First Cattle Drive

Part Five

by  Desert Sun

Chapter 30

Scott Lancer stood next to the wagon and watched the dark-haired young man with his head slightly down and an impish grin on his face swaggering toward him.  From the brown pants, light red shirt, and holstered gun that the young man was wearing, Scott was certain this could be none other than his brother, the notorious Johnny Madrid.

"Hey, Boston, what happened? Your horse throw ya?" Johnny smirked as he stopped directly in front of Scott.  He let out a light snort followed by a soft chuckle, then added, "Or's your backside just too sore ta sit a saddle?"

"My name isn't Boston; it's Scott . . . and no, I wasn't thrown," Scott replied cryptically, not quite sure why he felt so defensive about Johnny's words and attitude.  Tilting his chin upward a little, he look down his nose to meet the shorter man's gaze.

Eyes sparkling with amusement, Johnny seemed unheeding of Scott's less than friendly manner.   He reached out and brushed a finger against his brother's cheek while speaking in a teasing tone.  "That's, uh . . . quite a bruise ya got there . . . Scott.  Ya get that celebratin' at the end of the drive?" 

Flinching away from the touch, Scott stepped backward and balled his hands into fists.  The sudden urge to knock the smile off the younger man's face was so strong that he clinched his teeth tightly together as he fought to maintain control.

Johnny drummed his fingers against his legs while waiting for his brother's answer.  When all he received was silence combined with a cool stare, his grin faded and he slowly drawled, "Well, I'll say one thing for ya, Boston.  Your attitude ain't improved none since ya left."

Scrambled bits of memories crowded into Scott's mind, bringing with them more confusion.  The flashes of scenes and fragmented bits of conversation were not enough to be pieced together into any kind of a discernable picture.  Even the emotions raging through him seemed to have no logical reason for their existence, although he was sure they had had a valid cause at some point in his forgotten past.

The pain in Scott's head returned with such force that he staggered back against the wagon.  Leaning into its solid wooden side, he squeezed his eyes closed and pressed the back of one hand against his forehead.  For a moment, he was sure he was going to pass out.

"Scott.  What's wrong?"

The concern in the soft voice along with the steadying hand on his arm brought a strange sense of comfort to Scott.  He slowly opened his eyes and looked into his brother's worried face, just as their father reached Johnny's side.

"Son, are you all right?" Murdoch anxiously asked, moving closer and taking hold of Scott's other arm.

"Yes," whispered Scott.

"Another one of those headaches?"

The pain was nearly unbearable and all Scott could do was nod in answer to his father's question.

"What happened to him, Murdoch?"

"Johnny, we can talk about that later.  Right now we need to get your brother to the house," Murdoch replied, then focussed on the elder of his sons once more.  "Scott, do you think you can walk a little ways if Johnny and I help you?"

"I can make it," Scott replied, then sucked in his breath as another memory hit him.  Only it wasn't him saying those words, it was his injured brother.

Scott had no idea how he managed to keep placing one foot in front of the other as his father and brother helped him to the house and up the stairs to his room.  His scull was so close to bursting wide open that he kept his eyes closed most of the way.  By the time he was sitting on the bed, his legs were trembling uncontrollably.  He was certain that if one more step had been required of him, the other two men would have had to carry him.

Murdoch's familiar voice cut through the fog in Scott's mind.  "Why don't you lie down and try to rest?  I'll see how Juanita and Teresa are coming with the bath water and be back in just a little while."

"All right," Scott whispered, the effort leaving him breathless.  Thankful that it hadn't been necessary to open his eyes to know who had spoken to him, he allowed a pair of strong hands to guide him as he lay back on the bed.

"Son.  Are you sure you're okay?"

"Yes.  I just need . . . to lie here a while," Scott replied softly between shallow breaths.

"I'll be back to check on you shortly, then," Murdoch said with a light pat on Scott's arm.

"Thank you . . . Sir," Scott acknowledged, his eyes opening to narrow slits.  As he tried to focus on his father, Murdoch covered him with a quilt that was folded up on the end of the bed then stepped away, motioned for Johnny to follow, and left the room.

Alone, Scott let his eyelids slide closed and shut out the disturbing thoughts brought on by meeting his brother.  He would sort them out later along with the other memories that had put in an appearance that day.  For now he just wanted to rest.

Slowly he relaxed.  The bed was comfortable and his father's show of concern left him feeling peaceful--almost like he was home.



'Amnesia.'  The word still rang inside his head as Johnny stood looking at the closed door before him.  He considered barging through it like he had that first morning after his brother and he had arrived at their father's ranch.  Only it wasn't the same now.  Scott might become upset by the intrusion--a risk he dare not take after what had happened earlier.

He debated a while longer on whether to knock or wait until morning.  His brother might already be asleep, in which case he didn't want to wake him.  'Besides,' he reasoned, 'Murdoch checked on him again just before going to bed and that was less than an hour ago.  Scott was fine then.'

Johnny turned away and went back downstairs.  Tapping restless fingers against his legs, he ambled into the living room.

"Was Scott sleeping?  You weren't gone long," said Teresa, looking up from the shirt that lay in her lap.

"I decided not ta disturb him.  He's probably pretty tired and I didn't wannna take a chance on wakin' him up."  Johnny crossed in front of where Teresa was sitting and slumped into the matching blue padded chair next to her.

"Have you ever known anyone with amnesia?" Teresa asked as she slipped the needle in her right hand through the button she held with the other.

"No . . . but I heard of a man once that went home so drunk that he fell outta bed and landed on his head.   When he woke up, he didn't even know his own wife."

"Did he . . . did he ever get his memory back?"  Teresa glanced over at Johnny.

"Don't know," he replied with a shrug.  "Way I heard it, his wife told him he was an outlaw with a price on his head and that she'd given him a room for the night.  She gave him a horse after breakfast and told him the sheriff had been by earlier lookin' for him.  He lit outta there in a hurry and, far as I know, never did come back."

Teresa's eyes widened in disbelief.  "You mean she never told him that he was her husband?"

"Nope.  Guess she was glad fer an excuse ta get rid of him."  Johnny let out a soft chuckle.  "The bartender I heard the story from said the man was as ornery as a badger and twice as ugly.  The whole town was happy ta see him go."

"Well, I think it was a dirty trick even if the man was mean," Teresa said then went back to her mending.

Now that she mentioned it, Johnny had to agree with Teresa.  No man should have to live on the run just because his wife didn't want him around any more.  'At least, Scott knows who he is,' he thought. 

"It must have been terribly frightening for Scott to wake up and not know where he was or who he was with," remarked Teresa, looking over at Johnny once more.

"Yeah," he replied thoughtfully.  He couldn't imagine how it would feel to suddenly be surrounded by strangers in a land he'd never seen before.  'Or can't I.  Ever since that Pinkerton man saved me, I've felt like I've been living in a dream.  Maybe, that's how Scott feels.  Like he'll wake up someday and find none of this is real.'      

The snip of scissors cutting through thread was the only sound other than the ticking of the grandfather clock.  Teresa lifted the shirt, gave it a shake, then folded it and laid it on the small table next to her.  "It . . . it's a wonder he didn't drown," she stated softly.

"I know," Johnny said, his chest tightening at the very idea of losing his brother before they had hardly had a chance to get acquainted.  The strength of the emotion surprised him.  At first, he hadn't even liked the Boston dandy, whose only tie to him was the Lancer blood that flowed through their veins.  He found it hard to believe how much Scott had gotten under his skin in the few short weeks they had been together.  Generally, he didn't allow himself to get too attached to people.  It saved a lot of hurt.

The clock began to chime and Teresa rose to her feet.  "It's getting late.  Murdoch likes his breakfast early, so I think I'll say good night and get to bed."

"Buenas noches," Johnny called after her then leaned his head against the back of the chair and let his eyes follow her until she disappeared from sight through the doorway on the far side of the fireplace.  A smile played at the corners of his mouth as he recalled that first morning when she had burst into Scott's room without knocking.  Think of her as a sister, she had said.  The idea had seemed ridiculous at the time; yet over the past few weeks, she had wormed her way into his heart, and he found himself looking on her as a very important part of his new family.

Family.  After the death of his mother and stepfather, Johnny had believed that word had no place in his future.  If in fact, Johnny Madrid had even had a future, he reminded himself upon remembering how close the end of his life had been that fateful day in Mexico.  Another few seconds and he never would have known that he had a brother or that the stories he had heard about his father might not be true.

He let out a sigh and fingered one of the silver buttons on the side of his pant-leg.  That his mother might have deliberately lied to him about his father was still hard to accept.  Yet, if he believed her then that made Murdoch out a liar.  There was no way in his mind that he could believe them both.  'Unless, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.'

Having spent hours wrestling with that question without coming to an acceptable answer, Johnny shoved it aside.  It was in the past--dead and gone so why waste sleep puzzling over something that couldn't be changed.  The here and now was what mattered.  He was part owner of a big beautiful ranch; his belly was full; and he had a room all to himself that was bigger than most of the shacks he had called home.  Along with the chance to have more money than he had ever dreamed possible, he had a brother.  'In time, my old man and me might even learn to like each other,' he thought.  'What more could I want?'     

As Johnny pushed himself up out of the chair and quietly made his way upstairs to his bedroom, he had a niggling sense that something was wrong with the picture he had just painted in his mind.  Seeing his brother's closed door, he stopped within reach and wrapped his fingers around the doorknob.  Again he had the urge to walk in and see for himself that Scott was all right--to talk to him--but he didn't.  He was worrying over nothing, he assured himself.  His brother just needed some time to rest.  Tomorrow would be soon enough to deal with their getting to know each other all over again.




As he looked out the window and watched the thin crescent of light creeping across the night sky, Scott reflected on the events of the day.  Breakfast had been at dawn, and then his father had spent a little time with him while the men broke camp, saddled horses, and hitched the teams to the wagons.  The remainder of the morning had gone much like the previous one.

Shortly after noon, they had arrived at the Johnson Ranch where Red's grandmother had insisted upon serving the weary men lunch.  Then, an hour later, they had been on the road again.  With a touch of sadness, Scott recalled the final parting with his new friend.  'He risked his life for me, and I didn't even know to thank him,' he thought regretfully then vowed he would rectify the matter as soon as possible.

In the dim moonlight, Scott could barely make out the dark forms of the buildings, trees, and hills that surrounded his father's home.  He was glad he had rejoined Cooky on the wagon seat before they had arrived at the ranch headquarters.  It had given him a chance to see some of the Lancer estate in the daylight.  'Quite impressive,' he thought.  'Not at all what I expected.  From what I saw of the house, it looked enormous--much larger than grandfather's.  Not many mansions in Boston would equal it in size.  I wish I hadn't felt so ill.  I would like to have seen more of the interior.'

Memories of meeting Johnny came crashing in on Scott and he frowned into the darkness.  Despite his resolution to reserve judgment until he had a chance to get acquainted with his brother, he had failed miserably.  His emotions had run wild.  'I can't believe how close I came to hitting him.  Why?  It was almost as though I was angry with him for something he had done, only I can't quite remember what that might have been.  I wonder if I hit him before.  It felt like I had.  Yet, he was cordial enough.  It does seem odd, though, that he never came back to talk to me after helping me to my room.  Did my attitude offend him somehow?  I was somewhat abrupt, but surely he would have known it was because my head was hurting so badly.'

Trying to puzzle out his reaction to his brother accomplished nothing other than bringing on another headache, so Scott pushed those troubling thoughts aside.  'I'll try getting to know Johnny tomorrow.  Perhaps when I'm rested, talking to him will be easier,' he reasoned.

Scott let out a soft sigh as he focused on things of a more pleasant nature; one of which was the bath that had been prepared for him in his room.  Despite the crudity of the round wooden tub, the half-hour soak had dissolved his tensions, and the excruciating pain in his head had quickly vanished.  He found now that just thinking of how good the hot water had felt against his skin was relaxing.

The narrow slice of moon slipped out of sight.  Surmising that it had retired for the night behind a hill or thick patch of trees, Scott turned and felt his way across the room.  Although there was a tiny line of light marking the bottom of his door, it wasn't nearly enough to penetrate the darkness.  Part way he bumped his knee against some unseen piece of furniture, and then at the moment his hands found the foot of the bed, the end of one big toe connected with something solid and he groaned.  Both, however, were minor injuries that were more annoying than painful.  They were all but forgotten by the time he was in bed and had the blankets pulled up to his chin.

He closed his eyes and tried to sleep but couldn't.  His mind refused to shut down.  Like a butterfly in the flower gardens that graced the grounds around his grandfather's stately home in Boston, his thoughts flitted from one thing to another.  In search of a more comfortable position, he rolled to his other side and wrapped his arms around his pillow.  It was useless.  Sleep still eluded him.  

The light tap of footsteps in the hallway caught Scott's attention and he listened intently for them to stop at his door.  Instead they passed him by, and soon a door some distance away opened and closed.  'Must have been the girl, Teresa, that my father spoke of,' he reasoned.  'It couldn't have been Johnny.  His room is supposed to be straight across from mine.'

This led Scott's mind down another path, beginning with dinner.  He had requested his meal be served in his room because he had feared that being in close proximity to his brother would bring on another fierce headache.  This had resulted in an evening spent in solitude except for when his empty dish had been retrieved by a woman, who spoke a mix of Spanish and broken English, and for the short period of time that his father had joined him.

'He looked exhausted,' thought Scott, recalling the weariness written on his father's face and the effort it seemed to have taken for the big man to move.   'I suppose that's why he didn't say much or stay long.  I wonder what happened to his leg.  He was limping pretty badly when he got up to leave.  Did he have an accident too while moving his cattle?'

Before he could pursue this line of thinking any further, Scott was distracted by the soft tread of another pair of feet.  These halted outside his room before moving away.  A nearby door closed and he assumed that this visitor had to have been his brother.  Suddenly a wave of disappointment washed over him, leaving him even more confused.  'I avoided Johnny earlier, so why should it matter now that he didn't look in on me?' he wondered dejectedly.

As he lay pondering his conflicting desires and trying to make sense of the bits of memory that had come to him that day, Scott finally drifted into a troubled sleep.  Throughout the night he awakened from frustrating dreams, the worst of which centered on his fiancée.  By the time the gray light of dawn seeped through his window, he was determined to find the quickest possible way of contacting his grandfather.  He knew that he would never be at peace until he was assured that all was well with those he loved in far-off Boston.


Chapter 31


Awakening to a muffled bonging, Scott attributed it to the chiming of the clock downstairs.  'How did anything that is so annoying ever became associated with a pleasant word like chime,' he thought, then groggily noticed that the tone was not quite what it should be.

'When did Grandfather get a new clock?' he wondered without opening his eyes.  Lying on his back, he stretched his arms over his head and yawned, and then rolled to his side.  Soon he was sleeping soundly again.

Sometime later, Scott became aware of someone in his room.  He heard what sounded like water being poured into a basin followed by a pitcher being set on the bureau, and then his visitor quietly left, closing the door with a soft click. 

'Can't be Lilly,' he reasoned.  'Much too quiet.  She always bumps the lip of the pitcher against the basin and can't seem to shut a door without slamming it.  Besides, I would have heard her knock.  It couldn't have been Deirdre, either.  She giggles every time she brings water to my room.  Wonder if they're sick and Grandfather has hired someone new to fill in for them?  Who else would enter my room without waiting for my permission to do so.'  

Taking in a deep breath, Scott became aware of another oddity.  His sheets and blankets were lacking their usual fresh scent.  Even the air he breathed had a slightly different odor about it, only he couldn't quite determine what that difference might be.  He took a couple short sniffs then let his breath all the way out.  'It's not a bad smell.  Maybe the girls used a new soap when they cleaned my room yesterday.'

He rubbed his fingertips against sticking eyelids, then blinked and squinted before fully opening his eyes.  'This can't be my room,' he thought with dismay. 'My furniture is all made of mahogany and my armchair is much more elegant.' 

Rising to support himself on one elbow, he looked around and over his shoulder.  His heart beat faster.  None of the furnishings belonged to his room in Boston.  His bookcase, library table, and bureau all matched in design and were always polished to a high sheen that accentuated the rich beauty of the red mahogany grain.  That was not the case here.

He looked around the spacious room.  A chest of drawers with a mirror sat against the far end of the wall to his right while closer to him was a plain looking over-stuffed chair.  On the other side near the head of the bed was a small table with a single drawer, and in the center of the room was another small table with a round top which was covered with a table cloth that hung several inches over the edge.  None of the items, all of which appeared to vary in style, were familiar.   

'California!'  With a sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach, Scott fell back against his pillow.  No wonder everything had seemed so different; he wasn't home in Boston after all.  This was his father's house. 

After lying there a few minutes staring at the ceiling--his mind miles away--Scott thought he heard the deep voice that over the past few days he had come to associate with his father.  He threw the blankets to one side, sat up, and swung his legs around to where they hung over the edge of the bed on the side facing the door.  It wouldn't do to be late for breakfast on his first morning, he reasoned, not considering the fact that he had been there prior to going on the cattle drive.

He ran long fingers through his hair and then scooted forward until his feet touched a braided mat that was by the bed.  Suddenly, his stomach knotted and a lump filled his throat at the stark contrast between the coarseness of this rug and the velvety softness of the one in his room back in Boston.  The desire to get better acquainted with his new family was forgotten for the moment as he was overtaken by a wave of homesickness.  'I must contact grandfather immediately,' he thought. 

Once out of bed, Scott crossed to the bureau.  Leaning forward, he splashed warm water from the basin onto his face then felt for the towel he had seen folded next to the pitcher.  Careful of the still tender bruises, he patted his skin dry.

A shaving mug near the back corner of the bureau top came into view when Scott opened his eyes once more.  Noting the porcelain cup's gilded rim and the name, S. H. Garrett, inscribed in gold letters across the front, he swallowed painfully as a memory of the kindly man who had given it to him came to mind. "I still miss you, Great-grandfather," he said, unaware that he had spoken aloud.

With his mind on a white-haired old man in a wheel chair, Scott went about the chore of shaving.  Once finished, he searched for something to wear.  In the chest of drawers, he found clean underwear and socks, which he changed into before checking out the closet on the opposite side of the room.  There he found outfits that were suitable for dinner or more formal occasions along with three pairs of trousers that would do for casual attire.  Passing over the plaid ones, he removed a pair of dark-brown pants from a hanger.  Surprisingly they fit perfectly considering that he had no recollection of ever having worn them before.

The white ruffle-fronted shirts, which were in the closet, were far too formal, so Scott went to the chest by the foot of the bed and lifted the lid.  There he found several sweaters neatly folded and piled at one end.  He removed the top one and pulled it on over his head, then looked in the mirror.  Satisfied that he was properly dressed for the day, he started toward the door.

Why he stopped to look in the drawer of the bedside table, he had no idea.  It was as if some invisible force led him there.  When he spotted the leather bound book, he just had to open it.  'My journal,' he thought, his heart beginning to race when he saw his name neatly written inside the front cover.

With trembling hands, Scott ran his left thumb across the edge of the pages, riffling through them from back to front until he found the last entry, which was fairly long.  He sat on the edge of the bed and started to read.

Tomorrow I will be setting out on a new adventure: My first cattle drive.  Although I am excited at the prospect of spending time with my father and learning something of the tasks required of me as part owner of such a large ranch, I cannot help but be apprehensive.  I know nothing about herding cows.  I only hope that I won't be a disappointment to my father.  I want so much to prove my worth to him--to make him proud of me.

Johnny's injury has kept me close to the house for much of the past three weeks, so I was not involved at all with the gathering together of the animals (steers, I believe is what my father called them) that are to be delivered to a buyer south of here.  Even though the land pirates seem to have dispersed since the death of Day Pardee, I felt it my duty to stay nearby until my brother had recovered enough to be up and about.  Fortunately, he has shown a marked improvement these last few days.  He even walked out to the barnyard today and offered his assistance in my endeavor to learn how to use a lariat.

Roping a moving target has proven to be much more difficult than I had anticipated.  Up until today, I had been practicing for a week with very little success.  I was even beginning to despair of ever accomplishing such a feat.  I simply could not get the loop of the rope to stay open or direct its flight. Cipriano and the other men have been so busy preparing for the cattle drive that I have resisted bothering them with my troubles.  Instead, I have struggled valiantly to master this on my own. 

I was quite embarrassed when my father asked me at lunch how the roping was progressing.  I was so hoping to surprise him with my ability to adapt to this new way of life that I hadn't even told him about my efforts to learn to rope.  None the less, someone has apparently seen fit to inform him.  At least, he had the good graces not to laugh when I told him what a miserable failure I was.  He even tried to assure me that it was a skill that I could get along without for the time being.

Johnny, however, must have taken pity on me for he joined me in the corral early this afternoon.  After watching my feeble efforts, he patiently explained what I needed to do differently.  He still has limited use of one arm because of the bullet wound in his back, so he had to be content with telling me rather than showing me where I was erring.

My brother is very observant and an excellent instructor.  Thanks to him, I believe I just may master the technique of 'throwing a loop', as he would call it.  I went out after dinner this evening and actually captured one of the horses on my second attempt.  I am quite anxious to show my father and brother that I am not a hopeless greenhorn, after all.  

Scott thoughtfully chewed at his lip.  Although he remembered nothing of what he had just read, he found comfort in the words written by his own hand.  They brought assurance that this new family of his just might care a little for him.

Curious as to what more he might learn from his journal, Scott read back through several more pages.  Of utmost interest were his reasons for leaving Boston, indications of his grandfather and Julie's welfare, and any knowledge that he might garner concerning his father and brother.  He was disappointed to find that the members of his new family had disclosed very little about themselves, and that there was no reference to his having been told why his father had never once contacted him prior to the message, which had been delivered by a Pinkerton agent.  Most of the later entries seemed to deal with Johnny's gradual recovery from being shot in a fight to prevent thieves from running their father off his land.

Skipping back several days, Scott found his reflections on his initial meeting with his father and brother.  It was quite lengthy and revealed much of the reason that his father had sent for his brother and him, or so he thought.  His heart ached.  He had been needed for what he could do, not for who he was.

Yet, something in the back of his mind said that he wasn't entirely correct in his assessment of his father's motives.  The man had shown nothing but concern since the accident that had stripped Scott of six years of memory.  'Perhaps he felt that he had a valid reason for leaving me in Boston when I was young, and then feared that I would refuse to come here as I got older so it took the prospect of losing his ranch to give him the courage to contact me.  Still, I wonder why I decided to accept his invitation.  Surely it wasn't for the money.'

This final thought sent him searching for more answers.  He skimmed back through the pages.   When his fiancée's name jumped out at him in the middle of one entry, he stopped to read more closely.

Grandfather and I had another disagreement about Julie this morning.  He seems to think that I should beg her forgiveness even though I have done nothing wrong.  She is the one who broke our engagement--

He stopped and stared at the words, his heart constricting.  'So that is the reason she is not with me.  Only why?' he wondered then read on.

--over a silly argument.  Although I love her very much, I will not work for a man, whom I despise, just so I can afford to buy the estate next to her father's and support her in the fashion to which she has been accustomed.  I don't care how much Mr. Whitfield is willing to pay me.  He has absolutely no scruples.  Grandfather will even admit that the man has had numerous shady dealings in the past.  I heard that some of his ships were even used for transporting slaves before the war.  I cannot in all good conscience accept a position from any man who has such little regard for humanity, especially for people who are of a different race or skin color.

"Julie," Scott whispered, his heart breaking at the memory of her tossing his grandmother's ring on the small table in the parlor of her father's home before walking out of the room with her head held high.  

With a heavy sigh, Scott closed the journal with a snap, then shut it away in the drawer.  He had read all he cared to at the moment.  'Now I know why I came here.  I had to get away from all the painful memories and the pressure to compromise my principles.'

Although his appetite had fled and he wasn't sure that he would be able to swallow a single bite of food, Scott left his room and went in search of the dining room.  He needed a diversion and anything would do at the moment.  Even being with his brother and risking the onslaught of another killing headache was better than the alternative--alone with his thoughts.

Uncertain of which way to go, Scott paused at the bottom of the stairway.  He heard voices, one of which was his father's, coming from beyond an open arched doorway.  The other belonged to Johnny, he assumed.

Upon crossing the foyer and hesitant about walking in unannounced, Scott stopped again.  While debating what to do next, he heard, "So . . . just how late were ya on account a Scott's accident?"

"A couple of days," came Murdoch's deep voice.

There was a low whistle followed by, "Two whole days, huh.  So did Lopez dock ya much for not deliverin' on time?  I heard he's a crafty ol' devil who'd steal the shirt off your back, if he thought he could get away with it."

"He is a sly one, that's for certain."

There was a brief silence, and then Johnny spoke again.  "So how much did ya lose?"

"Close to three thousand dollars."

There was another whistle; a little higher pitched this time.  "That's quite a hunk of change for just two days."

"Well, it wouldn't have been quite so much if the final count hadn't been short a few head.  That cost us another nine hundred and seventy dollars."

"I thought you allowed for losses.  How did you end up with not enough?"

"There was a stampede.  Quite a number were trampled, and we may have missed a few steers when rounding up the strays."

"What spooked 'em inta runnin'?"

"Scott was on night-herd duty.  He saw a wolf stalking the herd and shot at it.  It could have been a lot worse.  Besides the steers and one horse, some of the men could have been injured or killed."

"Does Scott know any of this?"

"No.  I haven't told him, and at the moment, he doesn't remember any of it, so I'd just as soon we keep this between the two of us.  Scott's having a hard enough time without feeling responsible for the ranch losing money."

At the impact of Murdoch's words, Scott turned and slowly trudged back to his room.  Whatever he had hoped to gain by going on the cattle drive had ended in failure, and he couldn't bear the thought of facing his father or his brother. 'I should never have come here.  Grandfather was right; this is no life for me.  Boston is where I belong.  I was a fool to believe it could ever be otherwise.' he thought downheartedly.

Once inside the confines of his room with the door latched, Scott crossed to the window.  Gazing out at the green fertile valley without really seeing it, he contemplated his options.  There was only one that he could see.  With his mind made up, he settled down on the bed.  Lying on his back and with eyes closed, he formulated his plans for the future.      


Chapter 32


"Ain't Scott been down for breakfast, yet?" Johnny Lancer asked, eyeing the dishes on the table as he sauntered across the room toward his father, who was sitting at the desk that was in front of a large arched window.

"No, he hasn't," replied Murdoch without looking up from the entry he was making in the ranch ledger.

"Want me to take somethin' up to him?"

"He was still sleeping when I looked in on him a while ago. According to the doctor in Modesto, plenty of rest is the best medicine for him so I'd just as soon not disturb him.  We put in some long days getting here, and even though he slept in the back of the wagon part of the time, he's probably still pretty worn out."  Murdoch Lancer laid the pencil down, leaned back in his chair, and flexed the fingers of his right hand.  Raising his head to meet the appraising eyes of his younger son, he added, "Teresa said Sam is supposed to be here early this afternoon.  If Scott hasn't been down by then, I'll wake him up.  I want Sam to take a look at him anyway just to make sure there's nothing to be concerned about."   

Tapping his knuckles against the edge of the table that held a large model sailing ship, Johnny looked down to view the toes of his boots.  After a moment of silent uncertainty about what to say next, he shrugged and slowly lifted his head.  "Guess I'll go take a little ride before lunch . . . if it's all right with you, that is."  There was a hint of a challenge to his tone as he made eye contact with his father.

"That's fine with me . . . as long as you take it easy and don't do more than Sam told you to do."

There was a commanding note to Murdoch's tone and Johnny felt himself bristling.  He never had liked taking orders.  Even as a child, his stubborn independence had earned him more than one whipping from his stepfather.  Biting back a retort, he turned to leave.  As he strode toward the open doorway leading into the main entry hall, he ignored his father's admonition to not be gone long because he had an appointment with the doctor.

'Ya'd think I was a kid.  It's a wonder he didn't wanna send Teresa along to keep an eye on me,' he grumbled to himself as he stepped out onto the porch and closed the heavy wooden door behind him. 

Thoughts of the girl soon had Johnny thinking about how his life had changed in the past few weeks.  When the Pinkerton agent had rescued him just seconds away from death at the hands of Mexican Rurales and told him that his father would pay to see him, he had accepted the offer for one reason.  Money.  Feeling nothing but hatred for Murdoch Lancer, the possibility of becoming part of a family hadn't even crossed his mind.  His plan had been to give the man the required one hour of time, collect his thousand dollars, and leave.  That had all changed when he had been presented with a more lucrative proposition: one third of the vast Lancer Ranch in exchange for his help in fighting off a gang of land pirates.

'Wonder how much my old man knows about me and what I am.  He has to have heard something of my reputation.  Word gets around.  I suppose that's why he suspected me of joining up with Pardee.'  Johnny's brow puckered at the memory of the accusing tone in Murdoch's voice the day before the final showdown with Day Pardee.  'I'm sure he thought I'd cut some kind of deal and was planning to betray him.  Bet when I refused to go with Scott and left like I did, he was sure I'd gone to tell Day the ranch was unprotected.  Guess I proved him wrong when I took that bullet in my back.  Not that it matters all that much what he thinks of me just as long as he signs them papers like he promised,' he told himself, yet somewhere in a corner of his mind, he knew he did care.

Upon arriving at the horse pasture that was behind the stable next to the barn, Johnny let out a shrill whistle then leaned against the rail fence to wait for Barranca to come racing up to him.  "Good boy," he said running a hand down the sleek golden neck while the other, which was behind his back, held a carrot he had taken from the kitchen before he had stopped to talk to his father.

"Hey!  Watch it.  Your gettin' a little close to my thumb," he admonished the palomino horse when it reached around his back and snatched the treat from his hand.  As Barranca tossed his head, the flopping carrot held tightly between his teeth, Johnny laughed.  "Think you're smart, don't ya?" he said with a tug to the horse's ear.  He patted the horse a couple times then gave it a gentle shove.  "Go on now.  Much as I'd like ta take ya for a run, I can't.  Doctor's orders."

With a resigned sigh, Johnny entered a pen next to barn and caught the small black mare that he had ridden the day before.  She wasn't nearly as flashy as the palomino gelding; however, being considerably older and having had much more training, she was a nice gentle mount that would give him no trouble.  The ride would be dull, of that he was sure.  'But at least I can get away for a little while--see something besides walls everywhere I look.'

After leading the mare into the barn and giving her a light going over with a brush, Johnny selected a bridle from one of the hooks on the wall. The horse, being the obliging sort, readily accepted the bit and kept her head down while he slipped the headstall over her ears.  Even with her help, he felt the pull in his back and winced.

Next came the saddle blanket, which Johnny flipped onto the bay's back with his right hand and then smoothed into place with as little use of his other hand as was necessary.  Taking a deep breath, he then reached for the saddle and tried to lift it.  This proved to be much more difficult than he had anticipated.  His arms were still weak from inactivity, and the bullet wound in his back protested against the extra strain even though it was almost healed up.  In the end, all he managed was to drag the heavy saddle off the rack to let it drop in the dirt at his feet as he let out a painful grunt.

"May I help you, Señor?"

Johnny glanced over his shoulder at the Mexican youth, walking toward him from the barn's open doorway.  He scowled then sighed resignedly.  "Sí, Antonio."

The fourteen-year old son of the Mexican vaquero, Cipriano, was stocky and strong for his age.  As the boy hoisted the big saddle onto the mare's back with ease and tightened the cinch, Johnny felt a surge of jealousy.  He hated having to rely on the help of others to perform what he considered to be simple tasks.

When the stirrup that had been hooked over the saddle horn was once again hanging down and Antonio had stepped to one side, Johnny forced a smile to cover up his frustration.  "Gracias, Amigo," he said then led the horse to a block of wood that someone had left near the outside of the corral fence.  He had found it quite useful for standing on while he mounted, and he suspected that Teresa had had something to do with it's being there.

Even with the aide of a mounting block, getting into the saddle brought a stab of pain to Johnny's back--another reminder that full recovery from his wound was a few more weeks away.  He was not about to be deterred from his ride, however, so he ignored the discomfort.  He'd had worse.

As much as Johnny would have loved to send the mare racing over the fields to the north of the road, he restrained himself and kept her to a walk.  He was sure that Murdoch would have been informed of the doctor's explicit "keep it slow," which meant anything faster was out of the question whether he could handle the pain or not.  'Don't dare take a chance of bein' seen and havin' word get back to my old man. Having one nursemaid's bad enough. I don't need him fussin' at me along with Teresa.' he thought.

Johnny set his course for the far side of the valley where he turned to the west and rode along the edge of the hills since the level ground was less strenuous for his weakened muscles and sore back.  Coming to a stream, he waded the horse through the knee-deep water and then followed the road that circled back toward the hacienda.  When he came upon a tree near the water's edge, he halted in its shade for a few minutes and looked out over the fertile land that stretched eastward to the mountains.  'This is my land,' he thought.

'Our land,' insisted another voice in his head.

At the memory of Scott's words that first day, a touch of a grin tugged the corners of Johnny's lips.  'Yeah . . . our land,' he silently conceded. 

The smile faded into a more sober expression a few miutes later when the shaky beginning he had had with his brother came to mind.  It seemed that they had been destined to start off on the wrong foot from the moment they had met on the stage ten miles out of Morro Coyo.  'Guess I did lay it on pretty thick about me being the famous Johnny Madrid.  No wonder he looked at me the way he did when Teresa told us we were brothers.  Maybe that's why he put on that show about Murdoch's fight with Pardee being a simple military problem.  I thought he just wanted to impress our old man, but he could've done it to prove to me that he knew as much about fighting as I did.'

He let out a soft chuckle.  Scott had more than held his own in the battle with Day Pardee and his gang of land grabbers.  'He sure is good with a rifle.  Showed me up good, me with my big plans of a one-man show.  Here I thought he'd be the one getting shot full of holes, and it was me that took a bullet . . . and in the back too.  And if that ain't bad enough, that city brother of mine ends up being the one to get Pardee.  Looks like Boston did more in the cavalry than stand around getting his picture taken with some smarted up general.  Wonder just how much fighting Scott did do during that war.  Could be he's killed a lot more men than I have.  Not that killing a man's anything to be proud of.'  Johnny let out a soft sigh.  He never had been able to take another life without feeling sick inside; he hoped he never would.  Once a man reached the point where he took killing lightly, he tended to lose all respect for the living.

Death being an unpleasant subject to dwell on for long, Johnny turned his attention back to the view.  He drew in a deep breath and savored the sweet smelling air.  About then another thought struck him.  This was the place of his first fight with his brother.

'Brother.'  The word mocked him.  Just a few weeks ago, on this very spot, he had denied any such connection to the easterner, who also shared the blood of Murdoch Lancer.  The words had been spoken in anger, but they had carried a measure of truth as well.  At that time, he had been so sure that his brother would wind up dead that he hadn't wanted Scott to mean anything to him.  Caring for someone only made the loss that much more painful.  'Only I can't help myself,' he thought.  'I guess what they say about blood being thicker than water is true.  Even that old man back there is starting to get under my skin now that I know he didn't send my mama and me away.'

Noticing that the shadow beneath the tree had shifted to the east, Johnny squeezed his horse back into a walk, heading in the direction of the ranch headquarters.  It was past noon and he was getting hungry.

A while later, after washing up at the hand pump that was a short distance from the front entry of the house, Johnny slowly walked through the arched doorway leading into the main living room to find that his family had already sat down to lunch.  Feeling a bit self-conscious with three pairs of eyes watching him, he stepped between the long dining table and the bookcase that lined the wall behind it, and slid into the chair next to Teresa.  "Sorry, if I kept you waitin'," he mumbled, reaching for the plate of sliced ham in front of him and gritting his teeth to hide the pain in his back.

"You didn't," smugly stated Teresa. 

Johnny opened his mouth to make some smart remark back to her when he glanced across the table and saw a look of disapproval on his brother's face.  "Somethin' wrong Bo--uh--Scott?" he queried, stopping just short of using the nickname that his brother had objected to the day before.

"No . . . it's just . . . I'm not accustomed to hats being worn at the table."

With a shrug, Johnny removed the offending item and tossed it a ways down the table.  "That better?" he asked with a grin.

"How was your ride?"  Murdoch's deep voice cut in before Scott had a chance to respond.

"Slow," replied Johnny, dragging the word out while turning to look at his father, who was seated at the head of the table.

"You didn't overdo, did you?"

"No, Murdoch.  I was a good little boy and never once went any faster'n a walk," Johnny replied, immediately regretting the sharpness he had allowed to creep into his voice.

"No need to get short with me, Boy," Murdoch returned in a harsher tone.

"Works both--."  Seeing the slight shake of Teresa's head and the warning in her eye, Johnny bit back the rest of the retort and looked away.

"Johnny, would you like some bread and cheese?" Teresa quickly interjected.

"Thanks, T'resa."  Johnny's eyes smiled his gratitude as he took a couple slices of bread and a chunk of cheese from the dishes the girl held toward him.  While spreading the bread with butter and peach preserves then placing the ham and cheese between them to form a sandwich, he thought, 'Why'd I smart off at my old man like that? I had no reason to be rude to him.  He was just trying to show his concern.' 

Lunch ended up being a quiet strained affair for the most part.  Despite Teresa's occasional efforts to start up a conversation, she received little or no response from the men.  Scott politely spoke only when a question was directed specifically to him and Murdoch, appearing distracted, also had little to say.  Content to eat in silence, Johnny kept his mouth filled with food and merely smiled and pointed at his cheeks when she asked him anything.  He wasn't about to take a chance of saying the wrong thing.

As soon as his plate was empty, Johnny excused himself and headed outside to sit on a bench in the courtyard.  Leaning his head back against the stone wall behind him, he closed his eyes and tried to relax.  He was sure that his first meal with his new family hadn't been any more tense than the one he had just finished.  Since supper the evening before had been pleasant enough, he assumed that it was Scott's presence that had them all on edge.  'I just don't know what to say around him.  Guess none of us do.  This is worse than when we first met.  At least then I didn't have to worry about talking about something he should remember but can't.

He hadn't been sitting there long when a door closed and he looked up to see Teresa approaching.  "Johnny, is something wrong?" she asked, her eyebrows slightly drawn together.


"Murdoch didn't mean anything--"

"I know.  My fault for snappin' at him.  I'm just gettin' grumpy from sittin' around doin' nothin'."

"You certainly are," she conceded in a serious tone as she sat down next to him.

A smile appeared on Johnny's face and he let out a short laugh.  "So you think I'm grouchy, do you?" he asked, playfully flicking the side of her nose with his finger.

"You're worried about Scott, aren't you?"

The unexpected shift in the conversation caught Johnny off guard, and it took a moment for him to answer.  "Some."  

"I feel so sorry for him . . . and for you and Murdoch.  You were just getting to know each other and now you have to start all over.  Only it's even harder now, isn't it . . . because you don't know what you should or shouldn't say to him?"

"It'll all work out in time," he said reassuringly in an attempt to lighten her spirits.  "I mean, it's not like he had all that much to forget.  He was only here a little over three weeks before the drive."

"But what if he decides he wants to go back where . . . where everything is familiar to him?"

"He say that?"

"No, but Murdoch told me Scott mentioned it to the doctor in Modesto after learning that the railroad goes all the way from San Francisco to Boston."

"How'd he find that out?  The trains haven't been running more'n a few months.  I thought he couldn't remember anything that's happened in the last six years or so."

"Something was said about it during supper one night at the doctor's home.   I guess, Scott picked up on it right away and started asking questions.  There wasn't any way for Murdoch to keep him from finding out."  Teresa sighed softly, her shoulders slumping as she looked imploringly at Johnny.  "If he wants to leave, what are we going to do?"

"Let him go, I s'pose," he replied with a shrug.

"Oh!  You're as bad as Murdoch," she snapped.  "Can't you see that if Scott leaves he might never come back?"

"He ain't a kid, T'resa.  Whatcha expect us ta do; hog tie him ta keep him here?" Johnny returned defensively.

"Of course not.  But . . . but you could try to talk him out of it, couldn't you?"

Johnny looked away from Teresa's imploring eyes then quietly drawled, "Yeah, I could try.  Don't mean he'll listen, though."

"But you will try, won't you, Johnny?  Please . . . promise me you'll at least do that.  I just know he'll stay if you tell you don't want him to go."

"All right.  If he says anything about goin', I promise I'll try to talk him out of it," he said, seeing that she wasn't about to give up until he did.  "Only, I ain't gunna stop him if he's set on leavin'.  He's got a right ta go wherever he wants to."

Teresa laid a hand on Johnny's arm and beamed up at him.  "Thank you, Johnny.  I just knew I could count on you."

"Well . . . don't go countin' yer chickens before they're hatched, okay?  It's a good way of bein' disappointed," he chided gently, a grin playing at the corners of his mouth.

The sound of hoof-beats and the low rumble of wheels on the bridge over the canal caught their attention about then, and they both stood to look over the edge of the stone wall of the courtyard.  "Looks like Doc Jenkins' buggy ta me," Johnny said.  "Sure hope he lets me off this tight string he's got me on.  I'm gunna go crazy if I have to sit around twiddlin' my thumbs much longer."

"You aren't the only one," Teresa quipped, leaving him wondering just what she had meant.  Before he could ask, she was headed for the house.

Hiding the soreness in his back, a result of his hour-long ride before lunch, Johnny went to meet the doctor by the hitching rail that was near the front door.

"Hello, Johnny," said Sam Jenkins, climbing down.

"Doc, good ta see ya," returned Johnny with a smile.

While setting out the anchor weight, which was attached to his horse's bridle with a length of rope, the doctor gave Johnny an appraising glance.  "You been behaving yourself?  Taking it easy like I told you?"

"I always behave myself, Doc.  Besides, Teresa hardly lets me outta her sight.  She's one mean watchdog, and I've learned it doesn't pay ta cross her." 

Sam raised an eyebrow and let out a "hrmph" of disbelief.

"Hey, it's true.  Just ask anyone around here; they'll tell ya."  Johnny feigned being offended.

"Uh, huh.  So tell me, how's the back feeling?"


"Hm, hm.  Well, we'll see about that."  Sam made a move toward the porch.

The door opened about then and Murdoch stepped out.  "Sam," he said reaching out to clasp the doctor's hand.  "Come on in.  We've been expecting you."

After issuing a brief greeting and shaking hands with Murdoch, Sam went on into the foyer.

"You coming?" Murdoch asked when Johnny hung back.

"Right behind you," Johnny reluctantly replied then took his time following the other men into the house.  After close to six weeks of being poked and prodded, he was in no hurry for what was to come.  He especially wasn't looking forward to his father being present.  Murdoch could very well be much more difficult to fool than Sam Jenkins.  'Don't s'pose there's much chance of Doc letting me off that leash, just yet,' he thought dejectedly as he shut the door.


Chapter 33


From all outward appearances, peace and tranquility reined over the Lancer ranch as the sun slowly winged its way across the western sky.  The vaqueros were scattered about, some checking on cattle and others branding a few stray calves that had been found the day before.  In conjunction with familiarizing the new hands, who had returned from the cattle drive, with the lay of the land, Cipriano was replenishing the supplies at the line shacks that were scattered along the ranch's boundaries.  Nearer to home, Teresa was helping Juanita hang up the last of the laundry.

Inside, it was another matter entirely.  Scott Lancer lay in bed staring at the ceiling and trying to decide what he should do while his brother, Johnny, lay in the room across the hallway brooding about Sam's latest orders.  Downstairs, their father was finding it very hard to concentrate on the papers he was sorting through.

With a huff of disgust, Murdoch Lancer scooted his chair back, rose to his feet, and went to stand by the window that was behind his desk.  He looked out at his ranch, and his mind wandered back to another day six weeks earlier when he had been looking out through the same large piece of glass.  At that time, he had been anxiously awaiting the return of his ward.  She had gone to Morro Coyo to meet his first born son, who was due in on the noon stage.

Remembering the sound of his sentry heralding Scott's arrival, he could still feel the excitement mingled with trepidation that had overcome him as he had seen the cart being moved from the bridge so that the buckboard could cross.  The sight of the young man seated next to Teresa had sent shivers down his spine and knotted his insides with fear.  Only he hadn't had the good fortune of meeting just the one son that day.  No.  As the buckboard had made the slight corner part way to the front entry, he had spotted a second passenger, who was sitting on the luggage behind the seat.  His apprehension had increased considerably in the instant that he had realized that this young man could be none other than his younger son, Johnny.

Just as he had on that fateful afternoon, Murdoch turned away from the window and picked up the pictures that were lying on his desk and gazed into the equally beautiful faces of two women--the mothers of his boys.  Each reminded him of a love that had been lost and a son who had been taken from him, all leaving an empty place in his heart that had refused to be filled despite his efforts to replace them with the land that he held so dear.

'If only,' he silently mouthed then immediately squelched the multitude of thoughts that those two words invoked.  He told himself once again that the past was gone and could never be relived or changed except in his mind.  The only thing that mattered was the here and now, the present, and the two young men who had turned his world up side down the moment they had walked through the door and he had laid eyes on the sons that he hadn't seen in nearly twenty years.

The light tap of footsteps drew Murdoch from his reflections and he looked up to see Teresa walking toward him.  "I brought you the mail Carlos picked up while he was in town and some lemonade to drink while you're reading it," she said upon setting a glass down in front of him and handing him a bundle that was tied with a string.

"Thank you, Teresa."  Murdoch took the mail in one hand and picked up the drink with his other.  Setting the glass back down after taking a few swallows of the tart liquid, he inquired, "Did Carlos say whether that shipment of salt came in?"    

"It's not going to be there for another day or two.  He said he can drive back to Morro Coyo tomorrow and check on it, if you want him to."

"I'll think about it and let him know."

As Murdoch cut the chord securing the small stack of envelopes and began to sort through them, Teresa turned to leave then stopped.  "Murdoch?"

"Hm?"  He looked up and noticed her puckered brow.  "Is something wrong?"

"It's . . . it's Scott and Johnny."

"Now stop your worrying," he gently chided.  "Sam said they're both doing fine.  Johnny's still pretty sore, but that's to be expected.  It's going to take time for the muscles in his back to entirely heal.  I know Johnny was hoping Sam would let him do a little more, but he's just going to have to be patient and let nature take its course."

"Then he has been doing too much."

"Sam didn't exactly say that.  What he said was that Johnny's been pushing himself and he's hurting because of it; however, he's not doing any damage and the exercise will help him get his strength back a little sooner.  Sam's biggest concern is keeping Johnny from further injury.  That's why he's put restrictions on what horses he can ride and at what speed, how much lifting he's allowed to do, and so forth.  He just knows that Johnny is one of those people who think they can do more than they're able and therefore will try the very limits of what they're allowed to do."

"Hm . . . sounds like someone else I know," Teresa said smugly.

"I don't recall Sam complaining about me doing too much," he replied defensively, knowing full well that she was referring to his own period of recovery from the bullet Pardee had put in his back.

"No . . . but he did say that you wouldn't know when to quit if he didn't give you some limitations."

"Sam was just being over cautious."

"Oh . . . so with you he was being too careful, but with Johnny he's using wisdom, is that it?"

"Don't you have something you should be doing?" Murdoch asked with a hint of irritation in hopes she would either leave him in peace or find something else to talk about.

"No.  The last of the laundry is on the line and Juanita doesn't need me to help with supper for another hour."  Teresa flopped into a nearby chair.  "If you don't like the subject, we could talk about Scott."

"What about Scott?" Murdoch scowled a little.

"Well . . . those headaches he gets.  Did the doctor say what causes them or what we can do to keep him from getting more of them?"

Laying down the mail that he was still holding in his hand, Murdoch let out a soft sigh then replied, "Sam assured me they're from tension.  Scott needs plenty of rest, and we need to do what we can to keep him calm and help him not to worry about what he can't remember."

"Did . . . did Doctor Jenkins say whether there was anything we can do to help Scott get his memory back?"

"No," Murdoch said with a shake of his head, and then his shoulders slumped as he went on to explain.  "Unfortunately, there's no treatment for amnesia.  Scott's memories have to be allowed to come back on their own.  Trying to force them will only put stress on him, which in turn could trigger another bad headache."

Teresa bit her lip then hesitantly asked, "Does he agree with the doctor in Modesto that Scott should be in more familiar surroundings?"

"You mean, does he think Scott would be better off in Boston?"  Murdoch asked irritably.

"Yes," Teresa softly replied then turned imploring eyes on her guardian.  "Well . . . does he?"

"Not entirely."  Murdoch leaned back in his chair and took a deep breath and slowly let it out before continuing.  "He said the changes there over the past five or six years could be as distressing for Scott as his being here where everything is relatively new to him.  On the hand, being where he recognized the people and his surroundings might make him feel more relaxed and comfortable.  The one thing Sam did make quite clear was that Scott has to be allowed to make his own decision on where he wants to be."

"So if he wants to go, we have no choice but to let him, is that it?" 

"Yeah," sighed Murdoch.

"But what about the trip?  Wouldn't it be too hard for him?"

"Sam didn't seem to be concerned about it.  The two days by stage to Sacramento would be tiring, but the train east doesn't leave until mid-morning so he'd be able to get a good night's sleep.  I'm sure I could wire ahead and arrange for him to go by private car so he could lie down when he needed."

"But aren't you worried about it?"

"Of course, I am," Murdoch replied loudly then, immediately regretting having taken his frustrations out on Teresa, spoke in a calmer tone that was almost pleading.  "I'd prefer he stay here; you know that.  It still has to be his decision, though.  He's not a child.  If he wants to go, we have to let him.  Sam was insistent on that.  He said forcing Scott to stay would only bring frustration and increase the chances of him having more severe headaches, and possibly hindering him from ever regaining his memory.  I can't take that chance.  You can understand that, can't you?"

She dropped her eyes to the hands in her lap, "I understand . . . only it's so unfair.  We've hardly had him here and now he might leave and . . . and never come back."

Despite the constricting of his throat as Teresa voiced his own fears, Murdoch spoke reassuringly.  "Honey, don't you think you're borrowing trouble before it starts?  He hasn't even said he's going anywhere, yet, or given us any reason to believe he wouldn't return if he did.  Now why don't you find something to do that will get your mind off it while I catch up on some of this paper work?"

"Oh, all right . . . but I still don't see how you can sit there so calmly," she snapped then whirled and hurried from the room.

Murdoch tucked his lower lip between his teeth and let out a deep sigh.  Although he had hoped that Teresa would think of herself as part of his family, he hadn't expected her feelings for his sons to develop so quickly.  They were still practically strangers and yet she was acting more like Scott was her brother than her guardian's son.

With a hint of pain lurking in his temples, Murdoch tried to focus on the tasks at hand rather than puzzling over problems that might not even exist.  He would deal with Scott's leaving when and if the time came; meanwhile, he would try as best he could to help his son feel at home.

Ruffling through the pile of mail once more, Murdoch immediately saw a large thick envelope.  His hand trembled a little when he noticed that it was from the Pinkerton Detective Agency's branch office in San Francisco.  He started to rip it open then had second thoughts.  It had to be the final report on their search for Johnny, and he wasn't sure he was up to reading it at the moment.  After a minute or two of wavering between desire to know more about his younger son and dread of what he might learn, he put the packet in the bottom drawer of his desk and continued with what he had been doing.

There was another large envelope--thinner than the first--from the president of the California Cattle Growers and a letter from a friend in Stockton.  These he set to one side to read later.  Seeing the return address on the next small envelope, he quickly ripped it open, pulled out a sheet of paper, and skimmed over it.  'Good,' he thought with a smile.  'Aggie wants that breeding stock after all.  I'd better have Cipriano get those heifers rounded up so I can sort through them.  A week from Thursday isn't all that far off.'

Finding an item for Teresa, Murdoch laid it on the front edge of the desk and then glanced at the small white envelope still in his hand.  His heart leapt at the sight of Scott's name, written in neat letters.  There was no return address.  He raised it to his lips and sniffed but couldn't detect even the slightest hint of perfume.  Tapping it lightly against the palm of his other hand, he wondered who might have written his son.  Could it be a close friend, who was merely interested in how Scott had faired on his trip west, or perhaps from a shy young lady, whose hopes were to maintain contact with the handsome young man?  Not wanting to think about the other alternative or how words written by Harlan Garrett, his son's grandfather, might affect Scott at this time, he set the letter aside and opened the rest of his own mail.




Trembling inside with anticipation, Scott Lancer returned to his room and closed the door.  In his hand was the envelope that his father had given him at the dinner table.  Proper manners had dictated that he wait to read its contents, so he had laid it beside his plate and had tried to keep his thoughts focused on those around him.  Upon finishing his meal, however, he had taken the first opportunity to excuse himself.  The strained atmosphere between him and his family, as well as the burning desire to know who had written to him, had driven him to seek solitude once more.

He turned up the lamp by the bed then sat down with his back leaning against the pillow that he had propped against the headboard earlier so he could sit relaxed while reading more of his journal.  Carefully, he slit the envelope open along the top edge with the pocketknife he had found lying on his bedside stand.  He hesitated then as a wave of uncertainty bringing fear of what the letter might contain came over him.

Scolding himself for his cowardice, Scott pulled out the folded sheets of paper, took a deep breath, and began to read:

May 18, 1870

My dearest Scotty,

I trust this finds you well and that you have recovered by now from the arduous trip to that God forsaken land.  I do hope you were not too terribly disappointed by what you have encountered since your arrival.  I did my best to warn you; however, you refused to listen to me.  I suppose it is because you are young, and in your eyes, I am nothing more than a doddering old fool.  Be that as it may, I am sure that you have come to your senses by now and are ready to admit that you should have heeded my words of wisdom.

I have spoken to Julie's father and she is expected to return from Europe this fall.  Surely by then she will have realized her mistake and will be only too happy to resume your engagement provided you are gainfully employed.  After giving this much thought, I have come to the conclusion that you were wise to refuse the position offered to you; therefore, I am prepared to place you in full charge of a garment factory that I acquired a couple of weeks after your departure.  Of course, a training period would be required, perhaps a year or two of acquainting yourself with the various aspects of the business.  Well, I shall not bore you with further details at this time.  We can sort all of that out after you have rested from your trip home. 

James Martin came by to see you last week.  He completed the required classes for his degree and, upon receiving his ordination, has been appointed pastor of a small church in Wisconsin.  It is beyond my comprehension why he requested to be placed in such an isolated location.  His mother informed me that he had graduated with the highest of honors.  Surely, he could have had his choice of available parishes, but then he never did have much ambition.  I still find it difficult to understand how he ever came to be your best friend.  You have so little in common other than that his mother comes from one of the most prestigious families in Boston.  His father would still be swabbing decks on some ship if her father had not taken pity on the man and made him vice-president of his shipping company.

The Abernathys and the Vanderbelts send their regards, as do your friends, Alan Enderson and Wayne Faulkner.  Also, Reginald and Virginia Steinfild are hosting their annual charity ball on the third of July.  They will be most disappointed if you are not back in time to attend; after all, you are their favorite great-nephew and they are always so proud to introduce you to all of the visiting dignitaries.  You really must make every effort to be here.  The exposure will stand you in good stead when you inherit the legacy I have built for you.

I shall close for now as there will be plenty of time for discussion of the future once you are back in civilization.  Until then, I shall anxiously await your wire informing me of the date and time of your expected return.  I do not wish to unduly influence your decisions; however, as you know, my health is not what it once was so I trust you will not delay long.

Your devoted grandfather,

Harlan S. Garrett

For a while, Scott stared at the pages in his hands.  The familiar names invoked a multitude of fond memories from his childhood and early teen years bringing with them a tidal wave of homesickness such as he had never felt before.  His throat tightened and he swallowed painfully.  He slid down in the bed until his head was on the pillow, closed his eyes, and let his mind dwell on the past.

A light tap, some time later, aroused Scott from the sleep he had fallen into.  "Come in," he called, rubbing his eyes.

The door opened and a shock of dark hair appeared followed by a grinning face.  "I wake ya?" asked Johnny, stepping into sight and leaning against the edge of the doorway.

"No.  I was just relaxing."

"So . . . how're ya feelin'?"

"Fine.  How about yourself?" Scott replied, certain that he was no less nervous than his brother, whose fingers were restlessly flexing while his eyes roved about the room.

"Me?  Oh, I'm doin' all right.  I'll be a lot better once Doc Jenkins ever quits babyin' me."

Scott, lying on his side, raised himself up on one elbow.  "Our father said that you were shot.  Was it bad?"

"I've had worse."

Johnny's last words, spoken as though being wounded were an everyday occurrence, left Scott speechless.  While trying to comprehend his brother's careless attitude, he couldn't help wondering if Johnny had been shot so many times that he had become desensitized to it.  An even worse thought occurred to him almost immediately: that his brother might be as unconcerned over the injury or death of another person as he seemed to be for himself.   

"So . . . what else'd he tell ya about me?"

Startled by Johnny's voice breaking into the stillness of the room, Scott hastily answered, "Nothing much."

"Somethin's botherin' ya about me, though, ain't it," Johnny pressed.  "Mind tellin' me what it is?"

Unwilling to voice his thoughts for fear of offending his brother, Scott remained silent as he desperately searched for something to say.

"Guess I don't need ta be told.  Ya heard some talk about me bein' a hired gun, ain't that right?" Johnny inquired tightly.  "Well, ain't it?" he persisted when Scott failed to reply.

The beginnings of a headache throbbed in Scott's temples.  As much as he would like to get to know his brother, he felt helpless as to how to go about it.  They had nothing in common that he knew of, and he was certain that inquiring into Johnny's past life would merely add to the tension between them.

When Scott still remained silent, Johnny let out a noisy breath through his nose and drawled in a soft voice, "Look, if you don't wanna talk to me, just say the word and I'll leave."

"Johnny.  I never said I didn't want to talk to you," Scott hastily replied when he brother started to withdraw.  "It's just that . . . I'm not sure what to say.  I . . . did hear some things . . .."

"Well, go ahead.  Ask it."

"Ask what?"

"How many men have I killed?  How did it feel?"  Johnny's chin jutted forward and his eyes took on a steely glint as he spoke more harshly.  "Well, ain't that what you wanna know?"

"Actually, I was . . . wondering why?" Scott softly replied, not meeting his brother's eyes.

"For the money, what else?"

The bitterness in Johnny's voice piqued Scott's interest, and he couldn't resist asking, "Is that why you came here?"

"Yeah.  That bother you?" Johnny demanded defensively.


"Look.  I was told Murdoch threw my mother and me out.  Now why else would I come here?"

"What did he have to say about that?"

"Nothin' much.  Just said she up and left."

"Do you believe him?"  Scott studied the younger man.  According to one of the entries that he had just read in his journal, Teresa had claimed that Johnny's mother had run off with a gambler.  He was curious as to what effect that bit of information had had on his brother.

Johnny scuffed the floor with the heel of his boot and softly said, "Guess so.  T'resa told me . . . my mother ran off with someone."  He drew in a breath and shrugged.  "Juanita and a few others around here told me the same thing when I asked them about it."

"It must be difficult to believe that your mother lied to you," Scott remarked sympathetically having just discovered that prior to going on the cattle drive he had been having similar doubts concerning his own grandfather's truthfulness.

"She ain't the one that told me.  I heard my step-father talkin' ta somebody about it once." 

"Then your mother married the man she left with."

Johnny shook his head.  "Don't think so.  Teresa said he was a gambler.  P . . . my stepfather owned a store in Guadalupe."

"Is that along the border, somewhere?"

"South of El Paso.  That's in Texas."

As the two brothers continued to chat amicably with one another, they began to relax. Johnny moved on into the room and sat down on the corner of the bed while Scott scooted up to sit with his back supported by the headboard.  For the most part, they kept away from the more sensitive subject of Johnny's past as a gunfighter and centered their conversation on his childhood days.

Scott found border town life fascinating.  Mexican culture was far different from that of Boston society.  Poverty was rampant, and he wondered how a good portion of the people Johnny spoke of even survived.  Having never wanted for anything himself as a child, at one point, he even wondered how his brother could talk about the deplorable conditions with such lack of emotion.  He supposed it was because one became accustomed to one's environment and that what became commonplace was no longer shocking.  

Nearly an hour later, both young men were laughing over some story Scott had told of his childhood in Boston.  How the course of the conversation had changed from Johnny to himself, Scott had no idea; but he was sure that his brother had subtly shifted it there deliberately.

"Well, you two must be feeling better.  I expected to find you asleep," broke in a deep voice.

Scott glanced at the tall man, who was standing just inside the doorway.  "Is it getting late?" he asked, noting the pleased look on his father's face.

"A little.  It's almost half past nine."

"I hope we weren't disturbing you, Sir," said Scott.

"No.  I just came up to, uh . . . see if you needed anything before I retired for the night."

Johnny chuckled softly and Scott, certain that his brother was thinking the same thing that he was, suppressed a smile.  Aware of a touch of embarrassment in Murdoch's expression, he replied, "We're fine, Sir.  I can't think of anything I need."  Glancing at Johnny, he asked, "How about you?"

"Nope, but if I do, I s'pose I can manage ta get it myself somehow," Johnny drawled with a smirk.

"Well . . . in that case I'll say goodnight.  Although you boys don't have to get up at daylight, I do."

"Goodnight, Sir," said Scott in unison with Johnny's "Night, Murdoch" as their father turned and left.

"He do that every night?"

Scott arched an eyebrow at his brother.  "Do what?"

A grin brightened Johnny's face and his eyes danced.  "Come in ta tuck ya in bed?" 

"That wasn't why he came," Scott replied with a hint of agitation.

"Coulda fooled me.  Ya see that look on his face . . . kinda like a cat caught with one a them little yellow birds I saw in a cage at this lady's house where I . . . stopped one time."

"A canary," said Scott in a slightly questioning tone.


"The bird.  It sounds like it might have been a canary. Some people keep them as pets.  A friend of mine's mother has a couple.  She said hearing them sing made the winters seem much shorter."

"Must've been what it was, all right.  It sure could sing pretty.  I remember wakin' up and thinkin' I'd died and gone ta heaven."

"You spent the night there?"  The words were out before Scott could stop them, and he flinched at the icy look he received in return.

"I wasn't feelin' too good," Johnny replied defensively.   "And that's the only reason she didn't make me sleep in the barn." 

"I'm sorry.  I . . . it was none of my business."  Scott bit his lip and glanced away from his brother.

"Well, uh . . . think I'll turn in.  I just might get up at dawn and surprise our old man.  See ya in the mornin'," Johnny said as he stood and made a hasty retreat out the door.

"Goodnight, Johnny," Scott called after him then wondered if his brother was leaving because he had been offended or because his stay at the woman's house was a touchy subject for some reason.

Scott drew in a breath and let it out through his slightly parted lips then got up and prepared for bed.  He started to turn out the lamp when the letter from his grandfather caught his eye so he picked it up off the bed and read the last line.  As the words sank in, he frowned.  'I wonder if he's become ill and doesn't want to worry me.  According to my journal, he was fine at the time I left Boston.  That was close to two months ago, though.  I suppose something could have happened since then.' 

After putting the letter on the bedside table and turning out the lamp, Scott crawled into bed.  Lying there in the darkness, he once again found himself wavering between his desire to become better acquainted with his father and brother and the need to assure himself that all was well with his grandfather.  The decision had seemed simple a few days ago; however, now that he had had a chance to get to know his new family a little better, it was becoming impossible.  No matter what he did, he knew that he would wonder whether he had made the right choice.  Finally, he decided to give himself some more time before doing anything.  The annual dance that his great aunt and uncle would be putting on was over three weeks away.  He could wait a few more days and still make it back to Boston in time to attend. Assuring himself that nothing had to be decided immediately, he rolled over and went to sleep.

Chapter 34

The noise was deafening as horns, glistening in the sunlight, clashed all around him, and a multitude of hooves pounded the ground.  Dust, like smoke sifting through cracks in a burning building, thickened as it ascended to engulf him and hide the sun from view.  Tears stung his eyes and his throat burned with every breath.  Certain that he would choke at any moment, he strained to see beyond the sea of indistinguishable forms, which were pressing in on all sides--crushing him.  He could not.  The haze was far too dense.

A voice whispered somewhere to his right, but no one was there, and he wondered if he could possibly have heard someone call his name.  Then, there it was again, only louder and closer this time.

Suddenly, a rider on a horse that shined like gold appeared before him.  Awed by the sight of the powerful animal clearing a path through the thundering mass, he followed in its wake.

"I'll save you, Brother . . . just stick close to me," he heard the other rider call.

He tried to respond, but the wind seemed to snatch the words from his mouth before they could be formed.

For what seemed an eternity, the race continued.  Where it was taking him was of little consequence.  Even if he had wanted to, he could not have altered the course.  His only option was to follow his brother.  

The ground grew rougher, and he drew in a sharp breath as the golden horse in front of him stumbled.  It caught itself, took a couple more long strides, and then pitched forward to its knees.  In desperation, he gripped the horn of his saddle as his own mount dodged sideways to avoid the fallen horse before galloping onward.  Twisting to look behind him, he sought to learn the fate of his brother but could see nothing.  The frenzied herd of cattle had swallowed up both, the palomino and its rider.

Moments later, the stampede mysteriously ended, and he was alone searching for his brother.  A cry split the deathly stillness.  As he gazed down on the broken body, which he would not have recognized had he not seen the crushed form of the palomino beneath it, he realized that the mournful wail had been torn from his own throat.

The next thing he knew, he was kneeling with a lifeless form cradled in his arms.  He squeezed his teary eyes shut and choked back a sob as he spoke.  "I'm sorry, Johnny.  It was all my fault.  If only I hadn't fired my rifle, you would still be alive."


Gripped by terror, his body damp with perspiration and a frenzied throbbing in his chest, Scott Lancer opened his eyes and frantically tried to locate his brother.  Everything around him had changed and Johnny was nowhere in sight.  Instead of being on a dusty trail surrounded by miles of open countryside, Scott was in his bedroom at his father's ranch.  For a moment, he wasn't quite sure how he had come to be there.

Slowly as Scott became fully awake, more details of the cattle drive filled his mind.  There was the long walk when his horse threw a shoe, his struggles to keep the drag animals up with the rest of the herd, the harassment of the hired men, and the hurt he had felt at failing to earn his father's approval.   He also remembered that there actually had been a stampede, of which he had been the cause, only his brother had been miles away at the time.  'But he could have been there,' he thought with a sense of horror that his dream could have been a reality.

Memories of one calamity after another came crashing in on him.  He saw the wheel of the wagon that he was responsible for slip off the narrow trail, the struggles to get it moving again, and the resulting injury to Cooky's hand when the pole used as a lever had broken.  There was also the time wasted liberating one of the wagons earlier when it had mired down because he had misjudged the softness of the ground.  Lastly, there was the disaster at the river crossing, which could have resulted in the death of his young friend, Red.

'I should never have gone on the cattle drive,' Scott thought upon suddenly remembering the conversation he had overheard between his father and brother the previous morning.  'My mistakes could have cost more than the money lost because of the herd not being delivered on time, or the lives of a few cattle and a horse.  One of the men could have died.  It could have been my father, or even Johnny, if he had been with us.'

Finding it unbearable to lie there thinking on the possible consequences of his errors in judgment, Scott got up and splashed water on his face from the basin on the dresser.  While he shaved and dressed, he admonished himself for his foolish belief that becoming part owner of the vast Lancer ranch made him a rancher.  It simply wasn't so.  He was a tenderfoot Boston gentleman.  A greenhorn.  Even though he was sure that he could learn the ways of western life in time, the stakes were higher than he cared to risk.  His father and brother would be much safer without him endangering their lives.

His mind made up, Scott went downstairs in search of his father.  Entering the living room from the hallway, he glanced around.  There was no one in sight.  He turned to go back to his room and nearly collided with Teresa.

"You're up early," she said cheerfully.  "We didn't expect you up for another hour or more.  Are you hungry?  There's still warm bacon and biscuits, and I can fry a couple of eggs to go with it.  The coffee's hot, too."  Not giving Scott a chance to answer, she linked her arm with his and continued, "Come with me.  You can sit at the kitchen table.  We always have breakfast there.  It's much cozier."

Pricked by a pang of regret, Scott meekly let the girl lead him to the kitchen.  More of his memory had surfaced upon seeing her, and he knew that he was going to miss her.  The morning after his arrival, she had insisted that he think of her as a sister.  The idea had seemed preposterous at the time, but over the subsequent three weeks, before he had left on the cattle drive, he had found himself thinking of her in exactly that way. 

Not ready to reveal to Teresa the return of his memory or his plans for the future, Scott kept relatively quiet during his meal and let her do most of the talking.  Despite the growing ache at the knowledge that soon he might never hear her voice again, the sound was soothing and her words kept thoughts that were more distressing from crowding into his mind.

Once he was finished eating, Scott excused himself and returned to his room.  Having learned from the doctor the day before that the stage to Sacramento was scheduled to leave Morro Coyo at one o'clock in the afternoon, he figured that he had about three-quarters of an hour to prepare for his trip.  He still hadn't seen his father but decided to get his packing done and then secure a ride into town just before saying his good-byes.  The less time he spent with his family the easier he figured it would be.



After giving Barranca one last pat on the neck, Johnny returned to the house to see if his brother had been down for breakfast yet.  Finding Teresa in the kitchen, he learned that Scott had indeed eaten but then had immediately gone back upstairs.  She was finishing up the dishes so Johnny made a speedy exit before she could rope him into helping. 

Upon reaching Scott's room, which was near the head of the stairs and across the hall from his own, Johnny noticed that the door was not completely closed.  Without knocking, he peeked in before pushing his way on in.  "Whatcha doin'?" he asked, eyeing the open trunk on the bed and the pile of clothes beside it.

Scott glanced over his shoulder then went back to what he had been doing.  "What does it look like I'm doing?" he replied a little brusquely.

"Like you're packin'."  Johnny closed the door behind him and leaned against it as he studied the situation. "Plannin' on goin' somewhere?"



"Because I don't belong out here, that's why," Scott replied as he packed the last of the shirts on the bed.  Without looking at Johnny, he then went to the closet and removed the items that were hanging there.

"Things got a little rough, so you're quittin'. Is that it?" Johnny asked.

Scott, still evading his brother's eyes, said, "I need someone to take me into Morro Coyo.  Could you make arrangements for me, please."  When Johnny didn't answer, he added, "If you aren't able to secure a driver, I can drive myself and pay to have the buckboard brought back from town."

Johnny chewed at his lip for a moment.  "I guess I can find someone ta take ya, if that's what you want, but shouldn't ya think about this a little more?" he drawled softly.

"I have given this considerable consideration.  Now would you mind seeing that the wagon is hitched up?  I want to be in town well in advance of the stage's departure so I need to be going soon."

"Is this about our talk last night?" Johnny asked, his body tensing and his tone turning defensive.  "I mean about what I--"

"This has nothing to do with you, Johnny.  As I told you, I just don't belong here.  I wasn't cut out for this kind of life.  It doesn't mean that I don't want anything to do with you.  You could visit me in Boston sometime, if you like."   

Johnny relaxed a little then let out soft sigh before replying with a shrug of the shoulders.  "I ain't much for cities.  Too many buildings and people all crammed together.  'Sides, I wouldn't fit in too well.  You know . . . all them fancy clothes and manners.  Not exactly my style."

After carefully placing the pants, which he had just folded, into the trunk, Scott turned away from the bed and fixed imploring eyes on Johnny.  "We can at least write to each other, can't we?"

"Ain't much on writin', either," Johnny said, dropping his gaze to the floor.

"I'm sorry, I forgot that you--"

"I can read some . . . and my writin's good enough ya'd know what I wrote, if that's what your thinkin'," Johnny cut in, his eyes rising to lock briefly with those of his brother before looking elsewhere in the room.  "I just ain't much on writin' letters, is all.  Never had any call for it."

"If I've offended you, Johnny, I'm sorry.  It wasn't my intention.  I . . . I just wanted us to stay in contact with each other somehow.  Of course, if you would rather not . . .." 

When Scott returned to his packing without finishing what he had started to say, Johnny pushed away from the door.  Twisting a little to rest his hand on the doorknob, he said, "I never said for ya not to write . . . only don't be disappointed if I don't send ya a bunch a long letters, okay?"

"I won't," Scott said quietly, keeping his back toward his brother.  After a moment of strained silence, he added, "Would you mind getting the buckboard ready?  I really do need to be leaving soon."

Johnny opened the door, took a step, and stopped.  "Ya told Murdoch you're going?" he asked, having realized that if their father knew Scott's plans then the question of transportation to town would have already been taken care of.

"Not yet," Scott mumbled while carefully laying the last of his clothes in the trunk.

"You are gunna tell him, right? And, what about Teresa?"

"I'll say my good-byes right before I leave," Scott replied as he closed the lid of the trunk and latched it.

"I guess this is it then.  Nothin' I can say is gunna change your mind, huh?" Johnny asked defeatedly.  When all he received was a shake of Scott's head in answer, he slapped the heel of his hand against the doorjamb and resignedly went downstairs.

At the front door, he hesitated before turning and walking through the archway that was to his left.  On the far side of the large living room that had been empty a few minutes earlier, he saw his father sitting behind the desk that was in front of a tall window.  Johnny, debating his next course of action, halted at the end of the dining table.  He chewed at his lip for a moment then with a shrug sauntered toward the other man.  Upon reaching the front of the desk, he stood tracing the fingers of his right hand back and forth along the edge of the desktop.

"Did you want something?" Murdoch asked, glancing up.

"Scott's plannin' on goin' back ta Boston," Johnny quietly announced, dropping his eyes to follow the path of his fidgeting hand.

"When?" Murdoch said in a voice devoid of emotion.  

"Today.  He's up there packin' and wants me ta get someone ta take him ta town." Johnny replied as he continued to rub the smooth oak top of the desk without looking up.  When Murdoch failed to respond, Johnny felt a spark of anger and demanded, "Well . . . aren't you gunna try ta stop him?"

With a heavy sigh, Murdoch said, "He's a grown man, Johnny.  He has to make his own decisions."

Johnny pushed away from the desk and lifted his head to match gazes with his father.  "So, you're gunna just sit there and do nothin', is that it?  He won't be back; you know that, don't you?"

"I can't force him to stay," Murdoch replied a bit sharply.

"Ya could try talkin' him out of it, though.  He might change his mind if ya told him ya don't want him ta go," Johnny insisted upon remembering Teresa's words of the previous day.

"Sam Jenkins and the doctor in Modesto, both agreed that Scott has to be allowed to go where he wants to," explained Murdoch wearily.  "Any interference on our part could hinder his recovery."

Johnny's eyes took on a hard glint and he gave a disgusted shake of his as he said, "So you're just gunna let him leave, then.  No questions asked."

"I'm not going to beg him to stay, if that's what you're getting at," Murdoch stated with finality.

"So that's it, end of discussion, right?"  Without waiting for an answer, Johnny started to leave then spun back around and retorted, "Ya know, Old man, you're a fool.  If you don't swallow some a that stupid pride of yours, you're gunna end up all alone."  Frustrated with his own failure to change his brother's mind about leaving and angry over their father's apparent lack of concern, Johnny turned on his heel and strode from the room.

Chapter 35

A wave of anger surged through Murdoch Lancer as he watched his younger son stalk away.  He started to rise and go after Johnny, but some unseen force kept him rooted in place.  Slumping back into the chair, he thoughtfully stroked his chin.  Upon coming to the decision that letting his temper get out of hand might lose him two sons in one day, he turned his attention back to the ranch ledger that was lying in front of him on the desk.

For a while, Murdoch tried to concentrate on the column of numbers he had been adding.  Now that the cattle drive was over, he needed to determine the financial condition that the trouble with Pardee had left the ranch in.  His mind, however, refused to stay focused on the task that had seemed important a few minutes before.  Then he had thought it necessary to have the books up to date when the partnership agreement was signed, but now he wondered if having his sons, either of them, as partners was to be just another dream that would never be fulfilled.

Unable to keep his mind on bookwork, Murdoch got up and stared out the window for several minutes.  Normally the scene would have filled him with pride and a sense of accomplishment, but with Scott leaving, all he felt was emptiness.  The ranch that he had worked so hard to build with the faint hope of one day sharing it with his sons had somehow lost its significance.  It was no longer the center of his world.   

Murdoch turned away from the window and looked across the large living room.  He found it hard to believe that it had only been a few weeks since he had watched Scott and Johnny walk through the doorway on the far side.  So much had happened in that short span of time that in some ways it seemed much longer ago than that. 

Looking back on the day that he had seen his sons for the first time in close to two decades, Murdoch had to admit that it had been the best and worst day of his life.  Once he had known that they were coming, he had looked forward to their arrivals with anticipation despite his fears of what they might think of him.  Seeing them together with no chance of talking to each one privately had thrown him off balance, and whatever he had planned to say had been forgotten.  Instead of words of welcome, he had frozen.  Everything he had said had come out as a challenge; his offer of a drink even had been cold and devoid of his true feelings.  Often over the past few weeks, he had regretted not having made his sons' homecoming more pleasant.

'It's a wonder they didn't just take their money and leave,' he thought then pondered their motivations for staying to risk their lives in the fight with Pardee.  For Johnny, he was sure that the prospect of owning a third of the ranch had been the determining factor, but he doubted that was Scott's reason for accepting the partnership so readily.  As the only grandson of Harlan Garrett, Scott stood to inherit a fortune.  One third of the Lancer ranch would never come close to equaling the value of the Garrett holdings.

Once again, Murdoch settled into the chair behind his desk.  Continuing to think about his sons, he was unaware of the passing of time as the big hand on the face of the grandfather clock slowly moved from one number to the next.  Even the single chime on the half-hour went unnoticed.

Several minutes later, the sounds of footsteps in the foyer and a soft thump as something heavy landed on the tile floor drew Murdoch from his thoughts.  As he listened more closely, he heard the front door swing open and Scott's familiar voice asking if the buckboard was ready.   There was an affirmative answer, which was unmistakably Johnny's, that was followed by a slight scraping sound and retreating footfalls. 

Suddenly Murdoch was hit by the full impact of the words his younger son had spoken earlier.  Johnny was right; if he didn't do something, he might never see his elder son again.  Only it wasn't just one son that he stood to lose, it could be both of them.  With Scott gone, there was a good chance that neither he nor the wealth of the ranch would hold Johnny for long.

A few moments later, there was the sound of footsteps treading across the foyer and up the stairs, and then Murdoch heard voices coming from Scott's room followed by the tread of boots on the stairs.  With a resigned sigh, he got up and made his way toward the main entranceway.  By the time he reached the front door, he could see Scott setting a trunk into the back of the buckboard.  Teresa, looking dejected, was standing next to Johnny by the hitching rail.

As Murdoch approached, Scott loaded the last piece of luggage, walked toward the front of the wagon, and reluctantly looked at his father.  "I was just on my way to see you, Sir," he said stiffly.  "I've . . . decided to return to Boston."

"So I've heard," Murdoch tensely replied.  He rested his left hand on the rump of the closest horse and rubbed the forefinger of his other hand across his chin while struggling to keep his emotions in check before saying the first thing that popped into his head.  "What about your part of the ranch?  Do you expect to receive an equal share of the profits even though you won't be here to help with the work?" he asked then regretfully bit his lip and fixed his gaze on something on the far side of the wagon.

"Do whatever you think is fair, Sir," answered Scott.  "You can split it with Johnny, if you like.  We haven't signed the papers yet, and I won't need the money.  Grandfather has offered me a very promising job in one of the businesses he owns.  In the meantime, I have ample resources available to me.  I still have most of the money you gave me when I first arrived, and after my birthday, I will have access to the inheritance my grandmother left in trust for me."

As Scott placed his hand on the edge of the wagon seat, Teresa moved closer and said in a trembling voice, "We'll miss you, Scott.  You will come back to see us sometime, won't you?"

Scott climbed to the seat of the buckboard then took a deep breath and swallowed before saying, "I'll keep in contact.  I promise."

The sadness he detected in the voices and on the faces of his ward and elder son brought a lump to Murdoch's throat along with a small ray of hope.  Scott wasn't any happier about leaving than the rest of the family was about seeing him go.  At this bit of knowledge, a plan began to form in the tall rancher's mind.

When Johnny, who had been leaning against the hitching rail, glanced at his father then stepped forward and started to haul himself up beside his brother, Murdoch quickly moved forward.  Placing a restraining hand on his younger son's arm, he said, "I'll take Scott to town.  Morro Coyo is a little far for you to be travelling just yet, don't you think?"

Johnny paused halfway up to the seat of the wagon and glanced back at his father.  "Thanks Murdoch.  It is a long ride," he said with a hint of a smile.  "Not sure my back could a taken it anyway."  He then looked over at Scott, held out his hand, and teasingly drawled, "Take care of yourself, Brother . . . and if ya write me, remember I ain't been ta one of them fancy schools where they teach ya all them big words that nobody can make any sense out of, okay?"

Scott grasped Johnny’s hand and gave it a firm shake but avoided making direct eye contact.  "I'll try to remember," he said.  As their hands parted a moment later, he huskily added, "Goodbye, Johnny.  I'm glad to have met you."

As Murdoch watched the exchange between his sons, his resolve to do something to prevent Scott's leaving became stronger.  They had all been separated far too long already.  By his elder son's manner, Murdoch was certain that Scott wasn't going back to Boston because he wanted to.  That meant there was still a chance of changing his mind before he got on the stage.

When Johnny stepped down and moved out of his way, Murdoch hoisted himself up to sit next to his son.  He picked up the reins and clucked to the team.  As he started to drive away from the hacienda, he noticed Teresa brush a hand against her eyes and his younger son place a sympathetic arm around her shoulders.  His hope grew upon seeing Scott's eyes squeeze shut and his jaw tense.  'Now if you can manage to say the right thing at the right time, maybe . . . just maybe, this will end up being a good day after all,' he told himself.



Scott remained silent as Murdoch drove away from the house and followed the road along a lush meadow.  He kept his eyes straight ahead until they passed under the large stone archway that he now remembered proudly bore the Lancer name.  Turning his head, he took a quick backward glance then faced forward once more--the muscles of his jaw a little tighter than before and his eyes stinging from the salty moisture that was beginning to pool in them.

The farther they went the more Scott's heart ached.   Parting with this wild land and the family that he hardly knew was proving to be much more difficult than it had been to leave his grandfather and friends behind in Boston.  This he found both surprising and unsettling. 

A tree at the edge of the stream on his left reminded Scott of his fight with his brother the day after they had arrived, and soon more memories flooded his mind.  Each revolved around a dark-haired young man with expressive eyes that could flash with flames of anger at the least provocation or dance with mischief when the mood struck him.  Johnny.  Scott remembered the chill that had run up his spine at being delivered one of that young man's mocking smiles, and yet his brother's playful grin on other occasions had warmed his heart in a way no other person had before.

Thoughts of his brother only increased the pain in Scott's chest so he forced them away and attempted to concentrate on the scenery as the road swept to the left and began its ascent up a long winding grade.  As the valley floor was slowly left behind, the oak trees along the edges of the fields gradually turned into dark green blotches against the lighter sea of grass.  In the distance, when he could catch a glimpse of it now and then, his father's hacienda with its glistening white walls was looking more and more like a child's playhouse.

Closing his eyes to shut out the constant reminders of all that he was leaving, Scott desperately wished that his father, who also had not spoken since their departure, would make some effort to convince him to stay.  He was sadly disappointed.  When he did sneak a peek at the other man, Murdoch's eyes were on the road and he appeared to care nothing about easing the torment that his son was going through.

Nearly a mile farther on, at a point where the road leveled off just before turning back toward the right and inclining upward the rest of the way to the top of the hill, Murdoch unexpectedly halted the team.

"Is something wrong, Sir?" Scott asked after they had sat in silence for more than a minute.

Murdoch let out a deep sigh and pursed his lips before saying, "I think we need to have a talk."

"About what?" Scott replied apprehensively without looking at the other man.   

"Your reason for returning to Boston," Murdoch said, the calmness in his tone sounding forced.

The constriction in Scott's throat burned as he swallowed, and his voice was barely audible when he said, "It's for the best, Sir."

"Who's best?" Murdoch inquired tightly.  "Yours? It's certainly not for Johnny's . . . or mine?"

When his lip protested the bite of his teeth, Scott drew in a breath and quietly answered, "I don't fit in here.  You should know that, after all the mistakes I've made these last two weeks."


Avoiding his father's prying eyes, Scott gulped and replied, "The ones I made on the cattle drive."

"Then you remember," said Murdoch, his voice reflecting his surprise.  "When?  How?"

"I . . . it came back to me this morning," Scott responded softly.

After appearing to digest this piece of information for a moment, Murdoch said, "Then you're going has nothing to do with having amnesia.  This is all about what happened on the drive, is that it?"

"I shouldn't have gone," insisted Scott.  "I don't know anything at all about herding cattle.  If it wasn't for me, Cooky and Red wouldn't have been injured, and you wouldn't have lost so much money because I was the cause of you not being able to meet the terms of your contract."

"Who told you I lost money?" asked Murdoch, sounding a little perturbed.

"No one, Sir.  I . . . I overheard you talking to Johnny about it yesterday morning when I came downstairs for breakfast.  I didn't mean to eavesdrop.  I . . .."  Scott paused, his cheeks developing a reddish hue.

"Don't let it worry you," Murdoch quickly interjected.  "It was my responsibility to get the herd through, not yours.  I made the decision to hold off delivery so there's no reason for you to blame yourself for that."

"But it was my fault that you couldn't deliver as many cattle as your contract called for, and if I hadn't started that stampede, you would have had another two days to reach your destination.  Luckily, my mistakes didn't cost someone's life," argued Scott.

"Son, everybody makes mistakes when they're learning something new, but that's no reason to quit," Murdoch countered.

Feeling his resolve slipping, Scott became defensive and his tone somewhat belligerent as he demanded, "What's it to you, what I do? You've never cared before."

Immediately, Scott felt Murdoch stiffen as the man bluntly replied, "Just what are you getting at?"

"If you had wanted me, you'd have come for me.  After all, you knew exactly where to find me, and yet you never once came to see me or bothered to contact me in any way.  Was it because it was my fault that my mother died?  Is that why you never wanted anything to do with me?"  Once started, Scott was unable to keep the bitterness, which he had held in for years, from tumbling out.

"Scott, whatever you've been led to believe, I always wanted you and I never blamed you for your mother's death," Murdoch sharply denied.

"Then explain to me why it is that I never heard from you before Day Pardee tried to drive you off your land?  You never even answered my letters," stated Scott sarcastically, finally turning to face his father.

"I did answer your letters, all of them."

"I never received them.  Are you suggesting my grandfather kept them from me?  Surely you don't expect me to believe that all of them were lost," Scott retorted heatedly.

Murdoch chewed at his lip then calmly replied, "I'm not suggesting anything, Scott; however, anything could have happened to them.  There is a lot of wild country between here and Boston."

"Doesn't it strike you as strange that more than a dozen letters would just disappear?" demanded Scott.

"Dozen!  I only--."  Murdoch suddenly stopped and drew in a sharp breath.  Inner struggles, which his son was unable to comprehend, showed on his face.  "Scott, it's past.  There is nothing to be gained by dredging all this up.  No matter how much we may wish that things had been different, we can't change them.  You're just going to have to trust me when I say nothing would have stopped me from having you with me if I had thought there was any way to accomplish that without hurting you."

Scott shook his head in disgust, the pain in his eyes a clear indication that he had been hurt far worse by the absence of his father than he would have been by any action the man might have taken to claim him.  "Then you have no intention of telling me anything, do you, Sir?" he asked bitterly, wishing he could believe that Murdoch really had wanted him all along.

"Son . . . we can't build a future on the past.  We have to start fresh, get to know one another, trust each other, and go from there.  It'll never last other wise.  You can see that, can't you?"

The intensity of his father's pleading came as a surprise to Scott.  Not sure what to say or even how he felt at the moment, he looked away and remained silent.  'If only I could believe you,' he thought.  'If I could just be sure you really want me, maybe it would be worth the risk.'  

"Do you remember that picture you sent to me when you were twelve, maybe thirteen?" Murdoch softly asked.  "I still have it. I kept it on the corner of my desk and a day didn't go by that I didn't see it and think of you."

With eyes widened in shock at this revelation, Scott looked into his father's face once more and said, "I've never noticed it there."

"When I received that wire telling me you were coming, I put it away."

"Why?"  Scott's brow lifted a little.

"I guess . . . because with you here, I didn't need a picture to look at," Murdoch replied.  He pressed his lips together, took a breath, and then added,  "And . . . I suppose I just didn't want it sitting there reminding us of all those years we'd lost."

The pain he heard in his father's voice left Scott speechless.  Once again, he shifted his eyes to focus on anything other than the man at his side.  For the first time, he realized that he was not the only one hurting from the years of separation.  Murdoch had endured his own share of agony and perhaps even guilt for the decisions that had led to them being apart for so long.

After several minutes of silence, Murdoch stepped to the ground and asked Scott to follow him.  At the brow of hill, he stopped to gaze out over the valley that stretched eastward to the mountains.  "Beautiful, isn't it?" he said with a touch of awe in his voice.

"Yes, it is," Scott softly replied as he let his eyes wander over the green fields and surrounding hills.

Murdoch cleared his throat and briefly laid a hand on Scott's shoulder.  "Son, if you really want to go back to Boston and believe it's the best thing for you, I'll gladly take you on to Morro Coyo; but don't go because you think its best for me, or for Johnny, because it isn't.   I'm going to go sit in the buckboard while you give this a little more thought.  Take all the time you need.  An important decision, like this, shouldn't be rushed.  There'll be another stage tomorrow if you miss today's.  Once you've decided, we'll go."

Scott merely nodded, unable to speak because of the lump he felt would choke him.  The view before him was the same one Teresa had pointed out the day of his arrival.  "The most beautiful place on earth . . . Lancer," she had said.  He had to agree.

Seeing in the distance bits of the white stone walls and tile roof of the stately hacienda shining through the grove of trees that surrounded it reminded Scott of the brother he was leaving behind. Despite their vast differences in cultural backgrounds, he already felt a strong tie to the younger man. Memories of the time spent with Johnny flooded his mind, and he knew that life in Boston would never be the same for him. He would always feel as though he had left a part of himself behind.

His thoughts shifted to his father, next.  He desperately wanted to believe that Murdoch hadn't abandoned him, but the lack of communication for so many years was difficult to justify in his mind.  Upon giving it further consideration, however, he had to admit that the man's actions of late had been caring.  This thought confused him even more.

For nearly thirty minutes, Scott wavered back and forth between going and staying as he debated both sides of the issue in his mind.  Should he stay at the risk of his ignorance causing harm or even death to another person, possibly someone he had come to care deeply for?  Yet if he left, he would be giving up what might be his only chance to get to know his father and brother, to be a part of the family that he had always wanted.  There was also his grandfather's health to consider.  Scott knew he'd never forgive himself for not going back to Boston if the man really was ill.

Other memories from the past surfaced and Scott remembered that his grandfather had used poor health as a means of influencing his decisions in the past.  The man's most recent attempt at using that ploy had been when Scott had announced that he was considering making the trip to California.  That claim of impending illness had proved false when Doctor Ellison had pronounced Harlan Garrett to be perfectly healthy for a man of his age.  'But he could have taken sick since I left and just didn't want to come right out and say so for fear of worrying me,' Scott told himself only to have his mind argue that a telegram to the Martins would quickly tell him if that were so.

Deep in his heart, Scott knew that if he did what he really wanted to do, he would ask his father to turn the wagon around and drive them back to the house.  He was sure that in time he could learn the skills necessary to this new life that he had been offered.  Even though he knew it wouldn't be easy, he wasn't afraid of the hardships.  Military life and a year in a confederate prison camp had exposed him to plenty of those of one kind or another, yet he had survived.  Adjusting to the ways of the west couldn't be any more difficult to accomplish, he reasoned.

His decision finally made, Scott returned to the buckboard and silently took a seat next to his father.  To his surprise, when Murdoch had the team in motion, he turned the wagon around and headed back down the hill.

"How did you know what I decided?" Scott asked, looking over at his father.

A hint of a smile tugged at the corners of Murdoch's mouth as his eyes met Scott's.  "A man whose mind is already made up doesn't need any time to think about what he wants to do," he replied.

"I guess you're right, Sir," Scott said, then let out a sigh.  "I'm still not sure how well I'm going to fit in here, though. There's so much to learn."

"You'll do fine," remarked Murdoch with a confidence that gave his son a warm feeling of assurance.  His tone then changed ever so slightly and he added, "However, there is one thing you're going to have to change."

Scott's eyebrows lifted slightly. "Oh . . . what is that, Sir?"

"Calling me something besides, Sir.  This is a ranch, not a military post, and I am not your commanding officer."

The mock sternness in his father's voice accompanied by a twinkle in the man's eyes brought a soft chuckle from Scott.  "Well you did say that you call the tune.  Isn't that so?"

"True . . . but don't you think something a little . . . less formal would be in order?"

"What would you suggest?" Scott asked, not sure he was going to like the answer.

Murdoch hesitated a moment, then replied, "Generally business partners address each other by their first names.  You could consider calling me Murdoch like Johnny does?"

For Scott, the use of "Sir' was a habit that he found hard to break; it was a title of respect that he had often used when speaking to his own grandfather.  His sense of propriety, which had been instilled in him as a child, had made him uneasy about addressing his father by his first name even prior to the cattle drive.  To change would not be easy, but he had to agree that doing so might bring a measure of closeness, which he desired even though it left him feeling more vulnerable.

After taking a moment to think over his father's request, Scott slowly said, "I suppose, under the circumstances, first names would be proper.  I'll try to remember that, S- . . . Murdoch."

"Good. Now that that's settled, let's go home," Murdoch stated in a voice that was a little huskier than normal before clucking to the horses and admonishing them to 'get up'.

'Home.'  Scott smiled at the thought.  The word had a nice ring to it, bringing with it visions of a family that he knew he wanted and needed desperately. He supposed that someday he would have to return to Boston.  After all, he did owe his grandfather at least an occasional visit.  Scott doubted, however, that he would ever leave California for any length of time, if the pleased expression that he had noticed on his father's face was any indication of what the future held.  This was where he belonged.  At Lancer with his father and brother.  



The evening meal was over, the dishes washed and put away, and all was peaceful in the Lancer hacienda.  Murdoch sat in one of the blue armchairs, his pipe in one hand and a book in the other.  In the matching chair a short distance away, Teresa was replacing a lost button from one of his shirts.  Scott and Johnny were sitting at one end of the long dining table, a checkerboard between them.

Murdoch took a puff on his pipe and glanced over the top of his book.  A smile softened his face at the sight of his sons together.  Seeing them engaged so intensely in a battle of checkers gave him more pleasure than he would ever have thought possible.  This was how it should have been all along.  He only hoped that it was not a fragile dream bubble that would burst and leave him empty and alone once more.  Now that he had them in his life, he couldn't bear the thought of losing either of them.

"So, Boston.  Just why did you decide to stay?" Murdoch heard his younger son ask with a teasing note in his voice.

"I had to."

At Scott's reply, Murdoch listened closer, curious as to what the young man meant.

"Yeah?  Why?  Ya forget somethin' or what?"  Johnny sounded a bit sarcastic.

"No.  I remembered something that was very important."  There was an air of superiority in Scott's tone and the lift of his chin as he looked across the corner of the table at his brother.

"Oh?  And just what was that?" Johnny demanded.

"My duty," replied Scott.

"Duty.  What duty?"

In his mind, Murdoch was asking the same question as Johnny had, and he anxiously waited for the answer.

"My duty as the elder brother," Scott said with a hint of a smile that was just barely detectable from where his father sat.

"What duty?" Johnny inquired, then let out a whoop and laughed as he slapped one of his checkers down on a new square at the far edge of the board.  While gathering up the red game pieces that he had just jumped over, he crowed,  "Don't they teach ya nothin' in them fancy schools back east?  Looks like it's a good thing I'll be around ta watch your back.  You ain't very observant.  A ten-year old could beat you at this game . . . even if he was blindfolded."

"Now that," retorted Scott, "is exactly what I was referring to, Little Brother.  You have no manners whatsoever.  A gentleman never gloats.  Win or lose, he always displays a certain amount of dignity."

"That right?  So you think I need ta be taught some manners, do ya?  And just how ya plannin' ta do that?"

Murdoch tensed at Johnny's challenging tone.  Lowering his book, he prepared to rise and put an end to the confrontation that seemed to be in the making.

"Like this, Brother," Scott said, then with a broad smile, picked up a checker piece, which was next to the one his brother had just set down, and jumped it in a zigzag path to the far side of the checkerboard.  "Now that, Johnny Boy, is a lesson in strategy.  Sometimes it pays to take a loss in order to win."

"Ya know somethin', Scott?  You are sneaky."  Johnny reached over and playfully slapped his brother on the arm.  "I bet ya know how ta deal cards off the bottom of the deck, too."

Scott's expression sobered into one of serious contemplation as he replied, "No, I don't.  Perhaps, you'd like to teach me.  It might be of use sometime . . . if I ever get into a game with someone who resorts to cheating . . . as a means of winning, of course."

Murdoch relaxed and raised his book as the battering between his sons continued.  They were just doing what typical brothers do, teasing each other, and it brought a sense of joy to his heart. Sure his boys would have their share of arguments, even an occasional fight, but the bonds of blood had already taken a strong hold.  There was every reason now to hope that they would become the family they were meant to be. 

With a satisfied sigh, Murdoch went back to his reading.  The money from the cattle drive would be sufficient to get the ranch back on its feet despite the cut he had taken for late delivery and not meeting the full terms of the contract.  His sons were both home where they belonged, and the future was more promising than he could ever remember.  Even though he knew that tomorrow might bring more trials his way, tonight he was truly happy and content for the first time in years.  It had been a good day after all.




Thank you so much for reading my story.  I appreciate any and all feedback.  You can write to me at


A very special thank-you goes to Cat for beta reading this version.  I started out with a completed story of six chapters and ended up taking more than a year to expand it to one nearly six times that.  During that time we developed a friendship that I shall always cherish.

I also want to express my appreciation to Lisa Paris for providing me with information of a medical nature.  She kept me from making some serious blunders.

Last, but not least, I want to thank VLNapier for writing the first two songs that Red sang during the drive.  It was great fun working with her, and her contribution added a special touch to this story.


Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
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