“Listen to me….!”
The only answer to this earnest entreaty was a bullet that sent Johnny scrambling for cover.
Chad Beauford had sworn a blood oath—lived his whole life under its shadow. He would fulfill that obligation, even if it meant the death of a man he’d come to count as a friend.
Keeping low to the ground, he skirted the edges of the clearing and crouched in the shelter of some dry timber.
A sudden rustling in the underbrush brought his instincts to the fore. Chad whirled and shot—failing to take into account that Johnny would be neither so loud nor so impetuous.
A glimpse of faded calico was enough to cause his heart to leap into his mouth.
Chad rushed to his sister’s side…..Johnny close on his heels. Both men stopped—mouths agape at the sight of Scott Lancer rolling off from atop the girl’s still form.
“I think you’ll find she’s all in one piece, but I’m afraid I rather knocked the wind out of her.”
Scott explained, “I got here in time to hear gunfire…..saw Miss Beauford dashing into the woods….and I couldn’t think that wise.”
Three pairs of strong arms reached down—helping the dazed young woman to her feet—though only Scott had the presence of mind to steer her to a fallen log where she could sit and catch her breath.
Her brother’s countenance was both stern and bewildered as he admonished, “What were you thinking, girl? If it weren’t for Scott, I could of kilt you.?
“Couldn’t help it…had to stop you, Chad,” she choked out. “If something had befallen one of you, t’would of been my fault!”
Hanging her head, Callie stammered, “I’m shamed to say it, but I lied….. Johnny never betrayed me! I was just purely filled with a devil-rage to find that all my love and yearning was for naught.”
“Callie…!” Johnny interposed, “I never meant to hurt you….I just didn’t understand about your Cumberland ways. I’m real sorry.”
She stood and faced him, two spots of color high on her cheeks. “T’weren’t but a misbegotten, adle-pated notion of mine, and when it come down to someone dying over it…..” her voice trailed off.
“But you weren’t a-lying about them being Lancres, were ya, Callie?” Chad asked slowly.
“No….that were the truth,” his sister admitted reluctantly.
“That’s what I was trying to talk to ya about, Chad,” Johnny broke in. “It just doesn’t make any sense…carrying on with this feud. Remember how I said that this is California, not Kentucky? Out here, a feud don’t mean nothing but killing someone for no good reason. Can’t we end this here…..and now?”
Turning towards his sister, Chad’s expression of mute entreaty made it clear just where his wishes lay, but ties of friendship warred with family loyalties.
For just a moment, Callie felt all the weight of an old, long-held secret and was conscious of a fleeting desire to be free of that burden. Whether it was fear, love or plain selfishness that stayed her, she wasn’t sure, but the words died before reaching her lips.
Instead, she smiled brightly, “Seeing as how you and me are most nearly the last of the Beaufords, I don’t ‘spect it’s anyone’s nevermind if we decide to cry peace.”
Nudging her brother, she urged, “Go on…!”
Beaming with relief, Chad wrung first Johnny’s hand, and then Scott’s—twice. There was some back-slapping and a bit of good-natured joking among the men, while Callie stood—wide-eyed—taking it all in.
Finally, Scott proclaimed firmly, “I don’t know about anyone else, but I left a half-eaten breakfast back at Lancer. How about we celebrate the end of hostilities with a batch of Teresa’s buttermilk pancakes?”
The group headed back towards the horses. Due to his injured leg, Johnny was bringing up the rear, and his brother dropped back to keep pace with him, letting the Beaufords walk on ahead.
“Hey, Scott…..! I thought we’d agreed that I was gonna handle this mess.”
“Who agreed…? As I recall, you announced that your chances were better than Murdoch’s or mine, and waltzed off—excuse me, limped off—without waiting to take a vote. Did you really think you were going to get away with that, brother?”
Johnny’s lips quirked, but he made no comment.
“The next time our father tells you to explain things to an overly-smitten young lady, perhaps I will give you the benefit of my advice. I know I said something about being sure you’d think of something, but it appears your methods leave much to be desired.”
For the second time in two days, Johnny dealt with his brother’s teasing by administering a sharp, admonitory slap to the mid-section.
Stifling a grin, Scott threw an arm around his brother’s shoulder and ruthlessly propelled him towards home.
Chad stuffed a few more of his belongings into the burlap bag that did duty as a saddlebag. Tattered and worn, it was gonna look mighty out of place hanging offa those fine horses that Johnny’s pa had been so set on giving him and Callie.
He’d wrestled a good bit with his conscience—not being one to accept charity—but had let himself be overborne.
Johnny had tried awful hard to talk him into staying—working some land here on this big ranch—and the idea was real tempting. But he’d decided it would be best to take Callie and move on.
Womenfolk were a mystery to him, and he hadn’t expected his sister to take it so hard when Johnny declared his true intentions. Because that was the root of yesterday’s near bloodshed. Callie wouldn’t never of balked at finding out Johnny was a Lancre if she’d believed they were still plighted.
No….! Almighty lovesick as she was, the most kindly thing would be to take her away….find some new countryside to call home.
These were some real nice folk, and he’d surely miss Johnny. But a body had a duty to his kin….to the sister who’d always cared for him.
After one final look around, Chad hefted the bag to his shoulder, walked out of the room, and closed the door forever on the Lancer chapter of his life. *
*As a footnote—for those of you who may never have seen the episode “Chad”—the original scene had Chad shooting Callie. On her deathbed, she revealed that Chad was actually her nephew—son of her older sister—and his father was a Lancre. Of course, the Lancers claimed Chad as one of their own, and we were subjected to the even more dreadful episode “Dream of Falcons”. This is my humble attempt to right that wrong.