Wearily, Murdoch Lancer swung
his right leg over the rump of the bay horse, and stepped down. It had been a long day.
He had started the herd on the trail shortly after daylight and arrived
at the Diamond B Ranch a little past noon.
Counting the steers and collecting payment had taken some time, so it had
been mid-afternoon by the time he had started on his way to Modesto, some thirty
miles to the northwest. The urgency
of getting Scott and Red to a doctor, as well as the need to arrive before the
bank closed the next day, had kept him from calling a halt before dusk.
the cinch, swung the heavy saddle to the ground, and began to rubdown his
mount's sweat-stained back. His
mind, however, was not on what he was doing; he was still too rankled by his
dealings with Miguel Lopez. The
Spaniard was a sly old fox, and it had taken all of the restraint Murdoch could
muster to keep from losing his temper with the man.
In fact, if it hadn't been for the river he had just crossed and the
distance back to Lancer, along with the need to find a doctor, he would have
told Lopez to forget their agreement.
What had irked Murdoch the
most was having to accept an additional two dollars per head cut in price just
because there were fifteen fewer steers in the herd than the contract had called
for. Because of the losses
sustained during the cattle stampede, he was out another nine hundred and
seventy dollars on top of the penalty for late delivery.
That meant he was going home with close to three thousand dollars short
of what he had counted on.
'If you'd left Scott at the ranch, you
wouldn't have lost those steers, and you'd have met your deadline, too.' Murdoch, trying to ignore the little voice at the back of his
mind, scrubbed more vigorously at the bay's hide. 'Not only that, Red
wouldn't have dislocated his shoulder and possibly broken his collarbone, and
your son wouldn't have nearly drowned and now be lying in that wagon not knowing
where he is or who you are,' the
The horse switched its tail in
protest of the heavy hand against its belly, but Murdoch failed to notice.
His mind was elsewhere. 'A
cattle drive is no place for a city boy; you should know that,' he scolded
himself. 'What were you hoping to gain by letting him come along?
Well, whatever it was, you were a fool.
Look what you've lost.'
thoughts, grating like sandpaper on an open wound, did nothing for Murdoch's
mood. He dug the currycomb out of
his saddlebag and roughly raked it over the horse's coat.
"Whoa, now! Stand
still," he snapped as the animal kicked
out in retaliation when the stubby metal teeth bit into its tender flanks.
The sensitive horse continued
to fidget and sidestep despite the sharp jerks to the reins. Finally, the horse wrangler, who was a short distance away,
tied up the horse he was brushing and walked over to Murdoch's side.
"Want me to take him, Mister Lancer?" he offered.
"I'm fully capable of
taking care of my own horse," Murdoch grated.
"I wasn't implyin' ya
weren't. I jest thought ya might
wanna be checkin' on yer son, that's all," the cowboy drawled in a soothing
Murdoch sucked in a deep
breath and let it out slowly as he handed over the reins.
He had no call to take his frustrations out on the wrangler; the man was
just trying to be helpful.
'And keep you from abusing the poor horse,' his conscience whispered.
After thanking his hired man,
Murdoch leaned over and picked up his saddlebags.
He felt a stab of pain in his lower back and let out a soft groan before
shuffling over to the wagons a short distance away.
The flaps of
canvas at the back of the supply wagon were slightly parted when Murdoch got
there so he peeked inside. Scott,
eyes closed and appearing to be asleep, was reclining against the mound of
bedrolls that were piled along one side. Not
wanting to disturb the young man, the rancher withdrew without speaking and
decided to see how Cooky and Jake were coming with setting up camp.
In the space
between the cook's wagon and the one Scott was in, Murdoch could see a small
blaze coming from a pile of sticks. The
cook was busy setting up the iron frame that would hold the grate over one edge
of the fire and Jake was setting up the planks that would serve as a table.
When Murdoch approached, Cooky looked up and said, "Coffee'll be
brewin' shortly, Boss."
Murdoch stopped and turned his back to the fire.
He pressed his hands against his hipbones, arched his back, and twisted
side to side.
The cook's brow puckered slightly.
"Well, it ain't been an
"No, it hasn't," the
rancher sighed. He glanced over at
the wagons and chewed at his lip.
"Now don't you go worrin'
about that boy a yers," said Cooky. "He's
strong. He'll pull through this
jest fine. He ain't showin' no
signs a pneumonia, an' that knot on his head ain't gotten no bigger, so the
worst's gotta be over. Give 'em a
few day's rest an' he'll be good as new."
"I should've known better
than to bring him with me." Murdoch's
tall frame stooped slightly forward. With
his head bowed and his voice reflecting an abundance of regret, he added,
"He grew up back east in Boston. He doesn't belong on a cattle drive.
If I'd left him home where it was safe, none of this would have happened.
Cooky set the coffeepot over
the fire and looked up. "Ain't
no place guaranteed ta be safe, Boss. Ya
know that. Accidents can happen no
matter where ya are."
Murdoch paced restlessly
beside the campfire. Despite the
truth of the cook's words, he still felt a nagging sense of guilt. He had made a mistake. Now,
his son and Red were paying the consequences and money, which would have helped
the ranch recover from Pardee's raids, had been lost.
The jingle of spurs, growing
louder, distracted Murdoch from his troubling thoughts and he glanced toward the
sound as a couple of his riders strode into view.
"Ah, the drive, she is
over. It is good, no?"
A Mexican vaquero said as he stopped next to Murdoch.
"Yes, it is, Jose,"
the rancher agreed.
Ain't that coffee hot, yet? I
swear, yer gettin' slower 'n' slower in yer old age."
A lanky young man gave the cook a poke in the ribs, then dodged out of
"An' yer gettin' sassier
in yers," retorted Cooky, swinging an arm at the offender while rising to
"Told ya, you was
slow," jibed the cowboy.
"Ya best mind yer
manners, Pete, er yu'll be goin' ta bed without yer supper," warned Cooky,
his eyes twinkling.
"Ya think yer big enough
old man ta make me?" Pete challenged with a grin from the far side of the
"You jest try me,
boy." The cook stepped toward
his tormentor and glared in mock indignation.
"Pete, you best watch
yourself. Cooky may be old, but
he's meaner'n a grizzly bear if ya ever get him riled. Why, I saw him whip a man twice his size, once, and he had
one hand tied behind his back," the drive foreman admonished as he and a
few more of the cowhands arrived at the campfire.
"Ain't no big deal ta
whip a one armed man," Pete smirked. "Bet
Red could even do that all trussed up the way he is."
Cooky's eye's blazed when one
of the men let out a strangled snort that started the rest of the men laughing.
"Shush up, ya hyenas. Yer
loud 'nough ta wake the dead. 'Sides
Scott 'n' Red er tryin' ta sleep," he retorted.
Although the men quickly
stifled their mirth, they carried on with their good-natured bantering as the
rest of the drovers joined them. A couple of the cowboys remained standing,
while the rest either squatted, sitting on their heels, or sat on the ground
with their legs folded. In a short
while, their joshing changed to the swapping of stories about anything from
cattle roundups to women. Each tale became wilder and more absurd than the last
as the men tried to outdo each other.
Slowly Murdoch began to
unwind. The relaxing atmosphere
created by the good humor of his men, along with the increasing warmth of the
fire, did much to relieve the tensions that had been building within him ever
since the near disaster two days before at the river crossing.
awakened from the sleep that had claimed him ever since the wagons had stopped
at the Diamond B Ranch that afternoon. He
began to feel the need to get up but dreaded putting out the effort.
Getting himself to the ground was not a pleasant thought, nor was having
to climb back into the wagon. Even
with Cooky's help, it had been a difficult accomplishment earlier that day.
For a while, Scott was content
to lie still and ignore the urging of his body.
That could wait. The pain in
his head was beginning to ease up, and he didn't want to do anything to
aggravate it again. A couple of
times he heard the canvas flap rustle but didn't even bother to open his eyes.
It would have taken too much effort.
Not only that, the light tended to increase the throbbing in his head.
A short time later, the sound
of voices piqued Scott's interest. One
was Cooky's; of that he was sure. He
thought the other might belong to the tall, gray-haired man who had claimed to
be Murdoch Lancer. In hopes of
learning something of his whereabouts and the people he was with, Scott decided
to listen more closely. The driver
of the wagon he was in and the cook had been evasive, and he hoped to find out
what they were hiding from him.
Some of the words were too
softly spoken to understand, but Scott was sure the cook told the other man not
to worry about his boy. From the
rest of what he could hear, he figured that he was the boy that Cooky was
When the man with the deep
voice started talking, Scott listened more intently; however, he still couldn't
decipher every word. He did,
however, manage to make out a few words and phrases: "should've
known better; grew up; Boston; doesn't belong; left him home; and where . . .
Scott felt his insides
sure he told me he sent for me. If
he actually is my father and that is true, why doesn't he want me now?
What kind of game is he playing, anyway?'
He heard the cook say
something about accidents, but it wasn't clear who or what the man was referring
to. Next, there was a brief period
of silence, and then Scott heard strange jingling sounds, followed by more
voices. Assuming some of the other
men had arrived, he strained his ears to make out what was being said.
None of the new voices sounded
familiar to Scott. Even their
manner of speech was strange to him. 'Like
everything else I've seen today,' he thought.
'I wonder if I really am in California. That place, Cooky called a ranch, that we stopped at earlier
didn't look like any place I've ever been.
The few trees I saw weren't like what we have around Boston, and the land
seemed fairly flat and stretched out in all directions as far as I could see.
Except for the hills along one side, it reminded me a little of Kansas.'
For a moment, Scott tried to
recall when and why he had been in Kansas.
The only thing he could remember was that he was in the 7th Cavalry.
The date and reason for his being there eluded him, so he went back to
thinking about the Diamond B Ranch.
As Scott pictured in his mind
what he had seen, he centered on the buildings.
They had been far different in architectural design from those around
Boston or anywhere else that he remembered having been.
'They looked like they were made of
white stone. They certainly were
odd shaped; most had flat roofs. Even
the house was like that; anyway, I think it was a house.
I wonder why it had arched walls around part of it. It reminded me of a
painting I saw of an estate in Madrid, Spain.'
Scott felt a searing pain
shoot through his head, at the same time that an odd feeling came over him that
the word, Madrid, was in someway significant to him.
Try as he would, though, he couldn't think of why that should be, and the
effort only increased the throbbing in his temples.
In an attempt to get his mind
on something else, Scott went back to listening to the bits of conversation
going on not far from the wagon. He
comprehended very little of what was said, and passed off as unimportant the
majority of what he did hear. The
men seemed to be teasing each other mostly. Even the few names that he was able
to pick out meant nothing to him without a face to relate them to.
'I doubt I would recognize them
anyway,' he thought.
A while later, the men went to
telling stories, but to Scott, who was only able to
hear portions of what was being said, nothing
seemed to make sense
or to fit in the world that he knew.
From the words and short phrases he could make out, he assumed they were
talking about life beyond the Mississippi River.
Where else had he read that there were blinding sand storms, wild
mustangs, and Indians.
especially puzzled when a man whose voice carried better than the others gave an
account of a roundup. The marking
of calves when branded had him wondering if and why they would paint numbers on
them. Another thing the man said
that had Scott equally confused was the reference to eating a big meal of fresh
Rocky Mountain oysters after the work was finished. The only oysters he knew of came from the sea; and from what
he remembered of his geography lessons, the Rocky Mountains were hundreds of
miles from the nearest ocean. He
wondered how the oysters could have been kept fresh while being transported that
Occasionally, Scott heard the
name of a place that he did remember from either having heard or read about it.
St. Louis was the only one he could picture in his mind, but his memory of the
circumstances of his having been there was vague. San Francisco and Sacramento, he knew were in California.
When he had studied the states in school, he had paid close attention to
those names and had wondered if his father lived near either of them.
"Get it 'fore I throw it
out!" Scott heard Cooky's raspy voice break into someone's narrative.
The tromping of feet, rattling
of dishes, and thumping of a serving spoon hitting plates were a stark reminder
to Scott of his days in the cavalry. The
only thing out of place was the strange jingling that resembled the sound of his
grandfather's keys when they jangled together. He couldn't begin to imagine what was making the noise.
A short while later, Cooky
poked his head between the canvas flaps and said, "Want me ta help ya outta
Scott hated the thought of
moving yet knew he had to sooner or later.
'No sense putting it off,' he
thought as he nodded and rose to his feet.
Getting out of the wagon was
every bit the ordeal that Scott had expected.
A wave of dizziness hit him as he stood up and his vision blurred.
He grasped the edge of the canvas to hold himself upright until the
spinning in his head quit and he could see more clearly.
Fortunately, the sensations didn't last long.
The next problem he faced was to keep from turning his head.
His neck was so stiff that any movement sent searing hot needles of fire
running through the muscles from the base of his skull to the point of his
shoulder. When he finally was standing on the ground, he wondered how he had
ever managed to get there without crying out in pain. His head throbbed, his neck burned, and his back ached.
Even his legs seemed to be sore and sensitive to rubbing of his trousers
"Ya all right?"
Concern was evident in Cooky's voice and the furrowing of his brow.
"I'm fine, Sir,"
Scott replied softly as he leaned against the corner of the wagon box for
"Need me ta help ya take
"No thank you."
Scott pointed at a small patch of brush a short ways beyond the back of
the wagon. "I'm
sure I can manage to get that far and back on my own."
wait here 'til yer done . . . jest in case, mind ya.
If ya need me, give a holler."
Scott thanked the
cook for his thoughtfulness, and then slowly set out for his goal a little less
than fifty yards away. Determined
to tend to his needs on his own, he gritted his teeth, focused his eyes on his
destination, and ignored the protesting of his body.
the time Scott returned to the wagon, he felt a little better. The movement had released some of the tension in his tightly
strung muscles, thereby, relieving some of his discomfort.
He head still ached but not intolerably, and he still had to be sure that
he twisted his upper body when looking to either side.
"Ya want me ta bring yer
supper so ya can eat it in the wagon . . . er ya wanna sit out here fer a
spell?" Cooky inquired as soon as Scott had reached him.
"I'd like to sit out here
. . . if it's all right." Scott
had no desire to go through the agony of getting back into the wagon just yet.
"Whar ya wanna sit?
O'er there by the fire . . . er here by the wagon?"
"Here will be fine,
Sir," Scott replied after glancing over at the men gathered around the
"Ya can cut out that
'Sir' stuff. Makes me feel old.
Jest call me Cooky like the rest the boys do," the cook huffed,
scowling up at Scott.
Before Scott had a chance to
respond, Cooky's expression softened. "Ya want me ta get ya some a them
bedrolls. Ya could sit on one an'
put the others by that wheel ta rest yer back against. Are ya cold? I
kin get one fer ya ta wrap around ya, too, if ya like."
The cook's eagerness to
accommodate his every need brought a half smile to Scott's lips. "Thank you, S . . . Cooky.
I'd like that very much . . . if it's not too much trouble."
"Ain' no trouble
'tall," blustered Cooky. "Ya
jest wait right there an' I'll have ya sittin' comf'terble in no time."
True to his words, in a few
minutes, Cooky had arranged several bedrolls into the shape of a big stuffed
chair. It looked as inviting to
Scott as the elegantly padded chair he had often snuggled into when he was a
child while growing up in the home of his grandfather.
When Scott was nestled in and
had expressed his appreciation, the cook ducked his head. "Pshaw. Weren't
nothin'," he sputtered, then headed toward the chuckwagon.
Shortly, he returned with a plate of steaming stew and handed it to
The stew gave off an aroma of
onion, garlic, and beef that tickled Scott's nose and enticed his appetite
despite the slight queasiness of his stomach.
Cautiously, he took a bite, then licked his lips.
The flavor was surprisingly good even though it was different from what
he was used to.
While he ate, Scott covertly
studied the men by the fire--eight in all.
They were an odd assortment, not only in age and physical appearance but
also in attire. Some had the bottom
of their trouser legs stuffed inside the tops of their boots, while most had
them hanging over the outside. A
couple of men, whose faces were deeply tanned, wore hats with much wider brims
than those worn by any of the other men. Their
clothing was looser fitting, as well. Each
man, except for Cooky and Jake, had a gun belt strapped around his waist.
Scott felt more confused and
uncertain. The last thing he could
remember was that he was a cavalry office in the middle of a war against the
southern states; yet nothing around him fit with that memory.
'If this is an enemy camp and I've
been captured, I should have seen uniformed soldiers by now.
Then again, why are all of those men armed?"
There were no
answers to the questions in his mind so Scott pushed then aside and focussed his
attention on his plate. All he was
accomplishing was to make his head pound. For
now he needed to concentrate on getting his strength back so that when the time
came he could make his escape.
After taking a few
more bites of stew, Scott noticed the big man who had claimed to be his father
climb out of the back of the other wagon. The
man looked in his direction, then took a couple of steps and stopped.
After a moment of hesitation, he turned away and got a plate of food
before joining the other men by the fire.
anger welled up within Scott for the second time that day.
Even though he wasn't ready to believe the man's claim of being his
father, he felt as though he were being abandoned. 'If he's not lying then
why doesn't he talk to me?' he thought.
Scott picked at
the rest of his food. He didn't
understand the men around him or his reactions to them.
Had he been hoping the tall man was his father?
Was that the reason he became so upset when the man avoided him?
Did he know the other men but couldn't remember them because of having
lost his memory? 'That
might explain why they look at me the way they do,' he thought, 'but
not why none of them want to talk to me. Has
the big man told them to stay away? Why? Is he afraid they will tell me something that he doesn't want
me to know?'
By the time Cooky
came over to check on him and see if he needed more coffee, Scott was ready to
return to the wagon. The pressure
inside his head was getting unbearable, once again.
Not only that, he wanted to get out of sight of watchful eyes.
They made him uneasy and irritable.
It was all he could do to keep himself from screaming at them--demanding
sounds penetrated Scott's dreams and he opened his eyes. At first, he wondered where he was until the events of the
day came rushing into his mind. He
tried to shift positions and wished he hadn't; his muscles had stiffened up even
more and any movement made them feel as though they were being torn apart.
semi-darkness that surrounded him, Scott lay and listened to the night noises.
The chirping of crickets he recognized and the hoot of an owl, as well.
Then there was a strange, high-pitched yipping.
At first, he thought it might be a dog, yet it didn't quite sound the
same to him.
Lancer, ya outta be gettin' some sleep, hadn't ya?"
The sound of
Cooky's voice so close by startled Scott as much as the words spoken.
Then he wasn't lying about his name,' he thought when he heard the
deep voice of the tall man.
shortly, Cooky. I just want to make
sure Scott is resting well before I check on Red one last time. He was in quite a bit of pain earlier."
looked in on Red. He's sleepin'
like a baby. You go on ta bed; I'll
peek in on Scott in a bit. I gotta
put a fresh pot of coffee on anyways. The
boys on guard duty'll be needin' it," came the now familiar raspy voice.
There was a brief
silence, and then Cooky spoke again. "Scott'll
be fine. Yu'll see.
His memory'll be back 'fore ya know it."
There was a heavy sigh, followed by, "Only what if it doesn't.
How do I get him to believe anything I tell him?
What about Teresa and Johnny; how do I tell him about them?"
There was another pause, then, "I suppose understanding about Teresa
won't be so hard for him. Surely he
can accept that I'd have an obligation to care for my dead foreman's daughter,
but Johnny . . .. How do I tell
Scott he has a brother?"
'Brother!' The word,
resounding in his brain, soon gave rise to a multitude of questions that drowned
out all else. 'How can that be? My mother
died when I was born; Grandfather told me so.
Could I have a twin? Did my
father give me to our grandfather and keep the other one?
But why would he do that? Surely
finding someone to help him care for two babies wouldn't be any more difficult
than for one.' Since these
possibilities didn't agree with anything that he could remember having been
told, Scott, refusing to believe that his grandfather might have lied, searched
for some other alternative. Had his
father remarried? Could that be how
he had chosen to take care of Teresa? Was
Johnny her son? How old was this
unheard of brother? Long into the
night, unanswerable queries rolling around in his head robbed him of the restful
sleep that he so desperately needed.
 My husband wrote these few words in red (nothing seemed to make sense) when this chapter was in draft form. I was still making revisions but worked around them in order to preserve what he had typed in.
The night seemed
longer than the day before as Murdoch Lancer tossed and turned in fitful
sleep--disjointed dreams continually awakening him.
By the time daylight peeked its nose over the top of the mountains
that graced the eastern horizon, he was scarcely more rested than when he
had first lain down. His back
ached and the tiny needles of pain behind his eyes were a sure indication
that the headache lurking there would only get worse before the day was
The pungent smell
of strong coffee and the sizzling of bacon frying greeted Murdoch when he
returned to camp a short while later after tending to his personal needs.
Seeing several of his men clustered around Red, who was sitting on the
tongue of the chuckwagon, he stopped to speak to them briefly then continued
on to the campfire.
himself a cup of coffee, the rancher sat on a nearby rock while he sipped
the steaming liquid. His brow
puckered with worry as he glanced over at the redheaded cowboy.
It had just occurred to him that the doctor might not be available
when they reached Modesto, which was the only real town in the area.
Although there were a couple of settlements along the way, he knew
that they were too small to support a physician of any kind and that there
would be little hope of obtaining medical attention at either of them for
the injured men.
deepened at the thought of another concern. The Tuolumne River lay between
them and Modesto. If they
missed the early afternoon ferry run, there might not be another until the
next morning. He only knew of
one other crossing, but even under the best of conditions it was hard to get
a wagon across there. With the
recent flooding, he didn't dare take a chance on using it.
When a man in his
early forties joined him a few moments later, Murdoch said, "Sam, I want you to ride on ahead and make sure the
ferry will pick us up. Take
Dave with you." Handing
the hired man some money, he added, "Pay the operator whatever is
necessary to ensure we get across. Leave
Dave there to make certain of it; then you ride on to Modesto and find the
doctor. Tell him what happened
and see that he's in town when we get there.
If all goes well, we'll make it before the bank closes."
Boss. I'll hurry Dave along and
we'll get going. Ya want us to
keep to this side the river and catch the ferry, or head up to Pierson's
"Better go to
Pierson's. It'll be faster than
having to wait for the ferry to pick you up," Murdoch replied
thoughtfully. "If you
think you'll have any trouble at all, though, I want you to follow the river
down to the ferry. I don't want
either of you taking any chances . . . hear me?"
careful," Sam assured him.
and Moose. Both are strong
swimmers and neither has been ridden for a couple of days," Murdoch
advised. As Sam walked away a
few minutes later, the rancher let out a sigh.
Both, Dave and Sam had worked at Lancer for several years and he knew
he could count on them to do whatever needed to be done.
The still hidden
sun was just beginning to turn the sky pink when Scott Lancer, with the
cook's help, climbed out of the wagon.
Yesterday he had thought that he could not possibly be any stiffer.
Wrong assumption. This morning, he hadn't even been able to lift his head.
In order to get up, he had had to roll over to his knees and then
grasp the edge of the wagon box so he could pull himself upright.
Even then, his muscles had cried out in protest.
feelin' this mornin'?" inquired Cooky, giving Scott a hand down.
rusted up gear," replied Scott, thinking of an old mill that he and
Jimmy Martin had sought shelter in during a heavy rainstorm while visiting
Jimmy's grandfather in the country. "Thanks
Cooky," he added, once his feet were firmly planted on the ground.
Scott's gratitude with a nod and said,
"Ain't s'prizin'. Second
an' third day're always the worst after a tumble. Best thing ya can do is move around a bit . . . long's ya
don't feel like yer heads spinnin'."
His eyes squinted as he looked apprehensively up at the tall young
"I don't seem
to be dizzy this morning. It
just hurts to move," Scott assured him.
Scott hedged, not willing to confide too much in the cook.
smiled Cooky. "Now go take
yer walk. When ya get back,
I'll dish ya up somethin' ta eat."
Cooky jabbed a thumb toward a small cluster of trees and added,
"There's a pond over by them maples. Ya might wanna wash up if ya feel like goin' that far."
"Is there a
clean shirt I can take along?" Having
become aware his disheveled and less than pleasant smelling state, Scott
found that a bath of any sort was appealing.
Herdin' cattle's a dirty job an' two days a rain didn't help none.
You'll jest have ta wait'll we get ta town."
Scott let out a
soft sigh of disappointment then expressed his appreciation for Cooky's
help. Slowly he trudged toward
the source of water. Having
calculated the distance to be a little more than three hundred yards, he was
sure he could reach it without too much trouble.
muscles had limbered up some by the time Scott arrived at the small pond, he
found that bending was still difficult.
He tried squatting at the water's edge and twisting to one side until
he was sitting on the ground. Even
though it wasn't a painless maneuver, it wasn't as agonizing as he expected
Careful to keep
his eyes straight ahead, he dipped his handkerchief into the cloudy pool and
scowled. The tracks along
the bank indicated that he was not the first visitor; livestock of some kind
had been there ahead of him. 'Oh, well. It can't be
helped,' thought Scott, scrubbing at his face.
He slipped his
shirt off and grimaced as he washed his upper-body and neck. A picture of a pan of filthy water with a grimy rag lying at
its side came to mind. 'I've been in worse conditions and survived,' he told himself as
memories of a prison camp passed through his mind.
and forced his thoughts away from the unpleasantness of the war; there were
matters of more importance to be considered.
He needed to ascertain where he was, why he was there, and how he had
come be there. That he had been
hurt somehow was evident by the tender lump on the top of his head and the
scratches and bruises he was finding. He
was also reasonably certain from the conversation that he had overheard the
night before that he was with his father.
Thinking of his
current situation led him to recalling the restless night that he had just
been through. "Brother."
Each time he had awakened, the word had resounded in his mind like an
echo bouncing off a canyon wall. He
had even tried covering his ears in hopes of closing out the deep voice, of
ignoring it, and even pretending that he hadn't heard it.
The effort had been wasted. It
had still been there.
Relief had not
come with sleep, either. A tall
man with gray or light brown hair and a brother, whose image as well as age
kept changing, had continually invaded his dreams.
First, he had seen his brother as an identical twin, and then had
unexpectedly been looking at a younger version of himself.
In another dream, Johnny had been a young man with flaming red hair;
and in yet another, he had appeared as a toddler, whose jet-black hair
accentuated a pair of startling blue eyes.
No matter what Scott and his brother had been doing, the big man had
come on the scene and had taken Johnny away.
Shortly thereafter, Scott had found himself being lectured from his
grandfather. "Forget him,
Scotty. I told you that you
mean nothing to Murdoch Lancer. See,
your father has another son. He
has an heir so he has no need of you. There
is nothing for you in California, so come home with me.
Boston is where you belong. Your
legacy is here."
All of the anger
and hate that Scott had learned to keep locked away in a far corner of his
mind came rushing to the surface. In
the past it had not been possible for him to vent those feelings on the man
who had abandoned him. That
was no longer the case.
All he had to do was walk back to camp and Murdoch Lancer would be
Murdoch sat by the
campfire and slowly drank a couple of cups of coffee while Red and the rest
of the men finished their meal. Soon
the rancher was alone except for Jake and Cooky.
Red had returned to his bed in the back of the chuckwagon and the
others had gone to saddle the horses and harness teams in preparation for
the day's travel.
While Jake began
packing up the cooking supplies and stowing them away, Cooky came over to
the fire. He lifted the lid on
the coffeepot, peered inside, then turned toward Murdoch.
"Want some more coffee?"
could use a little more," replied Murdoch holding out his cup.
better have some bacon an' biscuits ta go with that?" Cooky asked.
Although the food
smelled appetizing enough, Murdoch hesitated to answer. His stomach was still tied in knots from the strain of the
past two days, and he wasn't sure he felt up to eating anything.
"Ya gotta eat
somethin' even if ya do feel like it'd stick in yer throat," Cooky
insisted. "Ya jest stay
put. I'll get a plate fer ya."
slightly at the thought of how easily Cooky read his mind at times.
'No use to tell him I don't
want anything,' he thought, knowing that the cook would just keep after
way my head feels, the last thing I need is to listen to his nagging.'
Cooky was back
shortly with a plate and handed it to Murdoch.
"There ya go, Boss. Ain't
near as much as ya oughta have."
Murdoch looked at
the biscuit and three pieces of bacon and wondered how he was going to get
it all down even though he normally would have eaten two or three times that
amount. Upon glancing up and
noticing that Cooky was eyeing him speculatively, he quickly thanked the
cook and changed the subject. "Has
Scott been up yet?"
a walk. Last I saw, he was
headed to the pond to clean up a little."
up from what I could tell."
"Do you think
he's up to traveling?" Murdoch asked with a hint of worry in his voice.
but he ain't no worse off'n Red. Gettin'
some pain medicine from the doc an' sleepin' in a proper bed would do 'em
both a world a good." Cooky
spoke in a matter-of-fact tone.
you're right. I just hope it
hasn't been a mistake to move either one of them."
Murdoch chewed at his lip before continuing. "Red seems to be fairing pretty well, though.
Is his collarbone giving him much pain?"
anymore'n the rest of him. Them
scratches an' bruises are botherin' 'im the most.
He's a bit stiff, too, but that's to be expected."
wonder he didn't get caught up in the rapids," commented Murdoch
Looks like the good Lord was watchin' out fer both them boys.
Ain't no other way ta explain how they came outta that river alive. From what I heard, Red fell off the backside that tree.
It's purely a miracle he came up where somebody could get a hold of 'im.
The only thing he can figger is a limb caught him and took him under
to the other side when the tree rolled.
He's jest lucky he didn't crack his head on that ledge like Scott
done. Ya only got the Lord ta
thank that ya was close enough ta pull yer boy out in time." Cooky sucked in a deep breath when he finished his unusually
Murdoch softly said as he shuddered at the thought of what might have been.
yer boy. I was jest gunna fix 'im
a plate. Ya wanna take it to 'im
when he gets back?"
do it. He gets too worked up
every time I get close to him," Murdoch replied in a tone that was
laced with a touch of bitterness. He
was finding it difficult to accept watching his son respond more favorably
to another man.
Lancer, ya can't keep runnin' from that boy.
You an' him's gotta talk sooner er later," huffed Cooky.
running," testily snapped Murdoch in return. "I'm just trying to keep him from being upset is
The cook muttered
something unintelligible under his breath, then said, "Awright, Boss.
I'll take care yer boy fer ya, but I think yer makin' a
mistake." As he stalked
away, he mumbled, "Stub'rn fool."
picked at his food as the pain in his temples intensified. Having his judgement questioned by one of his hired men,
especially where his son was concerned, did not set well; and being called a
fool only added to his irritable mood that much more.
A short while later, with
empty plate in one hand, Murdoch placed the opposite wrist against his spine
just below his ribcage and arched his back.
He snuffed in a loud breath, and then stood and stretched again while
twisting his upper torso slightly to one side and groaning softly. 'Another long day,'
he thought, dreading the hours of riding that lay ahead.
He turned away from the fire
and stopped to watch Cooky carrying a dish of food to Scott, who had just
appeared around the end of the chuckwagon.
Immediately, Murdoch sensed that something was wrong when he saw his
son continue walking toward him after dismissing
the cook with a wave of the hand.
"I want some
answers," Scott announced briskly upon halting in front of his father.
When his demand was met with silence, he became more insistent.
"I said that I want some answers and I expect them now."
Murdoch, surprised by his
son's aggressiveness, swallowed and clamped his lips between his teeth while
searching his mind in desperation for a way to
keep from antagonizing the young man further. Finally, he stiffly
asked, "What is it you want to know?"
Scott stretched a little
taller in order to look up into his father's face.
"You could start by telling me the truth about who you are and
where I am."
Murdoch cringed at the
coldness he saw in his son's blue-gray eyes.
Consequently his tone was sharper than intended when he said,
"I have told you the truth."
"Tell me again,"
demanded Scott. "Are you
"I won't deny it,"
replied Murdoch, uneasily shifting his weight.
Then a sense of foreboding washed over him at the sight of his son's
hands clinching into fists at the young man's side.
"I see," Scott
continued coldly. "So . .
. just where are we and how did I come to be here with you?"
"I told you--"
"I don't care what you
told me before; I want to hear it again," cut in Scott, his face
Fighting to control the flames
of his own anger fanned by his son's rudeness, Murdoch said tersely,
"We're about fifteen miles southeast of Modesto, California. I had a herd of steers to deliver to a man named Lopez, and
you came along with me."
"And just how did I come to be in California in the first place?" Scott
Murdoch sucked in a deep
breath as he willed himself to control his emotions.
With a forced quietness, he said,
"I sent for you."
"You called and I came
running, is that it?"
"I . . . I offered to pay
your travel expenses . . . and . . . a thousand dollars for your time,"
Murdoch replied hesitantly, feeling as though he were tip-toeing across a
pond on a thin layer of ice that could break at any moment.
Scott's mouth dropped open a
little. In a tone clearly
signifying the absurdity of the idea, he asked, "Are you implying that
I came here because you paid me to?"
Murdoch let out a heavy sigh.
"I have no idea what your reason was for coming.
"Stop lying to me,"
Scott harshly interrupted. "There
is nothing you could have offered me that would have enticed me to come to
"I'm not lying!"
Murdoch barked in return, his heart aching from the words of rejection his
son had just spoken.
"I suppose next you are
going to tell me that you never wanted to leave me with my grandparents.
That . . . that circumstances just made it impossible for you to
visit me even one time in . . . in . . . in all these years," Scott
retorted sarcastically. He
sucked in a deep breath before continuing. "I guess all of your letters and any gifts you might
have sent to me were lost in transit, too . . . except for this invitation
that you claim I received. Now
doesn't it strike you as rather odd that it would be the only one that would
Nearly overcome by the
bitterness of the long years of separation and the knowledge that Scott had
never received anything from him, Murdoch choked back the accusations
against Harlan Garrett that clamored to be released.
He knew that voicing them would accomplish nothing beyond driving the
wedge between him and his son a little deeper.
Scott was in no frame of mind to even listen to him, much less
believe him. Instead, hoping to
pacify his son, he said, "I hired a Pinkerton agent to contact
"Why would you go to that
expense? You knew where I
was." Scott kept up the
rigid stance and suspiciously eyed his father.
Murdoch forced himself to
speak in a low voice. "Let's
just say, I wanted to make sure you received the message . . . and leave it
Scott was silent for a moment
then accusingly demanded, "Then you are implying that my grandfather
could not be trusted to give it to me, is that it?"
"I'm not implying anything." Murdoch's
volume increased once more as his emotions threatened to get the better of
him. He shifted his eyes to
take in the area of the camp and saw some of his men arriving with the
harnessed teams. With as much
calm as he could muster, he said, "Scott, this is getting us nowhere.
Like I told you before, you've had an injury.
Apparently, you can't remember anything that has happened in the last
. . . I don't know how long. Whatever
your reasons were for coming out here, they are not important at the moment.
Getting you to a doctor is. We
need to be going just as soon as those horses are hitched up so why don't
you get something to eat. We
can talk later."
"Is that an order . . .
Sir?" Scott asked with frosty contempt.
"Take it any way you
like," retorted Murdoch, his temples throbbing.
"I don't have the time to argue with you any longer."
Having reached the limit of his patience, he stepped to one side and
strode past his openmouthed son without even giving the young man a chance
pounding wildly against his ribs, angrily spun part way around, grabbed
Murdoch by the shirtsleeve, and then scrambled forward, his father's
momentum dragging him along. Just
as Scott regained his balance, he came to an abrupt stop as though he had
run into a stone wall. A
strangled gasp tore from his throat at the stab of pain that had hit him
between the eyes. His vision blurred
and his legs buckled. As he
slumped to his knees, he had a vague awareness of the support of strong arms
that kept him from toppling all the way over onto his face.
body began to tingle and his stomach became queasy.
He leaned forward and rested his head against the cool ground to keep
from passing out, then moaned softly.
The worried sounding voice seemed to come from miles away.
"Son . . . are you alright?"
A soft grunt was Scott's only
response as he struggled to keep from being sick or giving in to the
darkness that was trying to claim him.
While the waves of dizziness
continued to roll over Scott, firm, yet gentle, hands touched his shoulders.
He thought that he could hear a deep voice coming from somewhere, but
his head was pounding so hard that the words seemed to run together into
nonsensical gibberish, which he made no effort to decipher.
All he wanted was for the agony in his head to go away.
Scott had no concept of how
long he sat hunched over before the tortuous throbbing between his eyes
became a dull ache. Slowly he
lifted his head and drew in a deep ragged breath.
He could still feel the prickling sensation in his skin and his
insides were still quivering; however, they weren't nearly so pronounced as
they had been, and the earth around him was no longer revolving. He started
to rise and the hands on his shoulders slid down his arms to grasp his
elbows and lift him up.
Once Scott was standing, the
man behind him moved to his side and said, "You need to lie down, Son.
Let me help you get to the wagon."
Upon realizing that his
benefactor was none other than his father, Scott jerked away.
"I don't want your help," he retorted with a defiant glare.
"I've been managing just fine without you all my life; I
certainly don't need you now."
Murdoch dropped his hands to
his sides. With pain filled
eyes, he took a backward step and stared at his son.
He bit his lip and started to speak, then turned on his heel and
A dark cloud settled over
Scott as he watched Murdoch's retreating back.
He had set out to hurt his father and the measure of his success had
been quite evident on the older man's face, but
Scott's elation had been short-lived for a an overwhelming sense of
aloneness had quickly taken its place.
passed by the end of the supply wagon and was gone from sight, Cooky's
scolding voice penetrated Scott's gloom.
"Ya had no call talkin' to yer pa that way.
He was jest tryin' ta help ya."
doesn't care anything about me," Scott replied defensively as he
started toward the wagon he had been sleeping in.
He was in no mood to listen to the lecture he anticipated was on the
so?" Cooky, keeping stride
with Scott, went right on talking. "I
reckon that's why he sat for hours holdin' ya after ya got knocked senseless
an' nigh onto drowned day b'fore yesterday.
Must be too why he ain't hardly ate er slept since then."
"I doubt he'd miss a meal
or lose any sleep on my account," retorted Scott.
"I don't mean a thing to him; I never have.
Why else did he ignore me all my life?
He gave me to my grandparents to raise and then just forgot all about
"Ya know that fer a fact,
Scott's voice increased in
volume. "Yes, it's a fact.
My father never once came to see me.
He never even wrote to me."
"Ya mean, as far as you
know," gently chided Cooky.
"What do you mean by
that?" snapped Scott. "What
do you know about my father?"
"I've knowed ye pa fer
nigh onta twenty years. He's
had a lot a grief an' bein' parted from you was one of 'em."
"Well, it was his doing.
He could have come and got me anytime.
He knew where I was," retorted Scott upon arriving at the back
of the wagon.
Cooky moved on past Scott then
turned to face him. "When
you get a mite older, you'll learn that life can throw a lot of things yer
way that keep ya from doin' what ya want."
"I would never desert my
own child," Scott stated flatly. Then
having heard all he wanted to from the cook, he made a brave attempt to
climb into the wagon on his own. The
effort soon ended in failure when his sore muscles refused to co-operate.
"I'll help ya in a
minute," offered Cooky, "but first yer gunna listen ta me."
He reached out and laid a hand on Scott's arm.
"Yer pa's one the finest men I ever worked fer.
I ain't sayin' he's perfect, mind ya.
Ain't never been but one man ever walked this earth that could claim
that honor. But . . . far as I
know, yer pa ain't never welched on a deal; he's honest, don't expect nothin'
from his men he ain't willin' ta do his-self, an' he ain't gunna bad mouth
ya behind yer back, neither. An'
another thing, don't go makin' judgements on anyone 'til ya've worn ther
boots. Ya ain't got no way a
knowin' what ya'd do if life dealt ya the same hand yer pa got.
'Stead a makin' it harder on the both of ya, ya ought ta try an' make
the best a things. Ya jest
might be s'prised at what ya'd learn, if ya once got ta know him."
Cooky's voice was cracking worse than usual by the time his long
speech had ended.
"Are you finished?"
Scott asked impatiently.
Cooky shook his head in
disgust. "Ya ain't
listened ta a word I said, have ya, Boy?
Well, let me tell ya somethin'.
Yer lucky ya had a rich grandpa ta take care a ya back there in
Boston. It's a far cry better'n bein' a half Mexican growin' up in
border towns like yer brother done. 'Least
ya had food in yer belly an' a nice soft bed ta sleep in.
Bet yer brother went ta sleep hungry lots a nights, an' he prob'ly
slept on the floor most the time an' counted his-self lucky if he had a
blanket ta cover up with."
"Are . . . are you
referring to Johnny?"
"You remember him?"
Cooky countered, looking at Scott in surprise.
"No. How could I? I
never even knew I had a brother until I overheard you and my father talking
last night," replied Scott, his mind trying to comprehend why his
brother had grown up under such harsh conditions.
He licked his lips and decided to press the cook for the answer to
the question that had kept him awake for much of the night before.
"I don't understand. Wasn't
Johnny with my . . . our father? Are
you saying my father was too poor to provide proper food and shelter for his
"Weren't no doin' of yer
pa's. Johnny's ma run off with
him when he weren't no more'n a baby. Murdoch
only jest got him back a few weeks ago.
Fact is him an' you both showed up at yer pa's on the same day."
"I . . . I've met
him," stammered Scott in amazement.
"Heard tell the two a ya
arrived in Morro Coyo on the same stage.
Guess it was quite a surprise ta ya both finding out the way ya did.
Neither one a ya knowin' about the other an' all," Cooky said
"Have you met him?
I . . . I can't remember . . .."
Scott's wistful voice trailed off to nothing.
"Nope. I ain't been around here for a while. Got me a sister up in the Or'gon Terr'tory and I went up
there ta see her. Jest got back
a couple days before yer pa started on this here cattle drive. I heard he needed a cook and signed on, but I went right out
to the herd so I ain't seen nobody 'cept the men that're here.
Sam an' Dave's the ones that filled me in on all the news."
"What else do you know
about him? How old is he?
Does he look like . . . like our father?"
Scott, snared by his curiosity, couldn't stop the flow of questions.
"I b'lieve he's two,
maybe three years younger'n you. His
ma was Mexican an' if I remember right, yer pa told me once the boy looked a
lot like 'er. Ya wanna know any
more, ya'll have ta talk ta him. Right
now, we need ta be gettin' ya inta this here wagon.
Looks like the horses er hitched up an we're 'bout ready ta
When Cooky offered
him a hand up, Scott accepted without argument.
Their conversation had brought his headache back in full force, and
his shaky legs were threatening to give out on him again. He knew that if he didn't lie down soon, the cook would be
picking him up off the ground.
A short while
later, Scott was settled into as comfortable of a position as he could find.
A plate of food sat near at hand with an empty tin cup next to it.
The coffee that Cooky had brought him, he had drunk immediately. Eating, he had decided would have to wait; his stomach was
churning too much at the present. For
now, he just wanted to lay back and try to relax, maybe even sleep if he
could shut out the thoughts that were troubling him.
It wasn't long before a jolt of the wagon told Scott that they were once more on the move. He closed his eyes and tried to envision himself sitting in the swing that hung from a large oak tree behind the stately mansion on the Garrett estate in Boston. Every time his thoughts strayed to his father or to the words spoken by Cooky, he forced them back to the more pleasant memories of his childhood. Gradually, his mind slowed down as the pain in his head became less noticeable, and he drifted off to sleep.
The brilliant sunlight,
casting ever-shorter shadows across the landscape, did little to brighten
Murdoch Lancer's outlook. The
confrontation with his son had eaten at him all morning, and its worrisome
grip on him showed no signs of relenting.
The question of what to do about Scott's hostility nagged at him
continually; however no matter how hard he tried, he could not come up with
an answer. There just didn't
seem to be one.
The sun reached its highest
point and then the shadows gradually shifted toward the east as they
lengthened. By the time Murdoch
topped a small rise that had kept the ferry crossing hidden from view, it
was the middle of the afternoon. 'No
delays, please,' the weary rancher prayed as he strained his eyes to see
if the vessel was there to carry them to the other side of the river.
He would have ridden on ahead but had dreaded the thought of
subjecting himself to a jarring trot even though the horse he was riding had
a reasonably smooth gait. His
head hurt too much. 'My being there won't speed things up, anyway,' he reasoned.
Another half-hour went by
before Murdoch halted his little caravan at the edge of the Tuolumne River.
He pulled the gold watch from his pocket, flipped open the cover, and
checked the time. Closing the
timepiece with snap, he looked across the expanse of murky water that was
still high from the recent flooding and moving more swiftly than he liked to
see. The ferry was just leaving
the dock on the other side. 'Nearly
three. By the time it gets here
and we're loaded it'll be after three thirty.
Fifteen or twenty minutes to cross and that much longer before we're
unloaded and on our way again. Then
an hour, if not more, to Modesto,' he calculated silently.
'Going to be cutting it close
to get to the bank on time.'
Murdoch lifted a widespread
hand to his forehead and massaged his temples.
It looked like he was going to have no choice but to beat the wagons
to town. He didn't dare take a
chance on the bank being closed. Modesto
was no place for a man to be caring the amount of cash he had with him.
Also, his men needed to be paid and he had to have some smaller bills
and Jake can get the boys to the doctor if they get to town before I'm
finished at the bank. I'll take
Jose with me. He can find Sam,
make sure the doctor's there, and then one of them can ride back to show
Cooky where to go,' Murdoch thought.
His plans made, he dismounted
and took a few limping steps. The
leg that had bothered him off and on since he had been shot in the back the
fall before seemed to have gone sour again.
Hoping that movement would limber it up, he hobbled past the supply
wagon to have a talk with Cooky.
Upon reaching the chuckwagon,
Murdoch was greeted by the cook's appraising eyes.
"Yer leg botherin' ya again, Boss?" queried Cooky with a
"Just need to get the
kinks out of it," hedged Murdoch.
"Uh, huh," grunted
Cooky with a knowing nod as he climbed down from the seat of the wagon.
Once on the ground, he looked up at the taller man and asked, "Ya
hungry, Boss? There's some
biscuits left from this mornin' and plenty a beans from last night.
Ain't hot, but it'll tide ya over 'til supper."
"Sounds good, Cooky.
Why don't you get it out and I'll call the rest of the men,"
replied Murdoch, glad for an excuse to avoid further discussion of his
A few minutes later, most of
the men were gathered near the back of the cook's wagon. Murdoch, not feeling all that hungry, let the others dish up
first. When they were through,
he picked up a biscuit, tore it in half, and laid the two pieces on his
plate. After dumping a scoop of
cold beans on top, he cut off a small bite.
While chewing, Murdoch glanced
up and noticed Cooky scowling at him. 'Thinks
I should have taken more,' he thought ruefully then headed for the dock
to watch for the arrival of the ferry.
He wasn't about to give the cook an opportunity to scold him in front
of the other men.
On his way to the riverbank,
Murdoch hobbled past the chuckwagon and stopped near the back of the supply
wagon. He wondered how his son
was feeling and even considered checking on him.
The idea, however, was quickly rejected when he remembered the
encounter with Scott earlier in the day.
'He hates me,' he thought, a lump forming in his throat.
The words, which
Teresa had spoken the second night after the arrival of his sons,
immediately pushed their way into Murdoch's mind.
they don't hate you . . . they wanna love you.'
Sorrowfully, the rancher shook
his head. As much as he wanted
to believe what his ward had said, he had to admit that where Scott was
concerned it didn't look like that would ever be possible.
The sense of failure, which
Murdoch had been keeping at bay by working hard to build his ranch, once
again weighed heavily on him. 'I failed them all,' he thought bitterly. 'I brought Catherine
out here to die, let Garrett steal my son without a fight, led Paul into a
trap that cost him his life. Somehow,
I made Maria hate me enough that she lied to Johnny and turned him against
me. The only thing I've made a success of is the ranch. What good has the money I've made done me, though?
It didn't get back either of my sons when they were boys.
It may have bought me a little time with them now, but it'll never
make up for the past. Even if
they stay long enough to get to know me, they'll never forgive me for
failing them. I can't even ask
them to; I don't deserve anything from either one of them.'
The canvas flaps
at the rear of the supply wagon parted and Scott appeared in the opening.
Caught off guard, Murdoch gazed up into the startled face.
He wished that he could reach out and pull the young man close, and
tell him how sorry he was, but the distance seemed too great and the words
Surprised at the sight of
Murdoch's haggard face watching him, Scott Lancer leaned against the
tailgate of the wagon and stared back.
He swallowed and tried to look away, but the haunted, pain-filled
eyes of his father held him fast.
An unbidden thought from out
of the past came to Scott's mind. When
and by whom the words had been spoken, he couldn't remember; however, the
voice that uttered them was as clear as on the day he had heard it saying,
"Scott, you have to care in order to be hurt."
When Murdoch's lips parted and
he raised a foot to take a step, Scott felt a sense of panic.
Quickly he withdrew into the interior of the wagon, turned, and
slumped to the floor, his back resting against the rough board and his heart
thumping rapidly against his ribs. The
anger he had felt that morning was now mixed with emotions that were strange
and difficult to understand. In
his confused state of mind, he didn't want to talk to his father.
A few moments later, Scott
heard a soft crunch and scuffle of footsteps passing by, and wondered if
Murdoch was leaving. He was
tempted to find out but dreaded seeing the other man's face again, so he
remained as he was until he heard someone walk up to the back of the wagon
and Cooky's voice call out to him.
Scott hesitated to
answer. He was a little worried
that the cook might bring up their conversation of earlier.
However, he soon found that his fears were unfounded.
Cooky never mentioned one word about it while helping him out of the
By the time Scott
returned from taking a short walk, the ferry had docked and Jake was driving
his wagon toward the edge of the river.
"Better eat somethin'," Cooky suggested, holding out a
plate as Scott approached him.
you," Scott replied, taking the dish.
"I am a little hungry."
good sign," remarked Cooky. "Ya
look like yer feelin' better, too. Ya
must a had ya a good nap."
"I am much
better, thank you," Scott said with a slight smile. "Judging by the position of the sun, I must have slept
for quite some time. It has to
be the middle of the afternoon, unless we changed directions?"
half past three, I reckon," agreed Cooky. He
rubbed a hand against his grizzled chin and sniffed. "Ya gunna wanna get back inta Jake's wagon . . . er ya
wanna sit up front here with me fer a bit?"
for the offer," replied Scott. "I
think I would like to be out where I can see for a while.
If you wouldn't mind holding my plate for me, I think I can get
seated without assistance."
aboard the wagon was more difficult than Scott had anticipated, he did
manage without the other man's help. Shortly
thereafter, he was settled and holding his plate while Cooky, sitting next
to him, picked up the lines and clucked to the team.
Scott quickly ate his lunch, Cooky drove down the slight embankment, across
the dock, and onto the swaying ferry. Once
the chuckwagon was in position and the rear gate of the fence that enclosed
the heavy plank raft was closed, the operator on the far bank began the
tedious job of getting the crude boat across the swollen river.
watched as the cables that kept the craft to its course bowed downstream
from the rushing water tugging at the wooden platform. Soon he was glad that he had finished eating for he found it
was necessary to lay the plate aside. He
needed both hands free to grip the wagon seat in order to keep from bumping
against Cooky as the ferry rocked up and down from the pull of the swift
Progress was slow
and the ride was far from smooth. The
four saddle horses, which were tied to the barrier at the front of the
ferry, crowded together as they braced against each other for support.
The wagons, placed side-by-side, took up most of the space that was
left. Although the brakes had
been set and the drivers, Jake and Cooky, had retained a hold on the reins,
the teams were restless and needed to be kept calm.
This chore was left to Murdoch and his three riders.
Each man stood beside the head of one of the four outside horses,
which placed him in a vulnerable position on the wet, slippery surface of
the wooden decking.
The farther they
went out into the river the more anxious Scott became.
The sight of the rushing water and the constant rocking of the wagon
seat soon has his stomach feeling as though it were tied in knots.
He tried to tell himself that there was nothing to worry about;
however, it did little to relieve the irrational fear that was gripping his
heart. The tension he could
feel in the man beside him didn't help matters either.
In mid-stream, the
forward motion seemed to stop. The
ferry bucked a little harder, and the horse Murdoch was holding crowded him
and knocked to him to his knees. While
Scott looked on, the big man slid sideways but managed to hold fast to the
harness and pull himself upright once again.
It wasn't until his father was on his feet again, that Scott realized
he had been holding his breath while watching the other man's struggles.
ferry inched its way through the strong current and then moved a little more
quickly upon reaching the shallower water near the north bank of the river.
The remainder of the crossing went without incident, but Scott didn't
begin to relax until the wagon was on solid ground.
When Cooky halted his team a ways from the river's edge, Scott let
out a deep sigh of relief that echoed the one whistling in the cook's nose.
"Sure am glad
that's over," rasped Cooky, his scratchy voice slightly hoarse.
breathed Scott, still feeling a trembling in the pit of his stomach.
He took another deep breath and slowly let it out, then stiffened at
the sight of Murdoch approaching with a stout bay horse tagging at his
Overtaken by the
same uncertainty that had gripped him on the last encounter with his father,
Scott turned his head and attempted to focus his attention elsewhere.
The effort proved futile. He
had looked away too late to miss the eyes filled with sadness, the deeply
lined face, or the drooping shoulders, all aging the tall man beyond his
'He's much older than I thought he'd be. Almost as old as my grandfather,'
Scott mused while
half listening to the conversation between his father and Cooky.
'No wonder Grandfather was so
unhappy about him enticing my mother to run off with him.
Mother wasn't much older than I am.
Murdoch had to have been fifteen, maybe even twenty years older than
Scott strained to
see out of the corner of his eyes in hopes of observing his father
undetected. Thoughts of his
mother had aroused his curiosity and he wondered why she would have wanted
to marry a man twice her age. What
had she seen in Murdoch Lancer that had appealed to her? Was
it the promise of a sugarcoated pipe dream that had captured her foolish,
young heart, as his grandfather had alluded?
Or . . . could she possibly have loved the man?
jest might be s'prised at what ya'd learn, if ya once got ta know him.'
The words, spoken by Cooky that morning,
slipped unbidden into Scott's thoughts, bringing with them more questions.
Was he wrong about his father? What
did he actually know for a fact about the man?
Wasn't his knowledge all hearsay?
Could he have misunderstood what he had been told; or even worse,
could he have been lied to?
Scott tied to push
the unsettling last thought aside. Believing
that his grandfather would deceive him was not an option.
Still, the tiny seed of doubt, refusing to be eradicated, found a
small crevice in his mind and lodged there.
mounted and rode away a few minutes later, Scott followed him with his eyes.
He couldn't help thinking that the man looked worn out.
More of the cook's words danced through his mind.
'Has my father been losing
sleep from worrying about me like Cooky said?' he contemplated.
"Ya feel up
ta ridin' with me . . . er are ya needin' ta lay down?" Cooky asked,
intruding into Scott's reflections.
Scott looked blankly at the cook.
if ya was wantin' back in the s'ply wagon," Cooky reiterated.
"Have we much
farther to go?" Scott
hoped not; he preferred not to ride inside the other wagon, but also knew
that he wasn't up to enduring the bouncing and jolting of riding next to the
cook for long either.
maybe six. The road's a bit
rutted up from that rain we had, so we'll go slow.
Have ta keep to a walk, but should be in Modesto in another hour an'
a half, I reckon."
case, I think I'll be fine riding with you," Scott assured the cook,
after weighing his options and deciding that, although the river crossing
had been taxing, the balance of the trip would be much easier.
thereafter, the wagons pulled away from the river.
Two of the men that had come over on the ferry with them led the way,
with Jake driving the supply wagon behind them, and Cooky in the chuckwagon
bringing up the rear.
There was a "Closed"
sign in the window and the shades were pulled down when Murdoch Lancer
halted his horse in front of the Modesto bank.
He dismounted, went to the door, and rattled the knob anyway.
"Locked," he muttered, slapping the heel of his hand
against the doorframe.
Turning, he blew out a breath
of exasperation and then joined the two men with him. With his eyes on the one with black hair, he said,
"Jose. I'm going to have
to see if I can locate the banker. You
go on and find Sam. Have him
ride back to show Cooky where to meet up with the doctor, then you meet me
Murdoch climbed back into the
saddle as the Mexican rider wheeled his horse and left.
After instructing his other man to follow him, he nudged his horse
into a walk, and led the way down the street to the sheriff's office, which
he figured would be the best place to begin his search.
The stop at the jail, however,
proved fruitless; it was also locked. Seeing
a man sweeping the walkway in front of the General Store a short distance
away, Murdoch decided to make that his next stop.
A few minutes later, he was in the saddle again.
The shopkeeper had told him that the lawman and his deputy were more
than likely making their rounds, which meant they could be most anywhere in
For nearly twenty minutes,
Murdoch and his hired man, Pete, searched the streets of Modesto. To the rancher's consternation, everyone they talked to told
them that they had just missed the sheriff.
It began to look like it was a hopeless endeavor.
They had toured the entire
town and still had seen no sign of the lawmen, so Murdoch went back to the
jail in hopes that the man he was seeking had returned.
This time when he tried the door, it opened. With a heavy sigh, he stepped inside.
"Help ya?" asked a
thin faced young man, who appeared to be in his middle twenties. On his shirt pocket was a deputy badge with a dent in one
corner of it.
"I'm looking for the
sheriff," announced Murdoch. "Is
"Whatcha want 'im fer?"
the deputy queried as he eyed the big rancher suspiciously.
"I just need to talk to
him. Is he here?"
"Could you tell me where
I might find him?" Murdoch asked a bit impatiently.
"You mean he doesn't keep
you informed of where he'll be in case you need him?"
"Oh, I know whar he is,
Mister." The deputy spoke
slowly while continuing to study Murdoch speculatively. "He jest don't like his meals bein' in'rrupted, an' I
ain't ta bother 'im 'less it's a . . . a dire 'mergency."
"This is an
emergency," Murdoch fairly snapped.
"I have some very important business to attend to at the
"The bank's closed.
Yu'll jest hafta wait'll Monday."
The deputy leaned back in the chair he was sitting in and plopped the
heels of his boots on the desktop.
"My business can't wait
that long," barked Murdoch, then spent a full ten minutes trying to
convince the deputy that his banking needs were legitimate. Finally, the over-cautious young law-officer gave him
directions to the sheriff's house.
Murdoch found that the sheriff
was nearly as difficult to persuade of the validity of his need to see the
banker as the deputy had been. Even
when after several minutes of talking he had convinced the man of his
honesty, he was made to wait another twenty minutes while the lawman
finished his supper.
"You go wait at the
bank," the sheriff said in a commanding tone as he pushed away from the
table. "I'll go get Mister
Boardman and meet you there."
After a brief word of thanks,
Murdoch mounted and rode back toward the center of town. He hoped he wouldn't be kept waiting long by the banker: an
hour of his time had already been wasted, the pain in his temples was
getting unbearable, and he was anxious to learn if Scott and Red had seen
the doctor yet.
As the bank came into view,
Murdoch's spirits sank even lower. Jose
was not waiting out front. A
glance up and down the street revealed that the Mexican rider was nowhere in
what?' he thought dejectedly.
dismounted and climbed the steps. He
was not good at waiting. Never
had been. Maybe he never would
be. Now added to that
frustration was the worry over the possibility that the doctor had not been
located. Back and forth before
the tall brick building he hobbled, dragging the sole of his right boot
across the boardwalk as he moved--the limp worsening with each change of
"Boss, ya want me to see
if I can find Jose?" Pete, still in his saddle, asked after Murdoch had
been pacing in front of the bank for several minutes.
"No," the rancher
replied tiredly with a shake of his head.
"It's hard to tell how long I'll have to wait for the banker to
arrive. I'd just as soon have
you with me until I've finished my business here."
"Maybe that's him,
now," remarked Pete, pointing at a buggy coming out of a side street on
the far side of the hotel that was across from them.
muttered Murdoch under his breath when he saw the sheriff ride into view
behind the buggy.
"Ya say somethin',
Murdoch cast an absent-minded glance at Pete, then sighed.
"No. It was
nothing. Why don't you go ahead and see if you can find Sam or Jose
while I finish up here. If I
don't miss my guess, the sheriff will be on hand until I'm through, so I
won't need you to stand guard." Attempting
to shift the saddlebags to a more comfortable position on his shoulder,
Murdoch glanced toward the south end of town.
"Here come the rest of the men with the remuda.
If you're not back here by the time I'm done, I'll either be at the
hotel or the livery. I need a
place to hold the horses while we're in town, and I want rooms lined up so
there won't be any more delays after Scott and Red see the doctor."
"Maybe the sheriff knows
where the doc might be," suggested Pete as the lawman dismounted.
"He might at
that," agreed Murdoch, and then quizzed the sheriff about the
whereabouts of the physician while the banker climbed out of the buggy and
unlocked the door to the bank.
"Doc left yesterday to
drive out to Harv Dunkin's place. One
of his kids got trompled real bad by a horse," explained the lawman.
He squinted and wrinkled his nose, then added, "Ya might check
with his wife an' see if he's been back yet.
It's the big old house with a picket fence across from the
"Mister Lancer, there's
Jake and Cooky now." Pete
swept a hand toward the wagons that were trailing behind the herd of horses
being driven down the wide street. Stretching
taller in the saddle, he craned his neck and added.
"Don't look like Sam er Jose are with 'em, though.
Ya want I should have 'em follow me o'er to the doc's?"
"Good idea, then report
back to me on what you find out. Tell
Cooky and Jake that I'll be there as soon as I get things taken care of here
and pay the men." Murdoch
started to follow the banker through the open doorway, then stopped. "Oh, have Dave and the boys wait for me at the livery. This
shouldn't take long."
With a fleeting look at the trail-weary men and horses coming toward him and the flutter of the dingy canvas tops of the wagons behind them, Murdoch turned and entered the bank. The sooner he exchanged the cash for a bank draft that he would later deposit in his bank account, made arrangements for boarding the remuda, and paid off his hired men, the sooner he could ease his mind about his son and the redheaded cowboy.
For the fifth time in twenty
minutes, Scott Lancer ran his hand over the rough surface of his cheek,
which seemed to belong to another man's face, not his own.
What he felt was the stubble of a two or three day old beard, but how
it had come to be there was a mystery to him.
He should have been able to have gone a month without shaving and not
have anyone notice. After all,
hadn't the older soldiers in his regiment teased him often enough about not
being able to grow anything more than peach-fuzz?
With puckered brows and an
increasing tightness in his chest, Scott contemplated just how much memory
he might have lost. Six months?
A year or more? If so, how many? His
father had appeared to be quite old. Could
he himself be far older than he recalled being?
The thought of having had
several years of his life stripped from him brought panic gripping at
Scott's throat. Had something
happened to his grandfather? Was
that the reason for his having accepted Murdoch Lancer's offer?
The money couldn't possibly be it.
He had never wanted for anything in his life, except to be with his
father, and that desire had died when he was in his early teens. 'So
why am I here, and how long have we been together?' he wondered.
Suddenly aware of an
overpowering need to go home to Boston, to walk down familiar streets, and
talk to people he knew, Scott was struck with a new and more terrifying
concept. He might no longer
have a home.
"Now ain't that the
purdiest sight ya ever did see?" broke in Cooky, gently bumping elbows
with Scott and pointing to the cluster of buildings looming up ahead.
"Sure will be sweet ta take a long soak in tub a hot water an'
sleep in a real bed fer a change."
"I have to agree,"
replied Scott, glad for any diversion that would lead his mind down a more
pleasant path than it had been on. He
tried to determine the distance to the town but was uncertain of his
accuracy. This strange land was
deceptive, as he had already learned in the past two days.
"How much longer do you think it will take us to get
there?" he asked with a sideways glance at the cook.
Cooky drew the word out. "Reckon
we got a mile ta go. Should
make it in fifteen minutes er so."
He tugged the lines in his left hand and guided the team back into
the worn tracks; then with his eyebrows knitted together, he flicked his
eyes over the younger man's face. "Ya
"I can make it,"
Scott said, his voice unable to hide the weariness that he felt.
"Ain't what I ask ya,"
clipped Cooky. Then with a soft
chuckle and a lighter tone, he added, "What I'd 'spect ya ta say
though. My gran'pappy always
said, 'Sonny . . . if ya wan' a horse with heart, ya gotta start with the
"Are you saying I'm like
my father?" inquired Scott, his tone unmistakably sharp.
"Now there ya go provin'
my point. Ya got a good head on
yer shoulders. Ther's a heap a
young whippersnappers I've tried ta pass on my gran'pappy's ph'losofyin' to
over the years. Most ain't had
the foggiest notion what I was talkin' 'bout.
They jest don't see the connection 'tween one critter an' another.
If ya say cat, they couldn't see a dog if it bit 'em."
Cooky gave a snort of amusement.
"Not yer pa, though. 'Member
the first time I told 'im 'bout a horse bein' like it's sire.
He told me, right serious like, 'Don't ferget, a child's mother
contributes her fair share, and so does proper trainin'.'
Now, there's a sign of a thinkin' man."
"When was this?"
Scott asked, unable to stop himself.
"Oh . . . twenty years er
so ago, I reckon," Cooky replied, giving the reins a flip to encourage
the team to pull harder through a soft spot in the road.
"It was jest b'fore Johnny was borned. I guess yer pa would a been eight . . . maybe ten years
Scott took this new
information and quickly performed a mental calculation of Murdoch Lancer's
would have been twenty-five, maybe twenty-seven. The last birthday I remember was my seventeenth, so Johnny
must be about fourteen. That
makes my father somewhere between thirty-nine and forty-one.'
The figures, however, did not fit the image of the sixty-some
year old man Scott had met and he was assaulted by a new fear.
Could his amnesia have cost him as much as twenty years?
Desperation set in.
Scott swallowed and tried to speak.
The words wouldn't come. As
much as he wanted to know the answers to his questions, he couldn't bring
himself to voice them. Instead,
he sat silently staring at the growing structures up ahead until the
lurching and slowing of the wagon when the wheels sank into thick mud caught
his attention momentarily.
up!" Cooky's loud call
came simultaneously with the end of the whip snaking out to crack smartly
above the backs of the big horses.
While the team,
with muscles bulging, strained against their collars, Scott mentally urged
them on. This was no place to
get stuck. Not when they were
so close to their destination, and he had about reached the limit of his
The wagon inched forward, and
then breaking free of the mire began to roll along freely. With a toothy grin, Cooky looked over at Scott.
"Thought we was gunna hafta camp there fer a minute, din't
"It did appear that way
for a while," agreed Scott, smiling in return as he relaxed.
He glanced away and then back at Cooky who was intently urging the
team to catch up to Jake's wagon. 'He's
not nearly as gruff as he pretends to be.
I think I could get to like him.'
This new assessment of his
traveling companion brought memories of their previous conversations.
Cooky's criticism of his behavior that morning had not been pleasant,
but Scott had to admit that his disrespectful attitude toward his father had
earned him the scolding. 'Grandfather
would never have tolerated my speaking to him in such a manner,' he
thought. 'My privileges would have been taken away for a month or more.
I even had the strap used on me a few times when I was younger for
far less impertinence. I wonder
why my father let me get away with it.'
While the wagon bumped along
the rough road and rounded the corner that lead into the main street of
Modesto, Scott pushed aside the conflicting thoughts and emotions that had
plagued him ever since he had come to the realization that he was actually
with his father in California. He
was tired and the pressure at the top of his head was back.
All he wanted was a hot bath and a clean bed to crawl into.
Tomorrow would be soon enough to try to sort out his life and make
sense of it.
Determined to focus his
attention elsewhere, Scott looked over the town.
He could not remember having seen a more diverse assortment of
architectural designs. The
majority of the buildings were made of stone; some had arched doors and
windows while others looked like boxes.
A few had glass windows, but the rest had either wooden shutters that
could be closed or a curtain of sorts.
The livery stable, he noticed, was made of weathered boards as were
several shacks and other businesses that they drove past.
At the far end of the street, he could see a white bell-tower rising
above what he assumed would be a church.
None of the structures resembled anything he had ever seen in Boston
or anywhere else. 'Except
Kansas or maybe Saint Louis,' he thought; and then as pictures flashed
through his mind, he wondered when he had been in those places.
Scott could contemplate further on his surroundings, a rider skirted the
herd of horses in front of them and rode up to talk to Cooky.
After explaining that he was to take them to the doctor's house, the
man led them toward the far end of town.
They passed by a tall brick building with a sign indicating that it
was the bank, and then turned down a side street to the right and followed
it out past the edge of town a ways and stopped at a two-story clapboard
house with a picket-fenced yard.
By the time Scott
had been helped down from the wagon seat and had walked, with Cooky's hand
under his elbow, up the short pathway to the porch, a stout woman in her
mid-forties stood in the doorway. The
skirt of her faded cotton dress was covered with an apron made from what
looked to Scott like a flour sack. Her
coarse, almost homely features were softened by a few wisps of graying light
brown hair, which had slipped from the bun on the top of her head and now
formed a slight fringe around her face.
With a gentle smile that lit up her warm green eyes, she said,
"My goodness, but you do you look a sight.
That must have been quite a tumble you took."
Scott started to speak, then stopped as the woman took a step forward.
She wasn't even looking in his direction.
Her eyes were focused on the path behind him.
A quarter twist revealed the reason.
A short ways inside the gate he saw Jake following behind a young man
whose left arm was tied against his side with a colored scarf of some sort.
A scarf was also looped around each arm where it had been pulled up
tight against his armpits. His shoulders were pulled back to where his chest bulged out
like that of a Marchenero Pouter pigeon Scott had once seen in a painting.
charge, the woman introduced herself as Abigail Henderson, the doctor's
wife, and led them into a room at the right of the entryway.
"Please have a seat. I'll
get some water boiling. My
husband's out on a call, but he should be getting home anytime. In the meantime, we can get you boys cleaned up."
Unsure that his
legs could carry him any farther, Scott took the chair on his left just
inside the door. From there, he
could see a long table covered with a sheet in the center of the room and a
stool next to a small stand in the far corner.
Opposite him was a window and another chair.
In addition to the large cabinet at his side, there was a door
flanked by bookcases in the middle of the remaining wall.
with curiosity, watched the other injured man take a seat on the table.
He looked quite uncomfortable, canted sideways in such a way that his
left arm could remain straight at his side and his right leg, bent at the
knee, was propped on the edge of the table.
Scott couldn't help wondering what had happened to him.
When his companion
smiled over at him, Scott shifted uneasily at the air of familiarity in the
other man's manner. He supposed
this was someone else that he should know but couldn't remember.
Finding the thought irritating, he looked toward the window and
watched a squirrel that was racing around over the branches of a tree
"Glad ta see
yer okay," came a voice that could only be that of the man with red
With a glance of
acknowledgment to the speaker, Scott stiffly replied, "Thank you."
The next few
minutes ticked away slowly as Scott pretended to be absorbed in what lay
outside the confines of the room. When
he began to feel that he was being rude by ignoring the other man, he
swallowed and asked, "What happened to you?"
When there was no
immediate answer, Scott decided that he hadn't been heard and started to
repeat the question. "Wh--"
a tree," the redhead cut in, drawling softly. His grin broadened, and then with a chuckle he added.
"Reckon I look a sight with my shoulders tied back, makin' me
look like a tom turkey struttin' around the barnyard.
Cooky's idea. Said I
might a broken my collarbone."
returned Scott, his expression unchanging.
conversation came to a halt and the uneasiness that Scott felt intensified. Looking
down at his hands resting in his lap, he heaved a sigh and hoped Cooky,
Jake, or the doctor's wife would soon join them.
As though on cue,
the woman entered, crossed in front of Scott to reach the cabinet, and
pulled the doors wide open. She
set a pile of what appeared to be towels on the table, then retrieved
several more items from the shelves and put them next to the cloths, before
closing the double doors. Once
again, she disappeared into the entry hall, only to return a short time
later with Cooky at her heels. "Just
set it there on the corner, then you'd better take that other chair,"
she calmly instructed, directing him with her hands.
dipped a cloth into the basin, wrung out the excess moisture, and started
washing the face of the injured man sitting on the table. As she worked, she
asked him a steady stream of questions.
"So what might your name be, Young Man?"
Ma'am," he replied.
fitting," she remarked, "but surely that is not your proper
Ma'am," he mumbled as the rag swiped across his mouth.
"That'd be Albert Johnson.
Only nobody calls me that 'ceptin' my gra'ma when she's put out with
me. Reckon I don't need ta tell
ya how I ended up with 'Red' fer a handle."
The woman chuckled
as she swished the cloth through the water, then as she lifted it out and
gave it a squeeze, she said, "I think I can guess."
All the while Mrs.
Henderson was keeping up her interrogation and gently scrubbing the dirt
from Red's cheeks and forehead, Scott listened closely in hopes of learning
more of his own situation. To his disappointment, nothing was said that told
him anything more than he already knew.
The doctor's wife
had just laid the washcloth next to the basin of water and picked up a small
towel, when a door slammed and a nasal-toned male voice called,
"Mother, are you down here?"
Dear," the woman replied, patting the moisture from Red's face.
There was the
sound of footsteps in the entryway, and then a medium-built man strode
through the doorway. The brown
suit he was wearing was somewhat wrinkled and weariness was written on his
face. A second man whose attire was similar to Scott's entered next
and went to stand next to Cooky.
"You must be
the boys from the cattle drive," stated the first man, after glancing
at Scott and walking over to Red. With
an appraising nod, he added, "You must be the one who dislocated his
shoulder. I'd better take a
look at you first."
Harv's boy?" asked Mrs. Henderson, concern showing in the wrinkling of
to be all right," replied the doctor while examining Red. "Broke a
couple of ribs and his right arm, but I was able to set them without any
trouble. Other than that, he's
got a few minor cuts and some bruises.
He's a mighty lucky boy. It
could have been much worse. His
horse fell and rolled over him, then he was stepped on by some of the cattle
they were driving." Feeling
of Red's collarbone, he asked, "That hurt?"
Sir," replied Red.
me, Doc. How about that?"
sighed softly. "Good.
Whoever put that shoulder back in for you did a good job.
The collarbone doesn't seem to be broken, but I don't want to take
any chances on there being a fracture that is too small to feel."
Turning to his wife, he said. "Mother,
I'll need some warm water, bandages, and a clean nightshirt."
Dear," the woman smiled as she started for the door.
The doctor moved
the stool a little farther into the corner of the room and then reached for
the sheet that hung from a wire, which was stretched across that corner of
the room. "I need to take
a look at the rest of you," he said, motioning for Red to join him and
pulling the curtain closed behind them a moment later.
By the time the physician stepped out again, his wife had returned
with the basin of water and had retrieved the bandages from the cabinet
while you get Red washed up, I'll take a quick look at this other young man.
When you're finished, I'll change the bandages and you can get him
settled in a room. I think it best these boys stay here tonight."
Looking over at Scott, the doctor added, "They both need to
sleep in a regular bed, and I don't think either one of them should be
climbing any stairs."
The doctor held
one end of the curtain open so that his wife could get behind it with the
bowl of water and other items she'd picked up.
When he had pulled it closed again, he moved over to where Scott was
sitting. "I understand you
received quite a bump on the noggin," he said, running his fingers
lightly over the top of Scott's head. "Little
tender there, huh?" he remarked when his gentle probing netted a wince.
Sir," replied Scott.
the physician softly rebuffed, then seeming to be satisfied with his
findings, he studied Scott's face. "How
do you feel? Been sick to your
"No, Sir . .
. uh, Doc." Scott
corrected at the scowl he received from the other man.
dizziness? Any trouble with
seeing double or things looking blurry?"
dizzy a few times, but I don't seem to be having any problems with my
vision," Scott said, with a feeling of apprehension tugging at his
pain? Had any real bad
headaches? Are they constant,
or do they come and go?" The
doctor placed a thumb against one edge of Scott's jaw and tipped the young
man's face slightly one way and then the other while giving it a thorough
"I've had a
few bad pains in my head, but mostly I just have a dull ache, here,"
replied Scott, pointing at the tender spot just above the hairline on his
forehead. "My neck and
shoulders hurt the worst. I
can't seem to turn my head very far either," he added, worriedly
watching the other man's face.
hmm," muttered the doctor, taking a step back.
"So . . .
what's your diagnosis, S . . . Doc?" queried Scott, not sure he wanted
to hear it.
know more after I finish my examination, which will have to wait until
Mother is finished with your friend."
The doctor stroked his chin and continued, "That bump on your
head is still pretty tender, but the swelling is slight.
It should be gone in a week or two.
The fact that your vision is clear and you're not nauseous is a good
indication that the damage wasn't serious.
You have some bruises and few scratches, but I don't see anything to
be concerned about there either."
While Scott waited
quietly, the doctor hesitated and frowned.
He shook his head slightly, then said, "These scrapes and
bruises don't look like they happened all at the same time.
This one on your temple is dark purple while the one on your cheek
there has already turned yellow. You
have some scratches that the scabs are starting to peel off of too.
Did you have an earlier accident?"
tightened and his head started to pound.
"I . . . I don't know," he managed to whisper as fear
easy, Boy," coaxed the doctor. "I
forgot, you had a little loss of memory.
Just relax. It's not
fell with 'im 'bout a week ago," spoke up Cooky.
Doc Henderson said, turning to look at the speaker. "Can you tell me if he had any other injuries at that
limpin' some afterwards. Might
a got bunged up a little, but that's all," Cooky offered.
happened to your hand," asked the doctor as he moved toward Cooky.
but a scratch," the camp cook blustered.
"I'll be the
judge of that," said Doc taking a hold of Cooky's hand. "While I unwrap this, why don't you tell me how this
pinched a few days back is all. The
cut's most healed up already," the cook replied after glancing
nervously in Scott's direction, which made Scott wonder if he had played
some part in Cooky having been injured.
The doctor studied
Cooky's palm for a minute, then said it would require a thorough cleansing
and a fresh bandage. The cut
was healing; however, there was some redness between his thumb and first
finger, which could be an indication that some infection may have set in.
About then, Mrs.
Henderson reappeared and announced that she was finished with Red.
The doctor gathered up some long strips of bandaging, instructed his
wife on the procedure for cleaning Cooky's hand, and then stepped out of
sight behind the curtain. When
he pulled the sheet to one side several minutes later, Red was clothed in a
long nightshirt that concealed the bandages and his left arm.
Scott couldn't help noticing that the redheaded young man moved
stiffly and his shoulders seemed to still be drawn back into an unnatural
do that," said the doctor, moving to his wife's side.
"I need you to get Red settled into bed, and then you'd better
finish fixing supper." Waving
his hand toward Scott, he added, "I can take care of this other young
A short while
later, the doctor ushered Scott, who was now clad in a long nightshirt, out
the door next to the bookshelves, down a short hallway, and into a small
bedroom. "I'll just take
these dirty clothes with me," he stated, indicating the items draped
over his own arm. "They'll
need to be washed before you can wear them again, anyway.
Mother will be bringing you some supper as soon as it's ready;
however, in the meantime, I would suggest you get some rest."
Doc. I do believe I will lie
down for a while," Scott said, then set his boots on the floor and
glanced around the room as the doctor went out and closed the door. The bed with its quilt and top sheet turned back was a
welcoming sight, so he sat down on the edge, leaned over onto his elbow and
started to draw his legs up. Just
then, however, the mirror that was attached to the top of the dresser across
from him caught his eye and he had the sudden urge to look at his
Getting back to
his feet was difficult, and although Scott almost decided against putting
out the effort, the desire to see his face was stronger. With a grunt he stood and took the two steps that put him in
front of the dresser.
Scott peered into the mirror and stared.
The face looking back at him was his, and yet it wasn't. The eyes where the same blue-gray, and the other features
hadn't changed, but the shadow of two or three days growth of beard made him
look far older than seventeen. Again,
his chest constricted and his heart began to race.
Not only was he in a strange land with the father he had never known,
but he was years older than he remembered being. How many, he couldn't begin to guess.
Murdoch Lancer turned the key
in the lock and pushed the door open to one of the rooms that he had
procured for the night. His
business at the bank was completed, the horses were grazing in a pasture
behind the livery stable, and all of his men had been paid except for Cooky,
Jose, Sam, and Red. He still
had to go out to the doctor's house, but he wanted to clean up first.
He lowered his shoulder and
let the saddlebags slip to the floor, crossed to the bed and laid down the
package that he'd been carrying under his other arm.
With a sharp tug, he pulled the string off one corner of the bundle,
then spread wide the paper wrapping. Next
he selected the largest pair of pants and shirt and a pair of socks and set
them to one side. The other
articles of clothing he placed on the dresser.
They were for Scott and Red.
Twenty minutes later, shaved,
bathed, and dressed in clean clothes, Murdoch walked into the hotel lobby
and found Sam and Jose waiting for him.
Relief washed over him at the news that the doctor had returned and
the injured men had been tended to. He
had one less worry, anyway.
After paying the two men their
wages, the rancher headed for the doctor's home, where he found Jake and
Cooky waiting out front with the wagons.
"The boys're still
inside," Cooky informed him. "Doc
wants ta keep 'em fer the night."
"They're all right aren't
they?" Murdoch asked, looking at the cook apprehensively.
"Doc didn't say they
warn't," replied Cooky. "Jest
told me he wanted 'em both ta get a good night's rest.
Said it's too noisy over to the hotel, what with bein' s'rounded by
cantinas, gamblin' halls, and such. Ya
wanna know more'n that, yu'll hafta talk ta him yerself."
Murdoch expelled the breath
he'd been holding. "Thanks
for waiting for me; I know you two are tired," he said wearily as he
reached into his jacket for his billfold.
After opening it and handing each of the men several bills, he
returned it to his pocket and added, "Since Red and Scott won't be
needing rooms tonight, you two are welcome to use theirs.
Just ask for numbers ten and eleven at the hotel across from the bank
and tell the desk clerk you're with me.
The rest of the horses are behind the livery.
You can leave the wagons back of the barn and turn the team out with
the remuda. I'll catch up with
you sometime in the morning and let you know when we'll be heading back to
Cooky and Jake made a few
encouraging remarks before saying their farewells, and then as they drove
out of sight, Murdoch made his way up the walkway and hesitantly knocked on
the door. The knowledge that
neither Red nor his son seemed to be in any real danger had brought him a
measure of relief; however, he was still worried about Scott's loss of
memory and how best to deal with the situation without adding to the young
"...nothing to be
concerned about. Just an old
injury doing some complaining," Murdoch told the doctor off-handedly
when questioned about the way he was limping.
"Once I get home and can stay off of it for a few days, it'll be
"I see," remarked
Doc Henderson with a nod that indicated he
saw far more than his guest was telling him.
Taking the offered chair by
the fireplace, Murdoch sank his big frame into the softness that was
soothing to his aching body and wished he didn't have to ride back to the
hotel in a short while.
The thought of getting into the saddle once more was unappealing, to
say the least.
"So . . . what is the prognosis
on my boys? Cooky tells me
you're keeping them here tonight. Reason
being that they need a good night's rest.
Is that all, or is there more to it than you told him?" Murdoch, having guessed that the astute doctor had seen
through his attempt to belittle his own condition, kept his eyes on the fire
as he spoke. He hoped to avoid
further discussion on that subject by shifting the focus of the conversation
to the two younger men.
"Both are doing quite
well, Mister Lancer, considering what they went through," replied the
doctor as he settled into a chair opposite Murdoch.
"Just as I told your man, Cooky, what those boys need most is
rest. It is much quieter here
than it will be at the hotel, as I'm sure you'll agree. Not only that, neither one of them needs to be climbing
stairs right now."
"Just what did you learn
from your examination?" This
time Murdoch turned his head to speak directly to his host.
"Both have a considerable
amount of abrasions and bruising, but they seem to be healing well and I
didn't see anything to worry about there.
The biggest concern I have with Red, of course, is his collarbone.
I can't feel any sign of a break, but that doesn't rule out the
possibility that there is one. To be on the safe side, I think he should continue to be
treated as if it were fractured."
"What about Scott?
Is he . . .." Murdoch, dreading to voice his fears, stopped and bit his
"Your son is doing very
well," said Doc Henderson in a reassuring tone. "If he had a concussion, it was slight.
I didn't find anything more than a small bump in the edge of his
hairline. It's still sore, but
there's no excess swelling so the tenderness should be gone in a week or
"Then he'll be able to
travel soon," Murdoch stated thoughtfully.
Having already been away from the ranch for two weeks, he was anxious
to get back and see how Teresa and Johnny were fairing.
"I'd like to keep him
here a couple more days," the doctor replied.
"His temperature was up a little.
It might not be anything, but Cooky told me the boy nearly drowned.
Although his lungs sound clear, I still think it would be wise to
keep a close watch out for pneumonia. What
your son needs most right now is to stay warm and get plenty of sleep.
He can't very well do that bouncing around in the back of a
Murdoch let out a resigned
sigh. "Whatever you think
is best. I had planned to give
the men a couple days in town anyway. Do
you think Scott will be ready to go by Monday?"
The doctor squinted and
stroked his chin between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand.
"Two days, huh? Perhaps.
It all depends on what that fever does.
I'd like to see his temperature back to normal for at least
twenty-four hours before he goes anywhere."
The lines between Murdoch's
eyebrows deepened. He licked
his lips while debating how best to approach the issue that had him most
concerned. "What about . .
.." He stopped and took a
deep breath. "Scott seems
to . . .. Are . . . are you
aware of my son's loss of memory?"
Lancer," the doctor replied. "Your
man, Sam, told me about it."
"Is it . . . do you think
. . .." The unfinished
questions hung in the air between the two men as Murdoch shifted his gaze to
the fire once more.
"You're wondering if your
son's condition is permanent," stated the doctor in a sympathetic tone.
Murdoch's shoulders drooped as
he softly said, "Yeah."
"Amnesia is not an easy
thing to predict. He could wake
up tomorrow morning and remember everything.
Then again, it could take months . . . or even years. His memory could come back all at once, or he may recall bits
and pieces in no particular order."
After taking a moment to think
over the other man's words, Murdoch said, "He gets worked up so
"Yes, I noticed that,
too. It's understandable,
though. I imagine it must have
been quite frightening for him to wake up and find himself in a strange
place. The main thing is to not
push him to remember as that only puts more stress on him.
What he needs most is to be in familiar surroundings so he can relax
and feel safe."
Murdoch tensed and the color
left his face as a new fear slammed him in the gut.
He tried to breathe, but with the weight that had settled on his
chest, the intake of air was shallow and painful.
"Is something wrong,
Mister Lancer?" asked the doctor, frowning while closely scrutinizing
Shoving aside the thought that
had nearly paralyzed him, Murdoch shook his head and forced himself to speak
in a somewhat normal tone. "No.
It's . . . uh . . .." He
struggled to take a deeper breath and then tried again.
"I was just wondering . . . what to do in the meantime.
He . . . he doesn't seem to remember anyone."
"That does pose a
problem," agreed the doctor when Murdoch fell silent again. "The only thing you can do is try to keep him as calm as
possible until you get him home. It
would probably be best to limit his contact with the other men.
Also, you need to avoid talking about what he doesn't remember as
much as you can. If he asks
questions, answer them; but don't go into any unnecessary details."
Before Murdoch could explain
further about the difficulties he was facing with his son's amnesia, the
doctor's wife stepped in and announced that supper was ready. When she invited him to join them, he thought of declining
the offer; however, the smell of freshly baked bread and the tantalizing
aroma of beef stew coming from the kitchen where
far too appealing to turn down.
The conversation around the
table was pleasant as the doctor and his wife filled Murdoch in on the
happenings in and around Modesto. Since
he hadn't been in the area for close to two years, he found it interesting
to learn of the changes that were taking place and the number of new people
moving in. The biggest surprise
was the news that within a couple of months there would be railway service
connecting the town with Sacramento and that plans were already in motion to
extend the tracks south toward Los Angeles.
He had heard rumors of the railroad expanding, but the trouble with
Pardee had kept him out of touch for more than six months and he hadn't
realized how much progress had been accomplished.
When the meal was finished,
Murdoch went with the doctor to check on the injured men. Red, despite his discomfort, was in good spirits and even
joked about how nice it was going to be to get out of repairing fences and
rounding up strays when he got home. The
humor of the situation, however, was lost on Murdoch. He knew that the boy's grandfather would be short handed.
'I'll send a man over to help
out,' he vowed, knowing that he'd have to be careful how he went about
man Johnson was a proud man and wouldn't look kindly on anything that
remotely resembled charity.
After promising to return in
the morning, Murdoch followed Doc Henderson out of Red's room and down the
hall to where Scott was. The
turmoil in the pit of the rancher's stomach increased as the doctor rapped
on the door and was bidden to enter. He
couldn't help worrying about the kind of reception he would receive from his
son after the young man's display of anger that morning.
When the doctor stepped to one
side after opening the door, Murdoch entered and stopped next to the
dresser. As he made a
quarter-turn and brought his left elbow to rest on the top of the chest of
drawers, his eyes took a slow tour of the room before coming to rest on
Scott just as the door latch clicked. A
swift glance to his right revealed that he was now alone with his son.
While silently gathering his
thoughts, Murdoch clamped his upper lip between his teeth. Hesitantly he took in the sight of his son sitting with a
pillow wedged between his back and the metal frame at the head of the bed
for support and his lower body covered with a colorful quilt. The rancher noisily released the breath he had been holding
and swallowed. The hostility
that had been in Scott's eyes that morning was gone.
In its place was the same searching look of wonderment Murdoch
remembered seeing at their first meeting a few short weeks earlier.
"How do you feel?"
Murdoch tentatively asked.
Murdoch a bit brusquely, his heart beating faster.
After a moment of awkward
silence, Scott questioned in a voice laced with fear, "Sir?"
replied tightly, struggling to hide his apprehension.
"Is . . . Is my
grandfather . . . all right?"
Murdoch's jaw dropped open a
little and he stared at his son while trying to remember if during the past
few weeks Scott had given any indication that Harlan Garrett had been ill.
"Nothing has happened to
him . . . has it?" Scott persisted, his voice quivering. "I . . . I wondered if . . .."
The pleading in his son's eyes
brought a lump to Murdoch's throat. He
wished he could restore Scott's memory and thereby alleviate the young man's
concerns. 'But I can't,' he thought, hating the growing feeling of
helplessness that nagged him.
Scott leaned forward, his eyes
wide with alarm. "Sir!"
"He's fine," Murdoch
Slumping back against the
pillow once more, Scott let out a deep sigh, then haltingly spoke in little
more than a whisper. "I
was worried that . . . I . . . I can't remember . . .."
"Scott, I know you're
frightened by all of this. Maybe,
you should get some rest. We
can talk more in the morning, if you like," Murdoch suggested gently.
"I think I would like
Murdoch dragged his arm from
its rest on the dresser and stood a little straighter.
"How about sometime after breakfast? Say eleven o'clock."
"That would be fine,
Sir," Scott agreed in a subdued tone with a slight nod.
A hint of a smile played at the corners of Murdoch's mouth, as he
started toward door. After
taking a step, he stopped and added, "Oh, I picked up some clothes for
you. I'll drop them by right
after breakfast so you'll have something clean to wear."
"Thank you, Sir."
Scott thoughtfully eyed his father, then as Murdoch made another
mover to leave, asked, "Sir, would . . . could you tell me one more
"If I can.
What . . . is it you want to know?"
"How old am I?"
Seeing the distress written on
his son's face, Murdoch hesitated before slowly replying,
"Have . . . have I been
with you long?" Scott asked, shock showing in his eyes.
Looking anxiously at his son,
Murdoch replied, "A couple of months . . . but we can talk about that
tomorrow. What you need now is
to get some sleep."
"I . . . I can't even
remember my eighteenth birthday," Scott stated wistfully.
Murdoch was silent
for moment, then while contending with his own fears, forced himself to
speak in a reassuring tone. "Give
it time, Son.
It'll all come back to you."
Again Murdoch made a move to
leave, but was stopped by Scott's trembling voice.
"S-sir . . . c-could you tell me . . . is the war over?"
desperation brought a sting of moisture to Murdoch's eyes and it took a
moment before he was able to choke out, "Yes, it's over." He took a deep breath before adding with more control,
"It has been for some time."
"Who . . . who
"The Union Army.
Lee surrendered over five years ago."
Murdoch swallowed, then added off-handedly, "There's no need for
you to worry, Scott. You're
safe here. Now . . . how about you get some rest. It's been a long day."
Scott's lips relaxed and some
of the fear faded from his eyes. "Thank
you, Sir, for . . . for coming to see me.
I . . . I think I can sleep now."
Murdoch mumbled something
unintelligible under his breath, then went to open the door.
Just before closing it behind him, he looked back at Scott one last
time and said, "Goodnight, Son. I
. . . I'll see you tomorrow . . . at eleven."
A short while later the weary
rancher, his heart lighter than it had been in days, rode away from the
doctor's home. Scott's softly
spoken "Goodnight, Sir," was still ringing in his ears--bringing
hope that one day all would be well between him and his son.