Secrets - WHN Legacy
Many thanks to my beta, Cobalt Jan.
Secrets - WHN Legacy - Part 1
Ping! ------ Ping! ----- Ping! ----- Ping!
It was the soft ping that stirred him. A sound scarcely there, much like his mind. Gradually, the ping took form from a barely heard drop, becoming a strong metallic chink. The noise, mildly irritating, intruded into his foggy brain. But when the dull thump of his skull started to compete with it, he struggled for awareness. With each beat the pings became sharper as did the throbbing of his head resulting in an unbearable drumming until the pain overtook everything. He heard a groan. Wondered where it came from. Then realized it was his own pain-filled cry.
He tried to open his eyes and couldn’t. His whole body felt weak and heavy. Slowly he managed to move a hand to his face, and touched cloth. That’s why he couldn’t see; something was over his eyes. He plucked at it until a large hand took hold of his wrist.
“Son, you need to leave the bandage in place,” a deep voice said. The voice’s hand firmly placed his arm down beside his body.
He felt the large hand move in underneath his head and lift it up. “Drink this. You’ll feel better.” A glass was pressed to his lips. He jerked away at first from the bitter tasting liquid. “It’s laudanum, it will help with the pain, Scott. His father held him tightly until the liquid was gone.
Soon, the laudanum did what it was supposed to. He felt the heavy drag of the drug. His headache was still there, but didn’t seem as important. His body was still dead weight, but he simply didn’t care. The world was remote, almost drifting, but pleasant as he melted into unconcern.
When he stirred again, the hollow ping of something dripping on metal was still heard, but the boom of his head was greatly diminished. Something was still over his eyes, and he tried to move his hands to touch the bandage but could not. After a few confused moments he realized he had been tied. Unnerved, he struggled against the restraints, until he recognized the soft whispering of his sibling.
“Easy, Brother. It’s okay.” The warm voice tried to impart comfort and control.
Scott quieted slightly, trying to gather confused thoughts and random images as they floated through his mind. Green, shades of green tumbling by, blurring into blue and back to green again. He could only remember colors, turned to black. Black was the last color he saw.
“Untie me,” he mumbled thickly, alarmed at the sandpaper in his throat.
“I will. I will. But tell me, Scott, do you know who I am?”
He struggled with the request. He knew who was talking to him, knew whose hand was on his arm. He knew the question and how to answer it, the words hovering, mist like, just beyond the ability to speak them.
“Scott, I need you to focus.” The voice urged, his grip tightening. “Tell me, Scott. Who am I?”
He caught his breath and grappled to collect the word his mind was forming but his tongue would not speak. He breathed in forcefully, but could not expel his brother’s name. His lungs caught, frantic, unable to force the air out, his tongue flicking the roof of his mouth. He struggled, alarmed that he could not speak his brother’s name.
“Take it easy,” the familiar timbre soothed. “It’s okay, Scott, it’s okay.” A hand touched his forehead, and he jerked.
“Murdoch,” his brother called. “Murdoch, he’s awake.”
He heard quick, solid footsteps approaching; hard long-strided thumps on a wooden floor. Although he could not see his father, he knew the large frame as it settled on the bed; his father’s scent of worn leather and dried alfalfa drifted down to him.
“He hasn’t said my name, Murdoch. I don’t know if he knows who I am.” Scott could hear the concern in his brother’s voice.
“Son.” His father said the word tenderly, like a caress. “Do you know who I am, Scott?”
He nodded, turning his face towards his father. “Please, untie me.” His voice was raspy and dry; his throat felt like a cactus, prickly. He felt his father move on the bed, and put his hand behind his head to bring it up. Again a glass touched his lips, but he firmly closed his mouth, refusing to drink any more laudanum.
“It’s just water; there’s no medicine in it. Drink it.”
He hesitantly opened his mouth and sipped. The water was cool and refreshing and he drank the entire glass. His father laid his head back onto the pillow. “Son, do you know who I am?”
“You are my father.”
He could hear a sigh of relief. “Good, Son, good ---- What is your brother’s name?”
The water had helped to clear his throat and his tongue didn’t feel so heavy and clumsy. “It’s Johnny. His name is Johnny.”
His father patted his arm. “How do you feel, Scott?”
“Why do you have me tied? Untie me Murdoch.”
“You were picking at the bandages in your sleep, Son. You have to keep your hands away from your eyes. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I understand. What’s wrong with my eyes?” Anxious thoughts of blindness scurried through his mind, trailed by flashbacks of a bitter confrontation. He had been angry about something, very angry.
“It happened when you fell from the wagon, Scott. Do you remember falling, Son?”
Scott tried to think, concentrating, trying to recall what had happened, but remembered only rolling colors. “I don’t remember Murdoch. Just untie me,” he said frustrated.
He felt his father’s hands on his wrist untying the cloth, freeing his arm. Someone else was at his other wrist, and he assumed it was Johnny. He wanted to touch his eyes, to make sure they were still there, but didn’t.
“Can I see?” Scott asked, fearful of the wrong answer.
“You took quite a tumble when you fell and a lot of dust got into your eyes. Sam said there was a small abrasion on your right eyeball; he seems to think a twig or branch may have scraped that eye. Sam just wanted you to rest your eyes for a while.”
“How did I fall?” Scott moved his hands across the cover, feeling the threads of the quilt. It didn’t feel like the spread on his bed and suddenly Scott recalled the sound of his father’s footsteps on a wooden floor; his room was carpeted. “Where am I?”
“We’re at the Carlson’s, Scott.” It was his brother’s voice.
“Why are we at the Carlson’s?” he asked, turning his head towards where he thought his brother was.
“When you were --- when you fell, it was closer than Lancer.” Scott heard the worry in Johnny’s voice.
There was suddenly an ugly nudge, an awful vision, and Scott’s head started to ache at the recollection. He brought his hand up to rub it against his brow, but someone gripped it; his father.
“You have to leave the bandages alone, Scott,” his father reminded him.
“I will, Murdoch, I just, I was just going to touch my head. . . . . When can I get the bandages off my eyes?” He lay back on the pillow and dropped his arms, sighing heavily, disturbed at what he was able to recall.
“Sam should be here this afternoon, a couple of hours, Son,” Murdoch added, realizing that Scott didn’t know if it was morning or evening.
“How long have I been here? What happened?” Scott asked. Brief flashes of leaving the ranch behind rushed through his mind, and the parting from his family; Teresa saying they didn’t want him to leave, Johnny angry, Murdoch almost resigned, and Jelly huffy. How long ago was it that he had been in that wagon, leaving Lancer? But something else happened after that, and he felt a fearful urgency about whatever had occurred.
“You’ve been here just a day, Scott, from yesterday afternoon until now.” Scott could hear the hesitation in his father’s voice. He sensed Murdoch wanted to say more, or maybe ask more, but was almost afraid to.
“What happened, Murdoch? Why did I fall?” Scott’s tone was demanding as he searched for and found his father’s arm, clutching it with insistence. “Something happened.”
“Calm down, Scott,” Murdoch soothed. “Everything’s all right.”
Suddenly Scott remembered; hearing a gunshot, somersaulting from the wagon and seeing green, blue, green and finally black; the green of the grass, the blue of the sky, and the sharp emerald of the bushes as he rolled over and over down the hill, followed by nothing.
“Grandfather!” Scott tried to rise from the bed, stopped by his father pushing him down, but continuing to struggle against the strong arms that held him. His grandfather had been beside him in the wagon!
“Scott, your grandfather is fine. He is not hurt; he’s at Lancer.” Murdoch desperately tried to reassure his son, tightening the grip on Scott’s arms. “He’s fine, Scott. Your grandfather is not hurt.”
Finally registering what his father was telling him, Scott stilled, the deep sound of his breathing the only thing heard in the room. He lay heavily back onto the bed, still clutching his father’s arms. His breath calmed and once again he heard that soft ping. It was almost restful now, ping – ping – ping. It steadied him, its rhythmic timing reminding him of his piano lessons in the mahogany music room of his grandfather’s mansion. Scott could envision the rich drapery, smell the polished wood, and hear the melancholy minor chords sounded over and over again on the beautiful Grand. He realized he still held on to his father, and embarrassed at his perceived weakness, he let go of his father’s arms. But his father did not release him, and somehow those strong hands holding onto him comforted Scott very much. But it had taken so long to feel those hands, and Scott marveled that it would still matter.
He heard a door open and someone else came into the room, the tread heavy but not as long as his father’s. Murdoch let go of his son’s arms and rose from the bed. Scott could smell the sweet odor of tobacco, and heard a soft click that he couldn’t identify. He felt someone sit down on the side of the bed where his father had just been.
“Scott, it’s Sam. How are you feeling?” A hand took hold of his wrist.
Scott ran his tongue over his lips, gathering the feel of his body. Nothing hurt unbearably; there was a niggling pain in his head and if he lay still, there was no reminder of a hurt. He felt spent and a bit distant.
The doctor released his wrist. “I need to check your ribs, Scott.” Scott felt warm hands pressing on his ribs and he sucked in painfully, surprised that there was something that ached and fiercely. He brought his hand up and caught Sam’s arm, trying to push it away.
“Sorry, Scott. You’ve got quite a few bruises and the laudanum is wearing off. We’ll need to give you some more shortly. I want to keep your pain under control and you need to sleep.”
Scott pulled away from a hand that touched his forehead, edgy that he couldn’t see what was happening. Sam’s hand rested momentarily on his brow. “I’m just testing for fever ---- it’s slight Scott. How’s your head? I need you to answer me, Scott.”
“It’s okay. Just a dull ache.” Scott brought his hand up to the side of his head above his temple. That’s where it hurt the most, and his fingers encountered another bandage, bulky and awkward. He moved his legs and his limbs knotted in protest. He moaned involuntarily at the pain as the laudanum continued its slow withdrawal from tender muscle and sparking nerves. Scott felt something touch his bare chest and he wondered distractedly if he was clothed. His body protested once more as he tried to shift, but a low, “Be still, I’m listening to your heart” brought compliance.
The instrument stopped its slow passage across his chest and he felt Sam turn slightly on the bed. Scott heard another light rustling noise, but couldn’t identify it and then another soft click. It was Sam’s medical bag being shut, Scott surmised, and he had put the stethoscope away.
Scott heard a door open and the heavy swish of material as well as the light tread of footsteps told him a woman had entered the room. Mrs. Carson? Sam’s “Thank you, Millie,” confirmed to Scott that indeed it was Mrs. Carson. He heard objects being moved close to his ear and the distinct swish of water in a container.
“Mrs. Carson?” Scott ventured.
“Yes dear. It’s me.”
“Is there water dripping from somewhere?” The former torturous but now comforting ping he heard he thought may be water falling on metal.
“Our outside pump drips, Scott. It’s just outside the window. The water is hitting a metal channel. We don’t even hear it anymore; it’s been dripping so long. Does it bother you?”
“No ma’am, it’s fine now. I was just wondering what the sound was.”
“You rest, Scott, and maybe you can sample some of my apple crisp later. My Jasper says it’s the best in the state.” He felt the brush of warm fingers upon his hand, and the pleasant scent of vanilla drifted to him. Although the thought of eating anything made his stomach protest, he was soothed by her touch. The brush of fabric upon fabric and departing light footfalls marked her progress as she left the room.
Scott felt Sam’s hand on his bare belly, and he sensed his face blush and warm. He wondered again how he was clothed and thought of Mrs. Carson’s presence. He could only feel bed linens against his skin as Sam pushed here and poked there, trying to elicit what? Scott was getting irritated until Sam asked him, “Any discomfort in your stomach, Scott?”
“Only you, Sam,” he muttered, which brought a chuckle from the doctor.
“Well, it’s good to see you still have your humor, son,” Sam stated lightly.
Scott recognized Johnny’s soft laughter in the background and wondered why his brother was being so quiet. Scott felt a tug of guilt when he thought of Johnny, but it shuffled away when Sam spoke.
“Does he remember anything?” Sam’s question, obviously not directed to him. Scott vaguely thought he should be resentful of that, but thinking about it made his head start to ache more so he let it go.
“He seems to be able to recall bits and pieces, but I’m not sure how much he actually remembers,” Murdoch replied. Scott heard an odd trace of indecision in his father’s voice, but he was too weary to think more of it.
“He’ll eventually remember everything; probably the next time he wakes up it will be much clearer. The head wound and fall has muddled his brain some, but I’m pleased with his progress. Now son,” Sam directed his attention back to Scott, “I need to look at your eyes. You’ve got a slight scratch on one of them and I washed out lots of dirt. I need to put in some drops and it might sting a bit, okay?”
Scott nodded, anxious to make sure he could still see. Again he heard a soft click; Sam had reopened his bag and Scott could hear the tinny sound of metal instruments bumping together. He felt a slight thin pressure on the side of his head followed by a snip, pause, snip, pause; Sam was cutting away the bandage from his eyes and Scott felt the cloth release.
“Johnny, draw the drapes until I tell you to open them,” Sam requested.
Scott could hear the ring of Johnny’s spurs as he crossed the room, and the swish of the drapes being closed. Scott felt Sam’s hands on the bandage and the cool air against his eyelids as the cloth was removed. A thick finger tracked across his forehead pushing bangs back from his brow.
“Scott, your eyes are matted shut a bit. I’m going to take some warm water and just dab at them, so lie still.”
Scott heard water swishing close to his ear; probably a wash basin, he thought as he heard water falling on water. Sam wringing something out? He flinched slightly as a warm, soft cloth touched his eyes, still fairly damp as warm liquid settled on his eyelashes. Sam did indeed ‘dab’, and Scott was amazed that those large, bulky fingers could be so gentle. He felt the hard matter soften, and he could once again move his eyelids.
“Okay, Scott, you can open your eyes now.”
Tentatively Scott’s eyelids fluttered open, the movement an irritation to his eyes. Even though the light in the room was subdued, he still blinked against the day until his eyes finally adjusted to the shadowed room. They felt scratchy, and his vision was blurry, like he was swimming under water. Scott moved to touch his eyes.
“Don’t touch them, Scott,” Sam said, sounding within inches of Scott’s face. “Okay, Johnny, open the drapes.”
The drapes opened, and Scott squinted against the brightness, closing his eyes tightly and turning his head away from the window. His head was starting to hurt from the movement, the light, and the fading laudanum. Sam allowed him a few moments to get used to the additional light. “Scott, open your eyes for me.”
He opened his eyes. “How do I look to you, Scott?” Sam asked, peering just above Scott’s face.
Squinting up at the doctor’s aged and lined countenance, his grey hair askew, and the old man’s leathery nose within inches of his own, he said the first thing that came to his mind. “Just another pretty face.” Scott heard Johnny’s laughter in the background, and thought he may have even heard his father chuckle.
Sam cleared his throat. “If you intended to be funny, you were. Now, if you’ll be so kind as to answer my question?”
“I can see you fine,” a relieved Scott replied.
“How do your eyes feel?”
“Scratchy. They feel sore.”
“I’m going to put some drops in them, and then I’m going to reapply the bandage. I want the bandage left on for another few hours at least. Murdoch, I’m going to give him some more laudanum and when he wakes up, you can remove the bandage but give him the eye drops three times a day after that, understand?”
“Yes, Sam. When can we move him back to Lancer?”
Sam scratched his chin. “Give him another day. If the headache is gone, you can move him. If not and the Carsons are agreeable, leave him here until the headache is gone.”
With the bandage back in place, and his eyes feeling much better, the rest of Scott’s body was starting to feel the aftereffects of the rolling pitch from the wagon as well as the injury to his head. He had not relayed the fact that he did recall the events of the past few days, most of them anyway: Julie leaving, his grandfather’s blackmail, his deep sorrow at leaving Lancer. He didn’t know how he had obtained his head wound, and didn’t want to know at this point. He was tired, in pain now that the pain medicine was indeed wearing off. If they would all just leave the room and let him be, he could sleep.
Scott could hear what sounded like metal hitting the sides of a glass. He felt Sam put his hand behind his head to lift it up and a glass touched his lips. “It’s laudanum Scott. Take it.” Scott closed his mouth tightly, hating the taste of the bitter liquid. “If you don’t drink it, Scott, I’ll give you a shot of morphine.” Scott opened his mouth to protest and Sam immediately tipped the glass, forcing the water down his throat.
When Sam finally released him, Scott sputtered, “You’re trying to drown me.”
“Hardly. Now, go to sleep. Murdoch, if his headache doesn’t clear up by tomorrow, you send someone for me. I’ll be by Lancer in a few days to check him out otherwise. He’ll be fine, I’m sure.” Scott again heard the soft click of Sam’s satchel and felt Sam take hold of his wrist.
It wasn’t long before Scott could feel the drug starting to take effect; the pain was subsiding. He brought his fingers up to the bandage and felt Sam’s hand on his wrist. “Has he been bothering the dressing?”
“Yes. We had to tie his hands before to stop it,” Murdoch replied.
“Well, they’re probably itchy and he does it without thinking much about it. Especially when the laudanum starts working; it’s more of a reflex than intent. Keep his hands away from them. The drug should settle him completely in a few minutes.” Scott felt the mattress move as Sam got up from the bed.
“I’ll see you out, Sam,” Murdoch said. Scott could hear their footsteps retreating from the room, and the click of the door as it shut behind them.
Where was his brother? He hadn’t heard the ring of Johnny’s spurs leaving the room. “Johnny, are you here?” Scott asked, uncomfortable with his inability to see.
“I’m here, Scott.” The low response came from the end of the bed. Scott jumped slightly, not expecting Johnny to be that close. “Didn’t mean to scare you, Brother,” Johnny said.
“I didn’t know you were that close.” Scott ran his hands lightly over the quilt that covered him, feeling the drag of the laudanum, but inexplicably needing reassurance from his brother. Scott didn’t even know what type of support he was looking for from Johnny, and maybe the comfort of his presence was enough. “You okay?” Scott asked, his words slow.
“I’m okay, Scott.”
Scott felt the bump of Johnny’s leg against his hip and the give of the mattress as he settled on the bed. Scott brought his hand up to his eyes, distractedly pulling at the bandage.
“Leave it alone, Boston,” Johnny said gently, grasping his wrist and holding onto it.
Scott turned towards Johnny’s voice, wanting to see his face, wanting answers before the drug buried him in sleep. “What happened?”
“The Deegans shot you, Scott.”
Scott ran his tongue along his lips, his mouth dry and almost numb. “You know about the Deegans?” he whispered.
“Yea, Scott. I know about the Deegans.”
“Does Murdoch know?” Scott could hardly get the words out.
“Yes,” Johnny said, “he knows.”
“Don’t worry about it Scott. Go to sleep.”
The low hum of Johnny’s voice lulled him to the edge of twilight. He hesitated stubbornly on the precipice, but Johnny’s tone was like warm honey and his strong hand encircling his wrist anchored Scott to a security he needed. Finally, he gave up and went to sleep.
Murdoch’s low baritone drifted over the room as he slowly walked in. “Is he sleeping?” He had been listening in the doorway to the conversation between his sons for several minutes.
“Yeah, he’s sleeping. Not real easy though.”
Murdoch stood at the end of the bed, a flicker of reproach lingering on his conscience as he took in his sons. He broached the subject first, knowing that it was in the back of Johnny’s mind. “You think I was wrong in letting him go?” Murdoch asked more forcefully than he had intended. He didn’t want to argue with his son, and in fact felt guilty in not doing more to keep Scott from leaving.
Johnny looked up at his father, trying to determine what the man was feeling behind the words. His father held his gaze, but there wasn’t the hard set to his jaw that indicated anger. His father didn’t appear mad, unless he was mad at himself. “Like I said, Murdoch, I think you could have tried harder.” The words were quietly said, not heated as they had been the day before when he watched the wagon move down the road; the wagon that carried his brother away from him.
Murdoch flinched and lowered his eyes, stuffing his hands into his pockets. His gaze drifted to Scott. His sleep was restless, his hands never completely at rest as his fingers twitched, then settled, then fumbled with the quilt.
Johnny caught Murdoch’s stare and put his hand over Scott’s, trying to hold the ever moving fingers still. For now, they were at rest.
“There’s more to it, Johnny. It’s not as easy as you think it is.”
“Didn’t say it was easy, old man. But I think you owe it to him, and maybe even me.”
The last words were murmured so low, Murdoch had to strain to hear them.
Murdoch strode to the window. The view was not as beautiful as the view from his desk at Lancer, but it was calming. The earth always affected him that way; the smell of prairie grasses, the taste of cool water, the ever-presence of its vastness. He loved it and garnered strength from it. But he didn’t know if it could give him enough strength to face the past and all of the ‘if onlys’ that haunted him. Still, he needed to try. What Johnny said was true; he owed that to his sons to try.
Murdoch stretched his back, trying to get the kinks out of it. It was sore and he limped slightly as he walked over to the bed. Johnny had let go of Scott’s hand and it immediately drifted to the bandage on his eyes. Once again Johnny brought Scott’s arm down and held on to it.
“We may need to tie him” Murdoch said.
“I’ll watch him.”
“He’ll sleep for hours, Johnny.”
Johnny shrugged. “I’ll watch him. I don’t want him tied.”
Murdoch nodded and stood awkwardly for a few moments.
Johnny looked up at him and smiled. “Why don’t you sit? He’s not going anywhere.”
“Well, I need to. I need to get back to Lancer and let Teresa and Jelly know what’s going on before they think they need to come rushing over here. They’ll be worried. Harlan too.”
Johnny sighed resignedly. He hadn’t thought of Teresa or Jelly and the others at the ranch who would be worried about Scott. He’d thought of Harlan, a lot, but not in the same way his father was thinking of him. Hard telling what Harlan had already told them about what happened to Scott. He also knew his father was tired and worried and should be the one to stay with Scott.
“I’ll go.” Johnny got up from the bed and glanced over at his father.
“I can go, Johnny. Your brother needs you.”
“Not as much as he needs you. Besides, bouncing around on that horse like you were yesterday didn’t do your back any good. I’ll go.” Johnny pulled at the stampede strap on his hat and set it on his head. He dragged a rocking chair close to the bed and said, “Sit”.
“Is that an order?” his father said lightly.
“Yeah.” A large smile lighted Johnny’s face, his eyes sparkling gleefully. “Yeah, that’s an order. Think I’m due giving a couple.”
Murdoch smiled back, easing himself slowly into the chair. “Think you’re right.”
Johnny walked across the room but stopped at his father’s, “Johnny.” He turned around with a question on his face.
“Don’t shoot Harlan, okay?”
Johnny grinned. “I’ll try not to.” Turning to leave, he stopped and addressed his father. “Murdoch?”
“Don’t tie him.” It was a request, not a demand.
Murdoch’s face softened. “I won’t, Johnny.”
Johnny turned and closed the door behind him. Murdoch could hear his spurs as he walked down the hall, the sound fading as his son moved further away from him. Murdoch didn’t like that idea, his sons getting further away from him. Self-reproach stabbed at him again as he remembered Scott going down the road, away from Lancer. How could he have let that happen? He’d given up too easily, as he had when Scott was a child. Johnny was right; he owed his sons an explanation. And no matter how difficult it would be that explanation would be given.
Murdoch remembered another wagon going down that same road almost twenty-five years ago. That was the last time he saw Catherine, her belly bulging with their first child. She didn’t want to leave, but he’d thought it was best. Too many dangers from land pirates, too much violence, and he didn’t want to jeopardize her life. But had he? By insisting she leave, was he responsible for losing the very thing he treasured most in life, his wife? That’s how he felt sometimes when he looked at Scott; that Catherine was dead because he hadn’t listened to her, thus leaving his son without a mother.
He thought of Harlan and how he had seemingly allowed Catherine to die in a wagon on a lonely road. Why had Garrett refuse help for her? The woman from Carterville told Murdoch that she hadn’t been allowed to take care of Catherine. Did Harlan know that Murdoch talked to that woman? Harlan loved his daughter, Murdoch was sure of that. There must have been reasons for his actions.
Scott’s soft moan drew his attention back to him as his son’s hand once again moved to his eyes. Murdoch’s fingers wrapped around Scott’s wrist and brought the arm down. As he did so, he noted the bandages on the head injury were crusted with dried blood. He wondered why Sam hadn’t changed the wrappings, but was confident that the old doctor knew what he was doing. The bullet had creased Scott’s forehead and several stitches were required to close the wound. If that bullet had been just a fraction closer, Murdoch would be burying his son. He shuddered at the thought and closed his eyes.
He noted Scott was sweating slightly, and squeezed out a rag that was left in the wash basin. The water had cooled and he drew the cloth across Scott’s chest and arms trying to impart comfort. The fact was he was getting comfort from the act. He’d never been there for Scott over the years. He imagined Scott had gone through the normal childhood diseases; measles, mumps, chicken pox as well as colds and other bumps and scratches little boys managed to get as they grew. He didn’t even know if Scott had broken any bones as a child! He knew he’d been in a prison camp during the war, but not because Scott told him. A visit from a stranger, a man trying to kill his son, had informed him of that unimaginable experience.
Murdoch continued what he was doing, squeezing out the rag, keeping Scott from pulling at the bandages, but other troubling thoughts intruded. Why didn’t Scott ask him about the incident with Deegan? Did he assume that Murdoch could cold bloodedly kill a man?
And Julie, why did she leave so abruptly? There was never an adequate explanation given for her nighttime departure. Julie had told Teresa she was not feeling well and did not come to dinner. Murdoch assumed that Julie was in her room that night when Scott announced he was going back to Boston. However, Murdoch learned later that, at Scott’s request, a ranch hand driven her to town.
The following morning as Scott packed, Murdoch asked about Julie. Scott’s reply had been abrupt with a gruff response that her father was ill and she needed to get back to Boston. Murdoch hadn’t thought anything more about it as his mind was troubled with Scott’s leaving until Jelly informed him that Frank drove Julie to town. After Scott left, Murdoch asked Frank about it. Frank said that Scott seemed very upset. Scott had obviously tried to control his temper, and it wasn’t aimed at Julie. Frank informed Murdoch that Scott had been, as always, a gentleman and had gone so far as to kiss Julie and thank her for everything. Julie said she was sorry, so sorry, but said no more as Frank was present. Frank had said the trip to town had been very quiet. Once in a while Julie would wipe away tears, but said nothing more and Frank did not ask.
Murdoch knew that Garrett tried to use Julie to get Scott to go back to Boston. Initially Murdoch thought it was just another of Harlan’s conniving schemes, but was there more to it? Did Julie truly love Scott, or did something else force her to Lancer? Murdoch could see that Scott was very fond of Julie. He became angry when he thought that Harlan had not only tricked his grandson through blackmail, but could be capable of hurting Scott through a woman he loved.
So many questions and most of them unanswered. Murdoch looked at his slumbering son. Scott seemed to be more at ease; his fingers were still and his breathing peaceful. Murdoch set the rag aside, and brought his hand slowly up to Scott’s forehead. He traced his own long fingers slowly across Scott’s brow, pushing sweaty bangs aside. Scott’s hair was the color of his mother’s, like the gold of ripened wheat. Murdoch relished absorbing his son’s features, the high cheekbones, long neck, and slender fingers. He smiled, always amazed at how that lean formed belied a surprising strength. Murdoch tucked Scott’s arms in under the quilt and brought it up to cover his shoulders.
Murdoch sat back in the chair and started to rock. He scrunched his body down so as to rest his head on the back of the chair and studied the ceiling. He was so tired. He thought of Johnny and that he must be at Lancer by now. Murdoch hoped Harlan was smart enough not to antagonize Johnny. He didn’t think Johnny would shoot him, but he might punch him. Murdoch smiled, almost wishing Harlan would do something stupid. He’d love to see Harlan with a broken nose or black eye. He chuckled at the vision.
He glanced over at Scott and saw he hadn’t moved at all. Hoping to rest his eyes for a few minutes, he closed them. The last thing he thought about was a black and blue Harlan. Within a few minutes, he was sleeping, the soothing ping of dripping water in rhythm with his soft snores.
Secrets – WHN Legacy – Part 2
Johnny was far from happy about going into town, especially given the fact that he felt like he was an errand boy for Harlan Garrett. Garrett needed to send several telegrams to Boston and for some reason didn’t think anyone on the Lancer ranch was intelligent enough to do it properly. With grudging reluctance Harlan consented that Johnny could possibly manage, after Murdoch volunteered Johnny to assist.
Ordinarily Johnny would have been pleased to get out of the drudgery of ranch work and enjoy a cool beer or two and maybe stop for lunch in one of the Mexican restaurants in Green River. However, doing anything for Harlan Garrett was almost enough to make Johnny want to take up his old profession. And what was his father thinking telling that nasty old bastard that he’d be glad to help!
His father had looked at him almost pleadingly; and that strange word ‘family’ thumped him in the face. ‘Damn’, he thought, ‘when does this get easier.’ This whole thing about ‘family’ was hard work, more work than Johnny was prepared for. It hurt more than a bullet, and was more dangerous than a man looking to take down Johnny Madrid. So, Johnny listened through the detailed instructions Garrett gave him, more than once as if he didn’t get it the first time. When Garrett asked Johnny if he should write it down for him, Johnny looked at Garret like he’d rather shoot him a couple of times. Harlan had enough sense not to push any further and backed off when Johnny’s cold stare silenced him.
Murdoch draped an arm around Johnny and walked out to the patio with him. “Thank you, Son, for doing this. I do appreciate it. I wanted to talk to Harlan about some things this afternoon, and your doing this for him will make that easier.”
Johnny glanced up at his father, and was going to make a smart remark, but noted how tired Murdoch looked. Instead, he swallowed the angry words and sighed. He played with the stampede string on his hat and thrummed his fingers on the side of his pants, trying to expel some of the frustration he was feeling.
“Johnny, I know he is a difficult man.”
Johnny let out a short laugh. “Murdoch, that’s about the nicest thing that can be said about that old coot.” Johnny paced a few steps back and forth in front of his father, stopped, and asked, “Just how long is he going to be here, anyway?”
Murdoch stuffed his hands in his pockets and shook his head. “I don’t know, Johnny. I think as soon as Scott is up to talking to him. I know it’s going to take a lot out of Scott to confront Harlan on what he did, but I think he needs to. Harlan still thinks that Scott truly belongs in Boston and until Scott can convince him otherwise, he’ll not let go of that idea.”
“Why does Scott even care, Murdoch,” Johnny hissed, his manner controlled but his voice tense. The whole concept of what Harlan Garrett tried to do to his brother was enough, as far as Johnny was concerned, to send the old man packing with orders ‘never to return’. In fact, Johnny thought he could make it a permanent ‘never to return’ without too much encouragement.
“He raised him, Johnny,” Murdoch said soothingly to his irate son. “Harlan took care of him, ---- he was a father to him.” Murdoch added those last words, hesitating before he let them go.
“Murdoch, I asked you a few days ago, that if you knew where Scott was all of the time, in Boston, why you didn’t get him. From what I’ve learned about Garrett, I’m betting he had something to do with that. Am I right?”
Murdoch hunched his shoulders and rolled his head. “I can’t lay it all on Harlan, Johnny. I should have done more.”
Johnny picked a flower off of one of Teresa’s roses and started pulling the petals off one by one. Murdoch watched the process, seemingly entranced by the gentle destruction of one of his ward’s favorite blossoms. Finished, Johnny flung the last petal to the ground, put his hands on his hips and looked at his father. He smiled slightly and bowed his head.
“You know, Murdoch,” his tone restful, “I’ve done lots of things I’m not proud of.” He brought his eyes back to his father’s. “But I can’t change the past. Sometimes, even if you think you could, could you?” He took his hat off and lightly slapped it against his leg. “I mean, sometimes things are thrown at you so fast and you just have to jump one way or the other without a lot of time to think on where you’re gonna land. But you land and look around, count the cost, and go on.”
Murdoch looked fondly at his younger son and smiled. “Well, Son, I am pleased that you have landed right and that you’re here.”
Johnny snorted slightly. “Didn’t say that Old Man. I said I landed, but not always right.”
Murdoch brought his large arm around Johnny’s shoulder and squeezed, causing a slightly embarrassed Johnny to remark, “Don’t get mushy on me, Murdoch. You’ve already got me going to town for Garrett.”
A deep chuckle came from Murdoch and Johnny smiled. He loved the sound of his father’s laughter; it was almost musical and made him feel settled.
So, feeling calmer than he had when the request to go to town had first been posed, Johnny took off for Green River.
By the time Johnny had gone to the telegraph office and made sure messages were duly sent, and done a couple of other errands for the ranch, it was time to enjoy a lunch of the spiciest tamales in town. Johnny relaxed into his chair and cooled the tasty meal off with a couple of beers.
He’d thought about his conversation with his father on his ride into town and knew that Garrett had somehow managed to intimidate Murdoch into backing off from bringing Scott home to Lancer when he was child. That was a new thought for Johnny; that his father could be intimidated. He couldn’t imagine that until he thought little more. In just a few short years, Murdoch had lost two wives and two sons, and was just starting to build Lancer. Probably didn’t have a lot of money at the time, Johnny guessed. So Harlan hit Murdoch hard when he was at a low point. Yup, Harlan threw something at Murdoch that he wasn’t expecting, and Murdoch had to jump one way or the other and land. So, he left Scott behind.
As Johnny sipped slowly on his second beer, he thought about Scott and figured a few things had been thrown at Scott as well; his mother dying when he was born, a father that apparently didn’t care about him, a war, a prison, and now his grandfather blackmailing him. If Scott would have just talked to Johnny about what his grandfather was doing, they could have bone together and asked Murdoch about the Deegan’s claim. Why didn’t Scott confide in him? Isn’t that what brothers were for, isn’t that what families were for? That word family again! Johnny was trying. His brother owed him to try as well and Johnny was determined to find out why Scott had not.
By the time Johnny was finished with his second beer, his foul mood was back. So, when he spied Lou Stevens coming from the livery stable, Johnny was in the right frame of mind to ‘talk’ to him.
While at the Carlson’s waiting for the laudaman to work on Scott, Sam had confided in Murdoch and Johnny about Ellie Stevens, a woman they all knew. She came to Sam for treatment of a broken arm, among other injuries, and claimed that she fell. This wasn’t the first time she’d been hurt, and Sam knew her husband, Lou, was beating her. Sam didn’t know what to do about it and was afraid Lou would kill her one of these days.
Lou Stevens’ spread wasn’t much more than a ‘scrub ranch’ and could barely support the few head of cattle they owned. Ellie didn’t have family to help her, no place to go and there was a little boy to feed. Lou wasn’t liked in the community; he had a nasty temper and was ‘mean nosed contrary’ as Jelly would say, so people tended to stay away from the family.
Murdoch suggested that Lancer would be able to take her and the boy in, but Sam thought she was too afraid to leave her husband. Johnny offered to ‘talk’ to Stevens, but Sam thought Lou might take it out on Ellie. Johnny said he could ‘suggest’ real nice. With a sound ‘no’ from Murdoch, Johnny dropped it. But seeing Stevens, Johnny thought maybe he could help anyway, and just not mention it to Murdoch. So with a smile on his face, he meandered down the street to talk to Lou.
“Hey Lou,” Johnny drawled, startling Stevens.
“Lancer,” Stevens said guardedly, and returned to loading his wagon with sacks of grain.
Johnny smiled, noting that Stevens jumped. “Didn’t mean to scare you,” Johnny said mildly.
Stevens grabbed another sack of grain and hoisted it into the wagon. “Didn’t hear ya Lancer. Snuck up on me.” He didn’t look at Johnny and seemed to be in a hurry to get the job done.
Johnny watched the man pick up the 50# bags of grain like they were nothing and toss them into the wagon. Johnny imagined Ellie being tossed like that grain, and remembered the bullies that used to beat him up when he was a kid. Lou Stevens reminded him of those bullies.
“Well, I do have that habit of coming up on folks quiet. Some things just hang on, from the past I mean.” Johnny’s voice was velvet soft and soothing.
Stevens glanced warily at Johnny. He was bigger than Johnny, but was afraid of him, though he tried not to show it. Before Stevens knew that Johnny Lancer used to be Johnny Madrid, he was disdainful of the ‘mestizo’, but wouldn’t call Johnny that to his face. When he found out about Johnny’s reputation, Stevens kept his mouth shut about him and tried to stay out of his way. Kept his mouth shut that is when he was sober; when drunk he was as stupid as he was nasty and gained ‘bottle’ courage, another Jelly term.
Johnny leaned in closer to the wagon so Stevens had to go around him to load the grain. Johnny didn’t move, and only smiled brilliantly as Stevens hoisted the bag and stepped around Johnny.
“Want something, Lancer?”
“No, no. Just passing the time of day, Lou.” Johnny smiled lazily and rested his back on the wagon sides. He rested his elbows on the top slat and raised his head to the sky, as if he was distractedly contemplating the movement of the sun.
Stevens walked around Johnny again with a grain sack and Johnny put out his foot, brushing Stevens lightly but enough to send him sprawling onto the dirt. There was sufficient force when he fell that the bag burst open, hurling brightly colored corn onto the brown, dusty street.
“Hey, sorry Lou. Guess my foot slipped. Here, let me help you up.” Johnny was all remorse as he gave a hand to Stevens and helped him to his feet.
“You okay?” Johnny asked, slapping dust off the front of Steven’s shirt.
“I’m fine,” Stevens grumbled, not sure at all that it was an accident, but baffled as to why Johnny would trip him.
“It sure is easy to trip and hurt yourself. You sure you’re okay? Didn’t hurt anything did you?” Johnny asked, being as solicitous as he could project.
“I said I was fine. I’m fine.”
“Well, I heard that Ellie tripped and broke her arm, and wanted to make sure you didn’t trip and break anything.” Johnny said his tone low and smooth. Stevens cautiously peered at Johnny. The smile was still there, but it was as cold as his blue eyes that seemed to crackle ice.
“Yeah, Lou,” Johnny continued, “wouldn’t want you to hurt anything. Especially when you seemed so jumpy and all by my coming up on you, quiet, you know?” Johnny shrugged lightly and glared at Lou. “Like I said, it’s a hard habit to break. Some things you never lose, walking quiet, shooting straight; I need to keep practice drawing fast, though. That you lose after a while, but I keep at it.”
Johnny stared at Stevens, and could see the man sweating more than he had been. Stevens glanced at Johnny, looked away and glanced back at him.
“You’re a little pale, there Lou. Want to sit down?”
“No, I’ve got to get home.” Stevens proceeded to gather up the corn that lay on the street and push it, dirt and all, hurriedly into the bag.
“Here, now, let me help you with that since I was the cause of you tripping.” Johnny helped pick up the corn and retied the bag with twine. “Got any more bags to load, Lou?”
“No, Johnny. Just these two and I’m done.” For a big man, Lou Stevens jumped onto the wagon seat very quickly. He started to flick the reins, but Johnny gripped them.
“You take care, Lou. Got to think of your family. But you can rest easy that if anything happens to you, Ellie and your boy would be welcome at Lancer.” Johnny looked steadily at Stevens. “Does that make you rest easy, Lou?”
“Yeah, Johnny. That sure is nice of you folks,” Stevens stammered, wanting to get the hell away from the former gunfighter.
“Good. Well, tell Ellie hi, for me. And you make sure to keep her safe, understand, that boy, too, Lou. She seems to bruise easy; you just need to be more careful to see she isn’t hurt.”
“I understand, Johnny. I’ll tell her hello.”
“Next time I see Ellie, I’ll tell her, if anything happens to you, she’s welcome at Lancer. Sometimes hearing that from the person offering makes it easier, know what I mean, Lou?” Johnny casually said. Johnny patted the horse’s butt, making the animal jump a little.
Johnny stepped in closer to Lou Stevens, and whispered menacingly, without any pretense of friendliness, “You and me got an understanding, Stevens?”
Stevens swallowed, and nodded. Johnny smiled, said “good”, and releasing the reins, he stepped away from the wagon. Stevens nodded again, clicked to the horses and went swiftly down the road towards home.
Johnny looked up at the sun and smiled. He knew Stevens had gotten the message. It seemed coming to town turned out to be the best thing to do after all. He almost laughed out loud when he thought that Harlan Garrett was responsible.
He gathered Barranca and started for home. He thought about Stevens and the ----- now what did Scott call it? ------ the ‘tactic’ he’d used on him. Didn’t need to come right out and tell the guy you’d shoot him, just ----- another word from Scott, ‘infer’ ----- yea, just infer that something might happen.
Hmmm, maybe he should try that tactic with Scott. Not shoot him, but just scare him a little bit. Nope, Johnny decided, wouldn’t work. Scott wasn’t afraid of him. Never had been which puzzled Johnny at first. Not that everyone he met was afraid of him, but some ruffley dressed Easterner should have been. The morning after their arrival at Lancer, Johnny told Scott that he wouldn’t look so pretty with ants crawling across his eyeballs. Scott only smiled back at him. Smiled! That grin threw Johnny. Then down by the river later that same day Scott punched him for not helping when three of Day Pardee’s men came after Scott. Who would have known a tall, skinny guy from Boston could pack such a wallop.
Johnny sighed. Who would have thought a tall, skinny guy from Boston could make such a difference in his life. Scott saved his life, killing Day Pardee before Day killed Johnny. Yup, old Scott was good at ‘tactics’, but so was Johnny. They had kept him alive, although Johnny didn’t call it tactics. To Johnny, it was just a plan, a plan of staying alive.
Johnny thought he could still use ‘strategy’, another one of Scott’s words. Scott had a sense of good that had gotten him into trouble on more than one occasion. If Johnny could somehow tap into that, make Scott feel that Johnny was disappointed in him, Johnny could get Scott to talk to him. That’s what Johnny would do.
“I have a right to see my grandson, Murdoch. How dare you keep him from me!” The absolute arrogance of the man astounded Murdoch. After everything that Harlan Garrett had put Scott through, as well as the rest of the family, he had the impudence to accuse Murdoch of trying to keep Scott and his grandfather apart.
“He’s tired, Harlan. We just got him home, and if you recall, he was shot.” Trying to sound as reasonable as he could, Murdoch noted that at least Garrett had the decency to lower his eyes at that statement. But his humility didn’t last long.
“I demand to talk to Scotty immediately.”
“You demand nothing, Harlan. Not now or not ever again.” Murdoch stuffed back his anger and with great control retorted, “When Scott says he wants to see you, I’ll let you know. Until then, you stay away from him, do you understand?”
“See here, you have no right …” Harlan sputtered, his fists clenched tightly.
“Take it or leave it Harlan. What’s more, if you insist on continuing your badgering and pompous behavior, I’ll escort you myself to the hotel in Morro Coyo.”
“You cannot separate me from my grandson!” Harlan’s eyes were large, his stance outraged.
“It appears to me that you’ve already done that” Murdoch replied coolly.
Harlan blinked and was silent for a few moments. “Scotty will get over it. He knows I was only doing what was best for him,” Harlan said, as if it was a given. His conceit was too much for Murdoch to bear and he lost his patience.
“By blackmailing him into returning to Boston! By using his love for Julie against him! Harlan, you claim to love Scott, and yet you treat him so badly. I don’t understand that kind of love; by hurting him that much and dismissing it with a ‘you were only doing what was best for him’. That is preposterous and I think you know that yourself.” Murdoch stressed those last few words by angrily jabbing his finger in Harlan’s face. Murdoch raised his arms in frustration and dropped them heavily to his side. He took a few steps away from Harlan, fearful that he would strike the man.
“You don’t understand, Murdoch.” The voice was Harlan’s, but the tone had changed considerably. Murdoch whirled around to make sure he was still looking at the same man. Harlan’s manner was almost appeasing, apologetic. He fumbled with his hands, putting them into his pockets and pulling them out again. He lowered his face and turned away from his son-in-law. “You don’t understand,” he repeated softly.
Taken aback by Garrett’s change in attitude, Murdoch was cautious, unsure of what Harlan was up to. “What don’t I understand?” Murdoch asked.
“Scotty, you don’t understand Scotty. He needs me. I know him so well, Murdoch, better than he knows himself.”
“Harlan.” Murdoch shook his head, trying to understand his wife’s father. There were so many questions he wanted to ask, no, needed to ask. But he could hardly talk to the man without becoming totally enraged. He took a deep breath and proceeded anyway.
“Harlan, I think that between us there can never be acceptance; there is too much animosity and bitterness on both sides. But I would like to think that for Scott’s sake, we can try to understand one another.
“You’ve deeply hurt Scott, but I don’t think any more than I by not contacting him for 20 years. I’ve excused my absence in his life by blaming you, but I am his father and he deserved more than that from me.” Murdoch looked Harlan in the face, not backing away from his own responsibility, or lack thereof, in his son’s life.
“You raised my son, and I am proud of him. Even though I had nothing to do with his upbringing he is a fine young man. But you don’t understand him as well as you think you do, Harlan. Why do you insist on trying to make him go where he does not want to go?”
“Because he’s mine. As you said, I raised him; I’ve cared for him since the time he was a baby. And he’s all I have of Catherine. When I look at him I see her; the way he walks, his smile, his eyes. Everything about her is reflected in him. I need him.” Harlan’s reply was adamant.
“But, what about what Scott needs? Doesn’t that count for anything?” Murdoch insisted.
“I will give him anything he wants!”
“Harlan, he wants to stay here. Why can’t you let him have that?” Murdoch’s tone was almost conciliatory.
“Because you owe him to me!” Harlan demanded fiercely, his tone impassioned. “You took my daughter; you owe me your son.”
Murdoch was speechless. It was just as he’d thought all along; Harlan felt he was due Scott. He walked to the liquor cabinet and filled two glasses liberally with Scotch. Taking a healthy gulp he walked toward Harlan, offering him the other glass. Harlan silently took it, and strode to the window looking out on the scene that Murdoch loved.
“Harlan, he’s not an animal to be bartered for.” Murdoch tried to sound as rational as he could. “Scott is his own man and has a right to make his own decisions. I loved your daughter and your daughter loved me. It was her choice to marry me and come to live here. I’m sorry, Harlan, but she had a right to live her own life, just as Scott does. Your manipulations with Scott could have killed him.”
Harlan took a sip of his drink, and continued to stare out the window.
Murdoch decided that now was as good a time as any to broach a sensitive subject. “Harlan, there is something I’ve wanted to ask you … about Carterville.”
Harlan turned around and faced Murdoch, wondering what the question could be.
When Harlan didn’t respond, Murdoch proceeded. “As you know, Deegan bushwhacked me on my way to Carterville. I understand you learned that from a Pinkerton report.”
Harlan looked away from Murdoch, seemingly not wanting to discuss the incident that he had used to try to force Scott to go back to Boston.
“Harlan,” Murdoch pursued, expecting an answer.
Not looking at Murdoch, Harlan clipped, “You know the details, Murdoch. You’ve obviously talked to Scott about it. In answer to your question, yes, the Pinkertons reported it to me.”
“I’ve not talked to Scott in detail, other than to ask him how you found out about it. I’ve not wanted to push him as he needs rest. However, I am assuming that report also mentioned that I was cleared of any wrongdoing and acted in self-defense?”
After a few seconds, Harlan finally answered. “Yes, the report also cleared you. And to answer the next question, which you obviously know, I did not inform Scott of that fact.”
“Any other reports I should know about?”
Harlan actually blushed at the question, much to Murdoch’s surprise. However, his answer was still a very self-assured “No, there are no other reports.”
“Well, just for your information, I have informed Scott that I was never charged with any crime and the matter was closed as a justifiable homicide.”
Harlan nodded, pursing his lips before he took another swallow of the liquor.
“I also understand that the Deegan brothers were here, at Lancer, the night Scott announced he was going back to Boston. If you don’t mind, I’d like to know how you got them onto Lancer without any of my men seeing them and why you picked that particular night to have them here.”
“What difference does it make now, Murdoch, to rehash what was done?” Harlan tersely said.
“It’s not my objective to argue with you Harlan. I’d just like the information for my own peace of mind. I can ask Scott if you’d rather, but I’m assuming that you would just as soon that the fewer reminders Scott has of that night, the better it would be for you.”
Harlan looked at Murdoch intently as if pondering his motive, and finally nodded. He held out his empty glass and Murdoch refilled it. The old man sat down in a chair and glanced up at Murdoch. “Julie was obviously having second thoughts about her role. I had a feeling I could not depend on her following through, so I instructed the Deegan brothers to come to the ranch that night. I told them that if anyone asked, they were to simply say they were looking for work. I was watching for them, saw them ride in, and met them. I told them to hide their horses in the orchard and to wait behind the wall by the patio. I took a chance that no one would walk by and discover them, and no one did. It was my intention to have them talk to Scott that night.”
Harlan picked at some imaginary lint on his coat and then continued. “My hunch about Julie proved correct. When she didn’t come to dinner because she said she was ill, I didn’t believe her. I went to her room and found her packing. We spoke for a few minutes and she left. Unknown to her I followed her, and overheard her conversation with Scotty.”
“Yes, Scott did tell me a little about the conversation with Julie, that you forced her to come here in exchange for not bankrupting her father,” Murdoch supplied matter-of-factly.
“I should have known better than to rely on her; she’s like her father, weak,” Harlan spat.
Murdoch clenched his jaw at the last statement, which Harlan obviously ignored. “That’s all, Murdoch. The Deegans were within earshot and they came forward.”
“And they told Scott that I murdered their father?” Murdoch’s question was stated calmly, far from what he was feeling.
“Yes.” Harlan raised his eyes to Murdoch’s, with not a sign of remorse in them.
“Was Julie present?”
“Yes, she was. Initially anyway. After a few moments Scott didn’t want to talk about the matter in front of her. The Deegans and I went into the garden and waited for Scott while he arranged that someone drive Julie to town. Then he joined us. ---- Actually, Murdoch, I was a bit worried that someone would discover us, but no one did.”
“How long were you in the garden?”
“Not long, maybe ten minutes.”
“So, it didn’t take you long to convince Scott that you were telling the truth?”
“Let’s just say that the Deegans were very convincing and leave it at that. I had paid them well.”
“Obviously not well enough, Harlan. It appears they wanted more.”
Harlan glared at Murdoch. “I had no idea they were that greedy and would try to rob me. I would never have put Scotty into physical danger,” Harlan retorted incensed by their treachery.
Murdoch chuckled. “It is impossible to depend on a black mailer these days, it would appear,” he said sarcastically.
Harlan frowned at Murdoch but apparently decided to let the remark go. He held the drink tightly in both hands and brought it up to his lips. The second glass was almost gone and he remarked grudgingly, “You do have excellent taste in Scotch, Murdoch.”
Murdoch once again refreshed the drink. Maybe liquor would make Harlan loosen his tongue for the questions that still remained unanswered. Harlan nodded an acknowledgement for the refill, but did not say thank you.
Murdoch wondered many things when looking at his former father-in-law. He was amazed that Scott seemed to have been untouched by Harlan’s self-important attitude and portentous feelings of superiority. Murdoch could only shake his head at the fact that this man had raised two people who turned out so opposite of what he projected and both of those people Murdoch loved deeply: Catherine and Scott.
Deciding to pursue another line of question Murdoch inquired, “I have another question about Carterville.” Harlan barely acknowledged the statement, with just a flicker of his eyes toward Murdoch and then looking quickly away.
“When I went to Carterville, I knew only that Catherine was ill. The telegram from Hank, the hand I sent with her, said nothing further.” Murdoch stopped, the memories of that day flooding in, still as painful as they were 24 years ago. He closed his eyes and blinked back tears. He glanced at Harlan and could not see his face. The glass in Harlan’s hand was gripped tightly, the other hand held his bowed head. ‘What is he remembering?’ Murdoch pondered.
“I went into Carterville looking for Catherine and you, and was directed to a woman who knew where she was buried.” Murdoch choked, “I can’t tell you how I felt when I learned in that way that my wife was dead.” Murdoch took a healthy drink and continued.
“We went to the grave and she mentioned that you made arrangements for a marker and for grass to be planted. She said you didn’t stay for the funeral. ----- Harlan, why didn’t you stay for your daughter’s funeral?”
Murdoch didn’t think Harlan was going to answer as the minutes dragged by, the old clock’s ticking becoming louder as the seconds elapsed. Finally, a ragged, “I couldn’t see her buried. I saw her die; I couldn’t stand to see her laid into that cold ground so far from home.”
Harlan swallowed, tightly. His whole manner was one of tenseness as if attempting to stave off any signs of weakness in front of his son-in-law. However, Murdoch noted his eyes tearing, but Harlan blinked them away quickly.
Murdoch eyed the man in front of him and for the first time in his life, felt pity for Harlan Garrett. He looked old and worn out. Murdoch topped off his own glass of liquor, as well as Harlan’s, and sat in a chair close to his father-in-law.
“She was so frail, Murdoch. She was my beautiful, delicate little girl. When I first held her, I thought my world was complete. I cherished her, loved her and admired the independent woman she grew into. And I held her as she died, one life gone and another one born. Alone in that awful wagon, all alone,” Harlan almost groaned. “And I couldn’t stop it. All of my money and power were nothing, and I would have given it all away, as well as my own life, to have had her live. It is all nothing.” Harlan bowed his head, this time unable to hold back the hated tears. He cleared his throat and took another long drink as if he were trying to bury that awful day with liquor.
Emptiness gathered, and the reality of how easily life could be broken. These two strong, wealthy, powerful men could control only material details but could not hold forever the true measure of what was important.
“Harlan”, the voice low as if afraid it would shatter fragile emotions. “The woman from Carterville said you wouldn’t let her care for Catherine. Why wouldn’t you let her help?” Murdoch’s voice didn’t carry any condemnation, just a need to know.
Harlan looked at Murdoch and seemed perplexed at his question. “I remember the woman, Murdoch. But it’s not exactly as you may suppose it is. You recall the arrangements were that I was to meet Catherine in Browns Valley, wait until the child was born and return to Boston. Your hired man sent a telegram to me the same time he sent one to you telling me that Catherine was ill and they had made it as far as Carterville. I immediately left for Carterville, which was about 20 miles. By the time I got there, Catherine had delivered Scott.”
Harlan ran his fingers roughly against his lips as if considering what he was going to say. “Carterville was a filthy, dirty little town, without a doctor. A woman helped Catherine through the delivery, and I’m assuming it’s the same one you talked to. The child was a couple of weeks early, Catherine was ill, there was no doctor available and I learned that there was a measles outbreak in the area. I was frantic. I did not want anyone attending to her who could be carrying measles. Catherine had measles as a child, but there was a grave danger to the baby. I was also concerned that in Catherine’s condition, she would not be able to nurse Scott. The woman offered to come along, I said no. She construed it as I didn’t want her to help; I did not want the child exposed to measles. I didn’t realize Catherine was as ill as she was, but I knew if Scott contracted measles, he would die.
“So, I did what I thought best. Your hand rented a wagon. I tried to make Catherine as comfortable as possible, and left for Browns Valley where there was a doctor. About half way there I noticed that Catherine had grown very pale and wasn’t moving. I touched her and she was ice cold. I took off the top comforter and there was blood everywhere.” Harlan hesitated. “I didn’t know what to do, Murdoch. We couldn’t jolt Catherine around on a bucking wagon by galloping down the road. So the hand unhitched the horse, and rode for a doctor. But Catherine died shortly after he left. She died as you said in a wagon on a lonely road outside of Carterville, but she was not alone.”
Harlan lifted haunted eyes to Murdoch. “Didn’t the hand tell you what happened, Murdoch? I don’t remember his name, you said Hank, but he worked for you. You trusted him with your wife?”
“I never heard from him, Harlan. Maybe he was afraid to face me; I don’t know. He was young. He was very fond of Catherine and maybe her death affected him so much that he didn’t want to return to Lancer. I guess I’ll never know the answer to that question.”
Harlan’s gaze wandered around the room before settling on Murdoch. “I don’t know if I would have done anything different Murdoch. I don’t know if I could have done anything different. When the doctor finally arrived, he said she would have died anyway. There was nothing he could have done to stop the bleeding. He said sometimes it happens in childbirth, a woman hemorrhages. ---- Besides,” Harlan said faintly, “it was my decision to make as you weren’t there.”
Murdoch closed his eyes tightly, his lips rigid. The murky secret he held niggling in the back of his mind; it was Catherine’s life, and her child’s, was what she wanted considered at all?
The question he asked the Carterville woman so many years ago popped into Murdoch’s mind and he needed to know the answer. “Did she suffer?” he asked, as afraid of the answer now as he had been then.
Harlan stared at the glass and shook his head. “No,” he said softly, “she just seemed to go to sleep. I held her hand as she cradled Scott beside her. She told me that his name was Scott Garrett Lancer. Then she smiled at him, kissed his forehead and closed her eyes.” Harlan stopped. He lowered his head, and Murdoch saw the trembling of his shoulders, followed by low, mourning sobs of indescribable grief.
“I’m sorry, Harlan” Murdoch murmured, the loss of Catherine uniting them.
Harlan composed himself, palming his hands across his cheeks to sop up the tears. “When I held your son, and looked down at that long little body, I saw Catherine as a baby. He looked so much like her. So I took him. I thought I was doing the right thing. I didn’t want him to die too soon, like Catherine had, in this wilderness. My child was dead, so I took yours. ….. After a while, he was mine, Murdoch; he was my little boy. ------ But, he’s not that anymore, is he?” Harlan asked wistfully.
“No, Harlan, he is not.”
They sat in silence, each lost in their own grief, contemplations and guilt. Murdoch spoke first.
“I’d like to know about Scott, as a little boy. Would you tell me about him?”
An hour later Murdoch came up to get Johnny for dinner and didn’t find him in his room. He was puzzled at first, but then understanding appeared on his face and he crossed the hall to Scott’s room. Resting on Johnny’s lap were clean, folded clothes, Johnny’s hands holding them lightly. Johnny’s head rested on the back of the stuffed chair, eyes closed, and softly snoring. Murdoch glanced at Scott and he had not moved since Murdoch last checked on him. Murdoch stepped into the room and assured himself that Scott was breathing normally and just sleeping soundly. The bulky bandage over his temple and the dark shadows under his eyes were the only visible signs of his injuries. Murdoch knew that the bruises on his body were still there, as well as those on his soul. Not wanting to disturb either son, he slowly backed out of the room and closed the door.
It appeared that it would be Harlan and himself for dinner, with Teresa acting as intermediary.
Well, the two of them had come a long way today, and although it was far from friendship, perhaps it could be called a truce. Yes, a truce for Scott’s sake.
Murdoch had gotten answers from Harlan. He still needed to gently prod Scott for answers as well be ready to give his own, but they would wait until Harlan left. Scott was staying, of that Murdoch was sure, and for now his very protective younger son was watching over his brother. Murdoch smiled and made his way down to dinner.
Secrets – WHN Legacy – Part 3
Scott stirred. This time it wasn’t the ping of dripping water that woke him, but the sound of a subdued snore. It wasn’t his father’s snore that, on occasion, boomed down the hallway. No, it was closer than that. He listened for a few minutes with closed eyes to the low cadence of the snore accompanied by a muffled exhale; knowing it was his brother sitting next to the bed.
He opened still inflamed eyes, and slowly focused on Johnny. His head was awkwardly bent, resting on both the back of the chair and his shoulder. There was an odd twist to it, but appeared not to bother his sleep. His mouth was slightly open, and his hands barely held on to a pile of clothes on his lap.
Scott brought a knuckle up to his eye, but stopped rubbing immediately when it felt like he was grinding grains of sand into them. He gently touched an eyelid, and felt the hard crusty formation of matter on his lashes. Although not nearly as bad as it had been, thanks to the stinging drops Sam had prescribed, the substance was still an irritation that itched. Scott glanced at Johnny to make sure he was sleeping. He started picking at the debris, running his nail lightly along the lids trying to satisfy the incessant prickly itch.
“You supposed to be doing that, Boston?” Johnny’s soft drawl startled him and Scott guiltily pulled his hand away from his eye. Johnny had a hooded look and Scott didn’t know if it was due to the fact that he had just woken up or was showing disapproval. His face still looked soft from sleep, his eyelids droopy, but his stare was very aware and penetrating.
Scott was annoyed with himself for reacting like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He was a grown man and could scratch his own eyes if he wanted to without an explanation. But almost involuntarily he responded with a guilty, “I was just picking at the grit.”
“You supposed to be doing that, Boston?”
“I wasn’t scratching them, Johnny; the dry stuff is irritating and I was trying to get rid of it.”
“You supposed to be doing that Boston?”
Scott closed his eyes, not knowing if he was going to laugh or swear. Sometimes his brother could be so maddening. A small smile appeared on his lips, and he looked at Johnny. “What are you, Mother Madrid?”
Johnny chuckled lightly. “Well, I’ve never been called that before, but if I need to, guess I can be just about anything.” Johnny lounged back in the chair, looking as relaxed as a cat.
Scott’s eyes wandered to the folded clothes that Johnny held lightly in his lap. “You want to show me some new clothes, Johnny?”
Johnny grinned. “No, Scott. I was gonna take a bath and these are my clean ones.”
“Excuse my confusion, but the bath is not in my room.”
Johnny shrugged. “Thought I’d sit awhile and, well ….. guess I fell asleep.”
“I heard you, snoring that is.” Scott brushed bangs back from his forehead, and tightly closed his eyes. He wanted badly to scratch at his eyelids, but refrained. He appreciated Johnny’s company, but if he didn’t get rid of him soon, his eyes were going to drive him crazy. His brother could be more of a nag than his father sometimes.
“What time is it?” Scott asked. “Shouldn’t you be at dinner?”
“Trying to get rid of me, Scott?”
“Well, you could still use that bath, Johnny.”
“You saying I stink?”
“I don’t have to say it, Little Brother. The aroma in the room attests to it.” Scott raised himself up on his elbows to look at the small clock on the side table, but the room started spinning as his shoulders came off the bed. Nausea quickly followed and he found himself suddenly veering over the side of the bed, looking down at a fast approaching floor. He felt Johnny’s hands on his arms, catching him before he tumbled off.
“Easy, Scott,” Johnny said, surprise and concern in his voice. He slowly lowered his brother to the mattress. “What are you thinking? It’s not been that long since you were shot.” Scott’s head dropped back, his blonde hair fanning out on the pillow.
Scott laid still, eyes closed, trying to concentrate on breathing instead of the fast spinning world. He could hear Johnny talking to him, but his voice was vague and far away. Finally the tipping room settled and Scott opened his eyes. Johnny’s blue eyes stared back at him, worried. Scott smiled, suddenly very thankful that his brother was here. He closed his eyes, still woozy, but grateful.
“I’m okay.” His voice sounded fuzzy and he ran his tongue lightly over his lips.
“What the hell was that? Why’d you try to move?”
“I just wanted to check the time.”
“You could have asked.”
Swallowing, still trying to collect himself, Scott said, “I did.”
Scott lay for a few more moments before opening his eyes. Johnny had returned to the chair and sat quietly, head bowed, picking at the beads on his wrist.
“I’m okay, Johnny.”
Johnny looked back at him, any emotion shuttered away. He’d been shuttering a lot of things away lately, and the responsibility for that lay like a deadweight upon Scott. Scott swallowed, feeling the time had come to talk to his brother about leaving Lancer. Although Scott dreaded the resulting clash, he knew that until they resolved the issue, there was a barrier that stood solidly between them. Scott wasn’t sure if Johnny would silently scowl at him or erupt with anger, but they needed to have this out.
Lowering his eyes, Scott stated quietly, “Johnny, I think we need to talk about what happened.”
Johnny gazed at him for a few moments, then replied, “You damn near fell off the bed, Boston. I don’t think now is the time to talk about it.”
“I just moved too fast, Johnny. When I sit up I need to take it slower. I’m okay.”
Johnny looked at him skeptically, as if he wasn’t sure about that at all.
“I’m really all right, Johnny. I was up for a bit earlier. I just got dizzy when I got up too fast.”
Johnny seemed to consider what Scott said. “All right, if you say so.” Johnny folded his arms across his chest and stated with quiet control, “Scott, your grandfather blackmailed you into leaving Lancer, and you were going to go without saying anything to me about it. I think you owed me more than that.”
Scott groaned inwardly with remorse, but forged ahead. “I know, Johnny, and I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. God, Johnny, you have to know I would never intentionally hurt you. I was just so overwhelmed by everything that was happening.”
“You know, Boston,” Johnny said, idly fingering his beads, “I wasn’t going to let anyone matter to me after Mama died. It was easier that way, not to care. But then you came along.” Johnny got up from the chair and walked to Scott’s dresser. He touched the items lying on top of it, lightly dusting his fingers over a comb, a brush and a small carved wooden horse. He leaned against the dresser, and seemed to study his brother. “You just wouldn’t let go. When I wanted to leave, you kept at me, give it a chance, Johnny. It’ll get better, Johnny. You’re more stubborn than our old man sometimes, you know that?”
Johnny tossed his arms as if throwing something away and walked slowly back to the bed. He put his hands on his hips and softly asked, “You didn’t want me to let go, why did you? Scott. Do you play by different rules?”
Scott glanced away, not wanting to look at the hurt on his brother’s face. He absently touched the bandage on his head and tracked down to his eyes. Not thinking, he skimmed his eyelid with his nail, trying to alleviate the escalating itch.
“Scott, leave it alone,” Johnny corrected, pulling Scott’s wrist away from his face.
Scott tried to twist away, his feelings of blame making him inexplicably resentful that Johnny seemed to be ‘slapping’ his hand like a child. Johnny was being so damn calm and quiet, and Scott wished he would just yell and get it over with.
“Let go of me, Johnny!”
“I wish I could, Scott. You wouldn’t, why should I?”
“It isn’t the same, Johnny.”
“What’s different? You didn’t want to let me go, why did you expect me to let you go?”
“Let go,” Scott said more forcefully.
He released Scott’s wrist and walked to the door.
“Johnny,” Scott called, not wanting him to leave, “this is started; we need to get this settled.”
Johnny stood with his hand on the doorknob, and leaned into the door jamb. With an angry glance back at Scott, a controlled Johnny asked, “Who needs to get it settled, Scott? Because I don’t know if I want to do this now.”
“I don’t want to think about it anymore, Johnny. And I don’t imagine you do either.”
“What makes you believe I’ve been thinking about it, Scott?” Scott saw that the anger that had surfaced momentarily on his brother’s face was once again in check and his brother appeared cold and aloof.
“Because I know you, Johnny. I know you’re angry and hurt and I don’t blame you. ….. I’ve felt the same way about you more than once, you know.” Scott was tossing the past back at Johnny, not sure if it was the best thing to do, but he needed a reaction from his brother. He saw Johnny’s jaw harden and a flicker of fire cross his eyes.
“Johnny, why don’t you yell? It would be easier if you just yelled. I know you want to.”
“Okay, Scott.” His spurs rang as he walked back towards the bed, each footstep seemingly more determined and solid than the one before. Standing at the foot of the bed, his hands gripped the footboard as his fingers thrummed forcefully against the wood. “If you think you’re ready for this, fine. But there’s no turning back once I let go. And you’d better want the answers as much as I do. Cuz I think you’re holding something back, not only from me, but from yourself.”
Puzzled by the last remark, Scott laughed uncomfortably. “I’m not hiding anything from myself, Johnny.”
“You want me to go ahead or not?” Johnny asked, his question clipped.
Scott nodded. “Go ahead, Johnny.” He felt his body stiffen defensively, and he hoped he was ready for whatever Johnny was going to throw at him.
“After your little announcement that you were going to go back to Boston, why wouldn’t you talk to me? You locked me out, and I mean more than your room, Scott.”
Scott bowed his head, remembering that night when Johnny followed him to his room. Scott had locked the door, knowing his brother would demand an explanation. Scott was not only devastated by his grandfather’s actions, but expected more from his father. He had been disappointed. He still was, but swiftly pushed the thought away. Looking up at his brother, he lamely said, “I’m sorry, Johnny. I just couldn’t talk to anyone then, after what my grandfather did.”
“I’m not accepting that, Scott. There’s more to it. We talked about your grandfather before, and you’re telling me you couldn’t tell me what he’d done?”
“I thought I was doing the right thing. I was trying to protect Murdoch.”
“Scott? He’s my father! Did you think you had to protect him from me?”
“No, Johnny. I wasn’t thinking right. I couldn’t take the chance that Murdoch might hang.”
“Why didn’t you ask Murdoch about it? Why did you think that old bastard was telling the truth?”
“The Deegans said they saw him, they saw Murdoch kill their father.”
“They were paid, Scott. Your grandfather paid them to lie.”
“I didn’t know that!”
“You think they came all this way for nothing! Those men! You could see what they were. You’re not stupid, Scott.”
Scott stumbled, “I, I knew that my grandfather paid them. I didn’t know they lied.”
“You think Murdoch would kill a man in cold blood, Scott?” Johnny asked with amazement.
“No, Johnny, I mean, I didn’t know. They said he did.” Scott fumbled over his words, his normal composure falling under his inability to justify his actions to his brother. Maybe this wasn’t the best idea after all to get Johnny angry. It wasn’t working out as Scott had planned. He knew the questions would be asked, but the reality of hearing the words thrown at him was harder than he had expected.
“Why didn’t you ask him, Scott? Why didn’t you ask Murdoch about it?”
“I didn’t think it was the right thing to do,” Scott retorted tensely, the questions getting too close to the truth. He desperately needed to shuffle the real reason back into its corner, ashamed of himself for thinking it, much less saying it.
“You weren’t fair, Scott. Isn’t that what you’ve always talked about? Doing the noble thing? Or do you say one thing and do another?”
Scott glared at his brother, his eyes blue steel, his face rigid. “How many times have you left Johnny? All the times I came after you, I never treated you like this.”
“Because you pushed me to do the thing you didn’t do yourself. You were right about talking things out. Why didn’t you talk to me? Why didn’t you ask Murdoch about it?”
“Because he never asked why, Johnny! When I said I was going back to Boston, I thought he would ask why. He just sat there on the couch, closed his ledger and let me walk away,” Scott blurted angrily. The words were said, escaping and breaking free of their prison. Scott sighed heavily and closed his eyes, surprised at his own words and their truth. He had been more than disappointed at his father’s silence, he had been deeply hurt. For 24 years he carried scars like proud flesh that never completely healed and his father’s latest failure to reach out to him was another painful cut. Scott laid his forearm over his eyes, wanting to shut out everything, including his brother. He felt Johnny sit solidly down on the bed beside him, his leg coming to rest warmly against his hip. Scott shivered slightly, but not from the cold.
They were quiet. Night sounds drifted up from the ranch; Jelly scolded a wayward ranch hand, a nicker greeted a cowboy riding in, a far away coyote howled. Finally, Scott moved his arm and looked up at his brother.
“He wanted you to stay. You do know that,” Johnny finally murmured.
“I know. I just wish he would have put up more of a fight. He can fight for everything else, Johnny, why didn’t he fight for me?” Scott felt silly saying the words. He wasn’t a little boy anymore, so why did his father make him feel that way?
“Scott,” his brother’s voice seemed to gently embrace the name, “Maybe he didn’t think he had the right.” Johnny took a deep breath and bowed his head. “You need to talk to him about it, before it gets any bigger.”
Scott didn’t comment, just watched Johnny play distractedly with the beads on his wrist. He felt relief that the inevitable confrontation with his brother was over. And maybe, even grudgingly the deep disappointment he felt towards his father had been eased.
His brother had become the most important person in his life and Scott had almost allowed his grandfather to steal that away from him. “I’m sorry, Johnny. I should have talked to you; I owed you that. I guess Murdoch affected me more than I realized.”
Johnny moved slightly, and reached for a bottle on the night stand.
“Scott, let me put drops in your eyes. They look like hell.” Johnny’s tone was mild.
Johnny held the bottle of drops in one hand and was contemplating the dropper held in the other. “Johnny,” Scott ventured softly, hoping they were okay.
Johnny turned his face to Scott and grinned. “Boston, if you didn’t look so pathetic, with your messed up head and runny eyes, I’d mess you up myself. Now, hold still and let me at least enjoy this.”
Johnny brought his hand up, holding the dropper and eyed Scott, as if waiting for a signal to go ahead. Scott perceived a supple yielding in Johnny’s eyes, and an absence of resentment. He sensed his brother’s anger was spent, maybe not his hurt completely, but Johnny was letting it go. Scott smiled back and nodded.
The sting of the medicine made Scott jerk, as always; but within a few minutes was actually soothing. The itch had finally stopped, at least for now.
“Feel better?” he asked Johnny, his eyes still closed.
“I thought you said you were going to enjoy it.”
“Well, I didn’t.”
Scott slowly opened his eyes. Johnny stared back, quietly watching him, a small smile flickering across his lips.
“You know, Murdoch’s going to ask you the same thing I did.”
Scott nodded and glanced away, taking in the dark night framed in his window. Bringing his gaze back to Johnny, Scott asked, “Have you talked to him about it?”
Johnny shrugged. “Some.” He touched Scott’s cheek sopping up excess medication that had run down his face. “Thought about what you’re going to tell him?”
“The truth.” Scott watched Johnny rub the medication between his fingers and wipe it on his pants. “I’ve got a question or two of my own I’d like to ask him.”
“Yeah, I bet you do,” Johnny chuckled. “Don’t be too hard on him, okay?”
“You worried about him, Johnny?” Scott asked, amusement flickering across his face.
“He’s got a big heart, Scott. More than he lets on. Besides, he’s the only father we have.”
“I hope so. I don’t know if I could take another one. Two in one lifetime is more than enough.” Both young men chuckled at the remark and settled complacently, content in their company, drained from the clash and eager to go on.
“Soooooo, what are you going to do about your grandfather?” Johnny ventured.
“Pffff, I don’t know, Johnny. He needs to go back to Boston. I knew he was fairly aggressive in business, but I had no idea he would stoop to blackmail to make me move back. I’m not sure I know him at all.”
“People can do some pretty desperate things to get what they want Scott.”
Scott looked a little mystified. “Are you sticking up for him, Johnny?”
“No, Scott.” Johnny smiled. “I just know what folks can do.”
Johnny raised an eyebrow and looked like he wanted to share a secret. “Know what I saw when I came home earlier? Murdoch and old Grampa were sitting pretty cozy in the Great Room, sipping on booze, talking like they were old friends.”
Scott glanced sharply at him. “What are you talking about?”
“Yeah, Harlan and Murdoch, like they were at a tea party or something. Harlan thanked me for going to town for him. Know what else?”
“What?” Scott asked, obviously stunned by the information.
“He smiled at me.”
“Who smiled at you?”
“My grandfather! Smiled at you?”
“Are you sure?”
Scott thought about this for a while. “Maybe he had gas.”
“No, Scott” Johnny retorted disgustedly. “He did not have gas. He smiled. At me.”
Scott stared straight ahead, trying to let what Johnny told him sink in. “What did you go to town for?”
“Send some telegrams. Seems Harlan thinks once you cross the Mississippi your brain dries up. Didn’t trust anyone to do it, but Murdoch convinced him I could.” Johnny got up from the bed and walked over to the window, then turned back with a frown on his face. “That old man had the balls to ask me if he needed to write down what he wanted me to do. I told him I could read and write in two languages, so he’d better do it in both.”
Scott started laughing, his face lighting up with pleasure thinking of his grandfather’s reaction to that information. Johnny smiled, his dour scowl quickly fading, and appeared pleased to hear the laughter. “It’s not funny, Scott.”
“What did he say to that?” Scott asked, still chuckling.
“Nothing. He backed off after I stared at him for a bit.”
“Must have been one of your icy, gunfighter stares,” Scott said teasingly.
Johnny shuffled across the room, hands on his hips, stopped at the foot of the bed, and loomed over his brother. “Might have been. Scared enough people in the past,” he said trying to sound menacing.
Scott grinned. “Little Brother,” he said, stressing the ‘little’, “do not try it on me, because it doesn’t work.”
“Yea, well, I’ve just never tried real hard with you.”
“Really, well what was that ants crawling in my eyeballs, or something like that, the morning after we came here.”
“That wasn’t the real thing, Boston.” Johnny walked up to the side of the bed. “That was just a test” he said, quickly slapping his brother’s belly.
“Oooph.” Scott’s arms hugged his stomach protectively. “Well, you failed.”
“I wasn’t the one being tested, Scott.”
Scott shrugged, blue grey eyes mocking. “You still failed.”
Johnny sat down once again on the edge of the bed. “Know what else?”
Scott shook his head, wondering what other revelation Johnny wanted to share.
“Murdoch winked at me after Harlan smiled. Like it was some sort of damn con, conspi, what’s that word you use, more than one person scheming?”
“Conspiracy,” Scott supplied.
“Yea, that’s it. Murdoch’s never winked at me. He’d had a drink or few himself, but whatever those two talked about, they were a lot friendlier when I came than when I left.”
“Maybe Murdoch had gas.” Scott grinned, thinking he was being funny.
“He winked, Scott,” Johnny said evenly, seemingly not thinking his brother was funny at all.
Scott looked back with an offended look on his face. “Maybe that’s how Murdoch reacts when he passes gas. Some people smile, some people have other facial expressions, other people, well, do other things.”
“Is that one of the things they taught you at Harvard?”
“Actually, it was part of a physiology class.”
Johnny looked at him dumbfounded. “You actually paid to learn that? I suppose you learned why people belch too.”
“In fact, yes, that was part of the course.”
Johnny stared at him, open mouthed for the second time that day. “I’m going to ignore that, Scott.”
“No, I did not ask, Scott. I told you Murdoch winked, and you said, trying to be funny, that maybe he had gas.”
After considering this last statement, Scott said, “Oh, yeah. You’re right. I’d forgotten. So, I wonder what they talked about.”
Johnny shook his head and continued. “When I came in, Murdoch said they’d been talking about you, but I’d lay money it was more than that.”
“You don’t think they could just talk about me?” Scott asked, sounding offended.
“No, Scott, I don’t.”
“Because you’re not that interesting! Scott, if you don’t stop this, I’m gonna belt you,” Johnny said with apparent disapproval of his brother’s supposed humor.
“You’d hit a sick man?”
“Don’t push me.”
“Well, you could just try giving me your cold, gunfighter stare again. But maybe this time, try harder.”
Johnny paused, his eyes glimmering suddenly with affection. “You are an ass, Scott.”
“That was part of the class also,” Scott glibly said.
Johnny started laughing, seeming to surrender to the stupid lines and humor that his brother had been delivering, and letting go completely of their quarrel. Scott stared at him, his own smile becoming larger as Johnny continued laughing until his eyes were watering. Finally he stopped and wiping his eyes, looked into the slate blue pleasure of his brother’s gaze.
“For what, Scott? You’re the one making me laugh.”
“For the past however many days since I was shot, when my eyes weren’t driving me nuts or my head wasn’t trying to twist itself off, or I wasn’t sleeping, I have done nothing but think about what my grandfather did and what my father didn’t do.” He eyed Johnny fondly. “I’ve also thought about you, and my leaving without an explanation. I’m sorry about that.”
Scott pulled at the covers before addressing his brother once again. “You’ve taken my mind off of that by putting up with my stupid comments and silly attempts at humor. To be honest, right now, I don’t want to think about what Murdoch and my grandfather talked about. I don’t want to think about any of it. What I would like to do is have dinner with my brother. You think you could get something together? And join me?”
Johnny sauntered over to the side of the bed and beamed down at him. “Murdoch hasn’t fed you yet?”
“Doesn’t say much for his nursing, does it?”
“Nope, sure doesn’t.”
“Well, in his defense, he may have stopped in while we were sleeping.”
“Probably. He may have heard you snoring and figured if that didn’t wake me, I was pretty much out of it.” A teasing smirk played across Scott’s lips.
“Let me see what I can dig up and what Jelly hasn’t eaten.” Johnny started to go towards the door.
Johnny turned. “Yes, Scott?”
“Don’t forget your clean clothes.”
“You want me to take a bath first?”
“It would be appreciated.”
Johnny chuckled. “You think you can wait that long?”
“Believe me, Little Brother, I can wait that long.”
Johnny gave Scott a wicked grin, walked back into the room and picked up his clothes. Strolling over to the bed, he playfully thumped Scott lightly on the chest. A growling stomach answered him, and Johnny chuckled.
“I’m hungry, Johnny, so don’t soak too long.”
Once again going to the door, he turned back to look at his brother. “For you, Scott, anything.”
Johnny stepped through the door, closed it and smiled. Yup, he thought to himself, poor old Boston sure has a big sense of ‘good’ in him. Couldn’t have worked out any better if he did say so himself. Planning was indeed everything. Catching Teresa in the hall earlier and asking her to make up a couple of plates for dinner and keep them warm fell nicely into his plan. Whistling softly, Johnny sauntered happily down the hall towards the bathhouse. It would definitely be good to have a nice relaxed dinner with his brother.
Secrets – WHN Legacy - Part 4
Murdoch stepped out onto the veranda and looked towards the surrounding hills. It was a beautiful sight, one he never tired of viewing. White clouds coasted slowly across flawless blue skies, and wild flowers splattered the meadows with dazzling colors. Inhaling deeply, he relished the sultry perfumes of California and closed his eyes.
Just a few short months ago this was all he needed. It was a wonderful possession, but his real riches lay with his children. ‘Children indeed’, they were two full grown men who were independent, strong willed and yet both so very different.
Initially he tried to stuff the role of father deep into the shadows of his mind, and maintain a position of business partner. But all too soon he recognized that paternal feelings were stronger than he ever anticipated. When quickly confronted with the possibility of losing one son to a bullet, he found this ‘business partner’ himself pleading and praying for his child’s life. He was astounded by the fervor of his reaction.
Murdoch again scanned the summit where Scott’s buggy would crest before entering the valley. Scott took his grandfather to town, the first leg of his long journey back to Boston. Just before leaving Lancer, Harlan came as close to an apology for his actions as Murdoch ever expected to get. Murdoch knew Scott talked to his grandfather regarding his treachery to force him back to Boston and he assumed it had been fruitful. Harlan’s behavior had been, if not humble, at least respectful the last couple of days.
“Kind of like waiting for Jelly to finish one of his stories?”
Murdoch started; deep in thought, he did not hear Johnny approach. “What?”
“Watching for Scott --- as slow as waiting for Jelly to finish a story.”
“Oh, yes, Son. It is.” Murdoch squinted and gazed back at the hill. Nothing. He turned his attention to Johnny and smiled. “I guess it’s a little soon to be expecting him back. Even if he made good time, it will probably be another hour.”
“Might be longer the way he was feeling,” Johnny huffed, obviously annoyed. “Did you know he had a fever this morning?”
Murdoch looked surprised. “No, I did not! I hardly saw him before he left.”
“He was trying to stay out of your way.” Johnny glanced at his father. “Didn’t pick up on that, did you?”
Murdoch sighed in frustration. “No, there are a lot of things I don’t seem to pick up on,” he replied, his tone edgy.
Johnny lightly swung his arm as if batting at a piece of dust. “Old Boston can be sneaky. But don’t know why he thought he needed to drive that old man to town.”
Murdoch nodded in agreement. “He insisted. Scott can be pretty stubborn when he wants to be.”
“Really!” Johnny said sarcastically. “I wonder where he gets that?”
“Must be his mother’s side of the family,” Murdoch said, dismissing the topic. He eyed Johnny with worry. “You think he’s okay?”
Johnny’s answer came slowly. “Yea, I think so. Besides, only way you could have kept him home was to drug him or tie him to the bed.”
Murdoch stuffed his hands into his pockets and once more checked the horizon. Not many things made the big man nervous, but he fretted about his sons. And now he had the additional concern that Scott was not completely recovered. He realized he was pacing and stopped, wondering if Johnny had picked up on his anxiety.
Johnny was slouched against a concrete support keenly watching his father. His blue eyes didn’t bother to hide his sympathy. “It’ll be okay Murdoch. You just need to listen to what he has to say.”
“Your brother is not a talker, Son.” Murdoch lowered his gaze and pursed his lips. “There seems to be so many barriers, I don’t know where to start, or how.”
“Scott’s pretty direct. I think he’ll get right to it once he gets going.” Johnny walked to the edge of the veranda and looked towards the top of the hill. He chuckled. “You got me doing it, Murdoch.”
Murdoch looked in the same direction and shook his head in amusement. “Not getting home any faster is he?” He glanced at Johnny and smiled.
Johnny pulled his hat off, walked over to one of the patio chairs and sat down, pulling his feet up to rest on another chair.
Murdoch slowly sat on the remaining chair and stretched his back against the hard iron. His large frame dwarfed the chair and he looked anything but relaxed.
“Want to go inside and wait?” Johnny asked, observing his father’s discomfort.
Murdoch shook his head. “No. I’m okay. I want to catch him as soon as he comes in.” He attempted to settle into the hard backed chair, but finally gave up. He observed with envy how his son seemed to melt into the body of the chair. Murdoch swore Johnny would start purring anytime and smiled at the vision. “Has Scott talked to you about any of this?” he asked, trying to get the absurd picture out of his mind.
Johnny cocked his head at his father and grinned. “Some.”
“You wouldn’t want to share any of it, would you?”
“Murdoch, I think he needs to share it with you, not me.” Johnny swatted at a huge blue fly that wouldn’t leave him alone. “But, you need to answer his questions.” He looked intently at his father. “He’s already asked one you walked around.”
Murdoch rolled his shoulders, “Did Scott talk to you about our conversation after his ride with Julie?”
“Hmmph, Murdoch, I wouldn’t call that a conversation. Yeah, he talked about it.” Johnny paused before gently asking, “Why didn’t you answer his question?”
Murdoch sighed. “I told Harlan I wouldn’t say anything to sway Scott’s decision to go or stay.”
“Why the hell would you make a deal like that with Harlan?” looking at his father as if he had lost his mind.
“Because Harlan made the same agreement. I had no idea he was capable of blackmailing his own grandson to get what he wanted,” Murdoch said angrily.
Johnny wrinkled his forehead. “Well, I guess we all know Harlan doesn’t hold much to anything, ---- except maybe Scott.”
Murdoch thrummed his large fingers on the patio table and stared distractedly at the floor tiles, his mind dwelling on Harlan Garrett’s treachery and then drifting to Scott and the questions he undoubtedly had for him. Murdoch had one question of his own to pose to his son, and was unsure how Scott would answer it. He brought his hand across his forehead and through his hair, so absorbed in his own reflections that he almost forgot Johnny. When he looked up, patient blue eyes shined back at him.
“Sorry, Son. Didn’t mean to ignore you.”
Johnny smiled lightly. “You seemed to be thinking pretty hard, old man. Hope you’ve got it all figured out.”
Murdoch grunted skeptically. “I have nothing figured out, Johnny, except your brother and I need to talk.”
Johnny looked over his father’s shoulder towards the horizon. “Well, that should happen soon because here he comes.”
Murdoch rose from the chair and faced the summit. An indistinct object could be seen cresting the rise, dust whirling and settling behind it. It slowly made its descent, bypassing the ever present ruts in the road that seemed to persistently appear no matter how many times they were filled. As the buggy made its way down the road, both men started to walk towards the barn.
Johnny peeked over at his father as they walked and cautiously suggested, “Murdoch, why not wait until Scott comes in, maybe cleans up a bit?”
“Because I want to see that he’s okay.” He laid an arm on Johnny’s shoulder. “He’s not going to avoid me again, Johnny. If he’s not well, I want to know it.”
They reached the barn ahead of Scott and rested their arms on the top panel of the wooden fence, watching the carriage as it drew closer. Scott guided the horse to the barn door, while Murdoch and Johnny walked over.
“Hey, Scott, how’d it go?”
“Fine, Johnny.” Scott jumped down from the seat and started to unfasten the harness, keeping his back to both his brother and father. His hat was pulled low on his head, the rim casting his face in shadow.
“The stage must have been on schedule. You’re back in good time.”
“Yes, Sir.” Scott continued to busily work at the leather, seemingly examining the tack closely as he moved along the animal’s body.
“How was your grandfather then; I mean, he seemed resigned to the idea of you remaining here.”
“As resigned as he is going to be, Sir.”
Murdoch and Johnny exchanged glances. “Well, I’d like to talk to you for a few minutes, Scott.”
“I’d like to get cleaned up a bit, if you don’t mind. And if we could do it another time, I’m rather tired. The trip was hot and dusty.”
“Actually, Scott, it’s rather pleasant. Not too warm at all in fact. Are you feeling all right?”
“Yes, Sir. I’m fine, thank you. It was just more difficult to say goodbye to grandfather than I thought.” Scott stopped and ran his hand slowly along the horse’s rump. “With what he tried to do, I thought it would be easier --- to say goodbye, that is.” He seemed distracted for a moment, as his long fingers softly rubbed an imaginary spot on the horse. Then he patted the spot lightly and continued undoing the tack.
Murdoch sensed that deep tug of fatherhood again along with an overpowering desire to comfort his son. Lamely, the only thing he could think of was, “Yes, Scott. I imagine it was difficult. I’m sorry.”
Murdoch noted that Scott kept his head down and did not look in his direction as he worked, and in fact, pointedly ignored looking at Johnny. Deciding that the best approach was the direct one, he placed his large frame in front of Scott, forcing him to stop.
“Excuse me, Murdoch,” Scott replied, keeping his head down, “I’m not done yet and I really would like to get cleaned up.”
“Son, one of the hands can do that.”
“No problem, Murdoch. I used the horse, I can certainly groom her.”
Johnny came up on Scott’s side and bent down, trying to look at his brother’s face. Scott turned further into the horse, obviously not wanting to be seen.
“Scott,” his father said, “please, look at me.”
“Murdoch, I …”
Interrupting, Murdoch said, “Scott, why won’t you look at me?’
Scott sighed deeply, and slowly straightened. He brought his face up to look at his father, and Murdoch immediately saw the warm flush of fever on his cheeks and a glassy tone to his red rimmed eyes.
“The dust seems to have irritated my eyes a bit,” was all Scott replied.
“Joe,” Murdoch called, “would you please take care of the horse and buggy. Scott, I’d like to see you please, in the Great Room.” Murdoch turned his back and walked towards the hacienda, leaving no room for argument or debate.
Scott stared at his father’s straight back as he strode with long strides to the house. He looked towards his brother. Did you tell him, Johnny?” he asked pointedly.
“Tell him what, Scott,” Johnny retorted.
“You knew I had a fever this morning.”
“Scott, I didn’t have to tell him. You look like hell.”
Scott handed the horse off to Joe and slowly started to walk towards the house, Johnny keeping in step. “Why do I let him do this to me?” he remarked with frustration.
“Do what, Scott?”
“I’m a grown man, Johnny. I’ve gone through a war, a prison camp, seen horrible things, so why does he make me feel like a little boy sometimes?”
Scott brushed his hand across the sweaty bandage on his forehead. “When I was coming down the hill and saw him standing there, I tried to steel myself against anything he might say. I was going to stare him in the eye and if he said anything about how I looked, I was going to tell him, ‘nothing to concern yourself about.’ Pfffff, that didn’t last long. I crumbled before I even got off the buggy.”
Johnny draped his arm around Scott’s shoulders. “Tell you something, Boston, he makes me feel that way too, sometimes.”
“Does he? I didn’t think much frightened you, Johnny.” Scott said, glancing skeptically at his brother as they walked to the house.
Johnny leaned lightly into Scott. “Yeah, well, he’s a big man. Could probably throw both of us through the door at the same time if he wanted to.”
“He wouldn’t do that, Johnny.”
“I know. Just like to use that as a reason. Wouldn’t do much for my reputation if people found out I was scared of my old man ---- sometimes.”
Scott smiled. “No Brother, it wouldn’t and I’ll keep my mouth shut if you’ll do the same.”
A small grin flickered across Johnny’s face as he scanned his brother. “You really don’t look so good, Boston. You feel a bit warm, unless it’s just my own warm personality rubbing off on you.”
“Don’t flatter yourself,” he laughed. “I’m okay.” He cocked his head towards Johnny and saw doubt. “I’m just tired mostly. I don’t feel as bad as I must look.”
Johnny chuckled. “Well, that’s good. Hope you can convince the old man of that.”
“I really don’t feel like a lecture. Maybe I’ll take the offensive instead of the defensive.” Scott mulled on that a bit.
“You think too much like a soldier Scott.”
“I’ll have you know I was an officer. Even though a lowly one, I could analyze tactics, plan maneuvers, recognize the strong and weak points of the enemy and use them to my advantage.”
“You make it sound like you’re going to war. He’s your father, not that old Jeff Davis you told me about.”
“I don’t know; he kind of has a resemblance. Old and gray.”
Johnny laughed softly and ruffled his brother’s sweaty hair. “Well, after you talk to the old man, you might consider going to bed.”
Scott lifted an eyebrow. “Mother Madrid again?”
“Maybe. But I’d make the move before Father Lancer makes it for you.” His eyes glimmered with tease.
Scott smiled and with a nod replied, “Good advice, Johnny. Good advice.”
They found themselves at the front door and stopped. “You know, this door kind of reminds me of Murdoch,” Johnny quipped.
They both studied the door, taking in the massive features, the enduring strength and the security and protection it offered.
“Brother, I agree with you. Know what else?”
“I’d rather be on the inside than on the outside.”
Murdoch Lancer had held back; like a dam restraining the pounding pressure of tons of unrelenting water, he held back concern, frustration, worry, and all of the tangled emotions that slammed into him as a too late father. His son looked horrible, at least to this distraught parent. His pinkish hue appeared crimson, and his slightly irritated eyes looked beyond inflamed. He paced, back and forth in front of the window, watching his sons unhurriedly walk to the house. He could see they were talking, and his patience stretched tautly, wondering why they appeared to be putting him off. Then, he calmed noticing Johnny casually throw an arm over his brother, and Scott smile at him in apparent gratitude.
Murdoch took a deep breath. He observed their exchange, and noticed the easy sway of the younger gently lean in to support the elder. ‘He’s okay’, he thought. ‘Don’t overreact. He is an adult; respect him as such.’ By the time his sons came through the door, he was composed and sitting behind his desk shuffling papers.
Two pairs of eyes met his when he looked up, and he was struck, not for the first time, by how different in appearance they were. Darkly handsome with a smile that erupted delightfully, Johnny was his untamed son who chose to dwell in his father’s house. Scott, far more conventional than his brother, but in his own way more distant, was golden haired, tall, lean and elegant. But, somehow these two very diverse men stumbled through the foreign language of family and found friendship and substance in the word ‘brother’. Murdock noted how easily they stood together, and felt a twinge of envy that they had drawn so close while he was excluded. But the envy quickly evaporated into gratitude that each probably kept the other from leaving. He loosened his worry and folded into the pleasing sensation of his sons.
Johnny gracefully uncurled from his brother, taped him gently on the arm, and said, “I’m going to see what Teresa is doing ---- wherever she is.” Murdoch experienced an eerie sense of familiarity with the statement, remembering a similar comment many days ago before Scott had confronted him with an unspoken: Why didn’t he claim his son?
Johnny’s eyes glimmered as he stepped behind Scott to go and find Teresa. Walking backwards, he gave his father a thumbs up, before turning and disappearing into the kitchen.
Murdoch turned his gaze to Scott and all he could see was illness. Again feeling the anxious father, he quelled his fear and the impulse to scold, and motioned to a chair in front of him, indicating Scott was to sit. When Murdoch caught a glimpse of rebellion on his face, he hastily followed with a mild, “Please, Scott, sit down.”
Slowly his son walked into the room and sat in the chair in front of his father’s desk. Murdoch leaned back, cleared his throat, and as he had done for most of his life, strode forward. “Son, I realize that I did not answer the question you posed to me several days ago. I also realize I don’t have a proper answer.” He stopped, looking at Scott for his reaction. Scott didn’t give him one, other than a lift of his eyebrow.
Murdoch proceeded. “Your grandfather and I made an agreement upon his arrival at Lancer not to try to influence your decision of whether to stay here or return to Boston. I abided by that agreement.” He said nothing more about Harlan’s failure to live up to the agreement; the obvious didn’t need to be pointed out.
“So, to your question, which I assume you still want an answer to. I went to Boston when you were a child to bring you to Lancer, but your grandfather threatened me with prolonged legal issues that would drag you through court. I didn’t have the money, nor did I have the desire to put you through that.” His manner in the narrative was matter of fact. “I came home and continued to search for Johnny. I knew you were well cared for, comfortable, given everything you could possibly need.”
Like his father, Scott cleared his throat and stated. “I needed you.”
Murdoch recoiled at the words, and closed his eyes. He felt his stomach tighten and waited for Scott to continue.
“I realize, now, that grandfather was, is, a formidable enemy. I have glimpsed through the years his very ------ intimidating business practices. I was stupid not to have thought before this that they could carry over into his personal dealings.” Scott bent his head and ran a long finger slightly over the stitches beneath the dressing. Murdoch could see sweat staining the cloth and wondered worriedly if Scott was in pain.
Scott sighted into his father, sad, grey-blue eyes, hitched a bit with fever. “I’m sorry.”
A lump bulged in Murdoch’s throat, tender and throbbing. “You have nothing to apologize for, Scott,” he murmured, surprised the words were voiced over the hurt. “I should have tried harder.”
“Well, we are here now,” his son said rationally. “It would be my hope that we can just go on.”
‘Does he know how much he is like me?’, Murdoch thought, pondering what his son had said. Then he agreed. “I would like to think we can just go on, Scott. But is there anything else? You make it seem so ------ simple, so easy.”
Scott rested his head against the back of the chair for support, obviously close to exhaustion. “What else is there?”
Murdoch pursed his lips, watching the play of drained emotions ply across his son’s face, realizing how tired Scott was. “You should probably go to bed, Son. We can carry on this conversation at a later time, when you’re feeling up to it.”
Scott straightened abruptly, and seemed to stubbornly collect what little resources he had left. “I am fine. Please, did you have something else?”
“I do have one question, Scott.” Murdoch ventured the request, tentatively, as if he was standing on fragile ice.
Scott glanced with interest at his father. “What?”
“Did you think I killed that man in cold blood? Deegan?”
Scott stared at him for a few moments. His blue eyes looked so tired, they seemed to slip away, and drifted hazily to the shadows on the floor cast by the drapery.
“Scott.” The name floated slowly across the room.
At last Scott simply replied, “No.”
Astounded, Murdoch pursued. “You didn’t believe your grandfather and the accusations?”
“Then, ----- then why didn’t you say something? Why were you willing to leave without asking me?”
Scott glanced sharply at his father. “Why were you willing to let me leave without asking me?”
The question caught Murdoch off guard. He suddenly realized he had been on the defensive since his sons had come home. He always had a quick retort or a short dismissal ready for a hard poke on the shoulder demanding answers for his failure as a father. He assumed he did not have the right to expect more.
He rose from his chair and looked out the window. The scene had always given him comfort, but now he did not draw any repose or peace. He loved his son, but how could he express that in a way Scott would believe. He turned back to look at the stolen child of his union with Catherine. My god, how he had loved her, and still did.
“Scott, I didn’t think I had the right. I’m sorry, but I let you go twenty years ago. How could I ask you to stay now?” Murdoch’s manner, that was usually so solid, so strong, was now bent and almost frail.
“But you are my father.” Scott stated vehemently. But then he appeared to choke back the accusation, and stated, “Your reaction, when I told you I was leaving, well ---- you seemed fairly resigned to it. I didn’t think…”
“You didn’t think what, son?”
“I didn’t think you cared if I left or not.”
Murdoch almost reached for him, but stopped. He was afraid that Scott would shun him, something he knew he could never recover from. Finally, with no going back, he discarded the shield that had protected him from his son’s accusations and offered simple honesty.
“I am sorry. I have fought for everything I knew I could win. But ---- I was not strong enough to fight for something that I was afraid I could not win.” Murdoch bowed his head and settled his gaze on Scott. “There is nothing more I can say, Scott, except I didn’t think I was entitled to ask you why.”
Scott’s hands tightly gripped the arms of the chair. He seemed to stare without seeing, compressed into the boundaries of whatever his mind was contemplating.
“I want you to stay, Scott. I’ve always wanted you. Please, believe me.”
He looked at his father, nodded his head, and his body relaxed, folding tiredly into the chair. “I know. It’s all right. I know.”
Scott closed his eyes and Murdoch thought momentarily that he had gone to sleep. He walked over to him and lightly touched his hair, as soft as his mother’s.
Scott sluggishly opened his eyes and looked up at his father. “It appears we all have secrets, Murdoch; you, me, Johnny.” Scott’s mouth curved into a soft smile. “Especially grandfather.” He looked around the room before his gaze settled back on Murdoch. “I need to go to bed.”
“Would you like help, son?”
“Thank you, sir, but no.” Scott rose from the chair and walked to the stairs. Before he started up the steps he looked back at his father. “I do have one request.”
“What’s that, Scott?”
“No more secrets, sir.”
Murdoch hesitated at the comment, and then eased. “No more secrets, son.”
Scott nodded, turned, and walked up the stairs.
Murdoch heard Johnny’s spurs long before he heard Johnny. He smiled to himself, wondering how Johnny could walk so quietly at times, and then at other times ….? He would have to ask his son that ‘secret’.
“Hey, Murdoch, how’d everything go?”
“Fine, Johnny. Not as bad as I thought it would be.”
“Soooo, where is he?”
“He is in his room and hopefully resting.”
“He okay?” Johnny asked softly.
Murdoch nodded. He crossed his long legs and settled back into the very comfortable sofa.
“Good.” Johnny picked up a chess piece from the board that was always set up for a game. He tossed it lightly back and forth.
Murdoch cleared his throat and said indifferently, “I ran into Ellie Stevens in town yesterday morning. She wanted to thank me for offering her a place to go if something should happen to Lou.”
Johnny caught the chess piece, held it for a few moments and then hesitantly gazed at his father. “Oh.”
“Yes.” Murdoch ran his hand up and down his leg. “She, ah, wanted to make sure that I told you thank you also.”
“Oh yeah,” Johnny said absently, “I forgot to tell you I ran into Lou Stevens when I went to town for Garret. Since you said that Ellie and her boy had a place here, thought I’d mention it to Lou.” Johnny eyed his father cautiously. “Just to ease his mind, you know?”
“Oh, yes, Johnny, I understand.” Murdoch slyly looked at Johnny and smiled. “Ellie appeared almost ---- relaxed.”
“She deserves better than Lou, Murdoch.” Johnny’s voice was low, with a touch of sadness.
“Yes, Johnny, she does.” Murdoch brought his large frame up from the couch and draped an arm around Johnny. “Son, do you think your brother is a smart man?”
Obviously puzzled by the question, Johnny started up at his father. “Yes, one of the smartest.”
“Well, Scott mentioned something about secrets that I’d like to share with you over a cup of coffee. Maybe we can even find something to go with that coffee.” And Murdoch steered his son towards the kitchen.