First Cattle Drive

Part Four

by  Desert Sun

Chapter 25

Scott Lancer 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 attire.'

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, either.'

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.

"Good morning," 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 hearth.

"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 any."

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 them.

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.

Eleven o'clock 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.

Feeling completely 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. 

"Sorry I'm late," Murdoch said as he walked around the end of the sofa.

"No apology 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.

"Have 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?" 

"Yes, Sir," Scott slowly replied.


Silence was Scott's only response to the solitary word, crisply spoken by his father.

Murdoch shifted 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 the head?"

"Fine."  Scott swallowed, then drew in a nervous breath.

"That's good."

This brief 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.

"Twenty-one, 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." 

"Cooky told me that Johnny's mother was Mexican," Scott said with a hint of censorship that was unintentional.

Murdoch instantly 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."

"Well, I'm 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 present.

"...hear 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.


"Johnny's 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 inconsequential.

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."

Murdoch's 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 land.'

Throughout the 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.

Murdoch excused 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. 

Around three 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.

Scott became 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 later.'

Gradually Scott 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.' 

Scott sighed 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.


Chapter 26


Pulling 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.

Murdoch dragged 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 livery stable.

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."

"Good," Murdoch 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 short breather.

"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 fun."

"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.

"I see."  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 replied defensively.

"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?"

"Those mens," 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 sure."

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 afternoon.

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 moments. 

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 Johnny Madrid's.  

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 home.  'No 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.

"Howdy, Boss.  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."

"Good 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."

Although Scott 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."

Scott responded immediately with a questioning glance that raced between his father and the other man.

"Awe, Boss.  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."

Murdoch didn't 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."

"Ain't what 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.

"My feathers 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?"

"I 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 rather talk?"

"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?"

"This is 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 distracted.  'A 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.

"Are you getting tired?" Murdoch asked, ignoring the obvious move and placing one of his own men in danger.

"Hmm?" replied Scott, his eyes expressionless.

"I wondered 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 while."

"Whatever you want is fine with me, Sir," Scott responded placidly. 

"Then let's 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.

Murdoch slumped 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, right?"

Murdoch let out his breath and nodded.

"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 you."

"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 mouth.  "Yes.  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."

"I see," said Scott, his eyebrows drawing together.  "Only . . . what are cal . . . calso . . .?"

"Calzoneras.  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."

"It sounds rather stylish."

"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 cooking."

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 entertained.

Scott's aloofness 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.   

Murdoch's chance 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.

"Sometimes 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, Teresa.

"You're worried about your son, are you not?" Doctor Henderson coaxed.

"Yes," 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." 

Although the doctor's proclamation was comforting, Murdoch was still visibly agitated.

"Stop worrying, Murdoch," admonished the doctor.  "Your boys will be just fine."

"I'm sure you're right," conceded Murdoch, not sounding totally convinced.

"Scott's 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."

"Boston!"  The dreaded word slipped from Murdoch's lips with a snap before he could stop it.

"Yes," 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."

"No!" 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."

"I see."

"You don't know Harlan Garrett," Murdoch said defensively.  He'd . . . he'd do anything to get Scott to go back there."

"Back?"  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.

"I certainly 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.


Chapter 27


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.

'Now what?' 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.

"That's right, 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 valuables."

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 amusement.

"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 young thief.

"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 go."

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?

"Well, Boston.  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.  Johnny 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 you?"

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 father's ranch.

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.

"Hey, Pete.  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 his hat.

"He's no match for Johnny Madrid, that's for sure," scoffed yet another.

Scott froze.

"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 questions.  

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 shut-eye."

"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 wagon.

"Ever skinned a spud?"

"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 done?"

"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 around here?"

"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 self."

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 earlier.

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 held.

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."

"Yes, it is," Scott softly agreed.

Murdoch moved to the other side of his son and then stood shifting his weight from one leg to the other.

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."

"The 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 Svenson.'  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,' he thought.

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 bite.

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 answer.

Murdoch, upper lip clamped tightly between his teeth, turned his head and studied his son for a moment before speaking.  "Why do ask?"

"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 know."

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 brother.'

"Scott, is something wrong?"

"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.  'But what?  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 murderer?'       

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 brothers.   

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.


Chapter 28

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 arrive.    

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 friends with.

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.

'You were paid to fight against the Confederate army,' a small voice whispered in his ear.

'There's no comparison,' he silently argued.  'I was a soldier, an officer in the U.S. Cavalry fighting a rebellion.'

'You still took lives and were paid for doing so,' the voice persisted.

'I 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.'

'It's 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 look alive;

I'll tell yuh of my troubles on the ol' cattle drive.

I had ta get in the saddle and ride, ride, ride.

Get 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

An' 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 he continued. 


"Then it poured down rain an' I looked like a clown

From 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 drover's nightmare,

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, rode, 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, rode, 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.   The 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.

"Scott, are 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 stammered.

"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 is."

Gripped by 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.


"I remember," Scott quietly stated.

"You . . . you do?"

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 remember?"

"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?"

Murdoch trailed 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.

"Not without provocation," Murdoch assured him after a slight hesitation.

"Then . . . then we had an argument."

"Scott, 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.  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.

"Good 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 true,' 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.


Chapter 29

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."

"Hacienda?"  Scott Lancer turned his head to look at his companion while carefully enunciating the unfamiliar word.  "Is that what a house is called here?"

"It's 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."

"Estancia.  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 yer laggin'."

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 ever seen.  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 his mind.

"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."

"Moonlight on 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.

'Julie!' 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 time.'

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 rest."

"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.

Suddenly, the 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.' 

Sweat, trickled 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 wagon.

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.    

Another scene 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.

Looking ahead, 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 already.

'Maybe, 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 blood.'

"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 with silence.

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.

Grumbling under 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," Teresa sputtered.

Murdoch scowled at his son, who shrugged defensively.  "She dumped some on me first.”

"Not intentionally," the girl retorted, wrinkling her nose at the dark-haired young man.  "You got in the way."

"Looks like 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 horse."

"I'll wait 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."

Before Murdoch 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 might say.

"Tell me 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?"

"Hmm.  Yeah, sure honey.  Everything was fine."  Distractedly Murdoch patted Teresa's arm while scowling after his younger son.

"Why is Scott riding on the wagon?  Is he all right?"

"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."

"All right, 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.


Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Five



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