I was bored…, and feeling blue with John away. I needed the distraction at the time and came up with this…
Kit worked her usual magic and for that my good lady I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Fox can go suck on a mule’s ass….if they think I am apologising for using their characters in this wee ditty.
Ref:- Small references made to Kit’s ‘Busted’, ‘Gone Fishin’, ‘Rocket’s Red Glare’ by kit and SF and finally, Eggs over Easy by kit. Thanks for those stories ladies…they light up dull evenings for me and often bring a smile. So as always I give those two there just dues for their obvious influences and for all the joy they bring me and countless others.
As in Kit’s stories, Johnny is a young nineteen.
“John, this is the absolutely the last time I am going to call you! Get out of that bed right now, or you’ll be sorry!”
Johnny made a face. His eyes were still tightly shut and, moaning, he sank his left cheek deeper into his pillow. Then rolling onto his back he sighed. Using his fore finger and thumb, he pried one eye open.
The light already cascading into the room made him gasp and clasp it shut again. “Shit!” His bedroom was one of the brightest in the house, especially in the mornings; and he believed his father had given him the room deliberately. Oh, the man had said it had once been his nursery but he wasn’t so sure. Deep inside, he felt his father was just trying to piss him off; the Old Man’s revenge over his penchant for skulking out of the house and then sneaking back in at the ass-crack of dawn.
He’d been awake since Scott had hammered on his door about ten minutes ago and was just dozing, in the hope of catching some more shut eye. ‘Just a few more minutes’, he thought grimacing, but no… that wasn’t going to happen any time soon if his Old Man had his way. Dealing with Murdoch, he was learning, was a losing situation; at least where he was concerned.
He cringed, hunching his shoulders as the Old Man’s voice thundered up from the bottom of the staircase. “Boy, you’d better be out of that bed! If I have to come up there and fetch you, you know it’s going to be painful.”
Johnny tensed, ready to bolt from the bed as he listened carefully for the possible sound of booted feet taking the stairs by twos. He was surprised, however, when he heard nothing. His father had been known to drag him bodily from the bed; something Johnny wanted to avoid at all costs since he slept in the raw and Murdoch wasn’t averse to popping him on the ass just to make his point! However, hearing nothing, he grinned and took the chance to snuggle down once again.
He hadn’t even closed his eyes when he heard someone rushing up the stairs. Bolting from his bed, he rushed to put on his underwear, finishing by quickly pulling on his leather calzoneros. He wasn’t concerned about covering his chest; it was his ass end -- he knew from past experience -- that needed the protection!
Johnny yawned, his eyes watering as his jaw cracked. He’d had less than three hours sleep, but not because of the usual reason. Nope, there’d been no evening drinking at the Red Dog in Green River; no gambling with the older men of the town and absolutely no dallying in the rooms upstairs; none of the usual transgressions that usually had him slipping into the hacienda and into his own bed at three in the morning.
He was in front of the mirror, naked from the waist up, his calzoneros hanging low on his slim hips; and his right hand hovering over the jug and wash bowl. Grabbing the pitcher, he emptied its contents into the bowl and began splashing water on his face and soaping up. The water was cold and he gasped; but it woke him fully. He needed the shock to get the cob webs out of his head; and it worked. Finger-combing his mop of raven black hair, he frowned at his reflection. Sopping wet, the hair still refused to stay in place and fell in curls around his ears and forehead. He hated his hair; it seemed to have a mind of its own. ‘Still’, he thought shrugging his shoulders, ‘the ladies like it.’ He certainly had an abundance of it. Right at that moment he looked like one of the cherubs he’d seen in the many Catholic churches his Mama had dragged him to when he was a tadpole; only those cherubs had blond curly hair as opposed to his mop of black curly hair! He snickered, ‘what bastard in their so called wisdom decided that everythin’ blond represented purity and all things good?’ He thought of his older brother and snorted. ‘Bastards always have had a thing about dark skin and dark hair; like it means somethin’ bad or worse, somethin’ evil! Yeah, right! Wasn’t Jesus a Jew? He had to have dark skin and dark hair and – Hell -- even darker eyes, for Christ’s sake?’ He laughed, knowing full well he had taken the Lord’s name in vain, even in thought, a frown appearing on his forehead, causing tiny wrinkles that served to age him dramatically. ‘Sometimes life just sucks. Like now,’ he thought still washing.
He wasn’t a bad looking kid; folks had told him more than once, ‘boy when you get older you’re gonna have to fight ‘em off,’ and they hadn’t been wrong. Seemed like he’d had to fight everyone off!
He studied his reflection and even he could see he was his mother reborn. Murdoch had said it more than once since his return, and he wondered if his father didn’t think he was like his Mama in nature too. Did Murdoch know he was actually nothing like his Mama in nature? He had to admit, he sometimes did see his Mama staring right back at him when he caught his own image in a mirror or on the surface of a lake or stream; and sometimes it even scared him. She’d hardly been the maternal type and in fact had hurt him both physically and emotionally over the years. She seemed to have a knack for it.
His shook the thoughts of his Mama from his mind and smiled, remembering how he’d spent his evening the night before. He liked the old woman he’d visited. He’d finished early; not long after lunch, and he’d known without a shadow of doubt if he’d gone home, Murdoch would’ve found more chores for him to do. So he’d chosen to go visit Lilly; something he knew his father wouldn’t object to and would actually approve.
~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~
Visiting Lilly was something Johnny did more now; weekly in fact. In part because Murdoch had asked his sons to keep an eye on her, but more so because he enjoyed being around her.
He’d got to know the old biddy pretty well in the last few months and didn’t even seem to mind she sometimes called him Petey. Petey was Lilly’s youngest son and Johnny apparently reminded her of him. So he cut her some slack when she slipped up and asked ‘Petey’ to chop some wood.
The fact was he truly liked her, and it became very obvious the feeling was mutual. She’d greet him with open arms and call him son and took the time to listen to him. She also admonished him when she felt it necessary and when she got to hear about any mischief he’d been involved in. He’d know he was in trouble because if she was standing with her arms open it meant she was pleased with him, but if they were crossed, it meant she was angry. News travelled fast on the Lancer spread, it seemed; and she wasn’t averse to whacking him with a freshly cut switch from time to time, if she felt he deserved it.
And he took it from her. He really didn’t know why, but he did, and furthermore found himself promising to do better next time.
Lilly seemed gruff, but he knew better. She always ushered him inside for some grub, berating him over and over; telling him he was far too thin and that she was going to have to have a word with Maria. This always made him smile because he could only imagine that conversation! Both were formidable ladies. But Lilly had a way about her that always seemed to soothe him in ways he couldn’t really fathom.
He’d eat and then after chores, sit in front of a roaring fire on her bear rug; legs crossed Indian style, listening enthralled to stories about the old days; about the past. She’d talk about the time before Scott and he were born; before his father had finally settled on the largest piece of land in the San Joaquin Valley, and he listened.
Lilly could never be angry with him for very long and he knew it; even when he’d done something really bad, he could always charm a smile from her. He was good with women young and old. Still, Lilly stood no nonsense.
Recently when he’d gone to her, already angry with his father, she’d handled him well. She’d calmed him right down and had given him what he had wanted. A mother’s comforting love, something that had been sadly lacking in his young life, and something he’d needed.
Then she’d gone on to lecture him most strenuously concerning his arrogance and insolence towards his father who deserved his respect. She’d even managed to still his growing anger at hearing her stern words, telling him she loved him too much to let him off with any bad behavior. He knew he’d never forget what she’d done for him that day; how she’d healed wounds that up till then had refused to close. It had been a long time since another human being had given him so much affection and he cared for her deeply because of it.
There was no doubting Lilly had lived a long hard life; she was a tough old bird and more than fit for him. She demanded respect and usually got it too! However, Johnny felt respect had to be earned and he’d told her this when he was talking about his father.
Lilly had then gone a long way to healing the open sores between him and his father; telling him stories about a man he barely recognised and in time she’d managed to convince him Murdoch was indeed a man deserving of his sons’ respect.
Lilly lived alone in one of the old out buildings that were scattered around the vast estancia; despite the fact she was getting on in years. She had flat out refused Murdoch’s offer to move her closer to the hacienda, or into a cozy little cottage he owned in Green River. So Murdoch had instructed his sons to pop in if they were in her area, just to check on her and make sure she was alright. For once he hadn’t had to tell his younger son twice.
She had lived in the old house with her husband Samuel and their three sons, all now deceased; all of them buried on a small rise at the back of the house.
They’d been travelling west, she told Johnny, working the fur-trade, when Lilly became ill. God had led them to the old house, she said; a place that seemed to magically appear on the horizon just when they thought all was lost. She teared up a bit when she shared the rest. She’d given birth to a little girl in the small house; on a bed of hides on the floor in front of the fireplace. The child had died only days later, and Samuel had buried the baby with only their sons in attendance.
Lilly had been too sick to see to her child’s burial; something that haunted her still.
In the end, she couldn’t bear to leave the place where her daughter laid buried. Couldn’t leave her child alone in such a vast loneliness.
So they had stayed; Lilly, Samuel and their boys. The house was run down and seemingly abandoned, but it had become their home. Working together, they repaired the homestead, making it their own little bit of Heaven. It was everything they needed: a little brook that opened into a small lake, with a lush flat meadow fit for planting. And the land was abundant with game.
She laughed at that point, telling Johnny it had never even occurred to her or her husband that someone might own the land where they were living.
And then they met the tall Scot who had purchased the land. A recently retired ship’s captain with a new bride, the man was an imposing figure; accustomed to command. His unusual size alone was enough to be intimidating, but he had listened to their story.
Johnny had shuffled nervously on the floor when he’d heard this. “So Murdoch gave you and Samuel a hard time about trespassin’?” he interrupted.
“No, boy, he most definitely did not,” she smiled.
“What did the old man say?” Johnny pressed.
An instant frown appeared on the woman’s face. “Boy, what have I told you about respect?”
His right shoulder hitched in a small shrug, his head dropping against his chest. “That I shouldn’t call Murdoch ‘old man’ and that he deserves better.” He sighed taking in a deep breath and peeping at the woman. “Sorry, Miss Lilly.”
“That’s better,” she smiled. “Now where was I …oh yes; that first meeting with Murdoch.” She closed her eyes for a brief moment, remembering. “He told us he already had a man watching over his western boundaries. He said what he needed now was someone willing to do the same on his eastern property lines.” She shook her head, still in awe of Murdoch Lancer’s generous offer. They had all been overjoyed at his generosity. Reaching out, she patted Johnny’s cheek; almost whispering when she resumed speaking. “I think, Johnny, Samuel told him about our little girl. About how we had lost her; and how I couldn’t bear to leave her behind.”
Johnny was having difficulty digesting the woman’s words. The Murdoch Lancer he knew was all about land; about holding on to the land. All of it.
“And he just let you stay here? Didn’t charge you nothin’, or make you pay shares?” Johnny asked uncomfortably. He remembered only too well how the Mexican Dons bound their peons to the land.
“No, son,” she smiled affectionately down at him. “A hundred thousand acres is a lot of land, Johnny. Your father was smart enough to know it was far too easy for people to move onto unfenced land and stake a claim. He needed people like Modoc Charlie and my Samuel to help guard against jumpers; and to let others know this land belonged to someone. It got even harder after the war with Mexico and the Spanish were being driven out. Everybody, it seemed, wanted a piece of California.” She sighed. “And then there were the ones who tried to take it by force. You know; the land pirates.”
Johnny nodded, he knew all about land pirates. Hell, he’d rode with them a time or two in his shady past.
Lilly had begun to rock in her chair. She was quiet for a time, allowing for her words to sink in. When there was no response from Johnny, she resumed speaking, her tone soft. “You’re daddy’s a good man, Johnny; and he has suffered such loss in his life. Catherine.” She canted her had toward the boy. “She was a lovely woman,” she murmured; in her heart regretting that Catherine Lancer hadn’t mothered this boy, too. Guilt prompted her to say the next. “And your mother was very beautiful.” Quickly, she moved on. “Murdoch has a good heart, Johnny. In spite of everything, he carries on and tries hard to do the best he can. So please show him the respect he deserves, Johnny. Will you do that for me?”
Johnny was squirming. He always got uncomfortable when someone scolded him regarding his attitude. “Yeah, ok; I will. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, or to keep piss…,” his cheeks colored, “…to keep defyin’ him, Miss Lilly. It’s just that … well, he knows what buttons ta push and, I ain’t used to…”
“…to someone telling you what to do and when to do it, huh?” she grinned. The woman missed nothing.
“Yeah,” he laughed. “It ain’t easy. For a long time I been my own boss; movin’ on when I wanted; takin’ a job or not when I wanted. Been on my own now for near ten years, ya know?”
She smiled and patted his head again.
Johnny was still wound up; still complaining. “Hell, Murdoch treats me like I’m some snot nosed kid and ….”
“John Lancer, to him you are just a kid,” Lilly interrupted. “You might’ve lived as a man for a long time, but you’re still a nineteen year old boy, in dire need of some fatherly guidance, if what I’ve been hearing about is anything to go by!” She laughed heartily as she saw Johnny’s frown, aware he was wondering just how much she knew. “I know you ain’t stupid Johnny. And you know you need your father and your older brother to keep you on that straight and narrow road, you know it!”
He nodded shyly. “Yeah, Lilly, I guess I do now. But it ain’t easy. Sometimes I get these ideas and they seem like fun at the time; and I just run with ‘em, but…”
She laughed. “Like the dynamite you used to fish with the twins? Or the cannon you fired at the church steeple, Johnny?” her eyes twinkled with jovial mirth, “and then layin’ your boots out like you was under all that debris?”
Johnny covered his face with both hands. “You knew about them things, way up here?!” A mixture of shame and embarrassment flooded through his entire body and he felt his cheeks growing red.
“For Heaven’s sake, boy, the whole valley knows about ‘em. You’re the talk of the towns and surrounding areas. But you know what? They don’t talk about you in a nasty way, despite your mischief. They talk about you as if you’re one of their own.”
Johnny spread his fingers and risked a look up at the woman’s face. “They do?”
“Yes, they do.” The smile slipped from the woman’s face, and she shook a finger at the younger man. “Now you listen to me, Johnny Lancer. Are you tryin’ to tell me that teasin’ your sister, slidin’ down the bannisters of your home and hotels, using insolence towards your elders and your daddy, and foul language in front of ladies, is evidence of you bein’ all grown up, boy?” she asked emphasizing the word, boy!
“No,” he sighed. “I guess not, when you put it that way.” He reached out, taking the woman’s hand. “So I still got a lot to learn, huh?”
She hugged him close and ruffled his too long hair, tempted to get her scissors and a bowl. “Yes, you do. But you got a Papa and an older brother to help teach you now. You’re not alone anymore, and then there’s your Uncle Cip, Aunt Elena, and Maria. And let’s not forget Val.” She laughed as he harrumphed, and continued on. “All workin’ to guide you right…don’t you dare squander that kind of love boy; just don’t you dare!” she warned.
“No, Ma’am, I won’t,” he felt compelled to say.
She went on to tell him more stories about Scott’s mama and how she and Samuel and her boys had gotten along famously with their neighbors, who’d shared all that they had with them. They became firm friends, often spending the day with them picnicking beside a creek or somewhere equally relaxing. She in particular had gotten close to Catherine who was especially easy to love.
Johnny’s mother, Maria, had been a different matter; but the friendship with Murdoch had remained intact.
Lilly had her own share of hardships. She’d lost two of her children to cholera; within days of each other, and later that same year endured the horror of Haney’s land raids. Her house had been gutted by fire and Samuel had been terribly wounded. She didn’t say what had happened to her, but Johnny could hazard a guess. And Petey, her youngest… He had been gunned down trying to defend her; had fought – she proudly told him – like a lion. He’d been fourteen at the time. After that, Samuel had lost his will to live and had died six months later, with a broken heart.
Murdoch had taken care of her ever since. He had also tried, more than once, to convince her to live at the hacienda and work with Maria; telling her ‘Maria could sure use the help because the hacienda was a big house’. However all she wanted was to live beside her husband and children who were all buried there and Murdoch had understood. Over the years he had made a point of visiting her and now he was encouraging his sons to do the same.
Johnny sighed, staring at his reflection; then mopping his face as he though again of the woman. Last time he’d been with her, she’d had laid wild flowers on her husband’s grave. It had been the anniversary of his death and he just couldn’t leave her alone. So he had spent the afternoon and evening with her; cleaning up the burial plots and putting everything right, and doing other chores.
It was such a waste; he didn’t understand why these things had happened to her but he understood her need to be near them all. She apparently prayed to the Lord every day to be taken, but thought herself too wicked, which was why she was still there, alone. It was her penance, she’d told him but Johnny hadn’t agreed with that judgment at all.
He’d learned a lot about his father and not the least how Murdoch had established a school in his old guard house; a school for his employees’ children and the surrounding children in the area. His daddy was an educated man who truly believed in the benefits of education; so he’d established an organization of like minded people in the valley, calling themselves The Cattleman’s Association; who had collectively employed a teacher. He’d supplied the building, and the ranchers of the area had supplied the school with equipment, but it had all been spearheaded by his father, she’d told him.
Johnny had slowly begun to see his father in a completely new way.
The result had been as Murdoch had expected. More young men with families had moved into their valley wanting jobs from the likes of Murdoch Lancer and the other large ranchers, who belonged to the Association; all wanting to take full advantage of the benefits laid out for them and their children.
In the end Murdoch had been all the richer for it; with wealth beyond money. Having a band of men he could count on when things got tough. Murdoch Lancer was a leading example in the valley; his ideas making his neighbors equally successful, Lilly had told his wide eyed younger son.
Murdoch had often visited the woman with him sitting up in front of his saddle, not quite two years old but comfortable aboard a horse. Lilly had fallen for the dark haired boy from the moment she’d set eyes on him and Murdoch had made sure she saw him regularly.
“You were a reckless, determined child,” she had told him. “Seem’s nothin’s changed, if I’m to believe all the gossips in town.” She laughed, again shaking a single finger at him. “When you were a toddler, you used to drive your Papa wild. You’d barge into the school house all two feet of you and demand the teacher let you stay. Apparently the woman finally asked Murdoch to hog tie you; the reason?”
“Well, boy, you told her your daddy owned the school house and that she’d better let you in or else you would get your daddy to spank her. You were just two and a half years old at the time and already you were acting like the Patrón…” she laughed. “A precocious child at the very least,” she smiled. “But everyone loved you Johnny, everyone. You had a heart of pure gold and were totally innocent, always bringing home dead or injured animals or even insects!” She sighed, rolling her eyes; “Apparently, once you handed your mother a worm that had been trodden on, asking her if she could fix it!” Lilly howled with laughter at the memory of the telling of the story. “Maria almost had a fit. Not only was the worm still covered in mud but so were you.” Her eyes suddenly filled with sadness, “Everyone was devastated when she left taking you with her Johnny; especially your father. I thought the man was going to go to pieces looking for you, and her.” The pause when she mentioned his mother was obvious and she was visibly relieved when he didn’t ask her what she thought of his mother. “I thought he was going to go insane and he nearly did, but Lancer kept him going. Lancer and the thought he’d find you and get Scott home one day. He did all of it for you and your brother, you do know that, don’t you?”
Johnny nodded. “Yeah, I do now, but, well Mama lied to me. She told me he never wanted me; for years she told me I wasn’t good enough for him, she….”
“Nonsense!” Lilly interrupted, “I’m sorry, Johnny. I don’t wish to defile the memory of your Mama, but Murdoch Lancer adored the ground you walked on. He still does. Yes, he’s hard headed; but then, so are you. Seems you’ve inherited more than you think from your daddy, Johnny. You’re so like him in many ways. You may look like your mother, but that’s where the resemblance ends, Johnny. It’s your temperament you share with your father; the reason you and he clash all the time. You think alike and you’re both stubborn; but – young and old – you both have true, honest hearts.”
Johnny’s head was bowed. “Oh I don’t know about that Lilly. I’ve done some bad things; had some bad things done to me, I…”
Lilly pressed her fingertips against the young man’s lips, silencing him. “I know all about that, Johnny. You did what you had to do, to survive. There’s no shame in that. ‘Do it to them before they do it to you’; I’ve heard it all before. Your daddy knows all that and he ain’t ashamed either. He’s proud you survived where others wouldn’t have. Proved to him just how strong a character you were; are. I know you’ve been on your own for a very long time and I know what you’ve had to do, but it don’t matter, Johnny. Like Isham told your daddy, you never did reach rock bottom. You were born with a sense of honor. It’s in you, boy; part of who you are; and it comes straight from your daddy.”
Johnny looked reflective.
“Did you know Maria looked after you when you were just a baby, Johnny?” The woman began rocking again.
Johnny shook his head vigorously. Instinctively, from her tone of voice, he knew Lilly was talking about the housekeeper and not his mother. He hadn’t realized how involved Maria had been in his day-to-day care, but it sure in hell explained a lot when he thought about it. The housekeeper treated him like a son and he had often wondered why.
“You were quite a handful, Johnny Lancer,” she teased, giving him a soft pat on the cheek. “And you still are, aren’t you?”
He dipped his head in that oh so familiar shy way of his. “So I’m told,” he barely whispered. “I don’t mean to get into trouble, Lilly. I just seem to have a knack for finding it, or it finds me.” He shrugged.
“Johnny Lancer, all you have to do is decide to behave and do as you’re told and you know it,” she admonished.
He knew she was right, but where was the fun in that?
He’d learned more about his history with his father from this woman than he’d ever learned from his father. He was, it seemed a true son of his father, Murdoch’s blood pumping in his veins after all. Funny thing, he never felt closer to Murdoch than when he was with Lilly. Indeed, sometimes it was the only time he felt he had any link with the man who still seemed at times, like a stranger. Murdoch could be so distant, but he’d spoken to Lilly about his sons and the way he felt about them, something she’d shared openly with both Scott and Johnny. She did what she could and she’d helped both Scott and Johnny understand who their father was.
Murdoch was trying to open up and he had softened quite a bit in the last few months, but he was still sometimes hard headed, ‘a bit like me ‘ Johnny thought, grinning to himself. Seems he had more of his father in him than he’d ever known and Lilly had made him see it. She seemed to know how to soothe him when he as mad, knowing exactly what to say and when to say it. It was also clear she was very fond of him; that she had many fond memories of him as a toddler and Johnny was hungry to hear it all.
She was their link with their father; and both sons used her as a resource for understanding the man. Not that she seemed to mind. No, it was obvious she loved it when they visited; something both young men did weekly; sometimes together, but more often than not, apart.
~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~
Back to the here and now, Johnny took another swipe at his hair; this time with the brush he had recently swiped from his brother’s dresser. Scott was still looking for the brush, he grinned.
Another memory touched him as he continued to try and tame his hair. He smiled as he remembered his fight with Lilly’s leaking roof. Her loose shingles had been the reason he’d been late coming home. It had been a bitch to repair; the winds increasing as he worked. The final straw had been the sudden hard spring shower; and when he’d finally dragged his sorry ass indoors, she’d insisted he take off his wet clothes so she could hang them up to dry. He’d argued, but had gotten a swift smack on his rear end for his troubles with that ever present switch she kept permanently resting beside her front door. “Don’t you argue with me,” she’d scolded, handing him a large woollen blanket. “Now do as you’re told for once boy, and take off those wet clothes, now.”
He’d complied, after all he’d been cold and wet and his clothes needed drying. Johnny was apt to get colds easily; something that often turned a whole lot more sinister if he wasn’t careful. Wrapped in the blanket and warmed by the roaring fire, he’d finally fallen asleep on the ever familiar bear skin rug and she’d carefully banked up the fire even more. And then she had covered him with yet another blanket, to keep him warm.
He’d woken in the early hours just as the moon was entering its twilight wane, riding Barranca at full run the entire trip home. He had sneaked into the hacienda just as the grandfather clock tolled three.
“JOHN, are you up yet, boy? Come down here!” Murdoch bellowed once again. “NOW!”
Jolted back to the here and now, Johnny opened his door and shouted his reply. “I’m up, Ol…Papí. I’ll be right down!!”
Murdoch mumbled under his breath words he knew he shouldn’t say aloud. “Well, be sure that you are, boy,” he shouted. “We’ve a long day ahead of us, and…”
The boy smiled. It was always the same. He hated mornings but he also knew he really needed to get moving. Experience had taught him that much.
He hadn’t quite slid into his chair at the breakfast table when his father began to ask questions. “What time did you get in last night, Johnny? And don’t look at me like that. I’m not a fool. I know damned well and good you were out last night.”
Johnny’s shoulders slumped.
“So, my son, where did you go? De la Rosa’s?” he asked pinning Johnny with a look that said, you’d better not have been there. The question was, however, laced with concern. Yes, Johnny could finally see the love in the eyes of his father. It had taken a while, but – thanks to Lilly -- he could now see it now. However, despite that, he felt the old angers rising from the pit of his stomach. It didn’t seem fair to him that he had spent the better part of a long day doing chores for a woman who needed his help only to be called to task for it. Of course it mattered not that Murdoch knew nothing of where he had been and the fact he chose to keep that information from him. His thoughts were the man had no real right to know anyway.
“Late,” was all he said insolently, adding with the hint of a tenuous smile, “And good mornin’ to you, you ‘ol grump. I wasn’t at De la Rosa’s. I wasn’t even in town.” He shot his old man a cheeky grin that had Murdoch dipping his head. Even though he was angry at Johnny, the boy could make his heart sore with that smile and Johnny knew it. “This looks good enough to eat, Mamácita,” he said, changing the subject and turning to give the woman a peck on the cheek. She harrumphed and told him to behave.
They’d come a long way, with the help of Lilly and were getting closer every day, but still Murdoch could light his fire and vice-versa.
“How was Lilly, Johnny?” Scott asked, knowingly; seeing the sudden smile on Murdoch’s face at the mere mention of the old woman’s name. The warmth of the man’s smile spread to his eyes; a genuine affection showing for the son he’d once thought past saving.
“Oh, she’s fine,” Johnny answered; forgetting his mouth was full. Swallowing, he glanced at his father; noticing the smile that graced the man’s face. His gaze shifted back to his brother. “Told me to tell you her chickens were layin’ like they’ve never laid before and thanks for the tip. You know what she’s talkin’ ‘bout?”
“Yes, Johnny, I do.” Scott grinned, looking at Teresa, who’d just joined them. “I shared that tip we got from the paper, you know the one; about how to get a better yield from your chickens. It seems to have helped. Lilly has reported her chickens are laying bigger and better eggs, Teresa.”
Johnny scoffed, “Oh that,” he glanced at Teresa, “Yeah, that extra special feed really helps huh?” he teased, remembering the trick he’d pulled on her. He’d run from the house that day but had been caught by his old man and he winced at the memory, shuffling in his seat. Murdoch had come down hard on him for that and the many other pranks he’d pulled that day.
“You shush, Johnny Lancer!” Teresa scolded. “That formula would have worked just fine if you hadn’t put all those hard boiled eggs under my chickens. They were put off laying for a week,” she complained. “Weren’t they, Murdoch?”
Murdoch shook out his paper and leaned around it upon hearing his name, “What, oh yes darling.” He smiled, and then put on the customary scowl for his younger son, “John, stop teasing your sister.” He hadn’t really been listening but had rightly assumed Johnny was already annoying Teresa. It was a common occurrence.
Johnny was about to say something when he felt Maria at his back and thought better of it.
“What are our work assignments for today, sir?” asked Scott, who was now dabbing at his lips with his napkin, hiding his own smile. Life with his younger brother was a constant source of joy and mirth, at times anyway.
Murdoch loved the way Scott managed to deflect a situation developing between Johnny and any member of the family. He truly was the ultimate mediator and a true leader of men. Although young, Scott had earned the respect of the men and few now questioned his orders, obeying them without question. He was proud of Scott and he’d told him so more than once. He’d admitted the same to Lilly about both his sons, and then -- at her request -- to Johnny himself, that he was also proud of him too. Both boys had survived against all odds, when and in all honesty, neither should have; Scott in the war and Johnny in the pit of Hell.
Just as Scott was the ultimate mediator and leader, Johnny was the ultimate survivor. He had sass enough for an army. But, Murdoch reflected, both of his boys had inherited his grittiness; his stubbornness and guts; neither running from trouble, both facing it head on, standing shoulder to shoulder with their old man. Neither of them were alone anymore, and it truly felt great.
Yes, thanks to Lilly, whom he regularly talked with, he’d realized he was proud of both of his sons, although in completely different ways. Scott and Johnny were strong young men, both survivors. His blood ran thick in their veins and he was indeed proud.
Disappointment didn’t even figure into his thinking, not anymore, Lilly had seen to that. He had a lot to thank her for and he aimed to tell her that soon. It seemed the little old woman had become councillor to all three Lancers; her wisdom helping in ways she would never really know.
Lilly was found dead in her bed by Scott and Johnny on their next visit. She’d died in her sleep peacefully, reunited with her children and husband at last. Her funeral, arranged by the Lancers and their extended family, was well attended. It seemed the entire valley was in attendance; all of them there to say their final good-byes.
Murdoch and his sons had turned the earth for her grave; and together the three Lancers would bury her.
Surprisingly, Johnny had given a very moving speech; the words he spoke giving huge comfort to all present and Murdoch was never so proud of him. The boy had been brave until her casket was being lowered into the ground and then he’d sobbed openly in his older brother’s arms; and once again Murdoch felt proud. He moved to cradle both of his sons in his large arms; the bond of love openly shown to all present for the first time.
Lilly would never be forgotten for the things she did to help her neighbors all her life, but more especially for the good she did in re-uniting three estranged men, young and old.