An Empty Place: Life Goes On
This third chapter of the ‘Empty Place’ series chronicles the events that occurred at Lancer during Scott’s five-year absence, and shows that life does indeed, go on. . .
Johnny Lancer sat atop the hill that overlooked his home, Lancer, and tried to come to terms with the news his father had just told him: that Scott, his long-lost brother, wanted to come home. After five years. . . .
Five years. Next month, it would be five years since his brother left, and it was only now Johnny felt that the “empty place” inside his heart had been filled, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to risk opening it up again.
As Johnny continued to look out over the ‘most beautiful place in the whole wide world,’ he chastised himself for his thoughts. He loved his brother, but he realized they had been together for only one short year before Scott left, so mysteriously, and that they had been apart for five years. Johnny had been without Scott longer than he’d been with him.
Besides, Johnny wasn’t sure he wanted his brother home anymore. After all, life was good; everyone was happy and healthy. And because for the past five years, life went on at Lancer. The good and the bad, the happy and the sad. And it went on without the presence of Scott Garrett Lancer. . . . .
The First Year: June 1870 to June 1871
The first few months after Scott left for Boston, the family was concerned, but after receiving his first letter advising of his grandfather’s passing and the need to take care of the business and other legalities, they were a bit more at ease.
Johnny had hoped Scott would find his way back by September for the cattle drive, but when they left that first weekend, Scott was not with them. It had been a long drive; rain caused a lot of delays, and it was two weeks longer than it should have been. But Johnny kept up hope that his brother would join them, and all would be as it should be.
The cattle drive ended just as October began. The cooler weather and thoughts of their second Christmas together kept Johnny’s spirits hopeful. But when they returned home, Scott’s single letter, addressed to both his father and brother, made it clear that the older Lancer son would not be home for Christmas.
Or anytime soon, for that matter.
Johnny was alarmed. He was convinced something was wrong with Scott. He remembered some of the stories Scott had told him about the war, and the thought came to his mind that perhaps his staying back east had something to do with “unfinished business” regarding the war. After all, what other reason would there be for Scott not to come home, or to at least give his family an explanation? Against his father’s wishes, Johnny hired the Pinkerton’s to find out what was going on with his brother. They had answers, but none to Johnny Lancer’s satisfaction.
After Christmas, again against his father’s wishes, Johnny set out for Boston, declaring he would “carry Scott home if I have to.” He made it as far as St. Louis before Murdoch caught up with him and was able to talk his son into returning home.
Johnny accused his father of not caring about Scott; just like before, all those years, when Murdoch knew Scott was in Boston and did nothing to bring him home. Murdoch had angrily denied the accusation. He did care about Scott, he wanted him home, he wanted his family back. But the wise patriarch also had the foresight to know that trying to talk either one of his sons into doing something they didn’t want to do was a lost cause.
“He’ll come home, Johnny, when he’s ready. We can’t force him to be someone he doesn’t want to be.”
But unbeknownst to Johnny, Murdoch had also made inquiries to the Pinkerton’s, and the detective agency was a bit more open with their information to Murdoch than to the younger Lancer. And although Murdoch was puzzled as to whom the invalid was living in the Boston mansion with his son, he trusted Scott enough to leave things alone. And he knew his youngest son; he knew that in time, Johnny would get on with his life until the time Scott decided to come home.
After all, he had to. They all had to. . .
The Second Year: June 1871 to June 1872
Johnny’s obsession in bringing his brother home wore the young man down. He caught a cold during the winter months, which turned into pneumonia brought on by exhaustion. By June, the pneumonia was gone, but the exhaustion continued. He was confined to the hacienda for a month of bed rest, with only minimal activity after that.
He was miserable to live with, accusing everyone of keeping him a prisoner and blaming his absent brother for his illness. The only person who could make Johnny forget his troubles was Chuck Matthews, the young hand Murdoch had hired shortly after Scott left, and the pairing of him with the remaining Lancer son proved to be beneficial to the Lancer ranch. Like Scott, Chuck was few years older than Johnny, and had a wit and intelligence that reminded everyone of Scott’s easy-going demeanor.
Chuck helped Johnny through his recuperation, and helped him through more frustration when Dr. Sam Jenkins informed Johnny he wouldn’t be strong enough to go on the cattle drive. Chuck made Johnny realize he needed to stay behind to regain his strength; besides, someone needed to look after the ranch. And the womenfolk. Especially Teresa. It was then that Johnny realized Chuck was sweet on his younger sister. Johnny warmed at that thought, realizing he would enjoy having an older brother again.
The cattle drive ran smoothly and was hugely successful. Johnny’s recuperation was complete as he regained his strength and was once again back to running the ranch with his father. Murdoch noticed that Johnny and Chuck were spending a lot of time together, and Johnny hinted to Murdoch that the stocky blond was interested in Teresa.
“What do you think about that, Murdoch?” Johnny asked, with a sparkle in his eyes that Murdoch hadn’t seen in over a year. “He’s a fine man, son. When the time comes for us to talk, I don’t foresee any problems? Do you?” he asked Johnny with a laugh.
“No, none at all. I like him too much, Murdoch,” Johnny quietly replied.
It was early November of 1871 and Johnny still felt the empty place in his heart with the absence of his brother. But life has a way of healing empty hearts, and the void left by his brother’s absence was filled by Sara Lane, the pretty blonde woman who entered Johnny’s life just as quickly as his brother had exited. He noticed her in town one day, walked over to her and turned on the charm. Sara had just moved to Morro Coyo, she said, and didn’t know anyone.
“Well, now you do. Me,” Johnny proudly informed her.
After helping her find a pleasant room at Mrs. Jensen’s boarding house and introducing her to Miss Lawson, the librarian, the comely Miss Lane became a favorite of patrons of the Morro Coyo Library.
And a favorite of Mr. Johnny Lancer as well. So much so, that he invited her to Thanksgiving dinner and to the annual Christmas Eve dinner, both events the second without the presence of Scott Lancer.
Although Murdoch liked Sara, he warned his son against the pitfalls of a whirlwind courtship, but Johnny took no heed. On Saturday, January 6, 1872, Johnny Lancer and Sara Lane headed off to the Justice of the Peace in Spanish Wells, and were married.
When Johnny introduced his “bride” to his father and sister the next day, all the Lancer patriarch could do was congratulate the couple and give them his best wishes. Teresa was thrilled, and was already making plans for a small reception. And so it was on Valentine’s weekend, a small gathering of friends celebrated the nuptials of John and Sara Lancer.
The couple made their home at Lancer, and took over the large room that had belonged to Scott, which Johnny had used in an effort to remain close to his brother when it was evident Scott would not be returning anytime soon. But by the time Sara and Teresa were done redecorating, it no longer resembled the room of the fine Boston gentleman who at one time had called it his.
The marriage was off to a rocky start and by April, the newlyweds announced it was over. Johnny told Murdoch he had been right; the marriage was a mistake. He told his father that Sara was a spoiled little girl who whined when things didn’t go her way. Johnny informed he was taking Sara back to the boarding house the next day; he’d make sure she was safe and comfortable, and wanted to know if Murdoch could contact his lawyer for ‘one of them divorce things. . .’ Murdoch couldn’t help but wonder who was acting like a spoiled child; from what he knew of his daughter-in-law, she was a woman with a sensible head on her shoulders.
It was a sad morning when Johnny took his young bride to town; but that evening, the newlyweds returned, hugging and kissing on each other, telling Murdoch they were both wrong, both spoiled, and that their love for one another was more important than anything. That statement was confirmed the middle of June when Johnny and Sara Lancer were told by an excited Dr. Jenkins they were going to be parents after the first of the year.
The news excited the young couple, although Johnny confessed to his father he didn’t know if he was ready for such a responsibility. But the more he got used to the idea of becoming a papa, the more he relished the thought.
As Johnny peacefully rode Barranca back to the hacienda after a satisfying day’s work, he realized it was the second anniversary of Scott’s mysterious disappearance. But for the first time, he wasn’t angry with his missing brother; rather, a disappointed feeling overtook him.
‘Scott, when are you coming home?. . .You don’t even know you’re going to be an uncle. You’ve missed so much these past two years.’
No one knew exactly how much Scott Lancer would miss in the coming year. . . .
The Third Year: June 1872 to June 1873
Teresa, too, had begun to fill the void left by Scott’s absence. After much soul searching on her part, the young woman asked Murdoch if he would formally adopt her. So in June of 1872, Teresa O’Brien became Teresa O’Brien Lancer; it was her way of thanking the Lancer patriarch for taking her into his heart. And in her mind, she finally felt she had the right to call Lancer her home.
She also confessed to her “father” her feelings for Chuck, and the young man reiterated those feelings when the Lancer patriarch had “the talk” with the young man. Chuck asked for the young woman’s hand in marriage; Murdoch agreed with the condition they wait for at least a year.
It would be a long year. . . .
The month of July was abnormally hot and muggy following a wet, cool spring. It was shortly after the combined Independence Day celebrations of Morro Coyo, Green River, and Spanish Wells that the measles outbreak occurred. Dr. Jenkins and his young assistant, Dr. Dutton, had their hands full trying to calm the neighboring towns and determine where the outbreak had originated. As suspected, the Green River orphanage was the culprit, but the damage had been done and the outbreak had become an epidemic.
The Lancer ranch wasn’t exempt from the epidemic; and the unaffected womenfolk nursed those who caught the illness, including the newly married Johnny, who along with Jelly Hoskins, resident foreman and adopted member of the Lancer family, were placed in a special quarantined tent with the seven vaqueros and three children who had also contacted the disease. When it was over, the death toll over the three towns was vast, mostly older citizens. The Lancer vaqueros and children, as well as Johnny, came through it with flying colors.
But Jelly wasn’t so lucky. . . .
Chuck proved his weight in gold while assisting Murdoch in keeping the ranch afloat, so not only did a new foreman emerge with the tragic death of Jelly from the epidemic, but Murdoch Lancer gained a son-in-law. In October 1872, the Lancer patriarch and his son gave their blessing for the union of the young, handsome blond man to Teresa Lancer, who was two months’ shy of her eighteenth birthday.
Murdoch and Johnny knew they owed Chuck a lot. So much so it was agreed that Chuck and Teresa be made part owners of Lancer. After all, the ranch had been without one-third of its partnership for over two years. Through a legal agreement, in which Scott was notified of and agreed to, the Lancer ranch was split four ways, with Murdoch and Johnny the major owners and stockholders, and Teresa and Chuck more or less silent partners.
Scott would retain his one-fourth of the ranch, and it was agreed Teresa and Chuck would have a say in matters until the time Scott returned home, but it was made clear to them that Murdoch. . .and Johnny. . .called the tune. The young couple understood and accepted these conditions, as Teresa was just as anxious for her brother to come home as everyone else was.
The holiday season was bittersweet for Murdoch and his family. He had a fine son-in-law, a beautiful daughter-in-law, and a grandchild on the way. Johnny had finally come to terms with the absence of his brother, had regained his health, and was relishing his impending fatherhood. But the absence of Scott, and the death of Jelly, brought an ‘empty place’ to Murdoch Lancer’s heart.
But life has a way magical way of filling a person’s heart, and on December 23, 1872, Mariah Jeannie Lancer was born to proud parents Johnny and Sara. Though a few weeks early, the little girl with the black hair and sapphire eyes brought joy and a much-needed sense of hope to the Lancer ranch. Named after her grandmothers, Mariah found her way into everyone’s heart, especially that of her proud papa. And for the first time, Johnny understood the sadness his father felt at the loss of his baby son. Of. . .him. . .
The year of 1873 began on a high note, and was heightened when Teresa announced her impending motherhood in the fall. But sadness again found its way to Lancer when Teresa miscarried the baby after three months. Dr. Jenkins was hopeful, though, and told the couple to try again in a few months.
Before anyone knew it, it was June of 1873 and the third anniversary of Scott Lancer’s leaving went unnoticed by everyone, except Johnny, as life went on at Lancer.
The Fourth Year: June 1873 to June 1874
The summer of 1873 was pleasant and uneventful; after the epidemic of the previous year, the growing communities of Morro Coyo, Spanish Wells, and Green River welcomed the balmy weather and the state of normalcy that had finally returned.
September arrived, and for the first time in two years, Johnny would be going on the cattle drive. And as much as he looked forward to it, he realized he would be leaving the two ladies in his life. . .for a few weeks anyway. He was also worried about Teresa. She had not fully recovered from her miscarriage and she seemed to resent Sara, although she doted on little Mariah.
Chuck was concerned as well; he informed both Murdoch and Johnny that after the cattle drive, he planned on taking Teresa to San Francisco to get her out of her depression and to try again to have a family. But when the successful drive was over and everyone returned home, Chuck and Teresa were not the ones talking about pink and blue.
Just before Thanksgiving, Dr. Jenkins informed Mr. and Mrs. Lancer they were to be parents for a second time around the beginning of June. The young couple was thrilled, but wary as to how Teresa would react to the news. Murdoch was elated when he found out he was to be a grandpa—again—but more than that, he was proud of his younger son. Johnny’s new-found maturity and confidence, plus the closeness the two had gained the past few months, pleased the rancher.
Now if only Scott were home. . . . .
The Christmas holiday found Mariah celebrating her first birthday, and Sara bed-ridden with morning sickness. . .which seemed to occur not only in the morning, but all day. She hadn’t been this sick with Mariah, and Johnny was concerned. But Murdoch told him not to worry, that each pregnancy for a woman is different. And besides, Murdoch told his son, it would be worth it in a few months.
Teresa had known for a good month that her sister-in-law was going to have another baby, and her depression worsened. In January of 1874, Chuck and Teresa left for San Francisco to visit the Brentford House, an orphanage that was highly recommended by Dr. Jenkins and other medical professionals. The epidemic the year before had closed the local orphanages, and it was hoped that upon their return to Lancer, Mr. and Mrs. Matthews would bring with them a baby.
The winter of 1874 was mild; the work was easy, the cattle were healthy, and life at Lancer was good. Sara’s morning sickness had finally subsided, and she was truly enjoying her second pregnancy and raising her beautiful, active daughter.
This quiet time gave Murdoch the opportunity he had been seeking for over three years—to contact the Pinkerton’s and find out, at length, what information they had on Scott.
His elder son had never been far from Murdoch’s thoughts; but with all that had happened, he didn’t have the time, or energy, to learn what Scott was up to. The thick, leather-bound report had arrived, special delivery, and Murdoch kept its arrival a secret, as he did not want to upset the rest of his family, especially Johnny. After all, things were going too good right now. .
During the late night, early morning hours that he read the Pinkerton report, Murdoch learned about Scott’s life the past three-and a half years. After the death of his grandfather, Scott had made several visits to a hospital, an institution actually, and had taken custody of an older woman who had been a resident there for years. The woman, whose name was Mary Lancaster, had been the daughter of a business associate of Harlan Garrett, and after the untimely death of Mr. Lancaster, Garrett had assumed responsibility of the man’s mentally imbalanced daughter through his will. He also learned that a woman named Celia Wilson, a nurse from the institution, was assisting Scott in the care of the invalid.
The report continued that Scott had assumed the role of president of Garrett Enterprises, and went to work there, faithfully, every day. And aside from work and an occasional trip to New York City, alone, Murdoch learned his older son’s life was consumed with the care of Mary Lancaster. It didn’t make sense to Murdoch why Scott would assume responsibility of this woman, and he had a feeling there was more than written in the report. He decided to request additional information from the Pinkerton’s.
The spring of 1874 arrived with Johnny building a home of his own for his family, not far from the main hacienda. Mariah was a dark-haired bundle of energy, just like her father had been. And Sara, though big with the baby growing inside her, couldn’t have been lovelier.
The return of Teresa and Chuck to Lancer in April was disappointing. Their efforts at adopting a child had failed. The representatives of the Brentford House had been impressed with the young couple; their references and letters of recommendation were outstanding. However, the young age of the couple went against them. The officials tended to adopt to older couples who could medically no longer have children of their own. It was felt that, in time, Teresa would produce her own child; but if it was proven medically that she could not, they were advised to begin the adoption process again.
June of 1874 arrived with Sara ready to give birth. Mariah had arrived early, completely by surprise, so the anticipation of this already overdue baby was beginning to wear on the nerves of Sara and Johnny.
Finally, though, the blessed day arrived, and after a long, hard labor, a beautiful blond-haired, blue eyed baby boy arrived. While Mariah favored her father, this little boy was his mother, through and through.
Johnny and Sara had discussed names at length, and Sara knew how much her husband wanted to name the baby after his brother, but the stubbornness that Johnny Lancer was famous for told him otherwise. But in the end, he knew he wanted his son to have the strong, proud name of his uncle. And his grandfather.
And so he was named Scott Murdoch Lancer, who, as fate would have it, was born on the fourth anniversary of his uncle leaving.
No one noticed. . . .
The Fifth Year: June 1874 to May 1875
During the summer of 1874, life went on at Lancer. Scott, or Buck, as he became known, began to grow into his own little person. Johnny and Sara were kept busy with their family, and the young father of two was unable to devote as much time to working on his home as he would have liked.
Then the fall came, and again, the annual cattle drive. Johnny and Chuck were true professionals when it came to this necessary task, and Murdoch was quite content at letting the “youngsters” do the work, while he stayed at home with Teresa, Sara, and his two grandchildren.
While Johnny was away, Murdoch hired a contracting firm to work on Johnny’s house, unbeknownst to his younger son. Sara knew about the surprise, and when Johnny returned from the long, problem-riddled drive, he was overwhelmed at the finished house. The next several weeks saw Sara furnishing their home, and the Thanksgiving dinner of 1874 was held at the home of John, Sara, Mariah, and Buck Lancer.
Life was good. . . . .
A week after Thanksgiving, however, the Lancer ranch was in turmoil as the patriarch fell down the stairs of the hacienda. Johnny was notified and was at his father’s side within minutes. It seemed that Murdoch had been carrying a secret for several months: the pain in his lower back from the bullet of Day Pardee some six years earlier had been giving him extreme pain, and he had been taking pain pills like they were candy.
Johnny berated himself for not noticing his father’s pain and discomfort; but he had been busy with his family, the cattle drive, and was now living in his own home, away from his father. He was also angry at Sam Jenkins for not advising him of the problem, but the good doctor reminded Johnny of a thing called “patient confidentiality,” and that he had recommended surgery but Murdoch would not hear of it. Johnny knew that surgery on his father’s back was risky: either complete success would result, or, if the unforeseen happened, paralysis from the waist down would be permanent.
After some talking to by a no-nonsense, mature, and in-control John Lancer, Murdoch conceded to having the surgery done. It would be done in San Francisco, as Dr. Jenkins had neither the expertise nor the facilities to do such surgery. Murdoch was accompanied by Johnny and Sara just a week before Christmas, 1874. The surgery was scheduled for December 23, Mariah’s second birthday. Murdoch felt guilty about his son and daughter-in-law being away from their daughter on her second birthday, but they would not have it any other way. Besides, they knew that Auntie Teresa and Uncle Chuck would have plenty of cake and presents.
The surgery was deemed a success and a complete recovery was expected. However, Murdoch would have to stay in San Francisco for at least two months for rehabilitation. Johnny hated the thought of leaving his father there, but Murdoch was not concerned. The Wellington House was a first-class facility with the most up-to-date services; besides, Murdoch joked he needed a ‘vacation’ from the ranch anyway.
Johnny and Sara returned to Lancer on January 6, their third anniversary, and a small gathering of friends helped the couple celebrate the day. The next two months found Johnny traveling to San Francisco every other weekend to check up on his father, and finally, in April, Murdoch was released. He would have to return every three months or so for checkups, and would walk with a cane for at least six months, but other than that, Murdoch Lancer was deemed well.
When Murdoch returned home, a tear came to his eyes; he had missed Lancer so, but he had never worried because he knew it had been in good hands. With Chuck.
And Johnny. . . . .
Now, if only Scott were home.
A month after his return, Murdoch received the letter from Scott asking if he could come home, and he quickly and excitedly shared the news with Johnny. Murdoch was disappointed at his son’s lukewarm reaction, but he realized a lot had happened the past five years. . .things in the life of the entire Lancer’s, especially Johnny, which Scott had not been a part of. While Murdoch had written short notes to his son the past five years, he had made a reluctant promise to Johnny not to share any events of his younger son’s life with Scott.
But now, he had a letter to write. First to let Scott know that he was welcome, had always been welcomed, and that he was missed. And secondly, despite the protests of his younger son, to inform Scott of just what had occurred at Lancer the past five years. For Scott had to realize that life does, indeed, go on. . . .
A MONTH LATER, JUNE 1875. . .
Scott Garrett Lancer sat atop of the same hill that his brother had a month earlier, overlooking his home. Lancer. It was, truly, ‘the most beautiful place in the whole wide world.’ And he had missed it so.
He had arrived in Morro Coyo the day before, and wired his family he would be arriving the next day. He spent the night at the Morro Coyo Inn, for he needed that time to give himself that little extra bit of courage he so badly felt he needed. Besides, he wanted to ride into Lancer alone; to organize his thoughts, to take everything in. He rented a buckboard at the livery and felt a peace come over him as he made his way down the hill and through the Lancer arch.
To his family. . . .
Murdoch had written him a lengthy letter informing him of the events of the past five years: Johnny’s illness and hasty marriage; the epidemic and the death of Jelly; the fact that Scott was now an uncle to Johnny’s daughter and son; and a brother-in-law to Teresa’s husband. Scott marveled at the thought that life at Lancer had moved on, while his life had been at a standstill the past five years.
But he knew he would never regret the decision he made. . . .
He felt like a visitor as he made his way to the house, and was a bit surprised when one of the hands greeted him like a long-lost friend. Scott warily returned the greeting, for he didn’t remember the Mexican man’s name.
His heart pounded as he made his way to the heavy wooden door, knowing his home, his family, was on the other side. He stood there for a second, remembering the time he would enter without even thinking about it.
Now, he was nervous as hell. . . .
He knocked on the door; a loud, confident knock, and he wondered who would answer. Those few seconds seemed like hours, when finally, the door opened. . . .
TBC. . . .