“That, brother, is a horse of a different color!”
Johnny quickly scanned the surroundings, but saw nothing. He stood in his stirrups, searching more thoroughly. No better luck. “Where?”
“What?” Scott’s attention was focused on examining some imperfection on his glove.
Johnny was still looking around. “I don’t see it!”
“The horse, Scott!”
“The horse with the funny color! Dios, Scott, for a smart guy sometimes it’s like you don’t remember one second to the next!”
“Ah, yeah, Johnny,” Scott replied, barely suppressing a grin. “He ran away.”
Johnny looked over the barren landscape, then back at Scott, clearly not buying it.
“Anyway, as I was saying, Bullard had to be crazy thinking he could change the terms like that. I don’t care if we’ve agreed to something similar with Morrison, it’s not the same thing.”
“Yeah, but it weren’t no big deal.”
“Could have fooled me the way you were acting.” Scott chuckled, adding, “He sure got your goat!”
Johnny looked at Scott, not sure what to say. “There weren’t no goat in the deal, Scott. Just steers. I ain’t never even had a goat.” He rode some more, studying his brother. “You want to take a rest up ahead?”
“No, we just got started. Anyway, you sure seemed pretty irritated.”
“That was because he thought he could walk all over us just because the old man wasn’t there.
“Yeah, I guess he figured when the cat’s away the mice will play.”
“Uh, sure, Scott.” Johnny looked up at the sun. It was warm, but not unusually so. They rode along without conversation as Johnny contemplated Scott. He didn’t look feverish.
Scott broke the silence. “So Johnny, how are you and Betsy getting on after your little picnic at the pond?”
“What? How you know about Betsy?” This wasn’t good. If Betsy’s father found out, Johnny was a dead man.
“Oh, a little bird told me.”
Johnny narrowed his eyes as he examined Scott’s face for signs he was joking. “No, really, how’d you find out?”
Scott smiled broadly. “I got it straight from the horse’s mouth. A certain little filly couldn’t wait to tell me.”
This was getting serious. Although Johnny wasn’t sure whether he should be more concerned about Scott’s talking horse or Betsy’s father. “Scott, you want to go rest under that tree for a while? Maybe drink some water? Talk things over?”
“No, can’t, we’re on a tight schedule. We have other fish to fry, you know.”
“Uh, Scott, we ain’t got no fish at all. I got some jerky, though, if you’re hungry. When’d you eat last?”
“What? I’m not hungry. But we’ve got to get going if we’re going to pick up Murdoch’s surprise before we get home.” Scott eyed Johnny suspiciously. “You didn’t let the cat out of the bag, did you?”
“Cat? I thought we was getting him a new rifle.” Johnny gave Scott another concerned look before continuing earnestly. “Listen, Scott, you can’t put a cat in a bag. I’ve tried.”
Johnny had no intention of going cat hunting. But right now he didn’t know what his brother was capable of. He had been looking forward to spending the ride home getting to know Scott on this, their first long trip together. On the way up they’d been so busy they’d scarcely had time to exchange nods, but now that the cattle were sold they finally had talking time. He wished he’d realized sooner just how much pressure his brother must be under, what with trying to adjust from a privileged life of Boston high society to that of a ranch hand. His father had told them both he didn’t have time to break them in easy, yet Scott seemed to be coping. At least Johnny thought he was, until now.
He noticed the wind picking up, saw clouds forming to the west. “Scott?”
Scott didn’t answer, just continued to ride.
“Oh, sorry, brother, just doing some woolgathering.”
Johnny didn’t bother to point out they had no sheep. “Looks like a bad storm’s on the way. Maybe we better find a place to hole up.”
Scott looked at the approaching thunderhead and nodded. “I remember a place with a cave a few miles ahead. Think we can make it?”
Johnny smiled. That was the Scott he knew, the one who reacted in a crisis with calm logic. “Race ya’!”
The storm caught them well before they reached the cave. The two drenched men ran the last steps to the cave mouth through a sheet of water before flopping down inside.
“Whew, it’s raining cats and dogs out there!”
Johnny stared at his brother, unsure what to say, finally muttering, “Yeah, sure it is, Scott. And I think I saw some sheep, too.”
“I’m telling you, Murdoch, he needs some time off. This ranching ain’t all that easy, not when you ain’t never done it before.”
“Johnny, don’t you think you’re overreacting?”
“Murdoch, if you coulda heard him. He was seeing horses that weren’t there, hearing talking birds and horses, thought animals was falling out of the sky, heck, he thought steers was goats and jerky was fish. He even thought we was bagging up a live cat to give you. I tell ya I’m worried about him, Murdoch. I think he needs a rest.”
Murdoch pushed away from his desk and leaned back in his chair, contemplating his steepled fingers before answering. “OK, Johnny. He’ll get his rest. But you’re going to have to take on his chores, you know. And I want you to write down just what you said, and sign it, so I can wave it in your face when you start complaining.”
Scott stood outside the door to the great room. This opportunity had simply fallen into his lap, better than anything he could have come up with himself. Since meeting Elena and spending that one delightful afternoon in the loft of the deserted Miller place he’d been plotting how to get time off for more such trysts. Johnny’s reaction out on the trail had given him the perfect plan. He felt a little guilty that Johnny would have to take on his chores, but that’s the price he paid for speaking English as a second language. Besides, turnabout was fair play. Scott had grown pretty tired of being the brunt of all Johnny’s Spanish jokes he shared so freely with the Mexican hands. Yes, the goose was hanging high indeed.
Murdoch watched Johnny leave the room, barely containing the smile that begged to burst from his face. This opportunity had simply fallen into his lap, better than anything he could have come up with himself. He’d been regretting bringing his sons home ever since realizing how much trouble they caused and how they intruded into his private life. He missed the quiet hacienda and wished things were back to how they used to be, pre Johnny and Scott. He figured if one left, the other would follow. Tomorrow, armed with Johnny’s affidavit, he would make arrangements to send Scott to that asylum back in Boston.
Teresa came in and sat on his lap, nuzzling her head under his. “You look like the cat that swallowed the canary, handsome,” she murmured.
“Just got all my ducks in a row, kitten.”