I wasn’t as gentle with the Lancers this time when I took them out to play. But I’m sure I’ll return them without too much damage. No money being made. Lancer still doesn’t belong to me.
My thanks to Mary O for her early reading of this piece and those members of Lancer Writers who gave me thoughtful feedback and encouragement when the first two sections of this story were posted as Shades of the Past. And especially to Laureen for knowing just the right Spanish word.
Carmela did everything she could to make this one perfect as she edited the story. Any remaining mistakes are mine. I deeply appreciate Carmela’s time and energy.
All feedback is welcome.
“Damn it, Johnny, I’m not spending the rest of my life walking on eggshells around you!”
The day had been exceptionally pleasant; a high blue sky with a few long, thin white clouds, a gentle breeze. Rusty brown, white-faced cows wandered freely along the edges of the wide, shallow creek. There’d been a hum of activity around the barns and corrals of the hacienda as the vaqueros went about their work; the sharp ping of metal hitting metal as Murdoch Lancer shaped a horseshoe on the anvil of the forge.
At the sound of his son’s angry voice, Murdoch stopped pounding the horseshoe and turned to glare at the barn. “What’s going on?” he barked at his foreman.
Cipriano had the hind foot of a horse balanced on his knee; he was filing the hoof. He glanced briefly at the barn, and then he shook his head. “I don’t know, Patrón. All day Señor Scott is a bit thin-skinned. Maybe Johnny scratch a little too hard.”
Standing to ease his back, Murdoch felt a measure of sympathy for Scott. Johnny did have a way of getting under a man’s skin.
As he stood there wondering if he should intervene in some way, his younger son came through the barn door leading his big palomino. Johnny’s blue eyes were focused straight ahead; his jaw was set. Scott was a few steps behind him. It startled Murdoch to see Scott’s normally calm face screwed up in anger.
“That’s right, just ride away. No reason to listen to a word I say!” shouted Scott, throwing his right arm up into the air. As he watched Johnny swing up into the saddle, he demanded, “Where are you running to this time?”
“Mexico!” snapped Johnny. He wheeled Barranca around and took off at a full gallop.
Scott stood still for a long moment, watching his brother ride towards the east. Leaning against the wall of the barn was a pitchfork. Scott snatched it up and threw it with great force into the middle of a pile of manure. He pivoted on his boot heel and marched towards the house.
Open mouthed, Murdoch stared after Scott. Turning, he watched horse and rider disappearing into a cloud of dust; Johnny’s red shirt a flash of color against the brown landscape. “Get one of the boys to help you finish up here for me, Cip. I’d better have a word with Scott.”
Reaching the house, Scott opened the richly carved front door and slammed it behind him. He stood with his hands clenched. His eyes traveled over the décor of the great room; he saw the heavy candelabras on the table, the globed lamp on his father’s desk, the elaborate model of a sailing ship. He wanted to break something, anything.
Instead, he took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. He was behaving childishly and he knew it. Losing his temper always upset him. It was a waste of time and energy to lose one’s temper. The truth was Johnny hadn’t been any more irritating than normal. Scott knew when he got out of bed that morning it was going to be a hard day; a day he should have spent alone with his memories.
It was eight years since the siege of Vicksburg, the first action he saw during the War. Eight years to the day since the explosion of a cannon ball blew Captain William Garrett off his horse, filling his body with jagged bits of shrapnel. Eight years since Willy, his distant cousin and childhood hero, died in the seventeen-year-old Scott’s arms, whispering the names of his wife and children.
If Scott let himself think about it, almost every day was the anniversary of some loss, great or small. Thinking about it could only lead to a paralyzing sadness so he had learned not to dwell on the past, on the war. Willy’s death was different. Though he had witnessed other deaths in the weeks of the siege; Willy’s was the first that touched him personally. Watching his lifeblood seep away, helpless to do anything to ease the pain; Scott recognized the fragility of life. He lost his invulnerability; his boyhood ended.
It was William Garrett, ten years his senior, a West Point graduate and regular army, who taught him in those early weeks how to be a soldier; how to develop his talent for riding into a skill that would save his life again and again; how to hide his fear and lead men. Any man might be killed-Willy, himself. It was something he had known intellectually and yet had not believed until the moment he saw the light fade in the familiar blue-grey eyes.
For the first time since his arrival in California,Scott was deeply homesick for Boston. He wanted to taste salt on the air; he wanted the quiet of his boyhood room full of his books and mementoes. Most of all, he wanted to hear his grandfather’s voice with the hard consonants of a Boston accent. His grandfather would have remembered what day it was; they would have spoken of William Garrett; of a life much too short but well lived.
He could have made it through the day easily enough if he’d been able to spend it out on the range. Most days were spent riding the fence lines, clearing brush, moving cattle. They’d just spent the better part of two months rounding up parts of the herd and moving them to mountain pasture.
Any other day, Scott would have found it a relief to be in the barn out of the sun examining saddles, bridles and other bits of tack. Even as preoccupied as he was, the day probably would have gone all right if it hadn’t been for the smell of the forge.
He’d noticed before how certain smells brought past events to mind. Lavender and roses brought bittersweet memories. The scent of fresh tobacco could leave him short of breath if he was taken unaware. And the smell of red hot metal conjured up battlefields before his eyes.
It was a hard day, a day just to survive and accept. He would have been able to have done just that if Johnny hadn’t started needling him about the ledger he was creating to inventory the tack.
It was such a stupid thing to lose his temper over. Johnny had laughed at Scott’s “fancy” handwriting. Scott had said something sharp and unkind to the effect that at least he could write. He had deeply regretted the words the moment they were out of his mouth, but by then the damage was done. Johnny let loose with insult after insult about the uselessness of Scott’s eastern education in the real world. And on it went.
“What the hell was that all about?” demanded his father as he limped through the French doors, his walking stick making sharp, staccato beats against the flagstone floor.
“Ask Johnny,” responded Scott tersely. He had his temper under control now; he met his father’s gaze steadily with his thin lips pressed tightly together.
“I would if he weren’t halfway to Morro Coyo by now. Cip said the two of you have been at each other all day. What’s going on?” growled Murdoch, looking down at his son.
Scott considered for a moment telling his father what was really going on. That he was in a dark mood because of his memories. He thought perhaps, if he explained, Murdoch would understand if he took the rest of the day to write some letters. He knew that writing to Willy’s widow Amy would give him a chance to order his thoughts. That was all he really needed; just a chance to get his thoughts in order and to touch base, however distantly, with his other life.
Murdoch looked down at Scott’s unreadable expression. He felt a sense of frustration that was growing all too familiar. This was his son in whose features he could see himself and his beloved wife; yet it was the face of a stranger. A few minutes ago it had been the face of an angry young man. Murdoch understood what he saw then. Now, the steady gaze from eyes so like Catherine’s told him only that Scott was very good at regaining control of his temper.
“Look, Scott,” said Murdoch slowly, “I know Johnny can be a trial. You have to remember that underneath all that bravado is a very young man, a boy in many ways. I expect a lot of the two of you. Johnny chafes at all the orders and expectations; he doesn’t have your experience. I understand it isn’t very fair he takes his temper out on us but we have to make allowances. This is all new to him.”
For a second Scott was dumbfounded, his blue-grey eyes widened, his mouth fell open. Then his chin came up a fraction, his eyes narrowed. He spoke with no emotion. “I’ll get back to work now, sir.”
As Scott turned again on his heel like a soldier who had been dismissed, the enormity of his own stupidity hit Murdoch like a blow to the belly. He called after his son. But Scott did not turn around; he closed the door with deliberate care.
“Idiot! Damn, Damn idiot!” swore Murdoch as he braced himself against his desk and shook his head.
It was true that Johnny was young, unaccustomed to regular working hours and taking orders; unaccustomed to living in a civilized household. But Johnny did not find himself in a country so different from what he was used to, where everything from the language to the weather was unfamiliar. Johnny was not new to cattle and the skills needed to work them.
Murdoch knew that those who saw him and his sons trying to become a family believed that the main obstacle was between him and Johnny. He pushed and Johnny pushed back. Johnny tested him constantly. Even now, having watched the boy ride away as he threatened to keep riding to Mexico left Murdoch with conflicting emotions-let him go if he cares nothing for the life here and please, God, bring my boy home safe. Life with Johnny took so much effort.
Perhaps that was why there was so much distance between him and Scott. Perhaps he simply didn’t have enough energy to reach out to Scott. After all, Scott required very little of him. He wasn’t shy about offering his opinion but he accepted orders gracefully. Life with Scott was not a constant battle as it was with Johnny.
Still that was no excuse for what he’d said to Scott; for how he had dismissed everything his eldest had done since he came to Lancer.
How, Murdoch asked himself, could he have said something so thoughtless to his son? How could he have forgotten what Scott had given up to stay in the west? His home, his place in the world, comfort, security, the familiar life-the very things Catherine had given up to come with him, to be his wife.
Murdoch sat down heavily in his desk chair.
Scott marched back to the tack room and stood very still. He stared straight ahead as if there was something fascinating about the array of saddles hanging over their racks. But he wasn’t seeing them.
Was there, he asked himself, any point in being angry with his father? Hadn’t he known his whole life that Murdoch Lancer cared little for him? He had been sent for because Murdoch had a use for him. He had been useful and he had been given a reward. A reward he had earned not only by using his skills as a soldier but by risking his life. He supposed it mattered somewhat to Murdoch that they shared the same blood, but Scott had come to realize that it was Johnny who was Murdoch’s true son.
Yes, they battled. Someday they might go too far and destroy the fragile bond between them, but there was no denying that the bond existed. They both needed it. Murdoch was right; Johnny for all his bravado was still young enough to need a father. As for himself, Scott knew he had been lucky. His grandfather loved him; he had grown up in the midst of a large, caring family. His childhood had been happy and secure, nothing like Johnny’s.
All he wanted from Murdoch Lancer was respect. The man he was coming to know was a decent, fair if hard man; reminding Scott of the best of the officers he’d served under. In time, Scott knew, if he worked hard he could earn his father’s respect. That would be enough.
Scott blew out his breath. He laid a newly cut leather strap on the work bench. He put a worn-out girth strap on top of it and marked where the holes went.
He glanced out the doorway hoping to see Johnny riding in. He wanted to make up their quarrel; it had been his fault. It was hard for him to credit that he had been so brutally unkind to his brother. Johnny was hardly to blame for his lack of education. And Johnny was correct that his skills were of far greater value to life on the ranch than Scott’s command of Latin or his ability to write a grammatically correct sentence. During the roundup he’d felt he was getting to know his brother; he had hopes of developing a friendship. If Johnny gave him the chance, he would try to explain why he had been so short tempered today. If Johnny gave him the chance.
Murdoch knew he had to apologize to Scott. He wasn’t good at apologizing; it was one of the benefits of being the boss, no one expected him to apologize. But what he’d said was simply unforgivable. He had to be sure that Scott knew he realized that. The distance between them was already so great. A misunderstanding like this could make it unbridgeable.
He walked towards the barn slowly, trying to form the apology in his mind. He stopped for a moment and watched a wagon being driven through the arch. Miguel and a new cowhand named Walt had been to Green River for supplies. They’d gone the day before and spent the night in the small town. He was pleased to see them back. It was a six hour drive from Green River with a loaded wagon.
At least something had gone right today, thought Murdoch as he continued towards the large tack room attached to the side of the main horse barn. Through the open door he could see Scott bent over a work bench. Scott had an awl in his hand to punch holes in the strap on the bench
Murdoch turned to the new hand. He was a tall, lanky man of indeterminate age, blue-eyed with ruddy skin and a mouth full of broken teeth. “I’ll be with you in a minute, Walt.”
“Excuse me, sir,” said the hand, looking down at his boots. “I’m thinking this might be important.”
“Something wrong, Walt?” asked Scott. He was standing in the doorway to the tack room.
Walt looked first at Scott and then at Murdoch. “I don’t rightly know,” he said, scratching at the stubble on his chin. “But something happened in Green River last night. I told Miguel about it and he thinks I ought to tell you.”
Murdoch looked beyond Walt to Miguel who was pulling supplies from the back of the wagon. Miguel was one of the vaqueros who had been born on Lancer. Murdoch knew him well and trusted his judgment. If Miguel thought he should hear what Walt had to say, there was little doubt in Murdoch’s mind he should hear it. “Go ahead.”
“Well, I was having a beer in the cantina when I heard these fellows talking. One thing I heard was Lancer, so I listened a little closer.”
“And?” prompted Scott, taking a step towards the cowhand.
“Well, they was saying things like needing to finish what they started and that the Lancers had to pay up for what they done. And then they said Johnny Madrid is a dead man. I know you had some bad trouble a while back and I know that your Johnny is sometimes called Madrid.”
Scott looked again towards the east in hopes of seeing his brother riding back. Then he glanced at his father and saw a flicker of not quite fear but worry and anger in the depths of Murdoch’s blue eyes.
“What did they look like?” asked Murdoch, leaning rather heavily on his walking stick.
Walt shrugged. “Cowboys. Wasn’t nothing special about them. One of them was kind of fat. He was the one who was making threats about Madrid. It might not mean nothing. Just some drunks shooting off their mouths.”
“Thanks, Walt,” said Murdoch gruffly. “I appreciate you telling me. I’ve learned to take all threats seriously, even when they sound idle.”
“Yes, sir,” said the cowhand, turning away. “Guess I’ll get that wagon unloaded.”
“Sir?” responded Walt, looking back at Scott.
“Did you see Johnny on your way in?”
The man shook his head and walked back to the wagon.
Murdoch was frowning; looking towards the east. “Do you reckon they could be Pardee men?”
“I suppose they could,” said Scott slowly, tapping his long fingers thoughtfully against the top rail of the corral fence. “We know at least a few of them got away. It doesn’t matter who they are, it’s clear they have a grudge against Johnny.”
Scott went towards the barn and shouted. “Carlos!”
A young vaquero was mucking out a stall. He came into the central alley and shouted back, “Si, señor?”
“Saddle the bay and bring him up to the house!”
“What are you doing?” demanded Murdoch as he limped towards the hacienda following Scott. He recognized the purposefulness of Scott’s long, even stride; he had had such a stride until the moment a bullet entered his back. His son had made a decision; was putting a plan into action.
“Going after Johnny,” answered Scott, not looking at his father.
“But, Scott, you don’t know where he’s gone off to.”
“Well, I know he isn’t headed to Green River or they would have passed him on the road. So he is probably headed to Morro Coyo the back way. That may be where those men will head next. With a little luck I’ll find Johnny before they do. If he turned south rather than continuing east, we don’t have to worry about him running into them before he comes home. I doubt he’s headed to Mexico today.”
Murdoch listened to Scott’s firm voice; it was a little lower than normal, the voice he used when he wanted to make a point. He couldn’t argue with his son’s reasoning; it was exactly like his own.
Scott went through the front door. He took his gun belt from a peg and buckled it around his slender hips. He checked the chambers in the revolver. Then he took his hat from the coat tree and settled it on his fair head. Finally he removed his rifle from the gun rack. Again he checked the chambers.
Murdoch worried his bottom lip. He wanted to go with Scott but his back was still causing him problems. He was likely to be more hindrance than help; a fact that infuriated him. “Take a couple of the hands with you. You may run into those fellows yourself.”
Scott shook his head. “I believe it would be wiser to keep as many of the hands as possible close to the house for a couple of days, sir.”
Murdoch was worried about Johnny and concerned about a new threat to the ranch. Even so, he couldn’t help but notice how carefully Scott was speaking. Was it anger or was it contempt that Scott was just managing to keep out of his voice? “Scott-”
Scott’s attention had shifted to the other end of the hallway where the kitchen door was. A girl was standing there, chewing nervously on her fingers.
“Something wrong, Lupe?” he asked. Lupe was the younger of Cipriano and Maria’s daughters. She was twelve or thirteen and always started to giggle if he spoke to her.
“I sorry, señor,” she said blushing slightly. She looked up at Murdoch, “Patrón, I cannot find Ter-, ah. . . La Señorita.”
“Lupe-,” responded Murdoch with annoyance. He had no time for the girl now. He had to decide whether Scott was right that the threat to the hacienda should take precedence over his search for Johnny. “I thought she was making soap with the rest of you.”
“Si, but-” the girl ducked her head. She saw the scowl on the Patrón’s face. She had never been the target of his wrath but every child of the ranch feared the big man at least a little. Still her mother had told her to find Teresa and while the Patrón might speak sharply to her; her mother was sure to swat her backside if she came back without Teresa. “She went to the barn to get more lye and she never come back.”
“When?” asked Scott, walking towards the girl. “How long ago?”
Lupe lifted her narrow shoulders in a shrug. Señor Scott did not normally speak so sternly. “Maybe an hour. I look in the barn and in her room and in the garden. I look everywhere!”
“Damn,” whispered Scott, he felt his stomach contract. Almost running he went halfway to the corral where a dozen horses meandered. He could see that Teresa’s mare wasn’t among them now. It had been earlier in the day.
Murdoch had followed him from the house. Scott turned to his father saying, “If Teresa heard Johnny claim he was going to Mexico do you think she would go after him?”
A series of emotions swept over Murdoch’s face. Scott often questioned how his father felt about him but never how he felt about Teresa. She was a sacred trust; to protect her was a promise Murdoch had made to his closest friend.
“Yes,” said Murdoch slowly, “I fear she might. She has her heart set on us all being together here at Lancer.”
Carlos led Scott’s horse up to him. Scott thrust the rifle into the scabbard and swung up into the saddle. He touched his hat in a salute to his father and said, “We’ll try to be back before dark.” Then he wheeled the horse.
Teresa reined up and looked at the steep trail in front of her. She knew if she didn’t catch Johnny soon she would have to turn back. It would be foolhardy for her to take the mountain trail by herself, especially with dark coming on.
Johnny had had quite a head start before she’d managed to get her horse saddled. In the relative flat of the valley she had been able to keep him in sight most of the time; his red shirt was like a beacon. But once he’d crossed the creek and taken the mountain trail she lost him in the twists and turns.
She leaned over and patted her horse’s sweaty neck. “I’m sorry, Brigit,” she said contritely. “I know you did your best to catch Barranca. He’s just too fast for us. It was stupid of me to come chasing after Johnny anyway. He isn’t really going to Mexico. We’ll just go to the top of this ridge; maybe he stopped for a breather. If not, I promise we’ll turn back. I’m going to be in enough trouble for going off without telling anyone. I miss dinner and there-,” she paused.
Teresa was not in the habit of swearing; it wasn’t ladylike. Her father had been determined that she was going to grow up to be a lady. Abuela Mariah had strong opinions on the subject of girls and swearing as well. But Teresa had been raised by two very volatile men. She knew how useful swear words could be. She finished the thought saying, “There will be hell to pay.”
The mare shook her head as if in agreement. They started up the rough track.
Five minutes later they came into a wide grassy spot that dropped off suddenly at the western edge. Below that rim was a swiftly running creek. She knew this grassy spot well; her father had often brought her there for picnics when she was little.
“Teresa, why are you following me? And what the hell are you doing out here all on your own?”
Teresa’s heart jumped to her throat. Johnny’s voice took her totally by surprise. She turned around in her saddle and saw him sitting on Barranca at the edge of the clearing.
“I’m not alone,” she said, trying to slow her racing heart. “I’m with you.”
“Well, there’s a woman’s way of thinking for you,” said Johnny with disgust. “The old man know you’re out here?”
“A . . . well,” stammered Teresa, biting her lower lip.
Johnny shook his head and dismounted. “That’s what I thought. Don’t you know any better than to travel up here on your own? Be dark in a couple of hours. That’s not,” he gestured towards the edge of the clearing where it was a straight drop to the creek below, “the only place you could go over the edge if you missed the trail.”
“I know that,” snapped Teresa. He was right of course. It was rare for her to ride so far from the hacienda alone. Even though she knew the range well and had no fear of getting lost; it could be a dangerous place. When she did she took a shotgun with her in case of trouble. But she had neither her shotgun nor her canteen. She’d simply thrown a saddle on her horse and taken off after Johnny. Knowing she’d been foolish made her cross. “If you knew I was following you why didn’t you wait for me?”
“Cause I thought you’d have sense enough to turn back before now. Get down. Let that poor animal have a breather.”
Teresa did as she was told. It comforted her to know that while Johnny was not happy with her, he did care enough to stop and watch out for her now that the trail was dangerous.
Johnny stood on the rim and surveyed the land below. It was a good spot to get a look at this section of the range. He could see a long way before the land rose in a series of small hills. Out of habit he looked for riders and saw no one. So it must have been Teresa’s pursuit that made him feel he was being watched.
He glanced again at the vista before him. The grass was still green and plentiful he was pleased to note. He saw several small bunches of cows. More branding in our future, he thought. The roundup had been on the southern and western ranges. This section to the east had not been thoroughly searched for unbranded calves.
Without turning around he asked again, “Why were you following me? Don’t you know that’s a way to get yourself shot?”
“Not by you,” she answered swiftly. “You’d never take a shot if you didn’t know who you were shooting at.”
Johnny turned. He cocked his head to the side and gave her his white toothed grin. “Stop dodging the question.”
“Well, I was worried,” Teresa paused; she pulled the ribbon off the end of her braid and ran her fingers through her sweat-dampened dark hair. Her worries seemed foolish now if for no other reason than Mexico was south, way, way south, and Johnny had taken off east.
Johnny shook his head. “Muchachita, did you think I’d take off for parts unknown without my hat?”
“Well,” began Teresa slowly. She felt her face grow red. “It’s just that the two of you were so mad at each other. I’ve never heard Scott bellow like that. At first I thought it was Murdoch you was fighting with. And I just –I guess I didn’t think it through. I suppose you just wanted some time on your own.”
“You suppose right. I was going to town for the night. Wanted to get a little space between me and my loving brother.” Johnny flopped down cross-legged near the edge.
Teresa looped the rein loosely over the pommel of the saddle so her horse wouldn’t step on it while she grazed. Johnny had done the same with Barranca. Then Teresa sat down beside Johnny. They were quiet for a few minutes. Teresa busied herself with rebraiding her heavy hair. She watched Johnny while she did so.
He was looking down at the ground with his shoulders hunched as if he was pulling into himself; his fingers absently plucking at the sparse blades of grass.
“What were you and Scott fussing about?” she asked timidly. It felt like he wasn’t angry with her but sometimes with Johnny it was hard to judge. She’d heard the stress he’d put on ‘was going to town’. She knew he would change his plans now and go with her back to the house.
Johnny glanced up at her through his dark lashes; his mouth twisted oddly. “Handwriting.”
“Handwriting?!” exclaimed Teresa with surprise. She had considered a lot of possible causes for the argument between the Lancer brothers. Handwriting was not on the list.
“That’s how it started,” said Johnny with a rueful shake of his head. “But Scott’s been meaner than a wounded mountain cat all day.”
“He wasn’t quite himself today,” agreed Teresa, nodding. “There must be something bothering him; at breakfast it was like he was a thousand miles away.”
“It’s more like three thousand to Boston.”
Teresa was pleased to see a spark of humor in his bright blue eyes. “Scott won’t leave,” she said with more confidence than she felt. On the few occasions Scott talked about Boston, about his family, about the theater and concerts he’d gone to, Teresa feared he found life on Lancer too much work for the body and not interesting enough for the mind.
“But you think I will.”
Teresa lifted her narrow shoulders. “I know I was silly to come tearing after you like this. I don’t know why, but when you said Mexico like that I got scared, scared you’d really go; scared it would all fall apart before we ever got a chance.”
“A chance,” Johnny repeated, his blue eyes searching her face for a clue to what she was talking about. “A chance at what?”
Teresa returned his gaze; her dark eyes alight with eagerness. She smiled broadly as she said, “At being a family.”
“Muchachita,” he said kindly, shaking his head. He had, almost against his better judgment, grown very fond of Teresa. “You can’t make a family out of a bunch of strangers.”
Teresa’s wide mouth turned down at the corners. “But you’re not strangers. Why do you all keep saying that? You’re family; you just haven’t had a chance to get to know each other.”
He laughed; a deep full laugh that normally would make Teresa want to laugh as well. But not this time; this chance to become a real family was too important to laugh about.
“Ain’t that what strangers are?” asked Johnny still grinning. “People that don’t know each other.”
“But you don’t have to be,” exclaimed Teresa angrily, throwing up her hands. “If you’d just give a little.”
Johnny stopped laughing. His eyes narrowed; his expression closed.
“Oh,” breathed Teresa, swallowing uneasily. “I didn’t mean that you were the one who has to give, but that all three of you have to. It’s like you’re all waiting for the other ones to make a move towards you, but as long as you all wait no one is going to move. And it isn’t going to get any better.”
Johnny bent his head and went back to plucking at the blades of grass. Teresa felt him moving away from her even though he had not done so physically. She reached out to touch his hand.
He looked up suddenly, his face was flushed, his blue eyes bright and angry. “Please what? Knuckle under because the old man gave me a piece of the ranch? Play nice with Scott because him and me share the old man’s blood? Please what, Teresa?”
Tears welled in Teresa’s eyes. “Please don’t go,” she said earnestly. “At least not yet. Please give it a chance to work out. I know-well, maybe I don’t know- how hard things have been for you but-”
“I don’t want your pity,” he snapped, harshly.
Teresa sat up straight. She felt as if he’d slapped her; it made her angry. “Good, because I don’t have any for you. I’m trying to offer you some understanding, a little human kindness, but if you’re too prideful to take it that’s your lookout. You, Scott and me are motherless children but the two of you have a father who loves you. If you’re too stupid to know what that means then-” she broke off choked by emotion.
Johnny felt the anger go out of him. How could he be angry with this brave little girl? He pushed his hands through his thick black hair and asked, “Why do you care so much, Teresa?”
“Because you’re all my family,” she said simply. She wiped at her eyes. “I don’t want to lose any of you.”
“But Scott and me,” he said, shaking his head in puzzlement, “are just as much strangers to you as we are to Murdoch.”
“In most ways, I reckon that’s true but-” She twisted the ends of her hair around her fingers. She sighed. “See, the funny thing is, you and Scott didn’t know about each other, but I’ve always known about the two of you. My dad used to tell me stories about you. They were just silly stories he made up, but they made you real to me. I’ve waited my whole life for you to come home; for all of us to be a family. Your father has always been good to me, a kind of uncle; I’ve never doubted I had a place in his heart. Even,” she stammered slightly, took a breath and went on. “Even when Daddy was killed I knew I still had him. I know he loves you and Scott. And given enough time, he’ll learn to show it.”
Johnny shook his head again. The picture she painted of their future together was like some perfect family out of a storybook but he knew it wasn’t possible. Murdoch and Scott might someday be something other than strangers-they both liked to read them big books, that might account for something. And then there was the way they looked at problems; both of them reasoning them out, making plans. But as for him being a part of a real family with either of them- he raised his eyes to look again at the rolling hills of Lancer and sighed. Then he reached out and brushed his fingers across her cheek. “You are such a silly little goose, but your heart is in the right place. It’s a nice notion -but it’s just too late, Teresa.”
“It’s not, Johnny,” she said, grabbing hold of his hand with both of hers. “I know it’s not. Nobody believed the two of you would come when he sent for you. With Daddy gone, Dr. Jenkins is the Patrón’s closest friend. I heard him tell the P-” She paused, frowning. She was still not comfortable calling the man she’d always known as the Patrón by his Christian name. “Murdoch- that if he expected you to come he should at least explain that the ranch was in danger. Murdoch wouldn’t listen to him. He said he wouldn’t ask out of weakness. He would offer the two of you a straight business deal. Even I thought it was too harsh. Even I was a little afraid you wouldn’t come. But you did come, both of you came when we needed you most. Don’t you see, Johnny, that’s a sort of miracle? After that, it is not too much to hope we can all be a family.”
Johnny looked at Teresa thoughtfully. She’d lived through some hard times recently but that hadn’t marked her. Everything about her was fresh, innocent, sweet. Someday she might be a beauty. Now her large dark eyes, her wide mouth and smooth forehead all made her look young, unfinished. Johnny had known lots of girls who had lost their freshness long before they were Teresa’s age. He hoped she would keep hers awhile longer. “I don’t have that kind of faith, Teresa. But I’ll make you this promise - I’ll never leave, at least not for good, without telling you good-bye. That’s the best I can do.”
“Then I’ll hold you to that.”
They were quiet for several minutes. Johnny looked out over the land again. He was uneasy. He was not in the habit of talking like this.
Teresa finished braiding her hair and tied the blue ribbon around the end. She watched Johnny from beneath her heavy lashes. She feared she had pushed him far enough. Still she wanted to know what had happened with Scott.
“I thought,” she began carefully, “after the roundup that you and Scott had come to some sort of understanding. I even saw you joshing together. What happened today? What did he say that got you all riled up?”
“Just that I was less than the dirt under his polished boots,” mumbled Johnny.
“Johnny Lancer, I don’t believe that,” exclaimed Teresa, slapping him sharply on the arm. “Scott doesn’t think that.”
“Well,” he began, glancing at her, twisting his mouth. “Maybe he didn’t say exactly that, but it’s what he meant. Teresa, his mind is so full of book learning there ain’t space for nothing else. He just don’t have time for the likes of me.”
Teresa looked thoughtfully at Johnny. Often Johnny didn’t look as young as he was. At that moment he did, his face was soft. She realized that he was more hurt than angry. She wondered what Scott had really said and why, whatever it might have been, had it upset Johnny so much.
“You said it started over handwriting,” she said slowly, frowning slightly. “I don’t understand. How could handwriting cause a fight?”
“Have you ever seen his writing?” asked Johnny sharply. “It’s full of extra lines and little curly cues like a pig’s tail. It looks like some girl’s fancy embroidery.”
Teresa swallowed a giggle. “I suppose you told him that?”
“Maybe,” said Johnny a bit shamefaced.
“Johnny, did you really think he was going to take being told he writes like a girl doing fancy needlework well?” she asked with her giggles escaping. “You’ve teased him from the beginning; all those taunts about his clothes.”
“Well, you did too,” said Johnny with asperity. “We were right. He couldn’t fight a range war looking like a clown. Sides, that’s not the same as telling a man he’s too stupid to know how to write.”
“No, it’s not. If that’s what he said, I just can’t believe he meant it the way it sounded to you. Scott isn’t mean that way,” she said, biting her lip. She hoped that she was right. The few months they’d been together had not been long enough to say she knew either of the Lancer brothers well. Then she glanced at Johnny, saying, “You just kept poking at him, didn’t you?”
“Are you saying this was my fault?” he growled at her.
“Well, no,” she answered slowly. “But you knew he was out of sorts today.”
Johnny shrugged his broad shoulders. “I guess I wanted to see what it would take to make him snap. Every now and again you see a real flash of temper-like when you barge into his room or Murdoch says something mean spirited. And then, just seconds later, he reins it in. He’s all polite and quiet and calm again and still mad as hell. Ain’t natural for a man to be that way.”
“I guess you’d just keep poking at a rattlesnake too,” said Teresa with a sigh. “It’s his way, Johnny. He believes –oh, what was it Daddy used to say, something about reasoning together. Scott likes words, he’s skilled with them. Maybe too skilled with them if he hurt you with what he said.”
“I’ll live,” conceded Johnny with ill grace.
Teresa fell quiet; her gaze drifted over the land to the west. She thought about happy afternoons she had spent with her father in this very spot. She wiped again at her eyes; aware that Johnny was looking at her with concern. To distract him she said, “I think Scott is awful lonely here. You‘ve got to admit you fit in better with the rest of us than he does. The vaqueros all feel you’re one of them.”
“Well, I am one of them. I’ve got a hell of a lot more in common with them than with a dandy from back east with his fine education,” insisted Johnny with a jeering note in his voice.
“Don’t you like him at all?” asked Teresa, her voice a plea begging him to say yes, he liked his brother.
Johnny ducked his head and shrugged his shoulders again. A few recent events drifted through his thoughts; Scott speaking so earnestly about not being strangers but brothers when they watched the sunrise; Scott face down in the mud, laughing at himself; singing together as they shared the watch over the cattle on the roundup.
He glanced at Teresa and saw sadness in her face. He didn’t know what to say. The truth was he did like Scott in spite of himself; he even liked how smart he was. But telling her so might give her false hope of this family idea working out. “I don’t know. I guess I can say one thing for Scott, he didn’t put on any airs while we was rounding up cattle. I thought he would supervise and leave the rough work to the rest of us. He ain’t afraid to get dirty; to work hard.”
“That’s true. And he certainly is doing his best to learn Spanish. You know he is trying to fit in.”
“You shouldn’t worry over us the way you do. We’re grown men; we can take care of ourselves.”
Teresa tried not to roll her eyes at him. “You know Scott’s not doing any better at getting to know Murdoch than you are. In fact I’d say they’re farther apart than you and Murdoch.”
“That’s foolishness. Murdoch and Scott are two peas in a pod.”
“I guess, in some ways they are,” said Teresa with a small sigh. “Maybe in the ways that make it harder to be close. Johnny, did you ever think to ask Scott what was wrong today?”
Johnny looked up at her with astonishment in his sapphire blue eyes. “You mean right out like, hey, Scott, you’re ornerier than a mule today. What’s the matter with you?”
“Well, maybe not those exact words,” she said giggling.
“You know what he’d say. I’m fine. Let’s get to work.” Johnny mimicked his brother’s voice. “He’d tell you he was fine if his leg was busted in three places.”
“He is kind of private.”
Johnny threw back his head and laughed without a trace of bitterness. “Private? Scott’s so closed mouthed he makes the old man look like a chatterbox.”
She looked up at him, her dark eyes flashing with indignation. “While you’re just an open book?”
Johnny, still laughing, said, “Well, maybe being sort of private is like being stubborn, just part of the Lancer character.”
“It’s just what we were talking about. It keeps you apart, the not knowing much about each other. My dad and the Patrón were like brothers. Like you and Scott could be if you tried. I think they knew everything about each other; all sorts of things I don’t know. El Patrón misses him as much as I do. Without Dad, he’s so alone; he’s not letting you and Scott get close to him. I know the Patr-”, Teresa paused, grimaced, then said, “Murdoch wants you all to start fresh from now.”
Johnny quoted his father, “The past is over and done.”
“He’s wrong,” said Teresa flatly.
“Murdoch Lancer wrong?” Johnny laughed again. “You’re the only one brave enough to tell him.”
Teresa raised one finely arched eyebrow. They both knew Johnny wasn’t the least bit shy about telling his father he was wrong.
“I mean it. The past-” she broke off and worried at her fingernails. “I’m sorry, Johnny.”
“Sorry so much of my past is so ugly?” He shrugged. Then he blew his breath out in something like a sigh. “But you’re right. Whether we talk about it or not, if Murdoch wants Johnny Lancer, he has to take Madrid along with him.”
She reached out and put her hand over his. “If Madrid is what kept you alive until you came back to us, then I’d say he was welcome.”
Johnny’s face relaxed into a wide smile as he pressed her hand gently. “You are a sweet girl; I know you want the best for all of us ornery Lancers.”
“I want you to be a family,” declared Teresa earnestly, “I want you to be friends, not just three men living in the same house.”
Johnny shook his head, still smiling, “Little girl, I think you’re hoping for something that just can’t be. Friends got -”
He broke off, his attention drawn to the other side of the clearing. His face changed; grew hard and closed.
“What?” she asked. Johnny’s expression frightened her. They had been so close just a few seconds before, two good friends talking. Now he was the stranger again; he was Madrid.
“Stay down, keep your head low!” he ordered suddenly as he stood. He pulled his gun and shouted, “Show yourself!”
“Not until you toss that gun away. We got a rifle trained on that sweet little girl. So be a good boy and pitch that gun away.”
Johnny recognized the voice. A man named Harris who had worked for Day Pardee. He didn’t doubt there was more than one gun trained on them. Harris wasn’t a fast gun; he wouldn’t try to take on Johnny Madrid by himself.
Had he been alone, Johnny would have taken his chances. He’d have fired and thrown himself into the bushes to his right. He might survive if he did so, but he had no doubt Harris or whoever was with him would kill Teresa where she sat hunched at his feet.
“Johnny, what should I do?” she whispered franticly.
Johnny tossed the gun about a yard in front of him. “Teresa, just be still. Don’t say nothing.”
“Who are they?”
“What’s left of Pardee’s gang. The fellow talking is named Harris,” he answered, then his voice softened, “Maybe you ought to say a prayer or two.”
Spread well apart, three men stepped into the clearing from behind the trees. They were rough looking; dirty clothes, heavy beards.
“Well, well, now, Johnny Madrid,” softly drawled a short man; his belly straining the buttons of his spotted silk vest. “And we didn’t even have to go looking for you. You rode right to us.”
Johnny realized that he’d been right before. That Teresa had not been the only one watching him ride across the valley. Chances were that Harris, the short, fat man, and his cohorts had watched him from where he was standing now.
“What do you want, Harris?” he asked calmly. Slowly Johnny let his gaze take in the other two men. He’d seen them before but he didn’t know what they called themselves. The man on his right was tall and broad shouldered, his face crisscrossed with knife scars. Johnny thought of a bull when he glanced at the other man. He was broad, hunched forward with small eyes that seemed to glow with malice.
“Just to finish up some business and maybe have a little pleasure too,” answered Harris with a cold smile. He gestured towards one of the other men saying, “Bring that little gal over here.”
“Don’t you touch her,” ordered Johnny fiercely, without thinking. He’d had worse odds but not with someone he cared for in the middle of the fight.
“Let me go,” screamed Teresa as she was hauled to her feet by the tall man. She struck out with her right hand, punching the man hard in the face.
“Feisty little thing, ain’t ya?” said the man as he twisted her arm up behind her back and half-carried her away from Johnny.
“You got a problem with me, Harris? Just let me get my gun and we’ll settle it,” said Johnny with a smile just as cold as the one on Harris’s face. He was very careful not to look at Teresa. “There is no need to drag the girl into it.”
“No need at all excepting that she might be worth something to somebody. As for you, you ain’t worth nothing.” He fired.
Johnny fell backwards over the edge of the cliff.
Teresa screamed his name over and over.
Scott pulled his cantering horse to a rearing halt and swung his head from side to side. He was sure that he had heard a shot. He prayed he would hear another one. Two shots together was a signal the vaqueros used on the range to get attention.
He stood in his stirrups, straining to hear. At first there was no sound. Then he heard bird song, the buzz of a large fly tormenting his horse, and the bawling of a calf. He was sure it was a shot he’d heard, only one shot.
Johnny. Teresa. Where were they? Where were the men Walt had overheard? What if they had taken Johnny unawares? What if--
Steady on, soldier. Steady on.
The voice in his head was familiar. It reminded him that speculation did neither him nor those he cared for, any good. How much he cared for them he was slowly beginning to realize. All his life he had been jealous of his friends who had brothers, even those who had only sisters. He had always had good friends, some of them second and third cousins, but even as a child he could tell that it wasn’t the same as having a sibling. It was too late for Johnny and him to share a childhood, but not too late to be brothers. As for Teresa-dear God, if something happened to Teresa it might well kill his father.
He touched the horse behind the girth. It broke into an easy lope. They went to the top of a small hill where Scott reined in again. Across a large meadow was a rushing creek with a high bank beyond. The creek tumbled over rocks and pooled in the flats. The trail he was looking for was on the far side; it wound up through the rocks and stunted trees. He’d misjudged his path across the open land. Here the creek was rocky and too swiftly flowing to cross, the far bank too high to climb. He needed to go south along it to a ford.
He laid the rein against the horse’s neck and turned his head south. Then stopped and looked back north at the creek. Something had caught his eye; something unexpected, out of place; something red.
Teresa kicked and screamed with every ounce of strength she had in her. She swung her arms wildly, twice connecting hard enough with the man’s gut that he grunted in pain. She broke away and ran towards her horse. The bull-like man caught her by the long braid of hair and jerked her back. He held her tight; nearly crushing the breath out of her.
“Gag that hellion!” ordered Harris.
The scarred man stuffed her mouth with a dirty bandana. He took a length of rope and tied her hands behind her back with it. As he did so he said calmly, “I don’t think you hit him.”
“Of course I hit him,” snapped Harris. He was standing at the edge, looking down. “Sides, it don’t matter, he’s face down in the stream now. If he ain’t dead yet those rocks downstream will tear him to pieces.”
Teresa stamped down hard on the foot of the man holding her. He spun her around and slapped her across the face; making her ears ring. “What’re we doing with her?”
“What do you think?” asked the man who tied her hands. He leered making his scarred face more grotesque.
“Now, hold on a minute,” said Harris, turning back towards them. “We’ll get to that. First we need to do a little thinking about our stroke of good fortune- Johnny Madrid dead and this sweet thing to dicker with.”
“You think old man Lancer’ll pay to get her back?”
“Too bad for her if he don’t. Let’s get on back to camp,” Harris said, walking over to Barranca who sidestepped away from him. “That’s a mighty fine animal.”
The bull pulled Teresa towards his horse; she still fought him but she knew it was a losing battle. Teresa was terrified more for Johnny than for herself. She kept looking towards the edge he’d gone over. She heard Barranca snort and turned her head to see the horse rear up and kick out at the man Harris.
Harris reached for the reins.
Barranca kicked out one more time then took off. Teresa’s mare took off after her field mate. Teresa felt a spark of hope she couldn’t explain as the horses disappeared down the trail, back towards Lancer.
Harris cursed, “That animal is as crazy as Madrid. Get that girl up on the horse.”
It was instinct that made Johnny step backwards over the cliff. Something in Harris’s face or voice warned him.
He fell hard into water just deep enough to cushion his fall. The impact took his breath and he gulped cold water. It took everything in him to lie face down and float when he bobbed to the surface; his lungs feeling like they were on fire with the need for air. He knew the gun heads would be looking at him from above. He could be shot like a fish in a barrel.
There was one thought in his head. He had to get back to Teresa while there was still time. He had to get back to her before they hurt her.
The swift flowing water pulled him on. He attempted to get his feet under him but the current was too strong, it flipped him over. He knew in a couple of hundred yards there was a drop of at least twelve feet on to the rocks below.
He reached out, desperately grasping for something, anything to slow his passage. Finally, he came up against a rock. He held on for dear life and struggled to catch his breath, to not take in more water. The bank was a cliff on that side. If he could just get across he could climb out on the western bank, but knowing how strong the current was he doubted he could make it across before it swept him over the drop now just fifty yards away.
He lifted his head. He heard something over the sound of the rushing water.
Long before he was close enough to see it clearly, Scott was certain the splash of red in the creek was the shirt his brother had been wearing that morning. He rode steadily towards it; fighting a sense of dread.
This bloody day he thought, then chided himself for being superstitious. It was only a date, a box on a calendar. It had no special power. That something good would happen was just as likely as something horrible.
Somehow he couldn’t quite believe his own reasoning.
The bay stopped of its own accord when they reached the west bank of the creek. For a sickening moment Scott was sure he was looking at his brother’s body snagged on a rock on the opposite bank.
No, no, no, I can’t lose him. No god could be that cruel. I’ve just found him.
Franticly he shouted his brother’s name.
Johnny turned his head.
Relief flooded Scott making him so dizzy he caught the pommel to keep from falling off the horse. Immediately he squared his shoulders and set his feelings aside. There was one way to get Johnny out of the creek. It would take all of his concentration.
He detached the coil of rope from his saddle; inspected the loop at the end pulling it out so it was more than large enough to settle over a man’s shoulders. Johnny was only twenty feet away. For any of the vaqueros it would be an easy toss in spite of the rushing water. For Scott, it would take all of his newly acquired skill with the lasso.
Steady on, soldier, steady on.
He closed his eyes when he let the rope fly.
Johnny watched the loop of rope sail across the water. On a direct line but a bit too far it went over his head; hit the high bank; slid down to him. He reached for the heavy rope, twisting it around his arm. He lost hold of the rock and the current swept him downstream. He grabbed the rope with his other hand. He felt his arms being nearly pulled from their sockets as the slack in the rope was taken up; then he was being pulled to the opposite bank.
“Back, back,” Scott ordered the horse as he secured the end of the rope around the saddle horn. He saw Johnny struggle to keep hold of the slippery rope as the strength of the horse pulled him through the water.
“Stand!” cried Scott as he jumped from the horse and scrambled to where his brother was lying gasping for breath on the low bank of the creek. Scott fell to his knees and dragged Johnny out of the creek. He slapped him sharply between the shoulder blades.
Johnny coughed, retched and gasped.
“Easy, easy, easy,” whispered Scott. “Just breathe, brother, just breathe.”
Scott dragged Johnny farther up the bank letting out his own breath in a prayer of thanks . Then he carefully unwound the coarse, sodden rope from Johnny’s hands and arms.
“Teresa!” gasped Johnny, twisting out of his brother’s arms, “she’s-”
Scott fell back against the thick grass of the creek bank. He knew his worst fears were about to be confirmed. He clamped his hand on Johnny’s shoulder and said, “Slow down.”
“They’ve got her,” croaked Johnny. His blue eyes were bright with anger and fear.
Scott swallowed hard. He spoke carefully and calmly, hiding his churning emotions. It was a voice those who had served with him in the cavalry would recognize. “Catch your breath and tell me what happened.”
Johnny told him what had happened in the clearing, ending with, “I just left her with them. I couldn’t-”
“Johnny,” said Scott sharply, taking his younger brother’s chin in his hand and forcing him to look at him. “It wouldn’t have helped Teresa for you to have gotten yourself killed.”
“But, Scott, they’ll-”
“I know,” said Scott in a deadly cold voice. “We’re going to get her back.”
He stood; reached his hand out to pull Johnny to his feet. He looked west towards the hacienda. They were over an hour’s ride from the ranch house; more riding double. The practical thing to do was go back to the ranch and get help. But every minute Teresa was in the clutches of those men put her in more danger.
Scott’s bay, which had been standing patiently, suddenly raised its head and nickered. From across the creek came an answering call.
Droplets of water flew and sparkled as Johnny whipped his head around. “Barranca!”
On the high bank the big palomino stood angrily pawing the ground.
“Come on,” said Scott, pulling at Johnny’s arm. “We’ll lead him down to the crossing.”
Scott mounted and Johnny scrambled up behind him. They rode south along the creek. Barranca matched them on the other side; Teresa’s mare following along behind. Johnny glanced at the water spilling over the cut in the rocks to crash in foaming spray to the creek bed below and swallowed hard. When the riders reached the crossing, the palomino was already on the west side of the creek trotting towards them.
Johnny jumped down and ran to the golden horse. He rested his forehead against the broad face and whispered, “Hey, amigo.” He looked around and saw Scott with Teresa’s mare. “What’re you doing?”
“Taking the reins off,” answered his brother. “Easy, Brigit, there’s a good girl. She may follow us or she may go back to the ranch. I don’t want to take a chance she’ll get tangled in the reins.”
Johnny noted that the decision had been made. They were in agreement. They would go after Teresa now. Johnny felt a cold shiver run through him that had nothing to do with his wet clothes.
“Do you think they would take her to Morro Coyo?” Scott asked, glancing at the steep trail on the other side of the creek.
“Maybe, but it’s a small place and everyone knows Teresa. It would be hard to hide her there. Harris, the fellow I recognized, said something about her being worth something to somebody. I reckon he means to ransom her back to Murdoch.”
Scott nodded. He hoped that meant the kidnappers intended to keep her alive. He knew it didn’t mean they wouldn’t hurt her. Quickly he told Johnny what the ranch hand had overheard in Green River. Then he said, “They are what’s left of Pardee’s gang, aren’t they?”
“Pardee’s old camp was in a narrow canyon just the other side of that ridge.” Scott was standing with his hands on his narrow hips, looking up at the rough hillside to the east.
Johnny’s eyes followed his brother’s gaze. Frowning, he asked, “How do you know that?”
“Murdoch knew all along where the camp was. A couple of the hands came across it at least a month before we got here. There just weren’t enough of the vaqueros by then to attack it. I saw it from the rocks above the night before the attack. It is in a good spot; pure luck our men stumbled across it. This fellow Harris wouldn’t know we discovered it. If I were him I’d go there.”
Johnny pushed the resentment he felt away. His father hadn’t trusted him during the fight with the land pirates. He knew nothing about the location of the camp. Scott was the one Murdoch had had faith in.
“There’s a short cut; the path Cipriano showed me,” said Scott, catching his horse’s reins. He set his foot in the stirrup; with a small hop he swung his right leg over the horse’s back. “If they aren’t there, we can push on to Morro Coyo.”
Johnny nodded. It was as good a plan as any.
“Here.” Scott leaned down and held his revolver out to him. “I’m better off with the Winchester anyway.”
Johnny took the gun, tested its weight. It was lighter, not as well balanced as his own. It felt foreign in his hand. He checked the chambers and put the gun in his holster.
He took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. Johnny realized suddenly that whether or not he, Scott and Murdoch ever became a real family, he already felt Teresa was his little sister. He knew that he would try to rescue any woman from what the outlaws would do to her, but that it was Teresa who was in danger made him sick with fear. That fear could make him reckless, stupid. When he looked up it was with the cold eyes and impassive face of Madrid.
He glanced at his brother and realized that Scott too had an other self. It was Lt. Lancer sitting on the horse with his shoulders squared, his jaw set and his gaze steady.
Hauled roughly from the horse where she’d hung head down across the saddle for the ride up the trail,Teresa was dropped on to the ground. She folded herself into a ball. Her booted-feet were bound together; her hands were tied behind her back. The bandana was still stuffed in her mouth. Her hair had come loose from the braid; it fell in a wild dark mass around her head and shoulders.
Using all her strength she rocked herself into a seated position. Cautiously she raised her head and took in her surroundings. They were in a small canyon created by a wide shallow stream. One of the men, the tall one with the scarred face, had started a fire; another was opening a can with a jackknife; the man called Harris was filling a dented coffee pot with water at the edge of the stream.
She could hear them gloating over Johnny’s death and arguing over who would get her first. Teresa felt bile rising from her stomach. She had to keep it down. With the gag in her mouth she would choke on it.
She tried to pray but the only words forming in her head were, Please, please God, let Johnny have survived the fall. Let him be all right.
When she let herself think of her own predicament, she was too afraid to do anything but shake. She wanted her father. These men were part of the gang that had taken him from her and as much as she feared them-she hated them more.
Now, little fairy, never was there a problem without a solution. You just have to look for it. Take one step at a time.
Her father’s voice was clear and gentle in her mind. He’d said it hundreds of times. Every problem had a solution he would tell her anytime she was faced with a dilemma. Her dilemmas had always been so minor.
A solution? To this? To being hogtied and waiting to be raped? There was nothing else to do but follow the old advice. She was in danger, she was a prisoner, but the immediate problem was that she was tied up. It made her helpless. She shifted her hands, testing the knot. It was strong. The rope was thick and felt new. The loop around her slender wrist was stiff, almost like a bangle type of bracelet. If she could just twist her hand properly she might be able to slip it loose. Tears welled in her dark eyes as the rope cut into her skin. The trickle of blood made her wrist slippery, after much effort she managed to wiggle her right hand free.
The three men were playing cards. They were gambling for her, the winner would take her first.
Harris was watching her while he played. Teresa wanted to untie her feet but she knew she wouldn’t be fast enough. If she was caught, all her effort in getting her hand free would be wasted.
The sun had dipped below the canyon wall. She was in a deep shadow. She risked shifting her legs about. Because they’d been making soap that morning, she was wearing an old pair of boots. The uppers were soft, stretched out of shape. If she could just catch the heel of one with the other she might be able to push it off. She worked carefully, slowly. Watching the men around the fire; they were passing a bottle back and forth now.
She got her left foot into the uppers of the boot; the rope went slack as she did so. She was almost loose, when she moved she’d have to leave her left boot behind, but at least she could move. If they got a little drunker, once it was a little darker, maybe she could move slowly away into the shadows.
She knew it was a desperate plan.
Her shoulders ached with the effort of keeping her hands behind her. She stretched out her fingers trying to relieve some of the tension. The fingers of her right hand brushed against a stick. It was about an inch and a half around. One end had a jagged point. She pulled it to her and pressed it against her back.
She heard one of the men curse and another one laugh. The light of the fire was blocked out by the bull-like man standing and turning towards her.
“It is your lucky day, girl, you’re gonna get a taste of a real man tonight,” he said in a voice made harsh by smoke and cheap whiskey.
He was coming towards her, chuckling. She watched him. She couldn’t breathe; bile rose in her throat. She could smell sweat and whiskey. He was leaning over her; reaching for her.
Teresa pulled her left foot out of her boot and kicked up hard.
The man stumbled backwards, grunting; clutching his crotch.
The other two men jumped up. They were laughing. It was the ugliest sound she had ever heard.
“You little bitch!” roared the man. He charged towards her.
Teresa pulled the stick from behind her back. She held it straight in front of her as she scooted backwards.
He kept coming.
She thrust the stick up and forward with both hands.
There was a horrible scream.
She lost her grip on the stick.
He reared up, his hands on his face, the stick protruding from his left eye.
Teresa stared at him in disbelief and terror.
From what seemed a great distance she heard shouts and gunfire.
The man fell very slowly to the ground.
Another man was coming towards her. She scrambled backwards; her heart beating so fast and hard she could hear nothing else. Hands reached for her. He pulled her up into his arms and pressed her head to his shoulder. She struggled against him.
“Teresa, muchachita,” said a gentle voice. “It’s me; it’s Johnny. You’re safe now. You’re safe.”
Teresa clawed at her mouth; trying to get the gag out. The heavy rope trailed from her left hand.
Johnny realized what she was doing. He carefully pulled the sodden bandana out.
Clinging to him she cried, “I thought you were dead. They said you were dead.”
“Hey, now, I told you I’d never go anywhere without telling you good-bye.”
“Johnny, oh, Johnny,” she said with a half hysterical laugh, her fingers twisted in the fabric of his shirt.
“Johnny, is she-” Scott’s voice faltered. He gulped and shouted, “Is she hurt?”
“See, honey, Scott’s here; I’m here. Everything is going to be all right now.” Johnny swallowed hard and asked, “Are you hurt?”
Teresa shook her head. She turned to look for Scott and caught sight of the man lying at their feet with the stick protruding from his eye. Her knees gave way. Johnny took her weight.
“I killed him,” she gasped in horror.
“No, Teresa. Look at me!”
Scott was standing beside them now. He reached out and turned her face away from the ground to look at him. Carefully he pushed her wild, dark hair away from her eyes; wincing when he saw the bruise darkening her cheek.
“Listen to me,” he said, his voice low and firm. “I killed him. I shot him with the rifle. You heard the shot, didn’t you? Do you hear me? I killed him. Not you.”
Teresa was shaking. She stared at Scott with huge, frightened eyes. She tried to nod but she couldn’t manage it. She’d only wanted to stop the man, to get away. She understood that she was safe now. She knew Johnny and Scott would take care of her, they would take her home. She knew she was no longer in danger and yet somehow, now she was more frightened, more sick to her stomach with fear and revulsion than she had been while she was tied up. She took a deep breath and tried again to nod at Scott.
“You did everything right, Teresa. Do you hear me?” Scott caressed her cheek with his thumb as he spoke. “Everything you did was exactly what you needed to do.”
Teresa quieted under his touch.
Scott smoothed the tangled hair away from Teresa’s face. Johnny, standing behind her, divided it into three sections. He braided it loosely and secured the ends with a short length of rawhide he’d had in a pocket. Teresa stood still and silent.
“Hold on to her. Keep her warm,” Scott ordered Johnny as he turned back to the scene around them.
Johnny took the ropes off her wrist and her ankle. He looked about for her boot, found it and carefully pulled it back over her foot. The sun had set. The dry air cooled quickly. Scott had said to keep her warm but somehow he knew she would not want the blanket or coat of one of her abductors wrapped around her. There was a blanket tied behind his saddle. He didn’t want to leave Teresa long enough to retrieve it. So Johnny put his arms around her again and pressed Teresa’s head against his shoulder. He whispered over and over, in English and in Spanish, that she was safe; they were going to take her home. Over her head he watched his brother systematically go through the camp.
Scott checked each of the men for a pulse; there were none. He collected rifles and handguns as he went. He kicked dirt over the fire, putting it out. Then he went to the outlaws’ horses; unsaddled and turned them loose.
Johnny smiled slightly. Lt. Lancer, cavalryman, always thinking of the horses.
Scott collected his horse and Barranca, Teresa’s mare still following behind. He led them over to where Johnny stood with a very silent Teresa pressed against his chest. Teresa seeing her mare, stepped out of Johnny’s embrace. She reached out to wrap her arms around Brigit’s neck and rested her head against the horse.
“What about them?” asked Johnny with a slight dip of his chin.
“I’ll bring some hands out tomorrow and bury what’s left of them,” said Scott as he mounted his horse. His voice was calm and even as if he were speaking of post holes that had to be dug. “Pass her up.”
“I can ride, Scott,” said Teresa in a small tired voice. She did not resist when Johnny picked her up and Scott leaned over to pull her in front of him.
“Of course you can,” he said as he settled her with one knee hooked around the saddle horn. “This is for me. I’m afraid of the dark.”
Teresa tried to laugh, to let him know she appreciated his efforts. But she couldn’t. All she could do was sit stiffly, her hands wrapped around the saddle horn.
Johnny found his revolver among the guns Scott had collected. He untied the blanket from his saddle and handed it to Scott, who arranged it around a motionless Teresa. Johnny mounted Barranca, sparing one more look down at Harris and the other men. By morning, the coyotes and the buzzards would have gotten to them. He turned Barranca to follow Scott down the narrow pass.
It was a long slow ride back to the hacienda. Teresa sat quiet and still within the circle of Scott’s arms. She anxiously asked several times if Brigit was following. Scott reined up each time, letting the mare come up to them so that Teresa could see her. Johnny rode ahead, alert to any trouble. But the night was quiet; moonlit. Nothing could have been more peaceful.
Scott started to softly sing Green Grow the Rashes, the old song he and Johnny had sung to the cattle during the roundup. He did not remember that Miguel had said Teresa’s father used to sing it to her. He just wanted to banish the silence; to fill it with something other than thoughts of what would have happened if they had not found her when they did. Johnny sang with him.
Teresa remembered the song. Their voices sounded much as her father’s and the patrón’s had sounded when they’d sung it to the cattle. She should tell them that. But it was too hard to form the words. She was so very tired, but she was afraid to close her eyes.
“It looks like we’re having a party,” said Johnny when the hacienda came in sight. There was light in the great room windows, torches in the tower and on the main gate. They could see it from miles away.
“The old man must be frantic by now,” said Scott, softly. Teresa had finally started to relax against him. He was careful not to startle her. “Maybe you should ride ahead. Tell him what happened.”
“Almost home, hermanicita,” Johnny called as he spurred Barranca into a full out gallop.
Murdoch was having a hellish evening. He knew chances were good that nothing untoward had happened either to Johnny or to Teresa. There was no reason to think that whatever plan Pardee’s men had they would have put it into action that day. No reason to think that Johnny would have run into them before Scott could warn him. No reason to think that Teresa would have come to any harm; she was a good rider and knew the land. Scott would have caught up with her long before dark.
The careful reasoning did not help. Murdoch could not shake the feeling that his children were in danger.
He’d posted extra guards at the gates and had a man in the tower. Everyone knew something was wrong. The trouble with the land pirates was recent; wounds had not yet healed. Even the women and children were staying close to the main house anxious for some news.
He was standing by the big window in the great room, watching the dark land. His solitary dinner still on the table; barely touched. He held a cold cup of coffee.
Cipriano’s son Mateo ran into the room, “It is Señor Johnny. He’s coming!” shouted the boy, breathing hard.
Murdoch snatched up his walking stick and limped as quickly as he was able to the front of the house. Johnny was just pulling Barranca to a halt by the hitching post.
“Johnny! Son, are you all right?” cried Murdoch, reaching out to clamp his huge hand over Johnny’s knee. He had to touch his boy. “Where’s Teresa? Where’s your brother?”
“They’re all right. They’re right behind me,” said Johnny quickly. He looked down at his father’s haggard face. Teresa was right. Murdoch had been afraid for him as well as for her. Whether he was willing to show it or not, Murdoch Lancer was a father who loved his children.
“What happened?” asked Murdoch. He knew something had happened; that there was a reason Johnny had ridden ahead.
Johnny swung his leg over and slid down from Barranca. Mateo jumped forward to take the horse from him. Johnny looked up at his father and said, “She’s all right, really she is but-”
Johnny related the day’s events as quickly as he could. As he spoke, the color drained out of his father’s face. Once he was done he spoke in rapid Spanish to Maria and Abuela Mariah who were standing in the doorway. He knew they would be the ones to care for Teresa.
Murdoch limped out of the circle of light cast by the torches attached to the veranda pillars. He strained to hear the hoof beats of Scott’s horse. Johnny said Teresa was not hurt, only frightened. Murdoch wanted to believe him, but he knew that he couldn’t until he saw her for himself.
There was a shout from the man by the arch; a moment later Murdoch could see and hear the bay walking towards the house; Teresa’s mare following behind. Scott halted the horse when he saw his father.
“We’re home, sweetheart,” said Scott gently into her ear. “Do you see? There’s Murdoch. You’re safe now. Very safe.”
Scott saw the fear on his father’s face. It reminded him of when Pardee shot Johnny and Murdoch had looked so shattered. His father was capable of love- at least for Johnny and Teresa.
Murdoch stepped up to the horse. He reached for Teresa. She slid down into his waiting arms.
“Patrón, please, I want my dad, I want Daddy,” she said and for the first time began to cry; with great gulping sobs.
“Yes, darling, I know. I know,” he said as he cradled her against his chest.
“Sir,” said Scott sharply. “Your back!”
“I’ll take her up,” said Johnny, reaching out to take Teresa from his father.
Murdoch shook his head and turned towards the house, whispering gently to her. He made his way slowly into the house. His sons watched him; neither tried again to relieve him of his burden. Johnny followed close behind in case he was needed.
Scott dismounted; he pulled his rifle from the scabbard. All that had happened since he’d put the Winchester into the scabbard that afternoon went through his mind. He felt a mix of emotions. Thankfulness was the strongest; Johnny and Teresa both could so easily have died that afternoon. They hadn’t.
Carlos stepped forward to take the reins of the bay. The boy’s face was troubled; his gaze straying to the door Murdoch had carried Teresa through. Scott knew Carlos had known Teresa all her life; he was one of those she’d played with as a child.
“Give him a scoop of oats; I’ve used him hard today,” said Scott, patting the horse’s sweaty neck.
“That blanket belongs on Johnny’s saddle,” said Scott as he shoved his hat back and rubbed his forehead. “Be sure to check the horses’ hooves.”
“I will, Señor Scott.”
Scott realized he was telling Carlos how to do what he’d been doing since he could reach a horse’s back with a curry comb. He shook his head. He looked around and saw there were other people gathered at the front of the house; there was a whisper of unease. Half of them wouldn’t understand him if he told them Teresa was uninjured.
Carlos had been leading Scott and Teresa’s horses towards the barn. He turned back, answering, “Si, señor?”
“Teresa is all right,” said Scott, speaking not to Carlos but to those standing in the yard. “She’s had a bad scare but she isn’t hurt. She will be all right.”
“Bueno, señor, gracias.”
As he slowly turned to go into the house, Scott heard the young man talking to the others as he led the horses to the barn.
He’d heard his father say “Lancer takes care of its own”. It had seemed an odd, arrogant statement coming from the man who had effectively abandoned him as a child. Now he realized that Lancer was more than Murdoch; more than three strangers who shared the same name. Lancer was these people and Teresa was one of their own.
Maria went ahead of Murdoch with a candle to light his way. He walked up the stairs awkwardly favoring his left leg; carrying Teresa against his chest as he had when she was little. He knew when he reached her room he would have to give her into the care of the women. He did not want to let her go. A thousand memories had come into his thoughts throughout the long hours he’d waited for his children to come home. Ordinary memories anyone who lived with a child would have; first steps, first time she rode a horse by herself, tearful good-byes when they left her at school, the way she would run out of the house to throw herself into her father’s arms when he came home from a cattle drive; the memories he had been privileged to share with Paul O’Brien because by rights they were a father’s memories. Of his own children, Murdoch had few such memories of Johnny and only one of Scott.
Teresa clung to Murdoch, her face buried in his shoulder. Her body shook with sobs. Somewhere in her mind was her own voice telling her to stop being a ninny; there was nothing to cry about now that she was safe at home. But the tears wouldn’t stop, nor would the ache for her father.
Johnny had followed his father up the stairs and watched him carry Teresa down the hall to her room. He heard the señoras speaking to her in comforting Spanish. It was then that he let his breath out; not having realized he was holding it; then that his shoulders relaxed and he realized he was hungry.
Downstairs in the great room he found a platter of seasoned, shredded beef and a basket of warm tortillas on the long dining table. He said a word of thanks for whoever had thought of his stomach before he had as he piled the beef onto a tortilla and folded it expertly.
A noise in the foyer drew his attention. He walked towards it, taking a bite of his supper as he went. There was a lantern burning on a small table next to the front door. It threw enough light for Johnny to see his brother.
Scott returned his rifle to the gun rack, unbuckled the heavy gun belt and hung it on a peg. He took his hat off and held it in his hands. He stood staring into space, a frown puckering his forehead. After a minute he looked at the hat in his hands as if he were a little surprised to still be holding it. Slowly he hung it on a rack between Murdoch’s hat and Johnny’s.
Johnny watched as Scott walked into the room. He made his way to the long sofa and sank down onto it. His elbows on his knees, he dropped his head into his hands; his shoulders sagging. He hadn’t said a word. Johnny thought Scott might be so preoccupied with his thoughts he had not realized Johnny was in the room.
Johnny figured that Scott had to be as hungry as he was so he went back to the table to fill another tortilla. He went to his brother and waved the plate under Scott’s nose.
Scott looked up, frowning. “What’s that?”
“Supper. Eat,” ordered Johnny, thrusting the plate into Scott’s hands. “The señoras will take care of Teresa. She’s safe now.”
Scott took the plate; the aroma of chilies and beef making his mouth water. He realized he was hungry, starving. He took a big bite and chewed appreciatively.
Johnny retrieved his own dinner then joined his brother on the sofa. He sat down with a sigh. “You did it again. It’s getting to be a bad habit.”
Scott turned his head slowly and raised a questioning eyebrow. “I have lots of bad habits; to which are you referring?”
“Coming after me.”
“Oh, I see,” responded Scott suppressing the urge to smirk. He had not forgotten that it was his callous remark that had started the chain of events that led to both Johnny and Teresa being in harm’s way. Mildly he said, “I suppose you had a plan for getting out of that creek.”
“I’d have thought of something,” said Johnny with a cheeky grin.
Scott laughed. He probably would have. It seemed to Scott that Johnny’s life had been one perilous situation after another. Johnny would not have survived if he weren’t resourceful. There was a part of him that wanted to say I’m sorry I wasn’t there all those times you could have used a hand, brother. He didn’t say anything. He wasn’t sure how things stood between the two of them after their argument earlier in the day.
“Do you really think your shot killed that fellow?” asked Johnny curiously. “That stick was deep in his head.”
“No,” Scott shook his head and swallowed what he was chewing. “My shot hit him high on the right shoulder and went through his neck but he was already dead when it hit him. Did you see what she did?”
“Yeah, she stuck that stick in his eye.”
“Before that?” Johnny frowned and shook his head. “From where I was I could see the campfire; the three of them playing cards.”
Johnny paused. He glanced at Scott and knew from the look on his face that his brother had come to the same conclusion he had. The only reason those men would be taking the time to play cards while a girl sat captive a few yards away was that they were gambling for who would have her first. Worst of all was the knowledge that Teresa might have realized exactly what was happening.
“I couldn’t see Teresa. I checked to be sure you were up on the rocks. It was a little dark but I saw a glint of metal, the rifle barrel most likely. When I looked back that fellow was walking away from the fire. I was gonna shout for them to throw their guns down when I heard him roar like a wounded mountain lion—what did she do?”
“She kicked him.”
Johnny’s blue eyes widened.
Scott nodded. “Yes, there.”
“Well done, hermanicita.”
“What’s that mean-hermanicita?” asked Scott mangling the pronunciation. “I heard you call her that when we were riding in.”
“Umm. . . little sister.” Johnny’s forehead creased in a slight frown. “I didn’t think about it. It just seems like what I ought to call her.”
“Yes, it is.” The ghost of a smile passed over his face then Scott went on with his narrative. “The fellow was howling with pain. I had him in my sights when he lunged towards her. I saw the stick in her hand. His momentum forward must have been the reason it went in far enough to kill him. I don’t think she has the strength to push it in that far. He reared back just as I shot, but I’m sure he was dead before I hit him.”
Johnny looked closely at his brother; his blue eyes narrowed. “So why’d you say your shot killed him?”
Scott took a deep breath in and let it out slowly. Scott believed in the rule of law. He would have preferred to have taken those men to the law and seen them tried for their crimes. But that was never a viable choice; not once the winner of the poker game started towards Teresa.
At the time he saw the deaths of those men, as he had seen deaths on the battlefield, as unavoidable. He was quite sure that he had killed good men in the heat of battle during the war- that was part of the nature of war, a part that even now he had not completely come to terms with. Though these had not been good men Scott was not comfortable with appointing himself judge, jury and executioner. And yet there had been nothing else to do; protecting Teresa was what mattered.
“When she saw that fellow lying on the ground with the stick in his eye she looked so horrified. She sounded so scared and sick when she said, ‘I killed him.’ I said the first thing that came into my head. I wanted to somehow make it just a little less horrible for her. ”
“Don’t misunderstand,” said Scott quickly, he put his hand on Johnny’s arm. “I am deeply thankful Teresa fought back. So many people shut down if they’re under the threat of that kind of violence, especially women. They just don’t know what to do and they give up. Teresa is a fighter, a survivor; she kept thinking, she kept fighting. But she is so young, knowing that she killed a man-” Scott shook his head again, uncertain how to explain his feelings.
Johnny nodded. In spite of his reputation, he knew that he had never killed a man who hadn’t been intent on killing him. Even so, each of those deaths had taken something from him. Something he would not want Teresa to lose.
“She might figure it out; if she thinks about it.”
“I don’t suppose there is any way for her not to think about it. If she asks me again, I’ll tell her the truth. I don’t want her wondering about it; better she knows. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe it would have been better for her to face it then. Damn, I don’t know. I hate it. I hate that she even has to know men can be so evil,” said Scott vehemently, his hands clenched into fists. He stood in one quick motion and paced the length of the room.
Scott was lost in the turmoil of his own thoughts. He didn’t know even to whom to report the events of the day. Where was the law? They had killed three men, justifiably so, but shouldn’t they at least have to give some account to someone in authority? California was a state of the Union he and others had fought so hard to preserve. Good decent men like Willy died for the cause; the United States-the new civilization built on the rule of law. This bloody day could have been straight out of Homer or a Shakespearean tragedy.
“I should never have left her.” Johnny said, feeling his food to turn to a lump in his stomach. “There must’ve been something I could have done.”
The change in Johnny’s voice caught Scott’s attention, the Madrid coolness was gone. He stopped pacing and turned to him, saying, “Don’t do that, Johnny. You made the best choice you could have under the circumstances.”
“But I just-”
“Let your instincts save your life,” his brother finished for him. “Johnny, you’d have been no help to her at all if you’d been killed. Besides, if you’re to blame for her being taken, then I’m to blame as well.”
“What?” exclaimed Johnny, looking up, his blue eyes bright. “What’d you have to do with it?”
“It was my fault you rode off like that; my fault that Teresa felt she had to follow you,” said Scott with deliberate calm. “But we aren’t the ones who wanted to hurt her. Those men, they came here intent on doing harm; they were the ones who could look at that delightful girl, little more than a child, and want to hurt her. They are the only ones to blame, not me, and most certainly not you.”
“I never hurt a woman or a child; I’ve done a lot of bad things; but never that.”
The only light in the room was the candelabra on the table; it threw strange shadows. Scott could not discern the expression on Johnny’s face. But his brother’s voice told him much; Johnny sounded a little anxious and young.
“Johnny, I’m not going to pretend that I know what your life was like after you lost your mother. But I do know that you were a kid on your own trying to make your way. A boy, a soldier, a girl like Teresa, we do what we have to in order to survive,” said Scott in a low voice; battlefield memories suddenly flooded his mind; he tried to push them away. “I’ve never seen you as one of those men.”
“But I was one of them,” responded Johnny. His voice had changed again. Now it was harsh with unflinching honesty. “I worked with Day Pardee in Texas and down along the border. Sometimes we were on the side of decent people,but range wars and the like, there aren’t that many decent people around. Women and children, I wouldn’t hurt them. I would never rape a woman, never.”
“I know that, Johnny” insisted Scott. There were times when Scott felt like he could reach his brother; that they could understand each other. But when Johnny wrapped himself in the mantle of Madrid he felt his words were useless.
“You say that but how could you know?” stated the younger brother bluntly. “We’re just a pair of strangers who share a father.”
Murdoch’s words from earlier in the day came back to Scott: underneath all that bravado is a very young man, a boy in many ways. A strong, smart, brave young man, thought Scott. What could he say that would penetrate the coolness of Madrid? What could he say that would make them a little less strangers?
“Yes, but I’m a good judge of character,” said Scott slowly. Then he forced a grimace and shrugged his broad shoulders. “All right, I admit when you let those fellows beat the tar out of me I had some doubts about you”
Caught off guard Johnny grinned. “I thought for a long time Teresa wasn’t going to forgive me for that. She was some mad.”
“She wasn’t very happy with me for sucker punching you,” said Scott with a fleeting smile. “She’s right; I’d much rather fight beside you, brother, than against you.”
Scott turned towards the foyer; he heard his father’s uneven tread on the stairs. Johnny stood and walked over to Scott, he too was watching the archway. When Murdoch came into the room his sons were standing side by side. The physical differences between them were striking in the flickering light of the room. Scott was tall and thin, his fair hair gleaming slightly in the candlelight; while Johnny was darker, shorter, more powerfully built. It seemed oddly important to him that they were so close together, as if it meant they had closed some other kind of distance between them.
“They’re giving her a bath and getting her ready for bed,” he said, telling them what he was sure they wanted to know. “Once she’s settled, I’ll go up and sit with her.”
“Has she spoken at all, sir?” asked Scott. It was a simple question but it took effort to ask it of his father without showing the turmoil he felt inside.
Murdoch shook his head. “Very little. She wants her father for whom I am a poor substitute. She did have a good hard cry. Mariah claims that is the best thing for her.” He looked from one to the other, his voice sharper. “You’re sure-”
Johnny cut him off, “We’re sure. It was a near thing, but we were in time. She fought hard and she was smart about it. She never gave up. You ought to be proud of her.”
Murdoch closed his eyes for a moment. He thought of the young farmer’s wife they had found dead and violated in her own kitchen a few months back. The men who had taken Teresa were part of the gang that had killed that poor girl. Softly he said, “I’m always proud of her.”
Then he opened his eyes and looked straight into Johnny’s saying. “Although I have no right to take any credit, I am proud of all my children.” His gaze shifted to Scott. He prayed that he didn’t imagine the slight softening he saw in his elder son’s blue-grey eyes, eyes so like his mother’s.
Scott would have to think about what those words meant later. “You didn’t hurt your back, did you, sir?” he asked, aware that his father was standing awkwardly; his weight shifted to the right.
His back did ache and his bum leg felt numb but Murdoch smiled, “No. She is really very small, isn’t she? No burden at all.”
“She’s got a big heart; room for all -” Johnny ducked his head, embarrassed that both his father and brother were watching him; curious about what he would say. He took a breath, stood a little straighter and looked at them. “There’s room for all of us in her heart.”
“Indeed there is,” said Murdoch rather gruffly.
Scott sat down and once more rested his elbows on his knees and let his head drop. It was a sentimental thing to have said. Not exactly what Scott would have expected from the tough, cynical Johnny Madrid. But perhaps just what a brother would say about his little sister.
They fell quiet. Murdoch limped to his desk and sat down in his favorite chair. He shifted some papers but barely noticed it was too dark to see what was written on them. Finally he sat back in the chair with his huge hands resting on his belly. He looked towards the archway to the stairs and willed Maria to come down to tell him he could go up and sit with Teresa.
Johnny gathered the plates he and Scott had used and took them back to the table. There was a pitcher of buttermilk on the table. He poured himself a glass. While he drank it, he looked thoughtfully at his brother in the shifting light of the candles. Teresa told him she thought he should ask Scott what was wrong today. He wasn’t sure it still mattered, but maybe if he at least tried to ask Scott it would please her. Just now he’d do anything that would please her.
“About that, ah . . .” he began slowly, looking down, tracing the design on the tablecloth with his index finger, “that disagreement we-”
At the sound of Johnny’s voice Murdoch shifted his gaze to his sons. He saw Scott stand quickly, his shoulders squared purposefully. Murdoch stayed very quiet, hoping they would forget he was there; hoping to hear them really talk to each other.
“I was a complete bastard today, Johnny. You have my apology.”
Johnny looked up. He was surprised to see Scott on his feet walking towards him, his hand outstretched. For a moment Johnny looked at his brother’s strong, long-fingered hand; then he took it and shook it firmly.
“I won’t make excuses,” began Scott slowly, his voice low and firm. “I was wrong. There is something I would appreciate being able to talk to you about, it might explain a little.”
Johnny watched Scott’s face. What the change was he wasn’t quite sure. He just knew that Scott was taking a chance. He’d done it before - the morning they’d watched the sunrise together. He was allowing Johnny a glimpse at what he normally held in.
“Sure, Scott,” said Johnny a little taken aback that Scott was going to tell him what was really wrong today.
Scott paced for a moment in front of the cold fireplace. “Have you ever heard of Vicksburg?”
Johnny nodded. “It was a battle, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, a siege of a small city in Mississippi. It went on for weeks. It was the first action I saw. There was a great loss of life on both sides. One of those killed was a friend-well . . . much more than a friend. Actually he was a cousin, a second cousin, his grandfather and mine were brothers. But to me Willy was more like an older brother, someone to look up to, someone to emulate. He was my hero for as long as I can remember. You see, he lived with us in Boston while he was at school; I knew him well. He was much older than me and regular army, a real soldier - he’d gone to West Point. The truth is, my grandfather used family connections to have me sent to Willy’s unit. I suppose he was hoping Willy could look out for me. And he did. He taught me how to be soldier.” Scott paused and started pacing again. He walked to the large window and stared out into the night.
Johnny waited. Not saying a word.
In the dark shadow at the edge of the room, Murdoch remembered a little boy dressed in blue velvet knickers. Blue-eyed with blond hair curling softly around his face. It could have been his one memory of Scott as a child -but it wasn’t. It was from Catherine and his wedding that he remembered the handsome, smiling child, her cousin’s small son called Willy.
“Willy was married to a lovely girl named Amy,” said Scott picking up his story. “She and their two children now live with my grandfather’s sister on the family farm in Vermont. It was eight years ago today Willy was killed. I saw him fall. I heard his last words.”
Murdoch felt as if a vise were tightening around his chest. Vicksburg. He’d read about Vicksburg; the seven week siege, more than 8,000 killed, more than half Union troops. Scott would have been seventeen. Murdoch hadn’t known he’d joined up before he was eighteen. When he’d read about Vicksburg he’d believed that Scott was safe in Boston.
“Every year I’m almost afraid I’ll forget but-”
Scott paused, wiping his hand over his face. He wanted to explain to Johnny why he’d let his memories, his grief, cloud his judgment today but words had failed him; there were no words.
Quietly Johnny crossed the room and put his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “You’ll never forget, Scott,” he said softly. They stood still for a few minutes; side by side Johnny’s hand resting lightly on Scott’s shoulder.
Behind them their father brushed rare tears from his cheeks.
When Johnny left the window, Scott stayed looking out into the dark. He never saw ghosts, not real ghosts, but it was easy for him to conjure the images of the dead against the black night. Easy to see Willy as he had been; every inch the officer of the United States Cavalry in his dark uniform with the gleaming brass buttons.
“Scott,” said Johnny softly. “How about a drink to your cousin, to Willy.”
Scott blinked, drawn back from his memories. He turned around and smiled sadly at Johnny. “I’d appreciate that, Johnny.” Then Scott looked towards the other side of the room where their father sat in the shadows. “Will you join us, sir, in a toast to my cousin Captain William Garrett who fell at Vicksburg?”
“I would be honored,” answered Murdoch coming laboriously to his feet. By the time he’d reached them in the middle of the room, Johnny had poured out three glasses of scotch. Murdoch accepted one.
They stood in silence for a moment. Scott was trying to think of something appropriate to say. He couldn’t. He was about to simply say to Willy when Murdoch spoke.
“When good men die their goodness does not perish, But lives though they are gone.”
Later Scott would realize his father, the rough western rancher from the wilds of Scotland, had quoted the Greek philosopher Euripides word perfect. At that moment, Scott only cared that the quote was apt.
He raised his glass to clink it against the glasses of his father and his brother. They said together,
“To the good.”