Johnny lay still staring up through the trees. He caught small glimpses of the sky through the lacy patterns made by the tangled branches he laid under. The few leaves that still clung to the wispy limbs were an assortment of colors that nature painted only in the autumn.
Johnny wasn't sure how he wound up on the chilled ground. He began taking an inventory of his body trying to assess injuries. He moved his legs and arms, relieved to find there was no pain. Next he concentrated on his torso and once again found no pain or blood. He gingerly began probing around the front of his head and winced at the pain that shot through his temple when his fingers found the wound just above his left eye.
So he was hurt but how? He tried hard to remember exactly what happened but his head was beginning to hurt badly and he quickly became nauseated. His one attempt to sit up was soon abandoned when the world around him tilted and spun erratically. He thought he just needed time and then he would try again. He would just close his eyes for a moment. All he needed was a little rest. Maybe five minutes and then he would get up and see where he was and how best to get back to the hacienda.
Johnny was aware of movement around him. Past experience had taught him to make sure of his environment and those around him. He could sense someone next to him. A gentle hand pushed back the hair from his forehead and then something touched the wound on his head. The sudden stinging was unexpected making him jump. Whoever was torturing him was being persistent and soon Johnny was trying to move away from the constant probing.
"Hold still young man. How do you expect me to fix up your head if you keep moving?"
Johnny slowly opened his eyes and was relieved to see the smiling face of an angel. She had to be an angel because there was a halo that seemed to surround her head. However as his eyes cleared he realized that the halo was just the light that reflected off her silver hair. She wore a smile that seemed to never fade as she tended to her patient.
"Who are you?" Johnny asked in a soft voice.
"My name is Sarah Gibbons. And you are Johnny Lancer." Mrs. Gibbons informed the young man.
"You know who I am? How?" Johnny was confused. He couldn't remember ever meeting the little woman before.
"Oh I know a lot about you and your family. I've known you for years and years." Mrs. Gibbons continued to clean Johnny's face and her smile seemed to sooth him like warm milk and honey.
Johnny studied her for a little bit. She was not a large woman at all. She wore an old dress that was well out of date but just as clean and neat as any well dressed lady he had ever seen. Her eyes seemed to dance and sparkle which gave her face a beautiful pleasant expression.
He was lying in a soft bed with a pile of pillows cradling his head. The room seemed to glow as sunlight spilled in from a large window that held white lace curtains. A picture of children playing in a field graced the wall just opposite the bed.
"You live here alone?" Johnny asked wondering how he got here.
"Oh yes. I've been alone here for years. Well me and Mr. Claws." Mrs. Gibbons answered.
"Mr. Claws?" Johnny asked confused at the unusual name.
"Oh yes. Mr. Claws is my cat. He's a wonderful companion. He never talks too much. He earns his keep and eats very little." The little woman chuckled as she explained about her companion.
Johnny smiled unable to resist the warmth that seemed to seep from Mrs. Gibbons. He was still confused at how he could have gotten here. No way could the small woman have carried him by herself.
"Mrs. Gibbons, how did I get here?" Johnny finally asked.
"Why you and I got you here. I suppose you don't remember. You were pretty much out of it."
Johnny didn't remember. In fact all he could remember was laying on the ground looking through the trees at the sky trying to figure out how he was going to get back to the ranch.
"Mrs. Gibbons, where are we? I mean where is here?" Johnny asked wondering how far away from home he was.
"Just a few miles from your ranch son. Not far enough away for you to be getting homesick." answered Mrs. Gibbons with a good natured chuckle.
"I gotta' get up and go home. My family will be worried about me." Johnny tried to rise up only to fall back when the room began to spin out of control and his head tried to explode off his shoulders.
"Oh no you don't young man. You will lay right there until I tell you differently. Now here, drink some of this water. It'll make you feel better." Mrs. Gibbons reached around to support Johnny's head as she pressed the cup to his lips.
Johnny drank a few sips grateful for the cool liquid that soothed his parched throat. Mrs. Gibbons pulled the cup away all too soon leaving him wanting more.
"You need to sip it slowly dear. I'll give you more in a few minutes." She continued to dab at the wound while Johnny tolerated her ministrations.
"How long you lived here ma'am? I don't remember ever meeting you before." Johnny wondered why he hadn't met or even heard about this little angel before now.
"I tend to stay to myself. I rarely ever leave the house. Getting too old." Mrs. Gibbons told her patient.
~*~*~*~*~ L ~*~*~*~*~
"He should have been home hours ago. I think we should start looking for him." Scott told his father.
Murdoch Lancer wanted nothing more than to ride out and look for his younger son, Johnny. However, he just didn't want the boy to think he was checking up on him. Johnny had become annoyed before when his family had gone looking for him after he had not shown up when he was expected to.
Murdoch sat for a moment longer trying to make up his mind. He had been working so hard to show his son how much he trusted him, but every fatherly instinct he possessed screamed at him. Finally those instincts won out.
"Go saddle our horses, Scott. I'll have Teresa pack up some food and medical supplies just in case we need them."
Scott didn't waste any time; out the door quickly then running to the barn. Murdoch went to the kitchen to ask Teresa if she would pack up some provisions for three or four days. He hoped it wouldn't take that long to find his boy but experience from the last several months had taught him to expect the worst when it concerned his younger son.
Within just a few minutes Murdoch and Scott were headed out to look for Johnny. As they passed under the Lancer arch both men said a silent prayer that Johnny would be found soon and unharmed.
~*~*~*~*~ L ~*~*~*~*~
Johnny woke up a few hours later wondering just when he had gone to sleep. The room was quiet but he could hear his angel humming in the next room. He could also smell something that was making his mouth water and his stomach protest his hunger. He wasn't really sure when he had eaten last. He couldn't quite remember when he had left the ranch or even why he had. The only thing that he was sure of was in the next room his angel was cooking a meal he hoped she was going to share. He wasn't in the mood for week broth, like what was shoved at him at home when he was laid up in bed.
As he lay in the bed, Johnny wondered if he could sit up. He was reluctant to try, remembering what happened the last time he put forth the effort. However, deciding it was worth another try, he threw the covers back and swung his legs over to the side. Pushing himself up slowly, Johnny sat carefully as he held his head in both of his hands. The room began spinning around just as it had before, but this time, Johnny was determined to ride it out hoping he wouldn't lose his stomach in the process.
It was there that Mrs. Gibbons found Johnny when she came into the room carrying his supper.
"What do you think you are doing young man? I told you to stay put." She chastised her patient.
"I needed to sit up for a while. I get stiff laying in bed all the time. I won't get better if I don't start moving around." Johnny tried to smile at Mrs. Gibbons, but it wasn't coming out very well since his head was hosting a symphony of drums.
"I think you have moved around enough for now. How about we get you back in the bed and prop you up so you can eat a little stew for me." Before Johnny knew what was happening he had been tucked back into bed with extra pillows propping him higher so that he could enjoy the hot stew.
Mrs. Gibbons held a spoon to Johnny's lips making him balk at having to be fed. Turning his head Johnny refused the stew. Mrs. Gibbons smiled and persisted.
"If you want something to eat Dear, you will have to open up your mouth." She persisted.
"I can feed myself. I've been feeding myself for a long time now." Johnny informed the little lady, who even though she was smiling, had determination written all over her face.
It looked like it was going to be a Mexican standoff but eventually Mrs. Gibbons won out. Reluctantly, Johnny opened his mouth and allowed his angel to feed him the stew. It tasted even more delicious than he could have imagined. He felt better after finishing up the small bowl that Mrs. Gibbons had allowed him.
For the next couple of days Johnny was coddled, and fed, and kept in bed. Finally on the third day he was allowed to get up and sit in a chair. He had argued with Mrs. Gibbons constantly about needing to get back to his family. He was sure they would be frantic with worry. He did wonder however, when he was alone, why they had not looked for him here. If Mrs. Gibbons knew so much about him and his family then they had to be close enough for his father and brother to have found him. Why had she not gotten word to them? Surely someone she knew could have been sent with a message.
Another thing that seemed to bother him was why he had not met or even heard of Mrs. Gibbons before now. For her to know so much about him and his family she would have had to be friends with his father. He couldn't remember Murdoch ever mentioning her though and that bothered him more than anything. Something wasn't right about all of this, but he couldn't quite put his finger on what was exactly wrong.
He cherished his conversations with Mrs. Gibbons. She seemed to know so much about him when he was a baby. She had told him stories that both pleased and embarrassed him. She was probably one of the sweetest ladies he had ever met. Mrs. Gibbons always had a smile on her face, even when she was fussing at him for trying to get out of bed too soon.
Johnny's strength slowly came back to him thanks to the sweet lady's constant attention and care. She had a way about her that made him want to please her. Johnny smiled to himself thinking that if his family could see how well he was behaving they might hire her as his personal nurse for those many times he seemed to find himself in trouble. Sam sure could use her talents when it came to caring for his worst patients.
The days seemed to pass as the young man regained his strength and his body healed. Johnny knew he would have to leave soon because his family wouldn't know where he was or what had happened to him. If not for their worry over him he would have been tempted to stay on with his angel of mercy for a few more days. He was however, anxious to be getting back home and return to his family. He missed them very much and that thought alone made him long for home.
Finally the day came when Johnny knew he was well enough to get back to the ranch. He had been gone long enough and was sure his family would be frantic wondering what had become of him. Johnny knew he had to approach Mrs. Gibbons about leaving but almost hated to. He had grown very fond of her over the last few days and knew he could never thank her enough for all she had done for him.
He was determined to come and see her as often as his work on the ranch would allow. She could use some extra help around the place and he figured he could spare some of his time to make sure that she was well taken care of. He also wanted to bring his brother Scott here to meet her.
Scott was such a proper gentleman and he knew Mrs. Gibbons would appreciate his brother's grace and good manners. Scott could win the heart of any lady, young or old. He was anxious for his brother to make this grand lady's acquaintance as well. Scott would enjoy meeting and getting to know her. There was just something about her that he knew his brother would admire and enjoy. She seemed to have a talent that made her fit into any sort of company and make them feel as if they were old friends.
The next morning Johnny got up early and got completely dressed for the first time in a week. He wanted to be ready to ride for home as soon as he had talked with Mrs. Gibbons and explained why he needed to leave and head for home. He was just about to sit down and pull on his boots when she entered his room. He smiled at the fact that she, like Teresa, never seemed to knock before coming into his room. Of course she had tended to his every need for several days so she probably felt it was an unnecessary formality.
"Johnny, I have packed your saddle bags with sandwiches and some of the apple pie for your trip home. I also packed a couple of apples for that pretty pony of yours. Now I know you're going to tell me I'm spoiling him but he has been such a good horse and I think he deserves a treat as well." She smiled at the look on Johnny's face. It was one of total surprise and confusion.
"How did you know I was plannin' on leaving today?" Johnny asked.
"It's been several days now and I could feel how restless you have been getting. Just promise me you won't travel too hard and once you get there please take it easy for a few more days. Maybe you should even have Sam take a look at you." She said.
Johnny ducked his head and smiled. Then once again he became a bit confused. "How did you know about Sam? I didn't mention him or anything did I?"
"No dear you didn't mention him but I know about Sam. I also know how hard you try to get around him when you get sick or hurt. I better not find out that you have given him a hard time about resting this time young man. He's just trying to do what is best for you." She admonished.
"He's a good man and an excellent doctor. You do as he says. You heed me now Johnny Lancer." She had a look that warned of serious consequences if not obeyed.
Johnny gave her his most charming smile and agreed to do as told. "Yes Ma'am. I won't give him any trouble. I promise." The last was followed by raising his right hand and then crossing his heart.
~*~*~*~*~*~ L ~*~*~*~*~*~
"Let's ride over there. It's the one place we haven't looked Sir." Scott pointed to the east towards a grove of trees that were beginning to show the brilliance of the new autumn weather.
"There isn't any reason for him to have gone over in that direction Son. Besides, the only thing over there is an old dilapidated house that used to belong to a widow. She's been dead for almost 16 years now." Murdoch informed Scott with frustration lacing every word.
"Well maybe he needed to find shelter. If he was hurt it might have been his only option. It's worth a try." Scott almost begged his father. For some reason he felt compelled to look that area over. He was running out of ideas. It might very well be a long shot but there would be no peace for the older Lancer son if they didn't cover every possible inch of ground that Johnny could have ridden over.
With a sigh, Murdoch followed Scott and together they made their way to the old run down shell of a house. As the two men rode up they could see that the windows had long since been broken, and the roof was falling in throughout the house.
Carefully Scott stepped up onto the dilapidated porch. The overhang had long ago disappeared. Decay and rotting wood filled his senses and he hoped that his brother wasn't inside. For Johnny to have taken shelter in such a rundown structure would have meant he would be really badly hurt. As he walked through the house he carefully stepped over rotting pieces of furniture and nests made by small furry animals.
He walked into what was a once a bedroom. A raggedy old quilt still lay across a bed and tattered yellowed lace curtains flapped in the breeze at the windows. A faded picture of children playing in a meadow hung on the wall opposite of the bed. It was obvious to Scott that this was once a well taken care of home. Someone had taken pride in its appearance. A quick walk through revealed that nothing but wild life had lived there for quite some time.
As Scott walked out to where his father was waiting by the horses he couldn't help but feel an odd sensation run down his back. He couldn't quite put into words what it was he felt but he was anxious to get away from the ruins.
"Satisfied Son?" Murdoch asked his oldest.
"Yeah, I guess. Come on. Let's head back the same way we came." Scott said.
"Why. We've already looked in that direction. We could ride on towards those hills past this old house." Murdoch informed Scott.
"No! I mean I just have this feeling that we need to go back the way we came. Don't ask me why." Scott insisted.
Not really understanding why Scott wanted to go over old ground Murdoch merely nodded and together both Lancers headed back into the grove of trees that lay between the old house and the way they had just come from.
End of Part One
Johnny sat confused. He was lost and he couldn't understand why. He had just left Mrs. Gibbon's house an hour ago and now he didn't know where he was. She told him that if he would ride straight through the grove of trees he would come to a road that would lead him back to the ranch. It shouldn't have taken him more than five or six hours at most before he would be back on Lancer Land. Now he sat on a rock rubbing his head and wondering where he was.
As he looked around him he couldn't tell exactly which direction he had come from. His head began to hurt again and for some reason his vision seemed to be blurred at times. This morning seemed so far away now and he had a strange feeling that he couldn't explain. It almost felt to him like the last several days hadn't realy happened. He was just about to mount Barranca again when something caught his eye.
He starred off into the distance trying to make out what it was that he had seen. Suddenly he saw two riders heading his way. He couldn't tell who they were and every instinct he had screamed at him to move to cover, but for some reason his body refused to cooperate. He tried to reach for his gun but, it was as if an unseen hand was holding his own hands still in his lap.
Within just a few minutes Johnny was able to release the breath he had been holding. The riders were his father and brother. No doubt they were looking for him. Johnny wondered if he had ever felt such joy in his life. He was so relieved to see Murdoch and Scott that he wanted to cry.
Johnny suddenly found himself being surrounded by two very concerned family members. Both Scott and Murdoch were firing questions at him at the same time. He normally would have been perturbed but at the moment he was just so thankful they had found him. His father was looking at him closely trying to gauge exactly the condition of his younger son.
It occurred to Scott that his usually independent brother hadn't said a word and was sitting patiently while being fussed over. This was very uncharacteristic of Johnny and made Scott a little uneasy over the boy's behavior. It didn't take long for Murdoch to pick up on his younger son's quiet demeanor too.
"Son, are you ok?" Murdoch asked.
"Yeah, I'm fine, just tired. Can we talk about this when we get home please?" Johnny asked his father.
"Sure. Are you ok to ride?" Murdoch was concerned about Johnny's condition.
He couldn't see any obvious signs of serious injury other than the wound on his forehead, but the boy's behavior was cause for worry. He decided a visit from Sam would be in order. He and Scott helped Johnny mount up then both positioned themselves on either side of young man and began the ride home.
~*~*~*~*~ L ~*~*~*~*~
Sam smiled as he walked into the great room. Both Murdoch and Scott jumped up the minute he appeared wearing worried looks. He motioned at both of them to sit.
"He's going to be fine. I prescribe a day of complete rest though. He suffered a slight concussion and he's exhausted. How long did you say he was missing?"
"Six days." Murdoch said as he stared off into space.
He was sure something more than a concussion had happened to the boy. Johnny had not been very communicative about what had happened to him. His son was bothered by something and Murdoch needed to know what that something was.
"Murdoch?" Sam was looking at his friend with concern.
"I'm sorry Sam. Did you say something?" Murdoch asked.
"I was saying that Johnny will most likely sleep the rest of the night. He fell asleep before I could finish examining him. Just keep an eye on him and try to keep him in bed tomorrow if at all possible. I'll check back on Tuesday." Sam gathered his coat and headed for the door as he finished his instructions on Johnny's care.
Murdoch followed his old friend out to the carriage. "Sam, you're sure that he's going to be alright. I mean he seems so…." The worried father was at a loss for words as to what he meant. It was hard to voice the feeling he had about what might have happened to Johnny over the last several days.
Sam studied Murdoch's face for a moment and then smiled again. He knew that his friend worried about both his sons but it seemed that the younger one constantly gave his father cause for concern. Johnny would be fine given a little time and plenty of rest. Convincing Murdoch however, well that was going to be just as much of a challenge as keeping his patient quiet long enough to recuperate.
Murdoch waved Sam off and walked back into the hacienda. Scott was waiting for him with a drink extended towards his father.
"Something is bothering you sir." It was a statement more than a question.
Murdoch wasn't sure just what to say. He wasn't even sure if he wanted anyone to know about his misgivings. He didn't even know exactly how to voice his concerns. As it turned out he didn't have to worry about it.
"When we found Johnny did you notice anything unusual about him?" asked Scott.
"Unusual how?" Murdoch cautiously asked his son.
"I don't really know exactly how to put it but it was if there was something that Johnny wanted to say but was afraid to. He seemed a bit confused about something as well." Scott told his father.
"I know. I've not asked him what happened, but to be honest I'm not sure if he can tell us." Murdoch swallowed the rest of his drink and turned towards the stairs.
"If you need me for anything let me know. I'm going to sit with your brother for a while."
Scott threw back the rest of his own drink as he watched his father disappear up the stairs. Every since he had left the ruins of the old house, Scott felt there was a connection between it and his brother. Shaking off the eerie feeling Scott went in search of Teresa and Maria. He needed to let them know what Sam had said about Johnny. Both women had been worried when the boy had not come home on time. He needed to put their minds at ease and maybe snatch a couple of cookies before supper.
~*~*~*~*~ L ~*~*~*~*~
When Johnny woke up it was dark outside with only the full moon casting shadows through his window. The breeze that drifted in was cool and it stirred the curtains just enough to make them appear almost ghost like. He shuddered involuntarily as if someone had stepped on his grave. It was then that he knew he wasn't alone. He didn't have to look to know it was his father. A glass appeared allowing him to drown the cotton that seemed to have moved into his mouth.
"How do you feel Son?" Murdoch asked.
"I'm fine. Just a little tired." Johnny answered.
Neither man seemed inclined to talk so a long stretch of silence consumed the room. Murdoch had questions for his son but was reluctant to ask since Johnny was so exhausted. He wanted so badly to know what had happened to him the last several days. The parental concern for his child's health and wellbeing over rode any desire to question him at this time. Murdoch knew that there would be a better time to discuss Johnny's absence after the boy had regained some of his strength.
Johnny had questions as well but at the moment he was at a loss as to what they were. He knew what he wanted to know but asking them seemed almost beyond his ability. The most important question was what Murdoch knew about Mrs. Gibbons. He knew she had taken care of him yet it all seemed so far away. Almost like it had been a dream. He didn't want his father and brother to think he had gone loco and this was what made him reluctant to mention the sweet lady who had cared for him these last several days.
Johnny lay quietly without moving. He divided his time by gazing out the window and watching the ghostly curtains sway in the chilly breeze. His father remained quiet but Johnny knew he wasn't asleep. He would have heard the bear like snores that seemed to erupt from Murdoch as he slept. He wondered how long it would take for his father to finally come around to asking him where he had been all this time. He would like to know the answer to that himself.
Murdoch's silence was beginning to unnerve him and finally unable to stand it any longer Johnny decided to wade in with both feet.
"I expect you're wonderin' where I've been the last week."
Murdoch watched Johnny closely. He didn't want to upset his son but he was damned curious about where he had been for the last six days.
"We can talk about this in the morning Johnny. You should rest now. Sam said you were exhausted." Murdoch stated firmly but gently.
"That's just it Murdoch. I've been resting in bed until early this morning. I ain't got any reason to be tired." The statement held a ring of uncertainty as if Johnny were asking a question.
"Where were you then Johnny?" Murdoch's curiosity was at a new level now that his son had just informed him that he had been in a bed. It was obvious the boy had been ill and someone had been taking care of him.
"I was staying with a real nice lady. She found me lying on the ground somewhere near her house. I don't know how I wound up on the ground so don't even ask." Johnny told his father.
"You don't know what happened to you then?" Murdoch was worried that Johnny had been hurt but couldn't remember how it happened. He wondered if his head injury might be more serious than Sam had first thought.
"Nope." Johnny said.
"Where did this real nice lady live?" Murdoch wanted to know.
Johnny didn't say anything for a long time
"Johnny?" Murdoch prompted.
"I don't really know. I mean I don't remember." Johnny stated quietly.
Once again Murdoch wondered about the bump on his son's head. It was worrying him that Johnny didn't seem to know how he had been hurt or where he had been.
"Maybe we should continue this discussion in the morning after you have had more rest Son." said Murdoch.
"No!" Johnny was determined to get this out and over with. He didn't think he could rest until his questions had been answered. If only he could figure out what those questions should be.
"What was her name Johnny?" asked Murdoch. He could tell his son had a lot on his mind and suspected that no rest would come until he had resolved all of the issues that were bothering him.
Johnny was suddenly back in that little bedroom trying to figure out how to convince Mrs. Gibbons he was well enough to go home. Her support for his decision still had him a little surprised. Suddenly he was aware that his father was speaking to him again.
"Johnny." Murdoch called his son's name hoping to gain his attention again.
"What?" Johnny asked.
Murdoch smiled and was glad that his son couldn't see his face. "The real nice lady that took care of you, what was her name?"
"Oh. Mrs. Gibbons. She's a widow. I think she knows us Murdoch." Johnny seemed oblivious to the change in his father's attitude at his last offering of information.
"Did you say Mrs. Gibbons?" Murdoch was at a loss. The only widow he knew of was Mrs. Sarah Gibbons and she had been dead for over a decade and a half. She had no family and when she passed there had been no one to leave her property to. He and Scott had just been by the old place where she had lived that very morning while looking for Johnny.
"What does this Mrs. Gibbons look like Johnny?" Murdoch was curious to see how his son would respond.
"Well she's kinda short and round. She's got gray hair that she keeps in a tight bun on the top of her head. She smiles all the time and she knows a lot about us." Johnny told his father. It was a relief to finally tell someone about his angel of mercy. He didn't know why he had felt strange and reluctant to go into it with his father but now that he had it was like a burden had been lifted.
"Do you know her Murdoch?" Johnny was curious as to what his father would tell him about the sweet Mrs. Gibbons.
"Yes Son I know her. Now you better go back to sleep. I'll tell you about her in the morning." Murdoch needed time to gather his thoughts before he discussed this any further with Johnny.
"But she said she knew all about us." Johnny tried again with his father.
"I said in the morning young man. You go to sleep now." Murdoch admonished his child.
Not liking the brick wall his father just threw up Johnny never—the-- less knew it would be pointless to pursue any further attempts to gain information about Mrs. Gibbons. He turned over and once again concentrated on the curtains that floated like ghostly apparitions. Soon he fell asleep dreaming of a sweet face that smiled at him while spooning stew into his mouth.
~*~*~*~*~ L ~*~*~*~*~
"There must be an explanation Sir. Johnny isn't prone to such fantasies." Scott informed his father.
"I agree Scott but he was serious. I don't understand it and I certainly don't know how I'm going to approach this with him. I'm more inclined to think he was dreaming the whole thing." Murdoch stated.
"I think you might have hit on it. It's more likely a dream he had. I'm sure it's only a coincidence that the details of his dream match so closely to this Mrs. Gibbons. Maybe he heard someone talking about her at one time. You know things can get stuck in your brain and just lay dormant for a long time. Then one day something will happen to bring it back to the front of your mind." Scott was grasping for any kind of reasonable explanation for his brothers story about being cared for by a dead woman. It sent chills up his spine even if she was a real nice lady.
Scott had his own questions about what his brother had disclosed. He still felt that somehow the house he and Murdoch had checked out before finding Johnny was connected to his brother in some way. Too much of what Johnny described seemed to mimic what his father had told him earlier.
"He needs to know the truth sir." Scott informed his father.
"I know that." Murdoch snapped. He immediately regretted it and went on more calmly. "I'm just not sure how to break it to him."
"We'll both talk to him. I'm sure he'll see it all as a bad dream.
Johnny just starred at the ruins before him. He couldn't understand what he was seeing. It was real. It all had seemed so real to him. She had touched him, fed him stew, and bathed his face with a cool rag.
Johnny stepped up on the old rotted porch careful of the holes where the wood had already succumbed to time and the elements. He hesitantly made his way through the door into the front room. What he saw pained his heart. Murdoch was telling him the truth. Johnny gave an involuntary shudder as he thought back on the conversation he had with his father and brother that very morning.
"You don't know what you're talking about old man!" Johnny had shouted back after his father had insisted that Mrs. Gibbons had been dead for several years.
"Johnny, try to understand." Scott had stepped up reaching out towards his brother only wanting to offer comfort and support.
Johnny was having none of it as he stepped backwards only to be brought up short as his father stepped behind him placing both hands on his son's shoulders.
"Johnny, I'm sure it all seems real now. After time you will come to understand that you were hurt with a head injury and you only thought that all of what you believe really happened."
Johnny had stormed out of the house with his father and brother close behind at this point.
"Where do you think you are going, Johnny?" Scott had demanded.
"I'm gonna go and find Mrs. Gibbons. Then you two can apologize while you're eating crow."
Scott had tried to protest but Murdoch had shaken his head. "But sir he's not ready for a trip like this now. He's still exhausted and should be resting in bed."
"I'm sure you're right, Son, but I think it's more important that Johnny find out the truth now. He won't be able to rest until he knows for sure." Murdoch persuaded his son.
Not saying another word, both of the older Lancers made their way to the barn and began saddling their horses. Johnny was waiting impatiently when his father and brother lead their own mounts out of the barn.
After Murdoch and Scott had mounted and settled into their saddles they both looked at Johnny waiting for him to lead the way. To their surprise the boy only hung his head and sat still. Scott was sure that his little brother was beginning to feel the effects of his accident and was surprised when Johnny looked up and sadly announced. "I don't remember how to get there."
Murdoch didn't say a word but only smiled and nodded his head. Leading the way he headed towards the old house that his son believed he had spent six days at, recovering from his injuries.
Johnny walked through the debris as he made his way across the floor towards the bedroom where he had spent most of his time laying in a bed. When he looked inside he caught his breath. Other than years of dust and cobwebs that hung from the ceiling the room was as he remembered it. The quilt that had warmed him was dirty and ragged now, but just a few days earlier it had been clean and fresh. He had spent many hours noticing the details of each square and stitch. Not having much of anything else to do, Johnny had studied the fabric and skill that had gone into making the bright coverlet.
On the wall just opposite of the bed he saw the picture of the children that were playing in a field of flowers. It was the same picture; only now it was covered in dust and over time had become faded and spotted with age.
The curtains in the window were tattered now. Once they use to be white and when the wind blew them they had a crisp snapping sound. Now they were thread bare and only fluttered as the breezes stirred them.
Johnny hung his head in defeat. He couldn't understand what all of this meant. He could still hear their conversations in his head. Every word and detail was fresh. Her smile filled his brain with longing. She had been real. Or had she.
Johnny turned to walk out. His head hurt and suddenly he was tired. Scott followed close behind not saying anything. He knew his little brother was confused and hurting. Not just a physical hurt but also a deep emotional hurt. Once again the boy had lost something that had been dear to him.
The ride home had been pretty quiet. None of the men were inclined to carry on a conversation and so the trip home was done in silence. Scott and Murdoch had once again taken up positions on either side of Johnny keeping a close watch to make sure the ride home wasn't too much for him.
They pulled up at the front hitching rail and dismounted. Murdoch put his arm around Johnny and helped him inside. They all headed into the great room and Scott went straight to the liquor table and poured two glasses of scotch for him and his father. He looked up to ask his brother if he wanted a glass of tequila but his father was already settling the boy down on the sofa for a more needed nap.
Johnny usually resented being coddled and fussed over but he was sore and tired from the trip. He needed something and at the moment his father was providing it. He didn't say anything as his boots and gun belt were removed and set aside. Next to go were his jacket and hat. When Murdoch laid him down on the couch, and then tucked a blanket around him he only smiled his gratitude at the man and closed his eyes. He was asleep in a matter of a couple of minutes.
"I told you it was too much for him. Look at him. He's so worn out he'll sleep for a week." Scott admonished his father.
Murdoch was about to reply when Teresa burst into the room. "I thought I heard something. Did you just get in?"
She looked over at the sofa and realized Johnny was lying there asleep. "Is he alright?" she asked concerned.
"Yes darling, he's fine. With a little rest he'll be good as new." Murdoch assured his ward.
Murdoch noticed Teresa was holding something white in her hand. It looked like a pretty linen napkin, but he didn't recognize it. There was a crocheted border around it and all of the Lancer napkins were plain.
"What's that in your hand Teresa?" he asked the young woman.
Looking at the cloth clutched in her hands a frown creased her forehead as she studied the napkin. "It's so odd Murdoch. I was unpacking Johnny's saddlebags and inside was this napkin. There were others too. They were all wrapped around sandwiches except for one. It was wrapped around a piece of apple pie. The food was still very fresh. There was an apple inside as well. Now where do you think Johnny got all of that food?" Teresa wondered.
Murdoch took the napkin from Teresa's hand and studied it. He could feel the chill that began running up and down his spine as he gazed at the name that had been so delicately and meticulously embroidered on the napkin.
"Scott, come here and look at this."
Scott walked over and took the napkin that was held out to him. He nearly dropped his drink when he noticed the name. There in blue thread was the name Gibbons.