Harvest of Friends
by  JEB

          The young man lay at the bottom of the slope gasping for breath and suffering a great deal of pain.  His left leg was twisted, probably broken, and blood trickled from a cut on his left temple turning his blond hair a rusty brown.  Night was falling and nobody knew for sure where he was.  It was getting chilly and he had no way of getting a jacket or a blanket to wrap around himself while he tried to figure out a way of getting out of this predicament.  What had started off as a nice day with time spent with his brother and the children at the local orphanage, as well as their surrogate mother, had suddenly gone sour.



          Eight o’clock that morning….. 

“You ready to go brother?” Johnny asked Scott.

“What’s your hurry?  As if I didn’t know,” Scott jibed.  “Don’t worry – Mrs. Talbot will have saved some of those cookies for you.  She probably made a whole batch just for you while I, on the other hand, will be lucky to get more than a dozen.”

“I ain’t worried ‘bout that,” Johnny said.  “I just don’t want to be late.  Miz Talbot’s countin’ on us and so are the kids.”

Thanksgiving was fast approaching and the boys had volunteered to help Maura Talbot, friend and mother figure, put together a party for the children at the orphanage near the sleepy village of Morro Coyo to celebrate the harvest that the children had brought in.   It wasn’t the first time they’d gotten involved in something for these children either.  Just a year or so ago they had helped organize the annual Easter Egg Hunt and Roll at Lancer itself.  Of course sensible and logical Scott had found it necessary to ride herd on his overly enthusiastic younger brother as they had hidden the eggs, for Johnny had wanted to hide some of them in the trees – literally.

Maura had told the boys that they would be helping to run the games such as bobbing for apples and eating donuts suspended from the ceiling with strings – without using their hands.  The padre who was in charge of the orphanage had a very small staff and not much money to pay for necessities so the locals, oftentimes urged on by Maura, had taken to donating as much as possible.  Not only that but they would run special events and take the children on picnics and other outings whenever they could.  Older children were hired to do odd jobs that they were suited to.

The boys looked forward to these events.  Both of them, much like their father Murdoch Lancer, were quite fond of children and children were wild about them.  Johnny, with his natural boyish enthusiasm, and Scott with his quiet ways, each had their special friends among the local children.


About an hour after they left home the boys arrived at the orphanage.  They were warmly greeted by Jim and Maura Talbot and enthusiastically greeted by Johnny’s pals Rico Portillo, Willie Mays and Kevin Millar who were glad to see them for the help they would give in setting up and “riding herd” on the excited children.

“Hey Johnny! Scott!  Boy are we glad to see you!” Kevin exclaimed.

“Si!  These children are like excited puppies,” Rico said.  “They can’t stand still for a minute.”

“Yeah, and Tommy Whittier keeps stirring them up,” Willie complained.  “If he’s not chasing the girls with a frog or a garter snake he’s egging the boys on or teasing the little ones!  They’re getting hard to handle!”

“Nonsense!” Maura Talbot exclaimed.  “You boys were just like that when you were small, Willie.  Your younger brothers and sisters, Kevin and Rico, are like that just as much as Willie’s!  You’re bigger and older than they are – you make them mind!”  Turning to her friend’s two sons, she said, “Johnny and Scott I need your help inside moving tables and clearing chairs out of the way.  Come along now.  I’ll want you to help Alex hang the donuts from the ceiling too.”

Thus it was.  The boys all knew better than to argue with Maura once she had her mind made up about something.  With the three men working together under her supervision and aided by half a dozen of the oldest boys and girls that lived at the orphanage the big dining room was soon converted into a playroom.  Donuts were tied to strings that dangled from the ceiling.  Corn stalks, pumpkins, gourds and Indian corn decorated the corners with some bales of straw and hay for the children and the spectators to sit on in between games.  Maura rewarded them all with cookies she’d saved out of her baking.  Nobody was the least bit surprised when Johnny was found to have the most cookies as well as the largest ones.  It was a source of good-natured ribbing from his brother and Jim that he just ignored as he munched.  It was a well-known fact in their two families that Johnny, whom she’d helped deliver and had watched grow from infant to curly-headed and blue-eyed charmer of a toddler, was her pet.  He knew it, she knew it and so did everyone at the Bar T and at Lancer.  Most of the people in town knew it too – especially his three buddies.

“You’d better finish those cookies before your friends find out about them, little brother,” Scott said.  “They’ll be pretty jealous if they see you eating before they’re allowed to have anything.”

“Scott Lancer!”  Maura scolded the blond.  “You stop picking on your brother. Kevin, Rico and Willie will not be jealous – they’ve already had their treats.”

When they were through with their snack the boys wandered out into the yard to help the hapless young men that were already trying to keep some semblance of order among the children.

Excited children ran hither and yon chasing each other in a merry game of tag or hide and seek or fleeing from those that would torment them.  The boys were quite intent on pulling pigtails and hair ribbons and the girls were just as determined that they would not get away with that.  More than once Kevin, Rico or Willie had found themselves with a small girl in their arms while they kept one of the boys at bay with his insect, frog or garter snake.  One boy was quite alone though.  Eight-year-old Karl Johansson, a Swedish boy whose parents had died of a fever shortly after they moved to California, didn’t speak English well and too often the other children didn’t have any patience with him and ignored him.  The boy was quite lonely.  It was this youngster that Scott was drawn to – he saw so much of himself in Karl.  His grandfather had given him all the material things he could possibly need – or want – but he’d forgotten that a child needs love.

Wandering over to where Karl sat by himself under one of the large oaks Scott sat down beside the boy, took his hat off and laid it on the ground next to him.  Karl had one thing that made him happy – a small goat that he was cuddling now.

“Hello Karl,” Scott said with a smile.  “How are you today?”

The boy looked at him quizzically so Scott repeated his question slower.  This time the boy understood and gave him a tenuous smile.

“I am fine Mr. Lancer,” the boy said in heavily accented English.

“Why aren’t you playing with the other children?” Scott asked.

“They do not want to play with me.  I do not speak English good.”

“You’re getting better,” Scott said encouragingly.  “A few months ago you didn’t even understand me.”

“Ja, the missus – she work with me.  Give me words to practice.  Does not yell when I get them wrong.”

“Mrs. Talbot?”  At the boy’s nod Scott smiled and said, “That’s the way she is.  She had three boys of her own a long time ago.  Now she has all you children here and in the towns.”

“She had boys?”  Karl asked. 

“Yes.  They all died in the war.”

“Ja.  War.  Papa’s brother came to America before us.  He died in the war too.  Then Papa and Mama die from fever.  I not have any brothers or sisters.  They die when they were born before me.”

Changing the subject, which was so obviously distressing to the boy Scott said, “That’s a nice looking goat you have there, Karl.  What’s its name?”


“Bjorn?  What does it mean in English?”


Scott laughed.  “This little guy hardly looks like a bear but I like the name.  Maybe he’ll grow up to be your protector.”

“Ja.  He will grow up to be big and strong with horns to protect himself and me.”

“You see there, Karl?” Scott said.  “You’re doing just fine with your English.  Now why don’t you go join the other children?  My brother and his friends are gathering them up now to go in and play the games Mrs. Talbot has organized for you.”

“No….” the nervous boy said. “I would rather stay and talk to you.”

“Now Karl,” Scott admonished the youngster gently.  “Talking to me might help you learn English faster but you need to be with children your own age.”  Standing up Scott took Bjorn from the boy and gently pushed him toward the others.  Kevin was the closest of the adults so Scott called him over.  “Kevin?  Would you mind taking my friend Karl here and bringing him inside with the other children?”  In a quiet aside when the younger man approached with a big smile on his face he added, “Tell Mrs. Talbot that Karl is feeling left out and lonely because of his language problems.  The other kids don’t want to spend as much time with him as they should.  She’ll know what to do about it.”

“Come along Karl,” Kevin said as he gently took the youngster’s hand.  “Mrs. Talbot is just waiting for someone like you to assist her with a game or two.  I know she’ll be very happy to see you.”  Seeing the boy look back at Scott and Bjorn he added, “Don’t worry about your goat.  Scott will take good care of him for you.”

Scott took Bjorn over to a fence post where he tied him with some rope to keep him out from under foot.  Little did he know what a mistake that would prove to be.  Satisfied that the little creature was safely out of harm’s way he went in to join the festivities.  Maura had “enlisted” Karl’s help in setting up for the bobbing for apples by having him take charge of putting the apples into the tub of water that was set in the middle of the floor.  She could easily have done it herself but Kevin had whispered in her ear about Scott’s request.

“That’s very good Karl,” Maura smiled at the youngster.  “Now why don’t you help Johnny and Willie line the children up for their turn at the tub?”

Karl smiled back and went to do as she bade him.  Willie put him in line behind two girls around his own age and the children moved up, one at a time, to take their turn at bobbing for apples.  There was a lot of squealing and laughing and cheering as well as shouting as they tried to sink their teeth into a bobbing apple.  Karl managed to get his apple by the stem as Johnny watched closely to make sure he didn’t use his hands at all.  They’d already removed eleven- year-old Tommy Whittier for doing just that.  The boy was just determined to be the problem child of the day it seemed.

“That’s very good Karl,” Johnny praised the youngster.  “It’s not easy to get hold of one of them apples but it’s especially hard to get it by the stem.”

The youngster smiled shyly beneath his water soaked bangs as Johnny handed him a towel to dry off with.  “Ja, is very hard but I try and I try and I try and finally I get it.”

“Hey Johnny,” Rico came up to the tub.  “Why don’t you try?”

“And have my head dunked by one of you clowns?”  Johnny fixed his friend with an icy glare worthy of Madrid.  “No way.  If anyone’s going to get their head dunked, pal, it’s gonna be you.”

“Boys,” Jim Talbot’s stern – well trying to sound stern – voice interrupted this argument.  “Unless you want my wife to take a broom to you you’d better stop this now before it gets out of hand.  Rico, Kevin and Willie you all know what she’s like when she’s riled at you so be smart and knock it off now.” 

The younger men gave him a sheepish grin and those grins disappeared quickly when they saw Maura looking pointedly at a nearby broom.  There was no way any one of them wanted to be on the receiving end if she started swinging.  They especially didn’t want the youngsters to see her doing it – it would just be too humiliating.  Jim grinned at them as they settled down at the thought of what might happen if his wife became upset with them.

The apple-bobbing contest over Willie took it upon himself to take the tub of water outside and empty it.  Once emptied, he hung it on a wall to dry to keep it out of the reach of any child who might get ideas about playing with it.  It was too heavy for the younger children to manage and he knew one of them might get hurt if they tried, or one of the older children played too rough.  Spying Bjorn tied to the fence he walked over to pet the little goat and make sure he was securely tied.  Willie’s little brother, Mark, had a pet goat too and it was always getting into mischief if left to its own devices.

“Here you go little guy,” he said as he put a pail of water close by.  “Now you just stay here out of trouble while your friend Karl has some fun for himself inside.”

If Willie had been paying a little closer attention to the rope, instead of the goat, he would have noticed that Bjorn had been chewing on it. He was focused on making sure the little animal was comfortable and he knew that Scott would have tied the goat securely but not cruelly tight so the pail of water he brought Bjorn was all he was concerned about.

Willie went back inside where the donut-eating contest was about to take place.  Egged on by Kevin the instigator, Johnny and Rico had talked Scott into hanging a pair of donuts for them so they could try their luck at eating it without the use of their hands.

“Are you ready?  Get set.  Go!”  Jim Talbot started them off with Scott assisting in wiggling the line the donuts were hung from so that it would be too easy for anyone.  Johnny and Rico each had donuts with powdered sugar on them.  The children had plain donuts or donuts with powdered sugar or cinnamon.  The floor was a mess and the room rocked with laughter and giggles as the children and the two overgrown children tried to catch their swinging donuts.  Nine-year-old Marcy Kane was the first one to finish her donut so she was awarded a new dress that Maura had made for her doll.  The ecstatic little girl hugged the dress to herself, kissed Maura and then ran to the sidelines where one of the Sisters was holding her doll for her while she played.  It didn’t take long for her to change the doll’s dress to the one she had just been awarded as her prize.

Johnny looked over at his brother who stood on the sidelines looking neat and clean with nary a hair out of place.  Disgusted he slyly winked at Rico and Willie and then started in on Kevin and Scott.

“Hey Scott?  Kevin?  It’s your turn.”

“Oh, no.  Not me,” Scott said.

“Come on Scott.  Do it for me.  Kevin’s gonna be too big for his britches if somebody doesn’t take him down a peg or two.  You’re perfect for the job!”

Still protesting Scott, and Kevin who was protesting just as loudly, was lined up in front of a donut hanging at just the right height for him.  Kevin, too, was propelled forward – Willie had gotten hold of him while Jim Talbot was coercing Scott.  As a matter of fact, Jim had decided to join in the fun.  Now the boys were shamed into it.  After all, if a man the age of their fathers could behave like a kid and play their games it would be pretty embarrassing if they, themselves, kept protesting.

At the sound of Willie’s “go” the three men started to attack their donuts.  Scott and Kevin were wearing the powdered sugar quite well and Kevin inadvertently inhaled some of it causing him to cough long enough for Scott to gain on Jim.  In the end though, Jim Talbot beat his young friends and received a resounding kiss from his wife over his victory.  The younger men grinned abashedly and congratulated him on his win.

They played a few more indoor games before lunch was served.  Platter upon platter of ham and cheese sandwiches and roast beef sandwiches on white and wheat bread came from the kitchen where Maura had several of the ladies from town working.  There were carrot sticks and celery sticks and numerous pitchers of ice-cold milk.  For dessert there were giant sized sugar cookies as well as ginger snaps and chocolate pixies.

Children and adults alike ate until they were full.  The next order of business was supposed to be seeing that the children settled down and played quietly for a while but the boys were too full of energy.  Some of the girls were pretty restless as well so they moved outside where games of tag and catch, hide and seek and running races were started under the supervision of the Lancer boys and the other young men.

Young Karl Johanssen went over to the gate to see about his goat.  He’d saved some carrot sticks from lunch and was anxious to give them to Bjorn.  The little goat was very restless and excited for he could see and hear the children as they ran around laughing and having a good time.  He couldn’t understand why Karl had allowed that stranger to tie him to a fence.

Bjorn was very happy to see Karl when the boy approached with the treat for him.  He butted him with his head and bleated quite a bit as he was fed his carrots and petted.  Karl noticed that the rope was partly chewed through so he went for Scott to tell him.  The other adults had been kind enough but Scott was the one who had sought him out and spent time with him. 

“Mr. Lancer?”

“Yes, Karl,” Scott answered as the boy approached him.

“Bjorn, he has chewed through his rope.”

“All the way?”

“No, he is still tied but he is almost free.”

“Well, let’s go have a look and see what can be done,” Scott said.

The tall blond walked with the youngster to check on what the little goat was doing.  Just as they approached the struggling goat gave one last sharp pull on the rope and it snapped and set him free.  The little goat ran right past his owner and Scott, headed for the yard where all the other children were playing.  Most of them were delighted to see him.  He went from one child to another like a young puppy looking for attention.  He received hugs and kisses for the most part from the girls though one or two weren’t happy with him when he chewed on their hair ribbons.  The boys all wanted to roughhouse with him.  By the time Scott and Karl caught up with the little scamp the trouble making Tommy Whittier had picked up a stick lying on the ground nearby and thrown it at Bjorn barely missing a couple of small boys standing near the goat at the time.

Johnny saw what was about to happen a split second before Tommy released the stick but he was too far away to do anything more than shout.  Kevin, Rico and Willie were on the far side of the yard hundreds of feet away and so were unable to be of any more assistance.  Scott and Karl ran the last few feet but Bjorn, startled and stung by the missile thrown at him, ran away.  Out of the yard he went headed for the foothills of the San Benitos, which were not out of range for a speedy goat.

“Bjorn!”  Karl cried after his beloved pet.  “Bjorn come back here.”

Johnny took Tommy by the arm and gave him a good shaking.

“What’d you do that for?  That little goat wasn’t hurting you!”

Tommy just looked at Johnny insolently.  The boy had been nothing but trouble since he’d arrived.  He was a little big for his age and used it to his advantage to bully the smaller children.  The younger Lancer took the boy and marched him inside to see Padre Felipe.

“Karl, you stay here,” Scott instructed the boy.  “I’ll go after Bjorn and bring him back.  Don’t cry now.”

Maura Talbot, attracted by the noise, had come out as Johnny was taking Tommy in to see the Padre.  Taking the weeping Swedish boy in her arms she rocked him and stroked her hair.

“What’s going on out here?  Why is Karl crying and where is Johnny taking Tommy?”

“Tommy Whittier threw a stick at Karl’s little goat and drove him off,” Scott explained.  “Johnny, I imagine, is taking Tommy in to face Padre Felipe for his latest transgression.  Doesn’t that boy ever learn?”

“No, I’m afraid not,” Maura said sadly.  “I haven’t been able to do anything with him any more than Padre Felipe and the sisters have.  He’s a real hard case and he’s only eleven years old.  In a few years he’ll be old enough to be out on his own and then what will he do?”

“I’m going after Bjorn – the goat,” Scott said at her puzzled look.  Kneeling down by the crying boy Scott said, “Now don’t you worry Karl.  I’ll find Bjorn and bring him back.  He couldn’t have gone too far.  You stay with Mrs. Talbot.”

“Come along Karl,” Maura said.  “Let’s see if we can find something to keep you occupied while Scott fetches your goat.  Would you like some cookies and milk?  You didn’t eat much at lunchtime.”

Into the late afternoon sun Scott trudged off in search of one small, wayward goat.  He’d promised Karl that he would bring Bjorn back and bring him back he would.  Not a word did he say to Kevin, Rico, Willie or even Jim Talbot who were all involved in games with the children.  He was about to find out how much trouble one little goat could be.




“Bjorn?  Bjorn?  Where are you, you little scamp?  Come back here!  Karl’s worried!” 

Scott doggedly continued on toward the rocky foothills.  He could hear the little goat trotting up the path ahead of him but Bjorn was in no way willing to return home to the orphanage right now.  He’d had a terrible scare. Now that he was over the scare he was determined to enjoy his freedom as long as he could. 

Slipping and sliding on the gravel strewn path Scott was within fifty yards when Bjorn suddenly took off again.  Cursing under his breath, a rare thing for the young man raised by his grandfather to be a gentleman, he started up again – a little faster this time. 

Scott had been so intent on his chase that he hadn’t noticed that it was starting to get dark.  The deep shadows that were starting to cover the trail he was on in pursuit of the runaway pet were making it hard now to tell what was shadow and what might be something that he could trip over.

He was within three feet of catching Bjorn, who had stopped for a rest, when he slipped one time too many while lunging to catch the little goat. He had no time to do anything more than let out one startled yell when he slid over the edge and crashed into some rocks about fifteen feet below.



An hour later at the orphanage….. 

The party had broken up and the children were being gathered up by the sisters to clean up before supper.  It had, as always, been a huge success.  The children had had fun – with the exception of Tommy Whittier.  After hearing from Johnny of how the boy had thrown a stick at a defenseless little goat, and had nearly hit one or more of the children, the Padre had sent him to his dormitory room to sit by himself and think about what he had done.  Padre Felipe hoped that by segregating the boy from his playmates, and the fun they were having, that he might find it important to apologize for what he had done.  One thing Padre Felipe would not do, if he had any choice in the matter, was to whip the boy in any manner.  He’d seen too many youngsters turn hard because of harsh punishment.  Those that didn’t become hard became fearful.  He didn’t want that.

If Johnny’s friends had had their way, though, Tommy would have had a trip to the woodshed.  Kevin, Rico and Willie were all too familiar with the concept of a trip to the woodshed having endured many during their growing up and teen years.  Johnny, on the other hand, having had such a tough time of it growing up was inclined to be a bit more lenient in that department and liked the way Padre Felipe handled things.

When all the dishes had been washed and put away, the furniture put back in place and the decorations removed somewhat,  the young “volunteers” and the Talbots prepared to head for home.  It was then that Johnny noticed his brother’s absence.  He wasn’t overly concerned at first planning on teasing his brother about managing to skip out on the hard work of breaking down what they had set up but when he realized how dark it was and that Scott was nowhere in sight – not even sitting and talking to Karl who stood near the gate watching anxiously for the older Lancer to return with his beloved pet – he started to worry a bit.

“Karl?  Have ya seen my brother?”


“Yeah, Scott.  Only brother I have.  Have you seen him?”

“He went that way,” Karl said pointing toward the mountains.  “He went after Bjorn when he ran away.  He didn’t come back yet.”

“When was this Karl?”

“Long time ago.  The sun – it was still up.  Now the sun is down and Bjorn is not back yet.  He’ll be scared.  He’s only baby goat – not big, brave, grown up goat.”

Now fighting panic Johnny ran back to the orphanage.  Maura and Jim were just leaving and about to climb into their buggy to leave when he caught them.

“Miz Talbot, Mr. Talbot,” he said somewhat breathlessly.  “Scott’s not back yet.  Karl said he went after his goat when the sun was still up.  The sun’s been down for almost half an hour now.  Could you go to Lancer and tell my father?  I’m gonna start looking for him.  Padre Felipe will have some lanterns or torches I can use.”

“We’ll do more than that Johnny,” Jim assured the younger man.  “I’ll see that a messenger is sent to Green River to let Val know.  And Sam Jayson in Morro Coyo and Gabe in Spanish Wells.  We’ll round up a search party and start from here.   You leave us some kind of a sign that we can follow.  When we catch up with you we can decide what to do and where to go next.”

“Don’t worry, Johnny,” Maura said.  “I’m sure Scott will be just fine.  You just make sure you don’t do anything to get yourself hurt – or your friends that I see waiting for you.”  Smiling encouragingly at the younger Lancer son she added to his friends, “Kevin?  You and Rico and Willie make sure Johnny stays out of trouble you hear?  If Scott is hurt he’s going to need his brother in one piece.  Please don’t take any foolish chances.”

“Yes, ma’am,” the other three chorused.

“And Johnny….”

Johnny looked back at her briefly.

“I’ll be praying for all of you.”

“Thank you ma’am.”

Jim clucked to his team and they took off at a fairly fast clip down the road toward Lancer.  He would not race them – it was too dark for that -  but they knew this road well enough to take some chance.  Pulling into the yard not too much later, he helped Maura down and together they ran to the door.  Murdoch himself answered their summons.

“Jim, Maura,” Murdoch said as he opened the door.  “What a pleasant surprise!”

“Murdoch,” Jim cut his friend’s next sentence off before it was half formed. “There’s trouble at the orphanage and I’m afraid it involves Scott.”

Instantly sober Murdoch ushered his friends in and was given a quick explanation of what was going on.  When Jim had finished Murdoch stepped outside and summoned Jelly Hoskins, the bearded and balding older handyman.


“Yes, Boss?”

“Send a couple of messengers out to Green River and Spanish Wells too.  Scott went searching for a lost pet and hasn’t gotten back to the orphanage yet.  Johnny and his friends are looking for him but it’s possible he’s going to be hard to find.  We need all the help we can get.  Oh, and have each of those messengers check Sam’s offices – we may need him. 

“Right away boss.”

“Oh, and Jelly,” Murdoch said as the grizzled one started to do as he had been told, “Grab half a dozen lanterns and fill them and issue them to the hands.  But only six of them mind you – the others need to stay here and tend to other matters.”

“I’ll have ‘em draw straws to see who goes and who stays.  Won’t take more than five minutes,” Jelly said.

Jelly was right.  By the time Murdoch had gotten his horse saddled and shown Jim which one he could borrow there were at least a half a dozen men waiting in the yard for him.  All had hastily snared a horse from the closest pen and bridled and saddled them.  They all carried a lantern and were ready to go.  All had side arms and rifles just to be on the safe side.  One never knew what you would run into in those mountains in the dark.


It didn’t take long for the additions to the search party to meet up with the others that were headed for the San Benitos.  All carried lanterns and weapons; some carried first aid supplies as well.  Sam Jenkins had been located in Spanish Wells and was headed for the orphanage.  His orders, relayed by Sheriff Gabe, were that when they found Scott they were to bring him back to the orphanage if he were hurt.  Sam didn’t want his patient roughed up any more than necessary and Lancer was just a little too far away if Scott were injured very badly.

As the large group of searchers reached the foothills they split up.  Gabe took one group with him and headed around the base of the first peak.  Val Crawford, sheriff of Green River and friend to Johnny in particular, took a group up the trail that led to the eastern side of the range.  That left Murdoch and Jim Talbot, who was not going to leave his friend at a time like this.

“Where’s Sam Jayson?” Murdoch asked.  “Isn’t he coming?”

“We ‘persuaded’ him to stay behind and look after things in Morro Coyo,” said one of the searchers.

“Yeah, Murdoch,” agreed Mark Malcom who had been in Morro Coyo when the news arrived.  “Sam’s a good guy but you know as well as I do that he’s not the tracker he thinks he is.  Better to leave him behind than to have two missing men to search for.

Murdoch just nodded his thanks.  He knew they meant well and that Sam, for all his willingness and eagerness to help, probably would be more of a hindrance than a help.  The search parties started out and were soon searching for any signs that Scott had gone in their direction.



Scott was not unconscious for very long – in fact he was more stunned than knocked out when he landed on that ledge fifteen feet or so below the trail he had slid off.  The slightest move on his part sent daggers of agony shooting up and down his left leg.  He was pretty sure it was broken but didn’t feel up to checking on it.  His head throbbed and he could feel the blood that trickled down the side of his face and into his hair.  Right at that moment he dearly wished he’d never heard of such a creature as a goat – or an orphan.  It was unreasonable he knew but he wasn’t feeling very generous.  He was miserable and didn’t know how he would ever get out of this mess he was in.  There was no way that his leg was going to support any weight and he was too far from anywhere to consider crawling.  And with his leg the way it was crawling wasn’t an option anyway. 

He was well aware that night had fallen and that in itself didn’t concern him but he had no jacket.  November in California was so vastly different from November in Massachusetts as a general rule that he hadn’t bothered to put it on before going after Bjorn.  Besides which he had reasoned it wouldn’t take that long.

‘Right,’ thought Scott bitterly.  ‘It won’t take long at all.  That was a stunt worthy of your little brother Scott Lancer.  Lunging after a baby goat on a dangerous path.  You knew how slippery it was underfoot with all that loose gravel.  Now look where it got you – stuck on a ledge well below the path with a nasty bump on the head and a leg that’s probably broken.’



“Scott?  Hey Scott!”  Johnny shouted his brother’s name as he and his three friends started their search. 

“It sure got dark up here in a hurry,” Willie said.  “Good thing we brought lanterns with us.  Still can’t see any tracks that look like goat though.”

“That’s true,” Kevin agreed, “but this is the most logical place to start looking.”

“Si,” Rico said.  “A small goat cannot climb like a larger one.  It would have to stay on the easier paths and this is the easiest and the closest one to the orphanage gate.  I think he would have gone this way and Scott would have thought that way too.  Or maybe he saw which way the goat was going.”

“Rico,” Johnny said.  “You and Willie know more about goats than me or Kevin.  How far could a baby goat go in an hour?”

“That’s hard to say Johnny,” his friend replied.  “This little goat was scared.  Tommy threw a stick at him and he’s never had such a thing happen to him before.  He could have gone a long way.”

“Great!  And Scott’s just fool enough to think he has to get the goat to keep a promise to a kid.”

None of his friends said anything to this.  They knew it was frustration and concern for his brother that made him talk like that. They knew that, had the situation been reversed, it would be Johnny that was out looking for the goat.  It was only because Karl had taken a real liking to Scott that it wasn’t.  Johnny had been busy with some of the other kids.

“We’ll find him Johnny,” Kevin reassured his friend.  “We’ll find him.”



Scott lay shivering and miserable on that ledge not knowing that help was on the way.  That help was, in fact, not all that far away but just far enough that he couldn’t hear them yet.  To make his situation even worse the wind was beginning to pick up and it was making him colder seeing as how it was coming down out of the mountains rather than up from the grassland. 


Ten minutes after the four young men stopped to take their break they were joined, briefly, by the group that was riding with Murdoch and Jim Talbot. 

“Any sign of him, Johnny?” his anxious father asked. 

“No, and I’m getting worried,” Johnny admitted.  “Even a goat couldn’t have gone that far in such a short time.  This one’s just a baby – how far could it go?”

“Johnny,” Jim Talbot said, “we’ll find him.  They can’t be too far away.”

“I hope it’s soon, Mr. Talbot,” the younger Lancer said.  “It’s getting colder by the minute and Scott don’t have his jacket with him.”

“Why don’t we split up now?”  Murdoch said.  “The path splits here anyway.  We’ll take the side that goes up to the right and you four keep going up the path to the left.  If you find anything fire off three shots.  If we find him we’ll do the same.”

It was agreed upon and the men continued on their way.  The wind continued to howl making the area quite cold so they paused briefly to pull on their jackets.  The louder and longer the wind blew the more concerned Johnny became about his brother.

“Scott?”  Johnny shouted.  

His call was echoed down the canyon and repeated by his friends.  For another ten minutes they continued to call. Finally they heard a faint bleat.  Willie, whose younger brother had one, instantly recognized it as the cry of a baby goat.

“That there’s a baby goat calling,” he said to the others.  “Where the goat is can Scott be far behind?”

“Let’s go,” Johnny said as he spurred Barranca forward.

Upward they went until they heard and found little Bjorn, ten minutes later, standing at the edge of the trail where Scott had slipped.  Not understanding that the human who had chased him was hurt the little goat had stood there for the last fifteen minutes bleating plaintively for the blond to come and get him.  It was dark and the wind was noisy and the little goat was frightened.

“Careful, Johnny,” Willie said as his friend approached the goat.  “He’s scared and he’ll spook easy if you don’t approach him slow and easy.”

“C’mere little guy,” Johnny said to the kid.  “What’s his name, Willie?  Do ya know?”

“Bjorn,” Willie said after a moment’s thought.

“C’mere Bjorn.  Come on little guy.”  Johnny reached out and scratched the kid behind the ears.  Amazingly this simple gesture had a calming effect on him and he quite willingly let Johnny pick him up and carry him back to where the others sat waiting patiently on their horses.

“Let me have him, Johnny,” Willie said.  “The rest of you look around and see if you can find any sign of Scott.  Careful with those lanterns now – don’t spook the horses.”

Barranca was well trained and would stand ground hitched with no trouble.  Kevin and Rico’s horses, Cocoa and Eagle, were not quite as good about it so their owners handed the reins to Willie who struggled to hold onto them and the little goat at the same time.  Coco and Eagle weren’t frightened though, since they could see their masters were controlling what was making the strange shadows.

“Scott?”  Johnny called his brother’s name even as he and Kevin, the more experienced trackers of the quartet studied the trail carefully for any signs that Scott had, indeed, passed that way.

At first, after five minutes of calling, they didn’t hear anything but the wind.  Then, during one brief moment when the wind wasn’t blowing as hard Johnny thought he heard something.

“Scott?”  He listened again as did Kevin and Rico.  “I think I heard something,” he said to his friends.  “Scott?”

“Here…down here,” came the pain filled reply.

“Where are you brother?”

“Down…down here…”

Looking at Kevin and Rico he asked, “Can you tell where that’s coming from?”

“Not for sure but it’s somewhere off the path,” Kevin said.  “Rico, shine your lantern over here by the edge.  I think I see something but I need more light.”

Rico did as Kevin said and soon, with the light from all three lanterns they were able to see Scott lying on the ledge fifteen feet below.

“Scott!”  Johnny would have rushed to his brother’s side but his friend’s held him back.

“Johnny!  Use your head!” Kevin said.  “You’re not going to help Scott if you get hurt trying to get to him.”

“Kevin’s right, Johnny,” Rico said as he walked over to Eagle and drew his rifle from its scabbard.  “Willie!  Hold onto those horses – I’m going to signal Mr. Lancer.”

In short order Rico had fired off the three-shot signal and returned his rifle to its scabbard.  Before walking back the short distance to where Johnny and Kevin stood, he took his lasso from Eagle’s saddle, as well as those of the others.  He wanted to be prepared in case they needed them to get Scott up from his perch.  He led Coco, who was the steadier mount, back to the spot where he’d left his friends and tied the rope to the saddle horn.  Taking his lantern from Kevin he found a fairly level place on the rocks on the other side of the trail where they could place them for the moment while they climbed down to Scott’s side.

“Ok, Johnny you first, then Kevin, then I’ll follow last.  Willie’ll stay here with the horses and let your father know what’s happening when he arrives.”

With more caution than his friend’s would have thought was possible, Johnny climbed down to his brother’s side.  Kevin was no more than a minute behind him and Rico, carrying a lantern and a canteen, was right behind Kevin.

“Scott?  Are you ok?”  Johnny knelt by his brother’s side and gently reached out to brush the hair back from Scott’s face.  “What happened brother?”

“’m okay,” he replied through chattering teeth.  “Leg…leg hur…hurts.  Head…hurts too.  C-cold.   F-fell.  Tried to catch-catch Bjorn.  Slipped.”

“I’ll take care of that,” said Kevin who was standing next to Johnny at this point.  The younger man removed his heavy jacket and wrapped it around Scott who smiled his appreciation.  “That oughta help.”

Johnny gave his brother the once over as Kevin and Rico held the lanterns close.  All three were concerned.  From what Johnny could find Scott had a nasty lump on his head and his left leg appeared to be broken though it was possible that it was just badly twisted.

“We’d better splint that leg to be on the safe side,” Kevin told his friend.  There’s some trees just beyond where we stopped.  I’ll see if there’s any branches we can use to do it with.”

“We don’t need tree branches to deal with down here,” Rico said.  “Papa broke his leg in a place like this once.  Doctor Jenkins said to just tie his legs together until we got him to a safe place where we could put a splint on it.”

“You sure about that?” Johnny asked.  It was a strange idea to him.

“Sí, I am sure.”

“Ok, then we’ll do that instead.”  Johnny was concerned about getting his brother out of the difficult position he was in.

Rico took Kevin’s lantern as the young rancher went back up the side of the cliff.  Coco was a good steady mount and never reacted at all to all the strange activity.  About the time that Kevin reached the top Murdoch, Jim Talbot and the others with them arrived on the scene.  Kevin briefed them on what they had found.  A couple of the Lancer hands, Frank and Walt, went with him to gather limbs to start a fire for light and warmth.  It was pretty chilly up in the hills at this point and there was no telling how long it would take to get Scott prepared and back up to the trail. 

They were back within fifteen minutes, each of them carrying small limbs or branches to use for firewood.  It took hardly any time at all to get a good fire going as the wood was all very dry.

Murdoch was anxious to go to his son’s side but common sense prevailed.  If his leg “went sour” as he put it or his back went out on him they’d have two Lancers to rescue and one was more than enough in this location and situation.  It seemed like an eternity before they were ready to bring Scott up but it was really only a matter of about half an hour.

Slowly and carefully the men at the top helped bring the injured man and his rescuers up from the ledge that they were on.  Scott’s face was white as a sheet and there was sweat on his forehead and upper lip as he tried not to cry out.

“Scott!”  Murdoch was at his son’s side in an instant.  “Scott?  How are you?”

“I’ll b-b-be ok.”

"How are we gonna get him down this mountain?”  Johnny wondered.  “It’s for sure he ain’t gonna walk or ride.”

“That’s easy,” said Mark Malcom who’d had some experience in this type of rescue before.  “We’ll carry him out on a stretcher.  We’ll use a couple of branches and a blanket and some rope so we can make a stretcher to carry him out on.  A couple of men carrying lanterns will go ahead of us to light the way and a couple will walk beside us once we get to the bottom of the trail.  Once we get all the way down we can switch off riding and walking and we’ll have Scott back at the orphanage before he knows it.”

And so it was. Quickly, but carefully and efficiently, Scott’s broken leg was splinted and Jim Talbot made sure that he was one of the ones that helped carry Scott back down the mountain.  Kevin, Rico, Johnny and Willie also helped.  Murdoch was relegated to riding his bald faced sorrel so that his sons wouldn’t worry about him and his back back and leg on that still somewhat dark trail.  When everyone was down safely Frank took off for the orphanage to let Padre Felipe and Sam Jenkins know that they were on their way.  Rico led the way on foot carrying one lantern while Kevin brought up the rear with another.  Once they were off the steep trail and down on the flatland again more men with lanterns and/or torches spread out around the group so that there was no chance of anyone stumbling.  Nobody could convince either Jim Talbot, who had Scott’s legs, or Johnny who had his arms looped around his brother’s chest, to let anyone else take their place.  Murdoch was at his son’s side all the way though both sons insisted that he ride even if it was at a walk.

It was another two hours before they arrived back at the orphanage though.  Two long, cold, pain filled hours for Scott and two cold, miserable and anxious hours for his father, brother and friends.  When they did arrive Sam promptly shooed everyone out of the room Scott was brought to while he checked him out.  Half an hour later he confirmed that Scott had, indeed, broken his leg in the fall.  He also had a slight concussion from hitting his head on one of the rocks on the ledge and a mild case of hypothermia from being out in the cold with no jacket on for several hours.  It wasn’t the first time he’d had it and it was just as serious this time as it had been the first time.

“Can we see him?” Murdoch asked anxiously.

“Yes – but only for a few minutes and only a few of you.”  Sam stood aside to let the patient’s father and brother enter the room.

Upon entering they found Scott lying back against a mountain of pillows with a bandage around his head.  He was still pale and there were fine lines around his eyes that hinted at the pain he was still feeling but he looked much better than he had.  At least he looked warmer than when they had found him.  His broken leg had been set and was encased in a heavy plaster cast.

“Hey brother,” Johnny said.  “You look a mite better than when we found you.”

“Feel better too,” Scott replied.  “Except for a headache and my leg aching.”

“You feel up to telling us what happened son?”  Murdoch asked.

“Tommy Whittier threw a stick at Karl Johannson’s little goat.  The goat got scared and ran away.  I told Karl I’d get him and bring him back.”

“How’d you wind up on that ledge?” Johnny asked. 

“I was reaching for Bjorn – he couldn’t have been more than three feet away from me.  But I slipped on the path one too many times and I was on the wrong side.  When I slipped I just slid right over the edge.” 

“You got off easy, son,” Murdoch said.  “We could have missed you and you’d still be out there.  You told Maura you were going after the goat but you didn’t say which way the goat had gone.  Johnny found that out from Karl.”

“I know it was a little reckless,” Scott said ignoring his little brother’s snort of disgust, “but I couldn’t let the boy down.  He was so upset.  He loves that little goat.”

“We’d better let you get some rest, Scott,” Murdoch told his son.  “Sam says we can take you home tomorrow.”

“Night brother,” Johnny said as they quietly left Scott to fall asleep in the warm bed. 

Jim Talbot was the first to approach them as they left the sick room. 

“How is he?” 

“He’s going to be fine.  He was falling asleep as we left,” Murdoch told his friend.  “I want to thank you, Jim, for helping us once again.”

“There’s others who deserve your thanks more than me, Murdoch,” Jim said.  “Kevin, Willie and Rico stuck with Johnny all the way.  And don’t forget all the other volunteers from the ranch and the towns and it was Mark who figured out how to get Scott down that mountain.  Frank rode ahead to let Padre Felipe and Sam know that we were on the way and what Scott’s condition was.” 

“Yes, you’re right.  I owe them all a debt of gratitude.”



One week later…. 

Thanksgiving Day dawned bright and cool.  Scott had been home for less than a week but was recovering nicely.  He was well cared for by Teresa and Maria with soups and broths and other hot nourishing meals to help him on his way.  He didn’t care much for the boneset tea that they insisted on giving him but they both told him that it had been proven to be quite useful in helping broken bones knit together again.

Two days after he’d been brought home Scott was inundated with cards, flowers, goodies and visitors.  Young Tommy Whittier had had a good talking to by Johnny’s pals as well as Padre Felipe and had come to realize that he didn’t need to be a pain in the neck to get the attention he craved.  Karl had been brought out to Lancer by Padre Felipe so that he could personally thank Scott for finding his pet.  He would have brought Bjorn with him but the good padre talked him out of it.  He did, however, give Scott a big hug and some wildflowers he’d found.

Tommy, realizing that his actions could have had deadly consequences, had had a complete turn around in his behavior.  Now, instead of picking on Karl because the younger boy didn’t speak English very well yet, he was helping him to learn.  They had become fast friends.

Maura and Jim Talbot joined them for dinner, which was served at one o’clock that afternoon.  Scott was helped down to the dining room by his brother who watched as he carefully maneuvered his way around on the crutches that Rico’s father, Juan Portillo, had made for him when he heard about the accident.

It was a bountiful table that they sat down to.  Teresa had covered it with the best Irish lace tablecloth she could find – one that Scott’s mother had brought with her from Boston when she married Murdoch.  In tribute to Johnny’s mother, who had never known a Thanksgiving holiday until she, too, was married, she placed the fine linen napkins that Maria had embroidered the first year of their marriage before she had gotten restless and began yearning for things that she couldn’t have while living at Lancer.

The silver candelabra, in the center of the table, had new bayberry-scented candles in them.  They were Maura’s contribution along with a pumpkin pie and some homemade bread.  Jim had brought a bottle of his best wine to be served with the meal.  Not a big drinker, but not a teetotaler either, he served wine on special occasions.  Providing the wine for a holiday dinner with these very special friends was a treat for him.  The best china Lancer had was set at each person’s place along with shiny silverware and sparkling crystal goblets for the beverages.

Maria had outdone herself with the turkey.  Murdoch had imported some oysters from San Francisco to be used in the stuffing and served as a side dish to those who were interested.  Mounds of fluffy, white mashed potatoes were piled high in serving dishes.  Butternut squash and turnips from Teresa’s garden as well as celery sticks, and cream cheese stuffed celery sprinkled with paprika were also served.

“I’d like to propose a toast before we eat,” Murdoch said.  “To my family first of all.  It’s a wonderful feeling to have my sons home after years of being separated.”

“Aw Murdoch, you said that the first year we were here,” Johnny said.

“I meant it then and I mean it now,” his father told him while fixing him with a mock glare.

“Go on, Murdoch,” Jim told him.

“And to our friends,” Murdoch continued.  “If it weren’t for friends like you, Sam, Gabe, Val and the others who helped us search the night of Scott’s accident there’s no telling what the outcome might have been. Probably not the happy one of having Scott hurt no worse than a broken leg and a slight concussion.”

“That’s true,” Scott said quietly.  “I could have been out there for days if all those people hadn’t volunteered their time.  I’m glad I had the chance to thank them – and you, Mr. and Mrs. Talbot, for what you did that night.”

"And don’t forget, Scott, that Tommy apologized for starting the whole thing to begin with when he threw the stick at Bjorn,” Maura reminded him.  “It’s the first time I can remember him being repentant about anything.”

“Are you gonna talk all day or do we finally get to eat?” Johnny asked.  “I’m hungry!”

Everyone laughed.  It was nothing new that Johnny was hungry.  He was always hungry.  He may have been in his twenties but he was like a teenager when it came to food.  The more the better!

“Shall we say grace?”  Murdoch asked.

“Murdoch, it’d be my pleasure to say grace,” Jim said. 

“And it’ll be my pleasure,” Maura said, “to lead us in a Thanksgiving hymn.

Jim said his grace, making sure to thank the Lord for his blessings on the Lancer family and the orphans who were blessed to have so many good people in the area looking out for them then Maura led them in the ancient Dutch hymn We Gather Together and thus the Lancers and the Talbots celebrated a Thanksgiving where one family member reaped a harvest of friends he never knew he had.



We Gather Together 

        This song of praise was originally written in 1597 to celebrate a Dutch victory. It appeared in Nederlandtsche Gedenckclanck, by Adrianus Valerius (Haarlem, Holland: 1626) (Wilt heden nu treden)..

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
Thou, Lord, were at our side, all glory be Thine!

We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant,
And pray that Thou still our Defender will be.
Let Thy congregation escape tribulation;
Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!




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