Never a Still Moment
How Many People Does it Take to Keep Johnny Lancer in Bed?
Bad News and Worse News
Sam Jenkins hesitated outside the door knowing that the news he was about to impart would not be received very well. He had faced these two men before on similar occasions and it never seemed to get any easier. Oh, it wasn’t the worry of his patient recovering; he was going to make a full recovery. It was the recovery itself that he dreaded discussing with Murdoch and Scott. Nope, this wasn’t going to be a pleasant discussion at all.
“Well?” Murdoch turned from the huge window behind his desk when he heard Scott clearing his throat to gain his father’s attention. The worried parent’s face was haggard, his hair standing at odd angles from the repeated running of his fingers through the silver strands.
Sam stood, stalling for time by removing his handkerchief to clean his lenses as he tried to find the words to explain the absolute Hell he knew the family was going to be subjected to for the next several days. When he hesitated to say anything Scott’s concern overcame him.
“My brother’s going to be fine, isn’t he? It was only a broken leg, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, Scott, it’s just a broken leg but, no, he isn’t going to be fine. He’s going to be miserable and so are the rest of you.” Sam knew he was snapping at the younger man but his own frustration was getting the best of him. He had fought with Johnny over the laudanum before he set the boy’s leg and even though he won, it wasn’t a victory he could be proud of knowing that he had upset his patient to the point of near tears.
“Just what does that mean exactly?” Scott asked, crossing his arms to hug his torso, a move characteristic of his younger brother.
“It means the break was bad and for the next seven or eight days he isn’t to leave that bed for any reason.” Sam recognized the look of the impending explosion on his old friend’s face. He braced himself for the bellow to come.
“A whole week, you have got to be kidding me!” The big man grabbed the edge of his desk, appearing for all the world like his knees would buckle.
Sam held up his hand to stop further argument. “It could mean the difference between whether the boy has a permanent limp or not. He’s got to give the bones time to begin to knit together properly. If it were anyone else I wouldn’t be so strict but I don’t have to tell you that it’s a totally different game when it comes to Johnny. I’m sorry, gentlemen, but there is no other way.”
Frustrated, Murdoch rapped the desk top with his knuckles and snapped at the doctor in exasperation, “Just how do you recommend we keep him down, tie him to the bed?”
Scott felt as vexed as his father but now wasn’t the time for fighting amongst themselves. They needed to work together and approach this with some kind of strategy. “Instead of snapping at each other, gentlemen, I suggest we sit down and discuss this calmly over coffee. After all he’s just one boy. How hard could it be?”
Sam and Murdoch turned and looked at Scott in total annoyance and disbelief. Scott realized he had probably just made the most ludicrous statement in his life and quickly excused himself to procure the coffee.
“Sit down, Sam. I know you must be exhausted from dealing with Johnny.” It wasn’t easy for Murdoch to apologize, but he felt bad for taking his frustrations out on his oldest and dearest friend.
Placing a hand on Murdoch’s shoulder, Sam tried to comfort the man. “I know it looks daunting but if we sit down and discuss it, I’m sure together we can come up with a plan to make this next week go by as painlessly as possible for all concerned.”
Murdoch smiled at Sam and they both broke out in laughter because they knew that the days ahead were going to be anything but painless.
Teresa poured more coffee in Murdoch’s cup as she eagerly tried to comfort and convince the two men sitting at the table that the next week would not be as impossible as they seemed to think. “I bet once word gets out that Johnny is laid up there will be plenty of distractions from Green River and Morro Coyo arriving at the ranch.”
“What do you mean, darling?” Murdoch cautiously asked. He hoped that his ward didn’t mean there would be a bevy of young visitors of the female persuasion trooping in and out cuddling up to his invalid son.
He didn’t think he could handle watching a bunch of giggling girls vying for Johnny’s attention. Knowing Johnny, he knew the constant attention would soon wear on the boy’s nerves as well as his own. Johnny wasn’t particularly shy around girls but he was not all that tolerant of their blatant overtures of trying to capture his attention.
“Well, I happen to know that Aggie Conway is going to be over here in a flash once she gets word that Johnny is laid up. She seems to have a special fondness for him. I mean she loves all of us but when she gets around Johnny she seems to get sort of dreamy like.” Teresa couldn’t quite explain what she meant but she knew Aggie connected with Johnny in a special way, not quite like a mother and child but as an aunt and favorite nephew.
“Well, Aggie knew Johnny before. I think she just remembers him when he was a baby is all.” Chuckle “Don’t tell Johnny but Aggie used to change his diaper,” Murdoch informed his children.
“Still, I think she is going to want to come and spend some time with him when she finds out he’s being restricted to bed for the next seven or eight days,” Teresa said.
“I’ve noticed someone else who seems to be enamored with my little brother’s charms and that’s the Widow Hargis. Every time we go for supplies, Johnny walks away with a handful of cookies and more often than not a bag of peppermint sticks,” Scott enlightened his family as he sipped at his coffee.
“I know how your brother has charmed and wrapped half the women in this valley around his finger but what possible interest would he have with them all coming to keep him company?” Murdoch couldn’t fathom how their visits would keep his son entertained and occupied for any length of time.
As she breezed to the sink in order to finish up with the dishes, Teresa casually replied, “Well as long as they come bringing him treats I’m sure they will be welcomed anytime.” She giggled; delighted she had it figured out before the men.
Murdoch and Scott turned to each other, twin grins parting their lips with the knowledge that Teresa was right. One thing they could count on when it came to Johnny was he had a sweet tooth that was quickly becoming legendary.
And So it Begins
The first few days of Johnny’s convalescence went fairly well. Johnny slept a great deal of the time as a result of the sedation that he had been given in order to keep him calm. It was imperative he rested and allowed the bones in his leg time to begin mending. Johnny, under the influence of the strong opiates, was compliant and actually a bit clingy, preferring his father or brother’s help as opposed to any others. Once the dosage was reduced and the medicine began to wear off the clinginess ended and Johnny’s ability to exercise patience and control dissipated, and nothing Maria and Teresa did, after Scott and Murdoch went back to work, pleased him.
It began with complaints about his food choices…or to hear him grumble and growl about it, the lack of choice. Johnny never was one for tolerating bland foods and the mushy cereals and tasteless broths did nothing to help his disposition. When his three times daily tantrums got his menu changed and he proved he could tolerate more flavorful foods, he directed his complaints towards the inactivity he was forced to endure. After two full days of trying to appease the irritable patient, Teresa and Maria decided it was time Murdoch and Scott to share in the duty of keeping the young man amused.
Murdoch stood in front of his son’s door dreading what he knew was likely to be a very trying evening. An injured Johnny was like a petulant toddler, easily perturbed and a chore to placate. Armed with checkers and the game board, the big rancher took a deep breath and knocked briefly before entering Johnny’s room. The harried father knew his work was cut out for him when he spied the pillows and various books littering the floor, obviously thrown there by a bored and discontented Johnny.
Hearing his dad clear his throat, obviously in an attempt to draw his attention, Johnny looked to see his father standing with the checker board. He did his best to try and hide the grimace but his eyes refused to cooperate and rolled upward anyway over what Murdoch had in mind to keep him entertained for the next few hours.
“How about a game of checkers, Johnny?” Murdoch smiled and tried his best to sound enthusiastic despite the fact he was anticipating a surly response. He fought a severe frown when his efforts fell just short of convincing.
“No!” Johnny snapped; poking his bottom lip out and crossing his arms over his night shirt covered chest. The twinkle normally present in his eyes replaced by a look of blue fury.
Well that was pretty cut and dry, Murdoch thought. He wrestled with the urge to snarl back, reminding himself Johnny had a reason to be out of sorts. Ignoring Johnny’s sour attitude, Murdoch proceeded to set the board up on the bedside tray that had been used for his lunch earlier. “Do you want to be red or black?”
“Neither!” Johnny huffed, and then turned his head away and concentrated on picking at some loose threads on his quilt.
Faking a calm attitude he didn’t really feel, Murdoch stated, “I’ll be black and you can be red.” Setting the tray across Johnny’s lap Murdoch indicated with his finger that the boy needed to make a move. Not caring about the game Johnny didn’t even look at the board as he shoved one of his checkers without giving it any thought and went right back to pulling strings from his covers.
Murdoch decided a lesson in patience was in order for his son. He studied the board a minute longer than was necessary before he finally made his move, smiling inwardly at Johnny’s fidgeting. Once again Johnny moved his piece without any thought. This time Murdoch jumped his son’s checker. “If you keep this up I’m going to have you beat in no time.”
Snorting, Johnny shrugged his shoulders and once again made a move with no thought to the consequences. Several moves later Murdoch decided to add some spice to the game in hopes of enticing some interest from his son. It was a spur of the moment decision but it got the results he had hoped for.
Looking rather relaxed and unconcerned Murdoch asked his son, “Did I mention to you that for each game you or I win we get to assign a chore to the loser?”
Johnny jerked his head up at his father’s declaration. “What kinda chores? It ain’t like I can do much stuck in this bed with y’all standin’ guard over me like a vulture over a dead rat!”
Amused by Johnny’s tirade, Murdoch tried to hide his smile by putting his hand over his mouth and concentrating on the checker board. Clearing his throat to gain some control he replied to his son’s rather malcontented rant. “I’m sure there are plenty of things that I can find for you to do that can be done from your bed.”
Murdoch saw several emotions cross his son’s face. First there was suspicion, followed by confusion, and then suspicion again as Johnny realized what chores his father had in mind for him.
Johnny’s face darkened as defeat and resignation to his fate settled and he sighed loudly and with great drama, saying, “Fine, whose move is it?”
“Son, I know this is probably the hardest thing you have ever had to do but it’s important that you listen to Sam this time. It could mean the difference in how you walk for the rest of your life.” Murdoch’s concerned eyes locked with his son’s. Besides, if you win I’ll be at your mercy. So please don’t be too hard on your ‘Old Man’.”
Johnny smiled mischievously at the thought of some of the chores he could assign his father. For the first time since the game began, he took an interest and began studying the board for his next move. Father and son played two more games before Johnny fell asleep in the middle of the fourth game completely exhausted.
Murdoch sat and watched his son sleep; indulging in memories of long ago. It had been one of his favorite things when Johnny was a baby. The little whirlwind was never still or quiet except during times of sleep. Murdoch marveled at how angelic Johnny could still look when he slept with his face so relaxed his mouth parted slightly and his lips curled upward in the corners. For just a brief moment Murdoch reached out and gently caressed the boy’s hair that still felt like silk strands beneath his calloused hand. Knowing that the lost years were beyond him to change, Murdoch couldn’t help the tears that silently slid down his face. Well nothing can be done about that now. He and Scott are here with me now and I’ve been given a second chance at being their father. With that Murdoch stood and made sure his son was tucked in for the night before he left for his own room.
Leaving the door open, Murdoch walked into the hall and on an impulse made a sudden turn towards Scott’s room. Quietly, he opened the door and stuck his head in and observed the younger man sleeping peacefully. Just like Johnny, the blond looked years younger as he slept. The vulnerability of sleep took away the seriousness from the young man’s face, softening the angular lines of his features. The need to protect his children always seemed to grow stronger at night as they lay lost in their own dreams. Unable to restrain himself, Murdoch walked quietly to the bed and pulled the blankets up higher over his son’s shoulders. Mirroring his earlier action with Johnny, he smoothed a few stray hairs back out of the boy’s face. Scott seemed to snuggle towards the touch of his father’s hand which made Murdoch’s heart swell with love from the simple gesture of trust. Once again he thanked God for the second chance to be a father to his two fine sons.
Bad Times Ahead
Teresa breezed into her brother’s room followed closely by Jelly. “Good morning Johnny,” she chirped, as if she were the Blue Bird of Happiness.
Being greeted by the girl’s merry manner first thing in the morning, did nothing to improve the disposition of the bedridden youngest Lancer. Johnny scowled, his face darkening and his lips pressing grimly together, an action that had backed many a man down in the past but failed to impress his sister.
“I’ve got your breakfast ready and you are going to just love it,” Teresa fairly sang, and then frowned as she realized he needed to sit up to eat. “Jelly, help me prop him up so he can eat,” Teresa requested, setting the tray on the chair by the bed, she quickly stuffed pillows behind Johnny while Jelly held him up.
“Now, isn’t that better?” Teresa continued her cheery chatter as she prepared the tray so it would be easier for her brother to manage. She took a napkin and tucked it into the collar of his nightshirt while she gave him a rundown of the menu that had been lovingly prepared by Maria. “Hot oatmeal laced with cinnamon and brown sugar, warm biscuits dripping with fresh churned butter and strawberry preserves, fresh apple slices and a large cold glass of creamy milk. Now doesn’t that sound delicious?”
A petulant pout fattened his bottom lip causing it to protrude. “No! Where’s my coffee?” Johnny looked over the tray disgruntled and dissatisfied at not finding the eggs, bacon, and pancakes, he had been craving.
“No coffee yet, Johnny. Murdoch said for you to drink every drop of that milk because it will help your leg heal faster,” she informed him patiently in a mild mannered voice, as though talking to a child.
Johnny huffed at the news and tuned Teresa out unable to stomach anymore of her pleasant attitude or chatter. Finally she gave up trying to placate him and as she left the room Johnny looked towards Jelly gesturing at the tray. “Get rid of this, please.”
“Nope, boss said for you to eat it and it’s my job to make sure ya do it. Now get at it, boy before your daddy comes in here and feeds it to ya!” Jelly exclaimed as he stood by the bed of his young friend with his thumbs hooked in his suspenders, rocking from his heels to the balls of his feet and jutting his chin out trying to show his authority.
Before Johnny could think of an argument, Murdoch stuck his head through the door. He frowned upon seeing the uneaten food; pointing at the tray on his son’s lap, he warned, “Johnny, you eat your breakfast without giving Jelly any trouble because if I hear any of your sass I will personally come in here and spoon feed it to you myself.”
The hooded look on Johnny’s face was replaced by wide-eyed shock at the threat. The thought of being fed like a child prompted Johnny to pick up his spoon and make an effort at eating the oatmeal. He grimaced and gagged dramatically at what he considered sick people food. He wasn’t sick just busted up a little bit. It was his leg not his mouth that needed mending and he found it very unfair that he wasn’t allowed to enjoy a more hardy diet.
“Jelly, I’ll be back in about thirty minutes to help you bathe and change Johnny into a clean nightshirt,” Murdoch stated, his concerned eyes raking over his son’s pain paled features.
Johnny nearly choked on his first sip of milk at his father’s declaration. The one thing that had suffered the most through this ordeal was his dignity and he was pretty sure his leg was going to heal before it did.
Johnny ate a couple more bites of his oatmeal before pushing the bowl aside in favor of the biscuits that simply melted in his mouth and soon they were gone along with the strawberry jam. Maria’s biscuits were some of the best he had ever had and her jam was a treat he had never enjoyed before he came home to Lancer. He didn’t have to be asked twice to drain his glass of milk but he wasn’t going to get down anymore oatmeal no matter how much Maria doctored it.
Johnny tried to focus on his father’s instructions but the bath he had been forced to endure was still too fresh in his mind and just thinking about it caused him to blush. He was having trouble even making eye contact with the two older men.
“You do understand don’t you, John?” Murdoch asked, trying to gain his son’s attention despite knowing the boy’s mind was still on ‘the bath’.
“Yeah,” Johnny mumbled, his eyes trained on the window as though he could see through the heavy drapes to the freedom outside that he craved.
“Repeat what I just said so I can be sure,” Murdoch instructed; not quite willing -- based on past experiences -- to believe the boy had actually been listening.
With an exaggerated sigh, Johnny repeated almost word for word the instructions his father had recited for him a moment earlier. Displeasure was written all over the younger man’s countenance: and it deepened as his right forefinger trailed along the edge of the heavy ledger that lay open in his lap.
Satisfied that his son had indeed been listening and understood what he was supposed to do, Murdoch double checked to make sure there was a full glass of water within reach and an extra half-dozen sharpened pencils. Looking at Johnny, Murdoch felt sorry for his baby boy as he lay propped up among the piles of pillows and fresh linens. He knew this was very hard on his son and wished he could do something to make his confinement easier to take. “You do remember that I owe you a couple of chores?”
Just as Murdoch had hoped Johnny grinned back at him. “That’s right, I won two games and you owe me two chores. I’ll think on it let and you know.”
Murdoch raised an eyebrow at his nervy son with a feeling of dread at what Johnny’s agile mind might come up with. It was after all an opportune time for his son to exact what he considered justified payback. For the first time since he had come up with the spur of the moment idea to give his son something to look forward to, Murdoch wondered if he had used good judgment in allowing the boy to have this much power over him.
Johnny could see the slight apprehension in his father’s face and was delighted in getting this reaction from the man who insisted on calling the tune. “Any time you want a rematch, Old Man, set up the checker board.”
Pointing his finger at his son, Murdoch told him, “You just see that you get the books caught up and we’ll see about another game later. Oh and when you decide what it is you want me to do just let me know. But bear in mind, son, I am your father and you can’t run.” Plastering a particularly wicked smile on his face, Murdoch stared down at his son; allowing the boy plenty of time to think over what he might be considering.
“The look” was enough to silence any smart remarks the boy had anticipated, and the words died on his tongue. But it didn’t stop him from thinking. He raised one hand in a gesture of peace, and watched as his father turned and left the room.
From Figurin’ to Stitchin’
The whisper scratch of pencil against paper was the only sound in the room as Johnny finished up the books for his father. Peeking in the door, Scott smiled at the intense look of concentration on his little brother’s face with the pink tip of his tongue protruding from the corner of his mouth as he tallied columns. “How’s it going, Johnny?” Scott questioned as he made his presence known.
The younger man looked up and sighed. Even though it had only been book work Johnny was tired. “I’m done and I don’t ever wanna’ look at these stupid things again.” He slammed the book shut and pushed it away.
Scott stifled a chuckle as he walked over and picked up the ledger his little brother had been working on and asked, “Mind?”
With a regal sweeping motion of his hand, Johnny replied, “No, go ahead, but I promise, you ain’t gonna’ find anythin’ wrong. I checked them figures twice and made sure I got all the receipts entered and I added the columns up twice,” he held up two fingers, “just to make sure I didn’t make any mistakes.”
Scott looked over the columns impressed with the neat handwriting. I wish Johnny was as confident in his ability to tend to the paper work end of the business as his skills indicate he is. This is just as good as Murdoch or I would have done it.
Johnny chewed his bottom lip, his apprehension showing as he watched his older brother scan his work. He sighed and relaxed at the pleased look on the blond’s face.
“This looks really good Johnny. You keep this up and Murdoch will have you doing the books all the time.” Scott winked at his brother, happy to see the look of pride on the boy’s face. Suddenly pride turned to concern.
“You don’t think he would make me do the books all the time do you?” Johnny wanted his father’s approval but he sure didn’t want to be doing those books on a regular basis.
Scott smiled knowing how much Johnny hated to be tied to a pencil and paper; he quickly reassured his little brother that he had only been teasing. “Don’t worry, Kid, our father has already realized where your true talents lie. He’s not going to tie you down too often with these books as long as there are horses around to be broken.”
Johnny’s smile reappeared but it was obvious the work on the books had worn him out. Knowing that a suggestion of a nap wouldn’t go over well, Scott decided that with a little patience he would have his brother tucked in and sleeping like a baby in a few moments. Sitting on the bed next to him, Scott began telling Johnny about the morning’s activities; making sure to keep his voice soft and even; leaving out any details that might generate any type of excitement. Just as he predicted, Johnny was soon asleep and after removing a few pillows and making sure he was adequately covered up, Scott left satisfied that Johnny would sleep soundly for an hour or so before lunch.
“I ain’t doin’ it. I don’t do girl stuff.” Johnny informed his sister indignantly; crossing his arms over his chest and jutting his chin out as iron headed Lancer attitude appeared.
Teresa glared at the young man frustrated with his attitude. He wasn’t even giving her a chance which wasn’t unusual but it was her turn to keep her brother occupied and entertained. She had given it some considerable thought and other than checkers or reading she couldn’t think of a thing that would be of interest to him. She had asked him once to show her how to play chess but the thought of two hours of the mind numbing game wasn’t something she thought she would want to endure again. She stayed totally confused when she watched her brothers play and she had decided a long time ago that she would much rather stick with her mending and needle work.
“Johnny, I know that it’s not exactly something you’re interested in but if you’ll just give it a try you might find you actually enjoy it. It’s relaxing and rewarding. Besides I happen to know that there are lots of men who enjoy creating nice things with needle and thread.”
“Like who?” Johnny asked indignantly; prepared to put up a fight.
“Tailors for one. There are very famous tailors in all the larger cities. You can ask, Scott, Boston had them. Who do you think monogrammed all those dress shirts of Scott’s?” Teresa informed Johnny. “Now just watch me for two minutes. After all it just might help if you ever have to sew your own patches on your clothes or replace missing buttons.”
Giving her his most charming smile, Johnny retorted, “But Teresa, that’s what we have you for.” The smile melted from his face at the perturbed scowl on his sister’s face. He swallowed with an audible gulp; the misspoken comment he just made had sealed his fate and by the way Teresa was eyeing him; Johnny knew he was about to get his first sewing lesson.
Twenty minutes later, Teresa stomped from the room exasperated with Johnny’s surly attitude but satisfied knowing he had learned enough to keep him busy for quite a while. If her plan worked out the way she hoped, eventually he would get bored and go to sleep. She and Maria had learned that a sleeping Johnny made for a pleasant patient and required less attention from them.
Johnny stared at the material in his hand that was stretched out in a set of wooden rings. He studied the few stitches that Teresa had coaxed him into sewing, pleased that they looked almost as good as hers. Without thinking about what he was doing, he was soon deeply engrossed in making the tiny stitches that were creating a design on the front of the shirt; clueless to the fact it had been made for him.
A couple of hours later, Murdoch checked in on his youngest; he found Johnny clutching a piece of material in his right hand. The boy looked as if he had been sucking on the index finger of his left hand which was totally out of character for him. Murdoch gently pulled the wooden hoop and material away trying not to disturb his son’s nap. Looking at the design that had been stitched he was surprised to see a neat row of tiny leaves on a vine that had been intricately stitched neatly and evenly along the front of the white shirt
Murdoch noticed that Johnny’s finger was still resting loosely in his mouth, which was open and slack in sleep. He gently pulled removing the digit trying not to disturb the boy. He noticed a tiny pin prick on the tip and after looking at the shirt again he noticed a tiny drop of blood and realized that at some point Johnny had stuck his self with the needle.
Murdoch smiled thinking of the battle that must have ensued when Teresa had presented her idea to her brother, though not surprised that the willful young lady had won out over his tough macho son. He wasn’t sure how she had managed but he was glad he hadn’t been present for the spectacle it must have been.
Shaking his head, Murdoch laid the sewing project on the table close to his son so that he could reach it easily if he was so inclined when he woke up. Chuckling to himself, he left the room in search of Teresa in order to find out just how she had convinced his son to consent to doing “woman’s work.”
Aggie Conway Comes a Calling
The family’s campaign to take turns keeping Johnny in bed and occupied had been pretty successful though not without a lot of grumbling and complaining from the reluctant patient. A few minor issues had cropped up that needed to be dealt with by Murdoch’s firm, no-nonsense approach towards his son’s forced convalescent but Johnny had been kept from doing anything against doctor’s orders that would set back his recovery.
Fortunately for the Lancers, Aggie Conway decided that she was due a visit with the youngest Lancer son. To their eternal gratitude, she came well equipped with sweet treats that she’d baked especially for Johnny and plenty of stories to keep the young man well entertained for at least a couple of hours, giving them a much needed break.
Peeking quietly around the door, Aggie observed Johnny working diligently on what looked like a piece of cloth. The young man was so deeply engrossed in what he was doing that his tongue was protruding slightly out the side of his mouth; his brow was furrowed and scrunched which plumped his cheeks and gave him a cherubic look. Aggie was carried back in time when a baby Johnny would come to visit and have that same expression as he concentrated on one of the colorful, little toys that she always kept for him when his father would bring him along.
Not wanting to surprise him, Aggie announced herself at the door. “Knock knock.”
Johnny’s head whipped around, clearly startled; a crimson blush colored his cheeks, and he quickly pitched the material he had been working on to the other side of the room. Aggie decided that he had not wanted anyone to see him working on the mystery project and chose to pretend she hadn’t noticed.
Murdoch had mentioned to her earlier how Teresa had managed to get Johnny interested in the art of embroidery. He told Aggie that he suspected Johnny was just so bored that he was grabbing at anything to occupy his mind. Aggie was more inclined to believe it was a case of Johnny was determined to prove to Teresa she was wrong in claiming he probably couldn’t anyway.
Walking in with a smile on her face and a small basket in her hand, Aggie greeted the young man, “How are you, dear?”
Aggie sat down on the bed and placed the basket in her lap. She began to remove her gloves as she continued to talk. “I hear you have been a pretty good patient this time.”
Johnny eyed the basket on her lap but exercised his good manners and answered her question. “I’m fine, Miz Aggie. I’m tryin’ to do what Doc says.” Johnny fidgeted, trying to get a glimpse of what was under the cloth as he continued talking, “Sometimes it ain’t easy but with everybody watchin’ me like they are I really don’t have much choice.”
Aggie bit back the smile that threatened upon hearing the frustration in Johnny’s voice combined with the curious anticipation on his face. Apparently his family was not taking a chance on the boy acting on his impulses first and suffering the consequences later. Keeping a watch on him had become a family endeavor that each one was taking seriously. “Well, I hope you don’t mind if I spend some time visiting with you this afternoon. I brought you some fresh baked cookies.” Aggie was pleased at the way Johnny’s face lit up at the mention of cookies and the way he leaned forward as she began to lift the napkin.
“No, ma’am, I sure don’t mind at all,” Johnny answered enthusiastically as he watched Aggie unwrap the plate of still warm cookies. He breathed deeply, sighing at the heavenly scent.
“Here you are, dear. I bet these will make you feel better.” Aggie handed Johnny two cookies, one for each hand. “You know when you were just a baby, Murdoch would ride over to our ranch with you about twice a week. My Henry and your father were the best of friends and spent a lot of time planning and strategizing on how to improve our ranches. You would have thought they were partners the way they worked together.”
“You knew me before? Did you know my mamma too?” Johnny looked expectantly at Aggie; hoping she could tell him something about the time he had been at Lancer before his mother had spirited him away.
“I knew you very well. I’m afraid I only met your mother a few times. She didn’t accompany Murdoch very often to our house. I think she often felt poorly and was unable to visit.” Aggie knew the truth and suspected that maybe Johnny did too but she didn’t want to confirm it. This was supposed to be a pleasant visit and she didn’t want to put a cloud over it by discussing the person who had brought so much grief to her friends.
Aggie wanted to avoid the unpleasant subject of Johnny’s mother and steered the conversation in a more pleasant direction. “I so looked forward to those visits. We didn’t have any children and you were such a sweet baby. You laughed all the time.” In her mind’s eye she saw the vision of the angelic child, cheeks dimpling as he giggled infectiously, that Johnny had been.
“I wish my mamma had come too. Maybe she wouldn’t have wanted to leave my father. If she had friends she might have wanted to stay,” he replied, his tone heavy with melancholy. Johnny stopped munching on his cookies and looked towards the window wishing things had been better between his mother and father.
“I think she was just shy, Johnny. Some people find it hard to meet strangers and make friends. She was very young,” Aggie explained. She didn’t have the heart to tell Johnny that she suspected Maria encouraged these visits so she could spend her day unfettered.
Aggie suspected it was more of the fact that she was unsure of herself as a mother. The few times that Maria had been around her she seemed to adore her husband and child but there just seemed to be an awkwardness in the way the young mother handled her baby.
“You and I would have the best time. Henry and Murdoch would go off to discuss their ranch business and I had you all to myself.” She paused, subconsciously cradling her arms as though once again holding the infant she remembered. “First, you would have a cookie and a bottle of milk. Then we played on the floor until lunch was ready. I must say for such a little fellow you had a healthy appetite.” Aggie noticed that Johnny was hanging onto her every word. She knew the boy was anxious to hear any story that would shed some kind of light on what his life had been like before he and his mother had gone away.
Sensing a good story coming, Johnny scooted his upper body closer to Aggie.
“Once, Rosa, my cook made spinach for lunch and your father decided you need to eat some because it has lots of iron in it.” She chuckled, unabashed glee over the memory lighting her face. “Well, he made a big production of chopping it up until it was nearly creamed. He picked you up and held you in his arms so he could feed it to you because I refused to.”
Johnny made a face at the mention of spinach. He hated the mushy boiled grass and when it was served at a meal he worked hard to avoid having to eat any of it.
Taking note of the young man’s reaction, she continued, “I don’t care for it myself and I wasn’t going to force it on you. Henry loved the stuff otherwise we would never have it,” Aggie explained, understanding the look of disgust on Johnny’s face.
“Murdoch scraped up a little in a spoon and shoved it in your mouth.” Aggie clapped her hands and leaned forward in mirth, adding, “I wish you could have seen the look on your face when he gave you that first bite. I have never seen a child so young that could frown like that. You promptly spit it out but Murdoch was determined and shoveled it back in. For the next five minutes you two battled over that spinach.” Aggie stopped for a moment looking at Johnny but she wasn’t seeing the young man lying before her, but the baby that had stolen her heart so long ago.
Suddenly Aggie was brought from her musings when Johnny tapped her lightly on the arm. “I’m sorry, what was that?” she asked.
“I wanted to know who won the war over the spinach,” Johnny asked, his curiosity clear on his face.
“Well, Murdoch finally declared defeat but only after his shirt front and sleeves were covered in green globs. He was so mad at me and Henry because by that time we were laughing so hard tears were rolling down our faces. Murdoch vowed that if it was our fault for laughing. It just made us laugh harder.”
The rest of the afternoon was spent with Aggie telling Johnny one story after another about the visits he and his father made so many years ago. As Johnny listened to the stories a warm feeling spread though him knowing how much his father really loved him. Eventually, Aggie noticed it was becoming increasingly harder for her young friend to keep his eyes open. Soon he was sound asleep with a half eaten cookie still clutched in his hand. Aggie reached over and removed what was left of the cookie and brushed the few crumbs from around his mouth. After gently tucking the covers around his shoulders, Aggie reached over and placed a light kiss to his head and then left him to sleep peacefully.
Murdoch turned from the drink cabinet and handed Aggie a glass of brandy. “Thank you for spending the afternoon with Johnny. He seemed to have really enjoyed your company. What did you two have so much to talk about?” Murdoch studied his pretty neighbor with a suspicious eye.
Aggie laughed at Murdoch knowing he was concerned that she might have divulged something he would have rather kept a secret. “I just told him stories about when you brought him over to the ranch when he was a baby.”
Murdoch snorted and pressed his lips firmly together, sending Aggie a mock scowl. He wasn’t buying that innocent look she had plastered on her face but he chose to keep that to his self. “Well, it seems to have kept him entertained. I know he enjoys hearing about when he was here before. He sometimes steers the conversation that way when we are alone. I try to tell him things but sometimes it hurts to remember that I didn’t get to enjoy him while he was growing up.” He took a sip of his drink, finding it hard to swallow past the lump of remorse in his throat.
“I had just as much fun remembering and relating the memories to him as he did listening.” Aggie’s eyes glittered with a faraway look. “I missed those visits so much. I cried for a long time after Maria and Johnny disappeared. It was like I had lost my own child.” She sniffed, saddened still by the pain. When Aggie looked up she saw the stricken look on Murdoch’s face and quickly went to him and apologized. “I’m so sorry, Murdoch. I didn’t mean to bring back hurtful memories.”
Murdoch gave Aggie a gentle squeeze on her shoulder. “Shush… there is nothing to apologize for. We have lots of good memories and those are the ones we are going to remember and share with Johnny.” He smiled, though the heartbreak still felt fresh. “Now, show me where those cookies are or did my son eat them all?” Murdoch linked his arm with Aggie’s and escorted her towards the kitchen for lemonade and sugar cookies.
Old Leather and Old Memories
“If you don’t hold still boy I’m gonna’ cut your throat,” Jelly threatened, waggling the razor just a couple of inches from Johnny’s face.
“It ain’t me that’s movin’… it’s your hand that’s shakin’,” Johnny informed Jelly trying to move his head to avoid another swipe of the razor the old man was wielding dangerously close to his throat.
After a couple of more passes, the raspy sound of blade to skin and hair ceased. Jelly stood back and surveyed his work, satisfied, he handed Johnny a damp towel to wipe away the rest of the lather. He cleaned and put away the shaving gear then turned to inspect Johnny, making sure the boy didn’t miss any of the soap.
The sound of a commotion drifted into the open window from outside. Jelly quickly made his way over and watched the fight that had broken out between two of the hands.
“What’s goin’ on down there?” Johnny asked, anxious to know about anything that went on outside the four walls of his room.
“I wondered how long it would take those two good for nothins’ to have a go at each other,” Jelly said, nodding his head in a knowing manner. “I could tell there was trouble brewin’ between the two them for a week now.”
“Who?” Johnny asked, trying to rise up on his elbows.
“Stupid lug heads!” Jelly fussed.
“Who?” Johnny asked, his frustration causing his voice to rise with an angry bite in it as well.
“Ouch! I bet that hurt,” Jelly commented, physically flinching in sympathy, still watching the fight.
“What?” Johnny demanded, desperately fumbling with the covers, determined to try to see out the window from the bed.
“I bet he never saw that comin!’” Jelly crowed while hanging halfway out the window.
“Who? What?” Johnny yelled; leaning over trying to maneuver himself to the edge of the bed.
“Uh oh. They’re gonna’ get it now. The Boss is bearing down on them like a bull seeing red,” Jelly related excitedly.
“Jelly! Who? What’s goin’ on?” Johnny was hanging almost off the bed when the older man turned back around.
“What in tarnation are you trying to do, boy?” Jelly ran over to the bed and forced Johnny back against the pillows. “You better sit back and behave yourself or I’m gonna’ have to go and get your pa. After he deals with those two mule-headed idiots he ain’t gonna’ be in a very good mood,” Jelly warned, shaking a gnarled finger in Johnny’s face.
Just from the look on Johnny was giving him, Jelly knew a fight was about to break out in the bedroom and he was having none of the boy’s sass. “Don’t you be givin’ me that look, Boy. Ain’t nothin’ goin on down there that you can do anything about,” he punctuated his words with several jabs of his finger to Johnny’s chest.
“Well, you could have at least told me what was goin’ on. It’s gettin’ real old havin’ the world goin’ by outside that window and I can’t even see what’s goin’ on,” Johnny huffed, and then poked out his lips in an award winning pout.
Jelly finished picking up the soiled clothes and bedding that had been replaced earlier when he and Murdoch had bathed Johnny and changed the linens on his bed. Once the laundry was packed into a basket, Jelly picked it up and headed for the door. Johnny was still frowning when the old handy man turned to address the younger man. “You just sit there and be still. When I get back I want ta see you layin’ there looking like a picture. I’m gonna take these here things to the girls.” Jelly strutted from the room like a bossy bantam rooster.
Wishing he had an extra pillow to throw at him, Johnny watched Jelly exit. After several minutes, once he was sure no one would be coming through the door; he reached inside the drawer of his bedside table and took out his secret project.
Johnny carefully went to work on the material, every once in awhile taking a peek towards the door to be sure he wasn’t being spied on. He got so involved that soon he was doing more concentrating than he was watching for intruders.
Jelly had just deposited the clothes in the laundry area, waiting for the ladies to work their magic on them when one of the hands nearly ran him down in his haste to find the grizzled handy man. “Here now, boy, where’s the fire?” Jelly barked.
“The boss wants you, Mr. Jelly. Says you need to come right now cause it’s real important.” The kid was green and new to the ranch. Every order that was given to him was accepted and attended to as if the Almighty himself had come down and made the request.
“Alright, alright. Keep your britches on. I’m comin’! Durn fool kids! Nearly bout killed me tryin’ to find me,” Jelly fussed as he stomped off to the last place he had seen Murdoch when he had broken up the fight. “This whole durn place would probably fall apart if it weren’t for me,” he groused with self-importance.
It took Jelly over thirty minutes to solve the latest catastrophe that required his expertise. This left Johnny a long time to work on the tiny stitches he had begun to master with the constant practice and determination he employed with anything he tackled in life. He was so engrossed in the project that he didn’t hear Jelly coming up the stairs, lugging the wooden crate that was filled with damaged leather that needed repairing. The young man owed his daddy a few chores due to losing a game or two of checkers.
Jelly nearly knocked himself off his feet when he tried to go into the door, hitting the frame with the crate he was toting. The noise startled Johnny and he quickly shoved the sewing under the covers before Jelly could get too nosey about what he was doing. The last thing he needed was a bunch of questions as to why he was working on the shirt instead of letting Teresa or Maria do it themselves.
Johnny watched Jelly struggle through the narrow passageway with the wide box, amused by the older man’s efforts to gain entrance. Amusement soon turned to frustration when he saw what was inside the box. He gave an exaggerated sigh as he realized his next chore was going to be mending broken harnesses. It wasn’t that he minded so much but he would rather work fresh leather than repair the sometimes next to impossible worn out pieces that his frugal father insisted on trying to salvage. What Johnny didn’t realize was his father knew that if his talented son couldn’t repair it, then it was time to discard the worn tack.
Jelly noticed the boy shoving something under the covers as he entered the room. Inclining his head towards the material peeking out from under the quilt he asked, “Whatcha’ workin’ on there?”
Johnny quickly shoved the material further under the covers before Jelly could snatch the project. “Nothin’, it ain’t nothin’ at all.”
Jelly didn’t have time to argue so he quickly dumped the contents of the crate in Johnny’s lap. “These harnesses need repairin’ and your daddy said you were just the man to do it. Told me to check back with you in a little while. Now don’t you be goin’ nowhere.” Jelly chuckled at his unappreciated little joke as he shuffled out the door to attend to more chores of his own.
Not long after employing him, Murdoch soon realized that Jelly had his own special talents and quickly took advantage giving the older man some responsibilities he wouldn’t trust with anyone else.
Picking at the pile of leather in his lap, Johnny yelled at the retreating form of his friend. “Hey, where you goin’?” He sneezed at the strong scent of Neat’s Foot oil coming from the pieces.
“I can’t stop and chat with you boy. I got orders of my own to see to,” Jelly yelled back as he headed out the door.
With a resigned sigh, Johnny began his chore by first separating the damaged tack which he knew couldn’t be repaired, and then noting what repairs were needed for the pieces that still had some use. An hour later, Murdoch stuck his head in to check on his son but he boy was so immersed in what he was doing that he chose to slip quietly away.
~* ~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~
“Johnny!” Murdoch stuck his head in his son’s room while calling the boy’s name.
“Yes sir?” Johnny replied without looking up from what he was doing.
“I’ll be back in a few minutes with the checker board. You get ready because I feel pretty lucky tonight,” Murdoch informed his son.
The checkers game had become an evening ritual and a life saver. With the promise of being able to assign chores to his old man, Johnny had responded eagerly to the games with an enthusiasm that made Murdoch look forward to the time spent alone with his youngest son. He was finding it increasingly harder to win at least half the games. He suspected some of the chores he had assigned the boy had been a great incentive in making Johnny put more effort into winning.
Johnny knew that one of the chores he would be expected to do if he lost to his father would be the books. He hated book work and so he made sure to give the games his full attention.
Murdoch realized, however, that too much of the ledgers would frustrate Johnny so he made sure that the boy’s chores were selected from a wide of variety of work he could do from his bed. He was determined not to undo what he had accomplished so far.
Johnny finished putting the last few stitches on the material and stuffed it in the drawer where it resided when he wasn’t working on it. Soon his father returned with the checkers and the evening began with pleasant competition and conversation.
Murdoch had lost two games in a row so he studied the board a bit, concerned that he was about to lose a third when suddenly he saw a way to salvage his game. Apparently Johnny had learned a trick or two since their last game and was giving his father a real run for his money.
Murdoch looked at his son suspiciously, and then accused, “You seem to have improved your game considerably since last night. Has someone been giving you pointers?”
Johnny looked innocently at his father and started setting the board up for another game. “I don’t know what you mean.” He didn’t want to confess that Jelly had played a few games with him that afternoon and had passed on some helpful hints and tips.
Murdoch put his hand out to stop his son, declaring, “I think you’ve taken me for enough chores for one night.”
Murdoch saw the look on his son’s face and knew he was getting set to argue the point. Putting up his hand to stall the performance that he was sure would be prize winning, he cut the boy off firmly. “No amount of whining is going to get you another game. It’s time for you to get some rest.”Murdoch started to rise and settle Johnny for the night when the younger man reached out and grabbed his father’s arm.
“Don’t go yet,” Johnny requested softly.
Murdoch sat back down on the edge of the bed just a little concerned. “What’s the matter, son?”
“Nothin’,” Johnny replied, dipping his head for a moment and when he looked back up, devilment danced in his eyes. “I’m gonna collect on one of the chores you owe me,” Johnny announced, grinning mischievously; enjoying the wary look that suddenly crossed his father’s face.
“And just what would that chore be?” Murdoch asked skeptically, not to mention a bit apprehensively.
“I want you to tell me a story,” Johnny informed his surprised father.
Murdoch never imagined that his grown son would want a bedtime story so he chose to have the boy clarify his request. “What kind of story?”
“I want a story about when I was here before. I want to hear the story about the time you tried to get me to eat spinach,” Johnny glared at his father trying to look serious but it was hard as he watched his father’s face change expressions each one more comical than the last. “Aggie told me all about it and I just thought you might wanta’ give me your side.” His muffled giggle warmed his father’s heart.
“It seems to me, you already know the details. I’d much prefer to tell you a story where I actually won the battle.” For the next half hour father and son enjoyed a trip to the past. Johnny fell asleep that night knowing just a little bit more of his history and with a heartfelt gladness that his father was so willing to share it.”
Romeo and Juliet vs The Three Musketeers
“Are you going to listen or are you going to keep interrupting?” Scott asked, clearly exasperated at Johnny’s constant barrage of questions.
“Aren’t you the one who keeps sayin’ I’ll never learn anything if I don’t ask questions?” Johnny asked innocently; batting his eye lashes, pleased to the core at the aggravation contorting his brother’s face. He’s getting that twitchy temple vein, just like the old man.
“Aren’t you the one that says he knows everything he needs to know?” Scott retorted, tempted to take a swipe at his baby brother’s head with the thick volume of Shakespeare’s work.
“I know everything I need to know about the important stuff but this fluff you keep readin’ to me sounds about as stupid as I’ve ever heard,” Johnny shot back, crossing his arms over his chest in a huff.
“If you would stop interrupting me and just listen to the story, Brother, you might get more out of it and not have to keep asking questions,” Scott replied to his annoying sibling, his lips pulled into a tight smile that showed his clenched teeth. “This is a tale of love, romance, and tragedy.”
“Why can’t you read The Three Musketeers again? I like that one better. There’s all kinds of fightin’ and plottin’ in that one. This one is just some damn sissy story about some guy wantin’ to marry a gal he can’t because their parents are feudin’,” Johnny complained, boredom and irritation pitching his voice close to a whine. “Besides, I don’t even know what half them words mean anyway. Why can’t they talk English like the rest of us?”
Scott paused and studied his brother for a moment. He was pretty proud of Johnny for doing so well with his confinement. “I’ll tell you what, you lay there and listen quietly and when I come across a word that I think you might not know I’ll replace it with one that you will understand, but we are not reading the Three Musketeers again!”
“Why did they use those kinds of words if people don’t understand them?” Johnny asked, absent-mindedly picking at loose thread on his quilt.
Reaching across the bed to stop his little brother’s restless fingers from destroying the stitching on his covers, Scott explained, “These stories were written back when those words were used all the time. That’s the way people talked in that particular area in that era. I know some of the words don’t make sense, Johnny, but the language was beautiful and if you would only give it a try I think you would enjoy how melodious the story sounds as I read it. That’s mainly why I chose this book, but you have to work with me here, Boy,” Scott suggested, emphasizing the last part of his little speech.
“I still wish you’d read The Three Musketeers,” Johnny grumbled.
With a sigh, Scott continued to read to his little brother and things went along well for quite a while. Then the questions began again.
“So what you’re sayin’ is that their fathers didn’t like each other and didn’t want their kids to get married. Sounds like some kinda feud from Chad’s part of the country. Stupid if you ask me,” he proclaimed, thumping his chest with a slender forefinger. “And that Romeo and Juliet couple were stupid too. They could have just hitched up a team and gathered their stuff and took off. I don’t see why they stuck around for all that feudin’ anyway.” He nodded his head as though agreeing with his own assessment of the situation. “Why do you suppose they didn’t just do that, Scott? They weren’t very smart were they?” Johnny was bored and the story was boring and he was getting tired of just laying in bed at the mercy of those around him who thought they were entertaining him.
Scott held his tongue knowing that Johnny was getting edgy from his captivity and therefore he decided not to lecture him for interrupting the story once again. With exaggerated patience he tried to answer his brother’s questions while resisting the urge to choke him in the process. “I don’t know what the two families were fighting about and back then children didn’t just go running off when things didn’t go their way.”
Grinning at his older brother, Johnny asked, “You tryin’ to tell me something?”
“Yes, I’m trying to tell you to lay back and hush so I can at least finish this chapter!” Scott reprimanded. He began to read once again hoping that Johnny would listen for just a few minutes before he began interrupting. It just wasn’t to be, however.
“Yes, John,” Scott replied in perfect imitation of their father’s voice when his patience was being stretched to the limit with his youngest.
It was obvious that Johnny was beginning to get to his older brother which was exactly what he wanted. He figured the only entertainment he was going to get out this whole mind numbing tale would be the rise he could get out of Scott since he was determined to read the story whether Johnny wanted to listen or not.
“You remember that guy Murdoch hired about six weeks ago? I think his name is Emory or something like that.” Johnny’s eyes twinkled, a dead giveaway he was up to something.
“Yes, I believe I remember the gentleman. What about him?” Scott asked, wondering what Emory Sinclaire had to do with Romeo and Juliet.
“Well he wanted to go out with Mayor Higg’s daughter. Why, I will never understand since she looks like a mule and sounds like one every time she laughs,” Johnny answered; rolling his eyes at the thought of her and Emory together. The thought of what the two of them would produce as children made him giggle suddenly.
“Johnny,” Scott censored his brother. “We do not compare young ladies to mules.”
“Well she does and you know it. Now let me finish,” Johnny sassed, annoyed at being corrected by his brother.
“Excuse me, please continue,” Scott returned; bowing from the waist as he sat in the chair.
“I was gonna ask you if that was the same as that Juliet and Romeo couple. I mean Mayor Higgs nearly about blew up when he found out she was seein’ him on the sly.” Johnny once again began laughing at the image of Mayor Higgs fussing and sputtering over his daughter’s choice of beaus.
“I suppose. Emory doesn’t have an objecting father and there isn’t really a feud going on. The only real similarity is the Mayor’s objection to his daughter associating with a common ranch hand,” Scott reasoned.
“You say common ranch hand like it’s a bad thing. We ain’t nothin’ but common ranch hands either.” Johnny got a little defensive over his brother’s referral to men he considered his friends.
“I didn’t mean that the way you took it, Johnny. Of course I don’t feel like the men are inferior to us or anyone. I am only pointing out that the Mayor feels differently and was probably hoping for a banker, doctor, or even a lawyer for his only daughter. You might feel the same way some day if you ever have a daughter of your own.” Scott looked at his brother for a moment and the thought of his brother ever becoming a father was just an image he couldn’t quite conjure up. Even if Johnny ever did manage to find a woman who could put up with him and produce a daughter for him, Scott realized that Johnny would never think any man, who was hard working and earned an honest dollar wouldn’t be good enough for her. “I take that back. You would never feel that way about a man who works hard for a living.”
“As long as you stay on the right side of the law and work hard and don’t drink and hit women then you’re ok in my opinion. Money don’t always come easy to some folks like it does others. Getting a good education like some isn’t always easy either,” Johnny advised, his young face suddenly looking very serious.
It was more than Johnny usually shared on discussions of this sort but Scott knew it came from his heart. For a long moment Scott sat and watched his brother making the younger man a little uneasy. It was as if Scott was waiting for him to say something else.
“What?” Johnny demanded; squirming under his older brother’s intense gaze.
“Anything else you want to discuss or are you ready for me to continue?” Scott asked. He had hoped the story would hold the same level of interest for his brother as it had him. Apparently it had missed its mark as Johnny was more restless now than before Scott had started reading.
Johnny could hear the frustration rising in his brother’s voice and was pleased to see the little vein in his forehead had gone from twitching to protruding just like the one in his father’s. Delighted at his success, he decided to push a little further. So for the next half hour, Johnny kept up a steady stream of questions and comments until at last he realized too late, he had gone just a little too far.
“That’s it, little brother. I think it’s time for your nap. I’m just going to tuck you in so you can rest peacefully.” With his usual precise and careful movements, Scott began to tuck Johnny in the bed stretching the sheet and shoving the sides deep under the mattress on Johnny’s right side.
“Hey, what are you doing?” Johnny asked a bit concerned when his older brother moved to the left side and began pulling the covers tight, tucking the sheets in just as deep.
As Scott continued his ministrations, he explained, “I think it’s time for a nap, Johnny and I’m going to tuck you in nice and snug so you don’t roll off the bed.” By this time, Scott had managed to maneuver Johnny’s arms under the covers pinning them down so the boy couldn’t even move to scratch his nose.
“I can’t move, Scott, and you know it.” Johnny informed his brother rather hotly, twisting his head frantically from side to side on his pillow.
“You don’t need to move. You need to close your eyes and your mouth and go to sleep. Have a nice rest, baby brother.” With that Scott turned towards the door despite Johnny yelling after him to come back and release him.
“Didn’t you hear me? I can’t move my arms,” Johnny pleaded.
Scott turned and smiled back at his brother just as he reached the door; he had the audacity to chuckle as he replied, “I know. Sleep well, boy.” He exited with Johnny still yelling and went in search of some chores that would carry him away from the hacienda and the threats that were tinged with the colorful cussing that his brother was spouting in both English and Spanish.
Chess With His Tio
Standing in the doorway, Cipriano watched Johnny. He had been observing him for quite some time as the niño worked on his special project. He shook his head slowly, side to side, a barely perceptible smile curving his mouth over his surprise that the young man was still in bed; after all he had seen and experienced the hyperactivity of the youngest Lancer. He suspected that his amazing attitude was only on the surface and that Johnny had probably filled the air blue, a time or two during this confinement, with his extensive vocabulary of Spanish swear words,.
The old Segundo’s amusement grew as he studied the intense look of concentration on Johnny’s face as he worked on his project. He had heard from the Patron that the one person no one thought would be able to keep his son’s mind occupied had actually done the impossible. Unaware he had an audience, Johnny’s animated face contorted from one emotion to another, from determination to one of satisfied accomplishment. His tongue darted in and out with each stitch he made.
Cipriano bit his lip to keep from snorting out loud as he recalled how he had laughed at his wife when she told him how Johnny had fussed at the girl when she had suggested the project to him. The youngest Lancer had puffed up with indignation claiming that Johnny Madrid didn’t do woman’s work. Teresa had calmly informed him that he was no longer Johnny Madrid but Johnny Lancer and that he might as well get himself set to work on the shirt or read the two books Scott had brought up for him earlier.
Truth be told, the old Segundo was pleased with the care and determination he was witnessing the young man put into his work, he would expect nothing less from a son of the great Murdoch Lancer. He would have to tell Maria later how Johnny had taken out several stitches only to do them over with meticulous skill. Maria had told him that she had inspected his work and found that after the first few stitches Johnny had done a very good job, quite good, in fact. Some of the young girls, who Maria was teaching the intricate embroidering to, weren’t as particular or skilled as her niño and she was proud of his work and the pride he was taking with the project.
Cipriano grinned and smoothed his mustache with calloused thumb and forefinger as he remembered how the shirt had gone flying when he had entered the room earlier in the week to pick up the tack that Jelly had brought the boy to mend. The box was by the bed full of the neatly repaired harness and bridles. Johnny had been so involved with his project that he had failed to hear Cipriano enter the room. Once he felt his presence, he had looked up and hastily flung the shirt behind the chair and growled about how people should knock before entering a man’s sick room. The scowl Johnny had given the older man had been most impressive but he had simply gone and picked up the shirt and laid it next to the boy and apologized for startling him but not for entering his room. He had reprimanded the boy for being insolent with his elders, and then picked up the box and headed out the door with the promise of a game of chess soon.
A quiver of euphoria made Cipriano’s face twitch as he stood watching the boy continue to work on the shirt; his heart thankful that the young man was home where he belonged. It had broken his and Maria’s hearts when Johnny’s mother had taken him away so many years ago. He had even ridden out with the Patron on several occasions trying to find Johnny and his mother. Unfortunately, even his exceptional skill at tracking had not been a match for Maria Lancer’s desire not to be found.
When Cipriano had seen Johnny sitting in the back of the buggy that day he knew immediately who the young man was because he looked so much like his mother. As quickly as he could Cipriano had found his wife to let her know that her niño had come home. Maria had fallen back into the role that had been stolen from her on that fateful day as if nothing had ever happened and Johnny had not fussed or refused the spirited little woman’s attention. In fact, there had been something comforting and familiar about it and he welcomed it.
Cipriano had asked the Patron if he could take a turn entertaining the young man. Murdoch had gladly given his consent, relieved that someone was willing to volunteer spending time with his son and entertain the increasingly frustrated Johnny. Cipriano had played with Johnny on several occasions and knew that he was more than a worthy opponent. His unorthodox method was more of a challenge than many of the rivals he’d faced, who tended to ponder over the board giving careful consideration to each move. The fact that Johnny never gave a lot of thought but moved his men around as if he could read his opponent’s mind frustrated and annoyed many players but Cipriano found it fascinating and challenging.
“I suppose you would rather work on the little project that Teresa has involved you in than play a game of chess with your old tio?”
Johnny looked up and smiled at the Segundo and quickly laid his work down beside him. He moved up in the bed carefully and settled himself to what he knew would be a long and challenging battle of chess. He enjoyed playing with his father and brother but they often commented and chastised him for making such hurried moves even though he had beaten them both more times than they ever had him.
“I’m ready when you are, Tio?” Johnny told his uncle. “It took you long enough to get up here. I’m about to go loco with all this havin’ to stay in bed especially with Mamacita and Teresa pinnin’ my ears back with all that fussin’.”
“They worry, my sobrino?” Cipriano admonished. “You are a very hard headed niño,” he added; wagging his finger at the boy.
He laughed at the petulant pout that appeared on Johnny’s face at being called a niño. It was ok when Maria did it but he didn’t like it when any of the men referred to him in any form as a child.
“I know, they worry but it sure is gettin’ hard to breath around here with them hoverin’ over me like they do. I gotta get out of this bed soon or I’m just gonna’ take roots. I’ve been good now for a long time and Sam said it was only gonna’ be for a few days and already it’s been nearly six,” Johnny complained bitterly; unaware of the slight whine that had crept into his voice.
“Patience, Juanito. The doctor knows his business and he only wants what is best for you. Now hush your complaining and make your first move. Today you will not find it so easy to beat me, this I promise you,” Cipriano said as he shook his finger at Johnny once again.
For the rest of the afternoon Johnny and Cipriano battled over the board as the afternoon ticked away. When Johnny finally realized that he had been beaten by his tio, it was time for Cipriano to leave for home and for Johnny to get ready for his supper tray. He was tired but also very hungry and when his father brought his tray to him he had a hard time keeping his eyes open in order to eat. Murdoch noticed the fatigue and was glad that Johnny had apparently had a nice afternoon with Cipriano. He made a mental note to tell his old friend how much he appreciated him spending the afternoon with Johnny and entertaining him.
Murdoch had to keep nudging the boy, encouraging him to eat as he kept nodding off between bites. He knew Maria would fuss if too much of the food was returned with the dishes. After coaxing over half of Johnny’s supper down him, he removed the tray and settled his son down for the night. He smiled as he exited with the tray, realizing there would be no checker game for them this evening.
After Murdoch had finished his own meal he excused himself for the rest of the night and with a well loved, favorite book in his hand, he made his way back to Johnny’s room to spend the evening reading and watching over his son. He knew Johnny would likely sleep the rest of the night but the need to be near him was overwhelming and at his age Murdoch often indulged himself in his whims; not caring others might think him a foolish old man.
And The Moon Shined
Sunlight beamed through the window, the radiant streaks exposing the fine particles of dust riding the air current through the open portal. Johnny sighed, depressed and annoyed to being reduced to staring at a window, not through it but at it. Ever since Teresa had made a big production of tucking him in for a nap, he had stared at the window wanting so badly to see what was going on out there. He hadn’t set eyes past his bedroom now for six days. He’d done almost everything he had been asked; without grumbling.
Johnny huffed, baring his teeth. He was sick of his room, despite the fact it was spacious, the four walls were closing in; making it, in his mind, feel about as big as a coffin. He was sick of taking naps. He was sick of having his father, brother or Jelly give him a bath every morning. He was sick of eating his meals from a tray. But most of all he was sick of laying in this bed. He clenched his hands into fists and beat then futilely against the mattress, most of all he was sick of feeling helpless and sick about it. His family hadn’t even let him up to change his sheets and bedding. They had rolled him from side to side tucking and pulling the linens beneath him and stretching them taut. They wouldn’t let him go to the water closet to take care of his personal needs and that grated on him about the worst he figured. Nothing was more humiliating than being cared for like some damn infant, and Johnny Madrid for damn sure wasn’t a baby! He wanted, no he needed to see what was going on outside of his bedroom.
The sounds of loud whooping and yelling drew Johnny from his self-pitying ruminations. His imagination soon went into over drive at images of men riding unbroken colts and vaqueros watching and cheering the rider to victory. Visualizing the rider encased in a cloud of billowing dirt; spurred boots working in time with a swinging arm was all Johnny needed to make his final decision. He was bound and determined to go over to the window and see what was going on. He wanted…no needed a breath of fresh air, not the stale air of his bedroom. He would prove to himself and his family that he wasn’t going to fall apart at the seams if he was allowed some leeway.
Subconsciously holding his breath, Johnny watched the bedroom door for close to five minutes, waiting to see if anyone would come in. He didn’t plan to stay up long, just a few minutes to see what was going on outside and to get that fresh air he so craved. Once he was sure he wouldn’t be disturbed for the next ten to fifteen minutes he began to work his way out from under the covers which proved to be a bit trying as Teresa was almost as good at tucking him in as his brother. Scott is gonna pay for that one. The effort to escape the trap his sister had tucked him into was almost his undoing, the exertion had him gasping and breathing heavily once he had untangled himself from the sheet and blankets. His family insisted they tucked the covers tightly to keep him from rolling out of the bed but Johnny knew it was their devious attempt at trying to keep him tied to the bed, literally.
Once he was free from his imprisonment under the bed covers, Johnny carefully swung his legs over the side and planted his good foot on the floor while the other one made a loud clunking sound as it hit heavily. Cringing at the noise, Johnny sat there for a minute; wiping the sweat from his face with the sleeve of his nightshirt and waited to see if anyone was going to come running in to check out the thumping coming from his room. Being upright for the first time in days, he felt light-headed and weak; unsure of his ability to make it to the window on his own. After sitting still for a few minutes the sensation passed.
Johnny stood up testing the weight on his good leg; hoping he wasn’t too weak to make it on his own power. He was grateful that his head was no longer swimming and once he was sure he was good to go he made a test step only to pitch backwards and fall flat on his butt on the bed. Struggling back to his feet, he tried again by grabbing the back of a chair that had been placed near his bed; using it to help support himself. He took another step only to fall on his butt again. He was frustrated and mad by this point but he realized his problem was his night shirt, actually Scott’s, because he had hid all of his. The contraption that Sam had on his leg was catching the hem of the sleeping garment and tripping him up. He knew if he was going to make to the window he was going to have to shed the hated night shirt which was going to leave him in a little vulnerable state. Johnny figured he could slip it back on once he made it back to the bed because nothing was going to hinder him from getting to that window, especially not his big brother’s too long night shirt.
Frustrated but indomitable, Johnny sat down on the bed. With a series of gyrations and some serious pulling and tugging he managed to free himself of the offending garment which was now lying in a heap on the floor by his bed. Standing again, he tried one more time to take a step holding onto the back of the chair. He took a quick glance over his shoulder to make sure he didn’t hear any approaching footsteps because the last thing he needed was for someone to catch him wearing nothing but the determined look on his face.
In an awkward sluggish shuffle, he began his journey to the window. He had to take it slow and easy so that the thumping and scraping of his leg wouldn’t sound an alarm to anyone who might be directly below his bedroom. Finally, he made it to the window, perspiring heavily; gasping but pleased with his success. It felt good to be able to watch Walt and Frank working one of the colts while several of the hands stood along the corral fence and watched whooping and cheering them on as each took a turn on the bucking bronc.
He was so engrossed in watching the men work with the horse, Johnny never heard the approaching footsteps. He was just shifting his weight to settle more on his good leg when suddenly the door opened and a woman screamed.
“JOHNNY!” Murdoch bellowed, the boom of his voice joining the scream that was still in progress.
The sudden outburst startled him and threw him off balance. Johnny’s arms flailed about and he knew he was about to land on his bare butt. He was prepared for the hard landing but instead he hit something soft while at the same time two small arms circled his waist. When he looked to see what he had landed on he was shocked to find the Widow Hargis holding him in her lap, a stricken look on her face. Not sure what had happened Johnny just looked at the widow and said, “Howdy Mrs. Hargis. How are you?”
“I’m fine John. How are you?” she replied, still holding on to him.
Looking up at his father, Johnny swallowed but managed to reply back. “Well, probably better now than I’m gonna be in a few minutes.”
Murdoch reached out and grabbed his errant son and gently pulled him up until he could gather the boy in his arms. He tenderly placed Johnny back on his bed and began the lecture the youngest Lancer had been expecting.
When Johnny could get a word in edge wise he went directly on the defensive. “I was doin’ just fine until you barged into my room and started makin’ all that noise. I just wanted to see what they were doin’ outside.” Johnny tried putting on that little boy pout he had so admirably perfected, but unfortunately he had scared everyone so badly that it was having no effect at all.
Johnny heard giggling and laughing in his doorway; turning to look he groaned in distress. The whole mortifying incident of him making a spectacle of his naked self had been witnessed by Teresa, Scott and of all people Val Crawford, who was laughing the hardest. Murdoch ordered Teresa to leave and get Maria since his son was laying there in his birthday suit.
The widow was scrounging around on the floor looking for something and when she found it she stood up holding Johnny’s nightshirt in her hands with a look of triumph on her face.
Johnny was feeling exposed and vulnerable at the moment; wishing they would just tuck him in like they were so fond of doing all the time. Murdoch reached and pulled his son into a sitting position while Mrs. Hargis slipped the nightshirt over Johnny’s head. Between the two, they soon had him properly dressed and the covers pulled up.
Johnny could still hear the raucous laughter as his brother and Val continued to laugh their heads off. Johnny glared at both of them but it didn’t seem to faze either of the men as they all but doubled over.
“Will you two quit brayin’ like a couple of jack-asses?” Johnny bellowed, almost as loud as his father. It only served to make the two men laugh even harder.
“John!” Murdoch and Mrs. Hargis admonished at the same time due to his unfortunate choice of words.
“Well, he don’t have to stand there laughin’ his self into a fit. Why are you here anyway?” Johnny asked the scruffy sheriff of Green River.
“I told Ms. Hargis here that I’d bring her out her to see you boy. If I had known you was goin’ to be this entertainin’ I would have been here long before now,” Val choked out between fits of laughter.
“Just think, Scott, this will go down as the day Johnny Lancer sat the moon on the Widow Hargis.” Val started laughing harder as tears streamed down his cheeks; his face turning almost purple from lack of oxygen.
Scott didn’t appear to be in any better shape.
Johnny looked up at his father with eyes that openly begged for help.
Murdoch turned to the two and said, “Gentlemen, if you would be so kind as to leave us alone while I settle Johnny. Scott, I think maybe you should send someone for Sam to be sure he hasn’t harmed himself with his foolishness,” Murdoch said, giving a stern glare at his youngest boy.
“Yes, sir,” Scott replied and turned quickly trying to control himself but halfway down the hall he gave up the effort and once again began to laugh hysterically; his breath wheezing from his lungs.
Once the men were gone the Widow sat down next to Johnny and it was then he noticed the little basket she was holding. Mrs. Hargis smiled at her young friend and began to talk to him in a quiet and soothing manner. “I bet you are wondering what I brought you, aren’t you?”
“Well, it has sort of crossed my mind, ma’am,” Johnny answered with one of his best smiles. The one that usually melted the hardest hearted of women who thought it was their Christian duty to bring unfortunate boys, who had strayed from the paths of righteousness, back to the fold.
Lifting the cloth that covered the goodies inside, Mrs. Hargis produced a huge slice of chocolate cake that she had wrapped on a plate. Johnny’s eyes grew huge and without even thinking about it he began to lick his lips drawing a smile from his father. Seeing that Mrs. Hargis had things well under control and his son’s full attention, he quietly exited the room while the two visited. He knew he was going to have to write thank you notes to some very special people who had helped to keep his son occupied throughout this trying ordeal.
Until today, Johnny had almost been an angel about the whole thing. He had fussed plenty but he had stayed put and tried to rally to everyone’s efforts to entertain him and keep him occupied during his enforced convalescence.
~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~
Murdoch made his way up to Johnny’s room right after he saw Mrs. Hargis and Val off. He intended to have a serious talk with his son about getting out of the bed before Sam gave his approval. When he reached the boy’s room he peeked in and what he saw made him rethink how he would approach his son’s ill advised trip to the window. Not wanting to startle him, Murdoch knocked lightly on the door frame to announce his arrival.
Johnny turned his head and saw his father looking at him; knowing he was probably in trouble tried a weak smile that didn’t quite touch his eyes. “I guess you plan on dressin’ me down for being a fool. I know I shouldn’t have but I just wanted to see out the window for only a few minutes. I really didn’t plan on stayin’ there long or gettin’ caught.” He hung his head after his confession to his father.
Murdoch approached the bed. This was the tough part of being a parent, standing firm in the face of a situation that terrified you. “I know it’s been very hard on you and I want you to know I’m proud of you for trying so hard to follow doctor’s orders. You did very well and I know it wasn’t easy for you.” Murdoch brushed the hair out of his son’s eyes as he spoke. “But don’t you ever scare me like that again!” Recognizing the true contriteness in Johnny’s eyes, he let it go at that.
For the next hour Johnny lay quietly while his father sat with him, neither one feeling the need to say anything but both settling into the roles they had so easily slipped into over the last several months since the boys had returned home. One needing comfort and the other offering it as only a father could.
Sam arrived a while later and watched from the door as Murdoch sat next to Johnny’s bed. The boy had finally fallen asleep once the effects of his little adventure had finally caught up with him.
“How does he seem to you, Murdoch?” Sam asked as he entered the room to look his worst but most frequent patient over.
“No worse for wear to be honest but if it hadn’t been for Eula Hargis, he could have really hurt himself.” Murdoch smiled at his friend.
“Yes, well umm, I heard how she broke his fall,” Sam replied, biting his lip and working hard not to laugh at the image his mind was conjuring up from being told how Johnny ended up sitting on the widow.
“Not that this is any kind of an excuse but I think maybe we surprised him when we burst in on him. He was standing by the window wearing nothing but the suit he was born in.” Murdoch was chuckling because now that he had time to think about it he could see the humor in the whole incident.
“What I want to know is, how did Mrs. Hargis take finding Johnny standing up with nothing but the surprised look, I’m sure, he was wearing on his face?” Sam asked as he continued to remove the items he would need to check Johnny over with.
“Shocked at first but once she realized he was going to tumble on his butt, she sprang into action and was just in time to break the boy’s fall. When he landed it was right in the middle of her lap. I’d say they both took that pretty well too.” By this time Murdoch was laughing heartily and the noise woke Johnny up just as Sam reached for the covers.
“What’s goin’ on?” the youngest Lancer asked, a bit bleary eyed from just waking up.
“Thankfully, nothing at the moment, John,” Sam answered with a bit of censure in his voice.
Johnny looked at the old doctor cautiously, and then timidly asked, “You heard about me gettin’ caught out of bed, didn’t you?”
“Yes I did, John. Can you tell me why you decided that following my strict instructions to stay in bed, no longer seemed important anymore?” Sam wasn’t even trying to hide his displeasure with the hard headed youngster.
“I wasn’t tryin’ to not do as you told me, Sam. I just needed to get me some fresh air and look at something besides these damn four walls,” Johnny informed the doctor rather defensively.
“So you thought you would just make a little trip to the window on the leg that I spent so much time setting and risk it all for a few minutes of fresh air and a change of scenery?” The doctor’s brow furrowed, giving his eyes a stern expression behind his glasses.
Johnny cringed at Sam’s tone. He could tell the doctor was pretty mad at him and he knew Sam had a right to being furious. “I’m okay, Sam. Nothin’s been busted again.” Johnny tried to appease his doctor but realized he was probably falling short.
“I’ll decide if you have done more damage. I’ll decide what needs to be done if you have. You will lie quietly and keep your medical opinions to yourself,” Sam informed his patient.
For the next ten minutes, Sam poked and prodded at Johnny to make sure he hadn’t reinjured his leg. He asked Johnny several times if this or that hurt or if he could feel anything here or there and respectfully and quietly the boy answered with no sir or yes sir. It appeared that nothing was amiss and Johnny had escaped unscathed.
Pointing his finger directly under Johnny’s nose, Sam gave further instructions to the chastised youth. “You will not get out of bed until I tell you that you may. If you need anything you better damn well tell your father or your brother. No more trips to the window or anywhere else. Do you understand?” Sam ended with a sharp jab of his finger to the youth’s chest.
Rubbing his hand over his abused sternum, a pout contorted Johnny’s face. Looking thoroughly chastised Johnny managed a reluctant, “Yes, sir.”
“I promise, he will be a good boy from here on out and do exactly as you have instructed, Sam. Won’t you, John?” Murdoch pierced his son with one of his ‘or else looks’.
Swallowing the taint of fear rising in his throat, Johnny responded with a quick, “Yes, sir.”
I’ll be back in two days. If there isn’t any swelling and if there are no more unscheduled field trips out of this bed then we will see about casting your leg. Once you have the stability of a cast instead of this splint, you can get out of bed and begin working your way to getting around again on your own,” Sam announced.
It seemed like a long time to wait but at least Johnny had a date for his release from his incarceration. All he had to do was try and be good and stay out of trouble. “I can do that, Sam. I promise I can.” Johnny hoped that he had convinced his father and the doctor. He wasn’t looking forward to two days of harped out warnings to stay put.
Murdoch shot his son a dubious look but held his peace. Sam huffed but also chose to let it go. Both men had serious doubts that the young man looking at them so innocently was even capable of keeping such a promise. Time would tell.
~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~
Three weeks later.
Be still, Johnny. I can’t get your tie straight if you keep rocking back and forth,” Scott admonished his brother.
“You try to stand still while supportin’ yourself with these damn crutches!” Johnny shot back.
Finally, after a few minutes the tie was tied and straight. Scott stepped back to make sure everything was buttoned properly and tucked in as well. It was Sunday morning and even though it was just church, Johnny was anxious to get going.
This was Johnny’s first trip to town since his accident. He couldn’t wait until he could see something besides the hacienda or the barn. His boundaries had gone no further than those two places.
Hobbling with a grace and skill as only the very young can on a pair of crutches, Johnny was hopping down the stairs faster than was really considered safe, even on two good legs. Scott was right behind him trying to reach the boy before he took a tumble and started the whole process all over again. He was thoroughly aggravated with his little brother’s carelessness and was not so sure he could control the urge to apply some of his father’s brand of discipline to the little risk taker himself.
Murdoch walked to the bottom of the stairs to call the boys down when he saw his youngest doing his best to break a record for descending a set of stairs with only one good leg. He wanted to bellow out but Murdoch had learned his lesson, on startling his child suddenly, after he and the Widow Hargis had taken Johnny by surprise several weeks back. He had to smile again at the image his reckless offspring had presented on that fateful day. The day that was still being referred to as the day Johnny Lancer sat the moon on the Widow Hargis.
Murdoch took the steps two at a time until he reached Johnny and without any warning or ceremony, he grabbed the boy and hefted him over his shoulder. He descended the stairs cautiously and set his son down on his own good leg and crutches.
“Why’d you do that for?” Johnny huffed out with indignation.
“I am not about to let you race down those stairs and risk reinjuring yourself, young man. From now on, you will wait until either your brother or I can accompany you up or down the stairs at a safe and normal rate of speed.” Murdoch glared at Johnny to make sure the boy understood he was not happy about his hasty trek down the stairs just now.
Johnny hung his head, thoroughly chastised; knowing that he had scared the old man again. He had made a vow to try and not do that to Murdoch any more. He figured his father and the rest of his family had been through enough the last month. Lifting his head; looking at his father and smiling sheepishly, Johnny agreed. “I promise to be more careful, Pa.”
Murdoch wasn’t buying it. He wanted to hear the words directly from his son’s mouth. “Say it, John.”
“Say what?” Johnny acted puzzled.
It amazed Murdoch that his son could look so totally innocent at times. He, however, was not going to buy it and knew from past experience that Johnny was one of the best manipulators he had ever come across. “You know exactly what, young man. I want you to repeat to me what you are promising.” Frustration was tingeing each and every word out of the impatient parent’s mouth.
Johnny stared at his father in hopes that he could get past the promise but after a few long seconds it was obvious Murdoch wasn’t going to budge. Reluctantly, the boy repeated word for word what his father expected to hear. “I promise that when I am goin’ up or down the stairs, I will always have you or Scott with me. I promise not to go too fast either way. I promise to never ever have fun as long as I live. I promise….” Johnny rolled his eyes as he added to the list.
“That is quite enough of that, John. Now let’s get you in the surrey so that we won’t be late to church.” Murdoch opened the front door and waited for Johnny to pass through and was close on his heels. It looked like he was herding him.
When they reached the surrey, Murdoch took Johnny’s crutches and handed them off to Scott and with one single smooth movement he had the boy sitting comfortably in the front. He began spreading and tucking in the lap robe to assure that his son was well covered, especially the cast.
Johnny wasn’t going to have none of the coddling and began to fuss immediately. “I ain’t gonna’ sit her tucked in like an invalid so you can just take this damn thing and toss it in a horse trough!” Johnny informed his father as he began tugging and pulling on the coverlet.
Slapping his hands away and tucking the lap robe back into place, Murdoch admonished his frustrating offspring. “Leave that alone, John. It’s to keep the dirt and dust from getting the cast filthy. I’m not going to have you looking like some waif from the docks of Boston.”
Scott and Teresa sat in the back trying to keep from laughing. Teresa had stuffed her handkerchief in her mouth trying to muffle the giggles that were erupting uncontrollably. Scott was doing the best he could by trying to think on anything unpleasant that came to mind in order to keep a straight face. He and Murdoch had already gotten into a heated argument when his father informed him that it was going to be his personal job to keep his little brother out of trouble and under control. Scott still couldn’t understand just how he was suppose to do this without actually tying the boy down or just shooting his other leg out from under him.
Arriving in Green River, Murdoch parked as close to the church as he could. He jumped down and quickly deposited Johnny on the ground but never let go of the boy’s collar. He was determined that his family would be entering the church with as much grace and decorum as possible, in spite of Johnny’s cast and crutches. It took a few minutes and several stern looks from Murdoch, but finally the Lancer family entered the building; traversed the aisle and were all seated in their pew.
Reverend Michaels looked out over the congregation and smiled. It was a packed house and he was pleased to see the Lancer family back in attendance. They had been absent for several weeks due to the youngest boy’s accident. As he gave them an appraising inspection, he noticed that they all looked very fine in their Sunday best. Even Johnny was looking especially handsome in a new shirt that had some of the most beautiful hand-worked embroidery he had ever seen. It was going to be a beautiful day to worship the Lord, he hoped as he gave one last glance at Johnny Lancer and prayed silently that there would be no stray skunks or other critters disrupting services.