Blackfoot Crossing in Southern Alberta is a wonderful reminder about Aboriginal history. During a visit I became fascinated by one of their sayings:
‘We have to return to our past and learn of our beginnings. Only then we will see clearly all that is ahead of us’.
It inspired this short story which is set shortly after the events in CAWH.
The day began like any other. Pulled unwillingly from a deep sleep in the most comfortable bed imaginable, Johnny stumbled through the chore of washing and dressing with his eyes only half open. Outside the bedroom window there was only the barest hint of the coming dawn. He yawned, wondering why he had ever thought that living at Lancer would be easier than living the free and easy life of a gun fighter. He had never worked so hard in his life.
There was a knock at the door, followed by Scott’s voice. “Come on, Brother, breakfast’s waiting for us.”
Although he’d be damned before admitting it to anyone, it made him feel good to have Scott acknowledge their kinship. They were slowly edging toward an unlikely friendship, both uncertain about their new lives, and both too stubborn to back down from the challenge. It was an unlikely bond which had bridged the huge gulf between their upbringings.
Johnny opened his door, stepping out onto the landing. “Mornin’, Scott.” His brother’s eyes were hooded, betraying the fact that Scott wasn’t any more awake than he was.
They followed the smell of bacon and coffee down to the kitchen, jostling each other good naturedly on the way down the stairs. Murdoch, already sitting at the table, gave them each a distracted smile before turning his attention back to his breakfast.
Johnny and Scott had only just sat down when Teresa brought over their plates of food.
“Thank you, Teresa,” Scott said.
“Yeah, thanks,” Johnny added. He nodded when Scott offered to pour him a cup of coffee and settled in to enjoy his meal.
“I need someone to take me to Green River,” Teresa said, sitting down beside Murdoch. “Some of our supplies are running low.”
“Scott will take you,” Murdoch said.
Although Scott raised an eyebrow, he didn’t question the decision.
“What about me?” Johnny asked. “Seein’ as how Scott’s got such an easy job today.” He smirked at his brother, knowing full well that Scott was in for one hell of a boring day following Teresa around like a lap dog.
“I’m always happy to trade,” Scott said, keeping his voice barely above a whisper.
“I heard that, Scott Lancer,” Teresa said, glaring.
“Sorry.” The twinkle in Scott’s eyes seemed to be enough to smooth over Teresa’s irritation.
“You can get your arm checked out by Sam while you’re in town,” Murdoch said.
Johnny ducked his head. He still felt responsible for Scott being injured during the siege by Stryker and his men. Not that anyone had ever blamed him. Fortunately the bullet hadn’t done much damage, but it had still taken time for Scott to recover the full use of his arm.
“It’s fine, Sir,” Scott replied.
“I’d rather take Sam’s word on that,” Murdoch said, in the tone that indicated the subject was closed.
“Now that you’ve given Scott his orders I guess it’s my turn,” Johnny said, earning himself a sharp look from his father.
“I need your help with something I’ve been putting off for too long,” Murdoch replied. “Saddle the horses after breakfast and wait for me. I won’t be long.” He drained his coffee cup and stood up. “Thank you for breakfast, Teresa. Now don’t you get distracted while you’re in town, although I did hear that a new shipment of dresses was delivered recently. Maybe you’ll find something to wear to the next church social.”
“You mean it?”
“Of course I do, sweetheart.”
Teresa leapt to her feet, took hold of Murdoch’s arm and left the room with him, chattering excitedly.
Scott groaned. “What did I do to deserve this?”
“Look on the bright side, Scott. While Teresa’s pickin’ out that new dress of hers, you can sneak off to the saloon.”
“That is the best idea anyone has had today.”
They rode for a while in silence. Johnny, feeling unaccountably edgy, kept shooting glances at his father. Murdoch’s face gave nothing away and he wasn’t offering any explanation for their journey. The trail wound its way toward South Mesa, but then Murdoch turned off onto a trail that cut through a large copse of oak trees. Johnny studied his surroundings. The trees were old and their branches formed a canopy overhead, cutting out the harsh glare of the rising sun. The path was wide enough for a buggy, although there was no sign that anyone had used it recently. Twigs and small stones littered the ground, with the only marks in the earth being the footprints of small rodents.
When the trees ended, Johnny couldn’t hold back a gasp of amazement. In front of him lay a gentle grassy slope leading to a pond. The glade was enclosed on three sides by rock walls, with a waterfall cascading down the rock face to his right.
Johnny dismounted and walked to the water’s edge. “It’s beautiful,” he said. He heard the creak of leather as Murdoch dismounted and waited until his father had joined him before asking, “Why have you brought me here?”
“This was one of your favourite places when you were little.”
Johnny caught his breath, surprised. It was all too easy to forget that he had been born here. Without any memory of the ranch, his life had been forged in the fierce Mexican heat. “I don’t remember,” he said, a hint of an apology in his voice.
“I know, Son. You were so young when Maria took you away.”
There was sadness and regret in his father’s words, nothing like the cold, unfeeling, welcome that he and Scott had received only a few months before.
“Maria and I would bring you here whenever we could take time away from all the work that needed done to keep Lancer alive. It was a hard time – maybe too hard. It was selfish of me to expect her to understand my dream, but when we came here, I believed that we could make it work. Mind you, we had our work cut out for us keeping you from getting out of your depth in the water. From the time you could crawl, you never kept still and you had no fear of anything.” Murdoch turned to look at him for the first time and smiled. “Some things never change.”
“I wish I could remember,” Johnny said. “Most of all I wish I could remember you and what it was like to be a family.”
“We’ve always been a family. Now we have to learn how to live together. I brought you here to remind you that, regardless of where you were brought up, this is where you were born. This land is in your blood.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“I came very close to driving you away. After all these years I think I have been afraid to get too close to you and Scott because I’m not sure how I would cope with losing either of you again. I thought that if it was going to happen, better sooner than later.”
Johnny swallowed the lump in his throat. “You’re not getting rid of me that easily, Old Man. ‘Specially not now that I know I have a place like this to come to when I want some time on my own. D’you think we could sit awhile? Mama never told me much about Lancer and I’d kinda like to know more.”
“I’d like that.”
Johnny chose a spot near the shore. The sun had risen high enough to make the water sparkle like diamonds and the warmth in the air thawed a little more of the ice he’d carried in his soul for as long as he could remember. For the first time since arriving in Morro Coyo he allowed himself to look into the future and see happiness and security.