A thoroughly exhausted and chilled to the bone Scott Lancer tugged at the buckle holding his saddle cinch in place with hands that felt like chunks of ice. It had been a very trying day for the Boston raised rancher. Chasing strays was never a lot of fun – especially if the steers, or cows, didn’t want to be chased back to the main herd. Today, however, had been worse than usual. Today he owed his life to his brother’s dog Lady Sweet Friend – at least that’s how he felt.
“The calendar says it’s spring – where’s the sun?” Scott Lancer asked his brother, Johnny.
“Beats me,” Johnny said. “It definitely don’t feel like spring.”
Their father, Murdoch Lancer, who sat across the kitchen table from them, added, “It’s been years since I’ve seen the winter rains last this long. If this keeps up much longer Wolf Creek and some of the others will flood. That’s why I want those herds moved as quickly as possible.” Pausing for a sip of his hot coffee, he continued, “If we don’t get the herds moved they could be stranded up there for a good long while – and with the cows dropping calves right and left we could lose some of them.”
Quickly, the boys finished their breakfast and then walked out toward the front door to don their gun belts and slickers. Out into the miserable weather they went headed for the barn to get their horses. Their handyman, bewhiskered Jellifer B. Hoskins, met them there.
“Is it winter or spring I ask you?” Jelly grumbled. “Calendar says spring arrived nigh onto a week ago. The weather don’t seem to know that. Why any minute now I expect to see it start snowing like it did back when Scott got that sleigh he’s so fond of from the Talbots.”
“Oh, I don’t know Jelly,” Johnny said. “I don’t think it’s quite that cold.”
“Yeah, well my elbows are tellin’ me there’s going to be trouble. This cold weather could turn really nasty. Why I’ll bet ya…”
“Never mind, Jelly,” Scott said. “Just saddle Murdoch’s horse for him and tell him we’ve gone on ahead toward the Wolf Creek pasture. If he doesn’t find us there we’ve moved on to the high ground to start moving whatever stock is up there down to the lower pastures.”
“Yeah and Lady’s going with us to help so’s they don’t go heading back up where they think the grazing is better. She’ll find the hidden calves too.”
Lady was Lady Sweet Friend, the ranch’s collie. Collies were generally known for working sheep but Lady had been trained by Johnny to work with cattle. Her grandmother, Patty Pat, had been Johnny’s constant companion when he was a baby before his mother took him away. Two generations later the canines were at it again trying to keep Johnny out of trouble. This member of the family, however, had gotten Scott out of a couple of scrapes – one of them life threatening.
Hearing her name, Lady came walking over to where the two youngest Lancer men were now backing their horses out of their stalls. With a happy “woof” she joined them as they led Barranca and Ranger out of the barn and stopped to mount up.
Normally, the ranchers would be driving their herds to the high country in the spring where the grass would be lush all summer long giving the lower pastures time to recover and grow again. However, with the threat of flooding keeping them from getting to their herds to check on them against natural disasters and predators, many of the ranchers were bringing the herds down for a few weeks.
The brothers and Lady headed out and made their way through the rain to the pasture near Wolf Creek. Finding everything in order there, no flood threat as of yet, they moved on up to the higher ground. Water dripped off of their hats into their faces when the leaned backward and down their necks when they leaned forward. It was a very miserable day for man and beast.
Lady didn’t fare any better than the humans did. She and the horses, both, were covered in mud. Lady didn’t whine or balk though – she knew her job was to help round up the cattle and nothing was going to stop her from doing that and hearing Johnny’s words of praise. While she was muddy the rain couldn’t completely soak through her thick coat so she remained relatively dry – leastways she wasn’t soaked to the skin.
The next pasture was a good ten miles northeast of where they were. The rain, which had been a mere drizzle all morning, turned to a steadier rain that poured off of the riders hats, slickers and the horses. Even Lady was miserable. The sight of a stray bunch of steers, about ten in all, gave her something to do to get warmed up. Even before Johnny told her what to do, she was headed for them and turning them back toward the southern pasture.
It was here that Johnny and his brother parted ways for a while. At Scott’s insistence Johnny accompanied Lady as she drove their latest bunch down to the main herd that the brothers were going to move. Scott, himself, was going to keep heading up toward the creek to see if there were any cows and/or calves or other livestock stuck in mud holes.
“I’m perfectly capable of pulling one cow or calf out of a mud hole by myself, brother,” he insisted when Johnny protested that they should stay together.
Johnny mumbled something under his breath but acquiesced to his brother’s wishes. Not without having a “private” talk with Lady about looking out for Scott. Lady drove the cattle ahead of Johnny until they were out of sight of Scott. Then Johnny sent her back to keep an eye on his brother. Before that day was over Scott would be glad that Johnny had ignored his wishes, and grateful that Lady was around.
Scott could hear the mother cow bawling from almost a mile away. As he got closer he saw the cow standing near the edge of the swollen creek staring at something as she bellowed. Faintly, over the roar of the rushing water, he could hear a calf answering her.
Dismounting he ground hitched Ranger while he went over to investigate. The calf’s mother looked at him as if to say, “well don’t just stand there - save my baby!” Scott gave her a shove so that he could get closer to where the calf was trapped. Thoroughly examining the calf’s position he went back to Ranger to retrieve his lariat from his saddle.
Testing every step before making another, Scott slowly made his way toward the calf and into the swiftly running water. The chill of the creek could be felt through his boots quickly numbing his feet. Reaching into the water Scott soon found the problem – the calf had a foot caught between two rocks. He moved them and then carefully placed the rope around the calf and climbed back out of the water. Walking over to Ranger he secured the other end of the rope to his saddle and slowly backed the horse up until the slack was taken up between them and the calf. All the while the calf’s mother stood watching them anxiously and “talking” to her baby.
When all was said and done Scott would never be able to figure out exactly what had happened. One minute he was removing the rope from around the three-day-old calf and the next minute he was in over his head in icy cold water. He wasn’t sure whether the cow nudged him in her anxiety to get to her baby or if he slipped trying to avoid her horns. It didn’t matter, he was over his head in swiftly running cold water and barely able to catch his breath, let alone call for help.
Ranger stood on the shore where Scott had left him and neighed frantically when he sensed the danger. Lady was very nearby when she heard Scott’s startled cry. Picking up speed she raced toward the scene where Scott was floundering as his wet clothes and slicker, as well as boots filled with water, kept dragging him down. The collie didn’t hesitate. Picking up the rope where Scott had dropped it she jumped into the water and paddled her way to the struggling man. Scott was able to grab hold of it, and Lady. Catching his breath he called for Ranger to back up. The rope, providentially, was still fastened to Scott’s saddle horn. The accident had happened so quickly that he’d not had time to remove it. Ranger followed Scott’s instructions and slowly backed up.
Just as Scott and Lady were approaching the bank Johnny and Murdoch came around the corner. Without hesitation both of the other Lancers waded right into the water and grabbed hold of man and dog and pulled them to safety. Once she was on shore again Lady simply shook herself to get rid of most of the water. Scott was in a lot worse shape. The temperature was barely above forty and Scott was soaked through. His slicker had a big tear in it and he’d lost his hat in the water. His blond hair was plastered to his skull and his lips were blue.
“Come on over here and sit down,” Murdoch told his older son, as the three of them made their way to a fallen tree where they could sit down.
Johnny supported his brother on the right while Murdoch supported him on the left. Seeing the tear in Scott’s slicker, Johnny took his jacket off to wrap around his shivering brother. Scott’s teeth were chattering and his hands were cold. Murdoch pulled Scott’s gloves off and tried to warm his son’s hands but they were too cold and the dampness in the air was not helping.
“Johnny, bring Ranger over here,” Murdoch said to his younger son. “I think your brother needs to head home to a hot bath, a hot meal and a warm bed.” Scott started to argue, “No arguments, son. You had rather a close call and you’re half frozen. You go on home. We’ll see you there as soon as we get this herd down to the east pasture.”
Johnny pulled his brother to his feet and boosted him into the saddle. “Go on, brother. Do like Murdoch says. We’ll be home soon. Just you make sure you save some hot water for us. We’ll be wanting a hot bath too after wrestling in the mud, water and rain with these blasted cows all day!”
Reluctantly, Scott turned Ranger toward the hacienda. By the time he got there he was soaked right through his brother’s jacket and it clung to him making him all that much colder than he already was.
Ranger was more than happy to find himself at his nice warm stall. Scott was still struggling with the cinch when Jelly Hoskins came along. The grizzled old handyman took one look at his employer’s pale face and wet clothes and moved in to take over.
“You look worse’n a drowned rat! Git on out of here and get up to the house. I’ll take care of Ranger for ya. You get shed of them wet clothes before you catch your death of cold!”
When he entered the house it was the same thing all over again. Teresa and Maria plied him with a cup of hot coffee and set up the tub in his room. They took turns bringing buckets of hot water up and filling the tub for him. They laid out a nightshirt, slippers and a warm robe as well as a couple of nice thick towels for him to dry himself off with.
“You go on and get your bath, Scott,” Teresa told him. “When you’re through Jelly will come and take the tub and empty it. You just climb into bed and we’ll bring you some hot soup. You’re not hurt anywhere are you?”
“No, Teresa,” he replied. “Just a little bump on the knee and some sore muscles. The hot water ought to help that.”
He turned and left the room with the two women watching him closely to see if he were telling them the truth. It would appear that he was for he only limped slightly with the right leg. They then busied themselves getting a kettle of chicken soup going. Teresa thought that a cup of chamomile tea would probably be good too – to help ward off any cold that he might be apt to get after the dunking he had taken.
Three hours later Murdoch, Johnny and Lady returned to the hacienda themselves. Jose Mendoza and Tom Fox met the men as they returned to the barn and took their horses. Lady didn’t wait around to see what would happen. Instead, she headed straight for the house and went up the stairs past the amused women in the kitchen. As a general rule Lady could be found very close to Johnny. He was her companion and playmate and caregiver. However, when any member of the family was sick or hurt she could quite often be found in that person’s bedroom or sitting next to them in the Great Room keeping an eye on them.
“Where’s Lady?” Johnny asked as he and Murdoch came into the kitchen.
“I imagine you’ll find her in Scott’s room,” Teresa said with a grin. “She ran past us without a ‘hello’ and went straight up the stairs. I think you two had better go get some dry clothes on. Supper will be ready soon.”
“Treinta menudos,” Maria said. “Thirty minutes.”
“What’s for dinner?” Johnny wanted to know as he attempted to get a look in some of the pots on the stove.
“Food,” Teresa answered him with a giggle and a slap at his hand. “Now go get cleaned up and into dry clothes or you don’t get any.”
Reluctantly, Johnny left the kitchen and headed for his room to clean up and change. He wouldn’t admit it to Teresa, or Maria, but he was a little chilly. Dry clothes would feel wonderful. The hot food would be very nice too.
Once he had changed he went across the hall to his brother’s room. Scott had fallen asleep from sheer exhaustion and the trauma of his accident. He lay curled up on his right side breathing deeply and evenly. His face was still a bit pale and he had a small lump on his right temple where he’d hit a log while floundering in the rushing water. The tub, now full of cold water, sat on the floor a few feet away. Next to the bed Lady Sweet Friend lay with her nose on her front paws doing what she considered her duty – looking out for a member of the family who needed looking out for.
Scott was not covered by the blankets but, rather, was more on top of them than under them. Johnny surmised that his brother must have intended to only sit down for a few minutes before supper but exhaustion and the trauma had taken it’s toll on his body and he had laid down and succumbed to sleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. Gently and quietly Johnny slid his brother’s legs under the covers and pulled them up to his brother’s shoulders. Then he grabbed the tub and placed it outside the door. He piled the damp towels in a corner to be picked up later.
“Lady,” he whispered. “Come and get your supper.”
Lady just raised her head to look at him and then put it down again. As far as she was concerned her place was right here with Scott until she knew he was all right.
“So that’s the way it is, huh?” Johnny grinned. “Just ‘cause Scott had a little accident you’re gonna pay more attention to him?” Walking over he gave the collie a pat on the head. “That’s ok, girl, if you want to stay with him. You’ll come and get me if he needs anything and I’ll bring you some supper after we get through eating.”
As he exited his brother’s room he met up with his father who was on his way down to dinner.
“Where’s Scott? Isn’t he going to eat dinner?”
“I don’t reckon so, Murdoch,” Johnny said. “He’s sound asleep.”
“Well, I guess that’s the best thing for him,” his father replied. “From what you told me about your day he’d be tired as it is. That little ‘swim’ that he took only added to it.”
“He’ll be fine, Murdoch. He’s got a good nurse,” Johnny grinned.
“Nurse? I thought Teresa and Maria were getting dinner on the table.”
“They are. Lady’s his nurse. She’s in there lyin’ next to his bed and won’t budge unless somebody takes over. I reckon she’ll stay there all night.”
Murdoch chuckled, “She’s just like her grandmother, Patty Pat. Patty Pat used to lie next to your bed every night when you were small. She stayed right by you through teething, colds, colic and everything else you ever came down with.”
The two men continued downstairs carrying the tub between them. Johnny took it through the kitchen and dumped the water on the flowers Teresa had growing near the patio. Murdoch went to his desk to look over the mail that one of the hands had brought back from town the day before. Things had been so hectic with all the rain that he hadn’t had the time.
Dinner was a relatively silent affair as the family worried some about the brother and son who lay fast asleep in his room. Each one would, before they retired, stop in to check on him and marvel at how Lady, who considered herself to be Johnny’s dog more than anyone’s, would stand watch over the one whom she perceived to need her protection and watchful eyes and ears the most.
Scott woke early the next morning feeling much better for having had a good night’s rest. Quickly, he took care of his personal needs, shaved, dressed and went downstairs for breakfast with Lady close on his heels. He was a little surprised to find her in his room but she’d stayed with him when he’d been badly beaten in an ambush in Green River and when he’d been kidnapped the fall before in order to keep him out of the final ball game in the baseball league he’d helped found.
Greeting his family he sat in his customary place across the table from Johnny and Teresa and proceeded to make short work of his breakfast. He fended off his father’s concern with a, “I’m fine, Murdoch. I’ll be able to handle the work with the herd today. It’s not a problem.”
Hesitating slightly he asked, “Would you mind if I made a trip into Spanish Wells though? I have something I want to get and I’d like to take care of it right away.”
“I suppose it’d be all right. I’d like you to take it a little easy today.” Seeing Scott begin to protest again he added, “Yes, I know you’re ‘fine’ but humor your father for a change. Work until noon then go into Spanish Wells and have lunch and do your errand.”
So it was agreed upon though somewhat reluctantly on Scott’s part. He’d had in mind that he’d just spend most of the day moving what was left of the cattle or checking to see if there was debris from the heavy rain blocking the streams and then go into town. In the end it was Johnny who convinced him and got permission to accompany his brother. Murdoch acquiesced because he knew Johnny would go anyway and this way Johnny could keep an eye on Scott to be sure he was truly showing no ill effects from the dunking he’d taken.
Late that afternoon Johnny followed Scott from store to store – not that there were that many to visit – until finally Scott found what he wanted. He paid the shopkeeper and carried his purchase out to where Barranca and Ranger were tied. The two young men turned their mounts and headed for home. Scott’s large package was tucked under his arm with a big red ribbon tied around it. A smaller, somewhat flatter package was inside the larger one.
A couple of hours later the boys arrived home and Scott took his purchases inside. Settling in the Great Room he found all eyes on him as he took the wrapping off and called for Lady.
“Lady! Come here, Lady,” he said as he stood by the French doors watching for her.
The collie came trotting up to the house from the barn where she’d been checking to see that her equine pals, Ranger and Barranca, were being well taken care of. Curiously, she approached Scott as he knelt on the floor by the fireplace.
“This is for you, Lady,” Scott told her as he gave her a slight hug. “In appreciation for everything you’ve done for me since I came home to Lancer.”
There on the floor was a large wicker basket that was big enough for Lady to get into. In the basket was a red plaid cushion. Lady looked at him and back at the basket. Then she looked at Johnny who was grinning from ear to ear.
“This is for you to sleep in, girl,” Johnny explained. “Scott got it so you’ll have a nice comfortable bed at night ‘stead of sleeping on the floor in my room.”
Lady circled the men and the basket and finally decided to check it out. Ever so carefully she climbed into it and settled herself. With a contented sigh she gave a short, quiet “woof” and promptly fell asleep while all around her the Lancer family laughed as the canine heroine enjoyed her reward.