would like to thank two of our fellow writers for their help with this story.
to Sprite, whose portion of the "Dear Angus-Summertime" story gave me
the idea for my story.
to Southernfrau, whose beautiful poem, "Midnight Trip and Ponderings"
(also from Sprite’s story) provided me with the inspiration for the 'midnight
confessions' between a father and
his newly-found, somewhat tired, son.
Enjoy. . . . . . . .
It was a
few minutes past midnight when Murdoch Lancer decided to retire for the night.
He was tired, more mentally than physically.
But the ache in his leg and back from the bullet he received from Day
Pardee just five short months ago added to his fatigue.
mental tiredness was a result of the events of the last week.
For it was just a week ago that his two sons came home.
And all hell broke loose. Besides
the stress of meeting his sons for the first time, of trusting one and doubting
the other, Pardee and his gang of ruffians finally attacked Lancer after months
of taunting and needless killing. And
it was during that raid that Murdoch, his oldest son Scott, and his loyal
vaqueros fought to protect Lancer. And
won. And it was also during the
melee that Murdoch’s youngest son, Johnny, was seriously wounded, shot while
helping protect the land as well, although at the time, his actions were
past several nights, Murdoch held a night-long vigil at his wounded son’s
bedside, catching a few hours of restless sleep during the day when Teresa
O’Brien, his ward, and Maria, his housekeeper and loyal friend, would sit with
Johnny. Murdoch would eat dinner
with Scott, then Scott took over the evening watch of his younger half-brother,
to be relieved by Murdoch for his nightly vigil.
recurring fever that kept Johnny more or less oblivious to his surroundings the
past several days had ceased once again, and today, after a thorough exam by Dr.
Jenkins, the young gunhawk was finally allowed out of bed, much to his glee.
But only long enough to dress, walk downstairs, and sit on the porch in
the warmth of the sun. And this
simple action wore the young gunfighter out.
When Murdoch returned from a short ride on the ranch with Scott, he found
his youngest son on the couch, asleep. And
that is where Johnny was lovingly left, and looked after, until he was gently
awakened and helped back to bed.
was concerned when he felt the heat from the recurring fever again radiate from
Johnny, and began fussing over him. Johnny,
safe and comfortable in his bed once again, grumpily told his father to “stop
fussin’ and pickin’ at me.
his father replied, sternly, but understandingly, “Let me fuss at you, John.
It’s about time you let somebody worry about you.”
and exasperated, Johnny sighed, rolled over on his stomach, and quickly fell
back to sleep.
had spent the remainder of the evening with Scott, both enjoying much-needed
brandys. The past days had taken
their toll on Scott as well, as Murdoch noted the tired look on his face and in
his eyes. When Scott retired to his
room a little after ten, Murdoch followed him and spent a few minutes chatting
with him, ensuring his oldest son was all right.
He then went to check on Johnny, and was pleased to find his fever down,
and the young man deeply asleep.
So it was
after midnight, when Murdoch finally finished the mundane paperwork he could no
longer ignore, that he decided to make his way to bed. But not before he checked
on Johnny one last time, for this night.
decided he would leave Johnny on his own tonight, the first time since he was
shot. After all, his independent
youngest son was on the road to recovery. But
Murdoch knew he would sleep with ‘one eye and one ear’ open, and he smiled
to himself as he recalled how his own mother would tell him and his brothers
that very same thing.
into Johnny’s cozily lit room, where the young gunhawk had moved onto his
back. Murdoch again checked for
fever and feeling Johnny’s cool face, smiled.
He noted his son’s left arm was underneath him, near the wound on his
back, so he gently moved it and placed it across his chest.
And as he had done so many times the past nights, brought the covers up
around his son. Still can’t
stay covered, he laughed to himself, remembering the little boy who slept in
this room and could never seem to keep his blankets on.
that his son was comfortable, Murdoch turned around, and just as he grabbed the
brass doorknob to the heavy wooden door, was slightly taken aback when a soft,
tired voice said, “You don’t have to go.
Son” Murdoch softly said, as he walked back to Johnny’s bedside.
“I didn’t mean to wake you.”
didn’t. I was kind of awake, you
know, not sleeping, but not awake either,” Johnny tried to explain. “I just keep waking up for some reason. . .”
I think that's a good thing,” Murdoch surmised.
“Means your body has begun healing itself, and you're ridding yourself
of all the medication you've had the last several days.”
guess,” Johnny mumbled, “but now I'm up all night and sleep all day.”
will get better Johnny, I promise,” Murdoch coddled, just a little.
I get you something? Water or
anything?” Murdoch asked.
I'm all right,” Johnny advised.
continued to stand by Johnny's bed, unsure of how long his son wanted to talk.
But when Johnny eyed the chair and nodded, Murdoch knew that was his cue
to sit down and stay awhile. And he
knew his youngest son was still very groggy, so he decided he would let Johnny
be in control of the conversation. To
let his son, this one time, ‘call the
sighed heavily and closed his eyes for a few seconds, but when he opened them,
his face showed a small smile as he eyed his father closely.
curiosity was piqued. “What are you smiling at?”
. .it's just that, you don't look anything like I imagined you would,” Johnny
chuckled as well. “Is that
think so,” Johnny responded. “See,
I didn't think you'd be so.. . .tall. And,
big,” he said as he spread his arms out in front of him.
my size has been known to surprise some folks,”
have to stand on the landing of the stairs just to talk to you eye to eye, Old
Man,” Johnny informed, somewhat seriously.
I thought you'd have darker hair,” Johnny
said, disappointment in his voice.
Johnny, my hair wasn't always gray, you know,” Murdoch laughed.
it as dark as mine?” he asked, hopeful.
son, it was lighter than yours. But,”
he added, “it was darker than Scott's.”
sensed this topic of discussion was over, and was surprised when after a few
seconds, Johnny began to rise out of bed and become extremely excited.
fire! We've got to stop it,
Murdoch, or it will burn the ranch!”
grabbed Johnny by the shoulders and gently pushed him back down on the bed, and
realized he was talking about the fire that had been set by Pardee shortly after
his and Scott's arrival.
Son. The fire's out.
We took care of it, remember? There's
no danger anymore,” he tried to soothe his son.
Johnny said, unconvinced.
took a minute or so for the young gunhawk to calm down, and his eyes remained
closed as he asked his father, “Murdoch, where is that place?”
had absolutely no idea where Johnny was referring to, and realized his son was
still very much under the effect of the laudanum he had been given.
place, Johnny? Where are you
referring to, Son?” he gently
know,” Johnny answered, a bit annoyed. “You
told Scott about it that day in your study, you were on a boat or something. . .
Murdoch said, as he realized where Johnny was referring to. “Inverness.
It's in Scotland, and I grew
did you leave?”
was a bit surprised at Johnny’s question.
“Well, I'd always wanted to come to America since I was a child.
I used to read a lot of books, and I was fascinated by the new land
across the ocean. Besides, Scotland
was pretty country, but it was cold and rainy much of the time.
I knew the American west was warm and dry.”
both laughed, then Johnny asked, “Were your parents sad when you left?”
thought back to the day he bid his parents farewell.
“Well, my mother, she, you know, she cried and hugged me and all that.
And my father, he shook my hand and wished me well.
But, I do remember seeing a tear or two in his eyes just before I turned
around to get on the boat.”
Johnny murmured, somewhat impressed. “Did you ever see them again?”
No I didn't,” Murdoch answered, his voice regretful. “We wrote back and forth, but I never saw them again after
they still alive?” Johnny
was a silence as Murdoch considered this conversation. He knew that if Johnny were all together, this conversation
wouldn't be taking place. And even
if the questions were being asked under normal circumstances, Murdoch more than
likely wouldn't be so open with his answers.
But Johnny had a right to know, he obviously wanted to know, and in his
present state was saying whatever came to his mind, not caring about the
consequences. So Murdoch answered
his questions. After all, Johnny was ‘calling the tune.’
Murdoch realized, it felt good to talk about his parents.
Johnny, I'm afraid not. My mother
died 15 years ago. She was much too
young. And my father died five
. . .did they know about. . .me?” Johnny
asked, sounding a little unsure of
the answer his father would give.
course they did, Johnny. They knew
all about their little grandson in far off America.
They had planned on coming here someday, to see you, but that wasn't to
be. . .”
was lost in his own thoughts, when Johnny started going on about the fire again.
We've got to stop it! I hate to see
my property go up in flames!”
fire's out Johnny. We took care of
it the other day.” Another
outburst about that fire, and I'll have to come up with another tactic,
watched as Johnny dozed for a few minutes, then watched as his sapphire eyes
opened. As Johnny began to speak,
Murdoch realized that this time, the young man was very much aware of what he
was saying; he was very much in control of his thoughts, and the conversation as
voice was deeper than it had been; and Murdoch sadly knew it bore the same tone
as the young man in his study that first day:
won't stop loving her, you know, just to stay here with you. If that's the case, I'll leave right now.
But I won't hate her just to please you, Old Man.”
His voice was cold.
knew exactly who his son was talking about.
His mother. And that if it
meant Johnny having to stop loving the memory of his mother to please his
father, he would leave and think nothing of it.
Murdoch said, softly and gently. “I
would never ask you to do that. Of
course you love your mother. It
never occurred to me that you would have to choose one parent over the other.”
manner softened as he considered what his father told him. “But. . . .but she made you sad.
I. . .thought you hated her. . . .hated. . . me,”
Johnny remarked, his voice now sounding very much like a frightened
cleared a lump from his throat. “Johnny,
your mother did not make me sad. What
she did. . . .leaving Lancer, and taking you with her, that made me sad.
But your mother herself only made me happy.
She brought meaning and joy back into my life.
She brought life and music into the hacienda.
Made a house a home. And she
gave me. . .you. And the two years
we spent together, as a family, were the happiest two years of my life. So please don't ever feel like you have to choose.
Because you don't. And I could never. . . .hate. .you. You’re my son. A
part of me as much as you are a part of your mother.”
looked at Johnny and noticed the tears flowing from his tired blue eyes.
He handed his son a damp cloth to wipe his eyes and nose with.
gratefully acknowledged. And as he
looked down at his son, he was reminded so much of the two-year old little boy
whose tears he dried so many years ago.
realized that Johnny was exhausted from this midnight talk, so he decided it was
time he take control of the situation. It
was once again his turn to ‘call the tune.’
don't fight your sleep. Just rest,
we can talk some more tomorrow, if you want,” Murdoch gently suggested.
was quiet for a minute or so, then began rambling on about that damn fire again.
I have Scott taking care of it. He'll
make sure it's put out,” Murdoch
taking care of it?” Johnny asked.
right, Johnny. Scott will handle
I feel a lot better. Scott can
handle anything. He's smart, and a
good rider.” After a pause, he
asked his father, “You like him, don't you?”
Johnny,” Murdoch answered, amused. “I
like him very much.” He could
already sense the feeling of trust and the beginning of the 'big brother knows
everything' feeling from Johnny
regarding Scott. It gave Murdoch a
warm feeling inside.
should've listened to him, Murdoch, and went along with his plan.
All I did was end up gettin' back shot . . . . .”
you and your brother had a different way of handling things.
He did it his way, and you did it your way.
I'm proud of both of you.”
stroked Johnny's hair as he spoke with him, and Johnny put up no resistance.
“I just wish you wouldn't of gotten shot. . . .” Murdoch offered.
back. . .it hurts, Murdoch”, Johnny
admitted in a pain-filled voice.
realized this was the first time Johnny had admitted pain, and it was such a
small admission from all the young man had endured.
know Son,” Murdoch responded sympathetically.
“Do you want something for the pain?”
frowned and nodded no.
fight it, Johnny. Just sleep.
So you can get well and come back to us.
We. . .I. . .need you. . . . . .” Murdoch whispered.
took a good five minutes for Johnny to fall back to sleep.
As he waited, Murdoch thought about his night-time vigils at his son’s
bedside, and how he felt it was Johnny Madrid he was watching over and taking
care of. But as he considered this
midnight conversation, he realized it was his first conversation with his
youngest son. Those first few
days he had spoken with Johnny Madrid.
the person he spoke with tonight was Johnny Lancer; a young man who opened up to
his father, asked questions about his grandparents, and spoke candidly about his
knew the questions that Johnny asked were
due to his pain and exhaustion. But
still, the curiosity and the wanting to know was there, deep inside him, and his
confusion and the medication he had
been given provided the outlet for him to express thoughts he otherwise would of
kept deep inside him.
Murdoch wondered just how much Johnny would remember about these 'midnight
confessions,' if anything at all.
He hoped the boy would remember at least part of it.
But even if he did, Murdoch knew it would never be spoken of.
All Murdoch knew was
that he would remember it. Always.
And cherish it. For it would
be a long, long time before father and youngest son ever spoke to each other in
such an open and honest way.
he prepared to leave, he did something he hadn't felt compelled to do for the
past several nights. He kissed his
son on the forehead. His son Johnny
Lancer. And it felt good.
home, Johnny Lancer. Hope you stay
awhile,” Murdoch whispered to his sleeping son.
he lowered the lamp, kept the door slightly open, and made his way to his
bedroom, knowing that this night, he would sleep with 'one eye and one ear'
open, ensuring that everyone he loved was safe and sound.