As stated before I would love to own the characters, but I don’t – they are only borrowed for this story.
…‘When nothin’ goes your way
Your heart begins to pain.
However hard you try
The problems seem endless.
It’s your own bed you made,
Not goin’ to go away
You just break down and cry
Must be a way out of here.
No use feelin’ sorry for yourself,
‘Cause you’ve got something else –
Hope, there’s got to be a little bit in you and me.
Hope, the only way we’re goin’ to keep our sanity
Hope, there’s got to be a little bit in you and me.
Whatever it takes hold on,
Keep riding through the storm.’…
David Campbell – Hope (Steve Mac, Rob Davis)
The three men were stopped dead in their tracks. In the split second it took for his brain to register the name “Madrid” each man had a different thought cross his mind.
For Murdoch Lancer, his worst fears were being realised; once again his son, Johnny Madrid – a former gunfighter - was about to be called out. Maybe this time the opponent would be faster and he would lose his youngest son. Permanently.
Scott Lancer feared for the safety of his brother. A brother that he had only known for eight months. But those eight months had been the most exhilarating, confusing, frustrating, exciting… and complete months of his life. Johnny and he were like salt and pepper – independent and able to stand alone but each also complementing the other. He had found his reason for being. Life without Johnny would not be acceptable.
Johnny Lancer, previously known as Johnny Madrid, gunfighter, recognised the voice. A voice from his past. A past that had many memories, few of them pleasant. But this was a voice that he knew he need not fear.
As one the three Lancer men turned to face the man from Johnny’s past. There, standing on the boardwalk, was a middle-aged man. He was tall, solid, with a slight paunch, and thinning brown hair turning grey - nothing remarkable. Nothing remarkable except for the badge pinned to his shirt.
Murdoch inwardly heaved a sigh of relief when he laid eyes on the man with the badge. There might still be danger here for his son but at least there was to be no gunfight. Although his youngest was never forthcoming about his past, Murdoch felt sure that Johnny would have mentioned the fact that he was wanted, if this was so. But this lawman did not appear threatening. In fact his demeanour was friendly. A smile was creeping across his face as he stepped towards them.
The smile broadened as the man approached the Lancers. Scott watched in complete amazement as the lawman walked up to his younger brother and clapped him on the shoulder. “How are you, boy? What’s it been – five years?”
Johnny replied with a smile, “Six, Mac.”
Murdoch was intrigued. Johnny and the man he referred to as Mac were obviously old acquaintances, however the greeting bestowed upon his youngest had caused Johnny some embarrassment judging by his son’s body language. Murdoch realised with some dismay that for a man to be successful in Johnny’s previous line of work emotion could not play a part. Johnny avoided public, or even private, for that matter, displays of affection like the plague.
“I can’t believe running into you after all these years. Maudie will be so thrilled. You’ve got to come to dinner tonight, Johnny, 7.30. Don’t be late boy, you know how Maudie gets when you’re late for dinner.”
As Mac paused to take a breath Johnny interjected. “Thanks Mac, but it’s a bit awkward, I’m here with …”
Here Mac turned to Murdoch and Scott. Offering Murdoch his hand he stated, “… your father and brother. You must be Murdoch Lancer, and you’re Scott.”
Murdoch and Scott shook Mac’s hand in turn; they were utterly bewildered by the events taking place.
“Of course you’re invited too. My wife would never forgive me if she couldn’t play hostess to Johnny’s family. Last house on the left at the end of the main street. Post and rail fence with a lavender hedge. You remember that it’s Maudie’s favourite, Johnny?”
Johnny merely nodded, embarrassment again evident in the young man.
“Can’t stop now, but we’ll catch up tonight. Remember, 7.30 tonight, Johnny.”
All three Lancers watched the lawman stride off towards the Sheriff’s Office that they had passed on their way into town. Johnny stole a look at his father and brother. They were gazing perplexedly at the retreating back of Mac Thompson, Sheriff of Brownlow.
Knowing that there would be the inevitable questions about his history with the Sheriff, Johnny started walking towards the hotel. They had checked in on their arrival in the town of Brownlow, and were on the way back from arranging livery for their horses when they had run into Mac Thompson.
Murdoch and his two sons were in the town to meet with a local rancher, Fred Barraclough. Barraclough had a fine line of Hereford cattle and the Lancers wished to look over his stock, with a view to outcrossing the bloodlines of their own herd. Although Murdoch could have sent either Scott or Johnny to broker the deal, he chose instead to go with them. Not to oversee any decision they might make, but rather to enjoy the company of his sons – the decision to buy would be made by all three partners of Lancer. They were to meet with Barraclough the next morning at the hotel, before riding out to his ranch, Broken Creek.
Murdoch and Scott were itching to question Johnny, however both realised that this would have to wait until they were in the privacy of their hotel room. They followed the youngest Lancer back to the hotel.
The three men had left Lancer the previous morning at dawn, allowing two days to reach their destination. But the ride to Brownlow had not taken as long as they had expected, with the result that they had arrived in the early afternoon.
With the rest of the afternoon to kill before their dinner engagement at 7.30, the three men relaxed in the overstuffed and rather garishly upholstered easy chairs in Murdoch’s hotel room. They had arranged for coffee to be brought up to the room, and as Murdoch poured the hot steaming liquid into cups, Johnny was aware that he could no longer forestall the explanation his family was due. He had decided that they would only get the basic facts though; there was no way he was going to elaborate on what really went on six years ago with the Thompsons.
Inhaling the delicious aroma Johnny stalled for more time. Unfortunately his elder brother saw through the ruse.
“Well, Johnny. We’re waiting.”
Johnny feigned ignorance and was about to make a comment when Scott added, “Stop stalling, brother, and tell us about Mac. How do you know him?”
Johnny fiddled with one of the faded chintz covers on the arms of the chair as he thought about how to tell the tale briefly, but with enough detail to satisfy the curiosity of his father and brother. “Mac Thompson was sheriff of a town called Limestone. I was in Limestone for a job…” Johnny trailed off and looked at his father, and then dropped his eyes knowing that this part of the story was going to be hard for Murdoch and Scott to hear.
Scott interrupted at this stage. “Didn’t you say it was six years since you’d seen Mac?”
“But that made you … sixteen?” Scott said incredulously.
In the eight months they had known each other the two brothers had become close and each trusted the other with his life. With the day to day running of the ranch their prior lives often tended to fade into the background, and it was only when an ‘incident’ occurred that Scott recalled that his brother had been a gunfighter.
The impact of Johnny’s words ‘…in Limestone for a job…’ shocked Scott in spite of himself. It was hard for him to come to terms with the fact that his sixteen-year-old brother would have been in the town with the express purpose of killing a man.
After a short but uncomfortable silence Johnny continued. “Anyway, there was a bit of a problem and Mac and his wife Maudie helped me. Maudie seemed to take a’likin’ to me.”
This statement elicited a smile from Scott, it appeared that even mature women could be enamoured by his charming and apparently good-looking brother. Scott did a double take at this thought, ‘his charming brother’. He assumed that the wife of a sheriff would be a level-headed woman, and if she had, in Johnny’s words ‘taken a’likin’’ to him as a gunfighter, it presupposed that the young Johnny Madrid had some redeeming qualities, despite being a killer. A feeling of disquiet came over Scott at these dark thoughts – he hadn’t really thought much about Johnny’s life as a gunfighter. Perhaps these thoughts were deliberately pushed to the back of his mind – he only knew his brother as a vibrant, energetic, at times reckless, and yes, caring individual – and that was the way he preferred to think of him.
He realised that Johnny had been talking, and he hadn’t heard what he said. “I’m sorry Johnny, what did you say?”
“I just said that I never went back to Limestone and haven’t seen the Thompsons for six years.”
Murdoch, listening to Johnny’s tale, felt there was more to the story than his son was letting on. However knowing that Johnny could be totally uncommunicative when pushed, wisely decided to let the matter drop. Besides, he thought with an inner smile, he was sure the Sheriff and his wife would be more forthcoming about what happened to his son in Limestone.
Deciding that a different direction in conversation needed to be taken, Murdoch brought up the reason for their trip to Brownlow. The rest of the afternoon was spent discussing the possibilities that the purchase of the cattle would provide.
The Lancer men vacated their hotel room in time for a leisurely walk down the main street of Brownlow to the Thompson house. Brownlow appeared to be a peaceful town. The hotel dining room was packed with diners, and there were tantalising aromas pervading the lobby as Murdoch, Scott and Johnny passed through. There were several saloons in the town with horses tied to hitching rails outside: horses patiently awaiting their masters who were enjoying the company of saloon girls, hoping for the lucky turn of a card or just enjoying a drink at the bar.
The Thompson house was not difficult to locate – last on the left at the end of the main street. It did indeed have a post and rail fence with a neat well cared for lavender hedge. Roses bordered the path that led to the porch and front door, beckoning the visitors that passed through the gateway. The scent of fragrant roses and lavender mingled, spreading evocatively in the cooling evening air. Rosemary bushes with freckled pale blue flowers and their refreshing resinous leaves, and the soft green bush of lemon-and-camphor fragrant lad’s love graced the beds at the front of the house. It was quite apparent that this garden was tended with love.
The sweet cool scent of lavender evoked, in Johnny, memories of that summer many years ago.
Johnny knocked on the panelled door. Within seconds the door was flung open and a rather large buxom woman bustled out of the doorway and her arms enveloped Johnny. Murdoch and Scott tried to hide their amusement at the stricken look on Johnny’s face. The young man was thoroughly embarrassed by this obvious show of affection. But the woman was oblivious to the discomfort she was causing him. Both men were now even more determined to learn the story of Johnny and the Thompsons.
Mac Thompson appeared at the door. “Come in, come in.” He smiled with pleasure as he looked at the welcome his wife was giving Johnny. “As you can see Maudie was delighted when I told her I’d run into Johnny. Maudie, let the poor boy breathe and come inside.”
His wife eventually released Johnny, and clutching him by the arm escorted him inside the house. Johnny, trying to recover his composure, was finally able to speak. “Mrs.T, it’s great to see you again.”
Both Murdoch and Scott couldn’t help but notice the subtle change in Johnny – it was hard to describe the change, but he was no longer the self-assured son and brother who had ridden into town with them.
Once they were all inside and the door was closed, Johnny, with obvious pride in his voice, introduced Murdoch and Scott to Maudie.
“Mrs.T, this is my father, Murdoch Lancer, and my brother Scott.”
As Maudie advanced on them both men prepared to take a step back, fearing a similar welcome to that which Johnny had just received. To their relief Mac Thompson’s wife merely shook their hand stating that she was delighted to meet them at last.
“At last?” queried Scott. She laughed at the vague looks on their faces.
“Come and sit yourselves down and I’ll explain over dinner.”
Maudie indicated where each man would sit. It did not escape Murdoch and Scott’s attention that Johnny had been seated beside the hostess. The table was a sight to behold; Maudie Thompson had gone to extreme lengths to set an elegant table. A linen tablecloth, with matching napkins, covered the large dining table. The silver tableware was sparkling; the variety on the table suggesting a meal consisting of several courses. Beside each place setting sat crystal wine glasses. The centrepiece was a silver bowl filled with roses.
The dining room was well furnished. The mahogany furniture in the room was beautifully polished. There was a large dining table with eight balloon back dining chairs upholstered in olive green velvet. A fine three-door sideboard and a chiffonier bookcase completed the room. Bone china adorned the shelves of the chiffonier, and crystal decanters on a silver tray were atop the sideboard.
During the first course, vegetable soup served from a silver tureen, the diners idly chatted – discussing the weather, the town of Brownlow, the Lancer ranch and its nearby towns.
As Maudie removed the dishes from the table and disappeared into the kitchen Mac eased himself back in his chair and addressed Murdoch. “I am sure, Murdoch, that you have many questions about your son here.” He noted the agonised look on Johnny’s face but continued anyway.
“I’ll tell you a little about Maudie and myself first, as it will clarify the events that occurred in Limestone, and make them easier to understand.” He smiled at Johnny but no smile was returned.
The young man was clearly uncomfortable with the information that was about to be divulged. In fact Johnny had an almost uncontrollable desire to be anywhere else but at that table, or indeed in that house. However in deference to Maudie and Mac he would stay.
“Maudie and I are both originally from back east. My family was involved with some very successful business ventures, but I had no desire to join the family business. The west appealed to both of us so we made the move, much to our families’ horror.”
The quality furnishings in the house, and the crystal glasses and silver that graced the table, were not the standard household items usually attributed to town Sheriffs, thought Murdoch. Coming from well to do families in the east would explain the presence of such items.
“I was trained as a gunsmith, so after a few years in my own shop in a town in Nevada, we moved to Limestone. Our life together was wonderful but … ” Mac glanced at the kitchen and lowered his voice, “sadly we were not blessed with children. That is one of the few regrets in Maudie’s life; she has yearned to give her love to a child.”
He resumed his normal voice. “We had lived there for ten years when the position of Sheriff arose. The pay wasn’t great but as I have independent means that wasn’t an issue. I was quite proficient with a handgun so I accepted the job.
At this point in Mac’s retrospection Maudie reappeared carrying a large tray on which were a number of dishes. A range of aromas emanated from these dishes – Mexican and Western. Johnny stared in wonder at the table – he had forgotten what a wonderful cook Maudie was.
“I cooked all your favourites, Johnny.” Maudie squeezed Johnny’s shoulder as she passed by him to bring in yet more dishes.
“I wasn’t sure whether you had the same tastes as Johnny.” Maudie said to Murdoch and Scott when the second tray load was deposited in front of the diners, thereby explaining the range of food on the table.
“You have gone to a lot of trouble, it is much appreciated.” stated the Lancer patriarch. Murdoch could not credit the trouble that Maudie Thompson had gone to with the meal. Either she relished playing the grand hostess, or the spread that awaited them attested to the high regard the woman had for Johnny. He was once again puzzled by the enigma that was his youngest son.
sixteen-year old gunfighter had ridden into Limestone to kill a man. Instead of
being run out of town by the Sheriff for the killer that he was, he had been
‘adopted’ by the man and his wife. What qualities had his son had that
endeared him to this couple? Murdoch was saddened that he would never know first
hand about Johnny’s childhood and youth – what a sad realisation for a
parent; to hear about your child’s life from complete strangers. (Damn and
blast you Maria, how dare you take our son and subject him to the life he has
had to lead.) Murdoch angrily thought of Johnny’s mother. (If only you
hadn’t lied to him about me, he may have returned home when you died and would
never have had to suffer the life of Johnny Madrid.)
Murdoch’s thoughts turned back to the Pinkerton files in the locked bottom drawer of his great oak desk. The Pinkerton files – Scott’s and Johnny’s. Scott’s small folder had brought some pleasure to him when he had received the notes inside over the years. He had been filled with sorrow at the brief mention of the War and time spent in Libby Prison – but the reports had skimmed over the details, merely mentioning facts. But other than that there were only positive facts about Scott’s life; his childhood and adolescent years, Harvard – Murdoch had to grudgingly concede that Harlan Garrett, Scott’s maternal grandfather, had brought up his son with nothing lacking. (Except the love of a father) he thought angrily.
But Johnny’s. Over the years the notes had expanded into several well-filled folders. Each time a report came Murdoch feared its contents. They were cold, impersonal reports, devoid of emotion. A clinical list of men killed by his son, Johnny Madrid. The reports referred back to the killing of Maria’s murderer, when Johnny was only twelve. This was the only entry Murdoch could come to grips with: a twelve year old boy, severely beaten, witnessing his mother’s death and killing in self-defence to save his own life. A child in a situation that no child should ever be in. But the events reported after Johnny became Johnny Madrid had been nothing a parent could be proud of, no redeeming features - only seemingly calculated acts of violence. The only consolation, if it could be called that, were the two underlined words in brackets after each itemised killing - (fair fight). A killer his son might have been, but at least he had not been cold-blooded. Some consolation indeed!
Conversation slowed as they ate. Maudie was plying Johnny with food. Scott’s good manners were all that stopped him from teasing Johnny. (We’ll have to widen the doors to get you out of this house, little brother, if you eat any more)
When the diners had finished this course the hostess arose to start clearing the table, but her husband stopped her. “Just sit a spell, Maudie. I think our guests would like to hear about how we met Johnny.” She smiled as she sat down and rested her hand on Johnny’s arm as her husband began to speak.
“Limestone was a pleasant town, folks went about their business quietly – peacekeeping was an easy task for a number of years. But then it all changed. The ranches in the area were prospering; the herds thrived on the rich feed and crystal clear water. But the water on which they depended flowed from a single source. A man called Winston Turner had inherited one of the ranches; the previous owner, Turner’s uncle, had died from consumption some months earlier.”
“And the water source was on Winston’s ranch?”
“Yes, Scott, it was. There was rumour that old Zachary Turner had a son but it was the nephew who claimed the place. And Winston decided to boost his bank balance by charging the ranchers an exorbitant amount for the water they depended upon. Zac would have been turning in his grave at what was happening. He was a popular old fellow and claimed that the water was a gift to share from God, he felt it belonged to all the ranchers.”
“Sounds like the makings of a range war.” commented Murdoch.
“Exactly. The other ranchers tried every lawful way to convince Turner to come to the party but they weren’t successful. The head of the Cattlemen’s Association was a born leader, a man called Thomas Catto. He was pushing real hard and the other ranchers were beginning to think that his idea of force was the only solution. There were mutterings about taking the law into their own hands, Turner got wind of this and decided to get in first.”
aware that Johnny was beginning to shift uncomfortably on his chair. (This
must be where you come into the story, little brother)
To Johnny’s relief but Murdoch and Scott’s chagrin, Maudie interrupted her husband, “Time for dessert, Mac. We can continue the story in a while.”
Although none of the men felt that they could eat another bite they did not want to disappoint the hostess, as she had worked all afternoon preparing the meal. A selection of desserts was brought to the table, and after partaking of the puddings and pastries the diners’ appetites were completely sated.
The Thompsons and their guests then retired to the parlour and settled themselves into the deep armchairs and couches. Mac had guided his wife away from the table stating that it could be cleared later.
Mac continued. “Turner decided to hire some ‘help’, a bunch of hard men, not gunmen, but dangerous all the same. They had limited success ‘persuading’ some of the ranchers to pay for their water. Nothing illegal, just strong-arm tactics. Unfortunately, as no laws had been broken there was nothing I could do to stop Turner. But he was not having any success in getting Catto to agree though. In fact Catto was becoming more determined to beat Turner. So Turner decided to hire a gunfighter.”
Murdoch and Scott looked at Johnny without thinking. He looked thoroughly miserable and smiled weakly at them.
“Turner had heard tell of an up and coming gunhawk. Young, talented and willing to hire on without too many questions being asked. So he sent a wire and hired him. Nobody knew who it was, just that Turner now had a hired gun on his payroll.”
He paused and then continued. “I’ll never forget the day his gunfighter rode into town. It was just after midday, the Cattlemen’s Association had just concluded an emergency meeting to which I had been asked to attend. Catto, Sam Menzies, the vice president of the Association, and I were standing outside the hotel where the meeting had been held. We were about to go our separate ways when a rider on a showy pinto rode slowly up the main street. He didn’t look more than sixteen or seventeen but there was something about him that suggested he was no ordinary teenager. Young - yes; self-assured – definitely, but it was the look he gave us as he passed by. He simply turned his head slightly and stared at us before continuing on to the livery stable. Almost as if he were daring us to make comment. It was unsettling to say the least.”
By now Johnny was ready for the soft cushions on the deep chair in which he was sitting to completely envelop him. Not knowing where to look, he kept his eyes to the floor, whilst his hands played incessantly with the conchos on his trouser legs.
“Catto and Menzies left, but I stayed to see what this young man was up to – it didn’t occur to me that he could be Turner’s gun. I took a seat in the dining room of the hotel; you could see the registration desk from where I was sitting. Five minutes later in he came. He was slim, of medium height, and exuded self-confidence. The boy obviously cared little about what others might think of him for he wore the brightest shirt I’d ever seen, decorated with some quite elaborate embroidery. Made quite a statement about the wearer. But what I was most interested in was the rig he wore, worn low and it looked very comfortable on him. He strolled in casually carrying a rifle over his shoulder.”
“After checking in he nonchalantly walked up the stairs, but he knew I was there for I was on the receiving end of that stare again, as he walked past the dining room doors. He was definitely no ordinary boy. Then when I looked in the register, the name stunned me – Johnny Madrid.”
His wife, having noticed Johnny’s uneasiness, suggested that they have some coffee, interrupting his discourse. Yet more food arrived with the coffee, in the form of biscuits and two cakes - one chocolate and one orange. Johnny, feeling slightly more relaxed, smiled appreciatively at Maudie when he spied the chocolate cake.
“Chocolate custard cake?” he asked hopefully, of Maudie.
“What else?” she laughed. “You know Johnny, I haven’t cooked that cake in six years – couldn’t bring myself to make it after you left. I’m a bit out of practice, I hope it’s all right?”
“Mmmmm, I’d forgotten how good it was.” mumbled Johnny with his mouth full.
Murdoch and Scott agreed wholeheartedly with these sentiments. “I’ve never tasted a cake as delicious as this.” commented Scott. “No doubt your cooking was the attraction in Limestone for my young brother here, Maudie, if your repast tonight is any indication.”
Ignoring the glare from his brother Scott turned to Mac and tactfully suggested that he continue with his tale.
“I’d heard of Johnny Madrid, he was a young gunfighter building quite a reputation. By all accounts rather cocky and arrogant.” He glanced at Johnny to see the broad grin that he remembered so well. “I realised that we had quite a problem in Limestone if Madrid was the one hired by Turner.”
“I decided to talk to the boy, to try to dissuade him from completing the contract he had with Turner. It was a very interesting conversation to say the least. Remember Johnny?”
“Yeah, guess I weren’t too polite was I?”
“No, boy, you surely weren’t. I knocked on the door and you opened it with gun in hand. You weren’t too impressed with seeing a lawman on the threshold but invited me into the room anyway. I did notice that you kept your Colt in your hand though. I asked you if Turner had hired you and you replied ‘It ain’t no concern of yours if’n he did or didn’t.’ I couldn’t believe the insolent attitude you displayed, and said that it certainly was my concern. I started to explain the problems the ranchers had without the water, when you cut me off saying ‘I ain’t interested in why, just in gettin’ the job done, old man.’ Old man, I could have knocked your young pup down, Murdoch. You had hit a raw nerve without knowing it, Johnny. As Maudie will tell you all, I was feeling a bit low over having turned forty the previous week. My father and uncle had both died when they were forty and I thought I would surely head the same way.”
“Old man, eh, seems I’ve heard that before too.” Murdoch looked pointedly at his youngest son.
Johnny gave him an innocent look and Murdoch laughed.
“Johnny then said ‘I’m meetin’ with this guy Turner tomorra’ and if ya’ think you can stop me think again. You got a death wish, lawman?’ A half-grown kid with an ego the size of Texas had threatened me, and was getting away with it! You were living up to your reputation of arrogance and cocksureness, Johnny. I’d never met anyone so young with that self-assuredness. You sent me on my way with my tail between my legs.”
“I was a bit moody that night and I eventually gave in to Maudie’s incessant nagging,” Maudie raised her eyebrows at this statement but noted the grin on her husband’s face. “and told her about my meeting with Johnny.”
“I could tell that her interest was piqued when I described the young man I had met. I tried to convince her that this particular boy was not a candidate for her soul saving, but it would have been easier to make water flow uphill! She was determined! ‘Hope, Mac, there is always hope.’ was all she said. I’m not sure that I knew at that stage which was my biggest problem – having an arrogant young killer in town or dealing with my wife who was hell bent on mothering this teenage gunfighter.”
“The next morning I watched Johnny ride out of town to meet with Turner. He had quite an audience as he left – by then word had spread around town that the teenager was Turner’s hired gun. There were some who didn’t give much credence to the reputation that preceded Johnny. Some of the older members of the Association felt that a boy of Johnny’s tender years could not possibly be a threat.”
Mac paused and turned to Johnny. “Maybe you’d better tell this next part, Johnny.”
Johnny raised his eyes and Mac answered his unasked question. “The meeting with Turner? You never said what happened at Oak Valley.”
“Ain’t much to tell.” Johnny thought back to his meeting with Turner. He really didn’t want to talk about it, but realised that it couldn’t be avoided. The meeting had a bearing on subsequent events; it was an integral part of the story Mac was telling.
“He was a puffed up pompous little man. It was mutual dislike from the minute I stepped in his front door. First thing he said t’a me was ‘If there’s one thing I detest more than Mexicans and Chinese, boy, it’s half-breeds. I don’t want your kind sullying my house, so the next time you come here you don’t come in the front door – is that clear? You’re here for one thing and one thing only – to kill Catto.’ I had a real tough time reinin’ in m’a temper, I tell ya!”
Knowing how short Johnny’s fuse could be at times, both Murdoch and Scott were amazed that a teenage Johnny could have controlled his temper in the face of such bigotry.
“He started in on tellin’ me what I was to do. Didn’t ask me anythin’, just givin’ orders. Here he was tellin’ me, Johnny Madrid, how to do m’a job. I guess I was a mite pricklish! I didn’t take to bein’ ordered around by nobody.”
At this Murdoch recalled Johnny’s angry retort ‘I never was much good at takin’ orders.’ when he had asked him where he was going during their argument over Pardee.
“I told him that nobody gave Johnny Madrid orders, and if’n he didn’t want me to ‘dirty’ his house then he could come to me in town.”
“I think he thought that because I was young he could intimidate me. He threatened to fire me and hire another gunhawk to do the job. I laughed at him and said that there weren’t no one as good as me.” Johnny reflected on this, and added with a grin “ I don’t s’pose I was too modest back then!”
“I didn’t like the man but a job was a job, and I wasn’t too fussy. But I was real mad at him. So although he was payin’ good money I figured I’d let him stew on it awhile. So I told him if he wanted me to do the job he could talk t’a me later in town. And my price just went up. Y’a should’a seen his face. Got all red and he was openin’ and shuttin’ his mouth a bit like a fish gaspin’ for air – but no sound came out. I sort’a had a gut instinct that he would give in. Bit like a dog that snaps at y’a horse’s heels but takes off yelpin’ when you turn to face it. All talk and no backbone. So I just walked out and rode back to town. Like I said weren’t much to tell.”
Coffee cups were refilled at this stage but no amount of persuasion from the hostess could entice any of the men to eat another morsel. “I would love to have some more cake, Maudie,” said Scott, continuing with a twinkle in his eye, ‘but I fear our horses will rebel if we ate anything else.”
Mac Thompson chuckled and Maudie laughed and didn’t press again.
“What happened after Johnny’s meeting with Turner?” probed Murdoch. He hated hearing the sordid details of his son’s life, but at the same time he had a morbid desire to hear the end of the tale.
“Well, Johnny arrived back and stalked into the hotel. I could sense that something had happened, and knowing how Turner alienated people with his self-righteous and bigoted attitude, I could only surmise that young Johnny here had reacted badly to his meeting with the pompous fool. About twenty minutes later Johnny took up residence on a cane chair outside the hotel.”
“I met Maudie for lunch in the café and as we walked outside afterwards we saw Catto’s sixteen year old daughter, Jessica on the opposite side of the street, down towards the hotel. Thomas was widowed when Jessica was a babe and his maiden sister had come to live with them to help raise Jessica. Jessica had driven into town with her aunt earlier that morning. Jessica and Maudie got along famously and when Jess saw us she waved and started running up the street towards us. Right at this moment the 1.10 stage arrived in a cloud of dust, and like most stage drivers Fred only ever slowed down at the last possible minute. So the stage was moving fairly fast when disaster struck.”
“When Jess was about halfway across the street she suddenly fell. She said later that her heel had caught in the hem of her dress, there must have been a catch there, and she was tripped up. Jess must have winded herself when she fell because she didn’t try to get up. So she was lying there with the stage boring down on her. I was too far away to do anything. The only other people nearby were Sarah Bayliss and her mother. All they could do was scream.”
“But Johnny had also seen what had happened and I must say, moved with alacrity…”
Johnny raised his eyebrows but before he could speak Scott interjected “Speed, Johnny. You moved with speed.”
“He quickly scooped Jessica up and dived out of the way – I’m sure the horses only missed him by inches. Poor Fred had seen Jessica at the last moment and was doing all he could to slow the horses, but stopping a team quickly was not an easy task, and there was nowhere to turn them. He claims he aged ten years in a few seconds. It did make him come in more slowly for a while though.”
“Johnny helped Jessica up and began to dust her off. By this time Arabella Turner had arrived in a very worried state. Jessica assured both her Aunt Bella and everyone else that she was fine. When she turned to thank Johnny he had gone.”
“Didn’t want no fuss,” interjected Johnny. “all I did was pull her out of the way.”
“It was a bit more than that, Johnny. You’d just saved the daughter of the man you were hired to kill. It was a most unusual situation. Of course Maudie was delighted – ‘I told you there was hope for that boy.’ she said triumphantly. ‘What he just did shows that he has some compassion.’”
“Jessica and her aunt came back to our place. Jess wanted to know, of course, the name of the boy who had delivered her from certain death. She was well aware that Johnny Madrid was the man Turner had hired to kill her father, and when told the name of her rescuer she found herself with conflicting emotions. How does one thank a person for saving your life knowing that that same person is about to kill your father? It was even harder for her to cope, as she was so young. After much discussion we decided that, given the circumstances, it was best that Thomas not know what had happened. Jess was not hurt so we all felt that it was a case of ‘what you don’t know won’t hurt you’. Jessica hated keeping secrets from her father but it was for the best.”
“Jessica and Bella returned home. There was no sign of Johnny after the incident with the stage and the townsfolk were unaware of who was involved, other than ‘someone’ had pulled Jess to safety. For the next day or so there was an uneasy quiet in town, everyone was waiting for the showdown between Catto and Madrid. You could have cut through the tension in the air with a knife. The members of the Association were nervous and running scared.”
“It’s strange what fear will do to a man. I’m ashamed to say that some of those fine, upstanding members of the Cattlemen’s Association decided to take matters into their own hands and rid the town of Johnny Madrid before he could kill Catto. They were not going to chance their luck against his gun so they waited in an alley one night, until Johnny was passing on his way back to the hotel, and then jumped him. He stood no chance against six grown men. These brave souls then beat a sixteen-year-old boy to within an inch of his life, and left him lying in the alley. A storeowner found him as he arrived to open up the next morning. He came straight to me to report his find, and of course, as luck would have it, Maudie was the one to open the door.”
“After sending the storeowner to get the doctor, I went to Johnny. Maudie insisted on coming with me. When she saw the state he was in she convinced Doc. Williams that Johnny should be taken back to our house and she would tend him. The Doc agreed, rather readily, I think he was pleased that he would not have to have the gunfighter in his house.”
“So Johnny was brought home. The doctor did what he could for him but he was not overly confident about his chances, he was beaten so badly. His assailants had pistol-whipped him, his face, a mass of bruises and cuts, was severely swollen with one eye completely swollen shut. The doctor suspected that he would have concussion or more severe head injuries but this could not be ascertained until he regained consciousness. His body too was very badly bruised, having been kicked repeatedly. Three ribs were broken, as were his left collarbone, arm and wrist. His condition deteriorated over the next day or so and the doctor believed that there might be internal injuries as well. He decided that he should operate as he thought Johnny might be bleeding internally. He found that his spleen was ruptured and so had to remove it. One of the broken ribs had also punctured a lung and Doc had to insert drainage tubes.”
“Although Johnny pulled through the surgery he was an extremely sick boy for quite a while. It was four days before he regained consciousness, and then he was so groggy and unaware of his surroundings it was difficult to know if there were any head injuries. Maudie barely left his side, I think his recovery is mainly due to the care she gave him.”
At this last statement Johnny shot Maudie a grateful look. In return she simply patted his arm.
Murdoch listened to this story of the sickening assault of his youngest son with horror. He felt his stomach constrict and a wave of nausea almost overcame him, as the realisation that he could have lost his son before he ever knew him hit home. It was only too apparent that Johnny could have died.
“It was about another week before Johnny was able to speak and was aware of what was happening. But by then he had also regained some of his lip and began to make life difficult for us. Your son is an atrocious patient, Murdoch.”
“Don’t we know it!” replied Scott.
Johnny had found this part of the tale even more difficult to listen to. He knew he had been lucky to survive the beating; and he still had the odd reminder of his injuries. Occasionally, in cold weather, his left arm ached. But the beating and its aftermath had been the turning point in his relationship with the Thompsons. He owed them both a lot.
“Johnny repeatedly insisted that he was all right…”
“Well, that hasn’t changed over the years,” commented Murdoch. “He tells us the same thing!”
“Really? Well I hope his attitude is a little better than it was then! He referred to Maudie as an interfering old biddy; he didn’t need her fussin’ about him and to leave him alone. He was quite capable of lookin’ after himself, he said, been doin’ it for years, and if he wanted help he’d ask for it. But don’t hold your breath because he sure wasn’t goin’ to ask.”
“Johnny!” exclaimed Scott.
Johnny looked suitably abashed and muttered “Well, I wasn’t feeling too well at the time. I didn’t really mean it. Mrs. T. knows that.” And he flashed an irresistible grin at Maudie, who smiled indulgently back.
“I thought Maudie had bitten off more than she could chew. I tried to convince her that the boy was no good, not to waste her efforts on such an ingrate and hopeless case. I felt that she would only have her heart broken by this youth who cared so little about anyone or anything. But she would have none of it. Only became more determined that the boy would respond to her love and attention. She obviously saw something in him that escaped everyone else. ‘Hope,’ she said, ‘there’s always hope. Underneath that boy’s arrogant and seemingly uncaring veneer, Mac, is a child craving for love and people to care for, and about him. And we, Mac Thompson, are going to be those people.’ When my wife gets in that mood, gentlemen, there is no stopping her. Johnny, here, stood about as much chance of withstanding her determined efforts to save him, as a snowball does in hell.”
“And I was proven right, wasn’t I, Mac Thompson?”
Thompson nodded his agreement, “Yes, my dear, you were.”
“During the time of Johnny’s recovery several events took shape. Much as it pained me, I had had to arrest the men who had assaulted Johnny. They actually gave themselves up the next day, the ramifications of their actions hitting home, and they were full of remorse. They were normally law-abiding citizens, but had been caught up in the drama of the looming range war and had made a foolish decision. They appeared before Judge Driscoll, and as they pleaded guilty and showed remorse, he fined them heavily but they escaped a prison sentence.”
“Thomas Catto, who was one of the assailants and was the one who had actually suggested to the others that they assault Johnny, had found out about Jessica’s brush with death the day after the incident. Elizabeth Bayliss had paid Arabella Turner a visit. In conversation with her friend she mentioned that she hoped Jessica had no ill effects from her accident. Thomas naturally wanted to know what had happened. He was most displeased to find that his sister and daughter had kept this from him. He was mortified to know how close he had come to losing his daughter.”
“It was only when he was arrested that the true facts of the incident came to light. Jessica had merely told her father that ‘a nice young man’ had pushed her out of the path of the stage. When she learned that her father had been involved in Johnny’s beating she unleashed a tirade that surprised her father with its vehemence. It was then that she told him it was Johnny who had saved her. Thomas realised that he owed his daughter’s life to a man he had nearly killed and who was aiming to kill him. Jessica was not going to forgive him in a hurry and he was certain that Madrid would never forgive him.”
“And then there was the issue of the water. Turner was still holding hard about the water, but the other ranchers, whilst not conceding defeat, had backed off slightly after the legal problems some of them had had over Johnny’s beating. They were not going to go outside the law again to solve the situation.”
“Turner had obviously lost the services of his hired gun – Madrid would be laid up for weeks to come. Turner had not made it clear whether he would hire another gunfighter. The town and ranchers waited in a state of nervous anticipation to see which direction he would take.”
“Then the bombshell hit. A man, claiming to be Zac’s estranged son, arrived in town. With him came a lawyer and court papers proclaiming him to be the lawful owner of Oak Valley. Judge Driscoll took several days to peruse the papers and had several conversations with the lawyer. Finally he announced that he was satisfied that Winston Turner was not the rightful owner of Oak Valley, and ordered that the deeds be signed over to Zac’s son, Henry. Winston was devastated but eventually admitted that Henry was his uncle’s son. Henry had had a major disagreement with his father and left home at the age of fourteen. Zac hadn’t seen him since, but maintained the belief, until his death, that Henry would return. With the departure of Winston and his henchmen went the threat of the range war. Henry turned out to be a man in the image of his father – water rights were restored to all the ranches and harmony again returned to Limestone.”
“Harmony everywhere that is, except in the Thompson house. We were tending a caged cougar, hurting and mad.”
The first two weeks were all right as Johnny was heavily sedated. But once he regained his senses our problems began. He was… um, shall we say, rather reluctant to take the medicine the doctor prescribed for him.”
“ I was in the kitchen the first time Maudie tried to give him his medication. I heard an almighty crash from Johnny’s room and when I rushed in I found Maudie lying on the floor with her back to the dresser. I was seething; nobody treated any woman like that, let alone my wife. I grabbed Johnny by the collar and was ready to haul him out of that bed, regardless of his condition. But Maudie pulled me away; she had tears in her eyes but was hopping mad. She told me to leave Johnny alone, saying that he was badly hurt and wasn’t responsible for his actions. I was dumbfounded; in Maudie’s eyes I was in the wrong, not Johnny.”
Johnny remembered this incident with shame. Maudie had approached him with the medication on a tray. She had had no idea as to what his reaction would be, and was totally unprepared for the vicious swipe at the tray he had made with his right arm, sending both the contents and Maudie flying. She had fallen back, toppling over an occasional table and landed with her back crashing against the dresser. Maudie had lain there slightly stunned until Mac had burst into the room.
Johnny, listening to Mac’s tale, could still see the look of enmity on Mac’s face as he took in the bedroom scene and then grabbed him. Johnny couldn’t recall ever having seen anybody so angry and had felt a pang of fear in anticipation of what Mac might do, being unable to defend himself against the stronger man. Maudie’s defence of him had taken him by surprise.
Although Johnny had been only sixteen he was by then quite a hardened gunman, but he had never harmed a woman. His mother had instilled certain values in him during his childhood and one of them was to respect women. But he had reacted instinctively, remembering the time he was ill as a child. He had been so sick: his mouth so full of ulcers and his throat so raw that he could not swallow the medicine. The vile tasting syrup had therefore been forced into his mouth and his mouth held closed by his well-meaning mother until he had eventually swallowed. This happened three times daily for nearly a week until he was better… and as a result Johnny had an unconscionable fear of medicine. He recalled yelling at Maudie as he lashed out, but could not remember what he said – (probably just as well) he thought ruefully.
“To give Johnny credit he did apologise to Maudie in a fashion. He said that he didn’t mean to hit her, but if she hadn’t been trying to poison him it wouldn’t have happened at all. We had no idea why Johnny reacted so violently to the thought of taking the medicine, and although the tray ended up on the floor several more times and Maudie was able to avoid falling again, she was unable to get Johnny to take any medicine.”
“Unfortunately Johnny is still reluctant to take medicine, but I am glad to say that although he is difficult he is not so volatile in his refusal of medication.” advised Murdoch, casting an affectionate look towards his younger son.
remained quiet but looked thoughtfully at Johnny, who was gazing studiously at a
knot in the floorboards. (What could have happened to make you so
apprehensive about taking medication, brother?) he mused.
“So we resorted to more devious methods.”
Johnny raised his head and looked at Mac and Maudie with surprise.
Maudie smiled sadly at him, “You didn’t really think I’d given up on you, did you? It was vitally important that you have that medication and you obviously weren’t going to take it voluntarily. So we doctored your meals. Luckily you were able to eat and were hungry enough to not notice any strange taste.”
Mac continued whilst he held Johnny’s gaze. “For three weeks Maudie suffered your rudeness and verbal abuse. For one so young you had quite a handle on cursing in both English and Spanish. Neither Maudie nor I spoke Spanish, which is probably just as well, if the English ones were anything to go by, the things you called us! I don’t know why, or how, but Maudie persisted with you. Whenever I raised the issue she would simply say ‘Hope, Mac. The boy is hurting and doesn’t know how to cope with it.’”
Mac at this stage turned back to Murdoch. “Maudie spent every waking moment tending Johnny. She changed dressings, fed him, bathed him, read to him – not that he was interested - cleaned the room and put fresh flowers in each day. Each time she changed the linen she scented it with lavender oil. She totally ignored his outbursts and had many a one sided conversation, telling him about our life, never mentioning his past. Johnny, in spite of his antagonism, was treated like the son we never had.”
Johnny thought back to those three weeks. His injuries had begun to heal slowly. The bruises had dissipated first. But his face had been so badly injured that it was several weeks before he could speak and see clearly. But he had been lucky; there were no lasting scars or injuries. What was it that Maudie had told him one day as she was dressing the cuts on his face? ‘Don’t worry, Johnny my boy, there won’t be a mark on that devilishly handsome face of yours.’
The ribs had been slower, and of course the broken collarbone and arm had caused a great deal of discomfort. But the worst was the pain from the surgery. That ordeal had taken its toll, he was very weak and his body had had to recover from and adjust to the removal of his spleen.
Not since the age of twelve had he had to rely on another person. The young Johnny Madrid was used to being in charge, and the feeling of weakness and helplessness had not sat well on him. Accordingly all those around him had suffered his anger and frustration, not to mention pain. Johnny realised with regret that Maudie was the one that had suffered the most. All the abuse he had hurled at her, the shouting, the physical danger he had placed her in as he sent trays containing medications or meals flying. In spite of it all she had persevered, ignoring his tantrums, caring for him, talking to him even when he refused to answer – all throughout she had remained calm and unperturbed by his behaviour.
But not so Mac. Johnny was well aware that Mac had been close to breaking point numerous times. In those first few weeks Johnny would awaken sometimes to find Mac standing over him, anger in his countenance, veins angrily throbbing at the side of his neck and fists tightly balled - the man obviously trying to control his desire to haul him out or bed and inflict physical pain on him. The only time Mac had threatened him, however, was that day when Johnny had hit Maudie as she brought in the medicine. The voice had been so quiet that Johnny had barely heard him, but it was a voice loaded with menace. “If you ever hurt my wife again boy, I swear on God’s Holy Book that you will not live to see the next sunrise. Lawman or no lawman. Do you understand?” Johnny had merely nodded.
Johnny had often wondered why he had not been turned out of the Thompson house, his behaviour and ingratitude early on had certainly warranted such. But now, listening to Mac and Maudie, it suddenly became clear. Despite Johnny’s appalling behaviour Maudie would not have let her husband kick him out. And such was Mac’s devotion to his wife and his trust in her judgement, he allowed Johnny to remain in their house.
Whilst her husband was speaking Maudie’s mind returned to that very trying time. Johnny had been so ill but so angry. That a boy of his age could harbour so much anger and mistrust had staggered her. What a life he must have led. She had been shocked when he had hit her but her instinct told her that it was an involuntary action. That was why she had stopped Mac. She knew that her husband would do as she asked, although he probably wanted to rip Johnny limb from limb.
She had to admit that although she had always remained calm in the presence of the boy, his cutting words and actions had caused some tears in the privacy of her bedroom. The few times that Mac had found her upset had required some very persuasive words on her part to stop him from turning the young gunfighter out of the house, injured or not. She admired and respected Mac’s trust in her: although he was witnessing an angry and rebellious young boy hurling abuse at his wife he controlled his temper and allowed her to care for the youngster in the way she had seen fit. It could not have been easy for him.
“Maudie went to no end of trouble to provide Johnny with whatever he wanted. When he expressed his displeasure about a meal, complaining loudly that he’d rather have refried beans, or tortillas or something other than what was being served Maudie would quietly retreat and the next meal served would be something that Johnny had ever so politely requested! Many pleas were made to neighbours and friends for recipes of dishes of which we had barely heard. I must admit my tastebuds were treated to a variety of flavours. As the weeks went by Johnny’s derogatory comments on the food grew less, and occasionally a begrudging compliment was paid on a meal.”
“It became evident that Johnny had a sweet tooth. Maudie made a variety of desserts and cakes, but the one that Johnny seemed to be especially taken with was her chocolate custard cake. Once she discovered that this was his favourite it appeared quite regularly! After all the complaints Johnny had made you can imagine our surprise when one day Johnny thanked Maudie for making the cake. Barely audible but it was something. The cake appeared again the next day and so did another thank you, accompanied this time by a small shy smile.”
“This seemed to be the breakthrough Maudie had been seeking. She set about caring for Johnny and her tasks around the house with renewed enthusiasm.”
“By the end of three weeks Johnny was able to get out of bed for short periods. This seemed to improve his temper slightly, although he was still surly to everyone he met.” He smiled at Johnny, “Except to a certain visitor!”
“Jess.” murmured Johnny.
“Yes, Jess. She had been a constant visitor, inquiring after you and helping Maudie where possible. Maudie wouldn’t let her in to tend you though, your language wasn’t for the ears of a young lady.”
Johnny felt the unwanted warmth in his cheeks and dropped his head, but not before the hosts and his family saw the telltale reddening spreading up his face. He knew Jess had been a visitor to the house, he had heard her lilting voice from the adjoining room although he had been unable to distinguish the words spoken.
He had only heard that voice the once before, when he had saved her from the stage. But her voice had been indelibly engraved in his mind - a soft musical voice with a wonderful cadence. He had had an overwhelming desire to see her again and hear that voice but in his constant state of pain and resentment his thinking had been irrational, his only thought being that she was deliberately avoiding him as she had not actually come into his room.
“Jessica’s father had been very reluctant to allow her contact with you, after all you were still the young man originally hired to kill him, but she was a very stubborn and determined young lady. There wasn’t a problem when she wasn’t allowed to see you but later he insisted that Bella accompany her.”
Johnny recalled with a smile, that Jess’s Aunt Bella had chaperoned Jess whenever she had visited. She was unobtrusive, but always hovering in the background.
“Jess at first was a bit reserved, unsure as to what role to play. She was drawn to Johnny, he was handsome and exciting: totally different to any of the young men she had previously met. Not that there were that many! Thomas had kept a tight leash on his pretty vivacious daughter. But Johnny was also a notorious killer – and everything she had read or heard about gunfighters suggested to her that he must be cold-hearted and someone of whom to be wary. But her teenage curiosity won out and to her surprise, and mine I might add, she found something other than what she expected.”
The corners of Johnny’s mouth lifted into a smile as he now thought of that first meeting. He had been pleasantly surprised when, on his first day out of bed, Jess had entered the Thompsons’ parlour. She had drawn an armchair close to the settee where he was ensconced with blankets bundled around him and had sat down, wrapping the skirt of the pretty floral dress she was wearing carefully around her legs. He was lying there on the settee trying to recover from the arduous journey he had just undertaken. It had only been a few yards from the bedroom to the parlour but it had seemed like a hundred, making him aware of just how weak he had become.
They had both been tongue-tied, neither knowing what to say. Although he had been only sixteen he had had some experience with women and had never had a problem talking to them. But his silver tongue had failed him there with the pretty teenager. It took Maudie, armed with glasses of milk and plates of cakes, undoubtedly iced with liberal amounts of painkillers, to break the ice. As they munched the conversation just came naturally: Jess telling of her life on the ranch, the enjoyment she got from working cattle, her love of horses and joy of handling foals and being able to work with the horse-breakers; and he sharing his love of horses and the outdoors.
“Jess and her Aunt Bella were regular visitors, in fact I do believe they spent more time at our place than they did at the ranch! As Johnny was still confined to bed or the settee Jess kept him amused by playing games of checkers, cards and even teaching him to play chess. He was a quick learner and was soon pushing Jess to her limits. She was an avid reader and would tell Johnny tales from books she had read. Each night, after I got home and Johnny was tucked up in bed, Maudie would regale me with the day’s events. It was patently obvious that the visits from Jess were having a profound effect on our surly and insolent young lodger.”
“Johnny was changing.” Maudie interjected. “He appeared to be more relaxed, happier. He was certainly not as rude and churlish. After Jess’s visits his face would be more animated and his attitude would be almost cheerful. On the odd occasion Jess was unable to come he would become quiet, withdrawn and less co-operative. When she came next it would be like a blanket lifting, the new Johnny would be back. Jess was also an accomplished raconteur and I cannot tell you of my joy when, after a few weeks, I heard laughter coming from the parlour. Johnny and Jess were both laughing at some anecdote Jess had told.”
“The change in Johnny’s attitude made Maudie’s task of looking after him much easier. He was more co-operative, except where medications were involved. Maudie received the occasional compliment after a meal, or a quiet thank you for some task that she had undertaken for him. There was certainly less tension in the house. As the weeks progressed I found myself beginning to like Johnny in spite of myself!”
“Johnny made steady progress and after those three weeks of rest was able to get up and move around. Although this was pleasing it also created a problem. Though now mobile Johnny was not able to do much, being still incapacitated with the injured collarbone and arm and quite weak. Jess’s visits helped but we were running out of ideas to keep a very bored young man occupied.”
Both Murdoch and Scott smiled at this last statement from Mac. They knew first hand the consequences of a bored Johnny, and could only imagine the problems caused by an inactive sixteen-year-old Johnny Madrid.
As a youth Scott had been an avid reader, the popular English novelist Charles Dickens being one of his favourites. Dickens, visiting America for the second time in 1868, had been staying with William Beals, the senior proprietor of the Boston Post and an old family friend of Harlan Garrett. Scott could still recall the thrill of meeting Dickens when his grandfather and he had been invited to dinner at the Beals’ home. The news of Dickens’ death at fifty-eight in 1870 had taken the literary world by surprise but the masterpieces he had written would endure. From Dickens’ magnum opus ‘David Copperfield’ Scott recalled the prophetic line that Miss Murdstone had uttered as she looked into the pickle-jar, ‘The boy will be idle there, and idleness is the root of all evil’. (That line could have been written for you, my young brother.) thought Scott with amusement.
“Johnny was restricted to town as he was not able to ride or travel in a carriage, the jarring would have exacerbated his injuries. So the days were spent with Jess showing him around the town or by the two of them spending many hours sitting on the porch or under the large white elm in the garden. All under the watchful eye of Jess’s Aunt Bella of course. Thomas Catto was certain that Johnny would have experienced much of what life had to offer although of tender years, and was not entirely happy with his daughter’s association with the youthful gunfighter. But with his sister keeping an eye on the youngsters he capitulated to Jess’s desire to assist in Johnny’s recovery.”
Johnny again felt his face reddening; by the age of sixteen there had not been much that he had not known about life and women, but it had been different with Jess. For the first time in his young life he had been treated like an equal and they had just been two young people getting to know each other. He had felt comfortable in her presence and had found himself telling her things that no other living soul had known. She was becoming more than a friend, she was a confidante.
Even as a child he had had no close friends. And later on he had never stayed in one place long enough to develop a closeness with anybody. (Not that many people relished the idea of forging a friendship with a gunfighter.) he thought dispiritedly.
“Jess introduced him to the young people in the town. Many of her friends were intrigued with Johnny and the reputation that had preceded him. However I must say there was less enthusiasm on the part of some of their parents and a few of the youngsters were not allowed to fraternise with Johnny. I’m afraid old habits die hard and Johnny was still a ‘persona non grata’ with many townspeople. They felt nervous around him and feared for their children.”
“Day by day his strength returned, but that was not the only change. During this time Johnny had mellowed. Maudie and he were becoming quite close and it seemed that my original concerns that she would be hurt were unwarranted. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that Johnny had quite a wicked sense of humour and was a master of repartee, and I found that I was enjoying his company more and more. By the time the cast came off his arm we felt we had a ‘normal’ young man living with us. Gone was the rebellious and angry youngster that had been brought into house just six weeks before and had made our life a misery. Mind you at times that six weeks had felt like six months!”
It was Maudie’s acceptance of him that had been the key, reflected Johnny. She had been unwavering in her belief that he was deserving of her attention, and had acted upon that belief, despite his best efforts to convince her otherwise. Previous experiences had taught him that he was unworthy of love or caring, he had been ridiculed, despised, spurned and abused all his life. Confusion and bewilderment had ruled his emotions at the uncustomary treatment Maudie had afforded him.
Maudie had been right when she had said that he had been hurting and didn’t know how to cope with it. But as the time passed her unfailing willingness to care for him, her unselfishness and kind-heartedness had won him over, much to his surprise at the time. He had felt the stirrings of emotions that he didn’t know he had. He found himself beginning to care, not only about others but also about what they thought of him.
And she had asked for nothing in return – except perhaps his realisation of his own self-worth.
Johnny’s mind cast back to the first day Maudie had hugged him. At dawn’s first light, he had crept out to the garden. He didn’t want any prying eyes to notice what he was about to do – he just might have to shoot anyone who saw him! It had been six weeks since the Thompsons had taken him into their home. Six weeks of pain, frustration and anger. But over the last few weeks there had been a strange emotion burgeoning – gratitude. An emotion of which he was unfamiliar, and he had had no idea of how to show his appreciation for and to return Maudie’s kindness.
He had previously spoken to Jessica about how to express his thanks to Maudie. He had no money to buy a gift, besides which he had had no experience in choosing gifts for anybody, let alone women. After giving the problem some thought Jessica had come up with a simple solution – as Maudie loved her garden plants, especially lavender - she suggested using some of the plants to make an aromatic posy. She even gave him one of her satin hair ribbons with which to tie the suggested plants – lavender, rosemary and lad’s love. As he collected the plants he had thought of the changes Maudie had wrought in him. There he was, Johnny Madrid, picking flowers! If it became common knowledge imagine what it would do to his reputation! But he had managed to return to his room unnoticed. When Maudie had entered the kitchen to prepare breakfast she had been astounded and overwhelmed to find Johnny’s gift on the table.
He had found that a sudden lack of resolve and unanticipated shyness had resulted in his inability to actually hand Maudie the posy in person. After she found it she had sought him out, and with tears in her eyes had silently hugged him. He had at first tried to draw away from the unexpected physical contact but Maudie drew him back and to his surprise he had enjoyed the embrace.
Johnny, sitting in the Thompson’s parlour, now realised with great sorrow that he couldn’t remember the last time someone had shown him any affection prior to that hug. Not even his mother – oh, when he was a young child she had hugged him and told him that she loved him, but as he grew older she became more distant and cold.
It was no coincidence that her indifference to him began around the time she started entertaining ‘gentlemen’ callers. They had treated him with disdain, Mexican and gringo alike. And she had let them: she had stood back and watched, as he had been ridiculed for his mixed blood. Worse still had been her apathy and callous disregard for his well-being when he had been physically abused by some of her ‘acquaintances’. When they had lived with his stepfather it had been no different. Johnny was well aware that he had been a rebellious child and had been involved in many fights, mostly originating because of his Mexican heritage. Because of his behaviour, instead of loving embraces all he had received were rebukes and beatings from his stepfather.
“We were disturbed to notice that Johnny appeared to be getting a little restless. Jess was visiting less often, her father had put his foot down now that Johnny was well again, and had insisted that she spend more time on the ranch. There was nothing in town to occupy Johnny, and even if there had been employment available in Limestone I doubt that any of the citizens would have offered Johnny Madrid a job.”
“Maudie was fretting that Johnny would leave. As he was recovering I had broached the subject with her, knowing that Johnny would not stay indefinitely, but it was to no avail. It was a topic that my dear wife would not even discuss.”
“Then one day Thomas and Jess visited. Jess had been aware that Johnny was becoming unsettled and needless to say wanted him to stay as well. She had been working on her father to take Johnny on as a ranch hand, his arguments that a gunfighter would be more of a hindrance than a help falling on deaf ears. She finally wore him down and he reluctantly offered Johnny work on his ranch.”
“Johnny himself was hesitant, saying that he knew nothing about ranching. He was a gunfighter and that was all he knew.”
Mac glanced at Johnny, noting the slight smile playing about his lips. Johnny had flared when Jess had interrupted by saying that he could work with the horses as he had broken and trained the pinto he had ridden into town. He had stated in no uncertain terms that he had told her that in confidence, but upon seeing her crestfallen face had softened his voice, apologising to her and saying that he supposed he could give it a try.
“With Maudie and Jess pleading their case with him Johnny rather ungraciously accepted the offer and arrangements were made. Johnny would continue to live with us rather than in the bunkhouse at the ranch. We felt that it might be tempting fate if he were to move into the bunkhouse with a bunch of men who were less than enthusiastic about their new co-worker. Thomas agreed to cut him some slack about the time he started work, giving him time to ride out to the ranch. Even so he left home at dawn and got back at dusk.”
“He did indeed help the horse-breaker with the weaning, handling and breaking, but also worked with the cattle. It was strenuous work and Johnny was unaccustomed to physical work such as he found himself undertaking.”
It certainly was physical work thought Johnny ruefully. For the first week or so he would arrive back, eat supper with Mac and Maudie and then crawl into bed bone-tired. However the work became easier and to his amazement he enjoyed it.
“Later on, after he had got used to the work, Johnny and I would play chess each night. I came to regret Johnny’s sharp mind as I began to lose regularly. I had rather fancied myself as a chess player but met my match with Johnny! Your son has many hidden talents, Murdoch.”
Murdoch now understood where Johnny had learned to play such a challenging game of chess. He had been surprised to discover, not long after his boys’ return to Lancer, that Johnny could play chess well. He had expected Scott to play but the relaxed approach Johnny took to the game was deceptive. He had out played both Scott and himself numerous times, appearing to be making simple moves and then springing a trap which usually ended the game. Johnny may not have had the education that his elder brother had enjoyed but he had a good mind and was nobody’s fool.
“All went well for over three months. Johnny worked hard during the week but spent the weekends with Jess or with Maudie and I. One Saturday Johnny and I were dining in the café as Maudie had gone to visit an ailing friend at a ranch just out of town. As we walked out onto the boardwalk who should we see alighting from the stage but Winston Turner.”
“I headed over, with Johnny following me, to find out why the man had come back. He was certainly not welcome in Limestone and I could see no good coming from his return. I should have known better than to allow the boy to go with me, it was a very poor lapse of judgement. When I reached Turner he turned and when he laid eyes on Johnny he exploded. It was like a stick of dynamite being ignited. He launched himself at Johnny, who was slightly behind me, so I stepped between them thinking to stop the man’s furious attack.”
“I felt a blinding pain in my side as I locked eyes with the wild maniacal eyes of Turner. The man had unleashed a fury that was unbelievable. I was staring at a madman. It was then that I felt another excruciating pain, it all happened so fast I was unaware of what was happening. Through the pain I heard an explosion and Turner slumped to the ground in front of me, a bloodied dagger clutched in his hand.”
“I was fearful that Johnny had also been stabbed and turned to him. He was standing there, smoking gun in hand with a look on his face that I had never seen. A coldness in the eyes with no sign of the youth I knew in the grim lines set on a man’s face. I knew then that I was looking at Johnny Madrid in his gunfighter guise.”
“All of a sudden the icy look melted and the youthful features returned. Johnny returned the Colt to its holster and reached out to hold me up just as I felt myself slipping to the ground. He helped me to the doctor’s office and stayed with me whilst the doc stitched me up. The wounds weren’t serious luckily but I would be off my feet for a few days.”
“We were at home when Maudie burst into the house, having heard about the incident when she took the buggy back to the livery stable. It took a while to assure her that I was not fatally wounded.”
His eyes met those of his wife, and once again he was amazed at the warmth and love that he saw in the hazel orbs. Not for the first time he wondered what he had done to deserve such a woman.
“Johnny had retired to his room when we had arrived back and did not appear when Maudie got home. After ensuring that I was all right she asked about Johnny. I said that he was unhurt and explained what had happened. I left out the part about the change in Johnny however, just saying that he killed Turner to save me.”
“Maudie went into his room but was soon beside me with a worried look on her face. I went with her and found Johnny lying on the bed staring at the ceiling. Maudie sat on the bed beside him and tried to rouse him. Eventually she turned his face to look at her. She asked him what the problem was and he finally whispered his answer with a stricken look on his face. ‘I nearly got Mac killed.’ That was utter rubbish of course and we told him so, in fact if he hadn’t shot Turner who knows what may have happened. However we were unable to convince him. But by the next morning he was his usual self and we thought all was well.”
"In due course we learned that Turner had thought of nothing else but revenge after he lost the legal battle for Oak Valley. He harboured a monstrous grudge, and like a wound festering inside him it burst out. The man was insane and he had come back to Limestone to exact his revenge. Johnny wasn’t the target, his cousin was, but at the sight of Johnny the man’s mind snapped. All his hatred was transferred to Johnny who instantly became the cause of his problems and had to be eliminated. I just happened to get in the way. There were no charges for Johnny to answer as he had killed the man to save me.”
“Johnny continued working for Catto. He had been there four months when one morning he didn’t appear for breakfast. Maudie went to wake him up and to her distress found his bed empty. All his belongings were gone and when I checked the livery stable so was his horse.”
“To say that I was surprised and not a little
disappointed in his disappearance would be an understatement. Maudie of course
was heartbroken, but was pragmatic. ‘That boy has changed, Mac, there must be
a good reason why he left without telling us.’ was all she said when I
expressed my disappointment in his leaving without so much as a by your leave.
She had developed quite a relationship with Johnny after the initial surliness
and distrust he had shown us. He had seemed quite contented and relaxed living
with us, and Thomas had mentioned to us on numerous occasions that Johnny was a
hard worker and was a skilful horseman. Thomas had also accepted the growing
relationship between Jessica and Johnny.”
“I rode out to Catto’s to see if they knew
anything about where Johnny may have gone. But I was the bearer of sad tidings
however as they knew absolutely nothing of his disappearance. Thomas had made
plans to take Johnny with him that day to look at some cattle he wished to
purchase from a neighbouring ranch. He had had no inkling of any unrest in
Johnny who had, we all thought, got over the melancholy he had felt after our
run in with Turner. It came as an immense surprise to Catto and a complete shock
to Jess. I departed leaving a fuming father trying to calm his inconsolable
Mac directed a rather pointed look at Johnny. “I
don’t think you thought of the repercussions of your leaving without word, did
Johnny’s mumbled answer was accompanied by a brief
glance at Mac.
honesty I really wanted to go after him but I could not justify that course of
action with the townspeople, some of whom, sad to say, thought we were well rid
of him. The majority however had developed a liking, or perhaps tolerance might
be a better word, for Johnny. He was not scared of hard work, and this along
with his sense of humour and spontaneity had resulted in many a change of heart.
They may have still been a little wary of him but in a perverse sort of way
found him charming. So instead I made some enquiries but to no avail.”
“Three days later a parcel arrived at the Post
Office addressed to Maudie. Inside was a bar of lavender soap and a note that
simply read ‘Thank you’.”
“I still have that soap, Johnny,” Maudie said
quietly, “I will always treasure it.”
She was rewarded with a slightly embarrassed smile from
“Jess also received a letter but never said what
Johnny wrote. Whatever it was though seemed to ease her pain of Johnny going.”
"Maudie was hurt when Johnny left without
explanation. But in her typical indomitable fashion she recovered and then asked
me to make enquiries about him, saying ‘I don’t put all that effort into
something to just forget about it, Mac.’”
“So I wired a number of lawmen and asked for
information to be sent to me.” Mac paused in his dissertation and addressed
Johnny. “In this way we were able to keep track of your exploits, boy.”
“Maudie missed him of course. But knowing where he was, or had been, and what he was up to, was some comfort. Not only did we get news from the lawmen but there were numerous newspaper articles that passed our way as well, Johnny’s reputation was growing and the newspapers loved it. It was all old news though and Johnny had always moved on before we knew where he had been. Maudie would be despondent upon hearing of the men killed and would cry when she heard or read of any injuries Johnny received in gunfights. She would again cry, but this time tears of joy, when news of his compassionate deeds filtered through via the telegraphs received from town sheriffs.”
Murdoch’s surprised look awoke a sudden understanding in Maudie. “You don’t know about all the good things Johnny has done, do you?” she asked quietly.
Two sets of blue eyes met briefly before Johnny lowered his from his father’s gaze. “No, I …” faltered Murdoch. Therein lay the truth. He didn’t know anything about his youngest son other than the details in those damnable Pinkerton reports, and hearsay about Johnny’s reputation as Johnny Madrid. A wave of regret washed over Murdoch, if only … if only he had found his son earlier.
When Maria had left with their dark-haired toddler he had spent months looking for them. He now wondered how a Mexican woman with a young child could have vanished so quickly without trace. Had he done all he could to find them? Now, in his heart of hearts he knew the answer. No, he had not. Why hadn’t he sent the Pinkertons after Maria and Johnny when Maria left, instead of engaging the agency years later? Maybe… maybe they would have found her. No … there was no maybe about it; he knew now that if he had contacted a fellow Scot, Allan Pinkerton, and his newly formed Pinkerton National Detective Agency, Maria would have been found and his son returned to him. Pinkerton's agents took on the most difficult assignments and the agents always got their man (and woman), even in those early days.
He was brought back to the present by Maudie’s voice. “In the time Johnny was with us he came to realise that he had a conscience. After he left there were many acts of kindness as well as …” Maudie couldn’t bring herself to articulate the words ‘the killings’. “You don’t know about the time he helped an impoverished family do you? Their credit was stopped at the general store because the husband was injured and couldn’t work. Johnny payed their overdue account. Or the week he spent on a widow’s farm helping to plough her fields? Or the homeless kids he fed? Or the many other kind deeds he undertook?”
Murdoch looked at Johnny but the young man had his eyes to the floor and was clearly embarrassed. “No, I didn’t know.” Murdoch whispered filled with guilt over how badly he had misjudged his son. He doubted that he could ever be able to make up for the mistrust he had felt towards Johnny.
Mac continued, “In the time Johnny was with us he never
mentioned family, except to say that he had none. That, of course, made Maudie
mother him even more. She is such a soft touch for any kid that needs some love
and caring. We were under the impression that Johnny had no family so the
greatest of joys was when we heard that he had been saved from that firing squad
and had returned to his father and brother.”
Scott now comprehended Maudie’s statement about meeting them ‘at last’, when they had arrived earlier that evening.
There was a pregnant pause that allowed Murdoch and Scott to absorb this new information about their son and brother. Then Murdoch cleared his throat and turned to look his youngest son.
“And now young man I think you owe these good people an explanation.”
Johnny was surprised by the gentle voice of his father. He raised his eyes to look questioningly at Murdoch.
“You disappeared without a word, don’t you think after all they did they deserve to know why?”
Johnny nodded and taking a deep breath told Mac and Maudie what they had wanted to know for six years.
The pain and sadness Maudie saw in Johnny’s eyes mirrored her feelings about Johnny’s disappearance all those years ago.
She barely heard the whispered words “I didn’t want to leave, you know that don’t you?”
“Then why did you? We thought you were happy with us.” she asked quietly.
The inner turmoil Johnny was undergoing was clearly expressed in his anguished gaze. “I was, very. But I . . . I . . . I just had to.” he stammered.
“Why did you just have to?” Maudie gently probed.
The agonised look in Johnny’s eyes took her breath away, but they were all past the point of no return by now. For Johnny’s sake as well as theirs they needed to hear the reason why he fled Limestone.
“Johnny, why did you have to?” Maudie persisted.
Johnny met Maudie’s gaze before turning away and blurting out “’Cause if I’d stayed you or Mac would’a been hurt.” The rising inflection on the last word left the listeners in no doubt as to how difficult Johnny was finding this account of his past actions.
No one spoke a word. For several minutes the silence in the house was deafening, only to be broken by the sudden single strike of the ornately carved oak grandfather clock that stood in the hallway.
Finally Mac found his voice. “But we were hurt, Johnny. We were hurt really badly when you left.”
“I don’t mean that kind of hurt.” Johnny’s voice was rising. “I mean you both could’a been hurt real bad . . . or even killed.” The look that he cast at the Thompsons beseeched them to understand without further explanation. “Isn’t that enough?”
“No, Johnny, it isn’t.” Mac’s voice was kind but firm. A thoughtful look crossed his face. “Does this go back to that run in with Turner? You know that it wasn’t your fault that I got stabbed. I was just doing my job. And we certainly thought no less of you because you killed him. I thought we’d got over all that?”
The scathing look Mac received from Johnny would have withered lesser men. But Mac Thompson had weathered the best a sixteen-year-old Johnny Madrid had to offer and he had no intention of being bested by the now twenty-two year old Johnny Lancer.
“Of course it was my fault. You saw as well as everybody else what happened when he laid eyes on me when he got off’a that stage. If you hadn’a stepped between us he would’a stuck me with that knife o’his. You probably saved my life, again, and got hurt in the process. If I hadn’t been there it wouldn’t have happened even if you was doin’ ya’ job. But no, that’s not what I mean.”
“Then what do you mean? Tell us Johnny.” countered Mac.
Johnny glared at Mac. “You ain’t gonn’a give up ’til y’a hear all the sordid details are y’a?” he asked with a grim smile.
Considering it a rhetorical question Mac refrained from answering.
“All right, I’ll tell y’a. With you both and Jess keepin’ on at me for months on end about how worthwhile my life was, and then tellin’ me that killin’ Turner weren’t my fault an’ all, I guess I was feelin’ as if I weren’t some low-life, I weren’t just a mestizo cold-blooded killer.”
Not daring to look at his father he was unaware of the pain in Murdoch’s expression as he watched his dark-haired son reliving this period of his short life.
His brother, raised in an upper class Boston environment, was staggered and appalled that one so young could have thought so little of himself.
“It all fell apart about three weeks later. Catto had sent me into town to get some supplies and just as I’d finished loadin’ some lumber two fellas I knew rode into town. I knew them and they knew me but we sure weren’t friends.”
Johnny allowed himself another grim smile. “In fact the last time I’d seen them they had me by the collar jammed up against a wall threatenin’ to break my right arm if I didn’t get out of town quick.”
Seeing the confused looks on the faces of his audience he further explained. “They’d taken a job and thought I was there to take it from them. I was just passin’ through but they weren’t in an understandin’ mood. They weren’t all that fast, preferred back shootin’ and didn’t exactly play by the rules. Didn’t give nobody a chance to draw first. I was younger and faster than them and they saw me as a threat. Said the next time they saw me they’d kill me. Knowin’ how low-down and mean they were I believed ‘em. I ain’t ashamed t’a say that I left town quick. I wasn’t lookin’ for trouble.”
“Anyway, when I saw them in Limestone I knew there’d be trouble if they found out I was there. As they’d gone into the saloon I managed to get out of town with the wagon without them knowin’. Luckily I didn’t have to pass the saloon. I stewed on it all the way back to the ranch. They weren’t too particular who they got in their sights; in the past they’d killed women and children without turnin’ a hair. Anyone who got in their way was fair game.”
“If they wanted me dead it wouldn’t matter who was with me or where I was. You’d already got hurt intervenin’ on my behalf, Mac and I couldn’t risk that happenin’ again. Only with these two you’d’a been dead. I couldn’t have lived with myself if I’d got you killed.”
Looking earnestly at Maudie he continued, “But even worse still if I’d been with you or Jess, God knows what would’a happened. Some of the stories I’d heard about what they did to women, I couldn’t’ take the chance of them finding me with either you or Jess. They wouldn’t have hesitated to kill me then . . .”
Johnny left the sentence unfinished, he couldn’t bear even now to think of what atrocities could have befallen Maudie or Jess if they had been with him when Seth Creever and Billy Jackson finally ended his life. He had no doubt that they would have given him no chance, a bullet in the back would have been his likely end. They were unmitigated cowards without an ounce of mercy in their bodies. Word was that Creever had even killed his own mother when she had had the audacity to refuse to hide him out after he had raped and murdered the fifteen year old daughter of their nearest neighbours.
“Even if they hadn’t killed me, and left town without knowing I was there, who’s to say the same thing wouldn’t happen again and again with some other acquaintances of mine?”
“You don’t make too many friends as a hired gun.” Johnny said with feeling. “I was young and fast and there were plenty who would’a loved to see me with my toes turned up. Creever and Jackson wouldn’t be the last to threaten my newfound life, and I couldn’t take the chance of anyone getting’ hurt because of me. I didn’t have a choice.”
“I couldn’t stay, I wanted to, I longed to, but I couldn’t. So I decided that I would leave that night. I hated leaving like I did. I knew that you’d try to talk me out of it if I mentioned what had happened and why I had to go. It was the hardest thing I’d ever had to do in my life, I owed you so much, and the only way I could think of repaying you was to keep you away from me and alive.”
The final choked words were “Can you forgive me?”
The emotion in the Thompsons’ parlour was palpable, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. There were unshed tears in Johnny’s eyes, and he felt no shame in feeling them slip down his cheeks unbidden. Maudie was openly crying, blotting the tears with a lavender-scented handkerchief. Her husband was surreptitiously wiping his eyes and blowing his nose. Scott’s eyes glistened whilst his father felt the tears roll down his face.
Murdoch thought despondently of how tragic it was that the only way his sixteen-year-old son could repay the couple that had saved his life was to stay away from them so that their lives could be spared. What had he and Maria done to their child? What an existence they had forced upon him through their inadequacies as a married couple. He couldn’t help but wonder if either of them could have foreseen the future they had ensured for their son what they would have done differently to save their marriage and safeguard Johnny from the life that he had had to endure. That there were faults on both sides was without doubt, he had spent too much of his time and energy building the ranch and ignoring the obvious misgivings of his wife. And she, instead of trying to talk to him, had taken the easy way out and left with their son. In the process they had condemned their son to a living hell.
Again the oak clock struck; the reverberations of the twelfth chime breaking his reverie. Maudie had moved closer to his youngest son and had his right hand between her two, stroking the back of it, answering Johnny’s question clearly. Words were not needed; actions spoke louder than words.
Murdoch clearing his throat broke the silence following Johnny’s emotive plea. His voice, sounded strange to him as he noted the time and suggested that they should take their leave. All present in the room knew that although they felt physically drained by the evening’s proceedings sleep would be hard to come by. Emotionally charged they would be in for a long night of restlessness reflecting on what had transpired that evening.
Farewelling their hosts the Lancers promised to visit them again before they departed Brownlow for the journey back home. Maudie giving Johnny an embrace that this time caused the young man no sign of embarrassment. Her whispered words were for Johnny’s ears only. “Look after yourself, Johnny dear. I hoped and prayed that you’d find happiness and my prayers have been answered. You’ve got a caring father and a devoted brother now. Enjoy your life, you deserve it.”
Johnny’s blue eyes misted over as he regarded the woman who had weathered the storm that was Johnny Madrid. The waters were calm now, allowing the reflection of Johnny Lancer to be clearly seen. He no longer felt repugnance when he saw his image. There could be no washing away of the past and the wrongs he had done, but the storm had passed and he hoped that there were only clear skies ahead.
He knew the life he now lived was in no small part due to this woman and her husband. Not only had they saved his life, but with them he had found some self-esteem and the realisation that he had a conscience and was capable of caring.
“How can I ever repay you?” he breathed. Looking into Maudie’s tear-welled eyes he saw the answer to his question. Knowing that he was happy and secure with his family was payment enough.
Scott, more formally, shook the hands of Mac and then Maudie, thanking them for the evening. Maudie surprised him however, when she reached up and kissed him lightly on the cheek, murmuring in his ear, “I know you’ll look out for your brother, won’t you? He’s something special.”
Looking at the woman who had befriended and loved his brother at a time when no one else cared, Scott could see the warmth and affection she felt for his younger brother.
She in turn noted the pride and tenderness in the blond Lancer’s blue eyes as he replied in a voice choking with emotion. “That he certainly is, Maudie, and never fear, I will do everything humanly possible to keep him safe.
Murdoch Lancer, in taking his leave of the Thompsons, shook Mac’s hand heartily. His grip in the handshake expressing his acknowledgement for the protection Mac had afforded his youngest son more eloquently than words ever could.
As Murdoch walked towards Maudie he thought of how grateful he was for the love and care she had given his boy – in the time of his son’s life where any affection of any kind would have been totally lacking.
Feeling slightly embarrassed he kissed Maudie lightly on the cheek, whispering a heartfelt thank you in her ear. “There are no words to express my thanks for what you did for my son, I owe you a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid fully. If ever you are in need of help, I beg of you please contact me and I will endeavour to help.”
The next morning three weary Lancer men made their way downstairs to meet Fred Barraclough before heading out to his ranch Broken Creek. Sleep had not come easily after the intense emotional barrage of the previous evening and they were all still suffering from both physical and mental tiredness.
Although dog-tired Johnny had lain in bed gazing at the faint outline of the ceiling rose made barely visible by the shaft of moonlight sneaking through the gap in the curtains. He had willed sleep to spirit him away from the thoughts churning in his mind but to no avail. He relived the events of six years ago and wondered whether he could have taken a different course of action but each time the answer was the same: he did what he had to do and that was that. Every event in his life since had been as a direct or indirect consequence of that decision he had made. Regrets abounded but so too did the knowledge that Mac and Maudie had survived, and that fact made all that had happened to him since worthwhile. Now he had the future to look forward to, a future with his brother and father, something he had never before envisioned in his wildest dreams. Sleep finally claimed him around four o’clock and he spent what was left of the night in dreamless sleep.
Until he had drifted into sleep around three Scott had lain on his side silently watching his brother in the bed on the other side of the room. The moonlight from the window under which Johnny’s bed was placed had highlighted the silhouette of his brother’s face. That Johnny was awake was evident but Scott refrained from talking to his brother, preferring instead to marvel at the youth discernable in his brother’s features. ‘His brother.’ What a nice ring those two words had to them. Growing up in Boston with his rather stuffy grandfather as his only family, Scott had often daydreamed of what it would be like to have a brother. His fantasies were of an altogether different brother however, he thought dryly. Never in his wildest imaginings would he have envisaged having a notorious gunfighter for a brother. But a better brother no man could ever have. After finally drifting into sleep fitful dreams of a teenage gunfighter battling insurmountable odds ensured that Scott’s sleep was not restful.
Murdoch had tossed and turned, unable to get comfortable in a bed that was just a little too short for his six foot six frame. His mind, replaying the images of his sixteen-year-old son fighting for his life in both real and imagined scenarios, repelled sleep. He finally succumbed around four-thirty; his final thoughts being of his youngest son sleeping in the next room. If the cattle they going to view in the morning were as good as they had heard he would send Johnny back with some hands to take them back to Lancer. In that way Johnny would be able to spend more time with the Thompsons, something from which they would all benefit.
The church bell calling early morning worshippers to the seven o’clock service awoke them. Wending their weary way down to the dining room they found that they were too tired to eat breakfast, so they endeavoured instead to revive themselves with strong black coffee. Having achieved this aim to a certain extent they waited in the hotel lobby for Barraclough to arrive.
A few minutes after the appointed meeting time a young man entered the hotel and went to the reception desk. The desk clerk pointed to the Lancers and the young man walked over to where they were sitting. He introduced himself as John Barraclough, son of the rancher they were to meet. His father had been unavoidably detained and sent his apologies and hoped that the Lancers would not mind postponing their meeting until the next day. After they had agreed the young man left leaving the three men in the lobby.
“Well, now what do we do?” asked Scott.
“I don’t know about you, son,” Murdoch replied to Scott, “But I’m heading back to my room. These tired old bones could do with a bit more rest.”
Before wearily climbing the stairs he added “Johnny, why don’t you go and see Mac and Maudie again. It’s a good opportunity to catch up without your brother and me eavesdropping. I’m sure they’d love another chance to talk to you.”
“I might just do that, Murdoch. Want’a come, Boston?”
“Oh no, brother. I think you need some time alone with the Thompsons. Besides I want to catch up with what’s happening in the world, I saw some newspapers in the dining room so I think I’ll just sit and read for a while.”
“Oh, I nearly forgot, Johnny,” came Murdoch’s voice from halfway up the stairs. “I would be delighted and honoured if Mac and Maudie would join us for dinner tonight at the hotel. Would you ask them and don’t take ‘no’ as an answer will you, son?” He left smiling with Johnny’s dismayed face etched in his mind, his youngest son was doubtlessly thinking of what further tales from his past would be revealed that evening.
As Johnny once again passed through the Thompsons’ gate the evocative scents of Maudie’s well-tended garden plants again assailed his senses. Memories once again stirred and he felt a strong sense of belonging.
When Maudie answered his knock on the door he was welcomed with no less enthusiasm than that of the evening before. Mac was about to leave for work but would be back for lunch and Maudie was planning on baking all morning, so Johnny found himself sitting at the kitchen table on a hardwood chair made more comfortable with a brightly patterned cushion. Resting both elbows on the table with his hands wrapped around a warm coffee cup he watched Maudie affectionately as she worked. As he sipped the freshly made brew Maudie chattered merrily away.
Sitting there, listening to Maudie as she pounded dough and mixed batters, the time peeled away like the apple skins Johnny found himself peeling for Maudie’s cinnamon scented apple pies. He was once again a sixteen year old engrossed in Maudie’s chatterings about life in general and Mac and himself in particular.
During his musings about the past in the early hours of that morning he had realised with some misgivings that he had not asked Mac and Maudie what had become of Jess. Now he had the opportunity to remedy that oversight.
He didn’t quite know how to ask about the girl he had left without a word of goodbye six years before. Deciding that being direct would be best he asked “Mrs. T., what about Jess?”
Maudie paused and looked at Johnny searchingly. He watched as she brushed a wisp of hair from her forehead with floury fingers, adding yet more flour to a face smudged with the white powder. She stood up straight and stretched back muscles tired from leaning over the table.
“You broke her heart, you know Johnny.” She stopped when she saw a pained and despondent look flicker across Johnny’s face before he lowered his head. She reached out a floury hand and touched his cheek, lifting his chin so that he was looking directly at her. “I’m not judging you, Johnny dear. I know you felt you had no choice, and you did what you did out of love.” she said gently. “But the fact remains that none of us knew why you left. Least of all a sixteen year old girl deeply in love.”
She smiled sadly at his surprised look. “Yes, dear, Jess had fallen in love with you. She had never experienced love before and when you left without explanation she felt that she had done something wrong, something to drive you away.”
“But she could never, . . . I mean she was one of the reasons . . . how could she think that?” Johnny stammered.
“She was still a child, Johnny, the feelings she had for you were new to her, and they were confusing. And just when she felt she was sorting them out you left.”
Maudie looked hard at Johnny before probing gently, “Did you love her, Johnny?”
“I don’t know, Mrs.T.. I honestly don’t know. I’d . . . I’d never been with a girl like Jess before, not in that way . . .” Maudie tried to hide the smile as she watched the colour rise on Johnny’s cheeks. “I didn’t know what love was.” His piercingly blue eyes met Maudie’s as he quietly added “I guess I was but I didn’t know it at the time.”
Wiping a solitary tear from her eye Maudie continued. “Well, Jess, like all of us hoped that you’d return, but when it became obvious you weren’t going to she threw herself into the work on the ranch. She grew into a very strong young woman Johnny; she has a good head on her shoulders and is a great help to her father.”
“No, she’s not married.” Maudie answered Johnny’s unasked question as if she had read his mind. She couldn’t help adding mischievously, “Oh she has met plenty of eligible young men but none were as exciting or challenging as you!”
“She’s been happy, as I said she has a good head on her shoulders and is quite an astute businesswoman. She does all the bookwork for her father . . .” Maudie laughed as she saw Johnny’s grimace at the word ‘bookwork’, a chore on the ranch that he gladly left to Scott and his father. How she could be happy battling figures that were bent on defying attempts to balance them was beyond him.
“She has quite a name for herself as she has built up a very successful Hereford Stud.” Maudie chuckled as she remarked “Many a buyer is surprised when they meet Jess Catto, the Principal of the stud, for the first time. They expect to deal with a man not a pretty young woman.” With a devilish gleam in her eye she added, “You know what she called the stud, Johnny?” And without giving him a chance to reply she triumphantly announced “Balacera Herefords.”
Maudie Thompson could not help herself as she looked at the stunned look on Johnny’s face. Choking with laughter she dragged a handkerchief out of the pocket in the apron she was wearing and dabbed at her eyes where tears of laughter spilled.
“She called her stud ‘Gunfight Herefords’?” queried Johnny in astonishment.
“Yes, Jess has quite a sense of humour, doesn’t she?”
Recovering quickly Johnny asked with a mischievous grin on his face. “What did her father think of that name?”
“Oh, at first he was shocked but then he saw the humour in it after the events that had occurred with Turner, himself and you. Balacera Herefords does have a nice sound to it don’t you think, Johnny?” Maudie laughed.
Johnny’s irrepressible grin as her poured them both yet another cup of coffee gave her the answer she had expected.
The time passed quickly with Johnny and Maudie discussing a range of topics ranging from Limestone to the present. Before Maudie knew it Mac appeared for lunch as the grandfather clock in the hall struck half-past twelve. Finding his wife rather flustered at her lapse in routine amused Mac. Normally Maudie would have had lunch ready on the table for his return but this morning had been anything but normal. He had no doubt that his wife had thoroughly enjoyed the morning spent with Johnny and that she would have been talking non-stop with the young man she held dear in her heart.
Lunch was hurriedly prepared and then it was Mac’s turn to quiz Johnny on the recent happenings in his life. Mac was able to escape from the office for the rest of the day and they all spent a relaxing and pleasant afternoon reminiscing.
The Thompsons were delighted at the invitation to dine with the Lancers that night and as Johnny left around five Maudie cheekily farewelled him. “We’ll see you at seven, Johnny dear, it will be lovely to share some more of your past with your family.”
The Lancers, brandies in hands, sat in Murdoch’s hotel room before leaving for their dinner with their guests: three men revelling in the company of each other and the knowledge that they were a family.