The Christmas Letters
(A Lancer Christmas Story)
Christmas Eve Day. . 1869
Teresa O’Brien awoke on Christmas Eve morning, 1869, with a feeling of contentment she hadn’t felt for a long time. The wonderful Christmas smells filled the hacienda; the pies, the cookies, the turkeys. The smell of the pine from the Christmas tree. It brought back the wonderful memories of her childhood Christmases at Lancer.
For as long as she could remember, Christmas was a big event. Murdoch Lancer always ensured his employees and their families were treated well that time of year. And although the early years were rough, he had always managed to reward them with a little extra in their pay. And the last four or five years, when the ranch really prospered, he would set aside December 23 as the special day for his employees and their families.
He would wait on them that day; setting up large tables and he, Teresa, and her father, Paul O’Brien, Lancer’s right hand man and Murdoch’s best friend, would serve the employees a wonderful Christmas dinner. He would joke and laugh with them, and let them know he appreciated their efforts, and loyalty, to him throughout the year.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day would be spent with family. The Christmas Eve dinner was always spectacular, and Murdoch, Teresa, and Paul, along with special invited guests, would enjoy the delicious meal, complete with Lancer’s best china, candles, and Christmas centerpieces.
Every Christmas Eve, Murdoch would give the Christmas blessing. Thanking the Lord for his health, and the health and continued happiness of his friends. And always, the blessing would end with a prayer for the health and happiness of his two absent sons. Scott and Johnny. And he prayed that the next Christmas Eve they would be sitting at his table with him, sharing Christmas Eve dinner. . . . . .
Christmas morning would be spent opening the many colorful packages that sat under the tree. So many for Teresa. From her father. And Murdoch. And her extended family at Lancer. And the day would be spent receiving visitors at the ranch, and in the evening, traveling to other ranches in the area, visiting and enjoying all the decorations of the various homes and enjoying the wide array of foods.
And every Christmas night, Teresa recalled, Murdoch would retire early, but not to his room. He would retire to the smaller room just down the hall from his. The room she learned at an early age was Johnny’s room. Where no one was allowed to enter. Except for Murdoch.
What he did in Johnny’s room on Christmas night, Teresa, as a child, never knew. But a few years ago, as she walked past the room on the way to her own, she heard the big man crying. And it was only as she matured, and fully understood the loss the man she considered her uncle had endured, that she realized what he did in Johnny’s room. On Christmas night.
He loved the memory of the little boy who slept there. Who played there. Who laughed there. So many years ago. And Teresa ascertained that this one night, the most special night of the year, was the night that Murdoch allowed himself to feel his loss. To let himself be sad, be angry, and allow himself to truly miss not only Johnny, but his oldest son, Scott, as well.
As Teresa walked over to her dresser and began to brush her pretty, black hair, tears welled in her eyes as she recalled last Christmas. The Christmas of 1868.
The sadness that spread over the Lancer ranch was felt throughout the community. Paul had been murdered a little over a month before by the land pirates that were terrorizing the close-knit community. Teresa was devastated, she and her father had been so close. And to make it worse, Murdoch had been wounded as well, and nearly died. Teresa had sat with him, leaving his side only to bury her father. And as she sat with Murdoch, and worried over his well-being, she worried for her future, too.
If Murdoch died, what would become of her? Where would she go? And if he did recover, and Lancer fell to the land pirates, what would happen to the both of them. She knew that the empire known as Lancer met more to Murdoch than anything. And if he should lose it, he might just give up on life as well.
Teresa remembered how Murdoch had recovered enough by Christmas, and how he had tried to make it happy for Teresa. He had insisted on a tree, and gifts, and a special dinner. Not for him. But for his Teresa. And she appreciated it. But she remembered that last Christmas night, Murdoch Lancer was not the only one crying.
And she remembered praying for a miracle. “God, please bring Scott and Johnny home. Where they belong. To be with their father. And please don’t let Lancer fall. And please, let next Christmas be happy, with Murdoch and his sons together.”
As Teresa looked out her window at the bustle of activity on this Christmas Eve morning, she knew that miracles did happen. For her prayers had been answered.
Four months later, Murdoch found his sons and brought them home. And together Lancer was saved. Oh, she remembered, it hadn’t been easy. Murdoch’s oldest son was a true Boston gentlemen. Polite. Smart. And sometimes, maybe a little too sensitive. But he had proven he had what it took to survive out west. And Teresa enjoyed talking with him, about Boston, about the theatre, about all the niceties of life. And she loved him as the mature, sensible, and caring older brother she had always wanted.
Teresa walked to her wardrobe closet and picked out the outfit she would wear this Christmas Eve Day. And as she did so, she thought about Murdoch’s youngest son. Lord, what a handful, she laughed. From that first day, when she noticed him at the stage. And how he had everyone at the ranch transfixed at his very being. And she remembered the fear and sadness they all felt when they thought he was lost to them, shot out of the saddle as he proved himself worthy of being a Lancer.
And how, as she got to know him, in the days during his recovery from being shot, she came to love his wry sense of humor, his vulnerability, and his playfulness. And she loved him not only as an older brother, but as a buddy, a good friend, a confidante.
And sometimes, she wondered if maybe she loved him another way. . . . . . . . . . . .
Well, whatever. All Teresa O’Brien knew was that this Christmas was going to be the best one ever. For Murdoch, Scott, and Johnny Lancer would be together. The way it should of always been.
As he awoke on this Christmas Eve morning, Murdoch Lancer was elated. He had his sons with him. His Sons. He still couldn’t believe it. He thought about how much life the two young men had brought to the hacienda. Made it a home. And the pure love and joy that filled his heart this day was overwhelming. And he realized he had never, not even as a child in Scotland, been so excited about Christmas. He laughed as he realized he felt like a big kid, waiting for Santa Claus.
Murdoch excitedly wrapped the two large boxes that were his son’s gifts. He hoped his boys would like his gifts to them. He thought for a long time what he would give to the both of them. After all, they were so different; even their tastes in clothes. But yet, so alike in their youthful ways.
Murdoch had decided to give both his sons beautiful new jackets. When Scott first arrived, he purchased enough clothes just to get by; and, Murdoch knew at the time, it was uncertain whether the young man from Boston would stay. But he had. And collected new and better clothes along the way.
But he didn’t have a warm jacket for the cooler months, and Murdoch, on a side trip to Sacramento a few months before, had found just the right one for his oldest son. A suede jacket, dark brown, with matching riding gloves. Murdoch had been searching for a long time, and when he spotted the jacket, he thought, That is Scott. It was just one of those things that when you saw it, you knew it was exactly what you had been looking for. He even had his name, Scott Garrett Lancer, embroidered inside.
But the jacket he wanted for Johnny couldn’t be bought. When Johnny first arrived at Lancer, he wore a well-worn, black bolero jacket trimmed with gold Mexican embroidery. But it had been ruined by Pardee’s bullet, torn and bloodied, and Murdoch recalled how he unceremoniously burned it, along with Johnny’s torn and bloodied shirt, and watched them go up in smoke. As if he could make all of his son’s pain go up in smoke as well.
Murdoch had bought another
jacket for Johnny, which his son appreciated, but the older man learned that the
original jacket, for whatever reason, had been important to his son.
So with the help of Maria and the other senioritas that called Lancer
home, a new jacket, as close as possible to the original, was made for Johnny.
And it was even labeled Custom Made for Senor John Lancer.
As Murdoch shaved and dressed and prepared for this most important of Christmas Eve Days, he excitedly wrapped the other small things he had bought for his boys. Pens, paper, and the novel, “Call of the Wild,” for Scott. Sweets for Johnny. Along with a painting of a wild stallion with the words “Forever Free” written across the sky. How that reminded him of Johnny.
Murdoch walked over to his dresser and opened the drawer. He removed two stacks of letters, still sealed in their envelopes. Letters that were written but never sent. Letters that he would write, every Christmas night, in Johnny’s room. One Christmas letter to his son Scott in Boston. The other, to his son Johnny. Address unknown.
This year, however, the Christmas letters were written a few nights early. For they would be given, along with the others, to his sons on Christmas night.
The letter writing had begun on Christmas night, 1845. Scott was six months old, and Murdoch had actually written the letter as a diary. Murdoch surmised at the time Scott would be home with him shortly, and he could read the letter to Scott on a future Christmas Eve.
But Scott never came home. And Christmas, 1846, was the next letter. It was the only one Murdoch had sent. But it was returned, RETURN TO SENDER. And a few weeks later, a threatening letter concerning a long and ugly custody battle from Mr. Harlan Garrett in Boston ensured that Murdoch Lancer would not be sending any more letters to his small son.
So he decided to write the letters every Christmas night. Someday, Scott would get to read them.
Scott’s Christmas letter of 1847 brought exciting news. You have a baby brother, Scott. His name is John Ian. We call him Johnny. He has black hair and very blue eyes. I’ve told him all about you, and he loves you and can’t wait until he can play with you. I know you’ll be a wonderful big brother.
Murdoch remembered that letter. He had been so excited to tell Scott about his little brother. And a new feeling of hope grew inside of him that year, and he told himself then that next year, he would have his sons with him, and they, along with Johnny’s mother, Maria, would be a family.
But on Christmas night, 1848, Murdoch found himself again writing to Scott. And his hope began to fade. Would he ever have him back home? Why was he so afraid of Harlan Garrett? Because Harlan Garrett had made any actions Murdoch had taken to get Scott back very difficult, even threatening he and his present wife with court action regarding their son, Johnny. So Murdoch had backed off. He couldn’t risk losing Johnny to some court system that Harlan Garrett ruled.
But it didn’t matter. Because Christmas night, 1849, found Murdoch Lancer writing not one, but two, Christmas letters. For Maria had left earlier that year, taking Johnny with her. And as he sat in Johnny’s room that lonely Christmas night, he realized that this letter writing campaign of his was going to be a long one. And he wondered whether he would ever feel like living again. .
He sealed the envelopes containing this years letters, and wrote their names and the date on each envelope. He placed one at the bottom of each stack, and wrapped Scott’s letter in blue and white ribbon; Johnny’s in blue and yellow ribbon. And he wondered whether he was doing the right thing. After all, the thoughts and the ramblings of a lonely man throughout the years could hardly be thought of as pleasant reading. But the letters contained Murdoch’s hopes for his sons, his dreams. And most of all his love.
These letters would be his greatest gift to his sons. . . .
The three Lancer men had planned a trip to town. Some last minute Christmas shopping, some last minute banking business, and a Christmas Eve lunch were in order before the Christmas Eve dinner that evening.
Once in town, Murdoch went his way—to the bank and business. Scott and Johnny went their way—last minute shopping. As the two young Lancer men walked down the walk, they were stopped by two of Morro Coyo’s young lovelies. “Hi Scott. Hi Johnny,” the girls dreamily sang. “Ladies,” came a unison reply, with a tipping of their hats. Then, the two young men found themselves being pushed under the mistletoe that hung from the ladies’ store, and the two young lovelies each grabbed a Lancer and planted the biggest kiss they could on their handsome faces. Then the girls giggled and ran away.
“Boy!” Johnny exclaimed. “That was something, huh Brother?”
“Yes,” Scott replied. “Too bad they’re only 12 years old.”
“Aint that the truth?” Johnny replied. “I either get ‘em too young, or too old.”
“I know,” Scott laughed. “Mrs. Carson just loves you. She’s always pinching your cheeks and threatening to take you home with her.”
“I know,” Johnny winced. “She’s also 70 years old!”
The brothers walked happily to the general store, where Johnny wanted to purchase some last minutes gifts for some of the ranch hands that had presented him with gifts. Scott stood back and watched with joy as his younger brother enjoyed Christmas for the first time. Johnny had asked Scott what he should do if he opened a gift that he didn’t like? Or if he didn’t know what it was? And, Johnny confided to his older, wiser, brother, he was nervous as hell. What if someone, especially Murdoch, didn’t like what he picked out for them as a gift. Scott had replied, “Johnny, you could give Murdoch a wooden nickel, and he would love it, because it came from you.”
When Johnny had made his purchases, the two young men walked to the hotel, where they were to meet their father for lunch.
The streets of Morro Coyo were bustling with people doing their last minute Christmas chores. Everyone was happy; mothers holding excited children by the hands, the women walking with baked goods, and the men stocking up on wood for fires. And as Murdoch made his way to the hotel to meet his sons, he reveled in the pure joy and merriment of this Christmas Eve. For he, for the first time, felt the joy and happiness that is Christmas. And it was all because of two young men who had finally found their way home.
“Murdoch! Murdoch Lancer! Merry Christmas!” yelled Buck Davis from the neighboring Davis ranch. “How is everything?”
“Fine, great,” Murdoch replied, as the two men shook hands. “You will be over tomorrow for brunch? Teresa and Maria are cooking up a storm.” Murdoch inquired of his friend.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” Buck replied. After some chatter, Buck took Murdoch to the side. “You know, Murdoch, me and some of the fellas were talkin’ about you the other day.”
“That right?” Murdoch asked, wryly. “Good things, I hope.”
Buck continued. “Yes, friend. Good things. We were talking about the change that’s come over you since your sons came home. Those of us that have known you for years haven’t seen that gleam in your eyes or that smile on your face since, well. . .since Maria left. All those years ago. And we’re happy for you, buddy. And we love the boys. You’ve got two good ones, you know.”
Murdoch was taken aback by his friends revelation. “Well Buck, I feel good. Haven’t felt this way in years. And yes, I am proud of my sons. Both of them. Although, I’m finding out, children, no matter how hold they are, can be a handful at times.”
Buck laughed. “Of course. That’s their job. My boy is 30, and sometimes I still want to turn him over my knee.”
Then he quietly told Murdoch, “You know, when you brought Johnny home, some of us, were a little. . .skeptical. You know, with his past and all. But once we got to know him, and heard what he did for Lancer, taking that bullet and all, well, we just love him to death. And we’re amazed at how close he and Scott have become.”
Murdoch felt proud as his friend relayed the feelings of so many people about Johnny. And Scott. And he cleared a lump from his throat. “Yes, I thought I’d lost him a second time that day. But Johnny’s tough, and to this day, he insists that hole in his back was just a scratch.”
Murdoch and Buck exchanged Christmas good-byes and Murdoch made his way to the hotel. He searched the lobby, and finally spotted his two sons in the dining room. As he walked toward them, he smiled to himself as he saw what two good-looking sons he had. He knew that the first day he laid eyes on him, in his study. The good looks come from their mothers, he smiled.
After a wonderful lunch, the three Lancers headed back to the ranch, where preparations were being made for the annual family Christmas Eve dinner. It was an occasion where everyone would dress up, and even Johnny had agreed to wear the suit Murdoch had bought for him on their early trip to San Francisco.
Guests for dinner included Sam Jenkins, who was thrilled to be at Lancer for a reason other then tending to a sick or wounded Lancer; Val Crawford; and Maura Talbot and her husband, Jim. Also invited to dinner were Cipriano and his wife, Maria. Murdoch didn’t know what he would do without the two of them.
The only person missing was Paul O’Brien. He had sat at this table every Christmas Eve, and Murdoch considered him like a younger brother. And this was the second Christmas without him. Last year, Murdoch had been too ill to notice; his only thoughts were in trying to keep Teresa happy. But this year, the Lancer patriarch definitely felt the loss of his friend.
And he looked at Teresa, who looked so beautiful, and grown up, Murdoch thought, as the light from the candles shone on her face, her hair fixed on top of her head, and the beautiful silk green, rather low-cut dress, she wore. Paul, you should see her. You would be so proud. . . .
And as he looked proudly at his sons, he saw a look, between Johnny and Teresa, that he hadn’t seen before. It was a quick look, but their eyes told a story. And Murdoch wondered if maybe, something, was there. . . . . . . . .
The Christmas Eve dinner was wonderful, and the company perfect. Dessert and Christmas Eve cheer followed.
After the guests had left, Teresa prepared hot chocolate and brought it into the great room. Murdoch sat in his chair by the fire, Teresa at his feet. “This is another Christmas Eve tradition,” Teresa explained. “My favorite. When Murdoch reads the Christmas story.”
Scott and Johnny also sat on the floor, hot chocolate in hand, and listened as their father read the story of the true meaning of Christmas. They couldn’t believe that was Murdoch. Gone was the gruff, bossy rancher and in his place a soft-spoken father reading the Christmas story to his three “children.”
Scott felt a shiver run through his body. So this is what it could have been like, all along, he thought. He remembered his Boston Christmases. Oh, they had been wonderful. With baked goods, food, Christmas trees and decorations, brightly colored packages. But he never felt like he belonged. Harlan Garrett had ensured his grandson received all the material things for Christmas a child could want. But there was no warmth in the Garrett home. No pure joy. Just a bunch of Garrett’s business associates, in and out on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, comparing the food and décor with that of the neighbors. And the help. No thanks for them during this holiday. Oh, Garrett would give them a few hours off a few days after Christmas. But there was never anything special done for the people who were the true backbone of the Garrett home.
As he sipped his chocolate and listened to the words his father read, Scott glanced at his family. At Teresa. What a special girl she was. She had been through a lot the past year, for someone so young. And so beautiful. . . .
Then he looked over at his little brother. His brother. God, Scott loved him. He would sometimes cry when he thought of the life his brother had led. Of the sweet little boy that lived here and was taken away. Of the young child, the young man, who had to fight, and kill, to survive. But it was better now. At least Scott hoped, and prayed so. And he was so thankful that their father had finally brought them home.
And the look that Scott saw in his brother’s eyes, as he looked at his father, was one of awe. For Johnny was transfixed by his father. And although Scott had always known, this moment in time cemented that knowledge: that Johnny Lancer truly loved Murdoch Lancer with all his heart, and all his soul.
Johnny was oblivious to everything and everyone around him, as he listened to his father’s voice. He has such a deep, soothing, caring voice. . . when he isn’t bellowing at someone, at me, Johnny smiled to himself. But he remembered it was the soothing voice that kept him alive as he recovered from Pardee’s bullet.
Johnny had told both Scott and Murdoch he didn’t remember much from that week, when pain and fever overtook him. And he didn’t, only fragmented memories, bits and pieces of things that didn’t make any sense. But one thing he did remember, that he didn’t tell anyone. . .was when he almost gave up. When he almost decided it would be better for him, for everyone, if he just went to sleep and didn’t wake up. For he was so tired. And he hurt so bad. And he was so confused. And he wondered why he was even created, why he even existed.
But it was the voice of his father, asking him to stay, that gave him the strength and courage to go on. For he was needed here. And wanted. And loved. And that if he were to leave, the part of his father’s heart that was for him and him alone would be forever broken.
So he stayed. And it hadn’t been easy. But at this period of time, on this Christmas Eve, listening to his father’s voice, and feeling the presence of his brother next to him, Johnny was glad he did. For the first time in his life, he felt happy. And at peace. For he loved. And was loved in return.
When Murdoch closed the family Bible, from which he read the Christmas story, he and his sons and Teresa held hands, and silently, each prayed, in their own way, for this moment in time. When they were together. As a family. And teary eyes and light sniffles, and lots of hugs, went around the small family that night, the holiest night of the year.
It was a little before midnight when Murdoch suggested bed for everybody. Tomorrow would be a busy, exciting, happy day, and he wanted everyone to be rested and feeling good.
As Murdoch, Scott, and Teresa made their way up the stairs, Johnny held back, and watched the three of them climb the stairs with a disappointed look on his face. Murdoch noticed Johnny holding back and the look on his face.
“What is it, Son?” he asked, a little concerned.
“Nothin,” Johnny mumbled.
“You look like you lost your best friend,” Scott added. “What is it?”
Johnny paused. “Well, you’ll think I’m silly, but, on Christmas Eve, ain’t we supposed to leave something for. . .Santa, a snack or somethin’? That’s what I’ve always heard anyway. And I’ve always wanted to do that, just never had the chance to. . .”
Murdoch felt a sudden rush of sadness run through him.
Teresa giggled, for she hadn’t left a snack for Santa in years.
And Scott, well, Scott never had the opportunity to, either. Harlan Garrett had informed a three-year old ‘Scotty’ that Santa was not real, he didn’t exist, that he, Harlan, was the one who bought Scotty his presents. Period.
“Well, Brother, I never had the chance to leave something for him either. And I think it’s time I did,” Scott announced.
The sadness left Murdoch and was replaced with joy as he watched his sons and Teresa prepare a sandwich, and of course, milk, for Santa.
“Now, we can go to bed,” Johnny happily announced. “The man in the red suit might not of been able to find me in the past, but this year, he knows where I am.”
My Baby, Murdoch sighed.
5:00 a.m. Christmas
Morning. . .
Johnny slept off and on the whole night. He was just too darn excited. Quit acting like a kid, Johnny. It’s only Christmas. Nothin’ to get all worked up over, he chided himself.
But it was something to get worked up over. He could remember only one happy Christmas in his life. When he was four, maybe five. He and his mother lived with an older couple. She cleaned their house. He could remember them being very nice and sweet, and they gave Johnny, along with their young grandchildren, presents and candy. He remembered they even gave his mother a beautiful shawl that she kept for years.
But shortly after, his mother met a man, and they were off to who knows where. But the nice elderly couple was gone, and with them, the gifts they had given to him. The joy that was Christmas was never felt again. Until now.
He jumped out of bed, put on his pants and shirt, and bounded down the hall to Murdoch’s room. My Father’s room, he thought. Do I dare enter? But he did, for it was Christmas morning, and Murdoch Lancer awoke to the pure excitement of his youngest son. And it was a side of Johnny that Murdoch didn’t know existed.
Next, to Teresa’s room. He knocked. Hard. Several times. Then opened the door and peeked in. “Wake up, Miss Teresa. Merry Christmas!”
“Johnny, it’s 5 am,” she groaned, and pulled the covers up over her head.
“Yeah, but its 5 am on Christmas morning! We can’t sleep the whole day away,” Johnny responded.
Then to Scott’s room. He didn’t knock. He just barged in and jumped on his sleeping brothers bed, and playfully slapped him and woke him. “Merry Christmas to you Big Brother!” Johnny exclaimed.
“Huh?” Scott moaned. “Johnny, go back to sleep.”
“No, Scott, it’s Christmas. Get up! We’ve got packages to open!”
Twenty minutes later, after waking up and getting some coffee in them, the family sat around the tree and one by one opened their presents. Teresa first. Then Johnny. Then Scott. And Murdoch waited until last.
There was a story behind each present that was told as the recipient opened it. Why it was bought, where, and when. Funny stories, touching stories.
Teresa was thrilled with the necklace Scott had given her. And overwhelmed with the matching earrings from Johnny. And she cried when she opened the beautiful dress that Murdoch had purchased for her from St. Louis.
“You’re growing up, my dear. You deserve pretty things,” Murdoch told her.
“Do you think Daddy would approve?” she asked, tears welling in her eyes.
“Yes, darling, I think he’d be very proud,” Murdoch replied.
Scott and Johnny regretted never knowing Paul O’Brien.
More present were opened, more stories were told, and Scott and Johnny were delighted with their gifts. Scott was particularly fond of his novel, and vowed to begin reading it on Christmas night, after the events of the day were concluded. And Johnny loved the sweets. He liked the painting, said the horse had reminded him of the one he and Wes had caught. . . . .but he loved the sweets.
Murdoch was delighted with his gifts as well. But in reality, he didn’t care if he got any gifts at all. He had what he wanted in the three young people sitting under his tree this Christmas morning.
He was just about ready to present Scott and Johnny with their special gifts, when Johnny reached under the tree and retrieved a small package.
“Murdoch, this one is for you. From Santa,” he exclaimed.
“From Santa, huh?” Murdoch asked, amused. He could feel his son’s eyes upon him as he opened up the small package, and his eyes fell upon a figurine of a brown-haired man sitting on a rock, reading a book to a black-haired boy who sat in his lap.
Johnny explained. “I bought that when we went to San Francisco, remember? Anyway, I was looking around in one of the stores and I saw that. I remembered you told me how I used to sit on your lap when I was little, and you would read to me. I thought that kid looked kind of like me when I was little. Then the lady in the store saw me looking at it, and asked me if it reminded me of my Papa. And I said yeah, it did. . . . .” his voice trailed off.
“Thank you, Son. I’ll put it on my desk, and I’ll think of you every time I look at it,” Murdoch said, truly touched by the gift.
“Yeah,” Johnny replied. “Think of me every time we fight,” he laughed.
“John-n-n-n-y,” Murdoch admonished. Everyone laughed.
Now was time for the special gifts for Scott and Johnny.
Murdoch walked behind the couch and retrieved a large, brightly colored box and handed it to Scott.
“Merry Christmas, Son,” he said.
“Thank you, Sir. I wasn’t expecting anything else,” Scott said, surprised.
He carefully unwrapped the package. “Hurry up, Boston. It’ll be Easter and you’ll still be opening your Christmas present,” Johnny urged.
He opened the box and took out the dark brown suede jacket.
“Oh Murdoch. This is. . .wonderful. How did you know? And I love the dark brown color as opposed to the beige suede.”
Murdoch explained how he had been looking, and found it in Sacramento. “Try it on, make sure it fits.”
Scott put on the jacket and it fit perfectly. He buttoned it up and reveled in its warmth.
“Oh Scott, you look so handsome,” Teresa gushed.
Murdoch nodded approvingly. “Looks good, son. Oh, did you see the gloves?”
“Why, no.” Scott put on the gloves, and he looked like he was raised at Lancer.
“Thank you, Sir. It’s great. I don’t know what to say.”
“I had your name embroidered inside as well. Scott Garrett Lancer.”
He walked over to his father and shook his hand, but it turned into a loving father/son embrace.
“You look rugged in that, Boston. Boy, if those Boston ladies could see you now,” Johnny laughed.
Scott removed his gloves and jacket and was placing them back in the box when Murdoch retrieved a second package from behind the couch.
“Johnny, I think this is for you.”
Johnny’s face lit up at the sight of another brightly colored package. For him.
He looked at the box and smiled. “Sure is pretty,” he said. Then, forgoing the wrapping, he tore it open until he got down to the box. Opening it, he lifted up a black jacket with gold Mexican embroidery.
“Murdoch.” was all he could say. “My jacket. It’s just like the one that got ruined that day. . . .how. .?”
“Well, son, it wasn’t easy. Maria and the other senorias made it for you. Ordered the gold embroidery from somewhere over the border. I don’t want to know how they got it. Put it on, make sure it fits.”
Johnny began to put it on and noticed the words Custom Made for Senor John Lancer, embroidered inside. It was a perfect fit. Even the sleeves were the right length. Murdoch had noticed that Johnny always had to roll the sleeves of his shirts or his jacket up over his wrists, and remembered his mother had to do the same thing.
“I know how important that jacket was to you. I’ll never forget the look you gave me when you asked for your jacket and I told you I burned it. But no son of mine was going to walk around with a bloodied, bullet-ridden jacket. I hope this makes up for it, just a little,” Murdoch said.
Johnny looked shyly at his father. “Yeah, that jacket was special to me,” he said quietly. “But this one is, too. Thank you,” he said. Then father and youngest son shared a heartfelt hug.
With the presents opened and breakfast eaten, the Lancers awaited the guests that would be visiting the hacienda throughout the day. And there were many. While last year only a few close friends had visited on the somber occasion of O’Brien’s death and Murdoch’s being shot, this year the house was filled with townspeople who hadn’t stepped on Lancer soil for years. But Murdoch didn’t mind. He was thrilled to have them.
And while Teresa had always had her share of her young lady friends visiting, the Lancer patriarch noticed that this year, there were quite a few of the town’s lovelies visiting. And talking to his sons. He just smiled to himself.
Early evening and the family of four headed to various neighbors’ homes, visiting, eating, and partaking of the Christmas cheer that was offered. It was the first time that Scott and Johnny had actually entered some of the homes, although they knew the people who lived there. Murdoch felt happy when on the way home, Johnny mentioned that “all of the homes were nice, but none were as nice as my house.”
My house. Murdoch smiled to himself as he realized it was the first time Johnny had ever referred to Lancer as “my house.” Not the ranch, or Lancer, or the hacienda. But my house. Maybe, Johnny was finally beginning to feel like he belonged.
It was late when they returned home. After a few minutes of chatter, Teresa went up to bed. After a few more minutes, Scott and Johnny decided to follow suit.
But Murdoch stopped them. “Boys, I have something else I would like to give you. Could you come up with me to my room, please?”
Scott was behind Murdoch, followed by Johnny, and they entered Murdoch’s huge bedroom, the largest bedroom at Lancer. He walked to the dresser and retrieved the letters from his drawer. He handed the stack wrapped in blue and white ribbon to Scott, and the stack wrapped in blue and yellow ribbon to Johnny.
Both sons looked a little puzzled.
“Letters, Sir?” Scott questioned.
Murdoch simply nodded.
Both young men unwrapped the stacks and began sifting through them. They looked at their father questioningly.
“Boys, every Christmas night, I would. . .go into your room, Johnny, and write letters to my boys. It was my way of showing you that I cared, that I was thinking about you, and that I wished the best for you. I wrote the first letter your first Christmas, Scott, when you were in Boston. I thought it would be the only one, thought I’d have you back in time for the next Christmas. But I never did. Later, I found myself writing two letters. To both my little boys. . . .”
His voice drifted off, and Scott and Johnny realized what their father had done through the years.
“This letter was sent,” Scott said as he noticed the letter that Murdoch had sent, but was returned, all those years ago.
“There’s no addresses on my letters,” Johnny realized.
“Son, I didn’t know where you were, where to send them. . . .”
Johnny let out a heavy sigh, and felt Scott’s hand on his shoulder.
“Anyway,” Murdoch continued. “I thought you might like to read them. Of course, you don’t have to, you can do whatever you like with them. But what I wrote to you comes from my heart. And the last letter, for this year, well, I wrote that one two nights ago. It was the happiest letter I ever wrote. And I hope, the last one I ever have to write to the two of you.”
A silence fell among the three men, and Scott uncharacteristically cleared his throat to break the tension.
“Thank you, Sir. I’m sure they will be interesting to read.”
Johnny was silent.
As his two sons said goodnight and went off to their own rooms, Murdoch sighed. I hope I did the right thing, giving them those letters.
Scott had planned to begin reading “The Call of the Wild” when he retired to bed on this Christmas night. But he admitted to himself he was a bit tired. With the good food, and drink, and pure happiness of the day, it was a good tired. And he knew after reading a few pages, he would be asleep.
But his eyes turned to the letters that his father gave him, and curiosity took over. He decided he would read a few of them tonight, and read the remaining at his leisure.
He began with the first letter. From 1845. A simple letter from a young father, wishing his baby son a Merry Christmas, with the promise that next year, they would be together. Then he read the letter that Murdoch had actually sent to him, in 1846. But that his grandfather had had returned. Nothing significant, except that Scott found out that his present that Christmas was a puppy. Scott smiled warmly at the thought of a puppy in the Lancer hacienda.
He read the letter of 1847, when he found out he had a brother. And the next years letter was about the adventures, or misadventures, of his younger sibling. And how Murdoch couldn’t wait to have his two boys together. Scott realized, even then, that Johnny needed an older brother to keep him in line.
He read a few of the letters of his adolescence, but he was beginning to feel sleepy. So Scott decided to read the two letters that he felt were the most important: the Christmas letter from last year, and the one that Murdoch had written a few nights ago.
He was pleased to read that Murdoch had mentioned nothing of the terror that overtook the ranch the year before. He did mention he had been ill; but no mention of the land pirates or being shot by Pardee. Scott did notice the letter was shorter, and he noticed his father’s handwriting did not look as strong as it had in previous letters. And it ended with his father’s wishes for a Happy New Year, and the hope that next year they would be together.
Now for the letter of this Christmas. The most important Christmas of Scott’s life. He began to read his father’s words, his wishes for the Christmas of 1869 to his oldest son:
My Dearest Scott:
I hope it was a happy one for you.
Words cannot express the
happiness I feel. Not only now, at
Christmas time, but every day. The
arrival of you and your brother has made me feel alive again for the first time in a long time.
I don’t think you can
know how proud I am of you. You are
a fine young man. A bit polite,
perhaps, but that is hardly a fault. But
then, your beautiful mother had the same wonderful manners.
I marvel at how well you
have adapted to life out here. Your
leadership, your camaraderie, and your respect for others has, in turn, gained
you respect by everyone here at the ranch and in the community.
And for me personally.
I think the happiest time of my life was when I watched you the day the
three of us signed the partnership papers.
Scott, you absolutely glowed! From
the minute you walked into the lawyer’s office, to when you signed and watched
me sign, and as we both held our breaths as your brother signed his name.
The absolute joy I saw come from you awakened my heart. And I knew then that finally, I had done the right thing in
bringing you home.
I will always regret
never having known you as a baby, a child.
Missing your first steps. Your
first words. Your first hurt.
Your first love. But I can only hope that as time goes on, and we continue to
work together, to live together, to laugh together, that regret will fade and I
can truly enjoy the man that is my oldest son, Scott Garrett Lancer.
The son that I love.
And as I close my
Christmas letter of 1869 to you, my oldest son, please know that my wishes for
you haven’t changed over the years. Health,
happiness, peace. Always.
December 23, 1869
As Scott finished the letter, he felt he understood his father a little better. And realized that under the gruff exterior of Murdoch Lancer was a man with a heart of gold, and nothing but pure love for his sons.
Scott went to sleep on this Christmas night with a warm feeling in his heart. And it was for his father.
Johnny wasn’t quite sure if he wanted to read the letters. After all, this had been the best day of his whole life, well, second only to the day his father brought him home. And he didn’t want to ruin the feeling that he had..the feeling of acceptance. For the first time. From this father.
And he thought how mad he would be at Murdoch if there was anything in those letters that would spoil his happiness. Like maybe his father berating his mother for taking off with his young son.
But then he realized that Murdoch wouldn’t dare do anything to endanger the feeling that was beginning to grow between the two of them. So he decided to read a few of the letters.
He read the first one from
the year 1849. The year his mother
left. With him.
And he learned that Murdoch had bought two Pinto ponies for his boys that
Christmas: White Paws for Scott,
and Brown Paws for Johnny. Murdoch
wrote: The ponies are here,
waiting for you and your big brother to ride them.
They are so excited.
Wonder how long he kept them, Johnny thought, sadly.
He read a few more letters from his early years, then he read the letter of 1859, the year he turned 12. The year that Johnny Madrid was born. And his father’s hope that all was well with him and his mother. That they were happy, and being taken care of. . . .
The letters were becoming too painful now. Not because of what Murdoch had wrote. There was nothing but love and hope in the words written by his father. But painful because Johnny knew the truth. The truth of how his life really was. And he vowed then that Murdoch could never, would never, know. Because he knew the Old Man would feel guilt, and that the guilt would eventually kill him.
Like Scott, he decided to read the last two letters. Johnny’s Christmas letter of 1868 was almost identical to Scott’s. No mention of the trouble at the ranch, or Pardee. Just that Murdoch hoped that next year, they would be together.
Then he opened the envelope for this year. With a pounding heart, he read the words of his father, the words the Old Man was too proud to speak:
My Dearest Johnny:
Merry Christmas, Son.
I hope it was all you hoped it
These last few weeks
leading up to Christmas, I have watched you.
And it has been a pleasure. You
remind me of a child, so excited about Christmas. Helping decorate the house and the tree, trying to figure out
the perfect gift for everybody. You
seemed so happy, you have a spark in your eyes that I’ve never seen before.
And I hope it stays.
I remember the time,
during your recovery, when you told
me you weren’t the two-year old
little boy that used to live here. And
not to treat you that way. I know
you’re not, but sometimes, when you smile, or when you get a certain look in
your eyes, and yes, even when you pout, you are, and always will be, that little
boy. For I loved him so.
But I also want you to
know that I am proud of the man that little boy turned out to be.
A man who is caring, thoughtful, and putting others before himself.
And who is so brave. And,
like his beautiful mother, can charm the pants off of anyone.
And I may get mad at
you. And we will not always agree.
But that’s because, my youngest son, you are so like me.
Vulnerable. And afraid of
being hurt. By those we love.
My heart will always
break at the way your early and young adult life turned out. Believe me, if I could of found you, I would of saved you
from it. But you told me once it gave you character.
Well, my son, no one can have more character than you.
And I want to thank you
for taking back your rightful name. You
do it proud. You do me proud.
And I wish for the
peace, and love, and happiness that my little boy, my son. . . . my life. . .
You have, and always
will have, a special place in my heart.
I Love You, John Ian
December 23, 1869
Johnny could hardly read the last few lines, the tears were so heavy in his eyes, and the lump in his throat made it hard to breathe. So he buried his face in his pillow. And wept. But he wept for joy. For he always doubted his father’s feelings for him. But he didn’t anymore. The Old Man loved him. Well, hot damn, wasn’t that something?
And at that moment, Johnny felt the bond that he had been searching for with his father since he arrived home. And it felt good. The bond with Scott had come early, without any kind of thought. It was just there.
But the bond with his father took work. And it was through the written words of his father, words the Old Man could never say to his face, that awakened the feeling in Johnny’s soul.
And for the first time in his life, he felt like he was a Lancer. And he was damn proud. . .
Murdoch was up early this day after Christmas, waiting for his sons at the corral. The workload between now and the spring round-up would be light, giving the owners and the ranch hands some extra time to do little jobs around the ranch. Today, Murdoch and his sons would be riding the east range, looking for strays and deciding where the best place would be for a planned well.
Scott was the first to find his father.
“Good Morning, Sir. Sleep well, I hope?” was Scott’s polite greeting.
“Yes, Son. How about you?” Murdoch asked, a little curiously.
“Just fine, thank you. I, uh, did some interesting reading last night. Interesting, and I might add, a bit touching. And enjoyable.”
“Really?” Murdoch asked wryly.
Scott laughed. “Those letters. . .they mean a lot to me. They are very special, and I want to thank you for writing them and giving them to me. . .to us. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for you, all those years. . . .”
“No Scott. It wasn’t always easy. But I knew it was something I had to do. For the two of you. I just knew that someday you would read them. I just hoped it would have been sooner.”
Scott looked at his father shyly. “So, I glowed, huh? The day we signed the partnership papers?”
“Yeah, you really did. It was like a light that shone around you. I can’t explain it, but it made me very proud, and happy,” was Murdoch’s enthusiastic reply.
Scott continued. “I felt really good about what I was doing that day. I felt like, for the first time in my life, I was doing something for me. Not for my grandfather, or for college, or even for the army. It was for me. And it felt so right. . . I’ve never regretted my decision to stay here, Murdoch. I never looked back. It felt right from the beginning. It was like I finally found what I had been looking for. This place. And. . .you.” An unaccustomed break appeared in Scott’s voice.
“I’m just sorry I didn’t ask you home sooner, Son. So many lost years,” Murdoch sighed.
“No Murdoch. It was just the right time. If you would have contacted me sooner, I really don’t think I would’ve come. I really feel like we both knew, in our hearts, when the time was right. You needed me. And I. . .needed you.”
Murdoch didn’t expect such openness from his oldest son. But he was thrilled with it. And he knew he had done the right thing by Scott. Now, what about Johnny?
After a thoughtful glance between father and oldest son, Murdoch inquired about his youngest.
“He’ll be here, he was grabbing some biscuits,” Scott informed. “I’m going to saddle up and you two can meet me later.” Scott knew his father would want to be alone with Johnny, just as the two of them had been.
He’s so smart. . .and thoughtful, Murdoch thought.
The sight of his youngest made Murdoch smile. Half running, biscuits in hand; he really did look like a child, rushing to catch up to his brother and father.
“Mornin’ “ Johnny greeted. “Sorry I’m late.”
“You’re not, John. Scott was early, as usual.” Murdoch noticed Johnny’s eyes; they were a bit red and swollen. His heart sank, just a little.
“Sleep well, Johnny?” Murdoch asked, concern etched in his voice.
“Yeah. . . .well, off an on. Did some interestin’ readin’ “ Johnny replied.
Murdoch gave Johnny time to organize his thoughts, to say what he wanted to say, in his way.
“Those letters. . . . .must a been hard to write, huh?”
“A little,” Murdoch replied. “But writing them was therapeutic.” He saw Johnny’s puzzled expression. “It was good for the soul,” Murdoch explained.
“Oh,” Johnny said in understanding. “It was thera..thera.. . good for the soul to read them, too.”
“Murdoch?” Johnny questioned.
“What happened to our ponies? Brown Paws and White Paws?”
Murdoch was humbled at the question that he knew could only come from his Johnny.
“Well, son, Teresa eventually adopted Brown Paws. He was a good pony, and she loved him very much. And White Paws, well, he was given to Victoria Barkley for her daughter, Audra. Both ponies had long, happy lives,” Murdoch reported.
“Good. They got the better end of the deal. Bet T’resa and Audra were a lot better for them ponies to look at then me and Scott would’ve been,” Johnny laughed.
Then Johnny began to relay his thoughts, carefully, to his father.
“Those letters are. . .special. I didn’t read all of them, I will in time. But the ones I did read, well, I found out how wonderful it would’ve been to grow up here. I wish I had. . . . But then, I wouldn’t have character, would I?” Johnny asked, sadly.
Murdoch just nodded.
“My favorite letter was the last one. The one you just wrote. I didn’t know until then how you really felt. Didn’t think I was worthy of you. Or the name.” He paused. “I’m glad I make you proud, though. I try. . . . Papa. .”
Johnny couldn’t hold back the tears that ran down his flushed, handsome face. Murdoch held out an arm, and Johnny moved toward him, accepting his father’s embrace as Murdoch pulled him into him.
“Someday, Johnny, you’ll understand. When you’re a father. That the love is just there. And that you care about your children, even when they’re not with you.” Murdoch tried to explain.
Johnny regained his composure, wiped his eyes, and his nose. “I’m goin’ to get Scott. See you in a little bit. And. . .thank you,” he said as he walked toward the barn.
Murdoch nodded. And watched as Johnny walked away to find his brother.
And Murdoch realized how wonderful this Christmas had been. It wasn’t his first, and hopefully, wouldn’t be his last. And the special feeling of that special day would remain forever in his soul.
For it was the first Christmas his family had been together. Murdoch. Scott. Johnny. Teresa.
And at that moment, Murdoch Lancer vowed that short of death, his family would never be separated again.
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO EVERYONE IN LANCERLAND. HOPE YOU AND YOURS HAVE A GREAT ONE! LVE