This was inspired by a country song I heard while traveling recently. Not sure who the singer was but it made my muse start thinking….
Murdoch Lancer stifled a groan as he swung down from the saddle and landed heavily on his bum leg. It had been a long ride back from Green River. Or perhaps it just seemed longer these days. It was the middle of winter in the San Joaquin Valley, which meant shorter days and cool, damp nights. He’d expected to be home before dark but the monthly cattle growers’ association meeting had gone on too long and gotten contentious as they dealt with yet another threat to the valley’s ranchers.
This time though, the leadership of the larger ranchers—and Lancer was the largest spread in the region – was considered suspect by the owners of the smaller spreads. And if he was honest, he himself didn’t care for some of the men who now owned large ranches in the Valley. Murdoch had done all he could to convince everyone that their strength was in standing together but he’d left the meeting frustrated and disappointed.
God knew he’d seen a lot of situations like this come and go over his more than a quarter century here. This would pass, and other such issues would arise and be dealt with. But tonight it just didn’t seem that way, and the weight of it settled on his weary shoulders.
His foreman Ciprian emerged from his house behind the barn. “Buenos noches, Patrón.”
“Cip, hello. How did things go today? Did the herd get moved?”
“Si, señor. We move everythin’ to the new pasture in the south. Señor Johnny’s crew drove them over while Señor Scott’s was stringin’ fences. Like a dance, they moved in time with each other, no step missed or not completed. The men finished finished earlier than I thought possible.”
Murdoch smiled. “That’s good to hear, Cip,” he said. “At least something went well today.”
The two mean discussed the next day’s work plan and then the foreman took the patrón’s horse to the barn while Murdoch did all he could to keep from limping to the hacienda. The dampness had worked its way into his back and leg but there would be no time for a hot bath before dinner. The rule at Lancer was that dinner was served at six o’clock. And since he made the rule, that’s how it would be this night even he had only several minutes to spare. The big Scot knew his younger son would have a field day if Murdoch himself was late to supper.
He approached the house quietly, intending to slip in through the French doors to the great room but as he got closer, he could see movement inside. There was a warm, golden light illuminating the interior and he watched his older son Scott enter the great room, turning up the sleeves of his beige shirt as he walked. Murdoch smiled. His eastern-born son always changed into a clean shirt for dinner. Scott continued to the wine rack where he thoughtfully selected a bottle from Murdoch’s stock. He uncorked it deftly which made Murdoch’s smile widen. Scott claimed the wine needed to breathe a while before being served and in truth, it always tasted better when he had time to decant the bottle as he was doing now. One of the things Murdoch appreciated most about his elder son was the way he brought new ideas and refinements to life at Lancer, not with a sense of superiority but through occasional suggestions and constant quiet example.
A pink blur caught appeared in Murdoch’s peripheral vision. Johnny Lancer swooped into the great room off the banister he’d just slid down. Thump caught Scott’s attention and he shook his head at his wayward younger sibling. “How many times has Murdoch told you not to do that?”
Johnny smiled. “Pfft. He ain’t here….” Then he looked around worriedly. “Is he?”
Scott didn’t look up as he poured the deep red wine into a crystal decanter. “No. But he’ll figure it out when that banister comes off the wall one of these days.”
Johnny strode across the room with characteristic grace, waving away his older brother’s concern. “Murdoch Lancer builds to last,” he said. “You can’t convince me that bannister’s goin’ anywhere, any more than I believe that wine there’s breathin’.” He slapped Scott’s taut stomach as he passed him and went to the sideboard. “How ‘bout a glass of the ole man’s whiskey?”
“Well, at least you’ve learned to appreciate a good single malt,” Scott replied, taking the glass that Johnny handed him. The golden-haired Lancer lifted his glass toward his younger brother and smiled. “I guess we should have known your Scottish roots would show through eventually.”
Johnny smiled shyly and looked down into the amber liquid. “Yeah, I guess…. Now and again maybe.” He took a deep swallow and grinned. “Leastwise when it comes to Murdoch’s good stuff.”
Murdoch’s ward Theresa entered the room carrying a plate. She placed it on the table between the sofas and sat down and Johnny reseated himself beside her. “Maria sent this out to hold you two over, in case Murdoch’s late.”
“I wouldn’t count on that,” Scott answered with a smile. “He’s got a whole four minutes.”
“Well if it does happen, I’m gonna mark this day on my calendar,” Johnny replied firmly as helped himself to one of Maria’s empanadas.
Scott laughed as his brother wolfed down one of his favorite foods in the world. “What calendar would that be, brother?”
Johnny swallowed and then grinned. “Well, if the ole man’s late to supper, I’m gonna buy one just so I can mark it down.”
fire cast a warm light on them as Johnny took a grape from the plate and tossed it into his mouth. Scott rolled his eyes and tsked as he himself took a grape.
“Johnny, really, have I taught you nothing?” he said. Then he tossed his grape high into the air and caught it in his mouth. He smiled triumphantly at his younger brother, but the affection that had grown between them was palpable. Theresa sighed loudly, barely hiding her smile. “You two are just impossible,” she said, whereupon all three young people laughed.
Murdoch swallowed a lump in his throat as he watched. This land and this hacienda were possessions he’d fought to obtain and keep over many years but none of it mattered as much as the people inside. The most beautiful view in the world was from his own portico looking in on the three young people who were his life. The clock chimed six o’clock as a truly content and happy Murdoch Lancer stepped inside.