Author’s note: Los Cargadores, when using Babel Fish, translates to “The Boots”. Now, I am in no way bilingual, and if this interpretation of the title is incorrect, my apologies to the Spanish-speaking folks out there! Just know that the intentions were well-meant! Also, this story, in part is dedicated to my 4 year old neighbor, who, for about a year, insisted on only wearing his older sister’s cowboy boots all the time. They were fuchsia in color and way too big for his much smaller feet. I don’t want to give away the end of my story, but when you read it, just know that this is how young Brady usually was seen from out my kitchen window as he played in his driveway. Never a dull moment in my neighborhood!
He saw the boots in the window of a store that boasted custom made leather footwear. They were the smallest boots Murdoch had ever seen and he couldn’t wait to see them on his little boy’s feet.
Packing the tiny cowboy boots into his saddle bags, Murdoch mounted his horse and eagerly headed home. He had taken the trip to Sacramento in order to look at a Hereford bull for sale, but he hadn’t had enough cash to purchase the badly needed animal. So, cutting his trip short, Murdoch gladly turned his horse toward home after the purchase of the boots and a pretty necklace for his wife.
Riding along the trail toward Lancer, Murdoch’s mind drifted to thoughts of his little son. Johnny, at fourteen months, was a handful for Maria, Murdoch’s wife and Johnny’s mother. Often, when Murdoch was in his study working on ranch bookwork, Johnny would manage to escape his mother’s close, watchful eye and toddle into the study. It was those unguarded moments that Murdoch cherished most with his exuberant son.
Always smiling, the deep blue eyes dancing with mischief and merriment, Johnny was a happy, outgoing little boy. He had never met a stranger, and from the time he began to walk and talk, there was no holding him back.
Murdoch barked a laugh in memory of the many scrapes in which his mischievous son had found himself. Smiling broadly, despite the fact that he was all alone on the lonely trail, Murdoch’s blue eyes danced merrily, much as Johnny’s often did. He couldn’t wait to get home to his little boy.
Riding through the archway pronouncing that he was almost home, Murdoch smiled wryly at the large, white stucco structure and shook his head. Maria had insisted the growing estancia required a large enough sign to let everyone visiting know that they were on Lancer land. Well, the fifteen foot tall arch certainly did that, Murdoch thought as he looked toward the imposing ranch house that was a work in progress. A huge smile spread across Murdoch’s face at seeing Johnny standing rather impatiently on the portico, his hand firmly clasped within his mother’s.
Laughing at Johnny’s squirming little body, Murdoch watched the bare feet practically dancing in place, and though he couldn’t hear Johnny’s words from where he was, Murdoch was fairly certain of what his son was yelling. Suddenly Johnny’s little arm shot into the air, his small hand waving wildly above his dark head as Murdoch rode closer.
Screaming with excitement at seeing his father after a four day absence that seemed a lifetime to the boy, Johnny broke away from his mother’s hold and darted off the porch. Running straight toward his father and his horse, Johnny paid no heed to his mother’s shrieking cry of alarm.
Fear surged through Murdoch’s heart, making the organ constrict heavily within his chest, as Johnny ignored his mother’s shrieks, and the rule to never run around horses.
Quickly pulling his sometimes skittish stallion up short, Murdoch swiftly dismounted just in time to crouch down and scoop up his little bundle of energy into his arms. Holding the wriggling boy close to his chest, his heart hammering in terror and anger from the danger to his baby, the organ swiftly melted into a useless puddle when Johnny’s short little arms wrapped tightly around his father’s neck, squeezing as hard as he could.
“PAPA HOME!” Johnny exclaimed happily, pressing his lips against his father’s beard-roughened cheek and giving him a resounding kiss. “Ouch!” he yelped, one arm loosening the stranglehold around Murdoch’s neck to rub his tiny fingers across his pouting lips. “Papa’s face hurted Juanito!” Crocodile tears filed the big blue eyes and Murdoch’s heart melted even more.
Shifting the boy closer against his chest, Murdoch smoothed a gentle finger across the small lips and smiled. “I’m sorry, son. I didn’t take the time to shave because I wanted to get back to my little man! And remember, your name is Johnny, son. Not Juanito.”
With a telltale glimmer in his laughing blue eyes, Johnny nodded his dark head solemnly and proudly proclaimed, “My name Johnny-son Lancer!”
Bursting out in delighted laughter at his son’s words, Murdoch’s anger and fear subsided as he hugged him again until Johnny had had enough and started squirming in protest.
“Papa, no! Johnny-son whittle! Too tight! Too tight!” The little rascal insisted, even as his small arms slipped back around his father’s neck. When Murdoch eased his hold slightly, Johnny sighed happily and leaned his head into the bend of his father’s neck and shoulder, yawning loudly. “Johnny-son wuv Papa,” he said sleepily.
Exchanging an indulgent smile with his wife over the sleepy little boy’s head, Murdoch gently smoothed a large hand up and down the warm back and thought his heart would burst with all the love within.
“Papa?” Johnny’s drowsy voice muttered from beneath Murdoch’s chin.
“Papa bwing Johnny pwesents?” Stirring slightly at the prospect of getting a gift from his father’s trip, Johnny raised his head, his sleepy little eyes watching Murdoch hopefully.
“I sure did, little buddy, but I think your mama wants you to go in and take a nap first,” Murdoch said quietly, smiling as Johnny’s blue eyes were shuttered for a second when his slowly blinking eyelids slid shut of their own accord. Then the dark head began to shake slowly from side to side.
“No-o-o! Johnny-son too big for naps! Don’t wanna!” Despite the protest, the toddler was in obvious need of rest and though Murdoch couldn’t wait to see if the little boots would fit, he certainly didn’t want to delay Johnny’s naptime any longer. He’d learned his lesson a long time ago that little boys needed their rest and that was one rule he wasn’t about to break, even for one of Johnny’s heartwarming smiles.
“Johnny, come with mama,” Maria said firmly as she lifted the boy into her arms. “When you wake up we’ll see what Papa has brought you.”
Stretching out his little arms toward his father over his mother’s shoulders as she carried him inside the house, Johnny began to cry in earnest for his Papa, tears streaming down his cheeks.
Steeling himself from giving in to the pitiful, muffled cries coming from inside the house, Murdoch turned back to his horse and walked him to the barn. With one ear turned toward the nursery window, he could still hear Johnny’s cries and it took all of his resolve to keep from bolting into the house and gathering his little boy into his arms again. Oh, how he’d missed his boy.
Once the horse was taken care of, Murdoch flipped the full saddlebags over his shoulder and strode across the yard and into the house. Settling in his chair behind his desk in the study, he carefully unpacked the tiny boots, marveling anew at the masterwork and intricate detail of the stitching and tooling. Running a finger across the stitching on the toe of the boot, Murdoch looked up and smiled when Maria walked into the room. Leaving the boots on the desk, he rose from the chair and opened his arms as Maria walked around the desk and snuggled against his chest.
“I have missed you, my husband,” she said softly, her small hands smoothing up and down his back as he held her close.
“And I’ve missed you, my wife,” Murdoch crooned as he placed two fingers beneath her chin and gently tilted her down turned face upward for a welcoming kiss.
Sliding her arms around Murdoch’s neck, Maria’s fingers feathered through his dark blond hair as she eagerly deepened the kiss.
Scooping her into his arms, Murdoch turned and strode across the study floor toward the stairs without another word. It was another thing he’d learned long ago. Take advantage of Johnny’s naptime.
Walking into Johnny’s bedroom, Murdoch couldn’t help but grin at the small body lying bonelessly in the crib, the arms and legs splayed every which way and the covers long since abandoned. Moving to stand beside the bed, Murdoch braced his arms along the top of the crib rails and simply indulged himself with watching the tiny chest rise and fall with each breath Johnny took. Darting a quick glance at the right hand curled tightly beside the dark head of hair, Murdoch frowned slightly at seeing the telltale sign of the small, wrinkled thumb and knew that Johnny had been recently sucking on it again. Murdoch and Maria had both despaired of ever getting the little boy out of the habit. The had succeeded during Johnny’s waking moments, however, whenever the little boy was put to sleep, the thumb was quickly put to use.
Reaching his arm over the rails, Murdoch gently stroked a large finger across the small fist and smiled tenderly when Johnny’s hand reflectively opened and then closed tightly over the finger. The deep blue eyes blinked opened slowly as a soft, heartwarming smile crossed over the tanned little face and Murdoch’s heart did that somersault thing it was prone to do whenever that smile was aimed his way.
“Papa!” Johnny whispered huskily, rolling over onto his side and then his tummy so he could get to his feet. Still holding on to his father’s finger, Johnny walked a bit unsteadily across the mattress, his free hand raised up expectantly toward Murdoch. “Papa home!”
Slipping his arm around the little body and beneath the diapered behind, Murdoch gently lifted Johnny from his crib to cuddle him close as Johnny snuggled his head against his father’s chest with a heartfelt sigh.
Breathing in the baby scent that was all Johnny, Murdoch walked with him to the small chamber pot in the corner of the room and gently set his son down after unpinning the diaper in which Maria still insisted Johnny sleep.
“Me don’t gotta go, Papa!” Johnny protested as he attempted to get up from the cool porcelain container.
“Now, Johnny, you know you always have to use the potty after your nap. That way you don’t have any accidents and ruin Mama’s floors,” Murdoch insisted as he easily kept the toddler from rising by placing a hand against his tiny shoulder.
“Wanna see Papa’s s’prise!” Johnny cried vehemently as he wriggled beneath Murdoch’s hand.
“If you keep this up, son, you’ll be getting no surprise,” Murdoch reprimanded sternly as he gave his son a pointed glance.
Clenching his eyes closed tightly, Johnny gritted his little teeth together in an obvious attempt to force something to happen, but only grew more frustrated instead. Propping his elbows on his knees, the little boy dropped his dark head down onto his arms and began to sob quietly. “J-Johnny don’ gotta go!” He wailed pitifully.
Unable to stand the heartbreaking cries any longer, Murdoch quickly lifted his son from the chamber pot and nestled him close. “All right, little man. But, if you have an accident on Mama’s rug or floor, you’re going to get a spanking, is that clear?” Murdoch chided gently. He knew that his son was too excited with expectation at getting a gift from his father and no amount of punishment was going to make him use the pot if he didn’t need to do so.
“I won’t, Papa. I pwomise!” Johnny said earnestly as he squirmed and bucked in his father’s arms in his excitement.
“Okay! Let’s get you dressed then.” Setting the fidgeting bundle of energy on the floor, Murdoch turned toward the dresser to find a shirt and pair of dungarees in which to dress him. Before he could take two steps toward the dresser, Johnny had flung off the nightshirt that he loathed. The last thing Murdoch saw of his son was his little pink behind racing out the bedroom door.
Chasing after his errant son, Murdoch reached the doorway just as Johnny stopped at the top of the stairs, flopped down on his belly and began his usual slide, squirm down the wooden steps. A yelping cry of pain was all the worried father needed to hear to know that Johnny had completely forgotten that he didn’t have the protection of clothing to help in his slide down the steps.
As he lifted the weeping boy into his arms, Murdoch’s fear turned to laughter at finding the small hands carefully cupping himself and glaring accusingly at his father as he dared to laugh.
“Johnny hurt!” The boy exclaimed loudly as huge tears trailed heedlessly down his cheeks, both hands still holding tight to the injured part of his anatomy.
Taking his son back into his bedroom, Murdoch wasn’t exactly sure how one tended to an injury in such a private place, but he didn’t have to worry long. As soon as they entered the room, Johnny remembered the gift his father promised him and forgot all about his injury.
“Pwesents!” Johnny cried out, throwing his hands into the air and wriggling happily in his father’s arms.
“Yes, presents for Johnny, but first we need to get you dressed! No more running around naked, little man!” Murdoch chastised as he set the little boy back in his crib to contain him while he retrieved the clothes he’d picked out earlier. Bringing them back to the crib, he remembered that he hadn’t included the small cut-off long john underwear that Johnny preferred to wear instead of diapers. Moving back to the dresser, he picked up a pair of the underwear and turned around to look at Johnny. The frustrated toddler was attempting to dress himself, his dark hair just barely peeking out from the neck hole of the button up shirt that hadn’t been unbuttoned.
“PAPA! PAPA, HELP!” Johnny cried out, his hands waving frantically in the air.
Quickly setting the shirt aright by unbuttoning it, Murdoch assisted the tiny fingers as Johnny insistently tried to button them back again. With his tongue held firmly between his teeth, Johnny concentrated all his efforts on slipping one tiny button into the small hole while Murdoch buttoned up the rest of the shirt. Leaving the boy to work on the one button, Murdoch quickly dressed Johnny in his drawers and then the dungarees and Johnny still hadn’t managed to conquer the one button.
“Johnny, you want Papa to finish that for you?” Murdoch asked as he finished pulling soft white socks onto the baby’s feet. Yet another lesson learned while tending to his young son, was to never render aid to the excitable boy unless asked. However, a bit of bribery never hurt. “The quicker we get you dressed, the quicker you can see what I brought you from Sacramento!”
“Sac’amento?” Johnny said, his small brow furrowed as he thought about the funny name, completely forgetting the mention of a gift. “What that?”
“The present, Johnny,” Murdoch reminded the one-track minded child in order to waylay the numerous questions sure to start. “Don’t you want to see what Papa has brought you?”
“Pwesents! Pwesents!” Johnny cried as his fingers abandoned the button and he began jumping excitedly on the mattress, the springs squeaking loudly in protest at the abuse.
Scooping Johnny into his arms, suddenly sorry that he’d gotten him so excited, especially if the boots didn’t fit, Murdoch hurried out the door with Johnny chattering excitedly about presents.
Sitting down on the sofa, Johnny held securely in his lap, Murdoch reached over to the saddlebags he’d left on the sofa table. Johnny began clapping his hands as his blue eyes sharply watched everything his father was doing. Maria came into the room to see what all the fuss was about and smiled softly at Johnny as he almost slipped off his father’s lap in an effort to lean under Murdoch’s arm to see what would be pulled out of the saddlebags. Moving to sit beside her husband, the dark-haired beauty watched Murdoch just as avidly as their son, her fingers toying with the dainty necklace Murdoch had given her earlier while Johnny slept.
“Now, Johnny, Papa wants you to close your eyes and be still,” Murdoch said, his hand still deep within the pocket of the bag. Looking down into his son’s excited face, Murdoch couldn’t resist the smile that bloomed across his own. “Do you understand, Johnny?” At the solemn nod of Johnny’s little head, Murdoch waited for the eyes to close. When after a few seconds Johnny continued to look at him expectantly, Murdoch chuckled and brushed his hand lightly over the wide open eyes. “Close them or you won’t get your surprise, little man.” Removing his hand from Johnny’s eyes and seeing that they were closed tightly, Murdoch darted a quick smile at Maria’s gasp of delight when he pulled out the tiny cowboy boots and set them in Johnny’s lap. “Okay, you can open your eyes now!”
Murdoch swore much later that he and Maria had witnessed a miracle that afternoon. Johnny sat frozen, as if mesmerized by the boots, his eyes, if possible, grew rounder and much wider and didn’t blink for several moments. Then, as if becoming unthawed after being frozen for so long, his little head turned toward Murdoch.
“Johnny’s cargadores?” Johnny whispered in awe as his tiny hands reached out and gently fingered the stitching around the heels of the boots. He hadn’t meant to utter the Spanish word for boots, but in his stunned shock, his mind just couldn’t translate the word fast enough into English, so he spoke what he knew. At his father’s nod, Johnny’s blue eyes turned back to the boots sitting in his lap and he suddenly wrapped his arms around the small footwear and shrieked shrilly in delight as he hugged them close. Then, before Murdoch could recover from having his left eardrum nearly pierced by the excited squeal of pleasure so close to his ear, the little boy shoved the boots into his hands. “Johnny wear!” He demanded sternly as he held up one of his little feet covered in a sock that was listing crookedly from the end of his toes. “Johnny wear now!”
“All right! All right!” Murdoch grumbled good-naturedly as he muttered quietly to Maria over his shoulder. “I sure hope these fit. I didn’t think about how disappointed he would be if they were too small for him.”
Gently straightening the sock, Murdoch eyed the length of the tiny foot in his huge hand and his heart began to sink. Apparently he had misjudged the size, for the shoes, though very small, looked to be a bit too large for Johnny’s tiny foot. Sliding the first boot onto the wiggling foot, Murdoch bit his lip a nervously as he gently inserted the other waiting foot. As fast as quicksilver, Johnny wriggled from his father’s lap and was racing across the room, the stacked leather heels of the boots clanking heavily against the hardwood floors in his excitement. As he reached the fringed area rug near the hallway, Johnny’s feet slid loosely inside the boots, making him even more unsteady than his normal fourteen month old gait and he fell crashing to the floor.
Quickly jumping to their feet in fear for their son, both Murdoch and Maria were shocked when the expected cries of pain didn’t come. Johnny merely rolled over onto his behind and stared at his boots for a second before wiggling his feet back and forth a few times with a broad grin on his face. Then he was up and off again before either parent could utter a word of caution to him.
Murdoch sat at his desk, carefully studying his bookwork and trying to figure out where he had miscalculated the amount of feed he needed to order, when he heard the staccato patter of tiny booted feet in the hallway upstairs. Watching the doorway closely, he grinned at seeing the soles of the tiny boots as Johnny slid slowly down the stairs on his tummy, his usual mode of descending the wooden stairs. Turning his eyes back to the books, though he would have really rather sat and watched his precocious child all day, Murdoch listened as each stair was ascended with a quiet expulsion of released breath and an unintelligible muttered word. Then the booted feet hit the floor and came racing into the study.
“PAPA! Johnny ride howsy!” Johnny exclaimed loudly as he neared his father’s large desk. Murdoch shook his head without looking at his son.
“Not right now, Johnny. Papa has got to figure out where he made a mistake in the books,” Murdoch said distractedly as he finally found his error. Placing a finger on the line in error, he chanced a quick glance at his son, already racing as fast as his little legs would carry him toward the French doors leading to the courtyard and the barn beyond. Murdoch’s mouth fell open and he could only stare in stunned shock as Johnny slipped out the partially opened doors clad only in his tiny cowboy boots and nothing else by that heartwarming smile.
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