Murdoch stood and watched in helpless horrified fascination as Scott ran out into the gunfire to help his brother who had been shot by Day Pardee.
No. No, this couldn't be happening. He was going to lose them both. He was going to lose both of his sons out there in the gunfire because of his own arrogance, stupidity and carelessness.
Hell, what had he done? What kind of a man was he? What kind of a father?
The enormity of his failure made him sick.
He was a monster, not a father. He had called for his long lost sons only when his beloved ranch was in danger. Not before Pardee threatened to drive him off his property.
He had called for his boys and taken the risk that they would die for his ranch. Because – that could easily happen right now - out there in the yard. And he, with his focus on the ranch, hadn't thought of their lives before now.
"I love this land more than anything God ever created.“ Only a few days ago he had thrown these incredible reckless words into his sons' unmoving faces.
The nausea increased.
This was the biggest lie he had ever made, out of pure arrogance and helplessness. He had needed the lie and and the other senseless things he had said that day to maintain the much needed barrier between him and his sons. Behind that barrier he felt safe. He didn't know what else to tell those two young men that were his sons. They were strangers to him, although he immediately had recognized them because of their resemblance to their mothers. Unexpected emotions had caught him off guard. His heart went out to them but he tightly held it, afraid and not yet ready to deal with the disturbing emotions their presence in his house caused him.
There was his youngest, Johnny, dark haired with the temper of his mother and Murdoch's own mother's dark blue eyes. Those haunting vivid eyes. Most times they had looked at Murdoch filled with anger and accusation. Murdoch would never forget the hurt expression within them that day Johnny had run off to join Pardee. "Is that what you think of me?“
No, not at all, son. That's what he should have answered.
And Scott, the male reincarnation of his first wife. He was an enigma. Unlike Johnny, whose eyes showed what he felt, Scott's slate blue eyes, Catherine's eyes, seldom showed his emotions. Murdoch never knew what Scott really felt. He was aloof, but had a politeness that could be annoying; a politeness that helped to maintain the wall Scott had built around him. He seemed to be ready to start a new life at Lancer. He had been eager and the first to offer his legs, arms and guts as Murdoch expected. But, in his quiet ways, he, like Johnny, seemed to be waiting for more from his father than one third of the ranch. They were right. Murdoch had to give them more, much more.
Right now Scott risked his life for Johnny. Murdoch would never forget the look of shock, disbelief and disgust in Scott's eyes as he tried to hold him back from hurrying to help Johnny.
Neither of them ever called him "father" or even "Murdoch" like Teresa did. Scott used the word "Sir" that created a distance between them that seemed to grow every day, and Johnny called him "Old Man" or didn't address him at all.
This rift between him and his sons was his fault, his own doing. He should have made it up to them years ago. But he hadn't.
Instead, he now was about to sacrifice them for his ranch.
No. This wasn't going to happen. He was their father. He had to stop this madness.
Murdoch made a violent movement to run to the yard himself, but the pain in his leg and back made him stumble, taking his breath away. Only Teresa's firm grip prevented him from falling to the ground.
"Murdoch, please, stay put. You'll only hurt yourself." He looked in her pleading eyes, full of fear for him and the boys. It had only been six months since she had lost her father in a fight for the ranch.
Murdoch gritted his teeth in frustration, cursing his weakness, his inability to move and to be of any help to his sons. He slammed his cane against the adobe wall in a futile act of anger and despair. As he wasn't able to do anything else he opened his mouth to cry out, "Stop! Stop shooting! They are my sons, don't shoot them. Please, don't kill them. Take the ranch, but leave my sons to me...!"
Yet the only sound that came out of his throat was a painful desperate groan. It was too late, too late. Johnny was already shot, maybe dead...
Sensing his despair Teresa threw her arms around him, steadying him and offering comfort.
Please God, don't take them from me, please don't let them die.
All of a sudden Teresa cried out: "Murdoch, it's over! Look, they are okay, just look!"
His gaze followed her outstretched right arm.
The fight was over. He had been so preoccupied with his sons that he hadn't realized the sudden eerie silence hovering over the yard. Through the settling dust he could make out his boys.
Johnny was sitting with his back against a tree, Scott was standing in front of him, rifle in his right hand, and looking down at his brother. They were talking and smiling at each other.
Murdoch stared, relief washing all over him, making him shiver. His boys were alive, maybe hurt, but alive. Thank you.
It was time to go out there and show his sons who he loved more than anything God ever created.
"Come on, Teresa, let's go and meet them," Murdoch said.