The hot, early May sun beat down with a vengeance on the tired cowboy as
he limped along leading his horse, which was limping even more than he was.
He raised his right arm to wipe the sweat off his forehead and ran his
fingers through his dripping and matted hair.
Pausing briefly, he removed his canteen from his saddle and took a couple
of swallows then removed his hat and gave some to his equally thirsty mount.
Replacing the cap he returned the canteen to his saddle and picked up the
reins again. He, and the injured
bay with the white blaze down its face, set off again toward their destination
– the road that would lead them to Lancer – home.
Scott Lancer hated to think of what his younger brother would have to say
about this latest disaster to befall him. In
the relatively short period of time since he’d come to live with his father in
California, Scott had been blackmailed by his grandfather, shot, and taken a
fall from his horse that resulted in a slight concussion and a broken arm.
He’d also had a serious case of influenza that had bordered on
pneumonia for close to a week. He’d had a bad cold with laryngitis, which had left him
open to constant teasing from his brother until he’d completely recovered.
Setting Johnny up in the pie-eating contest at the fair had been sweet
revenge. Even better was the fact
that spending so much time around his older brother had caused Johnny to come
down with the cold that Scott had had and Scott had repaid the torment by
reading to Johnny Emerson’s essay on Self Reliance.
Then he’d inadvertently been the cause of his younger brother being
injured, left home, been stranded when his horse ran away and accused of murder.
Their neighbor, Maura Talbot, who often worked with Dr. Sam Jenkins, had
tended to Scott and Johnny during most of these disasters starting with
Scott’s head wound during his grandfather’s visit.
Her onion poultices, in Scott’s eyes, as well as his father’s, had
saved Johnny’s life when he was suffocating from the congestion in his chest
when he had pneumonia during Scott’s own recovery period.
Memories flooded his mind as he trudged along leading his lame horse.
More than once he stumbled and fell to his knees.
He was exhausted and the sun was sapping him of what little energy
remained after a day of chasing strays. His
horse had thrown a shoe and before Scott could rein him to a stop the gelding
had cut the frog of its foot on a sharp stone rendering him even lamer than the
Scott had parted company with his brother, Cipriano – the ranch’s
Segundo, and a small group of hands several hours ago.
None of them had the least idea of where Scott had gotten off to or that
his horse had gone lame. He
wouldn’t be missed until dinner time which, if Scott was reading the position
of the sun correctly, was less than an hour away.
On foot, limping and leading a lame horse, he was probably two hours or
more away from the house.
Resolutely he continued on, limping more with each step and wishing there
were some way that he could ride and lead his horse at the same time,
before he collapsed unable to go another step.
He had just about reached that point, limping as badly as his horse was,
his canteen empty, and was nearing the road that ran from Green River to the Bar
T ranch, when he heard a heavy wagon approaching. Gathering up what little energy he had left Scott waved and
called in a raspy voice to the driver.
“Whoa! Whoa up there!” Jim Talbot halted his draft team just three feet from where
Scott had now collapsed to his knees. Engaging
the brake and wrapping the reins around the brake lever Jim jumped down and ran
to the younger man. Scott looked up
with a relieved sigh when he heard Talbot call him by name.
“Scott! Scott Lancer! What’s
happened to you boy?”
“Mr. Tal-“ Scott’s voice ended in a raspy cough.
“Here,” Jim said handing the younger man a canteen he retrieved from
the wagon, “drink this and then tell me how it is you’re so far from home
and leading your horse instead of riding in this sun.”
“Thanks,” Scott rasped. He tipped the canteen to his mouth and let the water sit in his mouth briefly before swallowing. Then he handed the canteen back to Jim who watered Scott’s horse with it. The horse was in obvious pain and its coat was lathered as if he’d been ridden hard.
“Had enough?” When Scott nodded Jim prompted him, “So what happened? You’re all in son!”
“Horse…horse went lame. Threw a shoe and cut his hoof before I could stop him.”
“Where was this?”
“About ten miles from here – up near the road to Wolf Creek.”
“Good heavens! And you’ve been walking all that distance? Where’s Johnny or Cipriano? They wouldn’t leave you out here if they knew you were in trouble.” Jim knew that the devotion between the Lancer brothers ran deep and Cipriano would never leave either of his patron’s sons to fend for themselves if he knew they were in any kind of danger. His blue-gray eyes, so much like Scott’s, were more of a gunmetal color right now as he thought about how far his friend’s son had been walking.
“They don’t know anything about it. We parted company about two o’clock. They stayed with the bunch we’d already rounded up and I went off looking for more strays.”
“We’d better get you home,” Jim said. “Better still maybe I should take you home with me and let Maura have a look at you before I do that.”
“No, I’ll be all right. Just help me up,” Scott insisted.
Jim helped the younger man to his feet but relieved him of the reins to his horse. Scott stood swaying as he tried to focus his attention on getting to the wagon. When the horse was secured the rancher approached Scott and put his arm around him.
“Here, let me give you a boost into the wagon. You can lie down in the back while I drive. I just dropped off a load of supplies for the orphanage and picked up some blankets from Lone Crow’s kids.” Jim grinned, “I saved our esteemed sheriff from having to part with any more of his hard earned money for this week.”
“No. I don’t need to lie down,” Scott’s voice was somewhat slurred. “I can sit up on the seat with you until you get me to Lancer.”
“All right, if you say so,” he boosted Scott into the seat of the wagon, “but you can explain to my wife about how you refused to go to the doctor. But I’ll not be facing the sharp edge of her tongue when she finds out about your foolishness.”
Jim smiled fondly thinking of how much Scott, and Johnny too for that matter, reminded him of his and Maura’s three lost boys. Their boys had been stubborn like the Lancer sons. All five of them came by it naturally. Murdoch was a stubborn Scot and Maura was Irish. Jim himself was English and Irish and none of their ethnic heritage made for pushovers. He shook his head as he climbed up beside Scott and took up the reins. Arriving at the fork of the road that went toward his ranch, the Bar T in one direction and Lancer in the other, he turned the wagon down the road toward his friend’s ranch hoping that the exhausted young man beside him could stay awake long enough to get home and into the house. He figured Scott must have been walking for about three hours in that hot sun. Fair skin and fair hair did not mix well with the hot sun – with or without a hat, and Scott had lost his hat a few miles back.
Scott did, somehow, manage to stay awake but by the time they reached the house he was ready to collapse. Jim pulled his team to a halt in the front yard of the hacienda and called to Jose Morena to take charge of Scott’s horse. When Cipriano arrived to help him get Scott down from the wagon, he explained to the Segundo what Scott had said about the horse pulling up lame from a thrown shoe and a cut on its foot. The big Mexican nodded and said that he would see to Señor Scott’s horse personally.
Jim wrapped his left arm around Scott’s waist and put the younger man’s right arm around his neck, holding it there with his right hand. Scott’s legs wouldn’t support him very well at this point. In spite of the ride he’d had for the last five miles or so he’d lost much of the feeling in them due to exhaustion.
“Scott!” Murdoch Lancer, all six-feet-five-inches of him, came out the front door in a hurry when he heard Jim’s wagon approach. “What happened Jim?”
“From what I understand,” Murdoch’s friend said to him, “his horse threw a shoe and cut it’s off front hoof on a sharp stone before Scott could stop him. He’s been walking for at least ten miles in that blistering heat and sun. I think it’s mostly exhaustion though. But he wouldn’t let me take him home for Maura to check him out - or into town for Sam to look over. A good night’s rest and he ought to be right as rain except for a couple of sore feet.”
“Mr. Talbot,” Johnny, Scott’s dark haired younger brother, came out of the house a minute behind his father and he was followed by their foster sister Teresa O’Brien. Teresa was the daughter of Murdoch’s foreman and best friend who had been murdered by land pirates shortly before the boys had come home to Lancer. Now she was as much Murdoch’s child as the boys were and they treated her just like a little sister. The morning after their arrival at Lancer she had barged into Scott’s room and told them to “think of me as a sister” and they’d not been able to do anything but since that day.
“Johnny, Teresa,” Jim smiled in reply.
“Nice to see you but I wish it were under better circumstances.”
“Johnny, Teresa,” Jim smiled in reply. “Nice to see you but I wish it were under better circumstances.”
“Me too,” Murdoch said wryly. Turning to his younger son he said, “Johnny help Scott up to his room. I’ll be there as soon as I talk to Jim and see about Scott’s horse.”
“Ok.” Johnny went to their neighbor and relieved him of the task of aiding his exhausted brother. “Come on big brother,” he said. “Let’s get you inside.”
Teresa ran in ahead and went up to Scott’s room to turn the covers back. While Johnny got his brother into bed she took the pitcher from his washstand and filled it with cold water. She thought Scott could use some cool water on his face – he was a bit sunburned and they’d found that cold water worked better than anything. She was back in just a few minutes with Murdoch right behind her.
“How is he Johnny?” his father asked.
“He fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow,” Johnny replied. “In spite of his protests that he wasn’t tired,” he added with a grin.
Murdoch answered with a grin of his own. “That’s your brother. You were like that when you were small. Your mother would tell you it was naptime and you’d run away from her. By the time she got you down for your nap she needed one too.” Looking down at his older son he frowned. “He won’t be doing much walking for a few days I’m afraid. And I’d like to try and keep him inside for the next couple of days as well. Try and get that sunburn to fade some. But knowing your brother he’ll fight it all the way and he’ll be right back out there tomorrow chasing strays again or fixing fences.”
“Yeah, that’s Scott all right,” Johnny grinned. “He’s just a working fool.”
“There are times,” his father said with a pointed look, “when you could learn from his example.”
“He’s got you there Johnny,” Teresa said with a big smile and a giggle. “Sometimes you work harder at having fun than you do when you’re supposed to be working.”
“Oh you think so huh?” Johnny moved as though to tickle his “sister” only to be stopped by his father’s long arm.
“Enough you two,” Murdoch said with a chuckle. “Let’s get out of here and let Scott sleep.”
Exhausted, Scott slept until well past sunrise the next morning. His father didn’t disturb him knowing how much the sun and
the walk had taken out of him the previous day.
He wanted him to get as much rest as possible to recover.
Tomorrow would be soon enough for him to pick out another mount and get
back to work. The rancher and his
men could smell rain in the air and anticipated that it would make the next day
Exhausted, Scott slept until well past sunrise the next morning. His father didn’t disturb him knowing how much the sun and the walk had taken out of him the previous day. He wanted him to get as much rest as possible to recover. Tomorrow would be soon enough for him to pick out another mount and get back to work. The rancher and his men could smell rain in the air and anticipated that it would make the next day much cooler.
Finding the sun was already high overhead threw Scott into a mild panic. Hastily he rose and dressed and made his way downstairs. He found the Great Room deserted so he wandered out into the kitchen. Maria was busy cleaning up the breakfast dishes and preparing foodstuffs for a lunch for those who would return to the house at noontime.
“Ah, Señor Scott, you are awake,” she smiled.
“Good morning Maria,” Scott answered her. “Where is everyone and how late is it? I can’t believe Murdoch let me sleep so late.”
“It is almost ten o’clock. Your papa – the patron – he let you sleep because you were so tired and even a little bit sick, I think, from the sun when the Señor Talbot found you. Juanito he said you argued that you were not tired but you fell asleep right away. The patron says you are not to work today but stay inside out of the sun as much as possible. He does not want you getting sick from the sun again. You might have to have Doctor Sam next time he says.” She frowned at the Lancer scion and shook her finger at him as though he were a naughty child, “You had him much worried. Now sit and I will fix you some breakfast. Then you can go sit in the sala and read or rest.”
She bustled about the kitchen and fixed a light breakfast for him, setting it and a cup of coffee on the table in front of him. As soon as he was finished she shooed him out of the kitchen and into the Great Room seeing to it that he settled in one of the comfortable chairs or on the sofa with a book. Reading, however, did not really appeal to Scott. The hot sun of the previous day, along with the long thirsty walk, had left him with somewhat of a nagging, persistent headache and a feeling of lightheadedness so he stretched out with his head leaning against the arm of the sofa. Within fifteen minutes the blond had fallen asleep again and never noticed when Maria, coming out to check on him, slipped a pillow under his head and draped one of the Indian blankets Johnny had bought from Val who, in turn, had bought them from Lone Crow’s children, over him. It was thus that his father found him two hours later, when he returned to the house to do some work on the ledgers.
Deciding not to disturb him, he went into the kitchen to speak to Maria. He found her putting the finishing touches on a plateful of sandwiches for him and filling a cup with coffee.
“How long has Señor Scott been asleep on the sofa?”
“Not long Patron,” the housekeeper replied. “I think maybe an hour.” She frowned. “I do not like his look Patron. He acts like his head hurts. He ate very little and he’s very quiet. He didn’t read more than one or two pages in the book he took off the shelf. I think maybe he still feels the sun from yesterday.”
“You may be right Maria. I wish he’d let Señor Talbot take him to see Dr. Jenkins – or Señora Talbot but he’s as stubborn as his brother when it comes to those things.”
“Stubborn like his papa I think,” Maria said with a pointed look at her employer. “His mama used to say the same thing about you.”
“So she did,” Murdoch laughed. “It’s all that Scottish blood in my veins. Scott comes by it naturally from both sides of the family though. The Garretts aren’t exactly pushovers.” Turning back toward the door leading to the Great Room he took the tray she had fixed to which she had added a tall glass of lemonade for Scott. “I’ll take this lunch in and see if I can wake him up. The lemonade might be just the thing for him. That sun took a lot out of him yesterday – that and the ten-mile walk.”
Murdoch left the kitchen and, when he arrived in the Great Room, placed the tray on his desk. Then he walked over to the sofa and gave Scott a little shake.
“Scott. Scott wake up son,” he said as he gently shook his sleeping son.
“Lunch is ready,” Murdoch said.
“Murdoch?” Scott sat up hurriedly and a little bit of a panic. “What time is it?”
“Noon. Maria has lunch ready,” his father told him.
“Lunch? Have I been asleep that long?”
“No. Maria says you’ve only been asleep about an hour. It was she who put that blanket over you,” his father replied, indicating the cover that was now twisted around his son’s legs. “And I suspect she also put the pillow under your head and your feet up on the sofa as well.”
Scott untangled his legs from the blanket and sat up. Once his feet were firmly planted on the floor and the blanket safely folded up and place on the end of the sofa he stood and walked over to a chair near his father’s desk to share in the lunch that Maria had prepared. For Murdoch there was coffee but the maternal housekeeper had also sent a pitcher of lemonade. After his walk in the hot sun the day before she knew that he’d need to replenish his fluids and not with coffee. She remembered Dr. Jenkins saying something about the need for cool liquids on a steady basis to replace those lost when he’d treated one of the hands for prolonged exposure to the sun in extreme heat the year before.
“How do you feel Scott?” Murdoch asked his son as he handed him a plate with a sandwich and a glass of lemonade.
“Fine, Murdoch,” Scott replied.
“Still have a headache?” his father asked with a knowing look
“Maybe a slight one,” Scott conceded.
“Well, you just stay in out of the sun the rest of today and all day tomorrow,” the elder Lancer said. “We’re not so short handed that we can’t manage without you for another day.”
“That’s an order son,” Murdoch said with a grin, “from Maura Talbot. I saw her on the road to Spanish Wells this morning. Jim told her how he found you wandering on the road yesterday and she said to tell you that you’re to listen to your father and stay in where it’s dark and cool for the next day or so.” Reaching in his pocket he pulled out a little packet. “She’d been in to see Sam and got this packet of headache powder for you. If your head bothers you too much you’re to take a little of this with some water or lemonade and lie down for a while.”
“She never stops mothering us does she?” Scott smiled. “I think she’d adopt everyone in the valley under the age of thirty if she had her way.”
“She already has,” his father laughed. “Not legally of course but she spends more time at the orphanage and arranging picnics and suppers and the like for the younger generation. It’s what keeps her going and keeps her young at heart. Her boys would be right in the thick of things if they were still with us.”
“What were they like Murdoch?” Scott asked as his father set up the tray on his desk.
“I thought Maura told you about them when you and Johnny took her to San Francisco a few weeks ago.”
“She did. But I want to hear it from someone else who knew them.”
“They were fine boys. All of them tall like their father and with that same sense of compassion you see in Maura and Jim. They were forever teasing each other or Teresa or some other of their friends. Sometimes they turned it on their parents. Maura being so small they had a tendency to put things up out of her reach and laugh when she scolded them.”
“Mrs. Talbot said that Ken was a blond but had some reddish highlights in his hair. And that he was born about five years before I was.”
“Yes, that’s right. Kenny was a lot like your brother, personality wise. He’d get into some sort of mischief but when his mother tried to scold him he’d just grin at her and she’d give up. More often than not I saw her start laughing because she just couldn’t help it. He had that kind of effect on her. He was so good with children that I, for one, thought he’d wind up being a teacher or running an orphanage somewhere, but his heart was really in the ranch until the war started. He felt it was his duty to fight for the Union so off he went when he was not quite twenty-one. He died in a Confederate prison, presumably of his wounds, but more likely from typhus or pneumonia or some such thing just a couple of years later. He would have been twenty-five in September of sixty-five.”
“Mrs. Talbot said that. She also said that he was a tree climber. Fell out of one when he was eight and broke his leg?”
“Yes, he did. Being the oldest he was always trying something new to avoid his little brothers sometimes. If I recall correctly he was having a particularly hard day with his brothers hanging on his coattails all day. He climbed that big old scrub oak tree of theirs – the one that’s about a half mile down the road – only the tree limb he chose to rest on wasn’t healthy and he and the limb came down a lot faster than he went up. His bad day got even worse when he found out the leg was broken and he wouldn’t be climbing trees or riding his pony or anything else that active for at least six weeks. His mother was hard pressed to keep him occupied and happy. He liked to read some but not as much as Blair did.”
“Blair was their studious one. Every time I’d seen him he’d have a book in his hands. He did a lot of reading. In fact he was the scientist of the family. He read about crop rotation and such and convinced, at a very young age I might add, some of the farmers hereabouts to try it. The ones that listened – if only to humor the boy, because he was only fourteen if I remember rightly – were glad they did. They got excellent results because of it. He even had his mother planting her garden differently every year so as not to wear out the soil. The reading he did on grazing got his father to move his cattle around to different pastures so that they didn’t over graze. He started in on me too!” Murdoch chuckled. “For a youngster Blair was pretty wise. Reading came naturally to him and so did logic. So when he was ready to try out some of the ideas he got from the books he laid it all out logically and methodically on paper to prove his argument. Darned if the boy wasn’t right! He was getting excellent grades and really enjoyed his studies but as the war progressed and he came of age he, too, wanted to serve his country. He died in the first day of fighting at Gettysburg.”
“He could be a handful too. All of them. Rory, her redhead, he was quite the character. I think he was the only one who could keep up with your brother once he learned to walk. But Kenny, he adored kids, and he and Johnny were best buddies. If Johnny’s mother went to visit Maura it was Ken that would take charge of Johnny. He wasn’t more than ten – eleven years old but very responsible for his age. He’d have that brother of yours eating out of his hand in no time. And Johnny was never fussy when Ken was around. I think you two would have been good friends for all the five year age difference between you.”
“Now Rory, on the other hand, he wasn’t particularly fond of school
but he was a good student. He used
to drive his poor mother to distraction with his constant array of pets.
He’d have mice, lizards and snakes in his room if his parents hadn’t
put their foot down and told him that those particular pets had to stay
outside.” Murdoch paused and took
a bite out of his sandwich as Scott did the same.
He also had a couple of swallows of his coffee.
“Now Rory, on the other hand, he wasn’t particularly fond of school but he was a good student. He used to drive his poor mother to distraction with his constant array of pets. He’d have mice, lizards and snakes in his room if his parents hadn’t put their foot down and told him that those particular pets had to stay outside.” Murdoch paused and took a bite out of his sandwich as Scott did the same. He also had a couple of swallows of his coffee.
As he chewed Murdoch quietly observed his son.
Scott did, indeed, seem too pale underneath the sunburn he’d acquired.
And the lines around his eyes had nothing to do with looking into the sun
– they had to be because of a headache. Quietly,
without any fuss, Murdoch poured his son some lemonade and put the prescribed
amount of powder into it. After a
quick stir he handed it to Scott.
As he chewed Murdoch quietly observed his son. Scott did, indeed, seem too pale underneath the sunburn he’d acquired. And the lines around his eyes had nothing to do with looking into the sun – they had to be because of a headache. Quietly, without any fuss, Murdoch poured his son some lemonade and put the prescribed amount of powder into it. After a quick stir he handed it to Scott.
“You’d better take this son. You’re
looking a little peaked as Maura would say.”
“You’d better take this son. You’re looking a little peaked as Maura would say.”
Reluctantly Scott took the medicated drink.
The look on his father’s face told him that he’d brook no argument.
He drank it down in about four swallows making a face as he did so.
Reluctantly Scott took the medicated drink. The look on his father’s face told him that he’d brook no argument. He drank it down in about four swallows making a face as he did so.
“That should help,” Murdoch said.
“Now as I was saying Rory wasn’t terribly fond of school but he did
love animals and he always had some sort of a pet.
He’d have made pets of every animal on the ranch if he’d been allowed
to. But his parents had to draw the
line somewhere. With his love of
animals, and their trust in him, it seemed like he’d have been a good
veterinarian. Maybe even in
practice with the vet that helped you out when the Cassidys were here.
When he joined the army they did the sensible thing and put him in charge
of the horses. He died during
Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg while trying to help a wounded horse, and
ignoring the members of his unit that warned him to get out of there.
He never was one to let an injured animal or person go unaided and it
cost him his life. A Confederate
charge caught him out in the open. He
never stood a chance. One of the
Confederates saw a young man in a blue uniform and shot him down, even though he
was unarmed. Rory’s best friend
in his unit killed that soldier a minute later.”
“That should help,” Murdoch said. “Now as I was saying Rory wasn’t terribly fond of school but he did love animals and he always had some sort of a pet. He’d have made pets of every animal on the ranch if he’d been allowed to. But his parents had to draw the line somewhere. With his love of animals, and their trust in him, it seemed like he’d have been a good veterinarian. Maybe even in practice with the vet that helped you out when the Cassidys were here. When he joined the army they did the sensible thing and put him in charge of the horses. He died during Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg while trying to help a wounded horse, and ignoring the members of his unit that warned him to get out of there. He never was one to let an injured animal or person go unaided and it cost him his life. A Confederate charge caught him out in the open. He never stood a chance. One of the Confederates saw a young man in a blue uniform and shot him down, even though he was unarmed. Rory’s best friend in his unit killed that soldier a minute later.”
Murdoch paused, remembering the young men, and the grief it had brought
to their parents, as they fell one by one.
“The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do Scott, barring losing your
mother and you and then Johnny and his mother, was to stand next to my best
friend while he buried his sons one by one.
I had the comfort of knowing that you were safe – or so I thought –
with your grandfather back in Boston though I couldn’t be sure of anything
with Johnny. It was hard, very
hard, to watch those boys’ parents as they buried them one by one over the
course of the war.”
Murdoch paused, remembering the young men, and the grief it had brought to their parents, as they fell one by one. “The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do Scott, barring losing your mother and you and then Johnny and his mother, was to stand next to my best friend while he buried his sons one by one. I had the comfort of knowing that you were safe – or so I thought – with your grandfather back in Boston though I couldn’t be sure of anything with Johnny. It was hard, very hard, to watch those boys’ parents as they buried them one by one over the course of the war.”
“Hasn’t anyone in Morro Coyo ever done anything to remember them?” Scott asked. “What about Green River or Spanish Wells?”
“Nothing. Most folks out here want to forget that the war ever happened. Except for isolated incidents like the Talbot boys, and the Cassidys and their friends hunting you down, the war left California virtually untouched. Oh we heard about it in the newspapers and occasionally a discharged soldier would come through but that’s about it. We were pretty isolated in those days.”
Scott frowned. “It seems to me,” he said, “that with all the Talbots do for those communities, that somebody ought to do something to make sure those boys aren’t forgotten.”
“Scott what’s going on in that head of yours?” his father asked, looking at him suspiciously.
“Nothing yet but it’ll come to me,” his son replied.
“Hmm. Well eat up and then it would probably be a good idea if you rested for a while in your room. Teresa or Maria will come get you when it’s time for supper.” He looked at his son in concern. “You’re still pale under that sunburn and I know for sure that the sun sapped your energy yesterday – and your strength. You barely muttered that you weren’t tired before you fell asleep according to Teresa and Johnny.”
Scott tried to protest but his determined father watched him finish his sandwich and saw him back to his room. Despite Scott’s denials, he was asleep in less than ten minutes and when Johnny woke him several hours later to tell him that supper was about to be served, he actually felt much better.
“Hey brother,” Johnny said as he came upon Scott staring pensively into the empty fireplace. “What’s on your mind?”
“The Talbots.” Scott roused at the sound of his brother’s voice. “To be more precise I was thinking about their sons. Did you know that there’s not one thing in any of the towns around here to remember those boys by? They’re buried on the Bar T in the little grove of fir trees but not one thing in Spanish Wells, Morro Coyo or Green River proves that they existed.”
“What did you have in mind? A statue?” Johnny asked. “I can’t see the Talbots liking that idea at all.”
“No, neither can I,” Scott admitted. “But still there ought to be something – a plaque maybe. On one of the public buildings. Maybe the school.”
Johnny laughed. “I can just see it now. A big bronze tablet proclaiming the Morro Coyo School to be the Talbot School. They’d love that!”
Scott scowled at his little brother. “Very funny. I don’t hear you coming up with any better ideas.”
“I don’t have one – not right now anyway,” Johnny admitted. “But let me think about it. We’ll come up with something.”
Scott, contrary to his normally sunny nature, brooded about the issue for days. To be sure he went about his normal work as soon as his father and Sam Jenkins were convinced that he was well enough. He’d come extremely close to sunstroke and neither of the two older men was willing to take a chance with that. In those next few days he complained of being smothered as everyone in the household, including Jelly Hoskins, the bearded old handyman, kept checking up on him.
“That’s the last of it Señor Baldomero?” Scott asked the older man who ran the general store in Morro Coyo.
“Sí Señor Scott,” the man replied. “That is everything your father and Señorita Teresa ordered.”
As they loaded the last boxes and sacks into the wagon seventeen-year-old Tim Pittman drove up in his family’s beat up wagon and parked behind Lancer’s. The lanky teenager, dressed in faded overalls and equally faded plaid shirt, pulled the brake lever and jumped agilely from the wagon seat to the boardwalk outside the store.
“Mornin’ Señor Baldomero. Mr. Lancer.”
“Good morning Tim,” the storekeeper said.
“Hello Tim how’s the family?” Scott asked.
“Everyone’s fine. Ma and Pa and the kids all said to say ‘thanks’ to you and your brother for the help you gave me the other day. And you’re to thank Miss O’Brien for the cookies she sent home. The kids ate half of ‘em before we even got home. Ma made ‘em wait until after supper for the rest.” The red headed teen grinned conspiratorially at Scott. “She didn’t know how many they had already had or they wouldn’t have had any supper.”
The Pittman’s wagon had lost a wheel half way between their small farm and the Lancers’ ranch. Tim’s seven brothers and sisters had been with him but not one of them was old enough to help him replace it. Johnny and Scott had come along and helped Tim put a drag stick on it long enough to get it to Lancer and then Jelly had repaired the wheel. In the meantime the Lancer sons had taken the children, Tim included, to the house where Teresa gave them milk and cookies to munch on while they waited.
The hacienda had rung with the sound of children’s laughter as Johnny was inveigled to join in a game of tag with the younger children who ranged in age from five to twelve. Even Teresa had joined in giggling. Murdoch had watched in amusement as his son and ward joined in the children’s game. Tim had spotted Murdoch’s extensive library, which Scott had recently added to, and was in heaven. The teenager loved to read but there was no money for books other than schoolbooks at their farm. Too many mouths to feed and not enough money coming in from their crops kept unnecessary spending to a minimum. Young Pittman’s current interest was in James Fenimore Cooper’s novels which Scott had had shipped to him from Boston. But there was a book on George Washington and another on the French and Indian Wars that interested him as well as Of Plimoth Plantation by William Bradford. Tim’s mother was a descendant of Bradford and had told her children of Bradford’s account of the first English colony in Massachusetts.
“I finished that book by Cooper that you lent me Mr. Lancer,” Tim
“I finished that book by Cooper that you lent me Mr. Lancer,” Tim said.
“Which one was that Tim?”
“Which one was that Tim?”
“The Deerslayer. That
Hawkeye was a great character!”
“The Deerslayer. That Hawkeye was a great character!”
“I agree. And Cooper
described in great detail what he knew from growing up on the New York
frontier.” Scott was pleased that
the boy enjoyed good literature.
“I agree. And Cooper described in great detail what he knew from growing up on the New York frontier.” Scott was pleased that the boy enjoyed good literature.
“Is that where Mr. Cooper is from?
I would have thought he was writing about the Indians on the plains or
here in California.”
“Is that where Mr. Cooper is from? I would have thought he was writing about the Indians on the plains or here in California.”
“No, Tim. James Fenimore
Cooper was writing about the Iroquois and the Seneca.
The Onandaga and Mohicans and all of the others that are Eastern tribes.
How are you coming in that book by William Bradford about Plymouth?”
“No, Tim. James Fenimore Cooper was writing about the Iroquois and the Seneca. The Onandaga and Mohicans and all of the others that are Eastern tribes. How are you coming in that book by William Bradford about Plymouth?”
“A little slower. He wrote
“A little slower. He wrote kinda strange.”
“Not for his time,” Scott said with a chuckle.
“That’s just the way they talked back then.”
“Not for his time,” Scott said with a chuckle. “That’s just the way they talked back then.”
By this time the trio had moved back into Baldomero’s store. Scott needed to settle up the bill and be on his way back.
It didn’t take the shopkeeper long to tally Lancer’s bill and Scott
even less time to pay it.
By this time the trio had moved back into Baldomero’s store. Scott needed to settle up the bill and be on his way back. It didn’t take the shopkeeper long to tally Lancer’s bill and Scott even less time to pay it.
“What can I do for you today young Tim?” Señor Baldomero wanted to
“What can I do for you today young Tim?” Señor Baldomero wanted to know.
“Ma gave me a list. Sugar
and flour and such like. If
you’ll get the stuff together I’ll be back as soon as I pick up the mail at
the stage depot.”
“Ma gave me a list. Sugar and flour and such like. If you’ll get the stuff together I’ll be back as soon as I pick up the mail at the stage depot.”
Murdoch Lancer had recommended Young Tim for this job.
Tim picked up the mail at the stage depot every other day and delivered
it to the recipients throughout the area. The
tall rancher knew that every bit of extra money he could bring home was a help
to his parents. Murdoch knew how
hard it was to keep his two grown sons fed and happy.
But the Pittman’s had eight children – one of them a growing
teenager, and the next youngest not too far behind.
The job didn’t pay much but it helped them keep ahead of their bills at
the mercantile and paid for a little seed for wheat.
The Lancers and the Talbots and a few of their other friends always made
sure that Tim got a generous tip – be it money or foodstuff that was
“extra” to them. Anything to
help the family. Maura, of course,
was known to see that the boy got a good meal before he went on to his next
destination and gave him food to take home as well.
She wouldn’t take “no” for an answer and Tim soon learned not to
Murdoch Lancer had recommended Young Tim for this job. Tim picked up the mail at the stage depot every other day and delivered it to the recipients throughout the area. The tall rancher knew that every bit of extra money he could bring home was a help to his parents. Murdoch knew how hard it was to keep his two grown sons fed and happy. But the Pittman’s had eight children – one of them a growing teenager, and the next youngest not too far behind. The job didn’t pay much but it helped them keep ahead of their bills at the mercantile and paid for a little seed for wheat. The Lancers and the Talbots and a few of their other friends always made sure that Tim got a generous tip – be it money or foodstuff that was “extra” to them. Anything to help the family. Maura, of course, was known to see that the boy got a good meal before he went on to his next destination and gave him food to take home as well. She wouldn’t take “no” for an answer and Tim soon learned not to try.
Fifteen minutes later Tim was back. Scott had waited patiently in case there was any mail for Lancer. There were several contracts for the sale of horses and cattle and a couple of magazines and newspapers for Murdoch. Teresa had a letter from a girlfriend and the latest edition of Godey’s Ladies Book. Scott knew that very likely meant a visit to or from Maura Talbot as Teresa made her newest dress. Maria would help as well, he was sure, but Maura had come to be a mother figure to all three of them.
“Look at this, Mr. Lancer!” Tim said excitedly. “They’re planning a big celebration for Founder’s Day over to Green River! They’ve sent fliers to all the area towns including Morro Coyo.”
“It’s time you started calling me ‘Scott’,” the blond Lancer told the excited teen. “There’s too many of us Lancer men for you to stand on such formality. My father’s the only Mr. Lancer. I’m Scott and my brother is Johnny. I know he’ll insist on it too.”
“Yes, sir Mr. – I mean Scott,” Tim grinned.
Scott perused the handbill Tim had given him. “Looks a lot like the fair they had last year.”
“The one where you won the shooting contest?”
Scott grinned self-consciously. His entering the shooting contest had been Johnny’s idea when he himself was barred from entering by the same man who’s cousin Scott would be accused of murdering a few months later – Pierce Wilson. Wilson was the proprietor of the general store in Green River. His son, Mike, owned the gunsmith shop. Both had kept somewhat of a low profile since Scott had been acquitted. Sheriff Val Crawford, a good friend of the Lancers – especially Johnny, had been keeping a close eye on them. He didn’t care to have Mike a “guest” in his jail any more than he had to. If he had his way he’d run them out of town but getting drunk and mouthing off wasn’t illegal. And he couldn’t keep Mike in jail for the fights he got into because Pierce always paid for the damages his son’s troublemaking caused.
“That’s the one.”
“Does it say if they’re going to have another one? Are you going to enter if they do?”
“Now slow down there Tim,” Scott’s blue-gray eyes twinkled in amusement. “I haven’t read it all yet.”
As he looked the flier over he could see that most of the Founder’s Day Celebration would be a rodeo and a barbecue but there were other smaller events planned as well. A band concert (the band being imported from Sacramento), a bake sale, a raffle (first prize being a new wagon donated by a company in San Francisco) and various other events, including a dance. All events would be held in, and around Green River, and half the money would go to a charity, or charities, to be determined at a later date.
Scott had to chuckle a little as he read the flyer. Val Crawford would not be thrilled at the prospect of Mayor Higgs having more money in his store than usual. He’d already clashed with the man when his store was robbed shortly before Clay Criswell, the conniving con artist and thief, had taken over for Val when he was deliberately injured. The mayor of Green River just didn’t have any sense when it came to keeping overly large amounts of cash in his store. Having heard the story from Johnny shortly after the attempted robbery, Scott could well imagine the battle that was shaping up.
“What’s so funny, Scott?” Tim was curious.
“Nothing, Tim. I was just thinking about something that happened in Green River a couple of years ago.” Folding the flyer and putting it in his shirt pocket, he prepared to leave. “This celebration sounds like it will be quite the event. More money for the town businesses I would imagine as the ladies will all want new dresses for the dance.”
Walking with Tim to the door, Scott said good-bye to the storekeeper, and prepared to drive back to Lancer.
“When you finish the Cooper book, Tim, come on out to Lancer and I’ll help you find something else. You still interested in History?”
“Yes! Some day I’d like to visit some of the places where the Revolutionary War took place. And Plymouth to see where the Pilgrims landed. And maybe even Europe.” Tim’s voice trailed off here. “But that’ll probably never happen. Pa needs me on the farm and there’s so many of us and not enough money.”
“You never know, Tim,” Scott said to the despairing teen. “Maybe you’ll visit those places and then become a teacher and teach a whole new generation about General Washington and Lafayette and Jean Lafitte, the pirate who fought for us during the War of 1812.”
“I wish,” Tim said. “I’d really like to be a teacher but there’s no money for me to go to one of those colleges like you went to.”
Scott was silent. He didn’t know what to say. He’d like to pay for the boy to go but he knew that the boy’s parents would frown upon anything they perceived as charity. They owned their farm free and clear but it was a struggle to keep it going and raise their eight children at the same time. Every one of them was needed to help raise the crops and the small dairy herd that they had. They weren’t as self sufficient as Lancer and even Lancer had it’s occasional problems, such as when Aggie Conway was seeing Buck Addison and Addison had tried to gain control over the whole valley, including Lancer. He’d cut them off from their water supplies at every turn and almost ruined them. But Murdoch and the boys helped him rescue his men after an earthquake caused the railroad trestle they were building to collapse, trapping many of them in a cave under it.
The slugfest, as Scott and Johnny called it, that followed had the two Lancer sons in stitches, and Aggie very angry, but then laughing as Murdoch and Buck fought over the takeover attempt and the perceived reason for their irritation with each other. Each had a different idea. Buck thought that Murdoch was jealous because he’d passed up his chance to marry Aggie. Murdoch thought, as much as anything, that Buck was jealous of his success and so had sought to destroy Lancer so that he could have it when Murdoch would be pushed into selling. Buck had thought that Aggie wanted Lancer but Aggie had no such wants. It was the home of her best friend – something he’d worked to build up and she wouldn’t be any part of his destroying it. Johnny and Scott had laughed themselves silly watching the two older men as they slugged it out and landed in the nearby lake during the fight, with Aggie stepping between them to break it up. Buck’s foreman had tasted Johnny’s fist when he tried to interfere. Johnny had been waiting for his chance to get the guy for shooting at him when he went to investigate a potential water source.
All was well now. Aggie and Buck did finally marry and Buck learned that if he wanted to keep his wife happy he’d better be friends, instead of adversaries, with the Lancers. Money couldn’t buy happiness no matter what he thought. The Addisons were regular visitors to Lancer and to the Bar T. Like the Lancers and the Talbots, the Addisons had no use for Pierce Wilson and his son other than necessary business dealings. Unfortunately Mike was the only gunsmith in the area.
While reading the flyer an idea had started to form in Scott’s head. They were looking for volunteers to be on the committee. The Talbots, Addisons, Pierce Wilson and other ranchers and business owners in the area were on the committee and they were looking for more. If Lancer could get someone on the committee – and it didn’t matter which one – they could fight for money to help deserving kids like Tim Pittman further their education. Scott knew that most of them wouldn’t argue about it – a little persuasion would go a long way. But he wasn’t fool enough to think that persuading Pierce Wilson and any of his cronies that he’d managed to get on the committee would be easy. And he knew that he might have a little bit of a fight on his hands with the Talbots with the rest of his idea. Well, Scott Lancer was a fighter and fight he would for the idea that was in his mind right now. But the first step was to get his father and brother on his side. After that he could start to work on the committee members.
The Lancers, Teresa and Jelly sat down to a sumptuous roast beef dinner accompanied by mashed potatoes, green beans, beets, a green salad, fresh bread, newly churned butter and coffee for Murdoch and Scott, but milk for Johnny and Teresa who didn’t care that much for coffee. Dessert was peach pie. The discussion around the table was ranch business at first. What fences had been repaired, which ones needed repair still, the condition of the line shacks and which ones needed restocking of supplies to keep the men well fed and cared for as they manned them keeping watch over the more distant sections of the ranch from the house. Then the talk turned to the upcoming Founder’s Day celebration and who would represent Lancer on the committee, among other issues.
“Tim Pittman gave me this flier today while I was in Morro Coyo,” Scott said by way of approaching the subject and pulling the flier out of his pocket. Unfolding it he handed it to his father. “I was wondering who was going to represent Lancer on the committee. I mean there’s no one mentioned or anything. Was there an invitation to join sent to us?”
“I don’t remember seeing anything in the mail,” his father replied.
Teresa spoke up. “Might it be that letter that came to you from the Hales a couple of weeks ago?”
“The one I gave to you when it came,” she replied.
“I don’t remember any such letter,” Murdoch stated emphatically.
“I gave it to you personally Murdoch Lancer!” Teresa exclaimed.
“From the Hales? In Green River?”
“Yes, from the Hales in Green River,” she answered rising from her seat and going to Murdoch’s desk. After a moment or two of shuffling papers she found the envelope just as she had said. Picking it up she walked back to the dining table and handed it to him exasperated.
“Thank you darling,” Murdoch said. “I honestly don’t remember you giving this to me.”
“Men!” she exclaimed with a roll of her eyes.
Scott and Johnny exchanged glances that said they thought it might be wise not say anything lest she turn on them like she had their father. It was clear that Teresa, at the moment, thought all men were hopeless. They weren’t about to give her any more reasons to think so.
“Yes, here it is,” Murdoch said as he read the letter. “They’re looking for people from all the ranches around Green River to serve on the committee. Among the issues they want to discuss are what events to have and whether or not to hire a couple of deputies for Val.”
Johnny nearly choked on his milk when he heard that one. “What? Do they really think Val will agree to that?”
“I don’t know that he’s got a choice Johnny,” Murdoch said to his younger son. “There’s going to be a lot of people at this event and that’s an open invitation to pickpockets, swindlers and the like. Maybe even some young punks out to make a name for themselves as gunfighters or just top bronc riders.”
“Seems to me Val could use the help – at least for the duration of the Founder’s Day events,” Scott said.
“Maybe so but he sure ain’t gonna like it.” Johnny knew his friend. If Mayor Higgs drove him crazy with his inability to limit the amount of money he kept in his store, he sure as heck wasn’t going to be happy about being saddled with a deputy – especially if he didn’t get to choose his own man.
Jelly had been quiet up to this point, concentrating on eating the meal set before them, but now he saw a chance to give Johnny as much of a hard time as the boy usually gave him.
“Why don’t ya volunteer to be one of his deputies Johnny?” he said with a wink at his employer.
“What? Me be a deputy?” Johnny yelped.
“Sure. Why not? You and the sheriff are great pals ain’t ya? I’m sure he’d love to have you sign on. And ya did help him stop that Criswell fella and his friends.”
Murdoch struggled not to laugh at the expression on his younger son’s face. Johnny’s expression was a cross between embarrassment, anger and shock. Obviously it had never occurred to him that Val might just like to have him for a deputy – albeit temporarily. Val Crawford had his own way of doing things and even Johnny Lancer didn’t fit into his scheme of things most of the time. Scott, however, was openly grinning as he was momentarily distracted from his purpose for bringing the subject up, and Teresa was giggling which only made Johnny’s face turn redder than it already was.
“That was different! Criswell and his bunch, they robbed the bank and Val wasn’t going to be Sheriff any more. I couldn’t just let ‘em get away could I?”
“No. But ya sure did wake the sheriff up and get him moving so’s he went after them and stopped Criswell from getting’ away in that wagon of his.”
“Enough you two,” Murdoch said laughing. “Jelly, if Val Crawford wants Johnny to be a deputy he’ll just have to ask him himself.”
“What I plan to do,” Johnny said determinedly, “is enter some of those rodeo events. Bronc ridin’ and such. I ain’t gonna pin on a badge and miss out on all the fun.”
“Now that we’re talking about the Founder’s Day events themselves,” Scott said seeing an opening. “I think we should have someone on the committee and I’d like to volunteer.”
“What’s on your mind son?” Murdoch knew something was up if one of his sons wanted to be on a committee instead of being in on the fun.
“Well, I know what I want to see done with the money they raise,” Scott admitted. “You know how I was talking about the Talbots, Johnny? And how there’s nothing to show that their sons ever lived here or did anything worth remembering?”
“Yeah. What about it? I told you a statue was a dumb idea.”
“I’m not thinking of a statue,” Scott said a little testily. “I’m thinking more of a living memorial to the three of them.”
“What do you have in mind Scott?” Murdoch asked. “And remember you’ll have to have full approval of the whole committee and Jim and Maura besides.”
“I was thinking of a couple of things,” Scott replied. “You said that one of the boys really loved books. I know a lot of people here in the area – especially in town – that enjoy books. But there aren’t that many books to be had. Señor Baldomero can hardly keep what few books he gets in his store in stock and they’re mostly dime novels – not the kind of books the teachers would like to see their students read. And what about kids like Tim Pittman who want to go on to school but can’t afford to because their families don’t have the money.” Hesitating for just a minute to catch his breath he went on, “I think it’s time that one of these towns had a library! And the library should be named in memory of the Talbot boys. And as for the kids who want to further their education, a scholarship could be established to help pay for it! Bob Lincoln got into Phillips Exeter Academy on a scholarship. And he went on to Harvard! He graduated just a couple of years before I would have if I hadn’t joined the Army and postponed my education – against grandfather’s wishes too I might add! A scholarship in memory of the Talbot boys would ensure that their memories would live on forever in the minds of the people of this valley!”
For a moment everything was quiet. Then pandemonium broke out at the Lancer dinner table, as everyone seemed to speak at once.
“A library! You mean one o’ them buildings with nothin’ but a bunch of books?” That was Jelly. He’d seen a few but they didn’t impress him. He wasn’t much interested in books himself.
“Oh, Scott! I think that’s a wonderful idea! I remember Blair Talbot always had a book with him. He said he was going to be like President Lincoln was when he was growing up. He heard it said that Mr. Lincoln used to always have a book with him to read when he was tending store or doing his chores. He learned a lot more from reading on his own than he ever did in school. I think Mr. and Mrs. Talbot would be thrilled if there were a library! It would be like a dream come true.”
“Do you think the people in this area would go along with that crazy idea of yours Scott? What if they have some other causes they’d like to give the money to?”
“Little brother haven’t you ever heard that ‘charity begins at home’?” Scott asked. “Sure there’s lots of charities that they could give the money to but what’s wrong with asking them to put the money right back into the community? It would be an investment in the future of Green River.”
Before anyone else could open his or her mouth to agree or disagree, and start a full-scale argument, Murdoch spoke up again.
“I think you’ve got a fine idea there son,” he said. “There’s one problem though as far as the committee is concerned.”
“Pierce Wilson is on it and you know as well as I do that he’ll attempt to defeat anything you propose. He’s not exactly fond of you or your brother. Or me for that matter.”
“That’s putting it nicely,” Jelly said. “He hates ever’ one of you – especially since Scott was found innocent o’ killing that cousin of his a while back.”
“I know,” Scott said, “but it’s worth a try isn’t it?”
“Of course it is,” Murdoch agreed. “And we’ll back you to the hilt when you propose it to them. I’ll use whatever influence I can to convince the rest of the committee that it’s the right thing to do. They can handle Pierce. I don’t want you, or Johnny, to go anywhere near him or Mike if you can help it. We don’t need a flare up of hostilities between them and us.”
“You’ve lost your mind Lancer!” an angry voice stated. “There’s no way I’ll ever agree to such nonsense!”
“Why? Because you know they’re better than you are or because your cousin turned out to be a brutal prison guard at Cahaba? One who murdered a twelve-year-old boy because I wouldn’t respond to his taunts?”
The speakers were Pierce Wilson and Scott Lancer. Scott had asked for a special meeting of the Founder’s Day Committee to meet at the Green River School. All were gathered except for Jim and Maura Talbot who were deliberately being kept in the dark about what Scott had in mind. He wanted to get he committee’s approval before he told them anything about it.
“Pierce! Scott! Simmer down and quiet down!” Edward Hale shouted above the noise in the room, and banging his gavel once more, Scott and Wilson shouting but also the other committee members were buzzing about Scott’s proposal. It was hard to hear anything anyone had to say. Pounding on the teacher’s desk with the gavel he had he tried to regain control of the meeting as Chairman of the Committee.
It took several minutes and a few of the more levelheaded, calmer members of the group had to step in between them. Despite his father’s warning not to cross swords with Pierce Wilson, Scott was unable to avoid it. From the minute he’d proposed anything to honor the Talbot boys, Wilson had been against it and Scott was furious. His normally calm demeanor was anything but. He hadn’t been this angry with anyone, outside of his occasional clashes with his father, since a man named Marks had threatened to have Johnny shot escaping jail. Johnny had been incarcerated for resisting Marks’ men when they tried to throw Charlie Poe and his wife off of their old farm. That particular incident had led to the brothers “breaking jail”, with the help of Sheriff Gabe, and robbing a train to get the paperwork Marks was shipping to Sacramento with Charlie Poe and a man named Davey Horn. Scott wasn’t about to be dissuaded and he wasn’t going to listen to Pierce Wilson put his friends, or their sons, down when he had no reason.
“Settle down everyone!” Hale said. “Settle down.”
The room quieted again as order was slowly restored. Scott was forced to a seat between Brad Ingersoll and Barry Corrigan. Ingersoll was a friend of the Lancers and the Talbots while Corrigan was still relatively new to the valley but was making a name for himself as a very competent blacksmith and wheelwright. His fingers were like bands of steel as he pushed Scott back into his seat. David Horton and Russell Evans who were friends of his restrained Wilson.
“If you gentlemen would calm down,” Hale said, “perhaps we could discuss this calmly and rationally.” In the ensuing quiet he continued, “Now then, Scott Lancer has the floor. Scott why don’t you explain to us exactly what’s on your mind?”
“It’s very simple,” Scott said. “The Talbots have done an awful lot for this community, as well as for Spanish Wells and Morro Coyo. They spend a lot of money in the stores; they donate time, money and goods to the orphanage right here in Green River. Mrs. Talbot nurses the injured and the sick people in all three towns tirelessly without asking for – or expecting any payment. They buy blankets from Lone Crow’s widow and send them to the same orphanage as Val Crawford does and to others. Both of them were on the committee for that fair we held last summer.” Scott paused for a moment. “Mr. and Mrs. Talbot, both, are known for their hospitality and their fairness. There’s not a prejudiced bone in their bodies. Every citizen of every one of these towns is treated the same. Nobody is turned away from their door and nobody leaves their table hungry. More than likely a friend, neighbor or even a complete stranger, that eats at their table will be given enough food to see them through the next few days of travel or work.”
“I don’t know how many families they’ve helped get back on their feet. Mr. Talbot and my father both recommended Tim Pittman for the job he has of delivering mail and such because they knew the boy would handle the job right and he can use the money. The Talbots raised three sons in this valley - sons that probably would have contributed just as much to the community as their parents. “
“But those boys didn’t live to see the end of the war. They’re not here to see how the valley is prospering in spite of an occasional hard time, like a drought or a robbery or a failed business. They can’t pitch in and help a neighboring farmer get his crops in. They can’t work a round up with their father or their neighbors or help drive a herd to market. They’re not here to do any number of things that the rest of us take for granted.”
“They’re not here because they made the ultimate sacrifice. They gave up their happy and safe home to join the army when Mr. Lincoln called for volunteers. They gave up everything they held dear – including their lives because they wanted to help preserve the Union. I’m not going to go into the right or wrong of the war – war is war. Sometimes it’s necessary and sometimes it’s not. But those boys went and none of them came back alive. Is it too much to ask that we do something to honor the memory of them?”
“I suppose you want us to build a statue? Or maybe donate all the money to them so they can build some sort of monument to their dead sons?” Pierce Wilson said sarcastically.
“I want nothing of the sort,” Scott said angrily. “What’s the matter with you anyway? What have the Talbots ever done to you?”
“They’ve been a thorn in my side ever since I moved here,” Wilson said heatedly. “Thinking they’re better than I am because they own that big ranch and have a lot of money. And that Irishwoman…why I wouldn’t allow her to tend to me if I were dying. Why everyone knows, at least those with a brain in their head and eyes to see, that the Irish are a dirty, lazy, disgusting race.”
Scott rose to his feet to let Wilson have it in the mouth, but Brad Ingersoll and the blacksmith restrained him, while giving him dirty looks of their own.
“One more statement like that,” Ingersoll said angrily, “and I’ll flatten you myself! Scott won’t have to do a thing because I’ll do it for him!”
“And if he doesn’t,” Corrigan added, “I will. I might even beat the both of them to it. I’m Irish myself. If it weren’t for attitudes like yours, Wilson, a lot of the Irish in this country would have a much better lot in life. It’s attitudes like yours that have contributed to the famine that struck when I was a young man. English landlords charging exorbitant rents and taking the farmers grain and livestock that he could feed his family with so that he, the landlord, could pay his taxes to the crown.”
“Yes,” Scott added. “And ran the mills in Lowell on virtual slave labor supplied by young Irish girls and Yankee farm girls looking to better their lot in life, only to find horrible working conditions and wages cut when they didn’t produce enough cloth.”
“And how would you know about that Scott Lancer?” Wilson demanded. “You were only a child when those mills were in operation.”
“When I got old enough to understand them I read my grandfather’s account books,” Scott said. “I’m sorry to say that Grandfather had a lot to do with what went on. He convinced the mill owners to pay the immigrants less even though they did the same amount of work – sometimes better than the Yankee girls. I saw for myself, when I was in my early teens, the horrible working and living conditions for the Irish workers and the better boarding houses where the Yankee girls lived!”
“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” Hale tried to regain control of the meeting. “That’s enough! We’re not here to hash over old wrongs. We’re here to decide if we want to go along with Scott’s idea to establish a scholarship in memory of the Talbot boys, and to donate land for a library, also in their memory.”
“I’m sorry,” Scott said. “I got carried away.”
“Yes, you did,” Hale said, but with a smile. “However, Pierce Wilson, if you make any more untoward remarks about the Talbots or anybody else, without cause, I’ll have you ejected from this meeting and bounce you off of the committee as well. There’s no room for anyone on this committee that can’t behave in a completely neutral manner.”
“Where would we get the land? And what about the materials to build this library you propose?” Russell Evans wanted to know.
“There’s land right here in town that’s not being used for anything,” Scott said. “There’s a big vacant lot on the eastern side of town that’s just been sitting there since the Widow Martin passed away. She never did anything with it after her husband died and I happen to know that she left the land to the town provided they did something to benefit the town – not just a few residents – but the whole town. A library would benefit every family. Some like to read for pleasure after their chores are done. Others read for pleasure like my father and myself. And the children would have a quiet place to do homework and a source of research material for school projects – materials they might not have at home.”
“What about the materials with which to build the school Scott?” Brad Ingersoll asked. “I’m not against the library, mind you, but I’m curious.”
“I thought that all the ranchers and the farmers and the businessmen in town could chip in. I know my father is willing to donate lumber or bricks. And the money raised from the bake sale and such could go toward the scholarship fund. If the business owners gave the town a discount on the hardware that we’d need that would help too.”
Barry Corrigan spoke up, “I’m more than willing to make all the nails we might need if someone pays for half the iron. I’ll pay for the other half myself.
“I could pay for part of it,” Thompson added. “I have several kids myself and the thought of putting them through school on what little I make at the bank is a frightening prospect.”
“You’re all being suckered,” Pierce sneered. “Lancer has something else in mind entirely and when I figure out what it is you’ll all look like fools.”
“Now look Wilson,” Scott said furiously. “I’ve got nothing more in mind than what I’ve already said. The Talbots are good people who contribute a lot to this town and the other towns around here. It’s time someone did something to repay them in a way they can’t refuse.”
“I don’t believe you,” Wilson said. “And even if I did there’s no way I would agree to such a large undertaking that honors one family.” He went on ranting and raving for a few minutes before Hale finally banged his gavel again and told him if he didn’t cease and desist with the insults toward Scott and the Talbots he would be removed from the meeting.
Pierce scowled but held his peace. The other committee members discussed Scott’s proposal and were highly in favor of it. Each of them had, in one way or another, benefited from the Talbots generosity and most of them remembered the three boys. They could see the wisdom in starting a library and setting up a scholarship. The blacksmith, Corrigan, earned a fair living but he had four sons himself. And each of those four were coming of age for college within the next few years. All of them had ambitions to go to Harvard or Yale or some other well-known university. One wanted to be a doctor, one felt called to be a minister, while the others were interested in machinery and animal husbandry – scientific breeding.
“I don’t know about the rest of you,” Corrigan said, “but I think it’s a marvelous idea. Only trouble is how do we keep it secret from the Talbots? I assume Scott that you want to keep it a surprise for them?”
“Yes, sir,” Scott affirmed with a nod. “I think it’s best or they’ll kick up a fuss about it. They’re very modest people.”
Pierce Wilson snorted at this. “If they’re so modest, Lancer, why do you want to do this in memory of their sons?”
Scott bristled but answered calmly. “Because it’s time this town, and Morro Coyo and Spanish Wells too, did something for the Talbots. Their boys were born and raised here. They would have come back and contributed to the communities just as their parents have. Only they’re not able to because they’re buried on the Bar T in a little cemetery just a quarter of a mile from the house where Mrs. Talbot can see their headstones while she works in her kitchen. It’s time someone showed that they care!”
Scott walked into the hacienda completely exhausted. It was as if he’d been working out on the range all day only his exhaustion was more emotional and psychological than physical. His father looked up as he entered the Great Room noting that Scott was quiet – even for him.
“How did it go son?” he asked.
“Not so good, I’m afraid,” Scott admitted.
“Oh? The committee wouldn’t go for it?”
“No, it’s not that. Most of the committee is highly in favor of it.”
“Care to explain?”
“It’s that Pierce Wilson!” Scott exclaimed in exasperation. “The man is impossible! Simply impossible!” Scott stomped over to the sofa and took a seat. “Not only does he object to anything that might make the Talbots look good he insulted them – especially Mrs. Talbot as well. He’s nothing but a lying, bigoted…”
“I know,” Murdoch said. “That’s one of the things he and I have clashed over since he moved here. Did it have anything to do with the fact that Maura is Irish?”
“Yes, sir,” Scott said in surprise. “How did you know?”
“It’s simple, Scott,” Murdoch replied. “You said it yourself. Pierce Wilson is a bigot. He doesn’t like your brother because he’s part Mexican. He doesn’t like Cipriano and Maria and the other Mexicans because they’re Mexican. Maura’s an Irish immigrant. She’s lived here for nigh onto forty years now but to Wilson she’s still an immigrant because she wasn’t born and raised in this country. Of course he’s completely blind to the fact that his own ancestors also immigrated here. But because they were in Jamestown and Plymouth he thinks he’s better than anybody else. He’s got ancestors that settled Georgia with James Oglethorpe so he thinks that makes him better than Maura or myself or anyone else for that matter.”
“That doesn’t make him any better than anyone else though!” Scott was still angry over the slurs the man had cast on the character of two of the nicest people he’d ever met.
“Scott you didn’t…”
“No, Murdoch, I didn’t hit him. But I wanted to!” Scott sighed in frustration. “Mr. Ingersoll and Barry Corrigan stopped me. But they threatened to finish what I started.”
“Just as long as you don’t start it,” his father said firmly. “We have enough problems with the Wilsons. We don’t need any more. They’ll never forget that you were acquitted of the murder of Pierce’s cousin. He still believes you were guilty even if the other fellow did confess in the heat of anger.”
“I’ll try not to, sir, I’ll try.”
“Good. Maria’s got dinner just about ready. Why don’t you go get cleaned up? I expect your brother will be in from the south range any minute now. It’s highly unlikely that he’d miss a meal if he can help it.”
“That’s for sure,” Scott grinned for the first time in hours. “Johnny’s not about to get on the wrong side of Maria – she might ‘forget’ to make tortillas for a few days.”
“Yes, she might,” Murdoch smiled. “Your brother would fade away without his daily dose of tortillas.”
“How could you let yourself be talked into that, Pa,” Mike Wilson wanted to know.
“I had no choice!” his father exclaimed. “If I wanted to keep my position on the committee, which means making things easy for you and drawing a lot of business to your shop and my store, I had to go along with the idea. Even Russ and David are on their side.”
Pierce Wilson had returned home to his small house on the outskirts of Green River and broke the news to his son that the town’s Founder’s Day Committee had gone along with Scott’s idea to found a library and start a scholarship in memory of Blair, Rory and Kendall Talbot.
“It’s ridiculous is what it is,” Mike said in disgust.
“I agree, son, but the rest of the committee is completely sold on the fact that the Talbots have done so much for the community. And not just Green River. Scott Lancer was very persuasive when he pointed out that they willingly help anybody who needs it. That woman has made herself look good by feeding every stray that comes along and working at the orphanage and putting flowers in the mission’s sanctuary and every other ‘good deed’ you can think of! The people of Spanish Wells and Morro Coyo like her too. It’s hard to destroy such a good image.”
“Well if you can’t do anything about the Talbots, what about Lancer?” Mike asked. “Is there something we can do to discredit Scott Lancer? What about that murder charge – I still believe he killed Charles.”
“Won’t wash son. Scott Lancer was cleared when that ex-solder confessed.” Wilson sighed in frustration. “I don’t see any way out of supporting this with our time and money.”
“There’ll be a way Pa,” Mike said. “We’ll find a way.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“I don’t know yet but I’ll think of something. I’ll get Tom and George to help me. Maybe we can put some pressure on Scott Lancer to withdraw his idea.”
“I doubt it. But whatever you do, don’t be seen and don’t get caught. I doubt Sheriff Crawford has much of a sense of humor where we’re concerned – especially after the trial.”
“I won’t get caught Pa.” Mike was supremely confident. “Whatever we decide to do, I won’t get caught.”
Early the next morning Scott rode over to the Bar T to break the news to the Talbots. It had been decided in the meeting that there would be no way to keep secret the fact that they were planning on taking the money the events earned and establishing a scholarship in their sons’ memory, as well as having a plaque made for the new library. The town had donated land for the building to go on and a letter was being drafted to solicit donations of supplies, materials and labor to erect it. Through his grandfather’s business connections Scott knew of a good architect in Sacramento that they could hire to design the library.
If the truth were to be known, Scott was just the tiniest bit nervous about this assignment as he thought of it. Maura Talbot had a way of intimidating him as well as his brother and father. He wasn’t sure how she’d take the news that he’d proposed such a big undertaking in the name of her sons.
“Mrs. Talbot, Mr. Talbot, I have some wonderful news for you. No, that’s not the way to do it. Mr. and Mrs. Talbot the Founder’s Day Committee wants to do you a favor. No, that’s no better.”
The normally self-confident, blond Lancer was struggling with just how to let their friends know what he’d talked the committee into.
“In light of what you both have done for the people of the area, the Founder’s Day Committee has decided…” Scott was frustrated. All his fancy speeches were sounding very lame to his ears.
He was still talking to himself and practicing when he rode into the yard at the Bar T. Jim Talbot saw him arrive and walked over to meet him as he dismounted.
“Talking to yourself is a bad habit Scott,” Jim teased him. “Even worse is when you answer yourself back.”
“Huh?” Scott blinked and blushed slightly. “Oh. Sorry Mr. Talbot. I didn’t know you were there.”
“That’s pretty obvious.” Jim was amused at seeing this side of his friend’s older son. It wasn’t something they usually saw. Even with them he could still be pretty formal. A habit instilled in him as he grew up in his grandfather’s house, Jim figured.
“Mr. Talbot would your wife be around? I need to talk to the two of you.”
“She’s up at the cemetery at the moment Scott. She goes there every morning to put fresh flowers on the boys’ graves and to pull up any weeds that might dare show their ugly head. What’s on your mind?”
“If you don’t mind, sir,” Scott said, “I’d like to tell the two of you together.”
“It is – kind of.”
“All right. Come with me and we’ll go get Maura. Then we’ll go into the house and you can have your little talk.” Jim’s curiosity was aroused but he could tell that it was important to Scott to break his news, whatever it was, to the two of them together.
A quarter mile away, on top of a small hill, they found Maura doing exactly what her husband had said she’d be doing. She was dressed in an old calico dress that was reserved for housework, yard work and messy jobs such as dipping candles and baking. The brown color matched her sparkling brown eyes.
“Scott? What on earth are you doing here at this time of day? Did you decide to run away from home and come to tell us good-bye?” Maura couldn’t resist teasing the young man in front of her.
Scott chuckled briefly. “No, ma’am. Nothing like that. I need to talk to you and your husband in private. It’s kind of important. It’s about something that’s taking place in town and it affects you two personally.”
“Why don’t we go back to the house then?” Jim suggested. “Maura can get us some lemonade and we can be comfortable sitting out on the porch while you tell us what’s on your mind.”
“That’s a good idea Alex,” Maura agreed. “It will give Scott time to compose himself. My goodness, boy, I’ve never seen you so nervous.”
The trio walked back to the house and the men made themselves comfortable on the porch while Maura bustled about in the kitchen setting up a tray with lemonade and cinnamon scones that she’d just made. A dish with freshly churned butter and a knife, as well as individual plates and napkins, were also added to the tray. Returning to the porch her husband relieved her of the tray and put it on the small table that sat between their chairs. Then he, and Scott who had also risen to his feet when she returned, waited until she was settled before seating themselves again. It took just a minute for Maura to distribute the mid-morning snack. When the men were served she helped herself to a scone and glass of lemonade and then turned expectantly to Scott.
“Now what is it you have on your mind?” she asked.
“Well, as you know Green River is planning a Founder’s Day celebration for July.”
“Yes, dear, we know,” Maura said to him. “We’re on the committee.”
“Yes, well, there was a meeting yesterday…”
“There was? Why weren’t we notified so we could be there?” Maura wanted to know as Jim looked at him quizzically.
“Well, because we wanted to discuss something without you there.”
“’We?’” Jim asked with a raised eyebrow. “You mean Lancer finally sent a representative to be on the committee? Those notices went out weeks ago.”
“Yes, well, Murdoch kind of lost the letter on his desk,” Scott explained. “Teresa found it the other night after I mentioned the flier that Tim Pittman gave me with our mail.”
“I’m going to have to speak to your father,” Maura said. “Honestly the man is impossible when it comes to that desk of his! It’s a wonder he ever finds anything!”
“Maura,” Jim said to his exasperated wife, “let’s let Scott finish what he came here to say.”
“I’m sorry dear,” Maura apologized “Do go on.”
“Well, as I was saying we held a special meeting and it was brought before the committee that the towns, and the people in them, owe an awful lot to the two of you.” Rushing on before Maura could interrupt him again he continued, “It was decided, after much discussion, that Green River is going to donate the land to build a library in memory of your sons. Everyone in town is doing something to donate money, materials and labor to put it up on that land that the Widow Martin donated. There will be a plaque proclaiming it to be The Talbot Memorial Library. Furthermore, because so many children in this valley haven’t got the money to further their education if they so desire, a scholarship fund is being established as well.”
“Scott Lancer! You don’t mean it?” Maura gasped as tears came to her eyes. “Why, we never asked anyone to do such a thing! Whatever gave the committee that idea?
“Maura, my love,” Jim said with a knowing smile, “I think we’re looking at the one that’s responsible.”
Scott blushed guiltily. He had hoped to keep his part in this somewhat of a secret other than the fact that he agreed it was a wonderful idea. But Jim Talbot read him too well. Better than his father or brother and both of them had gotten to be quite adept at figuring out what was on his mind.
“Scott, did you have something to do with that proposal,” Maura asked him.
“Yes, ma’am, as a matter of fact I did,” Scott admitted. “Don’t you see? It’s a way to repay you for all the times you’ve nursed somebody without asking for any pay. For all the loans you’ve granted without charging interest to those who couldn’t get one at the bank. For all the work you do at the orphanage, the blankets you buy that you don’t need, the meals you’ve given to a hungry stranger. Not to mention the clothes you make for the poor and needy and the baskets of food you’ve delivered. Chores you’ve done or sent one of your hands to do when some local farmer or rancher was laid up and unable to do them for himself. And for the babies you’ve delivered, bones you’ve set, fevers you’ve treated, no matter what time of the day or night you were called upon by Dr. Jenkins or a neighbor.”
“But still, Scott to have a library and a scholarship – that’s too much.” It was Jim’s turn to protest.
“No, I don’t believe it is sir,” Scott said. “Your boys would be contributing to the community if they were still living – of this I’m sure. This is a very small way to show you how much we appreciate their sacrifice on behalf of their country.” He paused for a moment. “My father and I had a talk the day after you brought me home when my horse went lame Mr. Talbot. He told me about your boys – what they were like and their likes and dislikes. You had boys who would have been pouring their life into these communities had they lived. A library and a scholarship are nothing. Besides,” he added with a grin, “I figured you’d kill me if we tried to put up a statue.”
“I don’t know what to say,” Maura was stunned. Tears were coursing down her cheeks as she contemplated Scott’s proposal
“Say yes,” Jim told her with a smile though he was pretty amazed himself. “I don’t think you want to break Scott’s heart do you? After he put so much work into this. I’m sure he had his work cut out for him getting Pierce Wilson to agree.”
“That settles it then,” Maura declared. “If Pierce Wilson, whose own son is nothing but a drunken fool, is dead set against honoring our three mischief makers then I agree to the library and the scholarship – but there are conditions you must meet.”
“What’s that?” Scott asked.
“First when the time comes for the library to be dedicated and that plaque I’m sure you’ve ordered, you and your brother are to stand with me and Alex in place of our boys when they are unveiled and when the first scholarship is presented. Secondly that the library is in memory of all the men who fell. And thirdly, while we approve the scholarship there must be no more than three rooms dedicated to the memory of our boys.”
“Oh, now Mrs. Talbot that wouldn’t be right,” he tried to protest. “I – we wanted it to be in honor of your boys because of everything you’ve done!”
“It’s either you abide by my wishes or we don’t agree to your scheme, Scott Lancer! And don’t go looking to Alex for support ‘cause I’m sure he agrees with me. Our boys would want all of their fallen comrades to be honored. And as for the dedication ceremony, you and Johnny are almost as special to us as our boys were and we want you there!”
“Better agree with her son,” Jim said with a twinkle in his blue eyes. “I can’t get you out of this one. Besides I agree with her one hundred percent and I think Rory, Ken and Blair would too if they could.”
“And one more thing, Scott,” Maura said. “I want you to wear your uniform and Johnny to wear his best Mexican styled suit.” When he tried to protest she turned it aside. “You’ll wear them or I won’t agree to this library and scholarship in our boys’ names. Don’t worry about your brother’s reaction. When you break the news to him you tell him that his cookie supply will be permanently shut off if he doesn’t agree to this.”
“If that’s what it takes,” Scott said resignedly. “I’ll have to tell Johnny about the cookies. You know he hates dressing up.”
“He’ll do it for me,” she said confidently.
She was right for Johnny, when Scott informed him of the conditions of the Talbots approval, only put up a token protest at the thought of dressing up and being at the center of attention – especially when threatened with his outside cookie supply being permanently cut off. He wasn’t about to test her word on that. Besides, he knew that Maura Talbot was a woman of her word and if he did refuse to do what she asked she would carry through on her threat. And he loved her cookies, and her, too much to let that happen.
A few days later Johnny was in Green River on ranch business and ran into Tim Pittman. After a short conversation with the teen Johnny continued on to Val’s office for a short visit. When it came time to leave he was angered to find Mike Wilson bullying the boy, who was attempting to make his rounds with the mail, and moved to interfere before Tim was hurt. It was fairly obvious that Wilson had been drinking again and he was always a nasty drunk. A year or so earlier, with a broken arm in a sling, Scott had received a blow from a drunken Wilson that sent him crashing into the bar and resulted in a concussion. Johnny had come very close to killing Mike Wilson that day. Only the intervention of some of their friends in the saloon had kept him from doing it. Mike had been jailed and his father, Pierce, had been forced to pay Sam Jenkins’ bill for treating Scott.
On Johnny’s heels was the ranch’s collie, Lady Sweet Friend. Lady SF, or just plain Lady, was devoted to Johnny more than any of the Lancers. Whenever possible she would be right there with him regardless of what he was doing. A trip to town following Johnny and Barranca was a rare treat as she was a working cow dog contrary to a collie normally being a sheep dog. Lady stood about three feet tall at the top of her head and was black with brown on her legs, dainty white paws and that white ruff that all collies have. Her face and head were mostly black from the ears down making her appear as if she were wearing a cowl or a hood. The black extended down the center of her muzzle. From her cheeks and to the sides of her ruff was brown with two brown patches that looked like eyebrows above her eyes. Lady was friendly with the whole family but it was Johnny who really owned her heart – in part because he would get down on the ground and play with her more than any of the others. She was a good worker though so Murdoch didn’t object to her occasionally taking off with his younger son. He had a sneaking suspicion that Lady would do her best to see that he kept out of trouble. He often found himself wishing that he’d had one like her when Johnny was a baby. He’d always been one of those children that had two speeds – flat out and dead stop. And dead stop came only when he fell asleep. The flat out had to do with the rate of speed at which he usually traveled – as fast as he could possibly go from the house to the garden to the corral to the barn and everywhere in between.
“What’s goin’ on here?” Johnny asked as he approached the scene of the “altercation”.
“It ain’t none of your business half-breed,” Mike sneered. “It’s between me and the punk kid here.”
“I’m makin’ it my business, Wilson,” Johnny drawled deceptively calmly. “Tim? What’s goin’ on?”
“Mr. Wilson here, he doesn’t like the way I deliver his mail,” Tim said. “He thinks I should deliver his before anyone else’s and that I deliberately lose things on him.”
“Is that right? Well it seems to me that your mail deliveries are arranged for you, from what Scott says. The mail comes in and somebody else sorts it. You just pick it up, already sorted, and deliver it. How does that make it your fault if something gets lost?”
“Boy’s got a responsibility to see that the mail gets delivered on time to the right parties,” Mike said angrily. “See here? This letter’s more than a month old. When I asked him why he was just now delivering it to me he says ‘I don’t know Mr. Wilson. I only deliver the mail when it’s given to me’.”
“So? Why are you mad at him for tellin’ the truth?”
“’Cause it ain’t the truth that’s why. Lying brat lost it when it came and don’t have the guts to admit the truth.”
“Let me see that,” Johnny said. Taking the letter from Mike’s hand he showed it to Tim. “Tim is this the letter you delivered to him?”
“Yes, sir, Johnny,” Tim replied.
“Read that there… what do you call it?”
“Postmark,” Tim answered.
“What’s that postmark say?”
“It’s dated April 25, 1863 and it was sent from Mobile, Alabama,” was the answer.
“Now you see, Mike,” Johnny said. “It ain’t Tim’s fault that that letter didn’t get to you sooner. It was mailed during the war and probably got hung up somewhere behind Confederate lines. Somebody found it not too long ago that knew where you live and sent it on to you thinking it might be important.” Handing him back the letter he added, “I think you owe Tim here an apology.”
“Why don’t you mind your own business?” Mike was embarrassed but he wasn’t about to apologize. He started to swing on Johnny but Lady bared her teeth snarling at him so he wisely backed off.
“Lady, settle down” Johnny called the dog off. Then he looked back at Mike, “Try that again and I won’t stop her next time.”
Tim was looking decidedly nervous and upset at this point. All he wanted to do was the job Mr. Lancer and Mr. Talbot had recommended him for. Mike Wilson, and his father too for that matter, made him nervous and they were always belittling him for wanting more schooling. They were always finding fault with whatever he did and for his somewhat ratty clothes. With eight children in the family Tim’s mother was hard pressed to keep them in clothes that fit well and were in good repair. One or the other of the children was always missing a button or had a seam out. If it wasn’t that they were outgrowing their clothes, it was that they were so threadbare the slightest movement in the wrong manner would rip the knees or the seat out.
“Come on Tim,” Johnny said. “I’ll make the rest of your rounds with you. Me and Lady could do with a walk. Just let me put Barranca up at the livery stable before we go.”
“Sure, Johnny.” Tim was vastly relieved. That meant he could get through the rest of his rounds without the threat of Mike Wilson hanging over his head.
It only took ten minutes to see that Barranca was comfortable and had hay and water to keep him occupied while Johnny was making Tim’s rounds with him. The teen had already delivered to Pierce Wilson. Fortunately the elder Wilson was busy with customers when the boy had walked in so he was able to just leave the mail on the counter for the man to look at later.
In the ladies’ dress shop they encountered Mrs. Veronica Randall, a lady of about the same age as Jelly who had her eye on every eligible bachelor in the area – age being no consideration. Mrs. Randall had been widowed for some ten years, and it was well known that Jelly, the Lancer boys and all the other eligible men in town, tried to avoid her whenever they could. Johnny felt relatively safe in entering her shop this time because he was with Tim. Surely she wouldn’t try any of her sweet talk and bribery and tricks to get him to stay if he told her he was busy. Unfortunately Johnny didn’t reckon on the lady’s determination.
“Johnny Lancer as I live and breathe! How are you my boy! How are your father and your handsome brother? And how’s Jelly doing? I haven’t seen any of you boys in town for quite some time.”
“Uh, no ma’am,” Johnny said trying to stay behind Tim. “I haven’t been in for a couple of weeks. Scott was here a few days ago though. He was at the Founder’s Day meeting.”
“Oh dear, what a shame,” the short and stout widow said. “I was supposed to be at that meeting but I had appointments with Mrs. Hunt, Mrs. Coster, Miss Cheryl McGrath and her mother. I couldn’t get away.”
“No, ma’am,” Johnny said. “Of course not. You couldn’t leave your shop unattended.” As he and Tim headed for the door he added, “I’ll be sure to tell Murdoch and Scott and Jelly that you asked for them. Bye now.”
“What’s your hurry dear boy? I have hot water for tea all ready. And I made some ginger cookies fresh this morning before I opened the shop. Why don’t you stay and have some refreshments with me? I can take a short break from my work here.”
“I can’t, ma’am,” Johnny replied. “I’d really like to but I’m helping Tim here with his rounds this afternoon. And I’ve got Lady with me. You don’t want Lady comin’ in here and makin’ a mess of things.”
“Lady? Oh you mean that sweet, adorable and well-behaved collie of yours?” Mrs. Randall wasn’t giving up easily. “Why she’s no problem at all. She’s a lady just as her name implies.”
“I really have to get goin’,” Johnny said as he edged his way toward the door.
Two seconds later the door was open and he and Tim made their escape. Once the door was safely shut behind them and they were out of sight of her shop window, Johnny leaned against a building and heaved a sigh of relief.
“Tim, be glad you’re too young to be of interest to her. That woman makes me nervous with all that attention she gives me.”
Tim grinned at his friend. “Yeah, Pa says she’s just a mite too interested in any unmarried man of almost any age – especially if he’s got looks and money. In a couple of years, he says, I’ll have to watch out for her.”
“I hope not Tim,” Johnny clapped the boy on the shoulder. “I surely hope not.”
They continued on their way. Johnny took the mail into the saloon and bought Tim a sarsaparilla and himself a beer before they resumed their circuit of the town. It was a hot day and all the talking and the walking Johnny was doing, coupled with the dust, was making both of them thirsty. Their last stop was the sheriff’s office and jail where Val was sitting behind his disaster area of a desk looking at a stack of old Wanted Posters trying to remember whether or not he knew the status of the person depicted and/or described on them.
“Hey Johnny,” Val said as he looked up at the sound of his door opening. “What brings you into town on such a hot day? No strays to chase? Murdoch doesn’t have any bookwork for you to do? No fences need repair?” Then he noticed Tim. “Hello Tim. Got any mail for me?” Looking down he saw Lady. “Well, hello there Lady! You keeping this galoot out of trouble?”
“If you’d stop talking long enough maybe a man could get a word in,” Johnny complained.
“Well, go ahead then,” Val said. “Get your word in.”
Tim grinned. He loved hearing these two go at each other. Scott had explained that they just had to do this in spite of the fact that they were friends. It just wasn’t in their nature to admit that they liked each other’s company or anything.
“Had some banking business to do for Murdoch,” Johnny explained. “His back’s botherin’ him some and Teresa’s fussin’ at him to relax and let me an’ Scott do most of the work. The only way he would do it was if one of us brought the deposit in.”
“And you volunteered?”
“Nah. Scott and I flipped a coin and I won.”
Val looked at his friend suspiciously. “If you ‘won’ by getting to do the banking what did you leave Scott with?”
“Oh he’s cleaning out stalls and cleaning tack.”
“Don’t you have someone who gets paid to do that?”
“Yeah. But Felipe is sick and the other kids are in school. Some of the men are out fixing fences and chasing a bunch of strays that we trailed to the foothills. Others are repairing roofs that were damaged in that storm last week. Stuff like that.”
“I don’t suppose Scott ever stood a chance did he?”
Johnny pretended to pout. “What do ya mean by that?”
“What I mean is that I know you have that two headed coin that I took off that tinhorn gambler a few weeks ago. That wouldn’t by any chance be the coin you used to ‘flip for it’ would it?”
“Val I’m hurt! You’re giving me a bad name in front of Tim here – callin’ me a cheat like that.”
“Oh, it’s okay Johnny,” Tim said. “I pull things like that on my little brother all the time. Sheriff Crawford’s not telling me, or letting me hear, anything I don’t already know about.”
“See there! You’ve corrupted the boy already! Ya make it seem like it’s perfectly okay to do such things to your family!”
They spent another ten minutes with Val, telling him about Johnny’s narrow escape from the Widow Randall when they stopped there to drop off her mail. That tickled Val to no end. He’d just spent fifteen minutes trying to evade her himself not that long before Johnny, Tim and Lady came into his office.
“Tim, why don’t you take Lady and go wait for me outside? I want to talk to the sheriff alone for a minute.”
“Sure Johnny. Come on Lady.” Boy and dog left the office closing the door behind them.
“Val ya gotta do something about Mike Wilson. When I came into town he was practically threatening to beat Tim for bringin’ him a letter that was old. The letter was dated during the war and postmarked from Alabama. It wasn’t the boy’s fault but Mike was going to take it out on him anyway. It seems to me like Mike enjoys intimidating anyone he can. Tim’s only seventeen. He’s no match for Mike drunk or sober. Something’s gotta be done about him.”
“I’ll look out for Tim the best I can,” Val promised. “But unless I actually see Mike do something there ain’t much I can do about it.” Looking out his window at the boy and the dog, who were enjoying each other’s company, he added, “I’ll make it a point to do his rounds with him when he’s got mail to deliver here. Especially if he’s got mail for Mike or his father. I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to do it all the time but I’ll do it whenever I can. I’ll get word to Pete over at the stage depot to let me know when there’s mail for them. I’ll either keep it here and deliver it myself or go with Tim. I’ll make up some excuse to walk with him.” Val heaved a rare sigh, “I surely do wish there was a way to get those two out of this town permanently. They’ve been nothing but a pain in my backside since the day I took this job.”
“Thanks Val. Scott and I will take turns. If Tim’s got mail to deliver, especially to the Wilsons, any time we’re in town we’ll go with him.”
Johnny rose from the seat he had taken during their conversation and got ready to leave.
“I’ll see you later. I’m gonna make the last couple of deliveries with Tim and see him on his way home.”
Both Johnny and Val were true to their word and for the next several weeks Tim was seldom, if ever, seen without one or more of the men making his rounds with him any time he had to go near either of the Wilsons. His parents were well aware of what was happening even though they hadn’t been told. They disliked the Wilsons as much as anyone and had suffered seeing how Tim was often abused for the least little thing like a wrinkled envelope or a business letter that arrived late. None of these things were the boy’s fault and they disliked seeing the bruises on his face or wrists but could do nothing about it because Tim always declared it to be an accident that had caused them.
The next few weeks, leading up to the rodeo, were very busy ones for all concerned. There was a dance one Saturday where the townsfolk managed to raise a fair amount of money selling tickets to the dance and charging for cakes and cookies that were provided for refreshment.
Val, Murdoch, Jim Talbot and a couple of others were kept very busy that night ensuring that the punch bowl didn’t get spiked by one of the young rowdies that was in attendance. Two of them wound up in Val’s jail overnight for being stupid enough to take a swing at him. Two more would be sporting black eyes or sore jaws when Jim or one of the Lancers retaliated in kind to such threats made against them. Jim, while normally a peaceable man, was not one to stand back and take a beating just for the sake of keeping the peace. And he knew that Val wouldn’t expect him to. So when one cowhand, about twenty years younger and full of whiskey foolishly took a swing at him, Jim lashed out with a right cross that felled the young man like a pole axed steer. Then he threw a bucket of water on him and told him to hit the road or he’d be spending the next few days in jail thinking over the consequences of his actions.
Murdoch, too, removed a rowdy from the dance. However, given his size advantage, and with his sons right behind him to back him up, all he had to do was take the man by the belt and the collar and throw him into the street with a stern warning not to return. The man took one look at the expression on the face of the giant who had removed him so easily that he left the barn where the dance was being held and mounted his horse leaving Green River behind within minutes.
“I don’t think he’ll be back,” Murdoch said. “Let’s go back inside boys.”
The three Lancers returned to the dance. The boys immediately sought out a couple of lovely young ladies with which to share the next dance while Murdoch attempted to find a seat on the sidelines and watch for a little while. However, Maura Talbot had other ideas. She’d danced with her husband and she’d danced with Johnny, Scott and Jelly who was floating around somewhere – sometimes eager to dance and sometimes complaining about his sore feet and how he was going to be lame for a long time coming – but she hadn’t had a dance with the best friend she and her husband had. And he wasn’t going to beg off!
“Murdoch Lancer! I’ve been looking all over for you!” she exclaimed. “You owe me at least two dances and I mean to have them now!”
“Now Maura? I’m really feeling rather tired at the moment. Maybe in a few minutes.”
“Now Murdoch and no more excuses,” the petite redhead told him.
“Now.” Murdoch rose to his feet and escorted her to the dance floor while the band played a nice slow tune. However when the last note had died on that tune they struck up a lively polka and soon the rafters were ringing with the sound of stomping feet, music and laughter.
Johnny and Scott, standing over by the punch bowl, had a great time watching their father. Though their father was past his prime, in their opinion anyway, he was enjoying himself immensely and could keep up with the best of them – especially with Maura’s encouragement.
Teresa could be seen dancing with young Tim O’Connor from the Bar T. He was a pleasant young man just a few years older than his dance partner. Tim and Teresa had known each other for most of their lives. There was no romance between them but they were good friends who enjoyed each other’s company. That enjoyment was about to come to an end. Mike Wilson had spotted Teresa who looked lovely in a pink dress with a white yoke and black piping around the border of the yoke and in three places on the skirt. He was determined to have a dance with her and was about to make his desire known.
“I’m cutting in O’Connor so take a walk,” Mike said as he tapped Tim on the shoulder.
“I have no desire to dance with you Mike Wilson,” she said. “Now go away and leave us alone.”
“I said I’m cutting in,” Mike’s voice got a little louder. However it was noisy enough in the barn that his words couldn’t be heard. Johnny and Scott could see from the other side that there was going to be trouble and started making their way across the dance floor to their “sister’s” aid. “Get lost little boy!” He pulled Tim away and gave him a shove, which sent him sprawling.
“I said I don’t want to dance with you,” Teresa said as she tried to go to Tim’s assistance. “Go away!”
“Look here Teresa O’Brien,” the now obviously drunken gunsmith said, “I want a dance with you and I’m going to have it! Now come on!” Taking her by the arm he forced her to leave Tim and out onto the dance floor. Not for long though. Johnny and Scott were fast approaching.
“Let go of me! You’re hurting me!” Teresa was in tears now for Mike’s grasp had hurt her arm.
“You heard the lady,” Scott said as he and Johnny approached. “Let go of her.”
“Mind your own business Lancer!” Mike snarled.
“Teresa is our business,” Johnny said as he arrived on the scene a step behind his brother.
By now Tim had gotten to his feet again. He’d not really been hurt, just a little stunned for a minute. Scott saw him and, assuring himself that the boy was not hurt, said to him, “Tim take Teresa out of here would you please. I think it’s time we went home.”
“Sure Scott,” Tim said. “Come on Teresa let’s go find Mr. Lancer and get you on your way home.”
Murdoch wasn’t hard to find and he left Teresa in Maura and Jim’s care while he went to get the buggy he and Teresa had come to the dance in. Maura wrapped her arm around the shaken girl while Jim kept one eye on her and one on the situation on the dance floor. He was worried about what would happen when the tall, heavy dark haired gunsmith went up against the tall, slim Lancer and the shorter, dark haired Lancer. He needn’t have worried for just as they were about to square off Val Crawford came in. At least he thought it was Val Crawford. The man with the badge on his chest sounded like Val Crawford but he sure didn’t look like him. He was dressed in a black suit with a white shirt and a black string tie. And he was cleaned up, shaved and neat. On top of that Jim could swear he smelled bay rum or some other cologne. If the situation hadn’t been so serious Jim would have burst out laughing and been one of the first to give the younger man a ribbing about his appearance. As it was he knew that Johnny would have something to say once things calmed down and he had a chance to notice it himself.
“Here now! What’s going on?”
“Mike got fresh with Teresa – tried to force her to dance with him,” Johnny told Val.
“On top of that he shoved Tim O’Connor, who was dancing with her, away so that he had her to himself. He didn’t want to let go when she asked him to.”
“Is that right Mike? That the way it was?”
“I have as much right to dance with Teresa O’Brien as anyone else in this room,” Mike said belligerently. “We’d have been just fine if these two had stayed out of it.”
“That may be,” Val said. “But only if she wants to. I get the distinct impression that Miss Teresa wants nothing to do with you. Nor do most of the other girls around here. And, if I’m not mistaken – and I’m sure I’m not – you’ve been drinking. Not a good combination at a public dance.” Looking at the angry Lancer brothers he added, “Now either you can apologize to the lady for your behavior or I can lock you up again and keep you there overnight until you sober up and maybe come to your senses.”
“Yeah apologize. If you don’t want to do that I can always let Johnny and Scott here have a crack at you. I’m sure you’ll be more than happy to apologize to her by the time they get through with you.”
Faced with a night in Val’s jail, a no-win fight with both Lancer brothers or apologizing to Teresa, Mike chose the apology. He could just hear his father now if he spent another night in Crawford’s jail and had another fine to pay. He’d not hear the end of it for quite some time. And that he could live without.
“I’m sorry Teresa,” he said though insincerely. “I didn’t mean you no harm.”
“Just go away and leave me alone!” Teresa said from the shelter of Maura’s arms. “I don’t want to dance with you and I don’t want to speak to you and I don’t want to see you – ever!”
Maura’s arms tightened around the distraught girl and Jim took a protective step forward though he could see that Val and the boys had the situation well in hand. Teresa was special to his wife and himself just as much as she was to Murdoch and the boys. Jim would swear his wife had fantasized about one of their boys marrying her at one time.
“You listen here Mike Wilson!” Maura exclaimed. “You’ve been riding roughshod over everyone, male and female, that you’ve come in contact with since you were ten years old! If you’d been my son you’d have had your backside tanned more than once! Now you leave this dance and don’t you bother Teresa again or I’ll do the honors myself. Why if your mother had lived she’d be ashamed of the way you’ve turned out!”
Smothering a grin, Val told Mike, “You heard the lady – vamoose! And don’t let me hear of you bothering Teresa, or any of the other girls, again! There’s plenty of room in my jail for you to spend the night – or several for that matter – sobering up!”
Mike left, albeit unwillingly, and mumbling under his breath about how he was going to get those Lancers for the way they kept meddling in his life. Val heard him and warned him one more time to get moving and not get into any more trouble. Murdoch returned just a moment or two later to retrieve his family. The encounter with Mike had spoiled the night for Teresa and he felt it was time for them all to go home.
“Thank you for looking out for my girl,” he said to his friends. “We’ve had enough for tonight I think. Come on Teresa let’s go home.”
“She’s never any trouble Murdoch. I told you and Paul that many times over the years,” Maura said to her friend. “Teresa, darling, you go home and try to forget what Mike did. He’s a bully. He always has been. I know he used to torment the younger kids in school.” Maura’s brown eyes were flashing. “It’s high time somebody did something about that young man! He’s nothing but trouble and he has been since before his mother died. How a wonderful woman like Dorothy Wilson could have a son like that I’ll never understand.”
“It’s simple, Maura my love,” Jim said. “Pierce kept that side of his nature hidden until after he and Dorothy were married. She stayed with him right up until she died of typhoid when Mike was eight though no one would have faulted her for getting a divorce. Without his mother’s gentle nature to try and soften him Mike ran wild while his father tended to the store. Pierce tended to ignore the boy’s behavior so he grew up thinking he could get away with anything he wanted to.”
“Well, one of these days somebody’s going to have to take care of him – permanently,” Johnny declared. “I ain’t standin’ by and watching him beat up on kids and force himself on girls like Teresa!”
“Somebody will,” Val said, “but it better not be you! Let the law handle it. That’s what I get paid for.”
The Lancers and Teresa left the dance and headed for the buggy and their horses. Mike Wilson was nowhere to be found much to everyone’s relief. It seemed he had taken Val’s warning seriously. Little did they know that disaster was waiting for them just around the corner when the rodeo got under way in just a few days.
The first day of the rodeo dawned cloudy and cool but that was no deterrent to the determined entrants. The calf ropers and steer ropers were pleased because their horses wouldn’t get overheated and sick. Those who were running the barbecue were pleased because it meant more coffee, chili and other hot foods would be sold. The more they sold the more money they raised for the scholarship and library funds. Previous events held as fundraisers, such as the dance, a band concert and an auction had raised a fair amount of money. Various ranchers and storeowners in the three towns made pledges of money, labor and materials to help with the construction of the library and to boost the scholarship fund. Whether it was because they had children ready for college or because they wished they’d had help when they were starting out on the road to a higher education, everyone but the Wilsons, had been very generous.
The Lancers arrived early. Barranca gleamed like a newly minted gold coin from the grooming Johnny had given him. His saddle and bridle shined as well from the cleaning Jelly had given it for Johnny. Scott’s new mount, a tall bay by the name of Ranger, was also well groomed. But he was sporting plain leather tack while Johnny had somehow gotten his hands on a fancy, silver trimmed saddle and bridle. Scott suspected his little brother had been saving his poker winnings for quite some time in order to afford that rig. Rodeos, being colorful affairs and exciting, had a way of making the men dress in bright colors and jingly spurs even if it wasn’t normally their way.
Johnny was wearing his blue figured shirt but had his dark brown bolero jacket on over it. The jacket was the one with the embroidery on the lapels and had mysteriously shown up in his room around St. Patrick’s Day when his family was teasing him about the leprechaun they had at Lancer – said leprechaun being some member of his family playing a joke on him. He wore the brown pants with the studs down the sides of the legs but his boots were the same one’s he’d been wearing for months though polished to a deep sheen. He didn’t want to try and compete wearing new, tight fitting boots that pinched his feet.
Scott was wearing his brown pants and blue shirt. His boots, also, were ones that he’d been wearing for a while and were no less polished than his brother’s. He and Ranger were keeping pace with the wagon driven by Jelly while Johnny and Barranca were on the other side. Jelly had trimmed his beard slightly and his hair was neatly combed. On top of his head was his ever-present soft cap. Teresa sat beside him wearing a brown skirt and a blue and white-checkered blouse. Normally she wouldn’t have bothered with a hat but Maria had insisted that she wear a boy’s Stetson since she would be out in the sun all day. The matronly Mexican woman didn’t want the little chica to get sick from too much sun.
Murdoch brought up the rear on his big sorrel with the white face. His horse was very distinctive from all the other horses of the same coloring because his white face actually had a spot the size of a fifty-cent piece that was not white.
Thoroughly enjoying herself in the back of the wagon and watching Johnny with adoring eyes was Lady. Once she was in that wagon there was no coaxing or scolding that would get her to stay home. Johnny and his family were going to town and she was going to go with them. That’s all there was to it! Nobody, but nobody was going to tell her otherwise. Teresa had defended her telling her guardian that Lady deserved to have a good time as much as the rest of them. After all she worked hard at keeping Johnny happy and out of trouble.
Murdoch couldn’t argue with that logic. Or maybe it was the pleading look on the faces of his two youngest children. For though her name was O’Brien, Teresa was as much his as the boys since the death of her father several years earlier. He relented and Lady was coaxed into the wagon where she could save her energy until she needed it. Besides, Teresa pointed out, she could guard the blankets and the picnic lunch and their donations to the barbecue. Johnny didn’t say anything – he wasn’t going to beg – but Murdoch knew that his younger son was eager to have his canine companion along for the ride – literally and figuratively.
The big open area where the rodeo and the barbecue were going to be held was abuzz with activity. A rodeo arena had been hastily thrown together and now several of the officials were going around checking the stability of the fencing. The last thing they wanted was for some bull, bronc or steer to go slamming into that fence and knocking it down. That would allow other livestock to escape and could possibly cause harm to contestants and spectators alike. A small crew of cowboys was making sure that the chutes and pens, where the calves, steers, broncs and bulls would be released from were functioning properly. Again it was a concern that a bull or a steer, in particular, might break the gate.
Over on the North end of the arena there was a holding pen for the calves to be used in the calf roping. Johnny and Scott, along with at least half a dozen other riders, went over to investigate. Each one of them pointed out the ones that looked like they’d be either the easiest or the hardest one to take down. Timing was everything but they couldn’t predict which way a calf would go once it was released. Some went in straight lines and others weaved back and forth making it harder for them to be caught. It was the same out on the open range at branding time.
On the east side the broncs were being penned. One dappled gray was lashing out at anyone and anything that even got close to him. El Diablo by name, he was easily the nastiest ride anyone would draw. So naturally Johnny wanted him. His brother gave him a look that said he thought he was crazy – especially when Johnny whooped in delight after drawing Diablo’s name out of the hat that was passed around. Scott didn’t want the “privilege” of explaining to his father how his younger brother wound up with a broken neck or back because he got the worst bronc in the bunch.
The contestants were assigned numbers by which they would be called and kept track of during all the events. Scott drew number fifteen and Johnny number sixteen. It pleased the brothers that they had sequential numbers. It made them all the more unforgettable.
An hour later, with Lady close at Johnny’s heels, they met up with their father and Teresa. Jelly had been asked to help at the barbecue and he was more than happy to oblige. The boys rolled their eyes. They’d been through this before and there would be no living with Jelly for weeks after this was over.
“Well did you two get signed up for everything you wanted to enter?” their father asked as they approached.
“Oh, yeah,” Johnny grinned. “I signed up for the saddle bronc riding and the bull dogging. Scott’s gonna be my partner in the calf roping and we’re going to take a stab at the team roping.”
“I didn’t have a whole lot of choice in the matter,” Scott chuckled, his blue-gray eyes twinkling. “I’m afraid I got carried away by little brother’s enthusiasm.”
A quick look at his watch told Murdoch that he and Teresa had better find some seats. The grandstand was filling up fast and the boys needed to get their mounts ready. The first event, after the parade, was the calf roping. Lady was going to stay with the boys. She’d stay out of trouble and not cause any interference with the competition if Johnny told her where to lie down.
“We’d better go, Teresa, if we want to get decent seats. I told Jim we’d save seats for him and Maura and the Pittmans.”
Teresa gave each of her brothers a “good luck” kiss and turned to follow her guardian. They made their way to the grandstand and were joined, five minutes later, by Jim and Maura Talbot and Dave and Martha Pittman and the seven youngest children. By name they were, Andy aged twelve, Judith age ten, Holly age nine, Billy age seven, his twin Bobby, Ricky age five and Dan age four. Teresa took Dan on her lap leaving his mother free to hold a squirming and excited Ricky as the parade entered the arena.
“Here, Murdoch,” Jim Talbot said as he handed him something. “Have a program. It’s got the names of the sponsors and the schedule printed in it. My wife insisted that we get one for everyone.”
“Ma, I’m hungry,” five-year-old Ricky declared.
“You can’t be hungry,” his mother said. “Not after that big breakfast you all ate!”
“Martha at that age they’re always hungry,” Maura told her as she took some cookies out of the small paper sack she was carrying. “My boys would get up from the table and be back five minutes later saying they were hungry. It’s next to impossible to keep them filled up.”
“What do you say to Mrs. Talbot, Ricky?”
“Thank you,” was the reply she got around a mouthful of cookie.
Maura smiled and ruffled the boy’s blond hair. “There’s enough here for all of them,” she told the children’s mother.
“You spoil them Mrs. Talbot,” their father said.
“Nonsense!” Maura exclaimed. “They’re good children. And you can’t spoil good children.”
“It doesn’t pay to argue with my wife,” Jim joked. “She may not always be right but she’s never wrong!”
Murdoch choked when he heard that statement and Teresa pounded him on the back. That was hitting a little close to home. Jelly was often described the same way.
The sound of a brass band filled the air as all of the men entered in the rodeo filed in. A young lady dressed in a white buckskin skirt and fringed jacket over a turquoise blouse carried a large American flag on a staff and led the group in a lap around the arena. After the lap was completed they exited and the ring was emptied except for some hazers. The steer roping was next.
The audience sat transfixed as team after team chased their steers down the middle of the arena. Only one team failed to do well. Johnny and Scott had the fourth best time because some of the men they were competing against had been doing this kind of work on round ups for many years. By comparison they were rank amateurs. It didn’t get them down though. They just geared up for the next event which was the calf roping.
The calf roping took approximately an hour by the time all the teams had competed. The judges then had to look over all the times and determine who would go on to the quarterfinals. After the quarterfinals would come the semi-finals and then the finals. Scott and Johnny were the third team to qualify for the quarterfinals, which would take place the next day. That being determined they went to join their family and neighbors in the grandstand to watch the bull riding competition. Scott had, with some difficulty, talked Johnny out of entering that particular competition. Johnny only agreed when Scott pointed out that he was already entered in the bull dogging and the bronc riding and those were plenty dangerous enough. Sam Jenkins would have his head if he took on the bulls as well. Bull dogging was actually steer wrestling and required upper body strength but wasn’t as hazardous.
“Hello everyone,” Scott said as he and Johnny joined the crowd.
“Hi Scott! Hi Johnny!” rang a chorus of young voices.
“Hey kids! How are you?” Johnny asked as he scooped up Billy onto his lap. Scott did the same with Bobby.
“Fine!” Billy answered. “Mrs. Talbot gave us some molasses cookies ‘cause we were hungry.”
“She did! Did you save any for me and Scott?” Johnny asked.
“Of course I did,” Maura answered him. “I thought you and Scott might like some as well as the children so I saved an extra sack of them. They’re in the buggy though. I forgot to bring them with me.”
“I’ll go get them,” Scott said putting Bobby down on the seat next to Lady who had found just enough space between him and Johnny to squeeze in next to her favorite.
“Nah, don’t worry about it right now Scott. We’ll get ‘em later. You don’t want to miss the competition.”
Scott scooped Bobby up with a slight shrug and settled down to watch the bull riders. He wouldn’t trade places with them for anything. He liked the safe and secure feeling of sitting in the stands watching in the company of his family and their neighbors – especially their surrogate mother who spoiled them so. Scott was an honest young man and he had to admit that Maura Talbot had a tendency to spoil him and Johnny rotten and that they enjoyed it.
The group watched the bull riding competition from their seats halfway up the grandstand. The little girls squealed, the big girls – Teresa and Judith gasped, and the men and boys cheered for each rider who managed to stick for the allotted time of eight seconds. Not too many of them did though. The bulls that had been borrowed for this event were all pretty tough. Johnny began to see the wisdom of his brother’s suggestion that he not go out for it. He’d have enough trouble sticking to one of those broncs.
After a while the smell of barbecued chicken, roasting beef and hickory smoke wafted over toward the grandstand making the younger children set up a clamor for lunch though it was still too early.
“Tell you what kids,” Scott said. “Johnny and I will treat you to some lemonade and, when it’s ready, we’ll take you over to the barbecue and eat lunch with you.
“Come on,” Johnny said as he put Billy down. “Let’s go get those drinks my brother’s talking about. Lemonade sounds pretty good right about now.”
The two Lancers took the seven children, each of them carrying one of the two youngest. Dan and Ricky had a hard time keeping up with the group. Their excited squeals could be heard above the noise as they were scooped up and put on the brothers’ shoulders where they could see quite a lot farther than when they were on the ground. Andy and Judith managed the other children by holding hands with them so they wouldn’t be separated.
Several glasses of lemonade later they returned to their seats. The rodeo organizers had arranged for a chuck wagon race and it was the next event. Immediately following that would be the calf roping so Johnny and Scott couldn’t linger much longer. They would have to get their horses, tighten the cinches and be ready to go when their numbers were called.
It was quite an exciting race as the wagons raced around the arena three times raising a big cloud of dust as they did so. The shouts of the drivers calling to their teams filled the air as they circled the arena. A driver from the Bent Arrow eventually won after narrowly avoiding a collision with the wagon from the Flying M that had tipped over on its side. Fortunately for all concerned the wagon was undamaged and the driver was uninjured. However it took some muscle, including help from Johnny and Scott to right the wagon again and then the nervous team had to be calmed down before they could be re-hitched.
The calf-roping event went fairly well for the Lancers. Johnny and Scott, along with two teams that consisted of Lancer ranch hands Frank Gilbreth and Tom Curran and Jack Banner and Bill Stark, all had good enough times to qualify for the quarterfinals. When the first round of competition was over Johnny and Scott had placed third – but only because the calf they’d drawn refused to keep on a straight path no matter what Scott and Ranger did to steer him that way. And Johnny, the roping half of the team, had a little trouble putting the calf down because it fought him all the way.
“Nice work boys,” their proud father said as they met up a little way from the gate.
“Thanks,” Scott said. “That calf was a stubborn little thing. I couldn’t keep him going straight no matter what I did.”
“That was obvious,” Teresa said. “But you and Johnny did good. You’re in the quarterfinals tomorrow.”
“You did a fine job boys,” Jim Talbot told them. “I wish my own team had done as well.” The Bar T’s entry had come in fifth. Tim O’Connor had done his part but was handicapped by a partner that was too lazy to practice. It remained to be seen how much longer Dave Bradley had a job. He hadn’t shown himself to be all that ambitious around the ranch either.
“Come along now everyone,” Maura said to the assembled group. “It’s time to get something to eat and then put these children down for a nap so their mother can have some time to herself.”
The Pittmans, Talbots and Lancers all headed for the barbecue area where they found Jelly had somehow manipulated himself into a supervisory position. He could be heard bossing everyone around as to where to put the extra wood, how much to serve to each person and so on and so forth.
The adults had barbecued beef along with potatoes and green beans. The children were served chicken with potatoes and green beans. There was fresh bread and butter and, for beverages, milk for the children and Johnny and coffee for the adults. Everyone ate until they felt like they were bursting. Johnny surreptitiously managed to sneak some bits of beef to Lady who couldn’t decide whether she wanted to sit next to him or near one or more of the Pittman children. It thrilled her to have so many potential playmates.
“Johnny,” his father said, “instead of feeding her those little pieces why don’t you get a dish and feed her normally. And get her some water.”
Johnny looked up guiltily and caught his brother grinning at him. With a good- natured shrug and grin of his own he got a dish from the barbecue servers and put some choice bits of beef on it for her. Teresa had thoughtfully included a bowl for water in their supplies and this Johnny got from the back of their wagon.
About this time Val Crawford showed up. It took him longer to make his rounds now that he had to include the rodeo grounds in his circuit. He had been able to hire two temporary deputies and they were patrolling the rodeo site. Val would meet up with them shortly and get a report as to how things were going. Large gatherings like this were very tempting to pickpockets and swindlers.
“Hey Val!” Johnny greeted his rumpled looking friend. “How’s it goin’”
“Fine. It’d be better if I had you workin’ with me,” Val replied. “What do you say Johnny? Gonna give up this glamorous hobby and come work for me for a while?”
“Nope.” Johnny replied. “Me and Scott are doin’ real well in a couple of our events. I ain’t givin’ that up for anybody.”
“You might as well give it up Val,” Scott said. “My little brother’s not about to sacrifice a chance at winning some prize money. It beats poker any day. All he had to risk was his entry fee.”
“Aw, heck,” the sheriff said. “It was worth a try.”
“Nice try buddy,” Johnny said. “But I ain’t fallin’ for it.”
Val left the group and started making his rounds. The children declared that they were ready for dessert so Maura went to the buckboard she and Jim had arrived in and got the extra sack of cookies. There were enough in it for everyone, including the adults in their party, to have two apiece.
After dessert was finished, and they’d taken their dirty dishes to the collection point for garbage and dirty dishes, Mrs. Pittman told the youngest children that it was time for them to take a nap if they wanted to watch the afternoon events and play a few games before they went home to do the evening chores. She rounded up her youngest, the twins, Ricky and Dan and took them over to their wagon. Lady decided to go with them after looking to Johnny for approval, which was quickly given.
Johnny and Scott decided to wander around the grounds together for a while. They wanted to scope out the competition and see how some of their friends were doing. It would give the horses a chance to rest. And there were several booths around selling food, drink, pottery etc. where they might find a gift or two to put aside for somebody’s birthday or Christmas. As luck would have it they found a booth selling glassware and purchased a beautiful, rounded green vase of cut glass for Teresa and a similar one of blue for Maria. A ruby red one was purchased for Maura.
Their purchasing done Johnny decided to hang around with some friends for a while and Scott went back to the wagon to carefully store their fragile gifts. It didn’t take him long. In passing the Pittman’s wagon he saw Lady lying down with the children who were napping. Not having seen Tim all day he asked where he was.
“Mrs. Pittman,” he asked, “where’s Tim? I haven’t seen him all day. Didn’t he want to come?”
“He stayed behind to do the children’s chores Scott,” she explained. “And then Mr. Ingersoll had a couple of small jobs for him to do. I imagine he’s making the rounds with the mail long about now. He’ll be here.”
The answer he got worried the blond. He and Johnny were here on the fairgrounds and he was pretty sure Val was still here. He’d just seen him less than five minutes ago talking with one of his temporary deputies. That meant that Tim, against whom Mike Wilson seemed to harbor a special grudge, was alone in town. That meant that he was totally vulnerable to whatever abuse Mike might have in store for the boy.
Hastily Scott stored the vases in the back of the wagon that Jelly and Teresa had arrived in. Then he headed toward the center of town to see if he could catch up with Tim before he got near the Wilsons’ establishments. He was as serious as Johnny about protecting the teenager from the older, heavier bully. He found Tim just as the teen was falling to the ground from a blow delivered in rage by Mike Wilson. It seemed that Tim had done something to incur Mike’s wrath yet again and Scott was determined to find out what the problem was this time.
“What’s going on here?” he demanded to know as he arrived to help Tim up.
“It ain’t none of your business!” Mike snarled. “I told your brother the same thing!”
“I’m making it my business!” Scott snapped. “Tim, are you all right?”
Tim held his right hand to the side of his face to try and hide the bruise that was forming there. Scott gently dislodged it and saw the injury. His blue-gray eyes narrowed and sparks flew from them when he saw the extent of it.
“You run along down to see Doc Jenkins and get that looked at,” he told the teenager. “He might have some kind of a poultice or something you can put on it.” Turning to Mike after the boy had left he said, “You might have broken the boy’s jaw. What was the problem this time?”
“He’s nothin’ but a punk kid with a fresh mouth!” Mike lied. “He lies through his teeth about when my mail comes and sasses me when I confront him with it.”
“You liar!” Scott was
angrier than he had been in a very long time.
“The boy is as honest as the day is long.
If he says your mail is late arriving, like that letter Johnny told me
about, then that’s what happened. If
you’d stop to think about it, and didn’t spend half your time in the saloon
you’d know it was the truth.” Taking
a deep, calming breath he added, “I’m going to report this to the sheriff
but if I ever catch you abusing Tim, or anyone else, I won’t bother with the
Mike snarled and would have punched Scott only Scott was too fast for him. He ducked under the blow that was aimed at his head and landed one of his own on Wilson’s jaw. Before Mike could regain his feet Scott had his gun out and pointed at him.
“Try it and you’re a dead man,” Scott said.
The gunsmith glowered but backed off. A crowd had gathered and he could see that Scott would have plenty of witnesses to back him up that it was self defense.
“I’ll take care of you later,” he said as he stalked off.
“You’d better try to avoid him as much as possible for a while, Scott,” Brad Ingersoll said. “He’s mad enough to chew you up and spit you out! And he’s just mean enough to carry out whatever he’s got in that twisted little mind of his.”
“Don’t worry about me, Mr. Ingersoll,” Scott said. “I’m going to have a little chat with our esteemed sheriff and see what can be done to get rid of Mike Wilson once and for all.” With that Scott headed back toward the rodeo arena in search of Val Crawford.
His search was in vain as Val was nowhere to be found. Nobody, including his father, Teresa or Jelly had seen Val for at least half an hour if not longer. Frustrated, Scott scoured the grounds before heading back to town.
"Quiet!” one of them said. “Here he comes. Get ready – we’re gonna teach mister high and mighty Scott Lancer a lesson about sticking his nose in where it don’t belong.”
Scott, completely unaware of what was about to transpire in the alley he was approaching, was lost in thought. He was tired – sick and tired – of Mike Wilson and his bunch. Harassing adults was one thing – they could fend for themselves. But to harass a teenager just because they could…well that was too much. He was going to find Val Crawford and lodge a formal complaint on behalf of the Pittmans.
Passing by the alley between the barber shop and the General Store, the same alley where Charles Wilson had been murdered nearly a year before, Scott felt two pairs of strong hands pull him off the street and slam him into the wall of one of the buildings.
White lights exploded on his vision as well as stars. Dimly he could hear rough voices as hands reached out and pulled him away from the building only to feel himself being shoved up against the building again, but facing outward this time.
Two pairs of hands pinned him against the wall as two others took turns inflicting as much damage as they could. He tasted blood as one blow smashed into his mouth. As he struggled to free himself more blows rained down upon him. A couple of them hit him in the side possibly breaking some of his ribs. He was already in so much pain that he wasn’t sure.
“Learned your lesson yet Lancer?” the leader hissed in his ear. “Maybe this will help.”
Lady trotted down the street toward the Livery Stable. A quick tour of the building assured her that neither Johnny nor Scott were in there.
She couldn’t understand how she could have lost them and she wasn’t happy. Not even a short visit with Barranca and Ranger settled her down. She craved attention from a human companion. Johnny, who had trained her and would play with her, was her first preference but Scott could be convinced to play with her on occasion.
Leaving the stable she trotted down the street toward the saloon. A quick listen and sniff at the door told her that neither of the Lancer boys were in there either. The bartender saw her and gave her a cold drink and a piece of steak, patting her on the head as he put them down. It took but a minute to dispose of the treat giving a short bark of thanks and wagging her plume of a tail in appreciation.
Lady set off down the street again being greeted by the few souls that were on the street. Most residents were at the rodeo. Zeek’s barbershop was closed, as was the General Store. It was for this reason that Scott’s assailants had chosen the alley between them from which to launch their attack. And Mike Wilson felt it poetic justice as that was where his father’s cousin had been murdered – a murder they still blamed on Scott even though the blond Lancer had been exonerated.
As she approached the alley where the attack was taking place the collie picked up Scott’s scent and followed it to the entrance of that alley. Muffled moans and the sound of angry voices drew her attention to the now life and death struggle.
“You learn your lesson yet, Lancer?” Mike Wilson asked.
Scott’s answer was to free himself long enough to let Wilson have it in the mouth.
Wilson put his hand to his mouth. Pulling his fingers away he saw blood and got even angrier than he already was.
“Hold him,” he snapped to his confederates who had regained control of Scott. “You’re going to regret that Lancer.”
“Mike! No!” one of the men holding Scott said.
“Shut up!” Wilson said. “He’s had this coming.”
What concerned Wilson’s cohort was the knife that Wilson had pulled and was waving threateningly in Scott’s face.
The three men holding Scott were nervous. Mike Wilson seemed to have lost his sanity, he was so consumed with anger. Scott, still struggling, managed to free himself again trying to evade the knife. He was light-headed and in a lot of pain.
Wilson’s blade sliced through Scott’s shirt leaving a long, deep gash on his right arm. Tears came to his blurry eyes and he was on the verge of passing out when Wilson suddenly shrieked in pain himself. Faintly, as he sank to the ground, Scott could hear the other men leaving the alley and what he thought sounded like a wolf growling.
Scott wasn’t far wrong for a collie is related to the wolf – both being canines. Lady, attracted by the noise, had entered the alley. Recognizing Scott’s voice – pain-filled though it was – she quickly took stock of the situation and launched herself at his attackers.
Mike Wilson’s cronies, cowards at heart, fled quickly. Mike would soon wish he had for seconds later Lady had his wrist in her teeth and wasn’t letting go until he dropped the knife. He soon did and shook her off. His attempts to pick up the knife were thwarted by Lady’s growling charges every time he got near. The proverbial light of battle was in her beautiful brown eyes and he was a fool for even trying to get near it.
Hearing men’s voices approaching the alley Mike gave up his attempts and fled – Lady on his heels. Only Scott’s weak call as he collapsed altogether stopped the collie’s aggressive pursuit of his attackers. Lady hesitated briefly but quickly returned to where Scott lay, now unconscious, on the ground. Whining, she pawed at him gently and poked her long nose down the back of his shirt as she had done to Johnny many times when waking him from a nap, in an attempt to wake him up but it didn’t happen, so she lay down next to him, with her head resting on her dainty white paws, until a couple of cowboys came to investigate.
Not knowing if these men meant any harm to Scott, Lady bared her teeth, barking and growling any time one of them tried to approach. A couple of minutes later Sheriff Val Crawford arrived on the scene, having been alerted by the bartender from the saloon who, in turn, had been notified of the trouble by a passing cowboy.
“What’s goin’ on here?” Val asked. “Back off and let me through.”
The crowd parted to let Val through. Lady stood over Scott, teeth bared, until she recognized Val and he managed to calm her down.
“Take it easy girl. I ain’t gonna hurt him. You know me.”
Slowly Lady’s tail began to wag and her growling ceased. Another minute and her ears came back up as she realized that this was Johnny’s friend and he wanted to help. She backed away but stayed protectively close to both men. She didn’t know the rest of the men who were gathered so none of them were going to get close to her master’s injured brother or his friend.
Val gently turned Scott over wincing when he saw Scott’s bruised and battered face. Cursing under his breath, Val turned to the crowd of spectators. Looking the crowd over he said to a tall blond, “Thompson go to Doc Jenkins office and bring him here. I don’t want to move Scott until he says it’s ok.”
To a shorter, stockier redhead he said, “Mahan go find Murdoch Lancer – he’s at the rodeo. Tell him, tell him Scott’s been hurt, and to meet me at the doctor’s office. Beecher, find Johnny and bring him to Doc’s office. I don’t care what he’s doing or who he’s with. Just get him there!”
The three men scurried off to do as they were told and Val turned his attention back to his friend’s injured brother. Wiping away some of the blood from Scott’s face with a borrowed handkerchief, Val tried to clean him up some. It was then that he noticed the arm wound.
Cursing again he said, “Boy, when you Lancers do something ya sure don’t do it halfway do ya?”
“Stand aside. Let the doc through,” said someone in the back of the crowd.
Sam Jenkins, tall and gray haired, with a face lined by years of care and worry over patients, placed his bag on the ground next to the injured man.
“What happened Val,” he asked the sheriff as he prepared to examine his latest patient.
“Danged if I know Doc,” Val answered. “Brodie over to the saloon heard there was trouble in the alley here. Some cowboy heard voices and a dog growing and barking. When I got here Scott was unconscious and Lady was keeping everyone away from him.
After a quick examination, Sam told several of the men to carry Scott to his office. Lady had to be restrained by Val when Scott moaned as they picked him up. One of the men in the crowd lent Val his lariat to use as a leash. Without Johnny to reassure her, Lady didn’t trust the men who were carrying Scott.
Upon entering Sam’s office the men put Scott down on the examination table then left to go about their business. Murdoch arrived just a very few minutes later having been located and summoned by Val’s messenger. His face was creased with worry lines.
“I don’t know yet Murdoch,” the doctor answered the unspoken question. “I haven’t had a chance to look him over yet.
Murdoch opened his mouth to ask if he could see Scott but Sam cut him off. “Not yet Murdoch. Wait here and I’ll come for you when I’m ready.”
The door to his office flew open just then and a small red-haired tornado entered followed by a tall blond man. Maura and Jim Talbot had just heard the news and she was ready, willing and able to help Sam examine, patch up and nurse Scott. Jim was there to lend moral support to his friend while he waited to hear how he was.
Maura handed Jim her reticule and the hat and suit jacket she was wearing. Then she rolled up the long sleeves of her white blouse.
“Come along Sam,” she said as she walked toward the back room. “You and I have work to do.”
With a silent prayer of thanks for the providential arrival of his best nurse and her husband, who were also good friends of the Lancers, Sam followed her.
Once in the back room, Maura took an oversized apron from a hook on the wall and put it over her dark blue skirt and the white blouse. Quietly and efficiently she set about cleaning Scott’s face with warm water from the nearby stove.
“That lip doesn’t look too bad Sam. I don’t think it will require any stitches. Those cuts and scrapes don’t look too bad either but he’s got a nasty lump on his forehead.”
“You’re right Maura,” Sam agreed. “But that gash on his arm is nasty. Looks kind of deep too.”
The cuts and scrapes on Scott’s face were cleaned so the medical team turned their attention to his wounded arm. It took them a good ten minutes to clean it, stop the bleeding and put a dozen stitches in it.
The visible injuries being taken care of, they next turned their attention to those they hadn’t seen yet. Using a pair of shears Maura cut Scott’s blue shirt off as it was beyond repair anyway. She gasped when she saw the dark bruises on his rib cage and abdomen.
“Broken ribs Sam?” she asked. “On top of the damage to his face?”
Sam gently probed Scott’s side and affirmed Maura’s diagnosis. “I’m afraid so, Maura. There’s at least three, if not four. If that fourth one’s not broken, it’s cracked pretty good.”
Johnny raced into Sam’s office ten minutes after Scott was brought in. He was breathing heavily, for he had run all the way from the rodeo site as soon as he got the word about his brother from Keith Beecher.
Murdoch caught him as he stumbled in his haste and startled Lady who yelped from where she was sitting between Murdoch and Val. Val still retained control over the collie as Murdoch’s mind was on his son and not the dog.
“Slow down, Johnny,” Murdoch said.
“Where’s Scott? How is he? What happened?”
The questions tumbled out one after the other as Johnny anxiously inquired about his brother.
“He’s in the back room,” his father told him. “Sam’s examining him now and Maura Talbot is helping him.”
“We don’t know much of anything yet John,” Jim Talbot said. “Only what Val here was able to tell us.”
“Val?” Johnny turned to his friend.
“Don’t know much Johnny,” the sheriff said to his friend. “Brodie over to the saloon heard there was trouble in the alley between the General Store and Zeek’s. By the time I got there it was all over, and Lady here wasn’t lettin’ no one near your brother.”
Just then Sam came out of the back room. Hearing him, everyone looked up eager and anxious for news.
“In a few minutes,” the physician said. “Val, Jim, would you come with me for a minute please.”
Leading the way to the back room, he explained that he wanted them to help him get Scott in the bed he reserved for his more seriously ill or injured patients.
“I want him in that bed, propped up some, before the family sees him,” he explained.
When the three men entered the examination room Maura left to turn down the bed and get the pillows in place. A moment later the three men walked in carrying Scott on an improvised stretcher, which was to say a large blanket, and gently placed him down on the bed. When he was settled to Sam’s satisfaction, and as comfortable as Maura could make him with pillows and blankets Jim went to get Murdoch and Johnny so they could be there when Scott came to. Val stayed where he was so he could get Scott’s story immediately.
Two very worried Lancer men entered the room and took up positions by Scott’s bedside. Murdoch took the chair while Johnny stood at the foot of the bed watching his brother. Scott’s chest could be seen faintly rising and falling as he breathed but other than that, at the moment, there was no movement and no sign that he was going to come around. However, a moment later his eyelids started to flutter and he began to moan as consciousness returned.
“Scott, wake up,” Murdoch said.
At the sound of his father’s voice Scott’s eyes finally did manage to open – that is his left eye did. His right eye was swollen shut from the beating he’d taken.
“Yes, son, it’s me. Can you tell us what happened?”
“Scott?” Johnny asked before Val could open his mouth. “Who did this to you?”
“Yeah, brother, it’s me. Can you tell us who did this?”
“M-M-Mike….Wil-Wilson.” Scott managed to get out.
“Are ya sure Scott?” Val asked.
“Yes. M-Mike Wilson and….and…three others.”
“Do you know who the other three were? Could you identify them?”
“T-T-Tom Bell….George Burke…J-J-Joe Mason.”
“That’s enough for now,” Sam interjected. “He’s in a lot of pain and I want to give him something for it. When I do he won’t be of any use to you for quite a while.”
Reluctantly Murdoch and Johnny got ready to leave. One look at his younger son and Murdoch knew he was in for a battle. Nobody beat up on Johnny Madrid Lancer’s brother and got away with it.
“We’ll be back to see you later Scott,” Murdoch told his injured son. “I’ve got to go find Teresa and Jelly and tell them what happened before they hear it from someone else.”
“See ya later Scott. Do like the doc tells ya and you’ll be home in no time.”
The Lancer men, Val and Jim Talbot all got ready to leave. Jim knew that his beloved wife wasn’t about to leave Sam alone with his patient in case somebody else came along that needed his services. There were several young women in their teens and twenties, and a couple in their thirties, that were expecting a baby any time now. One of them was expecting twins and had a history of miscarriages. Sam was watching her very closely. Jim planned on renting a riding horse at the Livery Stable and going home to pack a small carpetbag with his wife’s clothes and personal things. Then he’d return with it and the rented horse riding one of his own back to town.
As they headed for the door Johnny had a stormy look on his face – a look his father and Val recognized as meaning trouble for somebody and they knew, from the brief conversation with Scott, who that someone was.
“Johnny where do you think you’re going?” his father asked knowing full well what was on his mind.
“Where do you think?” was the angry response. “I’m goin’ after Mike Wilson.”
“Not without a badge you ain’t,” Val told him. “You go after Wilson I want you as a deputy! I want you to bring him back alive and that ain’t gonna happen unless you’re responsible to me officially.”
“Val’s right Johnny,” Murdoch said. “Listen to him. Scott’s badly hurt but do you really think it would help him if you went off and killed Mike Wilson.”
“Johnny, listen to them boy,” Jim added his two cents worth. “Your brother won’t want you to flat out kill Mike. He’ll be happier – much happier I’m sure - if you bring him in alive so he can stand trial. And, I might add, it’ll do a lot more damage to Pierce’s reputation to have his son in jail for assault and attempted murder than if you kill him – fair fight or not.”
Under that kind of pressure Johnny had to give in. In less than five minutes he was in Val’s office, Lady at his side, being sworn in as a deputy sheriff. Two minutes after that he and Lady were off searching the town, starting with the saloon and Mike’s gunsmith shop.
“Any luck Johnny?” Val asked as they met up outside his office briefly during a break in their search.
"Not so far,” was the frustrated answer. “I’ve checked his shop…” at a look from Val he answered defiantly, “No I didn’t bust in the door or a window. It looks deserted.”
The two men stood there comparing notes for several minutes. Lady lay on the boardwalk next to Johnny patiently awaiting his next move. Her ears perked up as she caught wind of a familiar scent – one that was a reminder of what had happened in the alley. She rose to her feet and looked off toward the distant livery stable. Her hackles rose and a growl rose in her throat. Seconds later the full throated battle roar of the collie erupted and she ran barking and growling toward the livery with Johnny and Val right on her heels. A man’s voice screamed as they approached and they found twenty-eight-year-old Tom Bell on the ground with Lady attached to his right forearm.
“Well, well, would you lookee here?” Val said as Johnny pulled Lady off and praised her. “Tom Bell as I live and breathe. Where’ve you been Tom? And where are George Burke, Joe Mason and, more importantly, Mike Wilson?”
Eyeing the still growling dog warily Bell replied, “I don’t know.”
“You want to think about your answer?” Johnny asked. “Or do I let Lady have a go at you again?”
“I don’t know where he is! Honest! We split up hours ago!”
“Come on you!” Val said. “I got a nice cozy jail cell waiting for you.”
“For beating up on Scott Lancer and tryin’ to kill him,” Val told Bell.
“Kill him? I had nothin’ to do with that!” the prisoner exclaimed. “That was all Mike’s idea. He said he was tired of the Lancers always interfering in his business and causin’ trouble for him. I didn’t know he was going to pull a knife! Honest!”
“Ya could have killed him you fool! He’s hurt bad!” He yanked his prisoner toward the jail. “Come on. It’s jail for you and for your buddies when we find them.”
“Lady and I’ll keep lookin’ while you lock this fool up,” Johnny told the sheriff. “The other three can’t be too far away.”
“Just make sure you bring them back in one piece if you do find them,” Val said. “And breathin’ too!”
Off went Johnny and Lady. His next stop was Pierce Wilson’s store. Wilson himself was behind the counter waiting on a customer. Johnny waited until the customer was gone before approaching the man.
“Where’s that son of yours Wilson?”
“I don’t know and if I did I wouldn’t tell you half-breed. What do you want with him?”
“I want to take him to jail for nearly killing my brother!” was the answer he got from Johnny.
“That’s ridiculous! Why would Mike want to hurt your brother?”
“Because he’s a low down, no good backstabbing coward!” Johnny hissed. “He and three of his pals ganged up on Scott in the alley between Zeek’s and the General Store and beat him half to death! And what’s more Mike pulled a knife on him. Woulda killed him except my dog, Lady, attacked him in Scott’s defense before he could.”
“That’s preposterous!” Pierce blustered. “He wouldn’t do any such thing. I told him…”
“What did you tell him Mr. Wilson?” Johnny asked. “Did you tell him to do whatever he wanted as long as he didn’t get caught?
“Then where is he?”
“I already told you I don’t know where my son is! Now leave my store! I don’t care if you’re wearing a badge – you’re not welcome here!”
“If I find out that you’re lying, I’ll be back,” Johnny told the storekeeper. “And if that son of yours turns up you tell him he’d best be turning himself in ‘cause I don’t take too kindly to attacks on my family. Come on Lady.” Turning Johnny, and Lady, who had watched and listened to the exchange between the two, left the store and went off in search of the fugitives.
A noise from the back room – the sound of the door to the storeroom opening – caught Pierce’s attention. Turning, he saw his son entering the front of the store.
“You fool! What are you doing coming in here while I’m still open for business? Somebody might walk in and see you.” Pierce rushed over to change his open sign to closed and pull the curtains. Locking the door, he turned back to his son. “What did you do to Scott Lancer?”
“Taught him a lesson about interfering in other people’s business,” Mike declared. “Would have shut him up permanently except for that dog of theirs.” The gunsmith scowled, “And if my chicken livered friends had stuck around. They ran off when the dog showed up.”
“Then why didn’t you finish the job?”
“I already told you – the dog attacked. I couldn’t get near the knife after she made me drop it. Then a crowd started to gather. I guess they heard all the commotion when the dog started barking.”
“We’ve got to get you out of here! Today! Johnny Lancer’s wearing a badge and he’s looking for you and your friends.”
“Even if Lancer and the sheriff catch up with any of them they won’t tell on me.”
Pierce snorted. “How can you be so sure of that? They might find it more important to save their own hides than to protect you.”
“They know better than that. They’re in it as deep as I am.”
“I told you not to get caught – whatever you did!”
“I ain’t caught yet Pa,” Mike said. “And that rotten, little half-breed gun hawk don’t scare me. Not in the least.”
“He’d better scare you,” Pierce said. “He’s mad, he’s armed and he’s wearing a badge. He thinks highly of his half brother and he’s out to get whoever it is that half killed him!”
Crossing the room to the cash register on the counter, Pierce opened it and took out all the bills. Counting them quickly he gave the wad of bills to his son.
“There’s more than a hundred and fifty dollars in there. Take it, get on a fast horse and get out of this area before Lancer or Crawford see you. I’ll join you later – wherever you settle. I’ll sell the store and we’ll start somewhere else. Maybe Oregon or Washington.”
“Pa I don’t…”
“Take it and get going. Write to me through your Aunt Lydia.”
Reluctantly Mike took the money and made his way out the back door to the alley behind the store. From there he made his way to the little barn behind their house and got his horse – a smallish gray quarter horse/thoroughbred cross – and headed out of Green River.
Ten minutes after Mike headed out of town, north toward Washington, Johnny caught up with George Burke. He’d foolishly decided, that having already checked the saloon, Johnny wouldn’t check it again. But once again Lady’s keen sense of smell told her that one of the men who had attacked Scott was nearby and Johnny had only to follow her to a table in the back of the saloon to find him. He was quickly disarmed and hauled off to Val’s jail. The temptation to beat the living daylights out of him was strong but Johnny resisted – with difficulty. It was Mike Wilson he wanted the most and beating the stuffing out of any of the others wasn’t going to help.
“Now which one of you two yahoos is going to tell me where Joe Mason and Mike Wilson are?” Val asked the prisoners. He was met with sullen silence.
“Ok, if that’s the way you want it I’m going to go have some supper and leave Johnny and Lady in charge.”
“No! You can’t do that!” Tom Bell hollered.
“He’ll kill us – same as we tried…” Burke stopped speaking as soon as he realized what he was about to say.
“Same as you what?” Johnny asked menacingly. “Same as you tried to kill my brother?” His right hand shot out and took Burke by the shirtfront as the man tried to back away. “Scott’s hurt bad but he was able to identify the men who beat him up. Your names were among the ones he gave us. Now tell us where Wilson and Mason are hiding and maybe I’ll go easy on you.”
The two prisoners looked at each other nervously. Then at a slight nod from Bell, George Burke spilled his guts.
“Mason’s gone to Spanish Wells – to his girlfriend’s to hide out. I don’t know where Mike is. Probably went to his father like he always does. The old man is bound to help him out one way or another.”
“Well, then, it looks like I’m gonna have to raise me a posse,” Val said. “Some of them can go to Spanish Wells and talk to Gabe about Mason and the others can help us hunt for Mike Wilson. I reckon another talk with his daddy is in order if we don’t find him pretty soon. I wouldn’t put it past him to have helped his son leave town. He’s been coverin’ for him for longer than I’ve been sheriff here from what I hear.”
Voices, some feminine but at least one masculine, began to penetrate the darkness that Scott had been lost in since Sam Jenkins had administered his dose of painkiller. He struggled to open his good eye. The movement of his head as he turned toward the sound of the voices caught the attention of those in the room.
“Scott?” It was Teresa – he thought. The vision in his good eye was still blurry at the moment.
“Scott? Are you awake son?”
Murdoch’s voice he decided. Definitely his father’s voice. Then a familiar feminine voice with a slight brogue spoke up.
“Here, Scott. Drink some of this water.”
“Yes, dear,” she smiled. “Your father and Teresa are here too. And Jelly.”
“Hey boy,” Jelly’s gruff voice was heard next. “You gave us all quite a scare.”
Teresa gently set herself down on the side of the bed next to her “brother”.
“How do you feel Scott?”
“Like I’ve been trampled by a stampeding herd of cattle,” Scott replied in a weak whisper.
“That’s to be expected,” his father told him. “Sam tells us you have four broken ribs to go along with all the bruises, the gash on your arm and the knot on your head. You probably have a slight concussion as well. You told us, when you came to a while ago, that Mike Wilson and three of his pals worked you over.”
Maura busied herself straightening the covers and laid a cool, damp cloth on the blond’s forehead. Then she left the room for a few minutes to greet a new patient and leave the family to talk in private.
“Where…where’s Johnny?” Scott knew he didn’t hear or see his younger brother.
“He’s out looking for the men who did this to you,” his father told him. “Settle down!” Murdoch exclaimed as Scott tried to get up. “Don’t worry. Val made him a deputy so he would have to bring them in alive. We’ve got the situation under control. Jim Talbot is leading the posse that’s going to Spanish Wells. It seems that Joe Mason’s got a girlfriend over there and they think that’s where he’s hiding.”
“Johnny will be fine Scott. Jim will see to that.” Murdoch tried to reassure his son.
“No. He’ll k-k-kill Mike for this,” Scott tried to get his father to understand.
“That’s why Val deputized him Scott,” Teresa said. “He knows Johnny’s mad and he wanted to keep him under control. Don’t you see? This way Johnny’s responsible to him in more ways than one.”
“I think that’s enough talk,” Maura said as she re-entered the room. “Scott’s in a lot of pain and he needs to rest. Come back after supper.”
The family reluctantly left Maura to tend to her patient. They’d rather have stayed but the petite Irishwoman was in charge with Sam gone. They knew they stood no chance of winning an argument with her. They promised Scott they’d be back in a few hours.
“There now,” Maura said as she wiped Scott’s face with the damp cloth again. “You have no need to be worrying about your brother. Between Val and my husband there’s nothing he can get into. They’ll keep a lid on him you can be sure of that!”
Sighing deeply, and closing his eye as he sank back in the mattress and pillow, the injured man tried to relax. He was worried about his brother but how could he stay awake? The medicine Sam had given him, combined with Maura’s soft humming and tender ministrations, pulled him under again – this time to a peaceful, healing sleep. He would not awaken again until his family returned around 7PM that night to check up on him. He did not know that they would be staying at the hotel. Murdoch had sent Jelly back to Lancer to get some clothes for himself and Teresa – Maria would know what to pack – and Jelly could break the news to Cipriano and the others who had not gone to the rodeo yet. The hands were all taking turns attending or competing so that the home place would not be left unattended.
The sheriff of Spanish Wells was a man named Gabe. Nobody seemed to know if that was his first name or his last name and he never elaborated except to the town council who hired him. He was just Sheriff Gabe, or Gabe, to all who knew him including the Lancers and the Talbots with whom he was well acquainted.
Standing about six feet tall Gabe had medium brown hair that was slightly wavy and had some gray in it. The moustache that he sported also had some gray in it. Not a lot but it was obvious that he was a little older than the younger men in the community but not as old as men like Mr. Harker who was also rotund and balding.
It was with some surprise that he heard and saw the arrival of the posse – especially seeing a deputy sheriff’s badge on Johnny Lancer whom he’d once had as a “guest” in his jail though through no real fault of Johnny’s. He’d been hit over the head and charged with assault or interfering with an officer of the court when a crooked land company agent tried to force the Lancers’ friend Charlie Poe and his wife Mollie off of their little farm claiming that the company he worked for had the original paperwork for the Spanish land grant and that the Poes were trespassing. Gabe had helped Scott stage the jailbreak that freed his brother and Charlie after Charlie’s slow witted handyman was murdered by men acting on behalf of Marks – the land agent.
“Well, what brings you to Spanish Wells Johnny?” Gabe asked his younger friend.
“We’re lookin’ for Joe Mason,” Johnny replied.
“Mason? What for?”
“He’s wanted for assault and battery and accessory to attempted murder,” Jim Talbot explained. “It seems that Joe, along with George Burke and Tom Bell, helped Mike Wilson beat Scott Lancer. And then Mike took out a knife when Scott fought back and he slashed his right arm pretty good. Lady came along while it was happening and kept them from killing him but he’s in pretty rough shape right now. My wife is staying with him while Sam Jenkins sees to his other patients. Wouldn’t you know that three of his pregnant patients went into labor within hours of each other?”
“Where’s Mason’s girl? She live here in town or on the outskirts?” an impatient Johnny asked.
“Mason’s girl is Ellie Miller. She lives with her folks in that small white house at the end of Grant Street.” Gabe pointed it out to the posse. It was just down the street from his office. “If you don’t mind I’ll go with you.”
“Sure,” Johnny said. “But just don’t get in my way. He knows where Mike Wilson is and I’m gonna get it out of him.”
Gabe and Jim Talbot exchanged concerned looks. Johnny was furious, that much was evident, but they weren’t going to let him do something he’d regret later on. However, at the moment, both men decided to let it pass. Johnny was under a lot of stress. He loved his brother dearly and he was not about to let what had happened to him go unpunished. However, it was definitely Mike Wilson that he wanted the most. Mason was just a path to get there so to speak.
The group, consisting of ten men from Green River or the outlying ranches, turned their horses in the direction that Gabe had indicated. He himself led the group to the house and was the one appointed to knock on the door, as it was his town they were in. It was not only common courtesy but a matter of jurisdiction as well since he was a town sheriff – not a county one and Val was also a locally appointed lawman. The group was acting in his stead but Jim was bound that they would do things legal and proper.
Edward Miller, Ellie’s father, answered the door when Gabe knocked. He was a tall man with dark hair in his early fifities. He owned the feed and grain and did a booming business, as there was no other feed and grain in any of the three towns in close proximity to Lancer, the Bar T or any other ranch in a twenty-mile radius.
“Evening Mr. Miller,” Gabe said cordially. “Would your daughter be home? These gentlemen are looking for someone and we thought she might be able to help.”
“Ellie? No, she’s not Gabe,” Miller replied. “I believe her mother said something about her going for a walk. Probably down by the river if I know her. She spends a lot of time down there since she started seeing Joe Mason.”
Seeing the group of men behind Gabe worried him some. They were a grim looking group.
“Is something wrong Gabe? Why are you looking for Ellie?”
“It’s not actually Ellie we’re after Mr. Miller,” Gabe explained. “This group is a posse from Green River. It seems that Joe and a three of his buddies took it into their heads to give Scott Lancer a beating. And Mike Wilson, who would appear to be the ringleader, tried to kill him. Two of his friends are already in custody – George Burke and Tom Bell. Mason and Mike Wilson are still at large.”
“Is Scott going to be all right?”
“He will be,” Jim Talbot spoke up. “Maura and Sam Jenkins have him patched up and resting as comfortably as they can considering he’s got several broken ribs and a bump on the head to go with the gash on his arm.”
“Do you know when the last time is that Ellie saw Joe?” the Spanish Wells sheriff spoke up again.
“I think she saw him yesterday. Like I said she’s probably down by the river. She’s heard many times how I used to court her mother down there and she thinks it’s the most romantic place in the area. I’m sure she’s talked Joe into taking her down there. She thinks he’s wonderful.”
“And what do you think of ‘good old Joe’?” Johnny asked.
“Johnny, dear boy, I think my daughter could do a whole lot better than to take up with that ne’er do well. But she’s a strong-minded girl and she doesn’t listen when we tell her that he’s up to no good.”
Johnny smiled grimly. “Can you show us where this place is?”
“I’ll be glad to,” the storekeeper replied. “I want to get Ellie out of there in case Joe decides to be stupid and shoot it out with you.”
So saying the man ducked back into the house long enough to let his wife, who was getting dinner ready, know that he would be gone for a few minutes. But he didn’t tell her all the details. That could wait until he had brought their daughter home safe and sound. His wife was a somewhat nervous woman who could go into hysterics at the drop of a hat. Better to wait and explain everything when it was all over and done with.
About half a mile down the road, under some trees, they spotted Ellie and her beau. They weren’t hard to spot, as Ellie was a tall girl with blonde hair like spun gold and Mason was a short, stocky redhead. They were so caught up in each other that neither of them heard or saw the posse approach.
“But why do you have to go away Joe?” Ellie was heard to ask. “Is it my papa? Is he driving you away?”
“No, Ellie, darling,” was the answer. “Your father has nothing to do with it. I just have to get away for a while.”
“Then tell me why.”
“I’ll tell you why Ellie,” Gabe said. “It’s because good old Joe here helped three other men beat up on a fourth and left him in an alley badly hurt while the fourth one tried to stab him to death. Only his brother’s dog prevented it. Joe may even have a couple of bite marks where the dog attacked him.”
“Joe?” Ellie turned to her boyfriend.
“Lies, Ellie, all lies,” Joe tried to bluff his way out of the mess he was in due to his friendship with Bell, Burke and Wilson.
“No, not lies,” Johnny said in his iciest tone. “My brother identified all four of you when he came around in the doc’s office.” At Mason’s startled look he added, “That’s right. Scott ain’t dead. Not by a long shot but you four sure tried.”
“I’m going to have to take you in and turn you over to these men,” Gabe
told the redhead. “They’re Val
Crawford’s official posse. He’s
holding two of your buddies in his jail. If you tell them where Mike Wilson’s gone to it might go
easier on you at your trial. If you
don’t – if you don’t I’ll be one of the first to testify against you.
Either way you could be looking at hard time.”
“I don’t know where Mike is! I wish I’d never met the guy,” Mason said as Val turned the key in the lock of the cell door. “He’s probably hiding at home or his old man’s store. Or in his shop. He’s probably half way to Mexico by now.”
Joe Mason had surrendered to the posse when he found himself facing an angry Johnny Lancer who was backed up by some of the most upstanding citizens of the area, which included some of the Lancers’ closest friends such as Jim Talbot. Having Gabe and Mr. Miller there was an added deterrent. Gabe was the law and Mr. Miller wasn’t exactly fond of him. If he were honest with himself Joe would have to say that he’d never done anything to make the man like him. He was always sneaking around seeing Ellie even though he knew that her father didn’t approve of him. He’d never held a job for more than a couple of months and was always drifting. Not very good husband material in the eyes of a prospective father-in-law.
“What makes you so sure he’s hiding at the house or his father’s store? Or even his own shop?” Val asked the prisoner.
“It’s the first place he’d go – except for the saloon and I know he’s not hiding out there.”
“We’ve already talked to his father,” Johnny said. “He denies knowing where Mike is.”
“And you believed him?” Mason was incredulous.
“Maybe I’d better have that little talk with Mr. Pierce Wilson after all,” Val said. “Seems to me like he might not have been completely honest with you Johnny.”
“Yeah. No kiddin’.”
The sheriff, accompanied by Johnny and Lady who had been left behind when the posse went to Spanish Wells, went to Pierce Wilson’s store. By this time he had closed up as it was after seven o’clock. Their next stop was his house. He wasn’t there and his housekeeper said she didn’t know where he was unless he was eating at the café. It was there that they finally found him half an hour later. He was seated at a corner table eating a meal that consisted of beef stew, fresh bread and butter and coffee.
“Wilson,” Val said as they approached the man’s table, “I want a word with you – about your son.”
“What is it sheriff? Can’t you see that I’m eating my dinner? Can’t it wait?”
“No, it can’t wait!” Johnny exploded in anger. “You told me you didn’t know where your son was. His pals, in custody over to Val’s jail, say otherwise. They say you probably helped him escape. Now where is he?”
Val put an arm out to stop Johnny as he took a menacing step toward the storekeeper. Johnny held back but it took a lot of effort to control himself. He was tired – sick and tired – of being lied to and led on a wild goose chase while he tried to find the ringleader of the quartet that had beaten his brother so badly. A fair fight would have been one thing but to gang up on him as he passed by an alley – that was just begging to be avenged.
“Mr. Wilson you have covered up for your son for as long as I’ve been sheriff in Green River - probably longer than that. I’ve heard how the boy ran wild when he was growing up because he was neglected by you while you ran your store after your wife died. Sometimes, just sometimes, I think that he does a lot of what he does just to get your attention. But he’s gone too far this time. No fine is going to cover up for what he’s done. Paying Scott Lancer’s doctor bills aren’t going to cut it this time. Either you tell me where your son is hiding, or where he’s run off to, or you’ll do the jail time for him until the circuit judge comes through here next month. Do I make myself clear?”
“Where is your son?” Val asked.
“I don’t know,” Pierce continued to evade the truth. While it was true that he didn’t know exactly where his son was he did know where he was headed. But he wasn’t about to tell these two anything if he could help it. He resented Val’s statements about his son and his relationship with his son. “What makes you so sure Mike was involved in young Lancer’s beating? Those other men may be lying.”
“I’m getting’ mighty tired of these games Wilson,” an angry beyond words Johnny stated. “Where is Mike? Is he hiding in your store? His shop? Your barn?”
“I already told you I don’t know,” Wilson said angrily. “I told him to…”
“You told him to what Mr. Wilson?”
“Nothing! I told him nothing! I haven’t seen him since before the rodeo started at ten o’clock this morning.”
“Mr. Wilson, I don’t believe you’re being altogether honest with me. A little time in my jail may be just what you need.” Val had had it with the man.
“You can’t arrest me! I’ve done nothing wrong!”
“I can take you in for questioning and that’s what I’m gonna do. We’re gonna continue this discussion in my office. Better still I’ll take you over to Doc Jenkins’ office and you can see for yourself what your son and his pals did. If Lady hadn’t come along when she did Scott might be dead.” Val hauled the storekeeper to his feet. “Come along Mr. Wilson.”
Protesting his innocence all the way Wilson was almost literally dragged off to Val’s jail. The other three men looked at him in disgust. They knew, without being told, that the man had willingly assisted his son in escaping while letting the three of them take all the blame and responsibility for what had happened to Scott.
Shoving Wilson into a chair Val started in on him again. An irate Johnny stood in the background barely in control. It was a good thing that Jim Talbot had returned from taking his wife to dinner for he would be needed to help keep the younger Lancer brother under control. Murdoch had taken Teresa to the hotel to get rooms for the night. They hoped to be able to move Scott home in the morning. If not tomorrow then maybe the next day. Teresa was firmly convinced that Scott would not begin to get well until he was home in his own bed with herself and Maria looking after him.
“Now let’s start again shall we?” Val glared at the man. “Tells us where your son is. I doubt he’s here in town ‘cause we’ve looked everywhere we can think of. And if those other three yahoos didn’t get very far then I doubt Mike did either. He’d have to slip past everyone that was looking for him. So either he’s here in town or you know where he is.”
“I don’t know where he is!” Pierce shouted.
“And I resent this treatment!”
“Resent it all you like Pierce,” Jim Talbot said to the man. “Three men, all in custody, have sworn that it was your son who instigated the beating, recruited them to help him and that it was he who pulled the knife on Scott. Lady’s attack was the only thing that saved Scott’s life.”
“You believe those three?” Pierce scoffed. “Why they’re nothing but a bunch of loafers. They never earned an honest dollar in their lives.”
“That’s beside the point,” Val told him. “Your son already has a reputation with me and with the people of this town. It was already in place…”
“Established,” Jim corrected.
“Yeah established. Thanks.”
Jim nodded and Val continued.
“His reputation was already well established by the time I got this job. I’ve spent more time locking him up, collecting fines from you or busting him over the head to bring him in than I can remember.” Taking a deep breath and keeping a wary eye on Johnny he finished, “Now tell me where he is!”
“I have no idea where he is,” Pierce answered truthfully.
“He’s lyin’,” Tom Bell called out from his cell.
“Yeah,” George Burke agreed. “Or else he gave him some money and sent him away.”
“That’s it!” Joe Mason said. “Mike said he was going to see his old man and get some money so he could get away from here. I’ll bet that’s just exactly what he did!”
“Well Mr. Wilson?” Val said while watching Johnny out of the corner of his eye. “Is that why we can’t find Mike? You gave him some money and sent him on his way? You know that makes you as guilty as the rest of them. I can lock you up and bring up before the circuit judge for that. I think Scott Lancer would say that makes you an accessory after the fact.”
“More likely before it happened,” Johnny growled. “He’s had it in for Scott – for all of us – for a long time! Especially since that saloon fight when Scott’s arm was still in a sling after his horse threw him last Easter. He had to pay the doctor bill when Scott got knocked into the bar and for the furniture and glasses and all that got broken. Plus the fines you charged him for bailin’ Mike out of jail. And he’s really hated us since Mr. Talbot and the others on the fair committee called him on that shooting contest he wouldn’t let me enter. And don’t forget he still blames Scott for his cousin bein’ killed even though we proved he didn’t and found the man who did kill him!”
“That’s true,” Val agreed. “They sure do seem to have it in for you Lancers. How about it Mr. Wilson. You gonna own up to your crimes? Gonna tell us where your sorry excuse for a son has gotten himself off to?”
“Hey Sheriff!” Tom Bell called out. “I just remembered something. Mike’s got an aunt up in Washington. Lydia something I think.”
“That’s right,” George Burke agreed. “Joe, you spent more time with him than any of us. What’s his aunt’s name? The one he was always talking about.”
“Lydia….Lydia,” Mason scratched his head.
“Come on out with it!” Johnny had stepped over to the cell and was gripping Mason by the front of his shirt shaking him.
Val stepped over and made him release him. “Johnny that ain’t gonna help him remember.”
“He’s just delaying! Hoping we’ll go easy on him if he comes up with the name.”
“Not so,” Mason said. “Maybe it was earlier but Mike started all this and he ought to be takin’ his share of the blame – and punishment.”
“Come on Joe,” Tom said. “I know you know what it is.”
“Yeah, but I can’t remember it right now.” Mason was a little frustrated. “He said her name was Lydia and she lived up near Seattle somewhere. I think she’s a teacher.”
“That don’t give me much to go on,” Val said.
“What about you and George, Tom? Can’t you remember? Didn’t Mike ever talk about his aunt when you were all together?” Jim Talbot prodded the other two.
“Lydia…Standish. Lydia Standish!” Tom exclaimed. “It’s Lydia Standish and she lives about ten miles south of Seattle. I remember now. Mike said his aunt was married to a lumber mill owner near Seattle.”
“Shut up you fools!” Pierce screamed. “Shut up!”
Johnny walked over, grabbed Pierce by the front of his coat and shook him – hard. “Is that where he’s gone? To his aunt up in Washington?”
“None of your business half breed!” Wilson snarled.
“You made it my business when you helped him escape after what he did to my brother!”
It took both Val and Jim Talbot to force Johnny to let go of the older man. Then Jim took Pierce and locked him up in the empty cell. He shook his head sadly as he returned to the office part of the building.
“It’s a shame,” he said to Val and Johnny. “Pierce is a brilliant man – a good businessman but very bitter. When his wife, God rest her soul, was still alive she tried to get him to see that he was wrong about a lot of things. His hatred of anything Northern, his bitterness over the Confederacy falling, the hard times that were had down in the south during the war – especially during the last days when people were starving. Carpetbaggers ruined the town he was in. He failed to pay the taxes due on his property on time and lost the store he had. Granted the man who assessed the property charged him more than he should have but Pierce didn’t even try to come up with the money. Dorothy told us that Pierce’s father died of a starvation related illness and he blamed anything and anyone but himself. He could have gone to the Union camp and gotten the doctor but he didn’t. He wouldn’t let a Yankee touch him. His own foolishness cost his father his life. The Union Commander was sympathetic and tried to help but Pierce wouldn’t even talk to him. Dorothy miscarried during the last month of the war. Half starved she needed food and medical attention but still he wouldn’t do anything. Mike was raised on bitterness and hatred and when his mother died he went from bad to worse as his father ignored him while he ran the store. Maybe if Dorothy had lived Mike would have turned out differently.”
“Sad,” Jim concluded. “He could have done so much but he let bitterness eat at his soul. And now his son’s gone just about as far as he can. I’d say Mike may be on the verge of insanity. He’s always been a bully but he’s never gone after anyone with a knife before.”
Johnny headed toward the door. “Well what are we waitin’ for? We know which way he’s headin’! Let’s go!”
“How much of a head start do you reckon Mike’s got on us Mr. Talbot?” Val asked.
“Well, if Scott was attacked around one this afternoon I’d say he’s got about, oh, maybe six hours on us.”
“That’s the way I figure it too,” Val said. “And it’ll be dark in an hour or less if I read the signs right. I don’t think a posse could make any headway tonight. They’d be on the road less than an hour before they’d have to make camp.” Looking at his impatient friend he said, “And even you can’t track in the dark Johnny. Best to wait until first light. That way we can find out if anyone saw Mike leave town, which direction he was headed in and what his horse looks like.”
When Johnny started to protest, Jim Talbot reasoned with him. “Now John, you know Val is right. You’re tired, frustrated and worried as well as being angry. Why don’t you go see your brother and then get a room at the hotel? I’ll round up a group to form a posse and we’ll plan on meeting here a half-hour before daylight.”
Reluctantly Johnny agreed and set off toward Sam’s office with Lady on his heels. Jim went to the Ingersolls’ and a few other homes and businesses and recruited a posse of ten men to ride with him and Johnny in the morning. A couple of the others were good trackers and that would be helpful. A consensus of opinion on any tracks they found would save a lot of backtracking and frustration. When he was through Jim headed for Sam’s office himself to get his wife. Together they went to the hotel to get a room for the night. Sam would stay with Scott but knew where to find them if he needed Maura’s help during an emergency or to cover the office for him.
The sound of his brother’s soft drawl woke Scott from a fitful sleep. He opened pain-filled cerulean eyes to find sapphire ones looking at him. He smiled as he recognized his little brother.
“Yeah, it’s me brother. How’re ya feelin’?”
“Sore,” Scott admitted, “but Sam says I’ll be all right.”
“Yeah, sure you will,” Johnny agreed without conviction. “It’s an every day thing for you to go out and get the stuffing beat out of you by a bunch of miserable, low down, snaky cowards!”
Scott looked at his brother in concern. It sounded like Johnny was blaming himself for what had happened.
“No, it’s not but it’s not your fault either. When I wasn’t able to find Val I could have hung around the rodeo and told you what happened and we could have gone after Mike together. I knew he was mad and probably dangerous. He would have fought me there in the street when I stopped his abuse of Tim but I pulled my gun on him. He took the coward’s way out and ambushed me.” He smiled when he saw Lady who had come in with Johnny. No one else was there at the moment to tell her to stay out of the sick room. “Lady saved my life you know. If she hadn’t come along when she did I’d probably be dead in that alley with a knife in my ribs or my chest. She’s a heroine Johnny! My heroine!”
Lady’s ears perked up at the sound of her name. She looked at Scott, lying pale and hurt in the bed, and then at Johnny to try and figure out what was going on. Johnny grinned and leaned down to pat her.
“She’s a real smart one all right!” he agreed. “You know why don’t you brother?”
Scott figured he knew what Johnny was up to but he played along in hopes that it would cheer his brother up.
“No, Johnny, why is that?”
“’Cause I trained her myself!” Johnny laughed and Lady barked. Scott just grinned and shook his head, which caused him to grimace. Johnny noticed and frowned again.
“You really ain’t so good are ya brother?”
“I’ll be fine in a few days Johnny.” Scott tried to reassure his brother.
“Yeah, right. When I catch up with that Mike Wilson I’m gonna make him wish he’d never been born!”
“Do you know where he is?”
“Not exactly,” Johnny said. “But according to his three buddies we got over at the jail he’s headed for Washington. He’s got an aunt up there that he might be going to. Maybe as a place to stop and get some money and food before going all the way to Canada.”
“I see Val pinned a badge on you. You going out with the posse when they go after him?”
“Yeah. Val’s stayin’ with his prisoners. Mr. Talbot’s in charge.”
“Good that I’m going and Val’s staying?”
“Good that Mr. Talbot is in charge.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” an indignant Johnny asked his brother. At his sharp tone Lady looked up at him and whined softly.
“It means that you’re too mad to think straight. You’re so mad at what happened to me that you want to kill Mike Wilson – with your bare hands if necessary.”
“What if I am?” Johnny asked. “Look what he and his buddies did to you! They coulda killed ya!”
“Yes, but Lady stopped them.” Scott paused to close his eyes for a minute as his head was pounding from concentrating on the discussion he was having with his brother. He really didn’t feel as well as he pretended but there was something he had to say and had to get his brother to promise him.
“If she hadn’t come along they mighta done it and got away with it!”
“Johnny I want you to promise me something,” Scott opened his eyes again and stared into his younger brother’s eyes.
“What’s that?” Johnny asked suspiciously.
“I want you to promise me that you won’t kill Mike. I want you to promise me that you’ll bring him back here to Val’s jail to stand trial. I want you to promise me that you’ll bring him back alive.”
“Scott! You can’t be serious! I can’t promise that!” Johnny protested. “Not after what they did to you!”
“You can and you will or I’ll get out of this bed and tell Val to lock you up,” Scott said.
“No buts little brother. Promise me you’ll bring him back alive.”
“You might as well promise him Johnny.” Jim Talbot had come into the room unnoticed by either brother. “If you don’t I’ll save Scott the trouble of going to Val and lock you up myself.”
“Mr. Talbot? What are you doing here? I thought you and Mrs. Talbot had left for the night.” Scott was surprised to see their friend and neighbor.
“We did but when Maura was getting ready for bed she realized she forgot the letter she wrote to a friend back in New York. She wants it to go out in tomorrow’s mail on the early morning stage. I told her I’d come over and get it.” He looked intently at the younger Lancer son whom his wife, and admittedly he himself, loved as much as they had loved their own sons. “Promise him – and me – right now Johnny or I’ll take you over to Val’s jail and have him lock you up with the others and I’ll take the posse out without you.”
“I can’t promise that. Not after what he did to Scott.” Johnny was stubborn but so was Jim.
“Promise him Johnny or we leave for the jail right now.”
Scott reached out for his brother’s hand and squeezed with what strength he had. “Please Johnny. I don’t want to lose you to prison because you couldn’t control yourself. Let Madrid take over and keep your cool. Promise me that you will bring Mike Wilson back for trial.”
“Ok I promise,” Johnny reluctantly agreed.
“Good. Now get yourself out of here and let me get some sleep.”
“What about Lady?”
“What about her?”
“The hotel won’t allow her to stay in the room with him,” Jim explained. “I tried to talk Frank Sanderson into it but he won’t budge. They have a very firm ‘no pets’ policy in place and he considers Lady to be a pet.”
“Leave her with me,” the injured man said. “She can keep me company tonight and you can get her in the morning before you ride out.”
So it went. Lady settled down for the night next to Scott’s bed, Johnny and Jim Talbot – letter in hand – returned to the hotel. Val stayed at the jail with his prisoners.
A few times during the night Lady was roused by Scott’s moans or soft cries as the pains hit his ribs or he relived the beating in his sleep. When that happened she went into the other room where Sam was sleeping and alerted him to his patient’s distress. The older man would get up and administer some laudanum or a small amount of morphine in order to enable Scott to sleep better. That done he would go back to sleep and Lady would take up her vigil by Scott’s side.
Before sunup the next morning Johnny quietly let himself in and collected Lady who would accompany the posse that was gathering in front of the jail awaiting final instructions from Val.
It was still dark when the posse gathered. Jim Talbot was mounted on his black and white paint named Pintura – a joke he thought up because Pintura was the Spanish word for paint. Johnny was on Barranca and the rest of the posse on their mounts or holding their reins while Val explained what they were to do.
“Mr. Talbot here is in charge. You’ll take your orders from him. Paul Newsham and Charlie Allerton are the trackers. Don’t get in their way.” Val was in his element – he didn’t usually have a group this size to boss around. “I want Mike Wilson caught and I want him brought back here to face trial for what he did. So does Murdoch Lancer and he’s posting a $500 reward for the capture of Mike Wilson provided he’s brought back alive. He means it and I mean it. If I hear of any trouble with any of you when the posse returns – and Mr. Talbot will tell me the truth – you will never serve on a posse for me again. Now get going and good hunting.”
At that the posse turned their horses and headed north in the direction they believed that Mike Wilson was headed. Val had sent a telegram to the sheriffs and marshals along the route to keep an eye out for him but held little hope that Mike would show himself in a town. If he ran out of money or food he’d have to beg, borrow or steal it. What he could do to earn it was hard to say since the only skill he had was as a gunsmith and that would be a rare need and a dead giveaway that he was a fugitive if the local law heard about him.
Two hours north of Green River they came across an abandoned campsite. At first they weren’t sure if it was actually Mike’s but when Johnny saw the hackles on Lady’s neck go up and heard her growl as she sniffed around they knew they had the right place to start. No ordinary stranger would get that strong a reaction from her. It had to be Mike. A search of the site turned up some bloody bandages that had been discarded.
“Looks like he took the time to change the bandage on his wrist where Lady bit him,” Jim Talbot observed. “He must have been pretty sure, considering the late start, that we wouldn’t be starting out right away.”
“Ashes in the fire are cold. He must have started out real early – before we did,” observed Paul Newsham.
Charlie Allerton agreed. “Yep. Those tracks over there are at least a couple of hours old – maybe more. Hard to tell exactly but they do lead north. Looks like the horse is fresh so he may have made up for lost time somewhat.”
“Well what are we waiting for?” Johnny asked. “Let’s go.”
Jim Talbot agreed and the posse started north letting the two trackers lead the way. At noon, or thereabouts, they stopped to rest the horses and have a fast lunch. Then they watered the horses – Lady took care of herself except for some jerky Johnny shared with her that he’d gotten at the general store – and they were on their way again.
They kept at it until it was too dark to see. Despite protests from Johnny, Jim called for the posse to stop for the night. The horses, Lady and the men were tired - all except the younger Lancer son. He was running on nervous energy and anxiety. Johnny wanted to catch up with Mike and make him pay for what he’d done to his brother. He wanted to get his hands around his throat and squeeze the life out of him. Jim Talbot noticed him as Johnny stood with his fingers tangled in Barranca’s mane mumbling in Spanish. Lady was asleep by the fire.
“Johnny come have something to eat. Jack managed to get a couple of rabbits with that improvised slingshot he made. They’re just about done.”
“Ain’t hungry Mr. Talbot.”
“Johnny you can’t not eat. You need to keep your strength up. Tomorrow will be just as tough as today if Paul and Charlie are reading the signs right.”
“I can’t Mr. Talbot! I can’t eat! I can’t relax! I ain’t gonna be able to sleep either!” The anguish in Johnny’s voice was very evident to the older man. “I just want to get my hands on Mike and do to him what he did to Scott!”
“I know you do John. But Mike’s gone over the line now and nothing his father can say or do is going to change the fact that Mike set out to kill your brother for interfering in his business one too many times. He probably would have come after you but Scott was the first, and, maybe the easiest target.” Putting a hand on the younger man’s shoulder he gave it a squeeze. “Remember you made a promise to your brother that you’d bring Mike back alive to face trial. We’re going to catch up with him sooner or later. He may have a head start on us but we’ve got two of the best trackers in the valley with us and we’ve got Lady. She’ll probably know before we do when we’re getting close. It’s not every posse that’s lucky enough to have a good dog like her. You can be proud of her Johnny. She saved your brother’s life.”
Johnny smiled at that. He was very proud of Lady. She’d proven herself to be a valuable ally just when his brother needed one most. And he knew that Murdoch was proud of her too. Teresa and Jelly were probably planning just how they’d spoil the collie rotten when they got back to reward her for her performance.
Seeing the smile warmed Jim’s heart. He loved that smile of Johnny’s. It reminded him so much of the toddler who’d won everybody’s heart, only to be stolen away by his mother when she became unhappy with her life at the ranch. At the time he hadn’t known whether he wanted most to strangle Maria Lancer for her infidelity or the gambler who’d conned her into leaving with him. Putting an arm out he pushed Johnny toward the fire.
“Come on. Have something to eat and then get some sleep. Lady’s already asleep and we’ll be breaking camp at first light.”
The smell of sizzling bacon woke Lady up where she was nestled next to Johnny. She rose and stretched and then roused her human pal by poking her cold nose down the back of his shirt. Johnny squirmed a bit before he finally awoke properly and pushed her gently away so he could sit up. By the fire he could see Jim Talbot removing a skillet with bacon from the heat. A battered coffee pot emitted the smell of freshly brewed coffee to go with the bacon. By the time Johnny had rolled up his bedroll Jim was there with a plate with bacon and biscuits and a cup of hot coffee to wipe the cobwebs away from the younger man’s brain.
“Thanks Mr. Talbot.”
“You’re welcome. Eat up and drink your coffee. It’ll be daylight in less than an hour and we want to be on the move by then. We could well catch up with Mike today.”
“Ya think so?” The other man’s confidence got Johnny’s attention.”
“Yes, I do. He may have had a few hours head start on us but we’re a pretty determined bunch. And he doesn’t seem to have veered off the trail he’s been following. Mike’s always been a bit overconfident in his abilities and I think this is one of those times.”
It didn’t take Johnny long to wolf down the breakfast Jim gave him. He also got some bacon for Lady and found a dish he could give her water in. That wasn’t really necessary as there was a little brook nearby where she slaked her thirst and the canteens were refilled.
The tin dishes, cups, cooking forks and leftover biscuits were soon packed away and by the time the sun was up high enough for them to see where they were going the posse was saddled and mounted ready to pick up the fugitive’s trail again.
Jim’s prediction wasn’t long in coming true. The trail began to get warmer when they found that Mike’s horse had thrown a shoe and appeared to be limping badly.
“Craig you know this part of the country pretty well,” Jim said. “Are there any ranches or farms where Mike might go to get a fresh horse?”
Craig Bemis, a grizzled old hunter of sixty, scratched his head, looked up at the sky and down at the ground before answering.
“No. No ranches or farms that I can recollect – lessen they just sprung up. There was a small mining town about ten miles west of here. Not much to it but they did have a blacksmith and a livery stable. Might be he’s headed there to trade for a horse that’s not lame.”
At Jim’s instruction the posse headed for Clementine. When they arrived they found that the town was practically deserted. Dust blew through the streets with every breeze that came down from the hills. Doors and shutters that were not securely fastened swung in the wind and banged against the buildings they were attached to. There was no sign of life anywhere on the street save the livery stable. There a lone hostler greeted them as they rode up.
“Can I help you fellers?” the man asked.
“I sure hope so,” Jim said with a friendly smile. “We’re from Green River and we’re tracking a fugitive. A man by the name of Mike Wilson. He’s in his late twenties, tall, heavyset, strawberry blond hair as my wife would say and green eyes.”
“What ya want him for?”
“He tried to kill my brother,” Johnny told the man.
“You don’t say. Shoot him did he?”
“No. He and three of his friends got together and beat him up.”
“Have you seen anyone like that pass through here recently,” Jim inquired. “His trail indicates that his horse has gone lame. We thought he might have come into town to see about trading for a fresh one.”
“Was he riding a gray? Kinda on the small side with some Quarter Horse with some fancy breed like a Thoroughbred mixed in?”
“Sounds right,” Jim said. “He owns a Quarter Horse/Thoroughbred cross that’s only about 15 hands or so tall. And it’s a gray right Johnny?”
“Yeah, dappled gray if I remember right.” Johnny agreed.
“Look anything like this one here in the third stall?” the old hostler asked.
Leading them inside he backed the horse he was referring to out of the stall and led it out into the sunlight so they could get a better look at him.
“Johnny? You know horses as well as any of us and you’ve seen Mike’s more than we have. This it?”
“Yeah,” Johnny said after a short examination. “That’s him. ‘Stormy’ I think he calls him.”
“Don’t know nothin’ about that,” the liveryman said. “Boy came in here, said his horse was lame and asked if I had one he could buy. Told him I did and took this here horse in trade.”
“What kind of horse did you give him?” Jim asked the man.
“Tall, dark brown gelding with black mane and tail. Has white socks on the front legs.”
“How long ago did he leave?” Johnny asked impatiently.
Giving him a look the man at the stable said, “’Bout three hours ago. Said he was in a hurry. Guess now I know why.”
“Which direction was he headed?”
“He took the road that leads north but asked me if there were any shortcuts or cut offs. Told him there was one about ten miles up the road. There’s a trail that branches off and heads a little further west as opposed to due north.”
“Thanks,” Jim said. “You’ve been a big help.”
The posse turned their horses in the direction the man at the livery stable had indicated and headed Northwest after their quarry. Mike only had a three-hour lead on them now. It shouldn’t be too hard to catch up to him.
“Maura, how’s Scott feeling today?” Murdoch asked their neighbor as he entered Sam’s office.
“Why don’t you ask me yourself?” a cranky Scott asked his father from the bed in the other room.
Murdoch and Maura exchanged looks of exasperation. Two days after the beating Scott was turning into as bad a patient as his little brother was often accused of. Neither one was sure if that was a good sign or not.
“Scott,” his father said, “you’re looking somewhat better. Especially that eye.”
“Mrs. Talbot keeps putting cold compresses on it,” Scott told his father. “The swelling has gone down enough that I can open that eye at least halfway now.”
“Good. How’s your appetite?”
“Ok. But I sure am tired of soup and broth. I’d like something more substantial.”
“Now Scott,” Maura chided him gently. “You know I can’t give you anything else until Sam says it’s all right. You need to replace the blood you lost from that gash in your arm and fluids are what you need to do that.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Scott muttered sounding just like his recalcitrant little brother.
“Cheer up son,” the Irishwoman said. “I’ll talk to Sam when he comes back from the Rossbachs’ and see what he says. Maybe we can move you onto oatmeal and some other soft foods like eggs. Nothing heavy yet I’m sure he’ll say.”
Scott’s face lit up at that. He’d been raised on oatmeal, or porridge as his governess had called it, and he still liked it. Especially with lots of butter and sugar or maybe cream. A throwback to his father’s ethnic heritage was what some called it. Johnny, on the other hand, detested the stuff. Teresa, Irish though she was – at least in part, was not crazy about it nor did she hate it. She’d eat it if it was put in front of her but she didn’t get thrilled at having it served to her. His father chuckled to himself when he saw the look.
“Now that that’s settled,” Murdoch said. “How are you feeling otherwise?”
“All right I guess,” Scott answered. “I can see better out of my eye and my arm’s not hurting as much.”
Murdoch mentally shook his head. Both sons were so stubborn and stoic when they were hurt that it could be difficult to treat them. Bringing his thoughts back to the present he queried his son about his ribs and head.
“How about the ribs? Still hurting you a lot? Sam says your concussion seems to be better.”
Scott grimaced as he tried to sit up and show his father that he was strong enough to go home. “A little,” he conceded. “But I’m not dizzy any more and the headache is mostly gone.”
“We’ll just wait and see what Sam has to say before we go feeding you too much.”
“When can I go home?”
“Why Scott Garrett Lancer!” Maura exclaimed in a teasing tone of voice. “One would think you were tired of my company and my cooking!”
“No ma’am,” Scott said blushing when he realized how ungrateful he sounded. “I just think I’d get better faster at home.”
“I was only teasing you dear,” Maura said with a quick kiss to his forehead. “Of course you’ll recover faster at home. But we have to wait and see what the doctor says about you’re being moved from here. Those ribs hurt you now but it’ll be a lot worse in a wagon or a buggy on those rough roads.”
“Have you heard from Johnny yet?” Scott asked his father.
“Gabe sent a messenger from Spanish Wells to let Val know that the posse picked up Joe Mason down by the river. He was with his girlfriend. Mason’s in custody in Spanish Wells. Gabe’s going to hold him until the posse swings by on its way back home.”
“But that means Mike Wilson is still on the loose,” Scott tried to rise only to be gently pushed back by his father. “He’s the most dangerous one of the bunch! He hates Johnny! He hates all of us but especially Johnny. I have to get to Johnny and make sure he keeps his promise!” He tried to get up again only to groan with the pain as he aggravated his broken ribs.
“Here, here! What’s this?” Sam Jenkins arrived on the scene just as Scott sank back to his pillows again. “What do you think you’re doing Scott Lancer!” he scolded his patient. “You move around like that and you’re liable to puncture a lung! Now you lie back and keep still!”
“But I have to go to Johnny,” Scott cried in frustration. “He’ll kill Mike if I’m not there to stop him!”
“Scott,” Murdoch said. “Relax. Calm down.”
Maura handed Sam a hypodermic with some morphine in it. She hated to see Sam have to use it but it was obvious that Scott was in great distress – emotionally as well as physically and if they didn’t calm him down he could do some real damage to himself. The physician took it with a nod of thanks and administered it to his patient immediately.
“There, that ought to hold you for a while,” Sam said. “You’ve got to lie still and take it easy Scott. You could do internal damage to yourself if you don’t.”
“But Johnny…” his voice started to slur from the drug.
“Scott. Scott listen to me,” his father said. “I know you made Johnny promise you he’d bring Mike back alive. Has Johnny ever gone back on his word? To anyone?”
“No,” the blond was almost asleep.
“Then trust him. He’ll keep his word. He promised you he’d bring Mike back alive and he will.” Murdoch laid a gentle hand on his son’s forehead. “Trust him Scott. Trust Johnny. He’ll do the right thing if he promised you he would. Especially if he promised you.”
Scott nodded as he drifted off. Sam watched his patient and checked his pulse and his eyes. Nodding in satisfaction he turned to the others in the room.
“He’ll be all right. I hate to give him anything like that but he’s got to stay calm.”
“How can we keep him calm, Sam,” Maura asked, “when he’s so worried about his brother?”
“Murdoch,” Sam turned to his friend. “You’re going to have to do something. Have Val wire Gabe or send a messenger. You need to find out how that posse is doing and how soon they’ll be back. It’s the only way to keep Scott quiet. If he knows his brother is ok and that he’ll be back soon we’ll have far less trouble with him.”
“You’re right Sam. I’d better do it right away. I’ll ride over to Spanish Wells myself.” Turning to his son’s nurse he started, “Maura…”
“I’ll be right here with him until you get back Murdoch,” she said in anticipation of his question.”
“Thank you. We Lancers owe you a lot.”
“You owe me nothing Murdoch Lancer! Now be gone with you and find out where that scalawag of a younger son of yours is at!”
The posse lost no time in getting back on Mike Wilson’s trail. The man at the livery stable had described the horse to them and pointed them in the right direction as far as they knew. There weren’t a lot of recent tracks on the road and when they reached the trail that he said branched off there was only one set. The horse had, according to the liveryman, just been shoed the day before so his brand new shoes made an easy trail to follow. They were less than an hour old by the time Newsham and Allerton found them and indicated which way they were leading.
Less than ten minutes later they were approaching a part of the trail that led past a group of large boulders. Uncertain of what they would find or exactly how to proceed Jim Talbot called for a ten-minute break to scope out the situation and decide on a course of action. Johnny took advantage to give Lady and Barranca a much-needed drink out of his hat.
Still apprehensive, Jim led the posse forward keeping a sharp eye out for any possible tricks or ambushes. At a slow but steady walk, Jim and Johnny in the lead, the posse started forward toward and past the boulders, which stood at least three feet over the heads of the mounted men.
Not a sound was heard for the next minute and a half as they moved forward looking this way and that. Every man on that posse was tense. The ruff on Lady’s neck stood up and she growled softly smelling or hearing something that made her nervous. Johnny was about to speak to Jim about it when his neighbor happened to glance up and see Mike Wilson rising from behind a smaller boulder at the top of the path they were on. His rifle was up and he was aiming for Johnny.
“Johnny! Look out!” Talbot said as he dove toward the younger man.
A shot rang out and Jim Talbot collapsed on top of Johnny whom he’d knocked completely off his horse in order to prevent Mike’s shot from hitting him. Johnny struggled to get out from under him, pulling his pistol from its holster at the same time, and returning fire with a vengeance. Mike disappeared back behind his rock for the time being as the other posse members also returned his fire. Lady growled and started toward the rocks but Johnny called her back. He had to see how badly his father’s friend was hurt.
Rolling Jim over he found the man’s face to be somewhat pale, his eyes were closed and there was blood on his right temple. Johnny took the neckerchief from around Jim’s neck and got his canteen from Barranca’s saddle and soaked it. Then he cleaned the blood away. The posse had driven Mike back so he wasn’t firing at the moment.
“How is he Johnny?” asked Newsham.
“I can’t tell for sure,” was the terse reply. “I don’t think it’s too bad. I hope not anyway. I’d hate to have to tell Mrs. Talbot that I got her husband killed protecting me. Here,” he said handing the other man the neckerchief. “See what you can do for him. Lady and I are going after Mike.”
Johnny rose from the spot where Jim had fallen and retrieved his rifle. He was going in after Mike and there was no stopping him now! He was furious. First his brother was beaten half to death and now their father’s best friend – a sort of surrogate father or uncle to the three of them including Teresa – was hurt. That was a lot more than he was going to take that’s for darn sure!
It didn’t take Lady long to pick up Mike’s trail. He’d ceased firing so that he could slip back into the woods along the trail and get his horse which he’d left tied up some distance away in the hope that the animal wouldn’t give away his presence in those rocks. He’d forgotten to reckon with Lady’s keen sense of smell and her hearing – let alone her instincts.
As quietly as an Indian and a wolf on the hunt Johnny and Lady entered the wooded area just beyond where the ambush had taken place. Johnny was relying on his tracking skills and Lady’s nose to tell him where Mike Wilson had gotten himself off to. He couldn’t have gone very far. The shooting had just happened. It was a little difficult, however, for Johnny to keep his mind on what he was doing. Jim Talbot was an old and dear friend of his father’s and he’d been good to him and Scott. Mrs. Talbot was the mother Scott and Teresa had never known and a substitute of sorts for the mother Johnny lost at such a young age. He didn’t want anything to happen to either of them and hoped that Mr. Talbot’s injury wasn’t serious.
Lady’s hackles rose as they approached a particularly thick copse of trees. Their footsteps silenced by the thick carpet of pine needles they were walking on, the pair approached only to have a rifle fired at them. Johnny dove to one side narrowly avoiding being hit. But Lady, angry with her beloved Johnny being in danger, and tired of her family being threatened, charged the unseen gunman. A moment later the man screamed as Lady’s teeth clamped on his wrist forcing him to drop his rifle just as she’d forced him to drop the knife he’d attacked Scott with a few days earlier. Lady’s growls could be heard as she shifted her position.
Rising to his feet quickly Johnny ran to where Lady had Mike Wilson on the ground. He called her off and hauled Mike to his feet. Reaching down he removed Mike’s handgun from the holster on his right leg. Lady stood by, tense and ready to spring if necessary, but quiet like she’d been commanded. If Mike tried anything she was ready, willing and able to attack in Johnny’s defense if he wanted her to – or even if he didn’t want her to.
“Take your filthy hands off me half-breed!” Mike tried to pull away.
“Shut up and get movin’,” Johnny told him “Val’s waitin’ for you to join your father in his jail. And so are your three buddies. Nice bunch you are. You can’t face a man one on one – you have to get together and beat up on my brother when he’s not expecting it! Well I got news for you – you don’t mess with my family unless you want to tangle with me too! You’re lucky I promised Scott …oof!”
Mike freed one arm and punched Johnny in the stomach knocking the wind out of him for a moment. That was all Lady needed. Without an invitation or a command she attacked Mike who now had one arm around Johnny’s throat and was trying his hardest to choke him into submission. The faithful collie charged and got hold of Mike’s right leg. When he tried to kick her she changed and went after his left leg. That was all the help Johnny needed as it forced Mike to loose his grip long enough for Johnny to free himself.
“Lady, enough!” Johnny said firmly. Looking at the older man, for Mike was several years older than himself, Johnny said, “You want to fight? I’ll fight you. One on one like it should have been in the first place. Like I should have the day I caught you harassing Tim Pittman!”
So saying he threw a right cross that landed on Mike’s nose breaking the cartilage and bloodying it good. Wilson put his hand up to his nose and, enraged at what he found, started throwing his own punches. A left hook caught Johnny high on the forehead but, angry as he was over what had transpired, the ex-gunfighter didn’t even notice. He countered with a left of his own that sent Mike Wilson reeling back a few steps. Upon recovery Mike charged Johnny and knocked him to the ground, raining blow upon blow on Johnny’s ribs and shoulders that had no effect whatsoever. Johnny was too angry to notice if he was hurt.
Lady watched anxiously, whining as she saw her friend get hit. But a command was a command and she’d been told to sit. The smell of blood was strong in her nostrils and she was getting more and more nervous as the two men slugged it out.
“Johnny, stop,” a weak but familiar voice said.
Johnny didn’t hear it at first so intent was he on punishing Mike for all the heartache and trouble he’d caused over the last few weeks. Not to mention the trouble at the fair, the fight in the saloon, the false murder accusations against his brother and now, the straw that broke the camel’s back, the apparent shooting of Jim Talbot.
“Johnny! Stop! Remember your promise to Scott!”
It was Jim Talbot – bloody, dizzy and with a violent headache from where the bullet had grazed his skull – but alive and desperate to keep Johnny from killing their prisoner. He’d come around ten minutes after Johnny left and had just now caught up with him. He’d made a promise to himself that he would keep Johnny out of trouble for his family’s sake as well as his own. Beating Mike Wilson to a pulp was going to open him up for assault charges of his own. He couldn’t let that happen.
Dizzy, unsteady on his feet, he nonetheless managed to get over to where the two combatants were rolling around on the ground and tugged at Johnny’s arm to get his attention.
“Johnny! He’s had enough! Stop!”
After one final blow that knocked Mike out completely Johnny stopped fighting. A bit bloodied himself he stood up, took one look at Jim and caught him as the older man started to sag. Fortunately for both of them Bemis and Roger Cushman came along and took custody of Mike. Bemis handed Johnny a canteen full of water then left with Cushman to return Mike to where the rest of the posse was waiting by the rocks. Mike’s new horse was tethered close by so the two deputies took it with them.
“Mr. Talbot?” Johnny’s eyes were dark with worry as he soaked his neckerchief and used it to wipe his friend’s face.
“I’ll be all right Johnny,” Jim whispered faintly. “I’m just a little dizzy is all.”
“Just lie still for a few minutes,” Johnny said. “It’ll pass and then we’ll go back to where we left the others.”
“You better clean yourself up boy,” Jim said with a smile. “Lady’s worried about you. You’re a mess.”
Hearing her name Lady came over to the two men and checked them out. Apparently satisfied that neither one was too badly hurt she lay down next to Johnny until such time as he got ready to leave. Her eyes never left them until Johnny indicated that it was time to leave.
“Mr. Talbot, I’m sorry I got you into this mess. You wouldn’t be hurt if it weren’t for me.”
“You don’t know that Johnny,” the other man said gently and quietly. “I would have joined Val’s posse whether it involved you or not.”
“But it’s because of me – and Scott – that you’re on this posse. You wouldn’t have gotten shot…” the brunet’s voice trailed off.
Jim Talbot sat up and put his arm around the distressed young man and held him close – much as he would have done were it one of his own sons sitting next to him.
“Johnny – John look at me. You are not responsible for what happened. I chose to throw myself at you so you wouldn’t get hurt. You had nothing to say about it.”
“No buts,” Jim said firmly as the younger Lancer son gave in to the strain of the last few days and broke down crying.
Jim held Johnny tightly crooning to him as he had always done with his own sons and stroked the silky dark hair. After a few minutes the storm passed and Johnny was calm again. Lady licked his cheeks where the tear tracks were evident while Jim handed Johnny the canteen and told him to wash his face. After he had done so Johnny helped Jim to his feet and they went to rejoin the posse.
It was a tired, bedraggled and dusty group that straggled back into Green River five days later. Jim Talbot, head bandaged and face still pale, was at the head. Next to him was Johnny Lancer looking no less tired and dusty than the rest of the posse but somehow, his father would think, more at peace than he’d been over the last few days. Behind them Craig Bemis and Paul Newsham flanked their prisoner. Mike was miserable in body and spirit. His legs and wrist hurt where Lady had bitten him and the rest of him, including his broken nose, hurt from the pounding he’d taken from an angry Johnny days earlier. He was also upset that he’d gotten caught – worst of all by that rotten little half-breed Lancer kid that he hated so badly. It was like a cancer that would eat at him until there was nothing left of the sweet boy that his aunt remembered.
His Aunt Lydia Standish would come for the trials of her brother and nephew when the circuit judge arrived a week later. She had been notified by telegram and special delivery letter – which Val grudgingly paid for at Murdoch’s insistence – at her home near Seattle. It turned out that Jim Talbot had become acquainted with her during a business trip shortly after the war. She and her husband, a successful lumberman, had had dealings with Jim off and on and the two couples had become quite friendly much to her brother’s disgust. It was Lydia who had explained about Mike’s mother and how his father had neglected him all those years. She fervently wished that she’d been able to get her brother to open his eyes to what he was doing but he hadn’t listened. He’d allowed his hatred of all those he perceived to be Yankees and his drive to recoup his business losses to blind him to what she tried to tell him. She was unable to get him to see that his son was running wild and he would have problems with him in the long run if he didn’t straighten up and pay more attention to him while he was young enough to train in the manner of the Proverbs.
Turning their prisoner over to Val for interment in his jail the posse broke up and Johnny and Jim Talbot headed for Sam Jenkins’ office. Johnny stuck like a burr to Jim’s side as the man was still feeling the effects, somewhat, of the bullet that had grazed his skull. It was a noisy, jolly atmosphere that they found when they entered the doctor’s office. Scott was sitting up in bed surrounded by Tim Pittman and all his siblings, Murdoch, Teresa, Jelly, the elder Pittman’s and of course Maura and Sam.
“Hey what’s all the excitement around here?” Johnny yelled above the noise of the room.
“Johnny!” Teresa squealed and stood up to give her “brother” a hug.
“Johnny, good to see you back son,” his father said.
“Wal it’s about time you got your sorry hide back here,” Jelly groused. “Who do ya think’s been doin’ all your chores and keepin’ your brother out of trouble while you’ve been gone?”
“Gee Jelly,” Johnny said with a mischievous gleam in his eye. “I don’t know. Teresa maybe?”
Johnny saw all the kids and greeted each one by name making certain to shake hands with Tim and Mr. Pittman and to treat the girls like ladies – except that it was a time-honored tradition that he give nine-year-old Holly’s braid a little tug. The two littlest Pittmans, five-year-old Ricky and four-year-ole Dan got their hair tousled.
Sitting in Scott’s lap was the Pittmans’ calico cat by the name of Goldie. The seven-year-old twins and their younger brothers along with the two girls had decided that Scott needed cheering up and thought that Goldie was just the one to do it. A very affectionate cat she liked nothing more than to climb on someone’s shoulders and rub her head against their face. Something she was doing to Scott now as much for protection seeing that Lady had followed the two men in – for she didn’t trust any dog – as out of affection for the injured Lancer.
“Ow! Goldie, come down from there!” Scott exclaimed as her claws dug into his shoulder.
“I’ll get her Scott,” Tim said. He reached up and took the cat down cradling her in his arms.
“Come along children,” Martha Pittman said. “I think Scott’s got more company than he needs right now and it’s time we were getting home.”
A chorus of protests arose at her words but when their father backed her up the children stopped complaining, bade Scott and the others good-bye – making sure to hug or pat Lady on the way out – and left to return home.
It wasn’t until they were all out the door and things had quieted down that Maura noticed that her beloved husband had been injured.
“Alex!” she gasped. “What on earth happened to you?”
“Nothing to worry about sweetheart. It’s just a scratch.”
“James Alexander Talbot you just let Sam be the judge of that!” Taking her husband by the arm she pulled him toward the other room that Sam used to examine his patients. “Now come along and let him have a look at your head!”
There was no use protesting but as he left the room he saw smirks and looks of sympathy on the faces of the Lancers and Jelly. Sam had a definite twinkle in his eye as he followed his nurse and his newest patient to the other room.
“How did Jim get hurt?” Murdoch asked his younger son.
“Mike set up an ambush in some rocks about three and half days ride northwest of here. Mr. Talbot saw him before I did and knocked me out of my saddle. The shot hit him ‘stead of me. Scared the living daylights out of me but it’s not serious. He really just needs to rest some. We patched him up as best we could on the trail. Then I stuck really close to him all the way back and called a halt when I thought he needed to rest.”
“Johnny?” Scott spoke up now.
“What about your promise to me? Did you keep it?”
“Yeah, I kept it. It was pretty hard after Mike shot Mr. Talbot but I kept it. Mr. Talbot, hurt though he was, came to where me and Lady caught up with Mike, and reminded me of it.” Johnny looked at his brother curiously. “Why are you still here anyway? I thought Doc woulda let you go home days ago.”
“He wouldn’t leave until he knew you was back safe and that you’d kept your promise,” Jelly told him. “Stubbornest whippersnapper I ever did meet.”
“Even worse than me Jelly?” Johnny wanted to know with a twinkle in his eye.
“This time yeah!” Jelly retorted. “I’m gonna go get the wagon and bring it around front here. Now that you’re back we can bring him home.”
“I’ll go with you Jelly,” Teresa said. “I want to make sure that the back is well padded with those mattresses and such that we packed.” She gave her brothers one quick kiss apiece and flitted out the door on Jelly’s heels.
“I’m glad you’re back son,” Murdoch said. “More importantly I’m glad you kept your promise to your brother. I’d have been disappointed in you if you hadn’t.”
“Yeah well I’m glad too. Mike won’t be bothering anyone for a long time now. Especially not us Lancers. Between me and Lady he took a pretty fair beatin’.”
“I’m glad you kept your promise.”
“Me too, brother, me too.”
The trial of the Wilsons and the three other men was held two weeks later. Though still suffering some from the broken ribs Scott was the star witness. Based on his testimony and that of Tim Pittman and others who had either run afoul of Mike and his friends or witnessed the confrontations it was a speedy trial and conviction.
Mike was sentenced to ten years hard labor for initiating the attack on Scott. His friends each got lighter sentences due to their testimony for the prosecution. His father got five years for harboring and aiding and abetting a fugitive because he had known what his son had done but had not turned him over to the law. The Wilsons were now in full disgrace for their actions. Pierce and Mike’s business were confiscated and sold to a newcomer who promised to be much easier to deal with. When the Wilsons were released they would have to claim their personal possessions and move away from the San Joaquin Valley. Word of their misdeeds had spread through the whole valley and there would not be one town that would willingly take them in or do business with them.
Nobody in Green River, Spanish Wells, Morro Coyo or any other town within fifty miles was sorry to see them go. The only exception was Lydia Standish who had traveled from Seattle to Green River for the trial to talk to her brother. She was highly disappointed when he refused to see the error of his ways. It was with a heavy heart that the Talbots and the Lancers saw her off on the stage to San Francisco where she would get a ship to sail back to Seattle.
During the time that Scott spent recovering at Sam Jenkins’ office and at home the work on the library building went on. A week after the trial it was ready to be dedicated. Scott had convinced his grandfather and some of his grandfather’s wealthy friends and business associates that it would be a good investment if they were to donate books or furnishings to the library and money to the scholarship fund. Scott himself donated a considerable fund toward the scholarship from his own personal money left to him by his grandmother Garrett - a trust fund that he’d not felt the need to tap into since his arrival in California. The result was that there was more than enough money to sponsor a boy and a girl from the local school that had dreams of furthering their schooling.
A committee consisting of Murdoch, Val Crawford, Brad Ingersoll, the Widow Hargis from Spanish Wells, Edward Stratemeyer, who was the local banker and Robert and Catherine Becket the local minister and his wife, looked over all of the grades and the letters of application and made their decision which was to be announced at the dedication of the new library.
The day of the dedication dawned bright and clear. Just a few white, puffy clouds floated by in an otherwise bright blue sky. The Lancers arrived an hour early as they were to make the announcement of the scholarship winners. The Talbots were already there as were the other Founder’s Day Committee members. Val Crawford joined them a half-hour before the ceremonies started. His appearance was to be a very bright spot in Johnny and Scott’s day. Maura spotted him before any of the others.
“Why Valentine Aloysius Crawford! How nice you look!”
What prompted that comment from her was the fact that, instead of his usual somewhat scruffy looks, Val was clean-shaven, had had his hair cut the day before and was wearing a light blue shirt with brown pants, a brown jacket and a black string tie. His boots were polished to a highly glossy finish.
“Valentine Aloysius?” Johnny almost choked.
“Yeah Valentine Aloysius!” Val exclaimed. “You want to make something of it?”
“Now Val,” Murdoch said choking on his own laughter, “calm down.” Turning to his younger son he said, “Johnny stop laughing. Aloysius is a very old and very popular name with many old-line Irish families. Apparently Val’s folks thought it went very well with Val…” Murdoch had to stop because he, too, now burst into laughter. And no amount of scolding from Maura could stop the three Lancer men, Jelly and her husband from laughing at Val who continued to scowl at them all.
“Honestly you men!” Maura exclaimed. “Never you mind them, Val, dear. You just come with me and we’ll find our seats while these - these jackasses get their braying out of their systems.”
Maura was not normally given to using such terminology but the three Lancer men, including the still sore Scott, her husband and Jelly, were acting like a bunch of idiots to her mind. Just because Val had dressed up nicely and was tagged with a name like Aloysius was no reason to laugh at the man! No reason at all. Teresa, giving her men a dirty look, joined Maura and Val as they made their way to the grandstand that had been erected in front of the new library.
After a series of short speeches – short because the speakers had been threatened with expulsion if they went more than three to five minutes apiece – Reverend Hawk got up to make the presentation of the scholarship money.
“It gives me great pleasure to announce that Timothy James Pittman and Christine Morse are the first recipients of what we hope to be an annual scholarship in memory of the three Talbot brothers and all others who fell during the war.” With a broad smile he added, “Come on up here you two and get your checks.”
Christine, who wore a green and white plaid dress with a black bow, joined Tim who was dressed in the best pair of black pants he had, a white shirt, black tie and a jacket that was a bit too small for his tall frame. Their families beamed proudly as the two teenagers were presented with checks that would cover their first year of college at a school of their choice plus clothes and travel expenses. Maura Talbot had already arranged for the students to come to her to have their new clothes fitted. Tim would earn the money for his by doing odd jobs at the Bar T. Christine’s parents made enough money with their little café to be able to afford to pay cash.
The loving Irishwoman would have made them for nothing but she knew that pride would stand in the Pittmans’ way. Allowing Tim to “earn” his clothes was the only way they would accept her offer. Scott managed to convince her that some of his castoffs would be just about right for Tim and the teenager could “earn” them the same way he was earning the new things. Scott and Johnny would find plenty of odd jobs that needed to be done around Lancer or around Green River including cleaning the jail. Val was not exactly noted for his housekeeping skills.
“Before we close the ceremonies out here and move inside to dedicate the three rooms in memory of Maura and Jim’s sons Del Hyssong is going to sing for us,” the reverend announced.
“Thank you Reverend,” Hyssong said. “I did some research before coming up with this song. It seems to have become a customary thing to have this song played when a soldier died and was buried during the war of just a few years ago. Nobody knows for sure who wrote the words or the music but Brigadier General Daniel Adams Butterfield revised an earlier bugle call and came up with this. It’s called Taps and I will sing the more popular verses as they might have been sung.”
bugler sounded and these words rang out across the crowd.
Just twenty-four notes but there was nary a dry eye in the audience when
he was done. Then Hyssong sang
these words in a pleasant baritone:
Day is done, gone the sun,
From the hills, from the lake,
From the sky.
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh.
Go to sleep, peaceful sleep,
May the soldier or sailor,
On the land or the deep,
Safe in sleep.
Love, good night, Must thou go,
When the day, And the night
Need thee so?
All is well, Speedeth all
To their rest.
Fades the light; And afar
Goeth day, And the stars
Fare thee well; Day has gone
Night is on.
Thanks and praise, For our days,
‘Neath the sun, Neath the stars
‘Neath the sky.
As we go, This we know,
God is nigh.*
Silently, moved by the song they had just heard the crowd moved into the building for the next, and final part of the dedication ceremonies. Maura and Jim were called to the front of the first of three rooms and they, in turn, called Johnny and Scott up to join them. Val was called upon to take the place of their third son.
“Now we know why you’re so dressed up,” Johnny whispered. “Mrs. Talbot made you.”
“Ssh.” Scott admonished his brother. “They’re about to begin.”
Val was dressed very nicely but Johnny was resplendent in a blue shirt embroidered in red and white flowers, and the black suit that Maura had requested that he wear. Scott, still a bit pale, but well on the way to recovery, was dressed in the uniform he’d taken off several years earlier but kept stored away. It was the dress uniform of a Lieutenant in the United States Cavalry circa 1864 complete with gold sash and epaulets.
It was all over in a matter of minutes. The three rooms were dedicated in memory of Blair, Kendall and Rory Talbot who had given their lives, along with many of their comrades, in defense of the Union. A portrait of each Talbot son was hanging in the room dedicated to his memory. The library itself was dedicated to any and all soldiers who had died whether Union or Confederate. The boys would have wanted it that way so their parents had insisted. A large bronze plaque declared it to be the San Joaquin Memorial Library dedicated to all who fell during the war of 1861 to 1865. Teresa was crying almost as hard as Maura by the time the ceremonies were finally over. She remembered the boys quite well. Though they’d been too old to be her playmates they’d always been good to her when she’d gone with her father or Murdoch to visit the Bar T as a child.
Outside in the bright sunshine the children separated from their parents and started running around. The Lancers, Talbots and Pittmans headed back to Lancer for a big barbecue Murdoch had planned. It was a beautiful day for it and the children could run around outside to their heart’s content until it was time to eat or go home.
Upon arrival they found Jelly bossing a crew that was roasting a side of beef, cooking vegetables – mostly potatoes and corn on the cob, and setting tables. However, he did not try to boss Maria around. The Mexican woman was in charge of the kitchen and Señor Jelly had better not forget it. She had several girls and young women helping her put out the salads, breads and other side dishes.
After dinner the Pittman children found Lady to be a very agreeable playmate as they ran around playing tag and hide and seek – Lady having a very distinct advantage when it came to that. Tim seemed to be her favorite as he was teaching her a new trick. At least he thought it was new.
Every day that he’d been over to do some chores for Lancer he’d been given plenty of time to have some fun with Lady. He’d found an old pair of pants and stuffed them with hay. He wasn’t all that clever with a needle and thread so he asked Teresa if she would sew them shut for him. She was glad to oblige, as she, like the rest of the family, was quite fond of Tim. Taking the pants and Lady and going to a secluded field he’d “taught” lady how to “sic ‘em” using the pants as a target.
Calling Lady to him he set up their dummy and told her to sic ‘em. Unfortunately for him, Jelly chose that particular moment to get between Lady and her target and it was he who was now the target. The sight that greeted them when they responded to Jelly’s screams had Johnny and Scott laughing so hard that tears were running down their faces. Murdoch and the Talbots weren’t much better off. The Pittmans, however, were mortified. Lady had seen a chance to make Tim happy by attacking a moving target. It was unclear who was howling the loudest – Lady who’s fang was caught in Jelly’s suspenders, Jelly who was the unintentional target or the Lancers who came upon the scene in response to Jelly’s screams. The Lancers would later declare that they believed Jelly’s howls could be heard clear to San Francisco.
*The verses and information I got on Taps was taken from the website http://www.west-point.org/taps/Taps.html. It has links to other sites on the origin of the traditional salute to fallen servicemen. It was first heard during the Civil War but it’s actual true origin is shrouded in mystery and folklore.