studied the young man who was peering back at him.
A slight turn of the head one way and then the other revealed a patch of
yellow that covered the cheek bone under one eye and a spot of dark purple on
the opposite side of the forehead. Now
that the shadow of uncut whiskers was gone, despite the marred appearance, the
face looked younger than it had the evening before. Still he found it hard to believe that he was actually
twenty-three years old--the last six gone without a trace of memory.
Refusing to give
in to the dark cloud of fear that was creeping into his mind, Scott dropped his
gaze to the loosely fitting brown pants and blue-plaid wool shirt, which he
thought made him resemble a farm boy wearing an older brother's clothing.
He raised his eyebrows and wrinkled nose.
'Miss Benson certainly would have some choice words to say about my
A soft snort
accompanied the smile that tugged at the corners of his lips upon hearing the
exact intonation with which his childhood governess would have spoken; however,
when Scott visualized a scowl of disapproval on his grandfather's face, he
immediately sobered. 'Grandfather
would not be amused in the least. He
would be lecturing me about my obligation, as the sole heir of his estate, to
maintain an image that is appropriate to my station in life,' he grimaced.
As more memories
of his life in Boston crowded into his mind, Scott suddenly felt alone and
wished that he could see just one familiar face, hear one voice that he
recognized. He desperately needed
to talk to someone he knew about something that wasn't foreign to him.
Raking long fingers through
his damp hair in an effort to give it some semblance of having been combed,
Scott pushed the disturbing thoughts aside and decided to follow the doctor's
suggestion of waiting in the parlor for his father.
The medicine given him the night before
had helped him sleep through the night so he had awakened with only a twinge of
a headache. His temperature was
back to normal, and the hot bath taken after breakfast had gone a long way
toward soothing his sore muscles. Feeling
rested, he needed to find something with which to occupy his time.
As he made his way to the
sitting room that was on the opposite side of the entryway from the examination
room, Scott recalled the conversation with his father the night before.
'Perhaps Cooky was right and he
does care something about me. He seemed worried and he did buy these clothes for me, even
if they aren't what I would have picked out for myself.'
Scott again wrestled with
conflicting thoughts. Over the years he had built an image of Murdoch Lancer and
had grown to hate the man he believed his father to be.
Now he was finding that his illusions might have been based on false
premises. This knowledge left him
feeling uncertain and confused, wondering who he could trust.
'He didn't lie to me about the war.
The doctor confirmed that it ended five years ago and that the
Confederate army surrendered. That
doesn't prove anything, though. He
would have expected me to verify what he told me.
It doesn't mean he will tell me why he left me with my grandfather,
Upon reaching the parlor,
Scott stopped in the doorway, quickly glanced around the room, and tensed. He
would not be alone. The redheaded
man that he had seen the day before was standing with his back to the fireplace.
"Howdy," Red called
cheerfully when their eyes met.
Scott returned stiffly.
"Come on in an' join me.
It's nice an' warm here by the fire." Red moved to one side as he
motioned to Scott.
"Thank you. I believe I
will, " Scott replied a little less crisply; then with shoulders erect, he
walked across the room and sat on the sofa that was a few feet in front of the
"Sure was nice ta sleep
in a real bed," remarked Red in a friendly tone.
"Yes, it was."
"An' the food sure was
good, too. Nothin' again' Cooky,
mind ya, but the doc's wife has his cookin' beat by a mile.
Them was the best flapjacks I ever ate, 'ceptin' fer the ones my grandma
makes with bits of cheese and bacon in them," said Red with animation, then
flashed Scott another warm smile.
"I have to agree.
Mrs. Henderson is an excellent cook."
Scott, sitting with his head up and back straight, relaxed his shoulders
a little. Looking a bit perplexed
and wondering if his breakfast had been different from the other man's, he
added, "However, I'm not sure that I know what you mean by flapjacks."
Red's grin broadened and he
chuckled. "They're them thin
cakes thatcha make in a fryin' pan. Maybe
ya know 'em by another name. I
heard some folks put maple syrup on 'em, but Grandma usually serves 'em with
honey like the doc's wife did this mornin' er with fruit perserves, if she has
Comprehension dawned on
Scott's face; then while maintaining a degree of correct posture, he relaxed his
upper body against the back of the sofa as he spoke.
"Where I come from, people call them
griddlecakes . . . or johnnycakes, if they have cornmeal in them.
I was served both types when I stayed with a friend of mine at his
grandparents' farm one summer. I
don't remember caring much for them; however, those that I had for breakfast
today were quite delicious."
"Grandma makes 'em outta
cornmeal sometimes, too, but I like the flour ones best. If ya want 'em ta have any flavor, though, ya gotta use
buttermilk. Maybe your friend's
grandma used skimmed milk. I've had
some made that way and gotta admit they didn't have much taste."
"You could be
right," Scott said in a more congenial tone.
"I haven't any idea what kind of milk she used; although, I do
remember that she separated off the cream to make butter."
"My grandma does that,
too, but she always saves some fer making' buttermilk."
"I take it that your
grandparents have a farm. Do you
visit them often?" When Red
snorted softly, Scott tensed. "Did
I say something funny?"
"Didn't mean no 'fense.
It's just that Grandpa's a rancher, and he don't take kindly ta bein'
called a farmer." Red then went on to point out that farms were for growing
crops and that ranches were for raising cattle.
During the discussion that
followed, Scott was drawn into talking about the two months that he had spent in
the country with Jimmy Martin when they were twelve. Gradually he relaxed as he related his experiences of being
taught to drive a team of horses, cut and stack hay, and milk cows.
His nose wrinkled a bit as he told about chopping the head off of a
chicken and how the dying bird flopped around like a fish out of water before it
finally lay still. This and the
disgusted expression on his face when he told about plucking the
feathers from the dead birds and helping to butcher a hog merely brought on
bouts of merry laughter from his red-headed companion.
By the time Scott
got around to telling about the fun times that he had had at the Jamison farm,
he too was smiling. Those had been
some of the happiest days of his life as the two boys had spent their free time
at a pond at one corner of the property where they could swim, fish, or skip
rocks on the water. Once in a
while, Jimmy's grandfather had joined them and had taken his rifle along so that
they could target practice on the empty cans or bottles they had packed with
Scott's eyes were
shining when got around to describing the toy pistols that Jimmy's grandfather
had shown them how to carve out of wood, and how he and Jimmy had fought off
imaginary Indians or bandits with them. Even
recalling how his own grandfather had frowned on such behavior didn't dampen his
pleasure in relating the memory.
came and went unnoticed. Scott was
much too involved in describing his escapades of learning to ride an old
swaybacked-horse that had been spunky enough to unload him whenever he least
expected. His face filled with
pride as he told how the bumps and bruises had fueled his determination to
become a master horseman, and that once he had returned home, he had immediately
went to work convincing his grandfather to enroll him for lessons with the best
riding instructor in Boston.
at ease with the redheaded westerner, Scott was in the process of telling Red
about the thrilling sport of fox hunting when the heavy tread of footsteps
alerted him that they were no longer alone.
Stopping in mid-sentence, he twisted far enough to peer over his
shoulder, then sat erect at the sight of his father coming toward him.
late," Murdoch said as he walked around the end of the sofa.
necessary, Sir," Scott stated abruptly, his stiffness having returned at
the sight of his father, then wondered at the unidentifiable expression that
Murdoch quickly masked.
"I ran across
the doctor on my way here, so I stopped to talk to him for a moment . . .
otherwise I would have been here on time," Murdoch explained as he settled
into the chair. After nodding a
greeting to Red, he focused on his son once more.
"He said both of you were feeling better this morning.
If all goes well, we can leave for home the day after tomorrow."
"Bet even an
earthquake wouldn't get the rest of the boys ta budge from here b'fore then
anyway," Red remarked with a chuckle.
"No, I don't
suppose it would," agreed Murdoch, the corners of his mouth twitching.
"Do you have
them often?" Scott glanced apprehensively from one man to the other.
what?" Murdoch inquired.
"Now don't ya
go frettin' over no earthquakes," Red quickly interjected.
"I wasn't sayin' they was anything ta worry about.
Just meant that nothin' would get them boys ta leave town b'fore they're
done blowin' off steam. More'n'
likely most of 'em'll be goin' home with empty pockets.
Ain't that right, Mister Lancer?"
While Murdoch and
Red discussed the lack of honesty to be found in the local gambling
establishments and the various other forms of entertainment to be had in
Modesto, Scott remained silent for the most part.
Since his grandfather had never engaged in vices of that sort, his own
experiences with such places had been very limited. The only card games that he could remember having played
prior to his joining the cavalry had been Old Maid and Dr. Busby.
The war had offered little free time, so passes to town had been few and
far between; and once he had been promoted to officer status, the enlisted men
had no longer invited him to play poker with them.
The tension that
Scott had felt upon the arrival of his father slowly ebbed away.
Unable to contribute much to the discourse, he was content to listen to
the other two men in hopes of gaining a better understanding of who and what his
father was. The man was an enigma
to him. So far, everything that
Scott had observed about Murdoch Lancer contradicted what he had been told.
He hoped that he might hear something that would shed some light on the
true nature of the man's character and whether or not he could be trusted.
A while later
there was a lull in the conversation, and Red, seeming to seize the opportunity
to give father and son a degree of privacy, announced that he needed to go lie
down. Once he had left the room,
Scott's posture again became rigid. There
were so many questions that he longed to ask his father--needed to have the
answers to; yet somehow, he couldn't bring himself to voice any of them for fear
of what he might learn. Instead, he
sat in silent uncertainty, his head beginning to pound from the effort of
searching for a safe topic to discuss.
In the quietness
that followed Red's departure, Scott noticed that Murdoch also appeared uneasy.
This knowledge only served to intensify his sense of unrest.
He couldn't help wondering what his father was so afraid of.
Scott studied the
flames in the fireplace then flinched when Murdoch cleared his throat and asked,
"Did you sleep well?"
Sir," Scott slowly replied.
Scott's only response to the solitary word, crisply spoken by his father.
his weight, stretched out his long legs, and crossed his ankles. He chewed at the edge of his lip then sighed.
"You look rested. How's
Scott swallowed, then drew in a nervous breath.
exchange was followed by more silence, which made Scott even more nervous.
Desperate to get the other man talking about something, he blurted out,
"Tell me about my brother." When
his father's eyes widened with surprise, Scott hastily stammered, "I
overheard you and Cooky talking. I
. . . Cooky told me a little about . . . about him, but . . . but he didn't seem
to know much."
"I, uh . . .
he . . . we, uh . . .." Murdoch's
face reddened a little. Taking a
deep breath, as if to gather his composure, he started over.
"He's your half brother. His
name is Johnny."
"How old is
he?" Scott prompted while speculatively eyeing his father.
as of the first of April."
"What does he
look like?" pressed Scott, sounding much like a newspaper reporter
attempting to acquire a story from a reluctant witness to a crime.
Murdoch tilted his
head back and took his time answering. His
eyes focused on a spot just above the top of his son's head and his voice
softened. "He's a little
shorter than you . . . but broader built. His
hair is dark . . . nearly black. Has
a bit of a reddish cast when the sun shines on it just right.
He has blue eyes . . . much bluer than yours.
More like the sky on a cold winter morning."
me that Johnny's mother was Mexican," Scott said with a hint of censorship
that was unintentional.
locked gazes with his son. "You
have a problem with that?"
"No . . . is
there any reason that I should?" replied Scott, noting the slightly
demanding tone of his father's voice.
"No, but . .
. some people would think there was."
not one of them, Sir," Scott stated emphatically, thinking of the two young
maids, whose jobs were to keep the Garrett mansion spotlessly clean.
One was Irish and he could barely understand a word she said, and the
other had dark brown skin and a curly mat of black hair.
Although his grandfather had tried to discourage him from being too
friendly with the hired help, Scott had found both girls interesting to talk to
and had often went out of his way to be nice to them.
Realizing that he
was missing what his father was saying, Scott pulled his thoughts back to the
that. I've never held with judging
a person by the color of his skin," Murdoch finished more matter-of-factly.
Scott nodded his
head and said, "I have to agree, Sir.
Actions should be the basis by which one is assessed.
Looks can be deceiving."
The odd expression
on his father's face as well as the quieter tone of voice piqued Scott's
curiosity and he wondered if it had something to do with Johnny's mother.
"Is that why she left?" he inquired softly.
mother. Cooky told me that she left
when Johnny was a baby. I . . . I
wondered if it was because of how people treated her."
The hardness that
he detected in his father's eyes and the firm set of the man's jaw told Scott
that he had inadvertently broached a subject that for some unknown reason was
off limits. He wasn't at all
surprised when Murdoch turned evasive and said it was in the past and therefore
Scott didn't need
to be told that it was time to switch to another topic; the words of Jimmy's
grandfather were ringing in his ears.
'It's a waste of time, boy, to fish in a dry hole.'
After taking a brief moment to select a new site to drop his line, he
tentatively tested the water. "Sir
. . . I was wondering . . . would you mind telling about your ranch."
expression softened, but he hedged as though he was toying with the bait, his
voice still reflecting a hint of defensiveness.
"What . . . would you like to know?"
"Oh . . .
where it is located, what it looks like, how big it is . . . and anything else
you might want to tell me," Scott replied while watching his father's face
for further signs of reluctance.
"Well . . .
it's about ten miles south of a place called Morro Coyo.
One hundred thousand acres of...."
Once started, Murdoch needed little encouragement to continue.
His eyes were soon filled with pride and the words effortlessly tumbled
off his tongue.
When the doctor's
wife called them to lunch nearly an hour later, Scott almost regretted the
interruption. He had been
thoroughly fascinated by the glowing descriptions mixed with tales of his
father's struggles to transform a wasteland into an oasis. 'He certainly was intense,' he thought as he followed Mrs. Henderson
and his father to the kitchen. 'It
was almost as though he were talking about his first love.
He made it all sound so grand--as if no other place on earth was like it.
I wonder if that is what attracted my mother to him.
Grandfather said he was a dreamer and that he filled her head full of
promises of a fairytale life. I can
see how she might have fallen for his stories.
He almost has me believing that nothing in this world can compare to his
meal, Scott covertly observed his father and was further surprised by what he
learned. Not only did Murdoch
display proper manners at the table, but he also seemed to have an excellent
taste in literature along with being well versed on a number of other topics. Scott was even more perplexed.
He had always pictured his father as being somewhat barbaric and lacking
in formal education; instead, he was finding that his father was quite
knowledgeable and that they even had some areas of interest in common.
himself right after lunch to make preparations for the trip back to the ranch
and to check on his men and horses. Since
Red was more comfortable reclining in his room and the doctor's wife had laundry
to attend to, Scott spent most of the afternoon in solitude.
He tried reading for a while but found that the strain on his eyes caused
his temples to throb so he soon gave up and took a nap instead.
o'clock, Cooky stopped by to visit the injured men.
Since there weren't any chairs in the bedrooms, the three men congregated
in the parlor. Mrs. Henderson took
a few minutes away from her work to set out refreshments and bring them a
checkerboard. This diversion kept Scott occupied for better than an hour.
After Cooky left,
Red returned to his room and Scott once again found himself alone.
The heat from the fireplace gave the parlor a warm cozy atmosphere, so
Scott relaxed on the sofa and let his mind wander back over the events of the
day. The time spent that morning
with his father had for the most part been pleasant, and he found that he was
actually looking forward to the possibility of getting to know the man better.
The prospect of seeing his father's ranch and meeting Johnny were also
appealing, although it was also a little frightening.
He couldn't help wondering how his brother and he would get along, and
what might have taken place there that he couldn't remember.
restless when his thoughts turned to his amnesia.
He desperately wanted his memory to return, yet he was fearful of what he
might remember. So much could have
happened in the last five or six years. For
all he knew, he might not even recognize some of his closest friends and people
he had known in the past might no longer even be alive.
This line of
thinking soon had Scott feeling glum. He
longed to walk through the elegantly furnished rooms of the only home that he
could remember and have one of the maids scold him for untying her apron strings
or to be caught sneaking a bite of cherry pie from the kitchen and hear the cook
complain that he would spoil his dinner. Most
of all, he wanted to see his grandfather. 'If it just wasn't so
far to Boston,' he thought. 'I
could go home and make certain everything is all right.
Surely my father would understand and let me come back to visit him
slipped into a state of depression. Boston
was an entire continent away. It
would take him a minimum of several weeks to get there.
Even if he could come up with the funds needed to pay for the trip, he
wasn't sure that he felt up to being subjected to the discomforts of a coach or
ship for that length of time. 'If
there was only a quicker way,' his mind reasoned.
'If I could go all the way by train, it would hardly take any time at
all and I'd be fairly comfortable, as well.'
softly. There weren't any trains
and it was futile to wish that there were.
He was stuck in California and that was that.
There was nothing else he could do other than accept the fact and make
the best of it.
the blankets up over his head helped to close out the light of day as Murdoch
Lancer procrastinated about getting up. After
having been kept awake a good portion of the night by the raucous music and
rowdy voices coming from the establishments on either side of the hotel, all he
wanted to do was to go back to sleep. He had even been drawn, at one point, to get up and look out
the window that faced the street. The
crash and tinkle of breaking glass had alerted him that a fight was going on,
and he had known that he wouldn't be able to rest until he was sure that none of
his men had been seriously hurt in the fracas.
When he had watched for a while and hadn't seen any of them being carried
off toward the doctor's home, he had gone back to bed.
Still, it hadn't been until all was quiet an hour or so before dawn that
he had finally been able to sleep soundly.
Murdoch, lulled back to
dreamland by the peacefulness, slept until some unknown noise jerked him awake.
He rubbed his eyes then leisurely stretched his arms above his head
before reaching for his watch that lay on the corner of the bedside table.
With a groan, he sat up. He
should have been up long ago. It
was an hour away from lunchtime and he hadn't even eaten breakfast yet.
Once he was out of bed and had
his trousers on, Murdoch splashed some water on his face from the basin on the
bureau near the door then dried his face on the small towel that was looped
through a metal ring attached to the side of the dresser.
After retrieving his shirt from off the back of a rung-backed chair by
the foot of the bed, he crossed to the window, pulled one side of the curtain
back just a little, and looked out. The
street, which had been host to a multitude of activities the evening before,
looked deserted except at the far end where he saw the movement of a couple
people on foot, a buggy, and a lone horseman.
A bell peeled and he knew why; it was Sunday.
Most of the people who were up and about would
be in church, and a good many more would be sleeping off the results of having
been in some saloon or cantina until the wee hours of the morning.
The hotel dining room was
empty when Murdoch entered a few minutes later.
Selecting the table nestled in the corner by a window that offered a view
of the street, he slid back the chair that was nearest the other wall, sat down,
and scooted forward. Shortly, a shy
young waitress came in and took his order.
After she brought him a cup of coffee, she disappeared, leaving him to
himself until his breakfast was ready to be served.
While Murdoch ate his meal in
solitude, his mind wandered back to the previous day.
He had been quite relieved when he had seen how much better Scott and Red
had seemed to be feeling that morning. The
politeness of his son's manner and the interest that he had shown in the ranch
had also dispelled much of Murdoch's anxiety, and his hopes for their future
together had been rekindled.
Faint wrinkles appeared
between Murdoch's brows. By the
time he had arrived at the doctor's home for supper the evening before, he had
found that his son's demeanor had changed.
Scott had appeared distracted and had said very little during the
conversation that had transpired during the meal.
'The only time he spoke was when he
had to . . . until the railroad was
brought up,' Murdoch recalled.
A thread of fear
wrapped around Murdoch's chest at the memory of how his son had instantly perked
up at the mention that the Trans-Continental Railroad had been completed.
He had seemed to be especially interested in the route of the tracks and
the length of time a trip from coast to coast by train might take.
The frown on the rancher's face deepened.
Scott had wanted to know how far Sacramento was from the ranch, and
although he had said nothing of going back East, Murdoch couldn't help wondering
if his son was thinking of doing just that.
his thoughts away from the prospect of Scott leaving. He didn't want to think of the consequences that might come
from his son returning to Boston. Chances
were too great that Harlan Garrett would find a way to discourage or prevent
Scott from ever coming back to California.
When the waitress came by to
refill his cup, Murdoch declined and asked for his bill.
After dropping several coins on the table and telling the girl to 'keep
the change', he headed for the blacksmith's shop, which was connected to the
A burly man, who was wearing a
leather apron and banging at a piece of metal with a hammer, looked up and
nodded a greeting when Murdoch stepped through the doorway. "G'day, Mister
Lancer. Got them wagon's checked
out fer ya. Both of 'em was in fine
shape, except fer one wheel that had some loose spokes and the axles needed
greasin'. I got 'em all fixed up,
though, and they're ready ta roll whenever you are."
stated, visibly showing relief.
"My boys got started on
them horses this mornin', too," said the smithy, his arms bulging below the
rolled up sleeves of his shirt as he worked.
"They should be done in another couple hours.
Most of yer string seems ta be in fine shape.
So far, ther's only been a couple loose shoes and one that was missin'."
Murdoch voiced a simple,
"That's good," then watched as the piece of metal as it was plunged
into a bucket of water where it sizzled and sputtered as it sent up a little
cloud of steam. "Anyone come
snooping around last night?" he asked when the other man stopped to take a
"Nope," replied the
blacksmith, swiping the sweat from his brow with the back of a hand.
"The boys took turns watchin' like ya asked 'em, and they didn't see
anyone except a couple a drunken cowboys that crawled up in the loft of the barn
ta sleep it off."
"You tell your boys that
there'll be an extra five dollars each for them if nothing's missing when I'm
ready to leave."
"That's right generous of
ya, Mister Lancer. Davey, he's my
oldest. Well, he's plannin' ta get
married next month ta a real nice gal. Her
father owns a small farm about a mile out of town and there's an old cabin on it
that he said the kids could fix up ta live in. They've been workin' on it since last fall, but money's a
little tight right now. My boy
thought a goin' ta work layin' tracks fer the railroad, but that'd mean puttin'
the weddin' off and neither one of 'em wants ta do that.
My boys've both been workin' here with me, but there's just not enough
money comin' in ta pay 'em much. Once
the trains get runnin' and people start movin' in here, we'll do just fine.
In the meantime, we just have ta make do best we can."
After his long speech, the
smithy went back to work and Murdoch glanced around the man's shop.
The equipment he could see was old but serviceable, and there were a few
unfinished projects in sight. Both
of the young men he'd met the day before had been wearing overalls with patches
and the blacksmith's clothing had obviously seen better days, as well.
"I'll stop by later this afternoon and settle up with you,"
Murdoch told the man. Then while
walking back toward the hotel, he silently resolved to give the blacksmith and
his sons an added bonus for having given up their day of rest so that his wagons
and horses would be ready to start the return trip to Lancer the next morning.
A short while later, Murdoch
walked through the front doors of the hotel and was hailed by several of his men
who were just coming from dining room. Noticing
that Jose was sporting a black eye, Sam had skinned knuckles, and Miguel seemed
to have acquired a limp, Murdoch silently mused, 'Battle
scars, no doubt. I wonder what the
other side looks like.' With a
slight smile and a touch of sarcasm, he said, "Looks like you boys had
"Someone, he calls Jose a
'chili pepper' and treep him so he drop heez glass.
The tequilla, she speell down thees man's shirt . . . soooo he pokes thee
Jose in thee eye. Before thee Jose
can get up . . . thees man, he is going to keek Jose. What can I do, Meester Lancer?
I have to stop heem." Miguel's
pleading brown eyes searched his boss's face.
Attempting to hide his
amusement, Murdoch raised a hand to his mouth and coughed before speaking in a
voice that wasn't quite steady. "Did
you? Stop him, I mean."
"Weel. I try real hard . . . but thees other man . . . he peeks up a
chair and heets me in thees laig," replied the short, stoutly built
Mexican, pointing at his left leg.
Murdoch bit his lower lip while giving Miguel a sympathetic glance then
focused his attention on the third man. "I
take it, that is when you became involved."
"I couldn't hardly stand
by an' let one of those bullies take a shot at Miguel, could I?" Sam
"No. No, you couldn't."
Murdoch rubbed the thumb of his curled hand against his chin then added,
"I suppose you were able to convince them that their fun was over."
"You should have seen
heem!" Miguel excitedly exclaimed. Then
with flashing eyes and waving hands punctuating each phrase, he launched into
the telling of Sam's exploits. "Meester
Lancer, you should have seen it. Thee
Sam, he heets thee man weeth thee gun and thee man . . . he drop to thee floor
like one who ees dead. Thees other
man, he break hees glass on thee table but Sam . . . he ees no afraid.
He keek thee glass from thee hand of thees man . . . then he makes thee
big feest and heets heem right on thee cheen.
Thees man, he fly through thee air and hees head
. . . she heets thee window. You
naiver hear anytheeng like eet. Thee
glass, she go everywhere and thee man . . . he no can geet up ageen."
Murdoch pressed his hand
tightly against his lips but the chuckle escaped despite his effort to stifle
it. Trying to sound stern, but not
quite succeeding, he asked, "So . . . who paid for the damages?"
replied Miguel with a satisfied nod of his head.
"Thee owner, he say they very bad for thee beesness . . . so
. . . he juss takes thee moneys."
"You boys had better be
careful. Those men just might want
to get even," admonished Murdoch, a bit concerned.
"The sheriff came by and
hauled 'em off ta jail. They won't
be gettin' out b'fore tomorrow noon. With
any luck, we'll be long gone by then," Sam jumped in to explain.
Murdoch, feeling a measure of
relief at this news, inquired if any of them had been examined by the doctor,
yet. When their replies were filled
with excuses, he told them it might be a good idea for them to see Doc Henderson
right away. Although neither his
words nor the tone of his voice were commanding, Murdoch's eyes made his
expectations quite clear, and the three cowhands were soon headed out the door.
When he had turned to observe
the four remaining men, Murdoch almost laughed at the sheepish expressions that
he saw on their faces. Feeling a
bit sorry for them, he shifted his gaze and followed the staircase's handrail
upward. "The rest of the boys
must still be sleeping," he said in a somewhat questioning tone.
"Cooky an' Jake were
heading over ta the docs when we come down a little while ago," replied
Jim, the drive foreman. "Dave
and Pete are still eatin' and . . . come ta think, I haven't seen the other two
since we got here. You want I
should try ta find 'em?"
"Might be a good
idea," Murdoch nodded thoughtfully.
When the men started to leave
a few minutes later, Murdoch called Jim back and said, "Tell the rest of
the boys that if Scott and Red are ready to travel we'll be getting an early
start in morning. It's a good three
days to Lancer, so I'd like to be out of here a little after daylight.
I'll catch up with you sometime this evening at let you know for
Murdoch went into the dining
room, had a cup of coffee with Dave and Pete while they finished their
breakfast, and then went to see if the lady who did the hotel laundry had
returned the clothes that he had asked her to wash.
She hadn't, so he went out to the wash house in back of the hotel.
When he got there, the woman was hanging the last of the articles in
question on the clothesline, and she assured him that everything would be dry
and delivered to the hotel desk clerk by no later than four o'clock that
It was now early afternoon and
Mrs. Henderson would have already served lunch, so Murdoch decided to check in
on Scott. Even though he had been
invited to have supper at the doctor's home again that evening and would see his
son then, he still felt the need to be with him.
There had been so few chances for them to get to know each other during
the drive and now Scott didn't even remember those.
Beginning to fear that his son
might want to return to Boston, Murdoch was determined to find a way to prevent
it. He hoped that if they spent
more time together, Scott would find a reason to stay. Now that the preparations for the return trip to the ranch
were all being taken care of, Murdoch had the rest of the day to devote to his
son. Knowing, however, that it
might be tricky keeping Scott from feeling pressured to remember things, he
decide it would be best to visit his son for a while now and then see him again
at supper. That way, Scott would
have some time to rest.
When Mrs. Henderson greeted
Murdoch at the door, he heard the sounds of Red's teasing voice and Miguel's
broken English coming from the examination room, so he checked on them first.
The doctor assured him that the three newest patients had only minor
injuries and that they would all be fit for travel by morning; although Miguel
would be limping for a while. The
chair had hit him just below the knee and his shin was a little swollen and
bruised, so he was under strict orders to stay off of his leg as much as
possible for the rest of the day.
Murdoch talked with his men
for a little bit, then followed the doctor out of the room and down the hallway
to the kitchen where Mrs. Henderson was washing up the last of the lunch dishes.
After a few words had passed between them, the doctor and his wife left
for their customary Sunday afternoon visit to an elderly woman who lived on the
far side of town, and Murdoch went to join his son and
the cook in the parlor.
Upon reaching the doorway, he
hesitated. Scott and Cooky were
sitting on opposite sides of a small table in a corner of the room and appeared
to be engaged in a game of checkers. Reluctant
to interrupt them, Murdoch stayed where he was and observed them for a few
While Murdoch watched the two
men, a vision of another time and place passed before his eyes.
Then like now, he had looked on from across the room.
His throat tightened as he relived the scene of two forms sitting on the
floor in front of the hearth in the living room of his hacienda--dark head
inches away from light overtop of a checkerboard that was set up between them.
His boys together, a sight he had all but given up hope of ever seeing.
For a brief moment, Murdoch
indulged himself with thoughts of his other son, back at the ranch.
Johnny with his dark handsome face was so like the woman who had given
birth to him that sometimes it hurt to even look at him.
What was he doing at this moment in time?
Had he been following the doctor's orders?
Was Johnny getting along with Teresa?
Was he being a gentleman, or had it been a mistake to leave them there
together with only Maria in the house to chaperone?
Question after question ran
through Murdoch's mind. He knew so
little about either of his sons. Although
he hoped and wanted to believe that they were honorable men, he had no way of
being certain. They were strangers
to him. Johnny had obviously run
with wild and lawless companions; word around Morro Coyo was that he had been
quite friendly with Day Pardee, which was a good indication that the two of them
had been more than passing acquaintances. Not
only that, stories got around, especially when the subject had a reputation like
Murdoch didn't like the
direction his thoughts were taking him. He
was three days from Lancer. Even if
Johnny was being out of line, there was nothing he could do about until he got
sense fretting over trouble you don't know you have,' he scolded himself.
'Besides, you have enough problems
to worry about with Scott.'
Making enough noise to alert
the checker players that they were not alone, Murdoch walked into the parlor and
stopped next to Scott just as Cooky jumped a black king over the last red disc.
Wanna try yer luck?" greeted Cooky, starting to get up from the
chair on the far side of the table.
"No need to
interrupt your game. I don't mind
watching," stated Murdoch motioning for the man to remain seated.
Then, laying a hand lightly on his son's shoulder and shifting his focus
to take in the smoky-blue eyes that raised to meet his gaze, he forced a
cheerful smile. "Scott.
Good to see you're up to playing checkers with Cooky.
He's a pretty tough opponent."
afternoon, Sir. I am feeling much
better . . . and you're right about Cooky being a very good player. I've only won one game since we started."
gave the outward appearance of being relaxed, his anxiety did not go undetected
by his father. Murdoch was well
aware of the rigidity beneath his fingers, and he didn't miss the crisp nervous
edge to his son's voice or the quick break in eye contact.
In an attempt to ease the tension, Murdoch spoke quietly in a slightly
conspiratorial tone while flicking a knowing glance in Cooky's direction.
"I do hope you've been keeping a close eye on him, Son.
He's a sly old fox when it comes to any form of competition."
immediately with a questioning glance that raced between his father and the
I don't cheat an' ya know it," complained Cooky before Scott had a
chance to speak. "My Pa, bein' a preacher, didn't hold with the breakin'
of any them commandments, and I ain't cheated since he took a switch ta me when
I was jest a kid." He
hesitated then, with a nod for emphasis, added, "I learnt my lesson real
good. Couldn't sit down fer nigh
onta a month."
need to see the smile on his son's face to know it was there. He could feel it. "Calm
down, Cooky," he softly chided while letting his hand slip from Scott's
shoulder. "I wasn't saying you
were dishonest. I just meant you
were . . . smart."
it sounded like ta me," grumbled Cooky.
"Jest fer that yer gunna haf ta play the next game."
"Now sit back
down. No need to get your tail
feathers ruffled," Murdoch commanded.
ain't a bit ruffled," Cooky responded with a snort of indignation.
Then looking apologetically at Scott, he said, "I promised Jake I'd
team up with 'im fer a game a horseshoes over ta the livery stable.
He's prob'ly thinkin' I fergot all 'bout it.
I sure wouldn't wan'im ta hafta get one a them other yay-hoos ta be his
pardner. Ain't a one of'em that can
get a shoe anywheres near the stake. 'Sides
. . . I heard the blacksmith's boys er pert neart impossible ta beat, so it sure
wouldn't be right fer me ta let ol' Jake take 'em on with that kind of a
handicap." His expression
turned pleading and he added, "Ya
see why I gotta go, don't ya, Scott?"
understand," Scott replied. "You
gave your word. It's only right
that you keep it."
After saying their
farewells and Cooky was on his way out of the room, Murdoch settled into the
chair opposite Scott. "Shall
we play," he asked, waving a hand at the gameboard, "or would you
"We can play,
Sir, if you like."
Catching his son's
hesitancy in answering, Murdoch lined the checkers up on the board: reds on his
side and black on the other. He was
sure his son was no more nervous that he was and was glad for the distraction
that the game might provide for both of them.
Once the pieces were in place, he gave his son a friendly smile and
inquired, "What color would you like?"
fine, Sir," Scott said, nodding at the black checkers, which were nearest.
For more than an
hour, very few words passed between the two men as they played. Murdoch easily won the first two games. Too easily, he thought, so he started observing his son's
moves more closely. They were
little things that he noticed at first: a missed opportunity to jump here or a
checker left unprotected there. Still
they were mistakes that his son should not be making.
Obviously, Scott's mind was not on the game.
Not wanting to win
every time, Murdoch made a point of executing some sloppy moves himself.
He managed to lose twice in a row, but Scott made several big blunders in
the next game. Murdoch could have
taken nearly half of his son's checkers at one time, if he had wanted to.
As it became
harder and harder to throw a game, Murdoch wondered what had his son so
five-year old could beat him, the way he's playing . . . and I can't believe he
hasn't noticed the jumps I've been setting up for him,' he thought worriedly
as Scott placed a red checker next to his black one.
getting tired?" Murdoch asked, ignoring the obvious move and placing one of
his own men in danger.
replied Scott, his eyes expressionless.
if you would mind if we quit. Perhaps,
we could move over by the fire where it is more comfortable."
Murdoch arched his back and let out a soft moan.
"My back and these hard chairs get to where they don't agree after a
want is fine with me, Sir," Scott responded placidly.
go sit by the fire," returned Murdoch, masking his concern over his son's
passive manner while scooting his chair back a little.
He placed his hands on the table, raised up a little as he stepped
sideways, and then standing upright waited for Scott to rise before leading the
way to the sofa.
into the soft depths of the cushion, then stretched one leg out before him and
crossed the other over it. To his
disappointment, Scott settled stiffly into the chair next to the fireplace
instead of joining him on the couch.
For a while, the conversation
was stilted and centered on how Scott's morning had gone. That subject, however, was exhausted in a hurry; so after the
two men had sat in silence for a short time, Murdoch brought up the trip to
Lancer. This went a little better,
but still netted only a few responses from his son.
In hopes of finding something of interest to Scott, Murdoch finally
asked, "Is there anything you would like to talk about? Any questions that you would like to have answered?"
Immediately, he wanted to kick himself, but did his best to hide his
dismay from his son.
"I . . . uh," Scott
started, then stopped, took a deep breath, and let it part way out.
"Perhaps, you could . . . tell me a little more about my brother.
He . . . he's going to expect me to know him . . . isn't he? I . . . you said his hair is dark and . . . he has blue eyes,
Murdoch let out his breath and
"Also, he's a little
shorter and maybe heavier than I am?"
Again, Murdoch nodded.
This time more as an encouragement than an answer.
Scott hesitated, then asked in
a softer tone, "Sooo . . . what else can you tell me about him, Sir?"
Uncertain of what to say,
Murdoch took a moment to think before replying, "As you already know, he .
. . he didn't grow up with me. He's
only been back a short time, so there really isn't that much I can tell
"Is there anything
different about him that would help me know him when I see him? His attire, perhaps?" Scott prompted.
Murdoch stroked a thumb
against the side of his cheek, a smile subtly playing at the corners of his
Yes, there is. He generally
wears dark brown calzoneras, either a white or a
reddish-colored shirt with embroidery on the front, and a short jacket, which is
also dark brown and has a metallic braid trim along the collar and front edge.
If he tied a bright sash around his waist he would pass for a Mexican
caballero." Catching the
puzzlement on his son's face, Murdoch went on to explain.
"A caballero is a gentleman on a horse."
said Scott, his eyebrows drawing together.
"Only . . . what are cal . . . calso . . .?"
They're pants that are made of leather and button all the way down the
outside of the legs. They take the place of chaps.
Usually they are worn over white pantaloons.
The legs are left unbuttoned and a long strip of brightly-colored cloth
is wrapped tightly around the waist instead of a belt."
"Yes, it is.
They're a very colorful people," replied Murdoch.
For a little
while, Scott seemed content to discuss the Mexican culture, and Murdoch relaxed
a little. This was a much safer
place to tread than the trail they had been on, and he hoped that his son would
continue to steer clear of more controversial topics.
Even though Murdoch knew that there were things Scott would need to know
before they arrived back at the ranch, he wanted to put them off as long as
possible in hopes that his son's memory would return and there wouldn't be any
need to chance upsetting him.
When his son
stifled a yawn and grew quiet, Murdoch glanced up at the clock on the fireplace
mantel. It didn't seem possible,
but it was already past four. The
Hendersons would be back soon and dinner was less than two hours away.
Assuming that Scott had been up for quite some time and not wanting to
overtire him with the early start planned for next morning, Murdoch suggested
they both needed to rest for a while. "The
doctor was right about the hotel. Those walls must be paper-thin.
I might as well have tried sleeping in the saloon next door.
It couldn't have been any noisier," he said, by way of an excuse for
his being tired. Then with a hint
of a smile, he added, "I don't know about you, but a nap would do me a
world of good. I'd hate to fall
asleep at the table and have our hostess think that I didn't appreciated her
The corners of
Scott's mouth twitched into an upward curve and he softly chuckled.
"I agree. It wouldn't do at all to insult Mrs. Henderson's culinary
skills in such a fashion. She is
far too good of a cook . . . and you wouldn't want to miss out on the cherry
cobbler she has set aside to serve for desert.
We had some for lunch and it was absolutely delicious. I can't remember ever having any that was better."
When the smile
faded from his son's lips and Scott looked away to hide eyes that were suddenly
brimming with tears, Murdoch's heart ached.
He knew exactly how the younger man felt.
Even though it had been years since he had turned his back on his
homeland, he had not forgotten the times when he had been assaulted with
homesickness. He had often been
overwhelmed by the desire to see familiar faces and the friendly wave of a
neighbor's hand, to hear his name called out by voices he had heard since
childhood, or to walk down paths that his feet had trodden more times than he
could count. Until Catherine had
come into his life and he had found a new land in the wilds of California to
sink his roots into, he had wondered if he would ever survive without seeing his
beloved Scotland again.
Not wanting to add
to his son's distress by causing him further embarrassment, Murdoch rose to his
feet and started to leave. "Try
to get some sleep," he said as he lightly brushed a hand over Scott's
shoulder on the way by. "I'll
. . . see you at supper."
A nod of Scott's
head and a few whispered words of parting were the only response the big man
received. At the doorway, he looked
back one last time at the lonely figure still sitting by the fire.
His own eyes began to sting and a lump formed in his throat.
He longed to take his son in his arms and hold him close--assure him that
all would be well. Only he
couldn't. Too many years of separation had robbed him of the rights of
a father to comfort his child. For
now he had to be content with a brief touch when the opportunity presented
itself and pray that he would be given a chance over time to earn back the
parental privileges he had lost.
Supper at the
doctor's home was all that Murdoch had expected and more.
He had to agree with his son's assessment. Mrs. Henderson was an excellent cook. The pot roast, smothered with wedges of onion and bits of
roasted garlic and sprinkled with coarsely ground pepper, was tender and
flavorful. Along with a spoonful of
shredded carrots and cabbage, which had been fried in butter and brown sugar, a
large baked potato that was generously topped with butter, sour cream, and
chives, and an oversized yeast roll smeared with honey-butter, it made for a
superb meal. In fact, he was so
stuffed that he was glad they retired to the parlor for a while before being
served desert. Without his stomach
having a chance to digest a portion of its contents, he was sure he couldn't
have eaten another bite.
For the most part,
Murdoch enjoyed the rest of the evening. While the crackling fire created a warm
and friendly atmosphere, Red's insatiable sense of humor made for lively
conversation. The Henderson's,
whose grown son was back east studying the latest medical techniques at a
prominent hospital, seemed to revel in the company of the young cowboy and gave
him far more encouragement than was needed for him to keep everyone well
was the only damper on the rancher's spirits.
His son had once again withdrawn--politely speaking when spoken to and
sitting in silence with a far-off look in his eyes the rest of the time.
Murdoch couldn't help but worry. He
even wondered if it would be better to postpone the trip home for another day or
two, and decided that he needed to discuss his concerns with the doctor before
returning to the hotel for the night.
to talk to the doctor wasn't long in coming.
When Mrs. Henderson took the empty desert dishes to the kitchen, Scott
excused himself, claiming he was tired and needed to get to bed so he would be
ready to leave early the next morning. A
short time later, Red also retired.
Once they were
alone, Murdoch sat staring into the flames that lapped between the logs on the
fire. He needed to ease his mind
about Scott but didn't know how to broach the sensitive subject of the unusual
relationship he had with his son. He
was in no mood for censorship of his past actions, nor did he want pity.
it's best to just come right out and say it," gently prodded the doctor.
Caught off guard
by the quiet words knifing through the silence, Murdoch merely looked blankly at
the man whose ability to read his mind seemed to be equal to that of his ward,
worried about your son, are you not?" Doctor Henderson coaxed.
Murdoch said, letting out a long soft breath.
The creases over his eyes deepened.
"He was so quiet. Are
you sure he's up to traveling? I
could wait another day or so, if you think it would be for the best."
"I don't see
any need for that," Doctor Henderson replied in a reassuring tone.
"Physically, he's doing quite well.
There haven't been any more signs of fever, his lungs are clear, and a
great deal of the soreness in his back and neck has subsided.
He still is having headaches but nothing severe.
I'm sure they're predominately brought on by stress.
What he needs most is to be in familiar surroundings, which would go a
long way toward relieving his anxieties. If
Red weren't feeling so well, I would recommend that you wait, but his pain seems
to be strictly coming from sore muscles. In fact, I'm sure enough about his collar bone not being
fractured that I'm considering removing the shoulder braces in the morning . . .
provided he takes it easy, that is. Absolutely
no lifting or getting on a horse, and the same goes for another two weeks."
doctor's proclamation was comforting, Murdoch was still visibly agitated.
worrying, Murdoch," admonished the doctor.
"Your boys will be just fine."
you're right," conceded Murdoch, not sounding totally convinced.
doing fine. Although I think it's a
bit soon for him to take a trip to Boston, I don't see it doing him any harm, if
that is what has you so concerned."
The dreaded word slipped from Murdoch's lips with a snap before he could
replied Henderson, looking a bit puzzled. "When
I was examining your son just before supper, he asked me if I thought it would
be all right for him to go see his grandfather.
He seems to have a need to reassure himself that no harm has come to the
man. Perhaps, you should suggest he
send a wire."
Murdoch blurted out. Seeing the
shocked surprise on the other man's face, he took a deep breath and bid his
racing heart to slow down. "I,
uh . . . I have my reasons," he explained lamely."
know Harlan Garrett," Murdoch said defensively.
He'd . . . he'd do anything to get Scott to go back there."
Doctor Henderson looked even more confused.
With a deep sigh,
Murdoch briefly told the doctor about Scott being taken from him as a baby and
that he had only had him back about three weeks before starting out on the
cattle drive. "So you can see
why I wouldn't want him to leave, can't you?" he pleaded when finished.
can sympathize with your situation," the doctor stated kindly;
"however, you must take into consideration what is best for your son.
As I told you before, stress must be kept at a minimum.
If Scott would be more comfortable among the people he grew up with, then
that is where he should be. In any
case, you must let him make his own decisions.
He's a grown man no matter what his memory tells him, and he will only
resent your interference. It won't
hurt to let him know that's he's welcome to stay with you.
He does need to know you want him. Just
remember that whatever he decides, you must be supportive of his choice."
After talking with the doctor
for a short while longer, Murdoch slowly walked back to the hotel, his heart
heavy. To him the very fact that
his son had inquired about going to Boston was a sure sign that Scott had
already made up his mind to leave. Not
knowing what he was missing had been the only thing that had made the past years
of separation bearable for Murdoch. That
would not be the case this time. He
was sure that memories would hound him at every turn, and even hard work would
not erase them.
Wearily, Murdoch stopped by
the saloon to let his men know that they would be leaving at sunup.
He let them coax him into joining them and accepted one drink, telling
himself it was just to be sociable when truthfully he was tempted to continue
until he passed out. That wouldn't do and he knew it.
He had a responsibility to fulfill and could hardly expect more of his
men than he did of himself. When
the glass was empty, he refused to be persuaded to have another and instead made
his way to his room.
One whisky did little to dull
his active mind, and Murdoch was soon wishing he hadn't quit quite so soon.
Sleep was elusive. For what seemed hours, he tossed and turned, unable to escape
the troubling thoughts. He was
about to lose his son again, and he feared that this time
Harlan Garrett would see to it that the loss was permanent.
Once Scott was on that eastbound train, there would be no turning
back and all hope for the future would be gone.
Conversation between his
fellow passengers had given out long ago, and the constant jostling as wheels
dropped into holes in the road made it impossible to read the book that now lay
in his lap. He closed his eyes and
tried to sleep in hopes of speeding his journey along.
The effort was a waste. The
heat was stifling; his quarters cramped.
"Whoa," he heard the
driver call out just before being thrown forward when the team came to a halt.
he thought impatiently then tipped his head out the window to see what was
causing the unwelcome delay. His
body tensed. A young man, attired
in an decoratively embroidered red shirt and pants that buttoned down the
outside of the leg, was waving a handgun while ordering the driver and his guard
to throw down their weapons.
With eyebrows drawn tightly
together, Scott pulled back inside the coach.
He leaned forward and whispered to the bearded man opposite him, "It
appears we are being held up."
"You mean we're being
robbed?" shrilled the girl on the far side of the seat.
Ma'am," came a soft voice as the door was jerked open.
"If ya don't give me no trouble, ya won't loose nothin' but yer
Scott's heart raced wildly.
His grandfather had warned him of the dangers of this barbaric land, but
he had been so sure that the old man was exaggerating.
After all, hadn't his mother braved the wilds of the west to come here
with his father? It surely couldn't
be all that dangerous.
"You all wanna climb on
outta there?" invited the grinning bandit, whose deep-blue eyes twinkled in
"You can't possibly hope
to get away with this," stated Scott once he was standing with his fellow
travelers along side the stagecoach.
"Ain't never been caught,
yet," the robber softly intoned with unwavering confidence.
"There's always a first
time, Boy," retorted Scott, irritably--anger rising at the arrogance of the
"Ya think ya wanna give
it a try, Boston?" scoffed the bandit, his white teeth shining between
upturned lips, as he shoved his gun into the holster, which was held by a
cartridge belt that was strapped just below his waistline.
Scott's stomach lurched.
Despite the charm of his rival, there was something decidedly sinister in
the challenge. Obviously the hand
resting so near the pearl white handle of the revolver on the man's hip was
intended to be a threat. 'Surely
he wouldn't shoot an unarmed man,' thought Scott, swallowing hard.
Not about to let his advisory
see his fear, Scott raised his chin and locked eyes with the desperado.
"Maybe, some other time," he replied in voice far steadier than
he felt. "I seem to be at a
disadvantage. As you can see, I am
unarmed." As he spoke, he gripped the front edges of his jacket with his
fingers and held them out just far enough to verify the truth of his words.
"Ain't no problem ta fix
that," said the bandit. "Here.
Shove that in yer belt; then anytime you feel lucky, you just give it a
Scott stared in awe at the
revolver that suddenly appeared in his hand--the cold steel of the barrel a
harsh reminder of the deadliness of the weapon.
He wanted to drop it, but the driver and other passengers were all
looking at him so expectantly as if he were their only means of salvation.
How could he let them down and be able to live with himself?
Lost yer nerve?" chided the gunman with a hint of a sneer marring
his handsome face.
Scott glared back and
retorted, "The name's Scott Lancer, not Boston . . . and no, I haven't lost
my nerve. However, if you don't
mind, I'd prefer to use that rifle. You
wouldn't want it said that . . . by the way, what is your name?
A man should have a proper headstone, don't you think?"
He finished the question with a tip of his head much like he would have
done were he acknowledging his host at a dinner party.
The other man licked his lips
then slowly and deliberately answered, "Name's Madrid.
The gasps from those on either
side of him sent chills running up and down Scott's spine. Obviously his opponent had a reputation of some sort.
Knowing that fear could be a far greater enemy than the Mexican bandit
standing before him might be, he braced himself.
With a show of bravely, he casually asked, "Is that supposed to mean
something to me?"
"It does ta them,"
Madrid replied, twisting his head as his eyes flicked over Scott's companions.
"So . . . just who are
you? Or should I ask . . . what are
A devilish laugh burst from
Johnny Madrid's throat as he grinned wickedly.
"I'm your brother . . . and I'm gunna fill that fancy outfit of yers
full of holes an' then leave ya lyin' in a ditch with ants crawlin' across yer
eyeballs. So you just make your
play whenever you're ready."
Furious at the taunting face
in front of him, Scott whipped the revolver into position, aimed between the
mocking eyes, and drew back the hammer. But
he was too slow.
The bandit's pistol was already belching fire as a sharp blast broke the
silence and the air filled with smoke.
Scott awoke with a start, his
heart thumping like the hooves of a galloping horse racing over hard ground and
his forehead damp with sweat that was dripping into his eyes.
He quickly glanced around for the grinning face of his tormentor.
It was gone. A dream.
It had all been a dream. There
was no stagecoach with other passengers in need of protection, and the brother
who was bent on killing him had only been a figment of his imagination.
Instead, he was alone in the back of the supply wagon on the way to his
He let his breath out and drew
in another with a shudder that sent prickly little needles crawling up his
spine, chest, and arms. What had
made his mind conjure up such a strange and terrifying vision? Was it all just a trick of his sub-conscience, or could there
possibly have been some measure of truth to it. 'Who is Johnny Madrid?
I don't remember ever hearing that name before.
How did I come up with it? Could
I have overheard my father's men talking about a bandit by that name?'
Laughter mixed with voices
outside the canvas cover of the wagon alerted Scott to the fact that they were
no longer moving. He took a deep
breath to calm his jangled nerves then got to his feet and parted the heavy flap
over the tailgate so he could peer out.
Ya missed 'im by a mile," jibed a man,
whom Scott had heard called Dave, before giving another man a slap on the back.
"Perhaps, heez gun she
don't shoot so good," said another with a grin to match the broad brim of
"He's no match for Johnny
Madrid, that's for sure," scoffed yet another.
"Deed you ever see thee
Señor Madrid shoot thee pistola?" the dark-skinned man with the wide
rimmed hat asked.
"Have you?" inquired
one of the men while the rest simply shook their heads.
"No, me compadres, but me
cousin, Manoleto . . . he sees heem. He
say eet was . . . how you say . . . magnifico.
You never see anything like eet. Hees
hand . . . eet ees so fast . . . thee eyes, they no can see eet.
Boom, boom, boom, boom . . . he shoots thee gun . . . and all thee mens
fall down never to geet up again."
"You sayin' he took on
four men at one time and killed them all? Maybe,
it's that cousin of yers that don't see too well," scoffed one of the men
before laughing loudly.
"Eet ees true, me amigo.
Me cousin . . . he never tell thee lie.
Well . . . maybe jest a leetle to hees papá .
. . but thees I believes because he swears eet on thee grave of hees madre."
Sinking down onto shaky knees,
Scott rested his trembling hands on the edge of the wagon's tailgate and then
listened to the men discuss the exploits of Johnny Madrid.
A strange sensation crept over him that there was something significant
about the half-Mexican whose reputation as a gunfighter down by the border with
Mexico was so well known. He had
the feeling that just beyond that misty haze in the back of his mind was a very
important memory. Only try as he
would, he couldn't reach through the fog and take hold of it.
All he managed to get was another headache along with more unanswered
A thump interrupted Scott's
thoughts and a new voice broke into the conversation.
"If you boys er done wakin' the dead an' got nothin' better ta do
than ta spread gossip 'bout some poor misguided soul, why don't ya make
yerselves useful," Cooky grouched as he approached.
"One a ya take that bucket an' get some water so's I can get the
coffee goin'. The rest a ya can see
what ther is fer startin' a fire . . . 'less ya want cold beans fer supper . . .
an' ya know how the boss'd feel 'bout that."
When the men had dispersed to
follow his orders, Cooky stepped up to the back of the wagon where Scott was and
smiled up at him. "Hope them
boy's didn't wake ya up. They
spotted 'em one a them ki-o-tees an' jest had ta do some target practicin'.
Ain't a one of'em got any r'spect fer a body that's tryin' ta get some
"I was ready to get up
anyway," Scott lied, climbing out of the back of the wagon.
Once on the ground, he quickly assessed his surroundings and noted that
his father was nowhere in sight.
"If yer lookin' fer yer
pa, he's down the creek a ways. Him
an' the rest the boys are waterin' the remuda.
Should be back 'fore too long. Which
means I'd best be gettin' them taters peeled."
"Is there anything I can
do to help you?" Scott offered as he followed Cooky over to the chuck
"Ever skinned a
"I . . . I don't
know," replied Scott, a bit quietly.
"Ain't hard ta do,"
Cooky assured him then pointed at a large metal pan on the tailgate that had
been laid down to make a work table. "Grab
that bowl there and one a them knives outta that box then go set yerself down on
the tongue a the wagon. I'll be
along d'rectly with the spuds."
Scott had barely gotten
himself settled when a fat burlap bag was set on the ground at his feet and
Cooky pulled out a large potato. "All's
ya gotta do is barely shave the skin off. Jest
don't go carvin' away half the spud with it or takin' a hunk outta yer thumb.
Ya think ya can figger it out, er do ya want me ta show ya how it's
"I'm sure I can manage.
I carved a toy gun out of a block of wood once.
This can't be all that much more difficult to do," stated Scott
before starting in on the first potato. By
the time the fire was started and the coffeepot was in position over the flames,
he had the bowl filled.
"Now that's a right purdy
job," praised Cooky when he came by to check on Scott's progress.
"I'll jest get the skillet on the fire, an' we'll be ready ta chop 'em
up so's I can fry 'em."
Scott was glad for the
diversion of helping Cooky. He
still couldn't get his mind off of his dream or the things he had heard about
the gunfighter. Finally unable to
stifle his curiosity, he asked, "Cooky, who's . . . Johnny Madrid?"
"Well, I reckon it
depends on who yer talkin' to. Most
a what ya hear ya can't b'lieve."
"Does he . . . live
"Nope. Not fer's I know. He's
a pistolero. That's Mexican lingo
fer someone that hires out ta fight other folk's battles. Works down 'round the border 'tween here an' Mexico.
From what I've heard, he's nobody ya wanna be crossin'.
I heard he once took on sev'ral men all on his own.
Filled the lot of 'em full a holes an' got nary a scratch his own
Scott mouth dropped open a
little as he sliced up the last potato and let the pieces slip through his
fingers into the frying pan. "He
killed all of them?"
"Yep. Ain't the first ner the last neither from what I've been
told." Cooky stirred the
sizzling potatoes then met Scott's eyes. "Real
shame, too. I heard he ain't much
more'n a boy. Twenty or so by now I
reckon. Wonder what happened that
got 'im started down that trail. A
fella jest don't go ta hirin' his-self out ta do other folk's killin' without
somethin' drivin' 'im to it."
A shudder ran through Scott.
He was appalled that anyone would take the life of another in exchange
for money. 'He's
nothing but a mercenary and probably hasn't a shred of common decency.'
This thought quickly led to another, which he found to be far more
disturbing. 'Surly this Johnny Madrid
can't be my brother like he claimed in my dream.'
Before Scott could ponder that
concept any further, the other men returned with more wood for the fire and
Murdoch arrived with some of those who had been helping to tend to the horses.
The distraction was more than welcome.
The throbbing in his head had grown worse and Scott desperately wanted to
escape the increasing sense of dread that was making his chest ache.
At the moment, he would have preferred to be going anywhere other than to
his father's ranch.
The crescent moon shed enough
light that Scott could clearly see the blanketed forms lost in peaceful slumber
throughout the camp. He wished he
could be so lucky. However, that
was not to be, for his mind would not turn loose of the unsettling thoughts of
He rolled to his other side in
hopes the position would be more comfortable.
It was not. His shoulder was
on a rock. Scooting forward a
little helped but not enough; the ground was still hard and had dips and bumps
that opposed the contour of his body. Finally, thinking that a walk might help
him to relax enough to make him sleepy, Scott decided to get up.
This created a new problem:
where to go? He didn't want to
stray too far from camp, not that he was afraid of getting lost. He just didn't want to alarm the guard or cause distress if
it were discovered that he was not in his bedroll. After a moment of deliberation, he chose to head for the
creek, which was beyond the chuck wagon and opposite where the horses were being
The gentle babbling of the
small stream was soothing, so Scott sat down on the bank to listen.
Soon, a cricket chirped and then another.
A short while later, frogs joined in along with the occasional mournful
howl of a coyote, which added a new dimension to the night orchestra.
He couldn't remember having heard anything so pleasing and slowly he
began to unwind.
A twig snapped and Scott
flinched. Twisting to look over his
shoulder, he saw a tall form coming toward him and tensed.
Was Murdoch just out for a stroll or had the man come looking for him?
He felt a tiny tingle of pleasure at the thought that it might be the
latter, yet at the same time he was apprehensive.
Knowing what to say to his father was always so difficult.
"Scott? Are you all right?"
Murdoch asked as he stopped to stand beside his son.
"I'm fine," Scott
replied in a quiet tone. "I .
. . couldn't sleep so I took a walk. I
. . . hope I didn't worry you, Sir."
"No. I uh . . . just happened to see you here and wondered if
anything was wrong, that's all."
Something in his father's
voice didn't quite sound convincing, but Scott let it pass.
He didn't need Murdoch to express his concern in words.
The man's actions were saying it for him, and for now that was enough.
With hands clasped
behind his back, Murdoch took a deep breath and glanced up at the moon.
"It's a nice night."
is," Scott softly agreed.
Murdoch moved to
the other side of his son and then stood shifting his weight from one leg to the
Scott looked at
the water, glistening in the moonlight, and nervously put a hand to his mouth to
keep from chuckling at his father's discomfort that was so like his own.
After taking a moment to get himself under control, he took pity on the
other man. "There's plenty of
seating available if you get tired of standing.
The concert is quite good considering that it's free."
concert?" Murdoch looked
quizzically down on his son then mouthed a silent "oh" of
comprehension and said, "Well, if you're sure I won't be intruding, I
believe I will join you."
"I'd like that,
Sir," Scott replied a bit huskily.
While they sat in
companionable silence, Scott let his mind wander back over the past couple of
days. His father wasn't anything
like what he had expected. Sure,
there had been no offered explanations for the years of separation or the lack
of contact during all that time, but Murdoch had seemed genuinely concerned for
his welfare. Despite the
awkwardness between them, hadn't the man tried to spend time with him each day
while they were in Modesto? And
before that, hadn't he seen the lines of worry on his father's face?
He stole a sideways glance at
the man at his side. Murdoch was a
big man--a giant in comparison to Scott's grandfather.
'I wager he's every bit as big as Evert
This brought a slight smile when his mind diverted momentarily to the Swedish
sailor, who saved him from drowning when he was ten
and then had become his friend while giving him swimming lessons.
'I wonder what has become of him,'
Another veiled observation
brought a new onslaught of memories. He
was sitting on the banks of the lake with his friend, Jimmy Martin, and the
other boy's grandfather. Fishing
poles wavered gently in the breeze like the lower branches of a tree growing at
the water's edge. At times, they
had sat for an hour or more not saying a word, simply waiting for the fish to
Seeing his father there beside
him in much the same fashion as the man and boy from his past, Scott couldn't
help wondering what it would have been like to have grown up with Murdoch.
Would they have spent time together, just the two of them, like they were
now? Would fishing or hunting trips
have been a regular occurrence, or would his father have been too busy?
Mixed desires began to war
inside of Scott. He was worried
about his grandfather and what might have happened during the six years that he
could no longer remember; yet, the desire to get to know his father was growing
stronger, and he feared that should he leave now the opportunity might be lost.
Too many things could happen. And
then there was Johnny.
Thought of his brother invoked
more confusing emotions. Scott
wanted to meet Johnny, but the dream had left him fearful of what he might
learn. Could Johnny Lancer possibly
be the famous Johnny Madrid? Both
were part Mexican and both lived or had lived along the border with Mexico.
'Why not ask your father?
He should know.' Scott
shivered involuntarily. Did he
really want to know?
"Are you cold?"
The deep voice was startling.
It seemed to boom above the softer sounds of the night, and Scott jerked
before he could stop himself. "No.
I'm fine," he quickly replied.
"Are you sure nothing's
bothering you?" Murdoch persisted. "You're
not worrying about meeting your brother, are you?"
Scott bit his lip.
Did he dare voice the question that had been plaguing him all evening?
He drew in a breath--gathering his nerve.
With racing heart, he hesitantly said, "Cooky told me . . . that
Johnny grew up with his mother in Mexico . . . or near there.
I . . . I was just curious. Did
he . . . does he . . . go by Lancer . . . or . . . or does he use a Mexican
name?" There it was out, at
last. Anxiously he waited for the
Murdoch, upper lip clamped
tightly between his teeth, turned his head and studied his son for a moment
before speaking. "Why do
"Oh . . . no particular
reason," Scott hedged. "I
. . . I was just wondering, is all."
"His mother . . .."
Murdoch drew in a sharp breath before going on.
"She, uh . . . told him I threw them out.
He . . . I'm not sure where he got the name from . . . but he goes by
Madrid. Maybe it's one of her
family surnames. I don't
The air rushed from Scott's
lungs as if a giant fist had slammed into his abdomen.
'Madrid!' his mind screamed.
'Then my dream was true. My
brother really is Johnny Madrid. A
killer. I have a hired killer for a
"Scott, is something
"No!" Scott replied
sharply then willed his voice to sound more natural.
"I'm . . . I'm just tired, Sir.
I . . . I think I'll go back to camp.
I . . . I'm sure I can sleep now."
Ignoring Murdoch's puzzled
expression, Scott quickly rose to his feet then stumbled along in his hurry to
return to the camp.
He had to escape the other man's penetrating eyes. Before taking the
chance of his father reading what was running through his head, he needed
time--time to think and gain some semblance of control.
Murdoch stared after his son.
The quick retreat was a sure sign that something had upset the young man.
He seemed fine . . . a little quite, but fine otherwise . . . until he
asked about Johnny.' He let out
a groan. Could Scott have overheard
someone talking about Johnny Madrid? Was
that what had brought on the sudden change?
He cringed. His younger son had quite a reputation along the border, and
rumors of it had even filtered into Morro Coyo, Green River, and Spanish Wells
close to a year ago. Murdoch knew
better than to believe all that he had heard.
Reputations had a way of far exceeding the truth.
'But would Scott realize that?
And what has he heard? What
does he think his brother is? A
More troubling thoughts
tumbled through his mind. As if he
didn't have enough to worry about with his elder son wanting to return to
Boston, now this. Would knowledge
of Johnny's past be the final straw that would push Scott into leaving? His sons had seemed to have come to an understanding prior to
the cattle drive, but Murdoch had no idea of how much they had talked to each
other of their past lives. Maybe,
Johnny's reputation as a hired gun had never come up.
Perhaps, it had just been lurking there in the shadows just waiting to
crop up unexpectedly so it could drive an immovable wedge between the two
Wearily Murdoch made his way
back to camp and crawled into his bedroll.
He pulled the blanket up to his ears and shut his eyes, but he couldn't
close out the disturbing feelings. Scott
was on the verge of walking out of his life and there was nothing he could do
but let it happen. His son had to
be allowed to make his own decisions. The
doctor had made that clear enough.
For what seemed hours, the
troubled rancher wrestled with the problems that seemed to have no solutions.
He tossed and turned, rolling first to one side and then the other.
A couple of hours before dawn, he finally drifted into a fitful sleep
that would leave him drained by morning.
The night had passed slowly
and by the time the camp came alive the next morning, Scott was dreading the day
ahead. He was tired and his head
ached with a vengeance. Still, he
was no closer to deciding what he should do: stay with his father or make the
long trip to Boston. In either
case, he knew that he would have to go on to Murdoch's ranch. He needed money to pay for his fare if he were to return to
the East, so he would have to contact his grandfather and wait for the funds to
Scott sat with the rest of the
men at breakfast. Even though he felt
like an intruder, it was preferable over the risk of being alone with his father
and having to explain his abrupt departure of the night before.
He wasn't sure what to say. How
could he possibly justify the difficulty he was having accepting his brother's
line of work?
By sunup, the wagons were
ready to roll and once more they were on their way.
For Scott Lancer, the day went very much like the previous one.
An hour of sitting next to Cooky on the seat was followed by a couple
more of resting in the wagon box, and then the routine repeated itself with an
occasional stop to rest the horses or attend to personal needs along the way.
The only difference was that Red joined him in the back of the supply
wagon once during the afternoon.
The young cowboy was full of
amusing tales and Scott enjoyed the diversion.
It was far better than being left alone with his thoughts.
Not only that, the redhead was likable, someone he could easily become
Later when Scott was riding
beside Cooky, he began to wish that Red were his brother. Despite their differing backgrounds, they were getting along
quite well. From the things he had
heard of Johnny, he doubted that would be the case with them.
It just didn't seem possible that he could have anything in common with a
hired gunman. To him, the very
thought of killing another person in exchange for money was revolting.
were paid to fight against the Confederate army,'
a small voice whispered in
he silently argued. 'I was a soldier, an officer in the U.S. Cavalry fighting a rebellion.'
still took lives and were paid for doing so,'
the voice persisted.
was in a battle,'
Scott's mind insisted defensively. 'They
were shooting at me . . . or trying to run me through with their sabers.
I had to fight. Not only in
my own defense, but I had a duty to fulfill.
My regiment was depending on me.'
not your place to judge your brother. You
know what the scriptures say. Only
God has that right. You don't even
know anything about your brother's battles or what causes he was fighting for.
How can you pass judgment on his actions when you know nothing of his
motives? Only the one without sin may cast the first stone,'
chided his conscience.
As more passages of scripture
came to mind, Scott relented. It
was true. He knew nothing about
Johnny, other than what he had heard, and they were rumors--second hand
information, which could easily have been twisted until it contained little if
any truth to it. His brother at
least deserved a chance to refute those claims.
Even the constitution declared that a man was innocent until proven
guilty. What justification did he
have for denying Johnny those rights? 'I
suppose I should try to get to know him. It
doesn't mean I have to like what he is. My
only obligation is to try to see his side of the issue.
I don't have to condone his actions if I feel he was in the wrong.'
Not long after
Scott had come to the decision to give his brother the benefit of the doubt,
Murdoch called a halt. It was
nearly dark and everyone was weary from the long day.
Camp was hastily set up despite a few grumbling remarks made now and then
by one or another of the men. However,
once they had partaken of a hot meal and had a chance to relax a little, their
spirits began to rise. By the time
the dishes were washed, the camp was ringing with laughter.
It wasn't long
before someone suggested that Red sing for them.
Although he adamantly protested, the other men kept insisting until he
finally gave in, his cheeks nearly the color of his hair.
Red took a deep
breath and started out slow. As he gained confidence, he
increased the tempo until the words were rolling snappily off his tongue.
"Oh, come along boys and
I'll tell yuh of my troubles
on the ol' cattle drive.
I had ta get in the saddle and
ride, ride, ride.
in the saddle and ride."
A whoop of encouragement and a
few pats on the back were all that was needed to keep the redheaded cowboy
going, and he launched right into a second verse.
"I was up each mornin'
b'fore dawn's light
sittin' in the saddle 'til
the dark of night.
Had ta get in the saddle and
ride, ride, ride.
Get in the saddle and ride".
By now several of the other
men where stomping their feet or clapping their hands as they kept beat with the
rhythm of the frolicking tune, and Red didn't even slow down before beginning
the third stanza.
"The first days on the
trail were hot and dry.
I choked on the dust 'til I
thought I would die,
Had ta get in the saddle and
ride, ride, ride.
Get in the saddle and ride."
As the song continued, Scott
smiled at the antics of the men. They
reminded him of a bunch of schoolboys cheering on one of their peers who was
executing some outlandish stunt. Red, however, no longer needed their prodding, for he had
warmed up to the task and the words were effortlessly flowing from his mouth as
"Then it poured down rain
an' I looked like a clown
fallin' in the mud when
the wagon bogged down,
But I had ta get in the saddle
and ride, ride, ride.
Get in the saddle and ride."
Something in Murdoch's amused
expression made Scott wonder if Red's lyrics were based on events of the cattle
drive that had just been completed. His
suspicions doubled when his father's smile faded with the next verse.
"Night herdin's no treat
but I'll do my share,
'Cause a cattle stampede's a
So I'll get in the saddle and
ride, ride, ride.
Get in the saddle and ride."
Red stopped to catch his
breath. Then with a mischievous
grin, he moved closer to Cooky. Looking
into the man's face, he sang,
"The food's not so good,
but I ain't gunna complain;
I've had a lot worse 'though I
don't remember when,
So I'll get in the saddle and
ride, ride, ride.
Get in the saddle and ride."
The other men let out howls of
glee when Cooky glared at the young cowboy before stomping off toward the rear
of the chuckwagon where he leaned against a wheel and made an unsuccessful show
of being insulted. This little
charade even had Red laughing so hard that he had to take a couple of minutes to
compose himself before he was able to continue.
When the song resumed, it was
aimed at Murdoch, who scowled a little as the singer stepped to his side.
However, Scott suspected that his father was enjoying the attention far
more than he was letting on because the frown quickly fled with the advent of
Red's flattering words.
"Now the boss ain't no
shirker an' he pulls his weight;
He's always up early an' he
stays up late.
He gets in the saddle and
ride, ride, rides.
Gets in the saddle and rides."
This brought more cheers and
applauding, which was as much a show of appreciation for the rancher as it was
for the singer. Scott, standing
slightly apart from the rest of the group, was a bit in awe of the entire
performance. It didn't seem
possible that these were the same men who had been complaining that they were
too tired to do anything but sleep for an entire week.
They were so full of life.
If Scott entertained any
thought that he would be spared of being made the center of attention, it wasn't
for long. He knew his turn was
coming as soon as Red's sparkling eyes met his.
With his face slightly flushed, he shifted his gaze to study the
flickering flames of the campfire as the cowboy began to sing,
"The boss's son, Scott,
started out a greenhorn;
Bet he ain't worked so hard
since the day he was born.
He got in the saddle and rode,
Got in the saddle and rode."
There was a round of applause
from everyone, including Murdoch, along with a little hooting from someone,
which Red quickly shushed before going on to the next stanza.
"That boy's learnin' ta
rope and he rides with the best;
It won't be long b'fore he can
do all the rest.
He'll get in the saddle and
ride, ride, ride.
Get in the saddle and ride."
A warm glow spread
over Scott--partly from embarrassment but mostly from the knowledge that his
young friend's words and the reaction of the other men were all signs that he
was considered a part of the group. He
couldn't help feeling flattered by their acceptance.
The next two verses were sung
without interruption with Red casting knowing eyes on a few slightly embarrassed
drovers as he sang the second stanza.
"It was hardship and
troubles all along the way;
Gettin' that herd through we
surely earned our pay.
We got in the saddle and rode,
Got in the saddle and rode."
The boys've had their fun and
a fight or two.
They've painted up the town so
there's nothin' left ta do,
But get in the saddle and
ride, ride, ride.
Get in the saddle and ride.
Several of the men were
slapped on the back while a couple more received pokes in the ribs. Scott remembered enough of what soldiers were like to have a
fair idea of what was meant by painting a town.
When a thought of what his grandfather would have had to say about such
behavior flashed through his mind, he couldn't keep from chuckling.
The men finally settled down
and Red began to sing again. Slowly
and deliberately, he enunciated each word in the first line before gradually
increasing the tempo right up to the end of the verse.
"Now I'm almost home and
it's time ta say goodbye
But I'd do it all again though
I don't know why.
I'd get in the saddle and
ride, ride, ride.
Get in the saddle and ride."
Scott watched the other men
crowd around Red. He was sure that
even the best-known opera singer could not have received more enthusiastic
acclaim than that which was being lavished on the redheaded westerner.
'He's very good,' he thought.
Then when a scene much like the present flashed through his mind, he was
sure that he had expressed the very same sentiment before.
His heart began to race and he wondered if he had heard Red sing before.
As the vision became clearer,
Scott saw himself standing next to his father while the rest of the men were
gathered around the campfire. Murdoch
was smiling at him, and somehow he knew that he was smiling in return--totally
at ease. He even remembered the
sense of pleasure that he had felt in the other man's company.
Scott painfully swallowed.
memory was overwhelming. That he
had been so comfortable about being with Murdoch was almost more than he could
comprehend. It didn't seem possible
that his feelings for his father could have changed so drastically within such a
short period of time. 'I'm
sure he said I've only been here a few weeks.
What happened between us? If
only I could remember more.'
Scott squeezed his eyes shut
and searched his mind for answers to the perplexing thoughts.
They wouldn't come. He
raised a hand and massaged his wrinkled brow while trying harder.
All he gained was a fierce pounding in his temples.
you all right?"
The deep voice
accompanied by a light touch sliding off his shoulder startled Scott, causing
him to flinch away as he dropped his own hand to his side and opened his eyes to
see his father not more than a foot in front of him. "I . . . my . . . my head just hurts a little," he
"The boys are
getting a bit loud," Murdoch remarked somewhat apologetically.
"It's . . .
it's not that. It's . . . actually,
I enjoyed the singing," Scott hedged.
"Red is very good."
"Yes . . . he
uncertainty, Scott looked down while gathering his courage.
There were so many things he wanted to know but feared to ask.
"He's sung before," he finally said without raising his eyes.
remember," Scott quietly stated.
"You . . .
Lifting his head
to meet his father's eyes, Scott nodded.
"That's . . .
that's wonderful." It was now
Murdoch who stammered and looked away. "What,
uh . . .." He stopped to take
a breath. "What else do you
"We, uh . . .
you and I that is . . . we were away from the others . . . like we are now.
We . . . we were talking, I guess."
Scott paused then glanced downward.
"We seemed to be getting along . . . quite well."
Once again bringing his gaze to bear on his father's face, he softly
asked, "Were we?"
one thumb down the side of his nose, across pressed lips, and off the end of his
chin before hesitantly speaking. "Yes,
Scott. I . . . I thought we were
getting along . . . quite well that night."
He stopped to bite his lower lip before going on.
"I'm, uh . . . not going to lie and say . . . that was the case the
entire trip. I, uh . . . well,
let's just say that tempers get a bit stretched on a cattle drive and sometimes
words are said that, uh . . . that aren't really meant."
"Did . . .
did I say something rude, Sir?" asked Scott, wondering what sort of an
altercation they had had.
provocation," Murdoch assured him after a slight hesitation.
"Then . . .
then we had an argument."
please. It's past.
Let's leave it there. Nothing
can be gained by dredging it up again. It's
. . . it's the here and now that's important."
Murdoch looked pleading at his son.
"You can understand that . . . can't you, Son?"
Yes, I can understand," Scott quietly replied while his mind
screamed for answers and the pressure at the top of his head increased.
"I . . . I think I'll get some sleep, Sir.
It's been a long day," he added.
idea," said Murdoch, with a slight frown of appraisal.
"We need to get out of here by daylight in the morning, if we're
going to make it home by suppertime tomorrow."
'Home. If it were only
thought Scott as he speculatively studied the tall man in front of him.
Then a moment later, feeling the need to be alone to ponder the strange
emotions their conversation had invoked, he wished Murdoch good night and
hurried off to get his bedroll. Perhaps
they would be able to talk more after they reached the ranch, he told himself,
hoping it would be so. The last few
days of being with his father had revived longings that he thought had died, and
the desire to know the man was far greater than he remembered it ever being.
'Maybe, I will stay, for a while anyway,' he thought,
spreading his blanket next to one of the wagons.
Then while he settled in for the night, he reasoned, 'I could send a wire to grandfather . . . just to make sure nothing has
happened to him. Then if all is
well, I could spend a month or two with Murdoch and Johnny before going back to
Boston. It would give me a chance
to get to know my brother . . . and perhaps my father would like me enough to
want me to come back to live with him.'
With his mind made
up, Scott closed his eyes. Gradually
the pain in his tempos subsided, and he drifted into a deep sleep that lasted
until the rattling of pans awakened him the next morning.
For nearly two hours, the road
had been snaking through a long narrow valley as it followed the course of the
Green River, which flowed down out of the mountains that Scott could see looming
ever closer in the distance.
"Won't be long 'til we'll
be crossin' the river an' climbin' over that ridge," remarked Cooky, his
hand motioning toward a ribbon of dirt, which could be seen part way up the
hillside ahead of them. "Should
reach yer pa's hacienda in another coupl'a hours."
Scott Lancer turned his head to look at his companion while carefully
enunciating the unfamiliar word. "Is
that what a house is called here?"
Spanish. Can mean the house er it
an' ever'thin' around it."
"This morning my . . .
father called his ranch something else. I
think it was es . . . estansha."
Means 'bout the same thing," replied Cooky.
Slapping the lines against the hip of the nearest horse on his
left, he hollered, "Get up, there. Quit
As the wagon
rumbled steadily onward, jostling over ruts and small rocks, Scott went back to
watching the passing scenery. It
was a pleasing panorama, and its beauty rivaled that of anyplace that he had
The valley, bordered by green rolling hills, consisted of a series of
lush meadows that were separated by the winding of the river.
In places, the riverbank was lined with clusters of willows or bushes of
various kinds, many of which were unfamiliar to him.
Trees with wide spreading branches dotted the countryside and an
abundance of flowers, in a variety of shapes and sizes, added splashes of white,
yellow, blue, pink, or purple to the carpet of green nearly everywhere he
looked. The sight of it all gave
him a welcome sense of peace and tranquility.
"Shore is purdy, ain't
it?" asked Cooky.
"Yes . . . it is quite
beautiful," agreed Scott, amazed at how the other man had so easily read
"Some folks'd say ther
weren't nothin' purdier," commented the cook as he guided the horses around
a deeper hole in the road, "but I reckon all God's creation's got its own
kinda beauty. Ain't anythin' quite
like the desert at sunset . . . er a snow-covered mountain meadow sparklin' in
the sun on a cold winter day. I
ain't never been on the ocean, but I heard a sailor once braggin' that ya ain't
seen nothin' 'til ya been s'rounded by miles 'n' miles
a water all glistenin' in the moonlight. He
made it sound right spic-tacki-lar."
water is a lovely sight," wistfully commented Scott upon remembering
sitting next to a young woman on the bank of the bay near Boston while watching
a full moon rise to cast its glorious rays over the rippling water.
Her head was resting against his shoulder and his arm was wrapped
protectively around her waist.
Scott silently cried as other memories flooded his mind.
He'd asked her to marry him and he was sure that she had agreed.
He had given her his grandmother's ring.
'What could have happened?' he
wondered in desperation. 'Murdoch said nothing about me having a wife.
Did she get sick or die having my child?
Is that why I came here? Did
I need to get away from painful memories? Surely
I wouldn't have left her in Boston while I came all this way alone.
I can't imagine her agreeing to our being separated for any length of
When Scott had
been silent for several minutes, Cooky spoke in a worried tone, "You gettin'
tired, Boy? Yer lookin' a bit
peeked all a sudden."
"I . . . I'm fine,"
Scott said, not nearly as convincingly as he had hoped to.
"We can stop anytime if
ya wanna get in the back fer a spell. It
might do ya good ta get yerself a nap. The
doc did say fer ya not ta get too tuckered out, ya know."
Cooky studied Scott's face a moment then focused his attention on the
team of horses as they approached the river crossing.
Scott drew in a ragged breath
before saying, "On second thought, Cooky, I do believe I will get some
"I'll let the team have a
drink this side the river. You can
climb in the back then."
Once he was
settled in the back of the wagon, Scott soon learned that resting was easier
said than done. The haunting memory
of his fiancée, Julie Dennison, refused to turn loose of his mind.
She tantalized him with her beauty and the fragrant smell of lilacs.
He longed to hold her close, to take the pins from her hair and feel the
silken tendrils tickle his cheek, and to touch his lips to hers--savor the
sweetness of her kisses.
A jolt of the
wheels hitting a rock snapped Scott out of his reverie. He heard Cooky holler to the team, then the wagon lurched
sideways before righting itself and rolling a little less erratically through
the water that slapped against its belly.
sounds of the current gave him the feeling that he was being swept down the
river with his head just below the surface.
His heart began racing crazily, and fingers of panic wrapped around his
throat, shutting of his air and making it almost impossible to breathe.
Squeezing his eyes
shut, Scott fought to control the senseless fear that was engulfing him.
'There's nothing to be afraid of,'
he soundly admonished himself. 'You're
in the back of a wagon not the river. And
even if you were in the water, you have no need to be concerned.
You're an excellent swimmer. Mr.
Swenson saw to that.'
from Scott's forehead, ran down his closed eyelids, and dripped off his chin.
He clamped his trembling lips together but some of the salty moisture
still found its way inside his mouth--a stark reminder of how close he had come
to drowning in the Boston Harbor as a child.
It wasn't until he became aware that they were headed uphill that the
shaking began to subside, and he was able to exhaustedly lie back on the
blankets that had been spread out to make a bed for him in the backend of the
As Scott lay there
slowly regaining his composure, a vision of another river crossing passed before
his eyes. He nearly gasped when he
realized the person pulling him from the rushing water was none other than Red.
How the cowboy had managed to reach the floating tree and get astride its
trunk, he had no idea. All he knew
for certain was that he owed his life to the quick actions of the other man.
flashed through his mind, and Scott could hear what seemed to be ocean waves
crashing into rocks. The picture in
his mind, however, did not fit the memory that went with the sound.
Instead, he was sitting with his legs wrapped tightly around one end of a
snag-studded log and the redheaded cowboy was holding on in a similar manner at
the far end.
Scott saw the raging white rapids rushing toward them.
His insides tightened. He
knew that if they didn't escape soon, they would be dashed against the large
boulders. Then Red was swinging a
long stiff rope and sent the loop toward the riverbank where it dropped around a
tall stump. Almost immediately,
Scott felt his end of the tree swing out into the swifter current until he was
facing the river's edge, and then his precarious perch began to duck and dive
like a green horse bucking to rid itself of its rider. Without any warning, he was tossed into the water as if he
were a rag-doll.
The memory ended
as quickly as it had begun. With a
fierce pounding in his head and a sense of horror, Scott thought, 'Was that how Red was injured? Saving
my life? He could have been killed.
We both could have.'
Murdoch Lancer stopped
momentarily at the top of the knoll and glanced around at the surrounding
valley, a sight he never grew tired of. Nearly
all that he surveyed was his and it was good to see the familiar landmarks.
Wearily the big man shifted in
the saddle and let out a soft groan. The
long grueling days on the trail had taken their toll. His back was protesting vehemently and his right leg felt as
though it belonged to some one else. He
slipped the toe of his boot out of the stirrup and then, flexing his stiff knee,
thought of how good it was going to be to soak his aches and pains away in a hot
tub of water.
With his foot again cradled in
the stirrup, Murdoch urged his mount down the gently sloping hillside.
As much as he loved the view, he couldn't take the time to soak in its
beauty. The wagons were rounding a
curve in the road little more than a mile back, and he needed to arrive at the
house far enough ahead of them to have time to explain Scott's condition to
Johnny and Teresa.
As he followed the band of
horses trotting through the fields along the side of the road, Murdoch let his
mind wander back over the changes that had come about in the past six months.
Normally, Paul O'Brien would have been riding at his side.
Those times were over, though--stolen from him along with the life of his
segundo, who had also been his best friend, and instead two strangers, the sons
he had dreamed of for so long, would take that place.
'If they stay.'
The thought of his sons
leaving deepened the lines in the tired rancher's face. He had only just begun to believe that at last his family was
together as it should have been for all those years. Now it appeared that his dreams for the future might once
again be shattered, and he felt helpless to prevent it. If Scott chose to return to Boston, Murdoch knew that he
would have to let him go no matter how unbearable the idea was.
His boys were not children; they were grown men and as such had to be
allowed to make their own choices. Holding
onto them against their will would only alienate them more than they were
he won't go,'
Murdoch silently consoled himself. 'He
did seem more relaxed this morning when we talked.
Perhaps, after he sees Johnny, he'll want to stay, if for no other reason
than to get to know his brother.'
When the wooden rails
enclosing the horse pasture had changed from fine lines in the distance to a
sturdy fence, just feet away, Murdoch let out a sigh.
The trip was over and none too soon.
He wasn't sure he could have ridden much further.
"Señor Lancer, it is
good that you are home, no?"
"It is good that I am
home, yes," said Murdoch to the grinning vaquero holding the gate open.
Once the herd of horses and
the last of the riders had come through, the Mexican vaquero swung the gate back
into place and latched it. "The
drive . . . did she go well?"
"We got the herd
delivered," hedged Murdoch. "That's
the main thing. How is everything
here, Cipriano? Any problems while
I was gone?"
"No. No problemas."
"Johnny been following
the doctor's orders?"
"Si. The señorita Teresa, she sees to it. Juanito, he complain much, but he knows it is no good.
The señorita, she watches him like the hawk watches the rabbit."
Murdoch chuckled at a vision
of the dark-haired girl, who was like a daughter to him. A few short months ago, he had been the one under her
watchful eye. He had no doubts
about her ability to keep his younger son in line.
She had a way about her that ended most arguments before they began.
'Has her daddy's determination
that's for sure. Must be that Irish
"Where is the señor
Scott?" Cipriano asked with a quick glance around.
"He's, um . . . riding
with Cooky," Murdoch hesitantly replied, then took a few precious minutes
to give the hired man a brief run down of what had happened.
The wire he had sent had merely stated the day of his expected arrival
back at the ranch, so no one there knew of Scott's amnesia.
Cipriano signed a cross and
then said a few encouraging words before Murdoch rode on toward the house.
Anxious to find Johnny and
Teresa, Murdoch dismounted and tied his horse to the hitching rail in front of
his white stonewalled Spanish style mansion.
Suppressing a groan with each step, he entered the foyer and announced
that he was home. His call was met
Next he hobbled into the large
living room which served as a combination dining, sitting area, and office.
No one was there, so he went to kitchen and was relieved to find Juanita
preparing dinner. The housekeeper,
however, dashed his hopes of talking to his younger son and ward before Scott
arrived. The two had gone riding
and hadn't returned yet.
his breath, Murdoch mounted and rode back to the barn.
He wasn't sure he liked the idea of Johnny and Teresa riding off alone.
Although his ward had been around men all of her life, she was still
young and a little naive while he suspected that his son was far more worldly
than was good him.
The corral was empty and there
was no sign of anyone about when Murdoch halted near the barn door.
A slight rumble caught his attention and he glanced toward the road.
Seeing the wagons, which would be pulling into the barnyard in a matter
of minutes, he muttered an oath. There
would be no time to alert his ward and other son of Scott's condition.
Murdoch kicked free of the
right stirrup and just began to shift his weight in order to dismount when a
shriek from inside the barn spooked his horse.
His mount danced sideways, nearly unseating him before he could gather
his reins and settle the animal down.
About then, the barn door
banged open and a slender form dashed out, sending Murdoch's horse scooting
backwards. She didn't even seem to
notice as she bent over, flipped her long brown hair forward, and ruffled it
with her fingers, sending dust and other debris flying.
"Uh, hm," Murdoch
loudly cleared his throat when he had his horse quieted down once more.
The girl jerked upright, her
cheeks turning a deep shade of pink.
While quickly brushing the hay from her clothes, she hoarsely exclaimed,
"Murdoch! You're back!"
"Looks like I got here
just in time," Murdoch retorted with a touch of sarcasm as he looked beyond
his ward, Teresa, to see his son sauntering out of the barn.
Johnny's hair and clothes had also collected hay.
That . . . that
son of yours . . . he . . . he dumped a whole pile of . . . of hay on me,"
Murdoch scowled at
his son, who shrugged defensively. "She
dumped some on me first.”
intentionally," the girl retorted, wrinkling her nose at the dark-haired
young man. "You got in the
you two need to clean up before supper," commented Murdoch, relieved that
his initial assessment appeared to be unfounded.
"Why don't you go on up to the house. I'll be along as soon as I get someone to take care of my
and walk with you," offered Teresa stepping to Murdoch's side as he
dismounted. She linked her arm with
his and smiled brightly. "On
the way, you can tell me all about the drive."
could try another tactic to keep the girl away from Scott, he noticed Johnny
moving toward the backside of the corral where Cooky was just driving through
the wide-open gate. "Oh,
Johnny," he called to unheeding ears.
His son didn't so much as break stride.
With a sinking
sensation in the pit of his stomach, Murdoch watched his younger son approach
the chuckwagon. It was too late now
to stop the inevitable. All he
could do was hope that Scott would not become upset with anything that Johnny
about the drive," coaxed the girl at Murdoch's side as one of the Mexican
vaqueros took the reins of the horse and led it away.
"Did you have a good trip?"
Yeah, sure honey. Everything was fine."
Distractedly Murdoch patted Teresa's arm while scowling after his younger
"Why is Scott
riding on the wagon? Is he all
"Scott . . .
had a little accident is all. Nothing
for you to worry about, though," replied Murdoch upon seeing the concern in
his ward's eyes. "Look, why
don't you run on to the house and help Juanita get a tub of hot water ready.
I'm sure Scott would appreciate having a bath before supper."
He patted Teresa's arm once more and then gently guided her in the
direction of the gate across from the where the wagons were stopped while he
spoke reassuringly. "Stop
worrying; Scott is fine. Now, run
along. I'll be in soon to tell you all about it."
Murdoch, but then I want to hear everything that happened on the drive,"
Teresa called over her shoulder as she walked away.
Satisfied that he
had the girl occupied elsewhere for a while, Murdoch turned his attention to his
sons, who were standing beside Cooky's wagon.
His stomach lurched. Scott,
distress written on his face, had just taken a backward step away from Johnny.
In hopes of preventing an unpleasant confrontation between the brothers
that might lead to one or both leaving the ranch, Murdoch ignored his aching
body and hobbled to his elder son's rescue--praying each step of the way that he
would not be too late.