Afternoon's Mischief
by  Heather

Wee bit of fun...I hope...I was bored again go figure...!

Kit influences and one of her characters are in this little story.  Thanks Ma for the permission to include your characters in my stories. It's a privilege, I don't take lightly.

This is a wee story about, this time, Scott's mischief and how Murdoch handles it.

Beta:-Kit did some tweaking...here and there and performed her usual magic.  Thanks Kit.

 

"Well, big brother," Johnny sighed, "We did it again."

Scott smiled, "You mean you did it again, little brother.  This is a first for me," he said smugly.

"Pftt, it's your fault we're late this time, big brother! Well, yours and Rachel Fairchild's..." he grinned, winking at his older, wiser and now screwed brother.

As they approached the yard, Johnny suddenly looked really worried. "Jeez, Scott what do you figure the old man'll do?"

Scott's right shoulder hitched.  "Honestly, I don't know Johnny; but I have an inclination what she might do."

Both young men looked towards the entrance of the hacienda and flinched.

"Maria." Johnny whispered softly. "She's pretty mean with that damned wooden spoon, ain't she" Unconsciously, he rubbed his rear-end.

Scott nodded. He had to agree. Marie could be quite formidable when the mood took her; and she could be brutal with her weapon of choice when she chose to use it.  He took a moment to glance at the arched window and spied Murdoch standing hands on hips looking like he was primed for bear.  He could almost see the steam coming from his father's ears and quickly averted his eyes, the sweat building at the back of his neck.

Turning to Johnny, he gestured with a single nod of his head in the direction of the window and whispered, "Don't look now, but Murdoch's staring right at us, little brother."

Johnny reacted like someone being told "don't look down" when standing on a high cliff: his head swung toward the window, and he immediately winced. Murdoch looked as if he could chew a full grown tree and spit toothpicks.  Quickly, he averted his eyes, dipping his head in his usual fashion. He exhaled; a long quavering sigh. "Shit Boston," he murmured. "Don't suppose it's too late to run?" Just in case Scott might jump at the chance, he positioned himself more solidly in the saddle.

Scott laughed.  It was a sad sound.

Murdoch had stormed out into the front portico, there to 'greet' his boys.  Coming in at a slow walk, they dismounted and reluctantly handed off their horses to waiting hands; their feet dragging as they slowly approached their obviously irate father.

As usual, Johnny was the first to speak; not liking the silence that greeted him or the glare.

"Hey, Pa," he greeted sheepishly, "Nice evenin' huh?" He grimaced as he felt a single trail of sweat drop down the side of his face; blinking and taking a single step back when he felt the thunderous roar of Murdoch's voice hit him squarely in the face.  The man's breath was pure fire!

"Where the hell have you two been? No, wait; don't answer that.  I already know. You've both been into town haven't you?" Again he didn't wait for an answer. "Had you finished your assigned chores?"

Both heads shook in unison, as if joined by a single, invisible thread operated by a skilled puppeteer. The whispered "no's" came in synch.

"No? Then tell me..., 'BOYS' ..." he emphasized the word to convey  how he felt, looking directly at Scott, whom he held responsible for this latest bit of mischief. "Why the hell did you leave you're assigned work duties to go into town?" he bellowed.

Scott looked suitably ashamed because he knew in his heart he'd behaved irresponsibly and had been a bad influence on Johnny.

"I'm sorry sir, we lost track of time."

However, no sooner had he finished speaking when his younger, wilder and definitely more insane brother threw caution to the wind, and began grasping at straws. "Look, Murdoch...it was like this...I was real hot and I just kinda mentioned how we could sure use a cold beer." He grinned full out, the big smile that almost always worked; his nose wrinkling as he rambled on. "You know, warm water just wasn't doing it for me so...now, it was only a suggestion mind, but well ol' Boston here, well..."

Rolling his eyes, Scott took off his hat and swung it at his brother's head. "So I," he interrupted..."

"Him," Johnny grinned, pointing.

Scott speared his brother with a look. "I suggested we go into Green River for that nice cool beer he was talking about.  We'd all but finished our chores, with only a small bit left to do, and -- if you remember, sir --" he chanced a quick glance at his father, "you did ask me at some point this week, to go into town to deal with the little matter at the bank." He thumped his own chest, pleased with himself that he'd used the bank as a valid reason for the trip into town. "I simply decided to kill two birds with one stone," he raised his right hand, displaying the appropriate number of fingers, "the business at the bank, and the cold beer."

Right now, Scott was feeling pretty smug. Murdoch had made it clear he could go when it suited him and -- after a long day working with Johnny -- he had decided it had suited him to go this very afternoon.  The fact that he'd chosen his little brother to accompany him might not have been the smartest idea he'd had all week, but in the end his decision had achieved two goals: Johnny had gotten his needs taken care of, which meant there would be no covert trip into town mid-week, and he had managed to sort out the problem with the bank.

Johnny was twitching on the spot nervously; hoping to God Murdoch would buy what Scott was saying, and stop staring at the top of his head. He hated it when the Old Man did that.

Still, even if they were in trouble; it had been worth it.  He'd never given the time he'd spent with Maggie, 'the new girl', a whole lot of thought, relying on big brother to keep an eye on the clock; but for once Scott had been preoccupied himself.

'Rachel Fairchild,' Johnny thought frowning.  All she had to do, apparently, was simply wiggle a finger at big brother and the man was gone. 'What is it,' Johnny reflected, 'about that woman?' His eyes narrowed. 'Any way you cut it,' he decided, 'she's the real reason we're late. Yep. All of this.  Definitely Rachel Fairchild's fault.'

He tapped a single finger against his thigh. 'She made Scott late,' in his mind he was counting now, 'which made me late,' the second finger joined the other, a third finger hovering. 'Which made us both late for supper.'

Not that he was crazy enough to tell his old man it was some saloon girl -- well, two saloon girls -- that had made them late for supper. 'Shit!' The three fingers joined the other digits, and all five began fiddling with his conchos.

All the thinking was making Johnny dizzy.  In the end, he realized, it didn't matter who was at fault. The point was they were late, very late, and about to receive a hearty lecture from their old man. They had broken one of the rules, Murdoch's rules, and -- he had no doubt -- as punishment would be assigned a whole new list of the shittiest chores on the ranch; never mind the painful reminder they'd catch from Maria for not showing the proper respect to the Patrn.

Shit. Maria had a bigger list of rules than the Old Man.

Then, like sunshine, the smile came again; the one that made him look cocky and twelve years old, and one that almost certainly lit Murdoch's fire, well at least stoked it! Never-the-less, he couldn't suppress it, despite the fact Maria was now standing in front of Murdoch, tapping her foot and wielding her wooden spoon like a weapon. With the grace of a ballet dancer he skipped skillfully around the woman and came face to face with his irate parent.

"Pa." he tried again.

"Don't you Pa me, boy." Murdoch chided.

"Aw, hell Pa, you're always sayin' I gotta do as I'm told, right?" he wheeled with all the innocence of a twelve year old.

Murdoch nodded, a frown appearing as he waited for more.

"Well," he smirked, jerking a thumb in Scott's direction, "I minded him to the letter."

Scott rolled his eyes again. "Of course you did, little brother."

He shot Scott a cheeky grin, "Yep, told me I had'ta go with him, and we all know how you've been raggin' on at me to do as Scott says."

He actually had the gall to laugh.

"Then he said, he wanted a nice cool beer, said I should have one too. And," he declared with all the wisdom he could muster. "Who am I to argue, huh?"

The smile blossomed fully, immediately changing into a deep fearful frown when he saw his old man take a single step forward. He quickly finished his argument with, "A man has needs, ya know." Sulking now, he took several steps back.

"Is that right?" Murdoch turned to Scott now, noticing his usually 'good' son actually looked ill.  "Is that right Scott?"

Scott nodded, "Some of it is, sir," he muttered, shaking his head at  his little brother's audacity.

Murdoch pinned Johnny with a particularly harsh glare. "You get yourself into a bath and get cleaned up." He turned to son number one, "And you join me in my study." With that he marched off into the house.

Johnny immediately turned to his brother and whooped. "Whooee brother, looks like you're finally gonna get your ass beat. 'Bout time to if you ask me..." he griped, letting out a shrill yelp when Maria popped him on the ass with her wooden spoon, hard.  Twice!

Spinning around he faced the woman, "Hey!! What's that for?" he rubbed. "You heard, not my fault, not this time. That ain't fair Ma..."

Her response was to raise the offending weapon again. "Go, now! Ahora!" she added reverting to Spanish and pointing in the direction of the bath house.

He didn't wait to be told again.

Scott inched passed the woman, making sure his buttocks were away from her reach at all times. "Maria," he said simply, doffing his  hat.

~L~L~L~L~L~

Murdoch was sitting at his desk, silhouetted against the large arch window at his back.  He was writing something in his ever growing journal a smile briefly appearing as he read some recent inserts. There hadn't been a week, 'hell' the man thought hardly a day where Johnny  hadn't gotten into trouble but Scott...the boy was the epitome of good manners, etiquette and charm; respectful and obedient too, and certainly not insolent when pulled up, unlike his younger, hotheaded, wilder brother.

'Opposites; the pair of them, in every way, yet I love them both equally,' Murdoch reflected. 'Johnny is so full of piss and vinegar, a bit like me', he thought sheepishly, smiling to himself. Johnny had been lacking in adult guidance, something he was trying to make up for but Scott had had the benefit of adult guidance in abundance.  He stopped writing when he heard the knock.

"Come." He said leaning back in his chair.

"Sir." Scott said entering the room to stand straight backed in front of his father, as if he were making a report to a General.

"Sit."

"I prefer to stand, sir," was Scott's direct but respectful reply.

'And here I was thinking he was the easier of the two'. Murdoch thought shaking  his head. Calmly and quietly he said, "And, my son, I would like you to sit; unless of course you want to make an issue of it...do you Scott?" he challenged.

Scott thought about it for only a heartbeat and smiling, relented. "No sir, I most definitely do not." He slipped into his customary chair in front of the desk.

Murdoch clasped his hands together and leaned forwards. "You do know it wasn't the best decision you made today, don't you, Scott?"

Scott nodded. "Yes sir, I think I've come to that conclusion myself."

Murdoch did a good job of suppressing a smile. 'You're supposed to be an example for your brother. I rely on you, Scott, to lead Johnny in a responsible direction. Am I wrong to do that, to depend on you?"

The blond shook his head. "No, sir."

There was a creaking sound as Murdoch came forward in his chair and picked up his pipe. "You and I both know what kind of life he's led before coming home. He's been wild for a long time, Scott. Aren't we both trying to teach him a different way? Don't we both want what's best for him?"

Scott sighed. "Yes sir, of course. I'm sorry. I realize I shouldn't have suggested a trip into town. But I really hadn't intended staying so late, sir. It's just that...well we..." He corrected himself, "I lost track of time.

"It won't happen again sir," he pledged.

"You lost track of time, or your brother refused to leave when you asked him and held you up? Which one was it, Scott?" Murdoch greatly suspected his elder son was once again covering for his delinquent brother.

"I lost track of time, sir." His chin dipped against his chest as he studied his clasped hands.  "I was...occupied...not paying attention to the time.  Like I said, it was my fault, and it won't happen again." And he meant it. If they ever did go into town again he'd make damned sure they were back in time for supper!

"Very well. Since you're taking full responsibility for what happened," his eyes warmed for the briefest of moments; he hadn't expected Scott to do anything less. "Then I can't punish Johnny for something you did Scott; so you leave me no choice but to punish you."

Scott eyes narrowed and he stared hard at his father. "Yes, sir," he managed, swallowing. Never had he imagined being in this position with Murdoch.

"Will you please follow me." Murdoch got up and opened the French doors and started to walk towards the barn.

Again Scott swallowed. He wasn't sure if he could handle the humiliation of a whipping from his father, especially since he was twenty five and long past the age where he felt he needed that kind of discipline; but still he dutifully followed in his father's wake.

Murdoch was very glad he was slightly ahead of his son because he was finding it hard to hide the grin that was forming. "Do you think you deserve to be whipped son?" Murdoch asked, a glint in his eyes.

"I honestly don't know, sir." Scott replied. His mind was in a whirl. "I do know I was a poor example for my little brother and for that I am truly sorry." He sighed. "But if you feel I deserve to be punished in such a manner, then I will endeavor to take my punishment like a...man." He emphasized the last word; hoping Murdoch would take the hint. "I will also have a talk with Johnny to explain that I was very, very wrong, sir."

Murdoch smiled. There it was; the difference between man and boy.  Although Scott was a grown man, he was truly repentant and willing to take responsibility for his actions; just as he was willing to take whatever punishment Murdoch meted out for his transgression.  It was a lesson Johnny had yet to learn.

A similar trip with Johnny across the courtyard would have been an entirely different experience.  Murdoch knew he would have had to drag the boy cursing and kicking to the barn; and then held him in place.  Johnny would have been insolent and downright arrogant to boot, until he felt the sting of his father's belt on his backside and only then would he reluctantly relent and pretend to be sorry. The boy could be such a stubborn little shit!

Murdoch stopped and turned around to put both hands on his son's shoulders. "I've no intention of beating you, son. I want to thank you for your apology and for your understanding concerning Johnny. I'm glad Johnny has you for a big brother." He smiled. "He's a lucky boy. I know, on the whole you're a very good influence on him. Keep up the good work son, huh?" He said cuffing Scott gently on the jaw and smiling now.

They were in the barn now and he made a sweeping motion with his hand over the stalls.  "After dinner you will do extra chores and give Jim and Walt a break from mucking out after the bad weather the other day.  You'll also see to the horses as well, Scott, and Johnny will be joining you.  Is that clear?"

Scott nodded. "Yes, sir."

"Oh, and son, you'll not be going into town for the next two weeks.  I need to show Johnny you'll be treated no differently when you break the rules.  Does that seem fair?" he smiled.

Scott nodded. "Yes, sir." He risked a smile. "And when he asks why I didn't get my tail beat?" he asked.

"I'll tell him it was because you were genuine in your apology, Scott; because it's the truth and it's something he needs to learn."

Again Scott nodded. "Do you want me to speak to Johnny as well, sir?"

Murdoch shook his  head. He turned to head back for the house. "No, son. I'm going to have a talk with him right now, if you don't mind."

"Not at all, father."

The term of endearment made Murdoch stop in his tracks and turn to face his older son once more. "You're a decent young man, Scott; and a good big brother to Johnny. I couldn't have asked for better. Harlan did a good job with you, son."

Scott's eyes went wide. It was the first time Murdoch had ever said anything even remotely positive regarding his Grandfather: in fact, Murdoch rarely mentioned the man at all. "Thank you, father, for that acknowledgment. I appreciate the gesture." Scott held out his hand for his father to shake and instead found himself in his father's tight embrace.

"There isn't a day I don't thank God for the gift He gave me when he brought you boys home, Scott." He smiled, patting the young man's back.

"Despite our mischief, sir?" Scott muffled into Murdoch's shirt, his eyes flashing with the same kind of mischief Johnny often displayed as he lifted his head.

Murdoch laughed and took the opportunity to swat Scott, just once, on the backside; eliciting a painful grunt from his elder son. "Yes," he laughed, "Despite your mischief. Now, go! Get ready for dinner." He had taken his pipe out of his pocket and was refilling the bowl.

"Yes, sir!" Scott grinned, and turned towards the house.

"Oh, and Scott? Send Johnny to my study, will you?"

The young man frowned feeling a need to protect his little brother. "You're not going to beat him are you, sir? Because it really was my fault and..."

Murdoch chuckled. He so loved the way Scott was inclined to protect his younger brother. It seemed to come naturally to the young man. "No, son, I'm not planning on it; but it does depend on him, on his attitude. I am, however, going to give him a stern lecture."

Scott frowned. "Sir?"

"If you told Johnny to jump into a deep swirling river, would he?"

"No, sir, I don't suppose he would," Scott smiled, knowing where his father was going.

"Good, Scott. I'm glad you understand."

~L~L~L~L~L~

That evening dinner was a quiet affair with Scott contemplating what his father had said and done; and Johnny pouting over the lecture he had received in spite of the fact -- as far as he was concerned -- Scott was the one who was at fault. The boy's insistence he was totally innocent and his unwillingness to listen to anything his father had said, had almost earned him a session in the barn.  He had backed down, though, the minute Murdoch stood up and pointed towards the door, finally shutting up and at least pretending to listen.  Not that he had like what he was hearing.

Johnny had faked tiredness immediately after the lecture and had stomped off to bed, sulking at all the extra chores he'd been assigned and at the newest ranch restrictions that were added to the ones he already had.  As he disappeared up the stairs, he was muttering loud enough for everyone to hear now -- by the time he was finally allowed off the leash -- he'd probably be so damned old he wouldn't even remember why he was going to a saloon in the first place or what to do when he got there. His parting shot had been particularly amusing.  Probably have to walk to town, too, what with Barranca grown old and dead!

Barranca was only five years old.

Scott had a quiet word with his father after Johnny had gone off to bed. They talked till midnight, father and son; building new bridges that only served to bring them even closer; their conversation mostly centered on Johnny and how he was coming along. Scott finally stretched and got to his feet.

"I'll think I'll head on up to bed, Murdoch." Scott said. "I'll check on Johnny; you know make sure he's asleep.

Murdoch smiled, and knew he'd also check up on the boy as well.  He checked on all of his children before he turned in; although he doubted they were unaware of his night-time missions. Johnny, especially, was good at pretending he was asleep. "Goodnight then, son. Oh, Scott?"

"Yes, sir."

"I'm proud you're my son, Scott. There isn't a day that I don't thank God you both came home. In a way, I thank God for Pardee; because -- well -- the man brought you both here."

Scott thought about it for a moment. "It was even better that Pardee brought Johnny home, sir," he murmured, recalling just where it was Johnny had been when the Pinkerton agent had finally found him.

"I see your point, Scott, but I don't believe that boy would've stayed had it not been for you, and for that I am very grateful.  Because you and I know how much he needs us, how much he needs Lancer."  The next words came softly, but with great awareness. "I know what you've given up to be here with us, son."

Scott's smile extended all the way to his eyes; which were filled with incredible warmth. "No great sacrifice sir, I assure.  I am far better off here with my family and -- more to the point -- am happier and more content than I've been for a very long time."

Murdoch felt his cheeks color. "Nevertheless, I'd like to thank you for coming home to me when you did; and for staying."

"Again, sir, I am very happy to be...home. Oh, Pa," he smiled, "I meant to thank you, too."

"Oh? What for son?"

Scott dipped his head shyly and for a brief moment Murdoch thought he was looking at Johnny; Scott's posture the same.

"For giving me a little brother," he grinned. He turned from Murdoch and slowly walked out of the room.

Murdoch smiled and raising his voice slightly, he spoke to his son's back, "You're very welcome, my son." The next came as an afterthought, but with great feeling. "Pleasant dreams, Scott," he called.

 

The End

 

 

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