A “High Riders” WHI
by Cindy Carrier
This is the last of a story arc for High Riders that began with “Touchstone” then “In Time Less a Stranger.”
A quiet witness to the hopes and fears
within his soul--
And that of others
Whom he yet loves.
They echoed the word “amen-amen…” their voices blending with finality and somberness in the soothing quietness of warm afternoon light. Life, thought Scott with grim reminiscence. Never so dear as when greeted by death.
Maria the housekeeper wept softly into her hands as Teresa led her away from the fresh graves – one of them belonged to her nephew, a boy barely a man who was now no more. She nodded when Murdoch put a consoling hand on her, patted the old man’s arm in appreciation, then made her way toward the wagons grouped just beyond. The ranch hands shuffled behind, would soon return to the work of re-building Lancer because it was their way of honoring the man they worked for. And had died for, too.
“Gracias,” Cipriano muttered into Scott’s ear, taking the shovel from his hands. The bigger man nodded to the ragged group of vaqueros, each bearing at least one visible injury. “I speak for them and say we are grateful for all you have done.”
“Glad to help,” Scott murmured back, wondering if he’d ever been thanked for digging a grave, yet understanding completely their reverence for the fallen. These were members of a family, whether related or not. And the Lancers, indeed all blood-related but scarcely considered a family at this point, supported them.
“Murdoch said some fine words,” Johnny, wan and perspiring, acknowledged as he shifted uncomfortably. “Didn’t think he had it in him…” He’d insisted upon attending the laying of the dead, such as it was, though he was undoubtedly suffering under the pain of the wound, the loss of vital blood, and the ache of bruised ribs. All the Lancers would be there, he’d pronounced, so Scott silently shoved first one boot and then the other onto his brother’s feet and helped him to stand before a quietly approving Murdoch. Yes, they all understood the need to be there…
“He recognizes loyalty,” Scott returned, watching the man that was their father as he stood in final contemplation of the two mounded graves. There was probably a lot more to Murdoch Lancer than he or Johnny would ever be able to discover in a lifetime. Men like him were complicated, despite appearing otherwise.
“I guess…” Johnny nodded at the view below them. “I don’t suppose he could’ve built all this without it.”
“I believe you’re right.” Scott reached out for his brother’s elbow. “C’mon, you’d better get back. You and he could both use some rest.” He nodded to Murdoch, hunched and leaning heavily on the cane, the skin of his face starting to gray. “He doesn’t look any better than you.”
“And what’re you going to do?” Johnny didn’t resist, knew his brother had seen the wound, and more, since the bullet had been pulled from him.
“Oh…” Scott issued a smile, moving him forward to one of the waiting wagons. “A good fight always requires a mop-up detail.”
He’d already seen to some of the work, ordering broken fences into repair and directing frightened horses and livestock to be rounded up. The torn earth had been tamped back down, gouged adobe patched up and shattered windows covered. They were simple tasks that only required good direction of the many willing hands, and Scott had hastened to order them in his father’s absence. To a man, the vaqueros knew more than he about running a ranch. But as the fight with Pardee had escalated, he’d seen a hunger in them to throw themselves behind someone who could lead them in this battle – and beyond. At least until their boss was fully back on his feet. For Scott, it hadn’t been difficult to re-establish the bounds of duty and order – he’d performed similar tasks in the past, both personally and professionally. Besides, there was little he could do inside the house, at least in terms of tending Johnny; Murdoch and Teresa were handling that. Scott had added only a little to their ministrations, last night untangling his brother from the covers and adjusting bandages after hearing sounds of unrest coming from Johnny’s bedroom.
“I’d have helped you,” Johnny now grunted and then let off something in Spanish that sounded like an epithet. “They all but had me tied to the bed…”
“With good reason,” Scott chuckled. “Get your rest, brother. I’m sure you’ll have plenty to do once you’re well. If you’re staying, that is.”
Johnny cast him a scowl but there wasn’t much ferocity to it. “Well, after getting a real mouthful of this good dirt, I can see how it grows on you. What about you?”
“I appreciate a good investment.”
“That don’t exactly--” Johnny broke off and swore again, in English this time, even as the pain pulled him down. Scott held on, and then Murdoch was there, tossing his cane aside and helping to lift his injured son into the wagon bed.
“I told you--” Murdoch barked, but Scott already recognized the tones of worry in his voice.
“I know what you told me,” Johnny cut him off as he planted his heels and shoved himself farther into the wagon. He shrugged off both sets of hands and closed his eyes. “I heard you, old man. Can’t help but hearing you. Don’t mean I’m going to heed every time. It don’t work that way.”
“Then we’d better find a way to make it work,” Murdoch retorted harshly.
“Yeah, I expect we will – eventually.” Johnny slitted his eyes and said to Scott, “Next time you get shot and let him fuss over you.”
“Well, I’m going to try and avoid the experience if I can,” Scott replied to Johnny. Over his supine form his gaze met that of his father’s, Murdoch wearing again that now-frequent frown of his. But this time Scott suspected it masked a well of new worry, that of his newfound sons’ well-being.
“I hope so,” Murdoch gruffly declared now, reaching down to retrieve his cane and drop it into the wagon bed beside Johnny. “There’s enough to worry about around here as it is. I’d like my partners – and sons – to keep out of that kind of trouble.”
“Can’t always dodge a bullet,” Johnny murmured, closing his eyes again, and Scott heard the rest of it, even unspoken… especially when it’s worth it…
Murdoch opened his mouth to retort but his gaze traveled instead down toward the hacienda – and to the spot where Johnny had met that bullet and greeted the good earth. The land, Scott knew, following his father’s stare; yes, that’s what would tie Johnny to this place. Something to claim as his own, to put his name to; an opportunity to ease out of the past and build a new future. And a chance to re-connect with this man – their father – and find his place as a son, and a brother…
That moment came back to Scott, seeing Johnny down and needing help. Maybe that’s what’d propelled him to his brother’s side – the hope of these second chances. Not just for Johnny, but for all of them, if they could put the years of estrangement behind them…
Murdoch had stiffly climbed atop the wagon and now took up the lines. “Coming?” he barked to Scott.
Scott kept his gaze onto that spot of second chances far below, and shook his head. “I’ll walk,” he said.
“Lucky,” he heard Johnny mutter with envy.
If the refusal irritated Murdoch he didn’t show it, only clucked to the team and got the wagon moving back onto the path. Scott followed at an easy pace, watching the set of his father’s stiff, broad back. Despite Murdoch’s declaration that only he would call the tune here, it was an all but unknown son who was running the rancho. Well, it was a matter of necessity. As the only Lancer still whole, the responsibility fell to him. And so far, the vaqueros had responded, accepting him as both a Lancer heir and a leader. And Scott Lancer would indeed work this ranch and all that came with it; he’d sweat it and curse it, hate it and love it and somehow find a way to make it feel like his own. He’d been contemplating the idea ever since he’d left New England, and it’d changed shape over the hundreds and then thousands of miles traveled, re-molded by a host of shifting thoughts and emotions; adjusted again by the sight of this vast land, and the meeting of his father – and his brother. Yet at its core it hadn’t changed, still rang deep and true within him. This place…his father…his brother – and the past…
“Care for a ride, patrón?”
The indiscriminate Cipriano stood before him again, holding the reins of two solid horses all saddled with rifles stowed in the accompanying scabbards. Cipriano, Scott discovered, made a good lieutenant. It was he who’d rounded up the vaqueros, translated directions and affixed himself to the side of his young commandante with an eagerness that motivated the others.
“Where to?” Scott asked, noting an idea reflected in the other man’s eyes.
“Perhaps to the ridge,” Cipriano suggested. “There is a good view of the valley from there.”
Yes, he’d seen that vista on the day he’d arrived. And with a good pair of field glasses any movement could be easily detected. A check on the remnants of Pardee’s gang was in order and Cipriano knew it. The other man would not, Scott knew, take over and perform the task himself. The orders had to come from the patrón.
Scott nodded at him and mounted. “Let’s go.”
They rode in easy silence out of the yard and away from the ranch, then cut across the foothills to the bluff road; there Cipriano produced the field glasses and offered them to Scott for the first look. Scott took them and scanned the area with easy experience, noting that the War had provided yet another useful tool for him to draw on – reconnaissance. He looked down onto the sprawling hacienda standing white and strong in the clear forenoon light. The place was backed by solid hills gathered close in protection, yet the house was set onto a clear section of land broad enough to detect any unwanted visitors. Once back up to full working capacity it would be nearly impossible to breach. In a moment of unabashed pride, Scott found himself glad to be offered a part of it.
“All in good order,” he reported to Cipriano, handing the glasses back over.
“Very good, patrón.” The other man busied himself putting them away, then sat silently beside him.
The vista re-gained Scott’s attention. The place commanded such power. A tangible image of work and ownership, literally humming with life, what with the sun warming his back and the breeze hissing in the grasses below, the far off lowing of cattle wavering through the air, and the strong call of a jay as it darted past. All that supported by human labor, the use of equipment and animals, the cooperation of the weather, the necessary paperwork…a massive collection all brought together by the determination of one man so long ago…
Saddle leather squeaked as Cipriano shifted beside him. “What do you see, mi jefe?” he asked in a probing voice.
Scott’s gaze continued to rove over the landscape. Indeed, what did he see – for himself? The house down there was not home, at least in the sense that home was, until recently, Boston. He’d needed the comfort of Boston after the War. Chestnut Street was a source of regularity and constancy, and had provided the schedule he’d needed to recover from illness and affliction. But the War – and war prison – had taught him that a man could not rely on constancy. And so after a period of convalescence he’d headed to St. Louis to finish his enlistment. Then came Harvard, and the family business and the expected life accorded those dwelling on Beacon Hill. Each success claimed and achieved…
And then dormancy, and a personal staleness he was beginning to detest in himself.
When Johnny had first insinuated that this was no place for the likes of him, Scott had responded with quick conviction to the contrary. He knew what Johnny – and Murdoch and the rest of the vaqueros, even Teresa – had first thought of him: a soft Boston boy of no physical skill, lazy with rich food and idleness. Well, he was no tin soldier, to use Johnny’s words. He knew hard work in both heat and cold, knew the ache of overused muscles, knew long hours in the saddle. Knew the sweat of pain, and the pain of death. Knew other things as well, like hunger and depravation...
He could ride and he could shoot. He knew how to launch an attack and how to defend a plot of ground. So, he’d easily committed to helping the old man out of his mess, because as much as he liked his comforts, he also relished a good trial of his talents, and the sense of personal satisfaction that came with success. This ranch would be a lifetime of learning to face and conquer once he signed that contract, and would provide the antidote to his apathy. It was a legacy, although he already possessed one like it as his grandfather’s sole immediate heir; the estate papers in Boston named him the recipient of Garrett’s personal and professional property upon that old man’s death. Both sizeable assets, both conferred by family members, yet…
His signature on this partnership offering held more weight than the possession of land and cattle and horses. It meant family – his true family, this one he’d heretofore only contemplated in emotional snatches over the years. This was now a union – father and sons, brother to brother. A marriage of the past and the present, with a maze of differing life paths to untangle, numerous questions to ask, and answers to be given. And at the center of it all was his father, Murdoch Lancer. His father…
Murdoch Lancer, the apparition of his childhood imagination now made real. Over the years Scott had developed no particular close feelings for the man who’d sired him, and only knew of him through the adjectives his grandfather had often used to describe the man – intolerant, arrogant, and selfish. Scott had more or less adopted those same opinions over time, sometimes weighted them in anger by the years of silence that had continued from one decade to the next, for the Lancer surname had been an oddity in the sea of Garrett relations, and created an awkward distance that had never been fully bridged. But in between all that there’d been childhood, (W) war, education, business, general living and a quiet excision of his parentage from his life.
And then that Pinkerton agent had appeared and opened it all for re-examination.
His grandfather had been expectedly scornful. See for yourself, Scotty. A commoner with imagination beyond his practical means. An hour of his time will be more than enough to convince you that he’s no father of yours, despite his blood in your veins. Want you? I daresay he wants something of you, but nothing more.
Scott found himself at first re-angered, then bemused, intrigued and finally outright curious. A soft childhood hope, one that Harlan Garrett would not likely understand, had him packing his bags. Whatever it is he wants, he told his grandfather, I’ll hear it from his lips. Besides, there are always two sides to every story. And Scott Lancer realized that he wanted that story; no more ignoring it. Time to meet it full on and discover just who this elusive father of his was, what he looked like, how he spoke, what he knew.
Now that he’d met Murdoch, Scott realized that Grandfather seemed to have forgotten a few pertinent descriptors of his distant son-in-law. Tall, for one, and proud. Confident. Defensive, judging by the stiff set of his broad shoulders, though twenty odd years of silence might have something to do with that. And there were a few other things Grandfather apparently did not know about the man. Murdoch Lancer was prosperous. That would gall Harlan Garrett who, when he talked of Murdoch, described him as completely lacking business acumen. A learned man, unless the bookcase spread across the wall of the great room was only for display. Scott thought that was not the case, considering the used condition and casual arrangement of the volumes crammed on the shelves. Obviously injured, as he’d revealed at their meeting. His limp was pronounced, yet his reliance on the cane was disdained, a weakness he surely detested. Stubborn, surely. Well, they all had a streak of that.
And something else about Murdoch Lancer had leaked through during that first meeting in the great room. Despite his biting words and his harsh temperament, in the moment he’d turned to reach for the contract of their joint tenancy of Lancer Scott saw it, the faint trembling of the big hand as it opened the portfolio. Well, you’re human, too, you son of a bitch, he’d thought then. The old man was nervous, maybe even a little afraid. The years might have hardened him on the outside, but a tiny piece of his heart had been exposed in the middle of that first meeting. That revelation had clutched Scott, further rattled his own carefully held ideas about the man – and the circumstances of his past…
Now here he was, sitting atop a ridge looking out over his father’s life and land, running his operations. Lancer, he said silently to himself. Lancer…
“I see the future,” he stated to the patiently waiting Cipriano. Second chances, he thought again. A new start for all of them. A family to be created, if that was possible.
Beside him Cipriano nodded. “Si, el futuro,” he spoke. “The big patrón will be glad you have called it that. This house, it has long needed the strength of a true family for its future. La familia es muy importa.”
Even with out knowing the language it was easily translated – family is very important. Scott tipped his head and smiled. “Cipriano, my man, you do have a way with words.” Family…
Cipriano returned the smile. “Mi jefe, you have done all you can for the estancia. Now you must see to your familia – tu padre y tu hermano. Johnny has been hurt and your father is not yet strong enough…”
Cipriano was right on both observations. Two bullets for two family members, compliments of Pardee. Scott allowed himself a moment of anger over that realization, and grim satisfaction that the unjust damage to the Lancer family was now over. The thought surprised him a little. The Lancer family – his family.
“Patrón?” Cipriano touched his sleeve. He hesitated as Scott swung a look onto him, but then spoke. “Patrón, I want to say…you have helped so much, first with the wounded, and now…”
Scott smiled, but it held no boast. “Nothing more than a lowly soldier’s battle experience,” he returned with soft reminiscence, lifting the reins. Yes, he knew how to bury the dead…
“It is experience that shows, patrón,” Cipriano nodded.
They worked their way back to the hacienda in a friendly silence.
Cipriano took his horse once they were back inside the yard, accepted Scott’s directive to change the remaining guards, then silently headed for the stables.
Scott rubbed a hand over his grimy face, shifted it to scrub through his gritty hair, temporarily undecided what to do. There seemed little for him to do at the moment – perhaps he’d been too efficient. He gave the house looming behind him a glance. He should probably head inside and give his father an update--
The housekeeper Maria stood by the back door. “Café?” she inquired.
Coffee…the tantalizing aroma steaming of the pot in her hands brought Scott out of his reverie and onto his feet. Then he glanced down at himself in dismay, at his dirty, sweaty shirtfront, his stained palms, his mud-dried boot tips. “I’m not…” he began apologetically.
Her gaze went over him. Her eyes were still a little red and swollen from crying, he noticed. But she had apparently put her grief aside to tend to the others of this rancho. She nodded her head back toward the kitchen. “You can wash – in here,” she offered, her words coming carefully, perhaps to avoid confusing him with her accent.
“All right,” he agreed and followed her inside.
The kitchen was fragrant with the mingled odors of baking bread and roasting meat. It was all he could do not to grab a seat at the large plank table and call out for a helping of everything cooking and simmering around him. When had he last eaten? He didn’t even know what time it was. Maria set the coffee tray on the table and came forward to hand him a cake of thick soap. He quickly rolled his sleeves, pumped water, lathered and scrubbed. A clean towel was ready when he rinsed. He dried himself and turned to the table. She had already poured the coffee into a blue patterned cup and added two generous slices of bread onto a matching plate. A crock of butter and jar of fruit preserves sat nearby.
“Por favor…sit, eat,” Maria gestured, almost curtseying to him. “La comida…” she stopped and corrected herself. “It will be some time before dinner is ready.”
“Thank you,” he returned with a quiet smile and sat down.
She, like the vaqueros, held servant-like respect for him. It was not so different than Boston, where servant civility had always been required. In coming here he felt like no master of others, even if he was the son of the big patrón. Yet he understood the trappings of servitude and what his father had established, much like that his grandfather had also mandated. His favorite place in that big Boston house had always been the kitchen, where the cook welcomed him to sit with her and learn the ways of making a meal. It was here that a solitary boy could delve his hands into flour and sugar, crack open an egg, knead dough and make a crust, peel potatoes, even pluck a chicken. Sometimes he was even allowed to rake the coals and empty the ash from the oven. In a room somewhat like this he could talk and ask questions and be treated like the others that gathered there, in simple fashion. Here he learned to trod the lines between upper and lower classes, to accord friendliness and sincerity and gratefulness.
Maria reached for the pot to pour some more coffee; quickly he put out a hand. “You don’t have to serve me,” he told her, pouring for himself. He indicated the room. “Not in here anyway.”
The look in her eyes told him she understood, and her smile for him warmed. “The boy, Diego,” she began softly. “He was my primo – my nephew.”
“I’m sorry,” Scott returned kindly. “His actions were brave, and surely saved lives. If there’s anything I can do…”
She shook her head, blinked back freshly forming tears. “You have already done so much, señor. The patrón, he is so grateful. He does not say, but it is in his eyes. He is a proud man, and proud to have his sons with him now.”
The past – his, Murdoch’s, Grandfather’s even Johnny’s. Maybe it was better to let it go and press forward. Would any discussion fix anything? They knew nothing of each other, aside from the precious little they’d shared in the past couple of days. He hadn’t been Murdoch’s son before now, nor Murdoch his father. Their arrangement here, while tied by blood, was far more business-sided than personal. They could easily keep it that way and ignore the blasted past.
“Permiso,” Maria murmured and inclined her dark head in apology. “I speak out of turn,” she said.
“No,” Scott said, rising. “You are welcome to speak freely to me. I appreciate your honesty.” He shrugged. “There are a lot of things – about him – I don’t know…”
“It will be known,” Maria told him. “In good time, all will be known….Please,” she added, gesturing. “Anytime you wish to come here…”
Her words clung softly to him as he slipped through an inner door – proud to have his sons…all will be known…Maria sensed more; Cipriano, too. Household talk rang true, Scott knew, and thought again of that trembling hand as it withdrew the partnership paper. The past, he realized, wasn’t buried all that deeply, for any of them. It might be thrust aside to concentrate on the present, but it could not be completely ignored.
He took a breath and worked down the hallway, making his way back toward the front of the house – somewhere there was a door leading to the great room, and from there the stairs leading to their bedrooms. Perhaps he’d find the back stairway – no doubt there was one around here--
Murdoch frowned at him from behind his desk. A paper, the subject of his accusation, was held tight in one large fist. Scott recognized it – he’d placed it there just before the little funeral service.
“An inventory – of sorts,” Scott explained, approaching and stepping through that glare. But he kept a respectable distance from the edge of the desk; this was his father’s domain and he was a stranger son. Still, from this position his father had to look up to him. “By category – fences, windows, plaster, livestock, horses…deaths,” he continued. “For your ledgers. I wasn’t sure how you posted entries.” Or where the books might be. He waited as Murdoch scrutinized the list again. The desktop, as it was earlier, was neat and tidy, and Scott suspected that the drawers would be filed in some similar manner.
Murdoch finally looked up. “I take it you’re familiar with your grandfather’s accounting business?” he asked sharply.
“I’ve done my share of bookkeeping if that’s what you’re asking,” Scotty dryly replied. “I’d be happy to post it if you’d care to – well,” he broke off seeing a stormy look march quickly across Murdoch’s face. But then he pressed on. “As a partner in this business it would be appropriate to examine the books.”
“Are you familiar with investments?” Murdoch shot out.
So this was how it was going to go. “Stocks, bonds, securities, acquisitions,” Scott rolled out, holding back his temper, though a part of him thought his father’s irritation was more a show of displeasure for Harlan Garrett rather than a questioning of his own skills. “Yes, sir, I’ve had the experience. I hope you’ve made diverse investments?”
Murdoch grunted, temporarily mollified, and put the paper down. “So far it’s kept us afloat.”
“Very good, sir.”
They stared at each other in the silence that lengthened. Then Murdoch abruptly turned his chair to look out the big window. He gestured. “You’ve supervised this? Authorized these…repairs?”
“Every last one,” Scott said to the back now facing him, waiting now for the interview certainly on his father’s lips.
“I don’t approve of waste,” Murdoch stated.
“Nor do I…sir,” Scott agreed.
Silence again, quicker and stiffer this time. Scott felt the past nibbling at them both, but he remained quiet, despite the voice inside him urging him to ask the questions – all of them – right now. But he did not ask. He wanted to know more about this ranch, examine the ledgers, take stock of his investment…
Learn more about this man who was his father. For his part, Murdoch had only added five new sentences to his twenty-odd silent years on the subject, declared the past to be dead and over. For Scott, that remained to be seen.
“I saw…” Murdoch hesitated. Slowly he turned the chair back around, got himself to his feet. He frowned, and gave Scott a curious stare. “You helped dig the graves…”
“Yes.” Scott nodded, wondering why that was such an oddity. But he quickly examined his own performance – and appearance – from the past couple of days. Some adjustment was necessary. Murdoch only saw Boston finery, a rather show off display of horsemanship, and some shooting skills. There was only so much to be gleaned from that Pinkerton report. And certainly there were memories of the past that he was applying – however inadvertently – to his son. “Despite what you might think,” Scott told him, “I’m not unfamiliar with the task.”
“The War?” Murdoch guessed.
This was the second inquiry his father had made about his military service, and he made it sound so strange. Then Scott supposed it was a rather foreign concept – much had been fought in the Eastern and Southern theaters of this country, and little this far west. “I’m sure you or Johnny would’ve done the same if able,” he replied matter-of-factly.
Murdoch’s mouth twitched. “Yes,” he softly answered. “As for the rest…” He picked up Scott’s crude accounting report. “I intended to show you…”
“There didn’t seem to be any point in waiting,” Scott shrugged. Truly he hadn’t done it to prove any point – if his father thought that then there was some correcting to be done on his part. “There’s no need to question my abilities, sir. I can assure you--”
“No, no,” Murdoch quickly interrupted and shook his head. “I can see that you’re capable. I – I…” he broke off, cleared his throat. “I guess I didn’t know what to expect. I thought that perhaps…” He stiffened then stumbled. The cane dropped from his hand as the pain hit hard.
Swiftly Scott grabbed for him, caught him before both knees banged the floor, got one of the long arms around his own shoulders and brought him back up. “You need to stay off that leg,” he declared.
“There’s no time for that,” Murdoch gritted. “No time…”
“Then you’ll have to make time, sir.”
He led Murdoch to an easy chair, the older man breathing hard and trembling in his grasp. Carefully Scott eased him down, removed the arm from around his neck, knelt beside him. Murdoch’s hand came onto his arm, held tightly as the pain continued to course through him. His hand was large, Scott noticed, much like his own. That hand – the real touch of bones and flesh that were his father. And something that flowed quickly between them…a want – no, a need…
Need – he hadn’t thought he’d ever need a father – his grandfather had successfully filled that role. But now, holding the man that was his father, he felt it – this twin need of theirs…
He reached for Murdoch’s bad leg, felt the corded calf muscle. Slowly Scott eased the limb forward, pressed at the knot under the flesh. “Am I hurting you?”
“No – no,” Murdoch shook his head tightly. “It comes and goes – it’s better now…” He let out a long breath. There was a sheen of sweat on his cheeks. He grunted, sat gingerly back. “Thank you…son.”
Scott did not reply. He worked at the cramp a little more, felt it ease, then got to his feet, again standing over his father. Murdoch didn’t like it, he saw. He’d backed his father right into that chair with no way to escape.
To his credit, Murdoch held firm. “I wanted to ask you…” He crammed his lips together, worked over what he wanted to say. Scott waited silently and with a little impatience – was it that difficult to voice what was on his mind? He was the one who had invited the past right through his front door – did he think he could so easily pretend it never existed?
“Are you staying?” Murdoch blurted out.
“Why do you ask?” Scott countered, then bit back his sharp tone. He doesn’t know you, he silently reminded himself.
“I – I…” Murdoch struggled for a better position. “I just didn’t know if you had any second thoughts – or if Johnny did, either.”
“Are there conditions to the record of partnership?” Scott asked. He hadn’t seen the terms yet, and well he should before he signed.
Murdoch pointed. “There, on my desk…”
Scott crossed to the big desk, opened the leather flap of the portfolio, retrieved the folded pages.
“There’s no trial period, if that’s what you’re asking,” Murdoch told him as he read down through the first page. “As far as I’m concerned you are entitled to what I’ve offered, a full third. But if you change your mind, there’ll be no sales to any outside parties; it reverts to the remaining partners at market rates.”
Scott nodded. “Logical.” He looked up. “As for my answer, it hasn’t changed. I accept your offer in full and will sign when appropriate.” Too formal, he silently chided himself. This was his father he was speaking to.
Murdoch nodded, faint relief crossing his features. “I – thank you – son.” He swallowed. “It’s been too long…”
A slight understatement, Scott thought to himself, and waited for more. But Murdoch’s gaze had ducked somewhere down between his feet and he was waiting, too.
Scott took a breath, then let it go over the inner howls of protest in his mind. For now it was about this family trying to put itself together. If they could do that then the questions about their past would naturally follow.
“How’s the view from that ridge, anyway?”
Scott turned from the gaze he’d leveled onto the darkness settling beyond the tall door to his brother standing at his shoulder, not overly surprised that Johnny had watched him this afternoon. His brother was restless, despite the wound bothering him.
“All quiet,” Scott reported back.
Johnny nodded, fell silent for a few moments so they could share the creeping softness of the evening. My brother, thought Scott. Truth be told, he’d half-expected to be greeted by a wary collection of half-brothers and –sisters; it wouldn’t be unseemly for Murdoch Lancer to re-marry and establish a new family. But there’d only been Johnny. His brother – as strong-willed and stubborn as the rest of them.
“I heard you’ve got everything all buttoned up around here,” his sibling now said, gesturing to the quiet yard.
“Who says so?” Scott prodded; apparently his brother had been more than just watching him this afternoon.
Johnny shrugged with his good shoulder. “Heard some talk. The vaqueros, they like you.” His gaze, eyes fever bright, ran appraisingly over Scott. “Didn’t figure you one for getting dirty,” he said, but there were tones of soft respect in his voice.
“You’d be surprised,” Scotty replied dryly. “I’m a fair hand with dirt. Besides, we’re short-handed. And there wasn’t much for me to do in here.”
“Oh, I bet the old man has plenty for you to do in here.” Johnny’s smile turned devilish. “Bookkeeping, for instance.”
Not readily, Scott declared to himself. “Good bookkeeping helps to pay wages,” he commented.
“Sounds like you’re pretty handy to have around, Boston,” Johnny continued, his smile still in place. “You can ride and shoot and shovel dirt…”
“And all in the same day,” Scott added with some self-deprecation, which caused his brother to let off a short laugh.
“Oh, Brother,” Johnny grinned, reaching for his hurting shoulder, “that’s one way to get out of Murdoch’s bookwork.”
“Speaking of Murdoch,” Scott began, turning away from the doorway to settle his back against it. “He does want to know if you’re staying.”
“Yeah?” Johnny straightened. “He didn’t come out and ask me – at least not yet.”
Now it was Scott’s turn to shrug. “Maybe he’s afraid of your answer.”
“Did he ask you?”
Johnny shifted, rubbed at his arm a bit. “He’s already got my blood on his precious blades of grass – what more does he need?”
Assurances, thought Scott. Pledges, vows. A signature on that document – family…That term again… “What was it he said about earning it?” Scott reminded him.
“He’s got some ideas, all right,” Johnny replied, taking a few restless steps. “Reminds me of a dictator I once met down in Mexico.”
“How’d that go?” Scott asked him.
Johnny’s smile went slightly brittle. “I sided with the revolution.”
“He said he calls the tune,” Scott cautioned. “He likes things his way.”
“That’s because there’s been no one else to sing.” Johnny paused. “I expect he won’t always like what I have to say.”
“Nor me,” Scott agreed.
Johnny nodded. “I bet he’ll listen to you, though.”
“You asking me to intercede when things go sour, Brother?” Scott asked.
“I can handle my own fights,” Johnny rejoined quickly, then his voice softened a little. “But you got a good way with words.” Some mirth came back into his eyes. “And if you ever agree with me then maybe you could let the old man know.”
“A united front?” Scott clarified.
“Something like that,” Johnny smiled.
“Well, thanks, Brother,” Scott chuckled. “I’ll take that for the compliment I’m sure you intended it to be.”
Johnny grinned. “We’ll see who pays the compliments when I get back on a horse.”
“So you’ll be staying then?”
Johnny looked back out to the darkness, then nodded. “Can’t turn down a good offer now, can I? That’s a nice bed I’ve got upstairs. What about you?”
“I won’t complain about the bed, either,” Scott retorted. “And I haven’t changed my mind – I’m staying.”
“Good,” Johnny smiled back, and then let off a little yawn. “See you at breakfast then.”
He ambled off, leaving Scott with a feeling of growing like toward this new relative of his. Except for that Boston nickname – that was going to have to go.
Scott turned to contemplate the evening once more. He’d ordered a patrolling guard for this last night, but didn’t expect any more trouble. Word of Pardee’s routing would surely travel fast, and likely deter anyone else with big ideas to take over this part of the country. They’d stay away from Lancer property, at least. Besides Morro Coyo, Scott wondered what other towns were situated nearby. If Lancer boundaries touched any of them then perhaps there was opportunity to establish some sort of law enforcement. Surely the other area ranchers would support that. The first step would be to make some visits, bring together a group of influential men willing to financially back the proposal, contact those familiar with the legalities, Senators or Congressmen…
Scott turned once more and found his father standing there leaning on his cane and looking like he should’ve found his own mattress hours ago.
“The days start early here,” Murdoch continued with some warning in his voice.
“I don’t require much sleep,” Scott reported lightly. Turning in early had not been his custom for the past five years. Sleep was elusive, certainly desired but not fully attainable. Not since Libby, where the noise had been constant no matter the day or night, a collection of muttering and moaning, bodies shifting, feet shuffling. A life of gray existence where all things but breathing were suspended in the crush of physical depravity. For months after he was home – Boston, that is – he could not quiet that collective sound in his mind when he closed his eyes. When that finally faded the black dreams took their place and robbed him of any extra time cast for sleep.
His father didn’t know this, of course. His father didn’t know anything about him, other that the facts contained in that Pinkerton report, and what might have been observed in the past few days. Certainly his war record was recorded in those files. At least Murdoch knew something of his life.
“It’s hard work, running this ranch,” Murdoch announced.
“Yes, sir, I imagine it is.”
“I’ve been shaped by this land.” Murdoch took a step nearer, easing into the spot Johnny had just occupied. His voice lowered. “Maybe it’s made me too old. Pretty country, though...I’d like to show you the rest – as soon as I can ride…”
Scott allowed a smile with his glance back. “You sound like Johnny.”
“Patience isn’t a strong Lancer trait,” Murdoch commented, “but determination is.”
Scott nodded. The deep silence of the night enveloped him; he felt some of the tension he’d been carrying ease. A man could find sleep in this black quiet – the real sleep of men. Boston, for the comfort it had once provided, had a hum to it. A subtle one, to be sure, but one that perhaps had unconsciously reminded him of Libby. There was none of that here. Long and silent nights here could make a man believe in himself, hold him to the future. If only he’d had this when the War ended, it might’ve allayed the black dreams…
Murdoch’s hand came unexpectedly onto his shoulder, held only a moment. But long enough for Scott to sense that feeling of need rise between them again – this time it came up strong, and pulled hard at him. Yes, he wanted all this, and not just for himself; he wanted this partnership – this family – to work. Murdoch did, too, he knew. His father might be guilty for the empty contents of his sons’ pasts, but what good would it do to condemn him so completely that there could be no faith in the future? For it was faith that bound them all together; deeper than trust, stronger than their blood ties. That offer, Scott thought. It could never make up for the silent years – Murdoch knew it, and knew that his sons knew it as well. But it was a gift, a promise to reset their varied life paths into one. Could a man be faulted for such generosity, for his strong sense of belief?
An hour of time and one thousand dollars had been the invitation; hope and curiosity had been his traveling companion. But faith – the deep-down belief in the unseen and the untouched – was his reason for staying. Faith would perform the necessary re-adjustment of their lives to make them a family. Like a flow of water it would find its way, regardless of obstacles, run strong and true toward a sure end, if they would allow it.
They couldn’t demand any more so soon.
“Here,” he said, as Murdoch began moving slowly and painfully away. “Let me help you…”