It all started with the headaches.
Scott Lancer, 25, had been shot from ambush by one of two men – brothers -
who were after the cash his grandfather had foolishly allowed them to see
when he left them some spending money.
The recent visit from his grandfather had turned out to be a disaster.
On top of referring to Johnny as a “half-breed” – a term a truly respectable
person would avoid using – and being a general nuisance, Harlan had tried
to trick Scott into going back by using his grandson’s ex-fiancée.
When that failed the old man had brought the Deegan brothers out and had them
tell their sad story of how Murdoch had murdered their father twenty-five
years earlier, both parties carefully omitting the fact that Murdoch had never
been charged and in fact had been cleared soon after it happened. It
had been self-defense. Harlan didn’t bother to tell Scott that Murdoch had
been cleared of that charge as soon as it happened and he told his story to
the law in Sacramento
Then came the day that Scott and Harlan left to return to Boston.
After a sad farewell to the place he’d come to think of as home Scott was
wounded by the Deegans as they sought to rob the old man whom they considered
to be easy pickings.
Three days after the ambush Scott drove his grandfather to town to catch
the stage and came straight back to sit and relax on the porch. A brief
talk with his father left him not completely satisfied with why his grandfather
had done what he did but feeling a little better. After all the stress
of the previous few days it was a release to see Johnny come along, chocolate
cake in hand and wearing it all over his face like a small child. The
laughter generated by this sight had helped to Scott relax somewhat.
A week after the departure of his grandfather Scott’s bandages came off.
He still had a nasty looking scratch on his left temple but it was much better
than the day that injury was inflicted. He was supposed to ease back
into his normal workload resting when necessary but unknown to his father,
brother and surrogate sister, the headaches had not improved. Truth
be told the headaches were as much from overdoing it as the original injury
but Scott, true to his heritage, was as stubborn as his father and insisted
that he was all right. And he kept on working and overdoing it. Repairing
fences, stone walls, roofs and chasing stray cattle. Any and all chores
he could find that needed doing. It was as if by doing so he could blot
out the memory of his grandfather’s betrayal.
“Why did grandfather lie to me about the murder charge? Is he that
lonely with me out here in California that he thought he had to lie?”
Scott mused to himself. “And why won’t Murdoch explain why he
never came for me? Why he waited until he needed my help?”
When out of sight of the family he would sit and close his eyes while rubbing
his temples. The headaches seemed unending to him. It went on for almost
a week before Johnny finally noticed Scott doing so while they were out chasing
strays a few days later.
“Hey, Scott? You all right brother?” he asked.
“I’m fine,” Scott replied.
“You sure don’t look fine. You look kinda pale,” Johnny said.
“Why don’t you go back to the house and relax for a while? We can handle
this,” he said indicating Cipriano and a couple of the other men who were
“I said I’m fine,” Scott snapped. He hated to be babied and that’s
what he felt Johnny was doing – babying him.
“All right, if you insist.” Johnny was not convinced and vowed to
himself to stick close to his brother.
At dinner that night Scott barely touched his meal. Mostly he pushed
around what was on his plate. When everyone was done Teresa scolded
“Scott Lancer you’ve hardly touched a thing! Is something wrong with
my cooking all of a sudden?”
“No Teresa,” Scott said with a tired smile. “I’m just not hungry.
If you’ll all excuse me I think I’ll go to my room and turn in early.”
So saying he left the table and headed for the stairs.
His father watched him leave with a concerned frown on his face that mirrored
the one on his ward’s. Turning to Johnny he asked, “Did everything go
all right today? Anything happen that I should know about?”
“Nothing happened Murdoch,” Johnny answered, his sapphire blue eyes dark
with concern. “But he acted like he had a headache. When I asked
him about it he said he was fine. I ain’t convinced that’s true but
he wouldn’t listen when I told him to come back here. He snapped at
me and said he was fine. Wasn’t nothin’ else I could do.”
“Murdoch,” Teresa asked, “Should we have Doctor Jenkins come out and have
a look at him. I agree with Johnny. Scott doesn’t look well and
he hardly ate anything.”
“No, darling,” Murdoch answered the pretty brown haired girl he thought
of as a daughter. “He’ll either laugh at us if nothing’s wrong or complain
“I vote for both,” Johnny said. “He’s madder’n a wet hen at me for
trying to keep him from chasing strays all afternoon. Said he don’t
need a nanny no more. Says he’s a big boy and he knows when he’s sick.”
“We’ll just have to keep an eye on him for a few days,” Murdoch said.
“If his headaches don’t go away soon we’ll have Doc Jenkins look at him no
matter how much he complains.”
The others agreed. Murdoch knew, without a doubt, that even if he
couldn’t watch over his eldest son, his youngest son and his ward would certainly
keep an eye on Scott. Whether he liked it or not Scott was going to
have a couple of nannies over the next few days.
The next day was much like the previous one. Johnny and Scott worked
with the ranch hands to gather stray cattle. Johnny kept a wary eye
on his brother not convinced that Scott was as fine as he said he was.
To Johnny’s sharp eyes Scott was beginning to show signs of a fever.
It wouldn’t be long before he was proved right.
They were hazing some steers back from the vicinity of the road where the
ambush had taken place almost two weeks earlier. The Talbot’s ranch
was just over the hill. Little did the Lancer’s neighbors know that
Maura’s nursing skills would soon be required again. Or that she would
help them work through some issues that had bothered them since the boys returned.
“Scott? Why don’t you give in and go back?” Johnny asked. “You’re
showin’ signs of a fever and you need to be in bed not out here in the hot
sun chasing strays.”
“I’m fine little brother, just fine,” Scott argued. His face was flushed
and he was perspiring but he chalked it up to the hard work of gathering the
strays and herding them back where they belong. The cough he was developing
he blamed on the dust generated by the steers and the horses.
“Yeah? Well you don’t look fine! You look like you’re about to keel
over and fall out of that saddle.”
The words were hardly out of Johnny’s mouth before Scott’s eyes rolled up
and he slumped forward. Johnny was there in a flash, dismounting from
the wrong side of his saddle, catching his brother before he could hit the
“Scott!” Johnny was frantic. It was bad enough when his brother
had said he was going back to Boston with his grandfather and then when he
was shot Johnny was really scared. Twice in one day he almost lost his
brother permanently but now Scott was burning up with a fever and had developed
a nasty cough seemingly in a matter of hours. “Hang on brother.
I’m going to get you home. Doc Jenkins’ll know what to do for you.”
It took nearly an hour of riding double on Barranca before they got back
to the house. Murdoch, upon hearing Barranca’s hoof beats and Johnny’s
frantic call came running out of the house to find out what was wrong.
“What happened?” he asked even as he reached up to get his eldest before
he fell out of his brother’s arms.
“He just keeled over. He was rubbing his head again, you know?
Like he had a headache and I told him to come back here. He argued that
he was ok but then he all of a sudden passed out.” Johnny’s worry for
Scott was evident in his voice as he answered his father’s question.
“He’s burning up. Help me get him upstairs to his room then you ride
to Morro Coyo and get Doc Jenkins out here.”
“But I want to stay with Scott!”
“Johnny don’t argue with me! Help me get him upstairs and then go
get the doctor!”
Teresa met them as they supported the unconscious man between them.
One look at Scott’s flushed face and she ran up the stairs to turn back the
covers on his bed. Then she ran back downstairs to get some cold water
with which to bathe Scott’s face.
The blond was soon stripped of his clothes, put into a nightshirt and tucked
into the bed with the covers pulled high in spite of his fevered protests
that he was too hot already.
“Sssh! Relax Scott. You’re home. Johnny’s going to get
Doc Jenkins to take a look at you and figure out what’s wrong,” Murdoch said
with a meaningful look at his younger son.
Johnny reluctantly took the hint and headed down the stairs and out the
door. Mounting Barranca quickly he turned the Palomino’s head toward
town and took off at a dead run. The Palomino seemed to sense the urgency
of their errand and dug down deep inside himself to find the energy to go
on though he’d been ridden all day and then carried double from the North
road back to the house. Johnny promised the horse, speaking softly
and encouragingly in Spanish to his beloved mount, that he would get the
best rubdown and the biggest helping of oats he ever had when they got back
Scott tossed and turned restlessly
in the bed pushing at the bedclothes in his delirium trying to get cool.
Murdoch and Teresa, sitting bedside vigil, took turns putting cool compresses
on his fevered forehead and pulling the covers back up over him.
Murdoch leaned close to his son’s ear and whispered soothing words while
Teresa wrung out a newly dampened compress and placed it on Scott’s forehead.
“Easy son, I know you’re hot but you have to stay covered.”
“Scott, it’s ok. We’re here. We’ll take care of you,” Teresa
It had been an hour since Johnny left for Morro Coyo. The two “nurses”
were getting more worried by the minute. Scott’s fever showed no signs
of coming down and they weren’t sure what was causing it. The wound
on his head was healing fine so it couldn’t have been related to that.
He’d seemed fine except for the headaches he’d tried to hide when he left
that morning to bring back the bunch of strays he and Johnny had rounded up
the day before.
“Where’s Grandfather? Don’t feel good. Want Grandfather.
Where’s Grandfather Mrs. Randall?”
“Murdoch his fever’s getting worse,” Teresa said anxiously. “Where’s
Johnny with Dr. Jenkins?”
“I don’t know darling. Maybe he wasn’t in his office,” Murdoch answered
his worried surrogate daughter. “Don’t worry. Johnny will find
him and bring him out here.”
The fevered ramblings from the young man in the bed continued as did the
tossing and turning and pushing at the covers. His father and Teresa
were hard pressed to keep him covered and try to bring his fever down at the
Johnny pulled a lathered and worn
out Barranca to a stop in front of Dr. Jenkins’ home. Dismounting rapidly
he ran to the door only to find it locked. Frantically he pounded on
the door calling for the man to open up.
“Doc? Hey, doc! You in there? Open up! It’s an emergency!
“He’s not home Johnny,” a woman’s voice with a bit of an Irish brogue in
it behind him said to him.
Turning Johnny saw Maura Talbot, the neighbor’s wife, who had tended to
Scott a couple of weeks ago when he’d been shot.
“Where is he Mrs. Talbot?” Johnny asked anxiously.
“He’s up at the Lady Eleanor mine. There’s been a cave in. There’s
injuries and men trapped as well. He won’t be back for hours if not
At this news Johnny went whiter than he already was. Concern for his
brother weighed heavy on the former gunfighter knowing that real medical help
“What’s the matter Johnny? Your horse looks like he’s been running
in the desert heat for hours. And you, why son, you’re white as a sheet!”
“It’s Scott Mrs. Talbot. He’s sick, real sick. He needs Doc
Jenkins – bad.”
“What’s wrong with him Johnny,” Maura asked.
“I don’t know. He’s been having headaches for almost a week now and
this morning he just up and keeled over. He’s got a fever and a cough.”
“Sounds to me like your brother’s got the influenza,” Maura commented.
“Who’s taking care of him?”
“Murdoch and Teresa. I wanted to stay but Murdoch made me come in
for Doc. If he ain’t here what am I going to do?” The younger
Lancer son was close to tears – something that rarely happened.
Maura Talbot, mother of three sons the same age as the Lancer boys who had
died during the war, reached out and took Johnny in her arms.
“Don’t you worry son,” she said to him as she stroked his dark, silky hair.
“I’ll just go home, get some things together and tell Alex that I’ll be staying
with you Lancers until Scott is well. Now come along. Tie Barranca
to the back of my buggy while I go into the doctor’s office – he gave me a
key just in case – and get some supplies. Then we’ll go to my ranch
and get my personal stuff then it’s off to Lancer to see to that brother of
Feeling a little relieved, having heard that Maura Talbot had gained practical
nursing experience during the Mexican war and then again in the war just ended
five years earlier, Johnny did as she told him. He tied Barranca to
the back of her buggy and then relieved her of her burden and helped her in.
Maura took the reins herself though and drove as fast as she dared with an
exhausted Barranca trailing behind. It took her no more than fifteen
minutes, albeit the longest fifteen minutes Johnny thought he’d ever passed,
to gather some personal items of clothing and such and leave her husband
a note. Returning to the yard where she’d bade Johnny wait she approached
a young ranch hand who was passing by and explained the situation before
requesting that he take care of the Palomino.
“Mike, take care of Johnny’s horse would you? He’s too tired to go
any further and I want Johnny to stay with me. You can bring him back
to Lancer when he’s had a day or two to rest.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Mike Andrews said. “Don’t worry Johnny. I’ll see
that he gets a good grooming and an extra measure of oats.”
The pair then drove off in the Talbot buggy headed for Lancer and Maura’s
latest nursing job. In spite of Johnny’s anxiety to get there Maura
did the driving telling him she wanted to get there in one piece. Along
the way she pumped Johnny for information on what Scott’s symptoms were and
when they had come upon him. She wanted to know everything she could
before she got there. That way she’d be somewhat prepared when they
arrived at the house and she took over the nursing.
“No, don’t shoot. They’re
not armed. Don’t!” Scott’s head whipped back and forth on the
pillow as the fever brought dreams of his time in the Confederate prison camp.
“Scott, calm down son,” Murdoch said as he placed another cool compress
on his son’s forehead. “You’re safe at home. Nobody’s shooting
at you or anyone else.”
The sound of buggy wheels outside sent Teresa flying from the bed to the
“It must be Dr. Jenkins,” she said. As she looked out the window she
saw that it was not his buggy. “That’s not his rig though. It looks
like the Talbot’s. I’ll go see.”
With that the brown haired girl exited the sick room and went downstairs
to see who had arrived. She had barely reached the bottom step when
Johnny opened the door and he and Maura entered the house.
“Mrs. Talbot? What are you doing here?” she asked.
“I’ve come to tend to Scott Teresa my love,” Maura explained. “Doc
Jenkins is tied up at the Lady Eleanor. There’s been a cave in with
many injuries. He won’t be back for a while.”
As she climbed the stairs arm in arm with the young woman she added, “Don’t
worry darling. I’ve nursed many through the influenza and I’m thinking
that’s exactly what Scott has. We’ll know as soon as I get a look at
him.” Turning to Johnny she said, “Put my things in the guest room son.
I’ll just go with Teresa to see about your brother.”
Johnny hastened to do as he was told. He was anxious to get back to
his brother. He entered the guest room, fortunately across the hall
from Scott’s room, and placed her bags on the bed. She’d unpack them
Murdoch looked up from the chair he was sitting in next to Scott’s bed.
“Maura what are you doing here? Where’s Sam?”
“Cave in at the Lady Eleanor Murdoch. He won’t be back for hours or
even days. I’ve been helping him with some of his other patients.
I found Johnny at his office just as I was returning from seeing to Hannah
Marchant and her rheumatism. She’s having a rough time of it just now
the poor thing. When I heard that Scott was sick I told Johnny I’d come
and tend to him as soon as I got some supplies and we picked up some things
from home. I left a note for Alex and we left Johnny’s horse at the
Bar T to be tended to. I think Johnny near ran the poor thing into
the ground trying to get help for his brother.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re here if Sam can’t be. I’ll feel much better
having an experienced nurse.” He looked with concern at his ward and
his younger son who had just entered the room. “Do you think it’s safe
for Teresa and Johnny to stay? Or to even be in the room?”
“I’ll tell you in a few minutes Murdoch,” Maura said to the tall rancher
who was such a good friend to her and her husband. “For now I want all
three of you out of here while I examine him.” Over their protests she
said, “Hush, now. I mean it. All of you out until I tell you
to come back.”
Maura Talbot may have been only 5’4” and 110 pounds but she was a force
to be reckoned with when she gave an order. Once they were out of the room
and the door closed behind them she turned to the young man in the bed.
Taking a stethoscope out of the bag she had brought in the room she put it
around her neck and approached the bed. Very methodically she began
to take note of Scott’s symptoms and his vital signs such as his respiration
and pulse. Placing a hand on his head she frowned at the heat generated
by the fever. She took careful note of the cough as well.
Quietly leaving the room for a minute she went to the anxious family waiting
in the hall. She wanted a couple of more questions answered before she
made up her mind as to what was wrong.
“I think I know what’s wrong with him but I need to know a few things first,”
she started. “Has he been complaining of being overly tired? Had
any headaches? Runny nose? Sick to his stomach?”
“He’s had headaches for a few days – even after that head wound was supposedly
healed,” Murdoch told her. “Johnny didn’t you say he was rubbing his
temples the last few days?”
“Yeah. He said it was nothing.”
“He never complains Mrs. Talbot but he did have a runny nose and a slight
fever for a couple of days. He seemed to have some trouble swallowing
as if he had a sore throat,” Teresa added. “He tried to hide it but
I noticed the pained look on his face.”
“What do you think it is Maura?” the anxious father asked.
“I believe Scott’s got the influenza,” she replied.
“Is that bad?” Johnny wanted to know.
“It can be. But I think you got me here in time to nip it in the bud.”
“Is it contagious?” Murdoch wanted to know.
“Very. So we’re going to have to take a lot of precautions.
Number one is you three are not going to be in the room.”
“I ain’t leavin’ Scott,” Johnny protested.
“Oh please Mrs. Talbot let me help,” Teresa pleaded. “I’ve always
taken care of Scott when he’s been sick ever since he came to Lancer.”
“Maura that’s my son in there!”
Under the onslaught of protests Maura Talbot relented – slightly.
“All right, all right! You can all help but you’re going to follow
my rules or I’ll banish you from the room. Understood?”
A chorus of “yes ma’ams”.
“All right. If there’s one thing I learned nursing during the war
with Mexico and the last war is that disease thrives on filth. So we’re
going to change Scott’s bedding and nightshirt every day until he’s well again.
Teresa, darlin’, I’m afraid it’s going to fall to you to see that the laundry
gets taken care of. Do you think Maria and a couple of the other girls
can manage the kitchen for you? We’re going to need broth and other
light foods once we get his fever down and he wakes up. He could have
trouble with nausea so it’s best not to give him anything heavy until he’s
completely over it.”
The girl nodded. “I’m sure Maria can manage the kitchen. Elena
and Mrs. Cipriano would be glad to help if I ask them.”
“Good. Murdoch, Johnny I’m sure you’ll want to sit with Scott but
I don’t want you getting sick too. I don’t want any of you getting
sick so your time in the sick room is going to be limited. When I tell you
to leave and go get some rest you’re to do it. Understand me?”
At their nods she continued. “First thing, Teresa, is ask Maria to
put some chickens on to boil. Then have her skim the fat off the broth
when it cools. When that’s done we can warm it up before we give it
Johnny, can you control your impatience and your temper and do as I ask?
I know you want to sit with your brother but I may need you to run to town
for more supplies if this goes on very long.”
“Yes ma’am. I’ll try,” the younger Lancer said.
“Good. First thing I want you to do is go down to the well and get
me some more cold water. Then you can start to take turns sitting with
Scott for a couple of hours at a time.”
Orders issued she let Murdoch back into the sickroom to sit with his son
while the others set out to do her bidding.
Maria, Elena and Mrs. Cipriano were happy to do their part to help the Lancers.
Murdoch was a good boss and they were all quite fond of the boys. Maria
had a reputation for spoiling Johnny but he’d get no spoiling while his brother
was so sick. The three women soon had several chickens in a large pot
to make broth and soup for the invalid and his family. Mrs. Cipriano
volunteered to do much of the laundry that would be required so that Teresa
would be free to sit with Scott as much as the nurse would allow.
Murdoch sat beside his son’s bed
and gently pulled the blankets back up. Scott’s fever hadn’t come down
but it was a comfort to know that it hadn’t risen either. He still stirred
restlessly in the bed calling for his grandfather as though he were still
a child growing up back in Boston.
“Where’s grandfather? Why isn’t he here? Grandfather?
Why doesn’t my father come for me grandfather?”
A hurt look crossed Murdoch’s face when he heard those words from his ailing
son’s mouth. He had tried to get Scott and bring him back to California
with him but the boy’s maternal grandfather, Harlan Garrett, was a wealthy
and power man in Boston and had threatened Murdoch with a prolonged and expensive
custody battle. Murdoch had gone to Boston when Scott was five, had
been introduced – sort of – to his son the day of his fifth birthday party,
and summarily been dismissed as being of no consequence. It still rankled
Murdoch to this day. He had written the boy many letters and sent gifts
but not one of them had been acknowledged.
Placing a cool compress on Scott’s forehead he tried to soothe him.
“Sssh. Easy Scott. I’m right here. You’re home – at Lancer.
Where you belong.”
“Grandfather? Where’s Grandfather?” Scott’s mumblings continued.
“Grandfather? Why doesn’t he come Grandfather?”
“Maura,” the concerned father said to his friend, “Scott’s fever seems to
be getting worse. What happened to ‘nipping it in the bud’?”
“These things take time Murdoch,” she said patiently. “If Scott’s
been coming down with this for a few days as Teresa and Johnny indicated
then it’s gotten a good grip on him. I didn’t want to worry the children
but he’s bordering on pneumonia. He let it go too long – probably thinking
it was naught to worry about.” She smiled at Murdoch, “Don’t you worry
none. We’ll see him through this crisis. He’ll come out of it
“I hope so. I hope so.”
Johnny had returned to the house with the water and in time to overhear
the conversation between Maura Talbot and Murdoch. He was more worried
than ever about his brother after hearing that he was so close to pneumonia
and kicking himself for not having noticed sooner that Scott was sick.
Hearing Teresa coming up the stairs he changed expressions quickly, donning
his “Madrid” mask to hide the fact that Johnny Lancer was worried. It
wouldn’t do to scare Teresa.
“Here’s the water you asked for Mrs. Talbot,” he said as he entered the
room trying to sound unconcerned.
“Thank you Johnny,” she said taking the bucket and pouring the contents
in to the pitcher on the table. “Now you scoot for a while. Have
yourself some lunch and a walk or a ride. Then you can come back and
sit with Scott for a while.” Over his and Teresa’s protests she said,
“And take Teresa with you.”
Reluctantly the two younger members of the family did as they were bid.
There was no use arguing with Maura Talbot once she’d made her mind up.
They’d heard many a story about her from Murdoch and from her own husband.
Johnny and Teresa walked to the
kitchen. Maria saw them and indicated they should sit at the table.
She placed plates with large ham sandwiches and a dish with tomatoes as well
as glasses of milk in front of them.
Johnny looked up at her and said, “I ain’t hungry.”
“The Señora Talbot she says to make sure you eat so you eat!” Maria
told him. “You too Señorita Teresa. You won’t do Señor
Scott any good if you don’t eat.”
“Thank you Maria,” Teresa said quietly.
The Mexican woman was somewhat of a surrogate mother to all three of the
youngest members of the family, but especially so to Johnny and she watched
them as they ate. It may not have been with gusto but at least they
were eating. That was enough to satisfy her for the moment. Knowing
Johnny as well as she did she sensed that there was something more going on
than Teresa knew about and that he was hiding it from her.
Gently she laid her hand on the top of his head imparting a special prayer
to the saints for this niño who had so recently found his way home
again and discovered that he had a family. Included in that prayer were
the little chica who had grown up without siblings and now had two “brothers”
who fought with her and for her. And the Patron, who after more than
twenty years, had his sons only to face losing them to gun shot wounds and
now Scott’s seemingly sudden illness. But she had faith in the saints
and in the Señora Talbot. She had heard many good things about
this lady and had seen for herself how she had tended to Señor Scott’s
wound not so many weeks ago.˜
Forcing themselves to eat was one of the hardest things Johnny and Teresa
had ever done. Both of them longed to be upstairs with Scott seeing
to his comfort. Being comforted by being with him. Banishment
from the sick room did not sit well with either of them.
“You have finished? Good! Now go take a walk and get out of
my kitchen,” Maria said to them. “Señor Scott will need you
at your best so get some fresh air. You don’t want to scare him into
thinking you are sick as well do you?”
Two hours passed. An extremely
long two hours it seemed to Murdoch as he sat by Scott’s bedside. He
was deeply troubled by Scott’s illness and the revelation that Scott still
labored under the mistaken belief that an uncaring father had abandoned him.
Many times he had considered telling Scott the whole truth but doing
so would destroy his son’s belief that his grandfather had had his best interests
at heart. Scott loved his grandfather and Murdoch didn’t want to destroy
that relationship. Of course, Harlan’s recent visit had done a lot to
damage, if it hadn’t destroyed it completely. His lies and deception
had hurt Scott. He’d seen it in Scott’s eyes and mannerisms and heard
it in his voice the night he announced he was going back to Boston.
But Murdoch had felt that Scott needed to make the decision for himself as
to whether he was going back to Boston or staying here at Lancer. Thank
the Lord Johnny had disagreed. He’d gone into town and nosed around
until he uncovered the apparent truth – that Scott was being coerced into
leaving California. Then had come the scare when the Deegans shot Scott
from ambush while planning to rob Harlan. Still he couldn’t bring himself
to disgrace the older man in his grandson’s eyes.
Maura broke into his musings. “Murdoch lift him up and let’s try to
get some water with this salicylic acid into him. It’ll help bring his
fever down. I’m afraid that influenza is turning into pneumonia.”
Gently Murdoch raised Scott from his pillows and supported him against his
chest as Maura held a glass to his mouth. Very little of the medicine
went in - further disheartening the worried father. The fever had hit
Scott so hard that he was more unconscious than asleep and they couldn’t rouse
him enough to get him to drink. Maura wasn’t one for giving up so easily
though. She got a spoon and fed the medicine-tainted water to Scott
a little at a time. It wasn’t much more successful a try than the glass
but every little bit was bound to help.
Quickly and efficiently she flipped and plumped his pillows before indicating
to Murdoch that he could lay him back down again. Then she straightened
the twisted and tangled covers again. Scott was extremely restless and
they were having a difficult time keeping him warm. In his rare semi-lucid
moments he complained that he was hot and tried to kick them off. Again
and again Murdoch and Maura replaced them as she whispered in Scott’s ear
and brushed the sweat-matted hair back from his forehead.
“Sit him up Murdoch,” Maura said. “It’s the only way to keep his lungs
clear. He’s having enough difficulty breathing as it is.”
Gently Murdoch lifted Scott forward while Maura placed several more pillows
behind his back. Scott didn’t even notice. He was lost in a world
of fevered nightmares.
“Johnny? Johnny wouldn’t do that. Have to find Evans or Johnny’ll
hang. Can’t give up. Johnny?”
The young man in question arrived at his brother’s room in time to hear
this. Swiftly, defying Maura to make him leave, he walked into the
room and sat down next to Scott.
“I’m here Scott. I’m not in trouble but you sure are. You sure
got yourself in a fix big brother. Went and got sick and left me with
all the hard work.”
Johnny was close to tears again but trying to hide it. It still amazed
him how much Scott had gotten under his skin in the span of a year.
Growing up he’d never dreamed that he had a big brother. His mother,
whether she knew about Catherine and Scott or not, had never mentioned them.
She’d just lied to him about Murdoch. Told him that he’d gotten tired
of her and threw her out telling her to take Johnny with her. Meeting
his brother had been a shock but now they were closer than many siblings who
had grown up together.
“What’s wrong with him Mrs. Talbot? I wanna know the truth!”
Johnny said harshly in his fear. “You said it was the influenza and
that we caught it in time.”
Maura sighed deeply. She didn’t want to worry the boy but he was seeing
right through her. “He’s developing pneumonia Johnny lad. We’re
having a difficult time keeping his fever under control. If we could
keep getting salicylic acid into him it would help but he’s not drinking and
we can barely get it into him by the spoonful.”
“Let me have it. I’ll get him to drink it.”
Maura looked at Murdoch who nodded his agreement. “It might work Maura.
Scott might listen to Johnny – hear him where he doesn’t hear us.”
Maura handed Johnny the glass with the water/salicylic acid mixture in it.
The younger man took it in his right hand and held it up to his brother’s
mouth. Scott’s eyes blinked opened for a few seconds and he looked blearily
at his brother.
“Come on big brother. Drink this. We need to get this into you
and make that fever go away. I don’t want to be stuck doing your chores
for too long.”
Scott responded by drinking a couple of sips. But he refused any more.
No matter how much Johnny coaxed he wouldn’t take any more of the medicine.
He just closed his eyes and drifted off again. Johnny refused to leave
his brother’s side insisting that it was his turn to stay with him.
“Murdoch, you go get some rest,” Maura said around ten o’clock that night.
“I’m not leaving him and you’ll want to stay with him later. Teresa’s
here now. We’ll watch him for a few hours.”
“You’ll wake me in a couple of hours?” Murdoch asked, reluctant to leave
his ailing son.
“Yes, Murdoch, we’ll wake you,” Teresa assured him from where she sat beside
Murdoch left and went down the hall to his own room. Maura then turned
to Johnny who hadn’t left his brother’s side since early that evening.
“You too young man. You’re exhausted and about ready to keel over
yourself. I don’t want to be nursing two of you.”
“Johnny…” Teresa tried her luck.
“No! I ain’t leavin’ Scott!” Johnny Lancer was gone and Johnny Madrid
had taken his place if the tone of voice he used was any indication.
“Now you listen to me young man!” Maura said with fire in her brown eyes
that matched the flame color of her hair. “Your brother needs you strong
and healthy and rested. If you’re going to see him through this crisis
you need to do as I say. And turning that Latin temper on me isn’t going
to do you a bit of good. It never did your mother any good and it won’t
do you any good either. Now you scat!” When Johnny still hesitated
she said, “You scat or I’ll take a broom to you or turn you over my knee!
Go get some sleep before you fall over from exhaustion.”
Johnny Madrid Lancer knew when he was licked. All of a sudden he had
a sneaking suspicion that Maura Talbot could and would take him over her knee
if he refused to obey her orders. His shoulders drooping with fatigue
and defeat he reluctantly rose and went to leave. Pausing in the doorway
he looked back at the patient and the two women. Maura saw him and
gave him a tiny smile.
“Go on love. I’ll wake you when it’s time for you to sit with him
again. Teresa and I will stay with him for now.”
Johnny left and went to his room. Sitting down on the bed he removed
his boots. He’d already taken his gun belt off when he’d come home.
Leaning forward he put his head in his hands and gave in to the silent tears
that had been threatening to fall all day. He’d stayed strong, he told
himself, for Teresa’s sake. He didn’t want her to know how scared he
was. Stretching out he fell into a fitful sleep filled with nightmares
about Scott’s illness. He never slept for more than thirty minutes at
a time before another dream would have him waking up in a cold sweat and crying
out Scott’s name.
An hour or so after Johnny departed Maura left the sick room to go to her
guest room and change into a nightgown and robe. Passing by Johnny’s
room she heard him sit up in a hurry and call his brother’s name. Walking
into the room quickly she sat down next to him on the bed. Scott may
have been seriously ill with influenza complicated by pneumonia but Johnny
needed a mother’s love right now. Maura and Alex had lost their three
sons in the war but Maura hadn’t forgotten how to comfort a child suffering
from nightmares. To her Johnny, at twenty-two, was not much more than
a child. She knew his reputation as Johnny Madrid but she knew the real
Johnny Lancer was very vulnerable. Reaching out she took him into her
arms much as she had done that afternoon when he’d ridden into town only to
find Doc Jenkins unavailable.
“There, there, lad. It’s going to be all right. We’ll get him
through this.” Maura stroked Johnny’s hair and rocked him in her arms
as she spoke. “Don’t you be worrying none. Your brother’s too
stubborn to give up.”
Slowly Johnny relaxed and soon he was asleep again, more peacefully now,
as Maura softly sang the lullabies her own mother had sung to her when she
was a small girl growing up in Ireland. The same songs she had sung
to her sons when they were growing up. Smiling she stood up and pulled
the covers back over him lingering long enough to be sure he was truly asleep
again. Then she left the room, closing the door quietly behind her,
and returned to Scott’s bedside.
Several hours later, Maura sent
Teresa off to bed. She went no more willingly than Johnny or Murdoch
“Now, then, Scott Garrett Lancer,” Maura said softly to her patient.
“Let’s see about getting some of this medicine into you. And some water.”
Picking up the glass she held it to his mouth.
Scott felt the glass and the cool liquid against his parched lips.
Almost involuntarily he swallowed. Maura smiled. Every little
bit she could get into him was a help. With that done she laid her stethoscope
against his chest and listened carefully. His lungs were still congested
and that had her worried. If they didn’t clear up on their own pretty
soon she’d have to start with the mustard plasters. For now she’d stick
with sponging him down with cold water trying to reduce his fever.
And massaging his back and chest might help loosen the congestion that was
putting such a strain on his lungs.
Scott’s fevered ramblings continued to worry her. Over and over she
spoke quietly to him trying to calm him. Cool compresses were applied
to his forehead and she bathed his face as well.
“Mother? I hear you mother. Grandfather? Where’s my mother?
What happened to her? Why doesn’t my father come for me?” Dreams
of his mother were a new occurrence. Even when he’d been wounded during
the war he hadn’t called for her. Maura suspected that Harlan Garrett’s
recent visit had stirred up a lot of painful memories. “What do you
mean Grandfather? He’s my father. Doesn’t he love me? Sorry
Grandfather, I’m going to California. Brother? I don’t have a
brother. Only child. Mother? I’m coming Mother.”
In the midst of these dreams Murdoch returned to the sick room. Sitting
in the chair next to his son’s bed he looked as if he’d aged 20 years in the
few short hours that Scott had been sick. He was bent and his face was
gray with fatigue. He’d not gotten much rest even when he had fallen
asleep. Much as Johnny had he’d suffered from bad dreams in which he
lost his son.
“Murdoch have you ever told the boy about his mother? About how you
went to Boston to get him only to have Harlan threaten you with a court battle
that would have hurt the lad?”
“No,” Murdoch answered his friend.
“And why not might I ask? The lad has a right to know,” Maura was
“I don’t see any good coming of telling him about it. Let the past
stay in the past.”
“Murdoch Lancer! It’s ashamed of you I am! The lad has a right
to know even if it does put his grandfather in a bad light. Perhaps
if you’d been honest with him from the beginning he never would have been
put in that horrible position with his grandfather’s visit. You almost
lost him again Murdoch. Can’t you see that?” She reached out for
the now warm compress and replaced it with a freshly dampened and cooler one.
“Of course I can,” Murdoch said. “I don’t want to lose him Maura.
I lost him for twenty-four years. Telling him about his grandfather’s
not going to help either of us.”
“You’re daft man! When this crisis is over you need to tell him everything.
You’ve nothing to be ashamed of.”
“I can’t Maura. Not now.”
“You can and you must.”
Shortly after sunrise the next
morning Johnny awoke and dressed hurriedly. Immediately he went to his
brother’s room. Maura Talbot had fallen asleep in the chair next to
Scott’s bedside. Murdoch was nowhere in sight nor was Teresa.
“Mrs. Talbot?” Johnny gently shook the woman. “Mrs. Talbot?”
Maura’s brown eyes opened to see Johnny’s concerned look.
“What time is it?”
“About six,” Johnny answered. “How’s Scott?”
“About the same lad. He ran a very high fever during the night.
Called for his grandfather and his mother. I’m afraid it’s upset your
poor father quite a bit. He still can’t bring himself to tell Scott
“He never tells me about my mother neither,” Johnny said. “All I know
about their marriage is what she told me and what Teresa told me when I first
“I’m working on your father about that Johnny,” Maura told him patting him
gently on the arm. “I think he should tell you but your father is a
stubborn man.” Johnny laughed mirthlessly at that statement. “And
I’m thinking you and your brother inherited that stubborn streak. It’s
what’s going to pull Scott through this illness lad. And his family’s
love as well.” Momentarily Maura seemed lost in the past. “I only
wish it had been enough to save my boys.”
Maura seldom dwelled on the fact that the three sons she and her husband
had had all perished during the war. But seeing Scott so ill reminded
her of her youngest, Blair, as he had lay dying in an army camp. A minor
wound left untreated in a filthy camp had led to an infection, which led
to pneumonia, and it was the pneumonia that killed him. Much as it
was pneumonia that killed Confederate General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall”
Jackson after some of his own men accidentally wounded him and his arm was
“Mrs. Talbot? Are you all right?” Seeing her with that far away look
on her face worried Johnny a little.
“I’m fine lad. I was just thinking of something that happened a long
“Was it about your sons? Murdoch told me you lost all three of them
in the war.”
“Yes, lad, it was. I was thinking how much your brother here reminds
me of Blair. He was tall and thin like your brother. His hair
was blond also, but more of a honey color where your brother’s hair is what
we call ash blond.”
“Wanna tell me about him?” Johnny asked.
“Not right now Johnny,” Maura put him off. “I’m going to go get dressed.
When your father gets back with the water I sent him for I’d like it fine
if you’d gather some firewood and start up the fire in the kitchen for the
women. We’re going to strip Scott’s bed this morning and change his
nightshirt. Then these things will need to be washed and hung out to
dry while we put clean things on him and the bed.”
So saying she gave Johnny a peck on the cheek and left for the guest room.
Within the next hour she’d washed, dressed, tidied the sick room a bit and
gotten Scott to rouse enough to take a little more medicine. She was
pleased, but reserved about how much progress he was making. It had
only been one day and it was obvious from the hold this illness had on him
that he’d been coming down with it for days.
After a while Maria came up with a breakfast tray for Maura and some broth
“Thank you Maria,” Maura said taking the tray from the other woman.
“This breakfast looks wonderful!”
“De nada, Señora Talbot. It was nothing,” the Mexican woman
said. “How is Señor Scott?”
“Not very good at the moment Maria. You can see for yourself that
he’s still having difficulty breathing and his fever is still too high.”
“Is there anything I can do?”
“Just keep doing what you’re already doing my dear. Keeping up on
the housekeeping and getting the meals. Helping Teresa with the laundry.
I know it’s a lot of work and you’re short handed but it means so much to
Teresa to be able to help take care of Scott.”
“The little one, she is very fond of her ‘brothers’ isn’t she?” Maria asked.
“Yes, she is. And she’s very worried about Scott. And Johnny
and Murdoch as well. She’s afraid they’ll get sick too.”
“I will keep you and the Patron and his family in my prayers Señora,”
Maria said as she went to leave the room.
“I know you will Maria and I know they appreciate it as much as I do,” Maura
told her. “I’ll send Teresa or Johnny down with the tray when I’m through
eating. Hopefully we can get some of this broth into Scott. The
warm liquids seem to help with the congestion.”
Teresa wrung out another compress
and replaced the warm one on her “brother’s” forehead.
“There, I bet that feels better doesn’t it?” she said.
The young man in the bed was still very feverish but the salicylic acid
seemed to be doing its job. He wasn’t quite as feverish as the day
before but it was obvious that this influenza had gotten a good grip on him.
He was still dangerously close to pneumonia. He’d roused once during
the day but had barely swallowed a few sips of water and some chicken broth
before falling asleep again. He still suffered from nightmares.
Murdoch had sat with Scott for three hours before Maura finally got him
to leave. His son may have been very ill but he still had a ranch to
run and she insisted that he put in an appearance with the men giving orders
and updating them on Scott’s condition. Reluctantly he had agreed but
told her he would be back soon. Maura was concerned that he was overtired
and that left him at great risk to contract the illness himself.
So far Teresa seemed to be avoiding it but Maura was worried about Johnny.
The youngest Lancer had, so far, obeyed her instructions to get some fresh
air now and then but he wouldn’t leave his brother for long. He wasn’t
sleeping well either and it showed in the dark circles under his eyes.
Scott had been ill for three days now and Johnny wouldn’t be gone for more
than an hour at a time before he’d be back wanting to sit with Scott.
He’d fetch water, wash his brother’s face with the cool water, bathe him,
help Maura change the bedding and anything else he could do. He seemed
to be at a loss as to what to do with himself. Not being a reader Johnny
was ready to go out of his mind. Even spending time with Barranca, who
had been returned to Lancer after a two-day rest, hadn’t helped.
Eight days after Scott took sick, as they were sitting bedside vigil with
Scott resting relatively comfortably, Johnny broached the topic of his mother
again. Maura Talbot’s comments about his temper and his mother’s had
piqued his curiosity. It seemed like she knew his mother pretty well.
It wasn’t an offhand type of comment that made him think she’d heard about
his mother from Murdoch but rather the kind of comment that made him think
she knew his mother well.
“Mrs. Talbot?” Johnny said hesitantly. “Can I ask you something?”
“Of course lad, ask away.”
“How well did you know my mother?”
“What makes you ask that Johnny?”
“Something you said a couple of nights ago,” he replied. “You said
something to me about my losing my temper wouldn’t do me any good any more
than it had done my mother any good.”
“Ah, so it’s wanting to know more is it?”
“Well, I knew your mother very well Johnny. She was a beautiful girl, black
hair as long as Teresa’s if not a little longer. Black sparkling eyes.
She was very young, only about Teresa’s age, when your father met her in Mata
Moros. It was love at first sight for him and for her so he thought.
They married within days of their first meeting and she got pregnant right
away. She was a flighty little thing. Full of energy. Restless.
Being married to a rancher was hard on her. Living so far away from
town. No social life to speak of. The only women on the place
were married to the hired hands. And most of them much older than she
was. Your father hoped, after you came along, that she would settle
down and be a good wife and mother but she just became more and more unhappy.
You were born right here in this house Johnny. I helped your mother
bring you into this world. There was no doctor then. Sam Jenkins
didn’t come along until a couple of years later. I watched you grow
from infant to chubby little toddler with black hair and bright blue eyes
who charmed everyone he met with his smile and his laugh. Your father
was so proud of you. He took you with him everywhere he could.
But your mother, she was unhappy. You took a lot of her time and your
father, when he wasn’t busy showing you off, was building this ranch up to
what it is now. She felt lonely and neglected. She didn’t have
any friends nearby that were her age. You adored your ‘papa’ and were
eager to be with him as much as possible.
One day, when you were about two years old, your father came riding up to
our house just as fast as his horse could carry him. I remember well
the day. It was a warm spring day and the wildflowers were blooming;
the grass was thick and lush in the pastures. The new crop of foals
and calves were frolicking around their mothers playing games. But your
father’s face was dark and gloomy for all the sun was shining bright that
morning. He’d woken up to find your mother and you both gone.
No warning. No note. Just missing. He was frantic, Johnny,
absolutely frantic. He thought something must have happened. That
you’d gotten sick and your mother had panicked and brought you over here
rather than wake him up. He, Paul O’Brien and Alex and some of the
other neighbors scoured the countryside. It wasn’t until he got to
Morro Coyo that your father learned the truth – your mother had taken you
with her and run off with a gambler that had been in Morro Coyo for a few
days. He’d charmed your mother with promises of pretty clothes, jewels
and trips to Europe.
Mind you, Johnny, she was little more than a child married to a man who
was a good ten years older than she was. I’ve no doubt she believed
all of that man’s promises just as she believed your father would never make
anything of this ranch. And then this gambler he abandoned her – and
you – soon after or you wouldn’t have had such a rough time of it growing
up. You don’t have to tell me about it – I can imagine. I left
Ireland during the famine years and I saw many a good lad turn outlaw trying
to feed his family. And those who didn’t fled the country or died of
starvation or disease. You became Johnny Madrid as a way to survive.
I’d guess that Maria abandoned you or died young – probably the latter.
Am I right?”
“Yes, ma’am. When I was ten.”
“Now you don’t have to tell me the details unless you want to lad, but let
me tell you something – your father loves you now and he loved you then.
No matter what tales your mother may have concocted to justify her taking
you away from here they’re not true. Your father spent years following
your mother’s trail only to have her be at least one step ahead of him.
He followed you to Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Mexico trying to find you
and bring you back here where you belong. Day after day, week after
week, month after month, year after year he rode out of here or hired the
Pinkerton’s to search for you only to find you weren’t where he thought or
heard you were. And it hurt him Johnny. Hurt him to where he withdrew
inside of himself and only revealed his true nature, loving and caring, to
Teresa as she was growing up. That temper of his is a defensive measure.”
Throughout this talk Johnny sat quietly – riveted by the passion in the
older woman’s voice. He wanted to believe that his father loved him
but he and Murdoch were always disagreeing about something. And their
disagreements tended to turn into arguments and usually wound up with him
storming out the door and Scott left to try and smooth things over between
his father and brother.
Maura saw the confusion and indecision on his face. She knew her friend
and she knew what his faults were. Loving toward Teresa, unintentionally
fault finding with the boys – especially this one. She had a sneaking
suspicion that Murdoch still thought of Johnny as a child and a tendency to
treat him that way. Johnny fidgeted in his seat. He wanted so desperately
to believe this but he was torn. Maura’s story backed up what Teresa
had told him a year ago but his mother had always told him that his father
had kicked them out.
“It’s all true Johnny. And I’m sure Teresa told you that when Day
Pardee and his bunch shot your father in that ambush - the same one that
killed her father -that it was your mother that Murdoch called for in his
delirium. Not Catherine - though he loved her too – but your mother.”
Murdoch arrived bearing a bucket of fresh water and clean linens.
“Well, what have you two been talking about?”
“Things,” Johnny answered.
“What things?” his father asked curiously.
“Family things.” Johnny stood up and relieved his father of his burden.
“We’ve been having ourselves a chat about the old days, Murdoch,” Maura
told him. “He asked me to tell him some stories so I did.”
“Oh.” Murdoch was confused but decided not to press for details.
“How’s Scott doing Maura?”
“Better than he was. His fever’s down and he’s sleeping better.”
“Any more nightmares?”
“Not this afternoon. I think most of them were brought on by his fever.
Get the fever down and the nightmares go away.”
Just then Maria arrived breathless. Señor Lancer! Señora
Talbot! Come quick! Señorita Teresa – she is ill!”
“Johnny stay with your brother,” Murdoch said as the three of them rose
at the same time.
Hurrying down to the kitchen, Maria chattering away in Spanish the whole
time, Murdoch and Maura found Teresa sitting at the kitchen table with Elena
and Mrs. Cipriano hovering over her and applying a damp cloth to her face.
“Teresa, darling, what’s the matter?”
“Let’s have a look at you love,” Maura said. “Maria, Elena,
take Teresa to her room and help her into bed would you? Señora
Cipriano while they do that I want you to tell me exactly what happened.”
The Mexican woman quickly explained that Teresa had said something about
feeling warm and then very suddenly swayed on her feet when she stood up.
A quick examination of the girl in the privacy of her room and it was determined
that Teresa had come down with the influenza but a much milder case than Scott’s.
“She’s young and strong Murdoch,” Maura told him the worried patriarch.
“We caught it in time. I’m surprised she didn’t come down with it sooner.
Influenza has a nasty habit of spreading throughout a family or a bunkhouse.”
“I’d better go tell Johnny. He’ll be worried,” Murdoch said.
Entering Scott’s room he was pleasantly surprised to find Scott awake and
“Well, welcome back son. You had us all worried.”
“Sorry,” Scott whispered weakly.
“I told him I ought to knock him into the middle of next week for scaring
me like he did,” Johnny told his father. But the smile he flashed his
brother told him he was just happy to see him awake and making sense.
“Well I see my other patient is finally awake.” Maura Talbot entered
“Murdoch did you tell Johnny about Teresa yet?”
“What’s wrong with Teresa?” Scott wanted to know.
“Same thing that was wrong with you lad – influenza. Only she’s got
a much milder case of it. You bordered on pneumonia for nigh onto a
week.” Approaching the sick man’s bed she placed her hand on his forehead.
“Much better. The fever’s finally broken. Now to get your strength
built up again and get you back on your feet.” Turning to Murdoch she
said, “Maria’s got some chicken broth warming. I want Scott to have
a big bowl of it and then go back to sleep. While you’re gone Johnny
and I will change his bedding. The fever broke but he’s soaking wet
as a result. It’ll only take a few minutes.”
Murdoch left for the kitchen to get the broth and tell the women the good
news about Scott. Maura then turned to Johnny.
“And as for you John Luis Lancer – you’re going to help me here and then
you’re going to bed – and I’ll have no arguments about it! You’re worn
yourself out this past week. Two patients at a time are quite enough
thank you very much!”
Scott lay in his bed watching his brother’s face. He was amused that Maura
was bossing him around like that. Maura and Johnny made short work of
changing the sheets on Scott’s bed and helping him into a clean nightshirt.
Then it was back under the covers for the invalid. By the time Murdoch
returned from the kitchen with the broth Scott was looking somewhat better.
That he was pale was to be expected. He’d been sick for over a week
on top of having been shot two weeks earlier. He was still coughing
but it wasn’t a congested cough. It was a remnant of his illness that
would go away in time.
“Now then Scott my boy,” Maura said to her first patient. “Your father’s
going to feed you this broth and then you’re going to go back to sleep.
I’m afraid it’s going to be liquids and soft foods for a few days until we
build you back up again.” Turning to Murdoch she said “I’m going to
check on Teresa and then make sure Johnny’s in bed like I told him.
It’s been a long eight days and we’re all tired. That’s probably why
Teresa didn’t recognize the symptoms right away. She’s worked hard keeping
up on the laundry and other household chores as well as sitting up with Scott.
But she’s young and she’s strong. She’ll be back on her feet in a few
So saying she left the room. Murdoch sat in the chair by Scott’s bed
and fed him his broth.
“Maria will be very disappointed if you don’t finish all of this Scott.
She’s been worried about you – we all have. You don’t want her to come
up and bawl you out for not eating her good broth.”
“No, sir,” Scott said. “Not on your life do I want that woman mad
Ten minutes later the broth was gone and Scott was deep in a peaceful and
healing sleep. Murdoch smiled and pulled the covers back up to his son’s
shoulders. It was good to know that Scott was on the mend. Next
thing on his agenda was to go check on his ward. Teresa was the next
best thing to a daughter to him and he intended to keep a close watch on
her. Maura was just pulling the covers back over Teresa when he entered
“How do you feel darling?” the big man asked the girl.
“Oh, I’m fine Murdoch. I’m just tired.”
“We’re all tired Teresa, dear,” Maura said. “But you went and got
yourself a touch of the influenza on top of it. But not to worry you’ll
be fine in a few days. Lots of rest and fluids will put you right in
no time.” Turning to her friend she said, “Is Johnny in bed like I
“I didn’t stop by his room to see,” the rancher answered.
“I’ll go,” Maura said. “Now don’t you be wearing out my patient Murdoch
Lancer! She needs a lot of rest for the next few days.”
“Yes, ma’am, uh, no ma’am,” Murdoch stammered. This little woman intimidated
him more than his wives or mother ever had.
Quietly Maura entered Johnny’s room a minute later. The dark haired
son of the family was in bed all right. But he wasn’t sleeping peacefully.
As Maura drew nearer she could see the flush in his cheeks that bespoke of
“Ah, now, alannah, I was afraid this would happen. You wore
yourself out and exposed yourself to your brother’s illness far more than
I wanted you to. So now you’ve got it yourself and worse than Teresa,”
she scolded him. “Never mind,” she said as she pulled the covers up
and placed a cool, damp cloth on his forehead, “we’ll see you through this
the same way we did your brother. The same way we will Teresa. Lots
of fluids and lots of rest. Hopefully we caught it before it got too
bad. I should have seen it coming.”
“No,” Johnny croaked. “I hid it from you ‘cause I knew you’d make
me leave Scott and I had to stay with Scott. It’s my fault he was so
sick. I should have seen it coming. Shoulda made him come home
the day before you came.”
“Hush now gorsoon,” Maura said. “You two are just like your
father – as stubborn as they come and with the temper to match I’ll warrant!
Now you just lie back and go to sleep. I’ll be in to check on you in
a little while.”
Before she left she leaned over and gave him the same kind of motherly kiss
she had bestowed upon Scott that fateful day of the ambush by the Deegan brothers.
And she smoothed the black hair back from his forehead saying in a teasing
tone, “And when you’re all better we’re going to have to do something about
that mop of hair you’ve got!” Johnny smiled drowsily as he drifted
off into a feverish sleep.
Entering Teresa’s room she broke the news to the two occupants about Johnny’s
illness. Teresa wanted to get up right then and there to take care of
her brother but her guardian and Maura stopped her. The thought that
the boys were both sick and needed her was a strong incentive for getting
well. Staying in bed would be hard but even the stubborn O’Brien girl
had to admit that she was in no shape to take care of anyone right at the
Scott was asleep when Maura entered his room so she didn’t wake him.
Telling him about Johnny would have to wait until he woke up again.
And he needed his rest. The influenza had sapped his strength and burned
weight off of him. It would be several weeks before he recuperated completely.
Smiling she made sure the covers were pulled up to his shoulders before she
blew one lamp out and turned the other one down. Then she made her
way back to Johnny’s room. Murdoch was sitting with his youngest son
replacing the warm compress with another cool one.
“Maura? How bad does Johnny have it?”
“I don’t know Murdoch. He says he hid it from me because I would have
made him leave Scott. He could have it very bad before the next couple
of days are past. I’ll need you to send someone into town to Sam’s office.
I’ll give you the key in case he’s still at the Lady Eleanor. I’ll
be needing more salicylic acid. Teresa won’t need as much but if Johnny’s
been hiding this long enough for it to get a good grip on him then I’ll be
needing to restock soon.”
“I’ll have Walt or Frank go. You write down what it is you need and
give me the key. I’ll send one of them in right away.”
Maura accompanied Murdoch to his desk where she quickly wrote a note to
Sam Jenkins about the need for the salicylic acid. If he were in his
office he would give the Lancer ranch hand what she requested. If not
the note was to be left on his desk for him so he’d know why he was short
on it. It didn’t take long and soon the man was on his way to town.
Murdoch insisted that Maura get some rest for a while. He’d look after
Teresa and Johnny. Teresa really wasn’t that ill. It was Johnny
who would require some attention but Maura had been up most of the eight nights
that Scott was sick and he didn’t want her to get sick as well.
Reluctant to leave her patients, but recognizing that Murdoch was right,
Maura went to the guest room and lay down on the bed. In her heart she
prayed for this family she loved as much as she loved her own. The
boys reminded her so much of her own sons. Scott was much like her
Blair. Quiet, studious, gentle and mannerly. Johnny reminded her
very much of her middle son Rory. He’d been a stubborn, impetuous twenty-two
when he’d left home to answer Lincoln’s call for volunteers. He’d fallen
that first hot July day at Gettysburg never having made it home on furlough
once for California was too far a distance to travel. Kendall, the oldest,
would have been twenty-five. He had died in a filthy, disease-ridden
prison camp at the age of twenty just before the war had ended.
Several hours later Maura awakened feeling rested. Maria, having been
alerted by Murdoch that she would likely feel hungry when she did wake up,
knocked on the door as Maura was tidying her hair.
“Señora Talbot? Ah, good I see you are awake and looking much
better. The patron asked me to bring you some supper so I have brought
you some stew, some fresh bread and butter and a cup of coffee.” The
Mexican woman studied the neighbor who had been nursing the Lancer scion.
“You must have slept well Señora. You don’t look so tired any
“I did Maria. Thank you. And thank you for the supper.
It smells wonderful.” Maura sat at the table by the window. “Have
you stopped by Señor Scott or Señor Johnny’s rooms? How
“Señor Scott he is still coughing and he looks like an espectro
– how do you say it? Ah – a spook?”
“Sí. A ghost.”
“It’s to be expected Maria. He was sick for a week that we know of.
What about Johnny?”
“The patron is much worried about Señor Johnny. He coughs all
the time and he’s hot. Much fever. The chica, she wants
to get out of bed and take care of him but the patron says ‘no’ so she fusses.”
“She needs her rest. She’s got a touch of the sickness that Señor
Scott had. But I don’t like the sound of Señor Johnny.
He’s got too much of a fever too fast.”
“You eat first. Then you go see him.” Maria was adamant.
“I go sit with the chico until you have finished. You must keep
your strength up.
“All right mamacita,” Maura smiled. “Between us we’ll mother
those boys and Teresa like they’ve never been mothered. And you’ll mother
me as well.”
Satisfied that Maura would eat first Maria left the room and returned to
Johnny’s. Murdoch then went to check on Teresa.
“Murdoch you have to let me get
up and take care of Johnny. Mrs. Talbot must be exhausted. She’s
hardly had any sleep since she got here.”
Murdoch smiled at his spunky ward. She really had the heart of a nurse
and would fuss over all of her “boys”, including him, given half a chance.
She made sure they ate well, dressed right and tried to see that they didn’t
overdo it. It was like her to want to get out of a sickbed to look after
one of them.
“No, darling. You need to rest and get well yourself. Maria’s
looking after Johnny while Maura eats. Then she’ll come in and look
after you. You’ve still got a little bit of a fever yourself you know.
I don’t want you getting as sick as Scott was.”
“You were really worried about him weren’t you?”
“Yes. And so were you young lady.”
“Well he’s getting better now.”
“Yes, he’s getting better now. Maura says it will be a while before
he gets rid of that cough though. So you rest and get well and then
you can keep an eye on him. Make sure he doesn’t overdo it until he’s
strong and healthy again.”
“Ssssh, it’s all right Johnny.
You’re safe at home. In your room at Lancer.” Maura spoke softly
to the younger son who lay desperately ill in his bedroom.
Since he’d finally shown the symptoms of influenza, apparently contracted
by too much exposure to his older brother during his weeklong illness, Johnny’s
condition had rapidly worsened. His fever had spiked almost every night.
He was delirious and kept crying out for his mother, his father and that someone
was out to get him. Too often in the past year, Murdoch and Scott had
seen and heard Johnny suffer when someone from his past or knowing about
his past had arrived in Morro Coyo or Spanish Wells. Occasionally it
was Green River. Always, for days afterward, he would suffer from nightmares.
“No. Mama wake up. Mama? Donde esta Mama? Where’s
Papa? Why does he hate us mama? Tell me. Up papa.
“Maura?” Murdoch was extremely worried. For three days now Johnny
had been burning up.
“I don’t know Murdoch. The fever’s gotten a good grip on him and I
can’t get enough of the medicine into him.”
“Maybe I can help.” Scott, still looking pale and now with worry lines
creasing his forehead, had arrived at the sickroom.
“Scott, I don’t think…”
“Murdoch Johnny would do the same for me. I know he would. Let
“He’s right Murdoch. Johnny would and did do the same for him.”
Reluctantly the big man allowed his still weak older son to sit by his brother.
But he made sure that Scott had a blanket on his lap. His nightshirt
and robe weren’t enough to keep the invalid warm outside of his bed just yet.
Scott reached out and took his brother’s left hand in his right one.
Then he gently rubbed it speaking softly to Johnny.
“I’m here little brother. Nobody’s going to get you.” Scott
turned worried eyes on Maura who nodded.
“Keep talking Scott. And try to get him to drink this medicine.”
Murdoch reached behind Johnny and raised him up. Scott held the glass
to Johnny’s mouth and coaxed. Little by little they managed to get nearly
the whole glass into him. There was something about Scott’s voice that
seemed to soothe his younger brother.
This routine was repeated for several hours before Maura sent Murdoch out
for some air and to check on how things were running while he was busy with
his invalided family members.
“That’s much better. You
have the right way about you, Scott Lancer, to handle your brother,” Maura
smiled as she lay Johnny back against his pillows. “You’re very much
like your mother. She could get anyone to do anything. When she
spoke softly even your father listened. And you look very much like
her as well.”
“So my grandfather told me. He says my eyes are exactly like hers.”
“And your cheekbones and your long straight nose lad. You are very
much Catherine Garrett’s child. She was beautiful. Blond hair, blue
eyes and fine boned. She always put me in mind of a porcelain doll.
Catherine was a good girl and courageous but when she became ill just before
you were to be born she was unable to withstand the trip when your father
sent her away for his peace of mind. There was trouble in the
valley and your father was concerned for her safety. As for the stubbornness,
I think you get that from your father’s side of the family. The Scots
and the Irish are notorious for it you know.”
“Yes, ma’am, I know.” Scott agreed. Turning his attention back
to his brother he asked, “How bad is it Mrs. Talbot?”
“He’s got it very bad Scott. He hid the fact that he was sick for
almost a week before it finally got the better of him.”
“I guess I’m not always such a good influence on him,” the blond remarked
sadly. “I can’t help thinking that it’s my fault Johnny’s so sick.
If I just hadn’t hidden it from him when I got sick.”
“And when he’s well again I’m sure your brother will have something to say
to you about it. Now then,” she said as Maria came into the room to
let her know that Scott’s supper awaited him in his room, “it’s back to your
room. Supper and then bed. No chasing strays for a while for you,
“I’ll have no buts, Scott Lancer. You’ve a fair amount of recuperation
ahead of you and I’ll not have you having a relapse. Now off we go.
That’s a good lad.”
Reluctantly Scott got up from the chair. Maria gave him a pat on the
shoulder as he passed by her. Imparting a blessing and a prayer at the
same time. Scott smiled wanly in appreciation as Maura hustled him
off to his room.
Ten minutes later he was finished eating and safely tucked away in his bed
again. Maura sat by his bedside until she was satisfied that he was
sleeping soundly, pulling the covers up to his shoulders to ward off any chill
from the open window on this early fall evening. Fresh air was important,
it was one of the things Florence Nightingale had established in her studies,
but keeping the patient warm was also important. It would be at least
a week before Scott had much energy and strength. Before she left she
planted a maternal kiss on his forehead before she left the room.
Johnny, however, was not sleeping peacefully. Again he tossed and
turned, crying in Spanish and in English.
“Scott. Don’t go Scott. Want you to stay. Garrett lied
Scott. He lied. Stay. Don’t go….Boston.”
“Take it easy lad,” Maura said soothingly. “Scott’s not going anywhere.”
She wrung out a new towel and placed it on his forehead. Then she
took two others, soaked them in cold water, wrung them out and put them on
his wrists. She took yet another one and wiped his face, the sides
of his neck and his throat with it. It had little effect. Johnny’s
fever was dangerously high.
The battle went on like this for the rest of the night. With daylight
Johnny’s fever went down some. Scott spent as much time in his brother’s
room as he was allowed. He and Maura managed to get a couple of more
glasses of water with salicylic acid in it down Johnny’s throat but Johnny
was pretty much unaware of his surroundings. Something about Scott’s
voice seemed to comfort him, as did Maura’s. Especially when she sang
softly some more of the Irish lullabies her mother had sung to her and she,
in turn, had sung to her boys.
By the third day Teresa was feeling much better and was allowed to spell
Maura for brief periods of time. When she wasn’t sitting by Johnny’s
side she was in Scott’s room keeping a watchful eye on him. Murdoch
divided his time between ranch business and his sons. And he kept an
eye on Teresa to see that she didn’t overdo it after her illness even though
it had been much milder than either Scott or Johnny’s.
There was no need to worry for Maura forced the younger woman to take the
fresh air breaks she’d had her and Johnny take when Scott had been so ill.
Johnny, however, was the object of all her concern at the moment. Murdoch
seemed to have escaped the influenza and Scott was on the mend but Johnny’s
fever kept going higher every night.
Even from his room Scott could hear his brother tossing and turning in the
grip of his fever and crying for his mother or his “papa”. Every minute
that he was permitted out of bed would find Scott sitting by his brother’s
side doing for Johnny what Johnny had done for him.
“Sssh. Johnny, it’s all right you’re safe. Nobody’s going to
hurt you,” he'd say. Or it was, “Johnny, come on, you’ve got to drink
this medicine little brother. Mrs. Talbot says it’ll help you get better.”
Anything and everything that came to mind.
“Scott? Don’t go Scott. Stay here. Boston….Don’t go.”
“I’m not going anywhere little brother. I promise.” A fearful
Scott turned toward Maura. “Mrs. Talbot?”
“I don’t know Scott,” Maura told the worried blond as she anticipated his
question. “His fever is awfully stubborn. I can’t get it down for very
long. I’m afraid the influenza has definitely turned to pneumonia in
your brother. We’ll just keep bathing him and trying to get the fluids
and the medicine into him.”
“There’s nothing else we can do, Maura?” asked Murdoch who had returned
from one of his short breaks in time to hear his other son’s question.
“Nothing. Just try and cool him down and get that salicylic acid into
him to help fight the fever.”
As she spoke Maura was preparing another glass of the medicine. Murdoch
sat beside his youngest and lifted him up from the pillows he was propped
on. Scott took the glass and cajoled and pleaded with his brother to
drink it. They managed to get about half the glass down his throat before
he quit swallowing. Murdoch then laid him gently back on the pillows.
Scott pulled the covers up to his brother’s shoulders. Maura made sure
that Scott was warm enough. His close call with pneumonia had left
him weak and tired but he was recovering at a fairly steady pace. However,
the cough he had would be apt to continue for another two weeks. And
if he didn’t get some rest and food he’d be longer recovering than that.
Maura allowed the Lancer men another two hours with Johnny. Then she
insisted that Murdoch help Scott back to bed and that he get some rest himself.
Teresa would take over for the next couple of hours and then Maria would replace
her. Scott and Murdoch both were reluctant to leave but Maura was adamant.
Scott was still quite weak from his own bout with the influenza and Murdoch
was likely to end up being the next one to be sick if he didn’t get some
rest. It was nothing short of a miracle that he hadn’t already come
down with it.
As Murdoch pulled the covers up over Scott, his son looked up at him sadly
“Johnny’s really bad isn’t he sir?”
“Yes, Scott,” his father answered.
“I wish Mrs. Talbot would let me stay with him. You know how Johnny
is about staying in bed or taking medicine. He’ll fight her all the
“Not Maura Talbot he won’t , Scott,” Murdoch reassured his eldest.
“That woman has the patience of Job and then some. And a more stubborn
Irishman, uh, Irishwoman I’ve never met. She nursed your mother and
me through influenza and a few other things when we first settled in the valley.
Before we even knew your mother was pregnant and then she nursed her throughout
her pregnancy until the day I sent her away.” Murdoch smiled fondly
at the memories. “Don’t worry about your brother. He’s in good
hands. We all are. Close your eyes and try and get some rest.
You have a long road to recovery ahead of you.”
“All right. But you’ll wake me if there’s any change?”
“Yes, son, I’ll wake you.”
Murdoch leaned over the lamp beside Scott’s bed and blew it out. Then
he put out the lamp on the table by the window and looked out at the distant
mountains shimmering in the moonlight. Silently he prayed for the recovery
of his two sons. One so desperately ill; the other still weak from his
own ordeal. He was grateful that Teresa’s bout with the illness had
been so brief but at the same time he was extremely worried about the boys.
If Johnny didn’t survive he was sure that Scott would never forgive himself
for bringing the sickness into the house.
Assuring himself that Scott was asleep Murdoch quietly left the room and
headed for his own. The temptation to check on Johnny again was great
but Maura would be very upset with him and she wouldn’t hesitate to tell him
so. Teresa would wake him if there were a change of any kind.
“Mrs. Talbot?” Teresa looked
to the older woman.
“Johnny is going to get better isn’t he?”
Maura leaned over to hug the young woman. “We’re doing everything
we can Teresa. He’s a strong young man but he let this sickness get
too good a grip on him before I found out that he had it. And that’s
not good. Now I’m having trouble getting his fever down.” Reaching
toward the nightstand she picked up a glass of water and a packet of salicylic
acid. Handing it to Teresa, along with a spoon, she said, “Here love.
Mix this up and let’s try and get some more into him.”
Teresa took the proffered items and mixed the salicylic acid into the water.
Then she leaned forward and offered it to Johnny. The patient merely
turned his head away in his delirium and refused it.
“Come on Johnny, please?” Teresa begged. “You have to take this or
you won’t get well.”
Johnny didn’t hear her. He continued to mumble in Spanish and English
crying for his mother and his “papa”. His fevered dreams took him back
to his brief time at Lancer as a toddler and to his upbringing in the border
towns where he wasn’t good enough for anybody because he was neither white
nor Mexican but both and despised for it. Many a scrap he’d been in
as a child. Many times he’d run home to his mother at the ages of three,
four, five or six until he got strong enough at seven to start fighting back.
Teresa gave up on the water and started replacing the compresses instead.
Maura put the glass back on the nightstand. Chances were that when Scott
was allowed back in he would manage to get his brother to take a little more.
She only hoped it wasn’t too little too late. Johnny was a very sick
young man and she was extremely worried though she tried to hide it from
his family. The influenza had turned to pneumonia. Nothing seemed
to bring his fever down.
For two hours Maura and Teresa sat vigil over Johnny. Maria came in
to relieve them at midnight. At two in the morning Murdoch, followed
soon afterwards by Scott, came in. Murdoch sent Maria off to bed over
her protests. There would be no rest for him, or Scott, that night.
Both were too worried about Johnny. Not that Maria wasn’t but the patron
was the patron and his word was law.
“Murdoch?” Scott addressed his father an hour or so later. “Do you
think Johnny’s going to survive this? I’ve never seen a man survive
a fever so high. I’m worried.”
“I am too Scott. We have to hope for the best and try to get the medicine
Time dragged on. Scott’s voice, as before, seemed to soothe his younger
brother some and he was able to coax some more of the salicylic acid into
him but he was afraid it was too little too late. Johnny’s fever remained
high and his breathing, due to the pneumonia, became wheezier by the minute
– or so it seemed to his anxious father and brother.
Throughout the long night Murdoch and Scott prayed, talked to Johnny and
to each other and sat in silent misery watching and listening to Johnny struggle
to breathe even as he cried in his delirium for his parents again and again.
“Mama? Mama? Lo Siento Mama. I’m sorry. Where’s
papa? Why does he hate us? Papa? Where are you papa?”
If Murdoch had seemed to age when Scott was sick he looked even older as
he spent his fifth night at his youngest son’s bedside. His shoulders
sagged and his face was deeply lined with grief and worry. Scott didn’t
look much better. He should have been in bed resting.. His face
was white and lined with fatigue and grief. No amount of persuasion
on his father’s or Maura Talbot’s part could get him to leave Johnny’s side
the rest of that night.
Maura left him with his father while she went down to the kitchen.
She knew that mustard plasters helped with minor congestion and she’d tried
them early on. But Johnny’s congestion was much worse and it was time
for drastic measures. An onion poultice was about to be prepared.
She wasn’t going to lose that boy. He was seriously ill but she wasn’t
going to lose him. Not if she could help it. She set to work peeling
onions and heating them just as fast as she could. With help from Maria
and Elena it didn’t take long to have enough for several poultices.
“It’s my fault you know,” Scott
said to his father.
“What’s your fault?”
“That Johnny’s so sick. I knew I was coming down with something but
I ignored him when he said I should come back to the house.”
“No. Don’t try to tell me it isn’t. If I hadn’t ignored the
warning signs – the headaches – I wouldn’t have gotten so sick and Johnny
wouldn’t have gotten sick and be dying.”
Murdoch was stunned. He’d had no idea that Scott felt that he was
responsible for Johnny’s condition. Maybe Scott shouldn’t have ignored
the fact that he was sick but influenza was very contagious and could take
a lot out of a person. Even if that person was in the best of health.
There was no telling where Scott had picked it up from and Johnny could have
been exposed at the same time.
“Scott, son, be reasonable. You could have picked it up anywhere.
Why, just going into town for supplies or when your grandfather was here you
could have both been exposed to someone who had it.”
“But I’m the one who got sick first and I know Johnny – he wouldn’t have
left me.” Scott was miserable. It would be hard to convince him
that he wasn’t responsible for his brother’s illness. Murdoch was determined
to try. Changing the subject he tried to distract Scott from his self-incrimination.
“You know I’ll never forget the day you boys came home. I didn’t know
what to expect. I hadn’t seen you since you were five and Johnny was
only about two when his mother took him and ran away. When you walked
into the living room I think I about had a heart attack when I saw how much
you resembled your mother.”
“I remember,” Scott said with a weak smile. “You said to me ‘you have
your mother’s eyes’. And you offered us a drink. But you made
it sound like an order rather than an offer. I remember I kind of snapped
at you. I said something like ‘whatever you say’. “
“Your brother, though, he wasn’t so meek. When I said to him ‘you
drink don’t you’ he snapped at me and said ‘when I know the man I’m drinking
with’. Don’t think that didn’t hurt. He reminded me so much of
Maria right then. I couldn’t help but compare his comment to his mother’s
temper. They’re so much alike.”
“I remember when the stage stopped to pick up Johnny. I never did
find out what happened to his horse. But a few miles outside of Morro
Coyo we stopped to pick up this young man carrying a saddle. I remember
thinking he fit the description of the gunslingers I’d read in those stupid
dime novels back home in Boston. Dark clothes, gun worn low on the leg.
Except for that shirt. That salmon colored shirt. It seemed a
little out of place on a man I had pegged as a gunfighter. The books
all said that they dressed in black suits with white shirts and black ties.
Johnny didn’t fit that description at all.
Then we arrived in Morro Coyo and this little slip of a girl was waiting
for us. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard another
voice answer ‘yes’ when Teresa asked for ‘Mr. Lancer’. I looked around
and this ‘gunslinger’ was the one who had answered. He told Teresa,
in no uncertain terms, that he was an only child. And I told her the
same. We were both shocked to find out that we were brothers.
That you’d married again after mother died. Neither one of us knew what
to expect. Then to find out that Johnny really was a gunfighter. And
a good one. And he knew this man, this Day Pardee, that you told us
about. The man that was trying to run you off your land.”
“Yes, I remember thinking maybe I’d made a mistake. Maybe the boy
wouldn’t be able to turn his back on his old life. When he caught that
wild stallion a few months later, neglecting his work on the fence line to
do it, I was more convinced than ever that he’d never make it as a rancher.”
“But he fooled you didn’t he?” Scott asked. “Fooled everybody.
He really belongs here now. The ranch is part of him. He’s part
of it.” Scott’s voice faltered here. “I can’t lose him Murdoch.
I can’t. If he dies it’s all my fault.” Scott’s nerves already
stretched thin from the ordeal of his own illness and now that of his brother
and “sister” snapped. He started sobbing.
Murdoch wrapped his arms around his eldest and held him tight. Pulling
Scott’s head against his shoulder he let him cry while his own tears fell
silently on Scott’s hair. One hand rested gently on Scott’s head while
the other lay on his shoulder. It was to this scene that Maura returned
bearing her supplies for the onion poultice. It would not do for her
patient’s family to admit defeat so she put on her best “take charge” attitude
and marched into the room.
“Murdoch, Scott,” she said briskly, “I need a little help here. That
congestion is choking the life out of the boy. I’m going to use an onion
poultice to try and loosen it up. Those mustard plasters are only good
for minor congestion.”
The smell of onions was overwhelming but both men hastened to do her bidding.
Scott, drying his tears on the sleeve of his robe, took the pan of onions
from Maura. Murdoch set about cutting the squares of muslin that she
required. Tears streaming from the onions this time Scott spooned them
onto the muslin square Maura placed on Johnny’s bare chest. The procedure
was repeated until all the onions were too cool to be much help.
Johnny’s face was red from the convulsive coughing and he continued to gasp
for air but still nothing came up. Maura sent Scott to the kitchen for
more onions. She’d left Maria cutting and heating them. Five minutes
later he was back again with fresh onions and the procedure started all over
again. Still nothing. Maura was desperate. She had Murdoch
lift Johnny up and started slapping him on the back trying to loosen the
congestion. Scott was sent for more onions. Again she placed
a strong onion poultice on the boy’s chest. Again he coughed and coughed
– his face perspiring and turning red. The smell of onions was overwhelming
in the room.
For the rest of the night she kept up with the changing of the poultices.
She alternated between poultices and slapping him in the center of his back
trying to get the congestion to loosen. Finally Johnny gasped as if
choking and coughed up a large stream of mucus and phlegm. Maura was
prepared and had the washbasin under his chin. For what seemed an eternity
Johnny coughed and retched. When he stopped he fell back limply against
his pillow deathly still. To his anxious father and brother he seemed
to have stopped breathing.
“Maura?” Murdoch turned to his friend in his anxiety.
Maura Talbot took her stethoscope and put it to Johnny’s chest signaling
for Murdoch and Scott to keep quiet while she listened. It seemed to
take forever for her to stop listening to his chest. In reality it was only
a few seconds.
“Lift him up Murdoch,” she ordered then placed her stethoscope to his back.
“Maura what is it?”
Finally she motioned for Murdoch to lay Johnny back against his pillows.
She then laid her right hand on his forehead and nodded in satisfaction.
“Relax, Murdoch,” she told the anxious father. “I just wanted to be
sure before I said anything.”
“The crisis is over. His lungs are clear and his fever has broken.
He will continue to cough for a while yet. It’s a normal side effect
of the influenza. But I think he’s going to be just fine.”
“Thank God!” Murdoch exclaimed while Scott heaved a tremendous sigh of relief.
“He’s going to be weak for a while. And he’s going to need a lot of
rest but praise be to the Father he’s going to be just fine.”
“Maura, I don’t know how to thank you.”
“I’ll think of something,” she said. “First let’s get cleaned up in here.
Scott please take these onions down to the kitchen and thank Maria for me.
Tell her they did the trick. Murdoch let’s get this boy into a clean
nightshirt and change the bedding. Scott grab a couple of those
clean blankets on your way back if you please. I have sheets here.”
The two men hastened to do as she bid them. Relief showed in their
posture and in Scott’s step as he hastened to the kitchen to dispose of the
onions. Maria was still at the stove. One look at Scott’s face
and she knew her prayers had been answered.
“Senor Scott? Su hermano es bien? Your brother he is better?”
“Yes, Maria. Mrs. Talbot says the crisis is over. His lungs
are clear and the fever’s broken.” Suddenly the relief was overwhelming
and Scott found himself crying again. Only this time it was the matronly
Mexican woman who held him in her arms and let him cry it out.
Three hours later Johnny’s eyes
slowly blinked open. The first thing he saw was Maura Talbot’s kindly
face smiling at him. The next thing was his family, all three of them,
smiling and talking at once.
“Welcome back son.”
“About time you woke up little brother. You had me worried.”
“Johnny I was so worried about you.”
“S-sorry.” Johnny croaked. His father raised him up and helped him
drink a glass of water that Maura had poured. “How…how long?”
“How long have you been sick?” his father asked him.
Johnny nodded weakly.
“That’s enough talk for now,” Maura interrupted. “Everyone out of
here while my patient gets some sleep.”
She hustled everyone out of the room. Murdoch she chased out of the
house altogether. He had a ranch to run and she had three patients/former
patients to look after. Scott was sent back to bed. He still hadn’t
totally recovered from his own close encounter with pneumonia. Teresa
was much better so she was allowed to “oversee” things in the kitchen – as
much as Maria would let her until she was convinced that the girl was well
enough to take charge again.
As for her last patient, he fell asleep with dreams of an Irish voice singing
lullabies to him like his mother had. And a motherly kiss on his forehead
as Maura tucked him in again. And the sound of her voice praising the
Lord for sparing her patient. For not taking him like he had her own
One week later Maura prepared
to leave for her own home again. Scott was back on his feet though
still coughing a little. Teresa was completely well again. Murdoch
was back running the ranch full time – though without the help of his sons
for another month. Maura had already given them strict instructions
on what Scott and Johnny’s recovery period was to be like. Johnny still
needed a lot of rest and Scott would need to avoid the dust of chasing strays
for a while longer. Both were still somewhat pale though Scott looked
much more like his old self.
The day she was to leave Murdoch came to Maura to thank her for what she’d
done for his family. Sam Jenkins had been by the previous day and backed
up her diagnosis and treatment. She’d done all the right things and
the boys were to do exactly as she told them in order to recover completely.
The death toll at the Lady Eleanor was fifteen with twenty others injured.
Three of them would never work again. The Lancers were saddened to hear
that and Murdoch vowed to do what he could to help those men and their families.
He felt it his duty as a good neighbor and landowner.
“Maura, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate what you’ve done for my family.”
“You don’t have to tell me Murdoch. I can see it in your face.
It’s glad I am that I was there when Johnny came riding into Morro Coyo that
“Still, I feel I owe you something,” the tall rancher said. “I want
you to write me up a bill.”
“Murdoch you’re not owing me anything. I was glad to help,” the Irishwoman
told her friend.
“No, it’s not right that you should spend almost three weeks at Lancer,
away from your husband and home and not get paid. What can I pay you?
How can I repay you for that time?”
Maura saw her chance. When the boys had been ill she’d found out how
little they knew about their mothers’ lives at Lancer. For better
or for worse Johnny had had his mother for ten years. Scott’s own mother
had died in childbirth or shortly thereafter. He had no memories of
her – or of his father for that matter – save what his grandfather had told
him. Having briefly met Harlan Garrett she had no doubts that his memories
of Catherine were glowing and his memories of Murdoch were all bitter.
She was determined to change that.
“You want to pay me? Tell the boys about their mothers.” Over
his protests she insisted, “That’s my bill, Murdoch Lancer. Promise
me that you will sit down with those boys and tell them everything about their
mothers. How and where you met. When you were married. How
you felt when you heard you had a son but your wife had died. How you
searched for Johnny and Maria for years after she ran off. How you
felt the day you woke up and found them missing. I mean it Murdoch Lancer
– that’s how I want you to repay me. The boys need to hear this.”
“Mrs. Talbot?” Scott came into the living room as she finished followed
closely by his brother. “We’ve got your rig all ready to go.”
“Thank you Scott. I’ll be there in a minute.”
“We’ll just take your bags and wait outside. Come on Johnny.” Scott
could sense that there was something going on and, though he was curious,
he could tell that they weren’t supposed to hear this private conversation.
Murdoch looked very uncomfortable.
“That’s my bill, Murdoch Lancer. Talk to those boys. Tell
them how much you love them before it’s too late. I never hesitated
to tell my boys and neither did Alex. Now that they’re gone I’m eternally
grateful that they all knew how much we cared.”
“All right, Maura, all right.”
Murdoch escorted his friend outside to her buggy. Scott, Johnny and
Teresa all waited next to it to say good-bye. Maura gave each of them
a hug as she got ready to climb in.
“Teresa, you take care of these boys,” Maura told the young woman.
“If they get out of line you just let me know.”
Teresa giggled. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll be sure and send for you if
they give me too much trouble.”
Scott was next. “Mrs. Talbot.”
“Scott, remember what I said about staying out of the dust for a while longer.
Give your lungs a chance to recover.”
“Yes ma’am,” the blond smiled.
Johnny got the fiercest hug of the three.
“Johnny, you be sure and do like I told you. Get some fresh air and
sunshine every day but don’t overdo it yet. It’ll be a couple of weeks
before you stop coughing altogether. And the cough will make you tired.
You ease yourself back into working. And no hiding it – either of you
– if you get sick again. I don’t wish to spend another month nursing
you two back to good health again. Once is quite enough thank you.”
Johnny just gave her that heart-warming smile of his and helped her into
As she prepared to drive out of the yard Maura turned to look at Murdoch.
“Remember your promise Murdoch.” With a cluck of her tongue and a
brief shake of the reins she was on her way.
“What promise Murdoch?” Teresa was curious.
“Yes, Murdoch,” Scott said. “What was that all about?”
“What did she make you promise old man?” Johnny’s blue eyes twinkled.
“Well boys it’s like this. Her bill, for nursing you two was…” Murdoch
still had trouble bringing up that subject.
“Well what was it?” Scott demanded.
“Her bill was that I sit down with you two and tell you about your mothers.
And now is as good a time as any before I lose my nerve.” He put his
arm around his sons’ shoulders and the three of them, with Teresa close behind,
walked into the house as Maura Talbot’s carriage drove through the stone gate.
“I met your mother, Scott, in Boston. I was just a month off the boat
from Inverness and looking for work…..”