do not own these characters. I’m just borrowing them.
sat behind his desk on a cold December afternoon.
The wind had been blowing hard for the last couple of hours signaling a
had arrived back a short while before and he hoped Johnny would get home before
the rain started.
winter days were short but with the storm clouds overhead it seemed even darker
He puffed on his pipe enjoying the aromatic flavor and thought how full
his life had become in the last eight months since his son’s had come home.
had their share of problems and misunderstandings, but much of that was past
them and they had settled into a familiar routine.
As he took another puff on his pipe,
he realized it had gone out.
He reached for the match box to light it when he heard a crash on the
opened the French doors to find a pot had blown off the wall and broken.
broken pieces rocked back and forth in the wind on the tile.
The rain was coming down steady
now and the wind swirled the leaves every which way.
They reminded Murdoch of snow flakes blowing in the wind and he suddenly
felt homesick for the snowy winters of Scotland.
of the time he enjoyed the California weather.
Hot dry summers, wet winters fed by pacific storms and occasional snow
dusting the lower foothills.
More and more as he aged, he found himself riding to the highest outposts
on the ranch to gaze on the snow capped Sierra Nevada’s to the east.
Those majestic mountains refreshed his soul almost as much as the new
blast of cold air chilled him and he quickly returned to the warmth of the
grandfather clock chimed five o’clock and outside the last rays of light were
going down behind the western hills.
for some reason felt anxious about Johnny. ‘Where is that boy?’ He asked
restless, he walked back over to the French doors and looked out toward the
caught his eye in
the dusk, and a figure appeared leaving the barn.
watched Johnny slowly walk across the yard kicking a rock in front of him.
Murdoch shook his head as he realized his son was actually enjoying
walking in the rain getting wet.
Scott’s voice broke through his thoughts.
brother.” He said, his voice ringing with affection.
came forward and looked out the window. “What is he doing?” He asked as he
watched Johnny spread his arms out and turn in a circle.
Murdoch said, “I sometimes wonder about that boy,” as he watched Johnny
resume his stroll through
getting soaked and seems to be enjoying every minute of it.” Scott agreed.
opened the front door and he looked with surprise at his brother and father.
Both were standing there with their arms folded across their chests looking at
my son. You’re
just a bit wet aren’t you?”
Murdoch said as water dripped off Johnny’s hair and clothes onto the
Johnny took off his jacket sending water spraying in all directions.
you’re all wet.” Scott scolded.
ya just love the rain?” Was his response followed by a boyish grin.
I like my entertainment to be a little dryer.” Scott replied arching his
I like it when it rains like this...”
Teresa exclaimed at seeing the water dripping on her clean floor. “What are
you doing? You’re
getting the floor all wet.” She scolded.
okay Teresa. I meant to get wet.”
don’t care! You’re not traipsing through the house like this.”
recognized the look of determination on her pretty face and if he didn’t see
the resolve in her features, those hands placed firmly on her hips told him she
“Okay, I’ll go around to the kitchen.” He sighed.
should make you strip off outside.” Teresa said.
could see a friendly battle getting ready to start between the two youngest
members of the family, and while he knew Johnny would eventually give in, he
wanted his now shivering son to change into warm, dry clothes before he caught a
he suggested that Johnny go up the kitchen stairs and get out of those clothes.
right.” Johnny said.
son...don’t do it again.” Giving Johnny his version of
‘the look’, he had found worked best on these occasions.
sir.” Johnny said as he slipped out the front door to the sound of Scott’s
encourage him.” Teresa advised as she returned to the kitchen.
supper that night the family settled around the roaring fire to talk about the
days events and plans for the next day. “If it stops raining in time Johnny,
head on out to check the creeks and fences out on the south side.
Scott would you check to make sure the new bridge is hold up all
right?” Seeing both son’s nod their agreement, he continued. “These kind
can bring 4 or 5 inches overnight which will cause flooding.
There will be lots of runoff and the ground will be very slippery, so be
no problem. If
it keeps rainin’ tomorrow, we get the day off huh?” Johnny asked.
think I can find something for you to do. Don’t worry.” Murdoch said with a
could help me get ready for Christmas.” Teresa suggested.
“One of you could polish the silver, and we need the book shelves
dusted and the fireplace cleaned out...” Teresa said with excitement at the
thought of getting ready for Christmas.
just had to ask, didn’t you brother?” Scott groaned as he interrupted her
list of chores.
shot Scott a look, his brother wasn’t sure he wanted to read. Shrugging his
shoulders, he picked up the week old newspaper from Sacramento.
sat on the couch braiding some rawhide, his nimble fingers working quickly.
Murdoch was reading the book he swore he was going to finish, and Teresa
sat in the blue chair working on some embroidery.
looked at the other three and felt boredom wave over him.
Even after 8 months, he still wasn’t used to sitting around in the
evenings doing nothing.
This time of year, the ranch work was mainly maintenance, so he wasn’t
doing the heavy work that made him bone tired and glad to retire to his bed each
He waited and getting no response, tried again a bit louder. “Hey
Scott, do ya want to play checkers? or chess?”
looked at him over the top of the paper as though he only heard part of his
brother’s sentence. “Uh, no not tonight Johnny. I’m not done with the
that his brother couldn’t be swayed, he turned to Murdoch.
“Murdoch, do you want to play chess with me?” He asked in his most
tonight Johnny, why don’t you find something to read?”
Johnny turned to Teresa, but before he could say anything, she shook her head.
“No. I’m not going to play with you.”
hid his smile behind his book as he saw Johnny frown.
Standing up, Johnny muttered. “I’m goin’ to bed.”
he left the room, Scott chuckled and said. “I wonder when it’s going to dawn
on him that it’s only 7:30?”
few minutes later they could hear Johnny stomping back down the stairs,
frustration evident in the sound of his footsteps and they all burst out
scowled at the three of them. “It’s too early.” He said as he flopped back
down on the couch.
brought more laughter. “What’s so funny?” He demanded.
Johnny.” Scott said as he got his laughter under control.
Setting his paper aside, he took pity on his brother. “Let’s play
pickup sticks.” he suggested.
got these in San Francisco last week.”
He said as he reached over to the end table and held out the tin box. He
opened the box and spilled out the brightly colored sticks onto the coffee
stopped her embroidery to come over and see what Scott had brought out. “Can I
play too?” She asked.
You didn’t want to play. Remember?” Johnny reminded her.
can play the next game if you want.” Scott told her, ever the diplomat.
what do we do with them?” Johnny asked.
hold them like this and let them fall.
The object is to pick up each stick without moving one of the others.”
He said as he demonstrated.
He looked at Johnny who was staring at the sticks, his chin resting in
ahead Johnny. You try it.
You keep picking up the sticks until you move one, then it’s my turn.
Whoever gets the most sticks wins.”
heart felt like it would overflow as he watched his sons playing a game
together. Dark head almost touching light head as the two of them concentrated
on the brightly colored wood in front of them.
awoke to the crash of thunder and a flash as lightening lit up his bedroom.
Immediately after the sound of the thunder faded away, he heard the rain
pouring down in sheets.
He groaned and rolled over envisioning the streams and creeks flooding
all over the ranch.
gonna be a lot of clean up after this.’ He thought. ‘But at least I don’t
gotta get up early in the mornin’.’ With a resigned sigh, his last thought
was ‘I guess I’m gonna get stuck with polishin’ silver instead.’
had been raining for 16 hours straight as the grandfather clock counted the
Johnny had long since tired of polishing the silver and after Maria
showed him for the third time how to get the tarnish out of filigree work, she
threw up her hands and gave up. “Juanito!
You are practically useless.
Leave this. Go help your brother.”
gratefully left the task and wandered over to watch his brother methodically
dusting every flat surface in the living room.
He sat on the back of the couch and watched
his brother work until Scott noticed him.
Scowling, he asked. “Aren’t you going to help?”
am. I’m supervising.”
over here.” Scott ordered as he threw a dust cloth at Johnny.
caught the cloth and began dusting one of the shelves.
“I’ve already done that one.” Scott informed him.
“Do that one.” Scott said pointing at a dusty shelf.
looked at his cloth which had a trace of dirt on it and showed it to Scott, but
before Scott could say anything, he went over to the shelf Scott pointed out and
began dutifully dusting.
had been half listening to the exchange and found himself smiling at their
He began looking through the stack of mail that had been brought out from
He set aside some of the letters to read later and his eyes came to rest
on a thin envelope addressed in neat feminine handwriting.
He thought as he smiled. He quickly cut open the envelope and unfolded the page.
The letter read:
hope this letter finds you and your family well.
Grandson, Alan and I will be leaving on a westbound train
will send you a telegram from Denver to advise you of our arrival
so looking forward to seeing you again my
arrival date. I’m so looking forward to seeing you again mydear lad, and of course meeting your sons and ward.
set the letter on his desk in total surprise.
He hadn’t seen his father’s sister in almost 20 years.
He visited her Baltimore home when he had traveled east years ago to
the last ten years, since her husband died, he had been urging her to come for a
was looking forward to seeing her again, but at the same time felt a bit
disappointed that they weren’t going to be celebrating their first Christmas
together, just the four of them.
awareness returned to the present when Teresa brought him a steaming cup of
a minute darling.” He requested.
“Boys. Come over here.”
sat on the edge of his desk as Johnny and Scott settled into the chairs in front
of their father.
He held the letter in one hand and cleared his throat. “We’re going
to have some visitors any day now.” He announced as three sets of eyes looked
at him expectantly.
coming, Murdoch?” Teresa asked.
Aunt Dora and her grandson Alan.”
that old lady you told us about back east?” Johnny asked.
wouldn’t call her that to her face son.
You could live to regret it.”
will they be here Murdoch?” Scott asked.
left on the 10th. She’s going to send a wire from Denver to let us know when
they’ll be here.
It should only take a week or so normally, but with winter weather, there
are probably delays.”
I hope they get here before Christmas.” Teresa enthused. “As soon as you two
are done with the dusting, you can help me get
the guest rooms ready.”
Johnny’s groan, Teresa asked. “You do know how to fit sheets on a bed,
can do it.” he said slowly.
chuckled and slapped Johnny on the arm.
“Come on brother. Let’s get those rooms made up.”
that evening the family was enjoying the roaring fire.
The day had been a complete wash out as the rain never let up and now
that it was dark, the storm had finally blown itself out.
was sipping his brandy as he watched the dancing flames. “Tell us about your
When did she leave Scotland.?”
put down his book and his face took on a far away look.
“Aunt Dora is my father’s youngest sister.”
old is she?” Johnny asked.
must be in her late 60’s, I believe.” Murdoch answered. “She married
I remember it well as it was the first wedding I ever attended. I must
have been 5 or 6.
Richard was well to do by our standards.”
He paused remembering. “They sure surprised everyone when they
announced they were going to America.”
Murdoch took a sip of brandy.
remember that my father ranted and raved about the danger and their
irresponsibility in leaving the family.”
He was lost in his thoughts and failed to see his son’s smile. “They
settled in Baltimore and Uncle Richard set up a mercantile.
They had two sons, both gone now.
Alan, their grandson is the only one left.”
old is he?” Scott
about your age Son, maybe a year younger.
He graduated from Harvard a couple of years ago and has been working in
his Grandfather’s firm.
I’m surprised he could get away, but I’m glad he’s escorting
you know him Scott?
I mean you went to the same school.”
smiled at his brother’s naiveté. “No Johnny. Harvard is a large university.
There are lots of students, attending smaller colleges.
He may have been there when I was there, but unless he was studying the
same course, it was unlikely we would have met.”
just wondered.” Johnny sounded disappointed.
crackling fire and ticking clock were the only sounds in the room as each family
member became absorbed in their own thoughts.
the silence, Teresa asked. “How long do you think they’ll be staying?”
letter doesn’t say.
I’m sure several weeks at least, but she may be planning a trip to San
Francisco while she is here.”
maybe we could go too!” She enthused.
not jump the gun here.” Murdoch cautioned. “Let’s see what they have
planned and then we can decide.”
was riding along a creek on the south side the next day grateful for
The ground was slippery and the palomino had to scramble several times to
maintain his footing.
had been a long day clearing debris from the creeks and streams on the vast
the men were out checking on the cattle and fences. So far, Johnny had found
several places were tree limbs had fallen on fences and he knew he’d be
spending the next week repairing fence lines.
He thought with disgust was not his favorite chore to do and it rankled to think
he was going to repair fences he built just a few months ago.
he rounded a bend in the creek, he stopped Barranca and groaned in dismay at the
fence laying on the ground. The water had jumped the creek bed and pushed
branches and grass into the fence knocking it flat.
boy.” He said as he patted Barranca’s neck. “We’re practically going to
have to rebuild this whole section.
I sure hope cousin Alan has a strong back, ‘cause we’re gonna need
continued following the creek taking note of problem areas as he knew Murdoch
expected a complete assessment of the damage.
This was one report he was not looking forward to giving his father.
was walking across the yard toward the house content that the hands were
dispatched properly to check on the cattle and the condition of the fences.
Scott was out with a large crew making a sweep of the north pasture where
there were several critical areas of concern.
Johnny was working in the south area.
he had done all he could for now, he was ready for another cup of coffee before
heading into town.
A rider coming through the gate caught his attention. He stopped by the
hitching rail in
front of the house and waited for the rider to approach.
Recognizing young Red, he greeted him. “Hello, Red. What brings you out
morning, Mr. Lancer.
Mr. Travers asked me to deliver this wire.” He said as he handed
Murdoch the envelope. “Here’s some mail too.” He said as he reached back
into his saddle bags.
you Red. Would you like to come in for some coffee or breakfast?”
sir. I have to get back. Some storm wasn’t it?”
it sure was. We needed the rain, but not all at once.
I have the boys out checking for damage. How did the bridge over the
held up real well.
There’s some debris up against the supports though.”
get someone out to clear it later today. Thank you for letting me know.”
tipped his hat and bid Murdoch goodbye.
looked at the envelopes in his hand focusing on the telegram. He tore it open
and read the telegram from his Aunt.
DENVER TODAY. ARRIVE MORRO COYO 22ND. DORA
today!’ Murdoch thought as he hurried into the house. “Teresa!” he called
as he walked into the living room.
hurried through the door from the kitchen drying her hands on a towel.
“I’m right here. What is it?”
held the telegram toward her and aid. “They’re arriving today, on the
They can’t come
today! I’m not ready yet!”
sorry darling, but...” He stopped, looking with amusement at Teresa’s
expression. She was normally unflappable, but this news had her twisting the
towel in her hand as though she was wringing the neck of a chicken.
house is a mess. We’re not ready.. Scott was going to take Johnny to get a
hair cut and some new clothes. We need to decorate for Christmas.” She stopped
and looked around frantically as if trying to decide where to start.
going to be fine. Teresa calm down.
The house is fine. Johnny can get new clothes later and Aunt Dora would
enjoy helping you decorate I’m sure.”
color in her cheeks returned to
normal as she calmed down.
“I’ll go tell Maria our guest will be arriving so we can plan
supper.” She turned to go to the kitchen, when she whirled back to Murdoch.
“Oh no! I don’t even know what kind of food they would like.”
they’ll like any kind of food you and Maria fix.
That roast you were basting will be fine.”
rolled her eyes at her guardian. Hurrying toward the kitchen, she thought as
long as it’s beef and potatoes, Murdoch was happy. ‘I bet I could cook an
old boot in beef broth and he probably wouldn’t even know it.’ She thought
with a smirk.
checked his watch once again impatiently while waiting for the 2 PM stage. It
was now 3:15, and his patience was wearing thin. He picked up a few packages he
had ordered and he just wanted to collect his Aunt and her Grandson and get
began pacing up and down the wooden sidewalk.
His boot heels making a hollow thunk with each impatient step.
Checking his watch once more, 3:18 he saw with disgust.
He wished he had been able to send for Scott and Johnny but there
hadn’t been time.
If he’d known for sure the stage was going to be over an hour late, he
would have sent for them.
Sighing, he resolved to wait, and settled back down onto the bench in
front of the stage station.
looked up from where he was once again clearing a dammed up stream.
He saw Scott riding toward him at a trot.
I’ve been in and out of water all day.
I don’t know if I can get enough oil back in my boots to keep them from
squeaking after this.”
about done here?” Scott asked tipping his hat back.
Johnny grunted as he tossed a snag out of the stream onto the bank.
Swishing his muddy hands in the fast moving water, he climbed out of the
stream. Bending down, he rubbed his hands clean in the grass and dried them on
his pants leg.
walked over to Barranca and untied him. “Ready to head home?
I’ve done about all I can today.”
head over to that small stock pond on the way home and make sure it’s okay.
That way we don’t have to go all the way over there later.”
brothers rode at a ground covering lope anxious to get his last chore done and
head for home.
at the pond, they were relieved to find little damage.
The pond was filled to over flowing, but the earthen dam was holding, and
the flood bypass was letting water out as it was supposed to do to relieve the
that’s good to see.
As far as I can tell, most of the ponds did fine. Most of the damage is
to fences and there are lots of blockages in the creeks and streams.” Scott
bit of road washed out by Oak Meadow. We may not be able to fix it until it
dries out a bit.”
brothers headed for home at a leisurely walk, enjoying the crisp winter air and
the weak afternoon sun.
Scott?” Johnny said softly.
was wonderin’...about Christmas.
Well...this is our first one and all. I was wonderin’...” Johnny
stopped to collect his thoughts.
on. Johnny.” Scott urged and stopped his horse.
combed his fingers through Barranca’s mane. “I just..It’s been so long
since I’ve has a real Christmas. I don’t know exactly what to expect or what
to do.” he finished with a rush.
you celebrate Christmas with your mother?”
We’d go to the Posadas. He stopped at Scott’s look of incomprehension
and sought to explain.
a tradition in Mexico.
Starting on the 16th of December, each night until the 24th, two children
lead a procession to a home where the Posada was being held. My mama and me
would join the procession holding candles...well maybe not every night, but some
of the nights.”
go to mass at midnight on Christmas Eve then come home and have supper.
My mama always fixed her special tamales.”
Johnny felt his mouth start to water at the thought of his mother’s
didn’t have a lot Scott, but my mama would give me a present. Usually a shirt
she made.” He smiled in remembrance. “One year she gave me a wooden set of
horses. A mare, stallion and colt.
I played with them all the time”
sound like good memories, Johnny.”
Johnny said slowly.
He started Barranca walking toward home and asked. “What about you
did you celebrate Christmas when you were a kid?”
would have a tree decorated in the front room.
The house would small wonderful from all the baking.
I remember the house smelling of evergreen and pumpkin pie.
It’s funny, but whenever I smell evergreen and pumpkin pie, I think of
Christmas in Boston.”
you ever miss it?”
But Johnny, here is where I want to be with you and Murdoch and Teresa.
I can’t really explain why, but this is home. This is where I belong,
with all of you.”
was a few minutes of nothing but the sound of saddle leather creaking and
hoofbeats, before Johnny broke the silence.
“I know what you mean.
I don’t know why or how, but this feels right for me too.”
reached over and squeezed Johnny’s arm. “Merry Christmas brother.”
laughed and challenged. “Race ya home.”
He sent Barranca off at a
gallop with Scott racing to catch up.
head jerked up when he heard the sound of the stage coming into town.
The stage ground to a jerky halt as the driver hauled on the reins and
put on the brake.
The stage rocked back and forth, and then the passengers began
heart raced as he saw a young blonde man about 23 climb out of the stage.
He was tall, slim and reminded Murdoch vaguely of Scott.
“Alan?” He asked.
young man turned around and replied. “Cousin Murdoch?”
reached his hand out and they shook hands.
“Welcome to California.” Murdoch said as he looked back up into the
woman stood at the door dressed in a gray traveling suit.
She wore a matching gray hat just a shade darker than her gray hair.
let me help you down.” Alan said as he extended his hand.
It is so good to see you!”
Murdoch said as he picked up his aunt and swung her around in a circle.
put me down.” She said laughing as she tried to catch her breath.
set her back on her feet and took a step away to look her up and down.
“It’s so good to see you. I still can’t believe you’re here.”
been much too long.
I should have made the trip years ago.”
Her wrinkles breaking into laugh lines, and
her slate blue eyes alight with delight.
himself, Murdoch said. “I have a buggy over there. Let’s get your bags and
get started for the ranch...or do you want to go to the hotel to freshen up?’
far is it to the ranch?” Alan asked.
far. Less than an hour, closer to 45 minutes.” Murdoch answered.
go straight away so we can get there before dark.” Dora suggested.
they were on their way to the ranch, Dora and Alan filled Murdoch in on their
trip from the east coast.
They marveled about the majestic mountains and vast plains.
was a herd of buffalo so large crossing the tracks that we had to wait 25
minutes before we could proceed.”
also saw a band of Indians.
Very colorful individuals, I must say.” Alan added.
for his part showed them points of interest along the way.
“Johnny and Scott should be back about the same time we are.
They left for the day before I got your wire.”
just got my wire today?” Dora asked.
It must have been delayed due to the storm.”
laid a gloved hand on Murdoch’s arm. “I hope we aren’t an imposition,
course not. We’re delighted to have you.
This is our first Christmas with the boys home.
With you and Alan here, it will be a very Merry Christmas indeed.” He
a whiff of Dora’s familiar lavender scent.
tell me about the boys.
In your letters, you talked a lot about Scott. I feel like I already know
Johnny. You never say much.
Are you still having problems with him?”
She asked gently.
looked a bit flustered. He tried to remember what he had written and when.
He said slowly.
‘Johnny and I have come to an understanding.
Things are good between us. Real good.”
I remember correctly, you
said he was insolent and talked back to you all the time.” Dora made
the statement sound like a question.
sounds like a rude, disrespectful boy.” Alan remarked.
felt the color rise on his cheeks as he began to defend Johnny. “He’s had a
hard life. He’s
had to live with decisions made by his mother and me and he practically raised
himself. He made choices he never should have had to make, but he survived. He
was a lost boy, but he’s come home. He’s trying very hard to fit in, and I
respect him for that.”
Murdoch felt a bit out of breath after such a long speech.
He couldn’t remember ever saying so much about Johnny to anyone, but it
was all true.
reached over and patted Murdoch’s arm.
“I’m happy for you.
I’m glad it’s working out.”
nodded and sought to change the subject. He pulled the buggy to a halt at the
overlook and said. “This is it. Lancer.
As far as the eye can see.”
guests sat there in stunned silence for a moment before Dora spoke. “I had no
looked at the vast land in front of him with the white hacienda in the distance.
“Yes, very impressive.” He murmured.
slapped the reins and started the horses trotting down the road leading to home.
and Scott rode together across the pasture with home in sight.
Johnny suddenly pointed.
“Look. There’s Murdoch. He’s got somebody with him.”
squinted and said.
“Yes that’s Murdoch. I can’t quite make out the others. There’s
two of them.”
nodded. One’s a woman.
Hey, do you think it’s Aunt Dora?”
be.” Scott replied.
their horses into a lope they cut across the pasture to intercept the buggy.
Murdoch said as he saw his sons riding to meet them.
Aunt Dora, Alan these are my sons.
I’d like you to meet my oldest son, Scott.”
removed his hat and said. “Aunt Dora, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I hope
you enjoy your stay.”
I’m so happy to be here.” She replied.
“This is my grandson, Alan.”
Alan.” Scott said reaching across to shake his hand.
to meet you Scott.” Alan replied.
was a bit behind Scott.
Scott backed his horse a couple of steps so Johnny could meet their
Dora, this is my youngest son, Johnny.” Murdoch introduced. “Johnny meet
Aunt Dora and her grandson, Alan.”
tipped his had and politely said. “Ma’am, Alan.”
nice to meet you Johnny.” Dora responded as her eyes took in his youthfulness,
his slightly darker complexion and those eyes.
didn’t have the Lancer eyes, she noted.
She had seen those eyes before.
They were the color of a cold winter sky or a deep mountain lake.
Eyes that could sparkle and dance or turn cold and icy as emotions ran
thoughts were interrupted by Alan’s words.
is a beautiful horse.” Pointing to Johnny’s palomino.
“I’ve never seen a horse that color before.”
called a palomino.
They’re bred here in California from Spanish stock.
They’re somewhat rare.” Murdoch informed his cousin.
love to ride him.” Alan said and Scott saw Johnny bristle.
horse is quite a handful. We have other’s you’d enjoy riding more.” Scott
Alan is an accomplished rider. I’m sure he could handle him.” Dora said.
Johnny could reply, Scott intervened.
“It’s starting to get dark.
We’ll get the horses taken care of and see you back at the house.”
started the buggy toward the house and Johnny said quietly. “No one rides my
worry about it Johnny.
He didn’t know any better.
We’ll find him a horse to ride.
Maybe that appaloosa.
He’s pretty gentle.”
the time Scott and Johnny had their horses cleaned up and bedded down, their
guests were in their rooms getting freshened up.
They went in through the kitchen and Teresa caught them just before they
sat down for a cup of coffee.
time for that.
Hurry up. Go get cleaned up. We’re having dinner in half an hour.”
the brothers climbed the stairs, Johnny asked. “Have you noticed how bossy
I have noticed.” Scott replied.
with callin’ supper, dinner anyway?”
evening meal is called dinner in the east.” Scott informed him.
now she’s gonna talk all eastern, is she?” Johnny said with a gleam in his
don’t pull anything to embarrass Teresa.” Scott warned.
I’m not gonna do nothin’.”
mind it, little brother.” Scott advised as he entered his bedroom.
as Murdoch and Dora reminisced and caught up with each other.
Murdoch looked at his table with pride.
His family finally all together.
gave his father a look which Murdoch recognized as a challenge. “Aunt Dora,
could you tell us about Murdoch when he was a boy?” Scott said with an
deceptively innocent tone to his voice.
she could say anything, Murdoch said. “No one wants to hear about that.”
chorus of “yes we do” rang out in unison from Scott, Johnny and Teresa.
outvoted Murdoch.” Dora said with a gleam in her eye. At his look of defeat
she continued. “Let me think a minute.
Your father was quite mischievous as a boy.
If I recall, he was always into trouble.
We used to say trouble was his middle name.”
and Scott turned to Johnny.
“What?” he snapped.
on Aunt Dora.” Scott urged while Murdoch just looked resigned to his fate.
I recall, there was a mysterious mine explosion...”
blew up a mine!” Johnny said with a huge grin on his face.
I did not blow up a mine...I just caught it on fire a bit.” Murdoch
began chuckling. Low in his throat then a full fledged laugh at the idea. Taking
a sip of his wine, he said. “Would you care to enlighten us sir?”
a huge sigh of resignation, Murdoch told his story.
“There was an old abandoned mine near our home.
We were forbidden to go near it..”
of course you did.” Dora put in.
glared at her. “Who’s telling this story.”
smiled and said. “You my dear. Only you.”
of the older boys had been exploring in the mine, and they were taunting me and
some of the younger boys about how we were too scared to go down into the mine.
I decided to show them, so I took a lantern and went in.”
looked at the faces of the people he loved most in the world.
Teresa looking at him with an indulgent smile on her face, Scott enjoying
his fathers predicament and Johnny sitting on the edge of his seat leaning
forward eagerly awaiting the full story.
cleared his throat.
“Er, well... I tripped over some old timbers,
the lantern fell out of my hand and the oil caught on fire.
There was nothing I could do to put it out, so I got up and ran out of
the mine figuring I’d be in real trouble if I was caught.”
was out of breath by the time I got home, but made it into the house without
being caught. My
mother knew something was up, but I just said I had gotten dirty while
playing.” He looked at his family. “It wasn’t a lie...exactly.
What I didn’t know at the time was that gasses had built up in the old
mine shaft and they caught on fire and burned for about a week before it burned
itself out. That
was just about how long it was before I could sit down again.” Murdoch
finished with a chuckle.
at the table broke into laughter and soon the napkins were being used to wipe
tears from their eyes. Dora
dabbed at her eye.
That was quite a time.
You were the talk of the village.”
old were ya Murdoch?” Johnny asked.
believe I was 9 years old Johnny.”
happened just before Richard and I left for America in fact.” Dora put in.
sat back in his chair and thought about the story Murdoch had told.
He had listened to Dora and Murdoch talk about Scotland and while much of
what they spoke of was foreign to him, he found comfort for some reason in the
fact that his father came from another country. It made him feel closer to
Murdoch. More like himself he supposed.
jumped slightly when he felt a sharp rap to his shin.
“Hey!” he said to Scott. “Why’d ya...” He stopped when
he realized everyone was looking at him.
his throat, Murdoch said. “Aunt Dora asked you a question.”
Johnny admitted. “I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you.”
Dora smiled and said. “I asked you how you liked living in California.”
like it fine, Ma’am.” He said playing with the green beans he detested.
me Aunt Dora. Ma’am is just too formal.”
smiled at her shyly and nodded. “Yes Ma’am, I mean Aunt Dora.”
family retired to the living room. The evening was spent getting to know each
other. Alan and Scott found they had a lot in common.
Similar education, a love of books,
show you around tomorrow if Johnny will take over a few
of my chores.”
who had been staring into the fire said. “Sure, no problem Scott.”
turned to Murdoch. “Is that all right?
I could show him around for a couple of hours then join the men on
clearing up the storm damage.”
sounds fine son.”
think I’ll turn in.” Johnny said getting up. “Night everyone.”
also stood up. “I think I’ll
head upstairs as well.
It’s been a long trip and I could use the rest.”
the men stood up and Alan said. “I’ll do the same.
Miss Teresa, dinner was wonderful, Thank you.”
also spoke to Teresa, “Yes dear.
It was very good.”
blushed and shyly said. “Thank you.”
we’ll sit down and plan our Christmas festivities.” Dora suggested.
brightened. “That’s sounds wonderful!”
chorus of goodnights
followed the guests out of the room.
and Scott were left alone to finish their brandy.
“You look happy.” Scott commented.
am. Content is a word I’ve not associated with myself for a long time, but
tonight I feel content.” Murdoch said as he drained off his brandy.
going to be a great Christmas.” Scott said as he headed for bed.
next day passed quickly.
Johnny spent all the day light hours helping restore the ranch to its
former order before the storm.
Scott spent quite a bit of time with Alan finding they had a lot in
their way home, they met Johnny also returning to the house.
“How did everything go today Johnny?” Scott asked.
got that fence started over by stumpy meadows, but we ran out of posts and wire
so there’s still about a mile to go.”
didn’t you plan ahead and take out more than enough supplies?” Alan asked.
already was uncomfortable around Alan. It was nothing he could put his finger on
had chalked it up to his city ways, but this remark bothered him.
“Wall now…” he said with an exaggerated ol’ Texas boy accent.
“I guess I weren’t not usin’ my brain for thinkin’ today.
Next time I’ll be morin’ happy askin’ yer advise.”
Johnny abruptly turned Barranca and started home.
failed to see Scott’s hidden smirk and Alan for once had nothing to say.
Scott was grateful, as Alan had talked his ear off all day about
he had read a book on ranching on the train, and he was now a self proclaimed
caught up to Johnny just before the gate and Alan tried to engage him in
conversation. “That is sure a fine animal Johnny.
How old is he?”
4 or 5, from his teeth.” Johnny replied.
do you mean?”
can get an idea of how old a horse is by lookin’ at his teeth.” Johnny
teeth change as they age.” Scott explained at seeing the perplexed look on
you ever consider selling him?”
He’s not for sale.” With that Johnny loped off heading for the barn, leaving
Scott to deal with their guest.
hope I didn’t offend him.”
just very particular about that horse.”
notice he has the Lancer brand on him.
Does that mean he belongs to the ranch?”
picked that horse for his own on our second day here.” Scott replied, not
exactly answering the question.
night at supper Teresa and Dora were going over their plans for Christmas.
The house looked festive as they had decorated with garlands and
Greenery was everywhere and the house smelled like pine.
ladies had a lot more decorating planned, but would wait until tomorrow to put
on the finishing touches.
forget Scott, you and Johnny need to get a tree that’s really full and
straight.” Teresa reminded for the third time.
a family tradition to decorate the tree on Christmas Eve.” Dora added.
thought Christmas wasn’t celebrated in Scotland.” Scott said.
not officially.” Murdoch replied. “Families often have their own
don’t they celebrate Christmas in Scotland?” Johnny asked.
government doesn’t recognize it as a holiday, though
I hear more families celebrate it than before.”
Years day is a day of celebration in Scotland.”
a bit unsure how to take this information from the Scottish side of his
heritage, Johnny didn’t know how to respond.
Murdoch had never talked about politics and religion from the country he
was born in.
the subject, Scott began telling them about a buck he and Alan had seen that day
on their travels around the ranch.
was magnificent.” Alan added.
“I’ve probably only seen one other creature more magnificent and
that’s the palomino Johnny rides.”
sapphire eyes locked with Alan’s steel blue eyes.
Alan ignored the frosty look he was getting from Johnny and went on
blindly. “I’d really like to buy him from you. I’m prepared to make a
generous offer. Three hundred dollars.”
gasped at such a large amount for a horse, but Johnny only scowled. “I told
you before, he’s not for sale.”
get the best of care. I promise. Five hundred dollars.”
said no!” Johnny got up and threw his napkin on his plate and stalked out of
if the horse is not for sale, he’s not for sale. Just let it go.
Perhaps Murdoch has another horse you would like to purchase?” Dora
shook his head; “I really want that horse.”
that night Murdoch knocked on Johnny’s door. “Johnny? May I come in?”
Came the faint answer.
pushed the door open to find Johnny still fully dressed sitting in a chair by
his window. Johnny
glanced at his father and turned back to the window.
ain’t sellin’ him Barranca if that’s what you came for.”
I don’t expect you to. Though that was a mighty good offer.”
not enough money in this world to buy that horse.” Johnny said forcefully.
looked out the window at the clear dark sky.
“Nice night isn’t it?
The stars look so close.”
real bright tonight.
Have you ever noticed that in winter the stars seem closer?”
noticed that. I
wonder why that is.” Murdoch mused.
we should ask Scott? “ Johnny said with a little smile at Murdoch.
he doesn’t know, perhaps Alan could inform us.” Murdoch said with a grin.
“Johnny, I know Alan can be a little hard to take.
He won’t be here much longer, so just try to put up with him.”
try my best.”
gave Johnny a pat on the back as he headed for the door.
“Good night son.”
day before Christmas dawned bright and sunny.
Dora met Johnny returning from the barn. “Oh Johnny, the weather here
is glorious. It is so different than Baltimore.
We can almost always count on a white Christmas.”
you miss it?” Johnny asked.
at all.” She took his arm, and let him lead her back to the house.
Once they reached the porch, she said.
“Sit with me a minute.”
may think me a meddling old woman Johnny, but I want to talk to you about your
looked at her intently.
What did you want to say.”
looked at him with her kindly blue eyes and continued. “Even though we lived
thousands of miles apart, your father and I have always kept in touch by letter.
I know how happy he was when he married your mother.
He was so proud when you were born.
He wrote such glowing letters about his new family and his hope for the
felt his heart hammering against his ribs.
He wasn’t sure he was ready to hear about his father’s happiness
before his mother hurt him so badly.
went on. “He planned to come east when you were a year old to get Scott. By
then he would have been old enough to make the journey.”
She took Johnny’s hand.
“Your mother devastated him when she left.”
know.” Johnny said and he felt his throat constrict with the effort of saying
those two words.
you have the power to do that to him also. Like she did.”
felt physically ill at the turn in conversation.
His mind screamed, ‘Stop!’ but he had been totally unprepared for
this conversation and he felt too numb to respond.
Dora took his silence for interest and continued to make her point. “Whether
you are aware of it or not, your father’s greatest fear is that you will leave
him like your mother did.
You remind him so much of her.”
eyes were downcast as he struggled with her words. Johnny finally found his
voice. “I won’t leave him.
This is my home.”
happy to hear that."
She was silent for a moment, then said. "You have your
Did your father tell you that?”
abrupt change in the conversation once again kept him off balance.
This elderly lady had a way of rendering him speechless in a way few
I didn’t know that.”
soon as I saw you, I recognized my sister-in-law’s eyes.
Your father and brother have the Lancer eyes like mine and Alan’s.”
abruptly changed the subject again and Johnny was starting to wonder if there
wasn’t something wrong with this old lady.
His patience was growing thin, but before he could make an escape she
said. “Your father tells me you haven’t had much chance for schooling.”
mama taught me mostly.
I went to school when I could.”
is a wonderful gift, Johnny.
It can take you to new worlds and open doors to new ideas.”
don’t get those big words real well.” He said again feeling uncomfortable
with Aunt Dora’s relentless stare.
patted his hand.
“We’ll see if I can’t help you with your education.
I was a teacher you know.”
I didn’t.” Johnny replied.
looked into Johnny’s eyes and spoke from her heart.
“Murdoch calls you his lost boy.”
She pulled him into a big hug and whispered in his ear. “Welcome back
Johnny. You’re finally home where you belong.”
stood to go into the house as Scott came out with Alan on his heels.
“Johnny are you ready to find a tree?”
started to speak and found he had to clear his throat. “Yeah.
I hitched up the horses and put a couple of saws and axes in the back.”
made us some sandwiches, so I guess we’re all set.”
three men headed out in the buckboard on a mission to find the perfect Christmas
hour and a half later, they reached the higher elevations of the foothills where
the tree line had changed to pines and firs.
home, we always get a spruce.” Alan said looking with disappointment at the
scraggly pines dotting the landscape.
should look for a nice fir.” Scott said.
“Johnny, tether the horses here and let’s start looking.”
tied off the horses and began unloading the tools.
He had been quiet most of the trip as he had a lot on his mind after his
talk with Aunt Dora.
About the only part of the conversation he listened to was when Alan and
Scott were talking about the bawdier aspects of college life. He
made a note to himself to ask Scott for more details later.
handed Alan the saw and he hefted the axe.
He tossed Scott the block and tackle just in case they needed it and then
the three men went off in search of a tree.
dear, do you have a recipe for egg nog?” Dora asked sweetly.
brushed her hair away from her perspiring face.
The heat of the kitchen and the constant, but kindly suggestions by Aunt
Dora were wearing thin her patience.
a deep breath and letting it out, she sighed.
“No Aunt Dora, I’ve never made egg nog before.”
see if I can remember how to make it then.’ She smiled at the flustered girl.
Aunt left the kitchen in a rustle of skirts to inspect the setting of the table.
She looked over the sparkling silver and china and adjusted a fork making
sure it was precisely in place.
She wiped a water spot off a goblet clicking her tongue in dismay.
it, Aunt Dora.
Everything is fine.
Why don’t you join me for a cup of coffee by the fire?”
Murdoch said as much to distract her as for the company.
Murdoch handed her a steaming cup of coffee as she settled on the couch.
He sat next to her with his own cup.
She fiddled nervously with the spoon.
slate blue eyes met his.
“I don’t want to bother you with my problems Murdoch, especially not
on Christmas Eve.”
family, Aunt Dora. If there’s anything I can do to help. Let me.” He said
Murdoch, I’ve been so worried.” She set the coffee cup down untouched and
tears welled up in her eyes.
me what’s wrong.” Murdoch urged gently.
just don’t know what to do with him.”
seems like a fine young man.”
does, doesn’t he? He’s had all the advantages.”
Sighing, she said. “He’s not taking a leave from the firm for
vacation. He’s…been dismissed.”
felt his eyebrows raise as he looked into her tear filled eyes.
board was talking about charges for embezzlement, but they settled on
misappropriation of funds.
He didn’t mean to do anything wrong, Murdoch.
He just trusted the wrong people and the firm lost money.”
don’t know what to say.
What is he planning on doing?”
thought he could start fresh somewhere else.
I sold some shares of the company to use to help set him up in business.
We’re planning on going to San Francisco to see what opportunities may
be there.” Dora
smoothed her skirt and continued.
“He’s at loose ends, he seems unable to make a decision about his
can I do to help?”
looked at him with hope on her face.
“Perhaps you could make some suggestions of a good business
be happy to help, but Aunt Dora, Alan is a Harvard graduate. Surely he has his
own ideas of the type of business he wants to invest in."
eyes dropped to her hands and she played with the lace handkerchief in her lap.
She said quietly.
"He didn't graduate from Harvard.
He was expelled after a year...for cheating.
He finished his education at a small college near Baltimore."
was shocked. "I didn't know" was all he could think of to say.
put all that behind him." Dora insisted.
Murdoch could respond, they heard the sound of a wagon at the front door.
"Let's talk about this later." he suggested.
"After Christmas we can sit down and come up with a plan."
He squeezed her arm and said. "Don't worry, it will be all
part of this was inspired by Chris, Sammi and Sharon. Thank you.
gave Murdoch a big hug at his words of encouragement, then turned to watch
Johnny and Scott lug a large fir tree through the door with Alan following.
excused himself to wash up while Johnny and Scott wrestled the tree into its
place of honor.
beautiful!” Teresa said clapping her hands together.
“Maria and I got the ornaments and trimmings out of the storage room
and we can decorate it after supper.”
took one last look at the majestic fir tree and walked out to the barn.
Murdoch looked worried at Johnny’s abrupt departure.
“What’s eating him?”
not sure. He’s
been quiet all day, I’ll go talk to him.”
walked out to the barn and stood in the doorway watching Johnny with Barranca.
Johnny methodically brushed his horse’s coat in long even strokes from
just below the ear, along his neck, over his shoulder, and down his foreleg.
Barranca stood there motionless with a bit of unchewed hay sticking out
of his mouth as he enjoyed his grooming.
sure loves that.” Scott remarked.
turned to see his brother better and gave him a faint smile and returned to
brushing Barranca across his broad back and hindquarters.
been pretty quiet today, Johnny. What’s bothering you?”
stopped brushing and turned to face Scott.
Leaning against Barranca, he looked at the toes of his boots and scuffed
the straw. He
shrugged his shoulders and said. “I guess I’ll just be glad when they’re
guests I mean.”
smiled a rueful smile.
“Alan…He is a bit hard to take.
He’s been riding you pretty hard Johnny.
I was going to tell him to lay off.”
okay big brother, I can handle a few more days of it.
Murdoch says they’ll be gone soon.
I don’t want to spoil their visit.” Johnny said with an affectionate
smile at his brother’s concern.
right. Anytime you want my help, let me know.” Scott said. Scott started to
turn away and leave the barn but Johnny’s soft voice stopped him.
Scott.” Johnny waited a moment while turned back.
“Now that we lugged that big ol’ tree into the living room, what are
we gonna do with it?”
going to decorate it.
You heard Teresa.”
I know, but why?”
never had a Christmas tree before? Sorry…” Scott would have cheerfully cut
off his tongue to take back that dumb question.
least not that I can remember.
It’s not a tradition in Mexico...and why are ya sorry?"
worse if that was possible, Scott searched for the right words.
He walked over to his brother and put a hand on each shoulder.
“I didn’t mean sorry exactly.
I just feel bad we weren’t raised together.
We missed out on a lot.”
Now it was Scott’s turn to take a step back and look at his boots.
I know Scott. I
feel bad about that too.
But we just have to make the most of it now.”
Johnny was at a loss for a moment.
“You could make up for lost time ya know.”
he was probably being set up, Scott asked. “And how might I do that little
could maybe talk Murdoch into lettin’ us skip out after supper tonight and we
could maybe go into town…” he trailed off seeing Scott’s smile and shake
of his head.
way Johnny. Absolutely not.
Not only would Murdoch say no, Teresa would go through the roof.”
He said with a big sigh. “She’d probably still be yelling at us a
at the thought, Scott slung his arm over his brother’s shoulder, “If
you’re done here, we’ve got a supper to get to, and a tree to decorate.”
still don’t get why we have to decorate the tree ”
see tonight. Once
it’s decorated, it will be magnificent.”
already magnificent just the way it is.”
Johnny pointed out.
at Johnny’s unique way of seeing things, Scott said. “You just wait little
brother, this is one Christmas you will always remember.”
could feel Johnny’s tension ease as he walked with his brother back to the
house for their first Christmas Eve together as a family.
a sumptuous dinner, the family retired to the living room to decorate the tree.
Aunt Dora poured eggnog into cut crystal glasses and sprinkled cinnamon
on top. She handed one to each family member.
took a sip and nodded. “Thank you, Aunt Dora.
I haven’t had eggnog this good in years.”
held the glass up and smelled it. He looked around and everyone else seemed to
be enjoying it so he took a cautious sip.
He wrinkled his nose and set the glass down on the coffee table while
rubbing the mustache off his upper lip.
you like it Johnny?’ Dora asked.
like it fine...it’s just...sweet.” He said taking another small sip.
anxious to start decorating the tree said. “Let start trimming the tree.”
She opened a box and began pulling out strands of colorful ribbon and tartan
bows. Scott went over to help her while Johnny looked on.
sat on the couch enjoying watching his family.
Dora reached over and pat him on the arm, smiling at his obvious
lay out the ornaments so we can start hanging them as soon as we have the
trimming on the tree.” Teresa instructed while gesturing to another box.
handed Alan one end of the long red ribbon. “Help me wrap this around the
two cousins began threading the long ribbon around the tree. Scott stood on a
stool to reach the top of the tree.
that looks so nice.” Dora encouraged.
watched Johnny who was carefully removing the ornaments and laying them one by
one on the coffee table.
He held up a
wooden horse and looked at the faded paint.
He set it on the table and watched as Murdoch leaned forward and picked
it up. He turned it over and looked into his youngest son’s eyes.
“I made this for you for your first Christmas.”
eyes got big and locked on his father’s as Murdoch handed the ornament back to
eyes dropped as he carefully laid the treasure on the table.
He cleared his throat as he continued to unwrap the ornaments.
There were several beautiful glass stars and balls.
delicately etched with a snowflake design.
Johnny held it up and watched as the glass reflected the light.
Her grandmother gave them to her when she was a child.
She insisted we bring them with us. I was amazed they survived the sea
cleared his throat. Looking at Scott he said.
“Your mother loved Christmas.”
Scott reached over and took hold of the delicate ornament and traced it’s exquisite design with his finger.
voice roused him from his thoughts. “Scott, why don’t you go ahead and hang
your mother’s ornaments?”
went over to the tree and hung the precious bits of glass where they would
reflect the light shimmering from the fireplace.
“Johnny, you go next.” Scott told his younger brother.
stood in front of the tree with the wooden horse held between two fingers for
what, to the others, seemed like an eternity.
He reached out and hung his childhood ornament on a long sweeping branch
where it could dangle and dance with the slightest movement of the air currents.
looks like it’s in flight.” Teresa enthused.
next to place an ornament. Her favorite one was given to her by her father when
she was 11 years old.
It was made out of cloth and ribbon and was old when she received it.
Now several years later, it was a bit more faded, but Teresa knew that
bit of cloth shaped like a star would hang on all her Christmas trees for the
rest of her life.
Dora cleared her throat and stood a bit unsteadily, taking an object out of a
piece of folded linen.
“My mother made this many years ago, and I would like to give it to all
of you as a reminder of how important family is.”
She held up a intricately tatted piece of lace sewn on a linen cloth and
placed in a wooden frame.
She carefully hung it by it’s gold braid on the tree.
you Aunt Dora. We’ll treasure it always.” Murdoch said running a finger over
the tiny stitches making up the lace.
the next half hour, Murdoch watched his children decorate the tree.
They were happy together and that’s all that mattered to him.
His eyes drifted to Alan sitting silently on the couch sipping his brandy
and he wondered what the days ahead would bring for the troubled young man.
Pushing unpleasant thoughts aside, Murdoch brought himself back to the
present as Scott declared the tree finished.
stood back, hands on her hips.
“It’s all done except the top.
Murdoch where is it?”
here honey. I’ve
been keeping her safe.” Murdoch held up the likeness of the Virgin Mary and
said softly. “This was your mother’s, Johnny.
She brought it with her from Mexico. She said it had been in her family
looked at the face of the figurine and wondered about the history behind it.
carefully stood on the step stool and Johnny helped steady him as his father
placed the figurine at the very top of the tree.
Her gentle face looking kindly down on the new family.
tree completed, there was nothing else to do except retire to bed.
no one made a
move to head upstairs as they admired the majestic tree with it’s bits
of memories flickering in the firelight.
the grandfather clock struck midnight, Murdoch’s melodic voice said. “Merry
day at the Lancer ranch dawned bright and clear.
Teresa was the first one up the next morning, anxious to get this
glorious day started.
by one the family assembled at the long table in the dining room for breakfast
before starting off to church.
drove the surrey back toward the ranch.
Aunt Dora sat next to him, Alan and Teresa sat in the back.
Johnny and Scott rode along behind the surrey enjoying the bright new
looked with happiness at his family and felt a contentment he had never
experienced before in his life.
church service had been fairly short with much singing and he found it an
uplifting experience, if not somewhat foreign.
Johnny sucked in a breath of cool air and smiled at his brother.
looked over and him and said. “What?’
shook his head and said. “Nothin’ really.
Just a nice day.”
Scott smiled back as they trotted under the Lancer arch and were all too
quickly back home.
tied Barranca to the hitching rail outside the house and went over to the surrey
to help Aunt Dora down.
walked over to Barranca and held out his hand for the horse to sniff.
He then ran his hand down Barranca’s neck and patted him on the
unused to strangers, swished his tail in irritation
smacking Alan across the face.
Taking a sudden step back, he felt one foot sink into a soft warm pile of
freshly deposited manure.
He exclaimed in dismay.
and Scott turned to see what brought such a cry of disgust.
They tried to keep from laughing as they watched Alan as he tried to wipe
the offensive green matter off his expensive shoe.
Alan declared as Johnny and Scott
broke out in laughter over their cousin's misfortune.
You’ll have to take your shoes off outside and wipe them with a cloth before
you come in.” Dora said unnecessarily.
chuckling, Johnny and Scott took their horses to the barn.
Lancer family pushed themselves away from the decimated Christmas feast.
In addition to the usual Christmas fare they had shepherds pie and
was relieved that the detested green beans had not an appearance.
would have to wait for later.
Everyone was too stuffed to think of eating
They made their way to the living room and Johnny sank onto the couch and
held his stomach.
“I’ve never been so full in my life.
I don’t think I’ll be able to eat for a week.”
chuckled. “Knowing you,
I don’t think we can count on that Johnny.”
we open presents?” Teresa asked.
stood and picked up a gift from under the tree. “This is from me”
He said as he handed the package to her.
carefully opened the beautiful paper and gasped at the ornate wooden jewel box.
“Oh thank you! Murdoch.”
it, he urged.”
opened the box to find a necklace with a delicate gold chain so fine and
intricate with an aqua marine dangling on the fine chain. “I love it.” She
breathed. “Please put it on me.”
fumbled with the clasp and finally got it hooked.
She turned around for him to admire.
“It’s beautiful on you darling.”
were being distributed and opened in a flurry of activity.
Scott thanked his father for the calfskin vest and matching belt, while
Murdoch admired the hand made pipe and English tobacco Scott had given him.
these are for you from all of us.” Murdoch said.
looked a bit taken aback at the packages being handed to him by his cousin
you.” He stammered.
opened one box and found a brown felt cowboy hat.
The other box contained a pair of brown cowboy boots.
He smiled. “Thank you all.
I sure could have used these boots earlier today.”
They all shared in a chuckle over Alan’s earlier misfortune.
sat in amazement at the gifts he had yet to open.
His senses were overloaded by the events unfolding around him.
Everyone admiring the gifts they received and thanking each other.
open your gifts.” Teresa urged as she placed a package ion his lap..
“This one’s from me.”
her scrutiny, he open the package to find two shirts.
One white and one blue with Mexican style embroidery stitched onto the
collar and cuffs.
you make these Teresa?”
do you like them?” Her eyes bright with excitement.
do. Very much, thank you.” He gave her a peck on the cheek.
this is from me.” Scott said handing him another package.
opened it and
held up a heavy coat with sheepskin lining. “Thank you brother.”
Johnny said trying to keep his emotions in check, but overwhelmed by his
his throat, Scott said. “This is for Barranca.”
He handed Johnny another package.
looked at Scott with a smile and opened the box to find a new set of brushes.
“Thank you Scott. He’s gonna love these.
I’m gonna go try em out right now.” He said getting to his feet.
hold on there son. You can go brush your horse later.
I want to give you my gift.”
Murdoch walked over to Johnny and motioned for him to follow.
Johnny looked at Scott who just shrugged his shoulders.
“Come with me a minute Johnny.” Murdoch said guiding Johnny out the
French doors onto the patio.
The rest of the family followed behind.
had a big smile on his face as he watched the emotions play across Johnny’s
stood Barranca, once again tacked up, but this time he wore a new saddle and
turned to Murdoch with a look of disbelief on his face and whispered. “It’s
Christmas son.” Murdoch said with true affection.
don’t know what to say. Nobody’s ever...I just never...Thank you.” Johnny
said as he fingered the saddle.
caught his father’s eye and said.
“Everyone back inside.
There’s still a few more presents to open and...” Looking at Johnny
he smirked. “And my little brother hasn’t given me my present yet.”
gave Barranca one last pat and told Enrique. “Unsaddle him for me amigo.
I’m gonna go for a ride later.”
again settled in the living room, Scott looked expectantly at his brother.
walked over to the tree and picked up a cloth covered parcel.
He handed it to Scott and said “Feliz Navidad hermano.”
unwrapped the cloth to find a pair of braided rawhide reins.
“You made these?” He asked. He turned them over to see the design
are wonderful. Thank you Johnny.”
nodded looking a bit uncomfortable as Scott praised his work.
“Nice work Son.” Murdoch said as he clapped Johnny on the shoulder.
smiled and said. “Thanks” and handed a box to Teresa.
She opened her gift and gasped as she held up two combs made out of bone
in a Spanish design.
hope you like them.” Johnny said.
love them.” Teresa declares as she hugged her brother. “Thank you so much.
walked slowly back to the tree and picked up a small box and walked back over to
turned the box over and over in his hands before looking up at Murdoch. “I’m
not too good at pickin’ out presents...”
gave his son a small smile and took the package from his obviously uneasy son.
He carefully unwrapped the plain paper and his hand froze at seeing the
a hatband.” Johnny said feeling suddenly very selfconcious after seeing the
generous gifts given to him by his family.
held up the exquisite horsehair band.
The weaving was tight and the pattern made an L when held flat.
The pale hairs interwoven with the chestnut and black.
you made this.” Murdoch said more as a statement than a question.
looked down. “I know it’s not much.”
This is the most beautiful example of horse hair weaving I’ve ever seen!”
looked up into his father’s face and felt nothing but love flowing from this
sometimes difficult man.
He said quietly.
“I got the hair from our three horses.
Yours, mine and Scott’s.”
reached out and pulled Johnny in a tight hug.
“Thank you son.
I’ll cherish it forever.”
and Dora’s story will continue in the upcoming sequel, The Reluctant Guest