Truman: Another Loss
Disclaimer: I don’t own them, I just play with them. Truman and some minor characters (you know who they are) belong to me and are in my control.
Warning: This involves the death of a minor character, but it will affect Truman tremendously. It’s not so much about the death as it is about the support that the boy will receive from his loving family.
Muchas Gracias, Mamacita Lacy! My awesome beta.
Truman: Another Loss
Val Crawford sighed heavily as he sat on his horse at the top of the hill, looking down on the Lancer ranch. He hated this part of his job as the sheriff of Green River. Catching criminals, breaking up bar room brawls , and throwing drunk cowboys in his cells to sleep off Saturday night over-indulgence were activities in which he was quite adept.
He never thought he would be notifying the young brother of his best friend that one of his playmates had been killed in an accident.
“Damn! I better get this over with. It’ll just get harder. I hope I can talk ta Murdoch and Johnny before True finds out. He’ll find out as soon as he goes to church tomorrow,” Val said, muttering to himself.
Val guided the horse down the slope to the arch that welcomed visitors and friends to the sprawling, successful cattle ranch.
When Val loped into the homestead compound, he saw that Johnny and Scott were outside with True, throwing a ball around and playing with Trevor, the boy’s faithful canine companion.
“Hey, Val! Come to play with us?” Johnny called.
“Afraid not, Johnny. Could I talk to you, Scott, and Murdoch inside? Privately?” Val asked, looking pointedly at Truman.
“Sure, Val. True, stay out here with Trevor, okay?” Scott asked.
“Okay, Scott. Come an’ get me for supper?”
“Sure, lil buddy. I’ll call you.”
“Okay. See ya later, Val!”
“See ya later, True!” Val replied.
Val followed Johnny and Scott into the hacienda. Murdoch stood up when he saw his sons and the sheriff enter the great room.
“Hello, Val. Is this a social call?” Murdoch asked amiably.
“I’m afraid not, Mr. Lancer. This is serious, and sad,” Val said.
“What is it, Val?” Johnny asked, alarmed.
“I just came back from the Matthews’ farm. Timothy and Toby went hunting this morning. Timothy came back carrying Toby’s body. Apparently, they were trying to flush out a 6 point buck. The buck was spooked by something and moved out of the line of fire just before Timothy fired his rifle. The bullet hit Toby right through the heart. He died instantly.”
“Oh, no!” Scott whispered.
Johnny sank into the chair in front of Murdoch’s desk. Scott grasped his brother’s shoulder and squeezed it.
The silence was heavy. The Lancers were stunned at the tragedy and they were having a hard time believing that such a young, talented boy was lost forever.
“H-has Sam been there, yet?” Murdoch asked.
“Yes. He had to sedate Mrs. Matthews. She was so overcome with grief. Duncan is trying to be strong and Timothy is blaming himself. He’s overcome with guilt. I’m ruling this as an accident.”
“We’re going to have to tell Truman. I’m not looking forward to that conversation,” Murdoch said.
“Me, neither,” Johnny agreed.
“That’s why I wanted ta tell you guys, first. Sam said to send for him if you need his help with True,” Val replied.
“Thanks for your discretion, Val. I really appreciate the sensitivity you’ve shown towards Truman,” Murdoch praised the sometimes gruff, insensitive sheriff.
“Well, I’ve learned a lot since the little guy came to live here and I consider him to be like a nephew to me. I know he’s gonna be hurt deeply, I’m just glad he’s got you ta help him through it,” Val replied.
“Thanks, Val,” Johnny said, his voice tight.
“Yeah. I need ta get back ta town and let the Reverend know what happened and fill out a report. I’ll let you know when the funeral is arranged.”
“Please do, Val. Thanks for telling us so we can tell Truman before he finds out tomorrow or at school,” Murdoch said.
“Yeah. Bye, guys. See ya in town,” Val said as he turned toward the door.
He took one last look at Johnny, who was still slumped in the chair with his head down, then left. Scott walked him out and said good-bye. Truman was out by the corral, talking to Jelly and petting Trevor. The boy and the old handy-man waved good-bye to Val, then went back to their conversation.
Scott sighed heavily, then walked back inside to talk to his brother and father.
“Well, when are we going to tell him? “ Scott asked.
“Don’t ruin his supper,” Johnny said.
Teresa came in just then and stopped suddenly. She immediately sensed the tension and sorrow that hung in the room like smoke after a fire.
“Murdoch? Supper is almost ready. Can someone call True and Jelly in? What’s wrong?”
“Come here, darling.”
Teresa walked over to her guardian hesitantly. He turned and gathered her into a hug, then separated, but did not relinquish his hold on her upper arms.
“Teresa, Truman doesn’t know, yet, but there’s been a tragedy. His little friend, Toby Matthews, was killed today.”
“Yes. We need to act as normally as possible during supper. We’ll tell him after supper,” Murdoch said.
“Okay,” Teresa said, weeping.
“Go freshen up, darling,” Murdoch instructed tenderly.
Teresa nodded and went to the kitchen. She told Maria what had happened and they cried together for a few minutes, then pulled themselves together and washed their faces.
The Lancers were fond of Toby and the kids at school also liked him. He was well-mannered, bright, and musically talented. He was the main reason Truman had joined the children’s choir.
Toby, Simon, and Truman were often seen riding together on the ranch and to and from school. They played at each others’ houses and got into minor mischief together. The three boys often went fishing, too. They had been on the August cattle drive together and enjoyed listening to Scott read Dumas’ book, The Three Musketeers in the evenings around the campfire. Truman asked Teresa if she could make Musketeer costumes for them. She did, so the boys went Trick-or-Treating as the Musketeers. During the early days of November, a traveling photographer came through Green River and the boys had their picture made together in their Musketeer costumes. Each boy now had a copy of that picture in their room.
Scott went outside and called Jelly and the boy in for supper, then came back in and sat down at the table.
Teresa and Murdoch joined the boys at the table. After the blessing, plates were filled and conversation was forced.
Truman sensed something was wrong and thought maybe Val’s business with his brothers and Papa was not good. The boy decided to talk about his friend’s hunting trip to break the tension, unaware that it was his friend that was the cause of the tension.
“Papa, did you know that Toby went hunting today with his big brother? He has his own rifle. When will I get my own rifle, Papa? I bet they caught a big buck. I’m gonna see him at church tomorrow an’ ask.”
Truman missed the reactions of his older brothers and Papa because he was buttering his biscuit when their heads came up in alarm. They met each others’ eyes and shook their heads sadly, not looking forward to the discussion they were going to have with the boy after supper.
“You’ll get a rifle when I think you’re old enough to handle the responsibility. For now, you will ONLY use the rifle with your brothers, Jelly, or me. Is that understood?” Murdoch asked a little more harshly than he had intended.
“Yes, Papa,” the boy whispered. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you mad, Papa.”
Murdoch sighed. He had not meant to be so cross with his youngest son.
“I’m not angry with you, Son. I’m very sorry I snapped at you. Okay?”
“Okay, Papa. Did…did Val have bad news?”
“Yes, True, he did. We’ll talk about it after supper. Eat, please.”
Truman ate his supper quietly. He wasn’t sure he wanted to hear what Val’s news was, but he was a bit curious, as most intelligent boys are.
Supper was over too quickly for the older Lancers’ liking. Teresa and Maria cleared the table. Murdoch lifted his youngest and hugged him tightly, then carried him to the couch and sat down, pulling his boy close to his heart.
Scott gave Teresa and Jelly the signal to make themselves scarce. Jelly flustered a bit, but Scott promised he would fill the handyman in later.
The Lancer men were left with the chore of telling the youngest about the tragic death of his friend.
“Son, we have some very sad news to tell you.”
“W-what is it? Are you sick? Did something happen to Uncle Sam??”
“No, baby. I’m fine and Uncle Sam is fine. It’s Toby.”
Murdoch heaved a sigh.
“No, Truman. Toby had a bad accident today. He was accidentally shot by Timothy when they were hunting.”
“Well, we should go see him tomorrow. Cheer him up. Musketeers stick together.”
Johnny stood and paced to the fireplace. He didn’t envy his father one bit for having to tell the little boy about the tragedy, but he wished Murdoch would hurry up and tell his brother what happened so the boy could grieve.
Scott’s head was bowed and his hands were clenched tightly. Truman looked from one brother to another.
“We can go see Toby tomorrow, can’t we?” Truman asked, his voice starting to quiver nervously.
“No, Son…Truman, Toby was killed.”
The boy jumped off his Papa’s lap and stood in front of him, shaking his head, not wanting to believe what he’d just been told.
“NO! NO, he’s NOT! He’s fine! He’s…gonna…be…fine,” True stated, trying to convince himself it was the truth.
“No, Truman. He’s not going to be fine. He was shot accidentally. He’s dead. I’m so very sorry, Truman. I’m sorry.”
Murdoch reached out for the boy, but Truman turned and ran outside. When he reached the bushes in the courtyard, True sank to his knees and vomited violently. Once his supper was gone, the child dry heaved. He was bent over, sitting on his knees, and his arms were wrapped around his middle, rocking back and forth.
He heard footsteps, the jingle of spurs, then felt the strong, loving hands of Johnny. The strong arms lifted the small boy to a standing position. Johnny offered a cup of water to Truman to rinse his mouth. After the boy had some water, Johnny took the cup, took Truman by the hand and led him into the great room. Johnny delivered the child into his Papa’s loving arms.
“He was…sick…outside. Lost his supper,” Johnny reported.
Truman was quiet. Too quiet.
“I-is T-Toby really d-dead?” Truman asked.
“Why did God let Toby die? He was a good boy and a good friend.”
“It was an accident, lil cowboy,” Johnny said as he caressed the little boy’s face tenderly.
“God let it happen.”
“No, Truman. It was an accident. God wasn’t ready for Toby to go to Heaven,” Murdoch said.
“I don’t wanna go to church tomorrow.”
“You need to go, son. God didn’t do this to Toby. It was an accident.”
Truman buried his face into Murdoch’s shirt and sobbed.
“That’s it, son, let it out. Let it all out.”
Murdoch held Truman as the boy sobbed into his chest. He walked the floor of the great room, murmuring assurances to the distraught child. However, Truman could not be consoled.
When Murdoch looked up, he saw his older sons watching him with sad faces.
“Scott, could you please send for Sam? Make sure he knows to come prepared to spend the night. Johnny, please get Truman’s night clothes and bring them to the bath house,” Murdoch whispered his instructions kindly.
Both of the older Lancer sons nodded and went to carry out their instructions. They were very sad about the death of Toby, but they could hold their grief for a more appropriate time. Right now, they needed to support their younger brother as he grieved for his close friend.
Johnny and Scott arrived at the bath house after they carried out their instructions. Johnny had Truman’s night shirt and clean drawers in one hand and his little robe in the other. Scott caught Johnny’s hand before the younger man could knock. Johnny heaved a heavy sigh of despair. Their eyes met, and Scott’s conveyed support and understanding as Johnny’s conveyed sadness and pain. Scott squeezed Johnny’s shoulder gently and affectionately. Johnny bit his lip and looked down. He steeled himself, took a deep breath, then gave Scott a small smile.
“Ready?” Scott asked.
Johnny finally knocked and then entered the bath house with Scott close behind. Murdoch was kneeling next to the tub, with Truman holding onto him for dear life. The boy was in the tub, but he was shaking and would not let go of Murdoch‘s neck.
“I could use some help here, boys,” Murdoch said.
Scott moved swiftly to his father’s side as Johnny put the clean clothes on the bench and went to Truman’s side. Johnny began rubbing the boy’s back as he spoke quietly and soothingly to the distressed child. Meanwhile, Scott was gently untangling Murdoch from the boy’s death grip.
When Truman realized he was being separated from Murdoch, he started screaming and fighting with tooth and nail.
“NOOO! PAPA!!!! PAPA!!!! Don’t leave me, Papa! Please!” Truman yelled, terrified.
“Papa’s not leaving you, Truman. I’ll be right here, but I can’t bathe you if you hold my neck like that. Let go and I’ll bathe you myself, okay?” Murdoch tried to reason with the boy.
“Will you hold my hand?” Truman asked.
“Yes, Son. I’ll hold your hand. Scott and Johnny are going to help Papa.”
The boy nodded silently.
“Good boy. Scott, can you ask Teresa for some lavender, please?”
“Sure, Murdoch. I’ll be right back, little buddy,” Scott said as he caressed the boy’s head.
Scott walked to Teresa’s room and knocked on her door. A minute or two passed before she answered. Teresa’s eyes were red-rimmed and she was dressed in her gown and robe.
“Hi, honey. How are you?”
“I’m okay, thanks. It’s just so sad. Toby was one of Truman’s best friends and it’s terrible how our little brother has lost so much already. “
“I know. All we can do is be there for him and give him a lot of love and support. Murdoch is trying to bathe him right now and asked me to ask you for some lavender to put in his bath water to help soothe him. He’s being very clingy right now and had a fit when we tried to untangle his arms from Murdoch’s neck.”
“I heard him screaming. Poor baby. Is there anything I can do for him?”
“Give him a lot of love, Teresa. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if he spent the night in Murdoch’s bed tonight. Johnny and I might need to take turns staying with him to help Murdoch. Where do you keep the lavender?”
“Come with me.”
Teresa led Scott to the kitchen and showed him her supply of herbs. She handed a small jar of powdered lavender to him, then gave Scott a peck on the cheek.
“Take care of our brother, Scott.”
“I will, sweetie. Thanks.”
Teresa went back to her room and Scott headed back to the bath house. Truman’s hair had been washed and rinsed. Johnny was washing the child’s back and arms as Murdoch washed the little guy’s stomach and legs while holding his son’s hand. The thumb of Truman’s other hand was firmly planted in his mouth. Truman hadn’t sucked his thumb since Thanksgiving, while he recuperated from an assault by some bullies. Truman had his head down, staring into the water. Scott sprinkled the lavender in as Johnny poured more warm water into the tub. As Scott stirred the powder into the water, Johnny rinsed the child’s back and arms. They continuously rinsed the child’s body with the lavender water. Truman’s body had been tense when Scott went to ask Teresa for the lavender. Now, though, he was much more relaxed.
Since Truman had first come to stay with the Lancers, they discovered that the child responded well to warm lavender baths. It relaxed the little boy so he could heal physically and emotionally.
When the water began cooling again, Murdoch lifted the little boy out of the tub and set him on the bath mat to dry him. Since True would not allow Murdoch to let go of his hand, Johnny and Scott took over the duty of drying the now shivering youngster. Once he was dry, Scott brushed the boy’s hair and Johnny dressed him as Murdoch steadied the boy. Murdoch picked him up and held him close. Truman’s head was resting on his Papa’s shoulder and his thumb was again firmly planted in his mouth.
“I think, under the circumstances, True will stay with me tonight. When Sam comes, talk to him, take care of his needs and show him to his room. I’m going to rock True to sleep. I might go ahead and turn in for the night, so if I don’t come down, don’t be surprised.”
“We’ll look after Sam, Murdoch. Go ahead and get some rest,” Scott replied.
“Thank you, Scott. Good night, boys. Thanks.”
“No thanks necessary, Murdoch…Good night, lil cowboy. I love ya,” Johnny crooned to the now drowsy boy.
“Good night, True. I’ll see you in the morning. I love you,” Scott whispered as he rubbed the little boy’s back.
Truman gave his brothers a small smile and nod.
Murdoch smiled at his older sons, then turned and went upstairs. Once in his room, he lit a lamp and turned the wick low enough to not disturb the child’s sleep, but high enough so he could make his way around the room without running into furniture. Murdoch grabbed the afghan from the foot of the bed and strode over to the rocking chair.
Murdoch settled his large frame into the rocking chair, remembering when he used to rock a colicky Johnny to sleep. He covered his youngest boy with the afghan, then started rocking and humming. Pretty soon, Murdoch heard the deep, rhythmic breathing that told him his boy was asleep. Murdoch stood slowly and walked to the bed, laying the child on the bed gently. Truman was lying on his stomach, still wrapped in the afghan. Instead of taking the risk of waking the boy, Murdoch left the afghan alone, and covered Truman with the bedclothes.
When Sam arrived an hour later, Johnny and Scott talked to him about how they had told Truman about Toby and how the boy had reacted to the news. They told him about the child’s clingy behavior and how the bath had calmed him so Murdoch could rock him to sleep.
“That is perfectly normal for a boy Truman’s age. With all he’s been through, I’m not surprised he reacted that way. Was he sick to his stomach again? After the initial episode?” Sam asked.
“No, just that one episode,” Scott reported.
“I’ll make a special menu for Truman to make sure he gets proper nutrition without upsetting his stomach. He needs to keep his strength up during this deeply emotional time. I’ll check on him in the morning, but if he holds true to form, he may have a nightmare tonight,” Sam predicted.
“We’ll be ready,” Johnny said.
“To be truly ready, we need to go to bed and get some rest. Thanks for staying up and talking to me, boys. We will work together to help Truman make it through the grieving process and move on with life.”
“Yeah. Good night, Sam,” Johnny said. He turned and started for the stairs.
“Good night, Johnny. Good night, Scott.”
“Good night, Sam. You know where your room is? Can I get anything for you?” Scott asked.
“I’m fine, Scott. Thank you. Good night.”
Sam and the boys went to bed. By the time morning came, they were very happy they had gotten a few hours’ sleep.
The little boy did hold to form, but the nightmare was not as violent as past nightmares had been. Truman was sobbing in his sleep. He wasn’t lashing out or screaming, just sobbing his little heart out while he was curled into a ball, trembling.
Murdoch woke up, thinking a small animal was whining outside his window. He looked at his young son and realized that Truman was making the mournful noise. Murdoch climbed out of his side of the bed and walked around to Truman’s side and perched on the mattress next to the boy. Murdoch rubbed the child’s back in soothing circles and whispered assurances to him.
“Mama….Daddy….Andy….Tobyyyyyy,” Truman mewed in his sleep, between sobs.
Murdoch realized the boy was calling out to the people he had lost. The patriarch bowed his head remorsefully, hoping he could help his young son grieve and accept his friend’s unexpected and tragic death. Murdoch also hoped that he could help Truman keep his faith.
Johnny knocked lightly on the door and entered.
“Hey. I thought I heard something. How’s he doing?” Johnny asked.
“He’s sobbing,” Murdoch replied.
“Sam’s here. He said he’d look in on True in the morning. He said he’d make a menu to help his stomach.”
“Okay. You and Scott told Sam about True’s behavior?”
“Yeah, about bein’ sick and clingy.”
“Okay. Thanks. You go on back to bed, Son. I’ll need you and Scott well rested tomorrow.”
“Okay. Let me know if you need help, okay?”
“I will, Johnny. Thanks.”
Johnny walked closer to the bed and placed a hand on Murdoch’s shoulder, then leaned over and gently caressed True’s head.
Murdoch squeezed Johnny’s bicep affectionately and smiled at the young man’s tenderness towards the little boy.
Johnny headed back to bed, intercepting Scott on the way. He pulled Scott into his room, raised the wick on his lamp, and motioned to Scott to sit with him on his bed.
“Truman was sobbin’ in his sleep,” Johnny replied.
“Is Murdoch awake?” Scott asked.
“I hope we can help True through this. He’s lost so much already,” Scott mused.
“Yeah. I think we need to get him doing routine things. I think I’ll ask Murdoch if it’s a good idea ta take True for a ride tomorrow,” Johnny said.
“That would be good. Let him talk if he wants to. I wouldn’t force it, though. “
“I won’t. I was thinking I could tell him about some of the friends I lost. Remind him that Toby can live on in his heart like his parents an’ brother.”
“Good idea. I’m going back to bed.” Scott said.
“Okay. Good night.”
“Good night,” Scott said as he gently cuffed Johnny’s head.
Johnny smiled, lowered the wick, and crawled back into bed.
The next morning, the Lancers were slowly waking. Scott and Johnny were up and performing their morning routines as Murdoch was trying to straighten his back to an upright position.
A light knock on Murdoch’s door heralded the arrival of Sam Jenkins.
“Good morning, Sam. Thanks for staying.”
“Is it a good morning? You look terrible.”
“Thanks. I’ll be alright once I’m able to straighten up.”
“How’s Truman? I didn’t hear any screaming last night.”
“He slept a while, then he woke up, sobbing.”
Sam nodded as he reached down and caressed the boy’s face. Truman opened his eyes and looked around. His eyes were red and there were tear tracks on his cheeks.
“Good morning, Son. How are you feeling?” Murdoch asked gently.
Truman heaved a sigh then pushed himself up to a sitting position next to Murdoch. He rubbed his eyes and leaned on Murdoch’s side. Murdoch lifted his son and set him in his lap, folding the boy into his embrace and kissed the boy’s forehead.
“Toby’s really gone?”
“Is there going to be a funeral?”
“I think so.”
“Can we go to say good-bye?”
“Are you going to church?”
“I don‘t wanna go.”
“You need to go, Truman. I‘ll be there right next to you.”
Truman sighed, then nodded his head resignedly.
“Hi, Truman,” Sam said as he sat next to Murdoch.
“Hi, Uncle Sam.”
“Do you feel like eating something?”
“I don’t know. I’ll try a biscuit.”
“Will you try some eggs and milk?”
“Okay,” Truman said.
“Good boy,” Sam praised.
“Let’s get dressed, big boy,” Murdoch suggested.
“I don’t wanna get dressed.”
Johnny heard this declaration as he walked into Murdoch’s room. He walked up to Truman and knelt in front of him, grasping the little guy’s hands in his big ones. Johnny nodded at Sam and Murdoch, then looked into his brother’s eyes.
“Hey, True…would you like to go for a ride with me after church?”
“Yeah,” Johnny replied softly.
Murdoch and Sam both nodded at Johnny in approval.
“You need to get dressed, though, okay? Ya can’t ride properly with a nightshirt on, can ya?”
“No, I guess not.”
“You wanta come with me to get dressed? “ Johnny asked.
“Is Papa coming, too?” Truman asked.
“No, he’s gonna stay in here. We gotta give Papa a chance to get dressed, too. Then we can see him at breakfast, ok?”
“Okay,” Truman said as he reached out to Johnny, who lifted the little boy and held him close.
“Good job, lil cowboy. We’ll see ya later, Murdoch and Sam.”
“We’ll see you boys at breakfast. Dress warmly and Truman, wear your suit. You may change clothes before you ride,” Murdoch said.
“Okay,” Truman said softly.
Johnny carried Truman to his room, meeting Scott on the way.
“Good morning, little buddy,” Scott greeted Truman kindly.
“Are you going for a ride with Johnny?”
“After breakfast n’ church. Papa n’ Uncle Sam want me to eat something,” True replied.
“That sounds like a good idea. I’ll see you at breakfast,” Scott replied, then went downstairs.
“Let’s get you dressed, lil cowboy.”
Johnny opened the boy’s wardrobe as he shifted the child to his left hip. He pulled out the boy’s suit and placed it on the bed. Truman reached out and pulled on his blue shirt.
“That blue shirt?” Johnny asked, pleased the boy was making some choices on his own.
Truman nodded, so Johnny took the shirt off the hanger and placed it next to the suit. After closing the wardrobe, Johnny pulled the boy’s drawer out and found a clean pair of dress socks and a black string tie and tossed them onto the bed.
“Do you have long johns on, True?”
The boy nodded.
“Good. You’ll need an undershirt. Jelly said it’s chilly outside this morning. The wind is making it cold. Jelly came in this morning to see how you‘re doing.”
Johnny placed the boy on his bed and pulled the socks onto Truman’s little feet. Truman pulled his nightshirt over his head and shivered as Johnny rummaged for a long-sleeve undershirt. Johnny found a blue one with three buttons down the front and tossed it to Truman. The boy caught it and pulled it on, then pulled his other shirt on over it. Johnny buttoned the undershirt as True worked his arms into the sleeves. Once both shirts were buttoned, Truman pulled his suit pants on. Johnny set the boy on his feet so he could pull the pants up and fasten them.
Truman washed his face, brushed his hair, and folded his nightshirt.
“Where are your shoes?”
“In there,” Truman replied quietly, pointing to the wardrobe.
Johnny found the shoes and helped the boy get them on and tied.
“We’ll get Scott or Papa to fix your tie,” Johnny said as he picked up the tie.
True nodded and took Johnny’s offered hand.
They were greeted warmly by Maria and Teresa when they arrived in the kitchen.
“Come sit next to me and have some breakfast, big boy,” Murdoch invited the boy kindly.
Truman sat next to Murdoch and waited patiently as Maria fixed a plate for him. Teresa placed a mug of hot cocoa on the table for him
“Thank you, Teresa,” True whispered.
“You’re welcome, sweetie.”
“Here, nino. Some eggs and a biscuit for you. Would you like applesauce, too?” Maria asked.
“Por favor, Mamacita.”
Maria placed a spoonful of cinnamon applesauce on the boy’s plate.
“De nada, mi nino.”
Truman ate slowly but steadily and cleaned his plate. He finished his hot cocoa, then used a napkin to clean the milk moustache from his upper lip.
“You ate very well, Truman. I’m proud of you.”
Truman looked up.
“Thank you, Papa.”
“True, go see your boys and we’ll be there in a minute,” Johnny instructed.
“No. I want to wait for you.”
“We’ll be out there in just a few minutes. I bet Trevor and Mickey miss you.”
Truman sighed, then went to the foyer and put his coat, hat, and gloves on. He went outside and walked slowly to the barn. He was scared to be alone right now, but couldn’t explain why.
“Is he okay, Johnny?” Murdoch asked.
“Well, he made some choices on his own about getting dressed. He’s pretty quiet, but he is answering when I ask him a question that needs more than a yes or no answer. I think he needs to do everyday things to show that life goes on,” Johnny replied, thoughtfully.
“I’m happy to hear he’s communicating and he did eat well. Did he pick out his shirt and tie or just agree with what you chose?” Sam asked.
“A bit of both,” Johnny replied.
“So he’s making some decisions, but going along with other peoples’ decisions, too,” Sam summarized. “That’s pretty good. I am somewhat happy that he didn’t want to go out by himself. It means he still cares about what’s going on in his world. However, it could also mean that he’s scared to go places alone. Places he’s familiar with and had no fear of going before. Johnny, your idea of doing something normal with him, taking a ride, will be very helpful. Talk to him, but don’t force him to talk to you,” Sam instructed.
Johnny nodded his agreement and understanding.
Just then, Truman ran into the kitchen and grabbed Johnny’s waist. He was breathing hard and fast and he was visibly upset.
“What’s wrong, True?” Johnny asked, concerned.
“I don’t wanna be alone,” he wailed into his brother’s stomach.
“Okay. It’s okay. We’re comin’,” Johnny soothed the child as patted True on the back.
Johnny looked up and met the concerned faces of Doc and his family.
Truman was weeping into Johnny’s shirt and trembling. Johnny knelt down and took Truman’s face gently in his hands. He dried the boy’s tears with his bandana before pulling the child into an embrace.
“Shh, shh. It’s alright, lil cowboy. You’re not alone, now. You’re safe,” Johnny crooned to the boy.
Truman laid his head on Johnny’s shoulder and stuck his thumb in his mouth, sighing in relief as he felt the security his big brother provided. Johnny rubbed the little boy’s back and felt him relax some.
“Ready to go, now?” Johnny asked the boy.
Truman took a deep breath and let it out.
“Yeah,” he whispered.
“Good. Let’s go.”
Johnny released True and took the child by his hand. He firmly, yet kindly, removed the boy’s thumb from his mouth and led him to the foyer. Truman waited as Johnny donned his gun belt and warm outer wear, then they walked to the corral to see the horses and Trevor.
Soon, Doc and the rest of the family joined them and they climbed onto the surrey that Frank had hitched for them as they had breakfast. Doc climbed into his own buggy and they drove off to church.
When the Lancers arrived at church, there was an overwhelming air of grief hanging in the atmosphere Instead of smiles and warm greetings, there were frowns and tears and nods of acknowledgement. News traveled fast in the small town of Green River and most everyone knew about Toby’s tragic death already.
Johnny lifted Truman down from the surrey while Scott helped Teresa down. The little boy was hanging on to Johnny with his head bowed as they walked up the steps and into the church. Scott entered the pew first with Teresa, then Murdoch, behind him. Johnny ushered Truman into the pew and followed behind. They all sat down, scooting together to make room for others. Mr. and Mrs. Lane started to enter with their children, but there wasn’t quite enough room, even with little Caroline on her Pa’s lap, for the entire family to fit with the Lancers. Johnny noticed the problem and lifted Truman onto his lap as he scooted closer to Murdoch to make room for the Lanes. Mrs. Lane smiled in appreciation at Johnny’s gesture and scooted closer so her entire family could sit in the same pew. Johnny smiled and nodded back.
“Good morning, Johnny,” Mrs. Lane said.
“Good mornin’, Mrs. Lane, Mr. Lane, girls,” Johnny replied with a small smile and nod.
“Good morning, Johnny,” Mr. Lane and the girls replied.
“Hello, Truman,” Laura Lane said.
Truman had his head bowed and didn’t want to talk to anybody. He didn’t even want to be there, but his Papa had brooked no refusal and he had to endure the sermon.
“Truman, say hello to Laura,” Johnny whispered the instruction to the youngest Lancer.
“Hey, Laura,” the boy whispered.
Laura gave Truman an odd look. She didn’t understand why her friend was suddenly not talking to her. Johnny caught the look and leaned over to whisper to Mrs. Lane and Laura that Truman was having a rough morning. They nodded their understanding and began to talk among themselves.
“Johnny? Why is everyone so sad?” Laura asked.
Truman heard the question and turned away from the Lanes, leaning into Johnny and resting his head against Johnny’s shoulder. Johnny wrapped his arms around the boy and sighed as he felt the boy trembling while he cried quietly.
“You’ll find out soon enough. I don’t think it’s my place to tell ya.”
Murdoch looked over at Johnny and Truman and saw that his youngest was crying quietly. Murdoch reached over and pulled Truman onto his lap and spoke to him quietly, trying to calm the boy.
“What started this?” Murdoch asked Johnny.
“Laura asked why everyone was so sad. It set him off,” Johnny answered quietly.
“Oh. Truman, settle down, son. Everything’s going to be alright. Laura doesn’t know what happened. They were out of town,” Murdoch whispered to his boy.
Scott leaned over to see what the discussion was about. When he saw Truman’s tears, he sighed.
“Murdoch, do you want me to take Truman outside?” Scott asked.
“No. The service is about to start. He’ll settle down.”
The reverend entered the back door, followed by the choir. The service began with a hymn, then the reverend stood up at his podium and took a deep breath.
“One of our children has died tragically and unexpectedly,” he announced.
“Toby Matthews was accidentally killed in a hunting accident yesterday morning,” the reverend informed his congregation.
Weeping and whispering could be heard rippling through the sanctuary.
“There will be visitation services tomorrow evening at McGruder’s Parlor from seven to nine in the evening. School will be closed until Wednesday. A graveside service will be held at ten-thirty in the morning Tuesday. Toby will be laid to rest in the Matthews’ family plot…We will now sing ‘Amazing Grace.’”
The congregation stood as the organ sounded its first chords. Murdoch held Truman and Johnny held the hymnal for Murdoch as they sang. Teresa and Scott shared a hymnal, as well. Truman had his head down and refused to sing. Murdoch let it go, as he didn’t want to create a scene or upset the child any more.
After the hymn the reverend began his sermon.
“Some people ask why would God take a child from his parents? Why did God let this happen? God did not want this to happen to Toby and his family. It was an unfortunate, tragic accident. You may believe that God controls the world, that he can intervene, or not, at will. That is simply not true. Some people believe it was meant to be, that Toby’s fate was predetermined. This is also untrue. God did not want Toby to die so young, so tragically, so violently. We must come together as a community and support the Matthews in their time of need and sorrow.”
“I know Toby had some very close young friends. These young friends of his, especially the two remaining Musketeers, are going to need a lot of support, love, reassurances, and, possibly, counseling. Doctor Jenkins, Father Ortiz, and I are available to anyone in the congregation who wishes to talk about this terrible tragedy. I encourage you to reach out to talk with and comfort each other.”
“Let us pray.”
After prayers, the offering, and Doxology, there was one last hymn, and then the service ended. Families filed quietly to the doors and down the stairs to their wagons, surreys, and buggies. The reverend stopped the Lancers as they filed out and asked to speak with them alone.
“Truman, I am very sorry that your friend died. It is a tragedy. I hope you understand that God did not want anything like this to happen to Toby. I spoke with Mrs. Matthews and she asked me if I would ask you to sing a song at the funeral for Toby. She’d like you to sing a Welsh hymn. Do you know Suo Gan?”
“Yes, sir,” Truman whispered.
“Will you sing it at the service?”
Truman sighed heavily, then looked to Murdoch for support. Murdoch nodded his approval.
“Yes, sir. I..I’ll sing it.”
“Good lad. I hope you decide to stay with the church. Please don’t let this tragedy shatter your faith. I know you’ve been through a lot and lost a lot in your short life, but I think you are very strong. With your family supporting you, you will get through this. It won’t be easy, but I have faith in you. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Reverend,” True answered with a shaky breath.
The reverend lifted Truman’s chin and looked the boy in the eye. The depth of sorrow and pain reflected in those blue orbs staring back at him deeply touched the reverend. He pulled the youngster into a hug and placed a gentle kiss on the crown of the boy’s head.
“Johnny and Scott, would you please be pallbearers for the Matthews?”
“Yes, Reverend,” the older Lancer sons replied respectfully.
“Thank you. Mr. Carter and his oldest boy will be the other two pallbearers. ”
“Boys, could you please take Truman and Teresa outside so I can speak to the reverend for a few minutes?” Murdoch asked.
“Sure, Murdoch. No problem,” Johnny and Scott replied.
“Thank you. Go with your brothers, Truman. I’ll be along soon.”
“Yes, Papa. Bye, Reverend,” True said.
The young members of the Lancer family made their way to their surrey and waited for Murdoch.
“So, Murdoch, how is Truman doing? How are you and the rest of the family doing?”
“Truman was devastated. He didn’t want to come to church because he blamed God for Toby’s accident,” Murdoch explained.
“Don’t let him lose his faith. If he needs guidance that you don’t feel you can give him, please bring him to me.”
“Sam spent the night at the ranch last night in case Truman had a bad nightmare. I heard he had to sedate Mrs. Matthews. Are you going to see them today?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Please let them know we will help them any way we can. We’ll be at the visitation tomorrow evening.”
“Is Truman going, too?”
“I’m not sure. He did tell me that he wanted to attend the funeral to say good-bye. Do you think he should attend?”
“Yes. Toby was his friend. He needs some time alone with his friend and he won’t get that time at the funeral. Just be there for him. Don’t push him into doing anything he’s not ready to, like talking to Toby’s parents. I noticed he was distressed and quite clingy during the service this morning. It’s normal. It may take a week or so for him to resume normal activities. Just go with it.”
“Thanks for the advice, Reverend. I’ll see you tomorrow evening.”
“You’re very welcome, Murdoch. Go on and take your family home.”
“Ok. See you soon. Good-bye.”
Murdoch took his family home and they ate lunch. After a quiet lunch, Truman went up to his room by himself and took his suit off. He laid the clothes over his chair neatly, slipped into a blue flannel shirt, denim overalls, and boot socks. He climbed onto his bed and hugged his bear as he lay down to rest.
Johnny came up to check on True about an hour after lunch was finished. He found the little boy curled into a ball and holding his bear close. There were tear tracks on the boy’s cheek and his right thumb was halfway in his mouth. Johnny pulled a blanket over the boy and stretched out on the bed next to Truman.
About an hour later, Scott came in, looking for his brothers. He smiled at the two of them, asleep on the bed. Johnny had his right arm around the boy while lying on his stomach. Scott left the room as quietly as he entered and went downstairs to read quietly.
“Scott? Have you seen Johnny?” Murdoch asked. “I know Truman went up to change his clothes.”
“He’s resting with True.”
“Oh, okay. Good. Are they asleep or just resting?”
The rest of the day was quiet and uneventful.
Upstairs, Truman was stirring. It was about three o’clock. When the boy sat up, Johnny woke and smiled at the child.
“Hey, lil cowboy. Have a good rest?”
Johnny sat up, put a pillow against the headboard, then scooted back. He reached over and pulled Truman close to his side. They talked quietly about Toby and some of the friends that Johnny had lost in his childhood. Johnny reminded the little boy to keep Toby in his heart and to talk about his friend and remember the good times.
After their chat, Johnny and True went downstairs to see Murdoch and Scott. Truman walked over into the living room and hugged Murdoch.
“I think True and I are gonna take a ride,” Johnny announced.
“Okay, Son,” Murdoch said as he hugged his youngest.
“Come on, True.”
“See ya later, boys.”
“Bye, Brothers,” Scott said.
Johnny nodded and helped Truman put his coat and boots on, then they went out to saddle Barranca.
Johnny and Truman rode Barranca to the crest, where they could see all of Lancer. Johnny dismounted and ground tied the horse, then plucked the little boy from the saddle. They looked out over the land, taking it all in with reverence.
“Beautiful, huh?” Johnny asked.
“Yeah. Does Heaven look like this?” Truman asked.
“Well, at least Toby will feel at home there.”
“Maybe Mum and Dad will look after him. I’ll ask them tonight.”
“That’s a good idea, lil cowboy.”
Truman turned to Johnny, buried his face in his big brother’s shoulder and cried.
“I’m gonna miss himmmmmmmm…,” the child wailed.
Johnny wrapped his arms around the boy and held him tight.
“I know, lil cowboy, I know.”
They stayed like that for a few minutes. Johnny rubbed True’s back in soothing circles while making nonsense, reassuring sounds. Truman sniffed and moved away after he had calmed a bit. Johnny let him take the lead in the discussion, willing to let the child go at his own pace.
“I’ve been thinking…”
“What about him?”
“I’m not mad at him anymore for letting Toby die. He didn’t want Toby ta die, did he?”
“No, Truman. He didn’t. I’m glad you’re not mad at him anymore.”
“Well, Toby was a good friend and a good kid.”
“Yes, he was,” Johnny confirmed.
“I thought that good people need to stay here on earth and teach others to be good. God wouldn’t want all the good kids to die and go to Heaven. So God didn’t want Toby to go to Heaven, yet. But now, Toby is an angel, so I guess he’ll help God with his work.”
Johnny nodded. What True said made sense. Johnny was often in awe over the things Truman thought about and expressed. He was aware that the boy had a special gift of perception and loved discussing things with the bright child.
“That’s a very good way of looking at it, True. You’re gonna keep Toby in your heart and remember the good times, right? Maybe he’ll be able to help you sometime.”
“I’m gonna try, Johnny. You won’t get mad at me if I cry about it sometimes?”
“No, Truman. You have a right to your feelings. I know this has been very tough for you and I think you’ve done a great job of holding yourself together. It’s going to be harder on some days than on others. You know, though, that we will help ya through this, right? You can come and talk to us about anything anytime.”
“Thanks, Johnny. I love you,” Truman said as he hugged Johnny.
Johnny returned the hug and planted a kiss on the top of the child’s head.
“We need to go before Papa sends Scott after us.”
“Okay, Johnny. Thanks for bringing me here and letting me talk.”
“Anytime. I’m happy that you trust me and told me how you feel,” Johnny answered as he stood up.
“It’s easier to talk to you, sometimes, cause you don’t ask so many questions and ya let me talk. Papa and Scott always ask questions before I have the chance to think about what I wanna say.”
Johnny chuckled as he lifted the boy into the saddle.
“Yeah, they do. Just tell ‘em ta let you think.”
“I try, but they forget.”
Johnny mounted Barranca, after gathering the reins, and settled himself into the saddle behind the boy.
“We just hafta keep reminding them, lil cowboy.”
The two younger Lancers rode into the homestead compound with plenty of time to wash before supper. Jelly took care of Barranca as Johnny wrangled Truman to the kitchen to wash. They entered the dining room together. After True climbed into his seat, Johnny pushed the child’s chair up to the table, then took his own seat.
Murdoch nodded at the two boys, pleased they were prompt and appeared to be fine.
Johnny nodded back with a small smile and a secret wink. Murdoch understood that as “all went well, and I’ll tell ya later.”
Murdoch said the blessing and everyone dug in.
After supper, Truman cuddled in Murdoch’s lap and listened to his Papa read from Aesop’s Fables, one of the books the boy had received for Christmas.
Johnny and Scott were playing Chess and Teresa was working on her needlepoint project.
Pretty soon, it was time for the youngest Lancer to go to bed. Murdoch took him up and put him to bed. Since Johnny had taken True for the ride and let him talk, Truman felt better and was able to get a good night’s sleep.
The next morning, the family gathered in the kitchen for breakfast. Since school had been closed until Wednesday, Truman would be able to spend time with his brothers.
“Boys, I want you to clear the streams in the south pasture and check on the fence lines. If anything needs heavy repairs, let me know, but if it can be fixed quickly, go ahead and do it. Truman, you’re going out with your brothers today. I want you all to come home for lunch, though. Any questions?”
“No, sir. No, Papa. It’s clear, Murdoch,” the Lancer boys replied.
“Good. Be careful and look out for each other. I have some contracts to review and I need to re-shoe Chief,” Murdoch said.
“Okay. See you later,” Johnny said.
“Till lunch, then,” Scott replied.
Truman walked over to his Papa and hugged him. Murdoch returned the hug and gave his youngest a love pat.
“Listen to your brothers, big boy. I’ll see you at lunch.”
The boys saddled up and left, heading south. They cleared the streams that needed attention and checked the fences, tightening wire here and there, resetting posts, and replacing some wires where there were gaps.
They headed back and were on time for lunch. After washing, they ambled into the kitchen, put their coats, hats, and gunbelts on the pegs, then sat down at the table. Murdoch came in as Teresa and Maria were putting the last serving bowls on the table. He ruffled his youngest boy’s hair and smiled at his older sons.
“How did everything go?” Murdoch asked.
“Fine, sir. We repaired some parts of the fence and cleared three streams. The others in that pasture were clear and in no danger of flooding or becoming clogged,” Scott replied.
“Very good. After lunch, I want you to stay close by. We have a few horses that need shoes and Jelly said there’s some tack that could use sprucing up. Also, regular chores need to be completed,” Murdoch said, as he outlined the agenda for the rest of the day.
The boys nodded as they fixed their plates and began to eat. After lunch, Johnny and Scott went outside. Truman started to go with them, but Murdoch called him back and set the child in his lap.
“How are you feeling, Truman? Do you think you can go visit the Matthews tonight?”
Truman bowed his head and heaved a heavy sigh.
“I g-guess so. Are you going to stay with me?”
“Of course. Teresa, your brothers, and I will be there. You don’t have to do it alone.”
“Do you need to rest now?”
“Maybe for a little while. I’m tired, but not sleepy.”
“Well, why don’t you go have some quiet time, okay? I’ll come see you in a little while. Do you know your song? Do you need to practice?”
“I know it. Maybe I’ll sing it tonight, after supper.”
“Okay. I want to be sure that you understand something. I do not send you to your room for siestas or quiet time for punishment, but because I want to be sure you are well-rested and feel good. This is a very emotional time for you, and I think that you need some extra time to grieve and cope with this tragedy. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Papa. I know I’m not bein’ punished cause I know I did nothing wrong. You want me to get rest cause I’m a little guy and if I get too tired, I get really upset.
I know I need ta think about Toby and that he’s in Heaven now. I’m gonna ask Mum and Dad to look after him.”
“Very good. That’s a good idea-to ask your parents to look after Toby. I think he’ll be comforted by that.”
Murdoch kissed his youngest boy on the forehead and set him on the floor.
“Go on up. I’ll come check on you in a little while.”
“Okay, Papa. See ya later.”
Truman went upstairs, passing Teresa and receiving a pat on the back from his sister.
Once he was upstairs, the boy took his boots off, then sat at his little desk and pulled an extra writing tablet and pencil out and wrote a letter to Toby. When he finished, True folded the letter and set it aside. Then, the boy found a blank piece of loose drawing paper and his drawing pencils. He drew a picture of the Three Musketeers-Simon, Toby, and himself. True folded the picture in fourths and placed it with the letter. He put his materials away and put the picture and letter in the pocket of his suit coat.
Murdoch peeped into the room and saw his youngest sitting on the rug, playing with a marble game.
“Hey there, son. What have you been doing ?”
“Writing, drawing, and playing. I wasn’t tired enough to sleep, but I’ve been quiet.”
“Yes, you have been quiet. You don’t have to sleep if you’re not tired, but I’m glad you had some quiet time. Alright, are you ready to go do your chores?”
“Yes, Papa. Are Johnny and Scott still around?”
“Yes. They’re doing their chores.”
While they talked, True put his marble game away and put his boots on. He stood up and hugged Murdoch around his legs, as he could not reach Murdoch’ s waist.
Murdoch lifted the boy into his arms and hugged him, then set the boy back on his feet and took his hand. They walked down the steps and retrieved their coats and hats, then went outside to find Scott and Johnny.
They found the older boys grooming their horses.
“Hey, Johnny n’ Scott,” True called as he let go of Murdoch’s hand and ran to his brothers.
“Hey, True. Hey, lil cowboy,” Johnny and Scott replied together. Johnny set his curry comb down in time to catch the little whirlwind.
He patted the boy on the back smiled at him.
“Mickey wants some attention, little buddy,” Scott said.
“He’ll get it. Hey, Mickey. You want a rub down?” Truman asked as he approached his mustang.
The horse nickered at the boy and nudged his head.
“Hey! Behave yourself!”
Murdoch, Scott, and Johnny chuckled at the boy’s interaction with his horse.
“You guys get your chores finished, then wash up. True, it’s bath night for you.”
True sighed as his shoulders slumped.
Johnny and Scott chuckled. Their little brother pierced them with one of his best glares.
“You guys don’t smell too sweet yourselves, ya know!”
Murdoch laughed outright at the expressions on his older sons’ faces. Murdoch was pleased to see his youngest teasing his older brothers again. He was afraid it would be a long time before the boy felt up to it again. However, they still needed to help the boy get through the visitation, funeral, and the first few days of school without Toby.
The Lancers finished their chores, then went in to wash for supper. Truman trudged up the stairs to get his robe, slippers, and drawers. He went to the bath house, where Murdoch was warming water for the boy’s bath. The boy undressed and climbed into the tub. Murdoch poured the warmed water in and True went to work scrubbing himself. He dunked his head and washed his hair, then rinsed.
“Supper will be ready soon, big boy. You can wear clean work clothes to supper, then change into your suit after supper,” Murdoch informed the boy.
“Okay, Papa. I’ll be out in a few minutes.”
Murdoch left and went to make sure his other sons were almost ready for supper. He also wanted to talk to them about the visitation services.
As he made his way up the stairs, Murdoch could hear Johnny and Scott moving about in their rooms and calling to each other.
“Hey, you guys almost ready? You look very nice.”
“Thanks, Murdoch. Thank you, sir,” Johnny and Scott responded.
“I need to talk to you while I have a few moments without Truman around. He’s about to finish with his bath and he’ll be up here soon. I don’t know what to expect from him this evening at the parlor. I just know we’ll have to be supportive of him and not push him into anything he’s not ready to do,” Murdoch confessed.
“We’ll support him any way we can, sir,” Scott affirmed.
“Yeah, Murdoch. We’ll be there for him,” Johnny concurred.
“Thanks. I knew I could count on you boys.”
Johnny stepped up to his dresser and brushed his hair. A few minutes later, he heard noises in Truman’s room. Johnny went to investigate and saw his brother pulling clean overalls and a shirt out of his drawer.
“Hey. Good bath?”
“It was a bath, Johnny. Nothin’ ta get excited about,” True replied.
Johnny smirked at the boy and shook his head.
True finished dressing, then went downstairs and sat on the couch to wait for the rest of the family to find their way down for supper.
Murdoch came down first and noticed his youngest sitting alone on the couch, staring at the fireplace.
“Hi, Papa,” the boy replied.
“May I join you?”
Murdoch sat down next to his youngest and put an arm around the small shoulders.
“How are you? Are you ready for this evening?” Murdoch asked.
“Okay, I guess. I don’t know… I don’t know what to expect.”
“Well, I think a lot of our friends will be there to lend support to the Matthews and pay their respects to Toby,” Murdoch replied.
“Will the coffin be open or closed?”
“I don’t know, son.”
“I guess we’ll find out when we get there, huh, Papa?”
“I guess we will, son.”
“Murdoch, supper’s ready,” Teresa announced.
“We’re coming, darling.”
Murdoch stood and pulled his boy off the couch. Johnny and Scott came down the stairs and made their way over to the table. Once everyone was seated, Murdoch said the blessing and the family filled their plates. The older family members watched Truman carefully, making sure he ate at least some of his supper. They knew he was nervous about the services that evening and tomorrow’s funeral. They hoped the experience wouldn’t be too hard on the small boy.
When it became apparent that Truman wasn’t going to eat anymore, Murdoch excused him to change into his suit. The boy sighed and left the table despondently. The older Lancers exchanged worried looks, then finished eating their supper.
Truman returned wearing his suit and shoes. His blue tie was dangling around his neck and his hair had been freshly brushed.
“You look mighty handsome, little buddy,” Scott praised the boy as he walked over to Truman to fix the boy’s tie.
“Thank you, Scott,” True replied quietly.
“Why are you wearing your blue tie?” Scott asked.
“It’s the Musketeers’ color,” True answered.
“Oh, that’s right. There you go. All set?” Scott asked.
“I guess so.”
“Come on. We’ll be right with you.”
The family went out and climbed into the surrey. Once everyone was settled, Murdoch drove them to town.
The family arrived on time and Murdoch parked the surrey along the boardwalk near the parlor. Everybody disembarked the surrey except Truman. He sat still on the seat and refused to budge. Murdoch gave his sons a look and they took the hint. Scott and Johnny escorted Teresa into the parlor while Murdoch climbed onto the surrey to sit with Truman.
Murdoch put his arm around the boy and pulled him close.
“I know you’re nervous, and maybe a little scared, because you don’t know what to expect. I’m not going to make you go in there alone, son. I’m not going to rush you, either. However, the sooner you go visit and say good-bye to Toby, the sooner you’ll be able to grieve and cope with this loss. You’ve suffered a number of devastating losses in your short life and you’ve coped well and made it through. This is another loss for you, and I am very sorry you had to experience this. Your brothers, Teresa, and I are going to be with you and help you cope with this loss, and future losses. Do you understand what I am saying?”
Truman sniffled and nodded.
“Are you ready to go in?”
“Okay,” True said shakily.
“Good boy. Come on.”
Murdoch climbed down and lifted his youngest down, then took the boy by his hand and walked to the funeral parlor. When they arrived at the door, Truman hesitated. He took a deep breath, then nodded. Murdoch opened the door and they walked into the comfortable family room of the parlor. When Truman saw the open coffin, he started trembling.
Murdoch led his boy into another room and sat in a chair, pulling the child into his lap.
“It’s okay, son. It’s okay. Take your time.”
Scott and Johnny noticed their brother’s hesitant entrance and rapid retreat, so they followed Murdoch into the other room and sat in chairs next to their father and young brother. Without saying a word, each of the older Lancer sons reached out and touched their brother as a show of support.
“True, do you want me to take you in there to see Toby?” Johnny asked gently.
“Simon is here, True,” Scott said.
“True? Are you okay?” Simon asked from the doorway.
Truman shook his head ‘no,’
Johnny waved Simon in to talk to Truman. Simon approached hesitantly, looking toward Johnny for guidance. Johnny nodded at the boy and took Simon by the hand.
“It’s okay, Simon. True needs you. He’s having a hard time with this,” Johnny whispered.
“So am I,” Simon confessed.
Johnny nodded at the boy sadly. Truman looked at his friend curiously.
“H-have you s-seen him, Simon?”
“Yeah. He looks…peaceful.”
Truman swallowed, then reached into his suit pocket and withdrew the letter and picture.
“I drew a picture to put w-with Toby so he wouldn’t get lonely. I wrote a letter to him, too,” Truman said.
“Can I see the picture?” Simon asked.
Truman opened the picture and showed it to his friend.
“This is very good and I think it will help Toby. He won’t get lonely with the picture. I bet the letter will make him feel good, too.”
“Yeah?” Truman asked.
“Yeah,” Simon confirmed.
“True, d’ya want to go give it to Toby? I’ll go with you,” Johnny offered.
“Yeah. Will you come, too, Papa, Scott, and Simon?” True asked.
“Yes, son. Sure, True. Let’s go, True,” the others replied.
Truman took a deep breath and nodded.
“Let er buck, then,” Truman said.
This caused Johnny to smile at his brother. He took the boy’s hand when Murdoch set him on the floor and led the way to the other room. Truman started trembling again, but kept walking, knowing Johnny and his family were there to support him.
Truman glanced at Mr. and Mrs. Matthews and Timothy. They looked extremely sad, but seemed to be holding up well. The boy continued walking to the coffin, a small, white coffin, with a lamb carved into it.
When he looked down into the coffin and saw his friend’s peaceful countenance, the tears that had been threatening began to flow freely. True’s legs became rubbery and Johnny had to catch the boy and hold him up. After a minute or two, Truman was steady on his feet again, so Johnny let go, but laid a hand on the boy’s shoulder to maintain a reassuring contact.
True put his letter and picture in Toby’s right hand, then patted his friend’s shoulder affectionately.
“Good-bye, Toby. My mum and dad will look after you in Heaven till your mum and dad come. I-I’ll look after your mum and dad and Timothy for you. God bless you and keep you. You’re an angel, now. You’ll be one of the best angels up there,” Truman whispered to his friend shakily.
Truman turned away, then looked one last time, before walking to Mr. and Mrs. Matthews and Timothy.
“He’s going to be alright, Mr. and Mrs. Matthews. My mum and dad will look after Toby,” Truman told the bereaved parents.
“Thank you, Truman. You’re a good boy. Please come see us when you can,” Mrs. Matthews requested.
“I will,” he promised.
“I will, too, Mr. and Mrs. Matthews,” Simon said.
“Thanks boys. We’d appreciate that,” Mr. Matthews said.
Truman hugged both of Toby’s parents and then Timothy. Timothy was touched at Truman’s selfless gesture and returned the hug, patting True on the back.
Truman turned to Johnny and gave him a look that Johnny instantly recognized. The boy had had enough and was ready to go home. Johnny nodded his understanding and knelt next to the boy.
“Do you want to say good-bye to Toby one last time?” Johnny asked tenderly.
Truman looked over at the coffin and shook his head ‘no.’ The boy turned and hid his face in Johnny’s stomach while he wept. Johnny held him close, while rubbing his back. When True settled, Johnny stood up and took the boy by the hand. The brothers made their way out to the boardwalk and took deep breaths to steady themselves.
Murdoch, Scott, and Teresa had watched the whole scene with concern and pride. They paid their respects to the grieving family, then followed Johnny and Truman outside. Johnny was holding the boy close and soothing the distressed child. The family walked to their surrey and climbed in. Scott helped Teresa up, then climbed aboard. He took Truman from Johnny and put the child in his lap as Johnny climbed on. Once everyone was settled, they started for home. By the time they arrived at the estancia, Truman was asleep in Scott’s lap.
Johnny jumped down and reached for Truman. Once Scott handed him down, Johnny carried True to his room and put him to bed after undressing him. Johnny went into his room and took his suit coat and tie off, leaving them draped over a chair. When he went downstairs, Scott and Murdoch were sitting on the couch, sipping brandy. Johnny helped himself to a glass of whiskey and joined them.
“Where’s Teresa?” Johnny asked.
“She went to bed, Johnny,” Murdoch answered.
“Oh. Well, True is tucked into bed, sound asleep,” Johnny stated.
“Good. Tomorrow is going to be a long, hard day,” Murdoch said.
“The service is at 10:30?” Scott asked.
“I guess it would be a good idea to turn in now,” Johnny said.
“Yes, it would, son. Good night, boys. Listen for your brother. I’ll be listening for him, too. “
“Okay, Murdoch. Yes, sir. Good night,” Johnny and Scott replied.
The family went to their beds and hoped they would all get a restful night.
In the wee hours of the morning, Johnny woke up to a noise. He listened closely to what he thought was a wounded animal caught in the house. Johnny eased out of bed and pulled his robe on, tying it as he wandered into the hall. He stopped and listened carefully, trying to distinguish the source of the sound. Scott and Murdoch came into the hall simultaneously. They had heard the noise, too.
“Do you hear that noise? It sounds like a hurt animal,” Johnny said.
“I heard it, too,” Scott confirmed.
“I think it’s coming from Truman’s room. Let’s check there, first,” Murdoch suggested.
The younger Lancers nodded and followed their father into the little boy’s room. Johnny turned up the lamp as Murdoch approached the bed. Truman was curled up on his side, hugging his bear close to him and sobbing inconsolably. Murdoch, Scott, and Johnny exchanged worried looks and sat on the bed next to the boy.
“Truman, son. Wake up, it’s Papa. Wake up, Truman,” Murdoch called as he gently shook the child.
“Papaaaaaa…………,” the boy wailed.
Murdoch moved quickly to lift the crying child and held him. Johnny rubbed the boy’s back and talked to him softly. Scott pulled a blanket from the foot of the bed and wrapped it around Truman. Murdoch stood up, still holding the child and carried him to his room, where he sat in the rocking chair. Murdoch cuddled the child close and rocked him as he sang “Silent Night.”
Johnny and Scott followed Murdoch to see if their father needed anything.
When Johnny heard Murdoch singing that song in a gentle tone, a vague memory started to wash over him.
“Murdoch?” Johnny asked in a whisper.
“Yes, Johnny?” Murdoch answered likewise.
“Did…did you sing that song to me?”
Murdoch smiled wistfully. “Yes, I did, Son. It was the only song that would put you to sleep. No matter what time of year it was, I would sing “Silent Night” to get you to sleep. You wore us out once you could walk. Even when you were tired, you were a bundle of energy,” Murdoch recalled, chuckling softly.
Johnny grinned, then became serious again. He sighed heavily then stepped over to kneel next to the rocking chair and reached out to rub Truman’s head tenderly. Truman was still crying, but the sobbing had dissipated to a lesser degree of severity.
“Truman, can you talk to us? Did you have a bad dream?” Murdoch asked.
Truman looked up at his Papa and wiped his eyes with his shirt sleeve. He was having a hard time catching his breath. Murdoch rubbed the child’s back and encouraged him to take deep breaths.
“Slow down, son. We’re in no hurry. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly,” Murdoch guided his son into calming and getting his breathing under control.
Truman slowly calmed and his breathing slowed down as his brothers and Murdoch talked to him soothingly.
“I-I-I dreamed about T-Toby and I w-was afraid the s-same thing could
h-happen t-to meeeee,” Truman told them, beginning to cry hard again at the end of the sentence.
Murdoch rocked and soothed Truman some more until he was calm again.
“Accidents happen, son. We have to be extremely careful whenever we handle guns or when we are with people who have guns. You understand why I am strict about using guns in the compound and with supervision, right?”
“This is why, baby. I don’t want anything to happen to you, your brothers, Teresa, or anyone who lives and works on this ranch.”
“I know, Papa. I don’t want my own rifle anymore.”
“Well, you don’t have to have one. Maybe by the time you’re old enough, you might change your mind. I DO want you to learn to defend yourself and hunt to provide for yourself if you’re out camping or whatever, but we don’t have to talk about that right now.”
Johnny and Scott hadn’t said anything, but they were there to support their younger brother and father.
“Do you think you can go to sleep now? It’s very late and we have a big day ahead of us,” Murdoch said.
“I don’t wanna sleep alone.”
“You don’t have to sleep alone tonight. I’ll put you in Papa’s bed and you can stay with me tonight, okay?”
“Are Johnny an’ Scott sleeping in here, too?” Truman asked.
Murdoch smiled at his older boys, who both shook their heads ‘no.’
“No, Truman. There’s not enough room in Papa’s bed for them and us. They’re going back to their own beds to sleep. We’ll see them in the morning.”
“Okay. Where’s Mr. Bear? Can he come?”
“Sure, he can come.”
Scott went to get the much loved bear and returned quickly with it. He gave it to Truman, who held it tightly.
“You’re welcome, little buddy. Love ya.”
“I love ya, too, Scott.”
“I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Okay, Scott. See you then.”
Scott hugged the boy, patted Murdoch’s shoulder, and then went to bed. Johnny hugged his little brother and planted a kiss on top of the child’s head.
“Get some sleep, lil cowboy. Love ya.”
“See ya in the morning, Johnny. I love ya, too.”
Johnny smiled at the boy, then shared a smile with Murdoch.
“Good night, son.”
“Night, Murdoch. You guys get some sleep. See ya later.”
When Johnny left, Murdoch remained in the rocker and resumed singing. Pretty soon, the exhausted child fell into a deep, restful sleep. Murdoch eased out of the chair and put the boy in bed, then lowered his bedside lamp as he climbed into bed.
The Lancers slept peacefully for the rest of the night.
The ambiance in the kitchen was melancholy. The Lancers slowly made their way to the table as breakfast was being prepared. Murdoch and Truman were the last to arrive, both wearing their dark suits and black ties. Murdoch had the boy by the hand and led him to the table. Quiet greetings were exchanged among the family members. Johnny stood and pulled out a chair for True, then pushed it in after the boy sat. He gently squeezed the child’s shoulder. When Maria and Teresa brought the platters of food to the table, Maria leaned over and embraced the child with an abundance of love and compassion. True kept quiet, but he appreciated the gesture just the same. He was afraid that if he acknowledged the gesture, he would cry again. He had to be ready to sing the song Mrs. Matthews had requested.
A plate full of scrambled eggs, sausage, applesauce, and a biscuit was placed in front of True, but he wasn’t interested in eating. He played with his food for a bit, pushing it around on his plate. He was so lost in thought, that he was oblivious to the worried glances that were being aimed in his direction from the rest of his family.
“Truman, eat, please. You need some breakfast, Son,” Murdoch urged his youngest gently.
Truman heaved a deep sigh and put a forkful of scrambled eggs into his mouth. He chewed mechanically, not really tasting the food.
“Do you want your biscuit buttered, True?” Teresa asked.
“No, thanks,” the boy whispered in reply.
After a bite of applesauce and a few sips of milk, the boy finally opened his biscuit and placed a sausage patty on it, then closed the biscuit and ate it as a sandwich. True ate half of his biscuit sandwich, a few more bites of egg, and the rest of his applesauce before stating that he was finished.
“You ate well, Truman. Finish your milk, please,” Murdoch instructed kindly.
True finished his milk and sat back in his chair, but kept his head bowed. Johnny had finished his breakfast, so he sat back with his coffee mug in one hand and draped his other hand around Truman’s shoulders.
Gradually, everyone finished their breakfast and it was time to go. Jelly came in, dressed in his best suit, and announced that the surrey was hitched and ready. The gruff handyman had a soft spot for children, especially Truman, and he walked over to the morose boy and patted the child on the shoulder in silent support. He received no reaction from the boy, but the others gave him appreciative smiles.
The family moved to the foyer, where they donned their coats and hats. Once outside, Scott lifted Truman onto the surrey, then climbed up and sat next to him. Scott put his arm around the child and pulled him close as Truman leaned against him. Johnny helped Teresa up, then climbed up himself. Jelly and Murdoch flanked Teresa in the front while Scott and Johnny sat on either side of Truman in the back. When everyone was settled, Murdoch flicked the reins and they were headed to town.
The town cemetery was quite crowded when the Lancers arrived. Murdoch parked the surrey behind the Lanes’ wagon and jumped down. After Jelly climbed down, he helped Teresa down while Johnny and Scott looked after Truman. Each of the older Lancer sons took a hand of their brother and the three sons walked behind their father, sister, and friend. All of the Lancers were dressed in their Sunday best, even Johnny was sporting a suit and tie.
Since they were pallbearers, Johnny and Scott stopped at the hearse while the rest of the family went through the gates. Murdoch took charge of Truman and escorted Teresa to the gravesite with Jelly close behind.
Soon, Mr. Carter and his son showed up and the four of them pulled the small coffin out the hearse and carried it to the grave site. They set it on the boards that spanned the width of the open grave. Ropes had been laid across the grave between the boards to use when it was time to lower the coffin.
A few more people arrived and the Reverend started his service. Once the standard words were said and eulogies were delivered, the children’s choir assembled under the direction of Mr. Peabody. Truman was going to sing the song, but the choir was there to back him up. Charlie, a ranch hand from Lancer, and Mr. Lane provided musical accompaniment with their guitar and violin, respectively.
Truman began singing after the opening notes:
Huna blentyn yn fy mynwes
Clyd a chynnes ydyw hon;
Breichiau mam sy'n dynn amdanat,
Cariad mam sy dan fy mron;
Ni cha' dim amharu'th gyntun,
Ni wna undyn â thi gam;
Huna'n dawel, annwyl blentyn,
Huna'n fwyn ar fron dy fam.
Huna'n dawel, heno, huna,
Huna'n fwyn, y tlws ei lun;
Pam yr wyt yn awr yn gwenu,
Gwenu'n dirion yn dy hun?
Ai angylion fry sy'n gwenu,
Arnat ti yn gwenu'n llon,
Tithau'n gwenu'n ôl dan huno,
Huno'n dawel ar fy mron?
Paid ag ofni, dim ond deilen
Gura, gura ar y ddôr;
Paid ag ofni, ton fach unig
Sua, sua ar lan y môr;
Huna blentyn, nid oes yma
Ddim i roddi iti fraw;
Gwena'n dawel yn fy mynwes
Ar yr engyl gwynion draw.
The English translation is:
Sleep my baby, at my breast,
’Tis a mother’s arms round you.
Make yourself a snug, warm nest.
Feel my love forever new.
Harm will not meet you in sleep,
Hurt will always pass you by.
Child beloved, always you’ll keep,
In sleep gentle, mother’s breast nigh.
Sleep in peace tonight, sleep,
O sleep gently, what a sight.
A smile I see in slumber deep,
What visions make your face bright?
Are the angels above smiling,
At you in your peaceful rest?
Are you beaming back while in
Peaceful slumber on mother’s breast?
Do not fear the sound, it’s a breeze
Brushing leaves against the door.
Do not dread the murmuring seas,
Lonely waves washing the shore.
Sleep child mine, there’s nothing here,
While in slumber at my breast,
Angels smiling, have no fear,
Holy angels guard your rest.
As Truman and the choir sang, the coffin was slowly and carefully lowered into the grave. Mr. and Mrs. Matthews and Timothy each threw a handful of dirt onto the coffin. Their expressions were sorrowful, but their eyes were clear and dry. Mr. Matthews had an arm around both his wife and remaining son.
When Truman finished the last words, the choir was dispersed and the children went back to their families. The hole was filled in and families began to slowly walk away, but the Lancers, Carters, and Lanes remained to support the Matthews.
The remaining families gathered around the Matthews and offered their condolences and support. Truman stood silently off to the side as the adults talked. Laura and Mary Lane walked over with Simon to talk to Truman. Their eyes were red from weeping for Toby. Johnny stood near his younger brother and watched as the children tried to get Truman to go for a walk with them, but True refused to go.
“Hey, True. Feel like going for a walk?” Simon asked hesitantly.
“What for?” True asked.
“To talk,” Simon responded.
Truman shook his head. He didn’t want to go, and he didn’t feel like talking to anybody. Simon looked up at Johnny and received a sad smile and quick shake of the head that told Simon not to keep asking.
“We’ll be around when you’re ready, True,” Simon said quietly.
He knew Truman was very upset, but so were he and the Lane girls. Simon hoped True would talk to them soon.
“We’ll see you later, kids. True’s not up ta talkin’ right now, okay?” Johnny spoke up.
“Okay, Johnny. See you later, True,” Simon replied.
“Bye,” the other kids said before they moved towards the gates of the cemetery.
Truman heaved a deep sigh and turned to face Johnny, who stepped over to the boy and patted his back.
Pretty soon, Murdoch, Scott, and Teresa were ready to go. Jelly was talking to Charles Lane and took his leave when he saw the Lancers gather together. Murdoch took Truman by the hand and walked through the gates to the surrey with the rest of the family in step behind.
As soon as they arrived at the estancia, Johnny jumped down from the surrey and turned to help Truman down. Scott assisted Jelly and Teresa as Murdoch climbed down on his own. True ran into the house and up the stairs to his room.
The family heard the boy’s door slam and exchanged looks of concern.
“It’s going to be a long day, boys,” Murdoch stated frankly.
“I’m afraid you’re right, Murdoch,” Scott said.
“He wouldn’t even talk to his friends much,” Johnny added.
“Well, I’ll go check on him in a few minutes. Make sure he’s alright,” Murdoch said.
Johnny and Scott nodded. Teresa had gone in to change into work clothes and help Maria with lunch. Jelly had returned to his room to change and then fed Dew Drop.
The Lancer men ambled into the house and stopped in the living room for a drink.
Upstairs, Truman had changed his clothes and put his suit back on the hanger and his shoes in the bottom of the wardrobe. He had put on a pair of much loved and very worn denim overalls with his blue calico shirt. He was sitting on the rug in the middle of his floor, hugging Mr. Bear, and staring into space.
Murdoch peeked into the room after he had changed clothes. He was saddened and concerned when he saw his youngest sitting still and quietly, grieving alone for a friend he would miss very much.
Murdoch walked all the way in and settled his big frame in the rocking chair. Truman knew Papa had entered his room, though he didn’t acknowledge it at first. Neither one spoke. Murdoch sat back in the chair and watched his contemplative son. After a few minutes, the boy stood and walked over to Murdoch, climbed into his Papa’s lap, and was immediately enveloped in a secure hug. The boy still had his bear and hugged it as he was cuddled. Once True was settled, all snug and comfortable, Murdoch began rocking and humming. He noticed, upon closer inspection, that there were dried tears on the boy’s cheeks and his eyes were a brilliant blue as a result of shedding tears.
Scott and Johnny stopped in to see what their father and brother were doing. They smiled at their father as he rocked Truman and hummed that special song. Truman did not look sleepy, but he was relaxed and secure in Murdoch’s loving arms.
The older Lancer sons caught their father’s eye and smiled. Murdoch smiled back, then gave them a subtle nod to go about their day. They took the hint and left, easing the door closed on their way out.
About forty-five minutes later, Teresa came in to let Murdoch know that lunch was ready. Maria had delayed lunch until two to accommodate the family’s return from the funeral.
Truman was still awake, but very quiet. Murdoch had let him be, not forcing the child to talk. They just cuddled and rocked for a while.
After Murdoch thanked Teresa, he looked down into the sorrowful blue eyes of his youngest and caressed the boy’s cheek tenderly. Truman looked back at Murdoch and blinked.
“Hey, Son. You ready for lunch?”
Murdoch set the child on his bare feet and pushed himself out of the chair. He gently grasped the boy’s hand and they went downstairs. It wasn’t until they arrived at the kitchen table that Murdoch noticed True still held Mr. Bear.
“Truman, let’s put Mr. Bear in the old high chair so he won’t get dirty,” Murdoch suggested.
“Noooo,” Truman said as he held the bear closer to his heart.
Murdoch understood the child’s reluctance to relinquish his bear, so he did not fuss at the child for protesting.
Murdoch picked up his son and set the boy, standing, on a chair then stood in front of him so they could be eyeball to eyeball, and gently, yet firmly, grasped the boy’s biceps.
“True, Mr. Bear is important to you, isn’t he?” Murdoch asked.
“Is he as important to you as your piper?” Murdoch asked, referring to the child’s statue of a Scottish bagpiper.
“Where does your piper stay? Is he ever on the table during meals?”
“He stays on the shelf in the dining room so he doesn’t end up in the mashed potatoes,” the boy replied.
“That’s right. We don’t want Mr. Bear to end up in the mashed potatoes, either, do we?”
“Good, so let’s put him in Johnny’s old high chair and he will be safe while we eat. You can take him out after you clean up from lunch.”
Truman sighed, then nodded. Murdoch put Truman on the floor so the boy could take care of the stuffed bear.
Once that issue was handled, the family sat down at the table, joined hands, and bowed their heads for the blessing.
The afternoon fare was fried chicken, cole slaw, corn on the cob, biscuits, and mashed potatoes with gravy. Truman’s cob of corn was cut in half to accommodate the boy’s small hands.
Lunch was a mostly quiet affair. Johnny and Scott mentioned that they had been replacing the rails on the north corral since they had been home from town. Johnny had to have Jelly remove a splinter from the heel of his left hand, but that was the only injury that occurred, as insignificant as it was.
“How did you get the splinter, Johnny?” Murdoch asked.
“A rail slipped through my hand and pushed my glove partway off,” Johnny replied.
“Keep it clean, Son.”
“Any other news?”
“Just the usual, Murdoch. The cows aren’t real bright and get stuck in the oddest places,” Scott replied.
Murdoch nodded his agreement. He had been keeping a surreptitious eye on his youngest boy to see if he was eating well. Murdoch was pleased to see that Truman had almost cleared his plate.
“Are there any more rails to be replaced?” Murdoch asked.
“Just a few, on the far side,” Johnny answered.
“Well, watch out for rabbit holes,” Murdoch warned mildly.
“We will,” Scott affirmed.
“Go do what you need to do. I’ll be working on the books and reviewing contracts for the spring cattle drive,” Murdoch said.
“Okay,” Scott answered for both of them.
Johnny flicked his eyes towards Truman, then back to Murdoch, asking if the boy could go out with them.
Murdoch understood, but shook his head ‘no.’ For one thing, True wasn’t wearing socks and boots, and for another, the child was being very clingy. Johnny and Scott understood the reply and left, saying “see you later” to the family and stopping long enough to give their brother an affectionate pat on the back or a squeeze on the shoulder.
Truman stayed inside for most of the day. He was quiet and clingy, preferring to stay in the same room as Murdoch, but he did not stay glued to Murdoch’s side. Murdoch kept a record of the child’s behavior to give to Sam when he came to check on the boy.
Murdoch instructed Truman to get his socks and boots. The boy complied and returned properly attired to go outside.
“Where are we going, Papa?” The boy asked as he watched Murdoch prepare to go outside.
Murdoch helped True put his spring coat on as he answered.
“We’re going to visit your brothers and feed your animals. Mickey and Trevor depend on you, son. They can’t prepare their own dinners. They need you to look after them, love them, and groom them. I know you’ve been very sad about Toby’s death, but life continues and you have to keep going with it. Do you understand?”
The discussion continued as they walked outside.
“Yes, Papa. Like after Andy died, we had to keep doing what we were doing. After Mum and Dad died, I had to find a way make it on my own.”
“That’s right, son.”
They walked to the far corral and watched Johnny and Scott install a new rail and secure it on the other side.
“Hey, Murdoch! Hey, Truman!” Johnny called when he noticed his father and brother.
“Hey, Johnny! How’s it going?” Murdoch replied.
True waved, but didn’t say anything.
“We just finished the last rail. We’ll finish the chores and be in for supper soon,” Johnny replied.
“Looks good, boys. Sturdy,” Murdoch complimented them.
The boys waved in acknowledgement. Murdoch and True waved back, then headed to the barn. Trevor loped out to meet his friend and received a vigorous ear rub from Truman. When Mickey saw his small owner, he whinnied a “hello” and stamped his hoof.
“Hi, Mickey. How are you? Hungry?” True asked.
The horse nodded his head and nickered. Truman gave his horse some loving attention before scooping a measure of oats and putting an armful of hay in the manger. After refreshing his horse’s water, the boy gave Mickey another loving pat, then went to fix Trevor’s supper.
Murdoch gave his own horse some attention as he kept an eye on Truman. The boy seemed to be coping better now. He was happy the child was being loving towards his animals instead of being indifferent, aloof, or unresponsive.
Truman and Murdoch made their way back to the estancia after caring for their animals and talking to some crew chiefs and ranch hands. Murdoch did all of the talking. The boy just stood very close to Murdoch and listened. Murdoch kept a hand on his boy’s shoulder in a reassuring manner.
Murdoch guided the boy to the kitchen for a quick wash, then they went to the living room to wait for the rest of the family before sitting down to dinner. Truman took his horses out of the toy box to play with before the others arrived.
Dinner was calm and lighter than recent meals. Truman seemed to be coming out of his mourning smoothly. He ate his dinner well, participated in some of the conversation, and helped carry the dishes into the kitchen as it was Maria’s evening off.
Truman played quietly after supper and watched his brothers battle it out over the chess board. He went to bed on time without fussing, and fell asleep pretty quickly.
When Murdoch came down from putting the boy to bed, he settled in his armchair and sighed.
“Is Truman okay, Murdoch?” Scott asked.
“Did he go ta sleep alright?” Johnny asked.
“Yes. Curled up with that bear of his and went to sleep.”
“Well, he seems to be through the worst of it,” Scott commented.
“Yeah, a real tough lil cowboy,” Johnny agreed.
Little did the Lancers know that this was the calm before the storm.
The next morning, Truman woke up and realized that school was starting again. He climbed out of bed, washed, and dressed. After he made his bed, the boy gathered his school books and walked downstairs to the kitchen for breakfast.
“Good morning, Truman,” Murdoch said.
“Hey, Papa,” he said tiredly.
“Ready for school?”
“You’ll be fine. Johnny is taking you to school this morning. He has some bank business to attend to and an order of supplies to pick up,” Murdoch informed the boy.
“Eat your breakfast, son.”
When Truman finished his breakfast, he picked up his books and lunch pail and went outside to find Johnny. Johnny was in the barn, hitching the wagon.
“Hey, lil cowboy. How ya doin’?”
“I thought you liked going to school.”
“I did, before….”
“I know, True. I know,” Johnny said, rubbing his brother’s back.
Johnny picked up the boy and deposited him onto the front of the wagon. He checked his pocket to make sure the bank deposit slips were in his pocket, then climbed aboard, picked up the reins, and started the wagon in motion.
Johnny let Truman drive the wagon for a little while, but the boy wasn’t as enthusiastic as usual. They parked the wagon at school and walked over to the steps.
“Hey, Truman!” Simon called from the see-saw.
“Hi, Simon!” True called back.
“Hey, Simon!” Johnny called.
“You okay, lil cowboy? Want me ta walk ya in?”
“I’m okay. Thanks for bringin’ me.”
“No problem. Just do the best ya can and I’ll see ya this afternoon, ok?”
“Who’s comin’ ta get me?”
“Scott or I will, if we can. Maybe Jelly, if we can’t.”
“Ok. See ya later.”
“Adios, mi hermano.”
Johnny ruffled the boy’s hair and patted him on the back, then turned and walked back to the wagon.
The school bell rang and the children grabbed their books and pails and lined up at the bottom of the steps. There was a new boy in the class. He looked to be about eight or nine years old. Miss May came out and called the children in. Once inside, pails, coats, and hats were left in the cloakroom and the children stepped into the classroom and took their seats. There was an empty seat. Truman looked over at it and bit his bottom lip to keep his emotions in check. It had been Toby’s seat and it was across the aisle from Truman’s seat.
Miss May brought the new boy up to the front to introduce him.
“Children, please welcome our new student. His name is Paul Phillips and he’s in third grade.”
“Welcome, Paul,” the class chorused.
“You may take that seat there, Paul,” Miss May said as she indicated Toby’s seat.
Truman was horrified. The new boy sat in Toby’s seat. True couldn’t allow that.
“NO!” Truman shouted as he stood up. “He can’t sit there! That’s Toby’s seat!”
“Truman, sit down. Toby isn’t here anymore. Paul needs the seat,” Miss May calmly explained.
True wasn’t having any of it, though.
“NO!” True yelled as he stamped his foot. He moved to the other desk and pulled Paul out of his seat by his shirt, shoving the bigger boy towards the front of the room. “Sit somewhere else! You can’t sit there! That’s Toby’s seat! Ya hear? Toby’s seat!”
“Truman! Stop. Toby is gone, Truman, and Paul has no place else to sit,” Miss May said, trying to be understanding, but needing to be firm.
“NO! NO! NO! He can’t sit there! He CAN’T and he WON’T!” Truman screamed while stomping his little booted feet.
Simon and the others were looking on in shock. They had never seen Truman behave this way and it surprised them. Simon turned and ran out of the school to find Johnny. He came across Sheriff Crawford first.
“Sheriff! Have you seen Johnny Lancer?” Simon asked, trying to catch his breath.
“No, I haven’t, but his wagon is right there, at the store. What’s wrong?” Val asked.
“Truman is really upset and screaming at Miss May and the new boy. Miss May gave Paul the seat Toby had. True just started yelling and screaming and pulled Paul out of the seat,” Simon explained.
“I’ll see if I can calm him down. You go find Johnny and tell him what’s going on. If you can’t find Johnny, go get Doc Jenkins.”
“Okay, Sheriff,” Simon said as he turned to find Johnny.
Val went to the school house and was amazed at what he saw.
Mild mannered Truman Lancer was being restrained by two older boys while Miss May was tending to the new little boy, who shaking like a leaf. Paul was a few inches taller and a few pounds heavier than Truman, but he was still scared of the little whirlwind. True was still screaming and kicking, trying to break free of the boys holding him off of Paul.
Val strode in and stood in front of Truman. He received a kick in the shin for getting too close. Truman had his eyes closed tightly as tears streamed down his cheeks.
“Truman, it’s Sheriff Crawford. Settle down!” Val ordered.
Truman continued to struggle against the two boys holding him off of Paul.
“Let go of him, boys,” Val instructed.
The boys let go and Truman fell to his knees, breathing heavily.
“True, stand up and come outside with me. We can talk this over.”
“NO! Paul can’t sit there!”
“Someone will have to sit there, Truman. I bet Miss May can work it out. You and I are goin’ out to talk about this.”
Truman was shaking and breathing hard. He was so upset. His good friend had just been laid to rest the day before and now his teacher was trying to replace Toby.
Val grasped Truman’s arm and helped him up. Once True was standing, Val wrapped an arm around the boy’s waist and led him to the doors.
By the time Val had Truman out the door, Johnny had arrived with Simon hot on his heels. Johnny had been quite surprised to see Simon running to him along the boardwalk. After the boy had told him what had happened at school, Johnny took off towards the school. He met Val and his little brother at the top of the steps. Doc Jenkins showed up a few minutes later because Simon had seen him after he spotted Johnny. Doc asked Simon why Johnny was going to the school house and Simon told him about Truman’s meltdown. Doc walked to the school house at a brisk pace to help any way he could.
Johnny took Truman from Val and carried him down the steps and to the bench under the oak tree. He sat down and pulled the still agitated boy into his lap.
“Settle down, Truman. Settle down and talk to me.”
The boy stopped struggling when he realized Johnny was holding him. He leaned forward and threw up his breakfast. Sam had watched the scene as he approached the school house.
The boy was trembling in Johnny’s arms and trying to catch his breath. His throat was sore and he felt sick and overwhelmed with grief.
“Johnny, let’s take Truman to my office so we can get some water for him. I’ll examine him, too.”
“Okay. Thanks, Sam.”
“No thanks necessary.”
Johnny stood and carried the boy to Doc’s place.
Truman was given some water to rinse his mouth and to drink. Johnny attempted to lay the child on the table, but True held on to him tightly. Johnny paced while holding the boy until he had calmed.
“Truman, sit on the table so Doc can take a look at ya. I’ll be right here,” Johnny said quietly.
The boy nodded his acquiescence so Johnny set him on the table.
“Hi, Truman. How are you feeling?” Doc asked softly and compassionately.
“Don’t feel good.”
“Yes, I noticed. Do you hurt anywhere?”
“Throat and tummy, and chest. It hurts ta breathe,” Truman said, still panting.
Doc took his pulse and listened to the boy’s heart and lungs.
“Well, there’s no congestion. Let me see your throat, young man.”
Truman opened his mouth obediently so Sam could peek in.
“It’s red, but not infected. It’s probably sore from screaming and throwing up,” Sam commented. “Lie down and let me feel your tummy.”
Johnny helped the boy shift and lie down, then stood close, holding the child’s hand and rubbing his head.
Doc pressed on Truman’s stomach, then listened to the bowel sounds.
“Do you have any sharp pain anywhere, or is it just sore from throwing up?” Sam asked the boy.
Doc nodded. “True, you rest here for a few minutes and let me talk to Johnny. We’ll be right out here and we won’t be long.”
Truman nodded and watched as they walked to the other room, closing the door behind them.
“What’s wrong with him, Sam?” Johnny asked.
“Nothing really, Johnny. He’s still grieving and it’s going to take time for him to learn to deal with the loss and absence of his friend. The incident at school is evidence that he hasn’t accepted Toby’s loss, yet. The arrival of the new boy and Miss May’s seat assignment, having him sit in Toby’s seat, really hit Truman hard. It was a brutal surprise, a rude awakening. We’re going to have to really be there for Truman and help him through this slowly. From what I know about Truman’s past and his journey west, I don’t think he really had the opportunity to grieve for his parents. He was trying to survive, then, so this was a really hard blow to the little guy,” Doc explained.
Johnny had listened carefully and nodded his agreement to key points Sam was making.
“What can we do for him?”
“Keep doing what you have been doing. Talk to him, but don’t force him to talk. He will talk when he’s ready and you‘ll have to listen carefully to what he says. Give him lots of love and time and periods of undivided attention. Do normal things with him, riding, fishing, drawing, whatever. Stick to the daily routine and don’t let him get away with things he normally would be disciplined for. He needs the security of structure to get on with his life.”
“That all makes sense, Doc. I hope Murdoch or Miss May don’t punish him for this,” Johnny said.
“Well, I’m going to talk to Miss May after school, and I am inviting myself to dinner at Lancer so I can check on True and talk to Murdoch. In the meantime, take him home, explain what happened to Murdoch and Scott. He’s going to be fine, with the love and support from his family. He can do whatever he feels up to doing. Maybe take him for a ride and talk about the incident in a calm setting. Don’t be accusing, just ask him how he was feeling and listen to him,” Sam advised.
“So there are no limits on doing stuff? What about eating? Does he have any restrictions I need to tell Maria?”
“Good questions. He can do what he feels like doing. I wouldn’t let him eat anything heavy or spicy for a few days. Give his stomach a chance to settle. That’s all.”
“Okay, thanks Sam. I really appreciate your help.”
“Anytime, Johnny. Let’s go get the boy and you can take him home.”
Johnny nodded and they went back in the exam room.
“True? You awake, kiddo?”
“Yeah. I’m sorry I was bad at school,” the child replied with remorse.
“Sit up, lil cowboy.”
True sat up with Johnny’s help. Johnny lifted Truman’s chin and looked into the child’s eyes, seeing pain and sadness there.
“You weren’t bad, Truman. You were caught off guard. I know you were really upset that the new boy was taking Toby’s seat. Listen to me, little guy, Toby is in Heaven and he’s in your heart. He’s not going to be in school anymore. Lots and lots of kids are gonna sit in that seat when they come to school. While Toby was here, it was his seat. Now, it’s the new boy’s seat.”
While Johnny talked, tears were shed from Truman’s eyes as he realized Johnny was right. True leaned forward and cried into his brother’s chest. Johnny held the boy tightly and rubbed his back lovingly. Once he calmed enough to talk, True pulled back and looked up at Johnny.
“I…I wish…I wish Miss May told me before school started again. You…you explained it just right, Johnny. I…I need t-to t-tell Paul that I’m sorry,” True said.
“You can tell him tomorrow. I’m proud of you for realizing you need ta say you’re sorry. That’s a grown-up thing to know. D’ye think you should apologize ta Miss May?”
“No, cause she said Toby is gone and he isn’t here anymore. That upset me. Like she can just put a new kid in when another kid leaves or….d-dies. She must not have liked Toby much,” Truman explained.
Johnny sighed and exchanged a worried glance with Sam.
“We’ll talk about it with Papa, see what he says, okay?”
True nodded. Papa was a fair man and would help True decide the right thing to do.
“Am I gonna get a spanking?”
“No. I’m gonna talk to Papa. Tell him what happened. Sam is comin’ ta dinner, so he’ll talk to Papa, too.”
“Okay. Do I have to go back to school today?”
“No, True. You’re coming home with me.”
“I forgot my things.”
“I’ll pick those up for you and bring them this evening, Truman,” Sam volunteered.
“Thanks, Uncle Sam.”
“You’re welcome. Go home with Johnny and rest. I’ll see you boys later.”
“Okay. Bye, Sam. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome, Johnny.”
Johnny picked Truman up and set him on the floor. They walked outside and ran into Val on the way to the wagon.
“Hey, guys. Stop by the office. I have True’s coat, hat, and things from school.”
“Thanks, Val,” Johnny replied.
“Thanks, Val,” Truman replied quietly.
“Sure, kid. Feel better, now?”
“We’ll talk later, Val,” Johnny said, with a meaningful look.
“Right. See ya later,” Val said.
Johnny nodded and ushered True to the wagon. He was glad he had taken care of the bank business before he dropped off the supply list because the bank closed early for a meeting. It was when he was leaving the store that Simon had found him. Johnny put True in the wagon, then went in and picked up the supplies, and a peppermint stick, and loaded them in the wagon. He gave True the candy and went back for another box, returning with the supplies as he chewed a stick of licorice. After the supplies were loaded, Johnny climbed up and drove the wagon to the lumber mill, where he purchased more fence posts.
Truman was quietly sucking his peppermint stick as the posts were loaded. Johnny climbed back in as soon as he signed the credit slip and they were headed home, stopping one last time at Val’s office to get Truman’s things. Johnny jumped down, went in, and returned with the boy’s books, pail, coat, and hat. He handed the hat and coat to his brother. As he placed the other things in the box, Johnny noticed there was a letter to Murdoch sticking out of Truman’s spelling book. Johnny sighed and hoped Doc could get through to the young teacher.
Johnny climbed in one last time and the brothers headed home.
Johnny and Truman arrived at the estancia in time for lunch. Murdoch came out to greet Johnny and was concerned when he noticed that Truman was with him.
“John! Why is Truman home from school? Is he sick?” Murdoch asked sharply.
Johnny headed over to Murdoch, but Truman remained next to the wagon. Johnny turned to look at the boy and gestured him over. True came to stand near Johnny with his head bowed.
“It’s okay, True. Papa is just worried. Go see Mickey while I talk to Papa, ok?”
True nodded and ran towards the barn.
Johnny turned back to Murdoch and gave him a sad smile.
“Let’s go sit down, Murdoch. I need ta tell you something.”
They walked to the porch and sat in the chairs. Johnny explained what happened at school and all of the subsequent events and things that Truman and Sam had said.
Murdoch was quiet and had listened patiently, asking questions now and then. He understood Truman’s reaction and was a bit miffed at Miss May for what he thought was insensitivity.
Johnny gave the letter from Miss May to Murdoch and sat while Murdoch read it. The letter made him angry. Truman had been suspended from school for the rest of the week for his behavior that morning.
“How can she expect a little boy to get over his friend’s death in a few short days? We just buried him yesterday!” Murdoch bellowed.
“Murdoch, settle down. The whole ranch can hear you,” Johnny warned.
Scott came over from the barn. He had been working on his saddle when Truman came into the barn, crying. Scott immediately stopped what he was doing to comfort his little brother and listened attentively as the boy told him what had happened at school. Inside, he was angry at Miss May. He thought she was insensitive. He did not convey this anger towards the little boy who was holding on to him for dear life, now. Scott soothed the boy and talked to him quietly, reassuring him that he was a good boy and had every right to be angry and upset. Once True calmed down, Scott suggested that he spend some time with his boys. Truman agreed and started grooming Mickey. Scott told True that he was going to talk to Johnny and Papa. True nodded and continued grooming the horse.
“Hey, I heard there was some excitement in town. What are we going to do about it?” Scott asked.
“First thing I am going to do is talk to my boy, then I’m going to town to talk to True’s teacher,” Murdoch replied.
“Get Sam and you can talk to her together, Murdoch. He was going to speak with her this afternoon. Oh, and he’s coming to dinner tonight, too,” Johnny said.
“Okay, good idea. Please look after Truman and make sure he eats some lunch. Then, follow a weekend schedule for him, ok?” Murdoch requested.
Scott and Johnny agreed. Murdoch nodded and headed to the barn.
“Miss May wrote a letter to Murdoch, telling him that Truman’s been suspended from school til Monday,” Johnny informed Scott.
“She has no right to do that,” Scott said, furiously. “Is that why Murdoch is going to town?”
Murdoch entered the barn and watched his youngest as he lovingly groomed Mickey.
“Truman, come here, son,” Murdoch requested calmly and kindly.
Truman tensed, put down the brush and left the stall, securing it behind him. He walked to Murdoch slowly with his head bowed.
Murdoch sat on a bale of hay so he wouldn’t tower over the small child. He reached out and took the boy’s hand gently and pulled the boy to him, setting the child in his lap to talk.
“Come here, son. I’m not upset with you, Truman. I’m worried about you.”
“You’re not gonna spank me for what I did at school?”
“No, son. You were upset and I understand that. Johnny explained everything to me. It would have been nice if Miss May had warned you before school about having to use Toby’s seat. Did Johnny explain it to you?”
“Yes. He said that it was Toby’s seat while he was here and lots of kids will use that seat and it will be theirs when they use it. He said Toby’s in Heaven and in my heart. He was nice. Miss May wasn’t nice. She wasn’t mean, but she wasn’t as nice as she usually is. I don‘t think she liked Toby.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Cause she forgot Toby and gave his seat to a new kid,” Truman said.
“Toby can’t be replaced or forgotten, but since he is no longer with us in body, he doesn’t need that seat anymore. The new boy needs it now. I’m going to town to talk to Miss May. I want you to stay here with Johnny and Scott. Eat a good lunch and have some quiet time.”
“Okay, Papa. I’m gonna ‘pologise to Paul tomorrow. He’s the new kid. It ain’t his fault Toby died.”
“It isn’t his fault,” Murdoch corrected the boy gently.
“That’s what I said.”
Murdoch chuckled. “Well, I’m pleased you think it’s necessary to do that. I’m sure Paul will appreciate it. Let’s have a hug, then I’ll go to town.”
“Okay. What about your lunch?”
“I’ll get something in town.”
Murdoch hugged his boy and placed a gentle kiss on his head. They walked to the porch where Johnny and Scott were talking.
“I’m off, boys. Have a nice lunch. I’ll see you when I get home.”
“Okay, Murdoch. Bye, Papa. Be careful,” the Lancer sons replied.
Scott picked up Truman and hugged him tight, patting his back lovingly as the boy snuggled into his brother’s shoulder. Johnny watched the interaction and smiled at his brothers.
The lunch bell was rung, so they went inside and washed for lunch. Maria and Teresa were surprised to see Truman home for lunch, but didn’t press for an explanation when Johnny gave them a look. They knew Johnny would explain when Truman went up for his siesta.
Teresa and the boys enjoyed the simple lunch of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. After they ate, Johnny and Scott escorted Truman to his room for a rest. The boy took his boots and belt off, then climbed on his bed and lay down. Johnny sat on the bed and rubbed Truman’s back as Scott took the afghan and covered the sleepy boy. They both gave the boy a “love pat” and left quietly.
They returned to the kitchen where Johnny informed Maria and Teresa about the morning’s events at the school house and Sam’s suggestions for Truman’s diet.
The two women were both concerned for the little boy and agreed to do their best to help the youngest Lancer cope with the loss of his friend.
Johnny and Scott went out to the barn to do their chores. Maria and Teresa would listen for the boy.
Murdoch stopped by Sam’s office to talk before he headed to the school. He knocked, then opened the door and called.
“Sam? It’s Murdoch.”
“In the kitchen, Murdoch,” Sam called back.
Murdoch went in and sat with Sam.
“Have you eaten?” Sam asked.
“No, I haven’t. I wanted to get here as soon as I could. Johnny told me everything. I talked with Truman, too,“ Murdoch said.
“So, you want to go with me to talk to her?” Sam asked.
“Yes, I do. Val picked up Truman’s books when he left the school and gave them to Johnny. There was a letter to me from Miss May, stating that Truman has been suspended from school for the rest of the week!”
“What? Can she do that?”
“Apparently. But I’m going to appeal.”
The two friends had lunch together, then walked over to the school house. The children were having recess outside, so Sam and Murdoch walked up the steps and into the classroom. David McLean was standing in the corner, weeping.
“Good afternoon, Miss May. We’d like to talk to you about this morning’s incident,” Sam started.
“Okay. David, go sit on the bottom step outside. If you get up, the consequences will be worse for you.”
David left the corner and went outside, rubbing his bottom as he left.
“David picked a fight with a first grader. Mr. Peabody disciplined him,” Miss May explained.
“Oh. Well, I want to talk about your discipline of Truman. Suspended for three days? Isn’t that extreme?” Murdoch asked.
“Mr. Lancer, he screamed, stomped his feet, and pulled a boy out of his seat,” Miss May replied, defending her action.
“Miss May, you know that Toby Matthews was just laid to rest yesterday, right?” Sam asked.
“Well, yes, but life goes on and the sooner Truman learns that the better.”
“Miss May, Truman knows that better than anyone here. He lost both parents in front of his eyes on the same night. A violent death for both. Can’t you have any compassion for him? He’s only seven years old. You can’t expect him to “get over it” in four days! You should have warned him before school that Toby’s seat was needed and explained it to him. He shouldn’t have to come back to school the day after burying his friend and have a bombshell like this dropped on him,” Murdoch said, defending his boy’s out of character behavior.
“Nobody else acted like that,” Miss May said
“That’s your reply?” Sam asked.
Miss May sighed, then began to weep.
“I’m so sorry. I liked Toby a lot. It’s really hit everyone hard. I didn’t mean to be so hard on Truman. I was trying to be strong for the children,” Miss May explained.
“Miss, we understand you wanted to be strong, but there’s a difference between being strong and human and strong and tough,” Murdoch said.
“It’s okay for the children to see you mourn for Toby and have feelings for them. They will know that you care about them. It’s not okay to be blunt and tough, especially with these gentle children who just lost not only a classmate, but a good friend,” Sam said.
Miss May nodded her understanding and agreement.
“I’m sorry if I seemed insensitive. Please bring Truman to school tomorrow. I’d like to talk to him. I really love my students. I thought that being strong meant not to let them see me cry. Truman is a wonderful boy and I am so sorry I hurt him. I didn’t mean to do so. He and Toby and Simon were always together. They never caused any trouble in class. I just hope Truman can understand that I wasn’t trying to cause him any more grief.”
“I’ll bring Truman myself. We understand you are in a tough position, just don’t forget that these are children who need love, understanding, and compassion, especially now,” Murdoch urged.
“Yes, Mr. Lancer.”
“If you need help coping with the death yourself, feel free to come and talk to me or the reverend. We’ll be happy to help,” Sam said.
“Thank you, Dr. Jenkins. I appreciate the offer. Thank you for coming to talk to me. I really appreciate you taking the time to help me help these children and I also think parental interest and involvement are crucial to the success of the students and the school. Mr. Lancer, I will take Truman’s suspension off his record and record today’s absence as a sick day.”
“Thank you, Miss May. Thank you for talking to us and I’m glad we could help you. Truman and I will see you in the morning. Have a nice afternoon,” Murdoch said.
They said their good-byes and Murdoch and Sam left.
“Well, that went better than I expected,” Murdoch said as he and Sam strolled back to Sam’s office.
“Yes. I’ll be at the ranch at 5:30. I’d like to check on Truman before supper. Johnny and Scott have him while you’re here, right?” Sam asked.
“That’s fine. Yes, they’re in charge.”
“Johnny did such a good job with Truman this morning. You’d be proud,” Sam said.
“I am proud of him. He’s a great young man and he takes good care of his brothers.”
“You need to tell Johnny that, Murdoch.”
“I will,” Murdoch said as he took his leave. “See you later, Sam.”
Murdoch rode home with a lighter heart. When he arrived, Jelly took his horse for him so he could check on his youngest boy.
“Thanks, Jelly. Where are Johnny and Scott?”
“Inside, I think.”
Murdoch went in and found his boys on the couch, discussing their work for the next day.
“Hey, Murdoch,” Johnny replied.
“Napping,” Scott replied.
“How long?” Murdoch asked.
“Couple of hours,” Johnny answered.
“I’m going to get him up.”
“Wait, how did it go with Miss May?” Johnny asked.
“Oh, fine. She’s taking the suspension off his record and putting today down as a sick day. She also wants me to bring him in tomorrow and she’s going to talk to him. She was trying to be strong for the children, but didn’t realize she was hurting Truman,” Murdoch replied.
“She didn’t mean ta hurt him, but he’s still hurtin’,” Johnny said.
“Just give him time. Sam says that’s all he needs in addition to our love and support. Johnny, Sam told me how you talked to True this morning. I‘m proud of you for taking such good care of him. Thank you,” Murdoch said.
“Th-thanks, Murdoch,” Johnny said, surprised.
“You’re welcome,” replied Murdoch.
He went upstairs and into True’s room. The boy was on his stomach, sleeping deeply. An afghan had been placed over him. Murdoch smiled at the boy and sat on the bed and rubbed the child’s back lovingly.
The boy slowly woke, shifting under the blanket and stretching his arms out beside him. He raised his head and turned it to see who was with him. When he spotted Murdoch, he smiled.
“Hey, Papa,” True said sleepily.
“Hey, son. Good siesta?”
“Mmhmmm. Johnny n’ Scott put me ta bed.”
“Did you have a good lunch?”
“Yes, Papa. We had a good lunch, but I’m hungry again.”
“Well, let’s go find a snack.”
Truman sat up and scooted to the edge of his bed. He hopped down and put his boots and belt on, then brushed his hair. Murdoch took him by the hand and they went down the steps to the kitchen.
“Maria, could you find a snack for Truman, please? He says he’s hungry,” Murdoch requested.
“Si, si, Patron. Aqui, Truman,” Maria answered as she placed a plate with two sugar-cinnamon cookies on it and a mug of milk on the table for the boy.
“De nada, angel,” Maria answered as she gave the boy a hug and a kiss.
The boy sat at the table and ate his snack while Maria started preparations for supper. Murdoch patted the boy’s cheek and went to the living room.
“Hey, boys. Truman is up. He had a good nap and is having a snack in the kitchen.”
“Why? He had a good lunch,” Scott said.
“Yes, but you know he needs extra food to keep him going. He’s too thin,” Murdoch replied.
Johnny and Scott nodded their agreement.
Truman came in then, still sporting a milk moustache. Murdoch smiled at him fondly and pulled his handkerchief out of his pocket.
“Come here, son.”
True complied and had his face cleaned with Murdoch’s hankie.
“Thanks, Papa,” the boy said, while holding his arms up to be lifted into his Papa’s arms.
“You’re welcome, my boy.”
Murdoch picked up his youngest and held him close, rubbing the boy’s back and patting his backside gently. Truman laid his head on Murdoch’s shoulder and put his hands around Murdoch’s neck.
“You’re not going to have another siesta on my shoulder, are you?” Murdoch asked, with good humor.
“No, Papa. I just wanted to cuddle.”
“Enjoy it while ya can, Murdoch,” Johnny advised.
“Oh, I intend to. Hopefully, I will have LOTS of grandchildren to cuddle!” Murdoch said.
“Well, tell Scott to start courting. I intend to enjoy my freedom as long as I can,” Johnny replied.
“Whoa! Why do I have to give up MY freedom?” Scott said.
“Cause you’re the oldest an‘ you hafta get married first,” Truman replied.
The Lancer men laughed out loud at that, happy that the youngest was up to bantering with them.
“Son, we need to talk,” Murdoch said to Truman as he made his way to the sofa.
“Am I in trouble?” Truman asked once they were settled.
“No, Truman. You’re fine. Uncle Sam is coming to dinner tonight to see you. Won’t that be nice?”
“Is he bringin’ any shot needles?”
The older Lancer men chuckled.
“No, I don’t think so, not for you, anyway. Uncle Sam and I went to talk to Miss May about what happened at school. She wasn’t trying to be mean, she was trying to be strong for all of you. She’s really sorry and wants to talk to you in the morning, so I am taking you to school in the morning,” Murdoch began.
“Okay. Who’s picking me up?”
“Not sure. Either one of us or Jelly. Anyway, she did like Toby very much and she said you, Simon, and Toby were always good in class. I’ll let her explain the rest in the morning. Will you listen to her and give her a chance?”
Truman sat still, in deep thought for a few minutes.
“I was thinking…,” Truman began.
“What?” Murdoch asked.
“Wait, Murdoch. Let Truman take his time to talk. We need ta give him time ta think things though,” Johnny intervened.
Truman gave Johnny a grateful smile and Johnny smiled back with a little nod of understanding.
“I was thinking that most everyone deserves a second chance and if they really mean they are sorry, then we should give them the doubt’s benefit,” True said.
“The benefit of the doubt?” Scott asked.
“That’s very good, Truman. I’m proud of you,” Murdoch praised the boy.
Truman ducked his head and smiled.
“Thank you, Papa.”
“You’re welcome. Now, go do your chores, big boy,” Murdoch instructed True.
“Yes, Papa,” the boy said as he scooted off Murdoch’s lap.
Murdoch gave his boy a love pat on his behind to get the boy moving. True giggled and went to the foyer for his coat and hat, then he went outside to feed his boys and gather the vegetables for Maria.
“He seems to be doing better,” Scott pointed out.
“Yes, but he’s still more clingy than usual,” Murdoch said.
“So what? As long as we’ve known him, he’s been a very loving boy. He gives as much physical affection as he needs and I aim ta give him as much love as possible,” Johnny interceded.
“That’s a good point, Johnny,” Murdoch replied.
“Yes, I agree with Johnny as well. I’d like to pick him up from school tomorrow and spend some time with him, just the two of us. If you don’t mind,” Scott said.
“Sure, Scott. I bet he would enjoy being with you,” Murdoch agreed.
“It’s settled, then. Thanks.”
Just then, the front door opened and Sam walked in.
“Hello, Murdoch. Boys. I saw True outside with Trevor. He looked a lot happier than when I saw him this morning,” Sam said as stored his coat in the foyer.
“He had a good nap this afternoon and we talked about Miss May,” Murdoch replied.
“Oh?” Sam asked, expecting more information.
“He’s willing to talk to her and giver the…how did he put it, boys?”
“The doubt’s benefit,” Scott replied.
“Oh, that’s cute. How precocious!” Sam exclaimed, chuckling.
The Lancers laughed with him.
Truman came in and put his coat and hat on his peg of the coat tree.
“Hey, little buddy. Come here,” Scott called to True.
The boy ambled over to Scott, tilted his head back, and looked up at his brother.
Murdoch and Johnny grinned at each other while Sam smirked at the child’s cheekiness.
“I am getting you after school tomorrow and we get to have some time together. Just the two of us,” Scott said.
“Yeah?” True asked, excited.
“Great. What are we gonna do?”
“Well, you’re due for a hair cut, but then we could go fishing or riding or …”
“Can we put flowers on Toby’s grave?” True asked quietly.
The family did not expect this question, but they weren’t exactly surprised by it.
“Sure, Truman. We could do that,” Scott replied gently.
“Thanks, Scott,” the boy said as he hugged his older brother.
“You’re welcome, True,” Scott answered as he picked the boy up lovingly and held him close.
“Truman, I’d like to take a look at you. Will you come upstairs with me?” Sam asked.
The boy, still in Scott’s arms looked at Sam’s bag warily.
“Are you gonna give me a shot?” True asked.
Sam smiled and shook his head.
“I don’t plan to, True. I just want to check you over, that’s all,” Sam replied.
The boy looked at Scott, who gave him an encouraging wink.
“Can Scott come?”
“Sure, if you want him to.”
“Will you, Scott? Please?” True asked sweetly.
Scott smiled and nodded. “Sure, I will, little buddy.”
So, the three of them went upstairs to the boy’s room. Scott put True on the bed and sat next to him while Sam listened to the child’s lungs and heart and looked in his throat.
“Are you felling better, Truman? How’s your throat?” Sam asked.
“It’s fine. I feel okay.”
“What did you have for lunch?” Sam asked.
“Tomato soup an’ a grilled cheese sandwich and milk and applesauce.”
“That was a good lunch. Did it upset your stomach?”
“No, Uncle Sam. It stayed where it was s’posed ta stay.”
“That’s good. Did you have a siesta today?”
“For how long?” Sam asked, directing the question to Scott.
“About 2 hours, Sam.”
“Good. Was it a good siesta?”
“Yes, Uncle Sam.”
“Good. Well, you’re fine. Ready for supper?” Sam asked.
“I coulda told ya I was fine, Uncle Sam. Ya just had ta ask,” True said
Sam chuckled and tousled the boy’s hair.
“Ok, wise guy. Let’s go down for supper,” Sam suggested.
Scott stood and allowed Truman to climb onto his back for a piggy-back ride. Truman rested his head on Scott’s back and smiled.
Chapter 10: The Epilogue
Dinner that evening was lively and fun. Truman was feeling better and contributed to conversation during the meal. Afterwards, he, Johnny, and Scott played a game of pick-up sticks. Murdoch and Sam sat and socialized over brandy while Teresa worked on a new sewing project. The adults kept a watchful eye on the youngest Lancer to be sure he was alright.
When it was time for True to go to bed, he helped pick up the game pieces and put them into the tin. True said his goodnights and asked for his brothers to tuck him in. They did so willingly, talking quietly to True as the boy dressed for bed. Scott read a quick excerpt from Aesop’s Fables as Johnny rubbed Truman’s back. Pretty soon, the child was sound asleep. Johnny turned down the lamp as Scott adjusted the boy’s blankets.
Johnny and Scott came down with smiles on their faces.
“Is he all tucked in, boys?” Murdoch asked.
“Yes. Sound asleep,” Scott replied.
“Good. He had a rough morning. I hope tomorrow is better for him,” Murdoch stated.
“I think he’s gonna be alright,” Johnny stated.
“Let’s hope so,” Murdoch replied.
Murdoch took Truman to school the next day and Miss May talked to him and explained her actions of the previous morning. Truman told her that he understood and apologized to her for his behavior. True asked if Paul would forgive him. Miss May encouraged his decision to apologize to Paul.
True and Murdoch went to the playground to find the new boy and Truman said he was sorry for pulling him out of the seat the previous morning. Luckily, Paul understood how he felt and accepted True’s heartfelt apology. True received a pat on his back from Murdoch for doing the right thing.
Murdoch took his leave after taking Truman to the side and giving him a pep talk. He reminded the boy that Scott would be picking him up from school and taking him for a haircut. True hugged Murdoch good-bye, then ran back to his friends.
The boys lined up together when the bell rang and went inside. After securing their coats, hats, and lunch pails, the children settled into their seats and began their lessons for the day.
Nothing was mentioned about the previous day’s dramatics and the class schedule ran smoothly. Simon, True, Laura, Mary, Sandy, and Paul ate lunch together in the shade of the willow tree.
When the students were dismissed, they gathered their coats, books and pails and filed out the door in a somewhat orderly manner. Scott was waiting at the bottom of the steps with Mickey and his own horse, Remmie.
Truman ran down the steps and jumped into his brother’s arms.
“Hey, little buddy! How was school?”
“Fine. How was your day?”
“Yeah. Can we get a peppermint stick? Please?”
“Sure. Then, it’s time for a hair cut.”
Scott put the boy down and held the horses’ reins as True put his things in the saddle bag. They walked their horses to the hitching rail in front of the General store. After they each consumed a peppermint stick, they walked to Zeke’s and True had his hair trimmed. They rode out to a field of wildflowers just beyond the town limits. True dismounted and picked some flowers for Toby’s grave. He held them carefully as he and Scott rode back to the cemetery. True was a little hesitant to walk through the gates, but Scott took the boy gently by the hand and they walked to Toby’s spot. There was a small, simple, yet beautiful, granite headstone now at Toby’s grave where there was only a mound of dirt before. The grave had been tended with care. Truman read the inscription and wept a little before he placed the bouquet of flowers against the headstone.
“God Bless This Dear Little Angel
Tobias Ivor Matthews
July 27, 1864-March 24, 1872
Beloved Son, Brother, Friend
Rest in Peace”
Scott had stepped back a little to give Truman some space. After True put the flowers down, he stood up reverently and smiled sadly.
“Good-bye, Aramis. I’ll see you again, someday.”
Aramis was Toby’s Musketeer name. Truman is Porthos and Simon is Athos.
True turned and walked over to Scott. He took his brother’s offered hand and looked at Scott’s concerned face. True had tear tracks on his face, but he gave his brother one of his best smiles.
“I’m alright, Scott. Toby’s gonna be alright, too. Let’s go home.”
Scott smiled at his brother and nodded. They walked out of the gates, mounted their horses, and raced home, to Lancer.
The next couple of months were an adjustment for Truman. He had his share of good days and bad days. Thankfully, he had more good days and the number of bad days eventually dwindled.
He had made a new friend in Paul, but he never forgot Toby. Paul would most likely adopt the name D'Artagnan. D'Artagnan was not one of the original musketeers of the title, but eventually became one of the Musketeers.
True would sometimes look towards the cemetery when visiting the quieter end of town with his family and think about Toby, remembering the good times.
Simon and True were nearly inseparable. Simon was a Godsend to both Truman and the Lancers in helping the youngest Lancer boy cope with Toby’s tragic and unexpected death. Simon had been just as upset as True, but he was a very low-key type of person.
Well, Truman is doing much better, now, and he’s looking forward to the late spring cattle drive and the carefree days of summer.
The Lancer adults are very proud of how Truman has started living again, but they are still watchful and careful when True occasionally regresses into melancholy and clingy behavior. They are very understanding, of course, and help the little boy get through those days as they occur.