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
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
"Son, are you all
right?" Murdoch anxiously asked, moving closer and taking hold of Scott's
"Another one of those
The pain was nearly unbearable
and all Scott could do was nod in answer to his father's question.
"What happened to him,
"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.
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."
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.
Are you sure you're okay?"
I just need . . . to lie here a while," Scott replied softly between
"I'll be back
to check on you shortly, then," Murdoch said with a light pat on Scott's
"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
Slowly he relaxed.
The bed was comfortable and his father's show of concern left him feeling
peaceful--almost like he was home.
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
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.
he reasoned, 'Murdoch checked on him again just before going to bed and that was less
than an hour ago. Scott was fine
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
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
'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."
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.
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
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.
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.'
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
There was a brief silence, and
then Johnny spoke again. "So
how much did ya lose?"
"Close to three thousand
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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.
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
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
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.
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,
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
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.'
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.
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
. . . 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
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
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.
replied Johnny, dragging the word out while turning to look at his father, who
was seated at the head of the table.
overdo, did you?"
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.
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.
would you like some bread and cheese?" Teresa quickly interjected.
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
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
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.
didn't mean anything--"
My fault for snappin' at him. I'm
just gettin' grumpy from sittin' around doin' nothin'."
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.
worried about Scott, aren't you?"
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
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
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."
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
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.
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.
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."
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
the only one," Teresa quipped, leaving him wondering just what she had
meant. Before he could ask, she was
headed for the house.
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.
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?"
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.
true. Just ask anyone around here;
they'll tell ya." Johnny
feigned being offended.
So tell me, how's the back feeling?"
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.
coming?" Murdoch asked when Johnny hung back.
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.
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
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.
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
"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
"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?"
He looked up and noticed her puckered brow.
"Is something wrong?"
"It's . . . it's Scott
"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
"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
"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
"Sam was just being over
"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
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
"No," Murdoch said
with a shake of his head, and then his shoulders slumped as he went on to
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?"
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?"
"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
"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,
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
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
'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
Scolding himself for his
cowardice, Scott pulled out the folded sheets of paper, took a deep breath, and
began to read:
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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.
"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
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
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
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 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
"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.
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."
said Scott in unison with Johnny's "Night, Murdoch" as their father
turned and left.
"He do that every
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
"A canary," said
Scott in a slightly questioning tone.
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
"I wasn't feelin' too
good," Johnny replied defensively.
"And that's the only reason she didn't make me sleep in the
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
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
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.
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."
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.
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
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
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
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
"Like you're packin'."
Johnny closed the door behind him and leaned against it as he studied the
situation. "Plannin' on goin' somewhere?"
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
"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
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."
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
"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,
"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.
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
"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?"
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.
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
going to beg him to stay, if that's what you're getting at," Murdoch stated
it, end of discussion, right?" Without
waiting for an answer, Johnny started to leave then spun back around and
"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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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."
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.
"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
"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.
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
"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
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."
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.
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
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
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.
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
"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
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
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
"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."
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.
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,
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.