First Cattle Drive

Part Three

by  Desert Sun

Chapter 20


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.

Murdoch loosened 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 accusations persisted.

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.' 

The condemning 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 tone.

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."

"Good."  Murdoch stopped and turned his back to the fire.  He pressed his hands against his hipbones, arched his back, and twisted side to side.

"Sore?"  The cook's brow puckered slightly.

"Yeah," Murdoch answered softly.

"Well, it ain't been an easy drive."

"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.

"Hey, Cooky.  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 reach.

"An' yer gettin' sassier in yers," retorted Cooky, swinging an arm at the offender while rising to his feet.

"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 fire.

"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. 



Scott Lancer 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 referring to.

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 . . . safe."

Scott felt his insides tighten.  'I'm 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[1] 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.

Scott was 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 far. 

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 there?" 

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 against them.

"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 support.

"Need me ta help ya take a walk?"

"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."

"I'll jest 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.

Surprisingly, by 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 campfire.

"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 Scott.

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.

Unexplainable 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 answers.




Unidentifiable 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.

In the 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.

"Mister 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.  'Lancer.  Then he wasn't lying about his name,' he thought when he heard the deep voice of the tall man.

"I will 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."

"I jest 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."

"Yeah."  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.


[1]   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.

Chapter 21


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 through.

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.

After pouring 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.

Murdoch's frown 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."

"Sure thing, 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 Crossing?"

"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?"

"We'll be careful," Sam assured him.

"Take Charger 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.

"How ya feelin' this mornin'?" inquired Cooky, giving Scott a hand down.

"Like a 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.

Cooky acknowledged 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 man.

"I don't seem to be dizzy this morning.  It just hurts to move," Scott assured him.

"How's them headaches?"

"Better," Scott hedged, not willing to confide too much in the cook.

"Good," 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.

"Nope.  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.

Although his 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 either.

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.

Scott shuddered 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 there, waiting.




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?"

"Thanks, I could use a little more," replied Murdoch holding out his cup.

"Hadn't ya 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."

Murdoch smiled 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 him.  'The 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?"

"He's takin' a walk.  Last I saw, he was headed to the pond to clean up a little."

"How is he?"

"Purdy stove up from what I could tell."

"Do you think he's up to traveling?" Murdoch asked with a hint of worry in his voice.

"He's hurtin', 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.

"I'm sure 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?"

"Not 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."

"It's a wonder he didn't get caught up in the rapids," commented Murdoch thoughtfully.

"Sure is.  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 long speech.

"Yeah," Murdoch softly said as he shuddered at the thought of what might have been.

"Speakin' of yer boy.  I was jest gunna fix 'im a plate.  Ya wanna take it to 'im when he gets back?"

"You'd better 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.

"Mister Lancer, ya can't keep runnin' from that boy.  You an' him's gotta talk sooner er later," huffed Cooky.

"I'm not running," testily snapped Murdoch in return.  "I'm just trying to keep him from being upset is all."

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."

Murdoch grumpily 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 Murdoch Lancer?"

"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 getting redder.

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 challenged.

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.  I only--"

"Stop lying to me," Scott harshly interrupted.  "There is nothing you could have offered me that would have enticed me to come to you.  Nothing!"

"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 reach me?"

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 you."

"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 at that." 

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 to respond.




Scott, heart 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.

Scott's entire 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. 

"Scott?"  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 strode away.

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. 

When Murdoch 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."

"My father 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 way.

"Is that 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 me."

"Ya know that fer a fact, do ya?"

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 family?"

"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 sympathetically.

"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 roll."

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.


Chapter 22


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 for that.

'Cooky 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 frown.

"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 physical condition.

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. 'Oh, 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 too inadequate.




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.  He couldn't.

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 wagon.

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.

"Thank you," Scott replied, taking the dish.  "I am a little hungry."

"Appetite's a 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?"

"Nigh onta 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?"

"Thank you 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."

Although climbing 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.

While 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.

Scott 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 current.

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.

Gradually the 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.

"Likewise," 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 heels.

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 years.

'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 her.'

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?

'Ya 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.

When Murdoch 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.

"What?"  Scott looked blankly at the cook.

"I wondered 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.

"Five miles, 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."

"In that 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.

Shortly 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 back here."

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 town.

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 he around?"

"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 bank."

"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 sight.  'Now what?' he thought dejectedly. 

Wearily Murdoch 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 direction.

"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.

"About time," muttered Murdoch under his breath when he saw the sheriff ride into view behind the buggy.

"Ya say somethin', Boss?"

"Hmm?"  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 school."

"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.


Chapter 23

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.

"Oh."  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 gettin' tired?"

"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 sire.'"

"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 older'n you."

Scott took this new information and quickly performed a mental calculation of Murdoch Lancer's age.  'He 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.

"Get 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 endurance.

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 you?"

"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.

Before 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."

"Yes--" 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.

Quickly taking 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.

Scott, overcome 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 outside.

"Glad ta see yer okay," came a voice that could only be that of the man with red hair.

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--"

"Tangled with 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."

"I see," returned Scott, his expression unchanging.

Again the 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.

Mrs. Henderson 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?"

"Red, Ma'am," he replied.

"Very fitting," she remarked, "but surely that is not your proper name."

"No, 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?"  

"In 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." 

"How is Harv's boy?" asked Mrs. Henderson, concern showing in the wrinkling of her eyebrows.

"He's going 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?"

"No, Sir," replied Red.

"Just call me, Doc.  How about that?"

"A little."

"And this?"


Doc Henderson 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."

"Yes, 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 beside Scott.

"Mother, 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.

"Yes, Sir," replied Scott.

"Doc," 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 stomach?"

"No, Sir . . . uh, Doc."  Scott corrected at the scowl he received from the other man.

"How about dizziness?  Any trouble with seeing double or things looking blurry?"

"I've been 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 insides.

"How about 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 once over.

"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.

"Mmm, hmm," muttered the doctor, taking a step back.

"So . . . what's your diagnosis, S . . . Doc?" queried Scott, not sure he wanted to hear it.

"Well, I'll 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?"

Scott's chest tightened and his head started to pound.  "I . . . I don't know," he managed to whisper as fear gripped him.

"Take it easy, Boy," coaxed the doctor.  "I forgot, you had a little loss of memory.  Just relax.  It's not important, anyway."

"His horse fell with 'im 'bout a week ago," spoke up Cooky.

"I see," Doc Henderson said, turning to look at the speaker.  "Can you tell me if he had any other injuries at that time?"

"He was limpin' some afterwards.  Might a got bunged up a little, but that's all," Cooky offered.

"What happened to your hand," asked the doctor as he moved toward Cooky.

"Ain't nothin' 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 happened."

"Got it 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 position.  

"Mother, I'll 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 man, myself."

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."

"Thank you, 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 reflection.

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.

Bending slightly, 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.


Chapter 24


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 the ranch."

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 man's stress.



"...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 fine."

"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 lip.

"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 so."

"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 wagon."

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?"

"Yes, Mister 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 easily."

"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 Murdoch.

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 it.  Old 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.

"Better, Sir."

"Good," returned Murdoch a bit brusquely, his heart beating faster.

After a moment of awkward silence, Scott questioned in a voice laced with fear, "Sir?"

"Yes," Murdoch 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 hurriedly replied. 

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 that, Sir."

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.

"Good."  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 thing?"

"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, "Twenty-three."

"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?"

His son's 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 w-won?"

"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.


Part One
Part Two
Part Four
Part Five
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