Alternate Reality – This is an alternate reality story. Johnny is 13 and has been with Murdoch since he was 10. Scott is now 15.
There is a character in the story that is a sexual predator. If this is offensive, would advise not to read. There is nothing in this story that is sexually explicit, however, there is mild profanity.
The characters do not belong to me and there is no profit or any financial gain made by this story.
Many thanks to my beta Lacy, Midland Storm!
The boy was alone. The surreal events of the last couple of weeks had finally caught up with him. As he stared out the window of his second floor bedroom, the rain collided with and cascaded down the glass, obscuring the sodden garden below. The day was as grey and depressed as the boy felt. By this time tomorrow he would be on his way to his father’s ranch, leaving behind the only home he had known.
He had said goodbye to the staff earlier. He worried what would happen to them, now that his grandfather was gone. They had been his family: the maids, the gardener, the butler, but especially the housekeeper. Maggie had been here as long as the boy could remember. She was the one who cleaned up his skinned knees, walked him to his first day of school, baked him cakes and cookies, and even once, she had kissed him on top of his head when he proudly showed her his first place ribbon in spelling.
She had tears in her eyes when he went down the staff line for goodbyes. He had asked her not to be present in the morning when he left. She understood and agreed. She had kissed him then, on his forehead and he had flung his arms around her, and almost lost his composure. He had caught his bounding emotions, captured them before they anguished from his throat in tears. After all, his grandfather’s attorney was present, and he wasn’t a little boy anymore.
His mind tripped back to that awful day when the lawyer had told him he was going to live with his father. How horrible that announcement had been. “Why?” he had exclaimed. “I want to stay here!” Mr. Griffin, the attorney, informed him that his father’s petition for custody had been successful. But, the boy argued, ‘his grandfather would not want that,’ hadn’t he arranged for his grandson to stay here? The lawyer explained his grandfather had died unexpectedly and had made no specific arrangements as to where his grandson would live. He had made him his heir to take control of Garrett Enterprises when he was 21, but nothing further. And even if he had, his father was, after all, his father and was now his legal guardian.
The boy recalled how year after year he had waited to hear from his father, disappointment growing with each passing birthday and holiday. He had buried his hurt until it turned harsh and bitter towards his parent. His belief was so strong that his father did not care about him, that he now wanted nothing to do with him. ‘Why does he want me now?’ he thought, and concluded that he was after his inheritance. But his grandfather’s attorney indicated that he could not gain power over that; it was held in trust by a board of directors, and they would oversee it until he was of age. Confused, the boy wondered what his father’s motives were.
Drifting just on the edge of his thoughts, however, was the fact that he had been born, and his mother had died. He tried not to think about that, but it was like a ghost that was there, hovering, cold, and persistent. He felt guilty sometimes that he was alive. The only knowledge he had of his mother was a portrait in his grandfather’s study. He didn’t go in there often; he wasn’t allowed. But once in a while he would slip in when his grandfather was gone and look at her. He wondered what she was like, if she would have loved him as he loved her. He cried sometimes, but never when anyone could see him. His grandfather had caught him in there studying the picture when he was nine years old. His grandfather hadn’t said anything, but the look he gave the boy was fearsome; it was a penetrating, resentful glare as if the boy had cheated him of something. It had been so frightening to the boy that he never went into the study again. It struck him then that maybe his father felt the same way. After that, he no longer envisioned his father walking down the street, hand waiving, face smiling, coming to get him.
Scott turned from the window and surveyed the room. This was the last night he would spend in it. He walked slowly around the space, caressing the furnishings like old friends, committing their contours and textures to memory. He breathed deeply the aroma of fine wood, plush carpet, velvet drapery and rain. Even though the room had been his for 15 years, it still reminded him of the rest of the mansion. It was his grandfather’s manor and every fragrance he smelled, every surface he touched, everywhere he gazed his grandfather lingered.
He had crept into his grandfather’s room earlier in the day for comfort. He had rarely entered the room, but now was in search of his grandfather’s presence in something of his. There was nothing out of place, no book set aside by his grandfather to be read later, no piece of clothing, the ever present water glass on the night stand was also gone. There was nothing personal the child could touch.
He wanted to cry. “Be strong, Scotty. You’re a man now.” The words of his grandfather took him back to his 13th birthday. According to his grandfather, that’s the day he became a man. The memory surrounded him, clutched his heart, and almost brought him to his knees.
He walked once more to the window and rested his forehead against it. It was cool and he found comfort in the sound of the driving rain. His tall, lanky young form trembled as his legs slowly crumbled to the floor. Silver blue eyes, frightened and alone, looked through the rain streaked window hoping that this was all a horrible mistake, an ugly dream and he would wake up and tomorrow would be normal. His breath caught, a tear fell and then, he couldn’t hold back the sorrow.
“Why did you die, grandfather? I don’t want to leave here. Come back to me, please, please” he murmured over and over again. He recalled once more his grandfather’s words; ‘You’re a man now.’ But, he didn’t feel like a man. He was a 15 year old boy and the person he loved and thought of as his father, his protector, his refuge of safety had died. Now he was being torn from his home, forced to go across the country to live with a man he hated. Folding to the floor, he curled into himself. Praying for release, his last thought before he collapsed into sleep was of how much he wanted it to all go away.
As quietly as he could, Johnny opened the back door leading into the kitchen. He inched his head through and, after insuring that no one was present, he cautiously stepped in and closed the door. It was his intent to get up the back stairway to his room before his father knew he was home. He was late; more than late, he was damn late, although he knew better than to use that word in his father’s presence. He had been having such a good time with his friends, he didn’t notice how fast the hours passed.
Asked to be home by 3:00 p.m., it was now after 6:00. If he could make it to his room without being seen, he could pretend he’d been there for hours. If his father asked where he was, if his father hadn’t checked his room, if he could pull it off - lots of ifs and Johnny knew the odds were against him. He just hoped his old man was taking a nap, as he usually did on Sunday afternoons; he might be able to get away with it. He thought he knew what the outcome would be if he were caught; lots of extra work and maybe even a sore backend. It had happened before when Johnny hadn’t listened and obeyed.
The house was quiet, which was a good sign. As Johnny made his way to the stairs, he glanced furtively through the doorway going to the Great Room. He stopped, stretched his neck to take in his father’s desk, and noted no one sitting there. He smiled, maybe luck was with him and his father was indeed napping. Emboldened and not quite as worried, he silently continued across the room, took his first step on the stairs – and stopped. He brought his face up and, poised on the stairway staring angrily down at him, was the large frame of his father.
“John.” The tone unmistakable, Johnny cringed. “You’d better have a good explanation as to why you are three hours late.”
Johnny looked at his father and quickly looked away. ‘Hooh, he is mad’ Johnny registered.
“John” the word harsher now, “to my desk.”
Backing down the step, Johnny stepped aside as his father passed him. Johnny slowly followed him into the Great Room. ‘At least we’re not going upstairs’ Johnny thought, relieved. Maybe he had averted physical punishment, which was always carried out in his room.
“OK, John, you’d better tell me why you’re late, and, I want the truth, not something you make up as you go.”
When Johnny had first been reunited with his father three years ago, the discipline of routine could just as well have been from another planet. Johnny had grown up without order and restraint and having to be required to report to someone and follow orders was entirely foreign to the young boy. Balking at the restrictions, he rebelled.
The first time he ran away from home was a week after his arrival; Johnny was thoroughly confused and resentful as to why he had to do what this man wanted. The second time he ran away was after his father had taken a strap to his bottom. Granted, he deserved it, but Johnny had been smacked around before, and he wasn’t going to let it happen again. He hadn’t gotten far and his father had brought him back; Johnny expected another whipping, but, to his surprise, didn’t get it. That was when Johnny’s wall had begun to crack.
When his father didn’t give up and insisted on obedience, Johnny resorted to lies. He had to give his father credit, though. With all of the things Johnny had done to his father, from outright in-your-face defiance to behind-your-back mutiny, his father persisted. In the end, Johnny had grudgingly admitted that his old man maybe did care for him; otherwise he’d have been sent back to the orphanage where his father found him.
Some of the old habits still hung on, at least first reactions. Johnny’s mind quickly went over several excuses he could tell his father, but promptly dismissed them. He knew if he told the truth it would be better in the long run for him.
“I’m sorry Pa. I just forgot the time. I was having a good time, and just forgot.” Johnny’s head was bowed, the toe of his boot digging at a pattern in the carpet. He waited for his father’s reaction, afraid but at the same time, resigned. He knew his father loved him but his father didn’t always understand him, or so Johnny thought.
As a growing 13 year old, with his undisciplined background, passionate personality and all of the confusion of a maturing body, Johnny was a handful. Murdoch studied his son, and was amazed at how much he loved him. Every day he woke he thought of Johnny and how grateful he was that he was here. It could so easily not have happened and Murdoch shuddered at how a small, almost overlooked piece of paper changed their lives.
Murdoch had been contacted by the head mistress at the orphanage where Johnny had been taken after his mother died. A letter had been found in his mother’s belongings addressed to the Lancer Ranch that indicated Murdoch was the boy’s father. Murdoch didn’t care about the particulars when he got the wire, but immediately saddled a horse and headed south to pick up his son. It turned out the letter was from his wife’s cousin asking about her life with Murdoch and how the child was? The letter had been received just before Maria left Murdoch, taking their son with her. Murdoch didn’t know why Maria had kept the letter for so many years. He was simply grateful she had and it had been found.
Murdoch was appreciative Johnny hadn’t lied about why he was late. After he had asked for an explanation, he could almost see Johnny’s brain at work, wondering what he should say. Murdoch had thought they had gotten beyond the lies, and was pleased when he was proved correct.
Murdoch went behind his desk and sat down. “Johnny, because you didn’t lie to me, and I believe you weren’t late on purpose, we’ll skip any physical punishment. Although being three hours late you certainly deserve it” Murdoch stated when he saw Johnny lift his eyes to his, almost smiling. “I expect you to clean the chicken house completely, white wash it, and get new nesting material in there for the hens.”
Johnny waited, relieved that it wasn’t any worse. Maybe his old man was getting soft, he thought. Just a couple of Saturday’s ago Johnny had gotten into trouble with a couple of his friends when he and his father had gone to town. Johnny had gone off with the two boys while Murdoch gathered supplies. With a stern “stay out of trouble” from his father, they sauntered down Main Street with their imaginations. With time on their hands, they decided it would be fun to sneak toads into the layers of various fabric bolts at the general store. The three boys had milled about in the corner of the store, absorbed presumably in looking at hard candy. Two ladies came in to look at material, and jumped almost as high as the toads. The toads had lurched about the store, jumped into an open flour bin ruining the whole container, and toppled jars from shelves. When they had finally been caught and the ladies appeased, the bill that the three fathers had to pay for damages was considerable. If ever Johnny thought he would get his backside burned, it was then. Surprisingly his father indicated he was to apologize to the ladies and the store owner, repay the money in work and was confined to the grounds for a week. So when his father told him his latest episode cost him only additional work, he was elated.
But Murdoch wasn’t finished. “You are also not allowed to leave the grounds of the house for three weeks.”
Johnny raised wide eyes to his father. “But Pa,” Johnny protested, “the rodeo is next week.”
“Maybe you’ll pay a little extra attention to the watch I gave you next time.”
“Can’t I go to the rodeo? I’ll white wash the grain crib, why I’ll even wash the outhouse” which Johnny thought was way more than fair.
“No, son. I think you are getting off pretty well. However, I can reconsider a short session with you and me in your room if you continue. Is that understood?”
Although he was considering a sore bottom might be worth it in trade for attending the rodeo, a sullen, “yes, sir” came from a clearly disappointed Johnny.
“Johnny, I was worried about you,” Murdoch said looking at his downcast son. “I didn’t know if something had happened to you, if you were hurt. I was just going to come looking for you when you came in.”
“I was okay, Pa. I wasn’t hurt.”
“And how was I supposed to know that?”
“I don’t know. I’m sorry” Johnny said, not realizing what his tardiness had caused his father.
Murdoch eyed his youngest, his stocky build that foretold of a muscular form when he became a man, his dark black hair that teased with red/blue when the sun hit it and his beautiful blue eyes that he had inherited from his grandmother. He knew Johnny was sorry.
“Okay, son. I want you to get washed up for dinner. I also have some news about Scott, if you’re interested.”
The persecuted look on Johnny’s face immediately turned to one of excitement. “Did you get word? Is he coming home?”
Murdoch smiled. It always amazed him how quickly Johnny’s moods could change. “Yes, Johnny, he is coming home.”
“When?” Johnny’s eyes sparkled with anticipation.
“He leaves Boston tomorrow. I expect he’ll be here in two to three weeks, depending on travel connections.”
“Wow, Pa. That’s great.” He eyed his father’s worried face. “Don’t you think?”
“Yes, Johnny, I think it’s wonderful.”
“Then, what’s the matter. You don’t seem real excited about it.”
Murdoch sighed. He had fought so long for Scott’s return that he hadn’t entirely grasped the fact that he was coming home. He had hired an attorney by the name of Lyle Smyth years ago to try to get Scott back. His father-in-law had blocked his every attempt, but apparently had not thought of his own mortality. Regardless of Harlan’s wealth and power, upon his death there was no way that a court would not return a child to his father, especially when they found a judge who was finally leaning to Murdoch. When his attorney had wired Murdoch that Harlan Garrett had died, he acted quickly. Murdoch’s attorney, an old friend from his Boston days, was a good one and secured custody easily.
If Murdoch could have, he would have gone to Boston himself and brought Scott home. But school would start soon, and he did not want to pull Johnny out of it. Johnny was smart, but he was still catching up to the years lost when he didn’t have any schooling. He also did not want to leave him alone without adequate supervision, which could be for as long as six weeks, maybe more. Johnny was a good boy, but he was a lot of work and always challenging. There was no one he could trust him with, except perhaps his old friend, Sam Jenkins. Sam was so busy with his medical practice, that he couldn’t ask him. Reluctantly Murdoch had asked his attorney to hire someone dependable to accompany Scott home.
Accompany Scott - it was more to insure that he came west. Murdoch didn’t have any illusions that Scott was coming to California by choice. He had sent enough letters and gifts over the years, all without acknowledgement from Scott, he more than suspected that they had been intercepted and Scott had never received them. Murdoch also assumed that Garrett had lied to Scott about his father, just as Maria had lied to Johnny.
The death of Garrett and the effect it was probably having on his son was also a very real worry to Murdoch. He didn’t know the emotional strengths or weaknesses of Scott; Garrett had made sure of that. How was his son coping with his grandfather’s death? How was he dealing with the realization that he was leaving Boston and coming to California? His lawyer had seen Scott periodically and informed Murdoch that he was tall for his age, and very slender; aside from that, Murdoch didn’t even know how physically strong his son was.
“Johnny, I am excited that Scott is coming home. I think, though, we need to realize it’s going to be hard for a while, especially for Scott. He will be getting to know us, and a new way of life so different from what he’s been used to. And we’ll be getting to know him. We need to remember that if things don’t go like we think they should.”
“But, why wouldn’t he want to be with us. We’re his family?”
“Son, you remember when you first came home? You remember how hard those first few months were? You didn’t want to be here, did you?”
Johnny bowed his head, ashamed when remembering all he had put his father through. “No, I didn’t. But I was wrong, Pa. I didn’t know you! I didn’t know about Mama …. about her telling me stories about you,” hesitating faintly with those last few words.
“I understand that son. But maybe that’s how Scott feels too, like you did. Do you remember when Scott didn’t answer the letters you sent to him, you were disappointed, weren’t you?”
“Yea, I didn’t think he cared he had a brother, until you told me his grandfather probably threw the letters away.”
“But Scott doesn’t know that. He thinks we, that I, don’t want him.”
“But he was yours, Pa. He had no right to keep him” an angry Johnny retorted.
“I know, Johnny. But sometimes life isn’t fair. Johnny” Murdoch stated to his frustrated son, “I know your mother loved you, but she didn’t always tell you the truth, did she?”
“Scott’s grandfather didn’t tell him the truth either. Sometimes grown ups do things to hurt other people that they don’t like. It’s not right, son, but it happens. The sad thing is that others are hurt, like Scott, and you.” Murdoch paused. “It’s not fair and it’s not right, but I love you Johnny, like I love Scott. We’ll just have to be patient with him, okay?”
“I will be Pa. I’ll try to make him feel welcome.” Johnny hesitated, “He won’t try to run away will he?” remembering his own efforts to leave.
“I hope not, Johnny. We’ll just have to make sure something like that doesn’t happen.”
Johnny was actually very excited about having a brother. As far as he was concerned, it was almost as exciting as having a new horse. Better, because now he’d have someone to talk to, to do things with, to joke with and play jokes on. Their age difference was only a couple of years.
As if reading his thoughts, his father softly said, “Son, don’t expect too much right away? Scott just lost his grandfather, who he probably loved very much. He’s also leaving the only home he’s ever known to come clear across the country and live with people he’s never met before. He’s probably scared, grieving for his grandfather, feeling very alone. ”
Johnny mulled over that. He knew what his father was saying. “It’s okay, Pa. I won’t push him.”
Murdoch smiled affectionately, catching Johnny in a quick embrace. Johnny blushed, pleased and embarrassed at the same time from the display.
“Does he know about me?” he asked his father suddenly.
“I promise you, he’ll know about you before he leaves Boston. My attorney will be talking to him tomorrow morning and he’ll tell him about you.”
Johnny pondered, softly commenting, “I wonder what he’ll think.”
He threw an arm around Johnny’s shoulder. “Come on, son; let’s see what’s cooking for supper.”
“I didn’t see Maria, Pa. I thought you’d given her the day off.”
“I’m cooking tonight.”
Johnny gave his father a skeptical look.
“I’ve done my share of cooking in the past, and as you can see, it hasn’t stunted my growth.”
Johnny looked up at his 6’5” father. “Yea, but I bet your Ma cooked for you when you were a kid!”
“She taught me how to cook,” Murdoch laughed. “Come on boy, I’ll teach you,” and they headed for the kitchen.
Scott sat soberly in his grandfather’s study, listening to his father’s attorney explain the trip to California, how long it would take, where they would stop, and other particulars of the journey. Scott was quiet, only answering when directly asked a question, and then in few words.
His grandfather’s attorney was also present, as well as the man who was going to escort him to California. There didn’t seem to be any animosity between the two attorneys, which surprised Scott at first. They were polite, even friendly, talking about their wives and children when they first arrived. Scott almost smiled at his own naivety when he thought about it. Why should they be enemies? To these two men it was just a matter of business. He had learned that well enough from his grandfather. 'Don’t take it personally. It’s just a matter of business.' He had heard his grandfather say that many times when ushering someone to the door who had been on the receiving end of one of his business deals. How easy it was to say when you were the winner, Scott pondered, his mood dark. His grandfather rarely lost in business, or anything else for that matter. But, Scott reflected, he had lost this time.
Scott eyed the man who was going to accompany him to California. He had been introduced as Mark Bayer, going to California for the sole purpose of making sure Scott arrived safely. He expected to return immediately to Boston. He was just a bit taller than Scott, as Scott was tall for his age, but obviously much heavier with a very solid and muscular build. Scott thought him to be around thirty years of age. He had brown hair, a small mustache, and a casual bearing. He imparted self confidence, but in a subtle manner without rhetoric or arrogance. Scott hadn’t wanted to shake his proffered hand when they were introduced, but his upbringing and ingrained politeness won over. Scott noted his grip was cool and firm; he also seemed to have a very no-nonsense air about him.
Scott had woken this morning, exhausted. He was almost numb, going through the motions of cleaning up, dressing and picking at his breakfast. His mood had not lifted and as his father’s attorney addressed him, he barely took in what was being said. So, when the words came out “you have a brother” they barely registered at first. It took a few moments before Scott realized what he had said. “What?” Scott asked, completely stupefied.
“You have a brother” Mr. Smyth repeated.
Scott looked so bewildered, that Mr. Smyth’s heart went out to him. He knew how much Murdoch Lancer had wanted his son; how many times through the years he had come up against Harlan Garrett just to be beaten back. Smyth wanted to tell the boy this, but it was not his place to tell Scott that his grandfather was a conniving, devious, selfish man who hated Murdoch fiercely. Smyth thought Garrett probably loved his grandson, but he hated Murdoch Lancer more, and had deprived him of a son that needed him very much.
Standing and approaching Scott, he put his hand on his shoulder. “Son, I’m not at liberty to tell you any more. Just that his name is Johnny, he is 13 years old, and both he and your father are looking forward to seeing you.”
Scott glanced towards the window, trying to comprehend what he had been told. He was so utterly dazed with everything that had happened in the last few weeks, he was unable to understand fully. He looked towards his grandfather’s attorney for some type of help, but the man didn’t meet his eyes.
In actuality, Mr. Griffin couldn’t. He had known and worked for Harlan Garrett for most of his legal life. How Garrett had managed to maintain custody of his grandson was due to the expert legalize of Walton Griffin.
After many years of compromise, Griffin was looking forward to retiring. He had started his career as a young, idealistic man who was going to fight injustice, lend his education to the poor, and make a better life for as many men as he could. Reality, he learned quickly, had other plans and instead he found himself coldly reviewing briefs in favor of the wealthy, learning that justice was easily bought and paid for, and keeping children from their fathers. He detested Garrett, almost as much as he detested himself. One more assignment to complete and he would quit. This was his last duty, to send this child to his father with as much distaste as he could communicate.
But Garrett was dead. He was not hovering, brow beating or attempting to buy everyone or everything to get his way. Before Griffin now was a young boy, pale, tired, scared and alone. This, in large part, was the work of his hands. Was there pride in maneuvering the justice system so expertly that he could keep a father from his child? He thought back on that young man he had been, just out of law school, wanting to make a difference, and he was ashamed at the difference he had made. Granted, Harlan could have found another attorney willing to do the same dirty deeds, or so Griffin had told himself, so why shouldn’t he profit? But the argument wasn’t enough anymore. If he didn’t do something to help this boy, his self-loathing would weigh upon him like an iron anvil, and it would crush him.
“Scott, I think your father cares very much about what happens to you.” He paused, collecting his thoughts, very aware of both Scott and Smyth looking at him. “Your grandfather may have thought that what he was doing was the best for you. I don’t know what he told you, but your father has wanted you for years. I’m sorry to put more upon you now, but maybe, just maybe if it can help you as you go to your father, please think about it. He wanted you, Scott; your father wanted you very much.”
“What are you talking about? Why do you say this?” Scott seemed muddled and disorientated. He was so tired, so unbelievably tired. Everything crashed then, his grandfather’s death, his father’s summons, leaving his home, losing everything in his life that he loved; and now this, that somehow his grandfather had deceived him. That the one person in the world that he trusted most, relied on, and loved, didn’t love him as he thought! And he had a brother. He stood up and collapsed.
Murdoch, Scott’s departure has been delayed. Plan to leave 8/10. Letter in detail will be posted shortly. Signed Lyle Smyth.
Murdoch clutched the telegram in his hand, not understanding what had happened, what caused the delay, speculating as to what had taken place. He took a deep breath, knowing that conjecture would not do anyone any good. Scott would be leaving Boston in three days. Murdoch would wait for his friend’s letter.
The train pulled out of the station, chugging away from Boston, hissing steam as it left Massachusetts behind, carrying Scott Lancer on the first part of his trek to California. It rolled into New York, through New Jersey and across the beautiful countryside of Pennsylvania. Its heavy steel melody thrummed through Scott’s brain, lulling him to sleep through the better part of the first few days of his journey, assisting the sedatives in keeping him in slumber. The doctor had insisted on the medication, to insure that Scott received much needed rest. Instructing Mark Bayer on how much and when to administer the sleeping powder, he said to give it to Scott for at least three days, then tempering off. When Boston was physically left far behind, perhaps the last few weeks would dim somewhat and Scott could begin to mend emotionally.
The attorneys had been alarmed when Scott collapsed, Griffin especially. It was Bayer who took control, asking the butler to send for a doctor and carrying the boy to his bed. He had been barely able to contain his disdain for Harlan’s attorney and his untimely pronouncement. It had been obvious to Bayer that the boy was near a breakdown, and Griffin’s stupidity to try and alleviate his own conscience had been the catalyst. Not only that, it would make Bayer’s job more difficult by exacerbating the emotional turmoil the boy was enduring.
Bayer had been made aware of the history between grandfather and father, and knew the manipulations that Garrett and his attorney had gone through to maintain custody of Scott. He would not have agreed to take the boy to California if he felt he didn’t belong there. Bayer was not an idealist by any means, nor was he out to right the wrongs that others had done. He was being paid well, he was an efficient man and would get the job done, but he also did not take on work that left a bad taste in his mouth. It was his intent to get the boy to his father with as little upheaval as possible, understanding that Scott needed to be monitored.
He had always maintained firm, impersonal control over every job he chose to do, regardless of the circumstances. Some would call him a bounty hunter, but that wasn’t entirely correct. It was true that he did hunt men for a living, selectively anyway, depending on the man and the bounty. It could also be said that he “relocated” individuals, as he was doing now with Murdoch Lancer’s son. He had found runaway adolescents, usually daughters in love with the wrong kind of man, and returned them to their parents. In a few cases, it could have been kidnapping, as some of those daughters were of age, and had not necessarily agreed to accompany him. He had on occasion crossed into Mexico, unofficially making sure a man was deposited in the legal jurisdiction back in the states where he was wanted. He didn’t do anything strictly in the name of justice, however; he couldn’t afford to. He was well paid and, to date, always successful.
He did feel sorry for the boy, but would not let that get in the way of performing his job. Emotions were messy, clouding judgment, slowing reactions and hedging concentration. He didn’t think that would be a problem with Scott though. It was usually very angry or weeping women trying to use all types of persuasion to release them that were the issue. It always amazed him what they could come up with, aside from the obvious ploy of sex. You had to watch yourself with the females, no doubt about that. They were trickier than desperate men and Bayer had dealt with plenty of them.
The private compartment they were traveling in was comfortable and would take them all the way to St. Louis. From St. Louis they would head for Council Bluffs, Iowa and on to Sacramento, California. The last leg of their journey from Sacramento to Morro Coyo would probably be the roughest as stage was the only way in, other than horseback. He considered that, but thought he had better control of the kid by coach.
He glanced over at Scott who was sleeping soundly. ‘Good looking kid,’ he thought to himself. They were three days out of Boston and the rhythm of the train and cadence of the wheels almost put him to sleep. With Scott sleeping so much up to now, the job had been easy almost to the point of boredom. Scott woke long enough to eat something, utilize the train facilities, and then immediately went back to sleep. Bayer was cutting back on the sedative he was giving the boy, so that would definitely change. He had enough of a supply of the medication for future use if he needed it.
Scott softly moaned, drawing Bayer’s attention back to him. Bayer thought he may be waking up, but seemed to settle after shifting onto his side. ‘Poor little rich boy,’ he thought, and then conceded that it was probably a fact. Kid grew up thinking his old man didn’t want him, his mother dead, his grandfather controlling every aspect of his life. ‘Hell, he didn’t even know he had a brother!’ Bayer grunted to himself. All that old man’s money didn’t make this kid happy.
He seemed like a decent enough kid, even though Bayer had little communication with Scott up to now. When Scott was awake, he never complained, was polite and courteous, and always thanked the porters when they brought in the meals or changed the linen. Didn’t seem “uppity” to Bayer, very quiet, but could be the medication.
Bayer was finding it very difficult to keep his eyes open. He looked towards the kid again, sleeping peacefully, and decided he would close his eyes for just a few minutes. The boy would probably sleep for a few hours more, although it had been several hours since he had last slipped the sedative into Scott’s water. The train hummed, the wheels droned and the man was tired.
His head jerked suddenly. Opening his eyes, it took a few seconds to determine exactly where he was. He’d fallen asleep, he realized, and didn’t know for how long. He scanned the room getting his bearings and froze when he saw the empty bed. He didn’t see the kid, and there wasn’t any place he could hide in the small area. Dam, Bayer cursed, angry at himself for getting too comfortable.
Glancing out the window, he noted the landscape thrumming quickly by in the twilight. The boy couldn’t have gotten off the train, unless he jumped, but that would have been suicide. Considering the emotional state of the kid, Bayer didn’t rule that out entirely. He had not once failed to deliver his end of the deal, and he was not going to fail this time. His breath caught for a second, knowing that statement was only his desire, and his failure to contain his assignment was inexcusable. This was a 15 year old boy, not a strong, brutal murderer with a rope waiting for him.
He wrenched the door open, and looked up and down the hallway. A porter was making his way down the corridor, extra blankets in hand.
“Have you seen the boy I was with, the tall, skinny blonde kid?”
“Yes sir, I saw him up front of the car a bit ago. I asked him if he was okay. He looked a little peaked to me, but said he was okay.”
Bayer took off towards the door leading to the front of the car. Yanking it open, he was engulfed in the air rushing past, panicked that he couldn’t grip the jamb to go outside. ‘How the hell could the kid get out’ the thought surged through his brain. Then the train slightly shifted direction, and the rush that had blocked his passage suddenly ceased, releasing him; he pushed out onto the open porch and saw Scott huddled in the corner.
Bayer exhaled, not realizing he had been holding his breath. He clenched the iron railing, and tried to gather his racing nerves. This had been close and it wouldn’t happen again. He stared at the boy, intently looking for injury. The kid wasn’t moving except for an occasional shiver. Bayer collected himself; he wanted to haul the kid back into the rail car and tie him to the bed. Instead he softly said, “Scott? Are you all right?”
The boy didn’t move at first, but then gazed up at Bayer. His eyes were a bit cloudy, but not like they had been since the doctor had first given him the sedative at the house the night he collapsed.
“Scott, we need to get back inside. Come on,” Bayer held out his hand.
Scott didn’t move, just sat rigidly in the corner. Bayer made a move towards him, and Scott shifted further into the corner, obviously afraid.
“Scott, I’m not going to hurt you. But we need to get back inside.”
“I don’t want to be tired anymore” Scott whispered. “I don’t want you to give me any more medicine.”
Bayer was taken aback by the comment. He hadn’t thought Scott realized that he was being sedated. “Scott, the doctor said you needed it, but I’ll not give you any more. Will you come back inside with me?”
“Where are we?”
“We’re in Pennsylvania.”
Scott’s eyes wandered a bit and came back to Bayer’s face. “I don’t want to go to California.”
Bayer licked his lips. “I know, son. Why don’t we go inside and talk about it.”
“That won’t change your mind,” Scott murmured, slumping further to the floor.
Bayer squatted down, peering into Scott’s face. “No, I won’t change my mind. But you can’t stay out here.” Scott wasn’t making any indication that he would move. “You know, son, I have a brother. Don’t know what I’d do without him. We fight some, but I love him and he loves me.” Bayer paused, seeing what affect those words had on Scott. “You have a brother. You ever want a brother or sister?”
Scott nodded, “Yea, I wanted a brother or sister. But my mother died and my father was far away.”
Bayer looked intently at the boy. “You have a brother, Scott and he wants you. He wrote you some letters.” Lancer’s attorney had told him about the letters Johnny wrote to Scott. Johnny had been hurt that Scott hadn’t replied, so angering Murdoch that he was ready to come to Boston and kidnap Scott. The only thing that stopped him was his attorney telling him how close they were; not to mess it up now.
Interested, Scott peered at Bayer. “He does want you, Scott. Come on, you need something to eat and I’m tired. Let’s go inside and talk about it.” Bayer held out his hand and touched Scott’s arm. He wanted to avoid forcing the kid back into the car if he could.
“I didn’t get any letters.” Scott brought his hand up and scrubbed blonde bangs back from his forehead, holding his head for a moment.
Bayer studied the boy. ‘Don’t get emotionally involved with this kid’ Bayer reminded himself, steeling against the pity he felt. He was used to dealing with the pleadings and manipulations of those he was “escorting” and was very good at putting them aside.
‘What is the problem, Bayer? Just haul the kid’s ass back into the car. You’ve given him more than enough time.’ He was angry with himself; for some reason that Bayer couldn’t identify this boy was getting to him and it unnerved him. The kid’s feelings were his father’s problem, not his, and Lancer would have to deal with the upheaval as best he could. It was his job to just get the boy to California.
‘Okay, I’ll try this one more time,” he thought grudgingly.
“Scott, I don’t know what happened to the letters. They were sent. Maybe they got lost in the mail, I don’t know. Now, come on, we’re going inside.”
Scott’s scrutiny was making Bayer uncomfortable. It was almost like Scott had uncovered a lie, and wisely, buried it again. It was hushed for a minute, and then Scott reached for the railing and pulled himself up. Bayer opened the door and waited for Scott to go in, following him down the passage.
A very late dinner was waiting on the table when they entered the room, and both beds turned down with fresh linens. Bayer had ordered something to eat before he fell asleep. Scott picked at his meal, always keeping a close watch on the water glass.
“I told you I wouldn’t give you any more sleeping powder tonight. I won’t.”
Scott glanced at him and seemed to relax a bit. His appetite increased, which Bayer was glad of. ‘Kid’s skinny enough, don’t need to look starved when his old man gets him.’
Bayer set the tray full of dirty dishes outside the compartment door when the meal was done, and turned back into the room. He was tired and needed a full night’s sleep. It was his practice to just tie those he was conveying to whatever was handy, whether it be a bed, a tree, or bind them hand and foot. He walked over to the kid and sat down beside him. ‘Why couldn’t he just do it!’ Angry, he still couldn’t bring himself to tie this kid, in spite of the fact he had lost him once.
“If you promise me that you won’t leave or run away, I won’t tie you. Will you promise me that?”
Scott didn’t answer at first. He certainly didn’t want to be tied. He wasn’t ready yet to try and run away, although he knew the farther he got from Boston, the harder it would be to get back. The train was moving too fast, he was still very tired, so he had nothing to lose by agreeing to the promise, at least tonight. “I won’t try to run away” he responded quietly.
Bayer nodded and pointed to the bed. “Get undressed then. I don’t want you leaving this room until I get up, okay?”
“I said I wouldn’t try to run away, I won’t.”
“Kid, you do, and you won’t get far. And I’ll make sure you don’t get another opportunity, you understand?” Bayer said gruffly, more frustrated with himself than he was the boy. Scott only nodded.
Sacramento was a dirty, dusty town compared to Boston. The people were as wild and unconventional as the country they inhabited, at least as far as Scott was concerned. But he found it all very fascinating, a little frightening at times, but exciting and almost adventurous. He was finding it difficult to keep his curiosity and anticipation hidden from Mr. Bayer. He stubbornly did not want him to relate this positive frame of mind to his father. He knew Mr. Bayer was keeping a journal on what happened on their trip. He also was feeling a little guilty; as if in some way he was betraying his grandfather.
He stole a quick glance towards Mark, or Mr. Bayer as Scott called him. They had just gotten off the train and Bayer was instructing the porter on where to take their luggage. They would be spending about a day in Sacramento before using overland coach to Morro Coyo.
Bayer hadn’t let Scott get so much as arms length away from him after Council Bluffs. Scott shuddered when thinking about that incident. How could he have been so stupid? He’d taken off when Bayer was distracted, without a plan, without any money in hand, just running. As Bayer had promised earlier, he didn’t get very far. Slipping out of the train depot when Bayer was talking to the clerk about time schedules, Scott had headed towards the center of town. He had taken refuge in an old barn for a few hours, when hunger drove him out.
Scott didn’t have a penny in his pocket and didn’t know what to do about getting something to eat. He passed a grocery with barrels of apples and oranges sitting on the boardwalk. He thought he’d gotten away with a couple of apples, until the storekeeper came running out of the store shouting after him. Within a few short minutes, Scott found himself at the local law office. The officer was kind to him, and did give him something to eat. Scott had never stolen anything in his life, and he was ashamed. Sitting quietly, with head down, he didn’t answer any questions that were asked him.
It didn’t take long for the officer to surmise that the boy was a run-away and probably the same kid that had been reported missing. He sent a runner to the hotel to leave word for Mark Bayer that a boy matching the run-away’s description was in custody. So, a few hours from the time Scott had run away, he was back with Bayer.
Needless to say, Bayer was not pleased. Tight lipped, he grasped him firmly by the arm and led him to a local hotel. They had lost their connection and another train would not be coming through until the following afternoon.
Bayer had instructed Scott on how things were going to be until they reached Lancer, what he could and could not do, with most of the list being in “could nots”. Since then, Scott was allowed only enough time alone to take care of his personal needs, with Bayer just on the other side of the door. Bayer made sure there was no possible way that Scott could get out an unattended window, or an unguarded door. At night or when Bayer took care of his own needs, he tied Scott to the bed. In a crowd Bayer always had his hand on Scott’s arm. He was taking no chances, and Scott surmised he would not get another opportunity to get away on this trip.
Probably just as well, Scott thought. He needed money and some sort of plan as to how to get back east. He decided not to go to Boston as his father would probably just haul him back. He had an aunt who lived in Maine and he thought she would keep him hidden until he was 18. At least, he hoped she would.
Taking his arm, Bayer steered him through the streets of Sacramento to a hotel just a few blocks from the train depot. The room was large and airy, two beds, a small sitting room, and even a small bathing room. They were on the second floor of the hotel.
After the desk clerk left, depositing their luggage, Bayer looked around the room. “Sit down,” he told Scott, pointing to a small couch. Scott did as he was told. Bayer checked the windows, which were open at this time of year due to the heat, insuring there was no way Scott could climb down. He looked into the bathing room, noting a small window towards the top of the room, not large enough for even a skinny kid like Scott to wiggle through. There was one door exiting the room to the hallway, and Bayer locked it, putting the key into his pocket. Grabbing the luggage, he took out a fresh shirt and laid it on one of the beds.
“I’ve ordered water be brought up for a bath. You go first, and then I’ll take a bath. You know the routine when I’m in there. We’ll then go out to dinner, come back. You go to bed, and to sleep. We leave tomorrow afternoon by stage. It takes two days to get to Morro Coyo. Are there any questions?”
A knock on the door prevented an answer. Bayer unlocked and opened the door, stepping aside to allow several boys to bring in buckets of hot water. When they were finished, he tipped one boy enough for all of them. “Give us 15 minutes, and we’ll need the tub emptied and refilled.”
He turned back to Scott. “Okay, Scott, you’ve got 15 minutes to take a bath.”
Scott looked at him and got up to go in to take a bath. He turned around to face Bayer. “Are you going to be mad at me until we reach Morro Coyo?”
“I’m not mad at you, Scott. I just want to get you to your father in one piece, on schedule. I’m not going to let up. You got away from me twice on this trip, two times too many. I’ve never lost anyone, and I don’t plan to start now. So don’t look at me like an innocent, because it won’t work. Now, you’ve just taken two minutes off your bath time. I suggest you get busy.”
Scott didn’t say any more, he just stepped through the doorway and shut the door. Bayer let out a loud sigh, rubbing his hand across his face. “Dam kid” he grumbled. He opened Scott’s suitcase and selected some fresh clothes for him. He called through the door, “Scott, I’ve got some clean clothes for you. Holler when you’re ready for them.” Scott didn’t answer right away. “Scott, you better answer me or I’m coming in.” A quick “okay” came back at him.
He finished taking out the rest of his clean clothes, spotting a fresh bottle of whiskey in his luggage. He uncorked it, and filled up a glass. Resting his head on a couple of pillows he had stacked together, he relaxed on one of the beds. He wouldn’t completely unwind until he got this kid to Lancer.
He smiled slightly. The kid had been trying to get back into his good graces since the incident at Council Bluffs. Before Scott had attempted to run away, they had actually been getting on fairly well. Scott had lightened up appreciably, going so far as to smile a couple of times at some of the things he was seeing as they traveled across country. They had even talked some, mostly about the countryside. He liked the kid; he turned out to be respectful, polite and very kind. And, he learned, very stubborn.
Bayer experienced first hand knowledge of both a kind and stubborn Scott, when Scott spied an injured cat as they disembarked the train at one of the layovers. The cat was friendly, trying to rub up against people’s legs, mostly being kicked away. The animal was not using one leg, which appeared badly swollen. As they walked by, the cat meowed pitifully at them. Scott scooped it up, the little animal purring loudly as Scott petted it. “Come on, kid. Put it down. We don’t have time for this.”
Bayer was surprised at Scott’s indignation and firm response. “We are not leaving this animal.”
“Come on, I said. Put it down.”
“I am not going unless we take care of this cat.”
Bayer looked at the inflexible glare from Scott’s eyes. He could easily force the issue, but thought better about it. This kid had been through several weeks of turmoil and doing what he didn’t want to do. Besides, they had time and it was easier, in the long run, to do what Scott wanted. He studied the cat a minute, a long, scrawny creature with a pathetic face. Bayer heaved a sigh. “Okay, we’ll take care of the cat.”
With two hours until the train left, they found a local veterinarian to care for the animal. The cat had broken its leg, but would easily heal. The vet assured them, Scott mostly, that he would find it a suitable home.
Scott seemed to appreciate Bayer’s taking care of the cat, and was much more content after that. As a result, Bayer had let down his guard, allowing Scott to take advantage of an opening to escape in Council Bluffs. Bayer realized the kid had just reacted without thought, and he didn’t blame him or take it personally. Scott had no idea, however, what could happen to a kid alone in this country, what kind of people were out there, and Bayer had been worried about him. He would not allow Scott another opportunity to get away.
‘Guess I still could be a bit friendlier towards him,’ he thought to himself. ‘I can still keep close watch on him.’ Thinking about that, he got up and called through the door, “Scott, you’ve got another five minutes.” Scott swiftly replied “okay”.
He pulled two long strips of white cotton from his luggage and walked to one of the beds. He tied the strips to the headboard, making sure the knots were secure, and tucked them underneath the pillows. There was a knock on the door, and he opened it to find a couple of men ready to empty the tub. “Give us another couple of minutes, will you?” He handed them a couple of bits and shut the door.
“Scott, come on out.”
Within a few moments, Scott came out, dressed in everything but his shoes. “Go sit on the bed” Bayer ordered. The two men from the hotel came in and proceeded to empty the tub water down a special pipe in the floor near the wall that carried the water to a holding tank for use in the hotel gardens. Within a short time the tub was filled with clean hot water.
Bayer locked the door after the hotel employees. “Lie down, Scott.”
Scott hesitated. “I’m not going to run away” he said faintly.
“No, you’re not. Now lay down.”
Scott did as he was told and Bayer quickly tied Scott’s wrists with the cotton strips, effectively restraining him to the bed.
Although Scott tried very hard to control them, he couldn’t stop the tears that formed in his eyes. He was finding the closer he got to Lancer, the more difficult it was to hide his feelings. He turned his face to the side so Bayer wouldn’t see the weakness.
But Bayer did see them. He sighed heavily and with a hint of exasperation in his voice, stated, “Scott, do you have any idea what could have happened to you? A kid alone in this wilderness! There are predators out there that would have eaten you up. How could I have taken that news to your father?”
Scott looked at him, his eyes bright with tears, falling in spite of his desire to control them. “My father doesn’t care about me!”
“Then why do you think he’s going to all of this trouble to get you home! He’s paying me a lot of money to do this. Scott, I don’t know what happened in the past, but I can tell you that your father does care about you.”
“Why didn’t he contact me?” Scott demanded.
Bayer found himself being pulled far from his comfort zone. He had tried so hard to maintain distance, but his resolve was crumbling and he did not like losing control.
“Ask him, Scott, when you see him, ask him. I don’t have those answers, but I can tell you this, a lot of things happen in life that we have no control over.”
“He had control over sending me a letter” Scott insisted.
“Yes, he had control over sending it, but did he have control over your receiving it.” Bayer was treading on brittle ground and he knew it. He did not want to be the one to reveal to Scott what his grandfather had done. He didn’t have the right to do that to Scott. But he could see Scott thinking about it, his face going from rage to hurt. Bayer needed to end this conversation now, but Scott looked so wretched.
“Listen, Scott” Bayer said softly, wanting to take away some of Scott’s hurt, “no one is perfect, including your grandfather. We are, all of us, a lot of things, good and bad, but that doesn’t mean your grandfather didn’t love you. But you need to think about your future, a future that includes your father and your brother. You have a chance at a family, son, and they want you. You’re a good kid, otherwise I wouldn’t even be bothering with telling you this. Let them give you as much as you can give them. Think about it, Scott, just try.”
Trying to bring in his vaulting emotions, Scott closed his eyes.
“Think about it, Scott” Bayer said once more. Exhaling heavily, he got up from the bed.
“I won’t be long.” With that, Bayer went in to take his bath.
Scott had nothing to do but think. He consciously tried to slow down his breathing, pondering over what Bayer had just said. In a couple of days he would meet his father. His heart caught nervously.
His mind went back to what his grandfather’s attorney had said. ‘He wanted you, Scott. Your father wanted you very much.’
How did his grandfather’s attorney know that? What kept his father from coming for him? Did his grandfather keep his father away? Questions reoccurred over and over again, and when Scott speculated, the answers were too painful to consider. The one person who may have the answer to these questions was his father. But if he couldn’t trust his grandfather, how could he trust anyone, especially his father?
Scott closed his eyes, wishing away the thoughts. Two days, two days and he would be at his father’s home. Boston was a long way gone; the country was beautiful and exciting; he had a brother; for the first time the idea whispered, ‘home’ until he stubbornly set it aside.
"Johnny, come on son, the stage will be here soon. We need to get going.”
Murdoch didn’t know what was keeping Johnny. He’d been so anxious for the stage to come that carried Scott that he’d wanted to stay in town last night just to make sure they wouldn’t miss it. Murdoch had succeeded in reasoning with him that they would be there in plenty of time. It now appeared that Johnny would be the one causing them to be late.
Johnny came bounding out of the kitchen door, legs and arms pumping so fast that Murdoch chuckled at the sight. Johnny stumbled, going chest down in the dust, but recovered so quickly, Murdoch wasn’t sure he had fallen. The dirty shirt and torn button testified silently that the fall indeed had happened.
“Johnny, where are you going” Murdoch called after his retreating son headed back to the house.
“I’m going to change.”
“We don’t have time for that. You’ve made us late enough already. Now come on, into the wagon.”
“But Pa, I’m dirty.”
Murdoch almost laughed. “That’s never bothered you before.”
“But I don’t want Scott to see me dirty! He might think I’m just a stupid little kid.”
Murdoch sighed. “Okay, son. But hurry up.”
Within minutes Johnny was sitting next to his father, changing into a clean shirt. Murdoch glanced over at his son, fondly eyeing him, noting the long hair in his eyes, and the dirt behind his ears that he never seemed to be able to get rid of. “Son, you’re going to grow carrots behind those ears if you don’t wash that dirt off.”
Johnny self-consciously rubbed his left ear, spit on his hand, and rubbed it again. He repeated for the other ear. “They clean now, Pa?”
“Well, they’re not as dirty. They’ll pass.”
“What took you so long, son? I thought you were ready to go last night?” Murdoch asked.
“I wanted to make sure my room was clean. I didn’t think ‘bout it last night.”
“What made you think about it now? You think your brother is going to care about your room?”
“He might be neater than me, bein’ from the East and all. I want him to feel at home.”
Murdoch smiled again. “Most of the world is neater than you, Johnny.” This child was always surprising him with something. He glanced at Johnny once again. His son was growing into a young man. ‘He’s growing up too fast’ Murdoch reflected. ‘I lost eight years with him, fifteen with Scott.’ He was so deep in reflection that Johnny startled him with his question.
“What you thinkin’ about, Pa? You thinkin’ ‘bout Scott too.”
“Yes, about Scott and about you.”
“What about me?”
“Oh, about how you’re growing up way too fast, about how I’m glad we’re together. Looking forward to having Scott with us.”
“I’m not growing up fast enough, Pa.”
“You never grow fast enough when you’re young. But wait, when you get a little older, time goes too fast. You wonder where it’s gone.”
Johnny was still for a few minutes. Murdoch scanned the meadow on their left, thinking about how long the grass would last without rain, how many cows he could pasture there.
“I wonder where it goes.”
“Where what goes, Johnny?”
“Where time goes, Pa. That’s what we were talking about.”
“Oh, sorry. It goes one second at a time son. It goes to memories.”
“I remember things. I used to remember everything, but now I mostly remember just the good stuff. I try to not remember the bad.”
“Well, it’s better to remember the good things. The bad things don’t do you a lot of good.”
“Not unless you remember not to touch a hot stove or don’t walk behind an ornery horse. Those are bad things that are good to remember.”
Murdoch reached across his son’s shoulder and brought him close. “I love you, Johnny. You are a very special person.”
Johnny blushed. “I love you too, Pa.”
Johnny talked nonstop the remaining time it took to reach town. He was all over the wagon seat, hands gesturing, fingers drumming, his legs moving constantly. Murdoch was becoming exhausted just watching him, trying to keep his hands on the reins and catching Johnny a couple of times when he would have fallen.
“Son, you need to settle down or you’ll fall out of the wagon.”
Johnny tried to sit still, but a few moments later his legs were twitching again.
Finally they entered the dusty streets of Morro Coyo. There weren’t many people in town mid week; a few drifters loitered by the saloon, probably looking for short work, then moving on, Murdoch surmised.
They pulled up to the small building that was utilized as a stage depot. It was located near the town livery, which housed the horses that were owned by the stage company. There were two people at the depot other than the clerk.
“Henry, how’s it going?” Murdoch asked.
“Slow, Murdoch. Too dang hot for most folks to travel. Give it a couple of weeks when the weather starts to cool a bit and it’ll pick up.”
“Stage on time?”
“Actually, it’s a couple of hours late. Got a wire, they had a broke wheel they fixed at the last stop, put ‘em behind a bit. You expectin’ someone?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I am” Murdoch answered without going into detail.
“Well, sir, might as well find a cool spot in the shade. Horses ain’t gettin it here any quicker than what they can.”
Murdoch took his hat off, rubbed his arm across his sweaty forehead, and placed his hat back on.
“Two hours, you say?”
Murdoch sauntered over to a woman sitting in a buckboard, fanning herself. “Adeline” he said, tipping his hat. He nodded at a hired hand he recognized from the Winslow ranch. He had just mounted his horse and was holding the reins of another one. The man nodded back, and then slowly walked the horses down to the closest cantina, obviously going to wait for the stage in comfort.
“Hello Murdoch,” the lady smiled. “Hell of a hot day to wait for a stage.”
“Yes it is.” He turned his face to peer down the sandy road, noting nothing but dry flowers and heat shimmers.
Turning to Johnny he said, “How about we go to the hotel and see if they have any extra pie.”
Johnny was looking a bit disappointed that the stage was late, but perked up at the mention of pie. Smiling broadly, he jumped off the wagon and hurried towards the hotel.
“Would you care to join us Adeline?”
“Thanks, Murdoch. You’d be pleasant company. I’m waiting for my brother who I haven’t seen in 20 years. But I tell you, these last two hours seem the longest. I appreciate the invite.”
She stepped soundly off the buckboard. Murdoch would have offered his hand, but knew Adeline would have declined. She wasn’t a feminine woman, but he liked and respected her. She’d continued to work her ranch after her husband died, and Murdoch had heard her brother was coming to lend a hand. Even though she was strong, she wasn’t as strong as a man and Murdoch hoped her brother would help with some of the physical labor the ranch required.
Murdoch’s stomach was in knots and he wasn’t really hungry for the pie, but decided it would be a good distraction for Johnny. Adeline would also help to pass the time. He frowned, realizing what Adeline had said about the long wait. It was going to be a long two hours of nervous anticipation.
Scott didn’t think you could breathe in so much dust and live. His eyes were red from tears trying to wash the fine soil out of them, his hair was itchy, and his clothes were faded from the layer of earth that clung to them. He was also finding it very difficult to stay in his seat as the stage rolled from side to side with an occasional bump thrown in. It was fortunate that he was used to the roll of the ocean from sailing, or he may have been seasick on top of everything.
There were two other men in the coach with Scott and Bayer. One was a short, rather rotund man who was going to Morro Coyo to live with his sister. His name was Luther Vesy. He was a pleasant man, but Scott didn’t think he looked able to do a lot of physical work. Scott judged him to be around 40 years of age, with soft hands that seemed out of their element with physical work. But his enthusiasm more than made up for what his physique lacked. Mr. Vesy hadn’t seen his sister for more than 20 years when she had left St. Louis to come west. Her husband had died two years ago, and she had invited her brother out to help manage the small ranch she had.
The other man was of medium height, medium build, and medium brown hair color. In fact everything about him seemed mediocre except for the very piercing way he looked at Scott. It made Scott very uncomfortable, and he didn’t know what to make of his stare. Scott was inexplicably glad that he wasn’t sitting next to him. His name was Moses Shannon, and he was going to work for a rancher named Winslow not too far from the Lancer spread. He wasn’t a cow hand, but a carpenter. It seemed Mrs. Winslow wanted to build onto their home, and no one locally had the expertise the project required. Scott kept his eyes averted as much as he could to avoid looking at him. He thought he was being silly, until he caught Bayer looking at Shannon guardedly.
They pulled into a relay station that was the last one before Morro Coyo. The stage had slowed down considerably the last few miles to the station. After getting off the coach, it was explained to the passengers that a wheel had cracked and needed to be replaced. It would put them behind schedule about two hours, so they were instructed to go into the station and relax.
Scott had been thankful for the delay and relieved that it put off meeting his father for another two hours. He had been anxious and apprehensive to say the least since leaving Sacrament two days before and had been unable to sleep. The rough ride on the stage was additionally tiring, so Scott was exhausted when they stopped at the station. With Bayer beside him, they entered the station with the other two passengers close behind.
The station was primitive, a rough table in the middle with a few mismatched wooden chairs. There was a stove on one wall which served for cooking and heating the approximately 12 x 14 room. There were a couple of cots on one wall, dressed with wool blankets and flat pillows. There was shelving above and on either side of the stove that held an assortment of cups, dishes and eating utensils.
Mr. Vesy walked over to one of the chairs and sat down, wiping his sweating face with a handkerchief. Shannon noticed a barrel of water in the corner and filled four cups, setting them in the middle of the table. Bayer handed one of the cups to Scott and motioning to a cot in the corner said, “Why don’t you take it easy, Scott, and get off your feet.” Scott walked over and sat down on the cot, resting his back against the wall. He finished the water, and intending to rest his burning eyes, he closed them. Within minutes his body was slumping, his arms relaxed beside him and he was sleeping.
“He’s a nice looking kid. You don’t look old enough to be his father” Shannon commented.
“I’m not” Bayer replied coldly, effectively ending further conversation. He’d noticed the way Shannon had studied Scott and he didn’t like him. Shannon shrugged and filling his cup a second time with water, went outside to watch the repair of the stage coach. Bayer noticeably relaxed.
“I don’t mind telling you, I’m not used to the ways of the west. This is without doubt the most uncomfortable ride I’ve ever taken in my life” Mr. Vesy commented.
Bayer chuckled. “Mr. Vesy, if you don’t have a bad back, you will have one by the time you get to Morro Coyo.”
Bayer sat down at the table and spent the next hour chit chatting with the very agreeable Luther Vesy. Actually, Vesy did most of the talking, which was fine with Bayer. He found Vesy friendly, a bit naïve, but a congenial man without pretense. He liked listening to his stories and was surprised when he realized that over an hour had passed. Bayer looked over at Scott who was sleeping very soundly. He really needed to relieve himself, but didn’t want to wake Scott up. He felt he could rely on Vesy, and needed to get away for just a couple of minutes.
“Would you mind keeping an eye on the boy for a couple of minutes? I need to use the privy.”
“Not at all, Mr. Bayer, I’ll keep my eye on him. I’m not going anywhere and it doesn’t appear that he’s going anywhere either for a while.”
“Thanks” Bayer nodded. Stepping out the door, he headed around the building towards the small privy at the back.
Vesy got up and stretched his back, trying to get the kinks out caused from the rough ride. He walked around the room and was dipping his cup in the water barrel for a refill when he noticed a snake slither across the floor. Mr. Vesy had heard frightening stories about the perils of rattle snakes in the west. He was not yet accustomed to the ways of the west, and was unarmed. He looked over at Scott who did not seem in immediate peril as the snake had gone under the stove far from Scott. Deciding the best thing to do was to get someone with a gun, he left the building and headed for the men who were completing the repair of the stage.
Shannon was standing a few yards from the doorway when he saw Vesy come out. Earlier he had noticed Bayer leave the building and head off for the back. Quickly moving the short distance to the door, he stepped through and glanced at the sleeping boy on the cot. He walked quietly, not wanting to wake him up. He licked his lips, noting the thick blonde hair, his fine features, slim build and long legs. His hand came out and touched his hair, sliding down his face and along his jaw.
Scott jerked his head back, awakened by Shannon’s touch. Scott’s eyes were large as he moved as far back into the wall as he could, trying to stay out of Shannon’s reach.
“Don’t be scared, boy. I won’t hurt you.” Shannon stepped closer to Scott, bringing his hand up to touch Scott’s leg.
Suddenly Shannon was hurled across the room away from Scott. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” a livid Bayer yelled.
Shannon caught himself at the table before he fell to the floor. “I’m not doing nothing. Just making sure the kid’s okay.”
“You stay away from him” Bayer whispered menacingly.
Mr. Vesy stared from the doorway, thoroughly in shock by the exchange. Bayer brought his stare to Vesy. “Where the hell were you?”
“I’m sorry” Vesy stuttered. “I saw a snake and didn’t have a gun to shoot it. I went to get someone who could.”
Bayer looked over at a frightened Scott, who was staring back at him anxiously. “Scott, did he hurt you?” Bayer asked, trying to keep his voice calm.
Scott shook his head.
“Did he touch you?”
Scott swallowed with difficulty. “My face, my leg.”
Bayer glared at Shannon, walking towards him, seething rage chiseled into his face. “There’s a stage that comes through here every day. You are taking the one tomorrow. You are not going with us any further. You understand.”
Shannon backed away from Bayer. “I wasn’t hurtin the kid. I’m going today.”
Bayer walked up to Shannon and clutching the front of his shirt, brought his gun up to his face. “You are not going on this stage.” Bayer’s face was stone cold. “I catch you within two miles of this kid, and I’ll kill you. You got that.”
Shannon’s face was pale; sweat glimmered and streaked the dirt caked on it. He swallowed, and nodded his head in understanding.
Releasing him, Bayer shoved him against the wall. “This boy has a father in Morro Coyo, and I’ll make sure he knows about you. You’d better keep yourself real low and quiet so he doesn’t find you. I’d suggest you stay far away from any kid or you may find yourself building your own gallows.”
Bayer turned to Scott. “Come on, Scott. Time to go.” He held out his arm, motioning Scott forward with his hand. When Scott didn’t move immediately, he said calmly, “Its okay.”
Scott got up from the cot and moved quickly out of the room. Bayer reached for Shannon’s gun. “This will be at the stage depot in Morro Coyo.”
Bayer followed Scott out the door, with Luther Vesy stumbling behind, still stunned from the interchange. “I’m sorry. I had no idea, no idea.” Vesy was obviously almost as upset as Scott.
Bayer didn’t say anything, just continued walking to the stage, close to Scott but not touching him.
“We ready to go” he abruptly asked the stage driver.
“Yea, everything’s ready. Might as well load up. I’ll get Shannon.”
“Shannon’s not coming. He’s getting the stage tomorrow.”
“But this place aint a hotel,” the driver protested.
“It is tonight” Bayer retorted shortly. The driver was going to argue further, but stopped when he noticed the look on Bayer’s face.
Knowing something had happened, but not being the nosey type, the driver nodded and said “let’s get going.”
“Come on Harvey, we’re behind schedule enough as it is,” he hollered to the man riding shotgun.
With everyone on board, the stage started on its final leg to Morro Coyo.
Before the stage arrived, they could see the dust rising in the distance. It churned in the air, soundlessly heralding the approach of the coach. Each person was hopeful but with a different frame of mind: Adeline was expectant with a smile on her lips; the Winslow hand was bored and wanted to be on his way; Johnny was exuberant with excitement; Murdoch was tense with anticipation and anxiety. The culmination of years and years of fighting, failure and financial burden would soon step off that stage in the form of a 15 year old boy. His son was home.
Peering down the road, those waiting saw the stage come into view. Horses pulled hard on the traces, sweaty in the heat, knowing instinctively that the depot meant rest. They pulled in front of the building, beginning to stop even before the driver hauled back on the reins. The dust they disturbed swirled around them, settling in their sensitive noses, causing snorts and shakes of their heads. They had made their entrance like tuned performers and their prize would be a cool drink of water and fresh oats.
The stage clerk came out of the depot carrying a small ladder. Opening the coach door, he hooked the ladder on the edge of the floor and set the end on the ground. He stepped back to allow the passengers to disembark.
The first person off was a rather heavy man who looked tired, dirty and out of place. He batted futilely at the dust on his clothes before looking around at his surroundings. He saw her then, and envisioned the same little sister he hadn’t seen in twenty years. “Adeline” he said, smiling and opened his arms to her. She tucked herself into his ample girth as she had done the day she had said goodbye to him in St. Louis. She had been young then, newly married, and excited about beginning a new life in the far reaches of the west.
“Luther, my brother, how wonderful to see you.” She stepped back and held him at arms length, an expression of joy on her face.
Murdoch noticed the exchange and it strangely comforted him. Adeline turned to Murdoch and said, “This is my big brother, Luther Vesy. Luther, this is Murdoch Lancer and his son, Johnny.”
Murdoch took the proffered hand and shook it, noting the large smile and red hue on his good natured face.
“Mr. Vesy, good to meet you.”
“We’d best gather the luggage, Luther, and get going. I have so much I want to talk to you about,” Adeline said. With that, brother and sister strode to the buckboard, excitedly talking.
Murdoch turned at the sound of his name.
“I’m Mark Bayer, sir, and this is your son, Scott.”
Murdoch’s breath caught. His eyes moved to the form of his son standing next to Bayer. Silver blue eyes looked back at him, eyes that seemed wary, almost afraid. Murdoch took in the tall, slim frame, the soft hay-blond hair, and the tired face. ‘Catherine’ came to his mind; he studied the sculpted features that reminded him of his first wife. He wanted so badly to take him into his arms as brother and sister had just done, but knew intuitively that he should not. He smiled, held out his hand and said, “Hello, Scott.”
Scott leaned a fraction closer to Bayer, seemingly not sure what to do. He then extended his hand to his father and softly said, “Sir.”
Murdoch’s large hand held onto Scott, relishing the warmth of the flesh and bone that was his child. Reluctantly he let him go as he registered the bump that Johnny gave him.
“Scott, this is your brother, Johnny.” Murdoch placed his arm on Johnny’s shoulder, attempting to reassure Johnny as well as himself, not sure of Scott’s reaction.
“Hello, Scott” a widely beaming Johnny said, holding out his hand to his brother.
Scott studied Johnny for a few seconds, taking in the sparkling blue eyes and genuine smile. Scott held out his hand, and smiled very slightly. “Glad to meet you, Johnny.”
The two brothers eyed each other; Johnny delighted, Scott noticeably relaxing. Scott’s rapidly beating heart seemed to calm with his brother’s touch. He felt his emotions, frazzled since the encounter with Shannon, quiet in the sky blue eyes of his younger brother.
All too soon the spell was broken by the Winslow hand asking where Moses Shannon was. The driver explained that he would be in the next day. When asked why, the driver shrugged, pointed to Bayer and said, “Ask him”.
The cowboy turned his attention to Bayer. “Why isn’t Shannon on the stage?” The man was obviously irritated, for he had to take the news back to his boss that someone would need to make another trip to town the next day. In actuality, he didn’t really care that much as it meant another easy day, but Mr. Winslow would not be happy.
“Let’s just say that Mr. Shannon wasn’t welcome on the stage. I’ll explain it to Mr. Lancer. If he decides to tell Mr. Winslow, that’s up to him,” Bayer calmly replied. “As far as I’m concerned, Shannon is lucky he’s still breathing.”
The hand seemed to want to pursue it more, but thought better about it noting Bayer’s cold manner and granite face.
“No skin off my teeth. I’ll tell Mr. Winslow and he can take it up with you.” The hand lazily mounted his horse, and leading the other horse, rode slowly down the street towards home.
Murdoch Lancer looked questioningly at Bayer. “I’ll explain it later, Mr. Lancer. Right now you have two very tired men who would love a nice, long, hot bath.” Bayer smiled at Murdoch noting, not for the first time, how very tall Scott’s father was. He was a formidable man, not only in appearance, but in manner. Bayer noticed the easy authority of the man. He also discerned the subtle, anxious manner when he held his hand out to his son. ‘Probably not afraid of much’, Bayer surmised, ‘but he sure is fretful with his kid’.
Bayer looked at Johnny and liked him immediately. What wasn’t to like? He was young, happy, wanted to make his brother comfortable, and obviously loved his father very much. Bayer saw how Johnny had leaned into Murdoch when his father laid his hand on his shoulder. Kids like Johnny were what you saw; there wasn’t a lot that inhibited this boy just starting to approach manhood. Bayer also noted how Scott relaxed with his brother’s handshake.
Bayer knew Scott well after traveling with him for several weeks across the country. Johnny would be good for Scott. Now it was up to Scott to let those walls fall where his father was concerned. Bayer knew Scott had a good and generous heart; he also knew he was a stubborn boy who felt tremendous loyalty to his grandfather. Hopefully Murdoch Lancer had the stamina and endurance to hold onto Scott. Bayer surmised he did; he had fought long and hard for his child and hopefully was strong enough to follow through on that commitment.
“Well” Murdoch said, “Let’s get your luggage loaded and go home.”
With the luggage loaded in the wagon and Johnny and Scott settled in the wagon bed, they started down the road towards Lancer. Bayer’s and Murdoch’s voices floated back to the boys, but they weren’t paying any attention to the conversation.
Scott was in awe of the beautiful countryside, even though it was somewhat wilted in the heat of late summer. He eased against the side of the wagon, enthralled with the enthusiasm of his brother. Johnny talked incessantly, once in a while eyeing Scott worriedly. Scott surmised Johnny was just as nervous as he was; Johnny just exhibited it differently. But Scott enjoyed listening to him, noting spots along the way that Johnny pointed out.
“There’s a nice swimming hole down in those trees” Johnny said, indicating a clump of cottonwoods a few hundred yards to the left of the road. “You like to swim?”
“Yes” Scott replied. “I’m on my school’s swimming team.” Scott caught himself, realizing that he’d not be swimming for the team this year. He felt emptiness and longing for the familiar, and turned his head as his eyes moistened briefly. Johnny became quiet.
After a few tense moments, Johnny continued. “School started here last week. Pa let me take today off, though, so I could meet the stage. I’m a little behind where I should be with the rest of the kids cause I didn’t go to school much before I started living with Pa. I like it okay though. Maybe you can help me get caught up?” Johnny said hopefully.
Scott looked at Johnny curiously. The fact that his brother hadn’t always lived with their father surprised Scott.
“You haven’t lived here all of your life?”
Johnny bowed his head before answering. “No, my mama left here with me when I was a couple years old. Pa came to get me when I was ten from the place I was staying in. Been here three years.”
Scott thought about what Johnny had said. He was expecting Johnny’s mother still lived with their father and was taken by surprise at this news. “Why’d your mama leave?”
Johnny shrugged. “Don’t know. Mama was restless. We moved around a lot. Mostly Mexican border towns.”
Scott studied his brother. For the first time he took in the blue/black hair and darker complexion. “Was your mother Mexican?”
Johnny looked challengingly at Scott. “Yea. That bother you?” He’d been confronted with prejudice in both the white and Mexican world. He prayed his brother wasn’t like that.
“No” Scott said, surprise plainly on his face at the question. “Why would that bother me?”
“It bothers some people” Johnny stated pointedly.
“Why?” Scott asked, absolutely puzzled.
Johnny could see that Scott was actually perplexed. His brother may be older in years, but not in experience. Johnny smiled at him. “Some people don’t like mestizos,” Johnny said quietly, knowing his father did not like him using that term. “Mixed race people” Johnny explained further, seeing misunderstanding on Scott’s face.
Scott had been exposed to class distinction growing up but could not fathom why some people thought they were better than others. His grandfather had always frowned on Scott’s friendliness to the servants, but to Scott they were more like family. Changing the subject and curious about his brother’s past, he asked, “Where were you staying?”
“What do you mean, where was I staying?”
“When,” Scott hesitated, not knowing how to refer to his father, “When Mr. Lancer found you, where were you staying?”
“At an orphanage on the Mexican border.”
“Where was your mother?”
“She died” Johnny replied softly, bowing his head.
“I’m sorry Johnny” Scott said sincerely.
“You aim to call Pa Mr. Lancer?” Johnny asked suddenly.
Scott swallowed and glanced out over the countryside. He fumbled a bit at his shirt button, slapping dust from the garment. Obviously uncomfortable with answering the question, he just shrugged his shoulders.
Johnny’s heart thrummed a little. He had been expecting everything to fall into place, in spite of what his father had told him. For the first time, he was afraid that Scott wouldn’t settle in like he wanted him to. He thought about the words his father said about not expecting too much right away. But Johnny wanted them to be a family now. He wanted Scott to love his father as much as he did. He looked at Scott and realized it wasn’t going to be that easy.
The wagon stopped. Both boys were interrupted from their own troubled thoughts as their attention was directed to the beautiful view before them. The white hacienda lay cool and welcoming in the valley, the mountains framed behind it; yearlings were frolicking in a pasture that boasted a stream; cattle were lowing and men were busy tending to them. All four individuals pleasured their eyes in the serenity of the view.
“We’re home boys” Murdoch said, taking comfort in the scene as he did every time he saw it. Murdoch had both sons with him and he was not going to think right now about the difficulties that lie ahead. He also planned to have a long private discussion with Mark regarding his son, the trip west and who Mr. Shannon was. He clicked to the horses, and they started the gentle descent.
Murdoch contemplated Scott from the vantage point of his desk. He had turned the chair to gaze out the large plate window and noticed Scott within his line of sight at a small corral a couple hundred yards from the house. It had been two weeks since Scott had come home and much to Murdoch’s concern, Scott’s communications with him had not progressed much beyond a simple yes, no, or a shrug of the shoulders. Murdoch was attempting to be tolerant, but he was starting to become annoyed at Scott’s reluctance to talk to him.
Not being a patient man by nature, Murdoch was trying hard to maintain an indulgent and supportive attitude towards his first born. However, Murdoch had begun to recognize that beneath Scott’s seeming indifference to him there was a subtle resistance to his authority. Granted, there had not been any out right display on Scott’s part that his father had not had the right to bring him to Lancer or that Scott needed to abide by his father’s rules; yet, there was still an air of challenge in the manner in which Scott ignored him that was all the more frustrating to Murdoch because it was so understated.
He sighed with exasperation as Scott inched closer and closer to the animal in the corral. Murdoch had asked him to stay away from that particular horse. It wasn’t a bad horse, just very high spirited and in need of additional training and honing. Murdoch had tried to explain this to Scott and asked him not to go near it, but for some reason Scott was drawn to it. Murdoch didn’t know if he found the horse fascinating, if he was doing this just to defy him, or perhaps a little of both.
Johnny’s out right rebellion when he first came home had been easier in many ways to deal with. There had been nothing hidden about Johnny’s resentment of being told what to do. He also left nothing concealed about how he felt about his father; he didn’t like him. Whereas Johnny’s tumultuous temper had led to open conflicts, shouts, and tears, Scott’s manner was one of apparent apathy and stubborn silence.
Johnny was in school and would be home shortly. Murdoch knew he needed to put Scott in school also, but the school administrator had not yet decided where to place him in the system. Scott’s educational background was more sophisticated than the one in Morro Coyo largely due to the very expensive, private schools his grandfather had sent him to that demanded much from their students. The administrator had suggested a boarding school in San Francisco, but Murdoch had immediately dismissed that. He had just gotten his son back; he was not going to send him away. As an alternative, Murdoch was considering hiring a lady in Morro Coyo who was a retired university professor and may be able to assist in challenging Scott a bit more than the local school could.
Murdoch watched Scott get as close as he dared to the horse without drawing comment from his father. Scott knew that Murdoch sat at his desk doing work at this time of the day. He also knew that his father would probably look out the window at some point to see him. Scott would push him as far as he thought he could, and then stop. Murdoch wondered if Scott knew how close he was getting to pushing him too far. What bothered Murdoch the most was if it had been Johnny, he would have been dragged into the house, upstairs to his room, and his bottom would have felt Murdoch’s large hand. But Johnny would have plundered across that line long ago. Murdoch almost smiled at Scott’s silent defiance, if he hadn’t worried that at some point, Scott might be hurt by that animal.
Murdoch got up from the chair and walked up to the window; placing his hands on his hips he watched his son. Scott stopped his advance to the corral, turned and faced his father. Slate blue eyes caught his father’s gaze, and with mute daring and a tilt of his chin, he surrendered his position, turned his back on Murdoch, and walked away from the enclosure. Murdoch knew it was just a matter of time before they would have a confrontation but it was going to be on Murdoch’s terms and when he was ready. He didn’t like playing games with his son, and he wasn’t going to let a 15 year old boy manipulate him much longer.
He dragged his hand across his face and went back to his desk. He picked up the telegram from Mark Bayer letting him know that he had left Sacramento to head back to Boston and wished him the best with his son. Mark and Murdoch had become friends over the few days Mark had spent at Lancer after arriving with Scott. Murdoch liked and respected him, although he was a little upset when he learned that he had tied his son to a bed the latter half of the journey. Murdoch understood why Mark had to do it, but still he hated the vision of Scott restrained in that way.
Mark had given Murdoch the journal of their trip west, including his thoughts and observations on Scott. Mark thought it was very possible that Scott would try to run away from Lancer. He tried to tell Murdoch as much as he could about the way Scott thought and not to become too complacent if things seemed to be falling into place. Scott was not an in-your-face type of person, thus it was harder to predict what he would do. When all was said and done, however, Mark liked Scott very much, and thought he would come around in time and settle in with his new found family. He didn’t give any misconceptions, though, that it would be easy.
Moses Shannon would have been a dead man if he would have been around when Murdoch arrived at the Winslow ranch after finding out what he attempted to do to Scott. Luckily for Shannon, he had just gone to town for supplies. When Carl Winslow learned what had happened at the station, he said he’d get rid of Shannon pronto. He didn’t want someone like that hanging around his own children. If Shannon gave him any problems, he’d shoot him himself. Since then, Murdoch had heard that Shannon had been let go and hopefully, he was out of the area. Murdoch hadn’t pushed pursuing Shannon after that; he didn’t know if would be able to control himself if he came across him.
The one positive thing that had happened was the liking that Johnny and Scott had formed for each other. It was obvious they cared for one another very much. Johnny loved to talk to and tease Scott, and it was the only time Murdoch saw Scott smile. Scott was relaxed and easy going with his brother, even when Murdoch was around. Scott helped Johnny with his studies, he talked to him for hours about other parts of the world and where he had traveled. Scott’s grandfather had taken him to Europe, to St. Louis, and up and down the east coast and his eyes would light up with the recollection. It was also evident that Scott had loved his grandfather very much.
Murdoch had not broached the subject of Garrett hindering every attempt he had made to contact his son. Not only was it too soon, but Murdoch didn’t know how to do it. He knew Johnny had talked to Scott about the letters he had written because Johnny told Murdoch he did. According to Johnny, Scott’s reaction was quiet and thoughtful. Scott hadn’t said much to his brother about it, only expressing sorrow that he hadn’t received the letters. Scott didn’t mention the possibility that his grandfather had intercepted the letters. Johnny wasn’t stupid, though, and knew Scott realized that was the only thing that could have happened to the letters.
Johnny’s arrival with shouts, books flying and doors banging interrupted Murdoch’s thoughts. Johnny always managed to make a grand entrance, although to Johnny it wasn’t intentional. He was just so exuberant in his approach to life, that he was a natural firecracker.
“Pa, where’s Scott!”
“He’s outside, son. I saw him a few minutes ago. You might try the barn, unless you want to take a few minutes and let me know how your day went.”
Johnny slowed down to look at his father and, taking a breath, said, “I’m sorry Pa. My day went good. Mrs. Nickolson caught Tommy Lee kissing Georgia Kerns and they’re both in trouble. Tommy said he wanted to marry her, but Georgia didn’t like his kiss, said he spit too much. Their folks know so I suppose someone’s going to get a whipping. Do girls get whippings, Pa?”
Murdoch couldn’t help but chuckle. “Well, John, I wouldn’t think so. Girls usually don’t need as much persuading as boys, but then I’ve never had a daughter. They’re not quite as sturdy, usually. Just feel it would be awfully hard for me to physically discipline one.”
Johnny thought about that for a minute and replied, “Don’t hardly seem fair. Georgia was the one who wanted to kiss in the first place. Tommy isn’t too smart anyway, so think she took ‘vantage of him. You know, Tommy would jump into Miller’s Creek if it were shallow and ya told him he wouldn’t get dirty in the mud. His ma don’t like Tommy to get dirty, but he’s always dirty Pa. But he’s okay. Claire Simmons said Georgia shouldna asked for a kiss, it wasn’t ladylike. Is it okay for boys to ask for kisses but not girls, Pa?”
“Well, son” Murdoch contemplated on how to answer the question. “Both parties should be agreeable, but they shouldn’t be kissing unless they like one another a lot. Then, they should be thinking about getting married before they do more than a kiss or maybe two.” Murdoch looked at Johnny candidly. “Have you been kissing anyone?”
Johnny smiled and blushed. “No, Pa” he said embarrassed. He looked up at his father. “Georgia asked me to though. I thought about it, but didn’t know how to. I used to think girls were stupid and not good for much. But, is that what they’re good for, Pa? Kissin’ I mean.”
Murdoch stared at his son, at his big blue eyes and open face. “Son, I think in time you’ll learn what girls are good for, and it’s more than kissing. They can give a man a reason to be alive and you always treat them with respect, okay?”
“Yes, sir. But even Georgia! She sure got Tommy in trouble.”
“You stay away from Georgia, you hear me?”
“Okay, Pa. Where’s Scott?”
Once again Johnny’s mind had jumped from one canyon to another and once landing on the other side, didn’t look back to where he had been.
“He’s outside, son. Why don’t you go get him and get your homework done? Then you’ll need to get cleaned up for dinner. Maria’s making fried chicken tonight.”
“I love fried chicken. She making apple pie?”
“Well, she’ll have a good dessert, I’m sure.”
“Is that what girls are good for, too, cookin I mean?”
“Yes, son, ladies, and that’s what Maria is, are good cooks.”
“I don’t have homework Pa. Can Scott and I go swimming.”
“I don’t know Johnny. We’ll have dinner in a couple of hours. I don’t like you going too far from home so late.”
“It’s not that far, Pa. Just down the road a mile or so. We’ll just take a quick swim. I want to talk to Scott about what he’s been doin’ all day. Then I’ll tell him about mine. Please, can we go? Scott can keep track of the time. He’s better at it than me. Please.”
Murdoch relented when he saw how much his son wanted to spend some time alone with his brother. He also thought Scott might like the distraction as he’d been at the house all day by himself. “Okay Johnny, go get Scott and I’ll let him know when you need to come back.”
Johnny was out the door before Murdoch finished the sentence and back with Scott in a couple of minutes.
“Johnny, give Scott your watch so he can keep track of the time. Scott, I want you boys back from swimming in one hour, okay.”
“Yes sir” Scott replied in his standard polite tone. Murdoch knew Scott would come back with Johnny in tow within the time stated. Scott didn’t want to get Johnny in trouble, and as Mark had stated, Scott didn’t have an “in-your-face” type of defiance.
Murdoch smiled as he watched both boys take off down the road for the swimming hole. Scott might think he was grown up and didn’t need his father, but Murdoch knew better. He was still a kid who kicked up dust, ran tag with his brother and tripped because he was running too fast. He saw Scott giggle as he picked himself up off the road and raced his brother to the nearest tree. Murdoch felt a tug at his heart as he watched the two boys heading down the lane. They belonged together and he swore he would do everything he knew to keep them that way.
The boys made it to the swimming hole in record time, stripping off their clothes and rushing into the cool water. They shivered until their bodies got used to the cold; then they swam, splashed and ducked one another under the water. Scott was a better swimmer, but Johnny was more high-spirited.
Before long the hour was gone and they came running out to their clothes. The sun was low in the afternoon horizon, but still a couple of hours away from setting. They were happy in one another’s company. In fact, Scott couldn’t remember ever having a better time. He looked at the beautiful country, the pristine pool, and felt the sweet breeze that brushed his naked body. He looked at his brother and for a short time forgot about his grandfather’s death and the confusion he felt when his father was near. He laughed and started running around Johnny, his arms upraised.
“You gone nuts, Scott?” Johnny laughed along with his brother.
“No, Johnny, just happy.” Scott stopped running and grabbed his clothes.
Suddenly, Johnny had an uneasy feeling and looked around.
“What’s the matter, Johnny?”
“Shush, Scott. I’m listening.”
Scott paused for a moment, looking around the area, noting nothing out of order.
“What you listening for?”
Johnny peered intently into bushes several hundred yards to their left. He thought he had seen movement, but he wasn’t sure.
“Come on, we better get home,” Johnny said, quickly picking up his clothes and grabbing Scott’s arm.
“I don’t see anything, Johnny.”
“Scott, we’re late, let’s just go home.” Johnny was so insistent and serious, Scott did as Johnny asked. They struggled into their clothes as they quickly moved down the road towards the ranch.
When they were out of sight, a figure rose from the cover of the bushes where he had been hiding watching the boys play. His eyes were lurid with anticipation, his body tense with what he had seen.
“Well, boy, I’ve found you haven’t I, and your little brother. Your PaPa is going to be sorry he got me fired. I’ll see you again soon, pretty boy.”
Moses Shannon slipped back into the cover where his horse was tied and galloped over the ridge and into a tree covered hollow where he would never be seen until his time was right. He’d pay Lancer back and have a little fun doing it. He had all the time in the world to get what he wanted and he wanted that tall, lithe, slender blonde haired boy.
Home Chapter 11
Murdoch made his way up the stairs to bed, his back stiff from sitting too long at his desk. The night was quiet, and the only thing he could hear was the ticking of the grandfather clock and an occasional groan from the stairs as he stepped on them. He was tired, and suddenly realized that maybe he was getting old. He hadn’t thought much about aging before; the ranch was a harsh mistress that demanded much of his time and didn’t allow contemplation along those lines.
He walked down the hallway to his room and decided to check on his sons. Quietly he opened Johnny’s bedroom door and stepped inside.
“Hey, Pa” Johnny said softly.
Murdoch walked over and sat on the bed, noting the glimmer of his son’s eyes in the subdued light cast by a low burning lantern on the night stand.
“Why aren’t you sleeping, son?”
“Just thinking bout things.”
“What kind of things” Murdoch asked as he brought his hand up to brush the bangs away from Johnny’s forehead.
“Oh, about Scott, and you. He’s not takin’ to you much, is he?”
“No” Murdoch sighed. “He’s only been here a couple of weeks though. It will take time.”
“Yea, I guess it took me a while too, huh?”
“Yes, son, it took you a while. But Scott’s different than you. At least with you I knew what you were thinking, how you felt. Scott doesn’t talk much about how he feels.”
Johnny smiled brightly. “He talks to me, Pa. We have lots of talks.” Johnny paused and more seriously said, “I think he likes it here, but maybe doesn’t think he should.”
“Why do you say that, Johnny?”
“He talks some about his grandfather. He’s real sad he died.” Johnny squirmed a little and sat up a bit in the bed. “I talk about you a lot and how good we get along. He sees us together and sometimes I think he’d like that too. But I think he’s scared.”
“Do you know why he’s scared, son?”
“Well, Pa, I think he’s scared to find out his grandfather lied to him. I was scared to find out mama lied to me. When someone loves you, they shouldn’t lie.”
“No son, they shouldn’t lie.”
Johnny folded his hands together and started playing with his fingers. “I don’t want him to leave” he said so low Murdoch strained to hear him. Something cold and empty grabbed his stomach.
“Has he talked about leaving, Johnny?”
“No, Pa and I’d tell you if he did. I wouldn’t want to be a tattle tail but I’d tell you. It’s just that sometimes I think he’s kind a lonely, you know, about Boston and all. Scott’s funny, he doesn’t talk much sometimes. But I can tell when he’s sad.”
Johnny looked up at his father and smiled, his blue eyes radiant with pleasure. “But we sure had fun swimmin’ today. Scott started running round, laughing, throwin’ his arms up. I asked him what he was doin’ and he said he was happy.”
Murdoch’s tension lifted a little. “I’m glad to hear that Johnny, real glad.”
Johnny’s manner became more serious. “You got anyone workin’ down by the pond, Pa?”
Murdoch thought a moment. “No son, I don’t think so. Why do you ask?”
Johnny shrugged. “I don’t know, probably just spooked. I thought someone was watchin’ us swimmin’. I didn’t see anything and neither did Scott, just a funny feelin’ is all.”
Murdoch’s nerves tightened at the thought. He’d ask his foreman in the morning if there were hands working in that area and if not, have him check it out. It was probably nothing, but it wouldn’t hurt to check.
Not wanting to frighten his son, he said, “Tell you what son, I’ll have someone check it out okay? In the meantime you and Scott stay close to home for a while.”
When Johnny frowned slightly, Murdoch said, “Just for a while. Do it for your old man.”
Johnny nodded. He’d felt funny down by the pond earlier and wouldn’t mind making sure everything was fine. “Okay, Pa. We’ll stay away.”
“Fine, I’ll talk to Scott about it too. Now young man, you need to get to sleep.” Murdoch helped Johnny scoot back down into the bed, and turned the lamp down. He brushed his large hand through Johnny’s hair. “Good night, son.”
“Night, Pa” a sleepy voice said back as Johnny started to drift into sleep.
Murdoch crossed the hallway to Scott’s room. He was hesitant about going inside, but took hold of the knob and opened the door. The only light coming into the room was the full moon and its silver ray rested on the figure in the bed. The quiet rise and fall of Scott’s chest and the peaceful look on his face indicated to Murdoch that he was fast asleep. He eased over to the bed, trying to be as silent as he could.
Scott’s face was turned slightly in profile, highlighting his fine features and the sculpted contour of his cheeks. He would grow into a handsome man, Murdoch surmised, just as beautiful as his mother was. Murdoch closed his eyes, once again envisioning Catherine before him, still lonely for her after all these years. The longing for her voice and the touch of her hand would never go away for as long as he lived.
Murdoch opened his eyes and studied his son. The stubborn set to Scott’s jaw and cool glare from his eyes were absent in sleep. He looked so young and free of turmoil. He wasn’t baiting Murdoch with mulish resistance or indifferent coldness. He was defenseless under his father’s scrutiny and he had no idea how determined his father could be.
‘Well, my boy’ Murdoch thought to himself. ‘We need to come to terms and quickly. You sleep well, because it may be sooner than you expect.’
Scott’s arm was draped over the side of the bed, his hand touching the floor. Murdoch brought it up to Scott’s side and tucked it underneath the sheet. Scott frowned a little in his sleep from the disturbance, but quickly settled.
Murdoch moved silently across the room, opened the door and stepped into the hallway. He glanced back once more at Scott, and then softly closed the door. He made his way down the hallway to his own room and prepared for bed. Slipping into the large bed, his thoughts surprisingly didn’t keep him awake tonight. He knew what he needed to do and was prepared to do it. Having resolved that issue, he quickly fell asleep.
“Mr. Lancer, I did find twigs broken on the bushes, grass trampled. I saw cigarette paper too, and tobacco, like someone may have been smoking there. I followed signs down to a ravine and someone was camping there. I might have spooked them off cuz the ashes from the campfire were pretty warm. Didn’t leave nothin’ behind, I expect they’re travelin’ light whoever it is.”
“Thanks, Max” Murdoch responded to the foreman who had been sent to check the area near the swimming hole. “Check with the rest of the hands, would you? See if anyone has seen a stranger around, even just passing through.”
“Yes, sir.” Max walked to his horse, and tipping his hat to Murdoch, rode towards the bunk house.
It was still fairly early, around 7:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Murdoch usually allowed the hands an extra hour in the morning on Saturday’s before they started the endless chores that needed to be done on the ranch. Tomorrow, Sunday, would be fairly quiet as just the basic care was done to insure the animals were fed, watered and whatever else needed tending. Most of the hands were up and about now, and Max would report back to Murdoch what he found out.
Murdoch was very uneasy about someone watching his boys swimming, hiding the fact he was there. It wasn’t unusual for drifters to camp on Lancer land as they came through the country, but this was different. He’d keep his sons close to the house for the next several days just to insure their safety and ease his worries.
He walked back to the house, ready for breakfast and to tell his sons to stay close to the grounds of the house and outbuildings. He was also prepared to throw a direct order at Scott and follow through if he didn’t obey it. Scott needed nudging, and whichever way he fell, Murdoch was prepared to deal with it.
As he stepped into the kitchen, the smells of breakfast cooking accosted him. Maria set a cup of coffee before him as he sat down at the table.
“Maria, good morning.”
“Good morning, Patron. Breakfast will be ready soon.”
“Thank you, Maria. It smells wonderful. Have you seen my sons yet this morning?”
“Si, they are both up. They should be here soon. They are gathering the eggs.”
As soon as she was done speaking, both boys came through the door, Johnny carrying the eggs gathered. He handed the basket to Maria.
“Gracias, Johnny. What happened, did hens get you?” she asked, noting a couple of bloody marks on his hand.
“Si, I was not quick enough for Matilda. Pa, she’s a mean bird. No one else pecks me like she does. She just won’t give up. Why don’t we cook her?”
“Because, John, she’s the best layer we have. Was she the first one you went to for eggs?”
“No” Johnny said grudgingly.
“You know if you go to her first, she won’t get you. It’s when you start with the other hens and make them upset, that she gets ornery. We’ve talked about going to her first.”
“Yes, sir” Johnny said slowly, his head down as Maria cleaned his hand.
Murdoch looked at Johnny, smiling that he just didn’t seem to learn. But he listened when it was important, and chicken pecks and rearing horses were two different things. Murdoch looked at Scott who had remained silent.
“Were you pecked, Scott.”
Scott looked at his father, surprised by the question. “No, sir.”
“Good” Murdoch returned, gazing at Scott until he looked away.
Maria set the breakfast platters on the table and asked, “Is there anything else, Patron?”
“No, thank you Maria. Tell Cipriano I’ll be around to talk to him a little later.”
“Si” and she left the kitchen to eat with her husband in a small home not far from the hacienda.
“Boys, I don’t want you to wander far from the house without someone with you for the next few days, okay?”
Johnny nodded as he busily ate his breakfast. “Yea, Pa, I’ll stay around” he managed to say between bites of food.
“Scott,” Murdoch prodded, when Scott didn’t answer him. “Did you hear what I said about not leaving the area without someone being with you?”
“Good, then I can assume you’ll obey my request.”
Scott cast a hard glare at Murdoch, but immediately lowered his eyes. “I heard you, sir.”
“That’s not what I asked, Scott. I asked if you would obey my request. I want a simple yes or no.”
Murdoch had never pushed the issue this directly and he could see Scott struggling with the answer. If Scott said ‘yes’, Murdoch won; if he said ‘no’, which would be outright defiance, Murdoch still won. He wanted a reaction from his son, positive or negative; anything that he could start to work with. Scott was now cornered and would have to give him one.
“Yes” Scott said finally.
“Yes you will obey my request” Murdoch pushed.
Scott brought his gaze to Murdoch, anger evident within his blue eyes. “Yes, I will obey your request,” he said, his jaw hard.
Murdoch pursued, “I also want both of you to stay away from Jackson.”
Johnny stopped, puzzled and looked at his father. “I don’t go near Jackson, Pa.” He hadn’t been paying much attention to the interchange between his brother and father, but now was watching them closely.
“I know son,” Murdoch responded. Turning to Scott, he said, “Do you understand to stay away from that horse?”
Scott hesitated, not sure why his father was pushing so hard. “I’ve not gone into his corral, sir. I won’t.”
Murdoch leaned forward, placing his elbows on the table and wrapping his hands around the coffee cup. “Scott, I don’t want you anywhere near that horse. We’ve got mares in season we’re bringing down from the pasture and they’re going to get him even more worked up than he already is.”
“How far away are we to maintain distance, sir?” Scott was pushing back, subtle as always.
Murdoch almost smiled at the reply. “If that horse can see you, you’re too close.”
“The horse can see me from my bedroom window, sir.”
Johnny stiffened at the reply watching what his father was going to do.
Murdoch sternly said, “Scott, you are very close to the line. Are you sure you want to step over it?” He was angry at his son’s impertinence, but he was also very calm. “I want an apology for that remark.”
“I am sorry, sir, if there is a misunderstanding. I was only trying to clarify the distance.”
“There is no misunderstanding, Scott. I want an apology for your insolence. If it is not given to me within one minute, you and I will have a talk upstairs in your room.”
Johnny was like a statue. His father couldn’t take Scott upstairs like he did when Johnny had done something really bad! Scott wouldn’t stay for sure if his father did that. Johnny looked at Scott, wishing and praying for an ‘I’m sorry’ from him to their father.
Scott was still, his fists clenched on top of the table. He eyed his father with open hostility, all pretense of shrewdness gone, replaced by defiance and a glimmer of fear. The end of the minute was quickly approaching and Scott was frantically thinking of something to say that would evade an outright apology. When his father moved to stand up and extended his arm to grab him, Scott said quickly, “I’m sorry for the misunderstanding.”
His father stopped and putting both hands on the table, he bent down to look at his son. “That is not what I want, Scott, and you know it.” Scott looked up at his father, and Murdoch saw that his confident son was now totally unsure of himself and afraid. Murdoch didn’t take pleasure in frightening his son, but he needed Scott to recognize his authority as his father. When Scott remained silent, Murdoch took him by the arms and lifted him from the chair.
“I’m sorry for the impertinence” Scott blurted out.
Murdoch released him and Scott sat heavily back in the chair.
“Your apology is accepted. Do you understand about staying away from that horse?” Murdoch reiterated.
“Yes, I understand” Scott acquiesced.
“Good” Murdoch said, sitting back down at the table. “Now, we’ll be leaving for town in about an hour. Finish your breakfast and get ready to go.”
Scott cleared his throat and stiffly said, “I’d prefer to stay here.”
“No, we’re all going Scott. We need to get supplies, and you’ve not left this ranch since you got here. You’ll feel better seeing something other than this house,” Murdoch said, trying to reassure Scott.
“May I be excused?” a shaken Scott asked.
“Yes, but be down here in one hour.”
“Yes, sir.” Scott looked up at Murdoch, eyes moist and nervous, and looked away. He got up from the table and walked to the back stairs leading up to second floor bedrooms.
Murdoch looked over at Johnny, who was stunned and almost ready to cry. “It will be okay, Johnny” he said, putting his hand gently on Johnny’s arm. “It will be okay son. I promise.”
Johnny nodded, and looked down at his plate.
“Why don’t you go get ready to go? See if Scott needs any help.”
Johnny came around the table and put his arms around his father’s neck. He felt like a little boy doing it, but he needed his father’s comfort even if he felt he was almost a man. Murdoch brought Johnny close to his chest and held on. After a few seconds, he released him.
“Go on son.” Murdoch smiled at him and Johnny followed where his brother had gone up the stairs.
Alone, Murdoch bowed his head and rested it on his hand. He had been so relieved when Scott had apologized. He had won the first battle of the silent war that had been raging since his son came home. He was exhausted.
Murdoch got up from the chair, and headed outside to talk to Cipriano about keeping an extra guard in the area at all times. He wanted to make sure nothing happened to anyone on the ranch, especially his sons.
It was late in the afternoon by the time the Lancers returned from town. It had been an uneventful trip, and all supplies had been purchased. They had stopped at the hotel for lunch, and it had been delicious. As usual Johnny seemed bottomless as he ate, and Murdoch watched him, marveling at the amount his youngest could put away. Scott picked at his food not eating that much by the time the dishes were taken away. Murdoch didn’t say anything, thinking Scott probably had enough pushing for the day.
Several hours later, seated at his desk, Murdoch was looking at many days’ worth of mail that he had picked up while in town. He sorted through the correspondence, received mostly from men in the Cattleman’s Association, and noted a large envelope from his attorney in Boston. He quickly opened it and saw that it was a copy of the legal suit of Lancer vs. Garrett, and the court order awarding him custody of his son. Also enclosed was a short letter from Smyth explaining the contents and a final bill for his services.
Murdoch looked at the court papers ordering Scott be returned to him, and traced his fingers along the judge’s signature. He was holding in his hands the culmination of over a decades’ worth of effort, frustration and heartbreak. It seemed that with receipt of this document, the victory was finally his.
He sat back in his chair and turned it so he could look through the window framing the ranch. This vantage point always gave him some semblance of serenity. The meadows were beautiful in the late afternoon sun, the trees just starting to turn color. He swung his gaze to Jackson; the horse was prancing and excited. The stallion could smell the mares that had been brought in earlier that day, and was responding to the instinct that governed him. He whinnied loudly and paced the enclosure. He really was a beautiful animal, Murdoch thought, and would make a good sire for the right mares. Murdoch wanted to temper his high spirit with mares of a gentler disposition, hoping to get foals that were athletic and fearless like the stallion, but intelligent and highly trainable like the selected mares.
He frowned, recalling the incident at breakfast with his eldest regarding the stallion. He needed to talk to Scott. Murdoch knew he was skirting the issue because he didn’t know how to approach it. But Scott needed to know what steps Murdoch had taken to bring him home long before Garrett died. Murdoch looked at the court documents, gathered them up and rose from his chair. Dinner was over and the boys were in their rooms. Murdoch headed upstairs with the documents, hoping the right words would come.
Walking by Johnny’s open bedroom door, Murdoch noticed he wasn’t in there. He could hear voices coming from Scott’s room and surmised the boys were in there talking. Knocking on the door, he opened it, and took a step into the room. Scott and Johnny were sitting on the bed. Two pairs of eyes looked at him, both so different in appearance, but alike in their intelligent expressions.
Murdoch cleared his throat. “Could you please leave us alone, Johnny? I need to talk to your brother.”
Johnny looked at his father a little perplexed, but said, “Sure, Pa.” Getting off the bed, he looked at his brother and said, “See you later, Scott.”
Scott nodded at his brother, apprehension registering on his face.
“I’ll be down at the barn with the new kittens, Pa.”
Murdoch reached his hand out to ruffle Johnny’s hair as he passed. “Don’t go far son, okay? Bed time in about an hour.” Johnny nodded and walked by his father. Murdoch waited for Johnny to leave the room and closed the door. He turned to face his son, not knowing how to start. He looked at the papers in his hand and took the plunge.
“I received your custody papers today, Scott, from my attorney in Boston. I’d like to talk to you about them, about the past few years.”
Scott was silent, returning his father’s gaze with an undecided look.
Murdoch continued, trying to pick the right words. “These papers weren’t the first time I tried, Scott. I’ve got a file full of documents declining my petitions for custody almost from the year you were born, when I could afford to petition.”
He watched his son as he made his way slowly to a chair in the room. Scott was still, his eyes following his father as he moved across the carpet and sat in the chair.
“Scott, I want you to understand something. It is not my intent to malign your grandfather. I know you loved him and he loved you. I don’t want to take that away from you. I just want you to know that I did not abandon you.”
Murdoch cleared his throat and leaned forward in the chair, putting his elbows on his knees. “Your grandfather did not want your mother to marry me. He loved her very much, and I took her away from him, across the continent. He never forgave me for that. And then when she died, well, he was there when you were born. I didn’t think anything of it when he took you to Boston. I thought I’d come to get you and you’d live here with me. But he wouldn’t let you go. You were his only tie to his daughter.”
Scott lowered his head; his whole manner seemed to radiate wary expectation. Murdoch saw that his hands were clutched tightly together.
“So, I hired an attorney to get you back. I sent letters to you, gifts on holidays, birthdays. They were never returned, so I hoped you’d received them.”
Murdoch rose from the chair and walked to the window, barely registering the stallion prancing in the corral below. The sun was low on the horizon, heralding the coming night. He turned back to study his son.
“This petition is dated several weeks before your grandfather died, Scott. The other petitions are dated from a few years after you were born. I’ve wanted you from the day you were born, Scott, I’ve always wanted you.”
Scott didn’t move or say anything. He kept his head bowed, and his fingers clenched so tightly they were white. When he finally brought his head up, his face was pale, his eyes were haunted.
“Are you saying my grandfather purposely didn’t give me your letters and gifts?” he said tightly.
“I’m saying I sent them. I don’t know what happened to them between here and Boston.”
“Why would he keep them from me?”
“Because he didn’t want to let you go.”
It was obvious that Scott was trying very hard to contain his emotions. He was stumbling between feelings of betrayal and wanting to believe his father. The loyalty he felt towards his dead grandfather was so overwhelming, that he pushed back any thoughts that his grandfather had lied to him; that he would purposely keep him from the one thing that he’d wanted so much when he was growing up, contact from his father.
“My grandfather wouldn’t do that to me,” Scott said hoarsely, eyes moist with unshed tears. “He loved me.”
“Yes, he did” Murdoch said gently. “I have no doubt that he did, and I don’t want you to doubt that love.”
“Then what are you saying!”
Murdoch sighed heavily. “I’m saying I have petitions to the courts for your custody, I’m saying that I sent you letters and gifts, I’m saying that I wanted you here at Lancer.”
Murdoch got up from the chair and approached Scott. He knew how much this must be hurting his son; he could see it on his face and how he was trying to valiantly hold himself together. He placed his hand on the side of Scott’s face, and tenderly tracked it down his cheek. Scott closed his eyes and lightly leaned into the caress before he backed away from it.
“I’m sorry, Scott. I don’t want to trample the relationship you had with your grandfather. But you are wanted here and you have to start building new relationships. You have with your brother and I hope you will with me.”
Waiting for a response that didn’t come, Murdoch finally said, “It’s getting late and I have to leave early tomorrow morning. I know its Sunday, but Mr. Winslow sent word that he wants to talk to me about something important. I should be back early afternoon.”
Murdoch bent down and held on to his son’s arms. “Think about it, Scott. Please, think about it and give us a chance to be a family.”
Scott didn’t look at him, nor did he say anything.
Murdoch let out a deep breath. “I’ll see you tomorrow, son. Try to get some sleep.” He let go of his arms and walked out of the room, closing the door quietly behind him.
For a few minutes Scott sat on the bed, staring without seeing. ‘Try to get some sleep’ were the last words he remembered his father saying to him. Now that would take some doing, he thought.
He got up from the bed and looked out the window. In the twilight he could barely make out the stallion below, prowling from one side of the pen to the other. Did that horse ever sleep? Scott wondered.
The horse reminded him of one his grandfather had given him on his 10th birthday. It looked very much like this one, but it hadn’t been as high strung. That birthday was one of the happiest times of his life. He remembered the pleasure on his grandfather’s face when he saw Scott on the horse. That horse could run, faster than any horse in the area. Scott had raced it several times, getting trophies and winning admiration from friends. He had loved that horse. But the horse had gotten colic after a couple of years and died. Scott had cried then, openly and unashamedly at the death of the animal.
Trying to think of something other than what his father had said, Scott watched the stallion below. But the words kept intruding, restless and persistent. Even if his father was lying, his brother wouldn’t. He hadn’t received Johnny’s letters, and he knew when Johnny questioned him about them what had happened to the letters. His grandfather had intercepted and destroyed them.
Leaning his head against the window, he thought about that stormy night those many weeks ago in his room in Boston. He had drawn comfort from the coolness of the glass and the beat of the rain then, but there was no comfort tonight. He remembered how many times he had looked out that Boston window, wishing for his father to come walking down the street for him.
He thought of his father. When he had touched him, he’d been surprised by how much he wanted that touch. He’d seen him with Johnny, and sometimes he felt an emptiness that only his father could fill.
The stallion whinnied loudly and drew Scott’s attention back to him. ‘I can ride him’ Scott thought, dismissing what he had promised his father. The urge to ride the horse and be in control of something became overpowering.
He thought back to the words of his father; he was going to be gone tomorrow morning. The more Scott considered the horse, the more he wanted to ride it. The more he thought about riding it, the less he thought about what his father had said tonight and his grandfather’s lies.
He was a good horseman, one of the best. His grandfather had seen that he had lessons form an early age and Scott was an accomplished equestrian.
Scott’s thoughts were interrupted when he heard Johnny crashing down the hall as usual, slamming his bedroom door shut as he prepared to go to bed. Scott smiled at the vision. ‘Johnny,” he thought. How much he had learned to care for and appreciate his little brother. In just the few short weeks they had been together, they had become inseparable. Scott ached when he thought of how he loved him.
Suddenly he felt very tired. Undressing and getting into bed, he fell asleep listening to the sounds of the evening; crickets and toads calling to who knows what, cowhands laughing from the bunk house, and the stallion pacing, pacing, pacing.
Chapter 13 – Home
Scott had observed his father leave early in the morning, watching him ride down the road until he was out of sight. It was Sunday, so he didn’t see any ranch hands in the corral area. Chances are they were taking their time over their first cup of coffee.
He dressed and slowly opened the door to the hallway. Johnny’s door was closed and Scott assumed he was still sleeping. Scott made his way down the stairs and out the front door. It was a beautiful morning, the sky clear, a light breeze; fall was in the air singing sweet and light. He could smell it, the aroma of fading leaves and the tender sigh of an autumn morning sun.
Jackson eyed him crossing the grounds and his ears pricked in curiosity. He snorted when Scott came close to the corral, and leaned his head over the fence allowing Scott’s hand to stroke the velvet of his nose. He allowed the touch, and then drew his head back and danced.
Scott marveled at the beauty of the animal, wondered at its incessant energy and graceful step. He looked so much like Micah, the horse his grandfather had given him; the star and strip, the white pastern, the arch of his black tail. Scott had loved that horse; how indestructible he had felt flying across the field as its long legs reached for the next mile, leaving only flying grass and swirling dirt behind it. He would feel free again on this horse; he could forget the weight of half truths and grown-up betrayal.
He had a halter and lead rope in his hand and stepped into the corral. The horse whinnied and stepped away, nervous at the intrusion and wary of the boy. He pawed the ground and blew air through his nose, eyeing the boy uncomfortably.
“Easy boy,” Scott crooned, holding his hand at waist level. “Easy” he repeated. The horse reared slightly, bouncing on its back legs, bringing his front legs up a couple of feet. He was agitated, the scent of mares in heat teasing his nose, nervous expectation of primal need to reproduce, driven by instinct and necessity.
Scott attempted to get closer to the animal, pushing it each time he came close, not recognizing its agitation. All he saw was Micah, the gift from his grandfather.
Suddenly the horse reared and screamed, and Scott was flung out of the way of its whirling hooves by a strong arm. “What the hell are you doing boy?” an angry voice yelled. “Gibson, get him out of here.”
Scott was grabbed by his arms and dragged out of the pen. Strong hands held him as he tried to get away. His breathing was frantic as he struggled against the man pulling him out of the pen. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Cipriano, lariat in hand, waiving it in front of the stallion to allow Scott to get out of the way of the inflamed horse. The horse reared again, coming within inches of Cipriano’s head.
Scott was thrown out of the gate, Gibson then trying to distract the horse from Cip. Cipriano launched himself over the fence just as Gibson shut the corral gate, successfully containing the horse. The horse ran round and round the area, screaming in anxiety, anxious for the mares, unmindful of what damage he may have caused.
Scott came to his feet, an angry Cipriano bearing down on him. “What did you think you were doing?” he demanded. “That horse could have killed you.”
Scott was speechless, astounded by the reaction of his father’s Segundo. Johnny came running from the house, wondering what the noise was about. The only thing that kept Cipriano from throttling Scott immediately was the fact that he was the Patron’s son. It was not his place to do this, but he would make sure Senior Lancer knew what his son had done and what could have happened.
“You’d better get in the house and wait for your father,” a controlled Cipriano said. “Now, Senior Scott” he stressed when Scott did not move.
Scott backed away from the horse, the corral and Cipriano, shocked at what had taken place, staggered by the consequences he would face. ‘His father’ came to mind and he shuddered. He looked at the frenzied animal and wondered what he had been thinking.
He felt a tug on his arm and looked down. Johnny’s hand was around his wrist, pulling him towards the house. In a daze, Scott followed his brother to the Great Room and allowed himself to be pushed onto the couch.
Cipriano had followed them into the house, the adrenaline that had propelled him into the corral when he saw the rearing horse and Scott had finally receded, and he saw the fear and shock on Scott’s face.
“Maria” he called strongly but with control. She appeared from the kitchen, noting the pale, waxen look on Scott’s face and the fear on Johnny’s. “Get a cool cloth, my wife; please now” he asked.
She ran from the room and returned shortly with a cool hand towel, and placed it on Scott’s forehead. Scott leaned his head against the back of the couch, and tried to quiet his heart. After a few moments, he was breathing normally, and registered the concerned faces of Maria, Cipriano and his brother.
“I’m fine” he said hoarsely. He sat up straight and gave the towel to Maria. She brought a hand to his forehead, brushing bangs gently back.
“Are you all right” Cip asked.
Scott only nodded, not able to talk to or look Cipriano in the face.
“I think you need to go your room, Scott,” Cipriano voiced strongly, leaving no room for choice.
Scott looked at him wide-eyed, understanding the command but not moving. Cipriano took him by the arm and firmly pulled him to his feet.
“I’ll go” Scott said softly. He turned and started up the stairs, holding on to the banister.
Johnny started to follow him, but Cipriano held his arm and shook his head. “He will be okay. He needs to settle down and wait for his father.”
Johnny watched closely as Scott made it up the stairs. He heard him walk into his room and close the door. Maria wrapped her arm around Johnny’s shoulders, brought him close to her, and took him into the kitchen. Cipriano took a long look at the stairs and shook his head. It would not be good news that he would be giving the Patron when he came home.
In his room, Scott sat gingerly down on the bed and looked around. Contemplating his father’s reaction to what he had done, he put his head into his hands. He toyed with the idea of running, but after the disastrous experience in Council Bluffs, he knew he wouldn’t get far. His father wasn’t a man to give up; he had learned that much about him. He lay down on the bed, knowing he had a long wait ahead of him.
Murdoch was later than he had wanted to be when he finally passed under the Lancer arch. The conversation with Winslow had not been good, and Murdoch was very concerned about what his friend had told him. It was late afternoon and unseasonably warm, which did not improve his mood. He was hot, tired, and worried.
He noticed Cipriano waving to him as he approached the barn to stable his horse. ‘Good’ he thought, ‘I need to talk to him.’
Dismounting in the paddock, he gave his horse to a hand to take care of. He walked over to his Segundo, noticing the frown and vexed expression on his face. ‘Now what’ Murdoch thought.
“Patron” Cipriano acknowledged. His boss had a troubled and tired look on his face and Cip was not happy that he had to tell him what had happened earlier with his son.
“Cip, everything all right?”
“Si, it is now. I am sorry to tell you this, but something happened this morning after you left.”
Murdoch pursed his lips, staring at his friend. “What happened?”
“It is your son, senior.”
Paralyzing fear gripped Murdoch as the thought surfaced that something had happened to one of his sons.
“Are they okay?” Murdoch anxiously asked.
“Si, they are okay. But Senior Scott, he …” Cipriano hesitated, reluctant to give the news to his boss, knowing how upset he would be.
“Cip, what about Scott.”
“He went into Jackson’s corral this morning.”
Murdoch’s face hardened with anger and frustration. “Go on.”
“The horse became upset. If me and Gibson had not seen and got him out, he would have been hurt. I’m sorry, Patron” Cipriano said, seeing the fear in Murdoch’s face over what could have happened.
Murdoch closed his eyes for a few moments, his head down as he thought about what could have been a horrible outcome. He brought his head up and nodded at Cipriano.
“Is he in the house?”
“He has been in his room all day.”
“Anyone else hurt?”
“No, no one was hurt.”
Murdoch looked at the big man and said softly, “Thank you, Cipriano, for my son’s life.”
“He is a good boy, senior. He is very scared.”
“Yes, I imagine he is.”
Collecting himself, Murdoch eyed his Segundo. “Cipriano, Winslow tells me that a man named Moses Shannon is still in the area. He tried to, well on the stage, he tried to --- touch Scott.” Murdoch could hardly get the words out. “I had him fired from the Winslow’s. It seems he’s been in town at the saloon, drunk, threatening me. The sheriff ran him out of town. Couldn’t hold him for anything; Scott wasn’t hurt and Shannon claimed he was just concerned about him. He wants revenge and I think he wants my son.”
“I will make sure we have more lookouts, and tell all the men to be looking for a stranger.”
“Thanks, Cip. Scott or Johnny won’t be leaving the house for a while without me, you can be sure of that. Oh, and Cip, if you find him, bring him to me.” Murdoch’s meaning was unmistakable and his countenance almost frightening.
Cipriano searched his boss’s face. He saw anger, determination and resolution. Cipriano nodded, knowing that if it had been one of his children, he would have killed the man.
“One more thing Mr. Lancer. I asked some men to watch the house. Scott is still here.”
Murdoch nodded in understanding. Cip suspected Scott would try to run away.
Murdoch turned to go into the house; the subject of Shannon had been relayed, and now the matter of his disobedient son needed to be dealt with.
He stepped into the Great Room and felt a welcome drop in temperature. The cool room had an instant effect of soothing his frazzled nerves and lowering his own angry temperature. He needed to calm down before confronting his son.
He tossed his hat onto the dining room table and sat down on the couch, resting his head against the back of it.
“Hello, Pa” a low voice said.
Murdoch opened his eyes. Standing by the stairway was Johnny, looking hesitant and afraid. Murdoch’s heart went out to him. He knew it had been a long day for Scott waiting for his return, and realized it had been long for Johnny also. He patted the side of the couch indicating that Johnny should sit by him.
Johnny stood in front of his father and said, “You mad at Scott, Pa?”
Murdoch brought his hands up to Johnny’s arms and gently held them. “Yes, son, I’m upset with your brother. Don’t you think I have a reason to be?”
“Yea, I guess you do.” He lowered his eyes, long lashes shadowing against his cheeks. Murdoch pulled him down next to him and put an arm around his shoulders, drawing him close.
“Has it been a long afternoon for you, son?”
“I’m sorry Johnny. You’ve done nothing wrong, you know.”
“I know, Pa.” Johnny snuggled closer, bringing a smile to his father’s lips. Johnny didn’t do that much anymore; he felt he was getting too old for that. To Murdoch, he would never be too old to hold. Just having Johnny near seemed to bring a sense of peace to Murdoch.
“Have you seen your brother this afternoon?” Murdoch asked after a few quiet moments.
“No, Cipriano said to leave him alone.”
“I was scared, Pa. He could have been killed.”
The feeling of helplessness caught at Murdoch again, as it had when Cip first told him about the incident.
“Yes, son, he could have been hurt very badly” Murdoch said softly, running his hand up and down Johnny’s arm, receiving as much comfort from the action as he was trying to give.
“You going to whup him?”
Murdoch sighed. “Johnny, I hate that word. It sounds like I’m going to use a horse whip on him.”
“Well, are you?” Johnny asked when his father didn’t answer him.
“Do you think he deserves it?”
Johnny shrugged, reluctant to give an opinion.
“What do you think I would have done if it were you, son?”
Johnny thought about it for a while and then replied, “I suppose that means you’re going to whup him.”
“I am going to physically discipline your brother.”
“What if he runs away?” Johnny said quietly.
That thought had occurred to Murdoch, and with Shannon lurking in the area, it was an added concern.
“We’ll make sure he doesn’t,” Murdoch said, trying to sound confident.
They sat together quietly for another several minutes. Finally, with a small groan, Murdoch got up from the couch.
“Well, I’d better go see your brother. Are you all right?” Murdoch’s hand cupped Johnny’s chin and brought his face up to look at him.
“Yea, I’m fine. But, can I go to the barn while you talk to Scott?”
Murdoch knew Johnny didn’t want to hear anything that may come from Scott’s room.
“Okay son, but you don’t go anywhere unless you have someone with you and you let Cip know you’re in the barn, okay?”
“Something wrong, Pa?” Johnny was puzzled by his father’s request that he not be alone, even while in the barn.
Murdoch didn’t want to scare Johnny by telling him about Moses Shannon. He’d talk to both boys about it later, after he dealt with Scott.
“We’ll talk about it later, okay? For now, just do as I ask. You’ll make me happy.”
Murdoch watched Johnny walk towards the kitchen to use the back door. His hair was getting too long, Murdoch thought distractedly. He knew Johnny hated getting his hair cut; Johnny had explained he’d have to wash his neck if he cut his hair. Murdoch chuckled at the recollection. His smile didn’t linger very long, however, as he thought of his other son waiting for him upstairs.
‘Might as well get this done,’ he thought.
Walking to his desk, he took out a short leather strap from one of the drawers. He rolled it up and put it in his pocket. He’d give Scott an opportunity to explain why he had gone into the corral when he was told explicitly not to. But Murdoch knew there was no explanation that could spare his bottom from the hand of his father.
He walked up the steps and stopped in front of Scott’s door. He turned the knob and entered. Scott had been looking out the window, and turned to face his father. Slate blue eyes mirrored fear and apprehension. Scott’s arms dropped to his side and he took a step closer to the wall, away from his father.
“Scott, I think we’d better have a long talk.” With that, Murdoch softly closed the door.
Home Chapter 14
Murdoch sat at the kitchen table appreciating his first cup of coffee. It was hot and strong, just as he liked it. Johnny was eating breakfast across from him, eyes barely open, hair still askew from sleeping. It was an early Monday morning start to another week.
“You need to comb your hair, son, before you go to school. You wash your face this morning?”
Johnny tried to focus on his father. “Yea, Pa, I washed it. Forgot to comb my hair though.” He brought a forkful of eggs up to his mouth and chewed slowly.
“We’ll need to get you a haircut soon.”
Johnny scrunched up his face in displeasure, but didn’t say anything.
“You look pretty tired this morning, Johnny. Did you have problems sleeping last night?”
“I’m okay, Pa,” Johnny said softly.
Murdoch knew that Johnny probably tossed and turned last night, thinking about what had happened with Scott.
“When you get home from school, might not be a bad idea to take a nap.”
Johnny gave his father a disgusted look. “I won’t need a nap, Pa. I’m not a little kid.”
“I know that, Johnny. Just a suggestion.”
After a few quiet moments, Johnny said, “Scott coming down this morning?”
Murdoch looked down at his coffee before answering. “He wasn’t awake when I looked in on him earlier. Decided he could use the sleep so didn’t wake him up. I expect he’ll be down later. You’ll see him when you get home this afternoon.”
Johnny played with his fork a bit before asking, “He okay?”
“He’ll be all right, Johnny. I’ll be with him all day. Don’t worry, okay?”
He was planning to keep Scott close to him. Moses Shannon in the area scared Murdoch to death and he was going to protect his sons, even if he had to kill Shannon.
“Johnny, would you promise me something? Would you promise that you won’t go anywhere alone for a while? Stay close to the school yard until I tell you its okay and wait for Toby to ride back with you tonight?”
Toby was an older hand who did mostly odd jobs around the ranch house and buildings. He was going to ride to school with Johnny and would be there when school let out to ride home with him.
“Pa, I don’t need a babysitter,” Johnny protested.
Murdoch hesitated before deciding to tell Johnny why he didn’t want him alone. “Son, there is a man who is very angry with me. I got him fired from a job for doing something very bad. People have heard him say he’s going to pay me back. He may try to hurt you or Scott. I don’t want to scare you; I just don’t want you alone. Will you please do this for me?”
Johnny sighed resignedly. “Okay, Pa. I promise.”
“Thank you son” Murdoch said, patting Johnny’s hand. “Now, you better get going so you’re not late for school. Oh, and comb your hair or the girls will make fun of you.”
Johnny smiled, his blue eyes sparkling. He didn’t say anything, but looked like he had a naughty secret.
“Why are you smiling like that, Johnny?”
“Nothin’ Pa,” he said innocently.
“Are you staying away from Georgia?” Murdoch inquired suspiciously.
Johnny’s smile got bigger. “I try, Pa, but she don’t give up easy.”
Murdoch bowed his head, finding it difficult to contain his own amusement. He cleared his throat and looked at his son who definitely was growing up way too fast.
“Son, you’ll have plenty of time for girls. You’re too young to be thinking about them now.”
“Yes sir,” Johnny said, but his smile said anything but.
This time Murdoch couldn’t stop the deep chuckle that found its way out. He stood up and laid his large hand on the back of Johnny’s neck. How could his son be ready for girls already? Murdoch wanted his little boy back.
“You behave yourself, young man, you hear me,” he said good-naturedly, tenderly gripping Johnny’s neck. “Now get going or you’ll be late.”
Johnny sprang from the chair, grabbed his books from the table and ran to the door. Stopping, he called back to his father, “You tell Scott I’ll see him later.”
Murdoch nodded. The door swung closed after Johnny, leaving a smiling Murdoch standing in wonderment at the stormy exit of his youngest.
He sat back down and refreshed his cup of coffee. He had given the day’s agenda and orders to Cipriano. The rest of the morning he planned to spend at his desk catching up with the books, reviewing bills, and checking the price of cattle in back issues of a cattlemen’s journal.
The afternoon had not as yet been planned. Normally he would be working with Cip to discuss the best grazing for the cattle this time of year, how stream levels were, and what livestock to sell before winter set in. Perhaps he would still do that, just not on the back of a horse, but behind his desk.
He wanted to be close to Scott for the day. He had told Scott last night he was indefinitely confined to the house. He was not to step one foot outside the door unless Murdoch said specifically that he could and who he could step outside that door with. When Scott had proved to his father that he was willing to obey him, Murdoch would lighten up.
Murdoch sipped his coffee, thinking about Scott and what had taken place last night. Scott had been so afraid, and Murdoch had felt dreadful, but he had not allowed himself to back off. The vision of Scott broken and bloody beneath the hooves of the stallion repeatedly came to mind, making it more bearable for what Murdoch had to do. Also, Scott’s deliberate disobedience was outright defiance to his father’s authority and Murdoch needed Scott to realize it would not be tolerated at any time. A few painful strikes on Scott’s rear was nothing compared to serious injury or worse, and Murdoch pursued the punishment trying to instill in his son that such actions were not acceptable.
Murdoch surmised that Scott had probably never been disciplined physically in his life. Garrett had given Scott everything materially. Further, Murdoch recognized that his son’s conduct was partially due to Garrett never setting borders or limits on his behavior. It was only Scott’s innate good nature and inborn decency that had held him in check, and nothing that Garrett had taught or instilled in him. Murdoch was angrier than ever at Garrett knowing that he was now the one who had to correct the problems that Garrett had created. Worse yet, it was Scott who was suffering the consequences of his overly permissive grandfather.
Feeling Scott trembling beneath his hand, trying to contain his tears while his father was causing him pain, was torturous to Murdoch. Murdoch had experienced that more than once with Johnny, and it never got any easier. He tried to shake the image of Scott’s face streaked with tears, but it would not go away. Scott’s declarations that his father did not love him, and this proved it, shadowed Murdoch long after those few minutes of punishment had ceased. Murdoch had stayed in the bedroom, listening to his son’s cries, until Scott finally in exhaustion had fallen into sleep. Murdoch had sat for hours afterwards, listening to the quiet breathing of his eldest child, his own unrest soothed by the nearness of his slumbering son. Finally, in the dark hour of midnight he had gone to bed, but sleep had eluded him. He did trail into sleep a couple of hours before sunrise. When the sun came up and he awoke, he felt heavy and dragged out. Breakfast with Johnny had helped to lighten his mood, however, and he strode to his desk and tried to concentrate on the ranch’s ledgers and other assorted invoices and correspondence. He willed himself to concentrate, but his mind kept wandering to his son upstairs.
The sun shining on his face finally woke Scott up. He slowly opened his eyes and squinted at the bright warm light before closing them again. He lay still for a few minutes, trying to come out of the shadow of his sleep. He stretched and brushed his hand across his brow, displacing blond bangs. His eyes felt swollen and grainy and he rubbed at them with his fist. Finally he opened his eyes and looked around the room.
The only grim reminder of what had taken place yesterday was an ache in his behind when he moved against the mattress. He noticed that he had a night shirt on. He did not remember changing clothes last night, so his father must have done it after he had fallen asleep. The clothes he had worn the day before were neatly folded on the chest at the foot of his bed.
He gingerly touched his bottom expecting to find welts and maybe even dried blood, but was surprised when there was nothing there. He wondered at that remembering the pain from the strap. Although this morning the only lingering discomfort was a dull twinge, he had thought last night that his father had scarred him for life.
Even though he had known his father would punish him, and maybe physically, and had thought about it while he was waiting for him to come home, he had been surprised when his father had produced the strap from his pocket. He had struggled to get away from his father, but strong arms had forced him face down on the bed. One large hand had held his smaller ones by their wrists behind his back. Scott had never been struck in his entire life and was outraged and horrified when the first slap fell. Not only was the smack of the strap painful, but Scott was totally humiliated by his father’s treatment.
He closed his eyes, trying to forget those few painful moments. Thinking back prior to the strap, his father had allowed him to explain why he had gone into the corral. Scott had been nervous, understandably fearful of the penalty that his actions might produce, but he had to acknowledge that his father had been patient as he stumbled over his words. His father had listened to him quietly, even tried to calm him when he couldn’t talk, encouraging him to continue with the right word said.
At one point Scott thought that his father would only lecture him and confine him to his room. Then his father had started talking to him, trying to communicate an understanding of why he could not let this behavior pass without proper punishment. He wanted to instill in his son not only proper respect for his authority as his father, but also that he could have been horribly injured or even unthinkably killed. It was when his father had brought out the strap that Scott had panicked and tried to get away.
Scott was also angry with himself because he could not stop his tears. All of the talk about forming a relationship and that his father loved him vanished, and Scott was hurt in his heart that his father would do this to him. He had shouted those feelings, sobs tearing from his throat. Then he had lain face down on his bed, not wanting to look at his father, and had fallen into an exhausted sleep.
Scott recollected waking once during the night, moaning, and felt the light touch of a large hand tracking through his hair. He opened his eyes for a moment and saw the frame of his father sitting next to him, soothing him with a tender touch, then Scott quickly went back to sleep. He thought he had dreamed it, but this morning when thinking back on it he knew his father had been there.
Now fully awake, Scott thought he might as well get up and dressed. Besides, he was hungry. He looked at the small clock on his dresser and saw it was almost 9:30. He’d never slept this late before, unless he had been sick. It was when he moved to sit up that his posterior protested. He learned if he took it slow and easy, his bottom didn’t hurt so much.
He poured water from a pitcher into a wash basin and washed his face. He looked in the mirror and other than having puffy eyes, he seemed the same as yesterday. He threw off his nightshirt, quickly dressed, made the bed and headed downstairs. He didn’t know what he would say to his father, but was hungry enough not to worry too much about it.
There was no one in the kitchen and it had been cleaned up from breakfast. He helped himself to some biscuits that were on the back of the stove, and poured a glass of milk from the crock. He found some butter and jelly and generously lathered the biscuits. The kitchen chairs were very hard, so he decided to eat standing up. He went to the back door and looked out the window wondering if anyone was around. He put his hand on the knob to go out, and then remembered his father’s directive that he was not to ‘set foot out of the house’ unless Murdoch said it was okay. Yesterday he would have opened the door just to irritate his father, but not have stepped outside. Doing that seemed stupid and petty this morning. Besides, he didn’t want a repeat of last night, so he backed away from the door.
Finishing with his breakfast, he slowly walked to the entrance of the Great Room. He could see his father behind his desk, writing down something in a book. Scott thought he should be mad at him for last night, but for some reason he wasn’t. The intense anger he had felt for his father had dissipated and had been replaced by grudging respect. He dwelt on his father’s touch, on how comforting it had been in the middle of the night, and it had awakened in him an old hope and desire of being together.
He leaned against the door jamb for a few moments, just watching this large man who was his father. He was about the tallest man Scott had ever seen. His size had intimidated Scott at first, but it didn’t take long for Scott to realize that his father didn’t use his size to hold others at a disadvantage. Scott wasn’t stupid, he could see his father was a fair man and the men respected him; he also saw how much Johnny loved him and how his father loved Johnny. Murdoch was kind and thoughtful to Maria and the other ladies at the ranch. He never looked down on them or any of his employees like his grandfather had with his own servants.
Scott bowed his head, thinking about his grandfather. His grandfather had deceived him into believing his father didn’t want him. Scott acknowledged that now and it saddened him deeply. He still loved his grandfather, but he was dead and Boston was thousands of miles away. Since he had come to Lancer he had grown close to a brother he hadn’t known existed, he loved the beautiful country, and there was a glimmer of hope that his father loved him. No, he recognized, there was more than a glimmer there.
Scott was interrupted from his thoughts and looked up to see his father staring at him.
“You can come in, son.”
Scott swallowed and walked into the Great Room stopping a few feet from his father’s desk.
“We should get you some breakfast. You’re probably hungry,” Murdoch said, grasping the arms of his chair to push himself up.
“No, sir. I’ve eaten. Thank you.” Scott was uncomfortable under his father’s gaze, thinking that perhaps he was still angry with him from yesterday. Scott found it difficult to look him in the eye.
“What did you have, Scott” Murdoch inquired.
“Biscuits and milk.”
“That’s not much of a breakfast, son. I think we can get something more.”
“No thank you. I’ve had enough.”
A few moments passed before Murdoch said, “How are you feeling this morning?”
“Fine, sir. Thank you.”
Murdoch studied his son. His eyes were swollen, but other than that he seemed okay. What bothered Murdoch was that Scott wouldn’t look at him. Scott didn’t seem upset or angry; hesitant was the word that came to mind.
“Well, I was just about to take a break and stretch my legs. Why don’t we go outside for a bit and walk around.” Murdoch came to his feet and walked towards the French doors. He turned to look at his son. “Come on, son” he encouraged, holding the door open.
Scott moved towards his father, eyes downcast, and walked onto the portico. ‘It was a beautiful day’ he thought, looking up at the clear blue skies.
Murdoch put his arm on Scott’s shoulder and led him towards some of the outlying ranch buildings. There were some ranch hands within the perimeter of the ranch house grounds, and they nodded or tipped their hats to Murdoch, with a “good morning” to father and son.
They were not going in the direction of the stallion’s corral, and Scott was grateful for that. He was not ready for that reminder of what he had done yesterday. Also, his father didn’t seem angry with him, and Scott was thankful that they wouldn’t be seeing Jackson to rekindle that memory.
It was like a stroll in a Boston park, Scott thought. They meandered around the grounds mostly in silence, with Murdoch pointing things out as they walked. They came to a large tree stump big enough to allow them to sit. Unthinking, Murdoch asked Scott if he would like to sit down for a while.
Scott stared at the hard stump for a few moments before replying, “I’d like to sir, but don’t know if I can.”
“Sorry, son. Thoughtless of me. How about that hay bale?” Murdoch indicated a large round bale about 20’ to the west.
“Yes, sir. That will be fine.”
They walked over to the round bale and Murdoch created a large sitting area with the hay.
“I tell you what, son. I’ll help you down if you help me up,” Murdoch suggested with a small smile on his lips.
Scott looked directly at his father for the first time since he had walked into the Great Room. He nodded, eyes warm with appreciation.
Murdoch took Scott by the arm and supported him, as Scott gingerly lowered himself, grimacing slightly as his bottom settled onto the soft hay. After insuring that his son was comfortable, he sat down beside him.
“When your mother first saw this land, she said it was the most beautiful country she had ever seen. We first saw it from that rise over there, the one I always like to stop at that looks over the valley. We were so happy that first year, and busy. It was hard work but your mother worked just as hard right beside me. Well, until she got pregnant with you.”
Murdoch paused to see Scott’s reaction. Scott was looking at him with keen interest, anticipation on his face.
Murdoch continued. “We were so happy about you. We wanted lots of sons and daughters, and you were to be the first of many. You look very much like her, you know,” Murdoch said, turning to face his son. “You have her eyes, her hair color, her fine bone structure. She was tall and thin, elegant, and a finer person I’ve never known.” Murdoch smiled.
“I wasn’t there when you were born,” he said, more seriously. “We were having problems then, with people who wanted our land. I sent her away for her own safety.” Murdoch closed his eyes momentarily and said, ‘If I could have known what would happen, if I could have known …. well, your grandfather was with her when you were born. He probably thought he was doing what was best for you. She was dead, you were gone, I was …. hopeless for a while.”
Murdoch stopped, and looked out towards the rise where he had stopped all those years ago with Catherine. The plans they had, the dreams, the anticipation of the years that lay ahead of them. He looked back at his son and saw sympathy in his blue eyes.
“I’m sorry, son. I came to Boston for you a few years later, but Harlan wouldn’t give you up. I had Johnny and Maria then, and I needed to get back to them. I should have just grabbed you up, his legal custody be damned. But I didn’t. I came back and shortly after that, Maria left with Johnny. I looked for them, couldn’t find them. Then I started petitioning for you. Your grandfather was very influential and until this summer it was denial after denial for my guardianship. Finally we found a sympathetic judge, willing to listen, then your grandfather died. Well, here you are.”
Looking down, it took Scott a few moments to say anything. “I didn’t want to come here,” he said softly. “I hated you for that.”
“I know, Scott. That’s why I hired Mark. I knew he would get you here, then, in time, I hoped things would work out. I still have that hope. I don’t give up too easy, well, not anymore that is,” he said, recalling the words he had just said to Scott.
“I’m sorry about Jackson,” Scott said, really meaning it.
“I know you are son.”
They sat quietly for a few minutes, taking in the day, the words and one another.
Murdoch slapped his leg and said, “We need to get back. I have lots of work to do and we need to talk about your schooling. I’ve got a lady in mind that may help with that.”
Scott got to his feet and offered an arm to his father. Murdoch took hold of it and brought himself up, not really putting any weight on Scott. Walking towards the house, Murdoch draped an arm around his son; Scott stiffened for a few moments, and then relaxed. Scott was not as close as Murdoch would have liked him to be, but he was satisfied for the moment.
“You’re still confined to the house until I say so,” Murdoch said without anger.
Scott didn’t say anything at first, just walked beside his father, and then said, “Yes sir.”
Home Chapter 15
Murdoch had just about had it with Scott’s continual pacing, long suffering sighs and pitiful glances. He was trying to concentrate on the ledgers and Scott’s incessant fidgets were a distraction that had Murdoch just about to the limit of his patience.
“Scott, I have asked you more than once to please sit down. If I have to ask you again, I will sit you myself, and I don’t think you will like it. Now, please sit down!” Murdoch had tried his best to make his request in a calm but firm manner, but it was evident that his endurance was being tested, and tested greatly.
Scott cast his father a frustrated glance, not the first one he had displayed in the last hour, and with a weighty sigh sat heavily down in an arm chair. He grabbed hold of a pillow and started plumping it, repeatedly hitting it against his lap with a dull thud. He rested his long legs on the coffee table with his knees bent at a sharp angle, and started spinning the pillow in the air, attempting to catch it between his legs before it hit the floor. Each time he caught the pillow, he’d noisily plump it again before he tossed it in the air, and catch it once again.
“Scott”, his father said, the warning unmistakable in his voice.
Scott caught the pillow mid-throw, holding it as he looked towards his father. He wrapped his arms around the pillow, brought it close to his abdomen, and again sighing loudly, rested his head on the back of the couch and stared wide-eyed up at the ceiling. There was silence for a few minutes. Continuing to look up at the ceiling, he started making squishing noises with his mouth, puffing up his cheeks with air and passing the air out through his lips. He pursed his lips and sucked air through his teeth, then let the air out. Then he would again puff up his cheeks and release the air.
This time Murdoch didn’t say anything. He rose from his desk and walked over to his son. Scott stopped making noises and watched his father come towards him. He moved his legs from the table and sat up rigidly in the chair. Murdoch stopped in front of the chair, lowered his tall frame, and putting his hands on either side of the arm chair, he loomed over his son. Scott stared back into the eyes of his very annoyed parent and tried to draw his body close, legs held tightly together.
Murdoch studied his son. Cautious blue eyes looked back at him with the knowledge that he had pushed too far. He saw Scott swallow and clutch the pillow closely that he still held in his hands. This time it was Murdoch who expelled the long suffering sigh.
“Scott, don’t you have studies to do?”
“No, Sir. I’ve finished them.”
“What about cleaning your room?”
“It’s done, sir.”
Murdoch knew Scott had cleaned the fireplace as requested, as he saw him do it.
“Why don’t you read a book?” Murdoch asked with a bit of exasperation.
“There’s nothing I want to read.”
“With all of the books that are in this library, there is nothing you want to read?” a vexed Murdoch continued.
Murdoch stared sternly at his son. “You are not going outside,” he flatly stated.
Scott didn’t say anything, but stubbornly met his father’s gaze. After a few seconds of staring into his father’s increasingly irate countenance, he wisely lowered his eyes.
It had been over a week since the stallion incident and everything had been going fairly well. Murdoch had arranged for a tutor to come out to the ranch several days a week to establish where Scott was in his studies and how to proceed in furthering his education. Johnny and Scott were getting closer with each passing day, and to Murdoch’s great pleasure, Scott and he had taken small but encouraging steps in their relationship.
Everything had been going well that is, up until two days ago when Murdoch had allowed Johnny to spend several days with a friend a half day’s ride from Lancer. It was an extended weekend from school as badly needed repairs on the school roof were being made. The last rain had resulted in wet desks, wet books, wet papers and wet students. Thus, several men had volunteered to repair it before winter set in.
Johnny was more than anxious to go, his boundless energy almost to the breaking point from restrictions set in place by his father due to Moses Shannon and his threatening presence. Scott had been invited along, but Murdoch had said no, much to Scott’s displeasure. Not only was the incident with the stallion not that long ago, Murdoch also wanted to be fair to Johnny. If Johnny had done something like that, he would have been unable to go anywhere for weeks. Murdoch felt he needed to treat his sons as equally and fairly as possible.
Thus, after Murdoch’s ‘You are not going outside’ registered in Scott’s mind, Scott wondered annoyingly what he was supposed to do for the next three days. He was antsy; his youthful vitality was more subdued than Johnny’s, but it was still present and he thought he’d literally twitch himself to death without some sort of outlet. His father was obviously too old to understand that as far as Scott was concerned.
With a loud sigh, Scott sarcastically ventured, “What am I supposed to do, sit here quietly like some old lady waiting for bed time?”
After the words were out, he thought probably his father wouldn’t like them. He was right.
“Young man, I expect an apology for those words.”
“I’m sorry” Scott said quickly, not voicing the additional words that came to mind; such as ‘I’m sorry you think I’m supposed to sit quietly like some old lady.’ Scott once again averted his eyes, getting very tired of trying to appease his father.
“Scott, Dr. Jenkins will be here soon for dinner. Isn’t there something you can do to occupy your time?”
“I could clean some stalls in the barn,” Scott stated, not for the first time that day.
“I told you, I don’t want you out there alone and I’ve got to get these books caught up.”
“Why can’t one of the hands be there too?”
“Because, there is no one around who can watch you. They’re rounding up cattle for sale before winter.”
“I don’t need watching. I’m not some little kid.”
“Until I know that Moses Shannon is out of this territory, you are not allowed outside alone.”
“But how long could that be?” Scott said in frustration.
“I don’t know, Scott. I’m taking some men with me tomorrow to see if we can find him. One of the hands said they saw a campsite not too far from here. I think he’s still around and we’re going to check it out. Until then, I don’t want either you or Johnny alone. Besides, I told you after the stallion incident that you were confined to the house until I said otherwise. I haven’t said otherwise.”
Scott had not wanted the subject of Jackson brought up. He had hoped that by not mentioning it, his father would forget about it. Apparently, his father hadn’t forgotten.
“Come on, Scott. You can help me with the books.”
Scott rolled his eyes, but got up to follow his father to the desk. Maybe he could take his father’s mind off Jackson by pretending he was interested in the business side of the ranch. As it turned out, surprisingly Scott enjoyed going over the figures, asking questions about the ranch, how to know when to sell the stock, when and where to buy feed, how long the pastures would last depending on the grass, rain, and number of cattle grazing.
His astute mind picked up on the details quickly, especially the cost and sales side of the business. He was astounded at the number of livestock the ranch supported, most of the cattle being produced within Lancer’s own herds.
“How many cattle did you start with?” he asked his father, amazed at the number now standing at close to 20,000.
“I had a herd, well, if you want to call it that, of 20 cows and one old bull. I was pretty green then. Thought I had bought young heifers but most of them were old cows, past their prime. The man who sold them to me was not honest, and I was young and eager to start my empire.” Murdoch chuckled softly at the remembrance and shook his head. “I still have the first calf we produced though. She’s an ornery old thing but can still take care of a calf. Even when she’s unable to do that anymore, I intend to retire her, put her out to pasture until she dies.”
Murdoch paused. “Your mother named her” he said proudly. “Called her Tilly. She was so proud of that cow.” Murdoch’s countenance took on an almost dreamlike quality, his thoughts tripping back to those many years ago.
Scott was quiet, and looked at his father solemnly. He was caught up in discovering this complicated man he knew as father. Strong and enduring, to start with 20 cows and build to 20,000 within a 15 year time span; but tender that he would keep a cow his mother had named. His father could send thousands of head of cattle in one year off to market to be dinner for many, but would hold on to one old ornery cow until she died. Something touched Scott, stroked his heart and clutched at an intangible but beautiful mystery.
Murdoch felt the gaze of his son and looked at him. Scott’s face was open, wondering and so much like Catherine’s.
‘I marvel at who you are, my dear husband.’
Catherine’s words came back to him, memories of that moment mirrored in her son’s silver blue eyes. He had reached out to touch her face then, amazed at how much he loved her. He caught his hand now before it rose to track along his son’s cheek. How Murdoch wanted to touch him. Instead, he softly smiled at Scott.
Scott lowered his gaze, suddenly self-conscious that he had been staring at his father so intently. He had thought for a moment that his father was going to touch him, but decided he had only imagined it when his hand stopped abruptly. Puzzled by his disappointment that it didn’t happen, he blushed at the thought that he would desire it.
The sudden arrival of an exuberant Maria dispelled the mood. “Senor Lancer, I am now preparing dinner. It should be ready by 7:00. Is that agreeable?”
“Yes, Maria, thank you very much,” Murdoch said, turning to the chubby little lady. “Dr. Jenkins should be here shortly. I’ll keep him entertained with some light refreshment,” he said, his eyes twinkling with the word ‘refreshment’.
“Good, good,” Maria muttered as she quickly retreated into the kitchen.
Turning his attention back to his son, Murdoch noticed Scott’s blushing face. “Everything okay, son?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” Scott replied, anxious to direct his father’s attention to something other than himself.
Murdoch twisted at the acknowledged ‘sir’, wondering when his son would start to call him ‘father’. But, he reminded himself, it had taken Johnny several weeks to call him ‘Pa’ and he wouldn’t expect more of one son than the other.
“Scott, you’d best clean up for dinner. Sam, Dr. Jenkins, will be here soon. I know he’s a bit older than you, but he’s a good friend.”
Scott was a little perplexed by his father’s comment. “I’m sure he is a nice man, sir. I’ll be polite, regardless of his age,” he said, the statement inflected with a question.
Murdoch smiled once again at his son before saying, “I know you will, Scott. Didn’t mean to imply you wouldn’t. You’ll just have to put up with a couple of old men this evening. Go get cleaned up.”
“Yes, sir.” Scott walked out of the room, not looking back at his father, although a little unsure of Murdoch’s statement about age. He dismissed it, thinking he was just being overly sensitive.
Murdoch watched his son depart, wishing that he could spend the evening alone with him. The last couple of nights without Johnny had been quiet between the two of them. Johnny’s sparkle had been missed and Murdoch sadly felt that Scott was uncomfortable without his brother. But Murdoch had felt good about the last couple of hours with Scott as they discussed the ranch, and thought that perhaps dinner might be more relaxed as a result.
Murdoch shrugged. It would be good to see his old friend. Dr. Jenkins had not as yet met Scott. He had been battling an epidemic of measles in Green River for the past several weeks and had not been out to Lancer as he had hoped to before now. Murdoch gathered the papers on his desk, glad that most of the work had been completed. He checked his supply of Scotch to make sure there was plenty, and went to wash up before dinner.
Scott found himself liking Dr. Jenkins very much, although at times he thought the doctor was eyeing him for signs of illness. As the night wore on, however, the seemingly clinical eye of the doctor disappeared, perhaps satisfied that Murdoch’s son would live another day, or so Scott surmised.
His father and Dr. Jenkins were obviously very old and close friends and extremely relaxed in one another’s company. Scott was finding out much more about his father just by listening to their conversation. He learned his father had a sense of humor, that he was exceedingly loyal, and very fair. Scott also verified some things that he already guessed about his father; that he possessed great determination, did not accept defeat, and was extremely bull headed.
“You know, Scott,” Dr. Jenkins once again started telling a story about Murdoch, “there was a fellow by the name of Nate Cole who came through about five years ago. Had a string of horses he was trying to sell. Claimed they were pure Arabian, out of some desert country in Africa somewhere.”
“Sam, I’m sure Scott is getting tired of your stories,” Murdoch said, attempting to stop the recitation.
“No I’m not, Sir,” Scott countered. “I’d like to hear.”
“Well,” Sam continued, “nothing angers your father more than someone trying to take advantage of another who can’t afford to be taken advantage of. This Cole fellow goes down the road with this string of horses and pawned them off on a fellow named Brad Neeley. Now Brad was a nice enough guy, just not real smart, and had a hard time making ends meet. He wasn’t married, so didn’t have a family to support, just himself and this old dog. He had a spread, bare patch of land, a few miles outside of Green River. So, this Cole fella says he’ll give Brad a good deal and sells him the horses for just about everything Brad had. Brad thinks he’s going to start a fine line of horses and make money with the colts. Had papers and everything. Papers were false and it turns out the horses were mustangs, nothing wrong with them mind you, but wilder than a male grizzly at mating time.”
Sam stopped, thinking maybe he’d used a description that wasn’t appropriate for his friend’s son. Scott’s full attention was on Sam and he didn’t appear to have a reaction to the allegory.
Sam continued. “A few weeks later your pa runs into Brad in Morro Coyo. Brad is at the livery trying to sell these horses and get what he can for them. Your father finds out what happened and buys those worthless animals. Not only that, Brad tells him he’s selling out, going back to where he came from in Illinois. He’s done with the west and is going to live with his brother. So your father also buys that worthless piece of land, gives Brad more than the land is worth, and Brad heads back to Illinois.”
Scott looked at his father and said, “That was very kind of you, sir.”
Murdoch shrugged, and if Scott didn’t know better, he thought his father almost blushed. “Was nothing to me, son. Those horses threw some halfway decent offspring when bred with the right stallion. That land, well, it’ll be worth something some day. It was a good investment.”
Sam continued. “That’s not the end of the story, Scott. A few months later this Nate Cole comes back through the area with another bunch of mustangs. Your father hears about it and goes to see him in Green River. He makes Cole think he’s interested in the horses, asks to see the registration papers. So he draws up a contract with Cole stating that Cole is to deliver 40 more head of these registered Arabians. Your father pays for the first 12 that Cole had, and Cole is running all over the country trying to find 40 more, not caring where he gets them from. He gets about 20 more from various places and delivers those. Cole has to pay for them, of course, and pays well. He figures he’ll make up for what he puts out as he’s charging your father for registered horses, and the horses he’s buying are grade. Now your pa doesn’t pay for any more horses, not until he gets the full 40. That’s what the contract states. Turns out this Cole fella comes on to Lancer land and catches some of the wild mustangs running over in Black Mesa; tries to sell your father his own horses back to him.”
Sam paused to take a sip of Scotch and smiled, remembering the outcome of Mr. Nate Cole. “In the meantime your father has the registration papers traced to a small time counterfeiter about 50 miles north of here. Sheriff up there caught up with him and is looking for his partner. Murdoch talks to the sheriff in Green River and they wait for Cole to deliver the horses to Murdoch. Well, he’s got them penned up a few miles out of town and asks your father to come and pick them up. So, out your father goes with several hands and the sheriff in tow. The sheriff arrests this Cole for trespassing onto Lancer, for fraud, and for stealing horses. Your father takes delivery of over 40 horses, 12 of which he paid for, another 10 were his, and 20 some that he didn’t pay for.”
Sam chuckled and continued. “Now, horse stealing is a hanging offence, so your pa drops that charge with the understanding that Cole is never to set foot in this territory again. He won’t for at least ten years anyway, because he’s sitting in the state penitentiary for that long for fraud.”
Sam shook his head with admiration. “Your father came out all right. Taught that fella a lesson, got 20 head of good breeding stock for nothing, even kept some of his own mustangs back for breeding without having to go round them up. But you know what is the best part of this story, son?”
“What’s that, sir?”
“Your father took care of a man who was cheating other people. It was a chance for him to take, he didn’t know whether this fellow would just take the money for the first 12 and light out. But he figured the man was greedy enough to try to get those other 40 horses, which he did by hook or by crook. Yup, it will be a long time before that man hurts anyone else, a long, long time.”
Scott was still, mesmerized by the story and his father. Scott glanced over at Murdoch, and he was sitting back in his chair, relaxed, sipping on his Scotch.
“Sam has a way of embellishing,” Murdoch said quietly, trying to downplay what he had done.
“No, I don’t, Murdoch, and you know it,” Sam stated.
The clock started chiming, interrupting the stillness and drawing attention to the time.
“Son, it’s late. You’d better get to bed,” Murdoch instructed. “You’re certainly welcome to stay the night, Sam.”
“Well, thank you, Murdoch. I guess it is getting rather late. Sheriff in town knows where I am if they need me and I just may do that.”
Scott didn’t stir at first, hating to end the night and the stories. Murdoch looked his way and reminded him of his request. “Scott, to bed, please.”
“Yes, sir” a reluctant Scott said, getting up from his chair. “It was good to meet you Dr. Jenkins,” he said, holding out his hand.
“And it was good to meet you, Scott. I hope to see you again soon.” Dr. Jenkins extended his hand and shook Scott’s, taking note of the long, slender fingers and the absence of any extra fat on his hand.
“Good night, Sir,” Scott said turning to his father.
“Good night, son.”
Both men watched Scott walk up the stairs, and heard the door close to his room.
Sam looked over at his friend. “He only call you sir, Murdoch?”
Murdoch got up from the table, motioning Sam to join him beside the fire. “Yes, Sam, that’s all he calls me. I guess it could be worse, though,” Murdoch said, smiling at the remark. “It took Johnny a while before he started calling me Pa. When it happened it just seemed like the most natural thing in the world.”
“Things going okay so far?” Sam ventured.
“Well, let’s just say it was a rocky start. Things have been improving over the last ten days.” Murdoch paused, remembering the catalyst for the change. “He almost got himself killed. Went into the corral of a very agitated stallion, after I told him to stay away from it. In thinking back, I was angrier with him for that than I ever was when Johnny was testing me. He’s so different from Johnny. Johnny was more like a kicking, bucking rodeo horse; Scott is like a stubborn mule. Johnny was, is easier to read, I mean, Johnny is Johnny; Scott is so” Murdoch paused, searching for the right description. “Elusive, hard to pin down.”
“I saw him watching you tonight, my friend. In case you haven’t noticed, he is enthralled with you, a little bit afraid of you, but observant of everything you do and say.”
Taking a sip of Scotch, Murdoch shook his head. “I don’t want him to be afraid of me, Sam.”
“A little bit of fear never hurt, Murdoch. Keeps children in check.”
“I’d rather respect did that.”
“I would say he is well on the way to respecting you.” Sam got up and poured himself another drink. “I’ve raised five children my friend. I love them and they love me, I have no doubt of that. But there were times when respect wasn’t enough. Even love wasn’t enough. It was their fear of displeasing me that kept them in check, not always because there were enough trips to the wood shed. Sometimes we need them to feel that way, to protect them.”
“Are you always so wise?”
Sam snorted. “No, just experienced. As far as raising children, anyway.”
They sat quietly for a few moments, savoring the liquor, the silence and their friendship.
Sam was the first one to break the silence. “He’s a bit on the thin side. Other than that, he looked okay. You worried about anything?”
“No, Sam. He’s healthy enough, I think anyway.” Once again he took a sip of Scotch. “He misses his brother, and I would bet his brother misses him. They’ve grown very close, hit it off right away. I must say, I miss Johnny very much. But it’s good for him to get away. With Shannon maybe still in the area, it’s been hard for all of us to carry on normally.”
“Yes, I heard about this Shannon. You think he’s still around?”
“I don’t know, but I have a feeling he is. I want him out of here. I don’t know what I’ll do when and if I find him, but he’s going to be gone one way or another.” Murdoch’s face was hard and Sam thought he was capable of killing the man.
“I don’t blame you, Murdoch. I’m a doctor, but if my children were in danger, I’d want him out of my life, whatever that took.”
“Sam, let’s talk about something else. I’ll take care of my sons, and Shannon. How’s May and your new grandchild? I understand you have a beautiful little grand daughter. “
“Oh, Murdoch, she is as pretty as sunflowers, bright, happy and such a sweet baby.”
Sam rambled on about his little granddaughter, and Murdoch listened, smiling and relaxing in the proud tones of his dear friend. As the night drew on, he felt content. His family was finally reunited. He smiled to himself and thought maybe in a few years he would have a granddaughter also. He always wanted a daughter, but a granddaughter may be even better. He wouldn’t have to worry about discipline, just about spoiling the child as much as a grandfather could. Yes, he thought, a little girl would be wonderful.
The figure crept back into the shadow of the orchard. He knew if he waited long enough, they would relax somewhat and think he was gone. He had learned how to blend into the background. He also knew that the younger boy was gone, and the tall blond wasn’t. He knew where he slept, where his room was. Shannon knew where every lamp light burned in the house. After the younger boy left, there was no light in one of the upstairs rooms, but a light still burned in another one. That was where the other boy was.
Chapter 16 Home
Murdoch mounted his horse and stared down at his son.
“I want you to spend the day inside the house, Scott. There are several hands working on the grounds and two will be around the house at all times. Before it gets dark, I want you to lock the house up. Do you understand?”
Dr. Sam Jenkins had just departed for town after a very pleasant dinner and evening with Murdoch and Scott the night before. Several hands had been sent out to do emergency repairs on a small bridge a few miles from the hacienda. Murdoch was taking six men with him to search for Shannon several miles north where a campsite had been found. From there, they would try to pick up a trail. Most of the hands were still rounding up cattle for the coming winter sale. That still left a handful of men at the ranch.
Scott looked up at his father, frowning that he’d have to spend another entire day inside. Worse yet, even his father wouldn’t be around to distract him. Maria the cook would be coming and going, but she would be going more than anything so it would be a long day for Scott.
“When are you coming back?” he asked his father.
“We’re going to search until as late as possible. But I want to be home before dark.”
Scott let out a sigh, and turned his face away from his father.
“Scott, I want you to promise me that you’ll do as I ask?”
Scott’s gaze was distant, skimming the distant mountains, the backdrop of the sunrise shimmering pink on the horizon.
“Scott.” His father’s voice was insistent.
Scott glanced back at his father and said, “Yes, sir.” Resignedly, he lowered his gaze, and then ventured with, “What if there are men around me? Can’t I go to the barn or the tack room? I can help them out with things.”
Trying to make him understand, Murdoch explained, “Scott,
I know it’s going to be a long day for you. But I don’t know where
Shannon is. The men get busy with their work and I can’t ask them to
keep track of you also. You understand that, don’t you son? It will
just be better if you stay inside.”
“The matter’s closed Scott,” Murdoch interrupted in a tone that ended further discussion. “I want you in the house today.”
Murdoch’s words were met with a harsh stare from his son, his glare unyielding as he met his father’s eyes. His son’s mulish attitude needed to be contained and quickly, even if it meant a stern implication if Scott did not obey him.
“Scott, I don’t want a repeat of the Jackson incident, do you?”
With those words, Scott broke contact with his father’s gaze, and looked back in the direction of the mountains. Silence settled for a short time, before Murdoch reminded Scott that he wanted a response.
“Yes, sir,” Scott finally acquiesced. “I’ll stay in the house.”
Relieved, Murdoch addressed his son in a conciliatory tone. “I tell you what, Scott, after Johnny gets home we’ll spend a few days fishing. There’s a line shack in the north foot hills, pretty little place, cold stream and no one around. We can do some hiking, restock the shack for the winter, maybe even do some deer hunting. Just give me a few days; I need to make sure Shannon is gone.”
Scott didn’t need any convincing as far as wanting Shannon gone. He remembered the way Shannon had looked at him at the way station, the slow way his hand had trailed down Scott’s face. And the line shack did sound wonderful. He’d have some time with his brother, and he would even look forward to some time with his father. Hiking, hunting, fishing, what more could a boy want? He’d not been able to do much of that when he lived in the east.
“That would be fine, sir,” Scott replied, his rigid manner replaced by a relaxed smile.
“Good,” Murdoch smiled back at his son. “I’ll see you later this evening then. You go on in now.”
With Murdoch’s prompt, Scott walked slowly into the house. Although Murdoch didn’t think for one minute that Shannon would be this close to the house, he decided it was better to be over cautious. He looked towards one of the hands loitering by the door Scott had just closed. “Hanson, make sure someone is on the front and back door at all times, okay? Hopefully we’ll find signs of this Shannon long before dark.”
Hanson nodded. “Yes, sir, Mr. Lancer. There’s half a dozen of us will be around the grounds. We’ll keep the doors covered.”
“Good.” With that final word, Murdoch rode to the bunkhouse where six other men were waiting for him. In a few minutes they were all mounted and heading north to the camp site.
Scott watched their departure from his bedroom window. He fingered the curtains, wondering how he would spend the day. Picking up a book from the night stand that he had started to read a few days ago, he flopped on the bed and opened it to the page where he had stopped reading. He could hear the men working outside, the sounds of their laughter and conversations drifting up through his open window. He hoped his father would find Shannon and soon. Not only was he tired of this forced confinement, the very thought that this man was still around somewhere was frightening and repulsive.
Scott felt safe and secure listening to the voices from the ranch yard. He was finding it more and more difficult to concentrate on the book, his eyes drifting and unfocused. Finally he laid the open book down on his chest, closed his eyes and fell asleep.
Shannon watched the comings and goings of the big ranch from his hiding place. Protected in a copse of trees not far from the house, he figured no one would think he would be bold enough to come this close to the hacienda. He’d been prepared, waiting for the right opportunity, and this looked to be that day. Actually, he’d been almost ready to give up until he saw Lancer ride away. Well, he told himself, patience is a virtue. He chuckled, knowing that was perhaps the only virtue he had. He shrugged. As a man driven by his own insatiable appetites, he really didn’t care.
His horse would remain saddled and ready to go when he brought the boy this way. He didn’t think he’d be able to spend time getting another horse for the kid to ride, but the boy was light enough they could ride double. He didn’t figure he’d be riding that far with him anyway. Once he was done with him, he’d be long gone from this area.
He watched old man Lancer ride out towards the north. Shannon had camped in that direction two nights ago. He guessed it would take Lancer at least half the day to get to the camp and pick up a trail. Shannon had been careful when he traveled, and knew the trail would be hard to follow. He’d also thrown in a few things that could lead them off the real trail. It was a habit he had been forced to pick up over the years. He usually left a place with someone looking for him. The false trails would slow Lancer down. It would give Shannon plenty of time to determine how to get the kid out of the house without alerting the hands remaining.
He saw a chubby little lady head to the back door of the house. At least that entrance wasn’t locked, he noted as she entered. The only thing that might be an issue was the cowboy not too far from the entrance. He didn’t mind busting heads, but he wanted to make sure his head wasn’t the one getting busted. Maybe that chubby little lady could help in some way to convince the kid he needed to come with him and not cause any trouble. He’d have to think on that.
He noticed the pacing stallion in the paddock not too far from the main house. The horse would stop occasionally and peer over the fence to a pasture containing several mares. The animal would rear and whinny loudly, while the mares continued to munch placidly on the grass. The only hand in that area was one by the front door. Maybe he could take the boy out through that paddock. The cowboys wouldn’t pay any attention to the stallion making noise; it was always making noise. He thought he’d be able to sneak up on the man on guard easily enough, especially as the day wore on and the hand got bored and maybe sleepy. Yes, he decided, that would be the quickest and easiest way to get the kid out of the house. The paddock wasn’t that far from where he was, there was tall grass and brush along the way to help conceal him, and they’d be heading south off the ranch before anyone would miss the kid.
He settled back in the tall grass, content to think for the next few hours on the details of getting the boy out of the house, and especially how he was going to enjoy himself with the kid later in the day. Almost made the wait worth it, he contemplated, chewing on a long blade of grass.
Murdoch was upset. They had found the campsite easily enough, but picking up the trail had taken more time than he would have liked. The trail was erratic and hard to follow. It twisted and turned in on itself, and Murdoch was sure it was done purposely. He’d had to send the men in groups twice to follow a lead that was false. It was slow, he was impatient and the more twists he found, the more concerned he became.
They had left the ranch hours ago and didn’t seem to have gone very far in any direction. Where could this man be? The longer they looked, the more uneasy Murdoch became. He decided to split the men up into three different groups. He knew the man they were tracking hadn’t gone north. Two men went southeast, two men went west, and two men and Murdoch headed southwest.
Tracking was very slow. There was a lot of land to cover and Murdoch didn’t want to miss something that may lead them to the man he was looking for. After a couple of hours more of trying to find any trace of a man passing over the land, one of the hands stumbled upon a campsite. The camp was well hidden, and the only reason the hand found it was because his horse stumbled into the brush that hid it. It looked like the site had been set up within the last day or two. The rocks surrounding a fire pit were still in place, the soot and ashes undisturbed and fresh.
“Mr. Lancer, I’d say this guy was here, if not last night, the night before,” one of the hands indicated.
“I think you’re right, Dave.” Murdoch looked around the site, trying to get some idea of which direction the man was headed. Suddenly he stopped and cursed. Murdoch had never felt so afraid in his life. His body actually shivered with the realization of what he had overlooked.
“How could I have been so stupid?” Murdoch spat. “He’s headed for the ranch. He’s headed for Scott.”
Murdoch mounted his horse and spurred it towards the hacienda, the two hands following quickly behind him. If he kept pushing, he should arrive home just before sundown. No, he had to arrive before sundown.
When Scott woke up, the sun was shining brightly into the room. He glanced at the clock and couldn’t believe how long he had slept. It was almost noon. He’d had a hard time falling to sleep last night, recalling over and over again the stories Dr. Jenkins had told about his father. Thinking about the things his father had done made Scott proud of him. It also made Scott want to draw closer to him, he wanted to trust him as well as look to him in the way he had once looked to his grandfather. He wanted to be able to go to his father when he was troubled, when he was hurt, or when he just needed assurance that he was valued. He just didn’t know how to take that first step. Another thought nagged at him. His grandfather had deceived him; how did he know his father wasn’t deceiving him.
Scott quickly got up from the bed and splashed some water in his face. Straightening out the mussed bed, he picked up the book and laid it on the night stand. Taking a quick look around to make sure everything was in place, he decided to go down to the kitchen to see if lunch was ready. He would ask Maria to stay and eat with him. He wanted to talk to someone and he loved listening to her stories of Mexico and its culture.
As he walked down the stairs his heart did a little flip flop and he froze when he noticed movement at the French Doors. He stopped and caught his breath, until he recognized it was Luke Hanson, one of the ranch hands. The man turned and caught Scott’s eye. He nodded at Scott, and Scott waived back. Scott hadn’t realized until now just how spooked he was by Moses Shannon. He hoped his father found him; better yet, he hoped he wasn’t around at all anymore.
“Good morning, Maria,” he said as he entered the kitchen.
Maria turned to him, pleasuring him with a big, beautiful smile. “It is almost afternoon, Senior Scott. Did you sleep well?”
Scott blushed a bit at the reminder that he had slept most of the morning. “Yes, Senora, I did. A little longer than I wanted.”
Maria paused in her work, her hands and wrists coated in flour. “It is okay to sleep if you are tired. You are a growing boy, Senior Scott.”
She looked at him a bit longer, and then went back to kneading bread dough. “Lunch will be ready soon, Senior Scott. I just need to finish with this dough.”
“That’s okay, Maria.” After a few moments, he asked, “Maria, would you just call me Scott.”
“You are the Patron’s son, his first born. It is not respectful that I should call you by your first name.” Maria continued to knead the dough, not stopping when she gave the answer.
“It would please me if you just called me Scott, though. It doesn’t sound so formal.”
This time she stopped and looked at him. ‘How young he is’, she thought. Young, and polite and he looked so very innocent. Everything in this very maternal woman called for her to wrap her ample arms around this boy and draw him close, but she held back, barely.
“All right, Senior, all right, Scott.” She turned back to her dough to finish it. She cut it into three pieces and put each piece into a baking pan. She set the pans on the back of the stove and covered them with a clean, white muslin cloth. They would rise in a couple of hours, and be ready for baking.
“There” she said, clapping her hands over the sink to get the excess flour off of them. “I will get you some lunch.” She worked the pump and washed her hands, all of the time chatting about her children, what she was going to make for dinner, and other small, inconsequential things. Scott relaxed, enjoying listening to her warm voice and full laughter. He found himself thinking of Maggie, his grandfather’s housekeeper, and wondered how she was doing.
Maria noticed the far away look on his face. “What are you thinking of, Scott?” She continued making lunch, preparing sandwiches, getting fresh fruit from the bin, putting milk on the table.
He looked at her a bit startled, not realizing how deep in thought he had been. “I was thinking of a lady back home, back in Boston I mean. She was my grandfather’s housekeeper. I was wondering what she was doing now.”
“What is her name?”
“Her name is Maggie.” Scott smiled, that one word taking him back to what seemed years ago, but was only a few months. “She was very kind to me.” He grinned shyly. “I loved her, she was very special.”
Maria was surprised by his statement, and felt once more the overwhelming urge to hug him. “You have love for a servant?”
“She was more than that. She was like family. When I’d fall and skin my knees, she always cleaned them up, made me feel better. She used to be pleased when I did well in school. She made me my favorite dishes to make me feel better when I was sad. I remember, I would give her Christmas gifts and she would say I should not, that grandfather would be angry with her. So I always had to sneak them to her.” An incredible sadness descended on him and an urge to see her once again. “I sometimes miss her very much.”
She looked at his bowed head, at the far away look on his face. She wondered if she should tell Mr. Lancer about this conversation. Then decided no, that this would be just between the two of them.
Maria placed the sandwiches on the table for him. “You eat your lunch, Scott. You are too thin, you need to eat more than you do.”
Scott looked up at her. “Would you please have lunch with me, Maria? I would so enjoy your company.”
He looked so forlorn and lonely; she could not bring herself to say no to him, although she did not think it was proper for a servant to sit down with the Patron’s son. In no time at all, though, they were talking and laughing together. Scott had a way of making her feel comfortable. She forgot that she was the servant and just enjoyed the time, sitting with this very polite, handsome boy who laughed at her stories. His eyes sparkled like she had never seen before. He had a beautiful smile, she noted, and realized quickly how a Boston housekeeper could learn to love this fine young man.
Maybe she would share some of this afternoon with the Patron after all. Not all of it, but he should know this part of his son. Yes, she would tell him about his son.
Shannon had been watching the house for hours and it was time to make his move. The cowboy near the front door should be easy to sneak up on and take out. The lady from the ranch house had brought some supper to him. Shannon had been watching her come and go most of the day. She came just prior to lunch and spent at least two hours in the house. She came back mid day and was in the house more than an hour. She then returned a short time ago, brought the cowboy his supper and left again. He had watched her walk to a smaller house some distance from the main house.
It must be a couple of hours before sundown, Shannon surmised. The sun was starting to settle in the late autumn afternoon. The cowboy had just finished his supper and was sitting in a chair on the patio. He appeared bored, sleepy from a heavy meal, and probably looked forward to a nice clean bed in the bunkhouse. Shannon guessed Lancer was still somewhere miles away from the ranch following false trails. Still, he thought he’d better act now and get the kid. He wanted several hours between him and the ranch house before Murdoch Lancer returned to find his son gone.
He crept slowly towards the house, keeping low in the tall grass. The stallion snorted and whinnied when he caught Shannon’s movement and scent. Shannon stopped; every sense alert to any reaction from any of the hands. As he figured, the cowboys had grown accustomed to the stallion’s continual prancing and noise and it didn’t draw any undue attention from any of the men. Shannon continued on.
He knew the boy was in the house alone. He hadn’t seen anyone else enter the house all day, except for the woman. She was the only one who came out. The boy hadn’t even so much as glanced outside after the old man had left this morning. Shannon thought about the kid, wanting him more than anything he’d ever wanted before. It drove him on, made him relentless, determined and cruel.
Shannon was now at the end of the tall grass, and had to make his way quickly. There was a distance of several yards where he would be exposed between the grass and the wall of the hacienda. Crouching low, he didn’t hesitate as he hurried to the wall. Hugging the adobe, he waited, catching his breath before he silently continued. He made it to the corner of the wall and stole a glance at the man on the patio. The guard was looking towards the bunkhouse, listening to the voices and laughter emanating from the structure. Shannon surmised the other hands were having supper, probably looking forward to a game of cards or some such thing. Obviously the guard was thinking along those same lines as he didn’t hear Shannon approach.
Reaching for his knife, Shannon thought better and decided to use his pistol. He knew if he stabbed the guard, the hand might have time to cry out. Besides, stabbing was a bloody business and Shannon didn’t want any of the sticky mess on him. It was too hard to wash from clothes and he didn’t want any glances directed his way as he traveled. Lancer was a wealthy, powerful man, and Shannon was sure word would spread fast that his kid had been taken. No reason to draw undue attention.
He took his gun out of the holster, and walking as lightly as possible, came up to the guard and brought the butt of his gun forcefully down on his head. The cowboy gave a low grunt and folded quickly from the chair, causing the chair to fall noisily against the table. Shannon grabbed at the chair, too late to cushion the sound. He dragged the cowboy to the wall and threw his body into the bordering bushes. He didn’t check to see if the man was alive or not. He didn’t care, just wanted him out of the way for now.
Shannon waited. There was no indication from the bunk house that anyone had heard the falling chair. Several minutes passed, and he once again started his move towards the house.
The front door was locked. The door was huge and there was no way he would be able to break it down. He could shoot out the lock, but that would bring the hands running. He went to the French Doors and they were also locked. They’d be easier to get into, but breaking glass would surely alert the kid. He wanted to put that off as much as possible.
He took his knife out with the intention of shimming the lock when he saw movement coming from inside. Something or someone was coming down the stairway. He quickly withdrew from in front of the door and pressed his body against the side of the house. Maybe this would work out okay after all. The kid had probably heard the chair fall, and was coming down to investigate. The body of the ranch hand wasn’t in sight. If the kid would just unlock the door, he’d have him. He’d dive quickly through the door, grab the kid and get the hell out of here. He held his breath, the sweat of anticipation trickling down his face and into his eyes, waiting and watching for any sign of movement from the door handle.
It had been a pleasant two hours with Maria at lunch. Scott had forgotten his loneliness and immersed himself in her stories, her warm humor and her pleasing smile. He thought a couple of times that she was going to come over and hug him. He wouldn’t have stopped her. In actuality, Scott craved attention from women such as Maria, just as he had from Maggie. And even though such shows of affection were rare, he treasured and remembered each tender touch, not understanding why he longed for them, just deeply appreciative when they happened.
The rest of the afternoon had not been as pleasant. He had been bored and restless, tempted to go outside, but stopped by the remembrance of Jackson and his father’s reaction. So he ambled around the house, tried to read but couldn’t concentrate. He observed the ranch from the frame of his bedroom window, watching the hands come and go, noting the continual pacing of the stallion. He couldn’t imagine how much food it took to power that animal’s body.
His father had been right. Bringing the mares down had certainly increased the horse’s activity level. Scott also thought the animal was becoming more and more aggressive. He knew his father was making the determination of which mares to breed with the stallion. Scott thought if he didn’t do it quickly, the stallion was going to pace himself to death. Scott didn’t know much about horse breeding, only thought that the relentless movement of Jackson couldn’t be good for him.
Supper had been a lonely affair, and Scott didn’t eat much. Maria made the meal, told him she was sorry but she could not stay. She made a plate up for Hanson, and before leaving, brushed her hand through Scott’s hair. He had been surprised by the show of affection, and blushed, his face becoming a deep red all the way to his blond roots.
Maria had laughed. “I don’t see too many people blushing. My family is too dark. But you, you are so light, even your hair is pink.”
Scott had smiled at her, embarrassed even more that he couldn’t hide his body’s reaction.
“Ah, don’t worry,” she said. “It looks very nice on you.”
She quickly wrapped up the plate for the hand. “Senior, I mean, Scott, you be sure to lock the door now when I go out. Your father should be back soon. He did not want to be gone after dark. Okay?”
“Yes, Maria, I will. Thank you for the supper.”
“You’re welcome. Just be sure you eat it. I will see you tomorrow morning, si?”
Scott nodded, following her to the front door. He locked the door and wandered over to look out the French Doors. Hanson had accepted the plate of food, and was sitting at the small table eating it. When Scott checked to make sure those doors were locked, Hanson, alerted by the noise, turned to look at Scott. He nodded at Scott, and Scott nodded back. Scott liked Hanson. He treated Scott kindly, as most of the hands did, but Hanson actually went out of his way to explain some of the things that related to the ranch; the how’s and why’s of doing certain things.
Scott looked towards the western sky, noting the sun was getting lower. It would go down in a couple of hours and he found himself anticipating his father’s return. It was a feeling he had not experienced before, and he actually rather liked it.
Scott decided to go upstairs to his room and try to continue with the book he’d been reading earlier that morning. He plumbed the pillows on his bed, lit the lamp and was very involved with the book when he thought he heard a noise coming from the patio. He surmised that Hanson had probably tipped something over. He tried to get back into the book, but then thought that Hanson may have hurt himself in some way. He put the book back on the stand and decided to make sure everything was all right.
As he walked down the stairs, he eyed the patio area. He couldn’t see Hanson, but could see a chair leaning awkwardly against the patio table. ‘Why would he leave the chair like that?’ Scott wondered. He thought he saw a flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye, near the French Doors. He stopped then, halfway across the room. He stood there, not moving, wondering where Hanson was and if he had truly seen something move.
Scott wished he could see the side of the house better without getting closer to the doors. He waited for any other sign of movement coming from outside, but there was nothing. Everything looked so normal, except for the fact that Hanson wasn’t there. He had been there all day. ‘Maybe he went to use the privy’ Scott thought. Yes, that was it; he just took a short break. Cautiously Scott approached the doors.
He tried to look out the doors as far as he could on either side without pressing his face to the glass, but he couldn’t see anything abnormal. He reached for the door knob, wiggling it, remembering he had locked it earlier. He took his hand away and searched the patio area once more. There was nothing.
He reached to unlock the door and hesitated, remembering his father’s words earlier that day. ‘I want you to spend the day inside the house…I want you to lock the house up.’ He had done both.
Scott was feeling rather silly now. He was just spooked. Shannon wouldn’t dare be this close to the house. Someone would have seen him by now if he had been. Hanson just went to attend to his needs and would be back soon. It wouldn’t hurt to just open the door for a few minutes for some fresh air. It was so stuffy in here; that’s what was making Scott feel closed in and worried.
Once again he reached for the handle on the door, his other hand reaching for the mechanism that unlocked it. He turned the latch, unlocking the door, and started to slowly open it.
Shannon could almost feel the kid on the other side of the glass. He was pressed so close to the wall of the house he felt like he was part of it. The handle of the knife he held in his hand was wet with sweat; sweat trickled down his face, stinging as the salty fluid dripped into his eyes.
The knob jiggled once, and then was still. He almost jumped through the door then, but caught himself. He hadn’t heard the click of the door being unlocked. He held his breath, waiting, waiting, waiting. He was thinking of just busting through the door, until he saw the knob move again.
Then he heard it and smiled. The lock clicked open; the handle shifted; the door moved in ever so slightly. He had him.
Home, Chapter 17
“Mr. Lancer, if you don’t slow down and give that horse time to breath, you’re going to kill it.”
Murdoch knew Cipriano was right. He’d been pushing the poor animal hard for over an hour, but he had such a horrible feeling of helplessness and foreboding. He needed to get home to assure himself that Scott was all right.
Murdoch slowed the horse to an easy trot, allowing the other two riders to slow their animals as well. Murdoch could feel the powerful lungs work in and out too hard; he noticed the sensitive skin, that could twitch from the light touch of a fly, was lathered; the air blowing through the large nostrils came too quickly. He cursed and closed his eyes, sorry for causing the animal pain, frantic that his defenseless son needed him. He almost cried, wanting to run the horse, but knowing he might kill it and get home no faster.
Why hadn’t he seen the signs before? Shannon’s last camp was a day old. He could easily have been at Lancer as early as yesterday afternoon; certainly could have been there last night when they were having dinner with Sam. No one, including Murdoch, expected him to be so bold as to be within the perimeter of the hacienda. Cursing his stupidity again, Murdoch cringed.
‘No’, he thought, this self flagellation was not doing anyone any good. He had guards on the house, other hands on the grounds. He had instructed Scott to stay inside and lock the doors. That’s what he needed to focus on; that Scott had done what he was told. He would be at the ranch house in less than an hour; he would be there before sunset. Focusing on the land before him, he kept the horse at a steady but reasonable pace, his face hard, almost murderous in his determination to arrive home.
The other men were silent and grim, knowing the Patron would kill the man with his bare hands if anything happened to his son.
Shannon slammed through the doors, lunging at Scott and bringing him down to the floor. He could feel the kid scrambling beneath him, trying desperately to throw him off. Shannon could sense the boy’s panic and was excited by it. He brought his mouth close to Scott’s ear and whispered softly, “Boy, boy, we’re going to have us a good time.”
Scott gasped at the words, Shannon’s warm breath making him nauseated. A surge of strength powered by escalating fear ran through Scott, and he heaved out and away from Shannon’s weight. Struggling to escape the man’s grasp, he picked himself up and stumbled across the room. Shannon grabbed his arm and stumbled with Scott, Shannon’s knee coming down solidly on Scott’s ribs. Scott could feel the rib crack, the pain intense, taking his breath away. Tears sprang to his eyes, the words of his father coming back to him to keep the doors locked. ‘If I had only obeyed,’ went through his brain as Shannon’s hands held him.
A knife appeared in Shannon’s hand, paralyzing Scott. ‘He’s going to kill me’, Scott thought. No, no, no, no, no went over in his mind. He had just found his father; he had come to love his brother with all of his heart. This man had no right to take it away from him. He tried to calm himself; he needed to be rational, to see how far this man would go, and to find out what he really wanted.
He breathed, one frantic breath at a time, and willed his reaction to fight and flee to the back of his mind. Shannon calmed as Scott did; he could feel it by the way Shannon held him. ‘What am I willing to give to save my life’ dashed through Scott’s mind. ‘Anything’ he thought. ‘I will give him anything.’
Shannon’s grip loosened; he eyed Scott, and backed off from his body, that allowed Scott to breathe more easily. Shannon saw Scott’s hand go to his rib cage, his face white with pain. He hadn’t wanted to injure the kid, at least not yet. He wouldn’t have hurt him in the beginning, but now he needed to get back at this kid’s old man. The only way he could do that was to hurt him through his son, as much as Murdoch Lancer had hurt Shannon.
He watched the kid, admiring his face, the high cheekbones, his soft hair; everything about him stirred Shannon. He brought his hand up to the boy’s face; Scott jerked at the touch, but then stilled, breathing as if he was counting each second. Scott’s eyes were focused elsewhere, wide eyed and aware, as Shannon touched him.
Scott closed his eyes, wanting to be somewhere else. He thought about Johnny, how much fun they were going to have fishing. He wandered back to Boston, imagining Maggie in her white apron and stiff cap, her broad, red face smiling at him, loving him because he was a child without a mother or father. He pictured his grandfather, stern and proper, but giving him everything he asked for; giving him everything except his father. His father came into view; his tall, strong father. Where was he now? He almost cried at the need and emptiness. Where was he now?
And then Shannon stopped. Scott hesitated, opened his eyes, and looked into the hungry face of Moses Shannon. Contained and in check, Shannon’s face gleamed with sweat and desire. He actually licked his lips, and Scott shuddered.
“What do you want?” Scott managed to hoarsely whisper, more terrified than he had ever been in his life. His heart was beating so hard, he thought it would erupt inside of him.
Shannon smiled at the question, eyes glimmering. “Well, we’ll need to talk about that when we get out of here. You be good, and I’ll be real good to you, boy.”
The knife shimmered in Shannon’s hand as he brought it in front of Scott’s face. “What’s your name?”
Scott swallowed, his throat dry, choking on his own spit. “Scott.”
“Well, Scott, that’s a real nice name. We’re going out that door, across the field and to my horse. You don’t fight me, and I don’t hurt you, you understand?” Shannon twirled the knife, making it unmistakable what he would do if Scott didn’t cooperate.
Scott nodded his head, mesmerized by the gleam of the knife as it caught the glow of the descending sun and reflected it off a lamp in a splash of color. Shannon stood up and grabbing Scott by the arm lifted him off the floor. The movement caused Scott to hiss in pain and fold an arm over his injured ribs.
Not caring about Scott’s injury, Shannon pushed him roughly to the door and onto the patio. As they moved to the far side of the wall surrounding the patio, Scott noticed the body of Hanson. He started to go towards him, but Shannon roughly grabbed him by the back of his neck.
“Leave him,” he brusquely ordered.
“He’s hurt,” Scott protested quietly, trying to catch the bile coming up in his throat as he looked at the injured hand. Blood had puddled beneath the man’s head and started to dry as it fanned out from the body.
“I said leave him. We need to get out of here. You remember what I said boy. I don’t mind cutting you now.” Shannon gripped Scott’s arm cruelly, sending throbbing sparks along his upper arm down to his fingertips.
Scott continued as ordered, sparing Hanson a quick backward glance as they left him behind hidden in the dusty bushes of his father’s house.
They covered the open area to the tall grass quickly, Shannon pulling Scott down to a crouch as they ran. As they neared Jackson, the horse laid his ears back and nervously ran to the far side of the corral. Snorting, he turned to watch the two figures move along the outside perimeter of the enclosure. Smelling their sweat and fear, he whinnied shrilly, and bounded towards the man and boy, rearing anxiously. Shannon stopped momentarily and watched the display, then pushed Scott to continue.
Scott could sense that Shannon was uneasy with the horse, and distracted by the animal’s behavior. They hugged the fence line closely, the bottom rail almost 1-1/2’ above the ground. They moved slowly but steadily along the fence. Suddenly, Scott broke free of Shannon, squeezed in under the railing and started running across the corral to the other side of the enclosure. He heard Shannon curse, surprised by Scott’s sudden escape.
Shannon had to go over the fence to follow Scott, too large to squeeze under the bottom railing. Jackson started running round and round the enclosure, screaming and fearful at the intrusion, frustrated and protective at the same time by the nearness of the mares.
Scott ran, his breathing hard and rapid, trying to swallow air to his starving lungs. He made it to the opposite side of the corral, and slid into the bottom rail. He had almost made it under when he felt Shannon’s hand on his leg, dragging him back. Scott kicked out and felt a sharp stab as Shannon drew the knife along the outside of Scott’s right thigh. Scott screamed in pain, feeling his tissue split. He could hear the horse’s squeals, escalating one after the other as it brought its front legs with a thud on to the packed substrate of the dusty enclosure.
Suddenly, Scott felt Shannon’s hand weaken, and Scott kicked away. Grasping his bloody thigh, he limped as fast as he could from the corral, hearing almost distractedly the howls of the enraged stallion. He didn’t look back; he just kept running until he couldn’t run anymore. Exhausted, he finally stumbled into a hollow hidden by brush and thistle. Wrapping his arm around his protesting ribs, he lay still and listened, not able to go any further. The blood from his thigh thickened, coagulated, and finally crusted to a stop, melding his pants to the muscle of his leg.
He tried to quiet his breathing. He closed his eyes, praying that Shannon wouldn’t find him. He could still hear the stallion’s screams and thought he heard men talking, their voices hurried and alarmed.
He perceived his grandfather standing over him, lecturing him that he’d accidentally broken a valuable vase. Then Maggie was sitting by his bedside, drawing a cool cloth across his fevered forehead. He felt the wind in his hair and he was riding Micah across Boston commons. He was standing in a dusty street, looking into the bluest eyes he had ever seen. His brother! He had a brother! The frantic call of his father floated over him, he could almost see the air ripple with the words. He brought his hand out to touch the smooth muzzle of Jackson and closed his eyes. He was floating across the western prairie, the rhythmic hum of a train moving beneath him, its deep pleasant music lulling him to darkness.
The sun hovered low in the sky, just above the horizon before it hooded into night. Its hushed glow skimmed the earth and flickered over the boy, highlighting his soft hay blond hair against the brown earth. The sun found him and waited, the golden ray suspended and lingering on the still form.
Murdoch stopped on the hill overlooking the hacienda. The dimming light from the sun cast a pinkish hue on the people scurrying about the grounds. ‘Why were they running so’ he thought worriedly. There was something wrong. Anxious, he spurred his horse the last several hundred yards down from the ridge and into the throbbing bustle of the ranch hub.
One of the hands came running to him, grabbing at the reins and ready to take the animal.
“What’s wrong, Russ” Murdoch demanded, brusque with the ranch hand, trying to maintain a calm he did not feel.
“Don’t know for sure, boss. We found Hanson over by the patio. He’s not dead, but he’s hurt pretty bad. We’ve sent Lou for the doc. There’s a man in the corral, been stomped to death by the stallion. We’re trying to catch Jackson and get him in a stall, but that horse is near crazy.”
“My son, have you seen my son,” Murdoch questioned tensely.
“No, sir. I’m sorry. He’s not in the house; we’ve spread out looking in every direction.”
Another hand came running from the corral. “Rus, Mr. Lancer, we’ve found a blood trail from the corral. We’re following it now. It seems to be leading …..”
Murdoch didn’t wait to hear more. “Get Hanson into one of the guest rooms in the house,” he called behind him to Russ. His long legs ate up the distance to the corral. There were three men who had managed to rope the stallion and were pulling it into the small lean-to attached to the enclosure.
Out of the corner of his eye Murdoch saw the body of the man he surmised was Shannon. He was lying just inside the railing, arms outstretched, a bloody knife still gripped in his hand, his face unrecognizable as a human being. His back and shoulders were bloody and almost pulverized, bone and tissue poking through the torn remnants of his shirt. Not stopping, Murdoch glanced at the body, his face hardened with hatred.
A few feet from the fence line, Murdoch saw the blood on the brush. Stooping to study the ground, he could make out a mark as if something, no, it looked like someone was dragging something. He could see the footprint of a left boot, but there was no print of a right boot, just the drag mark in the dirt. He stood erect and saw that other men were searching in front of him, following the blood and footprints.
He hurriedly walked towards them, knowing they were good trackers, all of them, and wouldn’t miss anything. Suddenly one of them stopped, momentarily disappeared from view as he went down into a gully, and came back up shouting and waiving his arms. “He’s over here,” he called. He saw Murdoch then and shouted, “He’s over here, Mr. Lancer.”
Murdoch ran faster than he thought he was capable of running. His eyes were on the gully, fearful of what he would find. The man who had called to him had gone down into the gully once again, and Murdoch couldn’t see him. The back of the man came into view as Murdoch approached and he was bending over something. Murdoch reached the ditch, his long legs sliding down the sides, dislodging dirt and scrub. The hand stepped out of the way and Murdoch’s stomach bottomed out.
Lying on his side, Scott’s arms were tightly folded across his ribs. His right thigh was encrusted with blood, his legs drawn up and held close to his body. Murdoch knelt beside him and his eyes filled with tears. He held them back, forcing himself to focus on the condition of his son. He could see that Scott was breathing, his chest rising and falling, but struggling as if each intake of air was painful. Murdoch brought his hand to Scott’s forehead, and swept sweaty bangs back gently. Scott was warm, too warm Murdoch observed. Scott moaned softly at the touch.
“Scott,” Murdoch said lowly. “Son,” he whispered when Scott didn’t respond to him. Scott grimaced in his sleep, moved his eyes beneath his lids, but didn’t waken. Murdoch looked at the tear in Scott’s pants, realizing that it was as long as the tear in his son’s leg. The bleeding had stopped for the most part, but fresh blood still oozed. Murdoch knew he had to get his son into the house, and was fearful the bleeding would start again in force when the dried cloth pulled against the skin as the leg was moved. There was nothing to be done about that, though.
“Morgan,” he addressed the hand who had found Scott. “Get me something to bind this leg up with. I need to wrap up the wound before I move him.”
“Yes, sir,” Morgan answered, getting up quickly and running towards the house.
It was then Murdoch brought his head up and noticed the rest of the hands looking down at him. There was everything from concern to guilt written on their faces. One of the hands handed a blanket to Murdoch and Murdoch nodded at the gesture, taking it from the man and placing it over his son.
“How’s Hanson,” he addressed to no one in particular.
“He’s still alive, but in shock I would guess, sir. Don’t think he was lying out there too long. I saw him a little over an hour ago, and he was at that iron table eating his supper.”
Murdoch nodded, guessing his son had been hurt less than an hour ago from what the hand had said. He brought his hand once again across his son’s brow.
“Anyone know what happened?” he questioned.
“Well sir,” a hand name Davis spoke, “near as we figure, the dead man in the corral hit Hanson over the head and somehow got into the house. The front door was locked, but those other doors, well, one is standing wide open. He must have taken your son through the corral. Can’t think why, as that stallion was plain worked up. He didn’t make it to the other side, though. Horse stomped him. There’s no blood in the corral, well other then what’s around the dead man, so Scott must have been stabbed when he got to the edge.” Davis stopped seeing Murdoch cringe when he talked about Scott being stabbed.
“Go on,” Murdoch said when Davis didn’t continue.
“That’s about it sir. That horse was making more noise than any of us ever heard. Didn’t pay much attention at first, he’s always making noise, but this time he didn’t let up. Just kept getting louder and louder. So a couple of us decided to check it out. Found this guy dead in the corral, then someone, I think Lou, found Hanson by the house, noticed the open door, and we started looking for Scott.”
Murdoch didn’t say anything more, just continued to run his hand through Scott’s hair. Morgan came back down the ditch, a piece of clean, white cotton in his hand. Murdoch took it and removed the blanket from Scott’s thigh.
“Okay,” he said to Morgan, “lift his leg and hold it steady so I can get this wrapped around him.”
Morgan did as he was told, and Murdoch quickly bound the wound. Scott responded with a light moan and a feeble attempt to move his leg, but he remained unconscious.
Murdoch gently lifted his son into his arms and the big man walked towards the house. He didn’t notice the hands removing Shannon’s body from the corral, nor did he notice that the horse had been successfully contained in the lean to. He felt a tug on his shirt, and looked down. Scott’s hand was clutching his shirt tightly, his eyes silver bright slits as he turned his face into his father’s chest.
“It’s okay, Scott. I’ve got you. You’re safe now.”
Scott didn’t respond, other than to wrap his fingers more firmly around the fabric.
Murdoch started climbing the stairs to Scott’s room. Maria came out of the kitchen with a pitcher of cool water, some hand towels and bandages. Following closely behind her was Cipriano hauling a large bucket of steaming water.
“Have you seen Hanson, Maria?”
"Si, patron. He is not so good, but the bleeding from his head has stopped. He has not woken, and he breathes, how you say, he breathes slightly. Hopefully the doctor will be here soon. How is your son, Senior.”
“I don’t know Maria. He’s alive. His leg has been cut, and he seems to have some trouble breathing.”
They had reached Scott’s bedroom and Murdoch stepped aside to allow Cipriano to open the door. Maria quickly turned down the bed covers and Murdoch laid his son carefully onto the bed. Maria dipped a small towel into the pitcher with cool water and wiped it across Scott’s face. Scott turned to look at her, his eyes trying to focus, confused at first and then recognizing who she was. His lips turned slightly in a smile.
“Shush, shush, shush” she murmured, displacing blond bangs back from a too white brow. “We will take care of you. You rest, you rest, dear Niño.”
“Maria,” Murdoch said, “we need to get his clothes off. I need to see where else he may be hurt.”
“Si, Senor, I am sorry. Would you like me to help?”
It was as Murdoch had feared. Scott’s thigh was once again bleeding. After removing the dressing and trousers, Murdoch asked Maria to hold pressure on the wound. Murdoch noted an angry bruise forming on one side of his son’s rib cage, but other than that and the cut on his leg, he didn’t see any other signs of injury.
It didn’t take long for the bleeding to stop from Scott’s leg, and Murdoch wrapped the wound with a fresh bandage. He dismissed Cipriano to make sure the ranch was back in order.
Murdoch wanted to give Scott some laudanum for the pain, but was afraid to before Dr. Jenkins saw him. Scott slipped into a fitful sleep, his head tossing slowly back and forth on the pillow.
After telling Maria she could go, Murdoch sat heavily down in a chair beside Scott’s bed to wait for the arrival of Sam. Many things went through his mind, how he missed Johnny but was glad he wasn’t here; he thought of Catherine, Harlan Garret and the long trip from Boston to Lancer for Scott. He prayed a lot also. He prayed for Scott, he prayed for Hanson, he prayed the doctor would be here soon, and he prayed for himself. He prayed that he would be a better father for his children, and that Scott would grow to love him.
He looked at his sleeping son and suddenly felt the same overwhelming love for Scott as he had for Johnny. He knew it hadn’t been there before. Oh, he loved Scott, no question about that. He loved him because he was his son, and fathers should love their children, but he hadn’t loved him because he was Scott. But he had learned to love the person Scott was; the reserved, polite, educated, intelligent, independent, warm, gentle, caring, stubborn, mule headed, quietly resistant, sometimes maddening individual who was his son.
The first few weeks after Scott’s arrival, Murdoch thought he might have made a mistake bringing him out here. He was older, and in a few short years he would be considered a man. Did he have the right to put his son through this? The thought hadn’t lasted long, but it had still appeared when it never had for Johnny.
Murdoch sighed heavily and got up from the chair. He stared out the window but only saw his own reflection against the backdrop of the night glass. He opened the window and leaned out, breathing in the cool air of the beautiful autumn night. He gazed out down the lane leading to the house, and saw a light flickering, making its way down the road. Sam was coming, he thought, finally.
Murdoch paced across the room, back and forth, back and forth, swirling glass after glass of Scotch around the goblet. He wasn’t even aware of drinking it, only that he had filled the glass several times. He was waiting for Sam to finish his examination of his son. He’d been with him now for almost an hour and Murdoch was ready to barge into the room and find out how things were going.
Since Scott didn’t seem to be in any real danger, Murdoch had asked Sam to check out Hanson when he first arrived. Sam had told Murdoch that Hanson had suffered a severe concussion and would know more in a day or two if he was going to be all right. If he made it through the next 24 hours, chances are he would recover, but he wouldn’t know for a few days if there would be any long term effects from the blow.
Murdoch had hovered so over Sam when he had started to examine Scott, that he politely but firmly asked Murdoch to get Maria and to please “go get a drink”. Murdoch had been resistant at first, but Sam almost kicked him out of his son’s room when Maria arrived to help. Taking Murdoch by the arm, Sam led him to the door and firmly closed it after Murdoch had stepped into the hall.
Murdoch had stood in the hall, astounded and reached for the door. “Don’t force me to lock you out,” Sam instructed tersely from the other side of the door. Murdoch had stopped, grumbled, and headed downstairs for the Scotch bottle. Thus, he found himself pacing over the same piece of carpet Scott had paced over just yesterday morning, trying to wear his father down to let him outside. Was it just yesterday morning? Murdoch thought amazed.
Hearing footsteps on the stairs, Murdoch anxiously turned to see Sam coming down the steps.
“How is he?” Murdoch immediately asked.
“He’s okay, Murdoch. If you have any of that Scotch left over and are of a mind to share it, we can sit down and talk about it.”
Murdoch calmed with his words, and prepared a healthy glass of whiskey for him. Both men sat down in the comfortable arm chairs facing the fire.
Sam took a long, appreciative sip of the finest Scotch whiskey he had ever tasted. One thing about Murdoch, he knew how to enjoy to the fullest some of the smaller pleasures in life. Eyeing his impatient friend, he knew he’d better relay Scott’s condition and soon.
“He’s got a good, long slash on his right thigh. Not real deep though. Scott must have pulled his leg away immediately, which resulted in the cut being shallower on one end. A good many stitches though. He’s running a bit of a fever, which doesn’t surprise me. Maria’s with him, trying to keep him cooled. Got a couple cracked ribs, but I’ve wrapped them up. He’s young, they’ll heal quickly. I’ve given him laudaman for the pain and he should sleep the night. You can give him some more tomorrow, but try not to give it to him more than four or five days. Try to keep him still with those ribs. Not too worried about the cut, but it’ll probably scar.”
Sam took another drink of the Scotch and leaned his head back in the chair. He was tired. It must be close to midnight, he surmised, maybe later. He’d been so engrossed in taking care of both patients, he hadn’t heard the chiming of the grandfather clock.
“Sam,” Murdoch said tentatively, “is there anything else?”
Sam looked at Murdoch with a puzzled expression. “No Murdoch, I don’t think so. Are you worried about something in particular?”
Murdoch cleared his throat, definitely concerned about something else. “This Shannon person, did he hurt Scott. I mean, I know he hurt him, but did he do anything else?” Murdoch closed his eyes, trying to find the right words. “He liked children, Sam, boys. Did he hurt my son?”
Finally Sam realized what Murdoch was talking about. He’d looked Scott over for any and all injuries or trauma, and should have understood his friend’s concern.
“I’m sorry, Murdoch, I should have mentioned it. No, I found no evidence of Scott being sexually assaulted.”
Murdoch breathed a great sigh of relief and put his head into his hand. After a few quiet, thankful moments, he looked up at Sam.
“Would you care to spend the night?”
“Yes, Murdoch, that would be fine. That will give me a chance to check Hanson over a couple of times before I leave. I’ll look in on Scott tomorrow morning also.” Sam got up to refill his glass. “I think you’d better get some rest yourself. Scott will sleep, no reason you shouldn’t try to also.”
“Well, I think I’ll check in on him before I go to bed.” Murdoch got up stiffly from the chair and drank the rest of his Scotch in one large gulp. “Good night, Sam. You’re welcome to anything in the kitchen, by the way.”
“Good night, Murdoch. I’ll look in on Hanson, then go on to bed. Try not to stay up too late.”
Murdoch frowned at Sam, but Sam only smiled back, knowing whatever he advised his friend to do, in the end he’d do what he wanted. They knew one another too well to play any word games. Murdoch relaxed his frown into a small smile, and climbed the stairs to his son’s room.
Maria was sitting by the bed drawing a cool cloth over Scott’s face. She looked up at Murdoch when he entered, then continued dipping the rag in the cool water, wringing it out and passing it over Scott’s forehead.
“He is warm, Patron,” she whispered, “but he sleeps well. He is not restless.”
“I can do that for a bit, Maria.”
“You should get some rest,” she scolded, knowing how tired he must be.
“I will, Maria, and so should you. Why don’t you see if one of the other ladies, perhaps Lisha, can relieve you? I’ll stay here with him for a bit.”
Stroking his head one more time, she put the rag in the dish and got up, allowing Murdoch to sit next to his son.
“Good night, Senor Lancer. I will ask Lisha to come in a couple of hours, Si?”
“Yes, that would be fine, Maria. Good night.”
Maria left, leaving Murdoch alone with his son. He methodically began the routine of trying to keep Scott cool. He allowed himself the luxury of thinking of nothing else. He emptied his mind, and concentrated on his son, on Johnny’s return, and on the fishing trip they were going to take. He found it calming, and by the time Lisha came two hours later, he was ready to go to bed, assured that Scott would be fine.
Relaxing his large body between the cool sheets, he slept peacefully, pushing Shannon Moses out of his life entirely.
Home Chapter 18
Murdoch leaned against the top railing of the corral, watching Jackson nibble peacefully on a mixture of brome and alfalfa. The horse had definitely lost weight during his confinement, but Murdoch hoped to build it back up before winter with grains and high quality grasses. Since the mares had been moved to another pasture far from the stallion, the horse had calmed appreciably.
Murdoch sensed the approach of someone, and turned to find Cipriano walking towards him. Murdoch nodded in greeting and gazed back at Jackson. Cip put his foot on the bottom railing, rested both arms on the top railing and joined his boss in appreciating the horse, and the day.
“Only a few of those mares were still in season, Mr. Lancer.”
“Yes, I expected that. Late in the year to be breeding, but if we get a couple of foals from him, we’ll see what he produces. I don’t mind keeping him with that small bunch of young stallions we have over in Cooper’s Canyon for a while. His foals come next fall and if they’re good, we’ll try him again the following spring.”
“Those mares will foal later than normal. Plan to house them close?” Cipriano had a big smile on his face.
Murdoch looked a little suspiciously at his Segundo, knowing what he was getting at, but then Murdoch also smiled. “Cip, nothing I like better than to look out my window and see fillies and colts running, tails high, legs kicking. I think I’ve earned that right to have them around as much as I can.”
“Yes, sir, you have earned that right.”
Both men relaxed against the fence, contentedly watching the horse eat, each lost in their own reflections.
“How is your son, Senior?”
Murdoch frowned a bit before answering. “He’s coming along. Only been a few days. He’s anxious to see his brother.” Murdoch smiled, knowing he was anxious to see Johnny as well. He was expected home soon, in fact would probably come down the road shortly. The vacation had been extended by a few days as the repairs on the school took longer than expected.
Cipriano waited a few moments before saying anything further. “Maria tells me that Senior Scott has nightmares. Hopefully in time they will go away.”
Murdoch pressed his lips together grimly. “I hope so Cip. Doc Jenkins seems to think they will, in time. Like I said, it’s not been very long. He’s still running a bit of a fever. Still sore.”
“What will you tell Johnny?”
“The truth. No reason not to.” Murdoch stood away from the fence, and put his hands in the front pockets of his trousers. He turned his gaze to the foothills, ablaze with red, gold and orange as autumn surrounded him, deep and mellow as a woman’s love.
“The body was taken to town. Sheriff said he’d see to burying.” Hesitating, Cipriano continued, “The sheriff said he needed to talk to Scott when he was able. Told him he’d have to talk to you about that.”
Murdoch’s face became hard momentarily, and then he lowered his eyes. “I suppose he’s just doing his job. Next time you go to town, tell the sheriff I’ll let him know.”
“Si, Patron.” Cipriano noticed his wife going into the back door of the Lancer hacienda. “My Maria has taken to your son, Senior.”
Murdoch chuckled. “Maria takes to any and all children, Cip.”
“Si. But she and Scott, well, they had a special time together. She would like to talk to you about that, sometime.”
Murdoch turned to Cipriano with a puzzled look on his face. “When was that Cip?”
“The day of the attack. But I should not have said anything. She would be angry with me and I would rather fight with a bear than with my wife. She will tell you when the time is good, soon.”
Still curious about what had taken place between Maria and Scott, Murdoch decided to let Maria tell him when she was ready. Right now all he wanted to think about was his son’s quick recovery. The body was healing, but the mind could not be repaired with bandages or salves. Murdoch hoped that with Johnny coming home, some of the terror of that day would recede, at least to the point where Scott’s nightmares would diminish.
“Well, I’d best go in and get some work done. Those books aren’t getting done by themselves.” Murdoch turned to walk away and stopped, thinking of something else he wanted to talk to Cip about.
“By the way, Cip, better find a replacement for Hanson. He’s out of commission for a few weeks. That blow almost killed him and I don’t want to push him too fast back to work.”
“Si, even though it is late in the year? We may be able to get by without him now that winter is not too far away.”
“You think you can pick up his work for a while, spread it out amongst the others? Still have a couple of hard working months ahead of us before winter.”
“I think so. This time of year there aren’t that many men around to take on. Most drifters are moving south where it’s warmer. Anyway, if we need some help, I think Mr. Winslow would loan us a hand for a few days.”
“You’re probably right. Winslow hires too many men when there’s not enough work to do. He could spare a hand or two if we needed them.”
Murdoch started once again to go to the house, until he heard the approach of a wagon. A heaviness seemed to lift from his soul as he caught sight of the blue/black hair of his youngest son. Johnny was home, and Murdoch smiled involuntarily, as if it was a natural reflex, like breathing.
As the wagon came closer, Murdoch noticed there were four children in the wagon bed, Johnny, another boy and two girls. Frowning, he noticed one of the girls was Georgia Kerns.
An exuberant “hello, Pa,” nudged Murdoch from his line of thought. Legs, arms and a leap from the wagon brought Johnny to his father. Wanting to, but knowing the other kids were looking on, Johnny held back, barely, from throwing himself into his father’s arms.
“Hello, son,” his father said, feeling happier he imagined than Jackson felt when he finally was allowed the mares. Murdoch held back from grasping Johnny into a big hug, knowing it would embarrass his son in front of the others.
“Matt,” he acknowledged to the man driving the wagon. “Thanks for dropping Johnny off.”
“On my way, Murdoch.”
Murdoch looked at the other children, seeing one was Matt’s daughter, Beatrice. She was a pretty little blonde with blue eyes. His eyes passed to Georgia and she smiled shyly back at him. He tipped his hat to the two young girls and nodded to the other boy in the wagon, Luke Barnes.
“Were the girls at the Parkin’s ranch too?” Murdoch asked.
“No, no, I’d never let my daughter be with a bunch of boys without me around, Murdoch. No, I stopped at Parkin’s to drop off some leather goods. Georgia was staying the weekend with my Beatrice, so decided to bring the girls with me. Made the trip not so lonely. So, I said I’d bring Johnny and Luke here home. Johnny was first on the way.”
Murdoch looked down at Johnny and noted the huge grin on his face. Looking closer, Murdoch could almost swear that his very brown son, if possible, was blushing. He looked back at Georgia, and she was definitely blushing. She wasn’t a pretty girl, never would be, Murdoch guessed. But there was something very, very appealing about her freckles, pleasant face, and really beautiful smile.
“Well, thanks Matt, for dropping him off. I appreciate it. Give Ruth my regards.”
“Any time, Murdoch. Johnny’s a good boy. You take care now, son.”
“Yes, sir” a happy Johnny responded. He looked at Georgia as the wagon pulled away, and Murdoch noticed she managed to throw him a little wave, unsuccessfully trying to hide it in the folds of her shawl.
“Did you have a good time, son?” Murdoch asked, laying a comfortable hand on Johnny’s shoulder. Johnny allowed himself the luxury of drawing close to his father, now that the other children were down the road.
“Yea, Pa. It was great. We went fishing, had a picnic. The Parkin’s dog had puppies and we played with them.”
“You didn’t get in the way, now did you son?”
“No sir. We helped paint some outbuildings, even helped with the garden. Got the rest of the potatoes, carrots, onions, and stuff in. Where’s Scott?” Johnny suddenly asked.
“He’s in the house Johnny.”
“I gotta go talk to him?” Johnny said excitedly, wanting to share his last few days with his brother.
“Well, son, he’s not feeling too well right now.”
Johnny looked up at his father, concern evident in his eyes.
“Come on, son, I’ll tell you all about it. I just want you to know, though, that everything’s okay and Scott’s okay.” Murdoch put his hand back on Johnny’s shoulder and steered him to the door.
“Have you had lunch, son?”
“No Pa. But I wanna see Scott first.”
Murdoch opened the door and both stepped into the kitchen. Maria was busy preparing lunch and Murdoch noticed there was a tray full of food he assumed she was preparing to take up to Scott. However, when she saw Johnny she stopped what she was doing and gathered him into her arms.
“Johnny, it is so good to see you. We missed you so much,” she proclaimed happily.
“Thanks, Maria” Johnny replied, his huge grin almost as bright as the sparkle in his eyes. “I missed you too. I had so much fun. Went fishing and had a picnic. The Parkins have puppies.” Johnny continued talking about his little vacation, picking up a cookie and spraying crumbs as he tried to eat and talk at the same time.
“John, don’t talk with your mouth full,” his father reminded him.
“Yes sir” Johnny looked quickly towards him, then took off with another event that happened. “Maria, I caught a fish bigger than everyone else’s. It must have been two feet maybe even three feet long. Well, maybe it wasn’t that big, but it was a big fish! Then we fried it up, it was so good. Mrs. Parkin said I could come back any time and visit, Pa. Maybe Scott can come the next time. Davey and Jimmy are real nice, we ran and hiked and even found a bunch of garter snakes. We didn’t bother ‘em though, cause Mrs. Parkin said they eat mice and such. And she said she’d rather have the snakes outside than the mice inside. We saw some cougar tracks, and Mr. Parson said it was probably a big male cuz the feet were so big. He was worried some about that, but he said it was heading away from his place. Then we made some wine. Well, we didn’t make any, but we helped to pick the grapes.”
Murdoch listened happily to the liveliness of his son, relaxing into it like a cat stretching in the sun. Johnny’s enthusiasm would have exhausted most adults, but to Murdoch it was calming and he relished it. As Johnny excitedly rambled, the last few horrible days receded, allowing Murdoch the hope that maybe he could somewhat gain control of his life. He’d never felt so helpless as when they were searching for Scott after finding Shannon dead, and that feeling frightened him.
Maria had finished putting out sandwiches, fruit and left over pie on the table for Murdoch and Johnny. She was in the process of heading up the stairs to Scott’s room with his tray when Johnny suggested they all eat together in the kitchen.
“Son, Scott’s not able to come downstairs yet,” Murdoch indicated.
“Patron, forgive me, but he is growing very restless. Perhaps it would be good for him to come downstairs,” Maria interjected softly, and carefully.
Murdoch’s first reaction was to tell her angrily that Scott was absolutely not ready but was tempered by the great respect he had for Maria. He knew she cared for his children very much.
“Maria, it’s too soon. He still has a fever and I don’t want him pulling those stitches.”
“What stitches, Pa? What happened to him?” Johnny asked with surprise.
“I’ll tell you over lunch, son. Thank you, Maria. You may take the tray up to Scott.” His tone had effectively ended the discussion of Scott coming downstairs.
Maria turned to the stairs to take the tray up to Scott. In her mind, though, she was not going to drop this matter and was resolved to talk to Dr. Jenkins about it. She recognized that the father was being extremely protective of his son and could sympathize, but Scott was getting bored and needed to be up and about, at least for a short time each day. She felt he would progress much quicker. She also knew that he had been getting out of bed anyway as she had caught him standing by the window just this morning. Maria had promised not to tell his father, but Scott needed to be allowed more than just a few steps to a window.
Murdoch noticed Maria’s back grow rigid as she walked away from him. ‘Damn,’ he thought, ‘she doesn’t understand how close Scott was to being killed.’
“Pa, what happened to Scott?”
Murdoch looked down at Johnny’s very serious face. “He’s okay now, son. Just a bit sore.”
“Then why can’t he come downstairs?”
Murdoch was irritated; he did not need this conversation now and was upset with Maria for even bringing it up.
“He will soon, Johnny. But not now. Something very bad happened when you were gone. Let’s have lunch and I’ll explain it to you, okay?”
Putting his large hand across Johnny’s shoulders, he gently squeezed his neck. Murdoch didn’t want to upset Johnny, and knew his son would be distressed by what had happened. Sitting down at the table, they each took a sandwich.
“Son, you remember when I told you I didn’t want you out alone because there was a man around who may want to hurt you or your brother ……….”
For some reason that Scott could not figure out, Maria was not in a good mood when she brought him lunch and was in a worse mood when she came back for the tray.
“If you don’t eat more, you will not get better,” she almost snapped at him.
“I’m sorry, Maria. I’m not that hungry.”
“It does not matter whether you are hungry or not, you eat. Your father will not be happy to see that you have barely touched your lunch.” She gruffly threw the napkin onto the tray and roughly picked it up, causing the crockery and silver to rattle and the milk to spill. Obviously very irritated, she set the tray down with a thud and tried to mop the milk up with the napkin so it would not spill onto the carpet. Her face was grim as she angrily dabbed at the liquid.
“Maria, why are you angry? Did I do something wrong? I’m sorry, but I’m just not hungry.”
She stopped what she was doing and sharply glanced at Scott. She noticed the question and concern in his eyes as well as the glaze of the low fever that lingered stubbornly. She should not be taking out her aggravation on this boy, she thought. He had enough happen to him that he had to deal with; he did not need her anger, especially when he was not the problem. It was his stubborn father that was being bull headed.
“I am sorry, Scott,” she said apologetic. “I should not have snapped at you. But your father will not be pleased that you did not eat more. You really should try. Perhaps you would do this favor for me?”
“I’ll try, but not now, okay? Maybe tonight.”
Maria sat down on the side of the bed and brought her hand up to Scott’s forehead. To her surprise, he unexpectedly jerked away, but not before she noticed that the fever still lingered.
“Your fever is not bad. Perhaps Dr. Jenkins can persuade your father to let you out of bed when he comes.”
Frowning, Scott shrugged in exasperation. “I don’t think my father will ever let me out of this bed.”
“Your father is just concerned for you.” Noting that this information didn’t seem to lighten his mood, she said, “I will talk to Dr. Jenkins. Maybe he will agree that you need to get up, but only for a short time, Si?”
“You think you can do that, Maria?”
“I will try, but you must eat more. It will make your father happy, and maybe he will see that you are getting better.”
Still concerned that Scott had jumped at her touch, she cautiously asked, “Why did you not want me to touch you?”
Scott looked at her momentarily then glanced towards the window. He shifted slightly, uncomfortable under her stare.
“You did nothing wrong, you know.”
Scott lowered his eyes. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
She studied his face, the inflexible set of his jaw, the unyielding line of his mouth. “You look like your father now,” she observed out loud.
He quickly brought his eyes up to her, and gave her the same look his father had given her a short time ago when she suggested Scott be allowed downstairs. She smiled at him, and brought her hand up to his face. This time he did not jerk away, but smiled back at her and relaxed against the pillows.
“I won’t take that as an insult,” he said lightly.
“It was not meant to be given as one.” She dropped her hand down in her lap. “If you ever want to talk about what happened, you can talk to me. If not, at least try to talk to your father. Just remember, this was not your fault. That man was mucho bad.”
Noting that Scott’s manner was once again becoming dark, she prudently changed the subject.
“Your brother is home.”
“When did he get here, where is he?” Scott excitedly asked, a happy grin lighting his face.
“He will be up soon, I am sure. He is having lunch with your father.” Maria was going to tell him that his father was telling Johnny about what had happened, but decided not to. Not only was it not her place to tell him, she did not want to take away the joy he was feeling at his brother’s return.
Maria got up from the bed and picked up the tray. Balancing it on her amble hip, she opened the door to leave.
“Thank you for lunch, Maria.”
She looked back at Scott and smiled. “You are welcome, Scott. But tonight you eat more, promise?”
“I promise, I’ll try.”
She stepped into the hall and closed the door, leaving Scott alone. A shadow passed across his face. The horrible image of Shannon appeared, loathsome, disgusting and hungry. Scott once again felt Shannon’s hands touching him and became nauseated, almost losing the little bit of lunch he had managed to eat. Would he ever be rid of those moments, he wondered desperately. How would his father tell Johnny? What would Johnny think? Scott felt soiled and dirty. There were things that happened with Shannon that he had not told anyone, not even Dr. Jenkins. He couldn’t bare the thought of anyone knowing where Shannon had put his hands. How stupid he had been to open the door!
He needed to move and threw the covers off. Holding his ribs and grimacing slightly from the pull on his stitches, he slowly sat up. For a short time he remained sitting on the edge of the bed, closing his eyes as a slight dizzy spell stopped him, but it quickly passed. Scott noted the dizzy spells were becoming shorter each time he sat up.
His leg throbbed and he pulled his nightshirt up to look at the wound. Heavy bandages covered his leg, and the only thing he could see was that blood had soaked through the bandage and dried. He knew he had pulled a stitch or two from thrashing about in a nightmare the previous night. Luckily his father had not heard him and knew nothing about the stitches coming away from his tissue. Dr. Jenkins would be checking back today, and would want to know what happened. Scott did not want to talk about the nightmares, or anything connected with Shannon, but didn’t know how he was going to avoid it.
He touched his feet to the floor, putting his weight on them, and slowly pushed off from the bed towards the window.
He loved the view from his window. He could see the distant mountains and hoped the promised fishing trip could still be made this fall. The season out here was beautiful and wild, but Scott didn’t think it was as beautiful as autumn in New England. It was hard to imagine that this same time last year he was in Boston with his grandfather making plans to go to Maine to see his aunt. It seemed like a life time ago, so much had happened since then.
His gaze wandered to Jackson. Scott noted the horse had calmed down dramatically, and was in fact munching quietly on hay. He studied the animal and thought how ironic that the horse that could have killed him had also saved his life. He searched for any sign in the corral that might shown where Shannon had died, but nothing was evident. It looked normal, as though it hadn’t really happened; that the terror of that night was just a horrifying delusion and it would evaporate never to return.
Johnny was still. He hadn’t moved or said anything after his father told him what had happened to Scott. Murdoch was concerned that his son hadn’t reacted in any way, other than this silence.
“Johnny, son. Scott will be okay.”
Johnny looked at his father and it seemed a light had gone out of his eyes. The glimmer that had been there just a short time ago was gone, replaced by darkness, sadness, anger. Murdoch placed his hand on Johnny’s arm, trying to anchor his son to the present, assure him that everything was all right; that the man who had done this could not hurt them anymore. Or at least, that’s what Murdoch wanted to believe. Just a few nights ago Murdoch had gone to bed, relieved that Shannon was out of their lives. Now he chillingly realized that Shannon might never be out of their lives, totally.
“Johnny, please, talk to me.”
Johnny met his father’s eyes. Johnny was afraid that what had happened had shattered the security of his father’s home; that his brother, whom he loved deeply, would be changed forever. Johnny was afraid that the monster he sometimes feared was lurking under his bed or in the closet was not a fantasy of his imagination, but was terribly real. But what he was really terrified of was that he wasn’t a little boy anymore and never would be again.
Gathering the strength that former generations had passed on to him, he looked at his father and nodded. He needed to be strong for Scott, and he would be. He felt his father’s hand squeeze his arm, and before the last bastion of his childhood crumbled, he flung himself into his father’s arms and sobbed for his brother, for his father and for himself.
Murdoch positioned himself at the foot of Scott’s bed watching Dr. Jenkins finish tending his son’s leg. Two of the stitches had somehow pulled out completely from the wound and a third was attached on one side of the cut. Each time Dr. Jenkins touched Scott’s leg, it jerked involuntarily away from his hand. Murdoch had held his son’s leg in place as it had been stitched and could feel each shudder that passed through Scott. To Murdoch, the slash looked horrible. It was red, irritated and tender. He could barely contain his hatred for the man who had done this and fervently hoped that he had suffered before he died, as he was making Scott suffer now.
The procedure had been painful, and Scott was now lying back against the pillows, pale and sweaty, watching Dr. Jenkins clean up the wound as gently as he could. His leg still twitched sporadically, hot from the prick of needle points. Scott had been given some laudaman, but it had proved inadequate during the process. However, it was now starting to make him sleepy in spite of the lingering discomfort of his leg.
“I’m sorry, Scott, but those stitches had to be redone. I’m almost finished, just a bit of salve and I’ll wrap with fresh bandages.”
Dr. Jenkins had asked Scott how he had managed to pull out the stitches, but Scott had not given him a satisfactory answer. Scott had mumbled something about moving too fast in bed, but the Doctor knew that it was an evasion, and a poor one at that. It was obvious that Scott did not want to talk about it. However, neither Dr. Jenkins nor Murdoch was of a mind to let it pass.
Doctor Jenkins expertly applied the salve and quickly dressed the wound with a fresh bandage. By the time Sam was done redressing the leg, Scott’s eyes were heavy. Murdoch had attempted to press Scott as to when the stitches had pulled out, without much response from his son.
“He’s falling asleep, Murdoch. No point in asking him now. He’s not able to focus on your questions.” Doc Jenkins pulled a pillow out from behind Scott’s back allowing him to fully lie down. Scott’s eyes were slits as he hazily tried to concentrate on his father, but he could not keep them open. His body was limp and he closed his eyes, the indistinct shadows of his father and Doctor Jensen fading to obscurity; he finally slept.
Sam brought his hand up to Scott’s forehead. “His fever isn’t high, Murdoch. Just seems to not want to go away entirely. Has he been up at all?”
“No,” Murdoch said curtly. “I think it’s too soon.”
Sam looked at him out of the corner of his eye and arched an eyebrow. “Murdoch, I think he can be up for a bit each day. A bit of exercise would help in recovery.”
“Isn’t that a little premature, Sam? He’s still got a fever and now that he’s pulled those stitches, shouldn’t we wait until that leg is healed?”
“Murdoch, he’s a young, healthy teenager. Get him up; he’s lying here day after day with nothing to do but think about what happened to him. I would imagine he’s restless; he needs to get out of this bed and out of this room.”
“How can you say he’s healthy, Sam? He’s just pulled out his stitches, he’s got a fever and he’s not eating. He’s also having nightmares, and I’d bet that’s how he pulled those stitches.”
“I know that, Murdoch. But he needs to get out of this room and get something else on his mind. Get him some exercise and he’ll eat better, sleep better and maybe even help with those nightmares.”
“Sam, have you been talking to Maria?”
Sam sighed, knowing this was going to be a sore point with his friend. “Yes, I have spoken to Maria but that wouldn’t matter. I am the doctor here, and Scott needs to spend at least a couple of hours a day outside of this room.”
Murdoch pressed his lips together, his whole body stiff and registering unwillingness to follow Sam’s direction. He stepped to the window, looking down at the corral and the animal that had saved his son’s life.
“Murdoch, I’m saying just a couple of hours a day to start with. Build him up gradually, get his endurance back up.”
Murdoch continued to glare out the window, his entire manner resistant and stubborn to any suggestions Sam would make.
“Murdoch, why won’t you let him out of this room?” Sam asked kindly.
Murdoch turned abruptly to face Sam, ready to angrily confront him that it was none of his business. The sympathetic look on his friend’s face stopped him. Murdoch turned back to the window, shutting out the doctor, and his words, focusing only on the fact that his son was alive, and he would do everything to insure that he remain safe.
“Sam,” Murdoch said, obviously restraining his anger, “I’ve lost two wives and both of my sons for many years. I almost lost Scott again. Shannon could have killed him, and I was miles away. He laid in wait and could have killed him. I couldn’t protect him. I’m his father, a father is supposed to protect his family.”
Sam cleared his throat and studied a sleeping Scott. He checked Scott’s eyes to make sure that he was fully unconscious and not able to hear any conversation between his father and him.
“Murdoch, I’m going to tell you something that no one else knows, other than my family.” Sam walked towards Murdoch and stood beside his friend, gazing with him at the horse, and then swung his eyes across a meadow, and towards the hills beyond.
“When my wife and I came out here to start a new life, we had three children; a boy and two girls. There was Matt, Clara and Emma. The other two came along after we moved here. You remember, Murdoch? I guess that was just before Maria left with Johnny. We didn’t have much time to get to know each other. And when Maria left, well, you were pretty well caught up in trying to find her and Johnny. Then, when you couldn’t, you threw yourself into the ranch. I imagine you didn’t think about much of anything for a couple of years but work.” Sam lightly chuckled and shook his head. “In fact, I thought you were going to kill yourself with work.”
Murdoch glanced at Sam, going back those years, remembering the first meeting with the doctor and his wife. “Yes, Sam, I remember. You came in the fall, on a day much like today. Johnny was a toddler and he had decided to go swimming in the horse trough. Maria was angry with me for allowing him to do that. Maria was angry with me a lot then.” Murdoch paused, closing his eyes with the recollection. He gazed back at Sam and smiled. “Then you came down the road with your family. I thought, well, I hoped, that your wife and Maria would become friends and maybe Maria would be happier. Yes, I remember that day very well.”
“Clara, she was 12. … My Clara.” This time, Sam was the one to pause. He walked over to a chair near Scott’s bed and sat down, picking at the upholstery with his left hand, his right fingering a button on his vest. He seemed to be studying Scott, watching the gentle rise and fall of his chest. Then softly he began again.
“You remember how quiet Clara was, Murdoch?”
“Yes, Sam. She seemed very shy, but she outgrew that. She’s now a beautiful young woman.”
“Yes, she is, isn’t she? She’s got a fine husband and soon will have a child.” Sam leaned his head back against the chair, and closed his eyes momentarily. “One of the reasons we decided to move was Clara. She was a smart little girl. She was pretty and smart and friendly and innocent.” Sam looked up at Murdoch, his eyes sorrowful and distressed.
“A year before we moved, Murdoch, something happened to her. There was a man, a man who came by the house. He sold us eggs, milk, butter, cream. He seemed a decent man. He was married, had children, boys. His wife wasn’t well. I treated her, in fact. She had consumption. I told him she needed a dry, hot climate, Arizona, maybe New Mexico. She was scared to death. She didn’t want to move. He came by often to talk about her. Daniel, the father, was so worried about his wife, he ignored the boys. They grew wild, no discipline. Daniel was a good man, just so worried about his wife.
“His oldest boy was 14, name of Slade. Never could figure out where they came up with that name. Funny name, don’t you think, Murdoch?”
Sam glanced at Murdoch and noticed he was staring back at him intently. Murdoch’s manner was still, quiet, entranced by Sam’s story.
“Don’t you think, Murdoch? The name, I mean.”
“Yes, Sam. It is an unusual name.”
“Yes, an unusual name.” Sam looked around the room, and then proceeded. “One day I came home and May was near hysterical. Seems this boy Slade had gotten a hold of Clara, caught her coming home from school.” Sam brought his hand up to his face and rubbed it across his chin. He stared straight ahead, his eyes focused on something long ago and far away. He wasn’t at Lancer anymore, and his eyes misted with the remembering.
“Sam” Murdoch said softly, breaking the spell holding Sam.
Sam brought his gaze back to the present and continued. “I thought at first he had,” Sam stopped, finding it difficult to say the word. “I thought he’d raped her. I thought my sweet little girl had been violated, and I wanted to kill him. She had been hurt, Murdoch, and it didn’t matter that this boy’s mother was dying and that his kind, hard working father would be ripped to pieces if anything happened to his son. His son had hurt my little girl and I wanted to kill him.”
Sam’s voice sounded indifferent when he talked, almost like he was narrating a story that happened to someone else.
“Sam, I’m so sorry. I am so sorry.” Murdoch walked over to Sam and put his hand on his shoulder.
“It was a long time ago, Murdoch, but sometimes it seems like it was only yesterday. Slade was arrested, sent to a reformatory. The family finally did move, just before we did. Couldn’t take the stares, the gossip, almost destroyed them. I wonder if the mother, Sara was her name, is still alive. But, that’s why we moved, for Clara. We needed to get her out of there, a new start for all of us.
“Murdoch, I reacted to her exactly how you are reacting to Scott. I didn’t want anything ever to hurt her again. She was traumatized, had nightmares, wouldn’t eat and I kept her in the house, and in her room for weeks. May tried to talk to me, but I wouldn’t listen. Finally she said if I didn’t stop suffocating her daughter, she’d leave me.”
Sam’s face registered hurt at those words, and he got up from the chair and faced Murdoch.
“My wife’s a strong woman, Murdoch; she would have left me. May told me I was not letting Clara move forward. Clara wouldn’t on her own, she was afraid, and I didn’t want to push her. So, we moved the whole family to start new, for Clara. She was so shy for so many years. It took a long time for her to get over it, and I don’t think she’ll ever be truly over it.”
Sam turned his attention back to Murdoch. “You’re doing the same thing to Scott, my friend. He needs to heal, he needs to get out of this room and back on with his life. I know you love him, Murdoch, but you need to do this for him, for Johnny and for yourself.
“I don’t know what happened entirely or what Shannon may have done. I saw no bruises, abrasions or trauma that would indicate he was sexually attacked, but that doesn’t mean that nothing happened. You need to talk to him, Murdoch, find out what happened.”
Murdoch looked at Sam and shook his head. “I’ve tried, Sam. He won’t talk to me about it.”
“Then let him know you’ll be there for him when he wants to talk about it. Push a bit, Murdoch, when the time is right.”
“How will I know when the time is right?” Murdoch exclaimed frustrated.
“You are one of the smartest men I know, Murdoch. You’ll know. But you’ve got to let him out of this room.”
Murdoch bowed his head, his face worried. He looked towards his sleeping son and nodded. “Okay, Sam, I’ll let him out. But just a couple of hours, to begin with” he stated emphatically.
Sam smiled. “That’s all he needs, to begin with.”
Murdoch said sympathetically, “I’m sorry about Clara.”
“She’s, okay, Murdoch. She was determined to get past what happened to her, and she has. She’s actually coped with it better than I have. But, she’ll be a wonderful mother.”
“Yes, she will. She’s already had the best, a wonderful father and mother.”
Sam smiled broadly and put his arm around Murdoch’s shoulder. “Murdoch, let’s get out of here and let your son sleep. When he wakes up, you get him downstairs.”
Murdoch eyed his son at the dinner table. Johnny had been fidgeting ever since they had sat down for dinner, and Murdoch was becoming exhausted just watching him. Normally Johnny’s restlessness did not bother the big man, but tonight it was escalated to the extreme due to the excitement of leaving the next day. The planned for fishing trip would become a reality tomorrow and Johnny’s anticipation knew no bounds. Scott wasn’t helping at all as he laughed at Johnny and encouraged him to continue.
It had been almost three weeks since Shannon had disrupted their lives. Johnny was almost back to his old self. He had stumbled at the news of his brother’s attack, and Murdoch had been worried at his initial reaction. His son recovered; albeit a bit more mature than before, but still a 13 year old boy. Murdoch smiled, yes a 13 year old boy going on 90 sometimes.
“Son, you need to calm down and eat your dinner,” Murdoch reminded Johnny for the third time.
Johnny stopped moving for a few seconds as he looked at his father. He stabbed a large piece of gravy covered potato and jammed it in his mouth. “I’m eating Pa.”
“John, don’t talk with your mouth full, please.”
“Yes, sir,” Johnny said, spraying gravy and potato from his mouth onto his plate and the surrounding table cloth. He stopped chewing, cheeks full like a little rodent, and stared wide-eyed at his father.
Murdoch sighed heavily. “John, you can explain to Maria how that gravy got on her table cloth. You’d better hope it doesn’t stain it or she’ll be staining your rear end with the back of her hand.”
Johnny considered the statement, his mouth still full with a bit of gravy dribbling down his chin, and then started to slowly chew. He swallowed everything in such a large gulp, Murdoch thought for sure he’d choke on it going down.
Irritated, Murdoch remonstrated, “John, I’ve told you not to take such large mouthfuls and to chew your food properly.” Murdoch gave his son a severe glare and went back to eating.
The clock’s ticking was the only thing heard for several seconds, and then a softly spoken, “I’m sorry, Pa,” broke the silence.
Murdoch looked into his son’s very sorry, big blue eyes and was stabbed immediately with guilt. He glanced over at Scott, and saw his eyes were downcast, his hand swirling a fork slowly through his half eaten dinner. The happy excitement for the trip had been shattered, and Murdoch felt horrible.
“I’m sorry too, Johnny.” Murdoch reached his long arm to his son, drawing it across his forehead to pull back bangs that were too long. “Just remember your table manners, okay?” Murdoch asked gently and dropped his hand to Johnny’s shoulder.
Forgiving as always, Johnny smiled back at his father and said, “I try, but I sometimes forget.”
“I know, son. I do too, sometimes.” Wanting the tone to lighten back to a happier mood, Murdoch commented, “We’ll need to get started early in the morning. Are you boys packed and ready to go?”
“Yea, Pa. I’m ready to go,” Johnny responded happily.
Knowing his son very well, Murdoch made a suggestion. “Good, son. Do you think you’d let Maria check to make sure you have everything?”
Johnny looked at his father quizzically. He’d packed an extra pair of trousers; he’d wear a pair of long johns under his trousers tomorrow and use the long johns instead of a night shirt for bed. He’d also thrown in some extra fishing line, the can of worms he’d dug this morning, a game of checkers, and a couple of extra fishing hooks. Just to make sure in case they wanted a quick snack on the way, he’d tossed in a few very ripe peaches. That way the peaches wouldn’t go to waste. Remembering the peaches, he decided he’d better check to make sure the worms couldn’t get out of the can. He could just brush the dirt and worms off the peaches and wash them off a bit before eating, but he didn’t think Scott would like it and he knew his father wouldn’t.
“Sure Pa, but I think I’ve got everything I need.”
“Did you pack some clean underwear, socks, shirts, things like that Johnny?”
The look Johnny gave his father indicated he hadn’t. “I guess I forgot stuff like that.”
“Well, we’ll have Maria make sure you have stuff like that, okay.”
Murdoch didn’t want his son to think he’d done something wrong again, so he just said, “Thank you, son. I appreciate that.”
Murdoch turned his gaze to his eldest, who was quiet but smiling. Scott’s leg was almost healed completely. The scar was ugly, but would fade in time and his ribs were no longer the ugly black/purple that they had been, now faded to a very weak yellow. The nightmares seemed to have abated somewhat but still Scott would not talk about that night. Murdoch sensed something more had happened, regardless of Sam not finding any obvious trauma. What had Shannon done? Murdoch chewed at his lip, wanting to know, but also afraid of finding out.
“Scott, are you all packed?” Murdoch addressed his son.
Scott swung his attention to his father. As always, he seemed to weigh his answer before replying. “Yes, sir, I believe so. Mostly clean clothes and underwear, but also a couple of books.”
Scott had seemed excited, or at least as far as he would allow himself to show it. Murdoch pondered why his son was so controlled. His former father-in-law must have instilled in Scott the necessity to always behave like a gentleman, which meant, at least to Harlan, holding your feelings in check. Reserved by nature, this upbringing only intensified Scott’s reluctance to show emotion. However, Murdoch had firsthand experience that Scott had no problems exhibiting that damn stubborn streak he had inherited from his father.
Murdoch smiled at his son’s answer. Yes, he thought, Scott would be sure to take something along to read. Like his brother who had probably packed who knows what, books were impractical for this weekend. It was Murdoch’s intent to keep his sons busy all day long with physical pursuits, spending the evening in talking to his children until they were too tired to do anything else but go to bed. He wanted their full attention, which would exclude books, games and anything else they may take along. These next few days Murdoch would tolerate no distractions from the enjoyment of their company.
“Well, if you don’t mind, could Maria make sure you have everything you need. She’s very familiar with packing up the necessities, not too much, not too little, just right.”
Scott gave his father an offended look. After all, he was 15 years old and had been used to packing for himself for many years now. However, he decided he would consent out of respect for his parent.
A very formal, “If you wish sir,” was Scott’s reply. Murdoch almost laughed at that, Scott giving him as much amusement as Johnny’s off-the-wall remarks. But Murdoch didn’t laugh, just as he hadn’t when Johnny had agreed to let Maria check his supplies for the trip.
“Thank you, Scott. I appreciate that also.”
Maria came out carrying chocolate cake for dessert. Johnny immediately regained his appetite, smiling broadly at his favorite dish. Maria set the cake next to Murdoch, as well as clean dishes. She started removing the dirty cutlery and noticed the gravy spots in front of Johnny. She looked at the stains, then at Johnny, but Johnny kept his head down.
“I hope you like the cake, Patron,” she said, deliberately avoiding mention of the gravy stains. Johnny looked up at her, a grateful smile on his lips. She smiled back at him and winked, and continued removing the dirty dishes.
“Thank you, Maria, it looks delicious, as always,” Murdoch said. He cut a generous slice for each son, and then passed the cake to them. He cut a piece for himself as well, he joined them in relishing the melt-in-your mouth creamy frosting and heavenly flavor of the chocolate.
It didn’t take Johnny any time at all to finish his cake. “Can I have another piece, Pa?” he asked, putting his dish in front of his father.
Murdoch hesitated, fearing another piece might upset his stomach. But Johnny looked so engaging, that Murdoch’s sensible side succumbed to the appeal of his son and he gave in, placing another piece on Johnny’s plate.
Dinner was finished and most of the dishes were cleared away. “I will start to put some supplies together for your trip tomorrow,” Maria replied.
“Thank you, Maria. Would you mind checking to make sure the boys have packed everything they’ll need? I think you’ll find their packs on their beds.”
“Si, Patron. I will do that now and then pack the other supplies.”
Before Maria went up the stairs to the boys’ rooms, Murdoch quietly said to her, “You may want to be careful checking Johnny’s pack.”
Maria chuckled and nodded understanding, then went upstairs to check the packs.
Noting that his sons had finished their cake, Murdoch picked up his cup of coffee and gestured towards the Great Room. “Boys, should we get comfortable by the fire?”
Johnny looked a little uncomfortable, but he nodded anyway and plopped onto a close settee. He appeared to be a little ‘green around the gills’, and floundered momentarily on the cushions until he stilled, arms hanging limp on both sides of the divan.
“I think you’ve had too much chocolate cake, Johnny,” Murdoch remarked.
Johnny blearily opened his eyes to protest. “I don’t think it was the cake, Pa. I think I ate too many vegetables.”
Murdoch chuckled and remarked, “I don’t think you ate too many vegetables, son.”
Pretty sure that his son would be fine, just feeling a bit tight now, Murdoch sat down behind his desk. He picked up an invoice, and then noticed that Scott was still sitting at the dining room table.
“Aren’t you going to join us, son?”
Spanish mutterings from the stairs distracted Murdoch as Maria came down the steps holding Johnny’s bag out in front of her.
“What’s the problem, Maria?”
“No problem, Patron. I just need to clean out Johnny’s bag a bit.” Maria threw an annoyed glance in Johnny’s direction. He stirred, barely.
Noticing that Johnny seemed a bit out of sorts, she walked up to the settee, the bag still held away from her. “Too much chocolate cake, Johnny?” She brought her hand across his forehead, making sure that’s all it was.
“I guess, Maria,” Johnny sighed. “What’s wrong?”
“Other than the fact that your bag is a mess of rotten peaches, sticky checkers and dirty worms, everything is fine.”
“Oh,” he somehow managed to get out. “Can you save the worms? It took me all morning to dig them out.”
“No, Juanito, I will not save the worms. You and your papa will have to dig some more or use something else for bait. I don’t know if I can save the trousers also. They are full of peach stains. You’ll need to use them for work pants.”
Too full to care, Johnny looked at her, belched softly, and closed his eyes.
Laughing lightly, Maria shook her head. “I will get a new bag, Patron and repack.”
Murdoch nodded. “Thank you, Maria. Very much by the way.” He smiled inwardly. No use in scolding his son, Johnny was Johnny. Murdoch wouldn’t have him any other way.
Looking back towards the table, he noticed that Scott was no longer there. He looked towards the couch closest to the settee where Johnny was lying expecting Scott to have settled there, but no Scott. He glanced to the fireplace, and saw Scott sitting stiffly in a chair close to the fire, his back to the Great Room.
It was then Murdoch remembered what Johnny had said earlier, that Scott seemed to be avoiding the Great Room and when in there, he would sit as far away from the couch as he could. In fact, Murdoch now realized that up until a couple of nights ago Scott had excused himself after dinner, saying he was tired, and go to his room instead of joining his father and brother in the Great Room. When Murdoch had expressed concern that maybe it was too soon for Scott to take that fishing trip, Scott had come into the Great Room the very next evening. However, he sat stiffly in a chair close to the fireplace, his back to the room, and didn’t go near the couch or carpet in front of it, just as he was doing now.
“Scott, why don’t you come sit on the couch? You’d be closer to Johnny and me.”
Scott made no reply, but Murdoch could see his hand gripping the upholstery on the chair, his long fingers tensely digging into the fabric.
“Scott, is there something wrong?” Murdoch asked.
“It will be easier to talk to you if you’d sit next to Johnny. That way we won’t have to yell across the room.”
Murdoch sat back in his chair, waiting for Scott to move, wondering why he was hesitating. He was just going to ask Scott again if there was something wrong, when Scott got up from his chair and walked towards the couch. Gingerly he sat on the edge of the couch, hands clasped tightly in front of him.
“Son, are you okay?” Murdoch asked, watching Scott closely.
Maria distracted them once again by crossing into the room on her way to the kitchen. “The boys are packed up properly. I’ll finish in the kitchen now.”
“Thank you, Maria. It’s getting late, so let me know when you’re finished and I’ll walk you home.” Maria lived in a small house not too far from the main hacienda.
“It is okay senior. I am not afraid of the dark.”
“I know that, Maria. I just want to make sure you get home all right.” They went through this argument every time Maria worked later than normal in the main house. She did not think it necessary that Murdoch walk her home, he did not agree.
“Patron, I am a grown woman. I will be fine.”
“Maria, please, allow me the luxury of being a gentleman and seeing you safely home.”
As usual, Murdoch won. With an exasperated sigh, Maria went into the kitchen to finish gathering the needed supplies for their trip.
Focusing his attention once more on Scott, Murdoch saw that he was pale, nervous and seemed very uneasy.
“Scott, are you feeling all right?”
“I’m fine, sir. Just tired. If you don’t mind, I’ll go to my room.”
Murdoch intently looked at his son, sensing something was very wrong. “Scott.”
Before he could say anymore, an anxious Scott softly said, “Please, sir. I’m just tired.” Scott stood up quickly from the couch. “I think I’ll go to my room now.” Scott stood and looked at his father, large eyes controlled but anxious.
Afraid of pushing his son, Murdoch sat back in his chair and nodded reluctantly. Murdoch looked towards Johnny. Johnny was lying on the couch, almost sleeping.
“Johnny, time to go to bed.”
Johnny didn’t move.
“Johnny,” Murdoch repeated, louder this time.
Johnny opened his eyes to blearily look at his father.
“Time to go up to bed, son.”
Johnny nodded, fully accepting that he was tired. Pushing himself up from the couch, Johnny stumbled to the stairs, with Scott right behind him.
“Night, Pa,” Johnny said sleepily.
“Night son. See you in the morning. Good night Scott.”
Scott stopped and looked back at his father, his eyes wide in his pale face. “Good night, sir.”
“You sure you’re okay, Scott?”
“Yes, sir. Just tired.”
Murdoch frowned, wondering at the receding forms of his sons. Dismissing his paternal worry, he went back to his desk, picked up a book he had been reading earlier, and sat down in an over stuffed easy chair to enjoy it for a short time before retiring himself. He found it difficult to concentrate, nagged by the reaction of Scott’s seeming reluctance to be in the Great Room.
Murdoch could hear Maria working in the kitchen, humming as she put supplies together for the fishing trip. The song was an old Spanish tune of love found and lost. The lyrics were ageless, the melody soft and haunting. He put the book down he was reading and smiled, listening to Maria’s voice. A woman singing meant she was happy; Maria was happy, her husband was happy and probably her children as well.
Murdoch closed his eyes, remembering how his own Maria would sing when happy. Her joy didn’t last very long after Johnny was born. She had been restless, sad, nothing would please her. Thinking back, Murdoch acknowledged that he probably hadn’t done much to make her happy. He’d been working so hard on the ranch, trying to build up his herd, plant feed crops, even thinking of putting in a vineyard. He had been so wrapped up in making his little empire that he hadn’t a clue that she would leave him, and take their son. For a smart man, he sure had been stupid.
The evening was beautiful, sounds of the ranch ‘going to bed’ for the night floating into the Great Room. An occasional lowing from nearby cows could be heard, but the sound had long ago folded into the normal hum of the earth, like calling birds or chirping crickets or night-wind stirrings through the trees. Murdoch didn’t hear the cattle anymore, but was aware of something missing when the soothing timbre was gone.
Murdoch literally jumped out of his chair and turned to face the stairs. Johnny was scurrying down, his eyes frantic. Murdoch feared he had been hurt and sprung to him, gathering Johnny into his arms.
“What’s wrong, Johnny. Are you hurt?”
“No, Pa.” Johnny was almost in tears. “It’s not me, it’s Scott. He’s having a nightmare and I can’t wake him up. He won’t wake up, Pa, and he’s crying and fighting off something, but nothing’s there.”
“Maria,” Murdoch yelled, running to the stairs with Johnny still in his arms. Maria appeared in the doorway, surprise and concern showing in her face. “Maria, take care of Johnny.” Murdoch put Johnny down and continued up the stairs to Scott’s room.
The door stood halfway open, muffled sounds of cries and pleadings coming from the room. A dim light fell through the doorway, just holding off complete darkness. Since the attack Murdoch had thought a low burning lamp would help Scott sleep. It had proved ineffective, but Murdoch was grateful for the glow that it cast across the hallway.
Murdoch stepped through the door and could see Scott thrashing on the bed, arms trying to push away an unseen attacker, his breath coming in short anxious gasps. Murdoch was frozen as his son fought against the great ghost of a dead man, his nightmare consigning him into the ugly arms of his molester. ‘No,’ Murdoch raged silently, ‘he cannot have my son.’
Charging to the bed, he caught Scott’s flailing arms, and brought them down to each side of his head, holding them as Scott’s legs continued to kick and his cries increased.
“Scott, please Scott. Son, it’s your father. Please wake up, Scott, please wake up,” Murdoch repeated over and over again as he tried to pull his son from the dark specter that held him captive.
From the corner of his mind Murdoch could hear Johnny anxiously asking him about his brother. Murdoch glanced to the door and saw Johnny in the doorway, Maria trying to pull him from the room, Johnny clutching the door jamb not wanting to leave.
“Johnny, please go to your room. I’ll take care of Scott.”
Johnny was not moving and looked frantically at his father, tears in his eyes. “Maria, take him to his room. Johnny, please go.”
“But Pa, he’s scared. What’s wrong with him, Pa?” Johnny’s tears finally fell, the boy trying to be a man but still that little boy who wanted assurance from his father that everything would be okay.
“Son, please,” Murdoch was trying to hold Scott and at the same time convince Johnny to leave. “Maria!”
Maria was attempting to drag Johnny from the door, but Johnny broke free and ran to his brother, throwing himself on the bed. “Scott,” sobbed from his throat, as he covered his brother’s chest with his own. But Scott did not still, or hear Johnny’s plea, or feel his fingers in his hair.
Murdoch forced himself to be calm and spoke sternly to his son. “Johnny, I need you to go to your room and let me take care of your brother. You need to trust me son. Please go to your room.”
Johnny quieted at his father’s voice and looked down at his brother’s face, softly begging his ghostly captor to let him go. Johnny got up from the bed and ran out the door. Maria anxiously looked at Murdoch before following Johnny to his room.
His attention focused on Scott, Murdoch caught him in his arms and held him to his massive chest, calling his name, rocking him, holding him tight. At last, after what seemed like hours to Murdoch, Scott’s body relaxed into his. Only whisperings of Scott’s soft weeping shadowed the room, his breath warm against the hollow of Murdoch’s neck, his head cradled on his father’s shoulder. Murdoch could feel Scott’s heart that had beat like a caged bird battering against its prison, calm under his hand.
He looked down at his son’s face, and saw the glitter of silver eyes staring into nothing. Scott’s features were drawn, the edges of his hair wet with tears and sweat. Murdoch brought his hand up to Scott’s cheek and gently drew his fingers along the contours of his face. Scott responded, closing his eyes and nestling closer into his father. Murdoch tightened his hold on his son and held and rocked him, resting his cheek on the crown of his head.
Murdoch was content to stay this way. He had never held his son; he had never seen him as a baby, as a toddler learning to walk, as a young boy on his first day of school. He had not shared with him memories to treasure as he grew, laughter, tears, hurts, joys, desires, triumphs, or loves. His son had been to him an unattainable dream, but now he held him as he had wanted to hold him for fifteen years. He thought of nothing but this moment, and the moments to come that would not be taken from him.
“Pa.” The murmur of his son’s voice was low, whispered like an undertone of autumn’s dwindling days. “He touched me. He would not let me go and I was too afraid to move.”
Murdoch looked into his son’s face. “Its okay, Scott. He won’t ever hurt you again. I won’t ever let anyone hurt you again.”
Scott looked at his father, as if searching that his father’s statement was true. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have opened the door. I unlocked the door and he came in. You told me not to unlock the door, but I did.”
“Scott,” Murdoch whispered, “he would have come in anyway. This is not your fault. He would have busted down the door anyway.” Murdoch stroked Scott’s hair away from his forehead, trying to instill comfort and safety.
“I thought he was going to kill me. I asked myself, what will I give him, and I would have given him anything, Pa, anything so he wouldn’t kill me. I didn’t fight him, and he touched me. We were on the carpet in front of the couch. And he kept touching me everywhere. I’m sorry, Pa, I’m sorry.” Scott began to cry, tears flowing down his cheeks.
“Scott, son, this was not your fault. Do you understand me, this was not your fault.”
Murdoch needed to make Scott understand this fact. Until he did, he would always blame himself for something that was out of his control.
“This man was evil. He had done this to other children. He would have kept doing this to more children if he had lived. He almost killed Hanson to get to you. Nothing but death could stop him, and he has been stopped.”
Scott seemed to quiet with this explanation. “He’s done this to other children?”
“Yes, son, he did this to other children. Many children. The sheriff knows about the others, but no one needs to know about what he did to you except you and me, if that’s the way you want it Scott. No one will know but you and me.”
“No one?” Scott asked.
“No one, I promise.”
“Okay, I don’t anyone to know. Not even Johnny.”
“Not even Johnny. I will never tell him, unless you want me to.”
“If someday I want him to know, I’ll tell him.”
“That’s fine, Scott. You can tell him if you want to.”
“It wasn’t my fault?”
“No, Scott, it wasn’t your fault.”
Murdoch settled against the headboard, holding Scott in his arms and whispered, “I love you, son. I love you.” He rocked Scott until he fell asleep, and then Murdoch slept. Morning found them as night had left them.
A mud puddle! How could that be this time of year when the rains hadn’t fallen this far up in the hills for weeks? Then Johnny remembered the light rain that had fallen just this morning. He really didn’t care the how or why, he was just happy to have found it. The moment he spotted it, an idea started to take shape in his mind. His ever-so-clean brother needed to get a little dirty, and Johnny was just the person to accommodate that need. They had left a day later than intended on this fishing lark, and Johnny was going to pack as many of those lost hours as he could into what time they had left. Tomorrow they would be on their way home; which meant school, homework and chores.
“Johnny!” Scott’s call came a few hundred yards east of where Johnny was.
“Over here, Scott.”
Johnny smiled in anticipation, the moment at hand the only thing important. His blond haired brother stepped through the brush and Johnny bounced. It was Johnny’s intent to push Scott and run, but Scott managed to grab hold of Johnny’s arm before he went down. Both boys went barreling into the muddy water, Johnny on top of Scott. Scott could feel the cold, oozy mud go under his collar and down his neck, as well as the water saturating his shirt. He hadn’t felt the cold yet on his back end, but knew his trousers were probably also wet and muddy.
Scott held on to his wiggling brother as Johnny tried to get up. Pushing off with his legs, Scott managed to role on to his side, bringing Johnny with him. Johnny was laughing so hard, that he wasn’t able to fight free of his brother. He looked at Scott’s formerly clean yellow hair now mired with the muck of rotting leaves and the puddle bottom, and couldn’t stop his glee. He managed to stutter something to the effect of “brown brother”, but collapsed into laughter before he could say anything further.
With a “brown brother indeed” comment, Scott rolled completely over onto Johnny. Johnny was the one who now felt the squish of the mess down his back and clumping in his hair. With his free left hand he managed to clutch a sizeable amount of the mud and with as much force as he could muster, he plastered the side of Scott’s face.
As Scott sputtered the mud out of his mouth and raised his hand to get it out of his eyes, Johnny was able to topple Scott off, and break free. Johnny jumped up and started running away from the puddle, until he felt Scott’s hand on his leg. Johnny’s leg stopped moving forward, but the rest of him did not. He came down face first into the bog, the muddy water going up his nose, into his eyes and mouth. Johnny felt Scott climb onto his back, effectively pinning him in the quagmire of rotting vegetation, rancid water and who-knows-what growing in the mud.
Both boys were laughing with abandon, Johnny sputtering for Scott to get off, and Scott trying to hold onto his very slippery brother.
“Boys!” The stern voice of their father brought the laughter to an end. Two very dirty faces peered up at their father’s tall form. The only way Murdoch could tell which son was which, was a spec of golden hair that had managed to remain untouched on Scott’s head.
Surmising that the boy on top was the instigator, Murdoch questioned, “Scott, what are you doing to your brother?”
Thinking that they were in trouble and not wanting to tattle on his brother, Scott replied with a brief, “we tripped.”
“Yes, sir,” Scott responded.
“How many times?”
“Yes, times, Scott. You certainly didn’t get that dirty with one trip.”
Scott stared wide eyed at his parent, obviously trying to come up with a believable answer. “We slipped too,” was all he managed to think of.
Murdoch was trying hard to project that he was unhappy with the situation, but he was finding it very difficult to hold his laughter. Two pairs of intelligent, wary eyes looked up at him. What a mess, he thought, but what a wonderful mess.
“I started it, Pa,” a serious Johnny volunteered.
Murdoch cast his gaze upon his youngest as Scott stood up and reached out an arm to help Johnny up.
“You started it, son?”
“Well, then you can wash the mud off both sets of clothes.”
“Yes, sir.” Johnny bowed his head, afraid that this wasn’t the end of it.
“And Scott, you clean up the boots. After you both have baths.”
“A bath, Pa?” Johnny asked, not relishing his father’s strict ministrations behind his ears when bathing.
“Yes, son, a bath.” A grin played across Murdoch’s face, and he quickly sought to suppress it. “Come on, we need to get back to the cabin before you both catch cold.”
Indeed, both boys were feeling the nip of autumn through their wet clothes as the warmth leached from their bodies. They climbed out of the mire and as they passed their father, Murdoch gave each a light swat on the rump. Johnny realized then that his father was not angry, otherwise the swat would have been a whole lot harder. Johnny smiled and winked at Scott, trying to lighten his brother’s worry. Scott smiled back at Johnny, but Johnny didn’t know if Scott winked or was simply trying to get mud out of his eyes. Suddenly, with a brief “let’s race”, Scott started running towards the cabin, his long legs quickly leaving his brother and father behind. With a shrill, “that’s not fair”, Johnny tried to catch up, but it was obvious who the victor was going to be.
Murdoch’s deep, rich laughter trailed after his running children, and he watched with amusement as Scott made it to the cabin porch. Scott stood smiling and shivering outside the door, and although Johnny was the loser, he valiantly ran the race until he also stood shivering beside his brother.
Murdoch went into the cabin and came out with two wool blankets. “Okay you two, you get out of those clothes and into these blankets. I’ll start heating the water. When you’re done with your baths, Johnny, you get that caked mud off the clothes, and Scott, you clean up the boots. Understand?”
Two ‘yes, sirs’ agreed simultaneously. Murdoch could hear snickering as he went back into the cabin to get the water pumped and heated and into the tub. Murdoch pulled out the old tub, put it close to the stove and started the process of preparing the bath water.
The door opened and both boys came in wrapped in their blankets. They made their way to the front of the fireplace, and stood with their faces to the fire. They could hear the splashing of water, but were so engrossed in staying warm they didn’t pay attention to where the tub was.
Murdoch looked at the mud caked hair on both boys and decided a rinse before going into the tub made sense.
“Okay, who’s first?” Murdoch asked. Both turned to face Murdoch, and as expected Johnny didn’t volunteer. Scott looked towards the tub, a little abashed.
“There’s no bath house, sir?” Scott asked. Scott did realize there wasn’t a bath house, but also expected there to be a bit more privacy than a tub by the stove.
“Son, this is a line cabin. There is no bath house, other than what you’re looking at,” Murdoch patiently explained. Johnny didn’t care where he took a bath or who it was in front of, as long as ladies were not present. Scott was a different matter, however, as his modest son was now demonstrating.
Scott was feeling very uncomfortable, but was resolved not to show it. After all, he was now a ‘westerner’, in a land of crude customs and where modesty was left at the Mississippi River.
“I’ll go first, then,” he bravely stated.
“Okay, Scott. But first we need to go out on the porch and try to rinse some of that mud out of your hair. Otherwise your bath water is going to be too dirty to take a bath in.”
Scott accompanied his father to the porch, leaned his head forward and Murdoch slowly poured warm water over his hair. Scott shook his head of the water, and then went back into the cabin to take his bath. Although Scott tried to act nonchalant, Murdoch surmised he was a bit embarrassed as he was blushing and the water was not hot enough to cause the rosy hue that arose on his son’s face. Murdoch didn’t understand Scott’s shyness entirely, as he had no trouble swimming in the buff with Johnny. But, as he had already determined with Johnny, Scott was Scott and Murdoch was going to enjoy him as he was.
As Scott got out of the tub and toweled himself off, he couldn’t help but notice his father and Johnny staring at the ugly scar on his leg. Feeling more uncomfortable with the exposed scar than the exposed bath, he self-consciously lowered the towel to cover his leg.
Murdoch saw the awkward movement and brought his eyes up to Scott’s. “I’m sorry Scott. I don’t mean to stare.” After a short pause, he said, “The scar will fade.”
Scott shrugged. “I know,” he said quietly.
There were a few tense, ill-at-ease moments and then Scott replied with determination, “We’re not going to let it spoil our last day here.”
“No, we are not,” Murdoch said emphatically, thankful that the suggestion had come from Scott.
The tub was duly emptied and fresh water poured into it for Johnny. Although Johnny loved to swim and normally loved the water, this type of water was not his favorite. However, he was glad to leave the layer of icky smelling muck on the bottom of the tub. He also decided that he’d really scrub his ears so his father wouldn’t have to. After all, he was 13 and his father hadn’t looked behind Scott’s ears! All part of growing up to be a man, he figured.
As Johnny took his bath, Murdoch started preparing their last dinner at the cabin that would consist of fresh fried fish, cornbread and home-canned peaches. It had been a pleasant several days, and Murdoch was sorry to see them come to an end.
Four very nice, pleasant days had passed all too swiftly. The trip had been postponed for one day as everyone tried to recoup from the awful night of Scott’s nightmare. Maria had stayed the night in Johnny’s room, reassuring him that everything would be all right. After a while the sounds from Scott’s room had quieted, which eased Johnny’s concern for his brother, and allowed him to fall into an exhausted sleep. Johnny had slept well into the following morning, and Scott had slept all day, rising at dinner time to eat, and then going back to sleep. Murdoch was thankful that Scott’s sleep had not been interrupted by further nightmares. Nor had Scott been troubled with them these last few nights.
Except for one brief rain shower earlier in the day, the weather had been perfect. Autumn was lovely, the days mellow, the nights cool, and the sky had never appeared such a flawless blue. The air seemed to glory in the dying summer, bidding farewell to another year with the musty perfume of lingering fall flowers. Birds turned southward, their exodus heralded by their noisy passage as they had for thousands and thousands of years. Yes, Murdoch thought, this is a time to be remembered.
He placed the food on the table and waited for his sons to join him. Although by habit he had wanted to check the back of Johnny’s ears to make sure they were clean, he had not done so, as he noticed Johnny was almost scrubbing them off. It seemed his little boy was indeed growing up. He felt a very sad tugging at his heart, and was surprised at his own sentimental yearnings to stop the aging of his son. He was too practical a man to dwell along those lines, but none-the-less the thought had emerged.
In a short time, Scott and Johnny came in from washing the mud off their clothes and boots. Scott stuffed the boots with old newspapers to keep their shape, and set them close to the fire. Johnny draped the still dirty but mud free clothes on a couple of chairs and also set them next to the fire to dry. The clothes would need laundering later at the ranch, but at least the caked goo had been rinsed away.
All three settled at the table and helped themselves to a generous portion of the fish.
“Pa, why can’t we live up here all the time?” Johnny asked, as he generously buttered a large piece of cornbread.
“Too much work to do at the ranch, son. Besides, you and your brother have schooling, chores to do, and you wouldn’t get to eat Maria’s cooking.”
“Yea, Johnny, then you couldn’t see Georgia every day either,” Scott teased, an impish glint in his eyes.
Johnny shot his brother a glare, warning him he’d said the wrong thing. Scott only smiled back, the epitome of innocence on his face.
Murdoch looked at an obviously uncomfortable Johnny and asked, “Do you like seeing Georgia every day, son?”
Johnny’s shoulders moved slightly and he bowed his head, trying to concentrate on his supper. “She’s okay,” he mumbled. “Besides, she helps me with my homework.”
“Doesn’t Scott help you with your homework?”
Johnny didn’t know what the fuss was about. He didn’t even fully understand why he was embarrassed by talking about Georgia.
“Yes, sir, Scott helps. But she understands it better.”
“Understands what better, Johnny?”
Again Johnny shrugged. “She just …. She just seems to fill in the answers is all, Pa. Makes it easier to understand.”
“I see,” Murdoch replied, seeing perfectly well what was happening to his son. “I thought just a few weeks ago you called her a dumb girl. You don’t think that anymore?”
“No.” Johnny seemed to be contemplating something, and then a smile came to his lips. “She sure isn’t dumb.”
“You’re behaving yourself around her, aren’t you young man?” a stern Murdoch asked.
Johnny looked at his father, obviously thoroughly confused. “Yes, sir. I mean, I’m not fighting with her or nothing like that. You always said not to fight with a girl.”
“That’s good, Johnny, but that’s not exactly what I meant.”
Scott started to snicker and Murdoch threw him a grave look. Satisfied that Scott had received the unspoken message, he turned his attention back to Johnny. Ever since Johnny had informed Murdoch that Georgia liked kissing, Murdoch hadn’t liked the idea of Johnny being too friendly with her. It seemed, however, that the pull of growing up was stronger than the concerns of a father. It was obviously time for Murdoch to sit down and have a long talk with his son about life and the opposite sex, and the sooner the better. He didn’t want Johnny to stumble into it and learn for himself. Again there was that sad pull on his heart, but this time it was accompanied with a sense of urgency.
“Well, we’ll talk about this further when we get home,” Murdoch supplied.
“Scott, you ever have any girlfriends?” Johnny asked, wanting to get even with his brother for even bringing the subject of Georgia up.
Scott was taken aback by the question, not sure why Johnny asked him, but intuitively knowing he was trying to get back at him. He quickly gathered his composure and replied without fanfare, “I’ve had a couple.”
“Yea, when?” Johnny pursued.
“A gentleman doesn’t talk about such things,” Scott replied, hoping that would put an end to the conversation.
“Come on, Scott. I bet you’ve really never had a girlfriend.”
“It’s none of your affair, Johnny,” Scott replied, with all of the dignity he could muster. He looked to his father for help, hoping Murdoch would tell Johnny to shut up, but his father seemed to be satisfied with just listening to the conversation.
Actually, Murdoch was very interested in learning more about his son’s background, regardless of the subject matter. He was prepared, however, to put the brakes on Johnny if he saw that things were getting out of hand. But Scott had brought the subject of girls up at Johnny’s expense, and Murdoch was willing to let Johnny have his turn.
“What was her name?” Johnny prodded, a large smile on his face.
Scott looked annoyed, but when he thought about her, his face took on a happier look. It was quite plain to both Murdoch and Johnny that Scott’s young heart had indeed been captivated by this girl. “Her name was Christine,” he said finally.
“Christine, that’s a pretty name, Scott. Who was she?” Johnny asked.
“She was a servant’s daughter. I’d known her for a long time.”
“So what happened to her? Is she still in Boston?”
“No,” Scott said sadly. “I thought, well, I thought maybe we would get married when I reached eighteen, but she got married and moved away.”
“Married!” Johnny exclaimed. “How old was she?”
Scott shrugged, unwilling to admit that she was several years older than he was. “She was old enough to get married. I don’t know, maybe seventeen?”
“How old were you?”
“I was almost fourteen, and age doesn’t matter. There was only three years difference between us.” Scott was starting to feel silly, looking back on how much in love he thought he had been.
“It matters when you’re only thirteen years old, Scott,” a very wise Johnny proclaimed.
“Johnny,” Murdoch warned, trying to rein in his excited son, but feeling some apprehension as well in learning that Scott had thought he was in love at the age of thirteen. Murdoch would also have to have a talk with this son, to make sure he knew about the opposite sex, although it appeared he knew more than Murdoch would have liked.
“Well, Pa. You think I’m too young for girls and I’m the same age Scott was when he was thinking of getting married.” Johnny was absolutely dumbfounded that his brother could even think about marriage when he was only thirteen years old.
“I wasn’t going to marry her until I was eighteen.”
“Scott, you’re only fifteen now. How could you even think of marriage then?”
“I’m more mature than you are,” Scott reasoned, wishing the subject could be changed.
Johnny snorted, “Brother, you sure are that.” And he snorted again.
“Well,” Scott said, trying to explain and come away with some dignity. “After she got married I knew she wasn’t the one.” Scott stopped, realizing how incredibly stupid that sounded. He looked at his father and noticed a large smile on his face and his brother was giggling.
“There was Kathleen a few weeks later.” Scott desperately wanted to get their minds off Christine. “She worked for my grandfather as a maid.”
“Son, how old was she?” Murdoch was a bit concerned that his young son seemed to be attracted to older girls. A maid would certainly be older than Scott who would have been thirteen or fourteen at the time.
Scott bit his lip, recognizing too late that he was about to step into the same puddle he had just pulled out of.
“I don’t know, Pa. Just a couple years older, maybe.” Scott hoped the ploy of using Pa instead of sir would distract his father enough to get him off the question. It didn’t work.
“How old were you?” Murdoch persisted.
“Fourteen,” Scott said quietly.
“Your grandfather had a sixteen year old maid? You did say she was a couple of years older than you, correct?”
“Well, she may have been closer to three, maybe four years older than me. But Mr. Schmidt has a wife who’s three years older, Pa. So, it’s not that much difference in age.”
“Mr. Schmidt is a 43 year old rancher, his wife is 46. They were in their twenty’s when they married, son. Not a fourteen year old boy in love with an eighteen year old girl.”
“But, Pa,” Scott persisted, “there are plenty of men who marry much younger women. What’s wrong with it being the other way around?”
“There is nothing wrong with that, Scott. The issue is that you were thirteen and fourteen years old at the time.”
Scott considered this a moment, then said, “I’m fifteen now, so I’m older. I was just a kid then.”
“Well, son, it seems like you and I are also going to have a long talk when we get back home. Now, we’ll change the subject of young ladies, okay?”
Both sons were extremely happy to oblige.
The rest of the evening went much too fast. Pleasant conversation and quiet moments just enjoying one another’s company rounded off the evening, and all too soon Scott and Johnny were sleeping soundly.
Murdoch looked around the weathered little cabin and smiled. He almost wished they could spend forever here, as Johnny had earlier mentioned. He’d trade his ranch and wealth and hacienda for holding these few days forever. Again he smiled, wondering where these sentimental feelings were coming from. Glancing over at his sleeping sons, he knew exactly where these feelings were coming from.
Sighing, he got up from the chair, put a couple more logs on the fire, and went to bed. They’d be up early the next morning to return to the ranch. He hoped everything had been taken care of as he had instructed, and also prayed that the changes would help Scott, if not forget, at least not call to mind those horrible minutes with Shannon.
Welcome was the understatement when the three Lancers pulled the wagon into the yard the following day. Cipriano’s large smile was accompanied with a jubilant handshake to his boss. His face, weathered from the sun, wind, and just plain hard work, seemed almost carefree to Murdoch. Maria hugged the two young men pulling them close enough to her large bosom that both came away with flour on their faces. She laughed and brushed the white dust from their noses.
“What are you making?” Johnny asked, food as usual foremost on his mind.
“Cookies, Johnny. Then I will be making sweet breads.”
“What kind of cookies?”
“Does it matter?” Maria replied, knowing Johnny would eat just about any cookie she made.
“No, Maria. I just like to think about it for a while before I eat one.”
“I don’t remember you ever stopping to think about eating one of my cookies, Johnny, regardless of what kind they are.”
She looked at Johnny’s engaging smile and bright blue eyes, and was so very glad he was home. “They are sugar cookies, Johnny,” she relented, her brown eyes just as vivid as his.
She glanced at Scott, her heart catching at the site of the Patron’s eldest. ‘What he has gone through,’ she thought to herself, sorry that one so young had gone through so much. His formerly pale skin was now a healthy tan, showing off the tempered blue of his eyes. His hair was much longer now than when he had first arrived, soft like corn silk, and the color of ripening wheat. She brought her hand up to brush those golden bangs affectionately away from his forehead, and he presented her with a gleaming, handsome smile.
“Come,” she said, placing herself between Scott and Johnny. She took each one by an arm and led them towards the kitchen. “We will celebrate your homecoming with cookies and lemonade. Si?”
“Si, Maria, Si,” Johnny said excitedly.
Murdoch watched the trio head towards the house. “Cip, was everything taken care of?”
“Si, Patron,” Cip said. “Everything is as you wanted.”
“Good, and thank you, Cip. I know with Maria’s taste she would have picked out something appropriate.”
“Thank you. My wife does have good taste, although she would have liked it a bit more colorful. But, she also knows what you like.”
Murdoch chuckled and slapped his friend on the shoulder. “Come, let’s go enjoy some cookies and lemonade and see if Scott likes the changes.”
The two men joined the others in the kitchen, enjoying Maria’s treats. Johnny would have liked more cookies, but after glancing at his father’s frown when he reached for his fifth, he decided to reconsider, remembering the stomach ache he had gotten a few days before when he ate too much chocolate cake.
Murdoch pushed away from the table, the legs of the chair scraping the floor as he did so. “Well, I’d better check the mail. Has it been picked up, Cip?”
“Si, all is on your desk.”
“Thank you. Boys, you’d best get unpacked. Get your dirty clothes downstairs and put the clean ones away. Thanks, Maria. The cookies and lemonade were delicious.”
“You are welcome, Patron.”
All gravitated towards the stairway going through the dining area. Scott’s mood immediately plummeted as he avoided looking into the Great Room. He knew that he’d have to overcome his repugnance to the room, but right now he just did not want to deal with it. He’d had such a good time with his father and brother, and Shannon had not dominated his thoughts while at the cabin. He was now back to that reality and he detested the intrusion.
It was Johnny who noticed the change, exclaiming loudly, “We have a new couch!” He went into the Great Room. “And a new rug.”
Scott walked slowly into the Great Room, astonishment on his face. The room not only had a new couch and carpet, but also a couple of new upholstered chairs. His father’s desk and chair still maintained its location by the huge picture window, but the rest of the furniture had been rearranged in such a manner that it changed the whole appearance of the room.
He smiled, largely, appreciating that his father was responsible for the change. Although the room would always remind him of those few intolerable minutes, his father’s attempt to alleviate his remembrance caught at his heart, and made him realize more than anything that his father cared about him.
Scott turned to look at his father, his feelings of gratefulness teeming, his speech unable to express the enormity of his thanks.
“Thank you, father.”
Murdoch’s voice caught for a moment, the hard, determined, masculine individual that he was, weakened beyond imagination by a simple thank you from his fifteen year old son.
“You’re welcome, son.”
Scott looked around the room, at his brother, Maria, and his father’s Segundo. His eyes wandered to the window that framed his father’s life work, then rested on his father’s face. The harsh lines of his father’s features were eased, the bitterness replaced by understanding, and the hardness and losses of his life were softened with love.
Scott was finally home.
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