Is There Anyone Home?

Part II

by  Sharon


Is There Anyone Home?

Is there anyone home, in this house made of stone?

Anyone inside know my name?

I’ve been around for a half a hundred days, never saw a door shut so tight.

Turn around, don’t look down, there’s a man behind you with a gun.

--Gordon Lightfoot  

“Is There Anyone Home?”

from the Sundown album


Part II.

Is There Any One Home?

               HALF A HUNDRED DAYS 

Based on the episode “Chase the Wild Horse”




             The door shut softly as Scott exited the study. In response to Murdoch’s question about what if Johnny did come back, “how long would it last?“ his elder son had just looked at him.  When Murdoch had added that it was better if Johnny left now rather than later, Scott had nodded a few times, then silently turned and left.

            <<And that meant . .  .??  “I agree with you Murdoch?” “I disagree?” “That’s what I expected you to say???”>>  Murdoch Lancer settled back into his chair.  The boys hadn’t been at the ranch very long, but Murdoch knew by now that his elder son was a man of a few, well chosen, words.  Scott typically didn’t raise his voice, or even argue; instead he’d offer a tersely phrased comment or pose a pointed question as a means of getting his opinion across.  And in the case of Johnny’s abrupt departure, Murdoch had been fairly certain of what that opinion would be.

            He had been sitting alone in the darkened room, thinking about that disastrous conversation with Johnny. Murdoch now realized that he had also been sitting and  waiting for Scott to return.  After Johnny had left with Wes, Scott had headed unhappily out to tend to the neglected surveying project.  It really was a two-person job, so it had undoubtably taken Scott on his own more than twice the time that it should have.  And he’d lost at least an hour, probably more, waiting for Johnny, talking to Johnny.  Murdoch assumed that Scott would have kept at it, trying to get the work done, until it was too dim to see and only then would he have headed back to the ranch.  It was well after dark by the time that his older son had returned.  And Scott had, just as Murdoch had expected, come directly to the study.

            Murdoch had been sitting there, recalling the tense discussion with Johnny and  asking himself what he would change, which words he would take back if he could.  Their earlier conversation, the one out at the fence line, had gone pretty well. Sure, the younger man had been disappointed about not being able to go into town, but he was an rancher now, a property owner, he had to understand that there were other priorities.  The boy had been working hard, no question about it, and Murdoch had felt proud to give Johnny his grandfather’s watch.  He shook his head. He’d stopped short of telling Johnny about how his own father had given him the timepiece so long ago, had been afraid that it would sound too  . . . sentimental.

            And then, as soon as Murdoch’s back had been turned, Johnny had abandoned his work and gone chasing after a bunch of wild horses.  He knew that Johnny hadn’t anticipated that fifty head of cattle might go through the incomplete line, but that was what had happened. His son had to take responsibility for that. Of course, he’d said he’d fix it, finish the work.  But, hell, that wasn’t the point.  The damage had been done.  And Murdoch hadn’t heard any assurances from the boy that something similar wouldn’t happen again.  If he had just done what he was supposed to do . .  But Johnny didn’t like to do as he was told.  Scott now, he had served in the army, he understood the chain of command.  Scott felt comfortable issuing orders to the men and was also willing to follow instructions, to allow Murdoch to “call the tune“, based on his extensive experience as a rancher. . .  .  Johnny, on the other hand, resented being given orders. He preferred to act like one of the crew, usually trying to avoid a leadership role.  Murdoch couldn’t go easy on Johnny because he was his son, he had to do a day’s work just like anyone else.  He wondered again whether it might not be too much to expect Johnny to ever settle down.

            What had been most unsettling was seeing  Johnny Madrid in action. It was one thing to read about his exploits in the files, to have heard some of  the stories spread by word of mouth. Today, for the very first time, Murdoch had actually witnessed someone draw on his son, had watched as Johnny’s reflexes had taken over, had seen how very fast he was.   It had been a revelation, how quickly and naturally Johnny had used his gun, how fluid his motions were, how potentially deadly.  Murdoch Lancer was a cattleman. He understood herds and blood lines, pastures and fence lines.  He didn’t understand gunfights--- how one man could shoot another in cold blood.  Yes, the Striker boy had drawn on Johnny, of course his son had to respond, Murdoch knew that. Certainly he was glad that Johnny had been able to defend himself, that his son had not been harmed.  But he had still been forced to face the past when he‘d seen the gunslinger Johnny Madrid in action, here, at his own front door. If he was completely honest with himself, Murdoch had to acknowledge that it wasn’t the horses, it wasn’t the incomplete fence line or even the stray cattle which had made him so angry.  It was the past and the fact that his son, his Johnny, had been taken from him so long ago. And had become the gunfighter, Johnny Madrid.   

            But when he’d confronted Johnny about his failure to complete his task, the deadly gunman became a boy who protested, who made excuses . .  Something else that the older man hadn’t been able to stomach.  Johnny had insisted that he’d do fine if only Murdoch didn’t “push him so hard“.  <<So what did I do??>> he now asked himself despondently. << I pushed him some more. Told him that he had to choose, make up his mind, who he was and where he belonged. >>  What he’d meant was that Johnny had to decide if he was “Lancer” or “Madrid“; but hadn‘t the boy already made that choice? Or tried to . . . perhaps this life just wasn‘t for him. If only Wes hadn’t come in the door just at that moment, maybe there would have been time for them to cool off, resolve things.  But that only showed how impulsive Johnny was . . .it had been his impulse to take off after those wild horses instead of completing his work that had caused all of the subsequent problems.  And now he had decided on the spur of the moment to leave. As if this ranch, this family, meant so little to him. . . <<And what did you do to change his mind?  Nothing. You just stood there, watched him walk out, shut the door behind him. >>

            When Scott had walked in, Murdoch had still been feeling quite angry and defensive.  Then his older son had asked him what he planned to do, and the rancher had recited a long list of tasks: rounding up the strays, more surveying, repairing bridges, checking on dams . .  .  He’d known full well what Scott meant, of course, he was certain that Scott had realized that too.  He wondered now how long he could have gone on, whether the well-mannered Bostonian would have ever interrupted him? << Possibly not,  he’s much too polite for that>>, was his disgruntled answer to his own question.

             Murdoch slowly shook his large white head, realizing that he probably shouldn’t be thinking disparagingly about the one son that he had left.  And after all, Scott had accomplished something which was quite difficult to do---he had impressed Murdoch Lancer.  The “Boston gentleman” had come through in the battle with Pardee, had fooled the “land pirates” with his decoy plan, had positioned the men to defend the hacienda, and then he had gone out after his injured brother.   And ever since then he had continued to “rescue” Johnny--to defend him, to try cover for him.  It annoyed Murdoch no end.  Scott followed the rules, didn’t complain, got his work done.  Why didn’t he resent it that Johnny didn’t always do the same?  But instead, he’d come in here tonight and acted as if he thought that Murdoch should go running after Johnny, try to get him to come back. Scott had even accused him of being just like Johnny, both too proud, with “not one inch of give“.  Not that he phrased it as an accusation, of course not, oh no, not Scott.  Just said it, as if it were a fact.

            And Scott was probably right, he thought with a heavy sigh. Murdoch knew that he wouldn’t . . couldn’t  . . go after Johnny himself and beg him to return. If the boy wanted to be here, then he’d have to make the decision to come back on his own. But Murdoch couldn’t imagine Johnny being able to bring himself to walk back in the door, not after the way he‘d left, the things that he‘d said.  The things they’d both said.   So it was also a fact that he might never see his youngest again.  <<Over what? A couple of feet of fence line.  A few stray cows. .  .>> 

            Murdoch Lancer sat in the darkened room, with his drink in his hand.  Looking at the door that Scott had shut quietly  behind him, he hoped that his older son’s solemn nod had been a recognition that if the door to Johnny’s return were to be opened, then Scott would have to be the key. 



            It was well after noon before Scott Lancer finally headed towards Morro Coyo.  Murdoch had had the usual list of tasks for him to complete and in addition had sent Scott out to the South Gully to check up on the hands who were pulling out the strays, not once, but twice. Each time, he duly reported that progress was being made, slowly but surely, and that Cipriano seemed to have matters very well in hand.  The Segundo estimated that it would take several days to complete the work. 

            Shortly after lunch, Murdoch had approached him with some additional requests, but Scott had interrupted his father.  Quietly and firmly, he had informed him that: “I will see that those things are taken care of sir,  but right now I need to go into town.”

            Now that he was en route, Scott impatiently urged Rambler to a quicker pace.  Brunswick, the chestnut horse which he had selected as his primary mount, had caught a stone and was recuperating from a slight bruise. Rambler, the sorrel, was a good animal, although his gait was not as lively as that of the white-socked Brunswick.  As a former cavalry officer, Scott admired fine horseflesh, and he thought that the stallion that Johnny had brought in was as magnificent an animal as any that he had ever seen.  Yet Murdoch had been unaffected; he had shown no appreciation of either the horse or his son’s effort. 

            Not that Murdoch ever seemed to appreciate much, other than the Lancer herd and the ranch itself.  When his sons had first arrived, Murdoch had informed them in no uncertain terms that the ranch was paramount in his affections and that continued to be true.  Scott certainly did not feel that he had anything which could be termed a father-son relationship with the man, although he did believe that they had made some strides in their working partnership.  Murdoch possessed a great deal of expertise and clearly deserved credit for his significant achievement in developing the one hundred thousand acre spread. Although he was a hard man to please, Scott had come to respect Murdoch; he had even begun to imagine that the respect just might be mutual.  But then last night, when he had attempted to talk to Murdoch about Johnny,  the response had been “Johnny made his choice. The matter’s closed.  It’s not open for further discussion.”  It was not the first time that Murdoch had attempted to slam the door on uncomfortable conversations, but this time Scott had been unwilling to let it go. Not that it had done much good.

            Scott acknowledged to himself that he was at a distinct disadvantage in that he had not been privy to the argument between his father and his brother, and therefore did not know the specifics of the conflict between them.  He had known that the cattle had strayed through the unfinished fence line, and had learned that Johnny had gone after the wild horses instead of completing his assigned task. Teresa had filled Scott in on the altercation with Sam Stryker and his sons, her voice growing a bit shaky as she described the moment when the man had drawn on Johnny and his brother had swiftly turned to defend himself.

            As he eased Rambler up a bit, Scott pushed his hat back on the crown of his head and thought again about what Teresa had said.  It sounded like a  .  .  .well, like a gunfight.  Not that Scott had ever witnessed one.  He had read Murdoch’s files on “Johnny Madrid“, as his brother had been known. Scott knew that Johnny had had a difficult childhood as well as a dangerous adolescence, and had most recently been making his living with his gun. From all accounts, Johnny Madrid had been very, very good at that.  This was a topic which Murdoch Lancer consistently tried hard to avoid. The older man’s distrust of his younger son had begun with the initial uncertainty as to whether or not Johnny had been affiliated with Day Pardee and the land pirates threatening the ranch. However, as it had turned out, Johnny had returned to Lancer, getting himself shot in the process. Their father had sat at Johnny’s bedside during his recuperation and then had signed over to each of his sons a one-third ownership in the land. But it still often seemed that Murdoch simply didn’t trust Johnny--didn’t trust him to do what he said he would do, didn’t expect that he could change, didn’t believe that he would stay.

            And now he was gone.  Regardless of the specific event which had prompted this most recent disagreement between his brother and his father, at issue now was whether  Johnny would choose to stay on as a rancher or opt to return to his former life as a gunfighter. Lancer or Madrid. Scott remembered asking him the question, “So, now, what do I call you---- is it Lancer or Madrid?”  And Johnny‘s reply had been: ”Looks like its gonna be Lancer from now on.”  When they’d signed the documents dealing with the ownership of the ranch, the same question had come up, and again Johnny had chosen Lancer. Murdoch apparently believed that his younger son had changed his mind. What was it that Murdoch had said? “If nothing here has gotten through to him, if what he’s looking for out there is so important . . .” Scott couldn’t imagine anyone choosing to return to the life that his brother had left behind, but, as he‘d already said to Murdoch, Johnny seemed to have had a little “help“ with that decision. 

            His brother had also claimed that he felt “boxed in”, that he wanted to “start livin’ again“. But when Scott had first approached him, Johnny had been standing outside the door of the hacienda with his head bowed.  He hadn’t looked like a man about to set out on a wonderful adventure, eagerly anticipating the taste of “freedom.” Of course, when he’d looked up and seen Scott, Johnny had made a joke.  Scott couldn’t remember now exactly what it was he’d said, other than that it hadn’t been very funny.  Scott had offered to talk to Murdoch, try to set things right.  <<Easier said than done>> he thought now.  << And I should have already known that.>>

            As he continued on his way towards town, the familiar rhythm of the horse’s hooves a backdrop to his thoughts, Scott had to reluctantly admit that Murdoch had a point. Such an important decision had to be entirely Johnny’s own. If he couldn’t see for himself what he had here, a home, a family, if he didn’t value it over his former life, then why would he stay?  If he did return for some other reason, even because someone asked him to, how long would it last?  Not that Scott flattered himself that all he had to do was to make a simple request.  Even if he did ask, Scott was quite certain that Johnny would never simply drawl out an acceptance.  << “Well, since ya asked so nicely Boston, you just let me go get Barranca saddled up and I’ll be right with ya.” >> He shook his head with grim amusement as he imagined that unlikely reply.  Johnny was proud and he was stubborn. Scott didn’t hold out much hope that his brother would be riding by his side on the return trip to the ranch. 

            When Teresa had cried, when she’d told Johnny that she didn’t want him to go, it had been to no avail. Although he also hated to see Johnny leave, Scott had been at a loss as to what to say to him, other than, “Don’t do it”.  He’d been stunned by the suddenness of his brother’s proposed departure. It was hard to know how Johnny would react to any attempt to offer “brotherly advice”; their relationship was still so tenuous. They were just starting to get to know each other. Initially convinced that the hardened image, the “Madrid persona”,  that his brother had adopted was the sole reality, Scott was only now beginning to fully appreciate Johnny’s complexities, to discover what lay beneath the tough exterior that he wore as a protective armor.  Despite their father’s decree that they should all focus solely upon the present, the two of them had even started to open up some of the doors to their respective pasts . . .

            When Johnny had first received a clean bill of health from Doctor Jenkins, Murdoch had sent his sons out on the trail.  Scott recalled asking Johnny a few questions about his life as a gunfighter, had even gotten a few answers, but they really hadn’t had too much to say to each back then. They’d each resented the forced togetherness a bit.  That had changed.  When given the opportunity, the two of them worked very well together now. Johnny was easily one of the hardest workers on the ranch.  He got along well with the men, both Mexicans and Anglos, but he had a particularly close relationship with many of the vaqueros.  Although Johnny wasn’t an experienced ranch hand he had learned quickly, under Murdoch’s ever watchful eye. 

            It had not escaped Scott’s notice that their father was much more critical of Johnny than he was of him.   It was ironic that yesterday Johnny had actually said, “You belong here . . .”   Anyone who was a betting man would probably have wagered that Scott would have turned around and headed back East long before Johnny would ever simply walk away from Lancer.  Certainly Scott had given some consideration to the idea of leaving.  It was a very different life out here, compared to Boston and there were many things that he missed about that city.  Scott was still struggling with some of the specific tasks and skills required of a rancher.  He was also having problems with some of the men, since a few of them had decided that it was entertaining to test the Easterner.  They were actually making Scott’s life rather difficult, while Murdoch seemed to be oblivious to it all  But, on the very first day that he had been out and about,  Johnny had seen immediately what was happening and had pulled Scott aside, offered him some advice.  Since then he had continued to give him quiet encouragement. 

            Scott liked to think that he’d helped his brother out as well, and now, when  it appeared that Johnny was about to make a very poor choice, Scott knew that he had to try to do something, say something.  The question was, what more should he say? << He has to realize that Teresa and I don’t want him to leave.>>  Scott knew that he couldn’t, shouldn’t attempt to speak for Murdoch; even if he tried, Johnny would see through it.  Johnny was not likely to appreciate being told what to do; simply informing him that it was unwise to make such a hasty decision to return to his former life clearly wasn’t a suitable strategy. << “Well, now that ya mention it, Big Brother, I was just sittin’ here ‘n waitin’ for you to come tell me I was makin’ a big mistake . . ”>>

             Although Scott had some ideas about what not to say, he recognized that perhaps he just didn’t know his brother well enough yet to understand how best to go about this. As he approached the outskirts of town, Scott realized that he still didn’t know exactly what he was going to say to Johnny . . .if he found him.  <<Perhaps I’ve already said it: “Think about it.”  What more is there to say?>>.


            “Think about it”.  “I already have”, had been Johnny’s quick reply.  It hadn’t been true then, but it sure was now. He’d certainly been doing plenty of thinking ever since he’d left the ranch.  Last night, he’d left Wes behind in the saloon and gone out to wander the streets alone, thinking.  Then he’d sat in the stable with the horses, and thought some more. Now it was the middle of the afternoon and Johnny was sitting alone in the beer hall, still thinking.  Wes and some of the saloon girls were laughing and talking at the next table, but Johnny had only his mug of beer for company.  What he thought about mostly was Teresa, how she’d hugged him and cried that she didn’t want him to go; about Scott and how hard he’d gripped Johnny’s arm when he’d told him to “Think about it.”

            Well, Scott and Teresa, they might be sad to see him go, but not Murdoch.  Yeah, the Old Man had praised his work on the fence line, but before Johnny had even finished that task, Murdoch was already talking about what had to be done next.  Sure, Murdoch had given him the watch, but that was just so that he wouldn’t be late for his next chore.  Murdoch had pushed him and pushed him and now the Old Man was probably relieved that his wayward son had finally left.  And Johnny was pretty sure that he knew why. It wasn’t really because of that fence or the stray cattle, though Johnny did feel pretty bad about that; it was going to make a lot of extra work for some friends of his.  And it wasn’t because of the horses he’d brought in, though he still couldn’t understand how anyone could look at those fine animals and not feel something.  <<I ain’t stupid, I know exactly what this is about.>>  It was because of what had happened with Stryker’s kid.  The Old Man just couldn’t stomach seeing Johnny Madrid in action.

            Not that he’d ever mentioned the name “Madrid” or used the word “gunfighter”. But what he had said had been plain enough: “You’ve got to make up your mind who you are and where you belong.” <<Well, seems like I did that once, chose Lancer instead of Madrid.>>  But the Old Man just didn’t buy it, didn’t think Johnny could change. He didn’t seem to care how hard Johnny had been working, which was harder than he’d ever worked in his life. What was it he’d said? “Maybe it’s not for you Johnny”; and he sure hadn’t sounded too sorry about that either.  Then Murdoch had said that he wanted to know right then--- he’d wanted an answer, well he’d gotten one.  Wes was leaving and Johnny was riding out with him. 

            And his father hadn’t even said one word to try to get him to stay. <<Sure is a cold bastard, I have to give ‘im that, the way he paid me off just like any other drifter passin’ through. . . . Seems I stayed too long anyway, it was only s’pose to be an hour.>> Johnny sipped his beer as he remembered that very first day, when he and Scott had  arrived at the ranch, the day that they had first met each other and Murdoch.  When Murdoch had handed Johnny the envelope with one thousand dollars inside, he’d told Johnny to count it--and he’d done it too, right then and there.  Yesterday, when the Old Man pulled from his pocket the twelve dollars that Johnny had coming to him, the bills had just been dropped down on the desk. <<Said “you’d better count it“---  well I didn’t . . .  Guess that means maybe I have changed some>> he thought grimly.

            Johnny idly rubbed one finger around the rim of the beer mug as he remembered how he’d felt yesterday once he’d taken his money and stepped outside.  As the hacienda door had closed shut behind him, Johnny had felt an unexpected pang of regret--oh, not about leaving, that was the only thing to do, he meant what he’d said about being tired of sticking to a schedule, not wanting to feel “boxed in” all the time. He just didn’t feel right about the way he was doing it, taking off so fast, especially with all the things that were going on.  But what could he do?  Open the door and walk back in? Say, “Hey Old Man, I changed my mind?“   Johnny had to admit to himself that he just might have gone back in and had it out with Murdoch if Scott hadn’t shown up, looking all concerned.  Good ol’ Wes, he couldn’t keep quiet, he’d had to make sure to tell his brother what was going on.  Johnny’d tried to make a joke of it, said something about how Scott would have fifty percent of the ranch now.  <<Course Boston, he didn’t think it was too funny, didn’t even smile.>>  Well, maybe Scott was right, it wasn’t all that funny, since Murdoch would never give Scott half of the ranch anyway.  Two-thirds and one-third, that’d be just the way he’d like it.  His brother didn’t stand a chance. . .

            <<And he won’t have me lookin’ out for ‘im any more. >>  Of course, Johnny realized that Scott had covered for him more than once, too.  Boston sure did take this big brother stuff seriously, but then Scott seemed to take everything pretty seriously. Which made it twice as funny when the man did manage to make some kind of a joke of his own. Johnny shook his head and grinned to himself at that. He remembered how he’d tried to get a reaction out of ol’ Boston that first night, when he’d announced that he was a gunfighter.  Nothin’.  And again, out on the trail, when he’d told Scott how young he’d been the first time he’d killed a man. No real reaction then either. Johnny’d tried a few times since, without any noticeable success.  His brother wasn’t a real easy man to get to know, but still they’d had a few talks, Johnny‘d heard a few things about Scott‘s life back in Boston.. 

            And there again, Scott wasn’t exactly having an easy time of it himself. Johnny‘d had to give his older brother some advice, tried to let him know when he was getting something right.  Though Scott wasn’t really doing half bad most of the time, considering where he was from and all. That was one thing that did make Johnny feel kind of sorry about leaving; he and Scott had just been starting to get to know each other. 

            Well, he’d been on his own before, he’d manage it just fine again.  He’d gotten along without a family for most of his life, just like he’d gotten along without a timepiece . .  though he still wished that he hadn’t let Wes talk him into selling that watch.  Of course, he wasn’t exactly alone now, he had good ol’Wes.  Wes sure wasn’t in love with hard work but he knew how to have a good time. They’d have to see how it worked out, move around some.  If they caught on somewhere for any length of time, Johnny figured that he just might think about letting Scott and Teresa know where he was.

            Johnny held his mug in both hands and raised it to his lips.  As he took a long sip, he caught a glimpse of a rider through the window overlooking the street. He recognized Scott’s familiar posture, his short jacket, the wide brimmed hat. As he continued to watch, his brother rode into the stable opposite the beer hall.

            A few minutes later, Johnny swore softly as he saw Scott striding across the street, coming directly towards the saloon.  Setting his mug of beer down on the table, Johnny rubbed at his face with one hand.  In another moment, Scott’s head appeared above the swinging doors and he pushed his way through, pausing to scan the interior with a squint-eyed gaze.  Johnny looked up, and then greeted him with: “You came a long way for nothin’, Brother.”




            As he rode out of town, Scott pushed Rambler to a hard gallop.  It was the only way to avoid thinking of the conversation that he’d just had with Johnny in the saloon. To avoid thinking about that handshake, and how final it had felt.

            When he finally reined the horse to a walk, the critical thoughts came to the forefront immediately, unbidden: <<That certainly went well.>>  and then, <<Yes, why not more sarcasm, after all, it was quite effective.>>

            Despite everything that Scott had told himself: that Johnny was not going to simply acknowledge that he’d made a hasty decision, that Johnny would not be riding alongside him on the trip home, evidently some part of him had still hoped otherwise.  And that part had not reacted well to being told that he’d come “a long way for nothin’”. That part hadn’t appreciated the suggestion that he’d gotten time off “for good behavior“ either.

            There was no question that Johnny had slammed the door shut on that faint hope as soon as Scott had walked in, but that hardly justified his own poor response.  Scott resisted the urge to goad Rambler back into a gallop as he recalled the unnecessarily disparaging  comments that he’d made about Johnny’s “new life”.  Even worse, he thought ruefully, as he patted the heavily breathing horse’s neck, he’d lied.  Scott had claimed to have just been “passing through town“. There couldn‘t have been a more obvious untruth, and Johnny clearly had recognized that, although his brother hadn’t even bothered to call him on it. 

            Scott’s displeasure with the manner in which the conversation had progressed had only been surpassed by his dismay at learning about Johnny’s “plan” : to sign on as a hired gun in a range war, selling himself to the highest bidder. He hadn’t made any attempt to hide his disapproval.

            Johnny would be dead before he turned thirty.  Scott had said it, he meant it, it made him feel cold with . . .  fear. Telling Johnny that he wouldn‘t “leave a ripple“, that wasn‘t entirely true and Scott knew it.  As an army lieutenant during the War, he’d watched plenty of young men die---some of them even fighting for a cause in which they truly believed.  “Ripple effect” or not, it had still been a tragic waste.  When Johnny meant his end, it was likely to be in some soon-to-be-forgotten range war or on a dusty street in a meaningless gunfight. Another waste. And if---when---it happened, it would impact Scott, Teresa, Murdoch and other people at Lancer with the force of a tidal wave.  And Scott had done nothing to prevent that from happening.  He’d failed. 

            Scott wasn’t really in a hurry to get back to the hacienda.  He decided that he might as well head out to the South Gully, check in with Cipriano one more time. Maybe stop by some of the other work crews. After all, even if he did go straight to the house, Murdoch was likely to send him out on that errand again anyway.  As he continued to meander slowly back towards Lancer, Scott reminded himself that Johnny had asked about those strays, had wanted to talk about a stream that was in danger of damming up . . . He was still thinking about the ranch. And he had listened.  “The sermon’s over, ain’t it, Brother?” he’d asked, but he had listened.  Johnny hadn’t gotten angry, he hadn’t gotten up and stalked away.  <<Now if only I’d said something that was worth listening to .  . . . . . what if I had asked him to come back? >>

            He hadn’t done that.  But perhaps he had given his brother one more thing to think about. The only part of his mental script that Scott had followed was to look Johnny in the face and tell him that he was about to walk away from the best thing that had ever happened to him in his life.  If Johnny could only see that, then he’d have to return to Lancer.

            <<And if he doesn’t? What if he doesn’t come back?>>  Well, then, at least  Scott knew where Johnny was going.  He’d followed him once, he could do it again.  And he wouldn’t make the same mistakes twice.





            When Johnny had first glimpsed his brother riding down the dusty main street, there’d been a part of him that had been real glad to see him.  Then there was that other part that had been embarrassed to be found sitting in the saloon in the middle of the day.  Johnny knew that ol’Scott had most likely already done a day’s work, probably some of Johnny’s chores too.  Part of him figured that Scott would take one look, and not be too impressed. It was that part that had felt the need to inform his brother that he was wasting his time in making the trip to town..

            Well, Scott had gone ahead and sat down anyway, Johnny’d even pushed the chair out for him.  As if he couldn’t do that for himself. <<How come, Madrid?>> he asked himself mockingly, <<“Fraid he’d change his mind? Walk out on ya?>>  Johnny leaned back in the chair and looked at the beer mug he was holding in two hands.  He stared at the small amount of pale amber liquid remaining in his mug, swirled it around a few times as he thought about the conversation he’d just had with his older brother.

            Boston sure hadn’t been actin’ like himself, what with all those big smiles and some of those comments, like claimin’ he’d just been passin’ through. But what he’d said about Murdoch, that Murdoch didn’t send him, Johnny’d heard the truth in that. That was another thing to laugh mockingly about now, that he’d actually been hoping that Scott had come to tell him that Murdoch wanted him back. Johnny finished off the rest of the beer and set the glass down on the table.

            So why had Scott come looking for him, anyway? To say good bye and good luck, that was one reason.  He‘d meant it too, there hadn‘t even been a silent “you‘ll need it“ tacked on, Johnny would have noticed if there had. But there’d been more to it than that.  Johnny thought he knew what, though he hardly dared to think it. <<Seems like Big Brother wants me to come back. . .>>  Well, he couldn’t call exactly it “home” . . . Johnny shook his head, pushed at the handle of the beer glass, spun it around.  He hadn’t given Scott a chance. <<Not like the man could just come on out an’ say it, not after I already told ‘im he was wasting his time.>> Truth be told, Johnny figured he would much rather be riding back to the ranch with Scott than planning to head south with Wes. 

            Heading south, looking for that range war.  “You’ll be dead before you’re thirty,”  Scott had told him. Well, wasn’t that the truth.  It wasn’t news, that’s for sure.  What was new was the notion that someone might notice or take the time to care.

            Johnny sat there idly moving the beer mug around the table top, leaving damp circles in a pattern on the surface, and thinking about the other things that Scott had said. What he kept dwelling on was his brother’s conviction that coming to Lancer was the best thing that had ever happened to Johnny in his entire life.  Johnny’s initial reaction had been to wonder cynically just what made Scott think that he was such an expert on  Johnny’s life.  But he had to admit that the man had gotten it right, it was, hands down, the best thing.  <<“and you’re just gonna walk away from it, all for nothing.”>>  He’d had it in his head that Murdoch had pushed him away, but when you came down to it, Scott was right about that too, he’d been the one who had walked out. He was just so tired of fighting, fighting with Murdoch, fighting to fit in. <<“Don‘t do it.”  “Think about it.” “ . . .you’re just gonna walk away from it . .  ” >>  Suddenly, Johnny pushed at the bottom of the mug with his fingers, sliding it a few inches across the table, messing up those circles he’d just made.  <<You ain’t never walked away from a fight before, Madrid, why you gonna start now?>>

            Johnny knew then that he was going to do it, he was going to go back to the ranch.  Try to talk to Murdoch.  On his own though, he’d give Scott a good head start.  And what if Murdoch shut him out, wouldn’t let him back in? <<Then I guess I’ll just head on south with Wes, jus’ like I told Scott we . . .>>  Johnny swore softly to himself, interrupting his own thoughts as he realized that he’d given his brother that information.  Boston didn’t give up easily, he was pretty stubborn, just like Murdoch.  Just because Scott had said good bye and good luck didn’t necessarily mean that he might not feel the need to go off and follow Johnny into the middle of some range war.

            So that settled it then.  He had to head back to the ranch, talk to Murdoch.  Johnny pushed the chair back, scraping it against the wooden floor and stood up, his decision made.  He needed to tell Wes.  As he headed towards the swinging doors, Johnny wondered if there might not be some way he could get that watch back from Spencer, even though he didn‘t have the fifteen dollars any more.  Maybe he could  . . .as Johnny exited the saloon, he heard the sounds of the stallion and when he saw the horse  rising up on its hindquarters,  Johnny broke into a run . . .





            After seeing that Walt’s bullet wound had been properly tended to, Murdoch turned his attention to making preparations for the Strykers’ inevitable return. Sam Stryker’s boy had died, the one that Johnny had shot.  Murdoch’s first thoughts were for his own sons.  Scott hadn’t yet come back from town and it was impossible to know whether or not Johnny might be with him when he did return.  If the boys didn’t get back soon, they could very well ride into a trap. 

            So it was with a sense of relief that Murdoch looked up to see Scott enter, with Teresa in tow. 

“She tell you?” 

“Yes,” Scott replied, immediately grasping the seriousness of their situation, with the hands dispersed at various distant places about the ranch, many of them in the South Gully.  “I’d better go get some help.” 

He should have sent Scott quickly on his way, but first Murdoch had to ask him: “Scott, did you find Johnny?”

Scott gave Murdock a long, unreadable look before replying: “Yes, I found him.”  Then he turned away.  The sadness in his son’s eyes had been visible, although the tone was carefully neutral.  No, not neutral-- final-- topic closed.  Scott wasn’t willing to reveal any more information.  Well, it was a good thing that Johnny wasn’t here right now. They needed to take care of this situation, first. Then they’d see . .  .he’d see,  about getting Johnny back.




 What Happened Next

            . . .“Johnny”,  Murdoch said in a warning tone, and then watched as his younger son reluctantly lowered his gun and relinquished his hold on the Stryker boy, roughly pushing the man towards his father and his waiting horse.  Murdoch stood and waited as the Styker crew rode off, then fell into step with Johnny as the two of them walked towards the front door of the hacienda.  Scott was waiting there on the portico, still holding his rifle, and Teresa came out of the house to stand beside him.

            Johnny walked up to take the weapon from his brother’s hand and gestured at the wound on his left arm, which was still oozing blood.  “Guess we’d better get that taken care of,” he said quietly.  Teresa hurried off to find the necessarily supplies and the three men silently followed her into the hacienda. 

            As Murdoch stood back and observed, Scott settled into a straight backed chair and Johnny set to work tearing away the sleeve of his brother’s shirt.  Teresa hurried back into the room carrying a basin of water and some bandages. “We’re so glad you came back Johnny,” she said, the sincerity in her tone evident.

        “Well, Teresa,” Johnny said as he continued to concentrate on his task, “Seems like I just had to think about it.”  Although his expression didn’t change, Scott reacted to that, lifted his head up, but didn’t look directly at his brother. Teresa smiled and moved into position to clean the wound, and Johnny eased out of her way.  Looking over at Murdoch, he continued speaking in the same soft voice: “I ain’t never walked away from a fight yet, don’t see no reason to start now.”

Murdoch could only nod uncertainly. 

“I figure it’s gonna be a fight for me t’stay here.  But I ain’t gonna just walk away.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear that son,” Murdoch finally replied. Johnny gave him a nod, then turned back to assist Teresa as she began to wind the bandaging around Scott’s arm.  There was a knock on the door, and Murdoch went to open it. It was Frank, one of the hands,  reporting that the men returning from the South Gully had heard gunshots and wanted to know if there was any trouble.  Murdoch put on his hat and went out to speak with the men.  Teresa took the basin and carried it out of the room, leaving the brothers alone. 

Scott stood up and looked at Johnny: “I said some other things. . . .”

Johnny shrugged, “Weren’t just what ya said Scott.”

            Scott wasn’t entirely certain what Johnny meant by that, but quickly decided that it wasn’t what was most important.  He again offered his gloved right hand: “Welcome back.”  Johnny grinned at that and, but instead of extending his own hand, he threw his left arm across his brother’s shoulders.  He laughed out loud when he was rewarded with exactly the expression that he had been trying to provoke from Scott for the past month and a half: stunned surprise.  A moment later,  his brother flashed a grin back at him and then Johnny felt Scott’s hand grip his own right shoulder.  Teresa returned, clearly delighted to see them.  Johnny raised his right arm and she slid underneath it, her arms encircling him, Scott smiling across at her.  As they stood there together, Johnny thought about how Scott had said “Welcome back”, instead of “Welcome home.”  But maybe there just might be some hope for that yet.

Johnny caught a movement out of the corner of his eye--it was Murdoch, standing just inside the door, holding his hat, watching them.  And the Old Man smiled.







For the Gordon Lightfoot fans, there is one other, more upbeat verse to the song;


“There’s a light around you, I’ve come to switch it on.

It will brighten every room. 

Don’t be ashamed if you feel a whole lot warmer in your heart  .  . .

You’ve got that feeling in your soul.

 . . . I think I heard someone stirring .  . . I think I heard someone stirring.”

                                                                                    “Is There Anyone Home?”

                                                                                    From the Sundown album




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