Second in the
Johnny and Polly series
From Johnny and Polly:
slightly and then pushed his way into the kitchen of the hotel, seeing Polly
with her hands in the sink, washing the morning's dishes. “Polly” he said,
and she turned to look at him, taking in his saddle bags.
“Headin' out?” she asked, and not waiting for an answer turned back to her sink and continued “It was real nice seein' ya again – hope your trip back goes well. Give …”.
He interrupted her saying her name again and she turned to look at him again “Polly … will you … and Martha … come back to Lancer with me?” he asked, surprising himself somewhat with his words.
P olly looked at him “What are you sayin' Johnny Lancer?” she asked, her surprise evident, and a bit of suspicion in her voice.
He walked towards her, pulling her arm to turn her around and face him and then putting his arms around her waist. “Polly Foley …” he started again, smiling at the look on her face, “Will you marry me?”.
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“Yes”, Polly replied, without hesitating, her green eyes latching onto his blue “Yes, I will marry you, Johnny Lancer.”
He kissed her then, the excitement and passion he had been feeling the past days infusing him. Her mouth returned his kiss and he felt her excitement as well. A loud coughing sound came from behind him and they broke apart, and Johnny turned to see that Sue had entered the kitchen and was staring at them, her right eyebrow raised.
“Um …” Johnny started, uncertain why the woman was making him feel uncomfortable again.
“We're gettin' married, Sue” Polly exclaimed, beaming at her friend.
The older woman's expression immediately softened, and she smiled “Well then I'll leave you alone for a few minutes” she said and headed back out the door. Johnny smiled, and turning back to Polly, kissed her again.
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They told Martha later that day. He and Polly had decided that it would be best for him to go to Lancer by himself in two days, and she, and Martha, would follow on the stage that left that same day – they should arrive in Green River, barring any breakdowns, two days after him. Him and Polly would take a trip to San Francisco in the late fall, just the two of them, after Martha had settled into life at Lancer, and hopefully the ranch was a bit quieter.
The little girl was quite excited by the wedding news, and Johnny decided to take her to buy a new dress for the ceremony to be held the next day, while Sue and Polly worked on the arrangements.
He was happy, walking the girl to the store. She skipped along holding his hand, asking questions about Lancer and his family, Green River and Morro Coyo, asking so quickly he barely had time to answer before she asked another.
When they arrived at the store, she took him straight to the back, obviously knowing where the dresses were. He remembered what Polly had said about Martin, and how he had spoiled her, and he wondered if this was something she had done with him. He watched her sort through the ready-made dresses on a rack, pausing when she came to a white dress with small purple violets embroidered around the bottom, the edge of the short sleeves and the scooped neckline. Her eyes got large with longing.
“Won't you be cold?” he asked, thinking of the cool temperatures of the season.
“I have a white sweater at home” she replied, her eyes riveted on the dress. “It's so pretty” she continued, reaching out to touch the fabric gently, and then stroking the embroidery around the neckline. He looked down at the girl and, feeling happy at being to spoil her with this present, took the dress to the counter to pay. The clerk looked up at him from the newspaper he was reading at the counter and pointed to a curtained area to his left. Momentarily surprised, Johnny motioned for Martha and when she came forward he directed her into the alcove, not quite sure what would happen next. When she emerged in a few minutes, she turned for him to do up the buttons on the back. He fussed with them, finally managing to get them done up. The girl then turned and looked down, smiling at the fact that the dress fit.
Johnny, looked her up and down and said “you look pretty as a picture” leading her over to a standing mirror which the clerk had put out. Martha looked at her reflection and smiled, meeting his eyes. “Well, I guess we better take it then” he said and she turned and suddenly hugged him, turning again and showing him her back after letting go. It took him a few seconds to realize that she needed him to undo her buttons and then reaching down he helped, after which she returned to the alcove, pulling the curtain behind her.
The clerk looked at Martha when she came to the counter, saying “we ain't seen you around for a while, Miz Martha. How's your mama doin'? She still make the best chocolate cake? I might have to come over and have myself a piece” he continued before the girl could say anything.
Martha looked at the clerk and smiled slightly saying “Mama and Johnny are gettin' married!”
Johnny felt the clerk's shock at the girl's statement, and saw the man's eyes narrow slightly, looking him over. Johnny looked back at the man, noting his young age and the way he had made casual conversation with Martha and felt a small sudden surge of jealousy – did this man have an interest in Polly?
After the dress was wrapped, Martha took the bag and skipped out of the store onto the sidewalk in front. Johnny turned to follow the girl, feeling the clerk's eyes piercing his back.
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They ate supper in the kitchen that night, Sue offering to take Martha up for bed again saying “I won't get to do this much longer.” The little girl blanched at that statement, and obediently followed the older woman up the stairs. Polly stood and watched them go, frowning slightly while going to get the coffee pot. She offered some to Johnny and after filling both their cups, sat back at the table.
Thinking back to the events at the store, Johnny looked at his bride-to-be and said “Polly, am I steppin' on any toes, comin' in like this?”
She looked closely at Johnny and smiled “What are you sayin'?” she asked mischievously.
“Martha and I were at the store today, and the clerk seemed a little surprised that you and me were gettin' married, and it just made me wonder.”
She looked at Johnny and smiled “I cain't very well say that I ain't talked to another man since we got here, but nothin' has ever really happened with anyone.”
“You're an attractive woman, Polly” Johnny pressed, “Surely some have expressed their interest in more than talkin'”.
Polly chuckled at his statement. “Yes, some may have asked me out a few times, including Roger at the store, and I may have gone out for a walk in the evenin' a few times, but things never felt particularly right. I never really knew what to say about …. “ and Johnny understand what she was saying. The town people knew she was a widow, but her life before that was not what they would have been expecting, nor for that point, the manner in which she was widowed.
“What about you, Johnny Lancer?” she asked, with a slightly sassy tone, “Am I goin' to be facin' a passel of angry girls when I get to Green River?”
Johnny laughed lightly, thinking of some of his past encounters. “I cain't say I ain't courted a few girls”, he replied, “And maybe got entangled a bit” he continued “But sometimes it seemed like girls were more interested in Johnny Madrid than Johnny Lancer …and wantin' to do somethin' to upset their Pa.”
Polly smiled at the revelation “Well,” she started “That ain't the case with me … although Sue” she started to say.
He laughed “Reckon she's warmed a bit more to me now?” he said.
Polly laughed “Yeah, I would even say she likes ya, although she did say that if anythin' happened, Martha and I were to come right back here, and she would take care of ya, gunfighter or not.”
He laughed at the statement, and they continued to talk into the night, making plans for their life together, and enjoying each other's company.
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They got married the next day in the minister's parlour. Polly looked beautiful in a yellow dress and he swore that for as long as he lived he would never forget how happy she looked, or how it felt when he kissed her for the first time after they said their vows. They spent their first night together as ‘husband and wife' in what he had come to think of as ‘his room' at the hotel – Martha safely tucked upstairs with Sue.
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He arrived at Lancer two days after the wedding, ten minutes late for supper. Murdoch, Scott and Theresa looked up at him when he came in the door, and Maria, as if by some sixth sense that he had arrived, brought him a plate, patting him on the shoulder before she returned to the kitchen. Before he could sit down, Murdoch walked over and hugged him saying, “I was worried about you, son. Sit down and have some supper and tell us about your trip.” Johnny felt happy about the unexpected greeting and sat down quickly filling his plate and starting to eat.
Murdoch watched him for a couple of minutes and said “The cattle you bought arrived today – they look pretty good, particularly considering the price you paid, although I'm not sure it was worth you being gone so long.” Johnny just smiled at that comment, thinking about the best way to share his ‘news'.
“So, little brother”, Scott said as Johnny continued to eat. “Is Barranca better now? Did you find a way to pass your time in that little town, whatever it was called?”
“Barranca's fine, Scott, thanks for askin'” Johnny replied “I think the trip back might have been a bit hard on him – two days of riding and all – but I think that after a few more days rest he'll be fine.”.
“And how did you pass your time, little brother” Scott continued in a teasing tone.
“Well Boston”, Johnny replied, sensing the perfect opening “I got married”.
Everyone at the table stopped what they were doing. “Johnny”, Murdoch admonished, “That's not funny."
“Maybe not, Murdoch”, Johnny replied, “But it's true”.
“Oh really, little brother,” Scott said, sensing a rising of tempers, “So where is this new bride?”
“She's comin' on the stage – should be here in a couple of days, barrin' any breakdowns.”
“And do we happen to know this mystery woman?” Scott asked, looking around at the astonished faces at the table.
“Yes”, Johnny replied, “Her name is Polly Foley – well Polly Lancer now”, and he smiled at the thought.
“Johnny” yelled Murdoch, “You've taken this joke far enough”.
“Murdoch, I ain't jokin'” replied Johnny. “Polly and I are married. She – and Martha – will be arriving on the stage in two days.”
“Johnny … “ said Scott warningly.
“I'm serious, Scott,” continued Johnny, “You'll see Saturday when they come. Theresa,” he said, turning to the young woman, “Can we get a room ready for Martha? I'd like us to have someplace of our own, but don't think it'll happen real soon.”
Murdoch looked at his youngest son, trying to judge how serious he was, and then got up from the table and left the room without another word.
“I'd a thought y'all would be happy for me” Johnny said, defensively, looking at his remaining family.
“It's not that we're not happy for you Johnny …” started Theresa.
“It's just that we're surprised,” finished Scott. “You have to understand that. Tell us what happened” he continued, and so Johnny told them, of how he had met Polly that first day, and how they spent time together, and everything just felt right, and all he could think about was continuing his life with her and Martha. They talked into the night, and Johnny tried to ignore his disappointment that Murdoch was not there, part of the conversation and learning to understand his son's decision.
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The next day, Murdoch avoided Johnny. When the young man came down for breakfast, his father had already left for the day, leaving the day's orders with Scott. When Johnny arrived that evening for supper, Theresa informed them, while avoiding Johnny's eyes, that Murdoch was dining with friends and would not be back until late. Johnny sighed at that statement, wanting to have the chance to talk to his father and explain things. Their relationship had gotten better over the past five years – they had both learned to listen more to each other, rather than simply yell. And rather than the ‘expected' affection because they were father and son, real affection – love – had developed. Johnny would come to his father to discuss things and Murdoch would ask him for advice and they would both listen to what the other had to say. Johnny had even stopped, for the most part, calling him the derisive ‘Old Man' instead usually saying ‘Murdoch' or with increasing frequency ‘Pa'; and Murdoch, in kind, had started calling him ‘son' with greater frequency, an appellation which unexpectedly filled Johnny with happiness. But Johnny did not know how to react to this avoidance. He was certain of his decision to marry Polly, but he had not wanted to alienate his father, and he was starting to get angry at the man for his reaction.
At supper, Theresa told him she had made up two bedrooms with a connecting door near where her room was. Both rooms were larger than his, and provided a bit more privacy than the second floor near Scott and Murdoch. Johnny thanked her and said he would move his things the next morning, and then returned to picking at his dinner.
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Johnny got up the next morning, happy at the thought that Polly would be arriving, but anxious as to what his family's, and more specifically Murdoch's, reception would be. He went down to breakfast and noticed again that his father was absent. Maria brought him a plate of bacon and eggs, and patted his shoulder, smiling and saying “ A big day today”. He smiled back at the woman, happy that she seemed to be accepting his news, remembering how she had hugged him the day before when he had come into the kitchen to grab a cookie before supper. She had seemed excited about a wife and a young girl in the house.
Just as he started to eat, Scott came in. Johnny looked at him, chewing, and Scott smiled and said “today's the big day”. Johnny nodded, smiling back, uncertain what else Scott was going to say. Scott continued “Murdoch said for you to just continue getting ready today …”.
Johnny looked down at his plate “he plannin' on avoidin' me forever? Maybe it'll be best if we all stay in town.”
“Johnny,” Scott started, apparently wanting to explain their father's behaviour “He doesn't know what to think …”
Johnny interrupted him “I know what … happened … was a surprise, Scott. I was just as surprised as all of ya … but it just … felt … was … right, ya know?”
“No Johnny, I don't know,” Scott replied, smiling gently, “And I have to admit that I am surprised by it myself … but that I also envy you feeling that way. Anyway,” Scott continued, “I'm looking forward to seeing Polly again, getting to know her better, and meeting Martha. From what you have said, she seems like a sweet little girl. I have to admit, I'm not used to how things are done here – in Boston, children are raised by nannies, and, well ‘seen but not heard' – but here, they are involved in everything. It will be nice to have that … interaction … with a child.”
Johnny thought about what Scott said, and how different what he was saying from the way he was raised. “Well Scott”, Johnny replied, “Sounds sorta lonely, livin' like that. I … have to say when I was a kid I was definitely ‘seen and heard'” and he laughed, trying to break the somber mood that had fallen over the two of them.
Scott started to laugh as well. “I know we have talked a bit about this before, but I guess that is one of the things that would have been different if we had been raised here … “ and they both laughed again, remembering past conversations about the things they might have gotten into as children, and Murdoch's probable reaction.
“Anyway,” Scott started again “I'm going to go start my day – I'll see all of you at dinner tonight. I know Theresa has something special planned.” He turned to go, and then suddenly turned back to face his brother, “And Johnny – congratulations. I really am happy for you.”
“Thanks Scott” Johnny said to his brother's retreating figure, “That means a lot to me.”
Theresa came into the room as Johnny was finishing eating. “Johnny, when you're done, do you want to move your stuff to the new rooms? And make sure everything is alright?”
“Sure, queirda” he replied “Although I'm sure it's fine.” He ate his last bite and looked at her “Theresa, I just want to say thank you for all the effort you're puttin' into things.” Thinking for a moment about Peter and everything that she had been through, he continued “This probly ain't easy for you, but I really appreciate it”.
Theresa smiled at him “Come on, Johnny, let's go see the rooms and move your things, so you can go get them and bring them to Lancer. What time are you leavin'?.
Johnny got up from the table and followed Theresa out of the kitchen and to the bedrooms that she had gotten ready. “'Bout eleven, I figure. That'll give me some time if the stage is early … don't want' em to arrive and me not be there.”
Theresa nodded her head, opening the door to a room he had not entered before. He saw a big bedroom, with a pleasant cover on the bed and pictures on the wall, two dressers against the side and a vanity with a chair in the corner. He noticed a connecting door and went through it and found a fresh, brightly coloured cover on the bed, a small desk with a chair and a dresser with a mirror above. He also saw a doll's house on a table in the corner and looked questioningly at Theresa.
“It was mine”, she said, “Daddy and Murdoch made it for me years ago. I found it in the attic when Maria and I went to get some things for the rooms and thought Martha might like it.”
Johnny smiled at her thoughtfulness. “Thanks, Theresa, I imagine she will. She has some dolls already, a bunch of books and … a tea set …” he smiled, thinking of playing tea with the girl, wondering if they would do that again, “And other things, but I don't ‘member ever seein' a doll house.”
“Johnny” Theresa started, “I just wanted you to know that I am happy for you … happy about this … even though it is a big surprise for all of us … “ Johnny smiled, happy that at least two of his family seemed to be accepting of his decision. “And … try not to worry about Murdoch …” she continued “He'll come around … at least he's not yellin'” she finished, smiling half-heartedly.
Johnny looked at his feet “I think I would prefer the yellin'” he said, “At least then I would know what he was thinkin'”.
Theresa looked at him, concern written all over her face. “He'll come around, Johnny,” she repeated, “Just give him some time”. And with that prophecy, she turned to leave the room, calling over her shoulder “Let me know if you need anything else”.
Johnny looked around the room, smiling at the thought of Martha in the room, setting up her dolls, playing with the doll house, reading books ... he shook his head and went to get this things and set up the room a bit before Polly arrived.
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At eleven, Johnny went outside to hitch the horses to the wagon. He thought it would be best to take the wagon rather than the surrey – he wasn't sure how much luggage there would be, and wanted the extra space. He was surprised to see Murdoch sitting in the surrey, with the horses hitched. He walked over and said “Murdoch? I thought I would take the wagon ….”
His father looked at him “I thought I would come with you son and the wagon won't have enough room for us all to sit comfortably. We can get the things that won't fit sent from town.”
Johnny nodded his head yes, surprised and climbed into the surrey, thinking ‘what was this about?'
Murdoch called to the horses and started the surrey moving. The two of them rode in uncomfortable silence for a few miles before Murdoch spoke “Johnny” he started.
“Yeah …” Johnny cut in, immediately defensive.
“I'm sorry if I've not been around since you got home … I've just been thinking about your news” Murdoch continued as if he had not been interrupted.
Johnny cast his eyes sideways at his father “Listen Murdoch, I know it was a surprise and all, but …”
Murdoch cut in “I know I don't talk about your mother much, but …”
“Listen Murdoch, I know you and …” Johnny swallowed, “Maria married in a hurry” remembering one of the rare discussions he and Murdoch had had about his relationship with his mother, and the reason for their hasty marriage, “But Polly and I … we just got along … it was … almost like … comin' home.”
Murdoch stopped the horses and looked at his son, staring deep into Johnny's blue eyes. Johnny didn't look away, hoping Murdoch would find whatever he was looking for right then. He was a bit surprised by how much his father's understanding and approval meant to his at this moment. Murdoch smiled suddenly and said, “Well, I guess I have to meet this girl that stole my son's heart” and got the surrey moving again. “You know son, I have to say one of the things that's upsetting me so much about this is that I didn't get to be at your wedding. As a father, I have not gotten to be present for many of your important events, and your wedding was one that I was hoping to be there for.”
Johnny squirmed somewhat at the thought of having disappointed his father. “Well Murdoch,” he said, attempting to joke “You did get to go to – and pay for - Theresa's, and maybe you'll get to attend Scott's. He's still seein' Rebecca the school teacher after all – and they seem pretty serious.”
Murdoch's jaw tightened and he turned to look at Johnny. “Johnny, I don't want Scott to marry Rebecca. I don't know why he stays with that girl, she plays him like a violin.”
Johnny was shocked for a moment – he had thought that only he did not like the schoolteacher. “Wow, Murdoch, what else're you thinkin' up there?” he said, teasingly.
Murdoch turned to look at his youngest son again. “Did you think you were the only one that saw it? That woman keeps pushing him away and pulling him back, and Scott can't seem to figure out what to do. And I don't know what it is, but for some reason, I just don't like her. And I know you try to hide it, but I can tell you feel the same way too.” Johnny was surprised that his father had been able to read him so well. “But,” Murdoch continued, “I also saw how happy you were when you told us your news. And …” he stopped for a few moments, and Johnny was surprised to see his father seemingly searching for words “I hope you are happy with Polly … and Martha … and that everything works out for you. And” he said, turning to look at Johnny with a sparkle in his eyes “That I start to get grandchildren soon – or should I say more grandchildren.” And Johnny laughed, happy that things seemed to be more settled with his father.
When Johnny and Murdoch got to Green River, the stage had not arrived yet. “Johnny” said Murdoch, I'm going to Baldermero's to get some things. Would you like to come with me?”
Johnny shook his head, “No thanks Murdoch. I'll wait here - looks like the stage should be comin' soon” and he nodded at where they were setting up for the arrival at the station. He watched his father go into the store, and exit after a few minutes with a small bag. Sam Jenkins, the town doctor, then called out to Murdoch and Johnny saw his father walk over to the man, smiling and talking. He saw Murdoch then gesture to his youngest son, and Sam seem to get excited while looking and pointing at him as well. Johnny realized that Murdoch was probably telling him why they were in town. He suddenly wondered how others would react to the news, and realized that he would have to tell Val Crawford, the town sheriff. Scott had told him Val was out of town for a few days, covering for another sheriff, but would probably be back by the next weekend. Val would certainly be surprised he thought with a smile – but, he suspected that Val would also be understanding of his decision, maybe even more so than his family – so many things had passed between them over the years.
He noticed Sam and Murdoch coming towards him, and then the stage pulled in, stopping right in front of him and blocking his father and Sam from view. Johnny held his breath, excited but also nervous, momentarily seized by the immensity of what he and Polly had done by getting married so suddenly. And then he saw her look out of the stage window, looking around for him and he felt his heart stop. When she saw him, she smiled, and he noticed how the smile lit up her eyes and felt a surge of love run through him which overcame any doubt. He walked over to her and helped her down, and then said “allow me” and reached in to get Martha, setting the little girl on the ground beside her mother. He smiled when he saw she was wearing the dress they had bought together and had her doll, Sally, tucked under her arm. They moved out of the way of the other passengers and he asked her, “How was your trip?”.
Polly looked at him and smiled “it was good - better than last time” and they laughed together, remembering her story of her trip with baby Martha.
Murdoch and Sam came over to them, both smiling. “Hello, Polly”, Murdoch said, looking the woman over, “Welcome”.
“Thank you, Mr Lancer”, Polly started.
Murdoch interrupted her “Call me Murdoch. And this big girl can't be Martha!” he exclaimed, turning his attention to the little girl who was clinging to her mother's leg, staring up at the big man with large eyes. Murdoch knelt down in front of her. “You won't remember me,” he said, “but I certainly remember you. And I am very happy that you are coming to live with us.” The little girl smiled shyly back at him, giving him an even bigger smile when he pulled a stick of barley candy from the bag he was holding. She looked at her mother and after receiving a nod of approval, whispered a “Thank you” and took the candy from his hand, immediately putting it in her mouth.
Sam then moved forward, introducing himself to Polly and Martha and shaking Johnny's hand, smiling. Johnny barely paid attention to the conversation going on around him, he was so captivated being in Polly's presence again.
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Murdoch stopped the surrey at the same place Theresa had stopped the first day Scott and Johnny had come to the ranch, saying “As far as you can see is Lancer”. Martha, who was sitting in front with him squealed with delight and proclaimed it “The most beautiful place she had ever seen”. Polly murmured an appropriate response as well, from where she was sitting beside Johnny in the backseat, and then settled her head back on Johnny's shoulder as he drew her a little closer into his side, his arm wrapped around her waist.
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When they arrived at the ranch, Murdoch and Johnny started to unload the baggage, while Polly and Martha looked around the yard. Johnny noticed Martha start to walk over to the corral, where some horses were moving around. Johnny left Murdoch with the trunks and started to over to the girl and put a hand on her shoulder, stopping her from getting closer. He turned her to face him and said “Beautiful, ain't they”. After she nodded he said “But they can be very dangerous, querida. No going into the corral without anyone with you, okay?”.
The girl looked up at him and nodded, saying “Yes sir”.
He smiled at her then and said “Hopefully tomorrow I can take you for a ride – you ever ridden a horse?”.
The girl gave off a palpable excitement at his words “Martin would rent one sometimes and take me out, but not regular like” she replied.
Johnny smiled, happy that she was so obviously excited about horses, thinking about how this was a love they could perhaps share. “Well, there's lotsa horses around here, but you have to be careful around them and learn to behave proper.” He then led her back to where Polly was standing and helped Murdoch unload the next trunk.
Theresa and Maria came out of the house, broad smiles of welcome across both their faces. Scott and Cipriano then came into the yard. Cipriano murmured something to Scott, who smiled and threw his reins to the Segundo, coming over to the surrey to join in the unloading and welcoming. Johnny felt incredibly happy at that moment, his family welcoming his new bride and daughter, despite their reservations.
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They went to the Great Room after dinner. Over the years, they had developed a routine where the brothers would play chess or checkers, and Murdoch would read, while Theresa worked on a new knitting project or did some sewing. At other times, someone might read aloud from a book. Johnny wondered how things would change with Polly and Martha. He sat on the sofa, and Polly sat beside him, with Martha as close as possible on her other side. Thinking about how the girl had shadowed her mother since they had arrived, other than when she had walked towards the horses, he got up and walked over to the book shelves, pulling out the checker board and, holding it up, asked “Martha, would you like to play?”
The girl nodded her head no, but then Polly leaned down and whispered something in her ear and the girl looked up at her mother smiled, and said “Yes, please Johnny.” They then proceeded to set up the board and play, Scott watching and laughing at some moves, and making suggestions to Martha. Johnny turned his head to answer a question from his father, and, out of the corner of his eye, saw his brother take a couple of his pieces off the board, while winking at Martha. He saw the girl put her hand over her mouth to stop herself from laughing. He then turned back to the board saying “Heh, this don't look the same” in mock anger.
Scott quickly jumped in and said “I think you're wrong little brother, this is exactly how it was”, and looking down at Martha he winked again, while she tried to smother more giggles.
When the game finished, Polly said “Bed time, Martha”. The girl got up easily to take her mother's offered hand. She then turned to everyone and said “Good night, Scott, Theresa and Murdoch”.
Johnny smiled at the girl's politeness, and said “I think I'll head up too” following the mother and daughter out of the room.
He lay on his – no their – bed in their room, waiting for Polly while she got Martha settled. He smiled at her when she came in asking “Everythin' alright?”.
She smiled back saying “She fell asleep in the middle of her story – it's been a big trip for her”. He watched her move around the room, taking off her dress and hanging it in the cupboard. He noticed that she had already unpacked many of her things. Grabbing her hair brush, she sat on the chair in front of the small vanity and started to brush. He moved down to the bottom of the bed and, smiling at her reflection in the mirror, took the brush from her hand and started to brush her hair for her.
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The next morning at breakfast, Cipriano came in, nodding at everyone. “Patron”, he started right away, “This morning one of the men noticed that about fifty head have escaped through the fence in the north pasture.”
Murdoch sighed, looking at his sons. Scott and Johnny both looked down at their breakfasts, knowing how their day would be spent. Jumping up from his spot, Johnny looked at the Segundo and said “We'll be right there, Cip”.
He then looked at Polly with a half-smile, not sure what to say. She looked up at him, her eyes somewhat hesitant, but her smile full and bright. “Why don't I go into the kitchen and make some lunch for you and Scott.”
He followed into the room, noticing that it was empty, wondering where Maria was, but appreciating the unexpected privacy. He lightly grabbed her arm, and pulling her into a corner, kissed her passionately. When they broke apart a couple of minutes later, he looked down at her and started to say “Sorry, Polly, I know this ain't a great start to things.”
She looked at him and smiled “It's okay, Johnny, I knew this was workin' ranch and I know from … “she stopped a bit before she continued …”My childhood that ranches take a lot of work. But remember, when we go to San Francisco in a few months, you'll be all mine for a week.” And with that she tilted her head up and he kissed her again. When they broke apart the next time, she moved around him and looking around the kitchen, started to find things to make a lunch saying “You go out and get your horses saddled, I'll bring your lunches when they're ready.”
“Thanks, Polly. For everything” he said, feeling happy at her understanding.
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When Scott and Johnny returned, it was already dark. The cattle had been returned and the fence repaired, but they were both dirty and exhausted. Scott headed straight to the bathhouse, but Johnny wanted to see how Polly was doing, and headed into the house. Removing his boots and jacket, he went to the great room, and peaked in, happy with what he saw.
Theresa and Polly were sitting on the sofa, comparing knitting projects. Martha was leaning over the arm of the chair in which Murdoch was sitting, looking at a picture book with him, and pointing at something excitedly. Polly looked into the doorway and exclaimed “Johnny! You're back!” she stood up and continued “We put supper in the warmer for you and Scott.”
Johnny smiled at her excitement and said “Thanks. I'll just go get cleaned up a bit and have a bite.” Looking at the wall clock Polly said “Martha, it'll be bedtime in fifteen minutes.” The girl nodded happily and continued to look at the book with Murdoch.
Johnny looked at Polly and said, “I'll follow you two when I'm cleaned up and eaten.” Polly just smiled at him and nodded, turning back to her knitting with Theresa.
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Johnny walked into their bedroom, to see Polly brushing her hair in front of the vanity in her robe. He walked over and sat behind her, again taking the brush from her hand and brushing. After a couple of strokes, he leaned over and gently kissed her collarbone.
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Midmorning the next day, Johnny came into the kitchen with a reluctant Martha in tow. Polly, Theresa and Maria looked up at the pair, and Johnny looked at Polly saying “Guess who I found in the corral.”
Polly looked at the girl and exclaimed with anger in her voice “Martha, you were told not to go in there by yourself!”
The girl looked down at her feet and then raised her head and said in a defiant tone, looking straight at her mother “I was standin' right by the fence.”
Polly, just pointed to the door to their rooms, “Don't sass, young lady. Go to your room and I'll be right there to talk to you.” At that, the girl hurried from the kitchen, carefully avoiding her mother's reach.
Johnny looked at Polly, seeing her take a couple of deep breaths. As she headed out of the room, he followed her, wanting to talk about what she intended to do about Martha's behavior. He felt somewhat responsible – he had promised to take the young girl riding, but had been unable to because of the escaped cows the other day. But he was uncertain about the role that Polly wanted him to play in this situation – he knew, from past experience, about step-fathers that over-stepped their bounds, but he really wanted to have a say. He had strong feelings for Marth and did not necessarily think that punishing her was right at this point, particularly given the fact that she was still settling in.
“Polly”, he started. When she turned around to face him, he continued “I'll take her ridin' tomorrow. I had promised before but couldn't yesterday because of the cows that got through the fence.”
Polly smiled at him, “Okay, but that doesn't excuse today – she needs to learn the rules around here.”
Johnny nodded. “Can I ask? What are ya gonna do?”
Polly looked at him, with a surprised look on her face and her head on an angle.
Johnny continued, uncertain what to say. “It's just that she's just settlin' in here, and it is a big change, and …”. He stopped when he saw Polly smile.
“Don't worry, Johnny,” she said, “I won't be too hard on her – I know this is all new to her, and she is just tryin' to find her place. I'll make sure she knows she cain't do it again. I think I can that across without doin' any damage.”
Johnny smiled. “Thanks – sorry if I'm steppin' on your toes but …”
Polly interrupted him with a light kiss on his lips. “I like that you care,” she said and turning, started down the hall to Martha's room.
He watched her take a few steps and then turned back towards the kitchen.
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The next day, Johnny came by the house again in the mid-morning. If asked he would say he forgot something, but really he was worried about how Polly and Martha were settling in. He walked into the kitchen to see Theresa, Maria, Polly and Martha standing with bowls in front of them, industriously mixing. “What are y'all doin'?” he asked, instantly curious.
Theresa laughed and said “Polly told us ‘bout her special chocolate cake and we thought we would make both recipes and see how they compare.”
Johnny smiled, happy at the shown camaraderie. “Hhmmm,” he teased ”If I had known gettin' married would mean two chocolate cakes for dessert, I'da done it sooner.” Polly looked up at him, with her mouth pursed in anger but a smile in his eyes. He backed away from her winking, and dexterously avoided Maria's wooden spoon as she swung it at him.
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Johnny awoke that night to the sound of a storm outside his window. Looking down, he saw that Polly was still asleep, but heard faint sounds coming out of Martha's room. He quickly pulled on his pants, and opened the connecting door, the lightning illuminating the room enough for him to see the girl sitting up in her bed. The next bolt revealed her scared eyes turned to him. “What's wrong, querida?” he asked softly, “The storm scare you?” he guessed. The girl nodded her head yes. He crossed the short distance to her bed and picked her up, feeling her arms go around his neck. “Why don't you come sleep in our room?” he asked, not sure what Polly would do in the situation, but not wanting to leave the girl alone. Feeling the girl's head nod against his neck, he walked into his room and placed the girl in the bed beside Polly, where she would be between the two of them.
Polly woke up immediately, asking “What's wrong, baby?” Becoming a bit more aware of what was going on, she asked “Storm scare you?” and when the girl nodded, Polly pulled her close and said, “Don't worry, it can't hurt ya in here”.
Johnny climbed into bed on the other side of the child and started to stroke her hair. She fell right back to sleep. He smiled over her head at Polly and turning on his side, fell back to sleep himself.
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Two nights later, Johnny awoke from a nightmare, feeling Polly stroking his hair. He rarely had them anymore, but occasionally his mind would revolt and images from his past would surge through his mind and grab him. Polly looked into his eyes and smiled, her face streaked with concern. Rather than saying anything, she cuddled up to him, putting her arm around his waist and her head on his chest. He felt himself relax, and gently stroked her hair for a few minutes before falling back to sleep himself.
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They started a routine where before bed Polly would sit at the vanity and he would brush her hair, reveling in the feeling.
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One particularly delightful morning, coming back for a tool he had forgotten, he came across Polly collecting eggs, and pulled her into the barn for a morning kiss.
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A month after Polly and Martha had come to Lancer, Johnny approached Theresa when she appeared to be alone in the kitchen. “Querida”, he asked, looking around to make sure no one really was around, “I was thinkin' of takin' Polly into Green River for lunch at the hotel tomorrow, as a surprise – could ya watch Martha for us?”
Theresa looked at him, smiling, “Sure Johnny – I'll ask Martha to make cookies with me. I think she'll like that. When will you two be back?”
“We'll be home for supper,” he replied.
“You sure?” she asked, a teasing tone to her voice.
“I'm sure” he replied, smiling. “Just bein' alone for a bit'll be nice.” He turned to go, and then turned his head back to his ‘sister. “Thanks Theresa – I really appreciate this.”
The girl smiled “No problem, Johnny. Martha is pretty sweet – and I must say, I really like Polly.” He smiled, happy that everyone seemed to be getting along and went to head out the door again.
“Johnny,” Theresa called, and he stopped and turned again. “Johnny”, she repeated, “I know you want to get your own place with Martha and Polly, and I was wonderin' – would you like to live in … my and Peter's house for a bit” she said in a rush. “I know it wouldn't be your own place, but you could have some space until you can get somethin' built.”
“Are you sure, querida?” he asked, knowing what the little house had meant to her, and touched by the offer.
“A house needs to be lived in” she replied. “I'll get my … our … things out over the next few days, and then you can move in.”
“Thanks, Theresa,” he replied, happy at the thought of setting up a home with Polly and Martha. “I'll tell Polly about it at lunch tomorrow.”
“You better break it easy to Murdoch, Johnny” she advised “I think he has really liked having all of your around.”
“I'll talk to him after Polly'” he said, touched by her generosity.
She smiled at him, “You better get on with your day – I imagine you have some work to get done to take tomorrow afternoon off.” He turned then and headed outside, a smile on his face.
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Johnny came out of the barn mid-morning the next day, having put Barranca away. He saw Polly backing out of the chicken coop, a basket of eggs in her hands. He smiled at the sight, sneaking up on her and grabbing the basket. He laughed at her yell of surprise.
She turned to him, anger on her face. He continued to laugh, and she mock slapped him on the arm saying “Johnny Lancer, ain't you got cattle to work?”
He continued to laugh at her, pulling her into his arms. “I thought I might take a pretty girl I know to lunch today … give the cattle a break.”
Polly looked at him with surprise. “What does your family think about that?”
He smiled, “They're fine with it – and Theresa said she would watch Martha for us. We don't need to be back until supper.”
Polly smiled “Ya sure she don't mind?” she asked.
“She said they would make cookies together. She seemed to think Martha would like that.”
“Okay then,” Polly said “Let me go get changed.”
Johnny pulled her to him before she could walk away and kissed her, before saying “I'll go get the surrey ready, and be in to change my shirt.”
They passed a pleasant ride to town, talking about the house, the personalities, the dinner the night before with Rebecca – and how Polly agreed that she could not understand Scott's relationship with her – how Martha seemed to be settling in well. Johnny mentioned may be getting her for a pony for her birthday, but Polly was hesitant, wanting the girl to improve her riding skills first. Johnny felt content with the conversation – enjoying the everyday nature of what they were discussing, the way they would banter back and forth, the sudden laughter that would erupt from Polly when they were teasing each other. He decided to save the news about Theresa's offer until they were having lunch, content with imagining her surprised reaction.
When they got to town, he put the surrey into the livery and started to walk with Polly to the store. Hearing his name called, Johnny turned around and recognized Val Crawford coming towards him. Realizing he had not yet talked to the man – probably his best friend outside of the family – since his wedding, he felt a bit ashamed. Polly looked at him and said “Is that Val?”. Seeing Johnny's nod, she said “I'm going to go to the store to get a few things –why don't you talk to him for a bit.” And leaving him, she walked down the block and crossed the street to enter Baldermero's.
Sensing Val behind him, Johnny turned and gave an apologetic smile. “Val” he started “Didn't know you were back yet.”
“Really” Val said, cutting off Johnny's attempt to explain himself “It seems the whole town is talkin' about you – but not for the usual reasons. You got anythin' you want to say to me?”
Johnny squirmed somewhat, feeling like a naughty child. “Val …” he tried again, not sure what to say “Sometimes, somethin' just seems right, you know”.
Val looked closely at his friend, then his face was overtaken with a big grin. “Don't suppose you could get away from her for a bit and come for a night out – hate to think of you missin' out.”
Johnny smiled, happy that he didn't have to explain himself more to his friend. “Is that her?” Val asked Johnny, pointing to Polly coming out of the store, and turning her head to talk to someone behind her.
“Yes,” replied Johnny, his heart swelling somewhat at how Polly looked in the sunshine. They turned their heads at the sounds of voices raised in anger and saw a fight spilling out of the saloon. “Bit early for that, ain't it” noted Johnny as Val scowled and headed off towards the scuffle. Polly's head was turned to the fight and growing crowd as she started to cross the street. Johnny's heart sank as he saw a driverless stagecoach barreling towards her and he started to run, yelling. She turned to face him, a quizzical look on her face as the horses ran her down.