A Lancer story
The sky was leaden, a gray mass of clouds
building slowly on the horizon. A few gentle flakes of snow fluttered gently
to the ground, a forerunner of the storm to come. Three horses wound their
way single-file up the steep, winding trail. Murdoch Lancer, astride his
big gelding, rode in the lead carefully picking a trail for his sons to
follow. He kept a wary eye on the storm clouds that towered overhead. He
was well aware that they would break soon. It was early in the year for
a winter storm, but it wasn't uncommon to encounter severe weather in the
high reaches at any time of the year. The Lancers were traveling through
the upper passes of the Sierras on a pleasure trip. Murdoch had long ago
established a small cabin in the mountains where he retreated occasionally
to hunt and relax from the pressures of running a large ranch, and it was
here they were heading now.
Johnny and Scott had eagerly accepted their
father's invitation to the cabin. A long stressful season of learning to
run the Lancer operations had taken its toll on all of them, and they welcomed
the release from their hard work. Johnny had grinned with excitement at
the idea of a week's idleness, and his ardor had infected them all. Now
their enthusiasm was fading in the face of an impending blizzard.
Johnny urged his mount, a palomino he called
Barranca, a bit closer to his father. "Hey, Murdoch," he called. "How much
farther to this cabin of yours? That storm's gonna break any time now."
Murdoch cast an experienced eye at the
lowering sky. Glancing back at his sons, he smiled encouragingly. "Another
two or three hours, Johnny. I'm hoping we can get to the cabin before it
starts snowing too hard."
Johnny nodded and glanced at his blonde
haired brother, Scott, who rode silently behind the other two men. "You're
awfully quiet, Boston," he said companionably. "Cat got your tongue?"
Scott smiled at his brother, the corners
of his grey-blue eyes crinkling in response to his brother's teasing. "Not
much to talk about, brother," he replied calmly. "I'm just enjoying the
Johnny grinned back at the man he had so
recently learned to call "brother." In the past year he had grown to respect
and admire the other man. In a quiet moment he would even admit to loving
his newfound brother. "Isn't it something? I'll bet there's not a prettier
place in the whole world, not even Boston."
Scott was amused. Johnny had a tendency
to compare everything to Boston; a place he'd never seen or visited. It
was his brother's way of binding Scott to the family, of reminding him
that he had a new place now. Scott occasionally tried to tell his brother
not to worry; he had no plans to leave Lancer. But Johnny remembered all
too well the visit from Harlan Garrett, and he knew that Scott had another
life waiting for him if he wanted it. The fact that Scott had no interest
in returning to his grandfather was irrelevant to Johnny. He worried all
the same. Now Scott simply flashed his brother an understanding grin, as
he responded, "No, I don't think I've ever seen a prettier place, Johnny."
The trail became more demanding forcing
an end to the conversation. The time passed slowly, and the soft drift
of snow flakes became appreciably heavier. The men turned up their collars
and hunched deeper into their thick jackets. As the wind rose in strength,
pellets of ice intermingled with the snow, blowing into their faces with
increasing force. It was with a sense of relief that Murdoch spied the
small cabin nestled among the towering pines. He lifted a hand, pointing
out the welcome sight to his weary sons.
The trail-weary men dismounted in front
of the little wooden structure. Murdoch had the cabin regularly maintained,
so they carried a bare minimum of supplies. They quickly stabled the tired
horses in the snug little stable attached to the cabin. Once they had settled
the horses in for the night, Murdoch turned his attention to inventorying
the available supplies in the cabin. Johnny and Scott set out to find enough
wood for a fire. The housekeeping chores finished, they gathered in the
little cabin, and built up a warm fire. By unspoken accord they pulled
out the trail food that Jelly had obligingly packed in their saddlebags.
No one was interested in hunting for game after the grueling trip.
As the wind howled with intensity, the
Lancers sat in companionable silence in front of the warm fire, sipping
coffee and eating from the pot of beans that Scott had heated. Johnny cocked
his head and listened to the wind. "That's some storm," he drawled. "I
don't know how much hunting we're gonna get done, Murdoch."
Murdoch smiled ruefully. "I think you may
be right, son. This blizzard sounds like it's going to last for a while."
Scott looked up in concern. "How are we
fixed for supplies? If this blizzard is going to last, we don't want to
run out of food or firewood."
"We should be all right for a couple of
days, Scott. I had the hands lay in a pretty good supply of wood, and we've
got trail rations," Murdoch replied thoughtfully. "If the storm lasts beyond
that, our situation could get a little touchy."
Johnny rose and moved to the bunk where
he had stored his saddlebags. He pulled a bottle from the leather pouch
and carried it triumphantly back to the fire. With a cocky grin he popped
the cork and took an appreciative sip. With a satisfied sigh, he held the
bottle out to the others, a jaunty smile on his lips. "Anyone care for
a drink? We don't have to worry about getting up early tomorrow?"
Scott laughed and eagerly reached for the
bottle. "I probably won't thank you for this in the morning, brother,"
he said as he took a long swallow. "But it looks mighty good, right now."
He passed the bottle along to his father.
Murdoch also took a long swallow, and then
grimaced as the fiery liquid burned its way to his stomach. "Oh, that hits
the spot," he gasped. "Why am I not surprised that you remembered to bring
along the tequila, Johnny?"
Johnny chuckled wickedly, and reached for
the bottle. "You can always count on me, Murdoch," he agreed. "I learned
early to be prepared for anything."
Murdoch sobered as he reflected on Johnny's
words. He felt guilty for missing out on his sons' childhoods, and he didn't
like to be reminded of it. "I'm sure you did," he replied gruffly, as he
stared morosely into the fire.
Johnny exchanged a glance with Scott. He
passed the bottle back to his father, saying lightly, "Well, you know I'm
always ready for action."
His words failed to lighten Murdoch's mood.
The older man continued to brood, his thoughts turning back to those long,
empty years without his sons. He thought of Scott growing up in that luxurious
house in Boston under the care of his imperious grandfather. Scott's childhood
had been full of all the things that money could buy, with the exception
of the love of a family. His grandfather was a businessman, who didn't
believe in showering the child with affection. The strict New England upbringing
required a child to be well-fed, housed and cared for, not necessarily
Scott never spoke of his childhood, but
Murdoch had gleaned enough to know that Scott had been raised by a series
of nannies and housekeepers. Knowing Harlan Garrett as he did, Murdoch
was sure that Scott hadn't been very happy. He would never forgive himself
for not taking Scott back with him after that aborted visit years earlier.
The boy looked so happy at his birthday party, and Murdoch had convinced
himself that it wouldn't be in the boy's best interests to drag him through
a long court battle. The sigh was wrenched from Murdoch before he could
Again Johnny and Scott exchanged glances.
"Hey, Old Man!" Johnny's voice was lazy, but insistent. "You're fallin'
behind on the drinking," he said as he passed over the bottle again.
Murdoch reached for the bottle absent-mindedly.
He didn't notice the growing concern that his long silence was creating
in his sons. His thoughts turned to his youngest son. Johnny had been such
a lively, active toddler. It had broken Murdoch's heart the day Maria had
taken him away. Murdoch had spent time and money searching for the pair,
with no success until the day the Pinkerton agent had found Johnny in front
of the firing squad.
Murdoch cringed inwardly as he thought
of the life that Johnny had lived. The gunslinger, Johnny Madrid, was a
direct product of his unhappy childhood. There were details about Johnny's
life that Murdoch was afraid to know. As he felt the alcohol spreading
a warm glow through his body, Murdoch relaxed a little, his thoughts slowing,
relaxing their grip on his mind. Soon his head was nodding and he drifted
into a dreamless sleep.
Scott watched his father's head bow to
his chest, and saw that the older man was sleeping. He rose and brought
a blanket from Murdoch's bunk, tucking it around him gently. Johnny grinned
ruefully at his older brother. "What do you suppose got into the old man
tonight?" he asked softly. "He was sure chewing on something."
Scott shrugged. "Maybe he was just worn
out from the ride."
Johnny frowned. "I don't think that's it,
brother. He looked worried, almost." Johnny's expression lightened as he
took another pull at the rapidly emptying bottle. "Oh well, if he wants
to tell us, I don't think he'll be shy about it."
Scott snorted in laughter, the alcohol
creating a warm haze in his mind. "No, not our Murdoch. I don't think shy
is the word I'd use to describe him."
Johnny stood slowly, stretched, and then
threw another log on the fire. He watched as the sparks rose into the fireplace
before settling himself back into his seat. Outside the wind rose in a
long mournful howl, rattling against the walls of the little cabin. "Hey,
brother?" Johnny's voice was thoughtful. "What's your happiest memory from
when you were a kid?"
Scott looked at Johnny in bewilderment.
"What makes you ask that?" he responded quietly. "It seems like a strange
question to ask."
Johnny glared a little. "Just answer the
question," he snapped. A sheepish look crossed his face, and he lowered
his eyes. "I'm sorry, Boston, I didn't mean to yell," he apologized. "C'mon,"
he begged. "Tell me your happiest memory."
It was Scott's turn to lower his eyes.
He stared into the flames, watching blankly as the colors shifted and blurred.
His happiest memory......
The snowball flew through the air in a
huge arc and landed with deadly accuracy on its target, the back of Mrs.
Winchester's bonnet. The bonnet flew off the startled lady's head, and
she screamed shrilly. "Who did that?! Come out at once, I say!"
Two boys crouched behind the big snowdrift,
hands over their mouths to stifle their giggles. One, a small boy of about
nine, turned to his companion with his finger over his lips. He was fine-boned
with large brown eyes, and a full head of curly brown hair, and at the
moment those eyes were twinkling with mischief. The second boy was also
fine-boned, but tall for his age. He had a shock of blond hair, and unusually
serious grey-blue eyes. His eyes were gleaming with fun now, though, as
he watched the stout patrician woman ranting with rage. The fun disappeared
with startling alacrity when the old harridan marched toward their hiding
"She's coming, Scott!" the first boy cried,
his eyes widening in fear. "We've got to get out of here. Run!" He followed
up his words with action, springing to his feet and pelting away as fast
as he could.
Nine-year-old Scott Lancer watched the
woman stomping toward him and saw with apprehension the anger on her face.
Deciding that his friend had the right idea, he rose and turned to run.
Scott would have made good his escape if he hadn't tripped over a fallen
log the boys had propped in the snow. Later, Scott would blame the events
that followed on his desire to have a warm seat in the snowbank.
As the boy lay sprawled face down in the
cold snow, the irate Mrs. Winchester caught up to him, her chest heaving
with righteous indignation. "Why, Scott Lancer!" she shrilled at him, hauling
him up by the elbow. "How dare you throw that snowball at me? We'll see
what your grandfather has to say about this."
The old woman dragged her erstwhile attacker
along the snowy sidewalk and up the steps to his grandfather's mansion.
She pounded on the imposing door of the house with the gold knob of her
cherrywood cane, never once releasing her hold on the miscreant's elbow.
Scott squirmed frantically, the pounding of his heart matching the firm
raps on the door. He stared at the tips of his boots as the door swung
inward to reveal Harlan Garrett's manservant, Johnson.
"I demand to see Mr. Garrett at once,"
Mrs. Winchester proclaimed in her grandest manner, as she swept into the
house, her captive firmly clutched in her hand.
Johnson's eyes narrowed as he observed
the pale, silent boy who now stood quietly in the hallway. "I'm afraid
Mr. Garrett is not at home, Mrs. Winchester," he said calmly. "Perhaps
I can be of assistance?"
Mrs. Winchester sniffed in disdain. "You
tell Mr. Garrett I will be calling on him soon to let him know what I think
of his grandson attacking me with snowballs. I've never been so upset in
my life!" She rounded on the boy, who stood impassively under her furious
glare. "I hope you get a whipping for what you did today, boy! You haven't
heard the last of this." With her final volley, the matron turned and sailed
out the door, her skirts swaying with her agitation.
Scott stood silently after her departure,
nervously studying the tips of his toes. He looked up at the slight cough
from Johnson. He was startled to see a pair of twinkling black eyes looking
back at him. His fear dissipated, and he gamely returned the manservant's
smile. "You never learn, do you Mr. Scott?" Johnson said, as he struggled
to suppress his grin. "Your grandfather isn't going to be too happy about
Scott's smile dimmed, his grey-blue eyes
were serious. "No, he's not, is he?" He reached out and grabbed the servant's
hand, and the two walked back toward the kitchen. "Do you think he'll be
coming home tonight?"
The hope in the boy's voice tore at Johnson's
heart. "He said he would try, Mr. Scott. Tonight's the recital, isn't it?"
The blond head nodded vigorously. Scott
gave a skip of excitement. "Yes, it is, and I've been practicing for weeks.
Grandfather said he would come and hear me tonight."
Johnson smiled, although his eyes were
shadowed with concern. "Mr. Scott?" He hesitated briefly, but continued
with a small sigh. "You know that it's hard for your grandfather to get
away from his business affairs, don't you?" The two had reached the kitchen,
and Johnson busied himself preparing a steaming cup of hot chocolate for
Scott sat at the kitchen table, swinging
his booted feet against the rungs of the chair. He nodded his head in agreement.
"Yes, I know, Johnson. It's very hard for Grandfather. He's such an important
man." He took an eager sip of the hot chocolate, first blowing softly to
dispel the rising steam. "But he promised. He's missed all my other recitals,
and he said he would be sure to come to this one."
The look of confidence on the boy's face
brought a twinge of pity to the older man's face. He turned to look out
the window to hide it from the boy. "Mr. Scott..." he began, but couldn't
bring himself to continue. "I'm sure he'll try," he whispered, more to
himself than to the small boy who was happily consuming his hot chocolate.
Later that night, a beaming Scott looked
out at the packed house for the evening's recital. All the children in
school had a part to play, or a piece to perform. Scott loved to be on
the stage, and he had practiced hard to perfect his piece. He wanted so
much to please his grandfather. He could already picture the proud look
on the old man's face. The boy's eyes roamed the audience, as he eagerly
searched for a sight of the most important man in his life. His countenance
fell as he failed to catch sight of the man he sought. During the entire
evening's performance, Scott paced back and forth to the curtain, checking
vainly for the man who was raising him. His grandfather had promised. Of
course, he had failed to show up at Scott's previous performances, but
this time he had promised.
At last it was Scott's turn to mount the
stage. He strode forward with confidence, but the sparkle had gone from
his eyes. He looked sad and dispirited, his eyes still searching for the
man who had promised to watch him perform. At the last moment before he
began his speech, Scott's eyes connected with the man who loved him enough
to come to his recital. He felt tears of joy well in his eyes, and he hastily
wiped them away, squaring his shoulders and launching into his part of
the evening's event. He threw his heart and soul into the words, and the
audience responded with wild applause, but Scott only had eyes for one
man. A brilliant smile lit his small face, and he waved once before he
turned and exited from the stage.
The snap of a branch on the fire startled
Scott from his reverie, and he pulled his eyes from the dancing flames,
his voice trailing off. He realized he'd been talking for a long time.
Johnny's eyes were shadowed as he thought of the small boy growing up in
such opulent splendor, so rich in all the material things that he could
ever want. He moved to sit beside his older brother, throwing a gentle
arm around Scott's lean shoulders. "So he came after all. Your grandfather
kept his promise and that's why it's your happiest memory."
Scott laughed ruefully. "No, my grandfather
wasn't there. He sent a wire the next day telling me that he had been detained
in Philadelphia and wouldn't be home for another week. He never mentioned
Johnny turned to look at Scott, a bewildered
expression on his face. "But you said that he was in the audience. You
said that he loved you enough to come see you perform."
Scott returned Johnny's gaze steadily.
"You're right, Johnny. I said that the man who loved me enough to see me
perform was in the audience. But that man wasn't my grandfather. It was
Johnson. He knew how much it meant to me, and he came. I saw him sitting
right in the middle of the front row, clapping so hard it must have hurt
his hands. I'll never forget that night, or what he did for me. He was
such a good friend."
Johnny's eyes were bright with tears. Scott
had lived a life that many people would have envied. But the person who
came to see him on the most important night of his childhood hadn't been
his blood relative. It had been the household servant. In many ways, Scott's
childhood had been just as poor as his own. It was yet another link in
the chain that was binding the two of them together now. Wordlessly, Johnny
squeezed Scott's arm. The look the brothers shared spoke volumes.
Scott sighed. "He died during the war.
He volunteered as an adjutant to General Grant. He was killed early in
the fighting. But I'll never forget him. He was a hero to me, and I loved
him." Scott shook himself lightly, as if he was shaking off the memories.
"Well brother, it's your turn now. What's your happiest memory?"
Johnny reached for the almost empty bottle
of tequila, he swallowed deeply before handing it over to his brother.
He felt the alcohol coursing through his veins, relaxing long held reserve
and loosening his tongue. "What makes you think I have any happy memories,
Boston?" he asked teasingly, a small smile on his lips.
Scott kicked back his chair as he propped
his booted feet closer to the fire. He snorted with laughter again, his
eyes twinkling at his younger brother. "Don't try to pull that "poor little
me" stuff, brother," he chuckled. "I know you had it pretty rough, but
everyone has some happy moments in their lives."
Johnny searched his memories, sorting through
good and bad, smiling over some and wishing he could forget others. What
was his happiest memory? Letting the tequila talk for him, he sat back
gazing intently at the fire. He found it easier to look at it rather than
at his brother. There was that time....
The dog was thin and mangy looking, rough
patches on its mottled coat. She was hungry and her ribs showed. Her physical
appearance made it obvious she was the mother of a litter of puppies as
she scavenged through the trash in the alleyway. The dog shied away from
the trash as the boys skidded into the alley whooping with delight. Little
puffs of dust swirled under their unshod feet, and they sighed in relief
to get out of the hot sun into the cool shade of the alley.
"Hey, Johnny, I told you that dog would
be back here. Let's look for those puppies," cried the older of the two
boys. A tall sturdy fellow, he had black hair and snapping dark eyes.
"You think she'd hide 'em in this alley,
Pablo?" the younger boy asked eagerly. He was shorter and stockier than
his friend, and while he had the same tumble of dark hair, his eyes were
a startling blue.
Pablo grinned in anticipation. "I've been
watching her, amigo. She spends all day running in and out of this alley.
If those puppies are anywhere, they're here." He began to pace the length
of the alley poking behind boxes and barrels with a long stick.
Johnny ran along behind his friend unconsciously
mimicking his actions. With a cry of joy he caught sight of a squirming
mass of fur and eyes tucked behind one of the boxes. The puppies were in
a nest of old rags and trash, four little bundles of motion with wagging
tails and snapping teeth. The two boys hovered over their find. They giggled
delightedly as the puppies nipped at their fingers and licked their hands.
Johnny's eyes shone with delight as he
scooped up one wriggling little dog and cradled it in his arms. The little
fellow licked his cheek causing the youngster to laugh even harder. "Oh
Pablo, isn't he cute!" Johnny asked excitedly. "I'm gonna take it home
Pablo looked over at the pair, a frown
on his lips and worry in his eyes. "Is that such a good idea, mi amigo?"
he asked hesitantly. "What will your mother say?"
Johnny's face clouded with uncertainty,
a hint of fear crossing his chubby features. "Mama won't mind," he asserted
stoutly. "But Billy..." his voice trailed off as he thought of his mother's
current lover, a man with a shady past and an uncertain temper.
At the mention of the man's name, Pablo
stiffened, glancing over his shoulder quickly. "Billy won't like you bringing
that pup home, Johnny. I think you should leave it here."
Pablo was very familiar with the stubborn
clenching of Johnny's jaw, and the ferocious glare in the glittering blue
eyes. He had seen it often enough in the past few months of his friendship
with the younger boy. "I'll do what I want, amigo." Johnny snapped. "I
don't care what Billy says. He ain't my Pa." He clutched the puppy to his
chest and walked with determination out of the alley, Pablo trailing along
In spite of his bravado in the alley, Johnny
quaked inwardly. His mother was involved with another new man, and she
didn't want Johnny around much these days. He slipped quietly into the
little shanty Maria currently called home, although the two traveled so
frequently the word had little meaning. The boy carried the puppy to the
hearth and fixed a bed of soft rags for his new pet. Gathering some scraps
from breakfast, Johnny giggled as the puppy licked his fingers with his
"I think I'll call you, Chico. You sure
are cute, little fella," he crooned softly. Johnny curled up in front of
the fireplace, the puppy cradled in his arms. The excitement of finding
the puppy combined with the heat of the day to lull the small boy to sleep.
Johnny awoke with a start when the door
of the little shack crashed back on its hinges. As the woman whirled into
the room, she giggled drunkenly over something said by the man at her side.
Johnny sat up quickly, he had to scramble to avoid the man's booted feet
as he stumbled into the small room. He watched with wide eyes as the two
locked into a passionate clinch. When they parted long enough to notice
they weren't alone, Maria's face flushed just a little.
"Johnny, go outside," she ordered brusquely.
"Billy and I want some privacy right now."
The child hurried to obey his mother's
orders, he knew the penalty if he didn't. He still gripped the puppy tightly
in his arms. Billy Fernandez, Maria's current lover, reached out a hand
and snagged Johnny's arm in a tight grip. "Hold on there, boy!" he snapped.
"What have you got there?"
Johnny met the man's gaze without flinching.
"It's a puppy," he said quietly. "Mama, can I keep him?" His eyes rose
hopefully to his mother's face. "Please," he whispered. "I'll take good
care of him."
Maria wavered. She knew the life she was
giving Johnny wasn't what it should have been. In her more sober moments
she felt the guilt her actions caused. Reaching out a gentle hand, she
stroked the puppy's soft head. "He's very pretty, Johnny," she said regretfully.
"But I don't see how you can take care of a puppy. You're much too young."
"You ain't havin' a dog, boy!" Billy's
voice was sharp. He moved to wrest the dog from the boy's arms. "I won't
have a dog tripping me in the night. It's bad enough that you're always
hanging around here."
Johnny lurched backwards, breaking free
from the man's grip. "Don't touch him," he spat furiously. "He's my dog,
and I'm going to keep him. Please, Mama!" Johnny's last words were spoken
in desperation, as he turned toward his mother in supplication. He had
little hope that she would intervene, Maria tended to side with her lovers
against her son.
Billy stepped in between mother and son
as he reached for the dog. "I'll get rid of this pest for ya', Maria honey,"
he said with a sneer.
Johnny backed up frantically, hugging the
dog to his chest. "No!" he cried. "No, don't touch me!" Johnny no longer
looked at his mother, he had already decided that she wasn't going to help
him. She would almost certainly side with Billy.
As Billy's hands roughly closed on the
boy's small arm, Maria interposed herself between them. "Leave him alone,
Billy," she cooed seductively. "Don't worry about something as silly as
a dog. Let him keep the puppy. We've got better things to do." She pressed
herself against the irate man as she struggled to distract him from his
Billy's eyes lit with a lustful glow, and
he wrapped his arms around Maria's slim waist. "Whatever you say, honey.
Tell that kid to get out of here now, though. I've got something I need
Maria smiled coyly and gestured for Johnny
to leave the room. She pushed Billy toward the bed and waited until he
was moving away from her son before she crouched down in front of the small,
frightened boy. "Johnny," she whispered. "You can keep the puppy. Just
go outside now, and stay there. Don't come back for a while, you hear?"
She hugged him briefly, then turned him toward the door with a gentle pat
on the bottom. "Go on."
Johnny hurried out the door, his new puppy
clutched tightly to his chest. He scampered away from the house into the
small outbuilding that served as a stable. Sitting limply on a bale of
hay, he gravely examined his new pet. His eyes were soft with remembrance
as he realized what his mother had done. In the few short years that Johnny
could remember, this was the first time Maria had defied one of her lovers
for him. He stroked the dog gently, occasionally wiping away a damp spot
caused by the tears that fell from his eyes. Eventually, he slept.
His story finished, Johnny stared mutely
into the fire, his eyes bleak as the midwinter sky. Scott moved to kneel
beside his brother, and he placed a gentle hand on Johnny's knee. When
he saw Johnny's eyes focus on him, he smiled. "She stood up to him for
Johnny nodded unable to speak. Scott continued,
"That must have meant a lot to you. She loved you, Johnny." Again Johnny
nodded, but still the words wouldn't come.
Scott tried to lighten the mood. "So how
long did you and Chico have together? Did he travel around with you and
Johnny's eyes glistened with unshed tears,
a result of the tequila and too many memories. "Naw, I only had him a couple
of days. Billy found him one day when I was out playing, and he drowned
him in the well." Johnny's face was tight and hard. "I hated that man."
Scott threw his arm around Johnny's shoulders
in a rough embrace. "What a bastard!" he whispered, appalled at the man's
cruelty. "I'm sorry, Johnny."
Johnny pulled away from Scott and looked
at him, his blue eyes warm and gentle. "I had a couple of days, Scott.
And she stood up for me. That's what I remember most. She stood up for
me that one time."
The brothers sat in front of the flickering
fire lost in memories, an empty tequila bottle sitting on the floor between
them. The silence was a companionable one and they were content to let
it remain that way. The sharing of their memories had brought them closer
together. They had looked into each other's past and it enhanced their
Unbeknownst to either man, a third party
listened to the stories shared that night. Murdoch had woken from his sleep
soon after Scott had begun his story. Afraid of breaking the spell, he
had stayed under his blanket, hardly daring to breathe. He was seeing pieces
of his sons that he didn't know existed, and he felt his heart breaking
with every word. So many lost opportunities, so much wasted time. Always
before Murdoch had thought of the lost time in terms of what he had missed.
He had never stopped to think about the cost to his sons. Now he knew that
they bore many scars, all because he hadn't worked hard enough to bring
them home. He bowed his head in grief.
A short time later, Murdoch sat up slowly
and gazed with pride at his sons. They had each other now, and they would
build new, happier memories together. Maybe that was enough. He hoped so.
It would have to do.
Johnny and Scott looked up as Murdoch rose
from his chair and stretched briefly. He walked across the room and knelt
between them, a smile on his lips. Putting an arm around each of them,
he said, "Did I ever tell you boys about the night Johnny was born? Or
about how I felt when I got your grandfather's letter telling me about
your birth, Scott? Those are some of the happiest memories of my life and
I'd like to share them with you sometime."
Scott and Johnny exchanged glances, with
answering smiles on their own faces. "No time like the present, Murdoch,"
Johnny said cheerfully. He held up the empty bottle. "This one's all gone,
but I do believe I might be able to find another one, if you want something
to wet your whistle. It sounds like you've got some talking to do."
He rose, rummaged in his saddlebags again,
and triumphantly held up the bottle of tequila he'd been searching for.
Returning to his family, Johnny tossed another log on the fire. He had
a feeling the Lancers wouldn't be sleeping that night. Turning expectant
eyes to his father he said, "Now, start with Scott, cause he's the oldest."
They talked long into the night, the storm
raging unabated outside the little cabin. It was a time of healing for
all of them, and the family was stronger for it. They couldn't get back
the lost time, but they could forge new memories and create happier times
together. It would have to be enough.