The buckboard bounced along the dirt road,
pulled along by the two sturdy animals and urged on by their driver. Scott
rode a little behind and kept a watchful eye on his brother. Less than a
week out of his sickbed, Johnny was still on the mend.
His brother. Now that was an idea he was
still trying to wrap his mind around. Sometimes, he felt like he was making
some headway when it came to understanding this familial stranger. But more
often than not, he wondered if the man would ever allow him close enough for
them to share more than their name. They’d been on the ranch a little over
two weeks, not anywhere near enough time to understand the enigma that was
Lancer. Not Madrid. Johnny himself had said
so when they’d gone to sign the papers that made Lancer theirs, too. They’d
proven they knew how to hold onto it; now, they had to prove they could
learn how to run it.
The wagon hit a rut in the road and Scott
caught Johnny’s slight flinch. Too soon. Scott had tried to tell Murdoch to
give Johnny another week to heal; The bullet hadn’t hit anything vital but
his brother had lost a lot of blood. And it wasn’t as if the ranch would run
out of work. But Murdoch wouldn’t hear of it and Johnny, himself, had
snarled out exactly what he thought of the idea. He’d snarled even more when
he found out what it was their father wanted them to do.
Restock the line shacks: a job for the
greenest of hands. Scott hadn’t cared too much for the pointed look Johnny
had given him, saying without words how he resented being saddled with the
job because of Scott’s inexperience. It had taken every ounce of forbearance
on Scott’s part not to place the blame where he felt it truly belonged.
He had to give the old man credit; Murdoch
was seeming to respect Johnny’s assertion that he not be treated like an
invalid without actually putting his son in a position where he might
reinjure himself. The least Scott could do was go along, even if his own
pride was slightly stung.
Now he watched his brother, concern warring
with exasperation. They’d been traveling all day, stopping only long enough
to unload supplies and then pushing on to the next stop; Scott could tell it
was wearing Johnny down. The still heavily loaded wagon didn’t possess the
springs of a carriage and his brother was feeling every jolt.
“How far did Murdoch say the next one was?”
Scott raised his voice over the sound of the creaking buckboard.
“We should be coming up on it once we get
over the next rise.” Johnny motioned toward the steadily ascending road.
Scott nudged his horse forward, the animal
dancing a bit to one side before following his command. They were new to
each other; the rapport that could soothe the way between man and animal
hadn’t been built yet. It would come. Until then, he kept a strong grip on
the reins and took the rise with ease. Sure enough, the wooden cabin sat
nestled at one end of an open pasture. A small stream ran approximately a
hundred feet away.
“You see it?” Johnny shouted up to him.
Scott nodded and waited until his brother
had caught up, then led the way off the road and toward the line shack.
Behind him, Johnny easily maneuvered through the trees that dotted this side
of the pasture, the buckboard swaying from side to side in the thick grass.
The animals dutifully trudged forward until, coming up to the small
structure, Johnny hauled the team to a stop.
Scott rode up next to his brother and
dismounted. “You want to unload now or wait until morning?”
“Morning?” Johnny got down from the wagon,
a little more carefully than usual, Scott noted. “Scott, we’ve still got six
more of these to do. Let’s get this over with and get on our way.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. The sun’s going to be
setting within the hour and I, for one, have no intentions of stumbling
around in the dark. Besides, Murdoch doesn’t expect us back until the day
after tomorrow; we’ve got plenty of time.”
Johnny gave him a look. “I can tell you’ve
never spent the night in one of these things. They’re cold in the winter and
like an oven in the summer.”
“We could sleep outside, couldn’t we?”
Scott looked around, searching for a spot. Finding it, he pointed out a
stand of trees by the stream. “Over there looks nice.”
“You really want to stay here?” Johnny
seemed to mull it over before reluctantly nodding his head. “Okay, but let’s
get the unloading over with first. If we don’t, I’ll be thinking about it
It wasn’t what Scott had had in mind but he
readily agreed. It was more than he’d expected, to tell the truth, figuring
Johnny would insist on getting at least one more line shack done. It said a
lot about how his brother must be feeling.
While Johnny unhitched the horses and led
them down to the water’s edge, Scott began the tedious task of counting out
what supplies the line shack still possessed. This one, situated the
furthest from the house, was the most in need of restocking. Murdoch had
warned them about it; not just their hands tended to make use of its food
and shelter. Vagrants skirting their property often found the place
Johnny soon joined him and they fell into
the pattern they’d established almost from the beginning. It had been a
pleasant surprise, how well the two of them worked in lockstep, each seeming
to know which way the other would move. Scott had almost forgotten how it
was to work that way with someone.
They finished just as the sun was touching
the mountaintops. Closing the door to the shack, they returned to the wagon
where Scott threw the tarp back on the remaining supplies. Together they
tied it down, then placed the boards they’d found inside across the top.
They wouldn’t be far away but it wouldn’t take a resourceful animal long to
tear its way in if it was of a mind. Most of the food was in tins but the
sacks of beans and rice were a tempting target for foraging creatures.
That done, they untied their horses from
where they’d been hitched and headed to the stream. Scott’s horse seemed
slightly spooked but followed placidly after a sharp tug on the reins.
“He still giving you trouble?” Johnny asked
as they walked in the deepening twilight.
“A little. He’s getting better.”
Johnny reached out and ran his hand back
and forth over the horse’s mane. “You’re a good boy, aren’t you? Just not
used to his fancy way of riding.” He looked at Scott. “What’s his name?”
“Name?” Scott blinked. “I haven’t given him
“Well, that’s the problem then. You need to
give him a name, Scott. Otherwise, he’s never going to know he belongs to
Scott stared at him askance. “You’re
“Hell no, I’m not joking. Horse needs a
name. Tell you what,” they’d reached the stream and Johnny began undoing his
own horse’s saddle, “after we get settled for the night, I’ll help you pick
Shaking his head in amusement, Scott
unsaddled the animal. “You want to start a fire?”
Johnny pulled his saddle down and placed it
against the trunk of a tree. “Probably be a good idea. It might get a little
cool later on. And there’s mountain lions in these parts.”
Scott carried his saddle over next to
Johnny’s, then grabbed the reins and led both horses over to water before
tying them up next to the two draft animals. The trees would give them a
certain amount of protection from predators, the two and four legged
variety. By the time he was done, Johnny had a good-sized fire going and had
laid out their bedrolls.
He settled on his own and studied his
brother. Johnny had pulled off his boots and made himself comfortable on the
thin blanket. Laid out a few feet away, propped up against his saddle, his
hands laced behind his head, Johnny seemed more relaxed than Scott could
ever remember seeing him. “I think the line shack being hot was just an
excuse; you like sleeping outside, don’t you?”
Johnny gave him a lopsided smile. “Not so
much like; maybe, just used to.”
Scott gazed overhead. “I can’t say I ever
got used to is,” he muttered, more to himself than to Johnny.
“When did you ever sleep outside? Oh, wait,
during the War, right?”
“That’s right.” He didn’t elaborate. Let
Johnny think it had been in the normal course of things. Or, at worst, while
they waited out the time between battles. He cleared his throat. “So, you
said something about naming my horse.”
“How about ‘Boots’?”
“‘Boots’? What kind of name is that?”
Johnny waved toward the animal and its
white shanks, easily visible. “Looks like he’s wearin’ ‘um, doesn’t it?”
Scott made a face. “Well, why not
“Nah, too sissified.” Johnny grinned. “You
got enough going against you.”
“Thanks.” Scott dead panned then frowned at
the horse. “I never did understand the idea of naming a horse.”
Johnny swung around and sat with his legs
drawn up and crossed in front of him. “Didn’t you say you were in the
cavalry? I can’t believe you never bothered to name your horse.”
“I had four different horses, Johnny. One
got shot out from under me, one got lost and one went lame. So, no, I didn’t
give them names.” He didn’t even want to think what might have been the fate
of the last one, the one he’d been riding when captured by the Confederate
“Doesn’t matter how long you have ‘em.
Guess it’s different where you’re from. Out here, your horse is the most
important thing you own. You depend on it in a way you can’t most people.”
“Doesn’t say much for the people. Or are
you talking about anyone in particular?” he added hesitantly. He still was
never sure what was all right to talk about and what wasn’t.
Johnny only shrugged and lay back down.
Well, that answered that. Another “not all
right” subject. Scott followed Johnny’s example and stretched out on his
bedroll. After a couple of minutes, he fished out the piece of jerky he’d
stuck in his pocket. He grimaced as he chewed. He’d never get used to eating
this stuff. It was worse than hardtack.
“Well, you gonna name that poor animal, or
not?” Johnny finally broke his silence.
“How about ‘Bucephalus’?” Scott responded,
unaccountably upset with his brother.
“It was the name of Alexander the Great’s
Johnny stared at him. “Who’s Alexander the
Scott sighed and shook his head. “Never
mind. What about,” he mentally flailed around for a name, “Ivanhoe?”
“Ivanhoe? What kind of name is that?”
Johnny snorted. “Ivanhoe.”
“If you’re so good at it, how come the best
you can come up with is ‘Boots’?”
“For one thing, he’s not my horse. For
another...well, a man should name his own horse.”
“This another obscure code of the West?”
Scott sniped. “It’s just a horse, for God’s sake.”
Johnny eyed him coolly. “You got some
reason for not wanting to name him, Scott?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“No, but you’re sure not workin’ very hard
“Johnny,” Scott hesitated. “I just don’t
see the point. Tell you what, why don’t I sleep on it? Maybe something will
come to me.”
“Suit yourself.” Johnny turned on his side,
away from Scott.
He swore under his breath. Johnny’s back
was like a wall between them. In the morning, his brother would either be
cool and distant, or would act like nothing had happened at all. Scott
didn’t know which one he hated more. A name. Another setback, all because of
Why did he have to name it, anyway? Because
Johnny thought he should? Because it would mean...what? Nothing, to him. But
Johnny seemed to see his horse as the one thing he’d always been able to
trust. A permanent fixture in a life that had had far too few. Did he see
Scott’s lack of concern as a sign that perhaps Scott didn’t see his own life
here as lasting?
Scott turned and studied his brother’s
back. They’d both had a lot of loss in their lives. And though they tended
to deal with it in vastly different ways, they each had been affected by it
enough to grab onto the possibility of permanency Lancer offered. It had
been by wildly different routes but, beyond all odds, they had both found
their way here. For Scott, at least, the journey was done.
He smiled as a name came to mind. Others,
Johnny included, would think it in honor of the general who led the Union to
victory. Only he would know it was a reminder of another whose odyssey had
taken many years. Who, like he and Johnny, had beaten the odds.
With a satisfied sigh, he turned on his
side to face his brother and closed his eyes.
The next morning, as predicted, Johnny
demeanor was decidedly frosty. But it thawed a bit when Scott told him he’d
decided on a name for his horse. His brother didn’t seem too thrilled when
he heard what it was; Scott hadn’t figured he would be. Yet he graciously
announced that it was a fine name that any horse would be honored to have.
Still, Scott couldn’t bring himself to tell
him what it really meant to him. Perhaps someday, but not yet. He didn’t
know how Johnny would take it, whether he would understand. It was a risk
Scott was unwilling to take. Each day brought them closer together but the
chasm created by their growing up apart would take a long time to bridge.
He’d take it one step at a time.