbed him roughly by the arm. A strange man held him tight and shouted, “Stop your yelling, boy!”
Mark was terrified. He had no idea who this strange man was. The man was holding a tool in one hand. As he let go of Mark, Mark took a few steps back, wanting to get away from him. "Now what's your fretting about, Sonny? I didn't mean to scare you like that.” The stranger’s voice was softer and kinder now, which made Mark feel a little better.
But he still stared at this man. Having heard Mark’s cries, I rushed into the barn fretting something was wrong. Mark looked really relieved to see me, but I could tell he was still really upset. “There’s a dead man’s body lying in a gully near the cutoff to Willow Springs!” I asked him if he found him. “Yes sir. There was a calf caught in some bushes and after I let it loose, I stumbled into the grave.” I had my hand on his shoulder and could tell he was frightened.
I bent down to his level and placed both my hands on his shoulders to calm him down. “Hold up boy. Now, take it easy,” I said calmly. “Is that why you’re late?” In a calmer voice, Mark told me that he had stayed after school to help Miss Adams. I was relieved he was all right. I always worry when he’s not home when he should be.
I needed to go investigate this. I turned to the man. “You’ll stay with the boy, Artemus?” I asked. He said he would. Mark wanted to know where I was going. “Well, I’m going to see what needs to be done. You stay here with Mr. Quarles,” I answered him.
Mark turned and looked at him. Some of the fear returned to his face. I’m sure it was a pretty strange welcoming for him. “Who is he?”
Suddenly, I realized what part of Mark’s fear was being caused by. I gave a short smile, knowing I should have realized he didn’t know this man. I explained to him that he was our cousin by marriage. He was here making some repairs on our roof. “Now, you can stop fretting about that man you found. It’ll be taken care of,” I promised.
Mark promised he’d try. I asked them to help me hitch up the team. Then I asked Artemus if he’d tend to supper if I wasn’t back. I wanted him to stay with Mark while I was gone. First of all, there was a killer out there somewhere. And second of all, Mark was still pretty shaken and didn’t need to be left alone. I smiled. “Tell him how you fought off the pirates, Artemus!”
I knew my boy well enough to know that would get him excited and feeling better about our cousin. It worked. By the time I left, Mark was a lot less worried and felt more comfortable. That made my leaving him a lot easier. “Pirates! Golly, did you really fight off pirates?” Mark asked.
I left knowing Mark’s head would be filled full of pirate stories by the time I got back. True to his word, after I left Artemus told Mark that he had sailed “all seven” seas and fought off pirates in Trinidad and Madagascar. “You’re not afraid anymore, are you Mark?” Artemus asked.
“No sir!” he declared. Suddenly, Mark saw some drawings on his arms. “What are these things?” he asked. He told Mark they were tattoos, and that opened up a whole other story!
It was dark when I got back to the ranch with the body. Artemus and Mark were already sitting at the table eating when I rode up. Hearing me, Mark immediately opened the door and I came inside, but Mark lingered at the door staring at the back of the wagon. I had the body covered, but he knew it was there.
"Why ya'd bring him back here?" Mark asked.
I gently drew Mark away from the door, not wanting him upset and worried all over again. Then I closed the door and walked over to the table for a quick bite. “I want the Marshall to see him.” I put my hands on Mark’s shoulders and led him over to the table to sit back down. “But before I take him to town, I want to ask you a question,” I stated.
But before I could question Mark, Artemus wanted to know how long the body had been out there. I was guessing he was killed that morning. “I wanted to know if you picked anything up out there that you might have forgotten about. Something to give us a clue,” I asked Mark.
“No sir, I didn’t pick up anything,” Mark answered.
Suddenly, Artemus piped up, "A bullet doesn't leave a clue Lucas.”
“He was killed with a knife, Artemus,” I stated.
That got Mark to thinking. He knew that no one around here carried a knife. Artemus stated the Marshal would probably want to know who he is. “I can vouch for you,” I assured him.
But this man was a strange one! “I’d rather you didn’t, Lucas. I could stand a little suspicion. As long as I didn’t do it. Great for business. Gets your name around. Then when everything’s cleared up, people give you work. Scot free advertising!”
I couldn’t believe this man! “Well, I don’t think Marshal Torrance is in that kind of business, Artemus,” I stated.
“Yeah, well maybe he ain’t. But on the other hand, I could have done it!” he argued. “I killed a lot of men in my time,” he bragged.
“You fought pirates, didn’t ya?” Mark asked, a bit too proudly. I knew his head would be filled. Suddenly, my boy asked, “Well just in case the Marshal does ask, where were you this morning?”
I anxiously waited for his answer.
I shouldn’t have been surprised at anything this character said! “Well, I guess I was picking daisies to make a crown for my horse’s head,” he answered. Mark stared at him for a moment. Then Artemus laughed. This made Mark start laughing.
By that time, I was done eating and was ready to head into town to show our discovery to Micah. I had decided to take a good look at the body before I headed into town. I made a discovery and called Artemus outside. “He had a name all right! He’s got his initials burnt into his belt,” I stated showing him the belt.
I needed to get into town. Artemus promised me that he would see that Mark got to be on time. With a murderer close by, I was certainly relieved to have someone staying with Mark!
“Now, you get your faced washed, get under the cover, and then call me,” Artemus was saying to Mark. No doubt, Mark would fall asleep listening to yet another pirate story! Nobody knew it at that time, but while Mark was getting ready for bed, Artemus grabbed a gun belt and buried it in the corral just outside our barn!
Everything was dark and quiet in town by the time I got there. “Killed with a knife, huh?” Micah said as he made his way out to the wagon. “You say Mark found him? Where is Mark?”
I assured Micah that Mark didn’t know anymore and told him I left him at the ranch with Artemus Quarles. Naturally, being the lawman, Micah wanted to know who Artemus was, and I did as promised and vouched for him. The man was a stranger to Micah as well. I showed him the belt with the initials “RM” on them. Those initials certainly got Micah’s attention! “RM? I saw these initials today on a man’s saddle in town. I got the man in jail right now for being liquored up in the Last Chance. His name’s uh…Carson. Joe Carson. Let’s get this body over to the parlor, Lucas so we can have a talk with him.”
Carson denied killing anyone though. He reasoned that if a man put his initials on his saddle, then he’d put them on his holster too. He showed us his holster, and Micah wanted to know what he was trying to prove. The man was getting very agitated, afraid. He stated that the man he made a trade with was carrying pearl handled guns. If he had killed the man, he would have taken his gun off him. The man was very insistent that he was telling the truth. The guns he had were his own. He hadn’t taken the guns from the man.
I studied the man closely. I was usually a pretty good judge of character, and this man wasn’t acting like someone who had just committed murder. He was being too honest and had desperation in his voice. It just didn’t match up somehow, but I couldn’t put my finger on it quite yet!
He stated he had made the trade with the “RM” man outside of Willow Springs. Suddenly I asked, “Where do you come from?”
“No where in particular. I’m just a…a drifter more or less. Bronco rider, wrangler, you name it. Flush one day and broke the next. Marshal, I’m telling you now. I made a killing playing poker. I liked that fella’s horse and saddle, so I made a deal with him for it.” Micah wanted to know why he was broke now if he had that much money. “Well, it was only $65 to begin with,” he answered desperately. “I paid the fella $50 for the horse and saddle and then I spent the rest of it right here in town.” He didn’t know who the man was, only that he was a broke drifter. He was actually planning on buying his guns, but it wasn’t part of the deal. “It’s a pearl handle Russian 44.”
Something told me he was telling the truth, but there was not proof. “You’re just gonna have to take my word for it!” he insisted.
Micah assured him he’d get a trial. He was desperate, begging for someone to believe him. He even asked me if I believed him. I couldn’t answer. The truth was that I didn’t know what to believe. He was still begging for his freedom as Micah haled him back into the cell. I wished there was someway to get about the truth. I left, promising Micah I’d see him in the morning.
The next day, I was working on cleaning my rifle while Artemus was finishing up the roof. Mark suddenly asked, “Aren’t you ever scared of falling?”
Artemus suddenly laughed like that was a great big joke and stated he never fell – he had learned how to hang on through typhoons. His stories were a little much for me to see them as believable, but I knew that Mark was really enjoying them. I smiled at Mark who was taking it all in! “Someone fell sometimes, didn’t they?” Mark asked.
“Ohhhh…indeed they did!” he answered as he proceeded to tell Mark yet another elaborate story about a man who had a hook for an arm and used to swing back and forth like a monkey. Then one day it just broke.
Mark was concerned about the man in jail. He wanted to know if he’d be hung. I honestly told him that it was a big possibility. “Don’t you believe he did it?” Mark asked.
I merely stated I didn’t know what to believe. Then I thanked Artemus for watching Mark last night. It left me at ease knowing he was safe from and strangers lurking around. “Sorry it had to be done under such trying circumstances!” Artemus stated. “You think that fellow did it, huh?”
Didn’t I just answer that question when Mark asked it? “That’s the way it looks,” I stated.
Artemus suddenly commented, “Never could abide killing none,” he muttered. Then he looked at Mark. “Excepting when a man comes at me first”
“Well, you killed them then,” Mark stated. Again, he seemed pleased about this.
“I sure did that all right!” Artemus answered proudly.
“What you kill them with?” Mark suddenly asked.
Now that was crossing the line! Mark was getting way to engrossed in this killing thing! “Nevermind, Mark,” I answered sternly.
Artemus knew I didn’t want Mark dwelling on killings, so he stated, “It makes no difference how you get rid of a pirate or a cutthroat, boy. Excepten’ I never used a gun. Always used swords!” That surprised Mark. He wanted to know if Artemus liked guns.
“Sure I like guns fine. Guns are beautiful things turned out with loving care all shiny and bright. Guns are like a beautiful woman. To me using a gun is like a woman putting rouge on her face. Never should be marred. Never!" he answered. That analogy got my attention. I thought that was kind of a strange way to look at a gun!
Artemus suddenly started admiring my rifle and offered to buy it. I simply said no, then Mark backed my answer, explaining to Artemus how I felt about my rifle. “Pa’d never sell his rifle.” Then he moved up to sit beside me, as if letting Artemus know he was on my side. That didn’t stop Artemus from trying some more. We kept quiet and he finally gave up. He then asked me what type of shells I sued. I told him 44/40’s and he told me he had some he’d sell to me cheap. I told him I didn’t need any shells.
I put my shells back in my saddle bag. It was then that a realization hit me. It must have hit me pretty bad because Mark immediately noticed that something was really bothering me and asked me if something was wrong. “There’s something I gotta find out right now. I’m going into town, son,” I stated. Mark wanted to come with me, but I told him he needed to finish cleaning up the yard. In hindsight, I wish I had brought him with me. But I didn’t know that at the time.
When I got into town, I mentioned a thought I had had while putting some shells in my saddle bag. I wanted to see if the shells in that bag matched Carson’s gun. We went to the saloon where Sweeny was holding the bag until Carson could pay his tab. I pulled 44’s out of the bag. “These wouldn’t fit Carson’s gun. He wasn’t lying!”
Sweeny hadn’t taken anything out of the bag, but we didn’t know where the dead man’s gun could be. Micah knew the look on my face. I knew Carson didn’t kill the dead man. I think I always knew it. “Why would he have told us about the gun?” I asked as we walked back out onto the street.
“He could have sold the gun last night after he got caught and made up that whole story of his!” Micah declared.
But I wasn’t buying that. He was really scared. “Who else do you suppose could have killed anybody out on that road from Willow Springs? There hasn’t been a stranger in town in five days,” Micah wondered.
Suddenly something hit me. I was not longer to confident in my distant cousin. I got to thinking. “Micah, if Carson’s story is true that he bought that horse and saddle and left a stranger on foot, maybe the stranger was picked up on his way to North Fork.”
That got me worried and Micah knew it. He thought it would be a good idea to go talk to Artemus to ease my mine, especially since my ten year old boy was alone with him!
Well, while we were racing to the ranch, things were heating up there. Mark finished cleaning the yard while Artemus went to hitch up his team. While putting the lumber scraps in a pile, he found one of Artemus’s tools, so he went to put the saw up in his wagon. Thought I’ve always taught him not to mess with other people’s stuff, curiosity got the best of him and he started looking through the wagon. He was really impressed with a sword he found, but then he opened a box to put the saw back in it. That’s when he found them – several pistols. He removed a pearl handled Russian 44. when suddenly Artemus yelled, "What are you doing boy? Why are you going through my things?"
Mark turned around at the sound of his voice. His yelling startled him quite a bit, and he tried to assure Artemus that he meant no harm. “I was just putting your tools away. I didn’t know you had anything like this! Anybody with guns like this…I’d think they’d show ‘em around!” He stated.
Artemus was still very upset, and Mark begged him not to be upset with him. Then he stated, “Wait’ll I show pa your guns. Pa loves fancy firearms!”
That got Artemus to thinking. He suddenly turned all nice and sweet to Mark, acting really happy that I liked fancy guns. Mark asked him if he was till mad. “No, of course I ain’t mad!” he answered sweetly with a smile. “It’s just that I treasure my things and I don’t like folks poking around in them! And I’d be mighty glad to show your pa all the things I own when he returns. ‘cept I gotta ride over the valley to see a man about another roof job your pa told me about. Maybe you’d like to ride with me, huh? We’ll be back in an hour.”
Mark was only a boy who perhaps trusted people to easily. He had no idea this man was planning anything harmful to him. So, he was excited. I saw it as an opportunity to hear some more stories.
We were racing toward the ranch as fast as we could.
Mark climbed up into the wagon with Artemus. He was hungry and had fixed a piece of bread and butter for himself and Artemus. They didn’t get out of the yard before Mark stated that he had left me a not letting me know where they were.
Suddenly, Artemus stopped the wagon. When Mark asked what was wrong, Artemus merely stated that he forgot some tools in the barn. Then he raced back to the house, went inside, and ripped up the note.
Mark hadn’t stayed in the wagon like Artemus had told him to. He came into the house in time to see Artemus rip up his note. He was still hungry and had come back for more bred. Now, Mark has a little trouble grasping the fact that sometimes people aren’t what they seem. This time was no different! “My note! You tore it up!” Mark looked at Artemus confused. His little brain was having trouble registering what was going on. "Why did you do that Mr. Quarles?"
“Cause you’d tell your pa about that gun,” he answered as the tried to decided what to do. “About that pearl handled gun.”
"What about it?" Mark asked. He was clueless as to the problem.
Suddenly, he sneered, “If only you’d stay out of my wagon, boy!”
Mark could see that he had suddenly turned mean and was about to do something to him, so he started to move away but Quarles grabbed him roughly by the arm. Mark was able to break loose and he ran for the back door, but by the time he got outside, Quarles was there to try grabbing him again. Quickly, Mark backed up back into the house and slammed the door, locking it. Quarles tried getting it.
Quarles tried the door a couple times, but then quit. The front door was still standing open. Mark rushed over to it and slammed it shut. His little brain tried to figure out what to do, and it didn’t take him long. He grabbed a chair and propped it up, making it harder to get inside.
He looked out the window and saw Quarles grab the sword out of the back of his wagon. Quarles began kicking the front door in. He was afraid. He didn’t know what to do as he watched Quarles continue kicking the door. Mark knew his life was in grave danger. He ran to the back door and ran outside.
Suddenly we were there. Mark was so relieved to see me. He rushed up to me, and I could tell he was filled with fear. There wasn’t much to make him like this unless something was happening. “What’s the matter?” I asked
"Why'd he wanna hurt me because I wanted to tell you about that gun of his?"
“What gun?” I asked.
“His pearl handled gun in the wagon.” Mark was still trying to calm his breathing down.
I turned and looked at Micah. We both knew the truth in that instance. I turned and grabbed my rifle from the boot on Razor. Gently, I put a hand on Mark and pushed him back, letting him know he was to stay right there. Then I made my way for the house. I came in the back door. Artemus turned and saw me there. We silently looked at each other. Pure evil was on his face. Disappointment was on mine. Artemus slowly lifted the sword over his head. “Throw it down, Artemus,” I advised him.
But I saw it in his eyes. The second he tossed the sword, I closed the door. The sword jabbed into the door in the exact spot I had been standing just seconds before! I opened the door and saw Artemus running outside. I ran out after him and saw him go into his wagon. Inside the wagon, Artemus got that gun and filled it up with shells.
I pointed my rifle at the wagon, ready to pull the trigger if needed. “Come on out, Artemus,” I called.
But he wasn’t ready to come out quite yet. I waited patiently, knowing he had to eventually come out.
When he lifted the curtain at the back of his wagon, he held a gun. “All right, drop that gun! I don’t wanta hurt you!” I ordered.
Sweat poured from his face as he slowly pointed the gun at me. His hand was shaking so bad, he could hardly hold the gun steady.
"Your not gonna pull that trigger Artemus. I know how you feel about guns.” I stated calmly.
He began gasping as his shaking hand lowered the gun. "Your right. I can't fire it. They never should be marred, never!” He began stroking the gun.
Mark was disappointed.
Carson was happy to be released. “Well Marshal, you can tell those boys over at the saloon I’ll be back for my saddlebags as soon as I can raise $10,” he said. Micah told him to be careful with the way he raised it. He always was! Then he turned to thank me for having faith in him.
“Oh, I could have been wrong,” I stated. “That’s why we have the law.” I shook his hand, letting him know there was no hard feeling between us.
Micah walked up to me. “I guess we can all make mistakes, huh, Lucas? Especially about shirt-tailed relatives.” I turned and looked at him. That was mighty nice of him to point out my fault!
“Well, let’s just say those who tell us they fought pirates!” I stated as I guided Mark out the door.
Mark didn’t want his whole image of Artemus spoiled. “He did fight pirates, didn’t he?” Mark asked.
“Maybe, maybe not,” I answered honestly.
“He told me such wonderful stories bout sailing ships and finding pearls…” Mark remembered dreamily.
“You liked him, didn’t you?” I stated. Mark said he did. “Well, you just remember the good things he told ya, huh?” I advised him.
After saying it, I got to thinking that maybe it wasn’t a good idea to tell him to do that. Because suddenly, the excited glean in his eye returned. He pointed his finger at me as his whole face lit up.
"Let me tell you about the time he was sailing off the cast of Chili," Mark started excitedly. I could tell this was going to be a long story.
So I picked him up and said, "Tell me on the way home!” Then I popped him on the wagon seat. As I started the wagon down the road, I knew I wouldn't get a moments peace all the way home as Mark jabbered on about all of Artemus’s fine adventures!
piddlin' stuff.....Thomas Gomez played Artemus Quarles, Lucas' cousin thru marriage.
Jack Hogan appeared in Stranger at Night as Joe Carson, the man accused of killing the cowboy with the initials R. M. He also appeared in The Man from Salinas as Rudy Gray. He's the guy who persuaded John Hamilton (owner of the bank) to stay open for one more transaction, he wanted to rob the bank.
Bill Quinn appeared in thirty-eight episodes as Sweeney the owner/bartender of The North Fork Saloon. Sweeney was first introduced to The Rifleman in The Marshal.
Whitey Hughes was a well known and respected stuntman, he appeared in twenty-seven episodes of The Rifleman and still counting. Whitey had over a 50-year career as a stuntman and stunt coordinator, he has been praised as one of the top stuntman in Hollywood. Whitey was the best of the best!
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