Boys Will Be Boys
Murdoch Lancer sat his horse, above the arroyo and watched the two young men, some way below him, who were working on clearing the natural and very unwanted 'dam' that was blocking the water course.
The river narrowed at this point and went into a sharp bend before it dropped sharply down and out into the meadows that grazed the horses and some of the cattle. It was a natural catch point for all the debris that was swept down from the mountains beyond, after a storm and almost a full time job, at this time of the year, to keep it cleared.
He could have sent out a pair of wranglers or younger cow-hands to do a job like this but when he had mentioned the job Scott had volunteered the pair of them, saying that he thought that it might be ‘fun’ to work with his brother.
His brother (who knew rather more about unblocking blocked water-courses) had laughed and informed him that he just might find himself to be quite wrong about that—but had agreed to, as he himself had put it, ‘go along for the ride’.
It had never been his intention to send them out like this together. They should have each gone out with an older wiser and more experienced hand to see 'em safe and learn the ropes. But, like so many of his plans and ideas that had involved these two, that had not seemed to happen and as they worked so well together and the work got done, he had pretended that it was how he wanted it, all along--and in truth, it had probably worked out for the best.
Impulsive, erratic, hot-headed, hot tempered Johnny was indeed a competent cow-hand but unlike the great majority of them--who would refuse point blank to do work that could not be done from the back of a horse, he seemed to have no objections to getting down and getting dirty and would turn a willing hand--and an ingenious mind--to any task proffered.
Scott, calm, thoughtful and able to keep his own temper and other emotions too, well under control, disliked cattle-work and preferred to avoid cattle if he could and made no secret of it. Nonetheless, he had entered into the spirit of the 'nitty-gritty' of ranch-work with commendable enthusiasm. And as Johnny always threw himself, heart, body and soul, into anything he undertook, and as Scott had no intention of being out-done, in this respect, by his 'little brother' they had become a formidable and effective team and in a remarkably short space of time too.
They had also become friends--more than friends--the rancher thought with a pang. He still had no idea how to get close to these boys of his, as they had become so close to each other. In his heart, he knew what he had to do--but in his head and in the daily grind of the real world--he simply could not bring himself to say and do it.
He was working on that, he told himself, as he sat there, watching them-envying them their easy camaraderie.
He really was working on that.
For a moment he was tempted to tip his horse over the edge and ride down the slope and join with his boys. But he didn't want them (and especially Johnny) to have any reason to think he was 'checking up on them' so he stayed where he was, watching and listening as they wrestled with the somewhat daunting task in hand.
They had made a damn good start. Even from up here, he could see that.
He could hear their voices but not what they were saying to each other and they seemed to have reached an 'impasse' with a well-wedged and well-branched tree that was resisting all efforts to shift it.
He watched as Johnny climbed out of the heap of debris, onto the riverbank, to survey it from a new angle and Scott, who had been balancing on the trunk, scrambled like a squirrel through the branches to join him.
Murdoch rested his weight comfortably into his hands, on the saddle horn, to stretch his back, and waited with interest, to see what they would do next.
They walked together, down the bank a distance, obviously discussing the problem quite seriously. Johnny’s hands were waving actively and urgently and every so often the more impassive Scott would shake or nod his head.
How the watcher on the ridge wished he could hear what they were saying to each other. He had come to realise, rather to his own surprise, just how much he enjoyed listening to the pair of them: to their friendly banter and their brotherly squabbles and their more serious exchanges. Even their sometimes quite hot arguments and the way they sided so naturally together as a team, against outsiders and sometimes --he sighed a little-- against him.
Then unexpectedly, their entire demeanour changed.
They had reached a point down stream of the blockage where the water had become a large deep still pool hovering in a large water-scoured bowl above what was an active waterfall, when the river was running well.
Murdoch saw Johnny quite deliberately manoeuvre his brother to the edge, then neatly trip him, to send him, arms flailing, into the water with a yelp of protest and surprise that was cut off sharply as his head went under the water. Murdoch grinned and waited appreciatively for what may happen next.
He felt a moment of concern as Scott sank like a stone to the bottom of the pond, then chuckled to him-self as he saw what the boy was up too.
From HIS vantage point, up on the ridge, Murdoch could see Scott quite clearly, swimming slowly and sinuously towards the bank, well under the water. Johnny, from where HE was stood, on the high bank did not have this advantage and the rancher could see the anxiety gathering in him as Scott did not surface, in the way Johnny moved closer to the edge, to peer worriedly down into the depths.
Scott came very gently to the surface of the water, concealed under the bank, reached up a long, strong arm to seize his brother about the ankle--and with a neat twist, pulled him into the water with him.
Johnny squawked in surprise.
And then they were off--splashing and diving, wrestling with and ducking each other and plunging through the water together, like, Murdoch thought with unusual whimsy, a couple of porpoises. (Scott would know what a porpoise was even if Johnny did not)
.Murdoch could hear them shouting and laughing at and with each other as they played, more like a couple of schoolboys, he thought wistfully, than adult partners in a serious enterprise.
Then suddenly, they were racing. Johnny, who by cheating some, had gotten away first, swam well enough. Scott however, was by far the stronger swimmer of the two. He shot through the water with a powerful over-arm that rapidly overhauled the younger man and he was on the bank, holding out a hand to yank his breathless brother from the water some considerably few seconds before Johnny got there.
Where, Murdoch wondered, had Scott learned to swim like that. Just another of the oh--so many things that he did not know about his sons. He had missed so much. He had not, he thought, with a more inward sigh, even been able to teach his own son to swim.
They shook themselves out like wet dogs, and then they both sat down on the grass to pull off their boots and empty them of water. They were still laughing and talking as they then tussled their way back into their now soggy footwear.
Then almost with one accord, they turned their attention back to the job in-hand.
Murdoch turned his horse away and sent it into an easy lope away from the arroyo and back towards the trail.
THEY were alright--and if there was a way to shift that darned tree--then they were the pair to find it.