(sequel to A Very Frosty Christmas)
Murdoch forced a smile as yet another guest thanked him for a wonderful time, the delicious food, and the abundant supply of drink.
“It’s too bad that Scott didn’t get back from Stockton, he’s missing a great party.” The man saluted Murdoch with his half empty glass.
“Yes, I was hoping he would be home in time. This is his first Christmas at Lancer.” Murdoch was annoyed and wished the drunken man would call it a night and head to his own home.
The Christmas party was intended to introduce Scott to the other ranchers and some of the town folk. With his son away and delayed by bad weather, the party seemed no more than his obligation as Patron.
At least some of the guests had the sense to realize that the fireworks signaled the end of the party. However, there were a few who hung around, possibly with the hope of an invitation to spend the night. That’s not going to happen, Murdoch thought, he was not in the mood for overnight company, especially the drunk ones.
The Lancer hands had already left the party. They knew the Patron didn’t normally celebrate the holidays, and this year would have been the same if his son had not come home. The Patron’s sadness at Scott’s absence did not go unnoticed by them.
With hopes of moving the guests along, Paul and Teresa made a show of saying their good-byes. Teresa and Maria began putting away the food and drinks as a way of showing the party’s over, but the hangers-on didn’t take the hint.
Finally Murdoch had had enough. He raised his glass, “I want to thank all of you for coming. Please have a safe trip home.”
Paul winked at Murdoch and silently worded, “Subtle.”
Murdoch was not to be deterred. “Merry Christmas everyone,” he said as he slowly ushered the remaining guests toward their surreys and horses.
Finally alone, he gazed at the hilltop above the hacienda and prayed. “Please God, watch over Johnny wherever he is.”
Scott looked at the sky, relieved he didn’t see snow clouds, and sent a ‘thank you’ for the full moon. Good thing he thought since he faced a long, cold ride home.
Teresa and Maria had worked long and hard decorating every surface in the hacienda and gardens for the big celebration. They had made him promise them to be home in time for the party, but now that wasn’t going to happen. Murdoch had had such plans for the gala, and he remembered his father sounded so proud when he said, “It’s a chance to meet everyone.”
Scott pulled his coat tighter as Ulysses plodded along, as tired and cold as his master.
Finally on Lancer land, he cut across a pasture to shorten the ride. Ulysses nickered when he heard noises coming from road. Scott leaned forward in the saddle and whispered in the horse’s ear, “Well Ulysses, guess we missed all the fun.” Exhausted, he had no intention of making himself known, all he wanted was to get home and go to bed. So to avoid being seen, he cut over to the ridge above the hacienda.
For a moment he thought he saw a light among the rocks but when he looked again it was gone. “Guess it was the moon glinting on a rock.” He told Ulysses, as he turned the horse down the ridge toward home.
That was close Johnny thought. He had heard hoofs striking rock just in time to douse the fire.
When he heard the horse change direction he peeked over the rock sheltering his camp. We watched the man ride away. The stranger pulled his collar higher against the cold and moved down toward the hacienda.
Hey, gringo, ya missed the party, Johnny was tempted to call out. He smiled, at least I ain’t the only one missed out.
Johnny huddled into his blanket, it was not safe to light the fire. He faced a long and very cold night, but that was not anything new.
He wondered who the man was, that horse was fine stock. Then the way the man sat a saddle, he was no ranch hand. Had to be somebody rich.
Johnny’s eyes widen as a thought occurred to him, what if ol’ man Lancer had another kid. From the looks, this one was a purebred. Dios, no wonder he and his mama were kicked out, why keep a half-breed when ya got a lily white son to carry on the name.
A cold wind blew over the camp site, Johnny looked toward the sky, “Thanks I wasn’t cold enough.” He called out.
He scooted closer to the rock to try and block some of the wind, but it didn’t help. He gave up, grabbed his gear and saddled his pinto, “Sorry boy, but we need to head south.”
Mounted, he took one last look at the hacienda, “Fuck off ol’ man and your precious son.”
Johnny patted Amigo’s neck and turned the horse south.
“Hell boy, ain’t the first time I’ve been alone.”