the lonely figure threw another log on the campfire, sending up a shower of
sparks. He stared into the depths
of the blaze as though mesmerized by what he saw there.
The conversation with his son earlier in the evening had stirred up
memories of the past and various images danced before him in the flickering red,
yellow, and orange flames.
At first, it was a
beautiful young lady. Her flaxen
hair was barely visible under the stylish hat she wore and she was dressed in
the latest fashion of New England society.
Not looking where she was going, she stepped out of a dress shop and into
the bright mid-day sun to bump into him. The boxes that she carried slipped out of her arms and
scattered about them. He quickly
stooped down to retrieve the packages for her only to feel his head coming into
contact with hers. His stammered
apology was met with laughter, the musical quality of which he had never heard
before. When their gazes met, he
found it nearly impossible to look away; he was too transfixed by the warmth
that he saw in her blue-gray eyes.
The scene changed
and Murdoch Lancer saw a stern-faced man ordering him to leave a stately home in
a part of Boston that was reserved for the upper class. It mattered not to Harlan Garrett that his daughter,
Catherine, had been rescued from certain danger when her carriage had broken
down while passing through one of the rougher districts of Boston. He didn’t even thank the young man who had safely escorted
the young lady home. Instead, he
told Murdoch in no uncertain terms that he was not to show his face at the
Garrett’s door again.
A smile passed
over the rancher’s face and he softly chuckled.
Harlan Garrett had not known of the persistence and ingenuity of his own
daughter or of Murdoch Lancer. Garrett
would have been shocked had he known of the many times that Catherine had
fabricated an excuse to leave the house in order to meet the young emigrant at
the park or in the home of one of her closest friends.
When Harlan had finally realized what had been transpiring it had been
too late to stop the winds of fate—love was in full bloom.
The soft smile
transformed into a frown as unpleasant memories crowded in. The confrontation with the young lady’s father when Murdoch
had asked for Catherine’s hand in marriage had been explosive.
Garrett had flat out refused such an alliance.
He was not about to allow his only daughter to marry a man who had just
arrived from Scotland the year before. He
had made it quite clear that Murdoch Lancer was not, nor would he ever be good
enough to wed the daughter of Harlan Garrett.
Murdoch laid his
empty coffee cup to one side, shifted positions slightly, and went back to
watching the fire. Another picture
presented itself to him: a simple white dress made elegant by the beauty of the
girl wearing it. The wedding was a
quiet affair, taking place in an elderly minister’s home. There were few guests, none of them family members of either
party. Just a few of Catherine’s
closest confidants and a couple of Murdoch’s friends had been invited to
participate in the happy event.
Next came a
frantic drive through narrow, cobblestone streets as Lancer whisked his bride
away to the harbor where they caught a ship bound for California. What followed was more of a nightmare than a honeymoon.
Their quarters were cramped and the food nearly inedible.
During the months at sea, he put in long hours of grueling labor as a
seaman to pay for their passage to San Francisco.
eyelids drooped and his head nodded. His
mind drifted back to the first time he had set foot on the ranch that he now
called Lancer, land that others had believed to be worthless at the time.
Seeing the potential that lay there, he had purchased the main hacienda
along with eighty thousand acres from an old, Spanish Don.
The Spaniard, foreseeing that the conflict between Mexico and the United
States over the control of California could only get worse, had wished to return
to the land of his birth before a full scale war began.
Shadows, cast by
the soft light that flickered from the fire, danced around Murdoch.
His chin sagged against his chest and his breathing became deep and
steady as he drifted off to sleep.
don’t wish to leave. My place is
here . . . with you, Dear. And what
about the baby? Our son should be
born on the land that bears his name; he should be born at Lancer, not in some
strange place half-way between here and Boston.”
The pleading eyes
of the beautiful woman grasping his arm made Murdoch suck in his breath.
In the bright light of the full moon, her silky, pale golden hair
shimmered as it draped her shoulders and framed her oval face.
He steeled himself against the look of disappointment that would soon mar
her lovely features.
must go. It’s not safe here . . .
for you or our child. You know
that.” He pulled his wife into a tight embrace as he begged her to understand
that he was asking her to do what was best for all of them.
“With Judd Haney making these raids on us, I will not leave you
unprotected while I’m working. As
much as I hate for us to be apart, there is no other choice; I can’t afford to
hire more men. There’s so little
law in this land and now that we are at war with Mexico the situation can only
get worse. It is just too risky for
you to stay, can’t you see that?”
He held the now
sobbing woman close against him as he tried to sooth her. “I’ll send for you as soon as I can. I promise . . . we won’t be apart for long, a few years at
the most. The Mexican government
doesn’t have a chance of defeating the United States and this trouble with
Haney can’t last forever. As soon
as it’s safe for you to come home, I’ll send for you or go to Boston to get
you. I promise.”
A few moments
later, Murdoch lifted Catherine up to the seat of the wagon where she sat next
to his foreman, Paul O’Brien. After
a brief farewell to his friend, the young rancher kissed his wife one last time.
He then stood back and watched his world travel out of sight.
His heart screamed for him to go after her.
With great effort, he forced himself to stick to his resolve. Getting her to the safety of her father’s home in Boston
was the only wise thing he could see to do under the present circumstances.~~~~~
The moon slowly
showed its lop-sided face above the hills to the east of the meadow where the
steers were being held for the night. As
the landscape gradually became more visible from its glow, the flames of the
campfire died down. All was quiet
except for the occasional snoring of one of the drovers.
The gray-haired man, sitting slumped forward by the fire, was oblivious
to it all.
Murdoch! The baby!
I’m so sorry, he came too soon.”
The frantic voice came from a shadowy figure in the center of the room.
“Please, Murdoch. Please
hurry. There isn’t much time.
I feel so weak. I must see you, touch your face, hold you once more before .
Is that you? How did you get here? You’re
supposed to be on your way to meet your father.”
The bewildered man pushed the heavy quilt to one side, dropped his legs
over the edge of the bed, and sat up. His
feet touched the cold floor and he started to rise.
The figured moved
closer. “I’m so sorry, Murdoch.
I didn’t want to go with him, but I was just so sick after the baby was
born. I wanted to stay and wait for
you in Cartersville, but father wouldn’t hear of it.
He insisted that we continue on.”
His wife’s tone
became more desperate. “Please
Murdoch. Don’t let him take the
baby. Don’t let my father take
our son from you. Scott belongs
here. This is his home.” She touched his arm and she pled, “My father will steal him
from you if he can. Please, don’t
let him do it. Promise me, my dear,
that you will bring our boy back here.”
When he reached for her, the dim form of his
wife retreated to stand by the window where the curtains, blown by a gentle
breeze, seemed to float around and through her. “Catherine, don’t go.
Tell me about our son. Catherine!”
His deep voice rose in pitch as a feeling of panic gripped him.
you’ll bring him home, prom . . ..”
The anguished cry was torn from his throat as she faded from his
flew open. His heart raced when he
felt the hand on his shoulder and caught a glimpse of a shadow near him.
“Catherine?” The name was breathed in little more than a whisper.
you think that you would rest better lying down?”
Startled by the
quiet, masculine voice, Murdoch blinked his eyes and tried to focus on the tall
form at his side. “What?” he
said in confusion, his mind still occupied with the strange dream that he had
just awakened from.
late, Murdoch. Shouldn’t you be
getting some sleep?”
The man stared blankly at his son for a moment, then sighed.
“Yes, I suppose it is time I turned in.”
He placed his hands on his thighs and straightened his elbows as he drew
his shoulders up. He breathed in
deeply, then relaxed his arms and let the air slowly escape from his lungs.
“What are you doing up?”
“I go on night
herd duty soon and I thought that I would have some coffee and warm up by the
fire for a few minutes first.” Scott
filled a cup with steaming liquid from the pot and took a sip.
upward at the moon. He found it
hard to believe he had slept as long as he had.
“I had no idea that it was so late.
Guess I’d better collect my bedroll.”
“There’s no need for you to get up, Sir.
I brought it with me.” Scott
pointed at the bundle by their feet. “I
was getting my jacket out of the wagon and noticed it was still there.
When I saw you over here, it didn’t make sense for you to have to go
get it when I was coming over here anyway.”
Murdoch was touched by Scott’s thoughtfulness.
welcome, Sir.” Scott studied his
father for a moment then spoke in a concerned tone.
“Is your leg giving you trouble again, Sir?
I thought that I saw you limping on it earlier.”
Just a little stiff is all. It’ll
be fine by morning.” Murdoch
rubbed his sore thigh while he spoke with more assurance than he felt.
“Would you like
me to roll your blankets out for you?”
not helpless.” Murdoch almost
snapped at his son who was reaching for the bedroll.
He immediately regretted the harshness of his tone when Scott
straightened and became rigid. In
an effort to relieve the sudden tension, the rancher deliberately spoke in a
softer manner. “I would like a
cup of coffee if you wouldn’t mind pouring some for me.”
posture became less stiff. “Not
at all, Sir. Do you have a cup or
do I need to get one for you?”
“I have one . .
. it’s here somewhere.” Murdoch
glanced around then picked up the cup that had slipped out of his hand while he
slept. “Ah, here it is,” he
said and held it out toward his son.
Scott poured the
coffee for his father, nodded an acknowledgement of the older man’s brief
expression of gratitude, and then after returning the pot to its place near the
coals of the fire, he sat down a couple of feet away from Murdoch. As they drank the hot brew and talked, they kept to the
inconsequential subjects of weather, cattle, and various aspects of running a
somewhat shaken by the dream, was relieved that Scott didn’t seem inclined to
want to talk about anything of a personal nature.
Memory of Catherine’s pleading voice made him feel that he had failed
her by not forcefully taking their son from her father.
He wasn’t sure he could have kept from telling the younger man about
Harlan Garrett’s deviousness in keeping the two of them apart.
Yet, he didn’t want Scott to stay at Lancer out of pity for the father
who had been wronged or as a means of punishing the offending grandfather.
Once again, the
rancher determined in his mind to keep the past out of the present relationship
with his son. He wanted Scott to
stay in California because he wanted to, not out of some sense of duty or
obligation to make up for what they had missed by being separated.
All too soon, the
other nightrider arrived at the fire and gulped down a steaming cup of coffee
before heading for the remuda. Scott
slowly rose to his feet and stretched. “I
guess it’s time I was going.”
An unexpected sense of pleasure ran through him at his son’s apparent
reluctance to go and he found it difficult to speak.
“I’ll see you
in the morning, Sir.”
Scott,” Murdoch managed to get out huskily as his son started to leave.
Scott took a few
steps and stopped. He looked back
at his father who had made no move toward turning in for the night. “Murdoch, you do need to get some sleep.
It will be dawn in a few hours.”
I’m fully aware of how soon morning will be here.
Now will you just go tend to the herd and let me tend to getting myself
to bed.” Murdoch suppressed the touch of sharpness that wanted
to creep into his voice. He
wasn’t used to having anyone fussing over him.
It gave him mixed feelings: he was irritated at the inference that he
wasn’t able to care for himself while being pleased at the same time by his
the slight shaking of his son’s shoulders when Scott walked away.
He also was sure that he had heard the young man chuckling softly.
While he rolled out his blanket, stretched out on one side of them, and
wrapped the other half over him, the rancher’s thoughts centered on his
first-born son and he smiled. It
had been a good day, a very good day indeed.
glanced up at the sky while his horse plodded steadily along as they circled
around the sleeping steers. The
moon, full only a few nights before, was now a half circle on one side and only
slightly curved on the other. He
couldn’t remember the stars ever appearing so bright, almost close enough to
touch. In Boston, one’s
view of the heavens was much more limited with the tall buildings that hid it
from sight and the smoky haze that at times settled over the city.
He sucked in a
deep breath of the crisp, clean air. His
eyes roamed over the herd and his lips turned upward at the corners.
For the first time in his life, he felt the pride of ownership; one third
of those cattle were his.
A peaceful feeling
enveloped Scott as he continued to make his rounds. He caught himself humming the tune to the songs Red had sung
that evening. They brought back to
his mind the conversations he had had with his father.
‘Maybe, Murdoch and I will get
along after all. Perhaps it was as
Red suggested, my father was overwrought the day the cattle stampeded and that
is why he was so harsh with me. He
certainly seemed understanding when Red and I were wallowing in the mud.
I believe he even enjoyed our conversation this evening.
I know I did.’
remember being so content in a long time. Although
his grandfather had given him everything that money could buy, he had failed to
give his grandson what he needed most: a sense of belonging and that his life
amounted to something. Too often,
Scott had felt that he was just another possession for Harlan Garrett to parade
before people of high-society back east as proof of his own importance.
“I guess that’s why I came out here,” he confided in his mount.
“To get away from my grandfather . . . and to see for myself why my
mother would leave a life of luxury in Boston to follow Murdoch Lancer to the
other side of the continent.’
Scott rubbed the horse’s neck, then went on
talking. “I do believe I’ve
been misled about my father. I
think that in time, when we get to know each other better, Murdoch and I can be
close--father and son, like we were meant to be.
I wonder if that’s why Grandfather tried to discourage me from coming
here. He’s afraid of losing me
like he lost my mother twenty-five years ago.”
The young man went
back to humming for a while. He met
the other nightrider and they talked a few minutes, then he continued on.
The longer that he rode the lighter his heart became.
Despite the hardships of dealing with the mud and the long, weary hours
in the saddle, it had been a good day, one of the best that he could remember.
The night air was
chilly. Scott Lancer pulled the
blanket up a little higher, partially covering his head, then tucked the long
edge a little further under him. He
sighed softly, thinking how good the warmth felt after three hours of riding
Before drifting to
sleep, Scott glanced toward the far side of the camp.
He could just make out his father’s form lying next to the campfire,
which was visible by the few coals that glowed red in the semi-darkness of the
moonlit night. ‘Glad he’s getting some sleep.
Wonder why he was still sitting there when I got up.
Why didn’t he go to bed? He
had to be tired. He was sound
asleep when I touched him. Wonder
what he was dreaming about; I could have sworn, he said my mother’s name.
When he looked up at me, he seemed startled, like he thought I was
involuntarily opened into a yawn. ‘Guess
I’d better get to sleep myself. Morning
will be here shortly.’ He
closed his eyes but found that his mind wasn’t ready to shut down yet.
It jumped from one thing to another: the hardships of the drive, his
friendship with Red, the pleasant conversation he had shared with his father the
evening before, and Murdoch’s hardiness despite his age. His thoughts then shifted farther back in time and he
remembered his trip from Boston to California, his first sight of his father,
and the shock of learning that he was not Murdoch Lancer’s only son.
‘I wonder how Johnny and Teresa are getting along.
I hope he’s following the doctor’s orders.
I suppose Teresa will see that he does, though.
She can be quite commanding when she puts her mind to it.
I doubt my brother will put anything over on her; she’s a very bright
young lady. I do hope she learns to
knock on doors though. I’m not
sure how long I can deal with her walking into my room unannounced.
Maybe, I should have Murdoch talk to her about it.
She’s not my sister, and even if she were, it just isn’t proper.
Besides, I like my privacy.’
again. Slowly his body relaxed.
His breathing became slower and deeper.
His last conscious thought was of his brother.
Johnny. Let me sleep.” Scott groaned, rolled over, and burrowed a little farther
down under the quilt.
Boston. You can do that anytime.
Let’s go for a moonlight ride.”
preposterous. I’m not hitching up
the buggy at this time of night. Now
go back to bed.” The older
brother squirmed as he tried to find a more comfortable position.
For some strange reason, his mattress was hard and full of lumps.
anything about a buggy? I brought
Barranca. Now come on, where’s
your sense of adventure?” Johnny’s
voice was soft and pleading as he pulled the blanket off his brother’s head.
you’re not supposed to be on a horse yet.”
Scott sleepily opened his eyes and looked around.
There were no walls or furniture, just a wagon with a canvas top that
shown white from the light of the moon. He
focused on the form standing over him. “Johnny,
how did you get here? You’re
supposed to be back at the ranch.”
“I told ya,
Boston, I rode.” Johnny nodded in
the direction of the golden horse whose lead rope he held in his hand.
“You rode all
the way from Lancer?” Disbelief
was evident in Scott’s voice. “What
were you thinking? That’s more
than a two-day ride from here. You
weren’t even supposed to be on a horse until today.
Does Teresa know you’re here? Are
you trying to open that wound up again? What is Murdoch going to say when he sees you?”
The flood of concerned questions brought nothing more than a grin from
The older brother
sat up and spoke more seriously. “That
horse is still green-broke. You
shouldn’t be riding him in your condition.
He could hurt you.” When
the horse sidled into his view, Scott’s tone became more demanding.
“Where’s your saddle and bridle?
Surely you didn’t ride him all that way with just a halter on him.
Are you crazy?”
A rakish laugh
came from Johnny. “Lighten up,
Boston. I could ride this horse
with nothin’ on him. Wanna
Don’t be foolish,” Scott hollered as he rose to his feet.
Ya wanna wake up the old man. ‘Sides,
you’re spookin’ Barranca,” the younger brother admonished as the horse
danced around him at the end lead rope. He
turned his attention to the animal and talked softly.
The older man, awe
struck, watched Johnny get the horse under control.
Soon the palomino was standing quietly, almost dozing on its feet.
When his brother unbuckled the halter and let it fall to the ground,
Scott grabbed his arm. “I can’t let you do it.
You could be severally injured. What
about Murdoch? He’s not going to
like this in the least.”
him?” Johnny cut in. “That old
man don’t scare me.”
“Well maybe he
should. He’s a lot tougher than
he looks.” A sense of desperation
washed over Scott. He had to find
some way to convince his brother to give up this ridiculous idea.
Johnny let out a
laugh. He twisted from his
brother’s grip, clasped a handful of flaxen mane, and sprang nimbly onto the
horse’s back. Barranca reared
halfway up, then brought his front feet thudding to the ground and scooted
sideways a couple of steps. His
rider deftly followed every move.
“Don’t do it,
“Come on Scott,
go with me. Let’s live a
As Johnny booted
Barranca into a gallop, Scott grabbed the trailing bridle reins of a bay horse
that he found standing at his side. He
tossed the off line under its neck, grasped the reins in his left hand, and
swung into the saddle. With a hard
kick to his mount’s ribs, he sent it racing after his brother.
The palomino was
easy to see with the light of the moon glistening off his shiny coat.
‘Looks like Johnny’s been
giving him some special care,’ thought the older brother as he pushed to
As they galloped
out of the camp and along the edge of the valley, Scott was amazed at how
effortlessly his brother controlled the spirited horse.
Barranca appeared to sense Johnny’s very thoughts and responded
accordingly as they wove their way in and out among trees and brush.
The riders broke
out into an open meadow filled with cattle that were bedded down for the night.
Johnny slowed his mount to a ground-covering walk and skirted the herd.
Scott, keeping a wary eye out on his brother, followed a short distance
behind. He felt apprehensive
despite the younger man’s skillful handling of the untrained horse.
A strange sound
like that of a woman crying alerted Scott to a new danger. He studied the terrain up ahead and spotted something
slinking along a ridge to his brother’s right.
A few moments later, a tawny form leaped off a rock and into a tree less
than twenty yards from Johnny.
Johnny!” Scott tried to yell but the words came out in little more than a
whisper. In desperation, he pulled
his mount to a halt and jerked the rifle from the scabbard.
He quickly lifted it to eye level, sighted down the barrel, and pulled
the trigger. A split second before
hearing the blast from the rifle firing, he saw the big cat fall to the ground.
Scott found himself surrounded by a thundering mass of frightened steers.
He dug his heels into the bay’s ribs and the horse lunged forward, then
stretched out to join in the race. He
looked up ahead and saw that his brother had urged Barranca into an all-out run
as well in order to escape the stampeding cattle.
The mad rush
seemed to have gone on for an eternity when the palomino horse stumbled and went
Scott screamed but couldn’t hear his voice above the din.
As he neared the
spot where his brother had gone down, the cattle thinned out leaving him a clear
view of the crumpled mound that was Barranca and Johnny. With his heart in his throat, Scott jerked his mount to a
stop, vaulted out of the saddle, and ran to the other man’s side.
He dropped down on his knees and lifted the broken, bleeding body into
his arms. “I’m sorry, Johnny.
It’s my fault. I
shouldn’t have fired my gun.”
He felt hands
grasping his shoulders. “Scott,
it’s too late.”
Do something for him. You
have to try to save him; you can’t give up now.”
Scott’s pleading eyes locked on his father’s face.
nothing I can do.”
The anguished cry was torn from Scott as he was grasped by several pairs
of hands and carried away from the mangled form of his brother.
‘No!’ his tortured mind screamed.
‘I just found him.
I can’t lose him yet. It’s
He fought the
hands that held him down and ignored the voice that called his name.
He had to get to his brother. Johnny
His heart was
beating wildly as he struggled into a sitting position. He gazed up at the tall man leaning over him.
“J-Johnny?” Scott queried shakily.
“He’s back at
tone, in which his father spoke, angered Scott and his voice filled with
He’s here; I saw him. He’s
hurt. I have to go to him.”
As he started to rise, he felt Murdoch’s hand on his shoulder.
He pushed it away and said in desperation, “Why won’t you help
“It was just
dream, Scott. Johnny’s home with
Teresa,” Murdoch said reassuringly.
searched his father’s calm face, then glanced around him. Except for the cowboys that were milling about, the camp
looked the same as when he had gone to bed.
No one seemed to be excited. He
breathed in deeply and tried to think rationally.
Perhaps Murdoch was right.
Scott again looked
up at his father. “I thought . .
..” He rubbed the back of his
hand across his eyes in an attempt to clear his mind, then stammered, “Johnny was . . . it was so . . ..” His voice trailed off
as reality caught up with him. Overcome
with embarrassment by the spectacle he perceived that he was making of himself,
he lowered his head and studied the ground.
He felt his father’s light touch on his arm
and detected a faint clearing of the man’s throat, then heard the clanging of
the cook’s triangle.
Murdoch dropped his hand back to his side and
said, “I think I’ll get some breakfast.”
He took a couple of steps and stopped. “Coming, Scott?”
Scott raised his head and nodded. “I’ll be
along shortly.” He sighed heavily
as Murdoch walked away and then proceeded to put on his boots.
A shudder ran through him as the memory of the nightmare came and went
before his eyes one last time.
He shook off the disturbing feelings that it brought, got to his feet,
and headed for the chow line. His
brother was fine; it had only been a dream.
The driver snapped the long whip, flicking first
one rump and then the other as he yelled to the team, “Get up there!”
The big horses, their muscles bulging and necks
foaming, strained against their collars. The
supply wagon tipped crazily, then lurched as a wheel rolled over the rock in its
From a short distance beyond, Scott Lancer
motioned with his hands as he guided the driver’s slow progress down the
ridge. His insides knotted tightly.
At any moment, he expected to see the wagon slip from the narrow path,
slide over the edge, and tumble into the ravine.
When the razorback trail finally widened, he began to breathe a little
easier. The last thing they needed right now was more trouble.
The cook’s wagon had already caused one delay
when it had become badly mired down while crossing a marshy area.
Without unhitching the team, the tongue from the other wagon had been
unhooked and connected to that of the chuckwagon.
When the extra horses still hadn’t been able to move the vehicle more
than a few inches, three of the drovers had been pulled away from the herd in
order to free it. Red and two other
cowboys had shoveled mud from in front and in back of the buried wheels while
Scott, Cooky, and the other driver had cut brush and tree limbs to pack into the
Scott and the drovers, with their ropes tied to
the front of the wagon box and dallied around the horns of their saddles, had
helped the teams with the pulling. Slowly
the wheels had taken a grip on the courser material and the wagon had rolled
onto firmer ground. The whole
process had taken most of the morning.
Scott winced at the memory of the harsh
reprimand he had received for not paying closer attention to the path he had led
the wagons over. He still wasn’t
quite sure how he could have been so mistaken about the softness of the ground.
It had seemed firm enough under his horse’s hooves.
‘Guess I just didn’t make
enough allowance for the added weight,’ he thought.
He had been much more cautious after that and
his little caravan had reached the far end of the mile long meadow without
further incident. On the other
hand, the drovers had not faired so well. Another
boggy area had to be skirted by the herd. With
the shortage of drovers it had been difficult to keep the cattle from getting
into the mire. Twenty or more
steers had ended up needing to be pulled out.
The cowboys hadn’t yet finished that task when Scott and the wagons
left the valley floor on their way to the ridge he was now on.
Too late he saw the danger: the lead wagon was
crowding the edge. “Hold up!”
he yelled. But the damage was
already done. The rear of the wagon
shifted sideways and the left rear wheel slid off the narrow trail.
The wagon jarred to a standstill as its bottom ground into the rocks
Scott booted his horse forward as he cursed
himself for letting his mind wonder even for a moment.
Getting the wagons through to the bank of the river was his
responsibility. It had seemed a
simple enough job when he had suggested the idea to his father.
Since there was no chance of him getting off course and the other men,
being more experienced with cattle, would all be needed to drive the herd, it
had seemed logical that he be the one to guide drivers.
Now for the second time, he had gotten them into trouble.
He dismounted and tethered his mount to the side
of the wagon. By the time he got
around to where he could inspect the damage, the cook was already checking the
wheel. “It’s in a bad fix but
‘least ‘tain’t broke,” Cooky said as he straightened up to look at
“Just how bad is it?” Scott carefully stepped over a boulder to look for himself.
A sinking feeling hit him in the pit of his stomach.
It was going to take some doing to jack the wagon up onto the trail.
He drew in a deep breath and exhaled loudly. With his jaw determinedly set, he asked, “Do we have
anything we can use for leverage?”
“Got a pole in my wagon.
Want me to get it?” offered Jake, the driver of the supply wagon.
“If you wouldn’t mind.”
While Jake went to fetch the pole, Scott and
Cooky located a rock to use as a fulcrum. They
rolled it into place near the back corner of the wagon bed.
Jake came up behind them and dropped the wooden
bar on the ground. “How you plan
to get the end of this under there?” he queried.
“We’ll have to see if we can move a few of
these smaller rocks and make a hole under the edge of the wagon bed.”
Scott knelt down and felt to see if any of the stones were loose.
He could hear the cook rattling things around in the back of the wagon.
“Here ya be, Mr. Lancer.
Reckon this might help.” Cooky
handed his young boss a crowbar.
“Thanks, Cooky. I certainly can use this,” Scott said as his hand closed
around the tool. “While I do
this, you and Jake had better lighten the load as best you can. We don’t want to have to lift any more weight than
Scott, keeping close to the left side of
wagon’s backend, wedged the curved end of the short iron bar into the crevice
along one side of a loose stone and pried it free. He worked steadily at making
a hole large enough to accommodate the end of the pole while the other men
unloaded the heavier items from the bed of the wagon.
“That should do it,” Scott announced a while
later. He wiped the sweat from his
forehead with the sleeve of his shirt. Seeing
the beads of moisture on the faces of the other two men, he said, “Anyone
besides me ready for a break and drink of water?”
“Ain’t tired myself,” Cooky asserted.
“But you go right ahead an’ rest a spell.
Reckon ya bein’ from the east an’ all, ya ain’t used to workin’
so hard. I’ll jest sit here in
the shade an wait for ya.”
Scott’s face broke into a smile, which he kept
well hidden. He knew that the cook,
who had to be well into his sixties, would never admit to needing a rest even if
he were about to drop from exhaustion. ‘Stubborn
pride seems to be typical off these westerners,’ he thought.
A picture of a tall man limping into camp the night before flashed
through his mind.
A while later the three men set about the
strenuous task of getting the wagon back onto the trail.
Scott and Jake manned the lever while Cookie placed blocks under the bed
to hold it up. “Just a little
more, Jake,” Scott grunted as he leaned his full weight along with Jake’s
onto the end of the pole.
The wagon bed rose a couple of inches higher and
Cooky started to shove another block into place. Suddenly, there was a sharp snapping sound followed by a yelp
as the wooden lever broke.
“Are you alright?” Scott looked anxiously at the cook as the wagon settled back
to its previous position.
“I’m f-fine,” gritted Cooky.
“I’d better take a look at that.”
Scott grimaced when he saw the blood dripping from the gouge in the palm
of the man’s left hand. “Jake,
can you get the medical box and some water for me,” he said as motioned for
the cook to sit down.
Scott quickly cleaned and dressed the wound.
It wasn’t deep but there were several slivers of wood that had to be
removed and the hand would be sore for a few days.
Once more, guilt assailed him. “I’m
sorry. It’s my fault. If I’d been paying closer attention, the wheel would never
have gone over the edge in the first place.”
“Now, don’ you go frettin’ yerself.
‘Twas my fault much as yours. I
shouldn’t a been crowdin’ it so close.”
Cooky stood up waved his bandaged hand. “An’ this ain’t nothin’
but a scratch. Why, it’ll be good as new in a day or two.
Won’t even slow me down; you’ll see.”
“It was still my responsibility to guide
you,” insisted Scott. He followed
the cook to the back of the wagon and studied the situation. Without a longer lever, they couldn’t possibly get the
wheel high enough to get it back onto the rock pat.
“Reckon there ain’t no way getting’ around
it,” Cooky said.
“Getting around what?”
Scott turned to look at the cook.
“Wheel’s gotta come off.”
Scott mentally kicked himself.
Why hadn’t he though of that in the first place?
Here they had wasted well over an hour jacking up the wagon, the cook had
been injured, and they still weren’t any closer to getting the problem fixed
than when they started.
With Jake’s help, Scott removed the wheel.
Next, they drove the team forward far enough to get the back end of the
wagon onto solid ground. The broken pole made it difficult to raise the axle high
enough to get the wheel back on but with Scott working the lever and Jake
lifting on the corner of the wagon they managed to get it up in the air.
While the cook was struggling to position the
hub of the heavy wheel over the end of the axle, they heard the ring of a
horse’s shod hooves clattering over the rocks ahead of them.
Shortly thereafter, a tall rider pulled his mount to a halt next to them.
“What’s the trouble?”
Scott detected a note of irritation in his
father’s voice but chose to ignore it and the question.
“Sir, would you mind helping Cooky put the wheel on?
Jake and I can’t hold the wagon up much longer.”
Murdoch ran his eyes over the scene before him
as he dismounted. His brow furrowed
into a frown while he stepped to the cook’s side and took hold of the wheel.
As he lifted it slightly, Cooky jockeyed it onto the end of the axle.
When the chuckwagon was loaded and ready to
roll, Murdoch climbed up next to Cooky on the seat and waved for Scott to finish
guiding them over the last stretch of narrow trail.
A few hundred yards beyond them the ridge widened and sloped gently
toward the river below.
Scott’s heart was heavy as he led the way.
Even though his father had said nothing about the delays or the injured
cook, he was sure Murdoch had to be disappointed in him.
The sun had slipped low in the western sky and
the shadows were long when the wagons rolled onto level ground.
Murdoch pulled his team to a halt and climbed down.
“Scott, you can take it from here.
We’ll camp at the crossing; Cooky can tell you how to get there.”
Scott tied his horse to the back of the wagon as
his father prepared to mount. “I’m
sorry, Sir. It’s my fault that
it’s too late to cross today.” Regret
was written on his face as he looked at the older man.
Murdoch wearily shook his head, then stiffly
pulled himself into the saddle. He’d
been aware for some time that his son was blaming himself for the trouble with
the wagons. “Forget it, Scott.
We wouldn’t have made it today, anyway.
The cattle had a tough time with all the mud we ran into.
They were sinking in to their knees in places.
Made for pretty slow going. The
herd can’t have beaten us to the crossing by more than an hour.
With the river being up, it’ll be better to start fresh in the
“What about Cooky?” Scott bit his lip and let his eyes wonder off into the
“We’ll just have to work around that.”
The rancher’s horse fidgeted and impatiently tossed its head but
Murdoch held it in place for a few more minutes. It
bothered him to see the guilt clouding his son’s face.
“Accidents happen, Scott. Cooky
told me all about it. No one’s
blaming you, so just put it out of your mind.
And I’ve already told him to get Jake to help him set up camp and get
“There’s no need for Jake to do that.
I can do whatever needs to be done.”
“That’s up to you,” Murdoch said as he let
the horse move into walk beside Scott. He
reined to a stop while his son climbed up to the seat of the wagon and took up
the long lines. “I’m going to
ride on ahead and see to the herd, and then check out the crossing.
I’ll see you at supper.”
Out of the corner of his eye, the rancher
watched Scott snap the whip and urge the team forward.
He was pleased that his son was taking his responsibilities seriously yet
he hated to see the young man so torn up over something that could have happened
to anyone. ‘I
shouldn’t have been so harsh with him this morning.
I’ve led wagons into mud holes myself a time or two.
Some of this ground can be so deceiving. And he’s not the first to have a wheel go over the edge on
that ridge and he won’t be the last.’
Murdoch pushed his horse into a ground-covering
lope, which was much more comfortable to sit than its bone-jarring jog.
He would like to have made it to the other side of the river before dark
but they still had plenty of time in which to deliver the steers.
He expected the crossing to take an hour or so, then they would make good
time travelling down the better-drained land on the other side of the river.
They should still reach their destination by the next evening—one day
ahead of the deadline.
The lash of the long whip in the hand of Murdoch Lancer snaked through
the air then suddenly reversed directions.
He yelled to the team and flicked the reins against their rumps.
The front two horses leaned into their collars and moved forward, taking
the rest of the team and the wagon with them down the bank and into the river.
Apprehensively, he urged the horses on.
He would have preferred to wait another day for the river to go down a
little more but there wasn’t time. Not
only did he have a deadline to meet but clouds were once again gathering to the
west. If it began to rain before he
moved the herd to the other side, the river could rise even higher, making it
The crossing was wide and relatively shallow,
not over four-foot deep for the most part.
He figured the wagons should make it without any trouble as long as they
didn’t stray downstream when they hit the short stretch of deeper water at the
mid-point. There were some
treacherous holes with large rocks and old waterlogged trees in them on the
lower side of the crossing and the far bank was too steep to climb in places.
Some of the cattle would no doubt end up coming out down-river and have
to be gathered once the herd was across.
Murdoch kept his eyes moving constantly as he
watched ahead of him as well as upstream. One
of the men had ridden across earlier to check out a path for the wagons, so he
was relatively sure that there would be no danger from hidden obstacles beneath
the surface. His biggest concern
was the prospect of being surprised by a floating tree that may have been
uprooted during the recent rainstorm or old deadfall snatched from the banks as
the river had risen over the past three days.
The current lapped against the wheels and
splashed up on the horses as they plodded along. Soon the bottom of the wagon bed was skimming through water
that was belly high on the team.
“Don’t see nothin’ ta worry ‘bout,”
remarked Cooky, who was seated on Murdoch’s left.
The cook leaned a bit to the outside and looked back at the supply wagon
that was following a short distance behind.
“Jake’s comin’ ‘long fine, too.”
Facing ahead once more, he continued, “We ain’t a gunna have no
trouble ‘tall, yu’ll see.”
“Hope you’re right. We don’t need any more delays.” Murdoch tugged on the
lines in his left hand and slapped them against the rump of the back horse on
that side. He needed to be as close
to the upper edge of the crossing as possible.
The team would have to swim while the wagon floated when they reached the
center of the river. They would
need as much room as possible to angle toward the far bank in order to keep from
ending up too far downstream. If
they missed the mark, they would be in serious danger.
Cooky leaned out to take another glance behind
them, then made a wild grab for the front edge of the seat as the wagon bumped
over some rough rocks.
“Don’t worry about Jake . . . he’ll have
to look out for himself. You just
see to it you don’t end up in the river,” Murdoch cautioned the cook.
“Now, Boss, I ain’t about ta fall in no
river,” Cooky, snorted indignantly.
The lead horses, reaching the deeper current,
shifted downstream momentarily as they started to swim.
Murdoch hauled on the left reins and urged the horses in the rear to keep
up. The wagon lurched.
As it began to float, it leveled out again.
The strain of keeping the team headed for the
lowest part of the bank on the far side of the river began to wear on the big
rancher’s arms. With his focus on
maintaining his course, he left it up to the cook to keep an eye upstream for
The front two horses had just touched bottom,
when Cooky yelled, “Boss! Trouble’s
A glance up the river revealed a dead tree
trunk, with short spikes where limbs once had been, floating toward them.
In desperation, Murdoch cracked the whip over the backs of the horses in
the rear in hopes of hurrying them along. If
the good Lord was looking out for them, they just might get out of harm’s way
The other horses reached the shallower water and
stopped swimming. In an attempt to
avoid the sting of the whip, they strained harder against the traces.
The wagon, rocking from the restraint of the team, swung farther down the
river. The horses staggered
as they fought to retain their footing on the slippery rocks beneath them and
pull the heavy wagon, as well.
“Get up ya lazy, mule-headed, bunch of
crow-bait,” yelled Cooky. “Yu’ll
find yerself roastin’ o’er the fire if ya don’t get this here wagon ta
Murdoch again looked at the source of danger.
‘Too close.’ With
great determination, he shoved down the panic that was rising within him, set
his sights on the riverbank, and smartly applied the whip to the rumps of the
horses nearest him.
Slowly the wagon inched toward the bank as the
current drew it farther downstream, the team two tracking to keep from being
pulled backward. Could they make it in time?
The log rolled and bobbed. At times it was
nearly submerged as the undercurrent tugged at it. Then it would rise to the surface once more, always closer
Murdoch’s palms were wet inside his gloves and
sweat trickled down his back as he continued to lash at the horses.
The necessity for his harsh treatment of the team sickened him, but there
was no choice. Welts from the whip
would heal; broken legs could not and pierced hide, even if it could be mended,
would be far more painful.
Beads of moisture covered the rancher’s
forehead and dripped into his eyes. The
dead tree was less than twenty feet upstream and aimed directly at the tongue of
the wagon. “Hang on!” he yelled
to Cooky, then put his full strength into laying on the whip one last time
before grabbing hold of the seat.
The team lunged forward.
First one, then the other front wheel touched bottom and the chuckwagon
moved ahead while the current carried the log into the water barrel tied just
behind the front wheel. Stubs of
limbs scraped against the sideboards and then pushed the back end of the wagon
farther down the river as the dead tree slid past.
The canvas cover swayed drunkenly and the two
men, knuckles white, clung to their precarious perch. As the hind wheels, one at a time, came in contact with the
river’s floor, the wagon gave a final lurch then leveled out.
Murdoch, having somehow retained his grip on the
whip and the reins while holding on for dear life, let loose of the seat.
Danger still lurked unless he could change their present course.
The portion of bank, the team was headed for, was too steep for the wagon
to climb. Not only that, the
riverbed dropped off sharply along the downstream edge of the ledge they were
on. Quickly calling upon the skills
that he had learned from years of experience, he took charge of the situation by
turning the team slightly up river and cracking the whip.
With muscles bulging, the big horses strained to
drag the wagon against the current. Their
necks were covered with a white froth and their breath was coming in gasps but
they struggled onward at the encouragement of their driver.
One of the lead horses staggered, jerking its teammate off balance.
Crowded from behind by the other two horses, they stumbled forward, then
recovered. The wagon continued to angle upstream as the team gradually pulled it
to the edge of the river.
The horses emerged from the water and Murdoch
urged them up the sloping embankment. Part
way up, a lead horse once again faltered. Slipping in the mud, it fell to its knees and was dragged
forward by the rest of the team before it finally scrambled back to its feet.
Slowly the team pulled the chuckwagon to the
level ground beyond the water’s edge. When
the weary rancher halted the exhausted horses, they stood with drooping heads
and heaving sides.
That was a close one.” Cooky
swiped the back of his hand across his sweaty brow.
“Yeah,” sighed Murdoch, his heart still
pounding rapidly. “Too close.”
He drew in a deep breath, then became all business.
“You all right? How’s
that hand? Think you can handle the team now?”
“Don’t you go worry’n ‘bout me, Boss.
That little ol’ scratch ain’t nothin’.”
Cooky waved the bandaged hand. “You
jest give me them reins.”
A slight smile played across Murdoch’s lips as
he briefly studied the other man. The
cook had never been one to complain or take coddling. “Here you go.” He
handed over the lines, eased his way to the ground, and glanced quickly toward
the river. The other wagon was
nowhere in sight. “Can you see
Cooky leaned a little to the left so he could
see around the edge of the wagon top. “Jest
comin’ up the bank,” he said as he faced his boss once more.
Murdoch drew in a deep breath then let his tense shoulders drop a little
as he exhaled. While he walked
around the front of the wagon, he looked the team over and inspected the
harness. Assured that all was in
order, he made his way to the other side of the wagon and checked the damages.
By then, Jake had drawn up alongside of him.
“Do much damage?” Jake asked.
“Just a broken water barrel and some scratches
along this side. Nothing to be
concerned about,” he said pointing to the edge of the wagon box.
“How’d it go for you?”
I was back far enough that that snag missed me all together.”
Jake hopped down from the seat of the supply wagon.
“You want us to go on ahead?”
“Yes. The ground’s pretty solid on this
side. If you’re careful, you shouldn’t have any problems. It’ll take a while to get the herd across and bunched back
together. I imagine it’ll be
close to noon by the time we catch up to you.”
“Ya want me ta fix somethin’ fer the boys ta
eat?” Cooky rasped.
Turning back toward the front of the chuckwagon,
Murdoch focused his attention on the cook. “Probably better,” he said.
“Why don’t you stop up there where the river makes that sharp bend to
the north. I’ll want to give the herd a chance to rest anyway.
Once we get started again, I want to push straight through to the Diamond
B Ranch. I’d like to be there
before dark if possible.”
Murdoch strode to where his horse was tethered
to the back of the cook’s wagon. His
eyes quickly traveled over its wet hide while he talked softly.
Satisfied that there were no injuries, he untied the rope and secured it
to the saddle so that it would be out of the way.
With a slight groan, he mounted then rode back to the river’s edge to
watch the drovers start the herd across.
The steers out front balked at stepping into
murky water and turned to the side. The
riders, swinging their lariats along side their horses, yelled and crowded the
cattle back into line. As the other
men pushed the rest of the herd forward, the leaders were forced into the river.
It was a tiring process for men and horses
keeping the cattle bunched together. Steers
were constantly breaking away from the herd to avoid being pushed into the water
and then someone would have to race after them and turn them back.
Slowly the cattle began to string out across the
wide expanse of the river. Two
drovers at a time positioned themselves part of the way across.
Their job was to discourage the steers from wandering too far up or down
stream. Despite their
efforts, some of the animals ended up below them and had to swim down river a
ways in order to climb out at the next available low place in the bank.
Murdoch waited slightly above where the majority
of the cattle would leave the river. He
kept his eyes moving while searching the current upstream.
His men knew to watch for his signal, raised hands waving above his head,
that some sort of hazardous debris was floating their way.
The minutes slowly ticked away.
The first pair of riders urged their mounts on across the river and
worked to keep the cattle from straying too far after they came up out of the
water. Two more men rode into the
river to act as sentries while the rest of the drovers kept crowding the herd.
When the next riders reached the bank, Murdoch sent them to collect the
steers that were drifting down the river.
For the better part of the next hour, the
rancher sat his horse and watched the cattle forging their way across the river.
Sharp needles of pain shot through the tight muscles of his shoulders and
his temples ached from straining his eyes as he searched the murky water.
When the last of the cattle were across and Jose
began helping the wrangler guide the remuda into river, Murdoch started to
relax. Other than the near disaster with the wagons, all had gone well.
Scott and Red were driving the last of the horses into the water and soon
the herd would be on the last leg of its journey.
“He-yaw, get up thar.”
Red swung the end of his rope at the nearest rump.
A chunky, bay mare squealed and lashed out with a hind hoof, and then
jumped forward, bumping into a tall gray. The
gray staggered off the bank and splashed into the river as the young drover
continued crowding from behind.
A short distance up river, Scott Lancer squeezed
the calves of his legs against the sides of his mount.
The black gelding squatted--knees locked, tail tucked between its legs,
and hind feet far underneath its body. When
Scott tightened his grip, the horse snorted, arched its neck, and backed a
couple of steps. It settled
momentarily; then while pivoting off its haunches, spun to the left.
“Pop!” The narrow strip of leather came in
contact with the taut neck.
The horse stopped short, then reared as spurs
pressed into his tender ribs. He
pawed at the air. An instant later,
he brought his front feet down hard on the ground when Scott leaned against his
neck. The ends of the leather reins
were now applied to the gelding’s hip and he leaped forward, into the water.
Slippery rocks rolled under his ironclad hooves and he scrambled to
retain his footing.
“Easy there, boy. Just relax, you’ll be fine.” Scott, in an effort to calm
the nervous black, rubbed the gelding’s neck and talked to him in a soothing
tone. Finally the horse settled
down and began to splash his way across the river.
The horse wrangler along with a drover, named
Jose, stopped mid-stream to keep the remuda headed straight across the river.
When half of the horses were beyond them, they rode into the deeper
current and swam their mounts toward the other shore.
As his mount moved willingly into the belly-deep
water, Scott began to relax. He
glanced over at Red who was on the lower side of the crossing.
All seemed to be going well. Soon
they would drop off the ledge, have a short swim, and then climb out on the
Scott noticed a chestnut horse starting to drift
upstream. He turned his mount and
urged him into a faster pace in hopes of forcing the wayward animal back into
line. Suddenly, the chestnut’s
back dropped out of sight then surfaced as the horse began to swim.
With its head held high, it struck off up the river.
Having been warned of the treacherous holes
above the crossing, Scott decided to let the chestnut finds its own way out of
the river. He gave a gentle tug on
the reins in order turn his own mount back to the prescribed path but the black
stiffened his neck and the battle of wills began all over again.
Without warning, the gelding plunged into deeper
water. Scott, grabbing a hold on
the saddle horn, let the reins go slack so that the panicking horse could have
its head. When the black quit
fighting and began to swim, he was headed into the current.
Scott tried to guide his mount back toward the
rest of the remuda but his efforts were again met with resistance.
He happened to look toward the distant shore and thought he saw his
father’s arms waving in the air. However,
with the black horse commanding all of his attention, he wasn’t able to look
for the source of new trouble.
Finally, the gelding began to wear down from
bucking the flow of the river and allowed Scott to guide him.
He was gradually carried back down the river as he swam toward the far
“Look out!” Above the din of bawling cattle
and the babbling of the river, Red’s voice was barely audible.
Scott heard the warning and saw Red pointing at
something up the river. He quickly
glanced behind him and his heart began to race. A dead tree loomed less than twenty feet from him.
Desperately, he tried to guide his horse away
from the impending danger. The
black, frightened by having its nose momentarily pulled under water, fought the
restraint of the bridle and again turned upstream. Just when Scott was sure there was no way to avoid a direct
collision, the horse twisted to the left and the first branch passed over the
top of him.
Leaning forward against the crest of the
horse’s neck, Scott also managed to duck under the limb.
He tugged at the left rein in an attempt to move the black away from the
floating deadfall. If he could get his mount a little farther out from the trunk
of the tree, they would be in the clear.
The tree bobbed and rolled just as the horse
turned away from it. Scott felt a
jab, followed by a searing pain, as the stub end of a heavy branch hit him just
below the waist and slid upward along his back. Before he could grasp what was happening, he felt himself
being dragged from the back of the horse. Just
before the water closed over him, he sucked in a lung-full of air.
As Scott spiraled downward, he felt his belt
tighten around his waist. Panic
surged through him upon realizing that he was hung up on a limb of the tree.
However, not one to give up, he strove to retain full control of his
mental faculties. If he was to
survive, the first order of business was to free himself from the branch that
had somehow found its way under his belt.
Like a rag doll in the hands of a child, Scott
was tossed and turned under the surface of the river by the rolling of the tree.
It took all of his strength to remove his gloves and hang onto the front
of his belt as he struggled to unbuckle it.
Soon his hands, numbed by the chill of the water that flowed out of the
mountains to the east, were stiff and refused to cooperate.
Seconds seemed like hours.
Soon, his head was pounding and his lungs were protesting against the
pressure building from holding his breath.
His lower legs rapped against something hard.
Fiery needles shot from his shins to his thighs and the air that had been
trapped in his lungs bubbled out mouth. He
quickly clamped his lips tightly together to stop from breathing in water.
The relief of having let his breath out was
short-lived and soon his body was screaming for oxygen.
His lungs and head felt like they were about to burst wide open.
As consciousness threatened to leave him, a picture flashed through his
mind. It was his birthday.
He had knocked on the door to the parlor to inform his grandfather that
it was time to cut the cake. When
the door opened, he saw a man standing just inside the room.
He heard his grandfather say, “Scotty, I want you to meet a friend.
His name is Murdoch.” While
he stared up into the face of the man that towered over him, the scene faded and
darkness enveloped him.
from his nose, mouth, and clothes, and ran into his eyes. He felt as though his aching head was reeling while his
stomach rebelled against the pressure around his mid-section. He was certain that he was being torn in two.
alive!" exclaimed Sam moving his ear away from Scott's chest.
Straightening up, he reached out and laid a hand on his distraught boss's
arm. "Mister Lancer.
We have to get him turned over."
Getting no response, he slid his hand up to Murdoch's shoulder and gave
it a shake.
exhaustion had rapidly set in and Murdoch looked up dazedly into the cowboy's
still alive. We have to roll him
over and get the water out of his lungs."
Sam reached across Scott's body, grabbed his arm, and pulled it toward
him. "Can you help?" he
The harsh tone of
cowboy broke through the numbness that was enveloping Murdoch and Sam's words
began to register in the rancher's mind. 'Scott
was alive. It wasn't too late.'
Spurred to action by having his hopes revived, Murdoch placed his hands
under his son's back and pushed upward as his hired man pulled.
Once Scott was on
his belly, Murdoch tilted his son's head to one side. The cowboy straddled Scott and placed both hands just above
the young man's waist. Locking his
elbows, Sam leaned forward and pushed, then briefly held the pressure before
releasing it. Every few seconds he
repeated the process.
the water trickle out of Scott's mouth each time his lungs were compressed.
In desperation, he prayed they were not too late to save his son.
A few seconds
later, Scott's body jerked slightly and he coughed.
Next came a gasp for air followed by a spasm of coughing.
Quickly, he was pulled into a sitting position where he was held upright
with his back against Murdoch's chest while his reflexes took over to expel the
last of the fluid.
breathing, although shallow, became more even and the tension in Murdoch began
to wane. The worst of the crisis
A commotion behind
him caught the rancher's attention. He
glanced over his shoulder and saw two men ride up. One stopped a ways from him while the other continued in his
direction. It was Cooky with the
A flurry of
activity filled the next few minutes. The
cook and another man built a fire nearby while Murdoch and Sam removed Scott's
dripping clothes and wrapped him in a couple of blankets. Next, they moved him closer to flames.
holding Scott's upper body against his broad chest in hopes of transferring some
of his own body heat to his son. He
rubbed his big hands over Scott's back while Sam massaged the young man's arms
and legs. Scott's temperature was
dangerously low from his being in the cold river so long and they knew they had
to get him warmed up soon or there would be the added risk of pneumonia setting
As the rancher
cradled Scott in his arms, his throat constricted.
This was the first time that he had ever held his older son and emotions
long forgotten welled up within him, choking him and bringing tears to his eyes.
He had missed so much over the past twenty-four years of separation; they
little attention to the awkwardness of sitting next to Scott on the ground, his
son's forehead resting against his shoulder and their legs in opposite
directions. Even when his back
began to ache from supporting his son's upper body with his own, he ignored it.
Laying Scott down was too risky. A
doctor had once warned him of the importance of keeping an unconscious person
upright after being saved from drowning; otherwise, pneumonia or even death
Supporting his son
with his right arm, Murdoch moved his other hand in firm circular or up and down
paths on Scott's back. His muscles
began to protest the continual movement but he refused to stop for more than a
minute or two. His own pain was of
little consequence to him; for once in his life, he had the opportunity to do
something for his son.
When some time had
passed, Murdoch gave in to the urge to run his fingers through Scott's damp
so like his mother,' he thought. For
a moment, he envisioned his first wife: smoky-blue eyes, dark-golden hair, and
lips that often displayed a reserved smile. At times, though, she would forget her proper upbringing and
her whole face would light up as her smile broadened and her eyes twinkled.
'Like Scott the night Red was
singing those silly songs. Another picture entered his thoughts and he saw the
mocking, half-smile on his son's face the day Scott arrived from Boston.
He knew the expression well. His
first wife had used it whenever she was amused and angry at the same time.
quickly ended when he felt the lax body in his arms become tense.
Thinking that his son might be embarrassed to wake up in his arms, he
considered shifting Scott to a less intimate position.
However, he rejected the idea when he felt his son relax; Scott still
needed the extra warmth of their close proximity.
Murdoch glanced up
and nodded while reaching out with his left hand to accept the steaming cup from
the cook. "Thanks, Cooky."
yer boy? Ya wanna try to get some
down 'im, too? Might help warm 'im
up a mite."
know. Might be better to wait until
he comes to," Murdoch stated. "I
suppose if he's still unconscious in a couple of hours, we could try giving him
a little then.
right about it bein' better ta wait," Cooky agreed before moving back
toward the fire.
A few minutes
later, the rancher's thoughts were interrupted again, this time by the voice of
his trail boss. "Mister Lancer
. . . I just got word about what happened to your boy.
How is he?"
slightly so he could look at the man. "Still
unconscious," he said. "I
think he must've hit his head. He
does seem to be breathing easier, though. At
least, that's a good sign. The main
thing now is to get him warm. He
was pretty cold by the time we got him out of the river."
he'll be just fine," the foreman said.
"He's a strong lad."
Murdoch replied with more assurance than he felt.
Scott appeared healthy but he couldn't help worrying just the same.
the cattle, Mister Lancer? Looks
like it could be a while before Scott's ready to travel. That delivery deadline is at dusk tonight.
The boys and I could try to make it through on time if you want."
With one side of
his lower lip held between his teeth, Murdoch pondered the situation.
He could send the herd on ahead but he'd been warned that Miguel Lopez
was a crafty man when it came to matters of business.
If there was going to be trouble with collecting payment for the steers,
he wanted to be there. Also, he
didn't like asking one of his men to take responsibility for such a large sum of
money; the contract had been set at forty dollars a head for five hundred
yearling steers provided that they were delivered on time.
However, the price per animal would drop two dollars for each day he was
late. At a thousand hundred dollars
a day, he couldn't afford to delay the drive too long.
'Have to cross that bridge when I come to it," he thought.
'Right now, I have to think of
having weighed his options, instructed his trail boss to hold the herd in a
large meadow that was located in a side-draw about two miles to the west.
The cattle would have plenty of feed and water for a couple of days and
by then, he hoped that his son would have recovered enough to be moved.
As the foreman was
leaving to tend to the cattle, Cooky showed up carrying a couple of blankets.
"Warmed these by the fire. Thought
it might help ta wrap 'em 'round yer son, then I kin take the ones thet are on 'im
and heat 'em up by the fire. When
these cool down, we kin swap 'em fer the hot ones."
a good idea, thanks," said Murdoch, looking gratefully at the cook.
With the help of
Sam and Cooky, Murdoch soon had his son snugly wrapped up in the warm blankets.
He was relieved to see that some color had returned to Scott's face and
that his skin didn't feel nearly as cold as it had earlier.
Figuring that the cook's help would be sufficient, he sent Sam back to
Murdoch sat holding his son, who was now sitting between his slightly bent legs.
The position was far from comfortable but he found that it was better
than having Scott facing him. He
settled back against the saddle that Sam had brought him just before leaving to
join the other drovers and was thankful for the added support that helped to
relieve his aching back.
As time went on
and Scott failed to regain consciousness, the rancher began to worry that his
son's injuries were more serious that he thought.
Earlier, he had noticed the bits of dried blood on Scott's scraped and
slightly discolored forehead, which had already shown signs of swelling.
He was certain that his son's head had collided with the bed of the
river. What he couldn't be sure of
was how hard he'd hit.
The groove between
Murdoch's eyebrows deepened and questions filled his mind.
How long would Scott remain unconscious?
Had he sustained any permanent damage?
What were the chances that his son would be paralyzed or suffer from
amnesia? He knew these were all
possible results of a head injury.
When Scott's body
began to tremble, Murdoch became even more concerned about his son.
He laid the back of his fingers against Scott's forehead; it was slightly
warm. Next he felt of his son's
cheeks and found that they were cool but not cold like they had been.
'Might have a bit of a fever.
Can't be much of one; he's not that hot.
Maybe, he's still trying to warm up.
Everyone shivers when they get cold.
Doesn't mean anything's wrong,' he told himself in an effort to
alleviate his fears.
Hoping that added
heat would help to dispel his son's chills, Murdoch called for the cook to bring
another warm blanket. "Tuck in
tight around his legs and shoulders," he instructed.
doin'?" A frown clouded
Cooky's face as he peered down at his boss's son.
pretty hard right now. Hopefully,
it's just reaction from being so cold and will stop once he warms up a little
more," Murdoch replied.
some more wood on the fire. Might
help some, too," the cook offered.
idea," Murdoch nodded in agreement.
"Ya ready ta
try gettin' some hot coffee down 'im, yet?"
before answering, "I guess we could try.
I thought I felt him stir just now.
Maybe, he's coming around."
it soon's I stoke the fire," announced Cooky before turning and walking
briskly away. In no time at all,
the campfire was blazing and he was back with the cup of hot liquid.
easing from behind his son while the cook kept Scott sitting upright, Murdoch
picked up the steaming cup and knelt beside his son.
He tested the temperature of the coffee with his finger.
Satisfied that it wouldn't scald the young man's tongue, he proceeded to
give Scott little sips. The last thing he wanted was for some of it to go down the
wrong way and complicate matters for his son.
Murdoch laid his
left hand gently against his son's throat, then placed the edge of the cup
between Scott's lips and carefully tipped it up so that a small amount poured
out. Most of the liquid dribbled
out the corners of the unconscious man's mouth and ran down his chin. However, the rancher knew that a little of the fluid had
reached his son's stomach; he'd felt Scott swallow.
It was a slow
process and Murdoch almost quit when his son coughed on the second sip.
Not wanting to give up, he gave Scott a moment to recover, and then tried
again. This time he was met with
success so, satisfied that he was getting some of the coffee into his son, he
When about a third
of the coffee was gone from the cup, Murdoch announced that Scott had enough for
the time being. Although, more of
the liquid had run down the outside than the inside of his son, he figured that
enough had reached Scott's stomach to help warm his insides a little.
Also, he didn't want to risk making his son sick.
It would be better to give Scott small amounts at regular intervals than
to force too much down him at once.
For the next few
hours, Murdoch paid little heed to the activities around the campfire.
Concern for his son's welfare as well as regrets from the past filled his
mind. In fact, he was barely
cognizant of the arrival of the wagons or Cooky preparing the evening meal.
It wasn't until the first cowboys showed up for supper that his thoughts
were drawn away from Scott and he realized that he hadn't even inquired into
around at the men squatting or standing near the fire.
The redheaded cowboy was not among them. His mind believed the worst and his throat constricted.
A barely audible "too bad about Red" reached his ears and
confirmed that his thinking was correct: the young cowboy had sacrificed his own
life in order to help save Scott's.
A heavy cloud of
grief and remorse settled over the rancher as his mind filled with dread.
'How do I tell Old Man Johnson, his
grandson is dead? And what about Scott? Knowing
his friend gave his life for him could tear him up inside.'
Dejectedly, Murdoch let his head drop forward until his chin rested on
his son's shoulder. Once more, he wished that he'd left Scott back at the ranch.
A vague sense of
awareness crept over Scott and he tried to comprehend who was holding him.
He doubted it. Harlan Garrett had never held him so tightly--possessively.
Also, the hands on his back were too large to belong to his grandfather
and the scent was wrong. His grandfather was a meticulous person who bathed daily and
had always used a splash of lilac water until he had discovered Hoyt's
Cologne--neither fragrance was detectable.
The odor of sweat
and dirty wet hair assaulted Scott's nose.
They had no place among the elite Boston society that he knew so, barely
conscious, he struggled to identify where they did belong. His heart beat faster as memories flooded his mind.
The south had seceded, there was a war going on, and he was in the
cavalry. He had received a field
promotion to the rank of second lieutenant and had proudly stood next to General
Sheridan while their picture was taken. A
short time later, they had gone to Vicksburg.
There had been a battle. 'What then?' he wondered.
Scott caught a
hint of something else familiar. 'Pipe
tobacco. Good pipe tobacco. Imported,'
his mind insisted but the knowledge told him nothing.
There were other odors, too, but they all seemed strange, out of place,
and yet, remotely familiar. He
couldn't fathom why.
Suddenly aware of
the throbbing in his head, Scott winced and wondered if the pain had just
started or if he simply hadn't realized it was there before. He tried to open his eyes but his eyelids, feeling as though
weights were hanging from them, merely fluttered and stayed closed.
Resignedly, he relaxed. The
hands on his back were soothing and the broad chest that supported him as well
as the strong arms that surrounded him felt comforting--natural, like he
belonged there. Why not enjoy the dream while he could? Too soon, he would awaken; to what, he wasn't sure and at the
moment, he didn't really care.
Later--he had no
way of knowing how much time had passed--Scott became aware that he was
trembling. He felt cold despite the
weight of what he assumed were blankets draped around him.
His position seemed to have shifted but he couldn't be sure and he
questioned whether he had imagined being held like a child.
'Perhaps,' he thought, 'those
soothing hands on my back were a dream.'
As he shivered
uncontrollably, he realized that he was leaning back against something.
'What?' he silently pondered.
Filled with uncertainty, he struggled to find the answer.
What he felt was neither hard nor soft.
He finally settled for firm and his mind quickly assumed that it was his
grandfather. 'But why is Grandfather holding me?' his clouded mind insisted on
tightened; his head felt like it would explode.
The steady pounding made it hard to think and he wanted to think--to
escape the prison of half-consciousness that he found himself in.
He didn't like being unable to distinguish between what was real and what
was not. His eyes refused to work,
to open so he could see where he was, and his ears didn't want to function
properly, either. He thought he
could hear voices but the words all ran together and he couldn't separate them
enough to make sense out of what was being said.
He felt an added
weight on his shoulders, chest, and legs, and wondered if it were more blankets.
'It doesn't help much; he
thought, still unable to stop shaking. 'I'm
so cold. Why doesn't someone light
A few moments
later as if in answer to his unspoken request, a flash of heat fanned his
cheeks. It was a pleasant feeling
that reminded him of his childhood and sitting in front of the fireplace in his
grandfather's parlor after playing outside on a cold winter day. He had always liked the added burst of warmth when one of the
servants added another log and the flames would leap higher.
Scott felt a hand
behind his neck and the edge of what his mind perceived to be a tin cup pressed
against his lips. Hot liquid
touched his tongue and he swallowed. The
warmth felt good as it traveled down his throat to his stomach.
He inhaled and then coughed as something set his air passages on fire.
When he could breathe again, he felt more of the warm fluid in his mouth.
His mind was still fuzzy but he thought it tasted like strong coffee.
Why he was being forced to drink it, he had no idea but it made him feel
warmer so he cooperated as best he could.
As the hot coffee,
along with the added warmth from the blankets and the fire, slowly brought
relief from the chills that racked Scott's body, he slipped into a deep sleep
that lasted for a couple of hours.
awoke to a pounding head and the feeling of sitting on the hard ground.
Another man's body supported his back and a strong arm lay across his
am I?' he thought.
'Who's holding me? Grandfather?'
The sound of low
voices reached his ears and he tentatively opened his eyes. Straight ahead, he saw two hazy wagons at slight angles from
each other and behind them, the shadowy forms of trees and bushes.
We've been in a battle and I must have been wounded.' he surmised
from the aching of his body and the excruciating pain in his head.
He glanced to the
left and his heart began to race; the men around the nearby campfire were not
wearing blue uniforms. Instantly,
his mind told him that the enemy had captured him.
However, upon closer scrutiny, he realized that there were no signs of
Confederate soldiers in dreaded gray, either.
'Then who are they,' he
don't know them. I've never even
seen anyone dressed like some of them before.'
something recognizable, Scott studied his surroundings more closely.
Beyond the fire, he could see a green flat area with a hill or ridge of
some kind on the far side of it. Hearing
the roar of fast moving water to his right and not wanting to alert his captors
that he was awake, he glanced to that side and noticed that the ground sloped
toward a river that was only a short distance away.
Nothing within his sight seemed familiar.
Next, he shifted
his eyes downward. He was wrapped
from shoulders to feet in blankets and sitting between long, slightly bent legs
that were clad in brown trousers. An
arm with a large hand attached to it lay across his upper body and he could feel
a shoulder against the back of his head. 'He
certainly is a big man,' he thought.
quickened its pace and the pain in his head became worse.
He was almost certain that Rebel soldiers had captured him.
However, the appearances of the men were not what he would have expected
if that were the case.
An instant later,
it dawned on him that he had nothing on under the blankets. His agitation increased.
He had no idea where he was, who he was with, why he was there, or what
had happened to his clothes. When
he tried to think, stabs of pain shot through his head and a soft moan slipped
from his throat.
a deep voice spoke near his ear.
He stiffened and
swallowed; his captor knew him by name. In
the far reaches of his mind, he thought that the man's voice might be familiar
but he couldn't put a name to him.
The man behind him
shifted slightly forward before moving a hand to Scott's shoulder and gently
squeezing it. "Scott.
Are you awake?"
Scott was tempted
not to answer because the fear of the unknown was overwhelming.
However, there was a stronger desire to find out what he was up against
and face the situation head on. "I'm
'wake," he replied in a raspy whisper.
The body behind him relaxed and Scott wondered why the man seemed so
"Can you sit
up?" the voice said.
"I . . .
think so." Scott mumbled, then
leaned away from the other man and tried to keep sitting upright.
As his world seemed to tilt around him and his upper body swayed, he felt
a hand on his shoulder steady him.
"How do you
Even though the
man at his back sounded genuinely concerned, Scott wasn't about to reveal his
true condition until he knew more about his situation. "Fine," he answered, attempting to sound confident
but not quite accomplishing it.
"Can I get
you anything? Coffee's hot.
Something to eat? Cooky's keeping supper warm for you."
reeled a little from the effort of holding himself upright. He was sure that at the moment eating was out of the
question; just the thought of food made his stomach lurch. The liquid, however, sounded appealing to him; he was thirsty
and his throat felt dry. "Coffee,
please," he croaked, his words slurring a little.
An order was
issued and in no time, an older man with a bandaged hand stepped away from the
fire and moved to Scott's side. "Good
ta see yer awake," the man said as he held out a steaming cup.
Scott managed to
free one hand from the confines of the blankets, which slipped off his shoulder.
He pulled it back in place and accepted the hot liquid.
"Thank you," he said in the same tone he would have used on a
servant at a party.
some whollop ya got there, Sonny. Glad
ta see ya finally come to; the boss was gettin' a mite worried about ya."
Cooky, pointed his bandaged hand at the man behind Scott.
"Ya get ta feelin' like eatin' or want more coffee, you just give a
holler. I'll be right over yonder
tryin' ta keep them yayhoos from eatin' all the food 'fore the rest a the boys
get a chance ta eat."
When Cooky walked
away without initiating further conversation, Scott was relieved.
He felt as though he was expected to know the other man; except he was
sure that they had never met before. 'Southerner.
He must be, from the way he talks. This
has to be a rebel camp. Maybe, they
are guerilla raiders and that's why they aren't in uniform,' he reasoned,
the fear inside him growing. 'But,
how do they know my name? Why do
they act as though I should know who they are?'
While trying to
sort out the confusion in his mind, Scott sipped the hot coffee.
He was thankful for its soothing effect on his sore throat and the way it
warmed him up inside; however, it did nothing to relieve the throbbing pain
above his eyes and in the back of his neck.
"What happened?" he asked, his voice not so raspy as before.
At the same time, his mind was demanding, 'Who
are you? Where am I?
Who hit me?'
remember?" came a worried sounding reply from behind him.
"If I did,
would I be askin'?" Scott shot back testily, immediately regretting his
"You . . .
you fell off a tree. Must have hit
your head on the bottom of the river." The speaker's voice was somewhat
soft and hesitant.
'Fell off a tree into the river?
What was I doing? Explains
why my clothes are gone and I'm wrapped in blankets. But . . . who are these people?
They seem to know me but I don't remember them.
Why does the man, holding me, sound so worried?
What am I to him?' Unanswerable questions bombarded Scott's mind and desperation
began to set in. He had to know
where he was and why he was there. "Where'm
I? How'd I get here?" he
demanded, unable to keep from running his words together.
the bank of the river. I carried
Scott felt the
hand on his shoulder tighten its grip and wondered if he was treading on
forbidden ground and if that was why his real question was being evaded.
'I don't care what he's trying to
hide. I'm not letting him get away
with it,' he thought determinedly as he forced himself to speak more
clearly. "I know
. . . I am by a river. I
have eyes . . . and there is
nothing wrong . . . with my
was drawn out in a soothing, half-questioning tone.
He tried to twist
enough to see the man behind him; but he could only catch a glimpse of him from
the corner of his eye, and the form was too blurry for him to make out.
Deciding that it didn't matter, anyway, Scott pressed on with his
interrogation. Generally, he would
have been appalled at his impertinence; but in his apprehensive and uncertain
state of mind, he gave it little more than a passing thought.
He wanted answers and he wanted them now.
"I wanna know where I am. What
river's this and where 'zit located?"
"It's . . .
the Tuolumne River," the man said hesitantly.
"We talked about it just last night."
"I don' know
what you're tryin' to pull here," Scott slurred in a sharp tone.
"But I've never even heard of the Tul-loom-nee River. "
He shifted his body away from the direction of the fire and sucked in his
breath sharply as he turned his head to the right far enough to look into the
other man's face. He wobbled
dizzily; feeling like a sledgehammer had been taken to the base of his neck.
Again, the big hand steadied him.
down. There's no need to get
yourself so worked up."
The fuzz refused
to budge from Scott's mind as he looked into the compassionate eyes of a
gray-haired man that he had no recollection of having met before. For a moment, he thought he was going to be sick.
His head felt like it was about to explode and his world had gone crazy.
He was in an unknown place with strangers who somehow knew him by name
while he couldn't recall any of theirs. Nothing
made any sense and panic threatened to overcome him.
Despite the lack of uniforms, he was sure that he was in the hands of the
When the swimming
sensation let up a little, Scott decided to use of another tactic--politeness.
"I . . . 'preciate what you've done for me, Sir.
If I could have my clothes back, I'd like to get dressed now."
"Are you sure
that's a good idea? Are you certain
you're up to--"
please," Scott broke in a little more persistently.
"I want my
clothes and I want them now," Scott retorted belligerently. "I don't know who you people are . . . or why you won't
tell me where I am . . . but I have
no intention of sitting here any longer without being properly dressed."
The older man's
jaw sagged, his face paled, and for a moment, he remained speechless while
Scott, perplexed by the reaction his words had wrought in the other man, sat
staring at him.
"Amigo, it is
good you are awake, no?"
Startled by the
new voice, Scott glanced to his left. There,
grinning down on him, was a short, stoutly build man with raven hair and
gleaming black eyes. Before he
could say anything, he heard the gray-haired man speak. "Jose, could you see if Scott's clothes are dry?
I think Cooky took them. Check
with him. If not, maybe, there's something in the wagon clean enough
for him to wear."
Lancer," the dark-haired man replied as he turned to leave.
'Lancer!' Scott's heart skipped
a beat and then began to race madly. He
swiveled his head back toward the older man and gasped as a shot of pain ran
through him. His eyes widened and
he hoarsely asked, "Who are you?"
When the other man
chewed at his lip and said nothing, a flash of anger surged through Scott.
Having come to the end of his patience, he reached out with his free hand
and grasped the front of the man's jacket.
"I asked you a question and I want an answer.
Who are you?"
"Scott . . .
I'm your father . . . Murdoch Lancer."
Scott shook his head. "That's
not possible." Suddenly, he
had to get away; he didn't care where. He
just wanted the nightmare to end. He
tried to rise and the world around him suddenly spun wildly before his eyes and
he tipped forward into blackness.
later, Murdoch Lancer sat alone by the campfire.
He was bone-tired; yet, worry for his son kept him struggling to keep his
drooping eyelids open. 'Need
to be awake when Scott wakes up. May
need me; he seemed so confused earlier. Didn't
even know me. Acted shocked when I
told him who I was. Good thing I was close enough to catch him when he passed
out. I wonder why it's taking so
long for him to come to again.' These
and other troubling thoughts drifted in and out of his mind.
lost the battle against sleep. First,
his shoulders slumped and then his head dropped forward. Finally, his chin came to rest against his collarbone, his
breathing deepened, and his head bobbed occasionally as he softly snored.
About an hour
after midnight, an owl hooted and Murdoch jerked awake. He stretched and yawned, then rubbed the back of his neck.
Noticing the fire had died down to a cluster of softly glowing embers; he
rose to his feet with a groan. Wearily,
he gathered up an armload of tree limbs from the pile on the far side of the
campfire and arranged them on the bed of coals.
When orange and
yellow flames stretched upward and licked at the newly added fuel, Murdoch
walked quietly over to where his son sat propped against the front wheel of the
chuckwagon that had been moved closer to the campfire.
On each side of Scott was a saddle to keep him from slumping too far one
way or the other. Noticing that the blankets had slipped from his son's
shoulders, the rancher leaned over and pulled them up.
As he tucked them into place, Scott's eyes fluttered open and their gazes
hoped that his son's memory would return by the time the young man woke up, was
due for more disappointment; Scott stiffened under his touch and glared at him
in open hostility. Not wanting to
upset his son any more than could be helped, the rancher stood upright and took
a step back. Keeping his voice low,
he kindly asked, "How do you feel?"
Getting nothing more than a silent stare in response, he tried again.
me that." Scott voice was
harsh and filled with bitterness. "I'm
not your son."
Murdoch let his
breath out in a soft sigh. He was
sure that Scott had to be suffering from some degree of amnesia, which would
mean that gaining his son's trust was not going to be easy.
Of far greater concern to the rancher was how long the loss of memory
would last. He had seen a few cases
of amnesia brought on by head injuries. Most
had been temporary lapses that had lasted no more than a few hours--a couple of
days at the most. However, he knew
of a man near Sacramento whose son had not recovered after fifteen years.
Murdoch didn't even want to consider the possibility that Scott's
condition could be permanent.
clutched with fear at Scott's cold wariness.
Having enjoyed the time they'd shared the evening before, he had hoped
that the tension between his son and him had ended. Now, it appeared as though the situation was far worse, and
the thought of having to win Scott's trust all over was not a pleasant one.
Knowing he had to
do something to break the silence and relieve Scott's anxiety, Murdoch made
another attempt to reason with his son. "You've
had an accident. You hit your head
and you've temporarily lost your memory," he explained.
"I know this is very frightening for you, but you must believe me; I
mean you no harm. I just want to
make sure you're all right."
By keeping me a prisoner?"
The distress in
Scott's voice cut into Murdoch like a knife and speech failed him.
He wanted, in the worst way, to bring assurance to his son, whose mind
was somewhere in the past; but he had no idea of how to go about it.
going to answer me?" Scott demanded.
"You're not a
prisoner." Murdoch struggled
to keep his voice calm.
am I? How did I get here?"
uncertainty, Murdoch paced back and forth in front of Scott. Needing to tell the young man something, he finally said,
"Scott, you're in California."
That's impossible; I was in Vicks--.
Scott stopped abruptly and suspiciously eyed Murdoch.
"Never mind where I was the day before yesterday; I just know I
couldn't have traveled all the way across the country in two days."
were here last night." As his
son started to interrupt, Murdoch raised his hand.
"Please. You asked for
an explanation, so let me talk."
With a roll of his
eyes and a gentle wag of his head, Scott snorted softly but remained silent.
"As I was
about to say, I sent for you. You
arrived at my ranch near Morro Coyo a little over four weeks ago. "Now, just let me finish," Murdoch admonished.
"A band of land pirates was trying to take over my land.
You helped fight them off and I gave you part of my ranch, in return. For the past week and a half, we've been driving a herd of
steers that I had contracted to deliver to a ranch not far from here.
While we were crossing the river over there, you
. . . there was some trouble. You
fell in and hit your head. I know
you don't remember any of this and you think . . .."
Murdoch slowly shook his head and chewed at his lip before continuing.
"I don't know what you think, or where you think you should be.
I wish there were some way to convince you that what I'm telling you is
the truth . . . but I can't. You're
just going to have to trust me."
studied his father, then glanced around. He
heaved a heavy sigh and sarcastically said, "I suppose I have no choice in
the matter. The way I feel at the
moment, I couldn't go ten feet without falling flat on my face."
"Give it some
time, S . . . cott. Let me get you
something to eat and a drink of water; then, you get a good night's rest.
By morning, your memory will be back and everything will be fine,"
Murdoch said with considerably more assurance than he felt.
A few minutes
later, Murdoch handed his son a plate of food and a tin cup. When Scott accepted the meal without a word and ate in sullen
silence, the young man's total lack of proper manners had the rancher even more
concerned. Although, his older son
had displayed anger on more than one occasion, Scott had always maintained a
certain degree of politeness.
Once assured that
his son's immediate needs had been taken care of and that the confused young man
wouldn't foolishly attempt to leave, Murdoch took a stroll along the riverbank.
His hopes for reconciliation with his older son had crumbled, and the
sight of Scott's eyes filled with a mix of distrust and loathing ate at him.
He'd known--expected--upon first meeting his sons that they would harbor
ill feelings toward him, even hate him. However, Scott had never looked at him
with such outright contempt before.
A while later,
Murdoch returned to camp and added more sticks to the fire. He took a moment to check on the sleeping form next to Cooky.
The young cowboy appeared to be resting peacefully despite the ordeal
encountered earlier in the day, so the rancher went to see how Scott was faring.
Murdoch looked down on his son, still leaning against the wheel of wagon, and was relieved to find him sound asleep. Wearily, the rancher collected his own bedroll and turned in. 'Scott'll be fine, tomorrow. Just needs a good night's sleep; that's all,' he told himself as he closed his eyes and pulled his blankets tight around him.