A Place to Play
by  Sue
 

 

Rated: G

Feedback: All feedback welcomed on and/or off list

Disclaimer: Lancer and their characters are not mine just love to write and read about them

Many thanks to Barb for taking on a newbie and improving this story with her suggestions. Any mistakes belong to me.

 

Murdoch Lancer sat at the supper table. It was the end of a long day of hard work at the ranch. At table with him were his two sons, Scott and Johnny, It had been about five months since his sons had returned to help him defend his land against land pirates led by Day Pardee. It had been a tough battle and Johnny had been wounded as Pardee led the attack against the ranch. He had recovered and father and sons were learning how to live as a family. There were occasional rough patches between Johnny and Murdoch but the base had been established and Murdoch was feeling particularly optimistic about the future this evening.

Also, at the table was Theresa OíBrien. Theresa was Murdochís ward. The daughter of his oldest friend, Paul OíBrien, who had been a casualty of the land war. It was Theresaís voice that brought Murdoch out of his revelry and back to the present.

"It happens every year, everyone brings something that the orphanage can use for the upcoming year. It helps them make it through the winter and makes sure that the children have what they need. Itís a wonderful time. The Sisters all cook and thereís music and fun. Itís the feast of St. Francis so they have the blessing of the animals. Itís like a big fiesta!"

"What do people bring?", asked Scott, smiling at the enthusiasm of his "sister."

"Oh, lots of things, flour, lamp oil, some of the ranchers give livestock, anything that will make it easier for the children for the next year," she answered.

"This is for the kids?", asked Johnny.

Scott looked up at the question. He thought he had heard a tone in Johnnyís voice. However, it seemed that Johnny was genuinely interested.

"When is it this year?", asked Murdoch.

"In about five weeks, October 4," Theresa answered.

"Well, we need to decide what weíre going to do as Lancer. I think we can spare a milking cow and a few laying hens," Murdoch said.

"And the ladies from town have been knitting for the last couple of months, we should have a good supply of blankets for the children, I hope theyíll like them," answered Theresa.

"Iím sure the children will be very happy with everything, Theresa," said Johnny.

Again, Scott felt there was something else going on but Johnny still seemed interested. Scott decided he was being overly analytical.

 

One month later:

"What is that boy thinking?" Murdoch roared. "Out almost every night and Sunday afternoons for the last month." Murdoch and Scott were in the library and Murdoch was letting off steam about his youngest once again.

"Calm down, Murdoch," Scott said. "Heís been doing his work, hasnít missed a day. Nothing is being neglected."

"Not the point, Scott," countered Murdoch. "He canít keep this pace up and continue to do a good job. Heís likely to miss something that needs doing. More important, he could get hurt working tired. Ranching is hard work. You need to be alert. Besides that, heís an owner. You need to give a good example to your hands. You canít be running off to town to a saloon or catina every night." Murdoch fumed.

"Now sir, you donít know thatís the case."

"What else could it be?"

Scott was at a loss for an answer but he felt that he should be the one to find out what was going on with Johnny. Murdoch was being too judgmental at the moment.

"Iím not sure Sir, let me see if I can find out whatís going on."

"All right, Son, Iíll give you a chance to get to the bottom of this but if you donít I will.."

Scott decided that he would confront Johnny head on. He rode out to the East range where his brother was working on the fence line. As he expected, Johnny was there working hard despite the fact that Scott knew he had come home well after sundown the previous evening.

Scott rode up and called to his brother.

"Hey, Johnny, howís everything going?"

"Hey Boston, what brings you out here?"

"Just checking up on you, have to see how you can hold up after all these late nights. She must be something special. Almost every night and Sunday afternoons? Sounds like sheíll be part of the family soon and Iíd like to meet her before she joins. Want to tell me about her?"

"Nope," said Johnny with a big grin as he mounted Barancca and rode off to the end of the fence line.

Okay, little brother, if thatís the way you want to play it.

The saloon was empty and that suited Scott just fine. He wanted to check on his brother as quietly as possible.

"Hello, Mac, how have you been?"

"Scott Lancer! Good to see you! Itís been a month of Sundays since a Lancer has been in. Howís that brother of yours doing?".

"Fine, Mac, fine. So you havenít seen Johnny for a while?"

"Well, I saw him in town some time ago, but not here in the saloon. Why, is something wrong?"

"Everythingís fine. We just had a little bet going on and Iím checking up on him."

"Well, I hope itís not a bet on how long one of you can say out of the saloon Scott, cuz if it is, you just lost," said Mac with a laugh,

"No, no, nothing like that. Good to see you, Mac. I guess Iíll see you at the orphanage fiesta.?"

"Yep, Iíll be there, wouldnít miss it. Tell Johnny I said hello and to get hisself back here soon."

"I will Mac, I will."

Scott was puzzled than ever and he decided he would track down Val and see if he had any clue as to what was going on with Johnny.

Johnnyís friendship with Val seemed unusual on the face of it, the lawman and the gunfighter, but they had a true and deep regard for each other and Scott was sure that if anyone knew what was going on with Johnny, it would be Val.

Scott went to the sheriffís office and walked in on Val who was studying the latest Wanted Posters.

"See anyone you know?"

"These danged posters are worthless. Description: blue eyes, brown hair, 5'7" to 6'2," could be half the town. ," Val grumbled as he threw the posters down on his desk.

"What brings you to town, Scott, no trouble I hope."

"Looking for a little information."

"Information? About what?"

"Well, have you seen Johnny lately?"

"Yea, saw him when he was in town to pick up supplies - was a while ago though. Why, whatís wrong."

"Donít know that anything is wrong, Val. Itís just that heís been spending most nights and Sunday afternoons for about the last month away from the ranch. Murdochís getting a little testy about it. Heís doing his job but I think itís beginning to take a toll. Johnny is looking a little tired. I donít want him to make a mistake or get hurt because he was too tired at work. Murdoch would have his head. I was just over at the saloon and Mac said he hasnít been in so I canít figure out what heís doing with his time."

"Well, I got the impression he had a big job he was doing, the wagon was full of lumber and rope and tools that he just picked up at Hickís place. I just figured it was a job Murdoch had him working on."

"No, heís not working on anything for Murdoch.. I think Iíll take a walk over to the store and see what kind of supplies he picked up."

"Let me know if thereís any trouble."

"Sure Val, take care."

"Mayor Hicks, how are you," Scott asked as he entered the General Store.

"Ah, Scott, how are you. Are you here for more supplies?"

"Well, no, not really. I was wondering, could you tell me what Johnny bought?"

"You donít know?"

"Well, I just want to make sure I donít get anything that heís already taken care of."

"Oh. Well, he bought almost all the rope I had in stock, A number of tools, fishing line, nails. Said he would be back for his order after he had been to the saw mill for some lumber."

"Thanks, appreciate it.

"Sure, Scott, I hope there is no trouble with Johnny?"

"No, no trouble."

Scott made his way over to the saw mill.

"Afternoon, Jed, how are you."

"Fine, Mr. Lancer, fine. Your brother need more lumber for his job? "

"Thatís what Iím checking on, Jed, what did he get."

"Oh, two by fours, asked me to cut some special size planks, about 25 flat boards."

"Okay, that sounds about right, thanks."

Scott was more confused than ever. He decided that the next step would be to follow Johnny . . . He would need to be careful as Johnny is not an easy man to track. He was sure that Johnny would not be happy about it if he found out.

 

"Well, find out anything?" Murdoch asked his oldest son.

"No, nothing. The last time anyone saw Johnny in town he was picking up supplies. Mostly rope and lumber. Did you ask him to pick up a lumber order?"

"No, we have more than enough lumber after taking down that stand of trees 3 months ago. What is going on with that boy?" Scott could see that Murdochís was getting exasperated.

"Iím going to follow him if he goes out tonight and see what I can find out."

"That wonít work, you know Johnny can pick up someone tracking him better than anyone."

Yea, I know. Iím counting on the fact that he wonít be expecting that anyone will be following and wonít be covering up tracks or doubling around. You know, Sir, I was in the calvary. Johnnyís not the only one who knows how to track."

"Heíll want to know why youíre not at dinner."

"Tell him that Cipriano rode in earlier to let you know that I was gonna finish up and not to wait dinner- donít forget to be annoyed with me for missing dinner or heíll think somethingís up," Scott said with a smile.

Murdoch almost said something back at that remark but he decided to let it go.

"Suppose this is one of the nights he decides to stay home?"

"Iíll wait outside, out of sight until he rides out. If he doesnít go anywhere, Iíll know. "

"Whereís Scott?", asked Johnny as the family gathered for dinner. As agreed, Murdoch explained that he had decided to stay out on the range finishing up and would not be in for dinner.

"Hey, I thought that was one of your, what did you call em, cardinal rules, we all eat together," Johnny said grinning.

"Iím not pleased about your brother missing dinner. Iíll deal with that when he gets back.".

Johnny, having been the object of a number of Murdochís "dealings" didnít envy his brother.

"Murdoch"

"Yes, Johnny?"

"Have we decided what weíre bringing to the orphanage party?"

"Theresa, what have you come up with?", Murdoch asked his ward.

"Well the cow and laying hens that you wanted to give and Iíve been putting aside skeins of yarn all year and I have a pretty good supply to give them. Why, Johnny, did you have something in mind. ?

"How about a wagon."

"A wagon?" asked Murdoch in a puzzled tone.

"Yea, you know if they ever need to cart all those kids anywhere a wagon would come in handy."

"Well, I donít know where theyíd have to take all the children but I suppose it would be a good thing for the orphanage to have. Iíll check with Cipriano and see what we might have."

Johnny nodded his head and smiled.

"Can I interest you in a game of chess after dinner, son?"

"Ah, thanks Murdoch but I need to go out for a while after dinner."

"Johnny, I donít like all these late nights," Murdoch started.

"Donít I get up every morning and do my work?" challenged Johnny.

"Thatís not the point son" stated Murdoch.

"Well thatís the point for me. As long as I can do what Iím supposed to be doing, I donít see any need to worry about what I do on my own off time." Johnny said, with a little edge to his voice.

Theresa decided to interrupt before an argument started.

"Well before anyone goes anywhere or doesnít go anywhere, letís have dessert and finish dinner."

Theresaís intervention gave Murdoch the opportunity to realize that he wanted Johnny to go out so that Scott could follow.

The meal ended in silence. Murdoch went to the living room to work on the books and Johnny left.

Scott was waiting for Johnny and was ready to follow as soon as he rode out.

Scott expected that he would be headed for the road leading into town but was surprised to see that the trail Johnny took was out toward the southern part of the ranch, a part that was not really developed. Murdoch had told the boys that he acquired land at that end of the ranch just to make sure that his access to water rights would not be threatened.

Scott followed Johnny to a rise that lead to a valley. He dismounted and climbed up the rise.

"Well, I donít believe it."

 

Scott rode into the hacienda on a gallop.

"Murdoch, Murdoch, mount up, follow me," he yelled as he came up to the hacienda.

"Scott, whatís wrong? Is Johnny okay?".

"Just follow me, youíll see," Scott said with a grin.

"Tell me whatís going on" Murdoch demanded as he did not like surprises.

"This is something you need to see with your own eyes not hear about," Scott answered.

Murdoch and Scott rode out to the southern boundary of the ranch and approached the rise. Scott motioned to Murdoch to dismount and climb up by foot.

When they came to the lip of the rise and looked down, Murdoch was astonished at what he saw.

There were two wooden structures, one a little larger than the other. They looked like they could be used for shelter from sun or rain. A swing was attached to the limb of an apple tree. What looked like a miniature corral was roped off and a dock was built out over the small stream that ran through this part of the land.

Johnny was up in a maple tree next to the stream. He was tying a piece of the roping to a limb of the tree. He climbed down from the tree, knotted the end of the rope, took hold of the rope and swung across the stream with a holler.

Murdoch felt his throat tighten as he watched Johnny swing across the stream. It looked as if he was a 12-year-old, filled with the pure joy of play and Murdoch wondered if Johnny had ever experienced that total abandonment to childhood when he actually was a child.

"Murdoch?" Scott broke into his thoughts. "Are you alright?"

"Yes, yes, Iím fine. What do you suppose this is all about?"

"I think I have an idea, Sir, and I think itís tied to the orphanage fiesta somehow," said Scott.

"The orphanage fiesta?"

"I remember when Theresa first mentioned it at dinner. I thought at the time that Johnny reacted a little peculiarly to the conversation but I couldnít put my finger on anything definite. "I think Johnny is doing this for the kids," Scott said with a smile.

"Why wouldnít he tell us, we could have been helping him all along," Murdoch said in a puzzled tone.

"You know, Johnny, Murdoch. , I think this is somehow tied to his past, you know how separate he wants to keep that part of his life. Maybe he thought we would think he was being silly or wouldnít understand why he wanted to do it. I donít know. I do know that this is a wonderful idea for the kids."

"Well, do we let him know now that we know whatís going on?"

"No, I think this is something he needs to do himself. It will be interesting to see how he gives this to the Sisters."

The two watched Johnny a little longer. He seemed to be testing things out, sitting on the swing and jumping a little to make sure it held his weight. Walking over to the dock he picked up the fishing rods laying there and put them in one of the sheds . The corral large, enough to exercise a small horse or pony was fenced in and there were ropes and lariats hanging from the fence posts. Johnny made sure the posts were firmly in the ground. One more time on the rope swing and he seemed to be satisfied with what he saw.

As it looked like Johnny was finishing up, Murdoch and Scott left so that they would be at the house before he got home.

Johnny stepped back and looked over his work. It certainly wasnít fancy but he was satisfied. Just a little cleaning up and it would be done. Johnny had to admit to himself that he was glad it was almost over. The festival was coming up on Saturday. He was beginning to feel the effects of hard work and little sleep and was a little surprised that Murdoch wasnít madder about it all. He figured his brother was behind keeping Murdoch off his back and he smiled at the thought of Scott looking out for him. Made him wish all the more to have grown up together.

Johnny quietly rode up to the house and was happy to see that there were no lights inside. He wanted to sneak in, go to bed, and not worry about questions from his family.

He came down to breakfast the next morning and was greeted, as had been usual the past few weeks, with a disapproving look from his father.

"Johnny, this has got to stop, you canít keep up this pace. I understand that you are entitled to time on your own, but every night is too much. You have a responsibility to us and to this ranch."

Scott was impressed with the way Murdoch was handling the charade. Johnny couldnít know that heíd been found out.

"Well, Murdoch, I was thinking about what you said last night and maybe youíre right. I think Iíll be spending a little more time around the ranch from now on."

Scott had a difficult time keeping a straight face as he listened to his brotherís serious tone.

"Iím glad to hear it, said Murdoch. "Letís talk about tomorrow and the orphanage fiesta. We need to get everything that weíre sending over together and also help out a little bit at the orphanage to make sure theyíre ready. Scott, Johnny, I want you boys to go with Theresa today. You can take a little break from ranching. Donít think itíll be an easy day though, the Sisters will work you harder that I ever could have."

Murdoch just ignored the snorts from his sons and the smile from Theresa over the last remark.

Scott and Theresa rode in the wagon filled with the yarn, crates carrying a rooster and a half dozen laying hens and the blankets that the ladies had been working since the last fiesta. Johnny led the milking cow and followed behind the wagon that had Scott and Theresaís horses tied to it. Murdoch had agreed to donate the wagon as part of the Lancer effort on behalf of the orphanage.

They rode into a great deal of activity. The air was filled with the smells of the foods the Sisters were preparing for the next day. The children were running all over the place flushed with the excitement and the break from their normal routine. Folks from Green River were stopping by, dropping off their contributions.

"Good morning Theresa, boys," said Sister Anastasia.

"Hello, Sister," said Theresa with a smile. " Things seem to be going pretty well. Will you be ready for tomorrow?"

"I think so, Father will have Mass at 9, the blessing of the animals right after church. Then games will start. Boys, I expect to see you two in the three-legged race, at least. Weíll eat around four and have a small program after everyone is done. Pray for good weather."

"I will, Sister, replied Theresa. "Put us to work now."

Theresa and the boys stayed until about mid-afternoon helping get everything ready and returned to the ranch in anticipation of the day to come.

The day dawned bright and sunny with a soft October breeze. The Lancers headed out to the orphanage, all with different levels of expectation. Theresa was unaware of what had been going on with Johnny. She was just excited for this annual event and was looking forward to a day of fun with friends and helping out the children. Murdoch and Scott were anxious to see how Johnny would be presenting his "gift" in light of the secrecy surrounding it to this point. Johnny was just nervous and hoped that everything would go as he had planned.

The church service was well attended, the blessing of animals took place with the usual accompaniment of barks, moos, snorts and whinnies, and the games began. Despite Sisterís command, Scott and Johnny managed to avoid any of the three legged and flour sack races. Murdoch wasnít as lucky as Belle Kane talked him into being her partner - much to his sonsí amusement. After the games, everyone dug into the feast set before them, roast beef, tamales, ham, chicken, fresh vegetables, mashed potatoes, empanadas, dozens of deserts and plenty of fresh lemonade.

After Johnny had eaten, he walked over to Scott.

"Well Boston, I think Iím heading back to the ranch."

"Back to the ranch, why?" asked Scott.

"Well donít tell Murdoch but I am a little tired. I thought I make it an early night tonight," replied Johnny.

"Hmm, well Iím not sure Murdoch will be pleased to know youíve left."

"Iíll make it up to him, heíll get over it. See you back at the ranch. Watch out for Laura, Boston, noticed sheís had her eye on you," Johnny said a grin.

After everyone had eaten and drank their fill, Sister Anastasia called for the start of the program.

Scott walked over to Murdoch.

"Whereís your brother?"

"He left."

"He left! That boy!! Why did you let him leave?"

"He wanted to go Murdoch, I couldnít force him to stay."

Sister Anastasia began to speak.

"Friends, I thank God for your generosity again this year. Children are our most precious gifts and the knowledge that the gift of your time and goods helps us care for them for another year is humbling. I pray that we will be worthy of the trust youíve placed in us. Again, this year it is impossible to single out each and every one of you and your contributions. I hope you understand how deeply we appreciate you."

There were soft murmurings in the crowd both pleased and a little embarrassed at her words.

"I do have something to comment on this year, however. This morning, shortly after everyone started arriving, I found a letter addressed to me attached to the chapel door. Allow me to read a little of it to you."

Dear Sister.

There is another gift for the orphanage but it canít be taken to you, you need to come to it. I hope itís something that the kids will use and that you and sisters will like too. You donít need to talk about who is giving it only that itís something that will make the kids happy.í

The letter then gave me directions to a piece of land. I felt it was important that I see what this was about before mentioning to anyone else and so I went out as I was directed. When I arrived, I was overwhelmed. Someone had obviously gone to a great deal of trouble. There was a tree swing, a rope swing over a small stream, a dock for fishing. A small riding area and two sheds. I guess the donor thought of the sisters as well and gave them a place to be while the children play.

"Now it is obvious that the donor wanted to remain anonymous but that is impossible and he must know that since this area is on his land. I am going to risk his disapproval and publicly thank Murdoch Lancer for this wonderful gift for the children."

A rumble of applause begin and smiling eyes turned to look at Murdoch. Scott looked over and saw that Murdoch was going to stand and refute Sisterís announcement. Scott put his hand on his arm and held him back

"Murdoch, let it be," he whispered.

"I canít, Johnny should get the credit for this, I canít pretend it was my idea."

"Let it be. This is apparently the way Johnny wanted it. He knew that once he gave the gift everyone would know it was on Lancer land. He must be okay with everyone thinking it was a Lancer gift. Let it be."

Theresa came running over and gave Murdoch a hug, "What a wonderful thing to do, Murdoch, The children will love it," she said with tears in her eyes.

At that point, Murdoch realized that Sister was calling him forward to make a comment and he knew there was no way to get out of doing just that.

"Sister, thank you for your kind remarks. I want you to know that this gift comes to you with love from everyone at Lancer. Thank you for all the good work you do."

With that, Murdoch quickly left the front of the crowd. He corralled Scott and Theresa and they made their way from the orphanage, all the while getting shouts of appreciation from the crowd.

Once they were in the buggy, Murdoch explained to Theresa what had been going on.

"Well, I think that itís sweet of Johnny to do all that work for the children. You should be proud of him, Murdoch"

"I am honey. I just donít know how to talk with him about it. I canít understand why he didnít tell us he was doing this." Murdoch said in an exasperated tone.

Scott had been riding along side the buggy. "Just ask him, Murdoch and just listen to the answer. Donít tell him what he should have done or why it should have done it a certain way. Ask him, let him explain." Scott knew that Murdoch idea of being understanding was often lost on Johnny and he did not want a confrontation with Murdoch to spoil Johnnyís moment - even if no one but the Lancers knew it was Johnnyís moment.

Murdoch didnít reply but he knew that Scott was right. He would try to follow his oldest sonís advice. He always seemed to know the way to reach Johnny, maybe he could learn from him.

There was no sign of movement when they reach the house. It wasnít late, just a little after seven by the time they got back and Murdoch fully expected to find Johnny inside. He grew a little anxious at the quietness they found and hoped that Johnny hadnít ridden off somewhere in an effort to avoid the conversation he surely knew would be coming.

Johnny was not in the kitchen or the great room. Murdoch went up the stairs to his sonís room. The door to the bedroom was ajar and Murdoch pushed it open and found Johnny asleep. He hadnít bothered taking off his shirt or pants. It looked like he had just fallen into bed.

Murdoch smiled, "I guess those late nights finally caught up," he whispered and shut the door.

 

Murdoch went downstairs to report to Scott and Theresa that any conversation would need to wait.

Johnny woke up early the next morning. Do I go find Murdoch or do I wait till he finds me? Might as well get it over with, Johnny thought.

Murdochís bedroom door was opened so Johnny was sure heíd find him down in the kitchen and there he was sitting at the table nursing a cup of coffee.

ĎMornin."

"Good Morning, Johnny. Sleep well?"

Johnny grinned, "yea, had a real good nightís sleep." He waited for Murdoch to open the subject.

"You left the party early, Johnny."

"Yea, well, the party part was pretty much over. I wasnít all that interested in the speech part."

"Well, I was a little surprised at Sisterís speech myself. Do you want to explain it to me?"

"Murdoch, youíre not mad about that land are you? You said yourself it wasnít worth much except protecting access to the water rights. You didnít have any plans for it, did ya?"

"Johnny, itís not about the land. I just need to understand, why did it have to be such a secret and to tell the truth I felt very uncomfortable taking credit for something I had nothing to do with.

"Did they like it? , Johnny asked with a little bit of hesitancy.

"Well Sister Anastasia certainly did, all the townspeople who were there were clapping and cheering so Iím sure they thought it was a good idea. The children probably havenít seen it yet, but I know theyíll like it. That doesnít answer my question, why do it on your own? Didnít you know that we would have helped? ?í

Johnny sighed deeply. "No Murdoch, I know you would have helped. Scott would have laid out plans on paper, Theresa would have started on curtains for the sheds, and you would have had the hands clear the land to twice the size and make everything bigger. Thatís not what I wanted."

"What did you want, son?í, Murdoch asked gently.

Johnny looked at his father. Would he understand what he was about to say? Well, only one way to find out . . .

"Murdoch, Iím not sure what allís in those Pinkertonís reports but maybe you know that I spent some time in an orphanage. Not a lot, just a couple months. I had been taking care of myself for too long, even before mama died, for it to work when they put me there. It wasnít a bad place, just not a place for me. One thing I remember was that you were always IN the orphanage. Even if they took you to town it was in a group and it was the "orphanage kids." You took the building with you wherever you went. I wanted a place where those kids could go that wasnít connected to the orphanage, Their own place outside buildings and boundaries. I know that they will never go there alone but maybe theyíll feel like their on their own when theyíd there."

Murdoch nodded but knew there was more. "What else, Johnny?í, he asked.

"Well all the stuff that Theresa said folks donated really had nothing to do with the kids.

Oh, I know, you want a blanket when youíre cold and something to eat when youíre hungry. I figured that the Sisters would get more than enough of those things and itís really important that they do but this could be just for the kids."

" I beginning to understand your reasoning John, but Iím still not sure why you felt you couldnít explain those things to us and have us help."

Okay, Johnny, this is it, just say it.

"I didnít want you to feel guilty". Johnny said with a sad smile.

"Feel guilty, Murdoch asked with a touch of defensiveness. What do you mean?"

"I didnít want you feeling that I never had this when I was a kid, or I was never a kid or whatever else you feel bad about when you think about me." Johnny said it fast and furious just to get it out there.

Murdoch wasnít sure quite how to react. He knew that what Johnny described was exactly what he thought when he saw him on the rope swing. He was full of emotion and wasnít sure that he would be able to speak.

Johnny watched Murdoch for his reaction and he wasnít comfortable with the growing silence.

"Murdoch, I was a kid, I did kid things, I wonít deny that it wasnít a the kind of childhood youíd wish for but I survived. There isnít anything you could have done to change it. Even if I didnít believe that was true then, I believe itís true now. I donít want you always thinking itís your fault that way I grew up. I knew that if you helped me with the orphanage stuff youíd be thinking that all the time. It would have changed it for me. I wouldnít have had the same fun doing it."

Murdoch pulled himself together.

"All right, Johnny. I think I understand. Thank you."

Johnny wasnít sure what he was being thanked for but he was happy the conversation was over.

"Your welcome," he said with a smile. Tell Maria Iím gonna go out and take care of Barancca for a while and Iíll be back in for breakfast when everyone else is down.".

Scott hadnít really slept. He was too worried about how the conversation with Murdoch and Johnny would go in the morning and when he heard Johnny go downstairs he followed. He heard the entire exchange between his father and his brother and walked into the room after Johnny left.

"Murdoch?"

"Did you hear?"

"Yes, Iím ashamed to admit I deliberately listened to your conversation."

"Iím glad you did, Iím not sure I could repeat it with any justice"

"He can be quite remarkable, canít he?"

"Yes, Scott, he can be.

Murdoch looked up at his oldest, "You both can be."

 

One Week Later.

Sister had sent word that the children would be making their first trip out to the play area. Murdoch and the boys rode out to see how things were going. The sounds of laughter filled the air as the three men rode into the valley. Sister Anastasia looked up with a smile.

"Hello, Murdoch, boys. Itís so good to see you. Have you come to check on your investment?"

"Just wanted to see how things were going," Murdoch replied. "Do you have everything you need, are the children enjoying it?"

"Murdoch, open your eyes, have you ever seen a bunch of happier children?"

Murdoch laughed, "no, canít say that I have and it looks like two more Ďchildrení are about to join in the fun."

Scot and Johnny looked at each other and grinned.

Scott and Johnny were immediately engulfed by the children as they dismounted.

"Murdoch, may I ask a question?"

"Certainly, Sister, what is it?"

"When I announced your gift at the St. Francis celebration. I was looking at your face, and you seemed confused and a little surprised. Iíve wondered about that - what was going on?"

"Sister, I have a story to tell you and one day I will."

"I look forward to it," she answered.

Murdoch looked over this corner of his land, looked at the children playing, the Sisters watching over them, and at his sons.

He accepted all of Johnnyís reasons for doing what he did the way he did it. Still, a part of him could not dismiss the fact that his son never had the childhood he should have had . He would always carry some sense of guilt about that fact. For today, however, Murdoch just decided to enjoy this moment of peace.

 

 

THE END

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