Revenge - ?
Many thanks to my beta, Cobalt Jan.
It was a perfect plan and Scott snorted with laughter in a very ungentlemanly manner, highly anticipating the outcome. Recognizing how childish he was acting, he nevertheless proceeded with his act of revenge against his smart aleck younger brother.
It had been several months since he arrived at Lancer and it seemed that he would never entirely master the hundreds of tasks involved with a working ranch. The nickname ‘Boston’ Johnny hung on him the day after they arrived still hung, along with everything that it implied. Sometimes it was as if he had been thrown into a lake and left to flounder on his own. He was determined, however, to not only swim, but swim well. Nonetheless, it was proving a difficult endeavor.
Within a few short days after the Pardee raid, while his brother recovered from a bullet in the back, Scott had cut his hand severely on barbed wire. To Scott, gloves were linen and worn for special occasions such as the opera or other gala events. The tough leather work gloves were a necessity in the west, but uncomfortable and hot and Scott took them off as much as he could. Unfortunately, he discovered painfully that was unwise.
He was with a work crew stringing barbed wire, and he stopped to get a drink of water. He took off his gloves, hooked them on his belt and bent down to pick up a canteen. He heard something snap and reacted, grabbing the wire that quickly tore into his uncalloused and ungloved hand. Several stitches and a whole lot of pain later, his father patiently told him he should always wear gloves. He learned a hard lesson, and now he rarely took them off.
Scott ran his fingers over the ugly scar that tentacled across his right palm. Still red and angry looking, he knew in time it would fade. He carried a lot worse scars than that, he reasoned pragmatically. But still, mistakes could be costly, like the one that almost cost him his life.
They had been sent to clear a badly dammed creek, the first one that Scott was involved with. Scott had studied the problem and concluded they first needed to wade into the water and start by pulling brush and small limbs snagged by the larger limb out of the way. Johnny had disagreed and thought some harnessed horse power would work better and faster. ‘Just throw ropes around the biggest limb, tie the other end to a couple of saddle horns, and giddy up.’
Scott reasoned with Johnny, explaining that once the large limb was removed the smaller debris would be swept downstream by the rush of released water, causing another barrier. Grudgingly Johnny acknowledged that Scott had a point. Thus the five man crew, which included Scott and Johnny, walked into the cold water and started clearing brush, small limbs, soggy leaves, a few dead, stinky fish and other assorted creatures from the stream.
Much of the rubble had been cleared away and Scott was on top of the huge limb remaining in the water, trying to maneuver a rope around it so the horses could pull it out. There was still quite a bit of water backed up behind the barrier causing a pool about five feet deep.
‘Scott,’ Johnny had said, ‘you’d better get off that limb. It’s rocking. All that brush we moved was holding it steady.’
‘I’m okay, Johnny. Let me just get this rope around it.’ Scott had finally succeeded in making a correct call, and stubbornly held onto the fact that he could finish the job his way.
‘We can throw ropes around some of the branches and pull it out, Scott. Get off,’ Johnny had yelled, his irritation and worry obvious.
‘The branches will break, Johnny. The limb is too heavy.’
‘Not all of them will break, Scott. We can at least pull it enough to let some of that water flow. Come on, Boston. Get your skinny ass off!’
Suddenly the limb shifted slightly - Scott lost his balance and fell. He was a good swimmer, and normally would have received just a cold soaking, but his boot slipped into a crevice of the limb, and become tightly wedged. He went under and couldn’t get his head above the water. Hands frantically tried to pull at his entrapped foot while he struggled instinctively to get to the surface. By the time he was finally wrenched free, he had passed out. He remembered coming to with someone straddling his back, pushing down on his ribs as he vomited up pond water. Sputtering and choking, he dizzily focused on the blue-eyed concern of his brother.
‘Scott, you okay?’ Johnny’s voice had vaguely registered through Scott’s clouded perception, and it had sounded almost – fearful.
His brother’s constant urgings to wake up, and questions of, are you all right, and oh my god, registered through the drum role of Scott’s soggy head.
‘Get off me,’ Scott had wheezed. Whoever was on his back and pushing on his ribs felt as if they were breaking both.
He was turned over and propped up against something warm. Foggily Scott looked around. ‘What happened?’
‘You fell, Boston. Got your damn foot caught.’ Johnny had sounded worried and angry at the same time, but Scott couldn’t see him.
‘Where are you?’ Scott had mumbled, while trying to comprehend what happened.
“Right behind you brother.”
So Johnny was the warm he leaned against.
‘I’m okay. I need to get up.’ Scott attempted to rise, and felt arms help him up. He immediately bent at the waist and threw up violently. He felt a hand on his back, heard someone swearing and an anxious voice registered, ‘You gonna bring up a fish, brother?’ His knees slammed to the ground as he folded. ‘Leave me. I’ll spend the night.’ He recalled saying those words, as he closed his eyes and wished the world away.
The ever present prodding of his irritating brother seemed to pull him to his feet and Scott felt hands on his legs and chest as he was lifted and settled on something broad, his legs straddling a soft barrel. His head dropped forward and stopped. The pleasant, musky smell of horse had scrunched into his face as he inhaled horse hair up his nose. He could have died in the soft sense of that earthy perfume and not cared.
Something hard had bumped and settled behind each of his legs, with a pair of strong hands bringing him upright. An arm had held him erect as the firmness behind his limbs tensed and relaxed. He sensed movement beneath him and at last realized he was on a horse, supported against a well muscled chest. The presence on the back of his legs - his brother’s thighs.
‘The long trip home’, kept distractedly winding through his mind over and over again as the horse ambled. ‘Was that a song?’ he wondered absently. By the time they arrived at the ranch, Scott was somewhat aware but washed away. He heard the worry of his father, the concern of his brother, and felt Teresa flitting between the inside and outside. ‘Teresa, please stop bouncing,’ he had asked dizzily.
The fresh scent of prairie filtered around him, his face sheltered in the wind-dried comfort of a pillow case as he woke slowly. Testing his body before opening his eyes, he felt the ache of his belly from throwing up and his throat felt harsh. His wet clothing had been removed and he was lying in bed. His eyes wandered about the room before settling on the form of his father standing at the window. Murdoch appeared to be gazing outward, but his unfocused stare seemed deep in contemplation.
‘Murdoch?’ His voice sounded scratchy.
‘Son, how do you feel?’ He made his way to the side of the bed and brought his large hand up to Scott’s forehead. It rested there for the briefest of moments before brushing back bangs and lightly skimming his cheek.
‘I’m okay, Murdoch. Is it still today?’
The familiar tone of his father’s quiet laughter soothed him. ‘Yes, Son. It’s still today, just a couple hours later.’
Fully aware of what had happened, Scott hesitantly ventured, ‘I’m sorry. It was a stupid accident. I should have listened to Johnny.’ Scott recalled wrongly assuming his father was angry. He tried to get out of bed, but was stopped by his father’s voice and a hand on his shoulder.
‘Scott, why not take it easy for the rest of the day.’
‘I’m all right, Murdoch.’
‘You almost drowned,’ Murdoch clipped, his tone short and edgy. Murdoch bit at his lips and bowed his head before turning away, his large hand rubbing across his face.
Scott had quickly glanced up at him and lay back on the pillow, stunned by the unsaid sentiment that flashed across his father’s features. Murdoch cared deeply, and Scott had not realized to what extent until then.
Recalling that moment, Scott closed his eyes almost thankful for the tree limb… almost. Yes, his father did love him, very much, and Johnny as well. Scott felt a slight tug of guilt for trying to exact vengeance on his brother, but it didn’t last long when he thought of the calf tail clip episode that was still haunting him. Yes, Johnny deserved payback.
Scott and Johnny had gone with a crew to the west pasture to brand calves born that spring. Scott was still perfecting his roping skills, and it was obvious he was holding the branding up. But he was determined to get the hang of it, regardless of the moans and laughter from the men. He thought it was going well, until he threw a rope over one of the ranch hands. It was then that Johnny asked Scott to go back to the ranch and pick up some tools he forgot to bring along. When asked what type of tools, Johnny said tail clips, and went on to explain that they just slid onto the tails of the calves and kept them quiet during branding. It would make the job a lot easier and quicker if Scott would be kind enough to go back to the ranch and get them.
Scott was anxious to help in anyway he could and readily agreed to get the necessary equipment. When he rode into the ranch yard an hour later, his father happened to be talking to Cip by the barn. Both men looked up at Scott, obviously surprised to see him back so early.
‘Everything all right, Son?’
‘Yes, sir. I just came back for some tail clip tools.’
Murdoch look puzzled. ‘Some what, Scott?’
‘Tail clips, Murdoch. Johnny said he forgot to put them in the wagon and asked me to come back and get them.’
Murdoch pursed his lips and looked at Cipriano, before gazing back at Scott. His lips quivered slightly, as if trying to subdue a smile, and he cleared his throat. ‘How are things going, other than the forgotten tools, Scott?’
‘All right, sir. I think I’m finally getting the hang of roping. I am not missing nearly as much.’
Murdoch nodded, and let his eyes wander, before asking another question. ‘How many calves need branding, Son?’
‘Oh, I would say there are several dozen that have been brought in, and the men were bringing in others when I left.’
‘Were you one of the ropers?’
‘Yes sir. There are three of us. The other two, I’m afraid, are much faster than I, but I feel I am managing well.’
‘So there are three ropers, and I would then guess there are three branding iron pits?’
‘Yes, Murdoch. If you can get me the clips, I need to get back to the crew.’
‘Yes, Murdoch. The clips. The tail clips. You know; the ones that slide onto the tails to keep the animal quiet.’
Murdoch bowed his head and Scott thought he heard him snort. He finally lifted his head and gazed at Scott with something almost akin to pity. ‘Scott, you need to rope those calves pretty fast to keep the men at the branding stations busy.’
That’s when Scott started to get a bad feeling. ‘Yes Sir.’ He stared at his father and then Cip. Cipriano was a very serious man, and Scott had not as yet seen him smile… until now. His grin was broader than his face, his eyes were pinched tightly together and appeared to be tearing and he couldn’t look Scott in the face.
‘Scott, ah.’ Murdoch folded his arms across his chest, obviously having a difficult time saying what he wanted to say.
‘Murdoch, is there such a thing as a calf tail clip?’ It had finally registered with Scott that Johnny had sent him on a fool’s errand.
Murdoch’s pale blue eyes held his son’s. ‘No, Scott, there is no such thing.’
‘So, it appears that Johnny just wanted to get rid of me.’
Seemingly trying to placate his first born, Murdoch reasonably said, ‘Son, it takes a while to learn this business.’
‘And how am I to learn the art of roping if I am not allowed to do it, sir?’ an offended Scott asked.
‘The men want to get the job done as soon as possible so they can get to town tonight. It is a Friday night. I don’t think it would have been as important to them to get done quickly, except for that.’ Murdoch paused, as if wanting Scott to realize the import of what he had just said. ‘They don’t have a lot to look forward to, except a Friday or Saturday night in town, Son.’
Scott lowered his head, well aware that what his father just said was true. ‘Yes, sir. I understand.’ He ran his tongue across his lips and directed his eyes back to Murdoch. ‘But Johnny could have handled it differently,’ he said softly.
‘Did you let him?’
‘What do you mean by that?’ Scott retorted, totally surprised by his father’s question.
‘Scott, you can be pretty… determined when you set your mind to something. Perhaps you didn’t realize how much you were, ah,’
‘Slowing the work, Murdoch?’ Scott finished for him.
‘Yes, Son. Slowing the work.’
Scott glanced at Cipriano and noticed his face had gone from amusement to sympathy. Not one for self-pity, Scott would rather have seen laughter instead of commiseration. Gathering what little dignity he had left, Scott straightened his back. ‘Well, I suppose I should head back to the crew.’ He reined his horse to ride back to the west.
Scott stopped and turned back to look at his father.
‘It’s getting quite late. By the time you get there, you’ll just have to turn around. Why not call it a day. I can show you a bit more of the books; you do need to learn those as well.’
A smile flitted across Scott’s lips. ‘My father coming to the rescue to save me embarrassment in front of the men?’ Scott’s eyebrows came up with the question.
‘No, Scott. I don’t think I can save you from that. But I could use some help with the ledgers. …I, could talk to your brother also, if you want me to.’
‘No thank you. I’ll take care of Little Brother in my own way, in my own time.’
When Johnny returned late that afternoon with the crew, he approached Scott sheepishly, a hint of uncertainty and amusement played across his face. Scott was at his father’s desk still working on the records.
‘Hey, Brother,’ Johnny said softly as he ambled across the room and stopped beside Scott, leaning his butt against the desk. ‘We, uh, got done a bit early and the men are going to town. Just wondered if you might like to go along?’
Scott sat back in the chair and studied his brother. Even though Johnny obviously thought the whole episode very funny, he had grace enough to blush and look away when Scott eyed him. ‘Thank you, John. I might just do that, provided the men aren’t too disappointed I didn’t get back with the uhm – tail clips.’
Johnny fumbled with his stampede string, and then grinned at Scott. ‘About that, Scott, well, the men, they wanted to get done early.’ With more exuberance he exclaimed, ‘Friday night, Boston!’ and fisted him lightly on the arm.
Scott tilted his head and smiled. ‘I understand, Johnny. No hard feelings.’
Scott’s quiet manner seemed to make Johnny nervous. He eyed Scott with mistrust and scrutinized him for a few moments. ‘That’s good, Scott. The men will forget it, you know, in a bit,’ Johnny remarked lamely.
‘I’m sure they will, Johnny, in time. But, thanks for the invitation and I think I will go with you tonight. Do you play poker, perchance?’
Johnny snorted loudly, as if Scott had just asked him if he could ride a horse. ‘Yeah, Scott. I play. Do you?’
Scott nodded and lightly said, ‘Some. Maybe I can play you a game.’
‘Sure, Scott. That would be great. Just be prepared to lose your week’s pay. Well, I guess I’ll go get cleaned up.’
‘Fine, Johnny. I’m ready when you are.’
Johnny backed out of the room, obviously not entirely sure that his brother had forgiven him.
Some revenge had been enacted when Scott beat Johnny solidly at five card stud, teaching his brother some humility as well as relieving Johnny of his week’s pay. However, Scott still endured flitting remarks of tail clips, and chuckles behind his back when he passed the hands, even though it had been weeks since the branding fiasco. He continued to muster through it with aplomb and composure, good naturedly shrugging off the comments. But, Scott figured Johnny owed him more for that little trick.
Johnny was getting ready for a date this evening with the Simpson girl. He had finally worked up the courage to ask the minister’s fair haired daughter to a social being held in Green River. Johnny grumbled to Scott that she gave him a sweet smile with her yes, but said he’d need to ask her daddy. Her father wasn’t real crazy about the idea, but agreed as long as Johnny understood he could not leave the dance at any time with his daughter. The social was a celebration of the newly constructed livery and was being held down the street from the minister’s house. The minister would escort his daughter to the dance, stay for the entire time, and escort his daughter home again. It wasn’t exactly what Johnny would have wished for, but he told Scott if it ‘meant holding the luscious Lillian close for most of the dance, it would do.’
Reasoning that Johnny would be coming through the side door to saddle Barranca, the door he normally used, Scott formulated the plan. Johnny wanted to leave early to insure that he had plenty of time to get to the social. Scott encouraged an early departure; he didn’t want his brother to miss the dance entirely, just be a bit harried and frustrated for a while. He would still have enough time to clean up and get to the dance, although probably late.
Scott tested the rope once more that held the bucket of white wash above the door. He had rigged it so that when the door opened, a rope tied to the paint pail would pull on the bucket, tipping it and drenching the person coming through the entrance. The paint sat precariously on a wide piece of board that Scott had rigged to extend out from the top of the door. He had also taken into account that the rest of the hands were getting cleaned up and wouldn’t be coming through the door for a while yet. He knew Jelly was in the bath house, and Murdoch was behind his desk sorting invoices. Yes, everything was ready. Now, where was his recalcitrant brother?
Scott wandered out to the corral hoping to find Johnny walking his way. It was ten past six, and Johnny said he wanted to leave by 6:00 p.m. After pacing and stirring up dust for another five minutes, Scott decided to go to the house and hurry his brother along. He nervously looked over his shoulder at the barn door, but determined no one else was in sight. Johnny was his target, and Scott wasn’t going to give up at this stage.
He walked through the front door, over to the bottom of the stairs and loudly called, “Johnny”.
“What?” bellowed back to Scott.
“You’re late. It’s close to half past six.”
“I couldn’t find the new shirt I picked up yesterday,” Johnny said as he quickly came down the stairs, taking two risers at a time, and sliding down the banister the last few feet.
“What do you need a new shirt for?” Scott asked impatiently. “Nothing wrong with the one you have on.”
“What do you care, Boston? Trying to get rid of me?” Johnny slapped him in the abdomen as he walked past and headed for their father’s desk. He picked up a gold coin and pocketed it. “Old man gave me some spending money. Figured I should pick up something pretty for the preacher’s daughter, but I think he doesn’t want the preacher to think I come from a cheap family.” Johnny smiled brightly, blue eyes glittering as he patted the pocket that held the coin.
“Where is Murdoch?” Scott asked, distractedly pondering that his usually frugal father had given Johnny ‘party money’. He wondered where Murdoch had wandered off to as he had been behind his desk a just a short while ago.
“I was complaining so much about not being able to find my shirt, he went to check my saddlebags.”
Scott froze, unable to talk at first. “Where, Johnny?” he finally choked out.
A ‘where the hell do you think, Scott?’ reflected back from Johnny’s face. “He went to the barn, Scott. That’s where I left my saddlebags.”
“I didn’t pass him coming in, Johnny,” Scott gasped, the words coming sporadically as he tried to breathe.
“He went out the back. What the hell is the matter with you? You look paler than when you first came here!”
Scott didn’t take time to answer. He bolted through the front door and worked his long legs as fast as he could towards the barn. He was vaguely aware of Johnny trying to keep up, his “wait up, Scott, what’s wrong?” slapping him in the back of the head.
He stopped several yards from the barn, causing Johnny to almost slide into him. Scott could see that the side door had been opened.
“Boston, you look like you’re gonna be sick.”
Scott felt Johnny’s hand on his arm, then tighten and heard the sharp intake of his brother’s breath.
Those two words said it all. Johnny had rolled off an understatement as a 6’5” dripping white figure appeared in the doorway, and looked at them. Then it started to move towards them, like a huge bleeding ghost, leaving a trail of oozing white wash. There was a squishy, sloshing sound as he moved across the paddock. Coming to a halt, he stood before his sons, brought his arms to his hips and said absolutely nothing.
Scott just closed his eyes, not daring to look into the face of his father. He bowed his head and wished that he had drowned in the pond. He was aware of Johnny beside him, but little else.
“Damn, Murdoch. What the hell!” Johnny’s voice was awed, wonderment hanging like a noose tightening around Scott’s neck.
“Scott!” The voice boomed once.
Scott slowly brought his eyes up to his father’s, and was pinned with pale blue anger. He tried to swallow, but couldn’t. His mouth was dry, spit less.
Paint ran in rivulets down his father’s face from his plastered hair; his eyebrows were white and when he breathed, paint bubbles were created as he exhaled and popped when he inhaled. Murdoch’s broad shoulders were drenched white, the streams of brightness cascading down his chest, running down his legs, and splattering onto his boots. But what Scott noticed the most were his father’s eyelashes. They were pasty, like an albino’s he had seen at a circus when a child.
“Murdoch,” Scott rasped. “Father.” He was desperate and wasn’t above using any ploy to deflect his father’s anger.
Murdoch clenched his fists, took in a deep breath and spit a wad of paint from his mouth. “What is the meaning of this?”
Trying to swallow once again, Scott ventured, “It was meant for Johnny. - For the tail clip thing.” He gulped air as his father seemed to swell in size. “I’m sorry, Murdoch.”
Scott was suddenly aware that Teresa, Maria, Jelly and a couple of other hands were watching the proceedings. He quietly groaned and lowered his head.
Scott could have sworn there was a bit of amusement in her voice. ‘Is she happy I am going to be killed?’ he wondered.
“Would you please get me some clean clothes and boots and take them to the bath house?”
“Yes, Murdoch. Right away.”
“Yeah, Murdoch?” he said cautiously.
“I believe you have a date in town. You had better get going.”
“Yeah, I’d a – I’ll be going,” Johnny stammered.
Despite what Scott had planned to do to his brother, he felt a sympathetic stroke brush his shoulder as Johnny passed him and walked to the barn.
“Don’t the rest of you have something to do?” Murdoch roared, causing the onlookers to hurriedly disperse in various directions.
Scott could hear scurried footsteps as they left, as well as the pounding hoof beats of Barranca carrying his brother away. Then it was quiet. The only thing he could hear was his father’s breathing. Sensing Murdoch lean in close, Scott tensed. His head still bowed and eyes tightly closed, he fervently prayed the vision away.
“I am going to take a bath. I expect you to clean up the mess in the barn, wash my clothes, get the paint off my belt and shine my boots. I don’t want to see a speck of paint on anything, do you understand.” Murdoch’s voice was low - controlled. “Not a drop, not a dribble.”
“Then we are going to have a talk about this. And, young man, don’t think you are too old or too big that a trip to the wood shed won’t happen.”
Scott heard the squish of his father walking away. He glanced a few feet over to where Murdoch had stood and noticed a pool of paint. A small track of white wash, sprinkled here and there towards the bath house, indicated where his father had gone.
Scott looked towards the heavens. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky in any direction. Rain would not be able to assist him whatsoever to cover over the reminders of his father’s humiliation. And that was the crux of the entire debacle. Not that Johnny had escaped his brother’s revenge, or even that Scott had set the plan in place and managed to ensnare his father. It was the indignity he had caused his father that he would face retribution for, regardless of intent.
He took a deep breath, glanced once more in the direction of the bath house, and headed to the barn. He stepped through the door and noted the bucket lying on its side. It appeared that very little paint had spilled, and for better or worse, the majority had landed on his father. Scott set the bucket up, grabbed a rake and pitched the small amount of paint splattered straw into the container. Most of the white wash on the floor had been absorbed by dust and he swept it up and threw that on top of the straw. Paint was peppered sporadically on the door, the frame and surrounding lumber and Scott tried to wipe most of it off with a dry cloth. Time would dim what little could not be removed.
Left alone with his thoughts, he worked slowly, wondering what he would say to Murdoch, and how his father would react to him. He still didn’t know Murdoch that well, and this was the first time he had done something to really make his father angry. Granted, it wasn’t as if he hadn’t made mistakes, and plenty of them, but those were due to ignorance. When Scott thought about those instances, Murdoch had been patient, obviously frustrated at times, but he never lost his temper with him.
Scott hoped his father would treat him like an adult. He snorted at that thought. ‘Adult, right. And how adult was I trying to drench my brother with a five gallon pail of paint.’ Besides right now he didn’t feel very adult. He felt more like a little boy who had just displeased his father. He didn’t want to admit that he was afraid of what his father had in store for him, but more than that, he was truly sorry for white washing his father. He swished the rag harder against the wood, trying to blot out more traces of the paint. He was almost done cleaning up the inside of the doorway when Jelly appeared with a bag.
“Your Pa’s belt and boots,” he explained as he held them out to Scott.
Scott reached for the bundle and quietly said, “Thanks, Jelly. Where are his clothes?”
“Teresa said she could get ‘em cleaner ‘n you. Her and Maria are working on ‘em.”
“I owe both of those dear ladies, very much.” He set the bundle aside and continued working.
Jelly reached for a broom and started to sweep the barn floor that contained residue of the paint.
Both men worked silently for a while until Scott ventured, “So, how is he?”
Jelly stopped sweeping and looked at Scott. He rubbed the whiskers on his face, as if trying to gather the right words to say. He opened his mouth, and then closed it. Finally, his manner sympathetic, he managed a, “Well, ...
Scott leaned against the top board of a stall and fumbled with the paint spattered cleaning cloth. He smiled lightly and quipped, “You suppose I’m too old to run away from home?”
Jelly smiled. “I’m supposin’ if you tried, the way Murdoch’s feeling, he’d haul ya rear-end back.”
Scott bowed his head, pondering what Jelly had just said and tossed the rag into the paint bucket. “Well, I guess I’d better start cleaning his boots and belt.”
Jelly reached for the bag. “Gimme them boots, Scott. Reckon I can get ‘em shined up. Use lottsa blackenin’. That belt’s a whole nuther how-de-do. Paint’s settled into them cracks pretty good.” Jelly removed the boots from the bag and handed it back to Scott. “I’ll get the boots back to ya and you cin take them to your pa.”
Scott smiled appreciatively. “Thanks, Jelly. If you think when I show him the nice, polished boots he won’t notice the belt …. Well - it’s a good tactic, but I don’t think that diversion is going to work in this case.”
“Ain’t no harm in tryn’.”
“Anything is worth trying, and thanks again.” Scott took the bundle and walked without his usual confidence towards the tack room.
Scott turned. “Yes, Jelly?”
“I ain’t swearin’ to it but it could be I heard Murdoch chucklin’ some…”
Scott thought about that for a minute. “Could have been a growl?”
“Didn’t sound like no growl I ever heard - not mean enough. Besides, your old man likes a good laugh.”
“Well, at least he is making noises that aren’t completely unpleasant. That is good to hear.”
Jelly’s eyes started to glow and the corners of his mouth curved up. “Scott, I ain’t never seen nothin’ like it in all my years. That big, white drippn’ man - well, that was purely somethin’.”
Scott pondered that revelation, and nodded his head. “It sure was something, wasn’t it? I just don’t think Murdoch is going to mellow enough to appreciate it.”
“Don’t be so sure. He’s probly cooled some already. ”
It was plain to Scott that Jelly was trying to be encouraging and Scott truly appreciated his effort.
“You’re a good man Jellifer Hoskins.” Scott saluted him and disappeared into the tack room.
Murdoch looked up from the papers on his desk when Scott walked through the door. As usual, his stomach rolled lightly at the entrance of his son. He was always amazed when they came through the door, singly or as a pair. Even after several months of their being home, it still felt like a dream that his children were finally here with him. There was something else that astounded him – how much he loved them and how little time it took for that to happen.
He sat back and watched Scott walk across the room, a pair of boots in one hand and a belt in the other. Murdoch immediately noted that his normally self-assured son appeared wary, although his slate blue eyes directly met his. Scott stopped in front of the desk and set the boots down lightly.
Murdoch had mellowed in the past couple of hours, relaxing in the large tub once he had washed most of the white wash out of his hair. His head and hands were saturated with paint, but the rest of his body was protected by his clothes. They were work clothes and although still in good repair and serviceable, they were old. His belt was old as well and he was thinking of removing the buckle and throwing the old piece of leather away. The boots, well, boots were an expensive item to replace. He did have several pair and if they couldn’t be redeemed, he wouldn’t lose any sleep over it. However, all of those factors were beside the point. Enough was enough and Murdoch intended to put an end to any and all pranks --- immediately.
“Jelly cleaned up the boots and did a good job on them. I don’t think there’s a spot of paint on them, sir. However, the belt is another matter. The paint settled deep into the cracks and I couldn’t get it out. I am sorry.” Scott’s tone was apologetic, ashamed, but he seemed to be ready to face anything Murdoch may throw at him.
Scott unrolled the belt and stretched it across the desk, holding an end in each hand, his palms up. Murdoch ran his eyes from one end of the belt to the other, noticing indeed the paint deeply ingrained into the leather. His gaze stopped at the scar on the palm of his son’s right hand.
His memory roamed back to that day, and recalled how embarrassed Scott had been that it happened. Murdoch had seen a lot of injuries in both man and beast, but the sight of his son’s blood sickened him. He had just worried through the awful days after Johnny had been shot in the back and was not prepared for another injury, no matter how small. But he had muffled his overwhelming concerns, and sweated silently through his inability to stop the bleeding until Sam arrived to stitch it up. He fretted to himself about infection, blood poisoning, and his son’s pain. But the wound healed anyway.
“I don’t know if the belt is of much use for anything, sir.” Scott laid it in front of his father.
His son’s voice brought him back from his musings and turned it once again to the ruined leather --- and the white wash. Murdoch picked the belt up, looped it and looked up at Scott. “I can think of one good use for it.”
Scott’s jaw hardened at the remark, his head went up a bit in defiance, and then he swallowed and looked away. He cleared his throat, and glanced back at his father. “I am sorry, Murdoch. It was a childish thing to do and I apologize that you, well, that it affected you.”
He took a few steps to the window and looked out, but saw only his own reflection against the darkness. He looked back at his father. “I wanted to give Johnny a taste of what he has given me. I was tired of the laughter, the snickers, the snide remarks. Thought he deserved a share.”
Scott stopped, bowed his head and focused back on his father. “Hell, Murdoch, it’s not Johnny’s fault. It’s mine for not knowing enough not to stand on a rocking limb in the middle of a swollen creek, or that cows don’t wear tail clips, or barbed wire is called that because it’s barbed!” Scott paced, obviously frustrated.
Murdoch got up from his chair, went to the liquor cabinet and poured two good sized portions of brandy. He handed a glass to Scott and took a healthy drink of his own. He knew how hard Scott was trying to adjust to a completely different way of life. The days were grueling, relentless but his son beat through them and hung on, sometimes with the thread of just pure stubbornness.
“Scott, when I bought this ranch, what I knew about ranching you could burn in a one minute fire. It has taken me years to accumulate what I know. I don’t ---- no one, expects you to learn it completely in a few weeks, months or even years.”
He walked up to his son. “I have seen you stumble, I have seen you fall, and time after time you have picked yourself up and gone at it again. You are a determined, intelligent, kind young man with as much, if not more, courage than any man on this ranch, including me. Now you can do this if - and it’s a big if - you can do this if you want to.”
Scott lowered his eyes, feeling his face blush from his father’s words. He smiled broadly and nodded his head. “Okay, Murdoch, okay. I want this to work, but, well, I just didn’t know what to expect when you were covered with all of that paint.”
“What makes you think you’ve received all that I have planned?”
Apprehensively Scott stared at his father.
Murdoch chuckled and rested his hand on Scott’s shoulder. “I haven’t had dinner. Care to join me?”
“I’d forgotten about it actually.”
“Hmmm, that’s why you’re so thin. I’ll bet your brother doesn’t forget to eat.”
Scott laughed with relief, his blue eyes glittering. “No sir. I cannot imagine Johnny forgetting a meal. And, for the record, I’m lean muscle, not thin.”
“Point taken. Let’s see what we can find in the kitchen.”
Draping his arm around Scott, he led him towards the kitchen. As they passed the desk, Murdoch stopped. “By the way, Scott, I don’t want a repeat of what happened today in any manner. I want you and Johnny to stop these tricks and revenge or that belt may get used after all. Do I make myself clear?”
Scott glanced up at his father. “Yes sir, you are clear.” He smiled as if he thought his father was being flippant.
Murdoch’s hand moved slowly from his son’s shoulder, down his back and slapped his rump smartly, causing Scott to jump. “Don’t think I won’t do it, Son,” Murdoch lightly remarked.
Eyes opening wide, Scott glanced at his father, stunned. Murdoch smiled, pulled him along to the kitchen, making trivial conversation about their dinner. Scott looked over his father’s shoulder at the desk, frowning at the belt, as they walked out of the room.
Murdoch and Jelly were sitting in front of the fire over a checkerboard when Johnny walked into the room. Both men looked up at him apparently surprised to see him home.
“You’re home early, Son. I didn’t expect you for another two hours.”
Johnny shrugged and threw his hat on the table as he passed by. He stopped at the checkerboard and surveyed the checkers. “Who’s winning?”
“I am,” Jelly announced proudly. “How was the dance?”
“It was okay, Jelly. I guess I didn’t feel like dancing much tonight, though. ---- You black?” Johnny fingered a black kinged checker until Jelly slapped his hand.
“Yeah, I’m black. And dontcha be moving them pieces ‘round so your Pa will win,” he huffed.
“I don’t need to cheat to beat you Jelly.”
“Seems ta me ya do tonight, Murdoch. I won five straight games.” Jelly held up his hand with all five fingers displaying his victory.
“That is just because my back hurts and I can’t concentrate.”
“If’n it makes ya feel better losin’, ya say watcha want. But you owe me,” Jelly picked up a piece of paper, licked a pencil and did some figuring. “One dollar and twenty-five cents, Murdoch! I figure this game, ya’ll owe me ‘nother two bits.”
“The game isn’t over yet, Jelly,” Murdoch quipped.
“Might’s well be. Alls ya got left is them three checkers.”
“You could concede, Murdoch. That way Jelly can’t say he beat you six games runnin’,” Johnny reasoned.
“I’ll not concede. Just the same as giving up.” Murdoch eyed the checkers, and taped his finger against his mouth.
“Where’s Scott?” Johnny asked. The first thing he noticed when he walked into the room was that Scott wasn’t present. Actually, that is why Johnny had come home early. His thoughts for most of the night were on his brother and the shade of sick green on his face when he left for town. He didn’t think their father would kill Scott, but Johnny wasn’t sure Murdoch would leave him in one piece.
The second thing Johnny noticed was that his father looked paint free. And calm. He hoped the calm wasn’t due to venting his anger on Scott. Trying to inspect his father without being too apparent, he noticed a few specks of paint in his hair, and flecks of paint under his fingernails. If Johnny had not seen Murdoch as a giant white bear a few hours ago, there was no way to tell that it had actually happened.
Even though he was the target of Scott’s trickery, Johnny didn’t begrudge his brother for trying to get back at him. Johnny had pulled enough things on Scott that he was surprised that nothing happened before this. He’d learned, however, that Scott was a thinker and liked to plan things out to the last detail. And if it had gone according to plan, it would have been the talk of the valley for months. Unfortunately, it would still be the talk of the valley, with his father as the innocent victim.
“He’s in his room,” Murdoch said distractedly, concentrating on the checker game.
“How come he’s not down here?”
Murdoch looked up at his son, comprehension finally registering as to what Johnny was getting at. “He’s fine, Johnny. I haven’t locked him away or crippled him,” Murdoch said dryly.
“I didn’t say you had, Murdoch. You know, I was just, ------ curious is all.” Johnny fidgeted nervously with the buttons on his shirt, then absently reached for a checker. The slap on his hand was harder this time.
“Ouch, Jelly,” Johnny yelped.
“Ya leave them checkers be. - Murdoch! Ya gonna move or not?”
“Only two ways ya can go and I’ll git them checkers no matter.”
Murdoch gave Jelly a hard look and jabbed his checker forward a square.
Jelly shouted gleefully and jumped Murdoch’s remaining checkers. “Ya owe me one dollar and fifty cents, Murdoch,” he chortled triumphantly. He held out his hand. “Pay up.”
Murdoch reached into his pocket and dropped the money into Jelly’s palm. He frowned at Jelly and got up to refill his drink.
“Wanna go for even seven games, boss?”
“Seven is not an even number, Jelly.”
“Don’t need ta be even ta be lucky.” Jelly was smug with triumph.
“No, Jelly, I do not want to play.”
“Jelly, it’s not good to gloat,” Johnny said, thinking his father was not in the mood for it.
“That’s good advice, Jelly, and stop while you’re ahead,” Murdoch said, pointing a long finger in Jelly’s direction.
Johnny smiled and walked to the liquor cart to pour a glass of tequila. He brought the glass up to his lips and took a sip. He closed his eyes and savored the fire flowing down his throat. He was bringing the glass up for another drink, when he looked towards his father’s desk. He froze, his hand midway to his mouth. He stared at the desk and said, “Murdoch, you didn’t use that on Scott, did you?”
“Use what on Scott?” Murdoch asked, perplexity registering on his face.
“That.” Johnny pointed a shaky finger at the folded belt stained with white paint.
“No, Johnny.” Murdoch walked up to his son, laid a hand on his shoulder and whispered, “Well, not much anyway.”
“Murdoch!” Johnny was shocked.
Murdoch smiled and stepped away. “Is that why you’re back early? You were afraid I did something to your brother?”
“Well, Murdoch, I didn’t know. I mean, with how you looked when I left, ah, all white and angry and everything.”
“Scott can sit just fine, Son,” Murdoch chuckled. “It has been a rather stressful day and he decided to read a bit.”
“Good, Murdoch, good. Uhm, I think I’ll just go up and see him for a bit, then go to bed.”
Murdoch nodded, his eyes glimmering with something Johnny had not seen before. Certainly his father wouldn’t let Scott off with just a talking to. But then, Murdoch’s ‘talking to’s’ could be pretty intimidating.
Johnny walked over to the desk and picked up the belt. He could see immediately that it was old and the ingrained paint marred the length of the brittle leather. “You want me to throw this away, Murdoch? Not much good for anything.”
“No, Johnny. I think I’ll keep
it.” Murdoch ambled over and took the belt from Johnny’s hand, folded it into a
loop and brought it against the desk lightly. “John, I want you and Scott to
stop these tricks and practical jokes and trying to get even, do you
Johnny watched his father slap the belt across his large hand, imagining how hard that belt could land with that powerful arm behind it. “Sure, Murdoch,” he replied nervously. “I guess it is kind of acting like a kid, isn’t it?”
“Yes Son. It is rather childish.” Murdoch cuffed the belt once more on the desk. “I think I’ll just hold onto this for a while. You never know just when it may come in handy. ----- You’d better go up and see Scott, Son.”
Johnny finished his drink, looked at his father and smiled. “Good night Murdoch.”
“Good night, Son.”
Johnny headed for the stairs but stopped halfway across the room. “Murdoch?”
Johnny bit at his lips, looked intently at his father and shrugged. “Nothin’. Good night.”
“Good night.” He watched his son take the stairs two steps at a time.
“You figure that’s gonna stop them playin’ tricks on one t’other, Boss?”
“Oh, Jelly, for a few days probably, maybe even a week. I don’t expect much more than that. They know I’m not serious, not really.”
“T’wouldn’t be so sure on that, Boss. Was lookin’ for ya to take more out of Scott than ya did.”
“Maybe just thinking it is enough, Jelly.” Murdoch sat down once more by the checkerboard. “Besides”, he said wistfully, “they’re not little boys, they are grown men.”
He clapped his hands together, shaking himself from a past he could not change. “Come on, Jelly. I’ve got another two bits I can lose, but don’t be too sure you’ll get it.”
Jelly smiled broadly, rubbed his hands together and set up the checkers.
Murdoch relaxed back into the chair and grinned thoughtfully. “Scott may have gotten his revenge after all Jelly.”
“Johnny has wanted to take Lillian Simpson out for weeks, finally got the courage up to ask her, and he comes home early. It would be my guess that he spent most of the night thinking about Scott.”
“Hmm – hadn’t reckoned it that way.”
“I wonder if either of them will. – Well, be prepared for defeat Jelly. I feel renewed.”
“Black or red, Boss?”
“I’ll keep the red. Black isn’t my color.”
Jelly sharply looked at Murdoch, then chuckled. “White ain’t neither, Murdoch.”
into the room, and leaned his shoulder against the door trim.
He pondered briefly if Scott would want company but decided to jump in anyway.
Scott looked up and smiled, his blue-grey eyes bright. “Hey yourself. Come on in.” He was lying on the bed, fully clothed, stocking feet crossed at the ankles, a large open book held in his hands.
With a grin, Johnny ventured into the room, searching his brother’s face to determine what kind of mood he was in. That Scott had smiled and invited him in wasn’t necessarily a sign of good humor. Johnny’s former life demanded that he read people quickly; however, his brother’s natural reserve made him elusive. There was also the fact that he was a truly honorable man, and Johnny hadn’t seen many of them in his lifetime. But, Johnny thought he was getting a grasp of what went on in that Harvard educated mind.
“How was the dance, Johnny? You’re home early, aren’t you?”
“Music was flat, food was greasy and Lillian’s old man was the third partner in every dance.” Johnny smiled and flopped on the side of the bed. “Couldn’t snuggle close enough to even get a smell of her, much less get a good hold on her.”
“The good reverend being protective?”
Grunting, Johnny remarked, “Hell, Scott, he was worse than Mrs. Moyer was when I went out with her daughter, and she thought Clara would get with child just by my touching her.”
“Must be your dark mysterious persona, Little Brother.”
“I ain’t shown those girls any of my person-a, Scott,” Johnny protested. And then grumbled, “Haven’t been alone long enough with either one of them.”
“Persona is your public image,” Scott chuckled, batting Johnny lightly on the arm, “not your person, albeit that may be a small reason.
“My ‘person’ ain’t small!” Johnny declared indignantly.
A peculiar expression appeared on Scott’s face and he cocked an eyebrow. “You know that muscles atrophy after a while without use. Maybe it is degenerating.”
Johnny smiled widely at Scott. “Yeah, I would say my muscle is a trophy.” Then he frowned. “Don’t know anything about generating, though. Hope I don’t have any kids out there I don’t know about.”
Throwing his head back, Scott laughed, his eyes watering through an occasional snort. He rubbed his eyes, glanced at his brother and insight registered on his face. “You understand more than you let on, Johnny. But thanks for the laugh. I needed that.”
Johnny shrugged. “Didn’t know all them words you were using, but figured you weren’t giving me a compliment. Thought I’d use what I could to my advantage.”
he saw affection playing across his brother’s face, and his stomach did a little
flip flop. Unease shouldered its way into his mind mixed with pleasure and he
bowed his head, puzzled by his feelings. When he looked up, Scott was watching
him, his grey eyes gentle and a small smile on his lips.
He realized abruptly why he hadn’t cared about the dance or Lillian or the food or the music. Scott was becoming more to him than just a man who shared the same father. Somehow, when Johnny wasn’t paying attention, his brother had crept in and become an important part of his life and that scared the hell out of him.
“You okay, Johnny?” Scott’s softly toned question mustered him from his reflections.
Johnny attempted to shake his unsettled feelings. “I should be asking you that, Scott,” he lightly quipped.
Intense eyes gleamed back at him, and Johnny felt as if his brother was peering into his mind – successfully. Johnny frowned and Scott looked away. Awkward moments ticked by as Johnny fumbled with the toggles on his shirt. Finally he said, “That was quite a trick you tried to play on me. Very sneaky, Boston.”
“It was, wasn’t
it?” Scott smiled broadly, obviously pleased with himself. “It would have
worked, too, if you left when you said you were going to. I should have planned
for all contingencies.”
“Them contingencies will get you every time, Boston.”
“They do indeed, Johnny.” Several more moments passed, and this time Scott broke the silence. “No hard feelings?”
“Hell no, Scott! I was wondering what took you so long, all the crap I pulled on you.” Johnny swatted at a piece of dust that floated in the lamp light and grinned at Scott. “You’ll just have to plan for anything and everything the next time.”
“Knowing that Murdoch will frown on any sort of future acts of reprisal, I’ll just say that is sound advice and will take it into consideration,” Scott said teasingly.
lightly, Johnny scanned the room before settling back on his brother. “So, what
did Murdoch do to you?”
“Fixed me dinner.”
Johnny’s face registered doubt. “He fixed you dinner?”
“Yes, it was really quite good. Murdoch does do well in the kitchen. They were leftovers, but he threw them together nicely. Very tasty.”
Scott. He did more than fix you dinner,” Johnny remarked skeptically.
A smug expression appeared on Scott’s face. “Actually, he also fixed a very fine dessert. There were some ripe peaches and Murdoch poached them in brandy and sugar. Excellent.”
Johnny didn’t say anything for a while, but stared at his brother totally unconvinced. “You plaster him with white wash and you’re telling me all he did was make you dinner and cook you dessert? I don’t know that old man as well as I should, but I know enough that he did more than that.” Johnny tilted his head and smiled wickedly. “What about that belt I saw lying on the desk?”
“What about it?”
“He was slapping it around on the desk when I was down there. Seems to me he had some practice before that and he looked to be enjoying it.”
Scott relaxed back into the pillow. “Johnny, you know good and well that Murdoch wouldn’t use that on me. I for one am too old and mature. Now you, Little Brother, are another matter.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not the one who white washed Murdoch Lancer. And when I left you didn’t look too sure that you’d see another day.”
Scowling at Johnny, Scott said huffily, “I can assure you that I would not allow that to happen.”
“Scott! He’s a big man and can take both of us pretty easy. Wouldn’t be much for him to do it.”
“I’m telling you he would not dare use it.”
“Is that right? You tell him that?”
“ It was an unspoken understanding.”
“Pffff – I bet it was unspoken, Boston. You wouldn’t have the guts to speak it!” Johnny suddenly had an idea on how he could get his brother to tell him what Murdoch said to him. “I asked Murdoch if he used it on you and he said no at first. And then he said, real low so Jelly couldn’t hear, ‘not too much’.”
“He did not use it on me, Johnny,” Scott stated flatly, seemingly wanting to end the discussion. “He probably was just attempting to intimidate you.”
“I’m not the one with the intimidated sore ass, Scott.”
“I was not intimidated nor was, is my ass sore, Johnny,” Scott said through gritted teeth. “Unless you consider the pain I’m looking at right now.”
“Boston, you may think you’re above getting a swat on the rear, but I don’t believe Murdoch thinks you are. Now what he do?”
Scott sighed heavily, apparently realizing if he did not tell Johnny what happened, he’d be at him all night. “He told me to clean his clothes, which Teresa and Maria kindly did. Jelly volunteered to clean his boots and I tried to clean the belt; which I am going to replace.”
“What makes you think there is something else?”
“Cuz,” Johnny said impatiently, “Murdoch wouldn’t let you off so easy and I know there’s more.” A sly look came over Johnny’s face. “It could get out, you know, that he used the belt.” Johnny voiced the words slowly and with all seriousness. “Just think of what some of the hands would do with that information.”
“Yup, that’s what it is,” beaming his best smile back at his brother.
“You wouldn’t do something like that.” Scott’s manner was hopeful.
Johnny lowered his eyes and picked at the bedspread. “No, I wouldn’t - maybe.” Glancing back at Scott, he spread his arms and pleaded, “Just tell me, Scott. If he’s got you on extra chores, I’ll notice anyway.”
“Why does it matter so much, Johnny?”
“Because I had a lousy time at the dance,” Johnny exclaimed. “Because I didn’t taste the food or hear the music or care about Lillian and all I could think of was how you were handling Murdoch. You got back at me, Scott, without trying and what happens to you matters?” Noticing Scott’s surprised expression, he added offhandedly, “And I’m sorry about the tail clips.”
Scott stared at Johnny before bowing his head, seemingly at a loss for words. A warm blush spread over his face all the way to his blond roots.
“You’re all red, Boston.”
Smiling, Scott sighed. “One of the downfalls of having a light complexion. Makes it hard to hide your feelings sometimes.”
for a good gunfighter.”
“No, I don’t imagine that would be a good trait,” Scott remarked drolly.
“So, what did Murdoch do?” Johnny pursued.
“You don’t let up, do you Little Brother?” Scott’s manner was light, easy and that affectionate look was on his face again.
“Nope, not when it comes to a stubborn bone head like you.” Johnny felt that stomach tumble thing once more when he gazed at his brother, but this time it was only pleasant.
“Well, I am to white wash the chicken coop, outhouse, ice house, and the wooden storage shed and I am to buy the white wash. This is all to be done on my own time. Murdoch had the foresight to give me a time limit, probably figuring if he didn’t, I would be an old man before I would get it done.”
Johnny clasped his hands around his knee and rocked slightly on the bed. “How long is he giving you?”
“One month. I
figure it will take one month of weekends and evenings to get it done.”
“Oh, at least that, Scott. If it don’t rain.” Johnny became thoughtful before venturing, “So, do you um, think he would have used the belt?”
Slate grey eyes gazed back with immeasurable warmth, reflecting a sure knowledge that their father would never humiliate them in such a way. “He wouldn’t do that, Johnny. He is not that kind of man.”
Johnny nodded slowly. “No, he wouldn’t.” Smiling fondly, he asked, “So, you want some help on that white washin’?”
“Sure. Way I
see it, I’m partly to blame.”
“How is that, Johnny?”
“Well, if it weren’t for the tail clip thing and all the other stuff along the way, you wouldn’t have put the paint can up there.”
“That is true, Johnny,” Scott smiled indulgently. “However, I did not crumble, and in fact, it made me more determined to succeed. Besides, notwithstanding that I have had no previous experience in this aspect, I do believe that’s what brothers do to one another.”
Johnny grinned broadly understanding that his Boston bred brother didn’t feel he was better than anyone else, just maybe sounded that way sometimes. “You just can’t help it, can you, Scott?” he remarked, affection for this man thumping him harder than he could ever have expected.
“Can’t help what, Johnny?” It was apparent that Scott was completely perplexed.
“Just being you,” Johnny drawled as he cuffed him lightly on the leg.
“Hmmm. I take it you are referring to my manner of speech?”
“Yeah, Boston. That’s one of my referrings. – So, back to the paint. You want help or don’t you?”
“Yes. I do. And thank you.”
A light knock on the door interrupted their conversation. The door opened and Murdoch stepped into the room. “Boys, it’s late. Morning comes early. I’d advise you to get some sleep.”
“Yeah, Murdoch, you’re right. I was just thinking the same thing. Night, Boston.” Johnny got up from the bed and walked to the door.
“Good night, Johnny.” Scott closed the book and sat up, hanging his long legs over the edge of the bed.
“Night Murdoch,” Johnny said as he passed his father.
“Good night, Son. Sleep well.”
“Like a baby, Murdoch.”
Johnny slipped into the hallway and crossed to his room. Murdoch turned to Scott. “Scott, I do hope you and your brother talked about stopping these tricks.”
“Yes, sir. The topic did come up and we agreed that you would like to see them stopped.”
Murdoch raised an eyebrow, gave him ‘the look’ and said sternly, “Don’t try to double talk me, Son. You won’t win.”
“Ahhh, yes sir.”
Knowing the spirit of young men, and that it was impossible to halt good natured jokes and silly tricks, Murdoch smiled inwardly and decided the wisest thing to do was stop while he was still ahead. “Oh, by the way, there is another can of white wash in the barn. Might want to get started on painting those buildings tomorrow.”
He started to close the door but turned back to his son who had risen from the bed and was unbuttoning his shirt. “Good night, Scott.”
Scott’s clear eyes met his father’s, and he smiled. “Good night, sir.”
Murdoch stepped into the hall and shut the door. He glanced towards Johnny’s room, bowed his head and smiled. He would have loved to have heard the conversation between his sons. He chuckled, remembering the look of unbelief and horror on Scott’s normally very poised face when he walked through the barn door covered with white wash. Even through his intense anger, Murdoch had felt a stirring of pity. ‘And Johnny’s look,’ he pondered. His self-assured, cocky son for the first time looked bemused and almost – vulnerable. Their reactions made the whole episode almost worth it to see his ‘very adult’ children looking scared to death of their father. He shook his head and ambled thoughtfully towards his bedroom. Being a father to two young men certainly had its ups and downs.