AR:- Johnny’s eleven and Scott’s seventeen…Johnny has been home for a few months and Scott has been home since he was ten, after a long legal battle for legal guardianship, between his father and his grandfather in Boston.
If you enjoy these kind of stories, then great. Have fun with it. If you don’t, then simply don’t read on. It’s not canon…Which in all honesty is often open to one’s interpretation, except when it’s obvious, like it is here!
Special thanks must go to Binnie and Ma (Kit Prate) for all her suggestions and corrections. I loved them all and agreed with them all.
Thanks as always for your support...
The two boys were standing at attention in front of their father’s desk in his study, a place neither boy liked to be at the best of times and this was most definitely not the best of times!
Both were nervous and with good reason, since this was the place where they often found themselves being taken to task for any misdeeds.
Murdoch Lancer, at six foot five inches tall, was an imposing figure of a man. Broad as well as tall, he was formidable when calm; but when he was angry, he was a veritable bear!
“I want to know why you did this, John?” he snapped, banging his desk with a burly fist, making both boys jump.
Johnny gulped and instinctively took a single step backwards, glancing at his older brother for some measure of comfort and this time getting none.
Murdoch turned then to his elder son, “And you! Why you were so late picking up your brother is beyond me. You left the ranch in plenty of time. I expressly told you to be there, waiting for him coming out of school. Where were you?”
He didn’t wait for an answer and Scott secretly prayed he would forget he had asked the question. No such luck. “You knew you were to keep an eye on him, Scott? You knew we all suspected he was up to something.”
Johnny shot his elder brother a look. ‘What the Hell? You talked about me, with him?’ That was the first he’d heard of his brother’s collaboration with their father. ‘Bastard,’ he thought, his face like thunder.
Scott stood a little taller, squaring his shoulders. “I..I w..was …,” he stammered, “….eh…shall we say, I was somewhat distracted, sir.” He dipped his head, slightly ashamed in light of where he had actually been.
‘Boy was I distracted,’ he thought, heaving out a long sigh, and thinking how sweet Sally had smelt when they had their little liaison in the hayloft.
In truth, Sally Preston had been more of distraction than he’d ever thought possible. In fact, she was someone who had taken the time to let him know just how much of a distraction she could really be.
He’d met her, a few years ago, but had only recently begun to notice her. Her parents were decent enough folks, who had purchased the local café’ in Green River. She had been a little girl when they had moved into the valley, but recently when he had gone into town, he had begun to notice real changes had taken place with Sweet Sally and now he felt differently towards her. Now she was all the woman she would ever be, and more importantly she knew it!
Then, when he had been sent to town to meet Johnny (who couldn’t be trusted to come straight home from school without getting into some sort of mischief) he had met up with her. First, just as friends; but then it had progressed to kissing and now it was, well…more. Some pretty hot fondling had occurred, but he certainly was not going to share that particular truth with his father. Not if he planned on ever leaving the ranch again!
Sally had proved to be more knowledgeable than he had ever imagined. Her hands had sought out places he had only ever touched himself; or perhaps his Nanny when he had been very young.
Murdoch knew nothing of their liaisons and Scott certainly wanted to keep it that way. Now, however – thanks to Johnny -- that little secret had been blown to Hell.
“Well?” Murdoch pushed, shaking his elder son out of his reverie.
Scott drew in a breath, his lips in a tight line…
~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~
Sally had been sitting out on the boardwalk with some of her friends, pretending not to be spying on Scott. That had changed the moment she saw him going in to Baldemero’s. Coyly – calling out to her father she wanted to look at a bonnet she’d seen in the mercado’s window -- she slipped away from the girls; intent on her pursuit of the oldest Lancer brother.
She made a beeline for the store, orchestrating her coincidental meeting with the young man. The next thing Scott knew, they were out the back door of the cluttered store and headed for the livery.
Sally had tugged at his hand, seemingly desperate, telling him about the litter of starving kittens she’d found in the loft; managing a tear as she begged him to help her save the ‘darling kitties’ before mean old Mr. Tucker discovered them and threw them into the river.
They never did find the damned kittens; no matter how much Scott had searched. No. Instead, drawing a weeping and wailing Sally into his arms to comfort her, things had suddenly taken a turn he had never expected.
The kiss, he told himself, was just to make her feel better; to take her mind off the kittens she was sure were at the bottom of the river and now asleep in their watery grave.
What happened next still had Scott’s mind reeling. The totally innocent kiss had turned Sally into a total wench. The next thing he knew they were tussling in the hay and it had all been downhill from there. And before he knew it, Sally’s dress was almost up around her neck, and her hands were shoved down the front of his pants.
He had been the one who had put a stop to things, much to Miss Sally’s annoyance. As it was, he had completely lost track of time; almost forgetting why he had been sent to town in the first place.
And now, here he was standing in front of his father’s desk, hoping to God Murdoch didn’t notice the memory of the day’s event was way too fresh in his mind, and his body was about to betray him. He sighed.
~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~
Johnny snapped his brother back to the here and now. “You and Murdoch, have been talkin’ ‘bout me?” he asked, turning towards his seventeen year old brother, his face flushed in anger. The hurt and betrayal was obvious in the eleven year olds blue eyes as he asked the question. So much so, Scott figured he would have to talk to him afterwards, to explain. He’d only just begun to trust him, and now he was clearly wondering if that had been a mistake.
Scott shrugged, his eyebrows rising a tad, “We weren’t talking about you per say, little brother. We were, however, discussing how best to deal with your mischief and how we could collectively keep you out of trouble.” He grinned, hoping that would be enough of an explanation to appease his little brother.
It wasn’t. Johnny was not amused. He’d been a handful ever since his return to Lancer, but still – to have his brother conspire with his old man – to obviously plan and plot against him, was enough to make him want to turn tail and run.
Murdoch narrowed his eyes and looked hard at the boy standing before him, and realised at once what he was up to. Johnny was a master at creating diversions; and was clearly attempting once again, to avoid the current discussion. In spite of wearing his most innocent expression, it was clear the boy was as guilty as sin; and damned well knew what he had done was wrong, and that he was going to have to pay for his transgressions.
Scott studied the look of consternation on his father’s face; his gaze shifting to Johnny whose expression was wavering between belligerence and belated concern. It wasn’t as though he hadn’t warned the boy. But Johnny, in typical fashion, had ignored his older brother’s advice and simply told him to butt out; growling his usual ‘fuck off, brother,’ followed by his single finger jabbing into the air.
And now Murdoch knew exactly what Johnny had done.
As usual, Johnny hadn’t given one bit of thought as to the consequences. And now he was having to face them.
~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~
Pulled by the ankles by Val Crawford, Sheriff of Green River -- the sack still in his guilty little hands -- Johnny had been forced to fess up to putting the dead skunk under the Widow’s store. But that had not been the end of it…oh no.
“What the hell are you doin’ under there, boy!” Val bellowed, seeing a booted foot sticking out from under the boardwalk in front of Widow Hargis’s store. Johnny had been caught in the act of scrambling under the porch to fish out the smelly evidence that would certainly point folks in his direction; his reputation for mischief having reached legendary proportions. His intention, of course, was to get rid of the damning proof; exonerating himself and convincing people that he had not been responsible for the god-awful smell that had almost put the grouchy old woman out of business.
When confronted, Johnny – as usual – had fallen back on his usual demeanor when caught in a difficult situation; the poor little orphan boy, and when that hadn’t worked, he turned on the mini-Madrid persona. Belligerent, he stuck out his jaw and looked Crawford right in the eye and spat out his venom. “Nuthin’ that concerns you, Crawford! Ain’t none of your god-damned business, so just butt out!”
Well, that worked for shit.
“You little piss ant! It…is… my business,” Val bellowed. “In case you’ve forgotten, I’m the sheriff of this damned town, and everythin’ that goes on here is sure in hell my business, and I’ll damned well be takin’ care of it! Now spill it. What were you doin’ under the Widow’s store and what the hell have you got a sack for?”
Johnny was rubbing his ears, wishing to God Val would quit yelling. “I ain’t been doin’ nuthin’ illegal Val, honest.” He tried as convincingly as he could, but then screwed up by adding “… why don’t’cha just leave me the fuck alone!” Well, that was good for a solid swat across his ass end. “Jesus fuckin’ H. Christ,” he hollered.
“You watch your mouth, kid!” Crawford spat, delivering another sharp smack.
“Lemme go!” Johnny shot back, angry as much as with himself for getting caught as he was with the lawman.
“Not until you tell me what you were doin’ under the Widow’s store!”
“Already told you, I wasn’t doin’ a god-damned thing!” Johnny yelled, gasping in surprise as the sheriff sat down on the boardwalk and pulled him none too gently over his lap.
“I told you to watch that mouth, kid. You aren’t goin’ to listen to me, then maybe it’s time you and me come to a real understandin’ about just who’s boss, and just who needs to get rid of the attitude,” Val declared, applying his hand to the boy’s backside with considerable gusto.
“No…wait!! Lemme go….you…you….bast…” Johnny’s voice drifted off into a high-pitched wail as Val continued to whale on his ass end. Finally he stopped and pulled the boy roughly to his feet, but continuing to hold on.
“Dammit, that hurt!” Johnny yelped. “What’d you do that for?” he asked rubbing at his sore backside.
“For your mouth!” Val answered. “And I’ll do it again if you don’t change the attitude, you hear me?”
Johnny dipped his head.
“Do you hear me?” Val prodded.
“Yes… sir.” Johnny added, almost whispering.
Val turned to his deputy and yelled, “Frank, crawl on under there will ya? Let’s just see what this here boy’s been up to.”
“Yes, sir,” Frank responded; not sure he was really wanting to do what his boss had suggested.
Johnny mumbled, “Ain’t nuthin’ under there worth lookin’ at, Val.” He was sulking now at being caught red handed and more than a mite worried. He’d failed to notice the lawman watching him when he’d hunkered down to crawl under the boardwalk, his nose telling him the remains of the skunk were now rotting and beyond rank.
Val snorted his disbelief, the sarcasm adding an edge to his words. “Then you ain’t got nuthin’ to worry about, have you, kid? But if Frank finds somethin’, I’m gonna know damned good and well you’re the one that put it there. And then I’m gonna have no choice but to presume you’re the fool jackass that caused the god-awful stink that damned near closed down the Widow Hargis’s store, and you me are gonna have a long talk. Comprende?” The threat hung in the air like a knife ready to take the plunge!
“Val!” Frank yelped. He was back-crawling desperately from beneath the porch; a dull thunk coming as his head hit the support beams.
“What the hell now, Frank?” Val Crawford wasn’t the most patient of men.
“I found it…well at least ..part of it…Val. It’s, it’s…, it’s a dead skunk!! Jeez, but this thing stinks!” Frank’s eyes were watering as he stood up. He was holding his nose with the fingers of one hand; his other arm stretched out as far as he could possibly stretch it, the rotting remains of the polecat dangling from his fingers.
Johnny rolled his eyes, unable to hide the grin as Frank struggled with his noxious burden.
His snickering ended when he felt the sharp tug on his collar. “Come on!” Val ordered, almost hoisting the boy off his feet as he began dragging him down the street; totally unmindful of the bag Johnny was still holding that was fluttering beside him like a military guidon. He promptly pushed the youngster across the threshold of the jail, helping him along with a boot to his butt; and then tossed him into the holding cell.
And then he sent for Murdoch.
~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~
“Well, what do you have to say for yourself, John?”
Johnny’s chin was on his chest.
“Well?” Murdoch bellowed turning to Scott. “And you, you knew he was up to something, but you still didn’t make it on time to pick him up!”
Scott cleared his throat, “Sir, with all due respect, I did at least try to talk to Johnny. I don’t want to have to come running to you every time my little brother does something he shouldn’t, sir. That would be a full time job in itself.” He added calmly.
Johnny snorted, making Murdoch turn in his direction. “You, young man are in enough trouble without adding to it by being flip!”
“Yes, sir.” Johnny trembled, his mulish attitude towards his brother ending. Again, he became his father’s center of attention…‘Shit!’ His chin hit his chest.
“What on earth were you thinking, Johnny? It was bad enough, putting a dead skunk under her store! But the putting up of the woman’s….” he cleared his throat, “…drawers on the church flag pole…and the fire, are entirely different matters!”
Johnny said nothing.
“And why did you have matches in the first place?” Murdoch demanded to know. “It’s one thing to carry them when we are out on the trail, but you certainly have no need of them when you are in school; or in town.” He shook his head.
Again Johnny said nothing.
“John, I need to know you’re not an arsonist by nature, son. What on God’s green earth were you thinking?”
Johnny shrugged; forgetting just how much his father hated it when he played stupid. “I..I didn’t mean to…I mean I didn’t do all that stuff, at least not all by myself……I ….I…had some help…” he cringed not wanting to involve anyone else in his mischief, especially his new friends. “It was an accident…we didn’t mean..….” he sniffled.
“Who else was involved, John?” Murdoch interrupted, demanding an answer.
Johnny’s head snapped up, “You really expect me to answer that? Well, old man, let me tell you somethin’, I ain’t no snitch. I ain’t tellin’ on my friends. Even if you pound me into the ground! You hear me? I still ain’t gonna snitch them out to you or nobody!”
Murdoch couldn’t help but admire the boy’s loyalty, but in this case it was totally misplaced. “Is that right, John?” he ground out. “You will tell me,” he threatened.
Stubbornly, Johnny shook his head. “No, sir, I will not. It don’t matter a damn what you do to me. I’ll not betray my friends.”
“You’ve been told you are not to curse in this house, boy,” Murdoch warned.
Scott sensed that things were going downhill fast. “Sir, may I suggest we let Val deal with his friends, and we…” he hesitated, “…you deal with what Johnny did. I mean, we know he pulled the skunk stunt, alone.
“Val will root out the others who are responsible, sir; it’s only a matter of time. He’ll get to the bottom of it all. You know that, sir.” Scott pleaded, turning to smile affectionately at his brother and receiving a scowl in return.
“I suppose you’re right, Scott.” Murdoch conceded. Val was an excellent lawman and as tenacious as a bulldog when on the scent.
Scott was emboldened by his father’s agreement, and decided to plead his brother’s case. “Making Johnny tattle on his friends is hardly honorable sir; and something you and I both know he will not do. I, for one, am proud he will not betray his friendships, sir. I know it seems like he’s being defiant, but you do have to admire that kind of loyalty; considering the consequences.” And he was very certain there would, indeed, be consequences.
Johnny winced and Murdoch covered his mouth with his hand to stop his sons from seeing the smile threatening. He was proud of both of his boys; Johnny for his loyalty in the face of such adversity and Scott for his defence of his little brother.
He nodded. “You should be pleased you have an older, wiser brother defending you, young man.”
“Wiser, pain in the ass, brother you mean,” Johnny accused, whispering under his breath.
Scott smirked, hearing his every word.
“Did you say something, son?” Murdoch asked, frowning again. He knew the boy had said something, but he hadn’t quite heard what.
“No, sir.” Johnny lied, looking for all the world angelic.
Scott’s mouth dropped open at his brother’s obvious lie and Murdoch’s eyes narrowed.
“I’ll let that pass, though I shouldn’t. But know this, John, I will not be lied to.” He straightened, assuming the firm father role. “Now, onto a more pressing subject; the bloomer incident and the fire?”
“You’ll of course apologize to the Widow.” He speared his son with a fierce glare. “Again.” He had insisted on an apology before they had left town.
Johnny let out a long drawn out sigh.
Murdoch continued. “What I want to know is why? Why the Widow Hargis, son? I know she can be a bit nosey but…..”
“A BIT!” Johnny raged, his temper finally getting the better of him. “She’s a fuckin’ judgmental old cow, Murdoch! She figures she’s got the right to judge the livin’ and the dead. Hell, it’s a wonder those fuckin’ graves back behind the church don’t open up and the folks in them coffins, don’t plop out to beg her forgiveness!”
Scott snickered and Murdoch glared hard at him, ending his outburst. “John Lancer, you will not use that kind of language in this house. We’ve had this discussion before! Only recently in fact, don’t you remember?”
Scott cringed and closed his eyes.
“Well, I hate her!” Johnny yelled. “She’s always raggin’ on at me, tellin’ me how bad I am; how the devil is in me and how I need a rod for my back to beat the devil outta me an’ stuff like that! She hates who I am; what I am!!”
Murdoch frowned at that.
“She don’t approve of me bein’ a half breed.”
Had he been so blind, not to notice prejudice? “John, you don’t know that. That’s not fair. The Widow Hargis, as far as I know, has never been a bigot. In fact, the woman marched against slavery well before the Civil War, son. Now, I know you’re angry but mind that temper of yours or its going to get you into a world of hurt,” Murdoch warned.
He concentrated on calming himself down as his Pa suggested. “Sorry, but Murdoch she won’t leave me alone. She thinks she’s so much better than me; she stinks and so, I thought I’d let people know it, by making her smell like a skunk!” He made the mistake of giggling; sobering up when Murdoch gave him ‘the look’. “She’s always lookin’ down that snooty nose of hers, as if she’s smellin’ somethin’ bad, when I walk by. I just wanted her place to smell as bad as she thinks I do,” he admitted. “I just wanted to make her pay for all the fu…” his eyes quickly shifted to his father and took in his disapproval. “…for all her naggin’!” he finished. “Look, Murdoch, she thinks she’s got the right to judge folks, just ‘cause she’s a ‘good’ Christian. That ain’t right, is it? I hate her!” he ended, breathing hard.
Murdoch cupped his hands over his mouth. The widow was judgmental; that much he knew about her. She did think it her job to police the youth in Green River, but he had attributed that to the fact she had no children of her own. But he also knew her to be a kindly soul. He believed Johnny had got her all wrong. Most young people did where it concerned her and he figured she played a part in that.
“Where I can see your point,” he finally said, “in that she is a ‘bit’ of a busy body…,” Johnny huffed, and Murdoch held up his hand, “ You have to see it from her perspective, son. She has no one to devote her time to. She’s alone in this world and she has to work very hard to make a living. She feels she has to look out for the fallen in her congregation and in her eyes you’re one of the fallen. She is deeply involved with the church and so isn’t very approving of your many varied and imaginative stunts and she sees it as her Christian duty to set you on the right path. In a way, it’s kind of a compliment that she takes such an interest in you, John.”
Johnny scoffed. “I could do without the compliment then,” he muttered.
Murdoch tried again. “But don’t you see, if she didn’t care about your soul, she wouldn’t bother.”
“Wish she wouldn’t,” the boy huffed, stubborn in his determination to dislike the woman. “And my soul’s just fine, thank you,” he added.
“John.” The censure in Murdoch’s voice was clear.
“Well, I wish she wouldn’t, Murdoch. ‘Cause it don’t give her the right to rag on at me all the time, does it?”
“No, son, it doesn’t. Unless, of course, you’ve given her a reason to, hmm? Could that be it, son? That she has good reason to think you’re in league with the devil. Setting a fire near her store was beyond mischief, son. It was dangerous and you know it.”
“We didn’t mean for that to happen, Murdoch. We was smokin’ and a kerosene lamp had broken and spilt and we didn’t notice it, till it was too late. Then when we…I mean… I… dropped the lit match to stamp on it. That was when all hell broke loose and before we knew it the back end of her store was burnin’, Murdoch. I’m sorry. I did get her out and I did help put out the fire. We did help to save the store, Murdoch,” he reminded, truly sorry for what had happened.
Murdoch nodded. “Yes, I know you did. You, Ben and Taylor. In fact all worked diligently to get the flames out. I know that because Val told me. He also told me the risk you took, going into the store young man.”
Johnny dipped his head. “Well someone had to get her out. She was scared stiff Murdoch and wouldn’t move. I had to pull her out, didn’t I?”
“Yes, you did. Johnny, were Ben and Taylor your accomplices’?”
Johnny folded his arms.
“Well, tell me this son. Just what was it you were smoking?”
Johnny hugged himself then.
“Well it does seem to me, that you’ve given her good reason to think you’re a bad boy, doesn’t it, John?”
Johnny shrugged his shoulders but he knew what his father was saying, was probably true. He had targeted her cruelly and now he felt bad about what had happened. Things had gotten out of hand.
“I dunno, maybe,” he conceded.
“Well then, maybe you owe her another apology and this time I want you to mean it, young man. What do you think, my son?”
Johnny sighed. “Yeah, maybe I do, but do I hav’ta do it right now? I mean she’s gonna be so piss…angry with me, she ain’t even gonna hear my apology. Maybe we should leave it, till she cools down, huh?”
Murdoch covered his mouth pretending to scratch his nose this time and he dipped his head. The pleading look his younger son had just shot him was priceless. “I do believe you should apologize right now, son. Strike whilst the iron is hot, so to speak. ” He gestured toward the door. “Come on, now’s as good a time as any. Let’s you and I ride into town, to see the Widow?
Scott blew out a sigh of relief until his father turned back, “Oh, Scott when I get back, you and I need to talk. You’re not out of the woods yourself. You have been remiss in watching your brother, which was precisely why you were in town and I want to know what the distraction was, my son.”
“However, right now, we have more pressing matters to deal with, haven’t we Johnny?”
Johnny wiped the smile off of his face. “Yes, sir.”
Scott looked miserable and Johnny decided he should at least try to help him.
“Murdoch, me and Scott were goin’ to play checkers later. So do you haf’ta talk to him when we get back?” Johnny tried. “It really wasn’t his fault. I kept givin’ him the slip. Wasn’t like he didn’t try, Murdoch.”
“John, the only thing you’ll be doing when we get home is nursing a sore backside in your room. Now would you prefer to take that ride into town before that event takes place, or after?”
Johnny looked into his father’s eyes to see if he was serious, and realized with alarm that he was. However, he also saw more than a hint of softness and amusement in them too.
“Before.” He said, resigned to his fate.
“I thought so; wise decision, son. Now, come on.” And with that he made for the French doors that led into the courtyard and made his way swiftly to the barn, knowing full well his boy, was running behind to keep up!
They made the ride in silence for most of the way, until they got within a stones throw of the Widows house.
“Pa,” he asked, hoping the word ‘Pa’, softly spoken, would soften Murdoch’s mood. It worked.
“Yes, my son.” Murdoch smiled warmly.
“You like the Widow? I mean, you know, as a person?”
Murdoch made a face. It was clear he didn’t, not really, but then he had little patience for gossips who spent most of their time spreading hurtful untruths about people.
“I knew it.” he yelled. “You don’t like her any more than I do.” Johnny accused.
“No, since you ask, I will be honest and tell you, I’m not overly fond of her, Johnny; and I would not choose her for a friend. But I do feel a bit of compassion for her in her loneliness. You keep that to yourself, you hear me?”
Johnny nodded, “So can I ask why I hav’ta ‘pologize for somethin’ that would’ve got rid of the old bitch, once and for all?”
“Johnny, you don’t mean the fire?” Murdoch blurted.
“No…no, not that …jeez Murdoch, I ain’t a murderer. But you have to admit it was real funny watching all her customers rushing outta her store coverin’ their noses, like she smelled real bad.” He chuckled. “That dead skunk stank to high heaven, Pa. She’d a gone outta business and then we’d of all been shot of her, once and for all. It was a good plan.” He concluded sighing wistfully.
“It was not a ‘good’ plan as you put it, John Lancer. It was a bad plan and a bad idea, son and you should know that by now…After all I did try at least to impress upon you, that it had not been a good plan!!” he shook his head some more.
“If you say so.” Johnny sulked.
“I do; and I will be impressing my opinion on your backside once more when we get home if you don’t straighten up!” Pulling up to the hitching rail in front of the Widow’s small cottage, he gestured to his son. “Alright, here we are. Tie up Barranca and follow me.”
Johnny reluctantly did as he was told and followed his father towards the Widow’s house. It was at this point that he saw Ben and Taylor standing with their hats in their hand, heads down also apologizing to the old bitch. Somehow that made Johnny mad. Apparently Val had done a good job of rooting out the other kids involved.
Ben gave Johnny a tentative smile and got a smack in the rear end for his effort. “Don’t you be smiling, boy!” his father warned. “You’ll have no reason to be smilin’, when I’m done with ya.”
Johnny looked the other way, as did Ben.
The Widow stared hard at him, “Well, I might’ve guessed you were behind all of this, John Lancer.” She scolded. “Why am I not surprised, Mr Lancer?”
Murdoch didn’t know how to respond. “I don’t know, why aren’t you?” was all he could think to say, making Johnny splutter and cough!
She shook her finger at Murdoch, “Like father, like son it would seem! Both of you, as sassy as can be,” she concluded. “Seems the apple does not fall far for from the tree, Mr Lancer.”
Murdoch’s face flushed at being treated like an errant child but he decided it might be justified, since he was probably still young enough to be her son. “I am sorry Mrs Hargis, I meant no disrespect,” he said, bowing slightly. “That said, my son has something he wishes to say to you Ma’am. Son?” he shoved Johnny forward and the boy stood there twisting his own hat in his hands.
Then finally he squared his shoulders. “Ma’am…”
She hit him with her broom and he gasped. “Arrgg! OWwww!”
He took in a deep breath. “I uh…wanted ta…eh…say sorry for accidentally startin’ that …eh…fire that almost burned yer store down! I was outta line, Ma’am.”
“You are a little varmint!” she exploded and whacked him again.
He flinched as the wind was knocked out of him. “Yes, Ma’am.”
“John, you have more to add.” His father prodded.
“Eh…oh yeah, well you see…it was me, who kinda put yer underthings up that flag pole, ya know ‘fore all this other stuff happened, last Sunday. That was unkind of me. Murdoch’s right, I shouldn’ta done it. It was a mean thing ta do.”
Again she walloped him with her broom, hard.
Murdoch again prodded him to say more.
“Sorry about the fire, Ma’am. We didn’t mean for that to happen at all. It was an accident and if we hadn’t a been havin’ that smoke…well it wouldn’t have happened. Sorry.” He stiffened for the next assault.
But this time it wasn’t forthcoming and her eyes softened, as she remembered the flames. She had been trapped in the back when the fire broke out; the flames travelling fast and furiously, fuelled by the kerosene.
Johnny had risked his life, running through flames, when he himself had remnants of kerosene on his clothes. She had found that out later when she had seen Val grab him up and douse him fully in the water trough, not missing a beat. Apparently the boy was on fire himself and he had suffered minor burns. And clearly now, he was very sorry. So she was willing to give him credit, where credit was due.
“Well, you did get me out of the store, Johnny. I was very scared but you jumped through those wicked flames, took me by the arm and pulled me out. I would not have gotten out, if it hadn’t been for your swift action. That was very brave of you, John; and for that, I’m at least grateful to you,” she told him sincerely.
“I got no excuse for my badness Ma’am, other than I am a mangy, no good son of a…” She gasped and he shut up, suddenly aware he was about to say something he shouldn’t.
“What I..I meant to say was, I’m a mangy, rascal is all…” he corrected quickly. There he apologized, again. “Sorry.”
“I accept your apology, John.” She turned to his father then. “I think you will agree this is a perfect example, Mr Lancer, of your lack of responsibility towards your errant son. He’s not only rude, but he’s foul mouthed and unruly, sir. He needs a father’s firm hand, if you ask me.” She was about to say something else when Murdoch held up his hand to still her. He’d had enough of her lectures.
“I’m sorry you feel that way about my son, Mrs Hargis, but I can assure you I am doing all I can with him. He hasn’t had the best start in life but he is slowly learning. It doesn’t help however, when people are so quick to judge.”
She reflected on that for a moment and conceded, “No, I suppose it doesn’t. I had heard of his past…poor boy…” she looked genuinely concerned and the strange thing was she probably was, but still…
Murdoch was smiling; but the smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Of course, I’m not suggesting for one moment that you would do anything so un-Christian, Ma’am. Not for one minute. A good Christian woman like yourself would, like our Lord tells us, be quite willing to forgive a sinner his transgressions, when he’s admitting to them. I am quite sure you are doing just this where it concerns my son.”
She thought about what he was saying, “Well, yes, of course. I forgive him his transgressions, but the Good Book does say, and I quote, ‘Spare the rod, spoil the child,’ Mr Lancer.”
“It surely does and I can assure you, I will be doing my Godly duty when we get home. I will spare no rod in this case, Ma’am.”
Johnny let out of soft moan.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to take care of my responsibilities concerning him, as you yourself have so rightfully pointed out.” With that he grabbed up Johnny and stormed away from the woman, before he throttled her.
When they were riding home Johnny had to ask. “You were mad at her weren’t’cha?”
“Yes, Johnny. You could’ve died saving her. So yes, I would have to admit, I was. But Johnny I am also angry with you.” He reconsidered. “Well no, that’s not true. What I am, John is disappointed. In you.”
Anger he could take, but disappointment he could not. He reacted angrily. “If you’re mad at her, and you don’t hav’ta deal with her every fu…eh… every day, can’t ya see why I felt it was fair to give it to the old bat…you know pay her back?” he grinned.
“Yes son, in some ways I can. But that doesn’t mean what you did was right and it also doesn’t mean you aren’t going to be punished for doing it, son.”
That evening Johnny was made well aware of his father’s displeasure and disappointment, concerning one fire; one skunk and the misplacement of some under garments. Then he was sent to bed early to reflect on his recent behavior. This bothered him almost as much as the whipping, since for some reason he didn’t quite comprehend, he really didn’t like to disappoint his old man.
~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~
The pranks stopped for all of a month, but unknown to everyone he had spent that time figuring out a way to prank the Widow without her ever knowing it was him. He had realized he had to be sneakier in his approach to the Widow Hargis but he was a boy on a mission, and his mission was to drive the Widow insane.
He figured she was half way there anyway and so it would be easy.
As for Scott, he had made up his mind he was far too young to be thinking about women. The impression his father had made upon his posterior had played a big part in making that decision. Not to mention Murdoch had made sure he was far too tired to even think of anything, but getting to his bed early, and to sleep.
The End by Heather