(sequel to Discovery, which you may want to read first to avoid some confusion)
Excerpt from the ending of Discovery: This time Murdoch did reach out for Johnny, relieved his son didn’t pull away. “Son, anything you want to know about… I mean… just ask me any questions you have.”
Johnny dropped his arms and reached out to touch the wooden horse. “Maybe we could talk… about how it was when I was here before?” He was grateful for the supporting hand resting on his shoulder.
L * A * N * C * E * R
The Long Overdue Talk
Johnny nervously stroked the wooden horse’s main.
“Now seems like a good time to talk.” Murdoch pointed to an old chair covered with a thick layer of dust.
“Sounds good to me.” A relieved Johnny grabbed the sheet and the rocking horse and followed his father.
Johnny stared at the old chair then shrugged his shoulders and used the sheet to swipe away the dust. Then he turned and with a slight bow and a wave of his hand offered the seat to his father.
“Thanks Son.” Murdoch chuckled, and lowered his large frame into the old chair.
Johnny sat on the floor facing his father and pulled the horse next to him.
“So, what is your first question?” Murdoch leaned back in the chair and waited.
“Did you ever meet my abuelo and abuela?” Johnny reached out to pet the rocking horse. Somehow it reassured him.
“Yes, I did. After Maria took you away I hired the Pinkerton Agency. I needed to raise money for the fees so I went back to working as a deputy.” Murdoch sighed and absently rubbed the arm of the chair, “Cip and Paul took care of the ranch while I went to Mexico with Joe Barker.”
“Was that before he went bad?” Johnny still held some anger toward the man who framed him for murder.
“Yes, Son, he was a good man back then.” Murdoch understood Johnny’s feelings; he was still having trouble accepting his old friend would so easily sacrifice Johnny. “We were after a murderer who had crossed into Mexico.” He rubbed his eyes, trying to gather his thoughts. “Since we were near the Hernandez Rancho I told Joe I needed to make a private trip. Alone.”
Johnny watched his father slip into the past.
“They were wonderful people…”
“Were?” Johnny whispered, hesitant to break the mood.
“Yes, they died years ago. I’m sorry you never got to meet them.” He stared at his hand resting on the chair arm. Another loss to add to the many for his younger son.
Johnny stared at the horse, just another lie. Why did mama rob him of his abuelos? Was she afraid they would try to send him back to Lancer?
“I stayed with them for a day. They were very kind to me and before I left your abuela gave me the letters I had sent them.”
Murdoch smiled at his son, “Your abuela was a very wise woman. She told me to keep the letters because she knew that one day you would find your way home.” He leaned forward and petted Johnny’s horse. “She said I should show you the letters so you would know how much I loved you. How hard I tried to find you.” As he leaned back into the chair a groan escaped.
Johnny started to stand but Murdoch waved him to stay seated.
“She was right, seeing the letters helped.” Johnny sighed and bowed his head. “They hurt but they helped too. Does that make sense?”
“Look at me, son.” Murdoch leaned forward and took Johnny’s chin in his hand and raised his son’s head.
Johnny looked into his father’s eyes.
“Yes, son, it makes sense. It answered some of your questions, now maybe I can answer some of the others for you.”
Afraid his next question might cause Murdoch to change his mind about talking he hesitated but after a few moments, “Why do you think mama left?”
Murdoch leaned back into the chair, closed his eyes, and blew out a long sigh. He knew this question would eventually be asked, but he still dreaded it.
Feeling he had indeed angered his father; Johnny bowed his head and hugged his chest.
When Murdoch opened his eyes and saw the hated position he realized Johnny had misunderstood his actions. “Son, I wish I knew.”
At his father’s words, Johnny raised his head and saw eyes that weren’t angry but sad. “Sorry, Murdoch, I thought you might have…”
Murdoch shook his head. “I asked Señora if they had any idea why Maria left. Her answer surprised me but it also made sense.”
“What did she say?” Johnny’s voice rasped.
“Your mother grew up in wealth, they had servants and Maria wanted for nothing. When she first saw Lancer it was still a work in progress.” He smiled, “It didn’t look anything like it does now. I also didn’t have any servants, only Maria who had come to cook for us when Catherine and I first bought the ranch.”
Johnny sat quietly and watched his father’s face.
“Anyway, the Señora told me that Maria was spoiled and accustomed to having everything her way. Maria’s letters to them were always criticism of me, the ranch hands, no servants, and that I expected her to help around the hacienda. After you were born she was angry that I hadn’t sent for a wet nurse and a maid to take care of the both of you.”
“She always expected me to take care of her-” Johnny stopped suddenly when he realized he was going to reveal too much.
Taking pity on his son, Murdoch know now was not the time for him to probe Johnny’s past. “The Señora told me she knew her daughter was exaggerating the situation at Lancer, but she had hoped Maria would mature once she had a hijo to care for.”
“Well, we both know that never happened.” Johnny grimaced.
Murdoch just nodded and shifted in the chair.
“So my abuela wasn’t surprised when you wrote her about mama running away?” Johnny bowed his head again.
“No, Son, she wasn’t.” Murdoch bent foreword and placed his hand on Johnny’s shoulder. “I wish Maria had taken you to them, they would have kept you safe.”
“Me too.” The whisper was so soft Murdoch almost missed hearing it.
Murdoch’s back was aching, too late he remembered why he moved the uncomfortable chair to the attic. However, he wasn’t going to stop this conversation so he leaned back and waited.
After a few minutes a soft voice asked, “What were they like,,, my abuelos.”
“They were loving and gracious.”
Johnny nodded, “Do I look like them?”
“You look like you mother who looked like her mother.” Murdoch smiled. “Your abuelo’s name was Diego and your abuela’s Elena. Diego was a little taller and heavier than you are now, but he was still very active and surveyed his rancho everyday.” Murdoch chuckled, “He loved his palominos as much as you do. He even gave me one of his stallions after Maria and I married.”
Johnny perked up when the stallion was mentioned, “Yeah.”
“Yes, and your Barranca is from that stallion’s bloodline.”
“What did ya name him, the caballo?”
“Actually Diego had already named the horse.” Murdoch smiled then revealed, “Barranca.”
Johnny laughed, the one that always warmed his father’s heart. “Damn.”
“You remind me of your abuelo.”
“How?” Johnny started petting the rocking horse again.
“The way you work the horses, Johnny.” He smiled at the surprised look on his son’s face. “You inherited that gift from your abuelo, he was famous all over Mexico and even into California. When I brought Barranca to Lancer he caused quite a stir and was highly desired. Many of my neighbors begged for his stud services.”
Johnny laughed again, “So my Barranca has kin running around the valley.”
“Yes, but a palomino stud does not guarantee a palomino offspring, it’s a 50/50 chance, so there were some disappointed ranchers.”
Johnny nodded his head.
They sat in silence again.
L * A * N * C * E * R
Johnny continued to rub his horse then pushed on the rump to make it rock. “Murdoch… If ya really wanted Scott home; instead of spending money hunting for me why didn’t ya use the money to fight that bastard Garrett.”
Taken aback by the sudden change of topic, Murdoch was tempted to warn his son about cursing but decided not to call Johnny on his language. After all, he felt the same way about Harlan.
“Johnny I knew Scott was safe and cared for; I didn’t know the same about you.”
“Yeah, but at least ya would’ve had one son home.” Johnny rested his hand on the horse’s neck to still the rocking and combed his fingers through the mane.
“I wanted both my sons home. More importantly, I needed to know if you were safe.” Murdoch reached out and rested his hand on top of his son’s. “I never stopped worrying about you and Scott. Harlan would have done anything to keep Scott in Boston and I didn’t want a young boy thrown into the middle of a bitter court battle.” Murdoch’s voice hardened.
“That ol’ man would’ve have done that to Scott?” Johnny shook his head, “Damn.”
“You saw the extreme measures he took to get Scott to go back to Boston with him.” Murdoch pushed back in the chair, he would need a hot soak in the bath house later.
Johnny nodded, “But he lied to Scott about the murder charge and forced Julie to…” He hesitated, “At least Julie told Scott the truth.”
“He’s lied before, I knew better than to believed him when we agreed to not influence Scott’s decision. However, I am grateful that she told Scott about the threat to her father.”
“Me too, I didn’t want to lose my brother.”
“And I didn’t want to lose one of my sons.”
Again they both sat in silence.
L * A * N * C * E * R
“Son, I thought we were talking about you?”
Johnny grinned at his father, “Yep, but I guess we’ll never know all the answers. Mama told me so many lies, so like you said that first day, ‘past is in the past’.
“I don’t want to leave you wondering about-”
“Hey Murdoch, if I want to know something I’ll come to you. How does that sound?”
Murdoch painfully eased out of the chair, then reached down to rest his hand on his son’s shoulder. “That sounds like an excellent plan.” Another groan escaped as he straightened up.
“You okay, Murdoch?”
“Yes, Son, it just…” He pointed to the chair, “I had forgotten how much I hated that… Now I remember why it’s here.” Murdoch rubbed his back, “I think a long, hot soak will help.”
They both laughed.
“But first, how about going downstairs and having some lunch with me?”
Johnny jumped up and grabbed his horse, “Sound good to me Ol’ M…”
He bowed his head then peeked up with a big grin on his face. “Sounds good to me Papi.”