It was late and the boys had long since retired to their rooms. Hopefully both would be asleep as the hour was rather late. Murdoch knew he should be in bed himself, but was reluctant to end this wonderful day and this moment of private reflection. It had been a special day and one full of surprises. As he sat alone he thought about the events that had lead to this moment.
It had begun several days ago when he boys and he had been in Bitter Creek on business. His goal had been to get as many signatures for his petition concerning the railroad as he could. The boys had told him they had their own agenda to attend to and – although disappointed -- had left them to their own devices.
Twice he had watched both boys acting suspiciously; as if purposely avoiding him. It was after he observed Johnny cut and run when their paths crossed Murdoch felt a need to investigate this strange behavior, sure and certain now his sons were up to some mischief that would undoubtedly land the pair in jail. They had an uncanny penchant for trouble, his boys; and he was determined to pull them up short before he found himself having to post bail.
It was his job, calling the turn and keeping them out of trouble; a pleasure he had been denied far too long.
Murdoch entered the stable with the intention of confronting his two sons but found they had managed to slip away elusively like down in the wind. As he stood wondering what was up with Scott and Johnny he heard a strange noise coming from the wagon they had brought along for supplies. After investigating he found that a crate holding a young sow tucked up in the front part of the wagon bed covered with a tarp.
Lying close to the wagon’s tailgate Murdoch found two suspicious bundles. A case holding a stereopticon and several picture slides to go with it. It looked like the case Scott had held close before dashing away earlier in the day. Next to it a long object was wrapped in an old blanket. Moving aside the folds he saw a Winchester rifle; one of the rare one of one thousand he had read about. Johnny had been clutching a rifle close when he dashed in the opposite direction after almost coming face to face with his father.
Murdoch quickly tied the blanket back around the rifle and climbed down from the wagon. He was puzzled as to why the boys were being so secretive of these fine treasures. He had never admonished either of his sons for the extravagant purchases they occasionally felt inclined to make.
He started towards the side door of the stable when he stopped and looked at the wagon again. It suddenly occurred to him that maybe the hasty retreats from Scott and Johnny had been to protect their own special secrets from him. His birthday was coming up in just a few short days and he suspected these were gifts meant for him. He quickly made his way back to the streets determined to forget all about what he had discovered. It was his first birthday with the boys and he had no intentions of spoiling their well planned surprises.
He smiled as he realized that for the first time he was going to be receiving something from his sons that meant as much to them as it would to him. The gifts were not important but the thought and the love each son bestowed on his own selection was priceless to him and would remain long after such gifts were laid away
Now here he was holding two of the most treasured items he had ever owned in his life. He would give all of the expensive things he had acquired over the years for these two small but priceless offerings of love from his boys.
The small painting of the fawn would always remind him of a son who had thought past his own desires and needs by offering the world to a young girl who would never see beyond the hills surrounding her home. Scott’s unselfish gift had given the budding young artist a chance to live through pictures and her dreams of days filled with travel and adventure. How proud he was to learn that his oldest was a man of not only integrity but who also possessed a heart that knew no boundaries when it came to giving love and compassion to others.
His hands trembling, he lovingly caressed the carefully worked Lancer L with his thumb, his heart filled with love for the child that had been stolen from him; his lost boy who had displayed such generosity and grace in spite of the obvious cruelty of another. How disappointed Johnny must have been to come away without the prize-winning rifle in order to allow an embittered old man the allusion that his own son had given him a valuable gift before his death. Johnny had seen past his own need to give something of value to his father and allowed this one last gift to a dying old man. By the bruises on the boy’s face he had paid dearly before relinquishing his prize.
Murdoch knew that each gift represented something much more valuable than just a mere possession. These simple gifts, given with such humility, were the true reminders of just how special his boys were; and how each one had special qualities that were more valuable than silver or gold.
He had been given something every man hoped to find in his children; love for his fellow man and compassion that went beyond worldly riches. His sons, by their selfless acts, had given him what he knew was unconditional love.
No man could ask for more from his children and if he died tonight he would go with the knowledge that he was truly a father of sons who displayed integrity, love and compassion.