This is a direct sequel to "The Truth" series. I hope it answers some questions.
3 MONTHS LATER
Standing at the bar drinking a beer, Johnny Lancer knew that he was just putting off a difficult task. He hated having to do it, but knew it was necessary. After all he had to get something for Teresa's birthday, didn't he? He couldn't just knit her a sweater! But the selection at the general store was limited. It was too bad that he hadn't been able to get her something while in Boston.
Boston. Not one of his favorite places. He'd been there just that once, but left after only one day. What a nightmare that trip had been! It was bad enough to learn of Scott's loss; now there was also guilt. He should have made sure that Scott really was dead before he left. Whether it was due to grief or exhaustion, Johnny had just wanted to get out of Boston. He wanted to go home--he wanted to be with his family. He needed to mourn with the people he loved--and so he had left.
It was true that he had sent a telegram to the Boston police at the first train stop, but maybe he should have turned back? When he arrived in Omaha, he had found a reply waiting:
"Sorry to inform you that
after rubble cleared, a body was discovered.
Assumed to be Scott Lancer due to money clip with SPL engraving under
body. Corpse badly burned. Do you wish to claim?"
It was at that point Johnny gave up hope. He'd given Scott that money clip for his last birthday. He'd sent a reply to the police asking that the body be buried in the plot next to Scott's mother.
I should have returned. I should have brought the remains back. But God, I couldn't face that. Murdoch and Teresa shouldn't have to face that. But even after 3 months, the guilt for this failing had not left. Maybe it never would.
Enough. I've got to get Teresa something. He headed back to the general store. Just as he crossed the street, Sam ran out. "Johnny, here's a telegram." Johnny visibly flinched. Telegrams only brought
This time he was wrong.
"Mr. Lancer, Thaddeus and
I were married recently. Would like to visit
Lancer to pay our respects during wedding trip. Please advise if possible. Alma"
Alma Long and Thaddeus Loomis! Well, well. That's really great. They both deserve happiness. He decided to immediately ride back to Lancer to deliver the news. After all, he still had until Saturday to find a present!
Lancer exhibited its usual bustle upon his return. Jelly could be heard bellowing at some unlucky ranch hand, while Teresa seemed to be everywhere trying to make sure the house was clean for Saturday's party.
"Hey Teresa. Where's Murdoch?"
"I'm not sure, maybe the stable. What's wrong?"
"Nothing. We're going to have visitors. Alma Long and her new husband are going to stop by."
"Alma Long? Oh good. I'll finally be able to thank her for all she did when....."
"Yeah I know. It's been a tough time. I'm going to go tell Murdoch."
He found his father standing at the corral looking at Johnny's colt, Madrid.
"I think that the colt's leg is better. It doesn't seem as swollen."
"That's good news. Oh and I have some more. Alma Long and Thaddeus Loomis are planning to visit us on their wedding trip."
Murdoch was silent for a moment. "When?"
"I'm not sure exactly, but probably within the next couple of weeks. Is there a problem?"
"Not exactly a problem; I just...."
"I can wire them not to come."
"No, no. We do owe them something. They probably won't want to stay long anyway."
"They're fine people, Murdoch. I think you'll like them."
"I have met Loomis once before. When I went to Boston to see Harlan Garrett, it was Loomis who told me that under no circumstances would Garrett give up his grandson."
Johnny looked down. "That was a long time ago."
"Yes, but it took many years for me to accept it. Now they will be here and it will just rake up old...and new hurts."
"Murdoch, we'll get through this."
"Of course, we will. Now the most important thing is Teresa's party. I tell you the woman is driving me a crazy. I can't sit in my own living room without her shooing me out so I won't get dirt on the floors."
"I think she's nervous." "Why?"
"She told me that Steven Henderson might pop the question this weekend."
"Marriage? But Teresa's too young!"
"Alright she's old enough, but I don't want to lose her. The two of you are the most important things in my life."
"What about Lancer?"
Murdoch hesitated. "Lancer, well yes. You know, Johnny, I worked hard building this ranch. I used it as a replacement for Catherine as well as you and your mother. Now it's almost like my child. I guess that's sentimental, but sometimes at dawn I'll ride to the bluffs and look out over the land. The love I feel then is just as real as that I have for you and Teresa."
Johnny was speechless. Murdoch never talked this way.
"And one day it will all be yours. I am so glad that you stayed with me, son. I know we haven't always seen eye to eye, but I am proud to have you as my son."
Sensing that Murdoch was slightly embarrassed by his confession, Johnny changed the subject to Teresa's gift.
"Oh I got mine a long time ago. You mean that you haven't found anything?"
"Well, I have been looking."
"Young man, you'd better hop to it or the party will be here and you'll be empty-handed!"
Murdoch rode out to the bluffs. He knew it would be easier for Teresa to decorate without his presence. A ride might also help to calm him down so that he could be a good host that evening. He was looking forward to seeing the Hendersons. The last time that they had been at Lancer was right after Johnny's return from Boston--a condolence call.
He had reassured Matthew that he was doing fine, but he was glad that Mary had been there for Teresa to talk to.
After several hours he returned to the ranch since as the Hendersons were to arrive earlier than the other guests. With the Henderson arrival, Lancer underwent an amazing transformation.
Mary and Martha (without her husband) were given the new guest room (Scott's former room), while Matthew and Steven shared the old guest room
Teresa immediately visited the 2 young women to see if they needed anything. As she returned to the kitchen, Teresa encountered Steven. "Teresa, I really need to talk to you. Can you spare me a few minutes?"
"Well I am busy, but I always have time for you. Let's take a walk."
"Teresa, I know you like me, but I was wondering if you...well...do you you think you could ever love me?"
Teresa looked into his eyes. "Love you? Steven, you are very important to me. I probably do love you, but I need to be sure that it's not just 'sisterly' affection. After all I've known you a long time."
"So how long do you think it might take for you to be sure?"
Teresa laughed. "6 months and 3 days."
Steven looked puzzled. "What?"
"Oh, Steven, I don't know how long. I think we should continue to see each other as friends and see what develops. After all we do have time and right now I think Johnny and Murdoch need me. And I need them."
"You're right. I guess that's why I love you. You are the warmest, most caring woman I've ever known."
Teresa blushed. "Thank you. You're not so bad yourself."
Steven gave her a gentle kiss. "By the way, Happy Birthday!"
"Oh that reminds me. I've got to go; I have so much to do yet." She hurried off.
The party was in full swing. Teresa looked beautiful in a wine-colored off-the-shoulder gown. Her only jewelry was the antique pair of garnet earrings that she had from her mother.
Murdoch had hired some musicians for dancing, but now it was time for the cake and presents. As Teresa blew out the candles, she knew her wish was impossible--but at least she could try. The cake was delicious. Even Johnny refrained from making comments.
After opening the books, shawl, and cologne from the other guests, Teresa had only 4 gifts remaining. Jelly's turned out to be a silver frame with a photograph taken at a fair in Sacramento. It was of Jelly, Murdoch, Teresa, Johnny and Scott. The pose had taken forever, but the smile on Teresa's face was worth it. Teresa blinked away tears. She gave Jelly a kiss. "Thank you," she whispered.
Murdoch's present was next. This was a matching garnet necklace and bracelet which had been ordered from NY. "They're beautiful." She gave him a hug and a kiss.
Steven volunteered to go next. Teresa knew it was not a ring. The package was flat and rectangular. Surprisingly it was a journal with her named etched on it. "I thought you might like to write down your thoughts for the next 6 months and 3 days."
Teresa burst out laughing as did Steven. The guests were left to wonder at these words.
Now there remained only one present: Johnny's. Strangely it seemed to be only an envelope. Teresa opened it and read the card. "I can't accept this."
"Of course you can. We'll talk about it later."
The musicians struck up a waltz. First Johnny, then Murdoch, then Steven danced with the birthday girl. Even Jelly was persuaded to join in the dancing.
With some reluctance the party broke up around Midnight. It took a long time for the household to settle down.
About 3 AM Johnny woke to the sound of someone outside of his window. It was Teresa. He went out to see what was the matter.
"I'm sorry that I woke you. I just had to make sure that you were alright. I had this dream....you left just like Scott did."
Johnny comforted the young woman and assured her that he would always be there for her.
She raised her head and looked at him. "I can't take that money. I don't need it. Murdoch has provided for me, you know that."
"Yes, but this is not for you to live on or save for your children. It's for you to do something with."
"I don't understand."
"Scott mentioned to me one time that he wished he could give you lots of money so that you could help all the people who need a helping hand. This is my way of making sure that you can."
"But he gave the money to you."
"I think he was afraid that Murdoch's feelings would be hurt if he gave it directly to you. He trusted me to find a way. Please say you'll take it. I did keep some just in case, but I know it would make him happy."
Teresa thought for a moment. "You're right. I will accept the gift from Scott and you.... Now I'd better go to bed. Steven mentioned taking a ride in the morning."
Sunday was a lazy day at Lancer.
Teresa and Steven did take their ride. Johnny took Mary and Martha on a picnic,
while Matthew and Murdoch went fishing.
Even Jelly took the day off to go into town with Joe Thomas, the Double H foreman.
"What say we go have a couple of cold ones at the saloon?"
"When did that ever stop you, Jelly Hoskins?"
"You've got a point there."
"Joe, I'm glad you came over with the Hendersons, but you should have come to the party last night."
"I'm not much on that stuff besides I really wanted to see how you're doing."
"You know what I mean. How's the ranch doing without Scott?"
"We're fine." At Joe's look, he added, "Really."
"Johnny's tough and Murdoch's already lost 2 wives so he knows how it is. Teresa's been upset, but your Steven has helped out there."
"And what about you?"
"I...I miss the boy. He did grow on ya."
The 2 men stood there, silently drinking their beers. Suddenly Jelly raised his glass, "Here's to you, Scott."
"Amen," replied Joe."
The Hendersons were preparing to take their leave when Jelly and Joe rode up. "Sorry, Mr. Henderson, I didn't know you were leaving so soon."
"No problem. I just want to get back before it gets too late."
Their goodbyes said, they headed into the house. Taking a paper from his hat, Jelly stopped Johnny. "I almost forgot. Sam said to give this to you." "Johnny, We hope to be with you in about 2 weeks. Will let you know more as we make progress. Alma"
"I hope we're doing the
right thing, Thaddeus."
"I hope so too, but It's the only way that we can reassure Scott that his family is doing well."
"I know Scott cares about all of them. He just seems to think that they are better off without him. Well, my dear we seem to be here at Lancer. Let the performance begin."
Indeed as the hired carriage delivered them to the gates of Lancer, Alma realized that their performances would have to be flawless if Scott's secret was to be kept. She hated the idea of lying to these people, but she would not violate Scott's trust.
Standing over by the corral, Johnny noticed the carriage. "Alma, Thaddeus. Welcome to Lancer." He took their luggage so that the carriage could leave.
"I've put you in the old guest room which is larger. I hope you'll be comfortable. You're both looking well. Marriage must agree with you."
"I'm certainly much better than the last time I saw you, Johnny." Oops, watch it Thaddeus, that wasn't too tactful.
Johnny chose to ignore the reference to Loomis' stay in the hospital. "Dinner is at 6:00. Teresa and Murdoch should be back soon. Mrs. Hardesty had a baby and Teresa wanted to help out a bit."
An hour later there was a knock on the guestroom door. Alma slipped out to see a lovely brown-haired girl smiling at her. "Hi. I'm Teresa. I'm so glad you're here. There's so much I want to ask you."
"Of course, my dear. My husband is taking a rest right now, but I'd be happy to talk with you."
After a few pleasantries about the trip, Alma carefully answered Teresa's questions. Alma faltered only once--when asked about the headstone. "It says:
Beloved son and grandson"
"I see," replied Teresa.
"I would have preferred to add 'Lancer', but since he received his grandfather's letter, Scott had used his grandmother's maiden name, Preston."
Just then the guestroom door opened and Thaddeus Loomis appeared. All 3 chatted until Teresa went to make tea for the travelers.
"She seems a delightful girl. Well you know that Scott always speaks of her with affection."
As Teresa returned with the tea, Johnny and Murdoch entered. Johnny had purposefully kept Murdoch out because he knew Teresa wanted to speak with Alma.
Tea was polite but the atmosphere was rather stiff. It wasn't until dinner that the tension seemed to ease. That was partly due to Jelly's story about a 12' bear he had once encountered. Indeed things seemed to be going well until Thaddeus mentioned Harlan Garrett's name.
Murdoch questioned Loomis about the miniature. He admitted that he himself had selected the artist as Garrett was not a connoisseur of painting. "No, just of possessions," remarked Murdoch with some heat.
Loomis stiffened, then controlled himself. "Mr. Lancer, Harlan Garrett was my friend, but I also know he could be ruthless. He hurt many people, including yourself; but he paid dearly for that. He lost the
one person he truly loved and lived in fear of losing her child. For all of his power and wealth, he was not a happy man."
"Mr. Loomis, I apologize. This is not the time and place for such a discussion. I do hope Garrett appreciated your friendship."
After dinner, Teresa and Alma went off to continue their chat. The men (except for Jelly) went into the study. After sitting down with some brandy, Loomis made mention of the fact that Scott had seemingly adjusted to his true parentage.
"I just can't believe that Garrett broke his promise."
"Mr. Lancer, I think Harlan was quite wrong to do that. There was no need to hurt Scott that way. If I had known what was in that letter, I'd have destroyed it--lawyer or not, friend or not."
Murdoch just nodded. "I just never thought Scott would learn the truth."
Johnny looked at his father, "I'm sure he would have realized that it didn't matter. He just needed time."
"Maybe." Murdoch walked toward the window. "But I remember the day Catherine told me about the...baby. For one instant I hated that innocent child. I loved her so much. I wanted her to have
my child, not some insane bastard's spawn!......Then I looked at her, knowing the pain she felt, and I just knew that I still wanted to marry her." He turned back towards Johnny.
"You have no idea how difficult it was for me to tell you all of this. That day we came back from the Hendersons and you showed me that telegram, I felt like the world had exploded. I was sure that the past had destroyed any possible relationship with Scott. I really wanted one you know. It's just that sometimes when I looked at him--he looked so much like her and because of him she died."
The silence became unbearable. Thaddeus spoke up in a gentle voice, "Mr. Lancer, we all make mistakes. You did try to keep Scott with you and I'm sure that if circumstances had not intervened you would have established a good relationship with Scott. He did admire you and I know he appreciated being part of a family again."
Johnny noticed that Thaddeus looked extremely tired so he suggested that they all retire. There would be time to talk tomorrow.
Johnny lay on his bed, but sleep would not come. He thought about Murdoch's words. Deep down he knew that it shouldn't matter that Scott was not his true brother, but it did somehow. He wondered how he would have reacted had he met up with Scott in Boston. Johnny wanted to
believe that everything would have been fine, that he would have been able to talk the blond into returning to Lancer--and that everything would have returned to normal. Realistically that was a dream. How could anyone survive such devastation unchanged? Maybe Scott would have returned, but could their relationship have survived the lies it was built on? Finally exhaustion claimed Johnny Lancer.
After breakfast, Johnny took Alma and Thaddeus out in a carriage to show them Lancer.
"You must be very proud."
"It was Murdoch who built it."
"But you're the heir." Johnny nodded " But I'm not sure I'm up to it. I'm not Murdoch."
"Maybe not, but I'm confident that you'll take good care of your father's dream. One of the last things that Scott said to me that day was about you and Lancer. He said that the two of you were special and that you belonged together."
"He said that?"
"In fact he said he wasn't surprised hat your father loved you so much because you're a son to proud of."
Johnny flushed, "But I was a gunslinger."
"Do you think he held that against you?" Johnny shook his head.
"Johnny, Thaddeus and I are very happy that we have been able to get to know you somewhat better and to meet your family. It will be much easier being in Boston knowing that you are doing well."
"It's been hard, but we are trying."
"Johnny, do you remember my telling you about my son?" Johnny nodded. Yes, I think I mentioned that I received a letter from another soldier in his regiment, the 20th Massachusetts. Well, Jeff wasn't killed outright. He was badly injured, but I gather the surgeons felt he would survive--if they amputated both of his legs. Rather than do that, he shot himself. (Thaddeus squeezed her hand.)
Johnny was horrified. "Oh God, Alma. I am so sorry."
"For months I raged inside. How could he do that to me? I would have loved him no matter what. What were 2 legs compared to his life? Then 1 day I met a man at one of the army hospitals in Boston--he had lost a leg and both arms. I wrote letters for him, helped him eat, bathed him. One day he asked my why I was there so I told him about Jeff. He got this look in his eyes and then tears began to stream down his face. I couldn't understand how HE could feel such sympathy for me. Then he told that wasn't the reason for his tears. He said he envied Jeff because he wasn't able to pick up a gun and end his own life. That since 1864 cruel, selfish people had forced him to live a life of pain. He survived the war physically, but emotionally he had been destroyed at Spotsylvania. I tried to console him, but it did no good. Do you know not one member of his family ever came to see him?
Johnny, I may not agree with that soldier's feelings or what Jeff did, but I now believe that everyone has to handle their pain in their own way."
"But, Alma, wasn't that selfish of your son to hurt you so?"
"And would it have been any less selfish of me to wish him a life of unending agony?"
She saw the troubled look on Johnny's face. "Johnny, I don't know the answer. Each person has to decide how much they can endure. I just want you to know that there's no need to feel guilty."
"How did you know that I felt guilty?"
"Oh I'm getting good at reading Lancers."
"I just don't understand how I could leave without making sure he was dead."
"And what if he isn't? What would you do?"
Johnny looked at her like she had 2 heads. "I'd bring him home."
"How? If he didn't want to come before, why would he now?"
"We need him. I need him."
"Do you? Are you sure about that?"
"Damn it! Of course I'm sure. He's my brother!"
"No, he is not. Think about it. If Murdoch had not brought Scott out here, you'd have lived the rest of your life without him. Isn't that the truth?"
"Yes," he whispered.
"What about as a friend? Would you have sought him out as a friend?
"I don't know."
"Don't you? It was that slim link of blood that brought you together, could your bond have survived without that?"
She must be a mind reader or how could she know my doubts?
"Alma, why are you taunting me like this?"
"Taunting? Forgive me, I truly didn't mean to do that. I am just a bit dismayed that not once, since we've been here, have any of you referred to Scott's feelings."
"That's not true."
"Johnny, when I found Scott that day after the funeral, I was so afraid. I was sure he intended to kill himself. He told me that he felt betrayed by everyone he loved. I tried to tell him that you had not .
His only reply was 'Give him time.' The next weeks were a nightmare, but then one morning he came downstairs to say that he had an appointment with Thaddeus. He then asked me to mail your present. I hoped the bad times were over, but you know what happened later."
"Are you saying that he went into that fire deliberately?"
"That's just it. I don't know. Maybe it was fate or maybe he just didn't care anymore."
Suddenly Johnny wished he hadn't had breakfast. It took a minute for him to regain control. "But he didn't have to go through it alone!"
"No, I made sure he didn't."
"Alma, I can never thank you enough for what you did, but he should have turned to us."
"Perhaps you're right, but he needed time to work out his feelings. I think he wanted to be with you--that's why he sent the gift. He just didn't have the time to take the next step."
A cool breeze wafted through the trees. That brought back Johnny's sense of time. "It's not good to keep the horse standing. Let's get back to Lancer."
No one spoke on the return ride until they reached the gates of Lancer. Then Alma touched Johnny's arm, "Forgive me. I let my emotions carry me away. I know Scott meant a great deal to you. It's just that I can't forget his eyes when he said, 'Give him time.' I can imagine my son looking the same just before that last shot."
"Don't worry, Alma. I'm not angry. You've made me realize that maybe I didn't consider the depth of his pain. I guess I thought I could just say, 'Come home.' and he would. But I don't believe he wanted to die. I think he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"I hope so. I truly hope so."
1 DAY LATER
Johnny drove the Loomis' into town to catch the stage. "Thanks for having us. I know our visit wasn't easy."
"Maybe so, but we do appreciate your kindness to Scott."
"Goodbye Johnny and God bless your whole family."
ON THE TRAIN TO BOSTON
I know someone will have to read this to you so I will make it brief. Our visit to Lancer went well . At dinner Jelly told a very funny story about a bear. Teresa is a charming girl. She misses you, but I think she has a beau named Steven. Thaddeus talked briefly with Murdoch. He seems to have
recovered from your loss or should I say cut himself off. I think he prefers to deny his pain so that it won't overwhelm him. Who is to say that he is wrong if it helps him get by? We spent most of our time with Johnny since I know you are most concerned about him. He admitted feeling guilty about not being more thorough while in Boston. He cuts himself little slack, but I believe he has started to heal. Unfortunately I allowed my emotions to get the better of me while speaking to him. I sincerely hope that I have not caused any new problems for him. I see that we are coming into the station so I will hurriedly post this. Looking forward to seeing you soon. Love, Alma and Thaddeus"
"Well, that's all, Mr. Preston. Should I put it in the usual spot?"
"Yes thanks, Jack. Oh when was it postmarked?"
"Almost 10 days ago."
"Good. Maybe they'll be here to visit soon. I think I'll go sit on the veranda awhile."
"Fine. Just don't forget lunch is in less than an hour."
Lunch? Who cares about food? At first it had been difficult learning to eat again. Now Scott just wasn't hungry.
I think it's going to storm. The air smells of rain. Storms in the city are so tame compared to those at Lancer.
Many days he had watched lightning strikes over the mountains. Dark clouds thrust up thousands of feet and would bring torrents of rain and flash floods. One time he and Johnny had been caught in such a storm at a line cabin. Surprisingly it was a happy memory because it was the first time that
the two had truly talked. Both men had been wary of each other after Murdoch's summons, but for those few hours they had talked as friends. When the storm ended they went back to being semi-rivals. The problem was Scott never quite understood what they were competing for. Maybe it
was Murdoch's love and respect. No, Johnny already had those.
Soon Scott heard the lunch bell, but continued to sit.
"Here you are! I ought you'd be at lunch."
"Alma, you're back."
"Yes dear boy." She bent to kiss him.
"Your letter arrived today. They are alright, aren't they?"
"Yes and I gave Teresa the locket you wanted her to have. I told her I found it with the miniature."
"Good. Did she like it?"
"She put it on immediately." Scott smiled.
"Now tell me how you are."
"Better. The lessons are going well. I'll probably be out of here in another few weeks or a month."
"I'm not sure. Dr. Winston has offered me a position but I'm not sure I want to stay in Boston."
"Why? That seems pointless."
"So where do you want to go?"
"You know I can't."
"No. I know you won't."
"Alma, please. I just can't face them. I don't think they could ever understand why I've done this."
"Do you understand?"
"Most of the time. It was so much easier to reconcile right after the fire. Now I'm not sure I've made the right decision. I've thought about just dropping for a visit. But how do you say, 'Hi. I'm not dead.
See you around sometime.'?"
"Scott, I'm not going to tell you to go back to California. Neither am I going to say stay here--even though I'd love to have you close by. What I will say is to listen to what your heart tells you. You don't have to stay at Lancer, but do you really want them to never know that you are alive? Has your injury made you that cruel?"
Scott flinched. "Alma, tell me the truth. Are the scars bad?"
"There's one that goes down one temple, but the rest aren't too noticeable. They'll fade in time."
"But I'm still...."
"Yes, but your heart isn't. Let it show you the truth. Now I really must go. I dropped Thaddeus off at the house so he'll be expecting me."
"Thanks again, Alma. Come again soon."
"I shall, dear boy. I shall."
It was a hot, sunny day when
Scott Preston stepped down from the coach. At his side was Jack Mercer, who had
been hired to accompany Scott across country. It had been 6 weeks since Scott's
talk with Alma. After much soul-searching he had realized that he could only
find peace for himself
by making a visit to Lancer. But it was to be only a visit. He couldn't let himself be tempted to stay.
Jack tried to make conversation during the buggy ride, but Scott's heart was pumping so hard there was no way words could leave his throat.
Finally Jack murmured, "We're here."
Scott listened. Ranch sounds--and then he heard it--a particular whinny. Catherine! By sheer instinct the young man made his way to the corral to pat the silky nose. The mare bent her head to him while he caressed her long, elegant neck. "Oh Catherine, I've missed you so!"
Just then someone spun him around. "Scott?"
"Hello Jelly. Yes, it's me."
"Dead? No, not quite."
"Wait 'til Teresa... Teresa, come out here!"
"Jelly! What's the matter? I've got biscuits in... "Scott!" The blond was enveloped by her arms. Tears flowed down her cheeks.
"Oh Scott, I thought I'd never see you again. You look thin but good. Oh so good!" She hugged him again. "Wait 'til Johnny and Murdoch get here. They'll be so happy."
Then she stopped gushing. "Where have you been? We thought you were dead."
"That's a long story and I'd rather wait to tell it to all of you if that's okay?"
"Of course, nothing matters except that you're here."
I really hope that's true.
"Oh Teresa, this is my friend Jack Mercer. Jack, this is Teresa. I believe I've mentioned her once or twice." He grinned.
Scott took Jack's arm and they entered the house. It felt so cool after the heat outside. "I'm going to get us all some cold drinks. Sit down, the both of you."
"She's a pretty girl."
"Yes, she is."
"You're quite fond of her, aren't you?"
Scott just nodded his agreement. Words seemed a bit difficult at the moment.
After Teresa's return, she and Jelly dominated the conversation with questions. Scott remained evasive. Would Johnny and Murdoch never arrive?
Scott began to feel truly tired. He hadn't slept much lately and fatigue had begun to overwhelm him. Suddenly he heard horses.
Johnny burst in. "Hey Teresa, I hope dinner's early tonight I'm...." He saw Scott. Must have got too much sun. It has to be an illusion.
"Scott?", he breathed. "Is it you?" He walked slowly over to trace the scar on Scott's temple. "You're real."
"Yes I am."
Then Johnny embraced the young man and whirled him about. "Oh God, I'm so glad you're alive. What happened? Where have you been?"
Scott found himself in another bear hug. "I'll tell you if you give me a chance."
However, he didn't get the chance since Murdoch Lancer walked into the room. Murdoch's face went white. He hesitated and then went to stand right in front of Scott.
"It's alright, Murdoch, I'm not a ghost." He reached out his hand to take the older man's arm, but Murdoch pushed it away. Not expecting the slight shove, Scott lost his balance, falling to the floor. "Jack?"
"I'm here Scott. You're okay." Everyone in the room, except Jack, stared at Scott.
Teresa came over to help. "Scott, are you alright?"
"If you mean, can I see? The answer is No." Teresa's gasp filled the room.
Jack led his friend to the couch. "Why don't we all sit down? Scott will tell you what happened right after he takes his pills."
"Not now, Jack!"
"Yes, now. You know you're in pain." Teresa hurried to get some water.
Murdoch just stood there horrified.
After Scott took the pills, he brushed his hand over his eyes. He felt drained, but knew that he needed to tell the story before he could truly rest.
He took a deep breath.
"Thaddeus and I were on our way to lunch when we came upon an abandoned building that was ablaze. Thaddeus said he thought he'd seen someone in one of the windows. We both went in, but he couldn't take the smoke because of his asthma. I got him outside and then turned to go back in.
Scott paused. The next memories scorched his mind with their horror. "Then I heard an inhuman scream and saw a man--at least I think it was a man. His whole body was on fire. I took off my jacket to smother the flames, but it was too late. When I looked down at that charred....well, I could only retch. Then I looked up to realize that I was trapped except for a small window."
In desperation, Scott had smashed the window. The air rushed in feeding the inferno. "I don't remember very much after I smashed the window. I know I threw myself out and hit the ground hard. I was out of it for awhile and then when I did awake, I was in the hospital. It wasn't until Dr. Winston came to examine me that I really understood the extent of my injuries. He thought that perhaps the blow from the fall injured my optic nerve."
"After some days, I remembered Alma. Dr. Winston contacted her. Since then I have been living at his school for the blind." (Scott edited his story so that these people would not know the extent of Alma's part in the deception.)
"I asked Alma and Thaddeus to stop by Lancer so they could tell me how you were doing. I had almost decided to not let you know the truth, but Dr. Winston convinced me that I don't have to be a burden to you. So I decided to come back for a visit so I could try to make amends."
He looked up as if he was searching their faces. "I am so sorry," he whispered.
Not a word was spoken. Murdoch looked at Scott, then walked out. Johnny called, "Murdoch, wait!"
Scott sagged back against the cushions. This was a mistake.
Jack moved towards him. "Scott, let's get you to bed." Scott didn't move. "Jack, I shouldn't have come."
"It doesn't matter now. You need to sleep."
Suddenly Teresa sprang into action. "Bring him in here. He can sleep as long as he needs."
Jack half-carried Scott to the bedroom. In a few minutes he returned. "He's sound asleep."
"I'm going to make dinner. He looks like he could use a good meal."
"Is he going to be alright?" Johnny questioned.
"Sure. He's just exhausted from the trip and those pills don't help."
"Take care of him. I'm going to find Murdoch."
Murdoch Lancer looked out over
his ranch. How could Scott have done that? How could he have hurt Johnny and
Teresa that way? Damn him! So he was angry with Garrett and me--that's no
Murdoch looked around as he heard Johnny ride up. "Murdoch, why did you walk off?"
"I couldn't stay there and listen to that anymore."
"What are you talking about?"
"He lied to us! I heard Teresa crying night after night. What gives him the right to do that?"
"Murdoch, please come back to the house. We can talk this out. Besides it's almost dinner time."
"No, no. You go back. I'll spend the night at the line cabin."
"NO! This time you're not riding away!"
"What the hell does that mean?"
"I know Scott's lie hurt you. It hurt all of us, but for just one minute could you try to think how he must have felt? He lost a father, grandfather and his sight in a very short space of time. Don't you think Scott was hurting?
"Well he could have come back here. "
"Could he? You heard what he said. He didn't want to be a burden so he made a different choice. Just like you did."
"When Catherine died, you consoled yourself building up the ranch. You chose to do that again when my mother left you. You've always used Lancer to hide behind."
"That's not true!"
"Then why did you wait until Lancer was in danger from Pardee before asking the 2 of us to stay here? Didn't you let us go in favor of Lancer?"
"I tried to find you...."
"But then you waited how many years to try again? Murdoch, I want to ask you something. Do you love Scott?"
"Of course I do. He's my...."
"No, he isn't. So why do you love him?"
"Because...because he's Catherine's son. Even though he wasn't mine, I wanted him because he was part of her."
Johnny shook his head. "Harlan Garrett said the same thing in his letter. Can you imagine how Scott felt? Don't you think he deserves to be loved for himself?"
Murdoch looked down. There seemed to be no answer for that.
"Please, I'm asking you to come back with me. We need to convince Scott that he can stay here."
"What if he doesn't want that? That school can do more for him than we can. He said this was just a visit."
Johnny turned his horse around.
"Where are you going?"
"If you don't intend to help me, then I'll talk to him myself because I'm telling you here and now--I do not intend to lose him again." He started towards Lancer.
After a couple of miles, his father caught up to him. They rode back in silence. When Johnny entered the house, Teresa came over to him, "I'm glad you're back. Scott's been asking for you." Johnny glanced at Murdoch and then walked into the guest bedroom.
"Here I am, Scott. Jack, why don't you go get something to eat. I'll sit with him awhile."
"Alright, thanks. I am hungry."
"Don't you want to eat, Johnny?"
"Hey, I'd rather sit with you. I'll eat later. What about you?"
"I'm not hungry right now. Is Murdoch alright?"
Johnny nodded. "He's had a rough time with this."
"Perhaps he has." ..............
Scott sat up and turned towards Johnny. In a spidery whisper, "Sometimes I think...I think I went mad after reading Garrett's letter. I wanted to...hurt him like he had hurt me, but there was no way--he was dead. So what did I do. but hurt the two people I care most about?........Do you think
Teresa will ever forgive me? I wouldn't dare ask you to.
"I'm sure she already has."
Sighing with relief, Scott leaned back against the pillows. "Right after the fire I didn't care whether I lived or died. It was Dr. Winston who persuaded me that I could have a useful life. I've been learning Braille and how to get around with a cane. During the next couple of months I'll learn a lot more."
"So you're determined to go back?"
"I think it's for the best."
"What do you plan to do when you leave there?"
"I'm not sure. ...... You know sometimes I sit in my room at the school and remember being here. I can almost picture the sky filled with stars and the moon over the horizon. I miss the space and quiet. I miss all of you. Oh Johnny, I want my life back!"
"I know. .... I wish I could give it to you."
"Sorry. I should try to cope better."
"Hey, you're doing just fine. You don't have to pretend with me. I can't even imagine what you've gone through in the last few months."
For some moments the 2 young men just sat there. "Scott, I want you to know that I'll return the money to you."
"Oh that. Don't worry about it. I realize that my will is no longer in effect so I made it an outright gift to you and Teresa. I hope you don't mind, but I thought she'd like to use it for her strays."
Johnny laughed. "I forgot to tell you that I split it with her just for that purpose."
"Oh, I 'm glad. I thought you might, but I didn't want to insist on it. Well, now you don't have to give it back."
"But you can use that money."
"My grandmother Preston left me a trust fund that's more than adequate. I wanted you to have that money just in case. Please don't refuse to take it."
"Well I'll keep it for now, but if you ever need it, just tell me."
They talked for a few minutes longer, then it became obvious that Scott was still weary so Johnny asked Jack to come back in.
The next days were busy. Johnny took Scott out for rides on Catherine, but he was always careful not to do too much. One day the two men went to one of Scott's favorite spots.
"I certainly wish I could see the view one more time. Isn't it strange how you never think about details until you don't have them? Sometimes I wish I had my own place so that I could memorize it with my hands--so it would always be as I imagine it." He laughed softly. "Do you think I'm crazy?"
"Not at all. Why don't you get some place of your own?"
"I can't do that. I could never run it properly and Jack can't stay with me. He has a girl back in Boston. They're getting married soon."
"What about someone else?"
"I don't know if I could get used to someone else but maybe. I have 3 months more at the school, then I'll look into it. I guess I'll have to have someone in any case. I just didn't think...."
"Don't worry. It'll work out." For the rest of the afternoon they talked until finally Johnny insisted that they leave for home. A storm seemed to be brewing.
Thunder shook the valley and rain fell in torrents as they arrived at Lancer. Johnny urged Scott into the house. Then he took Catherine to the stable to wipe her down.
As he approached the house, he was startled to see Scott standing on the porch. "What are you doing? You should get dry."
"It's not cold and I was listening to the storm. It's so wild and beautiful here. God, I miss it." He then turned and went to the guestroom.
That night after Scott was in bed, Johnny knocked on the study door. "Murdoch, I need to talk to you."
"Scott. He's definitely returning to Boston. However in 3 months when he's done at the school I intend to go get him and bring him back here."
"He's agreed to that? "
"No. He doesn't know."
"Then what makes you think...?"
"Because he wants to be here, but he just can't bring himself to ask."
"How do you know?"
"I just know."
"Murdoch, I need your help."
Murdoch turned away. "Do you want me to tell him that he's welcome to stay, is that it?"
"No, I want you to sell me the old Tate place. "The Tate place?" (Alonzo Tate's widow had sold their small ranch to Murdoch. It was now a part of Lancer.) "It's perfect. I'll fix up the house. It has water and plenty of room for cattle."
"I don't understand. What does this have to do with Scott?"
"I want to buy it as a home for him. Maybe with that land I can keep him here. He can be close to Lancer but not need to live here."
"How do you know that Scott would even consider that?"
"If you had heard him speak about the thunderstorm, you'd understand......Please sell me the land."
"I'll give it to you."
"NO! I want it to be my gift to Scott."
Murdoch sighed. When Johnny was like this, argument was futile.
"Alright. We'll sign the papers on the weekend." ---"Thanks"
Teresa and Jelly had prepared a special meal of Scot's favorite dishes since this was to be his last night at Lancer. Everyone made an effort to be cheerful.
Jelly started to tell his 12'
Scott inquired, "Is this the same bear you told Alma about?"
"But I thought he was 8' tall?"
"Well mebbe he grew some." Everyone laughed.
Jack talked about his fiancée Sarah. "She sounds lovely, Jack."
"Oh she is--she looks a lot like you, Teresa." Teresa flushed. "But she's not as good a cook as you. This pie is terrific."
After dinner they sat in the living room for some time but eventually drifted off to bed.
"Jack, go ahead to bed. I want to sit up for awhile." "Okay, but don't make it too late. We have an early stage."
Scott sat on the porch. The sounds of night filled his ears and heart.
"Scott? I'd like a word with you for a minute, if that's okay?"
"Sure, Murdoch." ................
"I realize that I should have told you the truth a long time ago. When I lost your mother, I felt...empty so I let Garrett take you to Boston. Perhaps it was a mistake, but I thought you'd have a real home.
Truthfully, I think it was easier to do that than see her face in yours. You are so like her. Can you understand that?"..............
"That was the past. You hurt me then. I've hurt you now. Perhaps we're even."
"I'm not sure about that, but let's try to move on from here. Now I'd better go in. I know Johnny has some things to say to you as well."
Scott felt a hand on his shoulder. "Johnny?"
"Yeah, it's me."
"Did you have anything to do with that?"
"Well maybe I prodded him some. I can't figure out who's more stubborn--you or Murdoch."
Scott murmured, "I always thought it was you!"
Johnny playfully punched the blond in the arm. "Ouch!"
"Hey that didn't hurt."
"Then can I punch you?" Johnny laughed, then sobered.
"I wish you didn't have to go."
"I know, but hopefully I'll come back some day."
"How about in 3 months?"
"Don't you think that's too soon?"
"Actually I thought I might go out and kidnap you when your school's over."
"Sure. I have just the perfect hideout--the S & J Ranch."
"Did you get too much sun? Where's the S & J?
"Not too far."
"But why there?"
"Because it belongs to you and me."
"Let's just say I'm making an investment in our future. Maybe we're not actually brothers, but you'll always be my best friend."
"Johnny, you're not making sense at all."
"Fine. I'll tell you the truth. I bought the old Tate place. While you're in Boston, I'll fix up the house, get some cattle, and then when we get back; you can live there."
"Aren't you forgetting that I'm blind?"
"Don't worry about it. For a few weeks we'll get somebody to stay with you. Then once you have it memorized, you'll be set. Plus I plan to be up there a lot."
"Sure I have to keep an eye on my investment, don't I? Just imagine sitting on that porch on a warm, summer night."
For a second, pain flickered across Scott's face. "I can almost imagine it."
"Good, you're half-way there. So what do you say?"
Scott hesitated for only an instant. "Let's just say, in 3 months I'll be a willing hostage!"
Johnny blinked back tears. Deep down he'd been afraid that Scott might say no.
"Now let me tell you about my plans." The 2 talked for another hour. Finally they parted to get some sleep.
As Scott's carriage pulled out of the gates of Lancer, Scott asked, "Johnny, could you stop a moment?"
"What is it?"
"Sssh. I'm listening."
"What do you hear?"
The stage was already in when they arrived so the farewells were brief. "I'll see you in 3 months."
"Johnny, take care of everyone--especially yourself."
"I will, Don't worry. Have a safe trip"
Johnny rode back to Lancer. It hadn't been easy watching Scott leave, but he knew the 3 months would pass quickly with all the work there was to do around the 2 ranches.
He had intended to ride out to the S & J to see what supplies he needed. However, something at the edge of his mind urged him to return. He decided to pack up a few things so that he could stay overnight at the other ranch if needed.
On his bed, he discovered a note:
Jack is writing this for me. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to living at our ranch. The thought of seeing that beautiful view and being your partner in the S & J will keep me going for the time I am away. But I guess I should be realistic about this. Circumstances do change so please wait for me to send you a telegram before you come to Boston to kidnap me. It's a long trip and you're needed at Lancer. I promise that I'll send for you as soon as I can. Thank you for everything.
Johnny folded the note and started to put it back in the envelope. Another note was inside:
" Mr. Lancer,
Scott doesn't know that I'm writing this. He also doesn't realize that I know the real reason for this trip and why he is returning to Boston. He hasn't even told Mrs. Loomis as far as I know. Dr. Winston has a colleague who is going to perform an operation that may restore Scott's sight. Evidently it is somewhat risky. I only found out by accident so I don't many details. It's just that I don't think Scott should have to go through this alone--although he obviously intends to. I thought that you would want to know since you seem to care about him. Jack Mercer"
Oh my God! Immediately he turned to his closet and started throwing clothes in a small bag. "Teresa!" he yelled.
"What's wrong?", she questioned when she saw Johnny's face.
"Up on the range, I guess. Why?"
"Tell him...tell him I'm going to Boston."
"Boston? Why there?"
"Scott's going to have some kind of operation and I intend to be there."
Teresa paled. "You mean on his eyes?"
"Of course. go! "I'll tell Murdoch. Johnny, take care of him for all of us."
"I will--you can be sure of that."
Johnny barely made the train. He
slumped down to prepare for the long trip. DAMN! Why is he doing this? This
time I thought he was being honest with me. So is he lying or does he really
want to come back to the S & J?
After many days, he was once again in Boston. As before, Johnny hired a carriage to take him to the Loomis house. Memories flooded in of that last time he'd been there. Johnny shook his head in defiance. This time would be different because Scott was going back no matter what!
Thaddeus Loomis answered the knock. "Johnny, what are you doing here?"
"I've come to see Scott."
"Is he back at the school?"
"You mean you really don't know? He's having some kind of operation."
"Come in, come in. Maybe Alma knows about this."
Alma entered the hallway from the parlor. "Johnny, what's wrong?"
"Jack Mercer told me Scott was going to have an operation."
Alma blanched. "I know he was thinking about it, but I didn't know he was really going to go through with it. Let's go see Dr. Winston. He'll tell us."
At the school, Dr. Winston confirmed Scott's presence at the hospital only a mile away. "I thought it was strange that you weren't there with him, but he is entitled to privacy. You'll find him in Room 32."
Hesitantly Johnny inquired, "Was it a success?"
"We don't know yet. The bandages are still on."
Johnny walked into Scott's room.
He had known there would be bandages, but it still startled him to see his
friend like that. "Scott?"
The patient turned toward the voice. "Dr. Winston?"
"No, it's me--Johnny."
Scott tried to sit up. "Why are you here?"
"Where else should I be?"
"Scott, you're more important than Lancer."
"That's not true."
"You are--to me."
"How'd you know where I was?"
"Does it matter?"
"No, I guess not. ........ I'm just so glad you're here. I thought I could do this alone, but now I'm not so sure."
"Scott, listen to me. Whatever happens you're coming back to the S & J with me. You are not alone."
The blond young man just sat there. I wish that I could see Johnny's face; his eyes would tell if that's true.
"I've got another surprise for you."
Alma entered. "Scott, dear boy, you should have told me."
"Alma! I didn't want anyone to worry."
"I told you before that you are too stubborn for your own good."
They stayed for sometime until the nurse insisted that visiting hours were over.
The two returned to the Loomis house. After a delicious dinner, Johnny went to bed early. He planned to visit the hospital as soon as visiting hours began.
As the young man walked down the corridor, Dr. Winston approached, "Glad you're here. Scott had a rough night. He's been asking for you."
Johnny entered to find an obviously distressed Scott. "What's the matter, Partner?"
"I dreamt about the fire. It was horrible--the smell, the flames; but this time when I looked down at the body--it was you!" Scott began to shiver.
"Hey, none of that!" He took Scott's hand and squeezed it. "You're safe, I'm here and soon we'll go home."
In a husky voice Scott murmured, "Home....Funny I always thought that was Boston. Now it's a small place that I only saw once. Do you remember when we rode up there after Mr. Tate died?"
Forgetting, Johnny just nodded.
"I know it was hard for Mrs. Tate to leave, but remember what she said?"
Johnny remembered. "That she'd always carry the memory of her life there in her heart."
"At least I'll always have that memory of our ranch."
"We'll make lots more memories, Scott. Some good, maybe some not so good. The most important thing is that you're willing to try. We'll face whatever comes together."
Scott squeezed Johnny's hand in return. "Thanks for being here."
3 MONTHS LATER
Johnny and Scott boarded the train to California. Johnny swore that this would be his last train ride. These iron horses were murder on the butt.
Alma and Thaddeus had come with them to the station. Alma cried and promised to write. "Take care of yourselves. Let us know when you get there."
"We will. Thanks for everything."
As the train pulled out, Scott looked at Johnny. "I'm glad that Jack and Sarah will be able to join us in a couple of weeks."
"We really need to put in some hard work to get that guest room ready."
"Johnny, are you...are you sure you want to do this? It's not too late."
"Scott, I told you we're in this together and I haven't changed my mind."
Scott nodded slightly, then put his head back and closed his eyes. For some time there was silence.
"Are you alright?"
"I'm fine, just tired."
"Well, there's plenty of time for you to sleep. It's a long train ride."
Again there was silence. Johnny Lancer looked out the train window. Massachusetts is so different from Lancer.
A low whisper interrupted his thoughts. "Johnny, will you do me a favor?"
"When we get to the S & J, will you describe the sunset to me?"
"And the sunrise, Partner, and the sunrise."
Scott reached out to take Johnny's arm. "Then, let's go home, Partner; let's go home.
THE END (Absolutely)