A Boy Named Truman

Disclaimer: The Lancer people aren’t mine, but may I please keep Johnny? Truman is mine. This is my first attempt at Lancer fanfic, so any similarities to other stories are coincidental and unintentional. Have a nice day.

I’d like to thank my Beta readers: Em, Lacy, and Tina. You gals are fabulous!


Chapter  1

Johnny Lancer was on his way home to the ranch when he and his horse stumbled across a small boy laying face down on the edge of the trail. Johnny hopped off his palomino, Barranca, and rushed to the boy’s side. Johnny gently rolled the boy over and gasped at the child’s condition. His face was bruised and bloody. He had a deep gash over his left eye and needed attention. Johnny quickly checked to see that the boy was breathing. Relieved to see he was, Johnny  continued his quick but gentle  examination. He appeared to be between the ages of 5 and 8. His clothes were  filthy and torn. His small feet were bare and scratched severely. Johnny noticed the boy’s ribs were bruised and he had a gunshot wound in his left shoulder.

“How could anyone do this to a child?”  Johnny asked Barranca.

The palomino snorted softly and  nudged Johnny’s head in reply.  Johnny stood up and grabbed his canteen and 2 clean bandanas from his saddlebags. He soaked one of the bandanas  and began to clean the boy’s face. He felt the child’s forehead and discovered he had a high fever.

After cleaning the boy’s wounds, Johnny gently tied his dry, clean bandana around the boy’s shoulder. Johnny then checked the arms and legs  for breaks. He noticed the child was clutching something in his small right hand. Johnny opened the hand and found a tiny statue of a Scottish piper. Johnny put the statue in his saddlebag for safekeeping. Then, he gently lifted the boy and set him in the saddle. The boy slumped forward. Johnny replaced his canteen and the wet bandana and mounted his trusty steed, holding onto the wounded child to keep him from falling.  Once in the saddle, Johnny pulled the boy back to lean against his chest. Barranca had sensed the seriousness in Johnny and had remained perfectly still while Johnny put the child in the saddle.

“Good job, Barranca,” Johnny crooned to the horse. “Nice and easy now, amigo,” Johnny coaxed the horse to walk at a gentle gait back to the hacienda.  Once they arrived at the front door, Scott came out to greet them. He had watched Johnny’s slow progress through the ranch grounds and wondered why his brother was  riding more cautiously  than usual.  He hoped Johnny had avoided trouble while on his errand in Morro Coyo.

“Who’s that?”  Scott asked, pointing to the child.

“I don’t know. I found him two miles from here. He’s hurt very badly, though. We need Doc Jenkins,” Johnny replied.

“Obviously,” replied Scott, dryly, as he helped Johnny lower the child from the saddle. Scott carried the boy into the great room and settled him gently onto the couch.

Murdoch, who had been busy at his desk with cattle records, leaped from his chair and came to see what was going on. Johnny came in and rushed to the boy’s side.

“What’s going on, Johnny?”  Murdoch asked with concern and curiosity.

Johnny related his tale about finding the boy. Jelly and Teresa came in from the kitchen in the middle of the account and both gasped at the young child’s condition.

“I’ll go find Doc Jenkins,”  Scott volunteered.

“Thank you, Scott. We can’t do any more for the boy except make him as comfortable as possible. Teresa, please go get some blankets and a clean nightshirt. Jelly, Doc will probably need the kitchen table clean and a pot of boiling water close to treat this young patient,” Murdoch instructed.

“Right away, boss,” replied Jelly.

“I’ll be right back, Murdoch,” answered Teresa.

“Johnny? Are you okay?”  Murdoch asked. 

Johnny was in shock, though, and could not answer his father’s question. He was sitting by the boy’s side, holding his little hand in his big one and gazing at the wounded child. Teresa returned with some blankets. Teresa and Johnny carefully took the filthy rags, that used to be the boy’s clothes, off the boy’s body. Teresa gasped at his shoulder wound. Teresa took the torn clothes away and left one of Johnny’s nightshirts on the chair to be put on the child after he was treated.

“Sam will be here soon to help. Go take care of Barranca before he gets here. We’ll keep an eye on the child.”

Johnny started to protest, but with gentle urging from Murdoch, he went. Scott rode beside Sam’s buggy back to Lancer, telling him the story about the child on the way. He also mentioned how concerned Johnny was for the child’s well-being.

“Well, Scott, we both know how compassionate Johnny is, especially toward children,” replied the kind doctor.

By the time Scott and the doctor entered the great room, Johnny had taken care of Barranca and returned to the child’s side. Doc walked up to the couch to see the child, giving Johnny a gentle squeeze on his shoulder.  He could feel how tense Johnny was and vowed to keep an eye on Johnny as well as the child.

“What do we have here, Johnny?”

“A little boy I found on the trail this afternoon. He’s in pretty bad shape,” Johnny answered with concern.

“Yes, he is,” agreed the doctor. He began to look the boy over, checking his eyes, his head wound, pulse, shoulder, and ribs. “Is the kitchen table available? I’d like to give him a thorough examination.”

“Yes, it is, and we have a pot of hot water on, too,” answered Teresa.

“Very good, thank you.” Doc picked the child up gently and carried him to the kitchen. He laid the boy on the table and looked him over more carefully, head to toe.  Jelly brought his bag into the kitchen.

“Is he going to make it, Doc?”  Johnny asked, very worried.

“Yes, Johnny, I believe he will be fine. He’ll need a lot of care, though, and a lot of emotional support…Somebody has been very cruel to this boy.”

“He’ll get plenty of both here,” Johnny declared.

“Yes, he will, from all of us,” agreed Murdoch.

Johnny gave Murdoch a surprised look, then smiled. Murdoch was giving him support in this and Johnny appreciated it. Murdoch winked at his younger son, the one who was more concerned for others’ well-being than his own, the one who was most likely to bring home all kinds of strays, from motherless kittens to wounded children.

Scott, Jelly, and Teresa all nodded their agreement as well. Teresa took Doc’s instruments out of his bag and sanitized them in a tray of boiling water. After the instruments had been sterilized, Doc shooed the men out of the kitchen, but kept Teresa as his assistant. The men paced around the great room as nervously as fathers–to-be while Doc and Teresa treated the boy’s wounds. First, Doc cleaned and sewed the boy’s head wound, wrapped a bandage around his head and secured it. Then, Doc felt his ribs, discovering only one was slightly cracked, but the others were badly bruised. Doc wrapped the boy’s middle securely to brace his rib. Next, he cleaned the shoulder wound, took the bullet out, stitched it closed and bandaged it. Finally, Doc cleaned the boy’s knees, legs and feet, removed a few splinters and bandaged a couple of nasty lacerations on the boy’s knees. With his ministrations complete, Doc gave the boy an overall sponge-bath. Doc listened to the child’s heart and lungs and felt his forehead and cheeks for fever. The boy’s pallor was pale, but flushed with fever. Doc sent Teresa to get the men.

“His heart is strong and his breathing sounds good.  He has a deep concussion and a high fever, though, and I am concerned. The best we can do now is wait, hope for the best, and pray,” the kind doctor told them.

“He can sleep in my room,” volunteered Johnny. “I’ll keep an eye on him.”

“We’ll all chip in and help, Johnny,” Murdoch stated. “It’s been a long, tense afternoon. Let’s put the boy to bed, have a light supper, and turn in.”

“Good idea, Murdoch. I’ll come back tomorrow to check on him, but feel free to send for me if the boy’s condition worsens, no matter what time it is. I’ll leave some clean bandages and laudanum,” Doc offered.

At the mention of laudanum, Johnny made a face. Scott didn’t miss it and chuckled at his little brother.

“Thank you, Sam. I’ll see you to your buggy,” Murdoch replied.

While Murdoch and Sam left the room, Johnny wrapped the boy up in the blankets and gently lifted him, cradling the child close. Scott followed close behind, shielding the boy’s head with his hand from doorframes. Johnny carried him to his room and waited patiently as Scott pulled down the bed sheet and blanket. Scott put the night shirt he was carrying on the chair, then helped Johnny settle the boy into bed. Working as a team, as they did so well, the brothers  managed to dress the boy in one of Johnny’s old nightshirts. They had to roll up the sleeves quite a few times to make the child’s hands appear. Then, Johnny eased the boy’s head to the pillow. Scott tucked him in and Johnny sat on the edge of the bed, holding the child’s little hand gently in his own. Scott laid his hand on Johnny’s shoulder and gave it an encouraging squeeze.

“I’ll get some coffee going and ask Teresa to fix your supper up on a tray,”  Scott suggested, for he knew it would be easier than dragging his brother away from the boy.

“Thanks, Scott.”

“No problem, brother, but I expect you to rest tonight. I’ll take over and you can sleep in my room.”

“Okay,” Johnny answered quietly. 

Scott left the room to carry out his intentions. Johnny made himself more comfortable, leaning against his headboard on the bed next to the boy whose name he did not know.  Johnny smoothed the boy’s curly dark bangs over the bandage and wondered what color eyes were under those sleepy lids and long, dark lashes.

When Scott returned with Johnny’s supper, he found his little brother sound asleep next to the boy, still holding a little hand in his protectively. Scott set the tray on the dresser and picked up a blanket from the foot of Johnny’s bed, covering Johnny with it. Scott went down to have his own supper, then returned to Johnny’s room. He checked the boy for fever and made sure Johnny was okay, too. The little boy’s cheeks were very warm to Scott’s touch. Scott began to remove Johnny’s boots and Johnny stirred a bit, opening his eyes to see Scott smiling at him.

“Hungry, Johnny?”

“A bit. You eat yet?”

“Yep. Your dinner is on the dresser. Go ahead and eat, I’ll stay.”

“Thanks, Scott.”

“No problem.” Scott brought the tray over to Johnny as he sat up and Johnny dug in.

“Just ‘a bit’ hungry, Johnny?”  Scott asked with a grin.

Johnny grinned and nodded, continuing to eat with gusto.

Just then, Teresa knocked on the door. Scott answered and she entered with a pitcher of cool water and a washcloth. She poured some water into Johnny’s wash basin, soaked the cloth, wrung it out, and turned towards the bed.

“I remembered the child had a fever, so I thought a cool cloth would make him a little more comfortable,” Teresa explained.

Johnny nodded his approval, as his mouth was full.

“Good idea, Teresa,” Scott offered. Teresa sat on the edge of the bed and gently pressed the cool, wet cloth to the boy’s cheeks. Scott settled into the corner chair and Johnny finished his supper.


Chapter 2

Teresa left after Scott took over the task of keeping the boy’s face cool. Johnny decided to sleep in his own bed  so he could stay near the child, but Scott made sure  Johnny got into the bed and got some sleep by threatening to carry Johnny into his, Scott’s, own bedroom if he did not go to sleep. Murdoch came in at midnight and sent Scott to bed after receiving the latest report on the child. Johnny was sound asleep again and Murdoch smiled at his younger son.

“Murdoch, the boy is still a bit warm, but resting. Johnny’s been sleeping well, too,” Scott reported.

“Good. He needs the rest. Thanks for the report, Scott. Get some sleep.”

“Good night, Murdoch.”

“Good night, son.”

Murdoch sat on the edge of the bed and ministered to the child. He was sleeping peacefully, so Murdoch decided to leave him be and pulled up a chair to keep watch over the boys.

Around 3 a.m., the little boy started stirring. He began whimpering and  moving about. Murdoch left the comfort of the chair and lit Johnny’s bedside lamp. Johnny woke and took the boy’s hand in his and started to comfort the child.

“Shhhh, it’s okay. You’re safe and you’re going to be fine,” Johnny spoke softly to the boy.

The boy opened his eyes and looked at Johnny. His eyes were cerulean blue mixed with a bit of gray. They were bright with fever and haunted by pain and fear.

“Where am I?” he asked in a hoarse Scottish brogue.

“You’re at Lancer Ranch. I am Johnny Lancer, and I found you on the trail. This is my father, Murdoch. What is your name?”

The boy hesitated before answering. He was scared of these men, but he was in a soft, warm bed and not huddled under a tree. He looked down and noticed he was in a nightshirt a few sizes too big. When he moved, every fiber of his being hurt. The boy whimpered a bit, but Johnny smoothed the boy’s hair and rubbed his head.

“It’s okay. Settle down, we’re not going to hurt you. We’re here to help. Don’t be afraid. What’s your name?” Johnny soothed the boy.

“Truman Oliver Sutherland.”

“Okay, Truman. How old are you?” Murdoch wanted to know.

“Not sure. Six or seven.”

“When were you born?” Johnny asked.

“September 12, 1864.”

“You’ll be seven in a few months. Where are your parents?” Murdoch enquired.

The boy did not answer. He was very quiet and closed his eyes, sniffling.

“I think we hit a nerve, Murdoch,” Johnny stated.

“Yes, a raw one,” Murdoch replied. He made  a decision not to continue the questioning.

“Well, it’s very late, boys. Time to go back to sleep. We’ll talk more tomorrow, if you feel up to it, Truman. Get some sleep, now.” Murdoch held  Truman’s hand as the boy opened his eyes and nodded to Murdoch. He closed his eyes and went to sleep.

Johnny looked at Truman, then at Murdoch. Concern was all over his face. 

“Get some sleep, son. We’ll take care of him, then figure out what to do,”  Murdoch said, reassuring Johnny that he would not let the boy down.


“You’re welcome. Good night, son.”

“Good night,…Pa.”

Murdoch smiled. 

When morning arrived with the rooster’s crow, Johnny woke up and found Truman was still asleep. Johnny felt the boy’s cheeks and was relieved that they felt cooler. There was a light knock on the door and Johnny quietly replied, “come in.”

Scott and Teresa entered with breakfast and clean clothes for Truman. The clothes had been Antonio’s, one of Cipriano’s sons, and he had outgrown them. They were in good shape, so Cip had graciously given them to Murdoch for Truman. Scott placed the clothes on the chair by the window.

“Good morning, Johnny,” Teresa and Scott said, almost simultaneously. “Murdoch told us our young friend has a name,” Scott said.

“Mornin’. Yep, this is Truman Oliver Sutherland.”

Truman, hearing his name, opened his eyes and looked at the new faces apprehensively. Johnny saw the boy’s fear and placed his hand on the boy’s good shoulder, comfortingly.

“It’s okay, Truman. This is my brother, Scott. This is Teresa. She lives here with us. Murdoch is her guardian, but she’s like a sister to us.”

“Hello,” Truman replied tremulously.

“How are you?” Scott asked.

“Tired. Hurt”

“Are you hungry?” Teresa asked.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I have some breakfast here for you. Would you like to try to eat a bit?”


Scott and Johnny helped Truman sit up and Teresa set the tray on the bed.

“Where’s MY breakfast?” Johnny asked.

“Downstairs, Johnny. You can walk, Truman needs his rest,” Teresa answered firmly, but with the hint of a smile. Johnny chuckled and Teresa swatted his head with his washcloth that she had picked up off his dresser.

“Do you need any help, Truman?” Teresa asked the boy, who was watching this interplay warily.

“No, thank you, ma’am. I can manage.”

“What nice manners you have, Truman.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Truman replied, blushing and ducking his head.

“Eat up, boy, before it gets cold,” Johnny advised, as he rose from the bed and walked around the end of it to his wardrobe.

Teresa left to help Maria in the kitchen. Truman picked up his fork and laboriously, with a trembling hand, started eating the scrambled eggs.  His energy began to wane after a few bites of egg. He still had sausage, hash browns, and a biscuit on his plate, as well as a glass of milk. He heaved a deep sigh and let the fork rest on the side of his plate. Johnny turned towards the boy when he heard him sigh and walked over to stand next to the bed.

“Truman? Would you like me to feed it to you or have you had enough?” Johnny asked.

The boy ducked his head with embarrassment. Scott noted he shared some traits with Johnny and wondered what kind of life the child had  experienced.

Johnny sat on the edge of the bed and gently raised the boy’s head with his fingers under the boy’s chin.

“It’s okay. We understand you’re hurt and don’t feel well. Are you still hungry?”

“Yes, Sir”

“Call me Johnny, okay? Not ‘Sir’ ”

Truman nodded. Johnny picked up the fork and cut some sausage into small bites. Spearing one piece of sausage onto the fork, he held it up to Truman and the boy ate the meat, chewing slowly and watching Johnny. He nodded when he was ready for another bite. Johnny speared another bite onto the fork and fed it to Truman. Again, the boy chewed slowly, never taking his eyes off Johnny.  He reached for the glass of milk and Scott noticed how much his hand was shaking so he picked up the glass himself and held it to Truman’s lips. Truman put his hand on top of Scott’s and took his fill of the milk. When he closed his lips, Scott put the milk back on the tray.

“Thank you, Scott,” Truman said quietly.

“You’re welcome,” Scott replied as he wiped the milk moustache off the boy’s upper lip with a napkin.

Truman was fighting a losing battle with his eyelids. They were so heavy and he was so tired. He just couldn’t keep them open anymore. As he drifted to sleep, Scott picked up the tray and set it on the dresser. Then, he and Johnny pulled the covers up to Truman’s chin. Johnny placed a gentle kiss on the boy’s head and smoothed his hair over the bandage.

Johnny changed clothes quickly, picked up the tray, and motioned to Scott that he was going downstairs for breakfast. Scott nodded and pointed to the chair, signaling that he would stay with Truman. Johnny nodded and left, closing the door quietly behind him.


Chapter 3

Truman slept for two hours.

Doc Jenkins arrived and asked about his newest patient.

“He’s very quiet. I think he’s afraid of us. We did get his name last night. It’s Truman Oliver Sutherland. He has excellent manners, even when he’s feeling poorly,” Johnny answered.

“I asked him about his parents, and he wouldn’t answer. I am afraid something terrible happened to them, and that Truman saw it happen,” added Murdoch.

“Most likely. Did he flat out refuse to answer or did he say he wasn’t ready to talk?”

“He closed his eyes and turned away,” Murdoch answered.

“Hmmmmm…give him time…He’ll talk when he’s ready. Be patient, but don’t force the issue…Has he eaten anything?” Doc asked.

“He had a few bites of scrambled egg, two bites of sausage, and half a glass of milk before he fell asleep. Johnny fed the sausage to him and I helped with the milk. He had no energy after feeding himself three bites of egg. His hand was trembling too much to hold a glass of milk,” Scott interjected.

“Perhaps it would be a good idea to feed him several times a day. Very small meals with a few bites that he can manage. Half a sandwich and half a glass of milk. He needs to build up his strength,” the doctor suggested. “I best go see him. It might be a good idea if you came with me. If you got his name, then he was comfortable enough with you, I don’t want to scare him. He needs your support.”

The Lancer men nodded and followed Doc upstairs.

When Doc Jenkins, Johnny, Scott, and Murdoch came up to check on Truman, he was still sleeping, so Doc called to him.

“Truman, wake up.”

Truman shifted in bed and moaned.

“Easy there. Open your eyes.”

Truman opened his eyes and blinked a few times to focus. He saw an older gentleman smiling down at him. Behind him, Johnny, Scott, and Murdoch were standing, waiting for Truman to speak.

“How are you feeling, Truman?”

Truman sighed. “Tired, hurts,” he replied quietly.

“I am Doc Jenkins. I took care of you yesterday.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. The Lancers told me what a good patient you’ve been. I bet someone in this room could take lessons from you on how to be a good patient. What do you think, Johnny?”

Johnny scowled at the Doc, which prompted a ghost of a  smile from Truman and chuckles from the others.

Doc Jenkins pulled back the covers and examined Truman from head to toes. He took the big bandage off the boy’s head to check the stitches and replaced it with a smaller one. When he palpitated the boy’s ribs, Truman yelped and tried to shift away, causing more distress.

“I’m sorry, son. Are you okay?”

“That really hurts.”

“Yes, you’ll be sore for awhile. But, I want you to try getting up a little each day to walk and stretch your muscles. You’ll get stronger faster and feel better. Let me check that shoulder.”

Doc removed the bandage over the bullet wound and was pleased to see it was healing cleanly. He replaced the bandage and moved down to the boy’s knees and feet. They were healing nicely as well, with no signs of infection.

Doc  felt Truman’s cheeks and forehead for fever. The boy was a bit warm, but Doc was not overly concerned.

“You’re healing well. I’ll get a sling for your arm. You need to let that shoulder rest, still, but a sling will allow you to get up without straining your shoulder, understand?”

“MMMMMMMM…a bit”

“Your shoulder needs support when you are up and about. A sling will give it that support. But, I don’t want you to wear it when you sleep and I want someone with you at all times when you are up and about. Understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

The Lancer men nodded their understanding, too, when Doc looked at them as he said “someone.”

“I want you to rest as much as possible. You don’t have to stay in bed the whole time. You may rest on the couch or in a chair in the great room downstairs, as long as someone is with you. Okay?”

“Okay.” Truman’s eyelids were getting heavy again.

“You go ahead and sleep, Truman. It’s okay. We’ll be downstairs if you need anything,” Murdoch told him.

The boy nodded sleepily as his eyes closed.

“I’ll stay with him for a while,” Johnny volunteered.

“Ok, son. Call if you need anything,” Murdoch replied.

“I will.”

Doc, Scott, and Murdoch left quietly. Johnny sat on the edge of the bed, gazing down at the now sleeping child. He heaved a deep sigh and wondered what had happened to this scared little creature. Johnny settled himself on the chair next to the bed and held Truman’s hand, rubbing the back of it with his thumb.


Chapter 4

Truman slept for another hour and a half before he started stirring again. He was whimpering and tossing his head from side to side, apparently caught up in a nightmare. Johnny had dozed off in the chair, but was startled awake when he heard Truman’s sounds of despair. He watched the boy closely to see if he would settle on his own, but when the moans and cries intensified, Johnny shifted to the edge of the bed, grasped the boy’s hands firmly in his, and called to the boy.

“Truman, wake up. Come on, it’s a bad dream, just open your eyes.”

“NO! Please don’t! He’ll kill them! He’s not ready! He hasn’t learned enough!”

Johnny was shocked. When he regained his senses, he called to Truman again.

“Truman! Wake up! It’s Johnny, come on! Wake up!”  Johnny was pleading with the boy to open his eyes.

“Don’t let him in, Jimmy! He’s too dangerous!”

Scott, Murdoch, and Doc heard the yelling from the kitchen. They came running up the stairs to see what was going on. When they appeared at Johnny’s door, they saw Johnny trying to wake the child and stay calm at the same time.

“Truman! Wake up!”

The boy’s face was glistening with perspiration and his voice was becoming ragged and hoarse. He was struggling against Johnny’s restraint of him, but Johnny held on fast, worried Truman would hurt himself more if he was allowed to thrash about the bed, out of control.

Murdoch moved to get close to Johnny, but Doc stopped him with a hand on his arm. Murdoch glared at Doc, but Doc just put his finger to his mouth, signaling Murdoch to stay where he was. He whispered to Murdoch, “Let Johnny take care of it. Truman doesn’t need a posse on him right now.”

“MUMMY!”  Truman screamed, then sat up wickedly fast and lost the contents of his stomach.  He was panting and crying, his breath hitching hard and he had worked himself into a bad state. Johnny bowed his head, wondering if he could have stopped the nightmare sooner. Truman was unaware of the other people in the room. He had vomited all over himself and the bedcovers. Johnny shifted his position so he could sit behind the child. Scott grabbed a washcloth and wet it, then washed the boy’s face and chest. Johnny rubbed Truman’s back and whispered into his ear to calm him. He was shaking like a leaf in a hurricane and his heart was racing. Doc took his pulse, shaking his head with worry.

“It’s too fast. We need to calm him down before he has a heart attack.”

“What can we do, Sam?” Murdoch asked, full of concern.

“Johnny has the right idea for the moment.”

Johnny was talking to Truman softly, encouraging him to take deep breaths.

“It’s okay, Truman. You’re safe here. Take a deep breath, hold it, now let it out slowly. Again, deep breath, hold it, let it go slowly. That’s a good boy.”

He was aware enough now to follow Johnny’s instructions. Johnny continued to rub his head and back and Truman continued taking deep breaths.  Johnny took a deep breath and let it out slowly himself. Sam nodded and winked at him as the boy’s pulse slowed to a safer pace. “Good job, Johnny.”

Truman shivered. He was covered with mess and was cold from the  cooling perspiration.

“I think we should get him cleaned up and into fresh clothes,” Sam suggested.

“I’ll get a bath ready,” Scott volunteered.

“Not too hot, Scott. See if Teresa has any Lavender in her medical supplies and add it to the bath water.”

“Why?” Johnny asked curiously.

“Lavender has a natural calming effect. The aroma will relax Truman so he can rest easily,” Doc answered.


“I’ll get some clean linens and a fresh blanket,” Murdoch said.

Sam nodded and smiled.

“Let’s see if we can get the boy undressed without causing him too much discomfort.”

“Okay,” answered Johnny.

The two of them worked together to undress Truman. He had his head bowed and was weeping quietly. Johnny stole a glance at Doc and he nodded to Johnny to encourage him to talk to the boy. Doc rolled the soiled top linens into a pile so they would not get anything else dirty. Johnny lifted Truman and set him in the chair as Doc gathered the fitted sheet that was soaked with perspiration.

“It’s okay, little buddy. You’re safe now. We’re right here and we’ll take care of you. Can you tell me about your dream?”

Truman shook his head ‘no.’

“Okay. Maybe later?”

The boy shrugged.

“We’ll talk later,” Johnny stated quietly.

Johnny wrapped Truman in his robe and picked him up, carrying him downstairs to the bathhouse. Doc dumped the pile of dirty linens into the laundry basket, then followed Johnny downstairs. Murdoch returned to the empty room and made the bed with the fresh sheets and blanket, rummaged for a clean nightshirt, and left empty handed.

By the time Johnny had arrived with the boy, his bath was ready. Doc stuck his arm in the water to be sure it wasn’t too hot and he was pleased to detect the aroma of lavender. He nodded his approval to Scott. Murdoch arrived, looking a bit disgruntled.

“What’s wrong, Murdoch ?” Scott asked.

“I couldn’t find a clean nightshirt for Truman. Johnny? What, exactly, do you sleep in?”

“My bed.”

“Johnny…..” Murdoch warned with a paternal glare.

“My birthday suit?”

“John!” Murdoch blushed and Scott tried to hide a snicker with a cough. It didn’t work because he received  “the look” from Murdoch, too. Doc tried to hide his smile, too.


“You didn’t sleep in your birthday suit last night!”

“No. It depends on how tired I am and what the weather is like. And circumstances. If I am too tired to change, I sleep in my clothes or nothing. If it’s too cold, I sleep in my clothes or a nightshirt. If it’s too hot and I am too tired, I sleep in nothing. It depends. Last night, I was too worried about Truman to think about changing into anything.”

Murdoch sighed heavily. “Okay, well, what happened to your nightshirts? Did they walk off by themselves? Can you, or Scott, find something for the boy to wear? Please?”

“Sure, Murdoch,” Johnny replied with a smile as he turned to go upstairs. Johnny shook his head, wondering what the big deal was about what HE slept in. Johnny found another nightshirt hanging loosely in his wardrobe and brought it down with him. “You just have to know where to look, Murdoch.”

Doc chuckled at his Lancer friends. He decided the boy was in somewhat capable hands.

“I need to run, friends. Take care of that boy. I’ll be back in a couple of days, or sooner if you need me. I’ll see myself out.”

“Bye Doc. Thank you,” replied the Lancer men, almost as one. Doc waved acknowledgement on his way out.

Truman had been put into the tub and was being bathed by Murdoch. Scott left to get the clean towel he’d forgotten in his haste to fix the bath. The boy’s eyes were closed and he was breathing deeply and regularly. Scott came back quickly with two towels.

“Is he asleep?” Johnny asked.

“Almost, I think,” replied Murdoch.

Scott supported Truman’s neck as Murdoch gently tilted the boy’s head back to wash his hair. Murdoch spoke softly to him telling him what his intentions were. The boy opened his eyes, nodded his understanding, then closed his eyes again so soap would not sting them. When Scott lowered Truman further back and deeper into the tub, the boy started to struggle. Johnny came to the other side of the tub and supported Truman’s back, speaking softly to calm him.

“Shhhh. Settle down, relax.  We’ve got you, little buddy, We won’t let go.”

Truman immediately stopped his struggles and relaxed. Murdoch poured some warm water over his hair while guarding his head wound with his other hand. Then, he put some soap into his hand and lathered it up, rubbing it into the boy’s dark locks. Once he was satisfied that he had the child’s hair totally soaped, Murdoch repeated the pouring to rinse out the soap. Johnny used his free hand to help get the soap out. Scott had one hand behind Truman’s head and one supporting his neck.

“You’re doing a great job, Truman. We’re almost finished,” Murdoch praised and reassured the boy.

Once they were sure all of the soap was rinsed out of the boy’s hair, they lifted him to a full sitting position. Johnny saw Truman shiver and stuck his hand in the water, noticing that it was getting cool.

“It’s time to get him out, I think. The water is getting cold.”

“Okay, Johnny. I am going to sit in the chair with the towel on my lap. You and Scott get Truman out of the tub and place him on my lap so I can dry him,” Murdoch instructed.

“Right,” Johnny replied.

Murdoch settled himself on the chair and Scott and Johnny helped Truman up and out of the tub, and then brought him over to sit on Murdoch’s towel-draped lap. Murdoch, Scott and Johnny worked together to dry and dress the now drowsy boy. Scott picked up an extra towel and carefully dried Truman’s hair as much as possible. He brushed it gently, noticing how thick and long it was.

“He’s got thick hair, Murdoch. Why don’t we keep him near the fireplace in the great room so it will dry faster? I don’t think he needs a cold on top of his other injuries. It could use a trim, too,” Scott suggested.

“That’s a good idea, Scott. We’ll worry about getting it trimmed later. Let’s get it dry for now,” Murdoch replied.

Johnny wrapped his robe around Truman and picked him up, the boy’s head resting on his shoulder. A big yawn escaped from the child and  he shifted in Johnny’s arms a little. Johnny looked down at the sweet face and smiled. He planted a soft kiss on the boy’s forehead, then turned his head to lay his cheek on the child’s wet head.

“He smells sweet, like a little baby,” Johnny whispered.

Scott watched his brother hold the child, and his heart swelled with emotion. Johnny would be a great big brother, or even a great daddy, someday. Scott smiled and looked at Murdoch with a raised eyebrow.

Murdoch returned the look and shrugged. He wasn’t quite sure what they were going to do with the boy when he recovered, but he was sure that Johnny would be attached to him by then. They might all be attached to him by then. They needed more information about Truman. Did he want to stay with them? Did he have other family waiting for him? Did they want to keep Truman?  Were they ready to raise a 6 year old? Did they have enough energy? Murdoch was certain they all had enough love. It would have to be a family decision.

Murdoch shook his head and looked at Johnny with the child snuggled in his arms.

“Go on, Johnny, get him near the fireplace. Scott and I will clean up the bath. I should go get the sheets and soak them in the tub rather than have Maria or Teresa do it.”

“I’ll get the sheets, Murdoch,” Scott volunteered.

“Thank you, Scott.”

Johnny smiled at his brother and father before he turned towards the great room. He settled in the armchair to the left of the fireplace so Truman’s head was pointed towards the fire, but not too close. Johnny stared down at the angelic face and pondered the events that led up to him snuggling this needy little creature. He wondered what the dream was about, but from personal experience, knew it would not help the boy to force the issue. Pretty soon, Johnny was asleep, too, holding the sleeping child protectively and lovingly, with his legs propped up on the ottoman for support.

Scott and Murdoch finished cleaning the bathhouse as the soiled sheets soaked in the tub. They decided to leave them and went to see how Truman was doing.

When they arrived in the great room, they saw Johnny sound asleep with the boy cradled in his arms.


Chapter 5

Johnny was still asleep in the chair next to the fireplace with Truman sleeping in his arms when Teresa came into the great room to announce supper was ready. Teresa went back to the kitchen to attend to last minute details. The boy started stirring, moaning and crying, “NO! NO!”  Johnny woke, totally surprised.

“Truman! Wake up! It’s okay, little buddy!” Johnny called, trying to wake the distressed child.

Truman, trapped in his nightmare, struggled out of Johnny’s arms and ran to Murdoch, and started punching his stomach, yelling, “I hate you, Willis! You killed my mum and dad! I hate you! I hope you burn in Hell!” Truman continued punching and crying while Murdoch tried to calm him.

“Settle down, Truman,” Murdoch said firmly, but without yelling.

The boy continued to punch and yell, working himself into a bad state until Scott collected himself, took action, and splashed the boy in the face with water from a glass.

The boy was certainly surprised. He gazed at Murdoch with his mouth open, awareness returning to his confused mind.

“Are you okay, Truman?” Murdoch asked gently, kneeling to be eye level with the boy.

“You…you aren’t Willis.  I…I’m s…sorry!” The boy melted into Murdoch’s arms.

“It’s okay, boy. I know you meant no harm,” Murdoch answered as he held the child and rubbed his back.

“A…all I see when I close my eyes is my Dad falling to the ground, next to my mum…and…and  bl…blood…so much blood. I’m so afraid.” The boy’s breath hitched. “I’m so afraid to close my eyes.” The boy sobbed into Murdoch’s chest.

Johnny had watched and listened with horror, the scene taking him back to when his own mama had been killed. His pa had not been killed, though, and he was lucky because he sure needed him now. While Murdoch and Scott were tending to Truman and trying to calm him, Johnny turned away with his head bowed, walked to a window, and leaned against the frame. He wept quietly, completely understanding Truman’s feelings and fear.

Scott noticed his brother’s silent retreat, but wisely thought Murdoch should go to him, so he stepped over to Murdoch and tapped his shoulder. When their eyes met, Scott nodded towards Johnny. Murdoch looked towards his younger son, concerned at his boy’s posture, standing alone with his head bowed and his shoulders shaking with grief. Scott gestured to take Truman, who had calmed a bit and was holding onto Murdoch for dear life, his head resting on the big man’s shoulder.

“Truman, go with Scott. He’ll get some milk for you in the kitchen.”

The boy nodded and allowed Scott to pick him up and carry him to the kitchen.

Murdoch stood up, albeit slowly and with some difficulty. He walked over to Johnny and was saddened to hear the hitch and sob in every breath Johnny took. Expecting Johnny to shrug him off, but hoping against hope he wouldn’t, Murdoch tentatively and gently laid his hand on Johnny’s shoulder. Murdoch could feel the tension emanating from his son. Surprisingly, Johnny not only allowed the contact, but turned his body into his father’s embrace, resting his tear-streaked face on his father’s soft flannel shirt. Murdoch hugged his son close, rubbing his head and back in soothing motions.

“I…I know ‘zactly what that boy is going through. B…b…but I’m the l…lucky one,” Johnny said between hitches.

“Why? Why are you the lucky one?” Murdoch asked quietly and gently, willing to follow Johnny’s lead.

“ ‘Cos I st..still have y..you. B…both of T..T…Truman’s folks are dead…b…but I’ve g….got you.”

“Yes, you have, son. You certainly do have me…and I love you.”

Johnny looked up at Murdoch with surprised joy in his eyes.

“I l…love you, too, P…P…Pa.”

“I know you do.”

“W….what’s gonna happen to the boy?”

“What do you mean?”

“When’s he better, what’s going to happen to him ? Wh…where’s he gonna go?”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Come to the couch with me?”


Father and son walked to the couch together and sat. Murdoch still had an arm around Johnny’s shoulders. Johnny tried to get his emotions under control and wiped his eyes with the backs of his hands. Murdoch placed a pillow on his lap and gently pulled Johnny down to rest his head on the pillow. Johnny allowed the unspoken request, a testimony to his emotional and physical exhaustion,  and lifted his legs onto the couch as he complied with Murdoch’s gentle pull. Murdoch started rubbing Johnny’s back and head again, combing his fingers through his son’s unruly hair, soothing Johnny into a deep, restful sleep. He felt Johnny’s body relax and relaxed himself when his son’s breathing became deep and even. Murdoch relished the time he had with Johnny in this manner, when he could be Johnny’s father, not just the man who “calls the tune.”

Teresa came out to check on Murdoch and Johnny. She smiled at the two on the couch, grabbed a blanket from the trunk in the corner, and covered Johnny. Murdoch smiled at her and nodded his approval. After planting a kiss on both Johnny and Murdoch’s cheeks, and getting a  hand squeeze from Murdoch, she returned to the kitchen.

“What’s going on in there?” Scott asked. Truman was sitting on his lap, eating soup and a biscuit.

“Johnny is sleeping on the couch, his head is resting on Murdoch’s lap. I’ll keep some soup warm for them. Are you ready to eat, Scott?”

“In a few minutes. I’m glad Johnny is sleeping. He needs the rest.”

The boy finished his supper  and reached for his milk. Scott picked it up for him and handed the glass to him.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Be careful, now. You got it?”


Truman drank his milk, set the glass down, and leaned back on Scott. Scott rubbed the boy’s head, lulling him to sleep.


Chapter 6

Scott glanced down and saw the boy was sound asleep.  He made a decision to put the child to bed, then return for his supper.

“Teresa, I’m going to take Truman up and put him to bed. I’ll have some soup when I get back.”

“Okay, Scott. I’ll fix a bowl for you.”

“Thanks.” Scott stood with the child in his arms and turned toward the stairs. He climbed them slowly and carefully. Once he got to Johnny’s room, he pulled down the bed clothes with one hand, laid the child gently in the bed, and pulled the sheet and blanket up to the child’s chin. Scott smoothed the boy’s hair off his forehead and gently kissed him above his right eye. Next, he lit a lamp on the dresser and turned down the wick to a soft glow. Pulling the door almost closed, Scott took one last look at the sleeping child and wondered, for a brief moment, what it would be like to have him for a brother.

When Scott arrived in the kitchen a few minutes later, he was welcomed by the sight of a bowl of soup, plate of biscuits, and a glass of fresh, cool milk. Teresa came in and gently squeezed his shoulder.

“How’s the boy?”

“Tucked in bed, sleeping well,” Scott answered as he covered a biscuit with butter and jam.

“Good. Murdoch wants to know if you could join him when you finish your supper.”

“Certainly,” Scott replied as he took a bite of his fully dressed biscuit.

“I’ll let him know.”

Scott nodded and continued to enjoy the simple supper.

Teresa returned to the great room to relay Scott’s message to Murdoch.

“Scott will be in soon, Murdoch.”

“Thank you, dear,” Murdoch answered as he continued to rake his fingers through Johnny’s hair. Johnny had shifted his position and was now laying on his stomach with his head still on the pillow, facing Murdoch’s stomach. His arms and hands relaxed on either side of his head. 

Scott entered and smiled at the scene. He carefully pulled the ottoman over so he could have a quiet conversation with Murdoch.

“How’s Johnny?” Scott asked, gazing at the sleeping figure of his brother.

“He’ll be fine. He wants to know what’s going to happen to Truman once he’s healthy again.”

“I was wondering that myself.”


“Yes…when I put him to bed, it felt good, right. I was even pleased to be able to kiss him goodnight without feeling foolish. I can’t explain it. It just feels right.”

“Well, I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching and thinking. I’d like us to keep him awhile, make sure he’s okay. Dig up some information on him. It will have to be a family decision, and if Truman agrees and wants to stay with us, we should take steps to keep him permanently.”

A slow smile spread across Scott’s face. He nodded slowly.

“We’re becoming attached to him,” Scott observed.

“It can’t be helped. It’s human nature”

“Have you had any supper?” Scott asked.

Murdoch chuckled. “No, and I’m starving.”

“Would you like me to take Johnny to bed? I don’t think he’s going to wake up easily for supper.”

“That’s a good idea. Are you going to try to get him to walk or carry him?”

“Carry him. Let’s stand him up and I’ll get him on my shoulder.”

“Don’t hurt yourself, son.”

“I won’t. He’s a lightweight.”

“Yes, and he really doesn’t need to miss dinner, but I guess sleeping is more important right now.”

“Yes,” Scott replied as he stood up.

Scott surveyed his brother, wondering what was the best way to go about accomplishing his goal. He finally decided a direct approach was his best bet. Scott leaned over and lifted Johnny to a kneeling position on the couch, then untangled his legs and pulled him to his feet. Amazingly, Johnny slept through this process. Scott held his brother upright while Murdoch struggled to get off the couch. Once he was up, Murdoch held Johnny up while Scott crouched to get his shoulder even with Johnny’s waist. At Scott’s nod, Murdoch eased Johnny over Scott’s shoulder as he stood to accept his brother’s weight.

Scott carried his brother to his, Scott’s own, bedroom with Murdoch close behind for support. Scott turned into his own bedroom and gently lowered Johnny to the bed. With Murdoch’s help, they managed to get the boots off, and decided to save his dignity by not undressing him. Scott raised Johnny’s hips so Murdoch could pull the bedcovers down. They covered Johnny to his waist with the sheet and blanket. Johnny never stirred, a testimony to his exhaustion. Murdoch kissed Johnny’s forehead and smoothed his hair as Scott opened a window. Scott smiled down at his sleeping brother, adjusted his covers, and left with Murdoch, closing the door quietly behind them. Murdoch opened Johnny’s bedroom door and peeked at the sleeping child. He could see, in the soft glow of the lamp, a sheen of perspiration on the child’s face. Murdoch looked at Scott with a concerned look and felt the boy’s forehead.

“He doesn’t have a fever.”

“Maybe he’s in pain. He was quite active during his nightmare. Perhaps it caused a strain on his ribs and shoulder,” Scott suggested.

“That could be it, Scott. We’ll see how he is tomorrow. He may need some laudanum.”


Murdoch leaned over, smoothed the boy’s sweat dampened hair out of his eyes and kissed his forehead. He looked up at Scott and nodded.

“Yes, I can see what you mean about it feeling right, having Truman here. I am concerned, though.”

“About what?”

“Johnny. I feel we’re finally connecting. I don’t want him to feel he is being replaced. But, then, nobody can be replaced. I love you, and Johnny and Teresa so very much and I am so happy and proud to have you all at Lancer with me.”

“We’re very happy to be here and we love you, too, Murdoch.”

“I guess we’ll just have to wait and see about Truman. No need to rush into anything.”

“No, but I wouldn’t worry about Johnny. I think he loves this child, in fact, I am almost positive he does. He did, after all, bring him home. I wouldn’t be surprised if he tried to talk US into keeping Truman.”

Murdoch sighed deeply. “You know Johnny, he’d never let a hurt creature suffer……except himself.”

They took one last, long look at the sleeping boy and turned to the door. They left quietly, closing the door behind them.


Chapter 7

The next morning, Johnny woke up and looked around, confused. He realized he was not in his bedroom, but could not determine where he was until he saw Scott walk in the door, fully dressed and shaved.

“Morning, sleepyhead,” Scott greeted his brother cheerfully.

When he didn’t receive a smart comeback, Scott became concerned.

“Johnny? Are you okay?” he asked as he approached the bed and sat on the edge of the mattress. Scott reached out and gently shook Johnny’s shoulder.  “Johnny?”

“What? Oh, hi, Scott. How did I get here?”

“I carried you up last night. Murdoch and I put you to bed.”

“Oh…Where’s Truman?”

“I put him to bed in your room after he had supper.  I didn’t want to wake him, so I put you in here with me.”

“You stayed with me last night?” Johnny asked, both surprised and pleased his brother stayed with him instead of seeking out a guest room.

“Yes…Murdoch went to sit with Truman after he ate.”

“I didn’t eat supper,” Johnny stated, feeling rather put-out.

“I know. You were exhausted. Murdoch thought it best to let you sleep.”

“Oh.” Johnny’s stomach growled loudly.

Scott chuckled and Johnny smiled sheepishly. “Sounds like my stomach is protesting that decision,” he quipped with a lopsided grin.

“Yes, it does. Teresa is fixing breakfast. I’ll see you downstairs?” Scott rose and walked to the door.

“If not sooner. I need to wash up and change,” Johnny answered.


“Yes, Johnny?”

Johnny bowed his head, but met his brother’s eyes when he said, “Thanks, brother.”

“You’re welcome, little brother. Don’t be late, now.”

“I won’t”

Scott left with a smile for his brother, closing the door after him to give Johnny some privacy. He went across the hall to Johnny’s room to check on Truman and Murdoch. When he opened the door, the first thing he saw was Murdoch sitting in the rocking chair with the boy cradled in his arms. They were still asleep. Scott walked over and gently felt the boy’s forehead for fever. Finding that he was cool, Scott smiled in relief, then shook Murdoch’s shoulder.



“Time to get up.”

“Oh. Hi, Scott. You and Johnny sleep well?”

“Yes. How did you and Truman sleep?”

“He had some discomfort very early this morning. I gave him some laudanum and he went back to sleep, but he wanted to be held. So…you were right when you thought he strained himself during the nightmare before supper. His ribs were what hurt the most…Did Johnny wake during the night?”

“Nope, I slept all night,” Johnny answered when he walked in to get some clean clothes. He had already shaved and brushed his hair. He seemed to be in a good mood.

“Good morning, son. I’m glad you slept well. It seems to have helped.”

“Thank you, Murdoch. Yeah, I feel good. Good mornin’, by the way. How are you and our little buddy this morning?”

“I’m a little stiff, but I’ll live, thanks. Truman had some discomfort and pain during the night. I gave him some medicine and he went back to sleep.”

Johnny made a face when Murdoch mentioned the medicine. Murdoch noticed, but let it slide with a smile.

Johnny found a clean set of clothes, regarded his father with a genuine smile, kissed Truman’s head, and walked back to Scott’s room. He turned around at Scott’s door and said, “See ya at breakfast” before he disappeared behind Scott’s door.

Murdoch sighed, leaned back in the chair and smiled, content that Johnny had gotten a good night’s sleep and was in a good mood. He looked down at Truman, who was beginning to squirm in his arms; a sure sign that the boy was waking up. The boy opened his eyes, rubbed them, then looked around the room. He saw Scott standing in front of the dresser with a silly grin on his face. Truman turned his head to look at Murdoch, who was regarding him with curiosity.

“Good morning, Truman. How are you feeling?”

Truman took a deep breath and winced, noticing his ribs were still sore, but not as painful as last night.

“I hurt a little…and I’m hungry.”

“Where do you hurt, Truman?” Scott asked seriously.

“My side and my head, a little. My shoulder aches, too.”

“Is the pain in your side really sharp or a dull ache?” Murdoch asked.

“A dull ache. My head, too.”

“A dull ache?” Scott asked to clarify.

“Yes,” replied the child. He started to fidget and Scott read the signs of a boy trying not to soil himself.

“Truman, let’s go visit the privy. I think you’ll be a bit more comfortable after you take care of that need,” Scott suggested.

“Um…ok.” Truman climbed out of Murdoch’s lap and took Scott’s hand. When they reached the door, the boy turned around to Murdoch and said, “Thank you, Sir.”

“You’re welcome, Truman. We need to find a name for you to call me. ‘Sir’ is a bit too formal around here, okay?”

“Yes, S..sir.”

Murdoch chuckled as he watched them go. He eased himself out of the chair and went to get cleaned up himself.

Scott and the boy returned to the empty room about 15 minutes later.

“Where’s your Pa?”

“He probably went to change for breakfast,” Scott answered. He helped the boy get out of his nightshirt and into the clothes Cipriano had sent. Scott held the blue shirt out for Truman to put his left arm into first, then he was easily able to thrust his right arm into the other sleeve. Scott buttoned the shirt for the boy since his hands were trembling from overall weakness. They worked together to get the denim overalls on him. Scott adjusted the straps and rolled the cuffs. Then, Scott put the sling on Truman and helped him find a comfortable position for his left arm.

“How does your shoulder feel, now?”

“Better, thanks.”

“You’re welcome. Are you ready for some breakfast?”

“Yes,” Truman answered as he climbed into bed.

“What are you doing?”

“Don’t I have to eat up here?”

“No, come down with me and eat with the family.”


“Yes, really,” Scott replied with a smile. He helped Truman off the bed and tousled his hair. They walked down the stairs slowly, with Scott firmly grasping the child’s hand to keep him steady. They entered the dining area of the great room and were greeted by the rest of the family.

“Good morning, little buddy! I’m glad you came to eat with us!” Johnny welcomed Truman with a smile and a hug. Johnny picked him up gently and carried him to the table, then set him in the chair next to him, with Murdoch on the boy’s other side. Murdoch reached over and patted the boy’s cheek with a smile. Truman smiled back, then ducked his head shyly. The resemblance between Truman and Johnny when he did that was uncanny.

“Good morning, Truman, would you like some eggs?” Teresa asked him.

“Yes, please, thank you,” he replied quietly as Teresa scooped some scrambled eggs and served them to him. Truman also had a biscuit, some bacon, and hash browns on his plate, courtesy of Johnny, Scott, and Murdoch. Johnny left the table momentarily and returned with a small glass of milk for the boy.

“Thanks, Johnny,” he said, sweetly.

“You’re welcome, little buddy,” Johnny replied with a smile.

Scott gave him a smile and a wink for his good manners. Scott was sitting across from Johnny, Teresa was to his right, and Jelly would be at the other end, across from Murdoch, when he finished outside. Jelly entered a few minutes later and sat in his seat, glanced around the table, said his “mornin’s” to everyone and gave the child a big smile.

“Hey there, Truman. Feelin’ better, I see.”

“Yes, Sir, Jelly. Thank you.”

“No ‘Sirs’ for me, boy. Just Jelly’ll do. Okay?”


“Good boy.”

They ate with idle chatter provided by all, except Truman, over every day events and chores. Nobody drew attention to, or seemed to mind, Truman’s occasional difficulties with his utensils or his shaking hand when he reached for his milk. Johnny intervened quietly when necessary to assist, and Truman was thankful for their discretion and Johnny’s help. This helped Truman feel more at ease and comfortable in their presence. He was beginning to feel at home and was secretly hoping he could become a member of this loving family. He was totally unaware the others were hoping he would want to stay and become a Lancer.


Chapter 8

When breakfast was finished and the table cleared, Murdoch chose a book off the shelf and went to sit in his favorite armchair.

“Truman, come sit with me, please,” he requested.

“Okay,” Truman replied. He went over to Murdoch, and Murdoch lifted the boy gently into his lap. Johnny and Scott followed, eager to hear what Murdoch was going to say. They settled on the couch. Teresa joined them a few minutes later.

“Are you happy here?” Murdoch asked him directly.

Johnny and Scott exchanged cautious, curious looks.

“Yes, I’m…I’m lucky to be here,” the boy replied.

“Are you feeling better?”


“Do you feel safe here?”

“Safe from what?” Truman asked warily.

“Safe from people in your past?”

Truman looked at Murdoch hard and scowled. He tried to get away, but Murdoch held him tight. The big man looked to his younger son for help and saw understanding in his boy’s eyes.

“Truman, do you feel safe talking about your past with us?” Johnny asked, knowing that to heal, he would have to face his past.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” the child replied in desperation.

“We know, buddy, but if you want to heal here,” Johnny touched the boy’s chest with the palm of his hand, “you have to face what happened. You’re too young to carry that burden inside. It will tear you up. We are here to help. Please, let us.”

Johnny and Truman looked at each other for a few long, tense seconds before the boy nodded and bowed his head. Johnny nodded to Murdoch, but did not move from his spot. He had moved the ottoman to be directly in front of Murdoch’s chair and he stayed put, ready to offer support any way necessary.

Murdoch put his fingers under the boy’s chin and gently raised it until their eyes met.

“Do you know the difference between the truth and a lie?”


“Tell me.”

“Truth is what’s real and a lie is what you make up to cover the truth.”

“Very good,” Murdoch replied with a nod. “We’ll start with some easy questions.”

The boy swallowed and nodded.

“What was your father’s name?”

“Donald Philip Sutherland.”


“Emily Key Sutherland.”

“Do you have any other living relatives?”

“No…Well, I honestly don’t know.”

“Okay. Aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents?”

“Grandparents are dead. If aunts, uncles and cousins are still alive, they are in Scotland and can’t keep me. Too old, no money.”

“I see.”

“My Bible had a list of my family written inside it. But…I had to sell it to get food.”

“Who was Mr. Willis?”

Truman began to tremble. Johnny reached out and laid his hand on the boy’s knee to comfort him and gave it a squeeze.

“Bryce Willis was, is, owner and ringmaster of Bryce’s Big Top Circus.”

“Did he kill your father?”

Truman looked at Murdoch with fierce blue eyes and nodded. “He killed my Mum and baby brother, too.”

Teresa gasped. Scott squeezed her hand in comfort.

“Did you tell anyone?”

“I told the sheriff in Chicago, but Willis was in the room and  said I was lying, that I was in bed when my parents were killed. Later, he had some of his mean friends smack me around.”

Scott gasped this time. Johnny looked over at him and shook his head in dismay.

“This is the hard part, but can you tell me how your parents and brother were killed?”

Truman swallowed again, glanced at everyone around him, took in a deep breath, and let it out.

“Mum and Dad trained and performed with wild cats for the circus. They got them as cubs and raised them by hand so the cubs would be tame and trusting. Mum got pregnant. Willis wasn’t happy because they already had me and he resented me. He felt I got in the way of my parents’ work. I learned to be invisible and silent when he was around…he made Mum work even though she was with child and the doctor told him she shouldn’t be working.”

The boy shivered and heaved a deep sigh. Teresa wrapped a quilt around his shoulders and he nodded his thanks. She kissed his head and returned to Scott’s side.

“So Mum had to work and the baby grew and so did her stomach. One night she was feeling bad. Dad asked that she be given a day or two to rest. Willis said no. So, she worked. Two days later, the baby was born. He was so small. The doctor was sent for, but there was nothing he could do. The baby was born too soon. His lungs weren’t ready to breathe for him. He died an hour or so after he was born. His name was Andrew Philip Sutherland. We buried him in Boston. That’s where the circus was at the time.”   

“So, if your Mum had received proper care and rest, the baby would have been born when he was supposed to?” Teresa asked.

“Yes. The doctor said she shouldn’t have been working. So…Willis killed my brother, Andy.”

“Where was the circus when your parents were killed?” Scott asked.

Truman took another deep breath, released it, and replied, “Chicago.”

“What happened?” Johnny asked gently.

“A few months after Andy went to Heaven, we were in Chicago. Willis had bought a fully grown, wild mountain lion. He had not grown up in human care. My Dad was furious that Willis would spend money so foolishly. That money belonged to the circus performers, the animal trainers, and animal managers. They earned it and deserved it. Willis is very greedy. He said he spent all the profit on the cat, but we knew that was a lie. He put it away for himself.”

Johnny bowed his head and sighed. He had a feeling he could predict what had happened. Truman looked at Johnny, then at Johnny’s hand that still rested on his knee. Truman reached down and took Johnny’s hand to hold while he revealed the next grisly scenes.

“The cat didn’t trust people. With good reason…he’d been badly treated by the people who caught and shipped him to the circus. Willis named him Monty. Monty was mean. Dad tried to work with him to get the cat to trust him. Mum and Dad never mistreated him. They had very little time to train him, but they did their best. Monty was un…unpre…unpreduct…”

“Unpredictable?” Murdoch supplied the word the boy was trying to say.

“Yes, unpredictable. I can’t…or, maybe I can, knowing the kind of man Willis is, believe he expected Monty to be as ready as the other cats.”

Truman looked around at all the attentive faces, trying to gather his courage to continue. Johnny squeezed his hand and gave him a supportive smile. Truman tried to return a brave smile, but he felt it probably looked more like a grimace.

“The day arrived when Monty was supposed to perform. Everyone was nervous. I tried to tell Willis that Monty wasn’t ready, but he didn’t listen, he just…he just…”

“He just what, Truman?” Scott asked.

Scott and Teresa had moved closer to offer support.

Truman sighed and looked out the window, in a daze. Johnny squeezed the boy’s hand and caressed his face gently, to bring his attention back.

“Hey, what did Willis do?” Johnny asked once Truman had refocused.

“He backhanded me across my face, under my eye. Called me stupid,  and a nuisance, walked away.”

Johnny was furious, as were the others, but they all did their best not to show it so the boy would not think it was directed at him.

“Go on, Truman,” Murdoch prompted, knowing the sooner the boy could finish this, the sooner his spirit would begin to heal.

“The other cats took their places in the pen as they were released. I watched from the shadows so Willis couldn’t see me, but I could see him. He had his rifle, as always. He kept a rifle in hand when he watched the cats perform in case of an emergency. Dad kept a gun in a holster, round his waist, like Scott ‘n Johnny.”

Murdoch nodded his understanding.

“Mum carried a gun, too. The trained cats did their tricks, but I think they could feel the really bad feelings Mum and Dad were having about Monty. Jimmy released Monty into the pen. The other cats started getting nervous. Mum led Monty through some easy tricks. Dad was watching carefully for any trouble. When the ring of fire was lit, Monty pounced on Mum and bit her neck. There was so much blood. She tried to scream but couldn’t. I couldn’t speak…I tried to call to Dad, but I couldn’t make a sound. One of the tigers, Samuel, jumped onto Monty and bit him hard on the neck. Mum was knocked down. Dad fired his gun at Monty and the cat dropped dead. Jimmy got Samuel out of the pen. Willis shot my Dad with his rifle right after Dad shot Monty so people would think Dad had fired twice. But Dad had great aim-he only needed one shot.” The boy’s voice was shaky.

“I saw Willis raise the rifle, aim it at my Dad, and shoot. He told the Sheriff it was an accident, that he was aiming at Monty to save my Dad, but he lied. Monty was already dead and on the ground when Willis pulled the trigger. My Mum was dead, too. She had bled to death.”

Tears were streaming down Truman’s cheeks. His weren’t the only tears that flowed freely. Teresa had to excuse herself, and Johnny bowed his head. Scott grasped his brother’s shoulder and squeezed gently to show support. Johnny reached up and grasped his brother’s hand in acknowledgement of the gesture. The boy wiped his eyes on his sleeve and continued his tragic monologue with a low, shaky voice.

“Jimmy took care of Mum and Dad’s bodies for the night. I tried to talk to the sheriff alone, but Willis sent me away. That’s when his meanies knocked me around. A clown, with his face still painted found me behind the big tent and took me to Jimmy. Jimmy looked after me. He told me how sorry he was about my parents and that he would help me bury them in the morning.”

Murdoch held the weeping boy close. His own eyes were wet with unshed tears.

“J…Jimmy put me to bed that night. In the morning, the circus was gone, Jimmy, too. I was left on my own in Chicago with a wagon. 2 dead parents and no horse! They had taken our horse. I sold what I couldn’t carry to the livery man, buried my parents with just the minister, the undertaker, and the town drunk as witnesses, and left on a train that would take me as far west as possible. It was my 6th birthday. I made it to Nevada and wandered the streets of towns, sleeping under boardwalks to stay out of trouble.”

Truman sniffled and bowed his head. Murdoch wrapped his arms around the boy.

“I think you’ve told us enough for now, son. You need some rest. You are the bravest 6 year old I have ever had the pleasure of meeting,” Murdoch declared.

“You sure are, little buddy,” Johnny agreed. “The hardest part is over. You did a great job.”

“Thank you…I’m hungry”

The others chuckled, relieved that Truman was going to be okay.

Truman turned to Murdoch and searched his face.

“What is it, son?”

“Can I stay here? Please? I’ll be a good boy, I promise!”

“You’re already a good boy,” Johnny assured him.

“Yes, you can stay as long as you like on one condition…”

“Murdoch!” (Scott)

“Pa!” (Johnny)

Murdoch looked at his two boys sternly and continued, “ …that we work together to find a suitable name for you to call me.”

Truman considered the condition, then nodded. “We can do that.”


“No, I’m too young.”


“No, I had a Dad.”


Truman turned his head and glanced at Johnny, who raised his eyebrows and shrugged.

“Papa?” Truman suggested.

It was Murdoch’s turn to think. He turned to Scott, who nodded. Johnny nodded his approval, too.

“Papa it is!” Murdoch agreed.

Truman smiled for the first time since before breakfast. He melted into his Papa’s loving embrace. Johnny looked at the boy with admiration and respect.

“How do you feel?” he asked the emotionally drained boy.

Truman closed his eyes and breathed a deep sigh.

“I feel better…like a weight is off my chest.”

Johnny nodded, totally understanding. “It will be easier now. I know you still have some grievin’ to do, but we‘re here for ya an’ we’ll help ya.”

Johnny looked at Murdoch and Scott and raised his eyebrows. Teresa came in to announce lunch, but stopped to listen.

“I’m glad, no…very, very happy…that you want to stay with us,” Johnny continued. “We want you to stay.”

“You do?...But not forever…You just met me.”

“We like you very much and we want you to stay so we can all get to know you and you can get to know us,” Murdoch assured the boy.

“Hopefully, we’ll grow to love each other, and you will become part of the family, if you want. We need you to stay, so our love for each other will grow,” Scott added.

“You really want me as much as I want to be with you?” Truman asked in wonder.

“Yes!” Murdoch, Johnny, Scott, and Teresa said together.

“Well, okay, I’ll stay, if it means that much to you,” Truman said with a mischievous smile, then bowed his head.

The others chuckled and tousled his hair.



“Why did you get a book from the shelf but never open it?”

“Can’t get much past you, huh?...I was going to ask you if you’d read with me, but I decided we needed to talk instead.”

“I’m glad we talked. It was hard, but it’s done and I feel better, now…what’s the book called?”

Tom Sawyer…it’s by Mark Twain.”

“I haven’t read that yet.”

“Would you like to?”

“Yes…after lunch…and maybe a nap.”

“Okay, we’ll read together later. Can you read?”

“Yes. Mum…taught me from our Bible.”

“I’m glad you decided to stay-we have a lot to learn about each other.”

Truman nodded and smiled.


Chapter 9

“What kinds of things do you want to know about me?” Truman asked at the table during lunch.

“Details,” replied Murdoch.

“Details?” queried the boy.

“Yes. What do you like to do? Have you ever been to school? Do you know how to add and subtract? Can you write your name?” Murdoch was on a roll.

The boy stared at him. After the morning’s events, he was suddenly at a loss for words.

“Slow down, Murdoch,” Scott admonished his father with a chuckle. Murdoch scowled at Scott, but turned with a smile to Truman.

Johnny laughed and patted the boy on his back. “Take your time, little buddy.”

The child took another bite of his taco and it crumbled to pieces. Luckily, the pieces landed on his plate, not the tablecloth. He looked down at the remains of the taco and pouted. Johnny, smiling, picked up the boy’s fork and silently handed it to the child.

“That happens quite often. Don’t fret.”

The child smiled at Johnny and nodded as he took the fork and began to eat the remains of the taco. Scott, Johnny, Murdoch and Teresa all exchanged smiles. The boy was still a little weak and shaky, but he took it slow and Johnny continued to intervene quietly when necessary. Johnny tried to let Truman do as much for himself as possible.

Truman had been thinking about the details his Papa had asked him about.


“Yes, son?”

“I like to draw, climb trees, and wade in the water.”

Murdoch and the others smiled at the boy. He was starting to come out of his shell.

“Thank you for telling me those things. Maybe we can go wading Sunday afternoon, if Doc Sam says you’re ready.”

Truman nodded and smiled. “ I can add, subtract, and write my name, but my handwriting isn’t very good. I’ve never been in a schoolhouse. Mum and Dad taught me everything they could.”

Murdoch nodded attentively.

“I love animals and nature,” the boy said, but he was finished with telling them everything he could at the moment. There were still lots to tell, but he wasn’t ready, yet.

“Those are good things to know, son,” Murdoch answered. “I’ll look into enrolling you into school in the fall, find out what grade you’ll be in and things like that. Sound good”

“I’ll get to go to school? In a school house?” the boy asked excitedly.


“Thank you, Papa!” The child beamed at Murdoch. Then, he climbed down from his chair and hugged Murdoch tight. Murdoch returned the hug and kissed the boy’s head.

“You’re very welcome, Truman. Now, get back in your chair and finish your lunch, boy.”

"Yes, Papa!”  He did as he was told and smiled back at Johnny, who was beaming at him. “I’m going to school, Johnny!”

“I heard! Good for you!” Johnny reached over and tousled the boy’s hair.

Truman finished his lunch, drank his milk, and sat back in his chair with a smile on his face. He fought a losing battle to keep his eyes open and his chin dropped to rest on his chest. Scott noticed the boy’s valiant efforts to stay awake and smiled when the battle was over and the boy was sound asleep.

“Johnny, Truman’s asleep,” he alerted his brother.

“I’m not surprised. He had a rough morning,” Johnny answered, looked down at the bowed head and watched the steady rise and fall of the boy’s chest.

Johnny picked the boy up and set him in his lap, allowing the child’s head to rest on his shoulder. He rubbed Truman’s back as the boy slept. When everyone finished lunch, Johnny stood up, still holding the child, and started to help clear the table. Murdoch patted Johnny on his shoulder and suggested the boy be settled on the couch to continue his nap. Johnny nodded and headed for the couch. He gently lowered the child onto the soft cushions and covered him with the quilt that had comforted him that morning. Johnny kissed the boy’s head and adjusted the covers before he went out to complete some chores. Scott, Teresa, and Murdoch had cleared the table. Teresa started washing the dishes as Scott and Murdoch entered the great room to check on the boy and discuss chores that needed to be done before supper. They talked about riding the fence line along the north boundary. Murdoch walked over to the couch where Truman was sleeping and looked down at the child. Scott followed and adjusted the quilt to protect the boy’s small bare feet from any drafts. He also took the sling off the boy, as it was unsafe for him to sleep with it on.

When Truman woke up 3 ½ hours later, he found the house to be very quiet. He looked around the great room and saw Teresa mending a pair of Johnny’s jeans. She was sewing a patch onto each knee that had been worn through during the last cattle drive.

Teresa looked up when she heard the boy stir.

“Hi, Truman. Have a good nap?”

Teresa came over and sat on the couch next to the still sleepy and somewhat disoriented child.

Truman nodded as he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. Teresa caressed his cheek, checking for any signs of a lingering fever through the guise of relaxing the sleepy child. She was taken aback when the child did not show any signs of illness. She couldn’t believe a 6 year old had slept for nearly 4 hours and was not sick. Even when Johnny was sick, he wouldn’t sleep for more than an hour or two at a time.


“Papa, Scott, and Johnny are out doing chores. They’ll be home for supper. I’m going to make some biscuits. Would you like to come and help?”


“Let’s go, then.”

Teresa helped the boy up, folded the quilt and tied Truman’s sling on him very carefully and gently.

They went to the kitchen and washed their hands before handling the ingredients and mixing bowls for the dough. Together, they poured, measured, mixed, and kneaded the dough. It was a little difficult for Truman to knead. Teresa sprinkled flour on the kitchen table, then gave the boy a ball of dough to play with as she carefully rolled out the rest of the dough and cut the biscuits. After her biscuits had been placed on a baking sheet and put into the oven to bake, Teresa brought a baking sheet over to Truman so he could put his dough creations on it to be baked. Teresa sat and watched as the boy rolled his dough into long round pieces.

“Are you making worms?” she gently chided him.

“Snakes and worms,” replied the boy, with a shy smile.

“What are you going to do with those snakes and worms?”

“Make them into letters.”

“What are you going to do with the letters?”

“Make them into words.”

“Ooh? That will be interesting!”

Unbeknownst to them, Johnny had finished his chores, washed up enough to be accepted into the kitchen, and was standing at the open door, watching this sweet, domestic scene involving his little siblings-by-heart. He had a gentle smile, content even, on his face as he gracefully leaned on the doorframe with his left forearm languidly touching the wood above his slightly tilted head. His right arm was behind his back, his hand resting in between his back and the waistband of his pants.

“What are the words going to say?”  Teresa continued to question the boy.

“People’s names.”

Truman was enjoying this little game of questions and answers. He liked the attention Teresa was paying him, so he gave the shortest answers possible so she would keep asking. Playing with the dough was fun to him, but Teresa had ulterior motives for letting the boy play-other than the fact that he just needed some free playtime. First, the activity of manipulating the dough was good for him. It would help strengthen his muscles and improve his fine motor skills. She had learned this from Doc Jenkins. After Johnny had been shot by Pardee, he had suffered some weakness and loss of dexterity in his left arm and hand. Doc had suggested that Johnny squeeze some dough to strengthen his muscles without the risk of straining them, and write or sketch with his left hand to rebuild the fine motor skills. Over a short time, Johnny had regained what he had lost.

The other reason, or motive, was for her to spend some one on one time with the boy. Teresa felt she needed the chance to get to know and connect with him on her own.

“Whose names?” Teresa persisted.

The boy tilted his head and smiled. Teresa stared at him. The resemblance to Johnny was shocking.

“Family names,” he replied with a sly smile.

“Which family?”

Truman looked away, rather wistfully. Then, he became serious as he refocused on Teresa’s face.

“Our family.”


Chapter 10

“Do you want to be a member of this family, Truman?” Teresa asked seriously.

“More than anything, Teresa!...I know I’ve only been here a few days, but you, Johnny, Scott, Papa, ‘n Jelly, have been so very kind to me. I don’t know what would have happened to me if someone else or no one else had found me.  I miss my Mum and Dad, but I’ve been watching how you all treat each other, and it reminds me of Mum and Dad. You all are a family and I want, and need, to be part of it…We all have a lot to learn ‘bout each other. It’s prob’ly too early for us to love each other, but I think we will, very soon. I feel it growin’ in my heart an’ my heart hasn’t been this happy in a very long time.”

Truman ducked his head, his little speech sapping his energy. Johnny finally made his presence known. His eyes were full of emotion. He walked over to the boy and sat beside him, wrapping his arm around the boy’s shoulders. Truman looked up into his “big brother’s” eyes and smiled sweetly. Johnny returned the smile and pulled Truman to his side, into a hug, then reached across the table and took Teresa’s hand in his and squeezed it gently. Teresa wiped tears from her cheeks with her free hand. She squeezed Johnny’s hand then let go. She rose to check on the biscuits as a guise to compose herself.

“Truman, brother, you are so very special to us. I already love you. We will be so, so proud to have you as a member or our family,” Johnny spoke quietly.

Truman lowered his head. He was overwhelmed.

Murdoch and Scott heard this declaration emitted from Johnny’s lips and tender heart.  They had returned from riding the fence line on the northern border, where they had repaired a few feet of fence, and rounded up some stray beeves. They had washed up and now stood outside the kitchen door, listening to Johnny speak to the boy, proclaiming his love for Truman.

“Yes, we will, Truman. We want you to be our brother,” Scott confirmed, as he walked to the table and sat next to Teresa, who had returned to her chair after pulling herself together.

“And I will be so very proud, as proud as I am of Scott and Johnny, to have you as my son,” Murdoch said emotionally. Johnny looked up at Murdoch with a happily surprised smile, which Murdoch returned.

The boy looked up with unshed tears in his eyes. He caught each person’s eyes as he gazed at each face. His eyes came to rest on Teresa, who nodded to him.

“I bet you’ll be a great little brother, Truman,” she said. “I will be honored to call you my brother.”

Truman’s tears flowed freely now. He wiped his eyes with his sleeve.

“Thank you. I will be proud to call myself a Lancer and be a part of this wonderful family…I need to ask you something, though,” Truman answered.

“Ask anything, son.”

“I was wondering if I could have all my names?”

“What do you mean, little brother?” Johnny asked, still holding the boy.

“Could my full name be Truman Oliver Sutherland Lancer, but people just call me Truman Lancer?”

The others looked at each other and nodded.

“That will be just fine, son, just fine.”

The boy heaved a deep sigh and started playing with the dough again. Johnny tousled his hair and smiled at him.

“What are you making?” Johnny asked.

“Snakes n’ worms,” replied the boy. “They’re going to be names.”

“Let me guess……….our names?” Johnny asked.

“Yes, Johnny, our family’s names. Want to help?”

“Sure. What do we do first?”

“The snakes are the big letters and the worms are the little letters. We’ll start with P for ‘Papa’  ‘cos he’s the leader. But ya know somethin’, Johnny?”

“What, True?”

Truman looked up, surprised at Johnny’s new nickname for him, and smiled at his new big brother, showing his approval of the name.

“Papa is our fearless leader, but he’s got the shortest name.”

Johnny shook with laughter. “You’re exactly right, brother!”

Johnny and Truman spelled out ‘Papa’ on the baking sheet with the snakes and worms.

“I want to help,” Scott piped up.

“OK, Scott. We’ll do Teresa’s name next. Hmmmmmmmmm…Teresa…T?”  the boy sounded out the name so he could spell it.

“e,” Scott helped as he formed a ‘worm’ into the letter.

“r,” Johnny added.

“e,” Murdoch chipped in, and was rewarded with a smile from Truman.

“s,” chimed Teresa, not to be excluded.

“a,” finished Truman with a flourish.

“J,” started Murdoch.

“o,” Johnny formed a ‘worm’ into the second letter of his name.

“h,” Scott added.

“n,” Teresa sang out.

“n?” Truman asked. Murdoch nodded.

“y,” Johnny finished.

“S.” Teresa took a snake and curved it to start Scott’s name.

“c,” Scott chirped as he made the shape of the letter with a ‘worm.’

“o,” Murdoch added.

“t,” Johnny helped.

“t?” Truman finished, unsure. Johnny nodded and patted the boy’s shoulder.

“T,” Johnny started.

“r,” Murdoch chipped in.

“u,” Scott added.

“m,” Truman stated.

“a,” Teresa chimed.

“n,” finished Murdoch.

“J,” Truman started.

“What’s next? We already did ‘Johnny’,” Scott asked.

“Yes, but we didn’t do ‘Jelly’,” replied the boy.

“e,” helped Johnny.

Truman reached for another ‘worm’ and his sling became covered with flour. The boy took his arm out of the cloth and took the sling off and flung it to the floor in frustration.

“Truman? You need that sling to help your shoulder heal,” Murdoch gently reminded the boy.

“I know, Papa,” the boy sighed, “but it’s really getting on my nerves!”

Johnny chuckled at the boy’s expression.

“I heard that, young man!” Doc Sam said as he entered the kitchen. He bent down and picked up the discarded sling, shook it out and was immediately enveloped in a cloud of flour.

Truman saw the Doc’s sour facial expression when the air cleared, and the Doc looked white as a ghost. Truman threw his head back and laughed-a sound of pure joy and mirth-and music to the ears of the Lancers. Even Doc Sam couldn’t keep a straight face.

Once everyone settled down, Doc looked around the kitchen table at his dearest friends.

“Well, well, isn’t this a scene of domestic tranquility?” the doctor quipped.

I’m  happy,” answered Truman.

Johnny smiled and hugged the boy.

“We have news for you, Sam,” Murdoch started.


“Truman is staying with us.”

“Why doesn’t that surprise me?” Doc said with a wink at the boy.

“Looks like you’ll have another Lancer man to take care of,” quipped Teresa as she took the warm biscuits off the baking sheet and put them into a bread basket, covering them to keep them warm. “You need to finish Jelly’s name, True, and do Doc Sam’s so I can get them in the oven,” Teresa informed the boy.

“Okay, Teresa. Where were we, Johnny?”

“l,” Johnny replied.

“Okay, 1 or 2 l’s?”

“2,” answered Murdoch.

“Then y,” helped Scott.

“Okay.” Johnny, Scott, and Truman finished Jelly’s name. Truman looked at the dough left over.

“Doc, I only have enough snakes ‘n worms for three letters. Do you want ‘Doc’ or ‘Sam’ ?”

“ ‘Doc’ is fine, son,” Sam replied.

Truman gave Doc a troubled look when he called the boy ‘son.’ Doc looked at Murdoch, confused. Murdoch nodded his understanding.

“It’s okay, True. Doc isn’t trying to take my place. He calls most of the young men and boys he treats ‘son’.”

“An’ what does he call the other young men and boys?” Truman asked curiously.

“Um…nothing you need to worry about, young man,” the Doc answered hurriedly.

Johnny and Scott knew exactly what the Doc called the ‘other’ men and they tried to stifle their laughter. Teresa just smiled and shook her head. The boy shrugged and finished spelling ‘Doc’ on the baking sheet. Teresa picked it up and put it in the oven so the names would bake and be ready for dinner.

“Go wash up, all of you,” Teresa ordered her Lancer men, gently.

Johnny picked Truman up and took him outside to wash the flour off his face and hands, and off his own hands. Scott, Murdoch, and Doc followed.

Teresa cleaned the mess at the table, dropping the sling into the laundry basket.

“Is this a social visit or a check-up visit, Sam?” Murdoch asked.

“Bit of both. We can do the check-up first, get it out of the way,” Doc answered.

“You are staying for dinner, right?”

“Is that an invitation?”

“Yes, you have to eat your letters,” Truman answered for Murdoch.

Sam laughed and tousled the boy’s hair.

“Why, thank you, young man. I accept your kind invitation to dine with you.”

“Um…okay…good,” the boy replied.

“How have you been? Resting? Eating? Moving around with supervision?”

“Fine. Yes. Yes. Yes,” Truman answered.

Johnny snickered at the boy’s swift reply.

“Truman, mind your manners,” Murdoch gently admonished the boy with a small smile.

“Yes, Papa.”


Chapter 11

“Well, young man, let’s come over to the couch and see how you’re faring.”

“Yes, sir,” replied the boy respectfully. He followed Doc to the couch.

“Unfasten your overalls and take off your shirt,” the Doc directed.

The boy hesitated and looked pointedly at Teresa. Then, he locked eyes with Murdoch, who was standing slightly behind and to the left of the doctor. Murdoch got the point and asked the young lady to excuse herself.  She wasn’t happy about being excluded.

“Oh, for Pete’s sake, boy! I’ve seen Murdoch, Scott, and Johnny undressed when they’ve been hurt and needed care!”

Truman answered her protest with a withering glare. Johnny and Scott tried to muffle their snickers and Murdoch and the Doc shared small smiles.

“Teresa, please darling?” Murdoch asked.

“Oh, all right! Dinner will be ready in fifteen minutes!” She gave in, but not gracefully.

“Thank you.”

Truman continued to watch Teresa as she stomped off to the kitchen to make sure she really left.

“When did you become so modest, boy?” Scott asked with a smirk.

“Modest?”  The boy queried.

“Not wanting a female to see you undressed,” Scott explained.

“Oh…I don’t know…maybe when I turned 6?” Truman replied.

“Okay,” Scott answered with a grin.

“Can you get undressed now, please?” Doc asked impatiently.

“Sure, but what’s the hurry?” The child asked, as he began unbuckling his overall straps.


“Oh, hungry?”


“Hmph,” the boy replied as he struggled with the straps. He persevered and managed to unfasten them, but the effort had cost him some energy.

The boy let his straps fall down his back. He started to unbutton his shirt, but his hands were shaking. Johnny stepped in and began unbuttoning his shirt for him. Doc glanced at Murdoch, concerned about the shaking. Murdoch caught the look and shrugged, knowing Doc would ask about it later.

Johnny removed the boy’s shirt and Doc started examining the him, head to ribs. He took off the bandages as he went and was pleased with the healing wounds.

“Head and shoulder are looking quite good. I’m going to put smaller bandages on both, just to keep them clean. Let me see your ribs, now.”

Truman held as still as possible as the doctor unwrapped his ribs. He pulled back a little when Sam pressed lightly on the bruised ribs and felt for the cracked one.

“Unh,” the boy moaned when Sam found an especially tender spot. Johnny took the boy’s little hand and squeezed it. Beads of sweat had broken out on the boy’s face.

“It’s okay, young man. Take your pants off, please, and lay on the couch,” Sam instructed.

The boy anxiously looked at his Papa, who smiled and came forward to help.

“It’s okay, son. Papa and your brothers are right here with you,” Murdoch soothed the boy as he helped him take the overalls all the way off and settled the boy on the couch in just his drawers. Murdoch kneeled at the boy’s head and rubbed his hair to comfort him. Doc checked the boy’s knees and feet, pleased that the scratches and deeper lacerations were healing well. He would give the boy a private, complete physical when the boy was ready to start school. Doc moved back to the ribs. He tried to be gentle, but he knew the boy was hurting when he pressed on the tender areas.

“Unh,” the boy moaned again, trying to scoot away. He tried to bite his lower lip and be brave, but he just hurt too much. His eyes were full of unshed tears, and he blinked to try and clear them. A tear escaped and rolled down his temple, toward his ear. Murdoch caught it and kissed the child’s head.

“Sam?” Murdoch questioned, a bit sternly. The little one was in pain and he didn’t want the boy to suffer any more than necessary.

“His rib is going to be tender for a while.” Sam turned to the boy, and saw pain in the beautiful cerulean eyes. “Truman, you are a tough kid and I am proud of you…Do you like to swim?”

“I like to wade in the water, but I don’t know how to swim, yet,” he answered with a tremulous voice.

“That’s okay. I’m sure Papa and your brothers will be glad to teach you,” Doc said. He turned to Murdoch and advised, “Playing in water is probably the ideal activity for Truman right now. It will strengthen his muscles without straining them. He can continue playing with dough, as well. Any activities involving fine motor skills, such as drawing, writing, playing with marbles, pulling hay, will help him. His head, shoulder, and knees have healed well enough that they can get wet. When he finishes playing in water or having a bath, make sure the wounds are cleaned and completely dried, then put on a clean bandage. I’m going to wrap his ribs again then we’ll be finished after I put smaller bandages on his head and shoulder.”

Murdoch nodded his understanding. He turned to Scott and Johnny. “You boys understand all Sam said, too, right?”

“Yes, Sir,” Scott answered.

“Sure, Pa,” replied Johnny with a nod. “Sam? Do we leave his ribs wrapped when he plays in the water or has a bath?”

“That’s a very good question, John. The extra support is necessary when he plays in the pond or stream, or wherever, but you can take it off for baths. He’ll need to have them unwrapped and washed and dried to prevent a rash. Teresa can rewrap him after the bath,” Sam answered.

“Unh uh! She is NOT gonna see ME in the bath!” Truman declared.

Johnny, Scott, Murdoch, and Sam all laughed at Truman’s statement.

“I’ll do it, son, okay?”

The boy sighed. “Thank you, Papa.”

“You’re welcome, True,” Murdoch replied, rubbing the boy’s head affectionately.

Johnny held the boy’s hand as Sam wrapped his ribs, showing Murdoch and the other Lancer men how to do it properly.

“Okay, up you get, young man,” Sam helped the boy sit up. The child winced as he was moved into a sitting position. Sam put fresh, small bandages on his head and shoulder. “You may get dressed now. You’re a good patient, Truman.” Sam ruffled the boy’s hair and went to wash up for supper. Murdoch followed, knowing Sam wanted to talk about the boy privately.

“How long has he been shaking like that, Murdoch?” Sam asked, concerned.

“Since he’s been awake. I guess it could be general weakness, couldn’t it?”

“It could. It could be a combination of things. Weakness, stress, exhaustion. Keep an eye on it for me. Let me know if it gets worse. I hope that with some activity, he will get stronger and it will dissipate,” Sam stated.

“I’ll keep you posted…He told us what happened this morning. He witnessed the deaths of his baby brother and his parents. He had a nightmare yesterday after his bath…it was violent….he thought I was the man who killed his parents and he fought me until Scott splashed water in his face. He came around then and apologized when he realized who I was and where he was. I think he hurt his rib during the episode. I gave him some laudanum to help him sleep…he doesn’t have any family to look after him. We want to adopt him permanently. He wants it, too.”

“Huh. What a boy! I’ll support you 100%, Murdoch. You and your family are his best shot at a decent life. Keep him talking. It helps, it may seem painful, but it’s not as painful as keeping it inside, just ask Johnny about that.”

Johnny helped Truman get dressed. The boy had his head bowed. When Johnny held up the overalls, Scott held the boy’s arm gently to provide support as the child stepped into the pants one leg at a time. When the straps were fastened, Truman sat on the edge of the couch, his head still bowed. Johnny and Scott exchanged worried looks. Johnny brought the ottoman over and sat in front of the quiet child. Scott sat next to the boy on the couch and put his arm around the boy’s shaking shoulders. Johnny gently lifted the boy’s chin and looked into his eyes, which were full of pain and exhaustion.

“True? Are you okay?”

Truman was tired of being brave. He broke down, sobbing. He leaned forward and Johnny caught him, feeling his shirt being soaked by the boy’s tears. The boy was so tired, despite the fact that he had had a long afternoon nap. The activity in the kitchen and the doctor’s exam had worn him out.

Johnny held the boy close and rocked him gently, rubbing his back in soothing circles and whispering to calm him. He was inconsolable. Scott went to get Murdoch and Sam. The men came back to the great room, followed by Teresa.

“What’s going on?” Murdoch asked, alarmed and concerned as he rushed in to see the boy.

“Not sure, Pa. He just started sobbing,” Johnny replied. “I can’t calm him. I think he’s exhausted and hurting.”

“Maybe I should I sedate him,” Sam mused.

“No!” Johnny answered, more forcefully than he intended, but he made his point.

“Okay, Johnny, Okay,” Sam placated the young man. Johnny was against taking any medication that would render him vulnerable. Sam supposed he wanted to protect the boy from feeling the same helplessness and loss of personal control he felt when he absolutely had to take medication for pain or illness.

“I’m going to rock him. He’s so tired. I just want to hold him,” Johnny whispered.

“Okay, son. We’ll save some supper for you,” Murdoch soothed Johnny, with a gentle squeeze on his shoulder.

Truman had calmed a bit. He disengaged himself from Johnny, who let him go gently, but still supported him and rubbed the boy’s back. He looked up at Murdoch. “Papa, I wanna eat dinner with you.”

“Are you sure, son? You’re so tired, baby.”

“Please? I wanna eat my letters.”

Murdoch reached down and gently lifted Truman. Johnny stood up and placed his hand on Truman’s back as he settled into his Papa’s arms. Murdoch hugged him close. “Okay, son, you may eat with us, but I want you to go to bed after dinner, though. Promise?”

“Yes, Papa, I promise. Will you put me to bed tonight?”

“Absolutely…..I love you.”

“I love you, too, Papa.”

Johnny and Scott, Teresa, and Sam all looked at each other, smiling. They knew Truman was now a Lancer. Maybe not by law, yet, but certainly by their hearts.


Chapter 12

Dinner was a peaceful event. Quiet, friendly conversations permeated the great room’s dining area. Teresa and Maria had fixed homemade Brunswick stew with fresh ingredients from the garden. Everyone enjoyed eating their “name” biscuits and praised Truman for his creativity. The child responded with a quiet “thank you” and a smile. The boy was so tired, but he wouldn’t give up. He insisted on remaining at the table after his fifth yawn. He reached for his milk with a very unsteady hand. The boy would have dumped the milk into his lap if Johnny had not been paying attention and intervened in the nick of time. Johnny took the glass from the boy’s hand and held it to his lips.

“Here, True. Here’s your milk, little brother.”

“Thanks, Johnny.”

The boy drank slowly. Johnny looked at Murdoch as if to say, “Is it bedtime, yet?”

Murdoch understood the pointed look and stood up. He stepped over to the boy’s chair as Johnny replaced the milk glass and then wiped the boy’s chin.

“If you will please excuse Truman and me for a little while, I’m going to put a very tired little boy to bed,” Murdoch announced as he lifted the boy to his arms. Truman was too tired to protest.

Johnny stood up and stepped over to Truman and Murdoch, hugged the boy, and said, “Good night, True. Sleep well, I love you!”

“ ‘Night, Johnny. I love you, too.”

Everyone else said their good nights and Truman answered with a sleepy wave.

“G’night, young’un,” Jelly said with a gruff smile and a tousle of the boy’s hair.

Jelly was just coming in from completing his evening chores. He missed having dinner with the child, but could see he was exhausted. Maria brought his dinner out that she had kept warm and cleared Truman’s plate and milk so Jelly would have a place to sit. Jelly was delighted with his “name” biscuit and thanked Truman for remembering him. The boy smiled and nodded.

“G’Night, Jelly.”

Truman laid his head on Murdoch’s shoulder and was asleep before they reached the first step. Murdoch took the boy to Johnny’s room and placed the child gently on the bed. He took the overalls off, but left the shirt on after unbuttoning it a little. He pulled the covers up to the boy’s shoulders, kissed his forehead and rubbed his head.

“Good night, son, I love you,” he whispered as he raised himself from the bed. He lit a lamp and left it just bright enough for Johnny to see when he was ready to turn in, but not too bright that it would disturb the child’s sleep. Murdoch took one last look at the little one sleeping before he rejoined the others downstairs.

The adults chatted quietly over coffee as they waited for Murdoch to return before they had dessert. Murdoch came back happy, but a little worried, too.

Doc noticed the slight smile that accompanied the furrowed brow.

“What’s wrong, Murdoch?  Your expression is a contradiction of emotions,” Doc spoke.

“Oh, I’m worried about Truman. He’s exhausted. He was asleep before I reached the first step……but I am also very pleased that he feels safe here, and that he knows we love him and want him,” Murdoch replied.  

“I see. Well, emotionally, he seems to be doing quite well considering everything he’s been through. I am sure that progress can be attributed to how all of you have handled him and his needs and I commend you for that,” answered Sam.

Johnny ducked his head as he always did upon being complimented. Doc leaned over and squeezed the young man’s shoulder gently. Johnny looked at the kind doctor and smiled shyly.

“As for the boy’s exhaustion, he needs lots of rest, but exercise as well, so I suggest he moves around-walk, play quietly, go wading as long as the weather is warm-then have a nap after lunch. Gradually increase activity and decrease napping. His stamina will build up and he’ll sleep well during the night. Early to bed. Have him up and dressed the same time every day so he can get on a good schedule. If he falls asleep during the day, put him to bed, but get him up for meals, he can’t miss those. Let him do as much as he physically can for himself, teach him how to do things he can’t. Give him some light chores-he wants to be part of this family, so give him some responsibilities he can handle, such as keeping a room neat and picking up after himself.”

The Lancers, including Teresa and Jelly, nodded.

“He slept for nearly 4 hours this afternoon. I just don’t understand why he’s so exhausted and going to bed at 6:30pm,” Murdoch expressed his worry.

“We don’t really know how long he had been hurt before Johnny found him, do we?” asked Sam, rhetorically.

“No, I guess not,” replied Murdoch.

“His strength and stamina probably kept him alive during that gray time. He’s been ill and in bed for a few days, and pain always saps strength.”

“An’ he’s had more than his fair share of that,” Johnny added.

Doc nodded. “Right. Just take it slow and easy. He’s got plenty of time to recover. I’ll want to give him a very thorough check-up before school starts, Murdoch.”

Johnny cringed. Scott smiled at his brother’s expression. They both knew what Doc’s ‘very thorough’ check-ups involved and they weren’t pleasant! Sam noticed it, too.

“In fact, I think Johnny is due for one, too,” the Doc said, smiling.

“I am perfectly fine, thanks, an’ I’m not going to school this fall,” Johnny declared.

“John, you’ll do as Sam and I tell you where your health is concerned, understand?” Murdoch addressed him sternly.

The two stubborn Lancer men locked eyes for a few tense moments. Murdoch raised his eyebrows to gentle his expression and he was thankful when Johnny nodded his concession. ‘The boy’s learning that we care.’ Murdoch winked at his son to show his pleasure that an argument had been avoided. Johnny lowered his eyes and smiled a faint smile, knowing Murdoch cared about his health enough to make sure he would get a check-up.

“John, you can bring Truman in for his check-up yourself, if you like, and stay with him,” Sam offered.

“I’ll think about it, but I think Pa should be there, too,” Johnny answered.

Murdoch was proud of Johnny’s reply and let him know it by giving him a genuine smile and nod of approval, which Johnny returned in kind.


Chapter 13

The peacefulness was broken by a heart wrenching scream from the upper level. The boy had been working himself into a terrible state as haunting images of his parents’ death and his subsequent encounter with Willis’ thugs, and then the clown who found the beaten boy. Unbeknownst to the Lancers and Sam, Truman was now terrified of clowns.

The Lancers and Sam rushed upstairs to find the boy screaming and thrashing against unseen enemies. His back arched off the bed and he let loose a horrific, terrified scream, then continued thrashing, his voice growing hoarse. Johnny crawled onto the bed carefully with the intention of holding and soothing the child.

“Be careful, son,” Murdoch cautioned him.

Johnny looked at Murdoch to acknowledge the warning, and was stunned when Truman’s little right fist connected with his left eye. Johnny shook it off and grabbed the boy’s wrists, gently, but firmly.

“Hey, hey, little brother. Settle down,” he crooned to the boy.

The child did not respond to Johnny, but continued screaming unintelligibly and thrashing uncontrollably. Scott tried to catch his feet, but was rewarded with a solid blow to his stomach. He doubled over for a minute to catch his breath. Sam took a syringe and a vial of sedative to help the extremely agitated boy calm down before he did any internal damage to himself.

“Roll him onto his side and hold him still,” instructed Sam.

Johnny looked in horror at what Sam was about to do.

“NO! You promised! Let me help him, please,” Johnny was distraught and his eyes were full of fear and dread. His left eye was swelling and beginning to turn black and blue.

“John, he’s too far into his nightmare. He needs more help than we can give him by talking and holding him,” Sam tried to reason with Johnny.

“Please...no,” Johnny begged, distraught.

Murdoch took over.

“Scott, stay here with them. John, come with me...NOW,” Murdoch said sternly but calmly, pointing to the spot right next to him.

Johnny glared at Murdoch and Sam. Scott pushed him towards Murdoch as he took over holding the boy’s arms. Jelly captured the child’s kicking feet while avoiding blows. Taking one last look at the thrashing child, Johnny finally rose from the bed and stood where Murdoch had indicated, glaring at him the whole time.

Johnny and Murdoch watched as the others turned Truman onto his side. Sam pulled up the shirt and pulled his drawers down to bare the boy’s hip. Sam cleaned a spot in the fleshy part of the hip, and injected the sedative. Johnny moved to go to the boy, but Murdoch had a firm grip on his shoulder and pulled him back. The boy’s thrashing gradually subsided. His screams had turned to coughing since the boy’s voice had become extremely hoarse. He drifted to sleep on his left side, facing the dresser that Murdoch and Johnny were standing in front of.

Murdoch took Johnny to Scott’s room and they sat on the edge of the bed together. Johnny wrapped his arms around his middle and bowed his head. He was breathing hard, anger flowing through him like hot lava. Murdoch’s heart ached for Johnny. He wrapped his arm around the trembling shoulders and pulled him into a quick embrace, feeling the tension in Johnny’s body when he did, so he let Johnny go after a moment.

“John? Johnny? Why are you taking this so hard??”

“I don’t want him to feel helpless. He’s too young to have to be medicated for nightmares. He needs to let it out…..let the demons out.”

“I understand that, son, but you need to understand something, too. Are you listening?”

“Yes,” was the whispered reply.

“If Truman dislocates that healing rib, it could hurt an important organ, like puncturing a lung. Sam would have to operate on him and that is very risky. The boy would have to stay in bed for months and he could have serious health problems…You know we would never want that little guy to suffer like that and we wouldn’t do anything unnecessary in treating his injuries right now, right?”

Johnny nodded. Murdoch wondered what he could do to calm this emotional bundle of a young man. He opted for just placing a hand on his son’s shoulder as a show of support. Murdoch was glad when Johnny allowed the contact.

“We’re not sedating him to be mean or as punishment, but to keep him safe from his demons. They are inside him and that’s where the danger is right now. He can’t control the demons inside him when he’s sleeping, that’s why we have to medicate them. When he’s awake and we are all with him, we can help him get rid of them, but he needs help when he’s sleeping.”

“What if his demons only come out at night, when he’s sleeping and can’t fight them?” Johnny asked, tremulously.

“Somebody will have to stay with him when he’s sleeping, wake him when the demons come.”

“I can do that. He can stay in my room, with me.”

“How long are you willing to share your bed?”

“As long as it takes.”

Murdoch chuckled and tousled Johnny’s hair.

“Well, I think Scott will get jealous if you don’t share your little brother with him.”


“Why don’t we take it one day at a time? We’ll take care of him one day at a time.”

Murdoch felt Johnny nod.

“You alright, son?”

“Yes,” Johnny sighed.  He looked up at his Pa.

“I take it you’re staying with the boy?”

“He needs me.”

“We all need you. Let us help you with the boy. I know you found him and feel responsible, but let us help. We’re a family, it’s what families do-stick together and share responsibilities, understand?”

“Yes, Pa,” Johnny replied, looking Murdoch in the eye.

“I love you, son.”

Johnny nodded, but the by the look in his eyes. Murdoch knew his son loved him, too.

Murdoch rubbed the back of Johnny’s head, stood up, then pulled Johnny to his feet. Murdoch looked down into his son’s hopeful eyes. He gently caressed the boy’s cheek and examined his eye.

“That little guy has a wicked right hook, eh?” Murdoch said with a smirk. Johnny smiled a genuine ‘Johnny’ smile, tenderly touched his shiner, and laughed.

“Yep, he sure does.”

“Let’s go see how that little scrapper is doing, okay?”

“Good idea, Pa.”

The two Lancers went to see how Truman was doing.  He was sound asleep in the same position with Scott sitting on the edge of the bed, rubbing the boy’s back while Doc checked the boy’s pulse.

“How is he, Sam?”  Murdoch asked as he and Johnny entered the room.

“He’ll be just fine. No damage done...to himself, anyway,” Sam said as he caught sight of Johnny’s eye. “Let him sleep till he wakes up on his own. He needs the rest.”

Murdoch nodded and took Scott’s place as Scott stood up to take a look at Johnny’s eye.

“You okay, Johnny?”

“Yeah, we’ll have to look out for the kid’s right hook,” Johnny said with a smile.

Scott rubbed his stomach, “and his right kick!”

Johnny laughed quietly. Scott tried to join him, but his stomach was still a bit tender. Scott settled for lightly smacking Johnny’s arm, instead.

Teresa left to put some more coffee on...she had a feeling it was going to be a long night.

Sam watched Johnny and Scott’s interaction with a smile, happy that Johnny was acting like his old self. Still, he was a bit disturbed at Johnny’s accusation when he prepared to sedate the boy.

“Johnny? Could we talk privately for a moment?”

“Sure, Sam. We can step into Scott’s room….is that okay, Scott?”

“That’s fine, Johnny. Take your time.”

Johnny nodded at Scott.

Johnny smiled and followed Doc to Scott’s room. Doc closed the door, then turned to face Johnny.

“Are you okay?”


“Are you mad at me?”

“I was...but Murdoch and I talked and I understand you did what you had to do to help protect True.”

“Yes, thank you...are we okay, then?”

“We’re fine, same as always.”

Sam looked carefully at Johnny and smiled. He moved forward and offered his hand. When Johnny took it in his, Sam pulled Johnny to him and hugged the young man he loved as his own. Johnny hugged the Doc tightly, then released his hold when he felt Sam do the same.

“I’m proud of you, John. You’ve come a long way.”

Johnny ducked his head. Sam lifted the boy’s chin to look him in the eyes.

“I’m proud of you. Be proud of yourself, too. You’ve got a very loving, caring heart and you’re going to be a fine big brother to that boy...If you need anything, anything at all, come see me. Got it?”

“Got it. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, son. Get some rest, okay?”

“Yes, sir.”

Then Sam did something he never had since Johnny had become a man...he kissed Johnny’s forehead in a fatherly manner. Johnny smiled shyly.

Sam left the room. Johnny went to his own room and started changing to go to bed. Scott was still in the room, but Jelly and Murdoch had joined Doc and Teresa downstairs for an evening drink.

“Want me to leave?” Scott asked politely as Johnny pulled a nightshirt on.

“No...please stay.”

“Okay. You going to sleep?”

“If I can. My body is tired, but my mind is going faster than a certain Palomino on his best day.”

Johnny got into bed from the other side so he would not have to climb over the sleeping child. Scott stood up and came around and sat on the edge of the bed.

Scott nodded towards the sleeping child.

“He’s a fighter, isn’t he?”

“Ya, he’s a tough little guy. I wish there was more we could do for him.”

Johnny sighed.

“I think we’re doing the best we can, Johnny. I think you’re doing a great job with him. You’ll be a fine Pa yourself one day.”


“Yes. Get some rest. Good night.”  Scott stood and walked to the door.

“G’night, Scott...Scott?”

“Yes, Johnny?” Scott replied, turning back to face Johnny.

Johnny ducked his head a moment and said, so quietly that Scott had to really concentrate to hear him, “could you stay a while?”

“Okay, Johnny,” Scott answered, surprised. He came back around and sat on the bed next to Johnny.

“Thanks,” Johnny whispered.

“You’re welcome.”


Chapter 14

Truman slept the rest of the night without incident. Johnny slept close to the boy, cuddling him so he could help if the boy became distressed. Scott had stayed until both of his brothers were sleeping. It didn’t take Scott long to get Johnny asleep. His brother was more tired than he would admit. They spoke quietly for a few minutes. Johnny’s eyelids were drooping and became too heavy.

“Give up the fight, Johnny. You need the sleep,” Scott had whispered tenderly.

Johnny nodded and surrendered peacefully to the sleep, drifting off with a content smile. Scott eased himself off the mattress and tip-toed to the other side of the bed to the door, stopping to check on the boy and adjust his covers.

The next morning, Johnny woke with a start when Scott entered the room. The boy was still sleeping.

“Morning, Johnny. Sleep well?”

“Yeah, I guess. You?” Johnny asked as he eased himself to a sitting position.

“Okay, thanks.”

“What time is it?”


“Madre de dios! I’m late! Murdoch’s gonna pound me!”

“No, he’s not,” said the man, himself. “Good morning, boys.”

“Good morning, Sir,” Scott answered.

“Morning, Pa,” replied Johnny, quietly.

Johnny’s eyes got big as he watched Murdoch come over to his side of the bed and sit on the edge. Johnny swallowed hard and watched Murdoch warily with his right eye. His left was swollen and purple. And a bit sore.

“Relax, son, I’m not upset with you.”

“You’re not? I should have been up two hours ago,” Johnny stated.

“Johnny, it’s okay. You were exhausted last night. You needed to sleep and keep an eye on the little one. How do you feel this morning? How’s your eye? It looks sore.”

“It’s a bit sore, yeah. I slept pretty well. I feel better………Should we get True up?”

“Good,” Murdoch nodded. “No, Sam said let him sleep off the sedative. Did he sleep okay? Any more incidents?”

“No………..he barely moved. How much sedative did Sam give him??”

“Not sure of the exact amount, but he needed it.”

“I know. He’s going to be sore, though, his hip, I mean,” Johnny stated quietly with his head down.

Murdoch raised his son’s chin gently. “Personal experience tell you that?”

“Yeah…A few years back, I was really sick with a high fever. My throat was very sore. I was in a border town.  I was having nightmares and screaming, disturbing the hotel guests and making my throat worse. The owner sent for the doctor an’ he put a needle in my hip and I screamed. I was scared an’ he was none too gentle about it. Everything went black. I woke up, hot, soaked with sweat, and my backside was on fire.” Johnny related his story very quietly and calmly. He looked up from under his lashes at Murdoch and Scott to gauge their moods and reactions. They were both concerned and attentive. Johnny swallowed and continued. “Jack Cooper was looking for me, an’ not to share a beer. He was in my room when I woke, with my own gun pointed at me.” Murdoch and Scott gasped. “Luckily, he believed in a fair fight, so he put my gun on the dresser, after unloading it, wished me a speedy recovery, and left,” Johnny finished the tale with a meaningful look at Scott and Murdoch.

“So that’s why you hate to be medicated,” Murdoch spoke first. “You feel unprotected.”

Johnny nodded slowly. “Yes, I feel out of control.”

“I understand better, now. Thank you for telling us about that experience. I’ll make a deal with you…I will support you if you do not want  to be medicated the next time you are injured…but, you have to promise that you will follow Sam’s orders to the letter and rest for as long as he tells you to do so. One more thing, if you are incapable of making a rational decision, you have to trust me to make it for you, for your protection.”

Johnny considered the deal. It seemed fair to him. He looked at Scott for a second opinion and he nodded to Johnny, making his approval known.

“Will you watch my back when I’m out of the action?” Johnny wanted to know.

“Most definitely,” Murdoch replied and Scott nodded his agreement, too.

“It’s a deal.” Johnny offered his hand to Murdoch to seal the agreement. Murdoch shook it, then pulled his son into an embrace.

“Come on, up and at’em, boy,” Murdoch said firmly, but kindly.

“Okay, okay, I’m comin’.” Johnny got up and began dressing.

Murdoch smiled and moved toward the door, stopping to stroke the sleeping boy’s head and check for any fever. He then stood at the door to wait for Johnny.


“Yeah, Scott?” Johnny answered as he put on a clean shirt, a baby blue one with tiny flowers on it.

“Did Cooper come back for the fair fight?”

Johnny paused in his buttoning of the shirt, looked down and bit his lip.  “No…he…he didn’t make it back,” Johnny replied quietly.

“Oh…go get something to eat. I’ll stay with Truman,” Scott replied. Johnny nodded and walked out with Murdoch on his heels.

“I sure hope True wakes up easy. I’d hate for him to get scared an’ panic,” Johnny stated thoughtfully.

“He’ll be fine, I’m sure. We’ll all look after him….Johnny?”


“Doc and I would like you to rest today. Take it easy, do some light chores close to the house, okay?”


“You’ve been working really hard and taking care of Truman. I don’t want you to wear yourself out, son.”

Johnny stopped on the steps, head down. Murdoch held his breath. Johnny turned around and looked at Murdoch warily. Murdoch could tell the gears were turning in Johnny’s head. He hoped they had gotten off to a good day and that he had expressed his concern and desire to Johnny in a manner that Johnny would see as a request instead of a direct order.

Johnny finally nodded. “Okay, I can help Jelly repair some tack an’ check on the corral rails. Some are rotting.”

“Good idea, son. Don’t keep Maria waiting or the dogs will get your pancakes and eggs.”

“Dios!” Johnny exclaimed with a genuine smile as he hurried to the kitchen to save his breakfast.

Murdoch released the breath he had been holding and went to his desk to review his receipts. He thought about the exchange that had just happened and smiled to himself, proud he was able to talk to his younger, volatile son without starting an argument. ‘I guess we’re both growing,’ he mused.


Chapter 15

Scott sat in the chair next to the bed reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin while the boy slept. He looked up when he heard the sheets rustle and found blue eyes looking at him. He put his book down and shifted to sit on the edge of the bed.

“Hey, Truman, how are you?” Scott asked tenderly, smoothing the boy’s bangs out of his eyes. The boy rolled onto his back and winced when his bruised hip came in contact with the mattress.

“Hurts,” replied a soft, hoarse whisper.

“What hurts?”

“Rib and right here,” the boy replied, indicating his hip.

“Truman, do you remember what happened last night after Papa put you to bed?”


“Well, you had some very bad dreams. Johnny tried to hold you, but you were so scared, and you probably thought Johnny was someone you should be fighting and while you were screaming and kicking and  waving your fists around, you accidentally hit Johnny’s eye.”

“Oh, no! I hurt Johnny?” the boy asked, upset.

“Shhhhhh, it’s okay. You didn’t mean to do it and Johnny knows that. He’s not upset or mad at all, I promise.”

“Does he still like me?”

“Of course...he loves you. You were having a nightmare, you didn’t know who Johnny was, did you?”


“Would you have hit him if you were awake and knew what was going on?”


“Okay, then, don’t worry about it, ok?”

The boy nodded.

“Doc Sam had to give you a shot to make you stop having your nightmare. You could have hurt yourself if you kept fighting. He had to put the medicine in your hip so it would work properly.”

“Am I in trouble for fighting? Did I hurt anyone else?”

“No, you are not in trouble for fighting. I need to be more careful when I try to catch your feet, though. You didn’t know what was happening…and you were very scared. Nobody is upset with you…everything is fine.”

Scott rubbed the boy’s head gently to soothe him.

“Are you hungry?”

The boy nodded.

“Well, let’s get some pants on you and find some breakfast.”

“What time is it ?”


The boy let Scott help him get up and dressed. They walked down the steps together to the kitchen. Teresa looked up from washing the dishes.

“Hey, Truman! How are you?” she came over and hugged the boy gently.

“I’m okay, Teresa, thanks.”

“Good. Hungry?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“What would you like?”

“Anything,” he said as he shrugged.

“How about some scrambled eggs and a biscuit?” she suggested.

“That’s fine, thanks.”

“Have a seat and I’ll get some milk for you.”

“Okay.” Truman let go of Scott’s hand and sat in the chair, tenderly, with his head bowed.

“I’m going to tell Papa you’re up,” Scott informed the boy with a tousle of his hair.


Scott looked at him, worried about his mood, then walked into the great room and found Murdoch sitting at his desk.

“Murdoch, Truman’s up.”

Murdoch looked up from his work and smiled.

“He is? How is he?”

“Very quiet, subdued. He’s eating breakfast. Johnny was right, the boy’s hip is sore.”

“I’m sure the soreness will go away. We’ll just have to be gentle in handling him. Let’s go see him.”

“Before we go, I want you to know I told him what happened last night because he wanted to know why his hip hurt. He was afraid he would be in trouble for hitting Johnny, but I told him not to worry, that he didn’t know what he was doing.”

“Okay. It’s probably best that he does know that he hit Johnny. I mean, we’re not going to lie to this child. He deserves the truth, even if it hurts a little.”

“I agree. Where is Johnny?”

“Doing some tack repair with Jelly. He’s going to stick close to the house today and take it easy.”

“Good idea. His or yours?”

“Mine and Doc’s, but he agreed with very little persuasion and no arguments.”

“Wow! I’m impressed!”

“So was I,” replied Murdoch.

Murdoch and Scott walked into the kitchen to see Truman. He was eating some eggs while Teresa buttered a biscuit for him.

“Good morning, Truman. How are you?” Murdoch greeted the boy with a quick, gentle hug and sat down next to him.

“Okay, Papa. How are you?...Where’s Johnny?”

“I’m fine, thanks. Johnny is outside doing chores.”

“When am I going to do chores?”

“When we go to town and buy some shoes, boots, clothes, and a coat for you.”


“How about as soon as you finish breakfast? Don’t rush, though.”

“Really? Are we all going?” Truman perked up a bit and Scott smiled.

“Do you want your brothers and sister to join us?”

“Yes, if they want to go,” he said quietly.

“Teresa? Scott? Would you like to go with us?” Murdoch asked.

“Sure,” answered Scott.

“Yes! I’d love to come and help True pick out some clothes,” Teresa answered enthusiastically.

“We’ll have to round-up Johnny,” Murdoch mused.

“Round me up for what?” Johnny asked warily as he came in the kitchen. He saw the boy at the table and was happy to see him eating.

“Hey, True! How ya feelin’?” Johnny asked excitedly as he approached the boy, squeezing his shoulder, affectionately.

The boy ducked his head.

“What’s wrong, boy?” Johnny asked, concerned.

“I’m sorry I hit you. I didn’t mean to. Is it ok?”

“I know you didn’t mean to hit me. It was an accident. I’m ok…look at me, True.”

The boy slowly looked at Johnny, then he reached out to gently touch Johnny’s black eye.

“I’m fine. I’m not mad or upset. You were so scared last night and didn’t know who I was. It’s nothing to worry about. Promise me you’ll let it go, ok?”

“Okay……..I l-l-love you, Johnny.”

“I love you, too boy. Now, tell me why they’re trying to round me up.”

The boy smirked and said, “We’re going to town so I can get some clothes, shoes, boots, and a coat. We want you to come. Then, I’ll get to help with the chores.”

“Great! You’re gonna help me with my chores?”


“Well, I need to change my shirt. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”


Johnny patted the boy’s shoulder. He was concerned about the boy’s demeanor. He was very melancholy. Johnny wondered if there were any lingering effects of the sedative causing the boy to be in this mood. He caught Murdoch’s eye and gestured him to follow him upstairs. Murdoch got the hint and nodded. Johnny nodded and headed up the stairs.

Murdoch told Maria, “We’ll be having lunch in town, Maria, but we’ll be home for supper. Enjoy the peace and quiet.”

“Muy bien, gracias, patron.”

“Perhaps Truman can get a haircut while we’re in town,” Scott suggested.

The boy looked up at Scott curiously.

“If it grows any longer, we won’t be able to see your blue eyes, little brother!”

Truman shrugged and nodded. He already looked tired again. Murdoch hoped he wasn’t pushing the boy, but if they took the buckboard, the  child could sleep during the journey to and from town.

“Scott, why don’t you hitch up the buckboard? Put some hay bales and blankets and a tarp in the back.”

“Okay,” Scott answered and left to do as he was asked.

“I’ll be right back, Truman,” Murdoch told the child.

The boy nodded and picked up his milk glass with both hands.

Johnny was changing his shirt when Murdoch entered his room. The young man had scrubbed his face and hands and brushed his hair.

“What is it, son?”

“Truman is very quiet. Do you think the sedative is causing this?”

“Could be. He’s still recuperating, you know. He needs to build his stamina……He asked where you were and about doing his own chores. He wants to be part of this family.”

“Isn’t he?”

“Yes, but he may feel he needs to help out to feel like he really belongs. We’re going to get him outfitted today, get him a haircut, and have lunch. If Theo is in town, I’ll talk to him about adoption procedures.”

Johnny listened to Murdoch and nodded as he straightened his bed and picked up his clothes.

“What are you doing?”

“Cleaning up. I have to set a good example for Truman, right?”

Murdoch chuckled and patted Johnny’s shoulder. “If I knew having a young’un around would get you to keep your room clean, I would have gotten one a long time ago.”

“But it wouldn’t have been Truman,” Johnny pointed out.

“Very true. Truman was worth waiting for.”

“He certainly was,” Johnny agreed.

“You really love that boy, don’t you?”

“Yes, Pa, I really do…is he ready to go into town? Is he well enough?”

“I think so. He needs to get out into fresh air.”

While the men were talking upstairs, Truman was finishing his breakfast. He heard Scott drive the buckboard up to the kitchen door. Teresa heard, too, because she went outside to help Scott make up a bed in the back of the wagon after checking to see how the boy was doing. Truman lifted his milk glass again. His hands were shaking and he dropped the glass. It shattered and the milk splattered on the floor. He was afraid of another whipping, so he scrambled out of the chair, avoiding the glass, and hid under the table, put his face in his hands and wept. He thought the Lancers wouldn’t want a clumsy child around.

Murdoch and Johnny heard the glass break and rushed down the back stairs to see if anyone was hurt. When they entered the kitchen, they saw the broken glass and spilt milk on the floor. The chair was empty, but they heard sniffling. Johnny dropped to his knees and peeked under the table. He signaled to Murdoch that the boy was under there.

“Is he hurt?” Murdoch asked.

“It doesn’t look like it,” Johnny replied. “Truman? Hey, you alright?”

The boy scooted away from Johnny, afraid he would be caught and punished for breaking the glass. Johnny looked at Murdoch and signaled to him. Johnny pointed to the other side of the table and mimed getting low. Murdoch nodded and got down on his knees, looked under the table, and was saddened to see Truman trembling in fear.

“Truman, son, it’s okay. No one is going to hurt you. We want to know if you’re alright. Are you hurt? Did you cut yourself?” Murdoch spoke quietly to the boy.

The child shook his head ‘no.’ He had listened and answered but his gaze was fixed on the broken glass. He flinched as if someone had hit him, but neither Johnny nor Murdoch was touching him at the moment. The two men exchanged very concerned looks.

Scott and Teresa came in from outside, talking about the trip to town when they were abruptly stopped by a look from Murdoch. They exchanged puzzled looks when they realized Murdoch was on the floor, looking under the table. Scott crouched quietly and looked under the table, then stood up. Teresa noticed the broken glass and spilt milk on the floor and started towards the pantry to get a broom, but was stopped by Scott. He held her back so she would not distract Murdoch or Johnny from getting Truman out. Johnny crept silently to get behind the boy. He moved a chair out of his way, then looked at Murdoch, who nodded to him, and slowly put a hand on the boy’s right shoulder. The boy flinched, but allowed the contact. After a few moments, Johnny placed his left hand on the boy’s left shoulder. The boy flinched again, but still made no moves to escape. Johnny gently, but firmly, pulled the boy out from under the table, sat in the chair, and pulled the boy into his lap. The child struggled a bit, weeping.

“Shhhh. Settle down, True. I’ve got you. You’re alright, now,” Johnny crooned to the frightened child.

The boy eventually settled down. Then, the boy did something totally unexpected: he stuck his right thumb into his mouth, leaned back against Johnny, and closed his eyes, letting the tears flow freely. He was still trembling, but he was calm. Johnny gently extracted the boy’s thumb from his mouth and held it in his lap firmly, but kindly.

“Why are you so afraid, True?” Johnny whispered the question.

“I...I…g-got a w-whippin’ when I broke a g-glass in ‘nother t-town,” he answered between hitched breaths.

“When did this happen?”

“On my way out here. I can’t r-remember w-where. A-a family s-saw me w-walking b-by myself down a road and asked me t-to dinner. I th-thought they were being g-good Ch-Christians.”

“What happened, son?” Murdoch asked. He was now sitting in a chair facing Johnny’s chair. Scott and Teresa had cleaned up the glass and milk and now stood behind Murdoch, listening silently.

“I…I went with them and they had n-nice things and a good dinner. I..I picked up the g-glass of milk and the outside of the glass was wet and it slipped out of my hands,” the boy took a deep breath and let it out. He was still trembling, so Johnny rubbed his back to calm him.

“Go on,” Murdoch gently prompted him.

“The g-glass broke an’..an’ the milk spilled. I-I s-said  I was s-sorry, b-but the man jumped up an’ pulled me out of m-my chair. He y-yelled at me, s-said I was ungrateful an’ the g-glass cost money an’ he was g-gonna t-take it outta my h-hide.”

Teresa gasped and Scott patted her hand to comfort and quiet her.

“The m-man t-took m-me out to th-the sh-shed and p-picked up a s-switch. I-I tried to run away, but his son caught me and c-carried me b-back to the shed. He was a b-big b-boy. The man took m-my pants down an’ I g-got a w-whippin’ a’ an’ the man p-put me to b-bed on the floor in the shed. I-I c-c-cried myself to s-sleep. I w-woke d-during the night and l-left…I-I-I don’t think they were v-very good Ch-Christians…th-they didn’t forgive me,” the weary child said.

“Truman, it’s okay, son. You’re NOT going to get a whipping here for breaking a glass by accident. I know you didn’t mean to break it. It’s just glass and it was an accident. Papa’s not mad,” Murdoch said to reassure the child.

“Broken glass can be very dangerous and I am proud of you for not trying to clean it up yourself. You didn’t step in it, did you?” Murdoch asked as he checked the boy’s feet.

“No, Papa.”

“Good boy. Would you like a cup of your own, with a handle on it, so you can hold it better?”

“Yes, Papa.”

“Okay, we’ll get a few while we’re in town.” Murdoch took out his handkerchief and dried the boy’s face. “Do you still want to go to town, True?”

“Yes, Papa.”


“Yes, Pa?”

“Please take Truman to the buckboard and get him settled. We’ll be right out.”

“Sure, Pa.” Johnny stood up, still holding the boy and carried him out the kitchen door. He hugged the boy close, rubbing his back to soothe the trembling child. When they arrived next to the buckboard, Johnny saw a nice little bed had been made for the boy’s comfort. Some hay bales had been placed in the wagon as well for them to sit on. Johnny set the boy in the back, climbed in himself, then sat on a hay bale next to the bed.

“Come over here, True,” he directed the boy, who obeyed immediately. Johnny pointed to the blankets in the corner of the wagon. “This is a little bed for you to rest on during the trip to and from town. If you get tired, you can lie down and nap, okay?”

“Okay, Johnny,” the boy replied quietly. “Papa isn’t mad?”

“No, Papa isn’t mad and neither is anyone else. Don’t worry ’bout it.”

“Okay.” The boy climbed into Johnny’s lap and put his head on Johnny’s shoulder. Johnny wrapped his arms around the boy and held him close.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Murdoch was talking to Scott and Teresa.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to leave Truman alone at all right now. He’s got a lot of demons to face and they seem to be pretty persistent, haunting the boy when it’s least expected.”

Scott and Teresa nodded their agreement and understanding. Murdoch gently held Teresa by her arms before he spoke to her.

“Teresa, darling, I know you meant no harm when you left the boy in the kitchen to help Scott. Let’s not leave him at all when he’s eating. He’s still a bit weak and shaky and could easily choke on something, ok?”

“Okay, Murdoch, I’m sorry.” Teresa answered.

“I know. Everything’s going to be fine.” Murdoch hugged his ‘daughter.’

“Let’s go, can’t keep Johnny waiting, can we?” Scott piped up, breaking the tension.

“Noooooo,” Murdoch chuckled. He led Scott and Teresa to the buckboard and they all climbed on. Murdoch and Scott in the front seat and Teresa in the back with Johnny and Truman.

“Hey! Where’re y’all headed?” Jelly asked, a little put out he wasn’t invited for a family outing.

“We’re going to town to shop and have lunch. Clean up and hop on,” Murdoch answered.

Jelly’s face lit up like the Fourth of July and he raced to scrub up and change into a clean shirt. He ran out of his quarters with a little money sack and hopped aboard, finding a place to sit in the back.

“Everyone ready?” Murdoch called.

“Yes,” answered a chorus of voices.

“Hang on!” With that, the buckboard rolled into action and the Lancer family was on its way to Green River.


Chapter 16

Truman fell asleep in Johnny’s arms soon after Murdoch drove the buckboard through the Lancer Arch.

“Pa? Could you stop for a minute, please?” Johnny asked.

“Is something wrong?” Murdoch asked.

“No. Truman is asleep. I want to put him on this little bed without jostling him.”

“Okay.”  Murdoch stopped the horses, then turned in his seat to watch Johnny settle the boy. Truman roused a little and whimpered, but Johnny sat down on the bed next to him and rubbed the boy’s back to lull him to sleep.

“Is he okay, Johnny?” Scott asked.

“Yeah, he’s fine, now. Thanks.”

“Ready?” Murdoch asked.

“Onward ho,” Johnny replied. Scott, Jelly, and Teresa chuckled and smiled. Murdoch just smiled and shook his head at his younger son’s antics.

They arrived in Green River around 10:45. Murdoch pulled up at the livery stable and unhitched the horses as the others climbed out of the buckboard. Scott and Jelly helped Murdoch pull the wagon around to the side of the stable. Johnny had Truman, still sleeping, in his arms. Murdoch decided to call on their lawyer to speak about adoption procedures and start the process towards having legal guardianship of Truman. When they arrived at his office, however, the door was locked. The note on the door notified townspeople that he was in Sacramento and could be contacted by telegraph.

“Well, I’ll go to the office and send a wire to Theo. Why don’t you take the boy to the barber shop?” Murdoch suggested.

“Okay, Sir,” replied Scott.

The ‘kids’ and Jelly walked down the boardwalk to the barbershop. Johnny shifted Truman in his arms so he could see the boy’s face when he tried to wake him.

“Hey, Truman. Time to wake up, little brother. Come on, open your eyes.”

The boy slowly opened his eyes and rubbed the sleep out of them.

“That’s it. Time for a haircut.”

They entered the barbershop and Johnny was surprised to see Val in the chair, receiving a trim.

“Val? What are you doing here?”

“What does it look like? I’m getting my hair trimmed! What are you doing here? Who’s that?” Val indicated the boy in Johnny’s arms with a nod of his head.

“Be still, Val!” Zeke was exasperated with the fidgety sheriff.

“This is Truman Oliver Sutherland. He’s going to be our new little brother,” replied Johnny with a smile.

“Oh, really? I’m pleased to meet ya, Truman.”

“Thank you, Sir,” the boy replied politely, but warily.

“True, this is Sheriff Val Crawford. He’s a good man and a good friend,” Johnny explained.

“Oh. I’m pleased to meet you, Sheriff,” the boy said, offering his hand for a shake. Val leaned forward and shook the offered hand with a smile. Zeke was not pleased with his client moving around so much.

“So, who’s getting the haircut? You’re all scruffy-lookin’ men! Miss Teresa, you’re as lovely as usual!”

“Why thank you, Val. You’re charming, as usual, of course,” Teresa replied with her tongue planted firmly in her cheek.

“Mind your manners, Val,” Johnny admonished his friend with a grin.


“Truman is getting a haircut. Then we’re going to the store to buy some clothes and things he needs and then we’ll have lunch before heading back to Lancer,” Johnny explained.

“Are ya gonna get him some shoes?” Val asked, eyeing the boy’s small bare feet.

“Yes, and some work boots. We might be able to find a small pair of gloves, too.”

“Come by my office when you have some free time, Johnny.”

Johnny nodded, knowing Val wanted to talk to him privately.

“Why don’t you come out for supper tonight, Val? It will be easier to talk to Johnny there. He won’t have any free time this morning while we’re in town. Besides, Maria will be pleased to see you, especially since you’re getting a nice trim,” Teresa suggested.

“Much obliged, Miss Teresa. Thanks!”

“You’re finished, Val. That’ll be ten cents, please,” Zeke said.

Val turned and checked his appearance in the mirror. He paid Zeke twelve cents and nodded to him.

“Good job, Zeke, I feel human again.”

“MMhmmmm. See ya next week?”

“You’re getting that mop trimmed every week?” Johnny asked, amazed.

“As Sheriff of this town, it is my duty to set a good example,” Val replied, looking smug and pertinent.

Johnny laughed out loud. “A good example of what? Wasting money to keep a mop trimmed?”

Scott and Jelly laughed, but Teresa just rolled her eyes. Truman listened, taking it all in.

“No! A good example of being presentable in public,” answered the sheriff.

“Why don’t you wash your clothes, or, better yet, burn the clothes you have and get some new ones? Get some that don’t have holes in them,” Johnny suggested, as he stuck a finger through a large hole in Val’s shirt pocket.

“This shirt is clean and broken in. It’s comfortable!” Val exclaimed as he yanked the shirt off Johnny’s finger, making the hole a little bigger.

“Val, how many bullets do ya have to dodge an’ how many saloon fights do ya have to break up before you consider a shirt ‘broken in’ ?”

Johnny was grinning.

Val smacked Johnny’s right arm with his hat as he made his way to the door.

“Watch the kid, Val,” Scott warned.

“Oh, right. Sorry kid. I didn’t hit ya, did I?”

“No, sir. I’m ok,” Truman replied quietly.

“Good. The kid’s fine, Scott. Don’t be such a mother hen. Save that for your little smart aleck brother here. He’s gonna need it more when I take a switch to him for bein’ a smart aleck!”

“Val! They’re both my brothers,” Scott reminded him.

“Yeah, but I doubt the young’un is a smart aleck like this big’un. See ya tonight at 6,” Val said as he side stepped Johnny’s swat and high-tailed it out of the barbershop.

“How does he know we’re eating at 6?” Scott asked.

“Scott, Val knows some stuff,” Johnny replied.

Zeke had been watching and smiling during the interaction between the Lancers and the sheriff. He knew they were good friends and teased each other mercilessly. It was very entertaining at times.

Zeke looked over at the boy and decided he would need to find something for the small boy to sit on. As he prepared the chair for the young customer, he surreptitiously watched the Lancers’ interaction with the boy. Johnny still had the child on his left hip, holding him securely and talking to him quietly. ‘That young man has a special way with children,’ he thought to himself.

“Well, now, young man. Are you ready?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“How do you want it cut? Perhaps Miss Teresa has some suggestions?”

“Well, how about like Johnny and Scott’s, but a little shorter in the back and covering the top halves of his ears. What do you think, Truman?”

“That’s good, I guess. I just wanna get this hair outta my eyes.”

“Okay, Johnny, put the boy in the chair, please. I’ll wash his hair and comb it out, then we can decide how short to go, okay?”

“Sounds good, Zeke,” Johnny replied as he settled Truman in the chair. He squeezed the boy’s knee for encouragement and received a small smile in return.

Zeke put the apron on the boy and lowered the back of the chair so he could wash his hair. Truman gripped the arms of the chair so tightly his knuckles were white. The boy was visibly tense. Johnny pulled a chair up to sit next to Truman, straddled it and rested his chin on the back of the chair. He reached out to the child’s knee and squeezed it in reassurance, leaving it there to maintain contact and he felt the boy relax.

“Johnny and Scott, I think Jelly and I will go over to the mercantile and start looking for some clothes for Truman. Is that okay with you, Jelly?”

Teresa was obviously bored in the barbershop.

“That’s fine, Miss T’resa,” replied Jelly.

“Okay, Teresa. We’ll meet you there when we finish,” Scott agreed.

Zeke had washed and towel dried the boy’s hair and combed it out, parting it on the left, the same side Johnny parted his. The boy’s hair, especially his bangs, definitely needed cutting.

“Miss Teresa, before you leave, could you please show me how short our friend’s hair should be?”

“Oh, sure, Zeke.”

Teresa walked to the back of the chair with Scott right behind her.

“What about here, Scott, just to the bottom of his collar?”

Currently, the boy’s hair extended about two inches beyond the place Teresa had indicated. Johnny stood up to see what she had in mind and nodded his approval when Teresa showed him what she had in mind.

“That’s a good length,” Scott agreed.

“I don’t think his bangs should extend past his eyebrows,” Teresa suggested.

“Okay, and the top halves of his ears are to remain covered, right?”

“Right. Thank you, Zeke. Let’s go, Jelly!” Teresa and Jelly left quickly.

Johnny had resumed his seat and Scott was leaning against the wall with his arms crossed in a relaxed manner.

“How ya doin’, kid?”

“Okay, Johnny.”


Murdoch walked in as Zeke was putting the finishing touches on Truman’s haircut. He stopped short when he saw the good looking boy in the barber chair.

“Who is that?” Murdoch asked. “Johnny? What did you do with Truman?”

Johnny smiled at Murdoch’s joke.

“What do you mean? I brought him in here and put him in the chair. He disappeared!”

“Papa! It’s me, Truman!”

“Really? Let me see…dark hair, blue eyes, you’re about the size of Truman.”

Murdoch looked the boy over carefully. Johnny and Scott shared smiles when Murdoch lifted the apron draped over the boy’s body. Zeke was enjoying the merriment, too.

“Those look like the clothes my boy was wearing when he came in here. These toes look very familiar. Yep! You MUST be Truman…I’d recognize those little toes anywhere!”

“Papa! You know it’s me!” Truman was giggling.

“Yes! Of course! You look good, boy!”

Murdoch tapped the child’s nose with his index finger and smiled.

“Here ya go, Zeke. Thanks for doing a great job on Truman,” Johnny said as he paid Zeke fifteen cents. He lifted the boy off the chair as soon as Zeke had removed the apron.

“Thank you, Johnny. It’s always a pleasure to serve the Lancers!”

“Thank you, Zeke. The boy looks good,” Murdoch said.

“He looked good when he came in. I just made his face easier to see.”

“Let’s go find some shoes for this boy,” Johnny suggested.

“Bye, Zeke. Thank you for cutting my hair,” Truman said sweetly.

“Good-bye, Truman. It was wonderful to meet you and I hope you come back to see me.”

“I will, Zeke.”

The Lancers left and headed to the mercantile. On the way there, they passed a box of  fluffy, shepherd-like puppies with their Mom. Truman wiggled and squirmed when he saw the puppies. He wanted to get down and see them.

“What are you doing, Truman?” Johnny was struggling to hold the boy.


Murdoch and Scott turned to see what was going on.

“You want to see them?”


Johnny looked at Murdoch and shrugged. Murdoch nodded, indicating that it was ok for Johnny to put the boy down so he could see the puppies. Dale Petersen was sitting in a chair next to the box. There was a sign posted on the wall above the box stating that the shepherd puppies were 6 weeks old and were being sold for $5 a pup. Each pup had a different color ribbon around its neck.  There were 3 black and white puppies and 2 brown and white puppies.  Truman sat on the boardwalk. He was in awe.

“May I hold one, please? I’ll be very careful. I love animals.”

“Is this your boy, Murdoch? I thought you just had these older two,” Mr. Petersen addressed Murdoch. “Hello, Scott and Johnny.”

“Hello, Mr. Petersen,” Johnny and Scott answered, almost as one.

“We’re taking steps to adopt him. His name is Truman and he’ll be 7 in September,” Murdoch replied.

“Truman, you may hold one, if you like. Here, let me show you how,” Dale said as he lifted a black and white pup wearing a navy blue ribbon.

He demonstrated how to hold the pup and support its wiggling body, then handed the animal to Truman to hold. Truman was very gentle and held the puppy just as Dale had shown him. The boy crooned softly to the puppy, calming it immediately. The bundle of fur stopped wiggling and relaxed in Truman’s arms, allowing its stomach to be stroked gently.

“Well, I’ll be,” Dale said in awe.

“What’s wrong, Dale?”  Murdoch was concerned Truman had accidentally hurt the puppy.

“That particular little critter never stays still. Even in sleep, he’s in constant motion. This boy has a way with animals, Murdoch. It’s a gift.”

Johnny was crouched down next to the boy, rubbing the pup’s tummy, and head. He looked at Truman’s face and saw pure contentment and joy. He wanted Murdoch to see it, too. He caught his Pa’s eye and nodded to Truman. Murdoch crouched down and looked into the boy’s face. Scott followed suit and smiled. Murdoch looked first at Johnny, then at Scott and raised his eyebrows. They knew what he was asking. ‘Should we buy the pup for the boy?’  Scott and Johnny locked eyes with each other, looked back at Truman’s expression of happiness, then faced each other again and nodded.

“Dale? Could Truman sit here for a few minutes with the puppies?  Johnny, Scott, and I are going to check on the team and the wagon.”

“Sure! He’s just fine.”

Murdoch put a hand on the boy’s shoulder to get his attention.

“Truman, we’ll be right back. Teresa and Jelly are right inside the store here. Are you going to be okay for a few minutes with Mr. Petersen?”

The boy looked up at Mr. Petersen with a little apprehension, but relaxed when the man gave him a kind smile and started telling him about the pups and their Mom.

The boy nodded to his Papa, smiling confidently.

Murdoch was so proud of the boy right then and squeezed his shoulder gently.

Murdoch, Scott, and Johnny walked to the livery stable. They didn’t speak till they were out of earshot, but kept the boy in sight.

“What do you think, boys? I have never seen him this happy.”

“I think it would be good for him. He loves animals and Dale said he was able to calm that pup when no one else could,” Johnny stated.

Murdoch and Scott nodded.

“I think it may help him grow stronger and come out of his shell a bit. I learned in my Psychology class at school that having a special animal, a special friend, to love and nurture, is very good for children, especially those who have been traumatized. He’ll also learn responsibility. It seems he’s already formed a bond with the puppy. Kinda reminds me of my other little brother and a certain horse he loves,” said Scott, ruffling Johnny’s hair. Johnny smiled a genuine smile and patted his brother’s stomach.

“I agree with you both. I need to ask you if you’ll help him take care of it. It will be his responsibility, mainly, but he may need support and encouragement, if you catch my meaning. The three of us could act as back-up. What do you say?”

“Yes.” Johnny voted.

“Yes.” Scott agreed.

“Yes.” Murdoch sealed the deal. “Thank you, boys. You have been a great help to that boy. I think he’ll turn out just fine with us.”

“You’re welcome, Pa.” replied Johnny. Scott nodded.

The Lancer men walked back to where Truman was sitting with the same puppy cradled in his arms.


“Yes, Papa?”

“Do you like that puppy?”

“Yes, Papa. All the boy puppies have a ribbon in a shade of blue and all the girl puppies have red and pink ribbons. Mr. Petersen told me that. He told me this is Annabelle’s, she’s the mama, first litter.”

“Really? That’s very interesting. Have you ever had a pet before?”

“Well, I helped feed and care for the circus horses. I would brush them and give them water, walk them in the corral so they wouldn’t get fat on the apples that I would sneak to them.”

“In some ways, caring for a puppy is a lot like caring for a horse. You have to feed it, clean up after it, train it, love it. Do you think you could do that?”

The boy suddenly realized where Murdoch was going with this line of questioning. His eyes grew big and his smile grew even bigger. Johnny and Scott were smiling, too.

Truman looked at Murdoch warily.

“Are you saying I can have this puppy?” The boy’s voice rose in pitch as he asked the question, his excitement no longer concealed.

“That’s what I’m saying. Do you want him? Will you take care of him?”

“YES! Of course I’ll take care of him!”

“Well, he’s yours, then.”

Truman put the puppy gently into the box and flung himself into Murdoch’s arms, nearly knocking the man over.


Johnny laughed as Scott supported his father, preventing the man from being knocked over.

“You’re very welcome, Truman.”

Dale was grinning ear to ear, too.

“Boys, take Truman inside the store and help him pick out some puppy care supplies. I’m going to talk to Dale a few minutes.”

“Sure, Pa. Let’s go, kiddo. What are you going to name him?”

“Not sure. I need to think about it.”

Scott followed close behind. When they entered the store, Teresa started fussing immediately. She had a stack of clothes picked out.

“What kept you guys so long?”

“We got sidetracked,” Scott said simply.

“Sidetracked by what? A bank robbery?”

“No, puppies,” answered the ecstatic boy.


“Yup, fluffy puppies. An’ one is coming home with us,” True said with a big grin.



“Oh, boy!”

“Where are the puppy things?”

“Over here, True,” Johnny called.

Truman went over to where Johnny was standing and looked at the collars and leads and beds and dishes.


Johnny had a small selection of collars in his hand and showed them to Truman. The boy picked out a brown one of medium width. It had a western rose design tooled in it and a shiny silver buckle. He also chose 2 blue crock bowls for food and water and an Indian blanket bed with blues and grays woven into it. Scott came over and watched with quiet amusement as Johnny and the child chose a brush for the puppy. Johnny showed Truman all kinds of brushes and explained the merits and drawbacks of each type. They settled on a small oval brush that would pick up loose hairs and massage the animal at the same time.

“What else does the puppy need?” Scott asked.

“A leash?”

“Here’s one to match the collar,” Johnny pointed out the design on a nice leather lead.  Truman nodded his approval. Then, a bewildered expression crossed his face.

Johnny and Scott noticed.  “What’s wrong, Truman?” Scott asked.

“What do puppies eat?”

“Mostly what humans eat, but chopped very small,” answered Johnny

“Oh. Okay.”

“We’ll worry about that later, Truman. I think Teresa is going to have a fit if we don’t take a look at the clothes she has for you,” Scott said as he steered the boy to the counter.

Teresa pulled a pair of socks and a pair of shoes off the counter and told Truman to put them on. The boy pulled the socks on and Scott helped him put the shoes on. He tested the toes and they seemed to fit properly.

“How do the shoes feel, kiddo?” Scott asked.

“Fine. Stiff,” answered the boy.

“They will loosen up with wear. Take them off and try on some boots,” Scott directed.

“Okay.” True took the shoes off and handed them to Scott, who placed them on the counter. Johnny found a nice dark brown hat with a storm strap. He brought it over and plunked it on the child’s head. When True looked up, he was almost the spitting image of Johnny. He smiled at his big brother, took the hat off, and examined it. It had a slightly upturned brim, on the sides, and a braided hat band.

“I like it! Thanks!”

“You’re welcome. You look good in it,” Johnny said as he tousled the boy’s hair.

“Here, True, try these boots on,” Scott said as he handed a pair to the boy. True stood up and leaned on Johnny as he put the boots on. Johnny checked the fit this time.

“How do these feel?” Johnny asked.

”Better than the shoes.”

Truman picked up the hat, put it on his head, and wandered around the store.

“We’re never going to finish buying clothes if he goes wandering off,” Teresa complained.

“Relax, Teresa. We’re in no hurry. Let the boy wander,” Johnny replied.

“Where’s Murdoch?” she asked.

“I’m right here,” he said as he walked in the door and made his way to the counter. He examined the items for the puppy Truman had chosen and seemed pleased with the choices the boy had made. “Where’s that boy?”

“Over here, Papa.” Murdoch walked over to the boy, who was looking at a drum and some other toys. He had picked up the sticks and played a clumsy drum roll, but Murdoch was impressed.

“Do you like music, Truman?”

“Yes, Papa. I love to sing.”

“Really? I didn’t know that.” Murdoch turned to the others and raised his eyebrows in amazement. They were equally surprised.

“I guess you could call it a detail, Papa.”

Murdoch and the others chuckled.

“Papa? Where’s my puppy?”

“The puppy is not yet ready to leave his momma, but he is yours, and I have a bill of sale here for one male black and white fluffy puppy with a Navy blue ribbon. Dale said they were shepherd pups. Your puppy will be good to have on the ranch if you train it to round up animals.”

“I can start by teaching him to round up Dewdrop…and maybe two big brothers, too! When will he be ready? When was he born?”

Murdoch and the others, except Jelly, laughed. Jelly muttered, “No dog is gonna round up Dew Drop!”

“Be a good sport, Jelly!” Scott admonished him.

“He’ll be ready in about 2 or three weeks. Mr. Petersen said the pups were born March 16th,” Murdoch replied.

“Wow! He was born between the Ides of March and St. Patrick’s Day.”

“How do you know about the Ides of March?” Murdoch asked, impressed.

“My Dad told me about it. He said it was the day Julius Caesar was killed by his senators.”

“That’s exactly right.”

A tall boy with bushy brown hair and freckles came down the stairs and stared at Truman.

“Who are you?” the boy asked him.

“Truman Lancer. What’s your name?”

“Willie Davis.”

“Hi, Willie Davis,” Truman greeted, with his hand extended for a shake. Willie ignored the hand.

“Nobody is supposed to play with the drum. You have to put the sticks down.”

Johnny immediately disliked this boy and bristled at the tone he used towards Truman.

“He’s not hurting anything,” Johnny defended his brother.

“I wasn’t talking to you,” Willie said with contempt, looking at Johnny as if he were an irksome pest and had no right to be in the mercantile. Willie’s pa, the storeowner, came up behind his son, grabbed his shoulder, and swatted him a few times on the seat of his pants with a strap.

“Ow!” The boy exclaimed as he rubbed his backside.

“Apologize to the Lancers and go to your room.”

“I’m sorry.” The boy muttered, but they knew he didn’t mean it. Willie left quickly, still rubbing his backside.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Lancer. I don’t know what I’m going to do with him. He’s gotten into a bad group of boys, lately.”

“Well, I’d say you handled that scene well.”

The man nodded and went back to work, obviously embarrassed about his son’s disrespect toward his customers.

Truman looked at Murdoch and shrugged, put the sticks back on the drum and moved along, still wearing the hat and boots. Murdoch and the others stood back and watched as the boy amused himself by examining different toys and items. He seemed interested in the marbles, the blocks, the Noah’s Ark set, and the tin soldiers. He kept looking back at the drum longingly, and Murdoch decided it would make a great birthday present for a 7 year old.

“Truman, it’s getting close to lunch. Come see the clothes Teresa and Jelly found for you,” Murdoch instructed the boy.

“Yes, Papa.”  He came and looked at the clothes Teresa had laid out for him. He liked all of them. There were jeans and overalls in blacks, browns and khaki, a red calico shirt, a blue checked shirt, a green yoked shirt, a white shirt, a black tie, and a dark suit. Scott found some small leather gloves and Johnny found a blue calico shirt. Murdoch picked up some nightshirts that wouldn’t swallow the boy, along with a robe and slippers, drawers, and long underwear. He also found some blue campfire cups with a handle and picked up four of them. Truman wouldn’t have to worry about dropping his milk glass for a while. Jelly picked out a practical spring coat, stone colored with corduroy cuffs and collar and lots of pockets. Scott picked up some more socks-dress socks and boot socks-and a few bandanas of different colors. Johnny found a brown belt with a silver buckle and wrapped it around the boy’s waist to see if it would fit. It did, so he added the belt to the pile.

“I like all of it. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, son. Let me write down what you’re wearing right now, I mean the hat, the boots, and the socks.  Johnny and Scott can take you to the café while I pay for this. Jelly, Teresa, and I will put the packages in the wagon, then join you.”


Murdoch wrote down the boots, socks, and hat, and nodded to Johnny and Scott that they could take the boy to lunch.

“Table for 6, boys,” he reminded them.

“Right, Murdoch,” Scott answered.

When the boys had gone, Murdoch walked around himself and picked up a few things for the child, other than clothes. He added a sack of marbles, a big bag of blocks, a small set of soldiers, a harmonica, some pencils, a writing tablet, a sketchbook, and a set of children’s gardening tools. He would get the drum and Noah’s Ark set for the boy’s birthday.

“All set, Mr. Lancer?” Mr. Davis asked.

"Yup, all set.”

After the items had peen paid for and wrapped, Murdoch, Teresa, and Jelly put the packages in the wagon, covered them with the tarp, and joined the boys in the café.


Chapter 17

Lunch was a relaxed affair. Truman sat between Murdoch and Johnny. Scott was on Johnny’s right and Teresa was next to him. Jelly was to Murdoch’s left.  The waitress came and asked for their drink orders. Scott, Murdoch, and Jelly had coffee, Teresa had lemonade and Johnny and the boy had milk.  After the waitress left to fix their drinks, Truman leaned over and tapped Johnny’s elbow lightly.


“Yes, Truman?”

“Do you think the café has something I can sit on? I can’t reach the table.” Truman demonstrated what he meant by leaning forward and resting his chin on the table. Johnny chuckled and tousled the boy’s hair.

“I’ll ask for ya.”

“Thanks, Johnny.”

“You’re welcome, little brother,” Johnny replied as he gently tweaked the boy’s cheek.

When the drinks arrived, Johnny motioned to the waitress. He whispered into her ear, gesturing towards Truman. The waitress left after nodding her understanding and smiling at Johnny and the boy. She returned with a padded box.

“Will this do, Johnny?”

“Let’s see,” he said as he lifted the boy onto his lap.

The box was placed in the chair and Johnny helped Truman as he climbed back into the chair. Johnny stood to push the chair closer to the table. Truman smiled at the improvement.

“Thank you, Johnny and ma’am.”

“You’re welcome, angel…Is he a friend or relative, Johnny?” the waitress, Claire, asked.

“He’s going to be our little brother, Claire. His name is Truman and he’s almost 7 years old,” Johnny answered with pride.

“Well, welcome to Green River, Truman. It’s nice to meet you, darlin’.”

“Thank you, ma’am. It’s nice to meet you, too.” Truman offered his hand and Claire shook it.

“What wonderful manners you have, Truman.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

Claire patted the boy on his shoulder and asked to take their lunch orders. She started by listing the specials.

“We have fresh trout, Salisbury steak, and chicken pot pie.”

Murdoch  and Jelly ordered the steak, Scott and Johnny wanted the trout, and Teresa asked for the chicken pot pie. Truman  wasn’t sure-they all sounded good to him. He looked at Murdoch with apprehension. Murdoch spoke up for the boy.

“Claire, could you just bring an extra plate and he can try a little bit of each off our plates? Is that all right with you all?”

The others seated around the table nodded their assent.

“That’s fine, Murdoch. Children under ten eat free with a paying adult, anyway. It’ll be ready soon and I’ll bring a basket of bread.”

“Thank you, Claire!”

“Sure thing!” She left the Lancers chatting quietly amongst themselves.

Their lunches arrived quickly, along with the promised bread basket and an empty plate for Truman.  Murdoch thanked Claire as he began putting some of his steak and mashed potatoes on the boy’s plate. He passed the plate to Teresa, who added some of her chicken pot pie. The plate was passed to Scott and Johnny, who each put some trout on the plate. Johnny placed a piece of bread on the plate before he set it in front of Truman.

“Thank you,” the boy said as he picked up his fork and started eating. He was still a little shaky. Johnny noticed this and did his best to keep an eye on the boy and intervene quietly if necessary.

Johnny ruffled the boy’s hair and started eating, too.  Thirty minutes later, all the plates were clean and Truman was sound asleep in Johnny’s arms. He had enjoyed his morning and lunch in town, but the child was now completely exhausted. Murdoch asked for the bill, paid it, and stood. He looked over at Johnny, holding the boy so tenderly and lovingly, and was assured once again that he was doing the right thing by seeking custody of the child.

“Er, Pa? I can’t seem to stand up,” Johnny said to Murdoch with a grin.

“Here, let me take the boy,” Murdoch replied as he reached for Truman.

Once the boy was in Murdoch’s arms, the patriarch turned and headed for the door. Johnny was able to extricate himself from the chair. He finished both his and Truman’s milk before he left the table, wiped his mouth on his sleeve and grabbed his and Truman’s hats. He followed his family outside, towards the Livery stable. He helped Scott hitch the team to the buckboard as Murdoch settled the child onto the bed and covered him. The boys finished as Murdoch sat in the driver’s seat. Johnny climbed into the back to sit with Truman. Scott helped Teresa up to sit next to Murdoch, then joined Johnny and Jelly in the back and watched the boy sleep as they rode out of town.

“He sure is plumb tuckered out, eh?” Jelly observed, referring to Truman.

“Yep, he’s had a busy morning,” Johnny agreed as he tilted his head back against the hay bale, covered his eyes with his hat, and drifted off to sleep.

‘So have you, little brother,’ Scott thought to himself as he watched Johnny.

Scott and Jelly exchanged warm smiles.

Teresa turned around to see why it was so quiet in the back of the buckboard. Johnny and Truman were sleeping while Scott and Jelly conversed quietly about chores to be completed that afternoon and plans the ranch hands were making for Saturday night.

“What’s going on back there, Teresa?” Murdoch asked when the young lady turned to face forward again.

“Not much, Murdoch. Two boys are asleep and Scott and Jelly are talking quietly.”

“Johnny is sleeping?”

“He appears to be.”

Murdoch chuckled and whistled softly to the team.

About forty minutes later, the patriarch passed through the arch and drove the buckboard right to the front door. Cipriano and two ranch hands hurried over to take care of the team. Murdoch hopped down, helped Teresa down, and walked to the side of the wagon. Scott stood, lifted Truman and passed him down to Murdoch’s waiting arms.

Scott gently jostled Johnny’s foot, but Johnny did not wake. Scott looked at Jelly with a small smile.

“I need your help, Jelly. Let’s move Johnny to the very back so I can pick him up easily.”

“You’re going to carry him? Just wake him up and make him walk! He ain’t a baby!”

“Believe me, Jelly, it will be much better for all concerned if we just let him sleep. Waking him up is NOT a good idea, unless you want to be looking down the barrel of a Colt pistol.”

The two of them were able to move Johnny to the back of the wagon. Once he was situated, Scott took off Johnny’s hat and gun belt and handed them to Jelly. Then, Scott put his right arm behind Johnny’s back and his left under his brother’s knees and lifted him. Scott shifted Johnny’s body so his head would lean on Scott’s shoulder.

Scott walked into the house and up the stairs. Murdoch  had sent Teresa ahead to turn down the covers  on Johnny’s bed, and she stood aside as Murdoch and Scott brought ‘the boys’ in and placed them on the bed. Scott took Johnny’s boots off and set them at the foot of the bed. Murdoch did likewise with Truman’s boots. The two elder Lancers pulled the covers up over the boys and left quietly, closing the door softly after ushering Teresa out of the room.

Jelly had hung Johnny’s hat and gun belt on the rack in the foyer. Then, he went back to the wagon to bring in the rest of the packages and laid them on the dining room table.

Murdoch and Scott walked into the great room quietly and found the packages had all been brought in. Murdoch looked out the French doors to be sure the team and buckboard had been taken care of by the hands.

“What a busy morning,” Scott stated.

“Yes, we accomplished quite a bit, didn’t we?”

“Yes…is Truman going to stay in Johnny’s room indefinitely, or will he be moved to a room of his own?” Scott wondered.

“He’ll stay in Johnny’s room until he is ready for his own room. I don’t want him alone at night for awhile. If Johnny gets sick or injured, will you keep Truman in your room?”

“Of course. Whatever needs to be done to help him, I will do.”

“Thank you, Scott.”

“You’re welcome, Murdoch. Where is True going to keep his things, though?”

“Well, that little bedroom that connects to Johnny’s can be cleaned out. We can put True’s clothes in the dresser and wardrobe. We should probably build some shelves and find some baskets  to put his books and toys in. Oh! I forgot to get him a hairbrush!”

“I think Jelly is going to town Saturday night. I could ask him to go a little early and stop by the store to purchase on,” Scott suggested.

“Good idea…what are your plans for Saturday night?”

“A nice, quiet evening at home with my family.”

Murdoch smiled.

“That will be nice. Well, I better get the boy’s things unpacked and sorted.”

“Want some help?” Scott offered.

“Sure. Let’s unwrap everything and see what we ended up with.”


They unwrapped all of the packages and arranged the items carefully. The pants and overalls were folded and stacked together and the shirts were folded and stacked next to the pants. Undergarments and socks were put into a pile next to the three nightshirts. Bandanas and work gloves were put next to the undergarments. The suit and white shirt were put on a hanger. Murdoch placed the blue campfire cups on the table, separate from the clothes. The little barn coat was hung on a low peg on the rack in the foyer.

“I wonder if we have any baskets laying around that aren’t being used? We could put the puppy’s things in one basket and store it in the shed until the puppy arrives. I want to place the toys in another basket and keep them in here in a corner,” Murdoch said.

“Wouldn’t it be better for True to keep his toys upstairs?” Scott asked.

“He doesn’t have his own room quite yet. It needs to be aired out before he can spend any time in there. I don’t think Johnny wants to step on marbles, soldiers, or blocks.”

“Well, neither do I.”

“We’ll set some rules for Truman regarding the toys.”

“When I was young, Grandfather said I had to put away one toy before I could play with another, but he allowed me to play with two toys at the same time if it made sense,” Scott volunteered.

“What do you mean?”

“Like having the blocks and soldiers out at the same time made sense because I could build forts for the soldiers.”

“I see. Good idea. He’ll play with one toy, or no more than two toys, at a time. He’ll clean up the toys when he’s finished.”

“That’s a good start on the rules,” Scott commented.

“When the  boys are awake, we can take these clothes up and start cleaning and airing out that room.”

“Okay,” Scott said as he snickered.

“What’s so funny?”

“I just think it’s kind of funny how we have started referring to  Johnny and Truman as ‘the boys.’ I don’t think Johnny would appreciate that very much. You know how he hates it when anybody calls him ‘boy.’”

Murdoch chuckled, “yeah, I wouldn’t want to be caught doing that!”


Chapter 18

Johnny and Truman had been sleeping peacefully for a couple of hours, but the peace was broken when the little boy became agitated. He was moaning and shaking his head from side to side, in great distress.

“Nooo, please don’t hit me…I..I was hungry,” he wailed.

Johnny woke, befuddled, and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. He looked over at the boy and discovered that the child was having a nightmare.

“NOO! OW! Please! I just need ta eat!”

Truman was thrashing a bit, but it was not intense, yet. Johnny was upset, but not surprised, that the boy had had to fight for food. He realized he had to stop the thrashing before the boy hurt himself or before he received another black eye.

“Truman! Wake up, boy! Come on, little brother!” 

Johnny caught the child’s fists and held them firmly but gently, not wanting to hurt the boy.

Scott and Murdoch were bringing the boy’s new clothes upstairs and heard Johnny trying to calm the child. They hurried into Johnny’s room and placed the clothes on the dresser and table. They turned to see how they could help calm the child.

Truman continued to wail, toss his head from side to side, and kick, trying to break free of the restraining hands and avoid imagined blows to his face.

“Grab his feet,” Johnny requested.

Murdoch looked at Scott who raised his hands in surrender. Murdoch rolled his eyes and moved to grab the little boy’s kicking feet. He caught them quite easily and quickly and looked at Scott as if to say, “That was hard.”

Scott just shrugged and said, “Beginner’s luck.”

“I’m not a beginner! I used to have to catch Johnny’s feet when he had temper tantrums as a little guy.”

Scott smirked and Johnny glared at him, exasperated.

“NOOO! Please don’t hurt me. I…I…I’m hungry!” Truman cried out again.  Murdoch and Scott were shocked. The child was soaked in perspiration, his shirt was drenched and his hair was damp.

“Looks like it’s bath time again,” Scott quipped.

“With Lavender,” reminded Johnny.

“I’ll get it started,” Scott volunteered. He grabbed the boy’s clean drawers and his new robe and slippers, and headed toward the bath house.

“Truman? Wake up. It’s Johnny. Come on, wake up,” Johnny pleaded with the child.

The boy moaned. Johnny put the child’s two small hands into his big left hand, then caressed the boy’s cheek gently with his right hand. The child flinched at the first contact, but as Johnny continued to caress his cheeks, Truman calmed down. The boy’s eyelids fluttered and he opened his eyes to see Johnny straddling his body and looking at him with concern and brotherly love.


Murdoch let go of the boy’s feet and sat on the bed next to his legs.

“Yes, True?” Johnny shifted his body so he was no longer straddling the boy, but sitting on the bed next to him.

“What happn’d?”

“You had a nightmare, lil brother.”

Johnny continued to caress the boy’s cheeks to keep him calm. Truman looked out the window and his brows furrowed in confusion.

“But it’s daytime. How can I have a nightmare?”

“Well, nightmares and bad dreams can happen any time you’re asleep. Nightmares are worse than just bad dreams, usually,” explained Johnny.

“Oh…what time is it?”

“About 3:30,” Murdoch answered.

“Oh…I’m all wet.”

“Yeah, you fought pretty hard.”

“Did I hit you again?”

“No,” Johnny replied with a small smile.


“You feel like getting up?”

“Yes. I need to change my clothes b’fore supper.”

“You need a bath before supper,” Murdoch corrected.

The child sighed. “Okay.”

“Come on, little brother. Scott’s preparing your bath.”

Johnny pulled the boy into a sitting position and rubbed his back for a minute while the child caught his breath. Murdoch stood and moved to pick up the child, but True shook his head ‘no.’

“I’m okay, Papa. I’d like to walk.”

“Okay, son,” Murdoch agreed and offered his hand instead. Truman smiled and took the proffered hand. When he scooted off the bed, however, his knees buckled. Johnny caught him from behind and supported him as they walked slowly to the door. After a few moments, Truman walked more steadily and confidently.

“Is Val still coming for supper?” Truman wondered.

“Val’s coming for supper?” Murdoch asked. “Who invited him?”

“Teresa,” answered the boy.


“He wanted to talk to Johnny, but Teresa said he would be too busy in town to stop and talk, so Teresa said he could come have supper,” the boy explained.

“Oh. Where did you see Val?”

“In the barbershop, getting a trim,” answered Johnny.

They arrived at the bath house and found Scott adding the last bucket of water to the tub.

“Come on, little buddy, let’s get ya cleaned up. Let me help you undress,” Scott spoke to the child.

Truman bowed his head and leaned into Johnny’s side, hiding his face. Johnny crouched down to be eye level with the boy.

“What is it, True?”

The boy wouldn’t speak. He couldn’t tell them he didn’t want everyone in there while he bathed because he didn’t want to hurt their feelings after all they had done for him. He turned and buried his face into Johnny’s shoulder, hugging Johnny around his neck. Johnny held the boy close, patting the child’s back in reassurance.

“What is it, True? I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s wrong,” Johnny whispered into the boy’s ear.

“I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings,” the boy answered with a quiver.

“Can you tell me an’ I’ll tell them?”

True nodded. “I don’t want everyone watching me take a bath.”

“I see, okay. Who do you want to stay with you?”

“Just you.”


Johnny stood up and motioned to Scott and Murdoch to join him outside the bath house door.

When the men were assembled, Johnny bowed his head, smiled, and chuckled.

“What is it, Johnny?” Murdoch wanted to know.

“Is he okay?” Scott asked.

“Truman is being modest again. He doesn’t want all of us in there when he bathes.”

“Oh…Who does he want? I don’t want him in there by himself,” Murdoch said.

“I know, I know. He asked for me.”

“Why didn’t he tell us himself?” Scott wondered.

“He didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.”

“I see. Well, ya better get in there.  I think I heard a splash,” replied Murdoch with a little chuckle.

“I need to clear a riverbed in the south mesa. I’ll take Frank and Charlie with me,” informed Scott.

“Okay, Scott,” Murdoch agreed.

The men went their separate ways. When Johnny stepped back into the bath house, he saw that Truman had already undressed and was sitting in the tub.

“Well, look at you, big boy!”

Johnny smiled as he pulled a chair up next to the tub and sat to supervise the boy’s bath.

Johnny handed a wash cloth to Truman and showed him how to use it. He allowed the boy to do as much for himself as he could. Johnny helped the boy wash his hair, then towel dried it for him.

When the bath was finished, Johnny helped the little boy out of the tub and dried him. Then, Truman dressed himself with a little assistance. Once his robe was secured, the boy climbed into Johnny’s lap and snuggled. Johnny looked down and smiled at the dark, wet head tucked under his chin. He knew this boy had only been with the Lancers for a few days, but he loved the child so much.

Johnny ran his fingers through the boy’s damp hair.

“Truman? Can you tell me about your nightmare?”

The boy tensed, then sighed.

“I was hungry an’ I didn’t have any money. I didn’t want to steal ‘cause I know it’s wrong. I would take food from the garbage barrels.  I was caught a few times. I would be hit, either on the face, or in my tummy, or pulled away for a whipping. The last time I was caught taking from a garbage barrel was the worst.” The child trembled with fear.

“What happened?”

“I was sh…sh…shot.”

“Your shoulder?”

The boy nodded and trembled again.

“It’s okay, True. You’re healing and you’re safe now…you’ll never have to get a meal out of the garbage here…how did the rest of you get hurt?”

“When I ran after bein’ shot, I slipped on some rocks and fell down a hill. I hit my head on a rock and landed on a bigger rock. It hurt my ribs. My legs and feet got scratched when I walked through some bushes.”

Johnny nodded and held the boy tighter.

“Where were your shoes?”

“Kids beat me up an took them,” mumbled the boy.

Johnny sighed and nodded. He’d had to fight to keep the clothes on his back when he was a child.

“How do you feel now? Feel better after your bath?”

“Yeah, I feel a little better.”

“Good. Well, we need to get this bath house clean and I have chores to do before supper. Papa is in the great room working on the records.”

“Where’s Scott?”

“Clearing out a riverbed with Frank and Charlie…let’s clean up and I’ll take you up to get dressed. Then, you can sit with Papa.”

“Can’t I go outside with you?”

“What? Do chores, get all messy and have another bath?” Johnny asked with a smile.

“Oh. I don’t want two baths in one day,” Truman replied with a small smile.

Johnny chuckled. “I didn’t think so.”

The two of them cleaned the bath house together then went upstairs. Truman’s clothes were still on Johnny’s table and dresser where Murdoch and Scott left them when Truman had his nightmare during his nap. He flipped through the shirts and picked the blue calico shirt and pulled his black pants out of the other pile. He dressed himself, but fumbled with the belt. Johnny kneeled to assist, showing the boy how to thread the belt through the loops. As Truman buckled his belt, Johnny found some dark socks for him and set them on the table. He pulled the sheet and blanket up and straightened the bed. The child was sitting on the floor, struggling with his socks, when Johnny picked up a hairbrush and knelt to brush the child’s hair. He straightened the boy’s socks and helped with the shoes, tying them for Truman. Johnny lifted the child to his feet and looked him over. Truman looked up into Johnny’s eyes, gave his ‘big brother’ his best smile, and then hugged Johnny around his waist. Johnny returned the smile and the hug, then picked the boy up and hugged him close.

Johnny followed Truman downstairs and into the great room. Murdoch looked up and smiled when he heard the patter of little feet and  Johnny’s spurs jingling.

“Well, hello there! You look very nice, Truman!”

“Thank you, Papa.”

“How do you feel, now?”

“Better, thank you…what are you doing?”

“I was checking the books and writing in expenses.”

“Oh…is that hard?”

“No, not really. You’re going to learn how to do it when you’re a little older.”

“Pa, I’m going to go out and do the corral repairs. Truman is going to stay inside so he doesn’t have to have another bath.”

Murdoch chuckled. “Okay. Come sit in my lap, and we’ll look at the numbers.”

Johnny picked the boy up and gave him one last gentle squeeze before placing him in Murdoch’s lap. He tweaked the boy’s cheek and patted his Pa’s shoulder.

“You boys behave, now. Keep an eye on Papa, True.”

“I will, Johnny. See you later.”

“Okay.” Johnny went to the foyer and gathered his hat, gloves, and gun belt. He walked out the door with one final wave and smile for his Pa and Truman.


Chapter 19

Johnny walked around the corrals, checking the railings and noting which ones needed immediate replacement. He ambled over to the supply shed and pulled 5 rails, which he carried, one at a time, to the designated sections of the corrals. He returned to the shed for a saw then went about cutting the rotten rails that would be replaced today.

Once he finished with the saw, Johnny returned it to its place. He walked back to the corral and started yanking the rotten rails out of the posts, cutting the twine with his knife. He fitted the new rails into the posts and secured them with fresh twine. Just as he was struggling to pull the last old railing free, the stubborn wood finally let go. Johnny reared back with the force, and his right foot landed in a rabbit hole he had failed to notice before. The momentum twisted Johnny’s body awkwardly, causing him to hit his head on a bottom rail and land hard on his left shoulder. His right ankle and right knee were both twisted unnaturally under his body.

Scott had seen his brother struggling with the rail and watched in alarm as Johnny went down. He, Frank, and Charlie were returning from clearing the riverbed and they were just inside the arch when the accident took place. When Johnny didn’t get up, Scott knew he was hurt.

“Charlie, go get Sam, please. Frank, let’s go help Johnny.”

“Right, Scott,” Charlie said as he turned his horse and took off towards town.

Scott and Frank galloped to the corral and dismounted before their horses had come to a complete stop. Scott dashed to Johnny’s side to see how badly his brother was hurt.

“Let go of the railing, Johnny,” Scott coaxed. Scott pulled the rotten railing away from Johnny. He had had a death grip on it, but he let go when Scott told him to.

“Johnny?” Scott placed his hand on Johnny’s left shoulder. Johnny hissed in pain, squinted his eyes and breathed in quick, shallow breaths. Scott quickly removed his hand.

“Frank, go get Murdoch, please.”

“Sure, Scott. I’ll be right back.”

“Relax, Johnny. Just relax.”

“E..E..Easy for y..you t..ta  say, B…Boston.”

Cipriano came running up. “Senor Scott, what happened to Juanito?”

“Looks like he stepped in a hole and took a spill, Cip…Johnny? Can you sit up?”

Johnny shook his head ‘no’, then instantly regretted it, as a dizzy spell consumed him.

“Cip, can you help me get Johnny into a more comfortable position?”

“Si, Senor Scott.”

The two of them gently maneuvered Johnny into a sitting, then reclining, position with Johnny’s head and shoulders resting in Scott’s lap. Johnny had hissed and moaned through the process. Scott smoothed his brother’s sweat soaked hair away from his eyes and off his forehead, examining the gash on his left temple, at the outside edge of his eyebrow.

Murdoch and Truman were sitting on the couch, going through the basket of toys and talking about where to keep the toys and rules about not leaving anything out when he was finished. Truman had been surprised and overcome with emotion when presented with the basket. He had hugged his Papa fiercely and promised to abide by the rules.

Frank came rushing in and surprised Murdoch and Truman.

“Mr. Lancer, Johnny’s hurt!”

“What happened?” Murdoch asked in alarm as he strode to the door. He paused halfway, and turned to the little boy with a worried expression.

“Truman, please go tell Teresa that Johnny is hurt and we’ll need her help when we bring him in.”

“Yes, Papa.”  Truman dashed to the kitchen to complete his mission.

Murdoch continued on his way outside as soon as Truman went to the kitchen.

Murdoch did not want to take Truman outside with him, but he knew he couldn’t leave the child alone, so he thought his ploy of making the boy feel useful was pretty clever.

The boy found Teresa in the pantry. “T’resa! Johnny’s hurt. Papa said he needs your help when they bring him in.”

“Where is Papa?”

“He went out with a man.”

“Okay. Let’s get some water, cloths, and bandages ready.”

Murdoch followed Frank to the far corral where Johnny lay with his eyes closed and panting.

“Johnny, son, it’s Pa. Can you hear me?”

Johnny licked his lips. “Pa,” he rasped.

“Frank, find some water for him, please,” Murdoch requested.

Frank nodded and did his bidding.

“I’m here, son. Has Sam been sent for?”

“Yes,” Scott replied.

“What happened, son?”

“St-stepped in hole, g-got tw-twisted, f-fell.”

Frank returned with a canteen of fresh, cool water.

“Have some water, Johnny.”

Murdoch held Johnny’s head up and offered him some water. Scott looked up when he heard Sam’s buggy.

“Here comes Sam, Murdoch,” Scott alerted his father.

Murdoch looked up, relieved. “That was quick! He must have been in the area already!”

“Does your leg feel broken? Does anything feel dislocated, Johnny?”

“No, j-just t-twisted.” Johnny’s breath still came quick and shallow, but the water had helped soothe his parched throat.

“Johnny, let Scott and me help you up. It’s hot out here.”

Johnny nodded, then winced again. ‘Gotta stop doin’ that,’ he thought to himself.

“What happened, Murdoch?” Sam wanted to know as soon as he walked up to them.

“Johnny was replacing the rotten rails. He said he stepped into a hole and twisted his knee and ankle. He hit his head when he landed.”

“His shoulder is hurt, too,” Scott said.

“Okay. I’ll put the sling on now so we can move him to the house without too much pain. We have to get him out of this sun.”

Sam pulled a sling out of his bag and gently put it on Johnny with Scott’s help.

Murdoch, Sam, and Frank lifted Johnny to his feet and supported him. Scott stood up and grasped Frank’s arms to make a human seat for Johnny. Cipriano and Murdoch gently lifted Johnny out of the hole and placed him in Scott and Frank’s arms. Johnny hissed, gasped, and moaned through the procedure but did not vocally complain.

“Hang in there, little brother,” Scott encouraged Johnny.

“Tryin’, Scott,” Johnny whispered.

“I know, I know.”

Frank and Scott carried Johnny into the house and settled him onto the couch gently. Scott thanked Frank, and the man returned to his duties.

Scott pulled the ottoman over and sat next to Johnny’s head. He smoothed Johnny’s hair out of his eyes, even though they were closed. Johnny’s face was etched in pain, his brow furrowed.

Truman and Teresa walked in from the kitchen. Teresa carried the water in a wash basin and set it on the coffee table. Truman held the bandages and placed them next to the basin on the table. The boy edged over to the couch warily. He looked at Scott, then down at Johnny, his hero, his brother. The boy leaned over and gently kissed Johnny’s forehead.

“I love you, Johnny. You’ll be okay. I’ll take care of ya, big brother.”

Scott and the others exchanged smiles. He pulled Truman out of Sam’s way and made room for the boy on the ottoman. Johnny opened his eyes, looked at Truman, and smiled as best he could.

“Thanks, little brother. I love you, too.”

“Let’s see what we’ve got here, Johnny.”

Sam examined Johnny’s head, cleaned the wound, and stitched it. Johnny kept his eyes shut tight against the pain. One tear escaped as Sam finished the stitches. Truman caught it and wiped it away gently. Johnny could tell it was the boy’s fingers that caressed his cheek so tenderly-they were small and light as a feather.

Sam smiled at the love the boy showed to Johnny. He was happy Johnny had this young’un around to worship him. Sam bandaged Johnny’s head, then moved to unbutton the young man’s shirt to examine his shoulder and check for other injuries. He removed the sling and felt Johnny’s shoulder. When he touched Johnny’s collarbone, Johnny hissed in pain.

“Murdoch, Scott, you better hold him. I need to set this collarbone and it’s going to be painful.”

Scott stood up and gently pulled Truman out of the way. Then, he took his position next to Johnny’s chest.

Sam looked over at Truman. “Teresa, take Truman to the kitchen, please. He looks like he needs a snack.”

“No! I gotta stay with my Johnny!” Truman protested.

Murdoch kneeled in front of the upset boy.

“Son, it’s best you go with Teresa. Johnny doesn’t feel well. He’s hurt and we need to take care of him.”

“I can help take care of him.”

“Yes, you can, after we get him bandaged. You can sit with him later and make sure he behaves. Go with Teresa.”

The boy sighed. He wasn’t happy, but he would mind. He walked to Johnny and squeezed his brother’s hand.

“I’ll see you later, Johnny.”

Johnny smiled a little and nodded. “Okay, True. Be good.”

“I will, Johnny.”

Teresa took the boy’s hand and led him into the kitchen, where she found one of his special cups and poured milk into it. She placed the milk and a cookie in front of the boy and tousled his hair.


Chapter 20

In the great room, Murdoch held Johnny’s legs and Scott held his hands while holding his chest down. When Sam touched Johnny’s collarbone again, the young man flinched. Sam took a deep breath and set Johnny’s collar bone. Johnny gritted his teeth, then panted.

“Okay, son….shhh….shhh…calm down. Pa’s here.”

Murdoch moved up to be next to Johnny’s waist. He leaned forward and placed his hands on each side of Johnny’s face and caressed his son’s cheeks. He could feel Johnny trembling in pain.

Sam palpitated Johnny’s ribs and was relieved to feel nothing broken or cracked. He refastened the shirt and applied the sling again. Scott put a cold compress on Johnny’s forehead.

“Settle down, Johnny…you’ll be okay,” Scott soothed his brother.

“Scott, unfasten Johnny’s pants from the side, please…and take his boots off, too.”

Sam was pleased Johnny had these particular pants on today. He would be able to examine the boy’s knee and ankle while preserving his modesty.

“Okay, Sam.” Scott unfastened Johnny’s buttons from mid-thigh to his boot. Scott moved to the end of the couch to remove the boots. He took the left boot off, first, so he wouldn’t get a spur in the face when he attempted to take the right one off. At the first little tug on the right boot, Johnny gasped. Scott exchanged a worried glance with Murdoch.

“We could cut it off,” Sam suggested.

“Cut off my foot?” Johnny was hysterical.

“No, son, the boot.”

“No! I love these boots.”

“Johnny, you’ll be in a lot of pain if I take your boot off the regular way,” Scott explained.


Murdoch lifted Johnny’s upper body and scooted in behind his son. He wrapped one arm around his chest, trapping both arms, and held his boy’s head back against his shoulder. Sam moved to hold Johnny’s legs. At Murdoch’s nod, Scott took the boot off quickly. Johnny gasped and lost all color in his face.

“Breathe, Johnny, breathe, son,” Murdoch urged.

Johnny squeezed his eyes shut and tried to regain control of his breathing.

“Shh..son…shhh. Pa’s here…Johnny? Listen to me, son. Are you listening?”

Johnny nodded.

“Do you want some medicine for the pain? It’s your choice.”

Johnny was panting hard while he thought. The more he tried to regain control, the more panic and pain he felt.


“Just a little bit…just to take the edge off?” Murdoch asked.

“No, I’ll manage. Just give me a minute.”

Johnny’s breathing eased and he relaxed fractionally after a few moments.

“Johnny, I am going to check your knee and ankle, now. Hang on, son,” Sam warned.

Johnny nodded. “Pa?”

“I’m right here, son. I’m not leaving.”

Johnny nodded again.

Sam prodded Johnny’s knee. It was swollen, tender, and hot to the touch. Johnny squirmed and whimpered during the ministrations.

“Can you bend your knee, Johnny?”

Johnny bent his knee a little before he started panting again.

“That’s enough, John. I’d say it’s badly sprained, not broken. Let’s get some cold compresses on it, keep it elevated. Now…that ankle.”

Sam moved to Johnny’s feet and, as gently as he could, took the sock off his right foot.  Johnny gasped and Murdoch murmured into his son’s ear. The whole foot was swollen and black and blue. Sam whistled, then sighed.

“John, move your right foot.” Sam knew Johnny would have moved his left foot if he had not told him which foot to move.

“No,” Johnny whispered.

“Just a little bit, Johnny,” Scott coaxed. He hated seeing his little brother in pain, but he knew Sam had to see if Johnny could move it to make a proper diagnosis.

Johnny moved his right foot a fraction of an inch, gritting his teeth.

“Okay, that’s enough. Cold compresses for his knee and foot and pillows under both. I think Johnny needs to stay on the couch tonight, Have someone stay with him, but I doubt he’ll try any mischief…It’s going to be painful for him to move for a day or so.”

Scott left to get some pillows and a blanket. When he returned, Sam helped him place the pillows where they would do the most good. Johnny moaned and gasped as they arranged the pillows under his knee and ankle, but was thankful for the pillows placed at his head and back. Sam and Scott then took the blanket and covered Johnny with it.

Murdoch eased Johnny back onto the pillows and wiped his son’s brow. Johnny was still panting in distress. Murdoch sat on the ottoman next to his son’s head, brushing his bangs back from his eyes. Johnny’s breathing eventually slowed and evened out as the exhaustion took over and the young man went to sleep. Murdoch adjusted the blanket and rubbed Johnny’s head one more time before he turned to Sam.

“Stay for supper, Sam?”


Chapter 21

“I can’t, but thanks, Murdoch. I was on my way to the Talbot ranch for dinner when Charlie found me and told me Johnny needed attention. I sent him on ahead to let the Talbots know I would be late. I was able to get here quickly because I was just on the other side of the crest,” Sam explained.

“I see. Well, thank you very much for coming and taking care of Johnny,” Murdoch replied.

“Any time. Keep him comfortable. No weight on the right leg at all. He shouldn’t get up unless absolutely necessary, with you and Scott helping.”

“Understood.” Murdoch nodded. He took another look at his sleeping son, then stood to walk Sam out. When he opened the door, Val was standing there with his right fist poised to knock.

“Hi Val, come on in,” Murdoch greeted the sheriff.

“Sam! What are you doin’ here? I thought you were headed to the Talbot’s place.”

“I was, but Johnny had an accident.”

“Wha’ happen’d to that boy, now?”

“Long story. He’s on the couch. You can sit with him, but DON’T wake him,” Murdoch replied.

“Okay, okay. Bye Sam.”

“Bye, Val. Don’t bother Johnny.”

Val nodded absently as he walked to the couch. He looked down at his sleeping friend and shook his head. ‘He’s a mess,’ Val thought to himself.

Truman came back into the great room with Teresa. He walked over to the couch cautiously, for he saw a man standing over Johnny, and he was feeling rather protective of his brother. The boy looked at Johnny, sleeping peacefully, then glanced at the man. He blinked, suddenly recognizing the man he had met in the barbershop that morning.

“Hello, Sheriff Crawford,” he greeted the man quietly.

Val looked down at the boy and smiled.

“Hi, kiddo. What happened to Johnny?”

“I don’t know, exactly. He was working outside on the corrals when it happened, though. Ask Scott or Papa.”

“I will. Are you keeping Johnny company?”

“I’m taking care of him,” True replied as he settled on the ottoman.

“He’s lucky to have you.”

Truman bowed his head. “Thanks,” he said quietly.

Scott came into the room dressed in a clean blue shirt and clean tan pants. He made his way to the couch to check on his brother and greet Val.

“Hey, Val. How are you?”

“Fine, thanks. Better than Johnny. What happened?”

“He was repairing some rails, stepped in a hole, twisted his knee, and fell,” Scott explained briefly.


“Hush, Val, before you wake him,” Scott hissed.

Johnny opened his eyes a little and glared at Val. “Too late! Ya already woke me! Can’t y’all hush? I’m tryin’ ta sleep here!”

“Sorry, Johnny. Go back to sleep. I’ll help you to your room later,” Scott said.

Johnny sighed and nodded, drifting back to sleep.

Scott cuffed Val’s head. “I told ya to be quiet!” Scott whispered harshly.

“Murdoch, boys, supper is ready,” Teresa announced quietly.

“Teresa? What about Johnny?” Truman asked.

“I’m saving a plate for him. He can eat when he wakes up,” Teresa explained.

“Okay.” The boy went to the table and took his place to the right of Murdoch’s chair.

Jelly came in from the kitchen, having washed up outside. He had missed the drama of Johnny’s injury because he had been cleaning and making repairs at the south line shack.

“Hey, Truman. Any excitement after goin’ ta town?”

“Johnny’s hurt. He’s sleeping on the couch,” Truman answered. He waited patiently for the others to join him at the table.

“What in tarnation happen’d ta the boy THIS time?” Jelly bellowed.

“Hush, Jelly! Johnny’s trying to get some sleep!” Teresa fussed at the grizzly man.

“Doggone it, hush!” Johnny was heard fussing from the couch.

“Stepped in a hole and fell,” Truman whispered as the others finally made their way to the table.

Scott sat next to Truman, in Johnny’s chair, and let Val have his. Jelly and Teresa sat in their usual chairs. Scott couldn’t see Val as being conscientious enough to keep an eye on Truman and to intervene quietly should the boy need help. That was usually Johnny’s strength, but Scott would gladly take over until Johnny was up to the task again. Truman seemed to understand and accept this change and Scott was proud of the boy for not making a fuss.

Murdoch was the last to join the others. He had gone over to the couch to check on Johnny. The young man was still trying to go back to sleep after being disturbed twice. 

“Relax, Johnny. I’ll keep them quiet for you. Go on back to sleep,” Murdoch coaxed him quietly.

Johnny nodded and closed his eyes.

Murdoch straightened the blanket, pulling it up to Johnny’s chest, and smoothed the young man’s hair away from his eyes.

Satisfied that Johnny was fine, Murdoch made his way to the table. He sat in his chair at the head of the table and looked around at the people gathered there. His eyes rested on Truman, who looked at him expectantly. With a nod from Murdoch, plates were filled from the bounty before them.

“How long is Johnny gonna be laid up?” Val asked, trying to make conversation.

“About a couple of weeks or so, probably. He can’t put any weight on his right leg at all,” answered Murdoch.

Truman was very quiet and not really eating, but pushing his food around on his plate. He was worried about his brother, Johnny. Scott noticed what the boy was doing and tapped the child’s knee. When Truman looked at him, Scott pointed to the food on the boy’s plate.

“Eat, True,” Scott instructed.

Murdoch looked up and watched the boy continue to play with his food.

“Truman, you need to eat to be strong. If you’re not strong, how are you going to take care of Johnny?”

“Is Johnny sleeping down here tonight?” the boy asked.

“No, Scott’s going to help him to his room later,” answered Murdoch.

“Then I’ll sleep with  him.”

“No, you will stay in the guest room tonight.”

The boy opened his mouth, but did not have a chance to brook an argument.

“Truman, mind Papa, please. You will sleep in the guest room. I’ll need you well rested tomorrow to help with Johnny. Now…eat your supper.”

“Yes, Papa,” the child answered. He ate his supper without another word on the subject.

Murdoch reached over and patted his cheek.

“Good boy.”

Truman gave his Papa a small smile.

Val was amazed at the interaction between Murdoch and the child. He supposed Murdoch would have acted this way with Scott and Johnny had they grown up on the ranch as the Lancer patriarch had hoped.

After the main course had been consumed, Maria brought dessert to the table. Slices of chocolate cake were placed in front of each person and Truman’s cup was refilled with milk. The adults drank coffee. Once dessert was finished, they remained at the table to talk quietly. They did not want to disturb Johnny’s much needed sleep any more and there weren’t enough chairs over there, anyway.

They spoke of cattle prices, tasks yet to be finished, things happening in town, who was courting whom, and the latest gossip.

Val looked at Truman and said, “Hey kid, have you ever been to the circus?”


Chapter 22

Truman looked at Val warily and nodded.  

“Well, I got this paper in the mail, see…,” Val continued as he pulled a flyer from his pocket and unfolded it. “…it says ‘Come one Come all to Bryce’s Big Top…”

Val was interrupted by a gasp. He looked up from the paper to see that the boy’s face had turned stark white and his eyes were as big as the saucers on the table. The boy stood up and ran from the table, out the front door, and into the fading daylight.

“Was it somethin’ I said?” Val asked stupidly.

“Yes, but, unfortunately, we can’t get mad at you because you didn’t know. I expect Johnny had intended to tell you,” Murdoch answered in disgust.

Scott shook his head and went after Truman. The boy had run into the courtyard and was kneeling and rocking back and forth with his arms wrapped around his stomach. The child was throwing up his entire supper.

Scott found him quickly, though. Charlie had seen the boy run out and pointed Scott in the right direction. Scott nodded to Charlie in thanks and strode over to help the sick child. He placed a hand on the child’s back to let him know he wasn’t alone. Scott could feel the violent tremors coursing through the child’s body. He took a handkerchief out of his pocket and walked to the small hand pump to dampen it. Once he returned to the boy’s side, Scott cleaned Truman’s face.

“Truman? Are you going to be sick again?”

“Dunno,” the boy rasped.

Scott felt the child’s forehead. He wasn’t feverish, but losing his supper did not bode well for the already thin little boy.

Another wave of nausea hit the boy hard. Scott held the trembling body while the boy was ill. He spit up his milk and some stomach acid.  The taste of the acid caused the small child to retch and gag. More acid left the boy’s mouth, running down his chin. The child was spent. Scott wiped the boy’s mouth again. Charlie had watched the scene from afar and brought a canteen over to Scott.

“Scott, here.”

“Thanks, Charlie.”

Scott unscrewed the cap and held it to the boy’s mouth, but Truman shook his head ‘no.’

“Truman, you need to drink.”


“We’ll take care of it.”

Scott rubbed the child’s back, glad he could comfort the child as well as Johnny, but feeling so bad for the little guy’s suffering.

“Scott,” a trembling voice whispered.


“I’m scared.”

“You have nothing to be scared of, True. We will all keep you safe.”

Scott wrapped his arms around the boy’s trembling body.

“Wh-what if W-Willis c-comes a-after m-me?”

“We’ll keep you safe, boy. Your home is here with us. We won’t let anyone take you away. Now, I’m going to help you up and you’re going to sit on the bench with me and have some water. No arguments.”

“O-okay, Scott.”

Murdoch came out to see how the boy was faring. He approached Scott and reached to help Truman up. Scott and Murdoch gently pulled the boy to his feet and supported him as they made their way to the bench. The men sat on either side of the boy and let him catch his breath before coaxing him to drink the water. Murdoch put his arm around the boy’s shoulders and tilted him back while Scott held the canteen to the child’s lips.

“Sip slowly, little brother, hear me?”

“Yes,” the boy whispered.

Scott tilted the canteen up and allowed a few drops to enter the boy’s mouth, then pulled it away before too much went in too fast. Truman sighed. He was exhausted from the emotional and physical turmoil of the evening. Murdoch pulled the boy close to lean against him and ran his fingers through the child’s hair to comfort him.


“Yes, True?”

“Water, please?”

“Sure…sip slowly, now.” They repeated the process with the canteen.

“Uh oh,” Truman said, right before he leaned forward and vomited the water and more acid. Scott and Murdoch moved their feet in the nick of time.

Scott looked at Murdoch and sighed. He knew this latest development would set the boy’s recovery back. They were almost back to square one.

“Should we send for Sam?”

“It may be best, Scott. If he can’t keep water down, he’ll become dehydrated. His stomach must be in knots.”

Scott nodded, sadly.

“I’ll go. I know where he is,” Charlie volunteered.

“Thank you, Charlie.”

“I’ve been watching you with the boy and I’d just like to sat I wish you’d been my pa, Mr. Lancer. That boy is so lucky to have you.”

Murdoch was shocked. He shifted Truman to Scott, who eased the boy into his lap. Murdoch stood up to see eye to eye with Charlie. He placed a hand on Charlie’s shoulder.

“That’s very kind. I’m sure your pa would be proud of you. You’re a hard worker, and I am proud of you and of how much you have grown and learned since you started working for us.”

“Yes, sir…thank you, sir…I best go get Doc…hang in there, little fella,” Charlie replied as he gently placed a hand on the boy’s head. He felt a slight nod, smiled, and went to saddle a horse.

Scott wiped the boy’s mouth again.

“Truman,” he called softly.


“How are you feeling?”

“Yucky, tired, hot.”

“Do you want to go inside?”


“Why not?”

“It’s cooler out here,” the boy said, and he shivered to prove his point, but secretly he was afraid of Val and upset with the sheriff.

Murdoch went back to the house and grabbed the boy’s coat off the rack. He brought it outside and put it on the shivering child with Scott’s help.

Inside, Teresa and Jelly had been filling Val in on what had happened to Truman’s family and why the boy reacted as he had to Val’s announcement about the circus coming to town.

Val was beside himself with anger, not only at Willis, but at himself, too.


Chapter 23

Truman fell asleep on Scott’s lap after he was cleaned up. The boy had seemed afraid to see Val and wanted to stay outside, but he began shivering, even after he was dressed in his new coat. Scott stood up, still holding Truman, and carried the boy inside and up the front steps so they could avoid talking to Val for the moment. Murdoch followed Scott upstairs and into the guest room next to Murdoch’s room. The pair managed to pull the covers down,  undress the boy, and put a clean nightshirt on him. They covered him up and Scott left quietly to check on Johnny and say his peace to Val. Murdoch lit a lamp and sat with Truman until Scott came  back or Sam arrived, whichever would come first.

Downstairs, tension still permeated the air. Teresa and Jelly were still furious with Val even though they knew they had no right to be. Val hadn’t had a clue what Truman had suffered at the hands of Bryce Willis.

“I swear to you, I will do everything I can to help you to keep that child safe,” Val promised.

Teresa and Jelly exchanged glances and relaxed fractionally.

“We know you didn’t mean any harm, Val. It’s just he’s been through so much already,”  answered Teresa.

“I know, now, and I certainly didn’t mean to upset him.”

“We know, Val. Let’s just not mention it again in his presence, ok,” Scott suggested as he entered the room.

“How is Truman, Scott?”

“He’s asleep, Teresa. He threw up. He can’t keep water down,” Scott replied.

“Hey, Scott!” Johnny called.

“Has Sam been sent for?”

“Yes, Charlie offered to ride out to find him,” Scott answered as he went to see what Johnny needed. “What is it, Johnny?”

Once Scott arrived at the couch, he identified the problem. There were pain lines around Johnny’s eyes and his brow was furrowed. The blanket was slipping off his legs and his head was tilted unnaturally. A pillow had slipped out and was inches from the floor. Johnny was hanging on to the couch to keep himself from falling off. He gave Scott a look that simply said. ‘Help.’

“Jelly, please come over here and help me. We need to reposition Johnny.”

“Sure, Scott.”

Jelly ambled over to the couch and the two of them gently scooted Johnny’s upper body further onto the couch, closer to the backrest.  Scott picked up the pillow that had slipped away and handed it to Jelly. Then, Scott gently lifted Johnny’s upper body, supporting his shoulders and head as Jelly replaced the pillow behind the injured boy’s head and back. Scott lowered Johnny to the pillows and readjusted the blanket. Johnny had gritted his teeth during the process, but gasped when they moved his shoulder.

“Sorry, Johnny,” Scott whispered. “Is that better?”

“Yeah, gracias,” Johnny sighed. 

“No problem. Are ya hungry?” Jelly asked.

“Not really. I’ll eat later.”

“Okay. Relax and go back to sleep,” Scott replied quietly.

“ ’Kay. Sleep is good.”

“Yeah, sleep is good,”  Scott replied with a grin.

Johnny sighed and drifted back to sleep.

Scott picked up an extra blanket, rolled it, and placed it delicately next to Johnny’s right ear to support his head. He sat on the ottoman and gently smoothed his brother’s stubborn bangs away from his eyes.

Just then, a knock was heard at the front door and Val answered it. “Hey, Sam,” he said when he opened the door. Scott rose from the ottoman with one last look at Johnny, and walked over to the foyer.

“Come on, Sam. Truman is in the guest room bed,” Scott spoke to him.

 “How is Johnny?”

“Sleeping. Jelly and I just adjusted his position to make him more comfortable. He woke up and was holding on  for dear life to keep himself from falling off the couch, but he’s gone back to sleep.”


“Do you want to see him?”

“I’ll take a quick peek at him, later, but I’d like to stay the night and examine him tomorrow.”

“That’s fine. I’m going to move him upstairs soon.” Scott led Sam up the stairs and to the guest room. They entered quietly and noticed  Murdoch had dozed off.

“Okay, but be gentle with him,” Sam warned.

“We will.”

Sam walked over to the bed and placed his cool hand on the boy’s forehead. Truman jerked awake, moaned, and pulled away from Sam, frightened.

“Shhhh, it’s Sam, Truman,” Sam spoke softly.

Murdoch heard the boy moan and sprang from the chair to tend to him.

“Well, since we’re all awake, now, why don’t you turn up the lamp so I can see what I’m doing?” Sam asked, more sharply than he had intended.

Murdoch turned up the wick and glared at Sam.

“Why are you so angry at me?”

Sam bowed his head and sighed. “I’m sorry, Murdoch. I’m not mad at you at all.”

“Did something happen at the Talbots’?”

“No, no. It just seems this little guy can’t get a break. So, tell me, what happened?”

“First, take a look at Truman, please. I’ll tell you the ‘why’ after we learn the ‘what,’ ” replied Murdoch.

“Okay, but I need to know what happened?”

“He threw up his dinner and he can’t keep water down. We were concerned about dehydration.”

Sam took his stethoscope out of his bag and listened to the boy’s heart, lungs, and stomach. Then, he pushed and prodded the boy’s abdomen.

“It’s tight,” Sam said about the boy’s stomach. He looked at the boy’s face. It was pale with furrowed brows and his eyes were bright with fever. Sam pulled his thermometer out of the bag and rinsed it in the washbasin, then stuck it in the child’s mouth, under his tongue. Truman had seen the thermometer coming and opened his mouth without being told. Sam smiled at him and felt his head again.

“You feel pretty bad, huh?”

Truman nodded at Sam.

Sam sat on the bed next to the child and squeezed his little hand reassuringly.

“We’ll get you through this, Truman.”

Sam took the thermometer out and looked at the numbers. He sighed. “102.”

“Scott, keep an eye on your brother, please, and put a cold compress on his head. Sam and I are going to talk.”

“Yes, Sir.”

Scott wet a cloth and wrung it out, then placed it on Truman’s forehead as Sam and Murdoch went next door to Murdoch’s  room and closed the door.


“Yes, True?”

“Is Papa mad at me?”

“Why would Papa be mad at you? What makes you think he is mad at you?”

“He didn’t say anything to me when Sam was in here an’  ‘cause I threw up my dinner.”

“No, True. He’s not mad at you. He’s worried and Sam is worried, too.”

“Are you worried?”

“Yes, little brother, I’m worried, too.”

Scott adjusted the covers then sat on the bed on the other side, leaning against the headboard. Truman reached out and took Scott’s hand, holding it tight. Scott squeezed the boy’s hand gently and smiled at him, brushing the child’s bangs away from his eyes. He was very worried about Truman, but was pleased as punch that the boy was reaching out to him.

In his room, Murdoch and Sam stood against Murdoch’s dresser and talked.  Murdoch told Sam what Val had said at dinner about the circus and Truman’s reaction. Sam was not surprised about the reaction. He was ready to dash downstairs and throttle Val. However, Murdoch explained that Val had had no clue, that he had just met the child that morning.

“This came on him very fast. Did he exhibit any other signs of illness?” Sam asked.

“Not that I can recall. He was a little hesitant about eating, and I thought he was just worried about Johnny.”

“He was outside in the cool air, too. Maybe his body is just really susceptible to illness right now. He needs to build up his strength and immune system,” Sam commented.

“He’s really scared of Willis right now.”

“Do you think Willis will come after True?”

“I don’t know, Sam. I hope not. We’ll protect the boy and we have leverage against Willis if he tries anything.”

“What leverage?”

“Remember? Willis is responsible for the death of the boy’s parents and baby brother. Willis also abandoned the child in Chicago the day after his parents were killed and had his men beat up the child. He knows Truman saw what happened-the boy is a witness. He probably left the child thinking he wouldn’t survive on his own. He underestimated Truman’s tenacity!”

“Who shot him? Willis’ friends?”

“No. A storekeeper who caught the boy taking food from his garbage barrel shot him. Truman said he wouldn’t take the food from the store because he knew stealing is wrong.”

“Wow. That kid is a survivor. Just like Johnny.”

“Yeah. Just like Johnny. No wonder they are so close.”

“I noticed that. How does the boy get along with Scott and Teresa?”

“Very well, from what I’ve seen. He didn’t fuss at all when Scott sat in Johnny’s chair for supper.”

“The boy has had to grow up too fast. He needs his childhood back.”

“He’ll get it. He has a basket of toys downstairs. He’ll have plenty of time to play, I’ll see to that. As soon as he and Johnny are well, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the pair polishing the banister with their backsides and chasing each other outside.”

Sam chuckled and nodded. “Let’s go check on Truman and I’ll look in on Johnny.”

“Okay. You’re staying here tonight, right?”

“I’d like to.”

“You are. I’ll have Jelly or Charlie look after your buggy and horse.”

“Thanks, Murdoch.”

“No, thank you, Sam.”


Chapter 24

Doc checked on Johnny before he retired for the evening. Johnny had gone back to sleep, so Doc decided to leave him be. Val stayed the night, as well, because he was too tired to ride back.

Murdoch and Scott had moved Johnny to his room after Truman had been put to bed. Murdoch decided to stay with Johnny in his room and sent Teresa to bed after she replaced the dry, warm compresses with fresh, cold ones on Johnny’s knee and ankle.

Johnny woke once during the night, and Murdoch sat next to him to soothe him back to sleep.


“Yes, son?”

“I’m thirsty.”

“Okay, here’s some water.” Murdoch held the glass for him and supported his head. When Johnny had had enough, he nodded. Murdoch put the glass down and eased Johnny’s head to the pillows.

“Thanks, Pa.”

“You’re welcome, son. Feel better?”


“How are your injuries? Any pain?”

“A bit achy, but not too bad.”

“Are you going back to sleep?”

“I’ll try. Sit with me, please?”

“Sure, son.”

Murdoch rubbed Johnny’s head for awhile. Johnny sighed and drifted back to sleep.

In the guest room, Truman had fallen asleep earlier, holding Scott’s hand.

‘If this is what it takes for the boy to feel safe, so be it,’ Scott thought to himself. Scott slipped out a few minutes later, after he was certain the boy was sleeping, and retired to his own room.

Peace reigned in the house all night long. Scott woke early, dressed, then entered the guest room, sat on the edge of the bed next to the boy and felt his forehead. He was still warm, but not alarmingly so. Scott adjusted the covers, pulling them up to the child’s shoulder. Truman rolled onto his right side, facing away from Scott, and sighed. Scott smiled and readjusted the blanket.

A gentle knock was heard and Scott answered the door. Murdoch and Sam entered quietly.

“Good morning, Scott. Sleep well?” Murdoch enquired.

“Fine, thanks.”

“No more vomiting?” Sam asked.

“Apparently not, but I think he still has a fever,” Scott answered.

Sam took the thermometer out and cleaned it, then he pulled his stethoscope out of his bag and listened to the child’s heart and lungs. When the doc furrowed his brow while listening to the boy’s lungs, Murdoch and Scott shared a worried glance, both thinking pneumonia.

“What is it, Sam?”

“It sounds like he has some congestion in his chest. As if on cue, Truman started coughing, a raspy, wheezing sound followed. Doc nodded, confirming his diagnosis.

“I’m going to wake him to take his temperature and feel his stomach,” Sam informed them.

Sam reached for the boy’s shoulder and gently rolled him onto his back. Then, he felt the child’s forehead.

“Truman, wake up, young man,” Sam called softly to the sleeping boy. “Come on, it’s time to wake up.” Sam gently rubbed the boy’s head, tousling his hair a little.

The boy sighed and opened his eyes.

“Hi, Doc,” he said quietly. “Hi Papa n’ Scott.”

“Hi, son,” replied Murdoch.

“Hey, Truman,” Scott called back softly.

“Hello, young man,” Doc said kindly. “How are you feeling? How does your stomach feel?”

“My chest feels kinda funny and my tummy is growling,” the boy answered, with a hard cough.

“You have a bit of congestion in your lungs, that’s why you’re coughing. I’m going to feel and listen to your tummy, ok?”

Truman nodded. Sam pulled the covers down and the nightshirt up and listened to his stomach. It growled and gurgled. Sam took the stethoscope off and felt the child’s stomach all over.

“Does it hurt at all when I push on your stomach?”

“No, Sir.”

“Do you think you could try to eat some scrambled eggs?”  Sam asked as he put the boy’s nightshirt down and pulled the covers up.

“Yes, Sir.”

“Good. Murdoch,” Sam said as he turned to speak to the man, “scrambled eggs, a biscuit, and a little bit of milk for breakfast. Nothing spicy or heavy for a few days. He should stay in bed and he’s not to leave the house until this congestion clears up.”

“Oh, great, two boys cooped up inside and they can’t even be together to entertain each other,” Scott muttered.

“Take it easy, Scott,” Murdoch admonished gently.

Sam chuckled and put the thermometer in Truman’s mouth.

“Did Johnny wake up?” Sam asked.

“He did for a few minutes, Scott, during the night. He was thirsty. He went back to sleep. Jelly is with him, now,” Murdoch replied. “Val left very early this morning to get back to work.”

Scott nodded, happy the boy wouldn’t have to deal with seeing Val too soon after his illness started.

Sam took the thermometer out of the boy’s mouth, read it, and relaxed a bit.

“99. That’s better. I have an idea. Since Truman’s temp is down, I’ll let him go visit Johnny to help keep him company.” Sam turned to Truman and continued, “BUT, no running around, stay in the house, wear your robe, socks, slippers, and long johns, and you will be tucked into bed for a nap this afternoon. Is that clear, Truman?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Sounds reasonable,” Scott said. Murdoch nodded his agreement.

“Does that mean I get to play with Johnny?”

“Johnny’s not going to do much playing, but you can talk to him and play checkers or cards or draw. No kissing or getting in his face, though, ok? Cover your mouth with a handkerchief when you cough and wash your hands often. I don’t need BOTH of you boys sick!”

“Neither do we!” Scott and Murdoch chorused together. They chuckled at the shared spoken sentiment.

“Ok,” Truman answered.

“I’ll be right back, big boy. I’ll help you dress and take you down for breakfast,” Scott suggested. He walked quietly to Johnny’s room to find the boy’s required clothing. Johnny was still sleeping and Jelly was dozing.  When Scott returned, he set the boy on the edge of the bed, picked up some socks and handed them to the boy to put on while he, Scott, picked up Truman’s long john pants. He helped the boy into the pants, lifted him off the bed, then pulled the pants the rest of the way up. Truman found his slippers and eased them on as Scott put the child’s robe on him and tied the belt. Scott took the boy by the hand and they walked down to the kitchen.

“Hey, there, Truman! How are you?” Teresa greeted the boy with enthusiasm and came close to give him a peck on the cheek, but Scott intervened before she could get too close.

“Don’t get in his face, Teresa. Truman has a chest cold,” Scott warned.

“Oh, dear. Did Doc clear him for breakfast?”

“Yes, scrambled eggs, biscuit, and half a glass of milk. Nothing heavy or spicy for a few days.”

“Okay. I’m fixing some eggs for Johnny. I’ll add a couple for Truman.”

“Truman, you stay in the kitchen and eat. I’m going up to talk to Johnny,” Scott instructed.


Scott led the boy to a chair and tousled his hair as he left.

Johnny had woken up just after Scott retrieved Truman’s clothes. Jelly was sitting on the chair next to his bed.

“Hey, little brother. How are you?”


Scott nodded.

“Good morning, Jelly.”

“Mornin’, Scott. Since yer here, I best go get cleaned up. Holler iffn ya need me.”

“Thank you, Jelly.”

“Thanks, Jelly, for helpin’ me,” Johnny replied.

“Sure thang. See ya later,” Jelly said as he left.

Scott sat on the chair next to Johnny and took his brother’s right hand, and squeezed it reassuringly.

“What’s going on, Johnny?”

“Jelly told me about what happened last night at dinner. How’s Truman?”

“He has a chest cold and he’s on an easy diet for a few days. I think Sam is hoping it was just nerves that made the boy lose his supper…Are you okay?”

“I’m worried about him, Scott. It seems that as soon as he makes progress, he is hurt again.”

“I know.” Scott lowered his voice to a whisper, “We’re not going to mention the circus or Willis in his presence. He had a complete good night’s sleep last night and I want him to have more.”

Johnny nodded.

In the kitchen, the boy was picking at his food. He took a few bites of egg under Maria’s watchful eye, then ate the biscuit dry. Maria continued to fuss until the boy ate enough to satisfy her maternal instinct. The boy just didn’t feel like eating much. His stomach was starting to protest the food. He drank his milk, hoping it would soothe his aggravated stomach.

Back in Johnny’s room…

“Do you need anything, Johnny?”

“Like what?”

“A visit to the bath house?”

“Jelly already helped me with that, but thanks.”

“You’re welcome. You didn’t put weight on your leg, did you?”

“No, Jelly wouldn’t let me-an’ I couldn’t have, anyway.”

Teresa entered carrying Johnny’s breakfast on a tray. Truman followed her slowly with his head bowed.

Scott helped Johnny sit up a little more, then moved so Teresa could set the tray over his lap.

“Looks good, Teresa, thanks!”

“You’re welcome, enjoy,” she said as she headed back to the kitchen. She noticed Truman was no longer at the table and asked Maria where he went.

“He followed you to see his Juanito,” she replied.

“Oh, he was so quiet, I didn’t notice.”

“Si, he is a very quiet nino.”

“Yes, he is.”

Truman had walked over to the window and sat in a chair with his head bowed and his arms holding his aching stomach.

Johnny saw the boy sitting all alone. He motioned to Scott to turn around. Scott gazed at the lonely boy and a look of concern descended onto his face.

“Truman?” Johnny called softly.

The boy lifted his head slowly and looked towards Johnny and Scott. His face was pale, his eyes unfocused, and he looked unsteady. Johnny and Scott were shocked by his appearance and demeanor.

“Are you alright?” Scott asked, alarmed.

Truman shook his head ‘no’ right before he threw up his breakfast.

“Oh, dear,” said Sam, who had just entered with Murdoch behind him.

“I’ll find some towels,” Murdoch sighed.

Scott stood up and walked over to the boy. He lifted the child and carried him right to the bath house to clean him up. Sam followed.

Teresa came into the room to see how Johnny and Truman were doing and saw the aftermath of the boy’s illness.

“Oh, no,” she said.

Johnny looked at his own food and immediately lost his appetite.

“Teresa, take this away, please.”

“You haven’t eaten.”

Johnny glanced at the sickness and back to Teresa.

“Oh, well. We’ll try something else later, ok?”

“Okay, thanks.”

“Teresa, please see if you can find a clean nightshirt for Truman,” Murdoch directed.


Teresa couldn’t find any clean ones his size, so she grabbed one of Johnny’s from his wardrobe and dashed downstairs, carrying the tray of untouched food.  She took the nightshirt to Scott for Truman to wear, then returned to the kitchen.

“Teresa, why didn’t Juanito eat?” Maria was indignant.

“He lost his appetite, Maria. He promised to try later.”

“Tsk. Es muy malo.”

“I know,” Teresa sighed. It sure was hard having two boys to care for!

“Who lost their appetite?” Sam asked, returning to the kitchen with his bag. He pulled a syringe and began filling it with medicine.

“Johnny did, Sam. After Truman lost his breakfast. He promised he would try to eat something else later.”

“Okay, but please be sure he gets some nourishment today. He missed dinner last night, too.”

“I know. What are you giving Truman?”

“Some medicine to help stop the vomiting. I may have to resort to a new technique I learned at a conference. It’s an intravenous system where you put fluids into the body via the veins. I hope this shot helps, because I don’t want to put the boy through the agony of IV fluids. He can’t become dehydrated.”

“No, he’s so small and thin,” Teresa agreed.

Scott carried Truman into the kitchen and paused as he saw Sam with the syringe. Luckily, the boy had his head on Scott’s shoulder and was looking the other way, unfocused. Murdoch came in and dropped the soiled towels he had used to clean the floor into the laundry basket. He walked over to Scott and Truman and rubbed the boy’s back in soothing circles. He noticed the child was wearing another one of Johnny’s nightshirts.

“Johnny’s gone back to sleep, Sam,” Murdoch reported.

“That’s fine. I’ll check him later. Sleep is good for him, keeps him out of mischief…I want him to eat, though, Murdoch. He’s missed two important meals. Teresa, if he wakes up soon, give him a snack, okay?”

Murdoch chuckled at the ‘mischief’ remark, then sobered and nodded.

“Yes, he’s too light. I can pick him up as easily as I can lift Truman,” Scott added.

“Let’s put this little tyke in bed. I have some medicine here to help him with the vomiting. It’s going to make him drowsy, though,” Sam said.

Scott started upstairs with Truman held tight and close in his arms. He placed the boy in the guest room bed, but did not cover him, yet. He had a feeling he knew where that needle was going to be injected.

Murdoch and Sam entered a minute later. Murdoch sat on the mattress next to the boy and smoothed his hair off his forehead.

“Truman, listen to Papa.”

The boy nodded somberly.

“You’re a sick little boy right now. Your tummy isn’t liking the food and milk you send down, so it’s sending it right back up and you’re throwing up. If you can’t keep food and milk in your tummy, you will get dehydrated and feel worse and you’ll become sicker. Sam has some medicine for you to help stop the throwing up. It has to be given with a needle to make it work.”

The boy’s eyes became very large and he swallowed.

“Is…is it like when I had my bad dreams an’ he had to put the needle here?” Truman asked, pointing to his hip.

“Yes, son. Just like that. It’s going to make you sleepy, too, so you can rest,” Murdoch replied.

The boy gazed all around, trying to make himself come to terms with having another needle stuck in him. He finally sighed, looked at Murdoch, and nodded.

“Papa? Will you hold me?”

“Of course I will hold you. Come here,” Murdoch answered with his arms opened wide to accept the little boy.

The boy slowly sat up and crawled into Murdoch’s lap. Murdoch stood up, holding the boy close, so Sam could have easy access to the boy’s hip. Scott assisted by holding the nightshirt up and tugging the child’s drawers down.

“A little further down, please, Scott.”

Scott pulled the drawers down further. The boy flinched and held onto Murdoch’s neck tighter when he felt Sam clean the injection site. When Sam stuck the needle in, the boy whimpered and held on even tighter. After the medicine had been injected, Sam re-cleaned the site and nodded to Scott, who set the boy’s clothing to their proper places and rubbed the boy’s back.

“You were very brave, little brother. I’m proud of you,” Scott praised the trembling child.

“Yes, Truman, you were a big boy,” Murdoch added.

“Good job, young man,” Sam chimed in.

“Thank you,” answered a quivering voice.

Murdoch kissed the boy’s head and rubbed his back as the child relaxed and drifted off to sleep.

“You can put him into the bed now, Murdoch. He’s asleep.”

“I know, Sam. I’m going to hold him awhile.”

“Okay. I’ll go see if Johnny needs anything.”

Murdoch nodded.

“It looks like Murdoch has everything under control here. I need to go clean the bath house,” Scott stated.

Scott and Sam left the room. Murdoch settled himself into the chair and leaned back. He adjusted the boy’s position and continued to rub the child’s back as he slept.

Sam took a peek at Johnny, felt the young man’s forehead, nodded his satisfaction that Johnny did not have a fever, and went out for a breath of fresh air.


Chapter 25

Three weeks later…

Willie Davis and his buddies were truant from school and rode to their secret hiding place a mile out of town. They dismounted and hid their horses in the old Magee barn. They climbed up into the loft and lounged on the thin bed of old hay strewn on the floor.

“So, what’s all so hellfire important it couldn’t wait till after school, Willie?” Jake Lewis asked as he lit up a pipe he had stolen from his senile grandfather. “Iffen Pa finds out I’ve skipped school again, I’m gonna get the whippin’ of my life!”

“My butt’s still smartin’ from my last whippin’,” complained Zeb Jones.

“Which was when? Last night or this mornin’?” Jake laughed.

Zeb made a face and said, “this mornin’.” He rubbed his behind gently.

“Lawd, Zeb, You get at least 2 whippins a day, don’t ya? What the hell do ya DO to deserve ‘em?” Jake wondered.

“It don’t take much to rile my pa,” Zeb answered.

“Y’all hush! There’s a new kid in town. He’s stayin’ with them Lancers. He’s a little’un an’ the Lancers are spoilin’ him rotten,” Willie replied vehemently. He was quite jealous of the attention the little stranger was receiving from those rich do-gooders. His own Pa didn’t show him the kind of love and attention the Lancers were heaping on the kid. The kid had looked like he’d been beat up by someone. He had bruises on his face and a bandage on his head. He knew the Lancers hadn’t done it.

“So? What do WE care? We got bigger fish to fry than a small fry.” Zeb laughed at his own lame joke.

“Let’s take him down a peg or two. He ain’t as special as he thinks, havin’ all those people buyin’ stuff for him,” Willie replied sharply. “…and treatin’ him like he’s some kind of royal brat.”

“How are we gonna do that?” Zeb wasn’t the brightest candle in the lot.

“Nothin’ illegal or dangerous…maybe toss him into the school outhouse and tie the door shut for a few hours, just to shake him up a bit…That dark-haired, half-breed that lives there…what’s his name?”

“Johnny, I think,” answered Jake.

“Yeah, I don’t like the way he spoke to me in Pa’s store, standin’ up for that little brat,” Willie continued to vent.

“How long has Lancer’s kids been home, now?”

“About two or three years, Zeb,” Jake answered.

Just then, they heard some unusual music coming from a short distance away. The three boys peeked out of the loft door and waited for the source of the music to draw nearer. Soon, they saw a train of large, colorful wagons being led by a portly man in a Purple top hat and a gaudy purple suit to match. Right behind him, an elephant carrying a pretty young lady ambled along the trail.

The music came from an open wagon, much like a buckboard without the canvas top. A man dressed in a clown suit was turning the crank on a machine. It was playing calliope music-a traditional circus sound.

More wagons followed, carrying wild animals, clowns, and freaks. Acrobats did their flips and tricks in the grass along the wagon trail.

“The circus is in town,” cried Zeb, excitedly.

“We won’t get to go,” Jake moaned.

“Why not,” asked Willie with a wicked grin.

“’Cause old Peabody is gonna rat on us for ditching school and we ain’t gonna be able to sit fer a week, at least!”

“Says you. My ma will let me go…I just gotta stay outta my Pa’s way,” Willie replied, smugly.

Zeb rubbed his butt again apprehensively.

“Git yer mind off it, Zeb!” Jake chided the other boy.

They watched as the circus parade made its way to the outskirts of town where it would set up camp for the duration of its stay. The music faded as the last wagons rolled out of sight.

“Willie? How are we gonna get the little brat away from the Lancers if he never goes anywhere without them?” Zeb wanted to know.

Willie rolled his eyes. “We’ll bide our time. Next time he comes into town, we’ll get him separated from the Lancers and drag him off.”

The three bullies lay back in the hay and slept the rest of the day away.


In town… 

Bryce Willis strolled into town, looking for the sheriff’s office. He had to let the sheriff know that the circus had arrived, where they were camped, and how long they planned to stay. He also had to pay a grounds fee-a small fee paid to a township for use of community land and water. Willis finally found the sheriff’s office and went in without knocking. He was quite surprised at the sheriff’s appearance. Val was looking a bit rough around the edges. He had a full day’s growth of beard and still wore yesterday’s clothes. His hair was wild and sticking out everywhere because he had been raking his fingers through it repeatedly as he chastised himself for upsetting Truman again, needlessly.


1 week ago… 

Val had gone out to talk to Murdoch and the boys about added security for the circus.  The Lancers did not know this was the purpose of his visit…they just thought Val was paying a social call. Truman was over his illness, getting stronger, and hanging around his brothers. Johnny was still limping a little, but had managed, albeit a little painfully, to get both his boots on. He had ditched his sling, claiming it restricted his movement. The head bandage was off and the stitches had been removed. Johnny was back to his old fun-loving, active self. Val tried in vain to get the little guy to go play with Trevor, the boy’s shepherd pup, but he wanted to stay with Johnny. Murdoch was getting fed up with Val trying to get rid of the boy.  

“He has every right to stay here with us, Val,” Murdoch stated.  

Truman stood right next to Johnny and refused to budge, crossing his arms as he had seen Johnny do quite a bit lately as Johnny fought for his own right not to have to stay in the house while his knee and ankle healed. He argued that he would get stiff from inactivity. Doc had finally given in to him, knowing Johnny would have done as he pleased, anyway.

Val finally lost his temper and fussed at the boy, telling him to “Go on, kid! I gotta talk to Murdoch and the guys about the circus!”

The boy’s face had paled to a ghostly white, then he dropped his head and ran off, stumbling because he couldn’t see past the tears welling up in his eyes.

Johnny glared at Val, then smacked him upside the back of the head.

”I think you need to go home, Val, and try to drag your boot out of your mouth, cause the more you talk, the further in it goes, ” Johnny fussed at Val.

“Hey! That smarts!”

“Good! Maybe it’ll knock some sense into ya!”

Johnny stalked off to find Truman. He found the boy in the barn, sitting on a bale of hay and sucking his thumb as he held Trevor. Tears streamed down his cheeks. Johnny sat down next to the child and put his arm around the trembling shoulders, pulling him to lean against his right side. They sat in companionable silence for a while, Johnny stroking the boy’s hair soothingly while the child fought to control his tears and emotions.

Scott’s mouth gaped open, then he found his voice. “Val! How could you?”

“Val! Do you EVER use your brain before you open your mouth? Why on earth would you talk to Truman like that?  He’s a good boy, he doesn’t deserve that!” Murdoch fussed at Val.

“I’m sorry, I just needed to talk to you about the circus coming to town. We need extra security…I was wondering if I could borrow some of your hands.”

“Yes, you are sorry. I’m not the one you ought to apologize to, though. It’s Truman that’s hurt,” replied Murdoch. He turned and walked away, shaking his head at Val’s lapse of good judgment.


“Val, just go on back to town…we’ll catch up with you later and figure out what to do. We have a little boy to look after now,” Scott answered.

Val nodded and walked over to his horse. He mounted and rode back to town, berating himself the whole way.

Murdoch found his two younger sons in the barn. He had been granted temporary legal custody of Truman by the traveling circuit judge, thanks to testimony from Theo, Sam, Val, and their minister. The boy himself had bravely spoken with the Judge in his chambers and told him his story. The Judge had been charmed by Truman’s honesty and felt the Lancer ranch was a good place for the boy to heal, not only physically, but emotionally, as well. The case would be reviewed in six months. If the Judge was pleased with Truman’s progress and growth, he would sign the papers granting Murdoch permanent legal custody. The family had celebrated and rejoiced. The Judge had granted Truman permission to add Lancer to his name.

Murdoch smiled sadly at the scene, worried about how much more trauma the boy could take but so proud of the role Johnny was playing in the boy’s recovery. Johnny was so very loving, gentle, and kind to Truman.  He seldom lost his patience with the lad. Murdoch controlled his anger and frustration with Val so he would not frighten the boy. He walked over and knelt in front of Truman and Johnny, reaching out to pet the puppy in order to make a connection with the boy. His eyes met Johnny’s and he received an encouraging nod from his middle son.


The child looked up to meet his Papa’s eyes. His own eyes were red and raw and pained. He kept his thumb planted firmly in his mouth. Murdoch knew it was the boy’s coping mechanism when he was deeply troubled and none of the Lancers made an issue out of it.

“Hi, baby.” Murdoch reached up and caressed the boy’s cheeks, wiping away his tears.

Johnny took his arm from behind Truman’s shoulders and lifted the puppy into his lap so Murdoch could hold Truman and comfort him. Murdoch held his arms out to the child and the boy went to his Papa. Murdoch wrapped his arms around Truman and held him tight, rubbing his back in soothing circles. Johnny watched the two together and smiled in a melancholy way as he stroked the active puppy in his lap.

Scott walked into the barn and took in the scene. He caught Johnny’s eye and raised his eyebrows, asking, “Is everything ok?” silently.

Johnny looked at Murdoch holding the child, looked back to Scott and shrugged, then nodded. Johnny jerked his head towards the door of the barn with a questioning look. Scott mouthed the word “Val” and Johnny nodded. Scott motioned to his brother to join him outside. Johnny eased the puppy onto the floor then stood up. He put his hand on Murdoch’s shoulder and received the nod that it was okay for him to leave them. He walked out with Scott by his side. When they were out of earshot, Johnny cursed a blue streak in Spanish.

“Are you okay, Johnny?”

“Yes, no, I don’t know. I’m mad at Val. How could he be so…mean? He KNOWS what Willis did to that boy!”

“I understand, but don’t raise your voice or Truman will hear. Val was just being stupid, though. He’s not as used to being around True as we are. He forgets. Let it go for now.”

“Val’s not used to bein’ round anyone but himself and the drunks who sleep in his jail!” Johnny retorted.

“True,” Scott chuckled.



“Let’s get a drink.”

“Good idea.”

The brothers went into the house and Scott poured two whiskeys and handed one to Johnny, who downed it in one gulp.

The front door opened and closed. Scott and Johnny turned and saw Murdoch heading towards the steps with Truman in his arms. Murdoch looked up and saw his two older sons.

“I’m going to put this little tyke to bed. He cried himself to sleep in my arms.” Murdoch entered Truman’s room and lay the boy on the bed. He eased the boots off the little feet, then pulled the pants off, leaving the boy in his shirt, drawers, and socks. He pulled the covers up to the child’s shoulders, kissed his head, and walked out quietly.

Truman had finally moved into the room next to Johnny’s after he recovered from his stomach virus and chest cold. While he was laid up in a guest room, and Johnny was in his own bed recovering from his injuries, Murdoch, Scott, and Teresa cleaned and aired out the small  room that connected to Johnny’s. The boy’s clothes were put away in the drawers and wardrobe. Murdoch purchased some small storage baskets, Scott built some shelves to hold the baskets, and Teresa shopped carefully for new drapes and a comforter in a design the boy would like. With permission from Murdoch, Teresa ordered a dark blue comforter with a tan appliquéd horse on it. The drapes were plain blue denim with a bandana pattern at the bottom hem. Aside from the twin size carved wooden bed, wardrobe, dresser, mirror, and shelves, there were also a student desk and chair and a small washstand. Truman had loved his new room, but he had to be coaxed into sleeping in there by himself.

Murdoch went downstairs to join his older sons for a much needed drink.


Back to the present…

Val was trying to think of a way to apologize to Truman when this audacious person walked into his office without so much as a perfunctory knock as a courteous citizen would have known to do. The man stood before him in an ostentatious purple suit with a matching top hat.

“Can I help you?” Val was civil, not kind and welcoming, but civil. He had an idea who this character was, but he really didn’t want to deal with him. If this person in front of him was who Val thought he was, Val would rather eat a live rattlesnake than allow him into Green River with the opportunity to hurt Truman again.

“I’m Bryce Willis, owner and Ringmaster of Bryce’s Big Top Circus. I’ve come to pay the grounds fee and inform you of how long we’re staying and where we are camped.”

“Grounds fee is $100 per week, Mr. Willis,” Val mumbled. “Where is the circus camped?”

“A HUNDRED dollars?”

“Yes, a hundred dollars. If you have a problem with that, keep movin’.”

“No, no problem. It just seems high. We only paid $60 in Modesto.”

“This ain’t Modesto…it’s Green River.”

“Here,” Willis said as he took the bills from his wallet and handed them to Val. “We’re camped three-quarters of a mile east of town. We’ll be here 1 week, 2 at the most.”

“Thank you,” replied Val as he took the money and wrote a receipt for Willis. He put the money in a lock box and put the box back into his desk drawer, handed the receipt to Willis, then sat back in his chair, resting his feet on the desktop.

“Your…employees…are welcome in town as long as they behave. They cause any trouble and they’ll get a night in my jail and a $50 fine,” Val warned the Ringmaster.

Willis nodded curtly and left the office. He took a look around the dusty town and decided to walk over to the saloon for a cold drink. Once inside the cool, dark interior, he attracted a lot of attention with his flashy, unusual attire. He gazed around at the other patrons of the establishment who also had the brilliant idea of escaping the heat and dust of midday. A group to his left paused in their jubilant game of poker and gave the stranger odd looks and snickers. Willis just smiled and nodded to them as he ambled over to the bar and ordered a beer. He turned to observe the other cowpokes and farmers who had stopped in for a quick drink. He noticed a pair of young gentlemen at a table in the far corner. They had taken a keen interest in his arrival and were now leaning forward, watching him watching them. One of the men was blond with an impassive expression. The other young man had very dark hair and piercing blue eyes. They were studying Willis with expressions that teetered between blatant curiosity and obvious loathing.


Chapter 26

The stranger in purple ambled over to the table where the two young men were sitting, nursing their beers.

“Hello there. Could I buy some fresh beers for you? Care to share a table?”

“I only drink when I know the people I’m drinkin’ with,” said the young, dark-haired man. His blue eyes were blazing with contempt for Willis.

“No, thank you, mister,” the young blond answered. “We need to be moving on…come on, Johnny.”

“Wait! Allow me to introduce myself,” the man said as Scott and Johnny rose to their feet.

The Lancer brothers paused and looked at the man blankly.

“I’m Bryce Willis. Owner and Ringmaster of Bryce’s Big Top Circus. We’ll be in town for a week or two. I hope you’ll come and see the show.”

“I don’t think so,” Johnny said quietly, but seriously.

“We can’t make any promises, Mr. Willis,” was Scott’s reply.

Scott and Johnny left the saloon quickly and strode over to the buckboard. They had come to Green River for supplies and paid a couple of school boys to load the wagon while they had a beer.

Scott checked to see that the supplies were all loaded and accounted for. He noticed an odd shape sticking up under the tarp. He lifted the tarp and saw the drum and Noah’s Ark set that had put a sparkle in Truman’s eyes when they were here last.

“Johnny? Why are we getting these now? Truman’s birthday is not for another 4 months.”

“They were both the last ones in stock and Mr. Davis said he wasn’t sure he’d get any more from the east.”

“Oh…well, we better hide them as soon as we can.”

“Yeah, we will. Maybe Jelly or Cip would hide them for us.”

Johnny and Scott were unaware that Willis was lurking in the alley nearby. When he heard Scott mention Truman’s name, his face paled and he swayed. He broke out into a cold, panicky sweat. Truman was alive! That boy could be his downfall! He should have taken care of the boy the same time he took care of the parents, instead of just abandoning him and leaving him to his own devices to survive. He’d have to figure a way to get to the kid and find out how much these people knew. He had followed Johnny and Scott to see who they were and why they had behaved in the saloon the way they did. They’d never met…why would these men have such contempt for him?

As they made their way to the front of the buckboard, movement outside the sheriff’s office caught Johnny’s eye. He looked over more carefully and saw Val rise from the chair on the porch and stretch. The two men’s eyes met. Johnny started walking towards Val.

“Where are you going, Johnny?”

Johnny turned back to Scott and said, simply, “to mend a bridge.”

Johnny continued his trek to see his estranged friend.

“Hey, Val.”

“Hey, Johnny,” Val answered cautiously.

“How’s it going?”

“Not great. The circus arrived today. Willis is in town.”

“I know. We met.”

“Is he still standin’ an’ breathin’ ?”

Johnny smiled. “For the moment.”

Val smiled and offered his hand. Johnny shook it with a small smile.

“I’m really sorry, Johnny.”

“I know, but you need to tell Truman, he’s the one who was hurt.”

“How am I s’posed to do that? He will probably run off as soon as he sees me.”

The wind shifted and Johnny was nearly overcome by an offensive  odor emanating from Val.

“He’ll probably run as soon as he SMELLS ya comin’ ! Jeez, Val, when was the last time you bathed?”

“A few days ago.”

“A few days or weeks? Go bathe and shave and use soap! Change your clothes…better yet, burn those and buy some new ones! Be at Lancer at 5:30 tonight.”

“Johnny! You don’t smell like you been sittin’ in a flower garden yerself!”

“That’s just the shift of wind changin’ sending your smell back to ya!”

“Aw, hush!...You sure Murdoch won’t toss me off the ranch?”

“No, but it’s a chance you’ll hafta take. I’ll warn him you’re comin’, though.”

“Gee, thanks, pal.”

“You’re welcome,” answered Johnny with his trademark grin. “But if ya don’t clean yourself up, you won’t get past the arch!”

Val grinned back and shook his head.

Johnny turned to go, but was stopped by Val calling to him.

“Johnny, do ya think we could talk without Truman around? I don’t want to upset the kid, but it’s hard to talk about some things when he’s around, ya know?”

“I understand.” Johnny paused to think. “Plan on staying the night. Truman usually goes to bed around 8:30. By then, it will be too dark to ride back to town, but we can talk after True is in bed.”

“Thanks…does he have his own room?”

“Ya, he does now.”

“Is he still having nightmares?”

“Just one since you were out there last, but it’s taken him some time to get used to being in his own room. The first three nights, he crawled into my bed with me. So we decided I would stay in his room one whole night with him and then wean him off having me in his room.”

Val nodded. “Should I get the kid a toy or something? To say I’m sorry?”

“No, just an apology from the heart will do.”

“Okay, thanks Johnny.”

Johnny nodded. “See ya later, Val…Val?”


“Remember to think before you open your mouth in front of Murdoch and Truman…it’ll save you a lot of trouble.”


Johnny walked back to the buckboard and climbed aboard next to Scott, who had watched the interaction with interest.

“What was that all about?” Scott started the team, whistling for them to head for home.

“I told ya, I had to go mend a bridge.”

“Did ya mend it?”


“Is it stronger?”

“We’ll have to test it before we know for sure, but I think it’ll hold up.”

“How is it going to be tested?”

“It’s coming to dinner and staying till morning.”

“Lovely. Murdoch and Truman will hardly be able to contain their enthusiasm,” Scott replied dryly.

Johnny chuckled and gave Scott a gentle back handed smack to his stomach.

“Val is going to apologize to Truman and talk about some concerns after our baby brother goes to bed…he really is sorry, Scott.”

“I’m sure he is. I’m not the one he has to convince, though.”

“I know. I want to get home to warn Murdoch and talk to True, prepare them for Val’s arrival.”

“Good luck.”

When they pulled up at the corral with the wagon, True and his puppy came bounding over from the barn.

“Truman, I want to talk to ya,” Johnny called.

“Okay, Johnny. Scott, Johnny, watch this!”

Johnny and Scott watched as Truman executed a perfect cartwheel. He and Scott were both very impressed.

“That’s super, True! Where did ya learn that?” Johnny called.

The boy put his hands on his hips, shifted most of his weight to his left leg,  and stared at Johnny in disbelief.

“Johnny, I was raised in a circus! Where do ya think I learned it? Ya goof!”

Johnny’s jaw dropped. Scott was laughing so hard, he was bent double and holding his stomach.

Johnny grinned, jogged over to the boy and hoisted him onto his right shoulder, like a sack of feed, and twirled him around. Truman spread his arms like wings and laughed. Trevor was jumping and running around, caught up in the excitement and barking joyously. Murdoch and Teresa heard the commotion, as did Jelly, Charlie, Cip, and Maria. They all came out to investigate the source and couldn’t help but smile and join in the laughter as they witnessed the brotherly love and playfulness evident between the younger Lancer boys.


Chapter 27

Johnny set the boy back on his feet and steadied him until the dizziness dissipated, then kneeled in front of him.

“Truman, that was great! Do you know how to do other things like that?”

“Sure, I just need to practice and have someone watch me to make sure I don’t get hurt. Jelly was watching today. I wasn’t allowed to try until Doc Sam said it was okay for me to play rough and till I was stronger.” 

“I understand. Listen, little brother, umm…Val is coming to dinner and to stay with us tonight.”

Truman looked at Johnny warily and backed away.

“I don’t want to see him, Johnny!”

Johnny reached out and took the boy’s hands in his. He pulled the boy close and looked him in the eyes. Truman struggled a bit, but Johnny was firm.

“Settle down, Truman. Val is my friend. He’s a good person. He wants to talk to you, so mind your manners.”

Truman bowed his head and heaved a big sigh.

Johnny softened a bit. “True? Please? He feels really bad about upsetting you.”

The boy toed the dirt with his boot. Scott and the rest of the family, including Jelly and Maria, watched with a collectively held breath to see what the boy would do.

“Okay, Johnny, I’ll talk to him, but only ‘cause he’s your friend.”

The others released their held breaths in relief that the child had agreed to see Val.

Johnny sighed and pulled the boy into a hug. He knew Truman was scared of Val. Val could be callous and insensitive at times, but he never meant harm to Truman.

“Good boy. Thank you.”

Truman lay his head on Johnny’s shoulder and Johnny hugged the boy closer.

“I’ll stay with you when Val talks to you, okay?”

“Okay, Johnny.”

Johnny lifted the boy and carried him to Murdoch.

“I guess you heard, Pa. Val’s coming to dinner and stay the night. We have some talkin’ to do and he promised to behave.”

“Okay, Johnny. See to it that he does.”

“He will. Scott and I need to put the supplies away.”

“Okay. Come to Papa, big boy. Let’s go inside.” Murdoch reached for Truman and gently took him from Johnny. Johnny and Scott walked over to the wagon to start unloading it.

“No, I want to help Johnny n’ Scott.”

Truman struggled in Murdoch’s arms. He wanted to get down and be a part of things, but he had worn himself out and wouldn’t admit it.

Murdoch put the boy down and held on to him firmly, but kindly.

“Truman, listen to me, son. It’s four o’clock. You’ve been up and running around since breakfast. You’re tired, and fussy, and you need a nap before dinner. Now, I am taking you up to your room and putting you to bed. No arguments, hear?”

Truman bowed his head and pouted. He was tired but didn’t want to give up the fight. He was still working on building up his stamina after having to stay in bed for a week, sick with the chest cold and stomach virus.

The child nodded and wiped his eyes with his sleeve. Murdoch picked him up again and held him close, patting his back and whispering assurances to him as he carried the child to his room. Murdoch reached down with one hand to pull back the covers on Truman’s bed, then lay the child down. The boy was fighting a losing battle to stay awake. Murdoch smiled as he removed the boy’s boots, bandanna and belt. He unbuttoned a couple of the child’s shirt buttons for comfort. Truman rolled onto his stomach and placed his hands on the pillow, one on each side of his head. The boy was facing the dresser as Murdoch pulled the covers up over him. He sat and rubbed the boy’s back until Truman drifted into a deep sleep. Murdoch kissed the child’s head, then left the room quietly.

Murdoch went down to the kitchen to see Teresa and to tell her his plans.

“Teresa, you know Val’s coming, right?”

“I heard. He better think before he opens his mouth this time!”

“He will, Johnny assured me. I’m going out to see how they’re doing. Truman is asleep in his bed. He was getting fussy.”

“I noticed that. I’ll check on him in a little while.”

“Thank you, darling.”

“You’re welcome.”

Murdoch went out and caught up with Johnny and Scott.

“Hey Johnny, Scott! How’s it coming?”

“Hey, Pa. Fine. We’re almost finished.”

“Hi, Murdoch. Just a few more things to put away,” answered Scott.

“Where’s True?” Johnny asked.

“He’s taking a nap.”

“He was gettin’ kinda ornery, wasn’t he?”

“Yes, and he wasn’t too thrilled about taking a nap, but he fell asleep in less than ten minutes,” Murdoch agreed with a chuckle.

Scott chuckled as he unloaded the last of the supplies. Murdoch’s eyebrows rose when he saw the drum and Noah’s Ark.

“I don’t remember these being on the list, boys.”

“They were the last ones in the store. I figured we should get them and hide them,” Johnny explained.

Murdoch nodded. “Okay, but where do you plan on hiding them for four months?”

“Hey, Cip!” Johnny called the Segundo over.

“Si, Juanito?”

“Could you hide these two toys till September, por favor?”

“Septiembre, Juanito?”

“Si, Septiembre.”

Cipriano sighed. “Si, si…give to me….I take care of them.”

“Muchas gracias, Senor!” Johnny expressed his gratitude enthusiastically and with his most charming smile. 

Cipriano rolled his eyes as he took the toys to his quarters to hide them.

Scott and Murdoch chuckled at Johnny’s antics. He could charm a prairie dog out of his hole if need be. The three Lancer men finished unloading and storing the supplies.

“Murdoch, we met Willis,” Scott informed his father.

“Really? Where?” Murdoch was apprehensive.

“Green River Saloon. He offered to buy us drinks and wants us to come to the show,” Scott continued.

“What did you say?”

“We were polite, but non-committal.”

“What’s he like?”

“Fat n’ flashy,” Johnny answered.

“He wore a purple suit with a matching purple top hat,” added Scott.

“Did he ask about Truman?”




In town…

Bryce Willis was trying to weasel information about the Lancers from Joe, the bartender.

“Who were those men? The ones sitting in the right corner earlier?”

“Johnny and Scott Lancer.”

“They’re related?”

“Yes, brothers.”

“Brothers??? They’re so different!”

“Yes. We like them that way.”

“What do they do?”

“They’re equal partners in a ranch.”

“What ranch? Where is it?”

“Sorry, pal…I hafta get back to work, here.”


“Sorry.” Joe walked off to help another customer.

Willis wanted to know how they knew someone named Truman. Could it be the boy? How many people out there are named Truman? How many boys did he know named Truman who had a birthday in four months? Just one…and he needed to see that particular boy…

Willis walked over to the Sheriff’s Office to ask the unruly sheriff about the Lancers. He did not know the man was good friends with the family.

This time, he knocked on the door. The sheriff opened it after a few moments.

“Oh, it’s you again. What do’ya want now?”

“Excuse me, sir. I was wondering if you could tell me about the Lancers.”


“I met them in the saloon and I’d like to extend a personal invitation to them to visit the circus.”

“Did you ask them if they wanted to come?”

“I told them I hoped they could come.”

“What did they say?”

“One said they couldn’t make any promises and the other said he didn’t think so.”

“Then why bother them again?”

“Well, as personal guests of mine, they would be admitted free of charge.”

“You better be prepared to extend that charitable attitude to all of Green River. The Lancers will most likely pass it up.”

Willis sputtered. “I can’t afford to let everyone come for free!”

“Then ya better think twice about invitin’ the Lancers for free. Just leave them alone, ya hear?”

“What do they have against the circus? The younger man, with dark hair, he has fierce eyes. He looked at me with what seemed to be contempt.”

“Well, in some cases, things ARE as they seem…it probably WAS contempt.”


“It’s not my place to say. Just leave them alone, ya hear? If I catch you or any of your employees hassling them, you’ll be arrested and thrown in jail until the judge comes. As long as it takes…you’ll still have to pay the grounds fee on a weekly basis, so behave yourself!”


“Good-bye, Mr. Willis. Don’t harass me, either. That would be a big mistake!”

Val closed the door in the man’s face and finished getting ready to go to the Lancers. He hoped the man wouldn’t follow him. He had been real careful not to mention anything that might make the man think Truman was with the Lancers. He’ll have to tell the Lancer men about Willis asking questions.

Val finished his last minute preparations and locked the office, leaving a note for the deputy in an inconspicuous place, telling him where he would be until the following morning. He also wrote a P.S., telling the deputy NOT to tell any of the circus people where he was or how to get there. Andy didn’t always use his noggin, but he was a good deputy in emergencies.

Val rode out of the far end of town to be sure he wasn’t being followed. He was on the alert the whole way to the ranch. Unfortunately, he hadn’t counted on someone else telling Willis exactly where the Lancer ranch was located.

Zeke, the barber, let it slip while he was shaving the portly man in the fancy duds. He had been charmed by the ringmaster‘s falsely charitable attitude and had spilled the beans about how kind and charitable the Lancers had been by taking in a lost little boy by the name of Truman. Willis told Zeke he wanted to invite the boy to the circus and give him a grand tour. Zeke thought it was a wonderful idea and told the man how to find the Lancers. Little did Zeke know that he was setting the boy up for more trauma and pain.


Chapter 28

Val arrived at the ranch at 5:15. He was freshly scrubbed and shaven. His clothes were a little dusty from riding the trail, but they were clean. He rode in and turned his horse over to Jose to be bedded down. Val took his saddlebag and walked to the front door. He knocked politely and waited to be welcomed inside. Murdoch answered the door and ushered Val inside. 

“Hello, Val. Busy afternoon?”

“Very. How are you, Murdoch?” Val extended his hand for a shake. Murdoch accepted and nodded, noting Val was making an effort to be on his best behavior.

“Fine, Val. Thank you. Have a seat. Would you like a drink?”

“Thanks. Just a small one, please,” Val replied as he sat on the couch.

Scott strode in from the hallway, dressed in a clean shirt and pants.

“Hey, Val. How are you?”

“Hey, Scott. Fine, thanks.”

“Hi, son. Where are your brothers?”

Scott smiled. He liked the sound of that, “your brothers.”

“Johnny is cleaning up and he said he would get Truman up.”


“Up?” Val was confused.

“Truman had a nap this afternoon, Val. Believe me, you wouldn’t have wanted to talk to him if he hadn’t had one,” Murdoch chuckled.

“Really? Does he have a temper?”

“He didn’t have a tantrum, he was just a bit fussy. Ornery, you might say.”

Upstairs, Johnny had finished cleaning himself up and dressing in clean clothes. He walked quietly into Truman’s room to wake the child for dinner. Johnny sat on the edge of the bed next to the sleeping child. The boy was laying on his left side, facing the wall, with the bedcovers resting at his waist. His little hands were pressed together, palm to palm, as if in prayer, but tucked under his left cheek. Johnny thought the boy looked like an angel when he slept. Johnny began to gently wake Truman by smoothing his hair out of his eyes. Truman sighed in his sleep.

“Truman,” Johnny whispered.


“Time to wake up.”

“Uh unh”

“Come on, little brother. Time to get up.”

“Later,” the child mumbled.

“No. Dinner will be ready soon.”


Johnny chuckled and took the boy gently by his shoulder and rolled him onto his back. The sleepy, grumpy boy opened his eyes and glared at Johnny. He turned to roll back onto his side, but Johnny held him firmly.

“Leave me ‘lone. Wanna sleep.”

“It’s time to get up,” Johnny said firmly as he lifted the child and set him on the floor in his stockinged feet. Johnny kneeled in front of Truman and straightened the boy’s clothes, tucking his shirt tail in and buttoning the shirt. The boy didn’t resist, but he wasn’t helpful, either. Johnny picked the child up and deposited him on the bed. He lifted the boy’s chin so their eyes would meet.

“Truman, you are going to behave tonight at dinner. Val is coming and you will be nice. Remember?” Johnny said firmly, but not unkindly.

The child crossed his arms in front of his chest and pouted. He hadn’t wanted a nap, and now he didn’t want to get up.

“Do I need to get Papa up here to straighten you out?” Johnny was getting irritated with Truman.

“What do you mean?” Truman asked with wide eyes.

“I mean by putting you over his knee and warming your behind, that’s what I mean.” Johnny was serious.

The boy sat and thought a moment. He didn’t want a spanking, of course, but he was curious if Johnny would ever consider spanking him. Would Scott or Teresa?

“No. I’ll be good…could I ask you something?”

“Good boy. Sure, what is it?” Johnny smiled.

“Do you and Scott and Teresa…,” the boy faltered for a minute, unsure how to continue. “Are you allowed to spank me? Or just Papa?”

“I don’t know, True. I don’t want to spank ya, but I guess I would if I had to.”

“Would you use a belt or a stick?”

“Never. Just my hand. But you’re a good boy. I doubt I’ll ever have to.”

“Johnny, I’ve never just had a hand spanking. People who wanted to punish me always used…something.”

“Even your parents?”

“No. They never spanked me.”

“True, we don’t need to worry about that, now. Papa, Scott, Teresa, and I…we will never discipline you with sticks or belts, only with love…it’s time to go downstairs. Put your boots on.” Johnny wanted out of this conversation fast.

The boy hopped down and complied immediately. He took Johnny’s hand and they walked downstairs together.

“Here they come,” Scott announced as he heard Johnny and Truman coming down the stairs.

They entered the great room and Johnny pulled Truman to the couch gently. Johnny sat next to Val, then lifted Truman onto his lap, facing Val.

“Hey, Val. You look good,” Johnny greeted his friend.

“Hey, Johnny. Thanks.”

Johnny tapped Truman’s shoulder and gave him a meaningful look.

“Hi, Sheriff,” Truman said, quietly.

“Hey, Truman. You can call me ‘Val’. How are ya?”

“I’m fine, thanks. Did…did you have a good day?”

“It was busy, but good, I guess. Thanks. Did you have a good day?”

“Yes, sir. I stayed busy, too.”

The Lancer men exchanged smiles during this little chat between the boy and Val.

“Truman, I want to say I am sorry for fussing at you and hurtin’ your feelings last week.”

Truman studied Val’s face, seeing the honesty in his eyes. The boy extended his little hand towards Val for a handshake. Val smiled as he grasped the offered hand and shook it.

“Apology accepted, sir.”

“Thanks, Truman.”

“You’re welcome. If you need to talk to Papa and my brothers alone, I’ll scoot if you ask me nicely.”

Val chuckled and tousled the boy’s hair. “I’ll try to remember that.”


“Guys, supper is ready,” Teresa announced.

“Okay, darling, we’re coming,” Murdoch replied.

Val stood up and stretched. Truman slid off Johnny’s lap, then turned and pulled on Johnny’s arm to get him up.

“Pull harder, True,” Johnny coaxed with a grin.

Scott leaned over, grabbed Johnny’s collar, and pulled his little brother off the couch.

“Hey! That’s cheating,” Johnny protested.

Scott chuckled as Johnny batted him on the head with a couch pillow. Truman giggled at his brothers’ antics.

“Scott! John! You’re setting a bad example for Truman,” Murdoch admonished his older sons. Inside, he was smirking because he was secretly enjoying the playfulness his older sons’ bond allowed.

Scott swooped down, lifted Truman, and gently tossed him over his shoulder as Johnny had earlier that day. He carried the boy to the dinner table, patted the child’s behind lightly, then set Truman in his chair and squeezed his shoulder gently. Johnny sat next to his little brother and Val sat across from Murdoch. Scott and Teresa took their usual places. Maria brought Truman’s milk in his campfire cup.

“Gracias, Maria,” Truman said. He was picking up a few Spanish words here and there and he liked to say them when he had the opportunity.

“De nada, angel,” Maria replied with a smile, pleased with the boy’s manners.

Murdoch smiled at Truman, also pleased with the boy’s behavior. After the blessing, Murdoch started serving the roast beef.  Mashed potatoes, string beans, and biscuits also made their way around the table. Johnny helped serve Truman’s plate, then cut the meat for him. Truman opened his biscuit and buttered it himself. The Lancers and Val spoke idly of town happenings, never mentioning the circus or Willis. Surprisingly, it was Truman who asked about the circus.

“Sheriff Val?”

“Just call me Val, okay, kid?”

“Oh, yes…Val?”


“Didn’t you say the circus was coming to town?”

The family was stunned that Truman had mentioned the circus for the second time that day. ‘Maybe he’s healing,’ thought Murdoch.

“Um, yes, Truman. The circus arrived today. They’re camped outside of town.”

“Who paid the grounds fee?” The child asked, like an adult would.

“How do you know about that, Truman?” Murdoch asked.

“Dad used to be the one sent to pay the grounds fee ‘cause he could get a good deal. He used to take me with him.”

“Willis paid the fee, Truman,” Val answered.

The boy visibly flinched at the mention of the name. Johnny noticed and put his hand on the boy’s back for support.

“How much did he hafta pay?”

“A hundred dollars a week.”

A slow grin spread across the boy’s face. “Dad could’ve talked you down to 40!”

“I would’ve let him, too,” Val replied kindly.

Truman smiled shyly. “Thank you, Val.”

“You’re welcome, kid.”

“Do you want to go to the circus, Truman?” Murdoch asked.

“No…I want to see Jimmy, though.”

“Who’s Jimmy?” Val asked.

“Jimmy takes care of the animals…feeding, exercising, caring for them. People call him simple. He doesn’t talk but uses his hands to talk. He took care of me after Mum and Dad died and…after Willis’ meanies hurt me and he’s my good friend.”

“I see,” Murdoch replied.

The subject was dropped when Maria started clearing the dinner plates and dessert arrived. Johnny and Truman opted for fresh strawberries and cream while the others asked for pecan pie.

After dessert, Val and the family moved to the couch and chairs. Truman sat in Scott’s lap, leaned back against him, and listened as the adults talked about rising cattle prices and the progress of the railroad. Scott wrapped his arms around the content boy and relaxed into the chair, happy. Johnny looked over and smiled at Scott and Truman. His heart swelled with love for his brothers. Scott returned the smile, looked down at Truman’s head, caught Johnny’s eye again, and winked, instinctively knowing that he and Johnny were thinking the same thing, that this boy, who stumbled into their lives and hearts, was destined to become a Lancer.

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. When Murdoch answered it, he found a portly man wearing a dazzling green suit and matching top hat standing on his front porch.

“Hello, Mr. Lancer, I am Bryce Willis.”


Chapter 29

Truman heard the name and his face turned white. Scott held him close to help him feel secure. The boy was trembling.

Johnny leaned forward and whispered, “Are you okay, buddy?”

Truman shook his head ‘no.’

Val stood and walked to the door.

“I thought I told you to leave the Lancers alone! You are under arrest for trespassing,” Val informed Willis.

Scott and Johnny heard Val repeat his warning and wondered why he hadn’t told them that Willis was asking about them. They decided to join the others at the door to see what was going on. Scott lifted Truman off his lap and set him back in the chair.

“Stay here a minute, True. We’ll be right back.”

“Don’t leave me here, Scott! Please!”

“It’s okay, Truman. Willis isn’t going to hurt you. Stay here.”

The frightened boy nodded. Scott nodded and caressed the boy’s cheek. Then, he and Johnny walked over to the gathering at the door.

“What’s going on?” Johnny asked.

“What are you doing here, Willis?” Murdoch wanted to know.

“I came to find Truman. I’ve been so worried about him since his parents’ tragic deaths. He ran off after we buried them and we’ve been looking everywhere for him. His parents left custody of the boy to me should anything happen to them.”

“That’s a LIE! They wouldn’t do that to me!” Truman had listened to the adults talk, but he couldn’t sit and let his new family be lied to by Willis. He ran over and stood between Johnny and Scott. Scott placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder and squeezed it reassuringly.

“I have the paper right here, son,” Willis said with a smug smile.

This enraged Truman even further.

“NEVER call him ‘son’ !” Murdoch said menacingly.

Murdoch was very concerned about the boy’s mental state right now. The boy was standing in front of Scott, now. His little hands clenched into fists and his whole body was shaking.

“Let me see the paper,” Murdoch demanded.

“Fine, here.” Willis reached into his pocket, pulled out a document, and handed it to Murdoch.

“This was dated last week,” Murdoch noted.

“That’s right, just a few days before their tragic deaths,” answered Willis, almost nonchalantly.

Truman edged closer to Murdoch to sneak a peek at the paper. He paid close attention to the signatures. They were not his parents’ signatures. Truman knew his parents’ signatures very well.

“This doesn’t add up,” said Val, knowing how long the boy had been with the Lancers and trying to get Willis flustered.

“What do you mean?” Willis asked, somewhat frightened.

“Well, it’s awfully convenient that the boy’s parents signed legal custody to you just days before they both died.”

“A tragic coincidence, yes. Pack your things, Truman, it’s time to go,” Willis instructed.

“He’s NOT going anywhere with YOU, Willis!” Johnny yelled just before he pushed Murdoch aside in his haste to lay his hands on Willis.

Johnny punched the arrogant ringmaster in the mouth, knocking him back, and causing the portly man to fall onto the front porch, landing on his backside.

Jelly came running up, still pulling up his suspenders.

“What in tarnation is going on in here?”

“Jelly, go to the guardhouse and bring the handcuffs back, please. We have a most unwelcome guest here,” Murdoch requested.

Jelly nodded and left.

“Scott, Jimmy was s’posed to get custody of me! But after Mum and Dad were killed, the circus took off,” the boy told his big brother.

The boy was confused, but the Lancers and Val were seething with anger.

“Val, take this garbage out and lock it in the guardhouse. I’ll have Frank and Charlie stand guard.”

“You can’t arrest me for coming to claim what’s mine!” Willis hollered, enraged, and still sitting on the porch, holding his hand to his bloodied mouth.

“I can when ya don’t heed my warnings to leave people alone!” Val replied, as he fought to control Willis as he pulled the man to a standing position.

“Truman is NOT anyone’s property. He is a human being. Val, get him out of our sight!” Murdoch ordered.

“Right away, Murdoch. We can question him in the morning,” Val said, with a meaningful look at Truman, as he put the cuffs Jelly appeared with on Willis.

Murdoch nodded his understanding that the boy would not be present during the questioning. Val and Jelly marched the nuisance to the guardhouse and locked him in, after taking the cuffs off. Jelly went to get Charlie and Frank and explained what was going on and who Willis was. The two men were only too happy to help the Lancers keep Truman safe after they heard Jelly’s request and explanation.

“You behave yourself, or the cuffs go back on,” Val warned Willis.

Val turned to Charlie and Frank as they entered for the watch.

“Thanks for keeping watch. Don’t let him talk ya into anything. There’s a chamber pot and a bucket of water in there, so he shouldn’t need anything. If he gives ya any trouble, you can put the cuffs on or hog tie him, whichever you prefer.”

Charlie and Frank nodded their understanding and sat at the table to play cards. Frank put on a fresh pot of coffee while Charlie shuffled and dealt, then sat down again

“I could hear the yellin’ clear ‘cross the yard, Val. I thought y’all might need some help,” Jelly said as the walked back to the house after Frank and Charlie took watch.

“I’m not surprised, Jelly. Thanks for the help. That poor kid, I hope Murdoch and all you can help him. I’ll testify on their behalf when they go for full, permanent custody. That child deserves peace.”

“He sure does. Is he still afraid of you?”

“No, we made up.”

“Good. I have a feelin’ he’s gonna need ya on his side before all this trouble is over.”

“I’ve always been on his side, Jelly.”

“I know, but he didn’t. Now he does an’ it’ll be easier for him to talk to ya, see?” 

“Yeah, I see.”


Chapter 30

When Val and Jelly returned to the house, Johnny was holding Truman while standing near the fireplace.

“I think I’ll put True to bed, now,” Johnny announced.

“Good idea, son. Let me say good night to him,” Murdoch replied.

“I think he’s already asleep.”

“Yes, he’s asleep,” confirmed Scott. He had been watching surreptitiously and noticed when the boy had drifted off to sleep.

Murdoch stood up and walked over to Johnny. He looked at the little boy and watched as he took deep breaths. Murdoch rubbed the child’s head tenderly and gently squeezed Johnny’s arm.

“Are you okay, Johnny?”

Johnny nodded and took the boy up and put him to bed.  When he came back, he joined Murdoch, Scott, and Val at the table.

Teresa was visibly upset, but was trying to be brave.

“Jelly, could you help me in the kitchen, please?” Teresa asked.

“Sure, T’resa.”

They walked into the kitchen where Teresa broke down crying. Jelly took her in his arms and held her, comforting the young lady.

“Shh, little lady. It’ll work out, trust ole Jelly. We’ll take care of the young’un.”

“I just feel so helpless, Jelly. How can I help Truman feel safe? When will that boy find peace and happiness and get his childhood back?”

“One day at a time, T’resa. We’ll have to help him one day at a time.”

Teresa nodded and wiped her eyes.

“Thank you, Jelly.”

“You’re welcome. Not a problem t’all. Are you okay?”

“I guess. I better go see if they need anything.”

“Okay. Call me iffen ya need anythin’, hear?”

“Yes, Jelly. Thank you.” Teresa gave him a peck on the cheek and smiled.

Jelly smiled back and gave the young lady’s hand an affectionate, reassuring squeeze.

Teresa went back into the great room after she refreshed herself. Scott and the other men were at the dinner table, talking quietly. Teresa walked over and stood by Murdoch’s side and waited quietly.

During a break in the conversation, she asked if the men would like some coffee.

“That would be wonderful, darling,” Murdoch replied.

Teresa nodded and went to the kitchen to prepare a fresh pot.

“What are we going to do now?” Scott asked.

“What do you mean, son? We’re going to keep that child safe,” Murdoch answered.

“What about the document? Do you think it will hold up in court?” Johnny asked.

“I don’t know, son. I doubt it, but we’ll just have to fight it. I saw some kind of recognition in Truman’s eyes when he looked at the paper. It seems he knows something about it. We’ll have to ask him when he wakes up.”

“Remember, Truman said his family line was written in his Bible? I wonder if it had any clues in it. Maybe we should track it down,” Scott suggested.

Murdoch considered this. “That’s a good idea, Scott. We’ll have to ask him if he remembers where he sold it.” There was a little more hope in Murdoch’s voice.

“Listen, you can count on me to help any way possible. True is a special little boy,” Val declared.

“Yes, he is, and thanks, Val,” Scott replied.



The next morning, in town…

Murdoch, Theo, and Val were in Val’s outer office, talking about Truman and Willis’ claim to him.  

“Do you think that document Willis has will hold up in court?” Murdoch asked Theo.

“I don’t know, Murdoch. I wish we had more proof about the parents’ deaths than the word of a six year old child. Is there any chance the parents had a will in a safe deposit box somewhere?”

“I don’t know, Theo. I know he had a Bible that has his lineage written in it,” Murdoch replied. “He had to sell it to get food.”

“That is important. Do you think you could track it down?”

“Scott wants to go look for it. I don’t want to send him alone, but I’m not sure Johnny is ready or willing to leave Truman.”

“Well, I wouldn’t give up hope of winning without the Bible, though it would make your case considerably stronger.”

“What do you mean?”

“You have a lot going for you already. First, you are a respected member of this community. You’ve been here for at least 25 years, that shows stability. Truman wouldn’t get stability by traveling with Willis, correct? Secondly, you’ve already been granted temporary custody of the child. Only in rare, extreme cases would that be revoked. You and the family have established a strong, loving relationship with Truman. He trusts you. He comes to you with his problems, he feels safe with you. Third, you are in good health for your age and you are not that old. You have money and three healthy young people to help take care of him, with whom the boy also has a strong relationship. The boys call Truman ‘little brother,’ right?”

“Right. Could Johnny’s past give some of the community second thoughts if we seek permanent custody?”

“That’s the least of your worries. Judge Hayes granted custody. Johnny’s stayed out of major trouble for the past year, right?”


“Think what it would do to the child who trusts you if you did not seek permanent custody. He would feel abandoned and betrayed…again.”

“I wouldn’t do that. We want the boy…I was just thinking about any obstacles that might come up.”

“Don’t worry about that. After the community hears from Truman what Willis did and that Johnny rescued him from certain death, they will back you up 110%.”

“The Bible would help, though, right?”

“Yes. Do you think the boy remembers where he sold it?”

“He’s pretty smart. I wouldn’t doubt he has some idea where it is. I’ll ask him this evening. Perhaps Scott should leave tomorrow to find it.”

“That would be a great idea.”

“How’s Truman doing today, Murdoch?” Val asked. He was in the meeting as a witness.

“He’s fine. He ate a good breakfast and he’s staying with Scott and Johnny today.”

“That’s good to hear.”

“What did you get out of Willis?” Murdoch asked.

Theo and Willis’ lawyer, Archibald Crane, had both been present when Val questioned Willis early that morning.

“He said the parents were attacked  by the cat, Monty, 4 days ago in San Diego and the boy had been put to bed before the tragedy happened and that when the boy found out about his parents, he ran away.”

“That’s not what Willis said last night….God, Val, was it only last night this all happened? It seems like it happened last week!”

“Yeah. That’s because we were up several hours afterward.”

“I guess you’re right. Truman’s been with us, gee, nearly a month!”

“Murdoch, do you think Truman is able to testify?” Theo asked.

“Yes, I think he could, with support. We can’t sue Willis for his parents’  and brother’s deaths, can we?”

“I’ll look into it. Get Scott on his way to find that Bible,” Theo advised. “I need to get back to the office and then send a wire to track down Judge Hayes. I’ll be in touch.”

“Thanks, Theo. See you soon,” Murdoch replied.

Theo nodded and left.

“I’m going to put a restraining order on Willis, his lawyer, and any circus workers. They are not to be within 100 yards of the boundary of Lancer or Truman. If you bring the boy to town, stop by my office and tell me so I can protect him properly.”

“Val, how is he going to get within 100 yards of anything if he’s in jail?”

“He was released into the custody of his lawyer. I’m sorry, Murdoch. First offense trespassing is only a misdemeanor. That’s why I am putting the restraining order on him.”

Murdoch’s face clearly showed his anger when Val told him Willis was no longer in jail, but he calmed when Val told him about protecting Truman.

Murdoch sighed. “Okay, Val. I know you’re doing your job.”

“Yes, and as long as I do it 100% legal, there will be no questions in court as to my professionalism and that I was treatin’ everyone fair. I can’t show favoritism, Murdoch. It would blow the case.”

“I know, Val. Thanks for your honesty,” answered Murdoch.

“Believe me, I would much prefer that he stay locked up, but I can’t do that. It’s mighty convenient that his lawyer travels with the circus,” Val stated.

“Yes, I think so, too…would you like to join me for lunch?”

“Sure. I’ll lock up and we’ll go to the café. That okay?”

“Sounds good,” Murdoch replied.

Murdoch waited on the porch as Val locked up and they walked to the café together.


Willie Davis was watching the sheriff and rancher from the porch of his father’s mercantile. His mind was racing around his plan to take the rancher’s little pet brat down a peg or two. He thought about just waiting until school started and pounce on the kid then.


Chapter 30B

Scott, Johnny, and Truman rode to the south mesa line. They arrived about an hour after they had left the hacienda. It took longer since they couldn’t let the horses run due to Truman’s presence.

Raul and Jose were working hard, hammering the posts in the pre-dug holes, and filling in the dirt to secure the posts. Then, they hammered the nails in part way, stretched the wire taught, wrapped it around the nails, then finished driving the nails in.

“How’s it going, men?” Scott asked.

“Fine, Senor Scott. We’ll need some more wire soon, though. I think we have enough to make it to the line shack, though,” Raul answered.

Secretly, Raul knew they had enough, but he was sick and tired of fencing, so he hid the extra supplies behind some hay bales in the shed, thinking they wouldn’t be found till after the Lancers went to town to buy unnecessary supplies. That would give him time to go to town and have a few beers and maybe a romp with a saloon girl.

“We can pick up some more wire for you. Where’s Miguel?”

“He’s digging the holes and moving on.”

Scott nodded.

Raul nodded to Johnny, who nodded and smiled back, politely. Raul looked closely at Truman, who ducked his head shyly.

“Who’s the nino?”

“That’s Truman. You haven’t met him? He’s been here nearly a month.” 

“No, I’ve been working.”

“Oh. Johnny found him, hurt, and brought him home. Murdoch is planning to adopt him. He’ll be our brother,” Scott explained.

“Oh, still bringing home strays, eh Juanito?” Raul asked somewhat sourly.

Johnny gave him a cold stare, but did not want to say anything he would later regret, in front of Truman.

“Is there a problem?” Scott asked tersely.

“No, Senor, no problemo,” Raul answered with a shrug.

Johnny could feel trouble brewing. He decided to take Truman and find Miguel before Raul said something that would get himself wounded…or killed.

“Scott, Truman and I are going to check on Miguel,” Johnny said quietly.

“Okay, Johnny. I’ll be there soon.”

“Sure.” Johnny glared at Raul one last time before turning Barranca around and headed further along the line.

Truman’s head was still down. Johnny took both reins in his right hand and caressed the boy’s cheek with the other, feeling wetness. He used his bandana to wipe Truman’s tears. He heaved a sigh of frustration and put his hand on the boy’s chest and pulled him closer to his own body, gently reassuring the boy that he was safe and loved.

Once they were out of earshot, Scott turned back to Raul.

“What’s the problem, Raul?”


Scott nodded, then turned to Jose.

“Doyou have a problem, Jose?”

“No, Senor Scott,” Jose answered honestly and respectfully. Scott believed him. Jose had never given the Lancers an ounce of trouble.

“Good…let me know what supplies you need and how much when you finish using what you have.”

“Si, Senor Scott,” Jose replied.

“Okay, See you later,” Scott said as he nodded and rode to catch up with Johnny and Truman.

“Hey, brothers, everything okay?” Scott asked once he caught up to them.

“Yeah, fine. You get Raul straightened out?”

“I think so. Don’t worry about it.”

“I worry, brother, I worry,” Johnny muttered.

“Hey, Miguel! How’s it going?”

“Bueno, Senor Scott. Hola, Senor Juanito!”

“Hola, Miguel. Como estas?”

“Bien, gracias. Hola, nino.”

“Hi,” Truman replied quietly.

Miguel chuckled and patted the boy’s knee. “Como se llama?”

“Tell him your name, brother,” Johnny coaxed the child.


“Ah, Truman. Nice to meet you,” Miguel said as he offered his hand.

Truman shook the man’s hand and smiled a little. “Nice to meet you, Miguel, sir.”

Scott and Johnny shared a smile. Truman was doing very well.

“No ‘sir,’ just Miguel, ok?”

“Ok, Miguel…is it hard to dig holes?”

“No, you want to dig some?”

“Sure,” replied Truman, enthusiastically.

“Not today, Truman. Another time,” Scott intervened. He didn’t think it was a good idea for the boy to exert himself after what he had endured the night before.

Scott looked to Johnny for agreement and was pleased when Johnny backed him up.

“I don’t think Papa wants you to do any digging today, little brother. You can dig another time,” Johnny said softly, but firmly.

“Why?” Truman asked.

“Because Papa and Johnny and I say so,” Scott repeated firmly.

Truman crossed his arms and pouted.

‘Uh oh. He’s getting ornery again. Definitely time to head back,’ thought Scott.

“Oh, nino, it’s ok. We dig another day, yes?”

“Ok,” Truman replied reluctantly.

“He has spirit, yes, Juanito?”

“Si, Miguel,” Johnny replied with a smile.

Scott took a quick look at his watch.

“Don’t dig any more holes, Miguel. Raul and Jose are running out of wire and it’s close to lunch…we better head back, Johnny.”

“Okay. See ya later, Miguel. Good work!” Johnny praised the kind vaquero.

“Gracias, Juanito. Buenos tardes, mi amigo.”

“Say ‘adios’ to Miguel, Truman.”

“Adios, Miguel,” Truman complied.

“Adios, Truman.”

“Truman, come ride with me back to the house. Give Barranca a break,” Scott suggested.

Truman sighed. He was getting tired and hungry. “Okay.”

Scott rode up next to Barranca, scooted back in the saddle, and took Truman from Johnny as he was lifted over.

“Settled, True?”

“Yes,” the boy answered quietly.

“What’s wrong, kiddo?” Scott asked, alarmed.

“Why doesn’t Raul like me? What did I do to him?” Truman asked, distressed.

“You didn’t do anythin’ to ‘im. Don’t worry ‘bout it. If he bothers you or is ever mean to you, let us know, ok?” Johnny said.


Scott felt the boy slump in the saddle and decided they better get him fed and down for a nap before he fell asleep in the saddle.

Scott and Johnny rode under the arch with Truman. Once they were in the yard, Jelly and Charlie came over to take their horses’ reins. Johnny dismounted and reached up for the boy who was already half asleep. Johnny nodded his thanks to Jelly as he carried Truman inside.

Scott dismounted and thanked Charlie for taking care of his horse, then followed his brothers inside. Truman was asleep by the time Johnny laid him on the couch. Johnny carefully removed the boy’s hat and gloves as Scott eased the boy’s boots off. They covered their brother with a blanket and made sure he was comfortable.

“I’ll let Teresa know we’re here, and wash up,” Scott told Johnny.

“Ok, I’ll watch the lil cowboy.”

Scott smiled and nodded, then went to the kitchen.

“Hey, Teresa. We need to eat lunch in the great room.”

“Hey, Scott. Why?”

“Because True is asleep on the couch and we don’t want to leave him alone.”

“Okay. I’ll save lunch for him and he may eat when he wakes.”

“Good idea. I’m going to wash up.”

“Okay. Lunch will be on the table when you’re ready.”

“Thank you.” Scott left and washed his face and hands.

Teresa took the sandwich fixings on a large platter and set aside a plate for Truman with bread, some slices of beef and cheese. Johnny was sitting on the ottoman next to the boy and looked up when Teresa brought the dishes in. He wandered over and reached out to snag a piece of beef, but had his hand slapped by Teresa.

“Hey! That hurt!”  Johnny exclaimed as he pulled his hand back.

“You need to wash those hands, first, and don’t raise your voice or you’ll wake our little brother,” Teresa admonished him.

Johnny made a silly face at Teresa when she had turned her back, then looked over his shoulder to be sure the boy was still sleeping. Scott walked in and took his seat. He held up his hands for Teresa’s scrutiny. When she gave him a nod and a smile, he started fixing his plate.

“Go wash up, Johnny. Go on,” Teresa shooed him out.

Teresa sat down to lunch and began fixing her own plate.

The front door opened and Murdoch walked in quietly. When he saw Scott and Teresa at the dining room table having lunch, he headed over.

“Hello…where are my other boys?”

“Johnny is washing up and Truman is asleep on the couch. How did it go in town?” Scott asked.

“Fine, I guess. We need to find that Bible. Willis made bail.”

“What?” Johnny asked incredulously. He had walked in from the kitchen just before Murdoch shared the news.

“SHhhh!  Don’t wake Truman,” Teresa fussed at him, quietly.

The boy stirred a little, turned onto his stomach, and went back to sleep.

“We better save this conversation for later,” suggested Murdoch. “Tell me how it went with you boys this morning.”

“We rode along the South Mesa fence line. Raul and Jose were putting the posts in and securing the wire while Miguel moved ahead, digging the holes. They were running out of wire, so I told them to finish what they could and we would get some supplies in town,” Scott answered.

“You took Truman, right?”

“Yeah, he rode Barranca with me, then with Scott on Charlie. He has a way with animals, Pa. Barranca likes him,” Johnny replied.

“Did the boy enjoy himself?”

“I think so, but he was half-asleep by the time we made it back here for lunch,” Scott answered.

“We don’t know how much rest he was able to get last night,” Murdoch commented. “How did the hands treat him?”

“Miguel was really nice to ’im.  Invited the boy to dig holes with ‘im and True was ready to, but Scott an’ I decided it wouldn’t go over too good with you, so we said he could dig another time,” Johnny explained.

Murdoch nodded and smiled.

“He wasn’t too happy, but he minded. Raul has a problem with kids, I think,” reported Scott.

“What did Raul say?”

“He asked who Truman is and I told him you are adopting him and he’s going to be our brother.”

“He didn’t take it too good. I guess he thought the lil guy was gonna boss him ‘round. I decided to take True to see Miguel and get him away from Raul. He’s never been one of my favorites,” Johnny stated.

“I know, son. That was good thinking, to take our boy away from Raul, Johnny…What did Jose say?”

Johnny nodded and smiled, acknowledging Murdoch’s praise.

“Jose didn’t say anything. I asked him if he had a problem and he said no. I believe him,” Scott answered. “I told Raul that he probably would not be interacting with Truman, but that if he ever did, he better be kind and respectful to him or deal with us.”

Johnny drank some milk to wash down the bite of sandwich he’d been chewing on while Scott spoke.

“Truman picked up on Raul’s dislike of him, though. He asked why Raul didn’t like him, that he hadn’t done anything to Raul,” Johnny added. “I told ‘im not to worry ‘bout it, but if Raul was ever mean to ‘im, to tell one of us.”

“Thank you. Good thinking, boys. Let’s keep an eye on Raul, especially when our boy is outside,” Murdoch suggested.

“I agree. I wouldn’t leave him with any of the hands just yet. Frank, Charlie, Miguel, and Joe are the only ones I would have total faith in. Cip and Jelly, too, of course,” Scott mused.

“Let’s not leave him in anyone’s care but ours, Jelly’s and Cip’s for now,” said Murdoch.

“I have a feeling Raul might cause trouble for us, Pa,” Johnny said, concerned.

“Well, he hasn’t done anything, yet, so we’ll have to be watchful. I know it’s hard, son, but it’s the best we can do. We can’t let a man go just on a hunch. Besides, we need all our hands this summer to help with roundups and repairs from the winter storms and before the summer storms start. It’ll be fine, Johnny.”

Murdoch paused to catch his breath and have some lemonade.

“I thought I saw a coil of wire behind some bales of hay in the shed. Let’s go round up the supplies we have on hand, put them in the buckboard and we’ll take them out to the south mesa. We can get an estimate of what else they need and I’ll talk to them about Truman myself, if the subject comes up,” Murdoch continued.

“Sounds good, Murdoch…you didn’t eat anything,” Scott noticed.

“Val and I had lunch in town. Teresa, could you please sit in here with Truman while we go out?” Murdoch asked her.

“Sure. I have some mending to do. I’ll feed him when he wakes.”

“Thank you, dear. Ready, boys?”

“Sure, Murdoch.”

“Let’s go!” Johnny drained his milk and tweaked Teresa’s cheek.

Murdoch walked to the couch, first, to check on the boy. He gazed at Truman and smiled. He leaned over, adjusted the blanket, rubbed the boy’s back gently, then straightened and headed towards the door. Scott and Johnny had followed their father to the couch and watched as he had lovingly cared for the boy. They had to wait for Teresa to collect her sewing basket and the garments that needed mending before they could leave the house. They didn’t want Truman to wake and think he was alone.


Chapter 31

Teresa sat in Murdoch’s chair, mending yet another pair of Johnny’s jeans. Truman had been sleeping about an hour when he started to stir. Visions of Raul invaded his dreams. He shook his head trying to rid himself of the scary scenes, but they wouldn’t go away. He dreamt Raul was carrying him away from Lancer, kicking and screaming. He yelled out, “No! Raul! Put me down! I not comin’ !  I not comin’ ! Let me go! Johnny! Scott! Papa! Help!”

Truman woke up then and sat up quickly. He was breathing hard and weeping, drenched with sweat.

Teresa went to the boy and sat next to him, rubbing his back and soothing him.

“Shhh. It’s okay, Truman. It was a bad dream, sweetie.”

“Where’s Papa?”

“Outside. You want to go with me to find him?”

Truman nodded quietly. Teresa helped him with his boots and they walked out together, hand in hand.




Scott, Johnny, and Murdoch had found some wire behind the hay bales in the shed, along with some posts and nails.

“How did these get back here?” Murdoch wondered.

“Looks like someone wanted an excuse ta knock off early,” Johnny suggested.

“Murdoch!” they heard Teresa call.

They walked out to meet her.

“What is it, Teresa?” Murdoch called back.

He smiled when he saw Truman with Teresa, but as they came closer, his smile vanished. He saw that the boy was soaked in sweat and distressed.

“Truman had a bad dream and asked for you,” Teresa explained.

“Truman! Papa’s here, son. Papa’s here,” he said as he lifted the boy into his arms.

“Hey, Papa.”

“Hey, son. Had a bad dream, huh?”


“What was it about?”

“I thought Raul was going to take me.”

Murdoch spoke softly and calmly to soothe the boy.

“Shh, it’s okay, son. It’s okay. You’re fine.”

Murdoch had remained calm, which helped Truman relax.

“He’s not going to take you anywhere, son. You’re safe here with us,” Murdoch continued.

“Are we going to deliver the supplies?” Scott asked.

“Not right now. Truman needs us. We’ll tend to him, first. He needs a dry shirt and I need a towel,” Murdoch replied as they all made their way to the great room.

“Yes, Pa,” Johnny replied, then went to into the house, to Truman’s room and grabbed a clean shirt. He stopped by the linen closet and snagged a towel and took both items to the living room and set the shirt on the couch.

“Thank you, Johnny,” Murdoch said.

Johnny nodded and dried the boy’s hair with the towel.

“About how long was he sleeping before this episode, Teresa?” Murdoch asked.

“An hour, I think.”

Murdoch nodded. “I’m going to take him to his room and put him to bed for a little while longer.”

He didn’t want Raul to know he’d gotten under the Lancers’ skins. That information would make the man even harder to manage.

“Ok, Murdoch…everything’s ok, little brother,” Scott answered his father, then reassured his youngest brother.

“Get some rest, lil cowboy,” Johnny said as he rubbed the boy’s back.

Murdoch smiled at the nickname Johnny had given his little brother. He patted Johnny on the shoulder, and headed to the boy’s room with Truman secure in his arms, carrying the towel and picking up the clean shirt on the way. When they entered Truman’s room, he set the boy on the floor and took Truman’s shirt off. He wiped down the child’s wet torso, then put a clean shirt on the boy. Next, he helped True take his boots off.  He pulled the covers down, picked Truman up and laid him in the bed. Murdoch covered the child with the sheet and blanket and rubbed his back till the child went to sleep. He went downstairs and sat at his desk, thinking about how he was going to deal with Raul shirking his work, lying, and hiding the supplies.

A half  hour later, Truman woke and sat up, slightly disoriented.

“Papa! Papa!”

Murdoch heard the boy call from his desk and went to check on him.

“Shhh, Papa’s here, baby. Papa’s here.”

Truman nodded. “I’m okay now. It was so quiet in the house. Papa?”

“Yes, son?”

“I’m hungry.”

“Okay, let’s get you up and find Teresa. She has something for you to eat. You slept through lunch.”


Murdoch lifted the boy from the bed and set him on his feet. He picked up the hairbrush and brushed the child’s hair. Then, he ran the brush through his own hair.

Truman took Murdoch’s hand and they walked to the great room and found Scott and Johnny at the desk and Teresa was mending one of Murdoch’s shirts while sitting on the couch. They all looked up when Truman and Murdoch entered.

“Hey, little brother! How are you?” Johnny asked as he walked over to Truman and knelt in front of him.

“Hungry,” answered the boy, quietly.

Teresa heard him and walked over.

“Would you like a sandwich, True?” She asked.

“Yes, please.”

“I’ll be right back.”

Teresa went to the kitchen to retrieve the boy’s sandwich she had fixed  earlier and poured some milk into one of his mugs and brought it all out on a tray.

Johnny picked Truman up and sat in the armchair next to the fireplace with the boy in his lap. Teresa set the tray on the ottoman.

“Thank you, Teresa,” Truman said.

“You’re welcome, dear.”

Teresa cut the sandwich in half, making big triangles. She passed the plate to Truman and he held it as he picked up one of the sandwich halves and bit it.

Truman ate the sandwich slowly while staring into space, not really focused on anything. He sighed heavily, then reached for his milk and drank it all. Johnny picked up the napkin and handed it to the boy before he could use his sleeve. Truman took the napkin and wiped his mouth.

“Thank you, Teresa. It was good,” Truman said.

“You’re welcome, sweetheart. Feel better, now?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Truman replied quietly.

Johnny ran his fingers through the boy’s hair rhythmically and soothingly as the child settled into Johnny’s lap and rested his little head on his big brother’s shoulder.

“Are you going back to sleep, True?”  Johnny asked softly.

“No. I just wanna sit with you for awhile.”

“Okay. Relax. I’ve gotcha, little brother,” he whispered. Johnny kissed the boy gently on his head.

An hour later, Johnny and Truman were still cuddled in the chair together. They had talked quietly and were just enjoying each other’s company.

 “Time for supper…Johnny, Truman. Come on, it’s supper time,” Murdoch called. “Johnny, take your brother and go wash up for supper.”

“Okay. Let’s go, lil cowboy, or Scott will eat all our grub,” Johnny said as he lifted the boy out of his lap and set him on his feet.

“I heard that, little brother!” Scott called.

Johnny snickered and hurried Truman out to the kitchen before Scott could take action. Truman giggled and raced his big brother to the bath house.

They returned to the table and sat in their customary chairs. Dinner was a quiet, relaxed affair. The family chatted about cows, horses, and needed supplies as they ate tomato soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, and home made cinnamon applesauce. A plate of sugar cookies was passed around for dessert. The family cleared the table, as it was Maria’s night off, then retired to the living room area of the great room to engage in quiet evening pursuits. Johnny and Scott played Chess as Murdoch read a book with Truman on his lap and Teresa worked on a cross-stitch sampler.

Murdoch and Truman were reading Tom Sawyer. The boy loved hearing his Papa’s deep voice flowing through the text fluently, making the story come alive for him.

“That Tom sure is a rascal, isn’t he, Papa?”

Murdoch chuckled. “He sure is, son. It’s your turn to read.”

Truman ducked his head.

“What’s wrong?”

“What if I don’t know a word?”

“It’s okay, I’ll help you. Start here.”

The boy started where Murdoch had indicated and read fairly fluently, only tripping over a few words. Scott and Johnny were impressed and raised their eyebrows at each other. These two brothers had a system of silent communication and often could tell what the other was thinking just through facial expressions.

Truman yawned after he finished reading the passage. Murdoch glanced at the clock and was surprised to see it was already 8:15. He decided to finish the chapter before putting the child to bed. He continued to read, and by the time he had reached the next chapter, the boy in his lap was sound asleep.

“Johnny, Scott…I’m going to put your brother to bed. We’ll talk when I get back.”

“Okay, Pa,” Johnny replied distractedly. He was focused on the chessboard, planning his next move.

“Yes, sir,” replied Scott, who looked up and smiled at the sleeping child.

Murdoch took Truman to upstairs to the boy’s room, changed his clothes, and tucked him in, giving the boy a kiss on his head. He lit a lamp and turned it down to a soft glow before leaving.

When he entered the great room, the older boys were still playing the game, so he sat and watched. Murdoch wanted their full attention when he discussed Truman, the Bible, and Raul.

Finally, Johnny called “check mate,” almost too gleefully for Scott’s liking. Murdoch smiled at his sons. They reset the board and put it aside so they could listen to Murdoch.

“Well, Scott, I need you to find Truman’s Bible. We’ll ask him in the morning where he sold it, or if he remembers the general area where he sold it,” Murdoch started.

“Is he going alone?” Johnny asked, concerned.

“Do you want to go with him, Johnny?”

“Yes….and no,” Johnny replied.

“You aren’t ready to leave Truman, are you, Johnny?” Scott asked.

Johnny ducked his head and shook it. Murdoch reached out and squeezed Johnny’s knee.

“It’s okay, Johnny. You don’t have to go. However, I don’t want you to go by yourself, Scott.”

“He could take Frank and Charlie,” Johnny suggested.

Murdoch looked to Scott, who nodded his agreement to this suggestion.

“Okay. We’ll ask Truman tomorrow, make travel arrangements, and you and the other two can leave as soon as you’re ready.”

“Ok, Murdoch,” Scott replied.

Murdoch nodded, then sighed.

“About Raul…we’re going to keep a close eye on him. I’ll speak to Cip and Miguel and ask them to keep an eye on Raul, too. I don’t want Truman anywhere near that man, ever.”

Johnny and Scott nodded their mutual agreement.

“I think I’ll turn in. Good night, boys.”

“Good night, Murdoch.”

“Good night, Pa.”

Murdoch went to bed. Johnny and Scott wandered to their own rooms a few minutes later.

“Johnny, could I borrow your saddlebags? Mine have a hole in them. I’ve ordered some new ones, but they won’t be in till I get back.”

“Sure, Scott. I’ll get my stuff outta them and you can take ‘em with ya.”

“Thanks. Why don’t you want to go with me?”

“Oh, ya know. I don’t care much for big towns. I’d prob’ly get lost an’ Murdoch’d get mad at ya fer losin’ yer lil brother,” he answered with a grin.

Scott grinned ruefully and lightly smacked his brother in the stomach. “How do you know the Bible is going to be found in a big town, little brother?”

“OOF! Just guessin’ an’ I don’t think the kid would like it if we both took off an left him with Mama Teresa,” Johnny replied.

Scott laughed quietly.

“G’night, Scott.”

“Good night, Johnny. Sleep well.”

Johnny gave Scott a back-handed wave as he walked into his room. He sat on his bed and heaved his boots off. Then, Johnny lit his lamp and turned it up so he could see what he was doing. He peeled off his shirt without unbuttoning it and laid it across the back of a chair. Johnny walked into Truman’s room to check on his little brother. The boy was sound asleep on his stomach, facing the dresser, with one of his little hands curled under his chin. Johnny leaned over and kissed the boy’s head, then adjusted the covers. He stepped back and leaned against the dresser, watching the boy sleep. Truman sighed contentedly in his sleep, making Johnny smile. Johnny went back to his room, wiggled out of his pants, turned down his lamp, and climbed into bed wearing only his drawers and socks.




The next morning at breakfast…

“Truman? Do you remember where you were when you sold your Bible?” Murdoch asked.

Truman became quiet and his brow furrowed as he thought and chewed his eggs.

“It was near a pier in a city with a long name. It started with ‘San’ and the streets were like this,” Truman said and demonstrated the steepness of the streets with his hand.

“San Francisco?” Scott asked.

“Yup, that’s it.”

“Do you remember which pier? What number?” Murdoch queried.

“Hmm. Between 12 and 19, I think. I asked the man not to sell it, that I would come back for it. It has a ticket in it.”

"What kind of ticket?” Johnny asked.

"A ticket to get my trunk. It’s still in Nevada. It was too heavy for me to carry.”

Johnny, Scott, and Murdoch’s eyes grew large.

"What does the trunk have in it?” Murdoch asked.

“How did you get it to Nevada, True?” Johnny asked.

“It has pictures, clothes, papers, stuff. It came with me on the train.”

“What kinds of papers?” Scott asked.

“Important ones, my Dad told me.”

“If we find the Bible, we find the ticket. We use the claim ticket to have the trunk sent here and we’ll get some answers, I hope,” Murdoch mused.

“You’ll get my trunk for me?” Truman asked, excitedly.

“We’ll do our best, son. We have to find the Bible, first, though,” Murdoch explained.

“Oh,” Truman replied, crestfallen.

“Don’t give up hope, lil brother. Scott will do his best. He’s taking Charlie an’ Frank to help him,” Johnny said.

“Why can’t he leave Charlie an’ take Raul instead?” Truman asked.

“Because I need to have a talk with Raul and he has some work to do,” Murdoch replied.

“Oh, okay. I like Charlie, he’s nice. So is Frank.”

“I know, son. But you wouldn’t want Scott to have to deal with Raul on a long trip, would you?” Murdoch asked.

“I guess not,” Truman replied, then finished his milk. Truman thought a minute.

“Scott’s going to San Francisco?”

“Yes, I am, True,” Scott replied.

“To find my Bible and the ticket?”

“Yes. Is something wrong?” Scott asked.

“Are you going, too, Johnny?”

“No, True. I’m staying here,” Johnny replied.

“Why does Scott hafta go? Can’t you send Jelly or Ciprianio?”  The boy asked his Papa.

“Hey, now, young’un. You tryin’ ta git rid o’ me?” Jelly asked indignantly.

“No, Jelly. Scott said he’d teach me to swim, though,” Truman replied.

“Oh, okay,” Jelly replied, still a bit disgruntled.

“Truman, I’ll teach you to swim when I come home. I promised Papa I’d go to San Francisco so he could stay here with you, okay?” Scott answered.

“Okay,” the boy sighed.


Chapter 32

Johnny and Scott went to town that morning to purchase more fencing supplies after delivering what they had found to Jose and Miguel. The brothers were miffed to learn that Raul had taken off. They were angry that Raul had left the work to Miguel and Jose, but were kind of happy that Raul had left, making it easier to write him off as no great loss.  

Johnny and Scott had finished purchasing and loading the fencing supplies and left the wagon at the lumber mill. They planned to have a beer, then go home.

Raul had other plans. He was drunk and in a foul mood. His mood worsened when Johnny and Scott walked into the saloon. Johnny caught Raul’s eye and his features hardened.

“Ignore him, Johnny,” Scott advised.

Johnny nodded and continued to the bar to order his beer. Scott ordered his beer and paid for both since Johnny rarely carried cash. Johnny stiffened and set his beer on the bar when he heard the scrape of chair legs on the wooden floor. When he saw Raul’s face in the mirror that was on the wall behind the bar, Johnny’s hand strayed to his colt and hovered there.

Scott muttered, “Don’t” to Johnny. “He hasn’t done anything yet.”

“I’m always ready,” Johnny whispered in reply.

“Lancer!” Raul called, with slurred speech.

“What are you going to do, Johnny?” Scott asked, worried.

“Take my big brother’s advice an’ ignore ‘im.”

“That’s rare…for how long?”

Johnny’s mouth twitched to show a little smirk. “Till he does somethin’ stupid.”

“Hey, did your pa find another half-breed ta  raise?  He wasn’t happy with just one ta show off his charity? Little Truman’s gonna be raised as another half-breed Lancer, givin’ orders to his elders?”

Johnny’s eyes narrowed and grew cold. The mask of Madrid settled as Johnny turned to face his nemesis.

“What the hell are you talkin’ about?” Johnny asked coldly.

“Is the boy yours, half-breed? Is he your little brat? He looks just like ya!” Raul spewed, swaying on unsteady legs.

“Shut up, Raul. You’re drunk,” Johnny said calmly and quietly. He didn’t feel like trouble and he wasn’t wasting his time and a good beer on a drunk’s ramblings.

“So what! You gonna answer my question, ya mestizo bastard? Is Murdoch Lancer your real father? He must be…ya both treat us full-blooded Mexicanos the same…with distaste and distrust…like all we’re good for is cheap manual labor.  He’s gonna raise that boy to be just like you…to look down on us. I ain’t takin’ orders from a baby still in diapers. If he ever tries to tell me what ta do, he’s gonna be sorry, an so will you!”

Val walked in and observed the continuing confrontation. He observed the unusual stillness in the saloon. He saw that Johnny had his Madrid face on and decided to approach Scott, instead.

“What’s going on, Scott?” Val asked casually. He knew better than to distract Johnny.

“Raul is drunk, Val. He’s saying a lot of things that don’t make sense,” Scott replied quietly.

“Is that so? Well, Raul, I guess you get to be my guest tonight. Come on, you can sleep this off and go back to Lancer in the morning,” Val said quietly and calmly.

When Val took Raul by his right arm, the left-handed vaquero tried to  punch the sheriff in the ribs. Val stepped aside just in time and twisted the vaquero’s right arm behind his back painfully. The man struggled against Val and managed to elbow him in the ribs.

“Umph!” Val grunted, but held fast.

Scott stepped forward to help Val and Raul tried to punch Scott in the eye. Scott ducked and made another attempt to capture the man’s other arm. He was momentarily distracted by making sure Val was okay and was stunned when Raul’s fist made contact with his eye.

“Oh!” Scott exclaimed.

“He just did something stupid, Scott,” Johnny said quietly.

Johnny stepped up and punched Raul in the mouth, knocking out a front tooth.

“I tried to stay out of this, but you pushed too far, Raul,” Johnny stated quietly and calmly.

Charles Lane and Dale Peterson, neighbors in the valley and good friends to the Lancers, ambled over to help. Dale was the one who sold the puppy to Murdoch for Truman. They escorted Raul to the door with the intention of taking him to the jail. When Johnny saw that Raul was being led away, he turned his attention to Scott and Val. Just as Raul made it to the door, he turned, drew his gun, and fired. He had aimed for Johnny’s back, but Dale had seen  him draw and tried to bat the man’s hand away. The bullet, therefore, hit Johnny in the back of his right thigh. Johnny cried out in surprise and fell to his knees, holding his leg.

“Damn! I was aimin’ for that mestizo’s back! You messed up my aim, you  idiot!” Raul exclaimed in his drunken stupor.

“Get him to the jail. Then go find Doc Jenkins,” Val ordered, trying to breathe deeply.

Scott’s eye was beginning to swell.

“Right, Val,” answered Dale.

They took Raul to jail and tossed him on the bunk none too gently.

“AAAAAUGH! I need somethin’ for thisth pain,” lisped Raul, through the gap in his mouth. “That half breed isth gonna pay!”

“Shut up. You’ve had enough. You just HAD to start something, didn’t you? Them Lancers weren’t botherin’ you!” Dale yelled back at Raul. Dale and Charles left.

They went to find Doc, eventually locating him at the café. He headed out as they were approaching the door.

“I heard a gunshot. What happened? Is anyone hurt?” Doc asked.

“Raul shot Johnny in the back of his leg,” Dale said. 

Dale explained what had happened as quickly as possible.

“Where are they?” Doc asked.

“Raul is in jail and Johnny, Val, and Scott are in the saloon,” Charles answered.


Chapter 33

Doc dashed into the saloon and saw Val and Scott lifting Johnny to his feet. His right thigh was temporarily bandaged with Scott’s bandana. Johnny’s face was ashen, and he was dripping with sweat. His head was bowed as Val and Scott half supported and half carried him towards the door.

“Johnny, ya gotta help us out here,” Val said. His stomach was sore and he was sweating as much as Johnny. Scott’s eye was puffing up.

“Tryin’, Val,” Johnny replied quietly.

“Val, let me take over. You don’t look too good,” Doc said as he moved to take Val’s place. “I’ve got you, Johnny. Take it as slow as you need to, son,” Doc coaxed him gently.

Johnny gritted his teeth against the pain and nodded. Scott and Sam managed to help Johnny make it to the Doc’s office without either of them having to resort to carrying him. Val walked ahead of them and opened the door. He made way for Sam and Scott to take Johnny to the examination room. Sam and Scott eased Johnny onto the table and helped him roll onto his stomach without falling off the table. Scott immediately started to reassure Johnny.

“You did great, Johnny. How do you feel?”




Scott smirked and shook his head at his brother’s answer. He knew Johnny had not wanted to show weakness in the saloon and that was fine, but his brother was with friends and family now and could trust them, he didn’t have to keep up the tough façade.

“Do you want anything for the pain, Johnny?” Sam asked. He turned to Scott and said, “the bleeding has stopped, so I think I’ll start treating this wound.” 

Scott nodded his understanding.

“Just get the bullet out,” Johnny mumbled.

“Scott, get a cold compress for your eye,” Sam directed Scott.

Val stayed with Johnny as Scott fixed a compress for his eye. Sam instructed him to keep the cold cloth on his eye to reduce the swelling as much as possible.

Scott ambled back into the room, holding a cold compress to his eye.

“How’s your eye, Scott?” Val asked.

“It’s okay. Sore, but not as sore as Johnny’s leg.”

Johnny shivered and moaned weakly.

“No kidding…he’s cooling off too fast. Grab that blanket and let’s cover him,” Sam instructed.


They covered Johnny to keep him warm, then Scott settled to wait for Sam to finish his preparations to take the bullet out of Johnny’s leg. Once Sam was ready, Scott and Sam worked together to undress Johnny from the waist down. Val made himself scarce, not wanting to impose. He went to the other room and settled on the couch.  Sam wanted him to stay so he could be checked over.

The operation went smoothly. Sam had given Johnny a sedative so he would not wake during the procedure. Johnny had protested vehemently, but Sam would not give in to the injured young man.  Now, the two men were waiting for Johnny to wake.




Murdoch had received the news stoically so he would not to frighten the boy, and left Truman in Teresa’s care. He rode into town and headed straight for Doc’s office.

“Hey, how’s Johnny?” he asked as soon as he found Scott and Sam.

Murdoch winced at the sight of Scott’s eye.  “Are you okay, Scott?”

“Yes. Johnny got the worst of it, though.”

“He’s going to be fine, Murdoch. Just see to it that he rests. It was a flesh wound, not as serious as it could have been,” Sam explained.

“Thanks, Sam. How’s Val?”

“Bruised, but okay,” Val answered, speaking for himself. He had taken a nap, but woke up when Murdoch entered. He was now standing in the doorway to the room where Johnny was sleeping off the sedative.

“I’m glad to see that, Val. Thanks for helping my boys.”

“Jus’ doin’ my job, Murdoch.”

“I’m sure Raul will be punished. Sir, do you still want me to go to San Francisco? I can stay a few more days to help,” Scott volunteered.

“No, you better go tomorrow. I want that Bible as soon as possible for the information and to help Truman have closure. I can only spare one man to go with you, now, though.”

“I’ll ask Miguel. Charlie should stay and help keep an eye on Truman. Miguel is a better shot, so he would be good with me.”

“Okay. Go to the stage depot and purchase tickets for you and Miguel to take a stage to Stockton. You can ride the train from Stockton to San Francisco,” Murdoch planned out loud.

“Good idea. I can do that right now and be ready to leave early tomorrow.”

Murdoch nodded.

“Are you packed?”

“I have what I need laid out, but I need to borrow Johnny’s saddlebags till my new ones arrive.”

“Have you asked him?”

“Yes, he just hasn’t gotten around to cleaning them out for me, yet.”

“We’ll do that tonight. Go on and buy the tickets. We’ll wait here. We can’t leave till Johnny wakes and Doc checks him out, right Sam?”

“Right. But you may have to rent a buggy to get him home. I don’t think he’ll be comfortable sitting on fencing supplies.”

“True. I’ll go to the livery and arrange that after I buy the tickets. See you in a little bit,” Scott said, then left.

Soon after, Johnny began to wake up. Murdoch watched intently as two blue eyes fluttered open, then blinked and finally focused on him.

“Hey there, son. How are you?”



“Ok. A bit sore,” he relented with a little smirk.

Doc lifted the sheet discreetly and nodded his approval. He felt Johnny’s head for any sign of fever and was satisfied when he felt nothing but coolness.

“Would you like to sleep in your own bed tonight?” Sam asked his most worrisome patient.

“Yes, please!”

“Okay. You may go home tonight. I’ll be out to check you in a day or two. Send for me sooner if necessary. You are to stay on the couch or in bed and you are NOT to move without help, is that understood, young man?”

Johnny nodded and gave the Doc a mock salute.

“Do I get my clothes back or do I have to go like this?” Johnny asked.

Doc raised his eyebrows and smirked. Johnny returned the smile cautiously.

“I’m sure your Pa will help you get decent. Come with me, Val, so Johnny can get dressed.”

“Ok, Doc.”

They walked out and left Murdoch with Johnny.

Johnny suddenly became serious and his eyes turned cold.

“Where’s Raul?” he demanded.

“In jail.”

Johnny nodded and allowed Murdoch to help him dress. Once he was clothed, Murdoch assisted Johnny with his boots, then supported his son as they slowly made their way to the front room, where Murdoch eased Johnny into the soft armchair.


Chapter 34

Scott arrived at Doc Jenkins’ with a surrey he had rented from the livery stable. Murdoch would drive Johnny home and he could drive the buckboard home. Scott had purchased the stage tickets for Miguel and himself and they would arrive early enough to return the surrey before catching the stage.

Scott hopped off the surrey and entered the doctor’s office. He was pleased to see Johnny dressed and sitting in the armchair.

“Hey, Johnny. Good to see you up,” Scott commented.

“Thanks, Boston.”

“We’re going to have supper, relax, and then to bed. Scott is leaving on a trip tomorrow and he needs rest,” Murdoch stated firmly, to no one in particular.

Scott and Johnny looked at each other and rolled their eyes.

“I saw that!” Murdoch said as he swatted Scott on his arm lightly, then cuffed Johnny’s chin gently.

He was smirking, so Scott and Johnny chuckled, knowing they weren’t really in trouble.

“Johnny, I need your saddlebags,” Scott reminded him.

“Oh, yeah. When we get home, Boston, I’ll clean them out.”

“Okay. Are we ready to go?”

Murdoch and Doc helped Johnny to the surrey, then Scott helped Johnny climb onto it. Murdoch climbed aboard and settled into the driver’s seat and picked up the reins.

“I’ll see you back at the ranch. No diversions, right?” Murdoch asked firmly.

“Of course not, Murdoch,” Scott replied with a smile.

“See ya soon, big brother,” Johnny called to Scott as Murdoch flicked the reins. The horses fell into a steady, gentle pace.

Scott waved and crossed to the lumber mill and retrieved the buckboard. He checked the supplies then swung up onto the seat and picked up the reins, flicking them once and whistling to the team to move.

Murdoch and the boys made it home in good time. Scott and Murdoch helped Johnny into the house, then they secured the surrey.

Scott turned the buckboard team over to Charlie to take care of. When he finished washing up, he entered the great room for dinner and saw that Johnny was already sitting at the table with Truman, Murdoch, and Jelly. They were waiting on Scott and Teresa, who had to return to the kitchen for a forgotten item.

The Lancers had a nice, quiet dinner. They ate roast pork loin, green beans, mashed potatoes, biscuits, and cinnamon applesauce, Truman’s new favorite food. Truman was a bit upset that Johnny had been hurt, but Murdoch and Johnny had both reassured him that Johnny was fine.  When he learned they were having applesauce, he perked right up. For dessert, they had fresh blueberry cobbler. By the time he had finished his share of the cobbler, the little boy had blueberry juice all over his mouth and cheeks. Scott carried the boy into the kitchen and cleaned his little brother’s face with a washcloth.

“Did you like dessert, True?” Scott asked with a chuckle.

“Yes! It was good, Scott,” the boy replied, licking his fingers.

Scott washed the boy’s hands with the cloth, too.

“Yes, it was,” Scott agreed.

Truman yawned and raised his arms up to Scott, who picked the tired boy up and held him close.

“Are you ready for bed?”

“Almost. I was hopin’ we could sit on the couch and read about those Greek Gods,” True said.

“I think we could do that for a little while.”

“Are you still goin’ to San Francisco?”




“Are you going with Frank and Charlie?”

“No, they’re staying here. Papa needs their help now that Johnny’s hurt. Miguel is going with me.”

“Who hurt Johnny?”



“I don’t know, really. He had too much to drink and wasn’t thinking in a smart way.”

“Where is he? Is he coming back?”

“He’s in jail. I don’t think he’s coming back.”


“Yes, let’s see what Johnny and Papa and Teresa are doing.”



“I need to go…but I’m scared.”

“Go where?”


“Why are you scared?”

“It’s getting dark.”

“Oh, I’ll go with you and light the lantern.”

“You’ll stay?”

“Of course. I’ll stay right outside.”


“You’re welcome.”

Scott took the boy out and stood guard as he promised. When Truman came out, Scott extinguished the lantern and tossed the boy up to sit on his shoulders. When they reached the kitchen door, Scott lifted the boy down, and took him by the hand.

“Where have you two been?” Murdoch asked, curious but not concerned. He had been reading Great Expectations in his favorite armchair and looked up when the pair entered the great room.

“Taking care of business,” Scott replied simply, as he found the book he was looking for on the bookcase.

“Oh…okay. Everything alright?”

“Yes, Sir,” Scott replied.

“Good,” Murdoch said, then went back to his book.

Scott settled at the end of the couch and Truman climbed up beside him and rested his head on Scott’s shoulder. The boy glanced over at Johnny, who was sitting at the other end of the couch, his leg propped up on the ottoman. Johnny was drawing in his sketchbook, but he glanced up when Scott and Truman sat down. Truman gave Johnny a sweet smile and Johnny smiled back with a wink, then continued drawing his father.

Scott started reading to Truman. The first story was about Pandora’s box. Before he started the story about the Pegasus, Murdoch called to him quietly.

“Scott,” Murdoch whispered.

“Yes, Murdoch?” Scott looked up at his father.

Murdoch nodded pointedly at Truman and Johnny. Scott looked at his two younger brothers and smiled affectionately. The little boy was curled up in a ball, breathing the deep breaths of sleep, and Johnny was sound asleep as well, with his sketchbook still open on his lap and his drawing hand resting on the arm of the couch, the pencil dangling precariously between his fingers.

Scott looked back at his father and smirked.

“Which one do you want to take?”

“I’ll take Johnny, you take the little one,” Murdoch said.

“Are you going to carry him?” Scott asked, concerned.

“No, I’ll just put him to bed on the couch. It’s comfortable enough and I don’t want to disturb him.”

“Good idea. Did he clean out his saddle bags by chance?”

“No, but they are on his bed. You may do it yourself. Just leave everything on his table.”

“Okay,” Scott replied. He set the book on the table and stood up, then turned to pick up the sleeping child. He cradled Truman in his arms and was about to leave when Murdoch stopped him with a light touch on his arm. Scott turned and smiled when Murdoch leaned over and placed the lightest kiss on Truman’s forehead.

“Good night, big boy. See you in the morning.”

“Good night, Sir. Sleep well.”

“I will, now that my boys are home safe,” replied Murdoch.

Scott took the boy upstairs and laid him on his bed. He undressed Truman, tucked him in, adjusted the covers, and rubbed the boy’s head ever so gently.

“Good night, little brother.”

Scott lit the bedside lamp, turning the wick down, then pulled the door closed softly. He went into Johnny’s room and lit a lamp in there to clean out the saddle bags. Inside one bag, he found an extra shirt, some bandanas and a moldy biscuit, which he threw out the window. The other bag seemed to be empty, but he shook the bags vigorously to make sure there weren’t any spiders or other varmints taking up residence in his brother’s bags. He heard the sound of metal hitting wood. He brought the lamp down to see if he could find what fell out and discovered a tiny metal statue of a Scottish bagpiper.


Chapter 35

Scott stood up. Put the lamp on the table, picked up the bags, and went into his room after extinguishing the lamp. He set the bags down absently on his bed and placed the statue on his dresser. 

Scott lit a lamp, packed his clothes, checked his billfold, then changed clothes for bed. He picked up the statue and examined it carefully, wondering where Johnny had found it. He found the letters, ‘I.L.,’ scratched into the bottom of the statue’s square base.

“I.L.?” Scott wondered aloud. The piece had intricate details and had been painted with care.

‘I’ll ask Johnny about this tomorrow,’ he thought to himself as he placed the statue on his dresser. He climbed into bed and was asleep in no time.

The next morning, Scott was up very early. He washed, dressed, and then went to wake Truman. Scott wanted to say good-bye to his little brother and to reassure him about the trip.

“Truman, it’s Scott. Wake up, big boy,” Scott spoke softly and tenderly. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, rubbing the boy’s head.

Truman was on his stomach with his arms out beside his head. He turned his head and opened his eyes, then pushed himself onto his knees. The boy rubbed his eyes, then he reached out for Scott. Scott picked him up and hugged him close, then set the boy on his feet. Truman started going through his dresser drawers and pulling out the clothes he wanted to wear. He hadn’t said a word, but Scott knew it would be a few minutes before the boy was ready to talk.

Truman had chosen some tan pants to wear with his blue calico shirt, a red bandana, and socks. He dressed quickly and efficiently. They made his bed together, then Truman picked up his boots as Scott blew out the night light. The boy followed his older brother into his room so Scott could get his gear for the trip. When Truman turned to follow Scott out, he noticed the statue and stopped dead in his tracks, staring at the statue.

“Scott, where did you get that?” The child asked, pointing at the piper.

“I found it in Johnny’s saddlebags. Why?”

“It’s mine.”

“Yours? Where did you get it?”

“My mum. Her Dad had given it to her.”

“Oh. What does ‘I.L.’ stand for?”

“ ‘I’ is for Ian. I don’t remember what ‘L’ is for.”

“We need to show this to Papa. He had an Ian somewhere in his family.”


“Yes. Come on.”

Scott held out his hand for Truman to take. Truman picked up the piper and dropped his boots. He stepped into his boots while holding on to Scott’s dresser, then took Scott’s offered hand and they walked down to the great room. As soon as Truman saw Murdoch, he ran over to his Papa.

“Papa! Papa! Look! Scott found my piper in Johnny’s bags. I’d forgotten all ‘bout it!”

Murdoch caught the boy before he tripped over the edge of the rug and picked him up.

“And good morning to you, too, son!”

“Goo’ mornin’, Papa. It has ‘I.L.’ on the bottom. The ‘I’ stands for Ian but I can’t remember ‘bout the ‘L.’ Scott said you have an Ian in your family somewhere,” the boy continued without taking a breath.

Murdoch chuckled. “Slow down, son. Take a breath. Yes, I had an uncle named Ian.”

Truman took a deep breath, then paused and looked at the piper, then at Murdoch.

Johnny, who had been wakened suddenly by the lil whirlwind called Truman, was sitting up and smiling at this interchange.

“Papa,” Truman whispered in awe, “if your uncle was my mum’s dad, does that mean we’re already relations?”

Scott and Johnny exchanged astonished looks.

“Relatives? I guess it could happen, True. We need Scott to find your Bible and trunk. Maybe they have information that will help us find out who you are.”

“You know who I am! I’m Truman Oliver Sutherland Lancer!”

The men had a hard time restraining their laughter.

“Yes, Truman, but we want details, remember?”

“Ah, yes. Details, Papa.”

This time, the men chuckled out loud.

The need for the Bible had just become more urgent.

“Murdoch, if he is our blood relative, wouldn’t that make it easier for us to adopt him?” Scott asked.

“Yes, I suppose it would. That would be something, wouldn’t it?  Have some breakfast, boys. I need to see what’s taking Jelly so long getting the surrey hitched.”

Murdoch put the boy down and went out to hasten the preparations for Scott and Miguel’s departure. The sooner they found the Bible, the sooner they could file for permanent custody. Perhaps, it would get Willis out of their lives, too. The man had not been a nuisance lately, but they knew he was still around and that knowledge was like a storm cloud hanging over them.

Truman looked over at Johnny and smiled.

“Good morning, Johnny.”

“Hey, True. How are you?”

“Fine, how are you?”

“Fine, and hungry.”

“Yeah, me, too.”

“Well, little brothers, let’s go eat, then. Let me help you, Johnny,” Scott said, firmly.

“I can make it, Scott.”

“Don’t be so stubborn, Johnny! Now, I am going to help you and that’s final!”

Johnny nodded and allowed Scott to help him stand and supported him as they slowly made their way to the table.

Johnny turned to Truman and said, “He sure is bossy, isn’t he?”

Truman just smiled and nodded.

“Ahem!” Scott cleared his throat to let them know he was still there.

Teresa was putting breakfast on the table. Truman took his seat and placed his piper next to his plate.

“Truman, we don’t have toys at the table,” Teresa admonished the child with a tired sigh. She had been up early fixing breakfast so they could eat together before Scott left for San Francisco.

Truman looked up at her. “It’s not a toy. It’s my piper, from my grandfather,” he said seriously.

Teresa moved to pick it up, but Truman beat her to it, spilling his milk in the process. He held the piper close, ignoring the milk spilling onto the floor.

“Now look! You made a mess!  I don’t have time for this!” Teresa fussed.

Johnny and Scott stared at her in astonishment after they saw the effect her sharp words had on Truman. The hurt look in the boy’s face and in his eyes was unsettling.

“Teresa! That wasn’t nice. He didn’t mean to make a mess,” Johnny said quietly and firmly.

Truman jumped out of his chair and ran out the front door. He was blinded by the tears in his eyes and did not see Jelly approaching. He ran out in front of the surrey that Jelly was driving to the front door. Jelly stopped the horses just in time.

“Dang it, young’un! You trying to git yerself kilt?” Jelly hollered.

Charlie came around the corner to see what the commotion was and caught Truman before the boy blindly ran into something else. Truman struggled to get out of Charlie’s hold.

“Hey, settle down, kiddo. It’s Charlie. Settle down. What’s wrong?”

Truman stopped struggling but continued to cry. Charlie knelt and hugged the boy to calm him. Murdoch had heard Jelly yell, too, and he ran over from the barn to see what happened.

“What’s going on? What’s wrong, son?” Murdoch asked, concerned when he saw the boy crying into Charlie’s shoulder.

The child couldn’t speak. He just shook his head and sobbed. Charlie picked the boy up and handed him to Murdoch.

“Baby, tell Papa what’s wrong.”




Teresa sighed and nodded. “It’s way too early for him to be up, anyway.”

“I know, but I couldn’t leave without saying good-bye to him. Just don’t fuss at him for every little thing, okay?” Scott asked.

As soon as he could, Scott had managed to help Johnny make it to the table and sit down. Teresa had gone back to the kitchen and Scott came out to find Truman.



“Teresa fussed at him, Murdoch,” Scott said.

“About what?” Murdoch asked.

“True had placed his piper on the table. Teresa told him toys were not allowed at the table and True said it wasn’t a toy and grabbed it before Teresa could pick it up. He spilled his milk when he reached for the piper and she fussed at him. You should have seen the look of hurt in his eyes and on his face.”

Murdoch nodded and sighed, rubbing the boy’s back.

“Did either of you boys say anything to Teresa?”

“Johnny spoke to her about it. Then she said it was too early for him to be up. I told her I wanted to see him before I left and asked her not to fuss at him for every little thing. She went to the kitchen after putting the bowl of eggs on the table. I cleaned up the milk and came out to find Truman. We need to go in, Johnny is by himself in there.”

“Okay. Let’s go get some breakfast. We’ll have a little talk about the piper. Charlie, thank you for your help.” Murdoch said.

“No problem, boss. Hang in there, Truman,” Charlie said, kindly.

Truman waved silently to Charlie. Tears still ran down his cheeks and he clutched his piper in his hand.

Johnny was sitting alone, his elbows propped on the table and his forehead was resting on his folded hands. Murdoch squeezed Johnny’s shoulder kindly and gently as he carried Truman to his seat. He put the boy down in his usual seat, between Johnny and his own. Then, Murdoch stood next to the boy’s chair as Scott settled himself at the table. Scott looked at Johnny, concerned, then met Murdoch’s eyes. Murdoch mouthed ‘later’ and started speaking to Truman.

“Truman, may I see your piper, please?”

Truman looked at his statue, then handed it to Murdoch. Murdoch took it and held it gently.

“Son, I know this is not a toy and it means a lot to you, so we’re not going to put it on the table where we have meals. Something could happen to it. I am going to put it right here on the bookcase, where it will be safe, in front of Beowulf and you can see it and hold it anytime you like, except when we are eating.”

Murdoch placed the statue in the place he had indicated and smiled at the boy reassuringly.

“Yes, Papa,” the boy said, obediently. He thought Murdoch was fair and wise.

Murdoch had explained very clearly and kindly, but firmly, why the statue did not belong at the table. Truman appreciated the tone and manner his Papa had used. Murdoch rubbed the boy’s head gently, then sat down to eat breakfast.

“Shall…I get Teresa?” Scott asked hesitantly.

“No. She’ll come when she’s ready. I will speak with her later. Pass the eggs, please, Scott.”

“Yes, sir. Johnny? Biscuit?” Scott offered as he passed the eggs and picked up the basket of biscuits.

Johnny sighed and raised his head. He helped himself to a biscuit and said “thanks” quietly. They ate breakfast in tense silence. They weren’t angry with each other, they were worried about the boy.

Truman sat at the table but did not eat much. He could feel the tension  and he did not like it.

After they finished, Scott helped Johnny back to the couch and said his good-bye.

“Hey, Johnny. I need to get going. Are you okay? You don’t look very happy.”

“I’ll be okay. I just don’t like people fussing at children for little things like spilled milk. Especially Truman. He didn’t mean to do it… You be careful, Boston. I need you to come back and teach me all this ‘big brother’ stuff,” Johnny replied, with a ghost of a smile.

“You don’t need me for that, Johnny. You’re doing a great job. I will be careful, though. I’ll send a message when we get to San Francisco.”

“Good. Let me know how the trip up is.”

“Okay. Take care of yourself and True.” Scott squeezed Johnny’s shoulder gently and smiled at him.

“I will.”

“When you can ride, we can take a trip together and round up some horses.”

Johnny smiled at this. Scott always knew what to say to make him feel better. He looked up at Scott, smiled, and nodded.

“Sounds good, Brother. Thanks.”

“Sure. See you soon, little brother,” Scott said, then went outside to say his good-byes to Murdoch and Truman, who had slipped out as he and Johnny were speaking.

Teresa had come out through the kitchen. She wanted to say good-bye to Scott. Murdoch had Truman on the patio standing next to him. Scott walked over to Truman and picked him up. They hugged for a minute before Scott set the boy back on his feet and knelt in front of him, taking the boy’s hands in his.

“Hey, True, take care of everybody for me. I’ll send a telegram to let you know when I arrive in San Francisco. Be a good boy, ok?”

“I will, Scott,” Truman replied. He hugged Scott again and whispered, “I love you” in Scott’s ear.

Scott smiled and whispered the same sentiment into the boy’s ear. This would become a special ritual between the two of them. The child gave his big brother one last squeeze and told him to be careful. Scott promised he would. Truman released him, then stepped back and waved to Miguel, who was crossing the yard with his gear.

“Adios, amigo!” Miguel called as he waved back.

“Adios, Miguel,” Truman answered.

Murdoch shook Scott’s hand and squeezed his arm kindly.

“Have a good trip, son. Be careful.”

“We will, Sir. Take care of the boys and Teresa. We’ll be back as soon as we can.”

“I’ll look forward to hearing from you.”

Scott nodded. Teresa came forward and gave Scott a peck on the cheek. She handed a small bag to him.

“I packed some sandwiches and apples for you two. Don’t eat them all at once.”

“Thanks, Teresa. Go easy on the boys, okay?”

“I’ll try. Have a good trip and be safe. Bye, Miguel.”

“Adios, Senorita Teresa!”

Scott climbed up into the surrey and they took off. Truman sadly watched them go. He thrust his hands into his pockets, bowed his head, and scuffed his toe in the dirt. He was going to miss his big brother Scott.


Chapter 36

Scott was missing his brothers, too. Miguel was good company and very cooperative, but he missed the camaraderie he and Johnny shared. He also missed the love and affection that Truman gave so freely to him and Johnny. Scott smiled when he thought back to Truman whispering in his ear before he left that morning. He wondered what his little brothers were doing as he and Miguel traveled further away from them on the bumpy stage. They were both looking forward to the smoother ride the train would provide.

Scott hoped Teresa had apologized to the little boy. He had meant no harm by bringing his piper to the table. Scott saw both Truman’s and Teresa’s points of view on the matter. Truman acted as expected, but Teresa over reacted. ‘Boy, Johnny has his hands full, now,’ Scott thought to himself.

They reached Stockton with plenty of time to transfer their bags to the train station, purchase their tickets, and have a quick, light lunch in a café.

“Have you ever been to San Francisco, Miguel?”

“No, it will be a new experience,” the man replied.

“Well, I hope you enjoy it. I think we should find a hotel, wire Murdoch, then have dinner. Tomorrow, we can go down to the waterfront and look for the bookstore where Truman sold his Bible,” Scott suggested.

“Good plan, Scott. What time does the train leave?”


“What time is it, now?”

“1:53. We’ll head to the station as soon as we finish and pay.”


The two men finished their coffee and paid. Then, they walked to the train station where Scott bought a newspaper and deck of cards. They claimed their bags and found a seat in one of the middle passenger cars.

“I’m hoping we can find the Bible quickly. If it has the claim ticket for Truman’s trunk, perhaps we can wire the depot and have it sent to us in San Francisco, then we can take it home. Once we see what can be done, maybe we can do some shopping,” Scott suggested.

“Sounds good, Scott.”

“Is there anything special you’d like to see or do, Miguel?”

“I don’t know. I’ll just follow your lead, okay?”

Scott smiled. “Sure, Miguel. That’s fine.”



At Lancer, Johnny and Truman were enjoying companionable silence. Johnny drew pictures of Truman as the child played quietly. Truman had the ability to entertain himself for long periods of time, enjoying his own company and feeling secure in his space. He didn’t need to have conversation just because another person was in the room. Johnny appreciated this aspect of the boy’s personality. He felt comfortable with the quiet child and was pleased that the boy was gaining confidence in himself.

Truman looked up at Johnny and smiled. Johnny caught the boy’s eye and smiled back. Reassured that Johnny was still there, Truman went back to his soldiers and blocks, playing out imaginary battles.



On the train to San Francisco, Scott and Miguel played cards, slept, and read the paper.

After a few moments of companionable silence, Miguel spoke, bringing Scott’s focus back to the present. He had been thinking about Truman and Johnny and how amazingly alike they were.

“What do you think of Raul’s betrayal? I can’t believe he hurt Johnny,” Miguel mused.

“I don’t know why Raul did what he did. I don’t understand him. I don’t know why he hates Truman, either,” Scott answered, troubled by Miguel’s question.

“Raul just doesn’t like takin’ orders from younger folk, I reckon. I guess he resented Johnny bein’ the boss’ son an’ telling him what to do.”

“Well, Johnny, Murdoch, and I are equal partners, therefore we all give directions for the best interest of the ranch. We’re not giving orders just for the sake of it. If we don’t do what’s best for the ranch, then we will lose it and a lot of people will lose their jobs.”

“I understand that. Maybe Raul didn’t. He must have thought lil Truman would be runnin’ round givin’ orders as soon as the boss had  full legal custody of him.”

“Truman wouldn’t be giving orders to anybody. He’s only six years old. He might have asked any of the hands to do something for him he couldn’t do, but he wouldn’t order them to do it. Remember how eager he was to help you dig the holes that day?”

Miguel nodded and smiled.

“Well, he just wants to be part of the ranch and help out. He would more likely beg you to let him help than to order you to do something.”

“I thought so. He’s a good boy. Do you know much about him?”

“He is a good boy. He’s had a lot of tragedy in his young life. When he first came, we thought he was older than just six. Just the way he spoke and his good manners gave no indication of his true age. As we discovered more about him, his manner changed a bit. He’s more comfortable and secure, so he’s acting more like I would expect a six year old would. He still amazes us sometimes. He’s very smart and funny. I hope we can find his Bible easily and have more information about him.”

“I hope you know that I would never hurt him. I’ll help you Lancers look after him and protect him.”

“Thank you, Miguel. I am comforted to know that. I always had the feeling that you could be trusted.”

“Thank you, Scott…you miss him, don’t you?”

Scott chuckled. “Is it that obvious?”

“Yes. You miss Johnny, too. I see how you are together. You are so different but you work together like you were born to be a team. I also see the way you are with Truman. He is so lucky to have you and Johnny. What does he call you?”

“Thank you. Johnny is an incredible person and a hard worker. Truman calls us ‘Scott and Johnny,’ why?”

“You’re welcome. Well, does he call you brother or friend?”

“He calls us his big brothers and we call him our little brother.” 

“Yes, that’s what I thought. You’re so natural with him, any one who didn’t know would think the boy was born a Lancer.”

Scott smiled and nodded his thanks. They grew quiet again and Scott’s mind wandered back to his little brothers.




Murdoch came in during the mid-afternoon from riding the fence line on the south mesa. He was pleased with the quality of work Jose and Carlos were doing.

He hung his hat and rig on the rack in the foyer and walked into the great room, noticing how quiet it was.  He could just see the top of Johnny’s bowed head. Thinking his boy was dozing, Murdoch walked quietly as he could to the couch.

Johnny looked up from his drawing and smiled at Murdoch, putting a finger to his mouth and pointing at the little boy playing with his soldiers on the rug in front of the hearth. Murdoch smiled and nodded, then joined Johnny on the couch. He put an arm around his son’s shoulders and squeezed once affectionately, then rubbed the back of the young man’s head before he pointed to Johnny’s sketchbook. Johnny understood that Murdoch wanted to see the drawings, so he smiled shyly as he handed the sketchbook to Murdoch.

Murdoch flipped through the pages, smiling at the pictures Johnny had drawn of the boy napping and playing. He gave the sketchbook back to Johnny with a big smile and a nod of appreciation.

Murdoch nodded towards Truman and raised his eyebrows. He whispered, “How has he been today?”

“Fine,” Johnny answered quietly, with a smile.

“Good. How do you feel? Did you guys have lunch?”

“I’m a little sore, but okay. We had sandwiches n’ milk.”

“And cookies,” said a voice from the floor.

“Cookies?” Murdoch asked.

“Yes, Papa. They were good.”

“Did you save any for me?”

“Johnny, did you save any cookies for Papa?”

“No, I ate mine,” Johnny replied.

“Well, I guess Teresa will have to make more cause I ate mine, too. Sorry, Papa.”

Murdoch and Johnny laughed.

“Where’s my hug?”

Truman climbed into Murdoch’s lap and hugged him. Murdoch returned the hug and cuddled the boy.

“Where’s Teresa?” Murdoch asked.

“She’s putting our clean clothes in our rooms,” Johnny answered, wincing as he stretched his wounded leg.

“Careful, son,” Murdoch said with concern.

“I just needed ta move it, Murdoch. It was gettin’ a bit stiff.”

“I’m gonna clean up an’ go get my sketchbook,” Truman declared.

“Okay, son,” Murdoch replied as the boy climbed out of his lap.

Truman put his soldiers neatly into their box, then put his blocks back into their bag.  Both the bag and the box went back into the basket before the boy scurried up to his room.

Truman walked into his room and froze at the sight of Teresa rearranging his clothes and things from his wardrobe and dresser.

“What are you doing?” He yelled the question.

“Calm down. I’m reorganizing your dresser for you,” she said with a smile, as if she was doing the boy a big favor.


Downstairs, Johnny and Murdoch were on immediate alert. They had heard Truman scream, clear as a bell. He was in distress and they needed to see what was going on.

Murdoch helped Johnny to his feet and they walked up the steps slowly. By the time they arrived, Truman’s room looked like a hurricane had ripped through it. Clothes were all over the floor, his dresser drawers were empty and on the floor, and his wardrobe doors were wide open, showing empty shelves and hangers.

Truman had screamed and cried at Teresa the whole time he was undoing her work. He had worn himself out and was now sitting in the middle of his room, on top of some shirts, sucking his thumb and breathing hard as tears streamed down his cheeks. His hair was in disarray, too, sticking up as if he tried to pull it out in frustration.

Teresa was standing over him, her arms crossed over her chest, with a very irate expression on her face. She had held Truman tightly by his upper arms and had shaken him once to get his attention, but he wouldn’t calm down and continued to scream and struggle against her hold. She finally let go and he sat down, hard, on the pile on the floor.

Murdoch guided Johnny to the boy’s bed and made sure he was settled before he turned to the scene of destruction. Johnny crossed his arms over his chest and looked at the destruction. Murdoch picked the boy up and held him close.

“Do you see what he’s done to his room? Are you going to let him get away with that?” Teresa asked incredulously.

“Teresa, what exactly were you doing in here?” Murdoch asked calmly.

Johnny had been ready to say something, but Murdoch held his hand up, silencing the young man.

“I was merely putting his clothes away,” she answered.

“I guess he wasn’t too happy about where you were putting them,” Johnny chuckled.

“John, I will take care of this. Teresa, wait in the hall for me, please,” Murdoch spoke calmly to Teresa.

Teresa left.

Jelly came in just then. He had heard the screaming and yelling through the open window and came to see what was going on.

“Whoooeee! Someone’s got a big mess ta clean!”

“Hush, Jelly!” Murdoch said with a smirk.

The child had his head on Murdoch’s shoulder with his thumb still in his mouth and his tears continued to fall, soaking Murdoch’s shirt. The boy in Murdoch’s arms was still shaking.

“Calm down, son.”

Murdoch patted the boy’s back and set him on his feet. Truman hugged his Papa’s legs and hid his face. Murdoch extracted the boy from his legs gently, picked him up and set him on the bed. He looked the boy in the eyes and spoke firmly, but not unkindly.

“Listen to me, young man. I understand that Teresa may have upset you, but tearing your room apart and throwing your clothes on the floor is unacceptable behavior. Screaming and yelling at people, especially adults, is not the way we solve disagreements. You are going to clean your room. You will pick up your clothes, fold them, and put them away. You may put them in whichever drawers you want, but they will be neat. Afterwards, you will apologize to Teresa. She was not hurting you.  Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, Papa.”

“Good. Hop down and get to it. I’ll be back in a little while,” Murdoch said as he kissed the boy’s head.

Murdoch left the room, wrapped an arm around Teresa’s shoulders and they walked to the kitchen and sat down.

“Tell me what happened, Teresa.”

“I was reorganizing his clothes,” Teresa mumbled.

“Why?” Murdoch asked softly.

“His system didn’t make sense.”

“They’re his clothes in his room. Please just put his clean clothes on his bed and let him put them in whichever drawer he wants. We’re not giving him control over the house or us, just his little space,” Murdoch said.


Murdoch nodded and hugged Teresa tight.

“You’re a big help to us and we really appreciate it. Truman is going to apologize to you when he’s finished cleaning his room.”

Teresa  smiled and nodded.

Murdoch left and went to check on the boys. Truman had folded all of his clothes with Johnny and Jelly’s supervision and was now putting them away where he wanted them. Jelly had put the drawers back in the dresser for him.

He was still upset, as the scene replayed in his head repeatedly and the anger resurfaced each time. Jelly wanted to hold him, but Johnny shook his head ‘no.’ He knew True needed to work it out on his own to regain his self-control and pride.

“Hi, guys. How’s it going?” Murdoch asked.

“Fine, Pa. He’s almost finished,” Johnny answered quietly.

“Okay. Good. Truman you may join us downstairs when you get yourself together,” Murdoch said.

The boy nodded as he put the last of his socks away, closed the drawer, and climbed onto his bed, where he flopped down on his stomach and sighed. Johnny rubbed the boy’s back to reassure him. Truman fell into a deep sleep from sheer emotional and physical exhaustion.

“I take it that he’s not ready,” Murdoch said.

“Let him rest. He apparently needs it,” Jelly advised.

“Yes. Is he still agitated?” Murdoch asked.

“I think he’s more exhausted than anythin’ else, Pa. I’ll stay with him.”

“You don’t need to. He can take a nap without someone sitting with him. If you want to rest, I’ll help you to your own bed. I’m afraid the boy might accidentally kick you.”

Johnny sighed. “Okay. I kinda miss my bed, anyway.”

Murdoch cuffed Johnny’s head affectionately and smiled.

“Are you okay, boss?” Jelly asked.

“I will be, thanks.”

“Wal, I’ll go finish mah chores, then,” Jelly drawled.

“Okay, Jelly. Thanks for your help,” Johnny said.

“No problem, Johnny. Tell that young’un I love ‘im. See ya at supper,” Jelly said as he left.

“Ok.” Johnny looked over at Truman and smiled at the sleeping boy.

“What about Teresa?” Johnny asked.

“We had a nice, quiet discussion. I think Truman thinks she’s trying to replace his mother and it set him off.”

“She ain’t old ‘nuff. She woulda had to be pregnant when she was ‘leven or twelve. I can’t see you or her pa ‘lowin that!”

“No way! You’re barely old enough to be his father.”

“I guess it’s down ta you an’ Scott, the only two old enough to be father figures to True,” Johnny observed.

“Does that bother you, son?” Murdoch asked.

Johnny thought a minute, then shook his head ‘no.’

“I’m happy bein’ his big brother.”

“You’re good at it, son.”

Johnny ducked his head, blushing. Murdoch raised his son’s chin gently to look him in the eye.

“I mean it, Johnny. You are very good with Truman. He adores you.”

“I adore him, Pa. Thanks for takin’ him in.”

“There’s no need for thanks, Johnny. I’ve grown to love him as I love you, Scott, and Teresa.”

Johnny smiled shyly and rubbed the boy’s head tenderly. Murdoch squeezed Johnny’s arm affectionately and gazed down at the sleeping boy.



Scott and Miguel arrived in San Francisco by late afternoon. Scott went to the telegraph office and sent a wire to Lancer to let them know he and Miguel were there and safe. Then, they went to find a hotel. They were lucky in that the first hotel they tried, a moderately priced, nice accommodation, had a room with two twin beds. They checked in first, then ate dinner. After dinner, they decided to walk down to the piers and do some preliminary investigating.

The two men headed for pier 12 to look around and see what kind of shops were there.

“Well, there’re plenty of shops down here. The trick is to not waste too much time finding the right one,” Scott said, mainly to himself.

“It sure is nice here. I’ve never seen so many different things in one city before,” Miguel said.

“It’s highly diversified, isn’t it?”

“Um, yeah. It sure is,” Miguel agreed, hesitantly.

They walked along from shop to shop, peeking in the windows, deciding which ones would be worth perusing in the morning and which ones they would visit as a last resort. Scott hoped they would be able to find the boy’s Bible quickly and that the claim ticket would still be with it.

Perhaps, the Bible would have all the information they would need, but he was sure the boy would like to have his personal items back in his possession.

They wrote down the names of the most promising stores and the numbers of the adjacent piers to find them easily and quickly in the morning.

Scott and Miguel were tired after their long journey, so they turned in early.

The next morning, the young men rose, washed, dressed, and went down to breakfast.

Afterwards, with the list in hand and plenty of cash in his pocket, Scott and Miguel headed back to the piers. It was sunny this morning, the temperature crisp and cool on a spring day, with a mild wind blowing the young men’s hair, resulting in a tousled appearance.

Once they were on the street, Scott settled his hat on his head and set off at a brisk, determined pace. Miguel, about a foot shorter than his blond companion, had to walk quickly just to keep up with Scott’s long strides.

They struck out at the first two shops, but hit pay-dirt at the third. The man who ran the shop was kind and elderly, about twenty years older than Murdoch.

“Sir, we are looking for a particular Bible. It was sold by a little boy. He has dark brown hair and blue eyes and he’s six years old. He said his family’s lineage is written on the inside of the Bible,” Scott began.

“A little tyke, ya say? When did he sell it? Why was he alone?” The shopkeeper said, giving away some information inadvertently.

Scott realized they were in the correct place. He never said Truman was alone when the boy sold the Bible.

“He sold it two or three months ago. He said he’d come back for it and asked that it not be sold. It has a claim ticket in it for his trunk, which is being stored at a depot in Nevada,” Scott explained.

“Ah. He had an unusual name. Let me see, I have a few Bibles under the counter here.”

“Truman?” Scott asked.

“Yes! That’s the boy’s name! You know him?”


The man put three stacks of Bibles on the counter and allowed Miguel and Scott to browse through them. They went through the first 13 fairly quickly. Scott picked up another, rather worn Bible, and opened the front cover. There, on the inside of the front cover, were written three names. The first two were adults’ signatures, and the third was a wobbly lettered name, obviously written by the child himself. ‘Truman Oliver Sutherland.’ Scott smiled and sighed. He flipped through the pages, looking for the claim ticket. He found it tucked in the book of Ecclesiastes, chapter 3. The ticket had the boy’s name on it.

“This is it, Miguel!” Scott exclaimed with a grin.

“Great! Now what?”

Scott chuckled. “Now we buy it and wire the Nevada depot. How much for the Bible, sir?”

The man took the Bible from Scott, looked it over and frowned.

“It ain’t worth more than a dollar.”

“I’ll give you 3. You’ve been very kind and helpful.”

The shopkeeper’s face lit up and he nodded. “Thank you, young man!”

“No, thank you!” Scott paid the man, looked at the inside cover again to be sure he had the right book, and they left, tipping their hats to the man.

“Come on, Miguel, we have two wires to send. First to Nevada, to see if they can send the trunk here and how long it will take. Then, we have to wait for an answer before we wire home. We want to be able to send as much good news home as possible. We’ll also tell them the name of our hotel in case Murdoch needs to get in touch with us.”

They walked back to the telegraph office. Scott asked if there were any messages for him. There was one, from Murdoch.

‘Scott. Glad you made it safely. Judge will be here next week. Come home as soon as you can. Truman misses you. Be careful. Murdoch.’

Scott smiled at Truman’s message, but he now had to reach Nevada and go home as soon as possible.

“Sir, I need to send a telegraph to this depot in Nevada. They have a trunk that belongs to a young relative of mine. Here’s the claim ticket with the name and parcel number.”

“Ok. I’ll wire. You’re going to wait for an answer?”

“Yes. I need to know if they still have it and if they can send it here so I can take it home with me, and how much it will cost,” Scott replied.


The man sent the wire as Miguel paced the office and Scott sat reading Truman’s family lineage.

“Oh, my God!” Scott exclaimed. He moved away from the telegraph man to whisper to Miguel. He did not want their conversation to be overheard.

“What?” Miguel asked, alarmed.

“According to this family tree, Truman is my second cousin!” Scott looked at Miguel in awe. “Do you know what this means?”

“That you’re related?” Miguel whispered back.

“No…I mean, yes. It means that we’re family and it will be easier for us to acquire permanent legal custody of Truman!”

“That’s incredible!”

“It sure is!”

“Are you going to wire that to your father?”

“No, this is something he needs to hear face to face.”

“Sir!” The telegraph man called.


“They have the trunk and can put it on the noon train. It should arrive by 5pm. The handling fee is two dollars.”

“Fine. Please ask them to send it to Scott Lancer. I assume I can pick it up at the train station?”

“Yes. For an extra five dollars, it can be delivered to your hotel.”

“We’ll pick it up at the station, thanks.”

“Sure.” The man sent the wire back to give the Nevada depot the go ahead to send the trunk.

“Shall we send the wire to Lancer now?” asked Miguel.

“No, let’s wait till we have the trunk.”

“OK. Now what?”

“Feel like shopping?”


“How much do I owe for the wires?” Scott asked.

“Ninety-five cents.”

Scott paid and they left with the Bible in hand and the claim ticket tucked safely in Scott’s pocket. They went to a couple of stores, had lunch, then they went to an art supply store.  

“What are we doing here, Scott?” Miguel asked.

“I’m going to buy some artists’ drawing pencils and sketchbooks for Johnny and Truman. I think Johnny is about to run out of paper in his. I’ll get some in two different sizes so he can take one in his saddlebags during roundups and drives.”

“I knew Johnny likes to draw…Truman draws?”

“Yes! He has a great eye for details,” Scott replied.

“Really? Hmph.”

“I’m going to buy a small portfolio to hold his loose pictures.”

“That’s very generous. What about the others?”

“I’ll think of something.”

Scott found the gifts he wanted for his brothers and paid for them. They left that store and wandered to a tobacco store, where  Scott purchased some fine pipe tobacco and three boxes of cigars for Murdoch, Jelly, and Cipriano.

“What about Teresa and Maria?” Miguel asked, with a grin, knowing Scott was saving the hardest for last.

“I guess I’ll have to break down and go to a woman’s dress shop,” Scott replied, cringing. “I don’t know if they need anything in particular. I just don’t know,” Scott contemplated.

A few hours passed. Scott finally decided to find something practical, yet feminine, for the ladies of the house. He found lightweight shawls in spring pastel colors. He purchased a light blue one for Teresa and a mint green one for Maria.

After the shopping was finished, they took the packages to their hotel room and walked to the train station to await the anticipated arrival of the train. Scott double checked his pocket to be sure he had the claim ticket.

They only had to wait a few minutes before the train pulled into the station. Once they located the correct car, Scott presented the claim ticket to the cargo handler. Scott was handed the key to the trunk first, then another handler helped the first carry the trunk down the ramp. Scott checked the numbers on the ticket with the numbers on the trunk, and nodded his satisfaction. He was asked to sign for the trunk and pay for the handling, which he did immediately.

Scott smiled at Miguel as he tucked the key into his pocket. “Time to send that telegram. While we’re here, I’ll buy our tickets for the train to Stockton. We’ll be home in time for supper tomorrow.”

Miguel nodded his agreement. “I’ll wait here with the trunk while you get the tickets.”

“Good idea, Miguel. No sense in us carrying it in, only to have to carry it out again.”

Scott walked into the station and bought tickets for the next morning’s 8:10 train to Stockton. When he came out, Miguel stood and they each grabbed a handle on the trunk and carried it to the hotel, where they checked it at the front desk.

“No sense in carrying it more than we have to,” said Scott.

“You aren’t going to open it?” Miguel asked.

“It’s not mine to open, Miguel,” Scott replied.

“You’re an honorable man, Scott. The curiosity might have gotten the better of me,” admitted Miguel.

Scott smiled and patted Miguel’s shoulder. “Let’s go send that other telegram and have some supper.”

“Sounds good to me…I’m hungry!”

Scott laughed. They walked to the telegraph office, sent a message to Murdoch, then went to have supper.

The message said:

“Murdoch: I have Bible and trunk. Coming home tomorrow. Have good news…..”


Chapter 37 

“…Give True a hug. See you soon. Scott.”

Murdoch read the telegram to the family at breakfast the following morning. A rider had brought it to the ranch at first light. 

Everyone was smiling as Murdoch stood to hug the boy per Scott’s request. 

“Here’s your hug from Scott, son,” he said as he hugged the boy. 

“Thanks, Papa,” Truman giggled. “When will Scott be home, Papa?”

“This afternoon or evening, son. We’ll go into town to get him and Miguel. Now, what are you going to do today, young man?”

“I don’t know, Papa.”

“Well, what if you and I go look at some ponies?”

“What about Johnny? Won’t he get lonely?”

“Well, if Johnny wants to, he could sit in a chair outside.”

“What do you wanna do, Johnny?” Truman asked with concern for his older brother.

“I think I’ll come out and bring my sketchbook. You have fun with Papa. Pick out a good pony,” Johnny replied with a smile.


“Are you ready, young man?” Murdoch asked the boy.

“Si, Papa,” replied Truman with a grin.

Murdoch patted the boy’s back and led him to the foyer where Murdoch retrieved his rig and hat. Truman put his hat and gloves on. Murdoch took Johnny’s jacket off the hook and handed it to Truman to hold, then went outside to place a chair for Johnny where the corral was in good view.  He came in and walked over to Johnny.

“Would you like to go out now, Johnny?”

“Yeah, thanks.”

Murdoch nodded and let Johnny lean on him as they went outside. Once Johnny was settled, Truman brought his jacket to him and put it on the arm of the chair.

“This is in case ya get cold, Johnny. I’ll go get your pencil and sketchbook for ya,” Truman told him, sweetly.

Johnny smiled at the kind little boy and tweaked his cheek.

“You’re such a nice boy, True. Thanks!”

The small boy ducked his head and smiled, then turned back into the house to complete his mission. Truman returned with Johnny’s things, hugged his big brother gently, then ran over to the corral to see the ponies. A mustang standing at the edge of the herd caught his eye and he pointed it out to Murdoch, who called for that pony to be cut from the herd and led to the side of the corral. Truman climbed up to sit on the top rail. Murdoch put a hand on the boy’s back to support him.

The child held his hand out to the pony as it inched nearer to him. True was leaning into the corral, so Murdoch grabbed him by his waistband and kept him from falling into the corral.

Johnny sat up in alarm, wincing as he moved his leg too fast. When he saw Murdoch grab the boy’s waistband, Johnny sighed and sat back.

‘Oh, man, I’m startin’ to act like a worried parent!’ Johnny thought to himself.

Johnny began sketching his brother and father together at the railing.

The pony came to the boy willingly and nickered softly. Truman was speaking Gaelic in his soft Scottish brogue. The pony nickered and backed away momentarily, but returned when the child remained calm and continued to speak quietly and soothingly to the pony. The pony nuzzled  the child in his stomach, nickered again, then pawed the ground nervously. Truman took his gloves off so the pony could smell him and get to know him. After a few minutes of looking each other in the eye, the pony and the child were able to connect again, with Truman gently rubbing the pony’s face.

“Hey there, I’m not going to hurt you. You’re beautiful!” Truman spoke to the pony kindly, calming it with his soothing words and gentle touch.

Murdoch was amazed. Truman appeared to have the same gentle manner with animals that Johnny had. Murdoch wondered if the boy could really be a blood relative, for he and Johnny shared a lot of characteristics and mannerisms.

“He seems to like you, True.”

“Why was he by himself? Don’t the other horses like him?” Truman asked with concern.

“He’s different from them.”

“Are we keeping him?”

“Well, we’ll have to see if Johnny can tame him. If this pony can be gentled, you may have him.”

“Really? For real?”

Murdoch laughed. “Yes, son, for real.”

The boy was in shock. “My own pony?”

“Yes, son, your own pony.”

“Thank you!”

“You’re welcome. What do you think his name should be?”

“Well, we have to see if he can be gentled first, right? I think he can be. I guess I hafta wait an see what he’s like.”

“Good idea.”

“I wanna go tell Johnny.”


Murdoch lifted the boy off the railing and as soon as his feet hit the ground, Truman was running to Johnny.

“Johnny! Did you see that mus-musta…that pony? Papa said that if you can tame him, I get to keep him for my very own!” Truman was so excited.

Johnny held his hands up and chuckled.

“Whoa! Slow down, lil cowboy. You like that mustang, huh? Well, I guess I better get my leg well so I can see what I can do with him.”

Truman grinned and hugged Johnny.

“Can I see your picture, Johnny?”

“Sure, here.” Johnny held the sketchbook up so the boy could see the picture.

Johnny had drawn Murdoch and Truman at the corral together. The boy was sitting on the top rail with Murdoch holding him and they were talking as the Mustang stood and watched.

A slow smile spread across the boy’s face as he examined the sketch and took in every detail. He nodded to Johnny.

“It’s very good, Johnny. I think Papa will like it, too.”

“Thanks, True,” Johnny replied with a grin.

Truman grinned, then ran back to the corral. He stumbled and fell, but hopped right up and ran to his Papa.

“Are you okay?” Murdoch asked.

Truman held up his hands to show Murdoch he was fine. His hands were muddy, but not injured.

“Sure, Papa. No blood!” The boy replied as he wiped his hands on his pants, put his gloves back on, and climbed the rails to pet the pony, who now had a halter on him. Murdoch smiled and patted him on the back. True reached out and grabbed the lead, gently urging the pony towards him. The pony bit the rim of the boy’s hat gently and slowly lifted  the hat off the boy’s head.

Truman laughed. Murdoch and Johnny laughed, too. Truman let go of the lead and reached for his hat, but the pony moved just out of his reach.

“Hey, give that back!”  The boy told the playful pony.

The pony ran around the corral, still holding the hat in its teeth. When he came back to the child, Truman raised his hand slowly to take the hat, but the pony backed away from him again. Truman  put his hand down and waited for the pony to come towards him again. When he did, the pony lifted his head and dropped the hat back on the child’s head, though the brim covered the boy’s eyes as the hat was too far forward.

“How am I s’posed to see ya?” True asked.

The pony nudged the brim up with its nose so the boy could see.

The pony nickered, then nudged the boy’s hand, wanting to be pet on his nose again. Truman obliged.

“Well, I’ll be!” Charlie exclaimed.

He had watched the whole scene in awe. He’d come to stand beside Murdoch after he had put the halter on the pony, per Murdoch’s request.

“It was quite amazing, wasn’t it?” Murdoch agreed.

“Pa!” Johnny called.

“Charlie?” Murdoch asked, gesturing towards the boy.

“I’ll watch him, boss,” Charlie answered as he grabbed the boy’s waistband.

“Thanks,” Murdoch replied as he let go of the boy and walked to see what Johnny needed.

“Did I just see what I think I did?” Johnny asked.

“Yes, amazing, isn’t it? It’s like they are already forming a bond and they were meant for each other,” Murdoch replied.

“Amazing hardly describes it. Wait till Scott hears about this!”

“Speaking of Scott, if he and Miguel took the eight-ten train this morning to Stockton, won’t they catch the next available stage and be in town by mid-afternoon?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Let’s go to town early. We can have lunch, wait for the stage, then see Theo.”

“Okay. Maybe I’ll get to walk on this leg tomorrow.”

“Don’t rush it, son,” Murdoch warned.

“I’ll behave, Pa,” Johnny answered with a grin.

Murdoch patted Johnny on the arm and smiled.

“Are you taking your sketchbook to town?”

“I’d like to. Can you get my rig for me? Please?”

“Sure. Keep an eye on True, I’ll be right back.”

“Sure.” Johnny smiled. He loved being told to keep an eye on his younger brother.

Truman was fine. He was sitting on the top rail while Charlie held him tightly by his belt. They watched as the playful pony ran around the  corral and came to nicker at the boy periodically. Jelly walked out of the barn and stood on the other side of the boy and watched quietly.

Murdoch came out with Johnny’s rig and handed it to him. Teresa came out a few minutes later. She turned towards the corral and saw the boy sitting on the top rail with Charlie holding his belt.

“What is Truman doing sitting up there? He could get hurt!”

“Teresa, he’s fine. Charlie has him safely held the same way I had him,” Murdoch replied.

“He could fall and hurt himself or get stepped on by that wild horse!” Teresa continued.

“Teresa! Enough! The boys and I are going to town. We’ll meet Scott and Miguel’s stage and bring them home. Have a peaceful afternoon.”

“Yes, Murdoch,” Teresa answered quietly.

“Good. I’ll go get the surrey and hitch up the team, Johnny. I’ll come get you and Truman when I’m finished.”


Teresa looked at Johnny, who was smiling as he watched Truman with the pony. She sighed loudly. Johnny looked up at her with a mixture of annoyance and confusion.

“What, Teresa?”

“He’s just getting better and you’re letting him put his life in danger!”

“He’s fine! Charlie has him, Jelly is out there, now. Murdoch let him sit up there a long time. The boy is fine. Let him be a little boy. We won’t put him in danger willingly. You know that!” Johnny said sternly.

Teresa went back inside, leaving Johnny to watch the boy again. He shook his head at Teresa. He knew she meant well, but she was going to drive them all crazy if she kept up this hovering.

Murdoch drove up in the surrey.

“Is there enough room in there for the five of us?” Johnny asked.

Murdoch nodded at Truman with a smile and said,” Four and two-thirds.”

Johnny chuckled at that, then turned serious. Murdoch jumped down and came over to Johnny to help him.

“What is it, son? Something bothering you?” Murdoch asked as he supported Johnny.

Johnny sighed as he shrugged his jacket on and buckled his rig around his waist.

“Teresa. She won’t leave True alone. Her hovering is going to drive him and me crazy!”

“I know. She loves him and wants to be sure he’s safe, but I think it’s starting to suffocate him. I’ll have another talk with her later. Let’s go.”

Johnny nodded and hobbled to the surrey. With Murdoch’s help, he was able to climb up with dignity. Once Johnny was settled, Murdoch went to the corral to round up the little guy.

“Truman, say good-bye to your pony. We’re going to town.”

“What about lunch?”

“We’ll get it in town.”

The boy ducked his head and sighed. He still had a hand on the pony’s lead and the young mustang nickered softly at him.

“What’s wrong, son?”

“I’m scared.”

“Of what?”

The boy wouldn’t look up, so Murdoch gently raised his chin.

“Of what, son?”

“Willis,” Truman whispered.

“He won’t bother you. Johnny and I are going to be with you.”

Truman sighed and nodded. “Okay, Papa. I believe you.”

“Good boy. Say good-bye, now.”

"Bye, pony. I’ll be home later with my other big brother. Jelly n’ Charlie, will you look after him, please?”

“Sure, young’un. He’ll be just fine,” Jelly answered.

“We’ll look after him, Truman,” Charlie replied, patting the boy on the back.


“Sure,” Charlie said as he lifted the boy off the rail and handed him to Murdoch.

Murdoch tossed the boy over his shoulder and walked to the surrey, where he set the giggling child on the front seat next to Johnny.

Teresa came outside with the boy’s jacket and Johnny’s hat and handed them silently to Johnny.

“Thank you, Teresa,” Johnny and Truman said.

Murdoch whistled to the team and they were on their way.

“Be careful!” Teresa called.


Chapter 38

When they arrived in town, Murdoch drove straight to Doc’s office. He lifted Truman down, then helped Johnny. The three went inside after knocking and being permitted to enter. Sam came in from the back room and examined Johnny’s leg, allowing him to walk on it. Johnny was ecstatic, but he was warned not to overdo it.

“Let’s get some lunch,” Murdoch suggested.

“Good idea, Pa.”

“Yeah! I’m hungry!” Truman exclaimed.

The Lancer men took care of the horses and stowed the surrey, then walked to the café. Johnny was limping a bit, but the pain was bearable.

They enjoyed a quiet lunch, since most of the regular café patrons had already eaten and returned to their jobs. Truman had a chicken sandwich, Johnny had Salisbury steak, and Murdoch had a turkey sandwich. ‘The boys’ drank lemonade while Murdoch drank coffee.

After lunch, they ambled down the boardwalk to the stage depot. There was a bench outside where Johnny and Truman sat down to wait for their brother, Scott.

“Johnny, stay here with True. I have a few places I need to visit. I won’t be long.”

“Okay, Pa.”

Murdoch headed for Val’s office. Johnny took a pencil from his pocket and opened his sketchbook and began drawing the sheriff’s office. Truman scooted closer to him and watched.

Murdoch knocked and entered Val’s office.

“Hey, Val. How are ya?”

“Hey, Murdoch. I’m fine, thanks, you?”

“Fine. Johnny, the boy, and I are in town to wait for Scott and Miguel to arrive.”

“Okay. Where are Johnny and the boy? The judge is due any day. His business in Sacramento finished faster than he thought. Jury selection starts the first business day after he arrives at nine a.m. You can sit in on it with Theo, but I’d leave the kid at home until he absolutely hasta come.”

Murdoch nodded his agreement. “Johnny and Truman are sitting on a bench just outside the stage depot. You can see them from here.”

“Okay. I’ll keep my eye on them. Are you making any other stops? How is Johnny’s leg?”

“Johnny’s leg is better and he can walk on it. How are your ribs?”

“Fine, thanks. A little sore, but better.”

“I’m going to the school and the mercantile after I leave here.”

“Why school?”

“I want to make an appointment for Truman to be tested. I want to know where he stands and what we can do to help him catch up if he needs help.”

“I see. Well, I think it’s time to put some paperwork on hold and take a stroll through town,” Val mused.

Murdoch smirked and shook Val’s hand. He left the office and headed to the school.

Truman and Johnny watched Murdoch walk over to the school.

“Where is Papa going?”

“To the school,” Johnny answered.


“I don’t know. Maybe to tell Miss May about you.”


In the school, the children were preparing to leave for the day. Murdoch walked in and greeted the children and Miss May, the grammar school teacher. Mr. Peabody taught the older children.

“Hello, Miss May. Could I have a moment of your time, please?”

“Certainly, Mr. Lancer. How may I help you?”

“I am in the process of adopting a boy who will be seven in September. He is very bright and can read well, but due to his parents’ occupation, he had to move around a lot and never had the opportunity to go to a proper school. I was wondering if you could give him a few tasks to do to see where he is and how we can help him to be ready for school in the fall and be in his proper grade, for a seven year old, that is.”

“I see. I can certainly put together an assessment of sorts. How about Saturday morning at ten-thirty?”

“That’s fine. I’ll have one of my older boys bring him. His name is Truman Oliver Sutherland. He likes to add ‘Lancer’ to the end of that.”

“I look forward to meeting him. Thank you for coming to see me, Mr. Lancer.”

“Thank you for your help, Miss May. Have a nice afternoon.”

“My pleasure, Mr. Lancer. Have a nice afternoon, too.”

Murdoch left the school and went to the mercantile, where he bought ten licorice sticks and ten peppermint sticks. He walked back to the depot and sat down with his boys.

“Would you boys like a piece of candy?” Murdoch offered.

“Candy?” Truman asked.

“Yes. I have licorice sticks and peppermint sticks. Which would you like?”

“I don’t know. I never had any,” Truman replied.

“Never?” Johnny asked, amazed.

“Nope..we..didn’t have extra money for candy,” the boy answered quietly.

“I see. Well, try a peppermint stick. Licorice is a bit strong,” Murdoch said as he handed a peppermint stick to the boy.

The older Lancers watched as the boy tentatively licked the stick a few times, then they grinned as Truman put half the stick in his mouth.

“Good?” Johnny asked.

“Very good! Thank you, Papa!”

“You’re welcome, son. Johnny?”

“Licorice, please. Thanks.” Johnny took a bite of the candy his father handed to him and chewed.

Murdoch had a peppermint stick as well. By the time they were finished with their candy, Johnny’s tongue was black, Murdoch’s tongue was red, and the child’s face, hands, lips, and tongue were red and sticky.

“Did you enjoy that, True?” Johnny asked, chuckling.

“Mmhmm,” replied the boy as he attempted to lick the stickiness off his fingers.

Murdoch chuckled as he wet his bandana in the water spout and washed the boy’s face and hands.

Just then, the sound of several horses running was heard by the three of them. They looked in the direction from which the sound was heard and saw the stagecoach appear.

“Scott’s comin’ !” Truman yelled as he jumped up.

“Stay on the boardwalk, Truman,” Murdoch instructed the boy.

The stage stopped in front of the depot and the passengers climbed out of the stage. The first passenger out was Judge Hayes, then a woman, Miguel, and finally Scott.

“Hello, Judge Hayes. Good trip?” Murdoch greeted.

“Yes, Mr. Lancer. Thank you.”

“Scott! Scott!” Truman called as he was jumping up and down.

Scott smiled at the boy and held his arms out as Truman ran and launched himself into his big brother’s embrace. Scott caught him and hugged him tight.

The judge watched this display of mutual admiration and smiled.

“He’s quite a boy, Mr. Lancer. It seems Truman has grown a bit since I last saw him.”

“He has filled out a bit, You honor,” Murdoch replied.

“Why is your tongue red, True?” Scott asked.

“I had my first ever peppermint stick!”

“Did you like it?”  

“Yeah! It was great!”

Scott laughed, carried the boy to the bench where Johnny was waiting, and set the child down.

“Hey, Johnny. How are ya?”

“Hey, Scott. I’m better, thanks.”

“Good.” Scott squeezed his brother’s shoulder then gently cuffed the back of Johnny’s head.

Murdoch and Miguel took the saddlebags and packages from the man handling the luggage. The trunk was lifted from the back.

“Where is the surrey?” Scott asked.

“At Doc’s I thought we might find the papers in the trunk and talk to Theo,” Murdoch said.

“Well, shall we carry it to Theo’s or to Doc’s?” Scott asked.

Murdoch watched silently as Truman knelt by the trunk Miguel and Scott had set on the boardwalk. The boy gently caressed the trunk and bowed his head. Johnny was capturing the same moment in his sketchbook.

“Let’s take it to Doc’s I think we need the privacy and a cozier environment.”

Scott nodded his agreement.

“Mr. Lancer, I’ll expect to see you and your lawyer tomorrow morning for jury selection,” Judge Hayes said.

“Nine O’clock?” Murdoch confirmed.

“Right. Good night. Good-bye, men. Good-bye, Truman.”

“Good-bye, your honor,” True said quietly.

“Have a good evening, Judge Hayes,” Murdoch said.

Judge Hayes nodded and left.

“Come on, men, let’s take this gear to Doc’s,” Murdoch coaxed.

Scott and Miguel picked up the trunk and carried it to Doc’s place. Murdoch carried the saddlebags over his shoulder and some packages in his hands. Johnny and Truman carried some smaller packages behind Murdoch.

They knocked at the door and Sam answered.

“Scott! Miguel! Good to see you! How was your trip? Did you leave San Francisco in one piece? Come in, come in, have a seat.”

“Thanks, Doc. The trip was fine, thanks. San Francisco doesn’t know what hit it!” Scott replied.

Scott, Truman, and Johnny flopped on the couch. The others found seats as well. The boy was silently staring at the trunk. Sam noticed the boy’s demeanor and made a decision.

“Murdoch, let’s gather some refreshments for the weary travelers.”

“Okay, Sam.”

Murdoch and Sam went to the kitchen.

“Is everything all right, Murdoch?”

“I don’t know. That’s Truman’s trunk. We thought he could have a little more privacy and understanding if he opened it here than at Randall’s office.”

“Oh. Why not at home?”

“Because there could be papers in there to help us acquire permanent legal custody of Truman and we want to present them to Theo as soon as possible.”

“Oh, okay.”

“Thanks, Sam.”

“No problem.”

In the other room, Scott had knelt in front of Truman, who was trembling slightly while still staring at the trunk.

“Hey, little brother. It’s okay. We’re here for you. Take your time,” Scott reassured the boy.

Johnny wrapped his arm around the boy’s shoulders and hugged him.

Sam and Murdoch returned with coffee for the adults and milk for the boy. Miguel had a cup of coffee, then excused himself to take care of personal business. He didn’t feel he should bear witness to this private family matter.

Scott gave the key to Truman. The boy sighed and made his way to the trunk on shaky legs. He put the key in the lock, took a deep breath, and turned it. The room was silent, which made the sound of the trunk unlocking seem so much louder. The child unfastened the other clasps with shaking hands. He took another deep breath, bowed his head, closed his eyes, and lifted the lid.


Chapter 39

When he opened his eyes, Truman’s breath was taken away by all the memories that the items before him represented.

He lifted his father’s kilt and shirt, inhaling the scent when he held it to his face. The boy placed these items gently on an arm chair close by. The next item he came across brought him to his knees. It was his parents’ wedding picture. The boy’s hands shook as he reached for the framed photograph. His mother was beautiful and young in a simple ivory gown while his father looked regal and noble in his kilt, starched white shirt, and coat. As he touched the glass over his parents’ faces, a tear fell on his daddy’s face.

Murdoch stepped over to the boy and knelt beside him, squeezing the boy’s shoulders gently. He felt the tension in the trembling body.  Murdoch hated for the boy to feel so sad, but it was part of the healing process. He knew that healing sometimes hurts.

Truman held the picture to his chest as he looked into the trunk at the other personal items his mother had neatly packed before their last relocation to Chicago with the circus. He took one last look at the picture in his hands then laid it reverently on his father’s kilt.

He found his Christening gown and baby blanket. Truman fingered the delicate stitching on the gown and carefully draped it on the arm of the chair. He pulled his blanket out and hugged it close. He continued to hold the soft cotton blanket with the blue satin border as he looked through the trunk. He found the crest pin his father wore. It had a lion and the Sutherland motto, “Sans Puer,” sculpted into it.

“Without fear,” the boy whispered.

He set the pin in the lid of the trunk and continued his exploration. He found a leather case with the initials “D.P.S.” on it and set it aside. On the very bottom, there was an envelope with his full name printed on it in his father’s handwriting. Under his name there was written, “To be read when Mummy and I are in Heaven.”  Truman stared at it for long moments before placing it in the lid with the pin. He shifted the circus programs to the other side and pulled out his mother’s shawl. Inside it was wrapped a small collection of framed photos. A picture of himself on his fifth birthday, one of the whole circus company, including Jimmy, a photo of himself on a horse, and, finally, a picture of Truman and his parents. They were very happy in that picture.

Truman held the last picture close and bowed his head. He sighed, looked up, and placed the photos back in his mother’s shawl  after holding the shawl close to him for a few moments. He smiled slightly when he found his wooden duck. It had wheels and a string on it. His Dad had made it for his first birthday.  There was a bodhran and a small box of jewelry. Inside the small box were a silver cross on a light chain and a St. Christopher’s medallion on another light chain. His mother had told him that he had worn both necklaces when he was baptized.

Truman picked up the crest pin and placed it in the box with the cross and medallion, then placed the box back in the trunk. He placed the other items back into the trunk as carefully as he had taken them out. He took one last look at his parents’ wedding photo before placing it under his father’s clothing, which would be his when he was big enough. He took the letter out of the lid and closed the lid, turning the key to lock the memories inside.

Truman carefully opened the letter. He wiped his eyes and smiled several times while reading the letter. When he finished, he handed the letter to Murdoch with a small smile.

“May I read this to the others?” Murdoch asked.

Truman looked at his brothers and Doc Sam, his adopted uncle, and nodded. Murdoch stood up, picked Truman up and held him close, then walked to the armchair and sat down with the boy, who was still holding his blanket.

Murdoch cleared his throat and began reading the letter.


Dearest Truman,                                                          September 17, 1869

‘If you are reading this letter, your mother and I have gone to Heaven to be with Andrew. We are now your guardian angels.’

‘As I am writing this, you are sleeping in your bed in our tiny wagon. You have just turned five years old. Your Mum and I are saving every penny so we can break away from Willis and settle down. We want you to be able to go to school and have friends your own age.’

‘You are a bright, funny little fellow and you keep us on our toes. Mum and I love and adore you so very much.’

‘I hope this letter finds you well and happy, with land and a family of your own. If you make it to the California territory, look for a man named Murdoch Lancer. He is your mother’s cousin. He owns a ranch in the southern part of the state. Your mother and I wanted so very much to meet him. He was Grandpa Ian’s favorite nephew.’


Murdoch reread that paragraph and looked at Scott in awe. Scott was smiling, for he had read the family tree in the Bible and had figured out the connection. How he had kept it to himself all this time was a mystery. Johnny and Doc were staring at Murdoch and the boy with their mouths open.

“What does that mean, Papa?”

“It means that your mother is my cousin and you are my second cousin.”


“My father and your grandfather were brothers. Your grandfather is my Uncle Ian. His daughter is Emily Lancer. She’s your mother.”

“We’re cousins?”

“Yes, son. We are. You are Johnny and Scott’s cousin. They are your cousins.”

“I don’t want to be cousins! I want to be brothers!” Truman stated.

He just didn’t understand the implications that since he was already related to the Lancers, it would be much easier for them to attain permanent legal custody of him.

Johnny laughed. Scott chuckled a little and walked over to the chair where Murdoch was sitting with the boy on his lap. Scott lifted the boy into his arms and held him close. He shifted Truman to his left hip so he could talk to the confused child.

“Listen to me, lil brother. By family structure you are my cousin. But now and forever, in my heart, where it matters the most, you are my brother. That will never change.”

“Same goes for me, True,” Johnny said, slowly standing and limping to join Scott and Truman.

“So, we’re cousins, but you’ll still call me your brother and you two are my brothers? I can call you my brothers?”

“Absolutely, lil brother!” Scott replied.

Truman heaved a sigh of relief. He looked at Murdoch, who was smiling at his three sons.


“Yes, son?”

“Are you still gonna call me your son? Can I still call you my Papa?”

“Yes, Truman. I am still your Papa. When our lawyer sees this letter and shows it to Judge Hayes, I’m sure you’ll officially become my son.”

The boy smiled, then remembered, the letter had more to be read.

“Will you finish reading it?” Truman asked, gesturing to the letter.

“Sure. Are you coming back to sit with me or stay with your brothers?”

“I’ll stay with my brothers, if that’s okay.”

“Sure, that’s fine.”

Scott and Johnny sat on the couch, with True on Scott’s lap.

“Where was I? Oh, yes,” Murdoch muttered to himself.

‘Truman, if you are still a child, ask Jimmy for help in getting you to Murdoch Lancer. I don’t want you staying with Willis. He is dishonest and will do whatever he can to discredit you. From what I’ve heard of Murdoch Lancer from Grandpa Ian, he is an honest and fair man and will do anything to help you. I hope you find him, son. I wouldn’t trust your well-being to anyone else.’

‘God bless you and keep you. You are a wonderful person, Truman. I have never met another compassionate, loving and honorable young man like you. Take care of yourself, son. Mother, Andrew, and I will watch and guide you and send our love to you from Heaven.’


                                                 Donald Philip Sutherland

                                                 Emily Key Lancer Sutherland’


“Well, son, you found us, didn’t you?”

“Yes, Papa. I sure did. I’m happy Dad thought nice things about you. I guess I don’t feel so bad anymore,” Truman said.

“Why did you feel bad?” Johnny asked.

“I guess Papa wasn’t trying to take my Dad’s place, but maybe I was trying to make him,” the boy replied.

“Oh, I see,” said Murdoch.

“You do?” Truman asked.

“Yes, I think you were feeling a bit guilty for loving us so quickly that you felt you were betraying your parents,” Murdoch answered.

Truman sat and thought, then nodded.

“Papa, what does discredit mean?”

“It means that Willis would say that you lied about things.”

“He did say that I lied about things, especially about Mum and Dad’s dy..dy..dying.”

“I know, son, and I’m sorry about that. I’m sorry it happened and that the Sheriff believed Willis and not you.”

“Is Willis gonna get punished for what happened to my parents and brother?”

“I don’t think so, baby. He’s going to get into trouble for other things, though. Things we have a good chance of proving.”

“Is he going to jail? What will happen to the circus people and the animals?”

“We don’t know, yet. We’ll help the circus people and the animals, okay? Don’t worry about that. Let’s take a look in that case. May I look in it?”

“Yes, Papa. It has papers in there I don’t understand.”

“I’ll look them over for you.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, son. Scott, please go find Mr. Randall and bring him here.”

“Yes, Sir.”

Scott lifted the boy and set him on the couch next to Johnny, then left. While he was gone, Murdoch went through the documents. The first document he found was Truman’s birth certificate. He examined it carefully and was pleased to find it was authentic. Next, he found the birth and death certificates of Andrew, Truman’s brother. The doctor attending Truman’s mother at the time of the tragedy listed the cause of death to the baby as “underdeveloped fetus due to undue stress brought on by mother’s occupation. This death could have been prevented.”

“Sam, take a look at these, please,” Murdoch requested as he handed the documents to the doctor.

As Sam read the documents, Murdoch continued to peruse the contents of the case.  He glanced briefly at Johnny and Truman. True was falling asleep, leaning on Johnny’s left arm and still clutching his blanket. Johnny was sketching again.

‘The little guy must be exhausted,’ Murdoch thought to himself.

Once assured the boys were fine, Murdoch turned back to the documents.

There was a will, granting James Tobin as temporary legal guardian should anything happen to Donald and Emily Sutherland. Murdoch figured that James Tobin was Truman’s friend, Jimmy.

A letter to whom it concerned  regarding Truman to please notify Murdoch Lancer of the boy’s existence and take the boy to him.

There were papers and signed petitions against Willis, describing his faults and misdeeds, including the fateful purchase of Monty, the mountain lion who would eventually be an instrument in the deaths of the child’s parents.

Finally, there was a letter to him, Murdoch, in a sealed envelope. He opened it and read it twice, carefully.

The letter’s content consisted of an introduction to the Sutherland family, how they were related, and how the Sutherlands had learned of Murdoch. It continued to describe Truman and to ask Murdoch to take the boy into custody if the child was still young when they finally met. Both parents had signed their names.

This letter and the other papers were virtually the boy’s ticket to a better life with the Lancers. The icing on the cake being they were already related and they already had temporary custody of the boy.


Chapter  40

Scott returned with Theo. When he opened his mouth to speak, Murdoch silenced him with a finger to his mouth and nodded at Truman, who was sleeping. Johnny looked up and smiled at Scott.  

“Where’s the Bible, Scott?” Murdoch asked quietly, then turned to Theo.

“Hello, Theo. How are you? Thank you for coming on such short notice. I think you will find these letters and documents helpful.”

“Hello, Murdoch. I’m fine. How are you? I see the boy is tuckered out. How are you, Doc? Johnny?”

The others answered that they were fine as well.

“I’m happy to see Scott home,” Theo continued. “Your trip was successful, I presume?”

“Yes, Sir,” Scott answered. “Here is the Bible with the parents’ signatures and the lineage. See there? Murdoch is Truman’s mother’s cousin.”

“Yes, this is very helpful. Please, may I see the other documents?”

Murdoch handed them over to Theo and Doc handed the two birth certificates and the baby’s death certificate to Theo. Theo took the documents to the table and sat down, examining each carefully. He pulled a pad of paper and a pencil from his case and began making notes.

“Pa?” Johnny spoke.

“Yes, Johnny?”

“Do you think we have a good chance of keeping Truman? I can’t imagine life without him now.”

“I think we have an excellent chance, Johnny. Even if we didn’t, I’d fight as hard as I could to keep him.”

“I’d back you 150%, Murdoch. You’d probably win just on principle,” Sam said.

Johnny grinned at Sam and looked at the little boy nestled against him. He loved the closeness, but his arm was falling asleep and he was fidgeting.

“What’s wrong, Johnny?” Scott asked.

“My arm is falling asleep.”

“Let me take him. I’ve missed him,” Scott said as he moved to the couch and gently scooped the sleeping boy into his arms.

“Did you miss me?” Johnny asked, grinning.

“Oh, of course, Johnny. How can I not miss you?” Scott grinned as he replied.

Johnny chuckled softly and handed Truman’s blanket to Scott, who wrapped it around the child. Scott sat next to Johnny with the boy in his arms. Johnny reached over and tucked the blanket under the boy’s chin.

Theo finally stood and came back to the group.

“Keep these documents safe, Murdoch. We need them for the trial and custody hearing. As soon as the jury selection is finished tomorrow, we’ll speak to Judge Hayes. This information is extremely helpful and crucial to putting Willis in jail for a very long time. You are coming to jury selection, right?”

“Yes, I’ll be there. What will Willis be charged with? Which case will be first?”

“Most likely, Judge Hayes will want to start with the least complicated so he can finish them in order to focus on the case with Willis and the custody hearing. We’ll probably start with Johnny and Scott’s complaint against Raul Mendez. The Judge will probably take a day or two to deal with land deeds and trivial matters, then move into the trial against Willis so no other matters are hanging over him, clouding his judgment, so to speak. He takes the well-being of children very seriously.”

“Good!” Johnny and Scott chorused.

“To answer your other question, Willis will most likely be charged with trespassing, assault on a minor, forgery, and, possibly, two counts of negligent homicide and one count of murder in the second degree. We can’t prove James Tobin is dead just because he had the man disposed of. He might be charged with conspiracy, but it would be moot if he is convicted of the negligent homicides-he would hang, anyway.”

Murdoch and the others nodded.

“Well, I must leave and prepare for jury selection. I’ll see you tomorrow, Murdoch.”

“Okay, Theo. Thanks again for coming!”

“Good-bye. You’re welcome.”

Once Theo had left, Murdoch put all the important papers in the case, then looked around at the others in the room. It was now five-thirty in the late afternoon. They needed to get home and eat dinner.

“I’ll go find Miguel and bring the surrey around,” Murdoch announced.

“Okay, Pa,” Johnny answered.

Johnny had been pretty quiet this afternoon, content to draw and sit in peace. Murdoch hoped he was feeling alright.

“Are you okay, Johnny?” Murdoch asked as he felt the young man’s forehead.

“I’m fine, Pa. Just restin’ like Doc told me ta do. I wanna be well enough to go on the cattle drive. Hey, is True goin’ on the cattle drive with us?”

“Most likely, Johnny. I’ll be right back.”

Murdoch returned a few minutes later with Miguel in tow. Scott put the sleeping child in Johnny’s arms and helped Miguel lift the trunk and take it out to the surrey. They returned and said their good-byes to Sam. When Scott lifted the boy from Johnny, True woke up.

“What’s going on?” The sleepy boy asked.

“We’re going home, Truman,” Scott replied.

“For supper?”


“Good. I’m hungry.”

“So am I, lil Cowboy,” Johnny said with a chuckle.

“Good night, Truman. I’ll come see you in a few days,” Sam said.

“Okay, Uncle Sam. Good night,” replied Truman, as he held his arms out to hug Sam.

Sam came closer and hugged the child, patting his back.

“Good night, Doc,” said Johnny as he stood and hobbled over to shake his hand.

“Good night, Johnny,” Sam replied as he shook Johnny’s hand. “Don’t overdo it, son.”

“I won’t, Sam.”

Miguel was sitting in the back seat of the surrey. Murdoch helped Johnny up to join Miguel. Scott lifted the boy to the back seat and Johnny scooted over to make room for Truman to sit between him and Miguel. Scott hopped on and sat in the front seat with Murdoch. Truman still held his blanket and leaned against Johnny’s left arm as the surrey started moving.

The ride was pretty uneventful, the men lost in their own thoughts. Johnny had his arm around the quiet boy’s shoulders. Thinking Truman had fallen back to sleep, Johnny looked at the child’s face and saw his eyes were open and his cheeks were damp from tears. The boy was lost in his own memories.

Johnny pulled the boy tighter to him and rubbed Truman’s head tenderly.

When the surrey pulled up in front of the hacienda, Jelly hurried over to help unload the packages and carried them inside. Scott helped Johnny and Truman down. He noticed the boy’s wet cheeks and exchanged a worried look with Johnny. Johnny shook his head, took the boy’s hand, and they went inside, leaving the door open so Scott and Miguel could bring the trunk in and up to Truman’s room, where they set it at the foot of the boy’s bed. They returned downstairs to find Johnny on the couch with the boy.

Miguel said his goodnights and headed to the bunkhouse. Teresa was setting the table for supper as Murdoch came in from helping Jelly put the surrey away and bed down the horses. Scott sorted the packages on the coffee table and glanced at Murdoch.

“Supper will be ready in ten minutes, guys,” Teresa announced. She came over and gave Scott a welcome home hug.

She then noticed how quiet Johnny and Truman were and looked at them with concern.

“Thank you, Teresa,” Murdoch replied to her announcement.

Teresa sat next to Truman and gently caressed his cheek.

“What’s up, sweetheart?” She asked the boy tenderly.

The boy trembled as he looked up at her.

“I miss my Mum and Dad,” he replied plaintively.

“I know, sweetie. I wish I could help take the heartache away. All I can do is give you my love and comfort,” Teresa replied.

Truman nodded.

Maria brought the biscuits and soup into the dining room.

"Supper is on!” Maria announced.

“We’re coming, Maria,” Murdoch answered.

Scott stood to go to the table and stopped by the couch to take Truman by the hand. The boy grasped Scott’s offered hand and scooted off the couch, still holding his blanket.

“Son, leave your blanket on the couch, please. You don’t want to get it dirty,” Murdoch instructed the boy firmly, but kindly.

Truman looked at Murdoch, then at his blanket, then he looked up into  Scott’s eyes. Scott winked at him, encouraging him silently to mind his Papa.

The boy let go of his big brother’s hand, hugged the blanket, then set it gently on the couch. He grasped Scott’s hand again and they walked to the table to sit for supper.

“That was very good, True. I’m proud of you, big boy!” Scott praised the child.

“Thanks, Scott,” True replied quietly.

“You’re welcome. I have some surprises for everyone after supper,” Scott said.

Jelly entered during this declaration and took his seat at the table.

“That’s very kind of you, Scott. I’m sure we are all looking forward to seeing what you found,” Murdoch said. “I have to be in town early tomorrow, so I need you all to keep an eye on Truman.”

Murdoch glanced at the boy and became concerned at the child’s demeanor. He was stirring his soup, but not eating it. Murdoch reached over and felt the boy’s cheeks, but did not encounter the tell-tale warmth of a fever.

“Is something wrong with your soup, son?”

“Too hot,” whispered the boy.

“Eat some applesauce while it cools, then,” Murdoch suggested.


Truman sighed, licked his spoon, then ate his applesauce and drank some milk. He stuck the tip of his little finger in the soup to see if it had cooled. Since it had, Truman licked his finger and ate the soup, using a biscuit to wipe the bowl clean. He finished his milk and sat back, listening to Scott talk about San Francisco and the train ride.

Johnny reached over and squeezed the boy’s shoulder gently. He was concerned about the boy’s mood, too. He had a feeling True might have a bad dream that night, after having memories dredged up from the items in the trunk. He wanted to discuss his concern with the others, but not until the boy had been put to bed.

Dessert, in the form of Scottish shortbread cookies, was brought out. Johnny offered the plate to True and the boy politely took one cookie. He leaned over his empty bowl and ate it slowly. He was able to reach the table properly now because Scott and Johnny had constructed a sturdy booster seat for the boy with a belt that secured it to the chair. It was made of wood, stained to match the table, and a removable cushion with a case that could be taken off and washed as needed.

“Are you okay, lil cowboy?” Johnny asked quietly.

Truman sighed and nodded.

“Pretty long, excitin’ day, huh?”

The boy nodded again.

“Truman, you ate a very nice supper. You may be excused if you’d like,” Murdoch told the boy kindly.

“Thank you, Papa.”

Truman scooted off his chair and went to the sitting area. He moved to his basket of toys and dumped the bag of blocks on the rug and played quietly as the adults lingered over coffee.

The others came to the sitting area and made themselves comfortable. Murdoch walked around the couch to avoid knocking any of the boy’s towers over. He reached down and patted the boy’s back affectionately.

Scott began opening parcels.

“For Teresa, I have this baby blue lightweight shawl,” he announced.

“Oh, thank you!” She exclaimed as she tried it on and smiled at Scott.

“You’re welcome,” Scott replied, returning the smile.

“For Jelly, Murdoch, and Cipriano, I have a pouch of pipe tobacco and a box of cigars for each of you,” Scott said as he handed the packages to their recipients.

“Thanks, Scott!” Jelly was tickled pink that Scott had thought of him.

“Thank you, son. That was very thoughtful.”

“You’re very welcome. I have a shawl for Maria as well. I’ll give it to her tomorrow, when I see her and Cipriano will receive his gift tomorrow as well.  For my two brothers, I have some special things. For Johnny, artists’ drawing pencils, erasers, a sharpener, so you won’t cut yourself sharpening the pencils with your knife, ahem, and three different sized sketchbooks. I figured you were getting low on paper in the one you’ve been using and I thought you might like a couple of small ones to take on cattle drives and other trips. The pencils have their own metal case, see, and each pencil has a different grade of graphite for creating different shades.”

“Thank you! That was very…WOW! Thanks!” Johnny said in awe.

Scott ruffled his younger brother’s unruly hair and said, “you’re very welcome, Johnny.”

“True, come here, lil brother,” Scott directed.

Truman stood and walked to the couch to stand next to Scott. Scott lifted the boy into his lap and held him close a minute.

“I didn’t forget you, little brother.”

“But you got my Bible and trunk, Scott. You didn’t hafta get anything else for me,” the boy replied.

“Oh, True. I wanted to get this for you. You deserve some nice things, too. Look, I found this portfolio so you can keep your loose pictures in it so they stay clean and safe. I also bought a case of pencils for you, a sharpener, erasers, and a small sketch book, just like Johnny’s.”

The boy was overwhelmed.

“Thank you, Scott. That was very nice of you,” True said quietly.

Scott hugged the boy tight. “You’re very welcome, lil brother. I bought a few extra sketchbooks for when you and Johnny finish the ones you have. I’ll save them for later, okay?”

“Thanks, Scott,” Johnny said again.

“Thank you, Scott,” echoed Truman.

“You’re both welcome. I enjoyed choosing these gifts for my family and I am happy you are all happy.”

True put his gifts on the table and slid off Scott’s lap. He picked up his blocks and put them away.

“Why did you put your blocks away, son? It’s not bedtime, yet,” Murdoch queried.

“I was finished playing with them, Papa. I want to sit with my brothers.”

“Oh, okay,” Murdoch replied with a smile and a wink.

Truman climbed onto the couch and sat between Johnny and Scott with his blanket on his lap and yawned. Both of the older brothers smiled at the little guy who had captured their hearts so quickly. Johnny reached over and eased the boy down to lay his head on Johnny’s left leg. Scott scooted over and pulled the child’s feet into his lap and pulled the little boots off, setting them under the coffee table. Johnny rubbed the boy’s head and back as Scott rubbed True’s legs and feet. The older brothers soothed the exhausted youngest Lancer to sleep in less than ten minutes.


Chapter  41

Scott eased himself out from under the boy’s feet, lifted his little body effortlessly, along with his blanket, and carried the sleeping child upstairs. Scott carefully undressed Truman, put a nightshirt on him, tucked him in, then kissed the boy’s head. He lit a lamp and turned down the wick, then left to rejoin the adults downstairs.

“Hey, how’s my little boy?” Murdoch asked as Scott returned.

“Sound asleep with his blanket,” Scott answered, with a small smile.

“I’m worried about him, Pa. He was crying on the way home tonight,” Johnny said.

“He was? I didn’t hear him,” Murdoch replied.

“He had tears streaming down his face. He was so quiet, I thought he was asleep. I’m afraid he’s going to have a nightmare tonight.”

“Why do you think that?” Scott asked.

“Because of all the memories he found in that trunk. Dontcha think that’s gonna be hard on him? Facing all that stuff again?” Johnny replied.

“Could be, Johnny. We’ll have to keep our ears open and be prepared,” Murdoch suggested.

“I’m going to turn in. I’m tired. I’ll listen for him,” Scott said.

“I think it’s a good idea if we all turn in. We’ve all had a very long day, and if Johnny’s prediction comes true, we’ll be glad for the rest,” Murdoch suggested.

The Lancers and Jelly said their goodnights and went to bed. Murdoch fished the key to Truman’s trunk out of his pocket and set it on his dresser.

Peace reigned over the house for a few hours before everyone would be up again, caring for the littlest Lancer.

Truman was indeed having a nightmare. He was running around an unknown place trying to find his parents. He couldn’t find any familiar faces to ask. Only the faces of his enemies or people he didn’t know could be seen. All others’ were blank, as if the features had been melted or erased.

The child climbed out of bed. He opened the door and walked down the hall, whispering for his mum and dad.

“Mum? Dad? Where are you? I can’t find you!”  The little boy kept saying this as he stood at the top of the stairs, confused. His voice rose in evident panic each time he called out for his parents.

Scott was the first to hear the little one’s distress. He rose from his bed and pulled on his pants, then his robe. Scott tip-toed into the hallway and saw the boy standing at the top of the stairs. Johnny met Scott in the hall. He had also heard Truman calling out and rushed to wiggle into a pair of pants, but Johnny hadn’t bothered to find a robe or shirt. The older Lancer boys moved quickly and quietly to the frightened child.

“Mummy! Daddy! Where are you? I’m lost! Please find me!” The boy was in high panic mode now, looking for his parents.

“Truman, it’s Scott, little brother. Wake up, True,” Scott said as he gently took the boy’s arms and knelt in front of him.

The child was shaking with severe fright. Johnny rubbed the boy’s back, trying to soothe him. As he did this, he realized the boy’s nightshirt was drenched with sweat.

By now, Murdoch and Teresa had joined the rest of the family at the top of the stairs. They each brought a lamp with them, which, together, illuminated the whole hallway. Murdoch took in the scene, noting the boy’s appearance and instructed Teresa to find some clean drawers and a nightshirt for the boy. He walked to the child and grasped his shoulder gently to obtain True’s attention.

Scott moved out of his way and knelt on the other side of the boy, holding his wrist and checking his pulse. It was way too fast for Scott’s liking.

Truman noticed the people gathering around him and started to panic again.

“Mummy? Daddy? Where are they? I can’t find them,” the boy sobbed, his breath hitching.

“I know, son, I know,” Murdoch replied softly. He felt just how wet the nightshirt was and noticed as the child shivered. Murdoch raised his eyebrows at Scott.

“Bath time. I’ll put some water on,” Scott said as he let go of the boy’s wrist. Scott was beginning to feel that he was in charge of baths where his youngest brother was concerned.

Teresa returned with the clean clothes.

“Thank you, darling. Take the clean clothes to Scott. He’s in the bath house.”

Teresa nodded and did as she was asked.

“Johnny, let’s take him to Scott and help him bathe the boy. He’s absolutely soaked.”

“Okay, Pa.”

Murdoch caressed the boy’s tear-streaked cheek.

“Truman, it’s Papa. I’m here, baby. Johnny is here and we are going to give you a bath,” Murdoch spoke quietly and calmly to the child as he gently guided him towards the stairs.

Johnny took Truman by the hand and began to lead him downstairs. Murdoch followed. 

“Mummy. Daddy. Lost. Can’t find them. Help me. Help me find them,” Truman muttered as Johnny gently led him to the bath house.

Once they arrived, Scott poured the water in as Johnny and Murdoch undressed the boy, who was still shaking, muttering, and crying. Johnny lifted him into the tub and he and Scott bathed Truman while Murdoch sat by the tub and repeatedly reassured the boy, who still thought he was lost. True wasn’t totally aware of the bathing and the washing of his hair. He was quite lethargic and allowed his brothers to completely wash, dry, and dress him without protest.

This worried the elder Lancers because the boy had become quite independent and pleaded to be able to bathe himself without supervision. Murdoch had allowed the boy to see to his own baths, though he insisted that an adult help the child with the hot water. Once the tub was full, Truman was allowed his privacy. He did a good job with his baths and washing his hair, and the family was very proud of how much he had grown.

Scott emptied the tub and tossed the dirty towels and soiled clothes into the wash basin to soak. Johnny and Murdoch led the boy back to the great room. Murdoch was thinking how he should handle this latest episode. Johnny was sad that his prediction had come true, but he was glad they had had been prepared for the possibility that Truman would need them.

“Come on, my boy,” Murdoch lifted Truman into his arms and held him close.

“Mummy? Daddy? Can’t find them,” the frightened boy whispered.

“I know, son. Tell me what you saw,” Murdoch replied as he carried the child to the couch and sat with him on his lap.

Scott came in and joined the family.

“People without faces an’ people with faces. The people with faces were mean looking and I didn’t know them. I can’t find Mummy and Daddy. I’m scared,” the child cried.

“I know you’re scared. Do you know where you are?”

“At Papa’s house?”

“Good. Who am I?”


“Right. Who is that?” Murdoch asked, pointing at Scott.


“Good, and him?”


“Yes, and her?”


“Good, and you? What’s your name?”

“Truman Oliver Sutherland…Lancer”

Murdoch sighed and nodded, relieved the boy knew them, himself, and where he was. He was concerned that after all their discussions, the boy was still looking for his parents.

“Truman, you are not lost and your Mummy and Daddy know you are here, safe with us. Your Mum and Dad are in a special place now. They are in Heaven, but they are also in your heart. You will always have them with you in your heart.”

“I miss them.”

“I know you do, baby. It’s very hard for a little guy like you not to miss them. I’m a big guy and I still miss my Mum and Dad, too.”

“You do?”

“Yes. I think seeing all of those pictures and your Mum and Dad’s clothes and your things in your trunk brought a lot of deep, forgotten memories out of your head and I bet those memories make you miss your Mum and Dad more.”

Truman sighed and nodded. The other adults in the room were very sad for the little boy but they thought Murdoch was handling this very well.

“It’s okay to miss them. I know you love them and they love you from Heaven and inside your heart. We love you, too. You are with family, now, and we will take care of you and help you through this. You’re going to be fine.”

“Mum and Dad aren’t lost? They’re safe?”

“Yes, baby. They’re safe and you’re safe.”

“Okay.” The boy still sniffed and his breath still hitched, but he was calm and more lucid now.

“I’m going to take you back to bed, now, and you’re going to be fine,” Murdoch stated calmly and kindly.

Truman nodded and rubbed his eyes sleepily. The others hugged him goodnight and wished him sweet dreams quietly.

Murdoch stood, holding the boy close and started up the stairs. Once upstairs, Murdoch took Truman into his room and was pleased to see that Teresa had changed the boy’s sheets. He laid the child in his bed and pulled the covers up to Truman’s chin. He kissed the boy’s forehead and caressed his cheek.

“Good night, son. I love you.”

“Night, Papa. Love you, too,” the child sighed. He fell asleep quickly.

Murdoch returned to the great room and sat heavily in his armchair, releasing a big breath.

“Is he okay, Pa?” Johnny asked. “I’m really worried.”

“I know, Johnny. He’s sleeping, now. We just have to give him lots of love and reassurances. While I’m gone tomorrow, I want Truman kept busy. No naps. Make sure his blanket stays in his room. I don’t want him to become dependent on it. Be kind, but be firm. “

“OK, Murdoch,” Scott replied. The others nodded their agreement.

“I put the blanket in his trunk,” Teresa informed them. “I found it under the bed and shook it out when I changed the sheets, and I thought it would be safer if it was in his trunk.”

“Good thinking, Teresa.  Don’t mention it to him, but if he asks for it, just tell him it’s in his trunk and it’s going to stay there until bedtime. We need to go to bed. It may be a rough day tomorrow. I’ll be home by supper at the latest. Good night, all.”

“Good night, Murdoch”

“Good night, Pa.”


Chapter  42

The next morning came much too soon for Murdoch. He rose, washed, dressed, and took the key to Truman’s trunk into the boy’s room. Murdoch unlocked the trunk quietly and removed the leather case of important documents. He peeked at the still sleeping child and smiled, then placed the key on the boy’s dresser and went downstairs to breakfast. As he ate, he wrote a list of instructions regarding Truman and reminded Johnny not to overdo on his injured leg.

Murdoch left the instructions on the table for the young adults to read and follow, then saddled his horse and rode to town.  He made it to Green River by 8:15, and led Chief to the livery. Murdoch took the case out of his saddlebags and headed to Theo’s office.

“Good morning, Murdoch. I was able to secure a quick interview with the judge at 8:30. He’d like to read the documents. Afterwards, he will make a decision on how to proceed with the custody hearing. I believe you have an excellent chance of receiving permanent custody of Truman.”

Murdoch was relieved. He wanted the boy so much and he knew a stable, loving environment was the best thing for the child.

“That is such good news!” Murdoch exclaimed.

“Let’s go! Don’t want to be late!”

They went to the Town Hall and knocked on the door to the office that Judge Hayes used as his chambers.

“Come in,” the judge said.

Theo and Murdoch entered and were bid to sit.

“Good morning, Mr. Randall and Mr. Lancer. I understand you have some important documents to share with me, Mr. Lancer.”

“Yes, Your Honor, I do. These were found in Truman’s trunk that we discovered and had shipped from Nevada. There are a letter to the child from his parents and a letter to me from Mr. Sutherland, the boy’s father,” replied Murdoch as he handed the documents to the judge.

Judge Hayes reviewed the documents and letters carefully. Then, he compared the signatures with those on Willis’ fake document and noticed the discrepancy.

“Do you have any further proof that these signatures are authentic, Mr. Lancer?”

“Yes, I have the Bible in here that belongs to Truman. The signatures of his parents are on the inside cover,” Murdoch replied as he handed the Bible to the judge. He was relieved that at the last minute he’d thought to bring the Bible.

“Yes, these signatures are authentic. I will be sure to add forgery to the list of charges against Willis.”

“Thank you, Your Honor.”

“I see that Truman’s father had faith in you though he never had the chance to meet you. Your good character is highly regarded.”

“Thank you, Your Honor.”

“Well, we best get to the courtroom. Don’t want to be late,” the judge said. The three men stood up and left the chambers, the judge carrying the documents.

Several hours later, exhausting hours, the jury had finally been selected and Murdoch was on his way home. It had been a long, tough process. He was eager to have the trials over with, get through the custody hearing, and help Truman start a new life. He wondered what his boys had accomplished today and hoped Johnny had heeded his warning.

It was 5:30 when Murdoch finally rode into the yard. Jose came to take care of his horse for him and he nodded his thanks to the ranch hand. As he dismounted, he could hear the pattering of little feet running around the house and a young boy’s uninhibited laughter. As Murdoch made his way to the front door, the little whirlwind and his canine companion shot around the corner of the house and Murdoch had to catch the boy before he tripped on the step up onto the veranda.

Truman squealed in surprise.

“Just where do you think you’re going in such a hurry, young man?” Murdoch asked with amusement.

“Oh, hi, Papa. I was going to wash up for supper,” Truman answered breathlessly.

“What were you running from?”

“Nothin.’ Trevor and I were just running around an playing.”

“Where are your boots? And shirt?”

“I got hot and took them off. The grass feels good under my feet. I don’t have any drawers on either. Scott took me to the stream and gave me my first swimmin’ lesson. They’re hanging to dry, so I just put my overalls on with nothing.”

“I see. Well, run up to your room and dress properly for supper, please. Drawers and boots included,” Murdoch instructed the boy.

“Yes, Papa.”

Murdoch chuckled and put the boy down, giving him a light smack on the bottom to get the boy moving. Truman squealed again and rubbed his bottom as he went inside. He’d have to remember to wear drawers when he is around his Papa.

As Truman hustled up the stairs, Murdoch entered the great room and saw that the table had been set, but no one else was around. Just then, Scott and Johnny came in, followed by Teresa.

“Hello, Murdoch! How was jury selection?” Scott asked.

“Long and tedious. How was your day? I heard you took Truman swimming.”

“Yes, I did. He’s a quick learner,” answered Scott.

“Well, I’d like to hear all about your day at the dinner table. Let’s go get washed up. How’s your leg, Johnny? You haven’t been overdoing it, have you?”

“No, I rested on and off all day. I’m fine.”

“Good. Have you started gentling Truman’s mustang?”

“I worked with him a little bit today. I want to get him to trust me completely, then take Truman into the corral with me. It’s going to be his horse, so he should work with him, too.”

“I agree, but be absolutely careful, Johnny,” Murdoch warned.

“I will, Murdoch, I will. I won’t let anything happen to him,” Johnny replied.

“I know you won’t. OK, let’s go wash up,” Murdoch said, and the three Lancer men went up to change and wash.

Dinner was a lively affair with all the younger Lancers discussing their day. Truman had helped Scott and Charlie clean out a dry creek bed on the South Mesa until lunch time. Johnny had stayed close to the house, working with the mustang and fixing tack when his leg felt sore. Teresa washed and mended clothing and helped Maria in the kitchen, and Jelly helped Johnny with the tack. After lunch, Scott had taken True to the stream and taught him how to hold his breath under water, then they had worked on kicking. After playing about in the water for a little while longer, it was time to head back to the house and tend to other chores. Since Truman had been a great helper in the morning and very cooperative in the stream, Scott excused him so he could play with Trevor.

“We’re getting ready for the cattle drive in August. I want our new stock to be branded and the stock going to market to be moved to the lower south pasture tomorrow. Johnny, I need you to please take Truman to school tomorrow. He needs to be there at 10:30,” Murdoch said as he started to explain his plans for the weekend.

“Yes, Sir,” Johnny replied.

“Thank you, Son.”

“De nada.”

Murdoch smiled at Johnny’s reply, then turned to Truman.

“Truman, Miss May would like to meet you and I have asked her to give you some tasks to do so she can tell us what skills you might need help with to be in your proper grade in the Fall. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Papa.”

“Good. You don’t have to wear your suit, but I want you to dress nicely. Johnny is going to stay either at the school, or close by, until you are finished.”

“Okay,” Truman replied, relieved that Johnny wouldn’t be far.

Johnny nodded his understanding at the circumvented instruction.

Murdoch sighed. The hard part was fast approaching.

“Scott and Johnny, the trial against Mendez is Monday. Are you ready?”

“Yes, Sir,” the young men answered, almost in unison.

“I suggest we stay in town tomorrow night so we will not have to leave the ranch so early,” Murdoch said.

“I’m all for that!” Johnny declared.

“Am I going, too?” Truman asked.

“No, Son. There is no reason for you to be there. I want you to stay here with Teresa, Jelly, and Charlie. We’ll only be gone for one night and one day,” Murdoch answered.

“Val seems to think it’s an open and shut case. I hope it’s that easy,” Scott spoke.

“So do I, Scott. So do I,” Murdoch answered.

Johnny glanced at Truman before he asked his next question.

“When is the case against Willis gonna happen?”

“Probably Wednesday, John. The judge is taking care of  the quick cases first before diving into the Willis case. The custody hearing will probably take place soon after.”

Truman bowed his head and sighed. He was NOT looking forward to seeing Willis again.


Chapter  43

Johnny and Truman walked to the corral together. The mustang was prancing around the perimeter, shaking his head excitedly. Truman climbed through the rails and stood calmly and patiently, waiting for the pony to approach. Johnny grabbed a halter and entered the corral.

“Truman! Mickey is a wild pony. You need to get out of here and wait till I say it’s ok,” Johnny told the boy sternly as he lifted him up and over the corral fence.

“But Johnny, he’s my pony!” Truman protested.

“Not until I can trust him. You need to trust me and do what I tell ya, hear?”


“Good boy.”

The pony walked right up to the fence and stuck his nose over the top rail.

“Good mornin’ to you, fella. Today, you get a name. Your name is Michaelangelo, but we’re gonna call ya Mickey. So, how are ya, Mickey?” Truman spoke softly and calmly to Mickey and let the pony sniff his hand.

Once Mickey had investigated the harness in Johnny’s hand, he backed up and trotted around the corral, expending some nervous energy.

“Will you let me put this on you, Mickey?” Johnny asked.

The pony lowered his head and stood still as Johnny put the halter on the pony’s head expertly. Truman smiled at Johnny, impressed with his horse skills.

“Where didja learn to do that?” Truman asked.

“A friend taught me. He taught me a lot about animals. He told me I was his only true human friend.”

Truman nodded solemnly. He certainly understood how that felt. For a very long time, Jimmy was his best and only friend.

“Charlie is going to put a saddle blanket and saddle in the middle of the corral. I’m gonna walk around the corral and let Mickey follow me at his own pace and choice. This is building trust. I won’t look back at him. We have to earn each others’ trust. I trust him to follow me and he trusts me to lead him safely. Understand?” Johnny whispered his methods to Truman.

Truman nodded.

“Eventually, we will wind up in the middle of the corral, next to the rest of the tack. I’ll let Mickey sniff it and see what it is, then I’ll saddle him,” Johnny continued.

“You stay here and watch. If you put one toe in the corral without me telling ya to, I’ll tan yer hide,” Johnny warned the boy sternly.

The boy nodded again.  Johnny started walking the perimeter of the corral. Mickey, indeed, became curious and followed him, with his reins hanging loosely from the halter.

By now, they had an audience, including Murdoch, Teresa, and Jelly.

Johnny and Mickey made it to the center of the corral where the tack had been placed. Johnny quietly backed away from the pony. Mickey sniffed the tack and Johnny bent over slowly to pick up the blanket and present it to Mickey, who  explored the blanket thoroughly. Once he was satisfied the pony looked away, then back at the Johnny.

Johnny gently placed the blanket on the pony’s back. Mickey stood stock still, then shifted his feet and wiggled his rump, seeming to get used to the blanket on his back. Once he settled down, Johnny lifted the saddle, presented it also to the horse, then placed the saddle on the horse’s back. Johnny was very gentle and adjusted the saddle so it would sit comfortably on Mickey. The pony did not balk at the new weight immediately, so Johnny buckled and tightened the cinch. When the saddle was fastened to Johnny’s satisfaction, he placed one foot in the stirrup and put his weight on it. Mickey shifted just a little bit. Johnny continued to mount the pony and secured his other foot in the stirrup. The mustang did not protest the extra weight of the rider. He stood perfectly still and waited for Johnny to do something. Johnny was aghast. Never before had he encountered such a docile pony.

Johnny looked over to Murdoch and shrugged.

“True, stand with Papa,” Johnny told the boy. He wanted Truman out of harm’s way in case Mickey had a sudden objection to the weight on his back.

Truman nodded and did as he was told. He and Johnny had had a serious discussion about gentling horses and how it could be very dangerous. Johnny had made the boy solemnly swear to follow his instructions to the letter while he worked with Mickey.

Murdoch picked the boy up and held him so he could watch Johnny ride Mickey around the corral. Johnny indicated to Charlie that he wanted the gate opened. Charlie obliged and Johnny took off on Mickey, giving the horse his head. After a few minutes of all out galloping, Johnny reined in the young mustang and asked him to trot, canter, and walk. By the time they reentered the corral, Mickey was responding to each and every one of Johnny’s requests.

Johnny dismounted and unsaddled the pony, then turned him loose in the corral. Charlie stepped forward to take the tack from Johnny. As he did so, Johnny asked him to saddle Barranca for him.

Johnny walked over to the fence and climbed through.

“He’s a great pony, True. A few more days of work, and I think you’ll be able to ride him. He’s very strong and needs a firm hand. I don’t want you riding him or near him without me, Scott, Papa, Charlie, or Jelly, with you. Understand?”

“Yes, Johnny.”

“Good. Let me get cleaned up and we’ll go to town. I’ll be back in a few minutes,” Johnny said.

“You did a great job, Johnny. I’m sure Truman appreciates your hard work,” Murdoch said as he patted Johnny on the back.

Johnny ducked his head, smiling shyly. “Thanks, Pa,” he whispered.

Johnny made his way to the bathhouse. Murdoch set the boy on his feet.

“Do you need to go to the bath house, Son?”

“No, Sir.”


Johnny returned just as Charlie was leading Barranca out of the barn. Johnny had his saddlebags and secured them to the saddle. He mounted gracefully and reached out to take the boy from Murdoch.

“What’s in your bags, Johnny,” the curious tyke asked.

“My sketchbook and pencils” Johnny replied as he settled the boy in front of him. “We’ll get lunch in town, Pa.”

“Ok. Do you have money with you?”

“Yes, about five dollars.”

“Here’s five more, if you need it.”


“You’re welcome. Be careful. Invite Miss May to supper tonight. I want to know what she thinks.”

“Ok. See ya later.”

“Be polite, Truman,” Murdoch reminded the boy.

“Yes, Papa.”

Johnny and Truman took off at an easy gait. They made it to town with time to spare. Johnny stopped at the schoolhouse, dismounted, and tied Barranca to the banister. He lifted Truman off the horse and led him into the school.

Miss May was sitting at her desk, grading some papers. She looked up when the Lancer boys entered.

“Good morning, Miss May,” Johnny greeted her.

“Good morning, Mr. Lancer. This must be Truman. Hello, young man. I’m Miss May and I’m pleased to meet you.”

“Thank you, Miss May. I..I’m pleased to meet you, too,” Truman replied hesitantly.

“Relax, Truman. We’re going to have a pleasant morning together. We’re going to talk and I’d like you to do some reading, writing, and arithmetic for me, ok?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“You have nice manners, Truman,” Miss May complimented the shy boy.

“Thank you, ma’am.”

“Mr. Lancer…”

“Johnny,” Johnny told her politely.

“Okay, Johnny. Where will we find you when we’re finished?”

“Oh, I’ll be at the cantina next to the general store. We’re havin’ lunch there. Would you like to join us? Murdoch asked me to invite you for supper tonight. He’d like to talk to you about Truman and school.”

“Well, Truman and I will come find you and I’d be very pleased to have lunch with you two. We can discuss supper arrangements during lunch,” Miss May replied.

“Okay.” Johnny turned to Truman. “You be good and listen, hear? Mind your manners and speak up.”

“I will, Johnny,” the boy promised.

“Good. See ya later,” Johnny replied, squeezing the boy’s shoulder reassuringly as he walked to the door.

Johnny took Barranca to the livery and made sure the palomino was comfortable before he took his sketchbook and pencils and headed for a shady tree, where he sat down and started sketching the school house.

A few hours later, Miss May and her young charge walked into the cantina.

“There he is, Miss May,” Truman said as he spotted his big brother sitting at a table sipping lemonade. Johnny had moved to the cool interior of the cantina after sitting under the tree for a couple of hours.

The three of them enjoyed a pleasant lunch together, discussing Truman’s love of books and history. They talked about the weather, family, and supper arrangements. When lunch was finished, Miss May took her leave of the Lancers and went back to the school house to organize her notes about Truman’s strengths and weaknesses.

Truman and Johnny had had a very busy morning. The little boy was tired from both the excitement of seeing his horse being gentled and from the academic tasks he was asked to complete. He fell asleep against Johnny’s chest during the ride home.

When they reached the courtyard, Scott and Murdoch came out to greet them. Scott smiled up at the sleeping child and reached up to take him from Johnny’s arms.

“How’d it go, Son?” Murdoch asked, smiling as Scott walked by him, carrying the sleeping boy into the house.

“Just fine, Pa. Miss May was real nice to True an’ she joined us for lunch. She’ll be here at five-thirty this evenin’ for supper and talk. She said she had to organize her notes so she’d be real clear. True is plumb tuckered out.”

“I noticed that. Did he behave? Was he polite?”

“Oh, he was good as gold,” Johnny said with a grin, as he dismounted.

Johnny tried to stifle a yawn himself, but was unable to fool Murdoch.

“You’re tired, too. Go on inside and rest. I’ll have Jelly take care of Barranca for you.”

“I’m fine, Murdoch,” Johnny protested.

“John,” Murdoch warned in his best paternal voice.

“Ok, I guess I’ll stretch out on the couch for a little bit.”

“Thank you. Go on.”

Johnny went inside and flopped on the couch. After removing his hat, belt and boots, he stretched out with his head cushioned by a pillow and fell asleep immediately.

Scott returned to the great room after putting True to bed and smiled at his other younger brother, who looked even younger when enveloped in blissful slumber.

Johnny’s “little bit” of resting turned out to be a two hour nap.


Chapter  44

“Johnny, wake up.”


“Wake up. Our dinner guest will be here soon,” Scott said as he shook his brother awake.

“What time is it?”

“Five o’ clock. Go get cleaned up. I’ll wake True,” Scott encouraged Johnny.


Johnny rose to his feet gracefully, stretched and yawned, rubbed his face with his hands, then sprinted to the steps. Scott was close behind. When they reached Truman’s bedroom door, they entered quietly and peeked at their little brother. Truman was stretched out on his bed, with his face towards the open window and a light breeze entered the room, ruffling the boy’s bangs gently.

Scott reached out and gently patted the boy’s back. Johnny watched for a minute, then smiled and went into his room to change into clean pants and a fresh shirt.

“Truman, come on buddy, time to wake up,” Scott quietly and gently roused him.

“What?” Truman asked as he lifted his head and turned onto his right side to face Scott.

“Hey, True. Time to wake up, little brother. You need to wash up and change into a fresh shirt for supper.”

“Okay,” Truman replied as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes and sat up.

“Good nap?” Johnny asked as he walked in, pulling on his blue shirt with the tiny flowers on it.

“Yeah, I guess,” the boy replied as he hopped off his bed and opened his drawer to pull out his blue calico shirt.

Truman took his white shirt off and tossed it into the basket, then washed his face and put the clean shirt on. After tucking it in and putting his boots on, the boy brushed his hair, trying to tame the wildness of sleep out of it. He wasn’t having much luck.

“Truman, put your head over the wash basin and let me pour this water over your hair. Then, I’ll dry it and you can brush it,” Johnny suggested.

Truman did as he was told and the three of them managed to make the boy’s hair presentable.

“Thanks, guys.”

Johnny and Scott smiled and patted the boy’s shoulders as they led him down the hall toward the stairs.

“You’re welcome, True,” Johnny said. Johnny lifted the boy onto the banister as Scott descended the stairs and waited at the bottom to catch him.

Unbeknownst to them, Murdoch was watching from a secret vantage point. Johnny let go of the boy and True slid down the banister, squealing and giggling with pure happiness. Scott caught the boy at the bottom and set him on his feet. Johnny came down next and landed lightly on his feet. They stepped into the great room without realizing they had been watched. Murdoch smiled as he witnessed the love and mischief apparent in the three boys. He cleared his throat as he stepped into the great room and joined his boys on the couch.

“Well, looks like the rest did you both some good,” he observed.

“Yep, I sure enjoyed my siesta,” replied Johnny with a grin.

“What’s a si..es..ta?” Truman asked.

“It’s the Spanish word for nap, lil cowboy,” Johnny answered.

“Oh. Well, my siesta was good, too.”

“Good. Our company should be arriving soon. Be on your best behavior, boys,” Murdoch warned paternally, but with a small smile.

“Of course, Papa. I’ll be good as gold,” Truman responded with a sincere smile.

“I don’t doubt it!”

Miss May arrived exactly at five-thirty and dinner was a lively affair. Afterwards, the adults sat in the great room’s living area and had coffee. Murdoch sent Truman outside to play with Trevor and DewDrop. 

“So, tell me, Miss May. How can we help Truman here prepare for school?” Murdoch asked.

“Well, Mr. Lancer, Truman is very intelligent. His reading skills are in the nine to ten year old range. He is also very good with math and spelling. He is about a year and a half ahead in those two areas. I would like to challenge him in those subjects by giving him more difficult tasks than average seven year olds receive. As for grammar, science, and history, he is right where he needs to be. My main concerns are his handwriting, fine motor skills, and social skills.”

“He has good manners,” Johnny volunteered, trying to defend his little brother.

“Yes, he does, Johnny. I’m not concerned about that. I am concerned about his interaction with children his own age. When I spoke with him, he talked like a young adult. Some of the other children may think he’s trying to be better than they are.”

“What can we do about that?” Scott asked.

“Well, I’m thinking that perhaps he is more comfortable talking with adults. He said he does not have any young friends. I would like to encourage you to help him make friends with some of the children in town. Perhaps, through Sunday school, he could meet and make some friends. I could also pair him with some children at school and encourage them to interact with Truman.”

“That sounds like a good idea,” Teresa said.

“Yes. We can take him to church tomorrow,” Murdoch suggested.

“Well, what were those other things you said he needs help with?” Johnny asked.

“Fine motor skills and handwriting. He needs to practice basic letter formation and correct manipulation of the pencil. I brought a sample of his writing. His numbers are pretty clear, but as you can see, his letter formation is uneven and  shaky,” Miss May pointed out as she showed them the alphabet Truman had painstakingly wrote.

“So, a bit of daily practice will help him?” Scott asked.

“Yes, but make sure he does it correctly. We need to help Truman establish good habits from the very beginning. Also, let him practice using scissors to cut pieces of paper. He had a difficult time and became frustrated. He didn’t misbehave or act out, I could just tell that he was disappointed in himself.”

“Okay. We can do that,” Teresa said.

“Are there any special writing tablets we could get for Truman to help his writing?” Murdoch asked.

“Sure, Mr. Lancer. There are graded tablets. Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade. Start with the Kindergarten level now and he’ll be in second grade level by the time school starts, if he practices every day. I’d prefer if he had supervision during these practice sessions. Start with a few letters at a time, two or three.  The letters of his name would be a good first choice.”  

“That sounds very logical. How long does he need to practice each day?” Murdoch asked.

“I wouldn’t have him do a whole hour at once, Mr. Lancer. He still is a little boy and will need to do things 7 year old boys do. I recommend several short sessions of no more than ten or fifteen minutes each. He told me that you read to him in the evenings and he reads to you as well. That is excellent. Please, keep it up. I wish more parents would read to, and with their children. Let him draw shapes and cut them out with scissors. I recommend supervision with the scissors until his confidence grows.”

“Thank you, Miss May. We appreciate the time you took to help Truman and explain his needs and strengths to us,” Murdoch said.

“Oh, it was my pleasure, Mr. Lancer. Truman is a delightful boy to talk to and I look forward to having him in class next term.”

“Would you like to stay here tonight? It’s getting dark outside and it would be safer for you to stay here,” Murdoch offered.

“Oh, well, if it’s not an inconvenience, I’d love to. Thank you very much.”

The clock struck the half hour, telling Murdoch he needed to get Truman in and calmed down before bed.

“Excuse me for a moment, please,” Murdoch said.

He stood up and walked to the French doors and called for the boy. Truman came running to Murdoch and hugged his Papa’s legs. He was out of breath and perspiring.

“What have you been doing, young man?”

“R-running with T-Trevor,” Truman responded while trying to catch his breath.

“Well, it’s seven-thirty and time to settle down before bed. I think you need a bath, though. Miss May is staying the night so she doesn’t have to leave in the dark. Go in and get your nightshirt, drawers, and robe and slippers. I bet Johnny will help you with the water.”

“Okay, Papa.”

They went in together and Truman waved shyly at his new teacher as he walked to Johnny. Miss May smiled and waved back.

“Johnny, could you help me, please?” Truman asked his brother, sweetly.

“Sure, lil cowboy. What are we going to do?”

“Come with me,” Truman said as he blushed.

“Okay. I’ll see you in a little bit, Miss May,” Johnny said politely.

“See you later, Johnny,” replied Miss May.

Once the two younger Lancers were upstairs, Johnny asked Truman what was going on.

“Papa said I hafta take a bath an’ I need help with the water,” the boy explained.

“Okay. Get your clean things and come on down. I’ll get the water started,” Johnny replied.

“Thanks, Johnny.”

“Sure, lil brother.”

Johnny helped Truman prepare his bath, then went to the kitchen to wait for the boy to finish. Once Truman was ready for bed, Johnny took him to the living room to say his good-nights, then escorted the boy to his room and put Truman to bed.

The next morning, the family attended church together and Murdoch introduced Truman to some of the children. After church and lunch, Johnny and Truman went for a ride on Mickey.

The younger Lancer boys arrived in time for supper and washed up after stabling Mickey.

Once dinner was finished, Johnny, Murdoch, and Scott went to pack an over night bag for their day in court. They left Jelly and Teresa in charge of the boy, rode to Green River and checked into the hotel.

The next morning, the Lancer men entered the courtroom after breakfast. Theo Randall and Val were there, waiting. Judge Hayes walked in and Val said “all rise.”

Everyone rose, then sat once more as the judge took his seat.

The state prosecutor rose and read the charges against Raul.

“Raul Mendez, you are charged with assault, assault with a deadly weapon, assaulting an officer of the peace, and being drunk in public. How do you plead?”

“Not guilty,” Raul spat belligerently.

“Keep a civil tongue, young man!” Judge Hayes warned. “Does the prosecution have any witnesses?”

“Yes, Your honor. I call John Lancer to the stand.”

Johnny stood and walked to the witness stand with a barely noticeable limp.

Val swore him in and the attorney started his questions.

“Please state your name.”

“John Lancer.”

“Please tell me what happened in the saloon on the day in question,” the attorney requested.

Johnny sat up straight and explained why he and Scott were in the saloon and what happened from the time they entered until Raul was taken to jail.

Raul’s defense attorney cross-examined Johnny viciously, bringing up the fact that he was once Johnny Madrid. Johnny kept his cool and admitted that he had been Johnny Madrid, but had committed himself to a new life. He also pointed out that he never drew his gun on Raul and that Raul had tried to shoot HIM in the back.

Scott, Val, Dale Peterson, and Charles Lane were all called to the stand to testify. Raul didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell. He never took the stand in his own defense.

The jury deliberated for an hour and returned with a guilty verdict. Raul was sentenced to twenty-five years at San Quentin.

The trial had been long and emotional. The Lancers returned to their home tired, yet relieved.

Truman met them at the door.

“Hey! What happened?”

“Hey, lil cowboy!” Johnny greeted the boy, picking him up and hugging Truman. “Were you good for Teresa and Jelly?”

“Yes, Johnny.”

“Good. Well, Raul is going to prison for the bad things he did.”

“That’s good, isn’t it?” Truman asked.

“Yeah. Raul made bad decisions and he has to own up to them,” Johnny replied.

“Hey, big boy!” Murdoch greeted the youngster.

“Hey, Papa. Hey, Scott.”

“Hey, lil brother!” Scott greeted Truman with a playful cuff on his chin.

“Shall we have supper? We’ll talk about the trial and Willis’ trial during supper,” Murdoch said, as they all entered the house.

They cleaned up and sat down to supper. Jelly and Teresa joined them shortly after bringing in the rest of the dishes.

Truman was very quiet. He was dreading Wednesday, when they would all be in court and he would have to face Willis again.


Chapter 45

Truman looked up at Murdoch and opened his mouth to speak, but the words were not forthcoming. Scott noticed the boy’s trepidation and decided the kid needed some assistance. 

“What’s on your mind, Truman?” Scott asked gently.

“Do you think the Judge is going to let me stay here forever as a Lancer?” Truman asked, the words tumbling out and falling over each other as a result of the boy’s nervousness.

“Yes, Truman. We have an excellent, almost guaranteed, chance of keeping you. You still want to stay?” Murdoch replied.

“Yes!” The boy replied, enthusiastically. The others smiled at his exuberance.

“Is there something else on your mind?” Scott asked.

Truman had been thinking hard for a long time about the request he was about to make. He took a deep breath and released it as he gathered his courage.

“Well…I’d like to….um….be…baptized again….as a Lancer,” Truman said quietly, as he peeked up at Murdoch through his bangs, very similar to Johnny’s shy way.

“I see,” said Murdoch. He was smiling softly as he looked at the little boy who had captured his heart. “I think we can arrange that. You might have to talk to the Reverend about it and study your Bible some, but I think we could make it happen. When did you want to do this?”

“Well, I thought Easter was a good time, but it’s already past Easter, and it’ll be a long time before it comes again,” Truman answered thoughtfully.

“Why Easter?” Teresa asked. She thought she knew, but she wanted to hear Truman’s answer.

“Because new life is beginning all around us then. I would be starting a new life of my own, wouldn’t I?”

“You sure would, lil cowboy,” Johnny answered quietly.

“You don’t want to wait a whole year, though, do you?” Scott asked.

“No, Scott, I don’t. I thought and thought about it, really hard. There are two other times I think would be good, but I need some help picking which one.”

“Well, why don’t you tell us and we can talk about it?” Murdoch asked.

Truman swallowed hard and nodded.

“I thought about my birthday and Christmas,” the boy whispered. “Christmas is the time we are happy that Jesus was born. It would be nice to start my new life at the same time we celebrate Jesus’ life. I feel like I’ve already started living my new life, though, with you. I don’t know….it’s hard to choose.”

“Tell us about your birthday,” Murdoch requested.

“I’m not ready to really celebrate my birthday, yet. It doesn’t feel right. Mum and Dad were killed the day before my sixth birthday. I b-buried them on my birthday. If I am baptized on my birthday, though, maybe I can start over and celebrate next year,” Truman whispered.

“Truman, you don’t have to decide right now. We can think about it some more and talk about it some later. I am very pleased that you are happy here and want to stay here with us. We all love you very much and we want you to grow up here. We feel your parents will be very happy and relieved that you are being taken care of and loved here. I am especially pleased that you trust us and you felt secure enough to tell us about your wants and needs. That’s a big step, Son,” Murdoch spoke from his heart.

“Thank you, Papa,” the boy replied with a big sigh. “I’m scared, though.”

“About what, True?” Johnny asked quietly and tenderly.

“Seeing Willis in court.  He’ll get really mad if he doesn’t get his way.”

“He won’t hurt you, we won’t let him,” Scott assured the boy.

“I don’t want him to hurt you, either. He’s downright mean.”

“We know, True. We’ll be careful,” Johnny said.

“Okay. When do I have to be there?” Truman asked.

“Wednesday, we will all go together. Teresa and Jelly will keep you company in a separate room until the lawyers want to talk to you. You may bring a couple of books and your sketchbook, if you like,” Murdoch answered.

Truman nodded. “Okay.”

“Mr. Randall and the prosecuting attorney will be here tomorrow after lunch to talk to us about our testimony. I need everyone here for lunch.”

“Okay, Murdoch. Yes, Papa. Sure, Pa,” the Lancer boys, Teresa, and Jelly all responded at once.

“Let’s go to the living room and relax for a bit before bed,” Murdoch suggested.

The family rose and pushed their chairs in. Johnny picked Truman up and held him close as he walked into the living room and flopped onto the couch with the boy still in his arms. Truman sighed and rested his head on his big brother’s chest. Johnny rubbed the boy’s back and head tenderly.

Suddenly, Johnny felt a little finger poking him in the stomach. Then, he heard a quiet giggle. The little fingers tried to tickle Johnny’s ribs. Johnny’s face lit up with a smile and soon he and Truman were tickling each other and laughing. Scott and the others watched with wide grins as the two youngest Lancers wrestled on the couch, tickling and giggling and each trying to get the best of the other.

“Boys! You’re going to get too wound up for bed if you keep that up!” Murdoch admonished them, somewhat sternly, but he was really happy to see smiles on their faces again.

Johnny and Truman lay still, breathing hard and stifling their laughs. They tried their best to calm down. They couldn’t look each other in the eye without laughing some more. Eventually, they settled down and gazed into the fire, each lost in their own thoughts.

Before they knew it, the clock chime told them that it was time for the littlest Lancer to go to bed. He was pulled to his feet by Scott. Truman turned and gave Johnny a big good-night hug, then hugged each of the others in the living room. Scott escorted the boy to his room and tucked him in, sitting on the side of the bed while Truman settled down.

“Hey, True. Don’t worry about Wednesday, okay? You just get up there and tell the truth, just like you told us. We’ll be there at the front, so you can watch us. You don’t even have to look at Mr. Willis, okay?” Scott reassured the boy gently.

“Okay, Scott. What’s happening tomorrow?”

“In the morning, we have regular ranch work to do. We’ll have lunch here and then Mr. Randall and Mr. Dawson, the prosecuting attorney, will be here to tell us what to do in court. You need to listen to them, okay?”

“Sure, Scott. What’s a prosecuting attorney?”

“He’s the man that’s telling the court the bad things Willis did.”

“Oh.” The boy yawned and fought to keep his eyes open.

“Go to sleep, little brother. Everything will be just fine.”

Scott watched as Truman finally fell asleep. He smiled at the boy and rubbed his head gently before turning the wick down and leaving the room quietly.

About an hour later, the whole estancia was enveloped in darkness and peaceful silence.

Breakfast was lively the next morning with everyone up and raring to go at the same time.

“Johnny, you can take Truman to the south mesa and check the streams there. I think we’re expecting some rain storms, and I don’t want any flooding. Ask Walt and Charlie to go with you if you think you’ll need them,” Murdoch said.

“Sure, Murdoch. Bring your gloves, lil cowboy. We’ve got work ta do,” Johnny instructed his little brother.

“Okay, Johnny. What is Scott gonna do, Papa?”

“Scott is going to be helping with the branding, young man,” Murdoch replied.

“Oh. When am I gonna do that?”

“When you’re older. You boys be sure you are back by eleven forty-five. Johnny, do you have your watch with you?”

“Yes, Murdoch, I do,” Johnny replied with a roll of his eyes as he checked his pockets for the watch.

“Good. Use it, and don’t you roll your eyes at me, young man. I’m still your father….” Murdoch left the sentence unfinished. He knew Johnny understood what he meant.

“Yes, sir,” Johnny mumbled. “Let’s go, Truman.”  Johnny stuffed the last of his biscuit in his mouth and pulled Truman after him.

“Guess we’re going now. See ya later, Papa!”

Murdoch laughed at his younger boys’ antics and finished his coffee.

“Scott, I’ll be working the forge, so if you have any problems, don’t hesitate to send for me.”

“Yes, sir. I believe everything will be fine. Those two, Johnny and True, they’re  quite a pair, aren’t they?”

“Yes, indeed. Do you feel you’re getting enough time with Truman?”

“I’d like to spend more time with him, but I think once things settle down around here after the branding and the trials, we’ll have more opportunities to spend time together. I enjoy reading with him and teaching him how to swim. I’d like to ride with him and help him with his studies. I wonder if he’s interested in learning how to play Chess?” Scott mused aloud.

“All you can do is ask him. I’d like to spend more time with him, too. I think Teresa needs to get closer to him. I don’t want them at odds. Well, time’s wasting. Let’s get to work.” Murdoch said with finality.

They went outside and to their morning work.

At precisely eleven forty-five, the Lancer men converged  in the courtyard. They washed for lunch and Johnny was laughing at Scott and Truman as they entered the kitchen for lunch. Scott had the boy in his arms, swinging upside down. Scott flipped the boy up and set him on his feet, holding him steady till he regained his balance.

Val showed up with the lawyers and presented evidence he had been collecting on the side.

“Where did you get this information, Val?” Murdoch asked.

“I figured you had so much to do, I went an’ talked to them circus people myself. They aren’t happy with him at all. It seems the boy’s parents were everyone’s favorites. They did a lot to help the circus and the people workin’ there,” Val replied.

“Val? You went and talked to them? For me?” Truman asked in awe.

“Yup. That man hurt you, Truman. He didn’t have the right to do that. I thought it would help if I talked to the people who worked for him. Find out what they had to say about your folks’….”

“Dying.” Truman finished the sentence.

“Yeah, kid.”

“What did they say, Val?” Johnny asked as he moved closer to the boy, lending Truman support by placing his hands on the child’s shoulders.

“They said Willis couldn’t be trusted. That he was greedy and lawless.”

“Lawless?” Truman asked curiously.

“It means he will do whatever to get what he wants. He doesn’t care if it’s right or wrong,” Murdoch explained.

“Yeah, that sounds like him, Papa,” the boy replied.

“Ya got any more good news you’d like to share, Val?” Johnny asked with an irritated drawl.

“Yeah. James Tobin is alive.”

“Jimmy’s alive?” Truman asked, wide-eyed.

“Yeah, but he can’t walk no more. He was shot in the back.”

“But he’s…he’s alive!” Truman said, elated.

“Where is he, Val?” Murdoch asked.

“He’s in protective custody at my place.”

“Oh, that poor man….stuck at Val’s place!”  Johnny said, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

“Oh, hush, Johnny!”

“How did you find him?” Scott asked.

“I did some digging on my own. I know some people. He was livin in Kansas with his younger brother. They came together and arrived yesterday. I didn’t want to make it known to the town, so I didn’t say anything.”

“Well, I guess we have another witness to Willis’ crimes. This is good. Very good,” Dawson said.

“Jimmy can’t talk, Sir,” Truman said. “Will I have to do his talking for him?”

“No, Truman. His brother can tell us what his signs mean,” Val said.

“Okay. Wh-when am I gonna talk?”

“You’ll probably talk first, young man. Have you ever talked in court before?” Mr. Dawson asked.

“No, Sir. I did talk to the judge in his office, though,” Truman replied.

“That’s good. You’ll have to swear to tell the truth. Do you know the difference between the truth and a lie?”

“Yes, Sir, but I’m not allowed to swear,” Truman answered solemnly.

The men chuckled at the serious boy.

“It’s okay, Son. This is the kind of swearing you are allowed. You’ll put your left hand on the Bible and raise your right hand and say ‘I swear’ when Val asks you to swear that you’ll tell the truth,” Murdoch explained.

“Okay. If you say so, Papa.”

“I do, boy. Don’t worry about it, okay?”

“Okay, Papa.”

The rest of the day passed quickly. Too quickly for Truman’s liking. His stomach was tight as a drum and he picked at his dinner. Murdoch and the older Lancer brothers noticed and exchanged worried glances.

“Let’s go for a ride, lil cowboy,” Johnny suggested.

Riding always helped him sort things out when he was tense, and  Johnny thought it would help  Truman to open up and talk about his feelings. The boy had been extremely quiet and brooding the rest of the afternoon and no amount of banter or cajoling had improved his mood.

“Don’t go too far or come back too late, Johnny. We need to be up early tomorrow,” Murdoch cautioned.

“We’ll stay close, Murdoch,” Johnny promised.

The two youngest Lancers walked to the barn together. Johnny saddled Barranca and a gentle Appaloosa mare by the name of Appleseed. After leading the horses out of the barn, Johnny swung Truman onto Appleseed and adjusted the stirrups.

He mounted Barranca and they rode around the house at an easy gait with Truman following on the mare. Johnny reined Barranca in to allow Truman to ride abreast and so he could watch how the boy handled the reins. Johnny gave Truman a few gentle instructions, then they rode in silence until they reached the small brook. The boys sat on their horses and watched the sun go down. Johnny felt it was a good time to draw the boy out of his pensive mood.

“Truman, I know you’re probably really scared and nervous about tomorrow. I’m here to listen if you wanna talk about it. It’ll help,” Johnny began, quietly and gently.

Truman heaved a big sigh before looking at his big brother.

“Have you ever talked in court, Johnny?”


“Were you scared ?”

“A few times. Ya gotta show them that you’re brave, though. Do ya know what bein brave means, True?”

“Doing something you know ya hafta do even if you’re scared ?”


“I’m scared, Johnny. I don’t wanna see Willis ever again. I don’t trust him. He’s really mean.”

“I know, lil cowboy, but you’re tough. Scott, Papa, and I will be there. We won’t let Willis hurt you. Val won’t let him, either.”

“What if…what if he lies and the people believe him?”

“I don’t think the people will believe him. You just keep your chin up and tell the truth, like ya told us. We’ll watch your back.”

“It will be nice to see Jimmy again. Do you think he remembers me?”

“I don’t know. Probably. I bet he remembers what Willis did to him. I think Jimmy will remember you. You’re not exactly hard to forget. You’re a mighty special lil cowboy.”

“Do you think I’ll be a good cowboy when I grow up?”

“I think you’re  turning into a great lil cowboy right now. By the time you’re my age, I bet you’ll be a better one than me!”

“No, way, Johnny. You’re one of the best cowboys I know!”

“One of the best?” Johnny asked with a sly grin.

“Well, we can’t leave out Scott an Papa, can we?”

Johnny chuckled and reached over to squeeze the boy’s shoulder. “No, I guess we can’t, True.”

Johnny felt the boy tense and shiver and decided it was time to head back to the estancia and put the boy to bed.

“Come on, lil cowboy. It’s time these cowponies went to bed,” Johnny said.

They turned their horses around and loped back to the barn. Johnny helped Truman put Appleseed to bed and they checked on Mickey before they headed inside.

Murdoch and the others were in the living room when the boys came in. Murdoch looked up and caught Truman yawning. He glanced at the clock and noticed it was eight o’clock.

“Why don’t you take Truman up to bed, Johnny? It’s a little earlier than his usual bedtime, but we have a big day tomorrow,” Murdoch suggested.

“Okay. Say good night, lil cowboy.”

Truman didn’t protest as he was really tired. He walked around the room and gave Murdoch, Scott, Teresa and Jelly big hugs. He even gave Murdoch a quick kiss on his cheek and hugged him an extra long time. Truman whispered into Scott’s ear and Scott replied likewise. Truman turned and took Johnny’s hand and the two of them climbed the stairs.

Once they were out of earshot, Scott raised his eyebrow at Murdoch.

“He’s never kissed any one of us before, has he?” Scott asked.

“No, but it was a sweet gesture,” replied Murdoch. “I hope he sleeps well, tonight. He was pretty quiet this afternoon and didn’t eat much supper. I hope Johnny was able to talk to him and ease his mind.”

“I’m sure Johnny did what was best for him at the time. He has a knack with kids,” Scott replied.

“It’ll break Johnny’s heart if the judge doesn’t give us perm’nent custody of that boy,” Jelly said.

“It’ll break all of our hearts,” Teresa corrected.

“I wouldn’t worry about it. Theo seems to think we have an excellent chance. Let’s stay positive, especially around Truman,” Murdoch said, firmly.

Upstairs, Johnny helped the sleepy boy undress and prepare for bed. Then he lifted the child into his arms and held Truman close before gently settling him into the bed. After pulling the covers up to the boy’s chin, Johnny kissed Truman’s forehead and bade him sweet dreams. He lowered the lamp wick and left the room quietly.

Johnny came down to the living room and sank into the couch cushions and sighed.

“Are you alright, Son?” Murdoch asked.

“I’m fine. Truman’s scared, though. Be prepared,” Johnny warned.

“We’ll take care of him, Johnny. I think we all better turn in early. It’s going to be a rough few days ahead of us.”

“I agree,” Scott stated.

With that said, the adults said their good nights and wandered off to their beds.

Sometime during the night, Johnny heard the patter of little bare feet enter his room. Suddenly, the mattress dipped on one side and the covers were moved around. A small body made its presence known as it wiggled into Johnny’s embrace. Once settled, Johnny smiled and hugged the little warm body close and whispered reassurances to his bed buddy. He felt, rather than saw, the nod of a head. The child relaxed and drifted back to sleep, safe in his big brother’s strong, loving arms.

In the morning, a near-panicked Scott came into Johnny’s room. He had been in Truman’s room to wake the boy, but had found the bed empty. Scott saw two dark heads peaking out from the covers and sighed in relief.

“Hey, you two! Time to get up!” Scott called.

“Uh oh…I’m in trouble,” Truman said quietly.

“No, you’re not, lil cowboy. You’re fine. Let’s get dressed and have breakfast. Are you going to ride Barranca with me to town?”

“Sure, Johnny.”

“Okay. Go on. Wash up and get dressed. I’ll be in soon.”


Truman dragged himself out of the warm bed and scowled at Scott. He wasn’t ready for the trial and he hadn’t wanted to leave the warm security of Johnny’s bed.

“Come on, True. Everything’s going to be fine,” Scott said as he ushered the forlorn boy into his room to get ready.

Once all the Lancer men, Teresa, and Jelly had washed and dressed, they met in the kitchen for a  hearty breakfast. Maria tried to cajole Truman into eating, but not even cinnamon applesauce tempted him.

“Make sure he eats a good lunch, Teresa. He needs food in his stomach,” Maria reminded Teresa.

“Yes, Maria, but it won’t do any good to force him to eat then have him be sick later.  He’ll feel worse then,” Teresa replied.

Truman didn’t like people talking about him when he was in the room. It made him feel invisible. He stood and walked out to the corral, where he waited for his family to come.

Charlie noticed the little boy’s posture at the corral and walked over to see if he could help.

“Hey, Truman. How are ya?”

“Hey, Charlie. Ok, I guess. I don’t wanna go, but Johnny said I gotta be brave,” Truman replied.

“It’ll be over before ya know it and you’ll be safe at home here with your family. Climbin’ trees, ropin’ stray beeves, ridin’ Mickey, pestering your brothers, and all that fun lil brother stuff. Take a deep breath, hold your chin up, and smile. Everything’s gonna be all right.”

“Thanks, Charlie. Are you comin?”

“No, lil buddy. I have to stay and keep an eye on things. I’ll be here when ya get home, though. I’ll play my guitar for ya later, ok?”

“Sure, Charlie. Thanks.”

“No problem, friend. Here comes your family. Be tough.”

“I’ll try. Bye.”

“Not ‘bye.’ See ya later.”

“See ya later.”

Johnny brought Barranca, already saddled, and tossed Truman into the saddle. Then he mounted and reined Barranca in as they waited for Scott and Murdoch to mount up. Jelly drove the buggy with Teresa by his side. Once they were all ready, Johnny started down the road, through the arch, and on the way to Green River.


Chapter 46

When the Lancers arrived in Green River, Jelly and Scott took the buggy and horses to the livery while Murdoch, Teresa, and Johnny escorted Truman to the courthouse. Sam was there, too, for moral support.

At eight forty-five, Theo arrived and met the Lancers in the foyer.

“Willis was moved to a holding cell here in the courthouse last night, so we won’t see him until the proceedings start,” Theo stated, much to Truman’s relief.

Just then, Mr. Dawson came out of the courtroom.

“Mr. Lancer, Judge Hayes would like to see you and the family, and Mr. Randall in court right now,” Dawson said.

“Did he say why?” Theo asked.

“He said there were some issues he wanted to take care of himself, in private,” replied Dawson.

“I wonder if something’s wrong,” Scott voiced the family’s concern.

“We won’t know until we go in, Son,” Murdoch said.

Murdoch took Truman by the hand and the family walked into the courtroom apprehensively. Suddenly, Truman pulled back and stopped in his tracks.

Bryce Willis was sitting at the defendant’s table. He had turned to watch the Lancers enter and was staring at Truman with a malevolent sneer. When Johnny put his hands on the boy’s shoulders, he could feel the child trembling.

“Keep walking, True. Be brave,” Johnny whispered to the boy. Truman nodded and resumed his pace after Murdoch squeezed his hand reassuringly.

The family reached the plaintiff’s table and sat down, with Truman between Murdoch and Johnny. Theo was to Murdoch’s left. Jelly, Scott, Sam, and Teresa were behind Johnny and Truman. Scott leaned forward and gently squeezed Truman’s shoulder.

Val came in and announced the Judge. “All rise, the Honorable Judge Hayes residing.”

Once the Judge sat, Val instructed the others to be seated.

“Well, now. There are some issues here I see fit to take care of myself. The first is the obvious evidence of forgery. If the attorneys and Mr. Dawson agree, it can be dealt with swiftly and accurately,” Judge Hayes began.

Theo and Dawson conferred with Murdoch and they agreed to have Judge Hayes take care of the forgery issue. Theo pointed out that this could mean that Judge Hayes was also trying to have the custody hearing before the trial.

Since all of the attorneys and parties present agreed, Judge Hayes continued.

“I have documents here from Donald and Emily Sutherland declaring James Tobin as temporary legal guardian of Truman Oliver Sutherland. Mr. Tobin was instructed by the Sutherlands to locate Murdoch Lancer, who is Emily Sutherland’s cousin. Other letters and documents I have read were written directly to Murdoch Lancer and to the boy, Truman. The letter addressed to Murdoch Lancer introduced the Sutherlands and their relationship to the Lancers and asked Murdoch Lancer to take care of the boy until he has come of age. The parents were tragically killed on September 11, 1870. The next morning, the boy’s 6th birthday, found him alone. That was eight months ago. Miraculously, the boy found the Lancers on his own and has been living with them for the past ten weeks. I granted Murdoch Lancer temporary custody of the child while Truman recovered from injuries. It is obvious to me that the Lancers have done an outstanding job of taking care of the boy,” Judge Hayes stated.

“I also have documents from Willis and Val Crawford, the Sheriff. Mr. Willis had a document that he showed to Murdoch Lancer stating that the parents had granted custody of the boy to him in the event that they were no longer able to care for the child on April 24th and then suddenly died a scarce week later. Not only is that not possible, because the child had already been with the Lancers for three weeks, but the document was an obvious forgery,” the Judge continued.

“This statement from Sheriff Crawford states that he had warned Willis to stay away from the Lancers. Willis showed up there, anyway, and tried to force the boy to leave. Willis was arrested on the spot by the sheriff and released on bail the next day with a restraining order against him.”

“Mr. Willis, please stand.”

When Willis and his lawyer were standing, the judge continued.

“For forgery, child abandonment, and trespassing, you are sentenced to three years in prison. This is in addition to any sentence handed down by the jury for the rest of your misdeeds. You may be seated, Mr. Willis.”

Willis was struck dumb and could only sit as instructed. His plan was falling through.

Judge Hayes turned to the Lancers.

“Mr. Lancer, I feel it is in the manifest best interest for the boy to remain with you and your family until he comes of age. It is obvious to me that you all have developed a close and loving relationship with Truman and he has grown and thrived while in your care. It is an extra blessing that you are blood relatives and that you received an endorsement from the father of the child,” Judge Hayes said.

The Judge turned his eyes to Truman and addressed the child.

“Please stand, Truman. Do not be afraid. You’re not in trouble,” Judge Hayes reassured the trembling boy.

Truman stood on shaking legs and reached out his hands to grasp Murdoch’s and Johnny’s hands as they stood with him. Scott and the others stood as well.  He received reassuring squeezes from Murdoch and Johnny as he tried to slow his breathing.

“I thought it would be easier for you to get through testifying against Mr. Willis if you did not have to worry about your future. Therefore, it pleases me to declare you the son of Murdoch Lancer. Congratulations, Truman. You’re home,” Judge Hayes concluded the proceedings with a bang from his gavel.

Truman was speechless as his family erupted into emotional celebration around him.

Theo turned and shook the Lancers’ hands as well as Sam’s and Jelly’s. Mr. Dawson also shook the Lancers’ hands and congratulated Murdoch and Truman.  Val was grinning, but he could not leave his post. He gave the kid a wink and a nod. Johnny picked Truman up and held him close. Murdoch reached for the boy, taking him out of Johnny’s arms, and held him. Teresa was dabbing a handkerchief at her eyes as Sam, Scott, and Johnny chatted enthusiastically. Jelly put his arm around Teresa supportively.

“Your Honor, we request a ten minute recess,” Theo said.

“Granted,” replied the Judge.

The family filed out of the courtroom, Truman was still in shock, in Murdoch’s arms.

They went to a private ante room provided by Theo. He stood outside as the family gathered their wits and composure.

“Truman? Are you okay?” Johnny asked, concerned.

“Yes,” the boy whispered.  “Papa?”

“Yes, Son?” Murdoch replied with a smile.

“I’m your boy now?”

“Yes, you’re my boy. You’re officially a Lancer now.”

“But I don’t hafta forget Mum and Dad, right?”

“No, son. You never have to forget them.”

“Am I really Truman Oliver Sutherland Lancer?”

“Yes,” Murdoch replied with a chuckle.

“And everyone will know it?”

“Yes, Son.”

“Johnny and Scott and Teresa are my brothers and sister?”

“Yes, Truman.”

“Thank goodness!” Truman said emphatically.

The others all said “Amen.”

After a few more minutes of celebration and reassurances, it was time to go back into the courtroom. Truman had calmed down, though it would still take a few days for everything to sink in. He seemed happier and more confident than he had in the previous days. Murdoch noticed that he didn’t slow down or hesitate when they walked back to the table in the courtroom, and figured the Judge was correct in having the custody hearing before the trial. The boy was much more settled now, as he took his seat again.

The court filled with spectators. The room was called to order, and the jury was brought in.

Dawson and Theo had been discussing the case while the Lancers had their private time. Dawson had been reading the case files and encountered the transcript of Truman’s testimony to the judge seven weeks ago when Murdoch was granted temporary custody. Now that Jimmy had been found and was able to testify, the child would not have to be called to testify. Dawson was sure this would be a relief to the Lancers, especially Truman.

The two attorneys spoke to Murdoch and told him of their findings and the theory that the boy would probably not have to testify. They recommended that Teresa take Truman with her to the hotel, thus being close by  in case Truman needed to talk to the lawyers in the Judge’s chamber.

“Teresa and Jelly, I need you to take Truman over to the hotel and book some rooms for us. I have a feeling this is going to take a couple of days and I don’t want to ride back and forth,” Murdoch said.

Murdoch felt a tug on his suit coat and looked down at his youngest boy.

“What is it, Son?”

“Why am I going with Teresa and Jelly, Papa?”

“Mr. Randall and Mr. Dawson don’t think you’ll have to talk in court. You can go and relax,” Murdoch explained.

Johnny, Scott, and Sam all sighed in relief when they heard Murdoch’s answer to the boy. They thought he had had enough emotional upheaval for one day, and were glad that the boy’s previous testimony could be used.

“We didn’t bring any of his toys, Murdoch,” Teresa said.

“Take him to the store and buy some cards and a checkers set. I also think a writing tablet and pencil will be good. He can practice writing while you all wait. We’ll meet for lunch,” Murdoch instructed.

“Okay, Murdoch. Let’s go, little brother,” Teresa said as she and Jelly started out of the courtroom.

Truman hesitated.

“Go on, Son. It’s all right,” Murdoch reassured the boy.

Truman hugged his Papa, brothers, and Uncle Sam before he took Teresa’s hand and walked out with her.

Once the child had been escorted from the courtroom, Dawson stood and read the charges against Willis, who had also been instructed to stand.

“Reckless endangerment, child abuse, 2 counts of negligent homicide, murder in the second degree, attempted murder, fraud, and embezzlement. How does the defendant plead?”

“Not guilty,” Willis said with disgust.

“Mr. Dawson, please begin opening arguments,” Judge Hayes instructed.

“Yes, Your Honor.”

“Mr. Willis is a very greedy man. He worked his employees hard and paid them very little. He was so greedy that he bought a wild lion to be tamed by the Sutherlands rather than a more expensive lion cub, who could be raised and cared for while learning to perform and follow directions. His laziness and lack of moral fiber caused death, destruction, and despair. Death of an innocent baby, the deaths of two upstanding citizens, the death of a wild animal. Destruction of a family, destruction of a man’s simple life, destruction of a prospering business. Despair…the boy felt at losing his baby brother and his parents, despair of being abandoned, the despair of being all alone in a place he didn’t know, despair of losing his best and only friend and having to survive on his own. We will endeavor to prove that Bryce Willis is indeed guilty of the charges and hope you, the people of the jury, can see the man for what he truly is…a lawless, immoral slave driver. Thank you.”

As Mr. Dawson sat down, he noticed the expressions of pain, sorrow, and fury on the Lancers’ faces. He was most pleased that Truman did not have to be there to hear others’ testimony.

Willis’ lawyer stood and buttoned his coat. He paced in front of the jury box, seemingly trying to gather his thoughts. At last, he came to stand in front of the foreman of the jury.

“My client, Bryce Willis, gave social misfits a job when no one else would even condescend to look at them. They had a home and a regular income. It may not have been as much as Murdoch Lancer makes in a year, but it was enough to put some money away. He fed these people. He trained these people. Most of them have been grateful for his generosity. Bryce Willis is only guilty of caring too much and being too generous. Thank you.”

Willis’ lawyer sat down and was given a nod of approval from Willis.

Dawson stood and called James Tobin to the stand. Val opened a side door and Jimmy was pushed through in a wheelchair by his brother. Val swore Jimmy and Thomas in, as his brother was to be the interpreter for Jimmy

“Mr. Tobin, please state your occupation with the circus.”

“Jimmy said that he was a care taker for the animals,” Thomas said.

“How were you treated by Mr. Willis?”

“Like I was a stupid child,” Thomas interpreted.

“Do you know how to read and write, Mr. Tobin?”

“Yes, Truman taught me to read and I copied the letters out of the books he shared with me.”

The Lancers exchanged looks of surprise mingled with pride.

“Were you close to the Sutherland family?”

“Yes, they were the only ones who treated me with respect.”

“Can you tell me what happened to Mrs. Sutherland’s second child?”

“He was born too early. Willis wouldn’t let Mrs. Sutherland rest when she was feeling poorly.”

“The baby was born alive, though, wasn’t he?”

“Yes, but he died soon after. The doctor said his lungs couldn’t breathe for him.”

“How do you know this?”

“Donald told me when we laid the baby to rest.”

Johnny bowed his head and swore that he and Truman would be very close. Scott had similar notions. Murdoch sat stone-faced, trying to hide his loathing for Willis.

“Can you tell me what happened on September 11, 1870?”

“Mr. Willis had gotten a wild mountain lion from a friend of his. He said he’d paid top dollar for the trained lion. He lied. The lion wasn’t tame and he paid fifty dollars for it. Instead of paying his employees the money he owed, he said he had put all the money into the lion. He actually paid his two friends, bodyguards, and kept the rest for himself.”

“Why did he need bodyguards?”

“Because we found out about the money.”

“How did you find out about the money?”

“One of the clowns overheard him talking and told the Sutherlands.”

“I see. So what happened that night?”

“Monty, the lion, was suppose to be in the cage for the first time. Donald and Emily both tried to tell Willis the cat wasn’t ready. He didn’t listen, but he stayed next to the cage with his rifle.”


“He said it was just in case. Truman was standing in the shadows. His parents let him watch their shows. Willis thought the boy was in bed.”

“Objection Speculation,” Willis lawyer interrupted.

“Sustained. Stick to the facts, please, Mr. Tobin,” the judge advised.

“What happened next, Mr. Tobin?” Mr. Dawson continued.

“Donald lit the ring of fire. Emily tapped Monty on the rump, then Monty pounced on Emily and bit her neck, knocking her down at the same time. Samuel, one of our tigers, attacked Monty. I stepped in and took the other cats out of the cage and put them in  their own pens. Monty stood up on his hind legs and made to lunge at Donald after he had prodded the cat with the training stick. He shot the cat with his pistol. Willis shot Donald with his rifle. He said it was Donald shooting twice. Willis said he couldn’t shoot without hurting Donald. Donald would not have had to shoot Monty twice. He was a good shot and the cat was so close to him….the cat was shot through the heart. I saw the smoke from Willis’ rifle right after the second shot was heard.”

“Where was Truman?”

“Standing at the fence, staring at the bloody scene in front of him. He was crying hard.”

“Did anyone call for the sheriff or constable?”

“Yes, Denny, the clown.”

“Did the sheriff question everyone?”

“He tried to. He wanted to ask Truman, but Willis said the boy had been in bed when it happened and he must have got out of bed when he heard the gunshots. Willis told the sheriff it was Truman’s parents that had been killed and that the boy couldn’t talk. Truman ran after the sheriff, trying to tell him the truth, but one of the bodyguards caught him. Willis and them roughed him up. Denny found Truman and brought him to me.”

“How do you know who roughed up the boy?”

“Truman told me. He ain’t got reason to lie.”

“What happened in the morning?”

“Willis came round and woke everyone up at dawn, said we were movin on. I asked about Truman. He said the kid had run away. I went to check, but as I walked away, I heard a rifle shot and then I felt a terrible pain in my back. I couldn’t walk. Denny tossed me into his wagon and we left…”

Jimmy looked at Murdoch and signed, “I’m so sorry, Mr. Lancer. I tried to see the boy, but I got shot and couldn’t walk.”  Thomas had interpreted for his brother during the entire testimony.

Murdoch nodded his understanding.

“How did you get to Kansas?”

“The circus pulled through. Thomas came and we were reunited. He took me to doctors and took care of me. We’ve been together since. Willis was trying to get far away from Chicago.”

“Do you know anything about a document that Willis had, claiming the Sutherlands gave him custody in case something happened to them?”

“No. I was supposed to have custody of Truman if something happened to them and I was supposed to help him find the Lancers.”

“I have nothing further,” Mr. Dawson said.

Judge Hayes looked at his watch and declared an hour recess for lunch.


Chapter 47

Murdoch sent Johnny to get Teresa, Jelly, and Truman and bring them to the café for lunch. Once the family had assembled, with Val and Sam, they began ordering their meal.

Teresa and Jelly told the family what they had been doing with Truman at the hotel. They had played numerous games of Go Fish and Checkers and Teresa had even persuaded Truman to work on writing his letters. The boy had had a very emotional and busy morning. He was becoming  moody and antsy. Most of all, he wanted to see his friend Jimmy.

“Papa, when do I get to see Jimmy? Why couldn’t he come to eat lunch with us?”

“Jimmy is staying at the courthouse to be safe. You can see him later,” Murdoch replied.

“But I haven’t seen him for ages! I want to see him,” Truman whined petulantly.

All eyes turned to the boy, wondering what was wrong.

Murdoch recognized a tired, stressed little boy and figured it wouldn’t do anyone any good if he made a scene with the boy by losing his temper. As calmly and quietly as he could, Murdoch excused himself from the table and took Truman outside to the row of rocking chairs in front of the café’s big window. He sat in one of the rocking chairs and lifted the boy into his lap.

“Listen to me, Son. I understand you want to see Jimmy and we will visit with him after the trial is finished. It shouldn’t take but another day or two, okay? We’ve had a very exciting morning and now you’re cooped up in the hotel and I’m sorry, but it’s for your own good. I want you to take a nap after lunch. It will make you feel better. Maybe, Jimmy can join us for a few days at Lancer once this mess is cleared up. You are not being punished, I’m just trying to keep you safe. Do you understand?”

The boy sighed and nodded, then yawned. Murdoch picked up his youngest son and took him back inside the café.

“Everything okay, Murdoch?” Scott asked.

“Just fine, Scott,” replied Murdoch, as he set Truman back in his chair while the rest of the family finished their meal.

Murdoch turned to Jelly, whispering his request that he put the boy to bed for a nap after lunch.

“I think that’s a fine idea, Boss. He’s plumb tuckered out from the excitement of the mornin’ an pacin’ the hotel suite,” Jelly stated.

“It’s time to get back, boys. Teresa, we’ll see you, Jelly, and True  at the hotel, as soon as we’re adjourned for the day. We’ll wash up and have supper together.”

“Sounds like a plan, Murdoch,” Teresa said.

The family paid for the meal, rose, and while Teresa and Jelly took Truman to the hotel, Murdoch and the others went back to the courthouse.

“Is True okay, Murdoch?” Johnny asked.

“He’s fine, Johnny. He’s just exhausted from the morning and he was getting moody. Jelly is going to put him down for a nap.”


They made it back to their table just before the judge entered the courtroom.

“Mr. Dawson, please call your witness,” instructed Judge Hayes.

Mr. Dawson stood and said, “yes, Your honor. The state calls John Lancer.”

Johnny stood and walked to the witness stand, where Val swore him in. Afterwards, Val gave Johnny a meaningful look that said, ‘watch your temper.’

Johnny nodded and took his seat.

“State your name, please.”

“John Lancer.”

“Mr. Lancer,…” Mr. Dawson began.

“Please, call me Johnny.”

“Okay, Johnny. How did Truman come to be staying at Lancer?”

“I was riding home from town one day and I found him on the trail.”

“What condition was the boy in?”

“He was layin’ face down in the dirt. I dismounted and rolled him over. He was hurt really bad.”

“Describe his injuries, please.”

“He had a gash over his right eyebrow, a bullet wound in his left shoulder, lots of bruises and scrapes all over. His clothes were rags and his bare feet were dirty and scratched up.”

“What did you do for the boy?”

“I cleaned and bandaged him the best I could before I put him on my horse and took him home with me. When I got home, Scott, my brother, went for the doctor. Teresa and I made the boy comfortable on the couch and waited for Doc to get there.”

“Did Dr. Jenkins find any other injuries?”

“A couple of broken ribs and the boy had a high fever.”

“How long did it take for the boy to fully recover?”

“About a month. After he got stronger from his injuries, he became sick with a chest cold and stomach illness.”

“How did the family deal with the boy?”

“We all fell in love with him. He’s very special to us. We took care of him, and fed him and held him through his nightmares.”

“Anything else?”

“We had to buy him some clothes. He’s been tested for the upcoming school year. We’ve been there for him and we’ll keep on watchin his back.”

“Thank you. No further questions at this time.”

The defense attorney rose and approached Johnny.

“Have you always lived at Lancer?”


“Where did you live before?”

“In the border towns and in Mexico.”

“Have you always gone by the name Lancer?”

Johnny knew where this was headed and he didn’t like it.

Mr. Dawson rose. “Objection! Relevancy.”


“Your honor, John Lancer was once John Madrid, the notorious gunfighter. Should the child be in the same valley as this dangerous man?” the defense attorney asked.

“I know who John Lancer was. He is a respectable member of this community and helped save this valley from land pirates. Move on!”

With the wind blown out of his sails and a bullet hole ripped through his strategy, the defense attorney mumbled, “no further questions.”

“You may step down, Johnny,” Judge Hayes said.

“Thank you, Your Honor.”

Johnny returned to his seat and received smiles of praise from his father and brother for not losing his temper.

“Call your next witness, Mr. Dawson.”

“Yes, Your Honor. I call Samuel Jenkins.”

Sam rose, went through the swearing in process, and took his seat.

“Please state your name and occupation.”

“Samuel Jenkins, medical doctor.”

“Please tell me the boy’s condition when you saw him the first time.”

“He was in bad shape. He had the injuries John Lancer described, including the broken ribs and high fever. He was emaciated, malnourished, and he had a concussion.”

“John Lancer mentioned that his feet were cut and scratched up. Could that have happened recently, right before Johnny found him, or was it a result of long term circumstances?”

“The condition of his feet was definitely from long term circumstances. He told me once that he wore out his shoes from all the walking he did to get where he is and he didn’t have the money to buy new shoes.”

“How did the boy survive?”

“The boy said that he had to find spoiled food in barrels and sleep where he could. People might have fed him along the way out of the goodness of their hearts.”

“Thank you. No further questions.”

The defense lawyer stood. “No questions at this time, Your honor.”

“Very well. Mr. Dawson, do you have any more witnesses you would like to call today?”

“Yes, Your Honor. Dennis Howard.”

Dennis Howard, also known as Denny the clown, approached the stand and was sworn in. When he took his seat, he noticed Willis staring at him with hate.

“State your name and occupation,  please.”

“Dennis Howard, circus clown.”

“Mr. Howard, how long have you worked for Mr. Willis?”

“Six years.”

“How were you treated in those six years?”

“In the beginning, we were all treated pretty nicely. Once the circus started making big money, Willis started getting greedy. He told us that the expenses were growing and he had to cut our pay so we could stay with the circus and keep our jobs. It wasn’t much at first, but it seemed that every month or so, our pay would get cut more and more.”

“I see. Did Willis ever physically harm you or the others or threaten you with physical violence?”

“Not outright, no.”

“Not outright? Explain, please.”

“If we didn’t do what he wanted, he would say that accidents happen in the circus.”

“I see. An indirect threat. How did he treat the Sutherlands?”

“At first, fairly. Then Mrs. Sutherland was expecting her second child. Willis wasn’t happy they had Truman, but he tolerated the child because the Sutherlands were great cat trainers and their shows brought a lot of notice to the circus, and a lot of money. Mr. Sutherland was smart. He could read and write, and he knew money and could get bargains for the circus on the grounds fees. Willis sent him to pay the fees, usually. Willis said they paid too much attention to Truman and not enough to their jobs, which is a bunch of baloney because they were dedicated to those cats.”

“Objection! Hearsay!” bellowed the defense lawyer.

“Yes, I DID hear him say it!” Denny yelled back.

The court erupted into laughter. Judge Hayes banged his gavel and ordered the court to be quiet.

“Objection over ruled. If the witness heard him say it, it’s admissible. If he had been told by someone else that Willis had said it, then it would be hearsay. Get your facts straight,” Judge Hayes admonished the defense lawyer.

The lawyer dropped into his chair, defeated.

“You may continue, Mr. Dawson.”

“Thank you, your honor. Mr. Howard, did you witness the incident on the night of September 11, 1870?”

“Yes. The cats were brought into the cage by Jimmy, including the new one, Monty. Donald, Mr. Sutherland, lit the ring of fire and Mrs. Sutherland tapped Monty on the rump with the training stick. Instead of doing what he was supposed to, he jumped on Mrs. Sutherland and bit her on the neck, deep. She fell. Samuel, the tiger, jumped on Monty and bit his ear, trying to drag him away from Mrs. S. Jimmy ran over and whistled for the remaining cats to go through the tunnel to their pens. Samuel went after Monty threw him off.  Monty stood on his hind legs and started towards Donald. He shot Monty through the heart  and the cat went down. Then, there was a rifle shot and Donald looked at Willis in surprise, right before he fell dead.”

“Where were you and did you see the boy?”

“I was standing outside the fence, between the boy and Willis. I usually stand near the door in case they need someone to distract the audience.”

“How did Willis look? Did he look surprised or concerned or what?”

“Objection! Calls for speculation.”

“Your Honor, Denny has been with the circus for six years. He should be able to tell what Willis’ expression was conveying.”

“This is highly irregular, but I’ll allow it. We often show our emotions on our faces without realizing it,” the Judge stated.

“Thank you, Your Honor.”

“He looked satisfied,” Denny answered.



“He wanted his top cat trainers dead?”



“Objection! Calls for speculation.”

“Do you have prior knowledge of Mr. Willis’ reason for having the Sutherlands dead?” Judge Hayes asked.

“Yes. Willis told me himself.”

“I KNEW I never should have trusted a clown!” Willis yelled at Denny. Willis was red in the face, almost purple, and had daggers in his eyes.

“Order in the court! Another outburst like that and you will be removed, Mr. Willis! I fine you $500 for contempt,” Judge Hayes admonished the circus owner.

“What did Willis tell you, Mr. Howard?”

“He wanted them dead so he could collect the insurance on them.”

Willis sprung from his chair and ran towards the witness box. His feeble lawyer could not hold him back. Val pounced on Willis, knocking the man to the floor. The portly man banged his head on the corner of the plaintiff’s table. The Lancers were all standing, their faces red with rage at the man whose greed had taken the lives of Truman’s parents and brother.

Val walked over to the Lancers’ table and spoke quietly with them, urging them to calm down and sit. Sam checked Willis’ head wound and declared it a flesh wound and not life-threatening.  Val called a couple of big men out of the audience and asked them to take the wounded man to Sam’s office. He also sent the deputy to stand guard.

“This court is in recess until 9 am tomorrow morning. Court is adjourned,” declared Judge Hayes with a bang of his gavel.

The Lancers filed out of the room. Val took Denny, Thomas, and Jimmy back to his place for their protection, then went to check on the wounded defendant. After making sure Willis was being taken care of, none too gently, but professionally, by Sam, he ambled to the hotel restaurant to eat with the Lancers.




The older Lancer men entered their suite and were pleased to see everything was calm. Jelly was reading a penny dreadful and Teresa  was doing some needlework. Scott and Murdoch collapsed into chairs while Johnny peeked into the bedrooms, looking for his little brother. He found the boy sleeping in the middle of a big bed in the second room he checked. Johnny sat on the edge of the bed and gently woke Truman.

“Hey, lil cowboy.  How are you?”

“Hey, Johnny. I’m okay. What’s going on?”

“Court is over for the day. We’re going to wash up and have dinner.”


Murdoch walked in and sat on the other side of the bed.

“Hello, big boy.”

“Hi, Papa. What happened in court?”

“Lots of talking. Did you have a good nap? Do you feel better?”

“Yes, Papa. I feel better. Jelly sat with me for a little bit until I went to sleep. He didn’t hafta, but he said he wanted to. I’m sorry I was bad at lunch.”

“You weren’t bad, Son. You were just tired and overwhelmed from this morning. We understand.”

“We sure do, lil cowboy. Scott and I are really happy that you are officially our lil brother,” Johnny added.


“Really!” Scott and Johnny said together. Scott was standing in the doorway, listening to his father and brothers talking. The older Lancer boys exchanged a smile.

Murdoch plucked the boy from the bed and tossed him over his shoulder, taking him into the bathroom to wash up for supper. When they came out, Johnny and Scott scrambled to be next. They wrestled on the bed before Johnny escaped and ran to the bathroom before Scott could get there.

“Boys! You better set a good example for your little brother!” Murdoch warned them. Behind Murdoch, Truman was trying to stifle his giggles. He loved to watch his brothers’ antics.

Once they were all washed and ready for dinner, the Lancer family walked down the stairs to the restaurant. Truman broke away from Scott’s grip and ran to Val. The sheriff chuckled as he lifted the newest Lancer boy up and ruffled the child’s hair.

“Hey Val!”

“Hey, boy! How ya doin? Been keepin’ Jelly straight all afternoon?”

“That’s a tall order, Val!” Truman replied.

Val and the Lancers laughed while Jelly harrumphed.

“Johnny, Scott, take Truman and get a table for us. I’d like to speak to Val a minute,” Murdoch requested.

“Yes, Sir,” replied Scott. He took Truman from Val’s arms, after the boy received a pat on the back from the sheriff, and set him on his feet. They walked into the restaurant with Teresa and Jelly and found a table.

“Val, I don’t want Truman to know about the incident in court just yet. Let’s steer clear of that subject,” Murdoch said.

“He’s gonna hear talk, Murdoch. Maybe you should tell him before he hears it from someone else. They may not have the facts straight. If you tell him, you have control over what he knows and can answer his questions truthfully.”

“That’s true, Val. Good idea. I’ll talk to him after supper.”

The two men walked into the room and found the family.


Chapter 48

Early the next morning, Theo Randall and Mr. Dawson knocked on the door of the Lancers’ suite. Scott opened the door and was surprised to see them, but bade them to enter and have a seat. 

“Good morning! Is there a problem?” Scott asked.

“Willis wants to plea bargain, Scott,” Theo said.

“I’ll get Murdoch.”

“I’m here. I was getting Truman up. What’s going on?” Murdoch asked from the bedroom door.

“Good morning, Murdoch. Willis’ lawyer came to us last night at dinner and wants to plea bargain for Willis’ life,” Dawson explained.

“What does he want?”

“No more than 10 years in prison.”


“I take it you don’t agree?” Theo asked.

“No way! That’s preposterous! All the damage he did, and not just to my boy, either, but to Jimmy and the other employees as well. No, he deserves more than ten years,” Murdoch said.

“Papa! What’s going on…?” Truman ran into the room and stood by Murdoch. He was surprised to see Mr. Randall and Mr. Dawson in the sitting room.

Truman was dressed in his red calico shirt and tan twill overalls. After the first day of the trial, the Lancers had sent a message to the ranch for Maria and Charlie to pack some extra clothes for the family. Charlie had brought them later that evening.

Truman’s feet were still bare and his hair was wet, but brushed neatly. The boy’s face had been freshly scrubbed. Johnny came out on the boy’s heels, carrying a small pair of socks in one hand and the boy’s boots in the other.

“Everything is fine, son. We’re talking about the trial. Mr. Willis was hurt yesterday because he tried to get too close to the witness box. Val had to catch him and Willis fell and hit his head.” Murdoch said.

“Oh,” Truman said. He was sitting on an ottoman while putting on the socks and boots as Johnny handed them to him.

Johnny went back to the bedroom to put on his own socks and boots.

“Scott, where are Teresa and Jelly? Are they ready for breakfast?”

Scott nodded and went next door. A few minutes later, he returned with Jelly and Teresa in tow. Johnny came out to the sitting room fully dressed and well groomed. 

“Teresa and Jelly, please take Truman to breakfast downstairs. We’ll be along shortly.”

“Yes, boss.”

The trio left the others in the sitting room. Scott and Johnny sat to hear what the lawyers had to say.

“Willis wants to plea bargain for his life. If we agree, we take it to Judge Hayes. He has the final say,” explained Dawson.

“What does he want?” Scott asked.

“No more than 10 years in prison. He figures he’s old and won’t have much of a life when he gets out. He thinks that’s punishment enough,” Dawson continued.

“NO!” Johnny exclaimed as he lurched to his feet. 

“Johnny…” Scott started as he laid a calming hand on his brother’s wrist.

“He doesn’t deserve to have a life! Not after what he did to our boy, to his parents and baby brother, to Jimmy.”

“What about the rest of his life in prison?” Scott suggested.

“No parole?” Johnny asked.

“That would sit easier with me,” agreed Murdoch.

“And with me,” agreed Scott.

“Yeah,” agreed Johnny.

“I’ll talk to Willis’ lawyer. If we don’t agree, or if Judge Hayes disagrees, I’ll start my closing arguments. If they do agree, the trial is over,” Dawson explained.

The Lancers nodded and they all left the room. Theo and Dawson went to talk to Willis’ lawyer while the Lancers joined the other family members for breakfast.

After breakfast, Jelly proposed taking Truman to the school play yard.

“He’s been cooped up, boss. It ain’t natural for him! He’s a lot like Johnny. He needs open spaces ta play and run.”

“Okay. But keep an eye on him. Maybe running around will help him burn off some of that stress,” Murdoch said.

When Truman heard he would be able to play outside, he whooped and hollered as he made his way to the school playground, with Jelly and Teresa running after him.

Murdoch and the older Lancer sons stood on the boardwalk and laughed at the sight before turning towards the courthouse.

The Lancers arrived in court early to hear what the judge would say when Dawson presented the plea bargain.  Once the group was assembled, Judge Hayes started the meeting.

“What is this all about?” Judge Hayes asked.

“Your Honor, Willis and I have discussed his case and realize that the evidence presented has most likely influenced the jury to convict my client. We realize they may recommend the death penalty. Without admitting guilt, it would be a mistake to hang an innocent man. We are willing to agree to a prison sentence of no more than 10 years with parole after 5 and time off for good behavior.”

“That is preposterous. That…man…is a menace to society and will pay for his misdeeds and crimes. Sheriff Crawford, please allow the jury and the public in. This trial will continue on its regular course. If the jury recommends hanging, I will most likely concur!” Judge Hayes declared.

“We have a counter-offer, Your Honor,” Dawson said.

“What is it, Mr. Dawson?” Judge Hayes asked.

Val waited before he followed through on his instructions to hear if the Judge and the defense lawyer accepted the plea bargain. 

“10 years isn’t enough to make up for what Willis did to the boy, his parents, his brother, Jimmy, and the other employees he threatened and mistreated for the sake of greed. We propose to eliminate the death penalty as long as Willis stays in prison for the rest of his natural life, no parole.”

The judge looked at the defense lawyer to see if they accepted.

“Well?” Judge Hayes asked.

“We agree, your honor.”

“Very good. Val, go ahead and let the jury in, then tell the people outside that the trial is over and Willis will be spending the rest of his life at San Quentin prison.”

“Yes, Your Honor.” Val carried out his new orders.

Dawson, Theo, and the Lancers relaxed in their seats with a sigh of relief.

Once the jury members had settled in their seats, Judge Hayes addressed them.

“Gentlemen of the jury, we thank you for your unselfish duty. The parties have reached a plea bargain. Bryce Willis will be spending the rest of his natural life behind bars in San Quentin without possibility of parole. Your services are no longer required. You may be excused. I’d like the parties to remain seated, please.”

When only the judge and the two parties remained, Judge Hayes addressed them.

“This has been quite a trial, gentlemen. I applaud the Lancers for their restraint and I admonish Mr. Willis for his lack thereof. Bryce Willis, please stand.”

Once Willis was standing, on shaky legs, no less, the judge continued.

“You are hereby sentenced to San Quentin Prison for the rest of your natural life. Your assets will be liquefied. The money will be distributed evenly to the remaining employees, James Tobin, Dennis Howard, and Truman Lancer.”

“Objection!” Willis’ lawyer shouted.

“What?” Judge Hayes asked, baffled.

“The kid doesn’t need money. He’s the son of Murdoch Lancer, now. Can’t Willis have a little bit?”

Murdoch whispered to Theo, “I’m not sure Truman would want any of Willis’ money, but I don’t know how much a person needs in prison, either.”

“We’ll work it out, Murdoch,” Theo assured him.

Theo looked to Murdoch and received a nod of agreement.

“As for you, Mr. Willis, we will allow an allowance of ten dollars a month. Use it wisely, because that’s all you’ll get,” Judge Hayes stated.

“Sheriff, please take Willis to your jail. The rest of you may be excused. Murdoch, congratulations. I am sure you and the family will do well by the boy. I will be checking in periodically to see how he is doing.”

“Yes, Your Honor. Thank you.”

The Lancers left after Judge Hayes returned to his chambers. Once back into the fresh air, Johnny breathed a deep sigh of relief.

“I’m so glad that’s over!” he said.

“So am I, Johnny, so am I,” Murdoch agreed.

With an arm around each of his older sons’ shoulders, Murdoch led them to the playground. When Truman saw them approach, he jumped off the swing and ran to his brothers and Papa Murdoch.

“What happened? It’s not lunchtime, yet,” Truman questioned.

Murdoch picked the boy up and hugged him close. “It’s over, Son. The trial is over.”

“I didn’t hafta talk!”

“No, you didn’t, and I’m glad.”

“What about W-Willis?”

“He’s going to prison for the rest of his life.”

“Good. You wanna come and play?”

“I’d love to, Son.”

Murdoch put the boy on his feet. Truman hugged his brothers’  waists, then grabbed Murdoch’s hand in his and pulled him to the swing. Murdoch sat down on the swing, testing the strength, and  surprised that it was strong enough to hold him. Johnny lifted Truman onto Murdoch’s lap and the two older sons pushed their father and little brother in the swing. The family laughed and played for awhile.

After lunch at the cantina, the Lancers headed for home and Truman rode Barranca again with Johnny. They were heading for a new life together, enriched even more so by the presence of a wonderful boy. A boy named Truman.



The Lancers fell into a comfortable routine for the rest of the summer. The family would have breakfast together, then the older Lancer men would go to work on the range while Truman worked on his handwriting and fine motor skills with Teresa. After he finished, Truman would go outside and do his chores. The family would eat lunch together, then Scott and Johnny would take Truman out on the range with them to complete any unfinished jobs. That is how the boy learned ranch work. In the evenings, after supper, they would read, play games, or talk in the living room. On Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons, the brothers could be found swimming or riding, or just having fun in the meadow.

Truman earned an allowance by keeping his room clean, collecting the eggs, mucking out stalls, and helping on the ranch. He learned a lot and was very happy. The Lancers were happier, too. There was more laughter heard in the big house, more calm discussions than loud, angry arguments, and more smiles for all.

Johnny and Truman worked together to train Mickey. The mustang was turning out to be a fine, trustworthy cowpony and Johnny predicted that Truman would be able to ride him during the cattle drive and to school.

Truman enjoyed going to church. He had joined the Sunday school class and the children’s choir. He made friends with Laura and Mary Lane, Simon Grevey, and Toby Harris. He began studying for his Confirmation into the church and his eventual baptism. Scott helped him with his Bible studies.  Johnny often hung around and listened as they discussed the stories of the Bible, sometimes joining the discussions.

Truman was included in every aspect of ranch work except branding. Murdoch did not think the sensitive, animal-loving boy was ready to witness the process. Truman was, however, taught to round up and drive cattle. The older Lancers taught him by using young cows in groups of no more than 20 at a time. Scott, Johnny, and Charlie usually rode close by. Truman knew they were there to keep an eye on him and he was okay with that because they were letting him help and teaching him what he needed to learn. These were the happiest times of his life.

One day, Scott came home from town with a telegram in his hand and a dour look on his face. It was early August and the ranch was getting ready for a big cattle drive. Truman would be going with them, riding alongside the wagon and keeping an eye on strays.

Scott had gone to town alone to pick up trail supplies and food for the chuck wagon. Truman would have been invited to go, but he had been confined to the house after falling out of the peach tree in the garden a few days before. He had suffered a mild concussion and a sprained left wrist. The family was keeping him in to rest and heal before the cattle drive.

Murdoch noticed the look of consternation on Scott’s face as his older son plopped into a chair.

“What’s wrong, Scott?” Murdoch asked.

“My grandfather…”

“Is he ill?”

“No, he’s just fine. He’s so fine, he’s invited himself to visit. He’ll be here tomorrow.”

Murdoch slammed his hand on the desk. A gasp was heard from the living room area, accompanied by the sound of falling blocks.

“Truman? Come here, son,” Murdoch instructed his youngest.

Truman walked over to the big desk hesitantly. His left wrist was bandaged tightly and supported in a sling. True was wearing his tan overalls, blue calico shirt, and socks. He climbed into Murdoch’s lap and leaned back.

“What’s wrong, Papa?”

“Nothing. Scott’s grandfather is coming for a visit. He’ll be here tomorrow.”

“Did you ask him to come, Scott? Will he go on the cattle drive with us?” Truman asked his oldest brother.

“No, I didn’t,” Scott answered somberly. Scott chuckled, then. “I can’t see my grandfather on a cattle drive, sleeping under the stars at a campsite.”

“I’ve done that lots of times,” the boy whispered.

Murdoch and Scott exchanged concerned looks, then looked at the boy.

Truman continued in a more confident voice, “This time will be much better, though.”

“Why, Son?”

“I won’t be alone. I’ll be with my family,” True replied with a shy smile.

Scott and Murdoch smiled back and Murdoch hugged the boy gently.

“You sure will, Son. How do you feel? Are you hurting?”

“Just a little bit, Papa.”

“Come on, little brother. I’ll help you pick up your blocks, then you should have a nap,” Scott offered kindly.


“Go on, Son. Scott’s right, you need to rest. Go on,” Murdoch said as he lifted the boy out of his lap and set him on his feet with a little light pat on his seat.

Truman chuckled and followed Scott to the rug in front of the fireplace. The two brothers made quick work of putting the blocks away, then Scott scooped Truman into his arms and took the boy to his room. After Truman was settled in his bed, Scott sat on the edge of the mattress and rubbed the boy’s head gently. Truman fell asleep quickly and Scott left him to rest.

Scott sat down in a chair in the living room, sipping on brandy, and wondering how he was going to tell Johnny that Harlan Garrett had invited himself to the ranch…again.


To be continued in Book 2:Truman’s Lancer Adventures



Submission Guidelines