An Olfactory Offence
(This little ditty was inspired by a ‘stroll through the park’ that I took with some other Lancer Ladies at the 2004 Homecoming. We walked to the site of a lot of the filming and those who were with me will sympathize with Johnny. <g> Walking through Lancerland was great research, though I’m happy to say we didn’t run into any of the four-legged problems that Johnny does!)
“Okay horse,” the man growled to absolutely no one. “You an’ me are gonna have words.”
Johnny Madrid Lancer was a horseman – NOT a walker. His boots were designed for riding. His clothes were designed for riding. Hell! He was designed for riding!
But here he was – walking home dejectedly.
He was not a happy man.
Johnny wheeled Barranca to the left and then cut quickly back to the right – effectively cutting off the path of the stray steer.
Well, he didn’t really have much to do with it. Barranca was a well-trained cow pony and did a lot of the work himself. The horse and his rider worked in one fluid movement.
Had there been anyone there to watch them, they would have sat, enthralled, applauding the horse and rider. They made a good team.
Actually they made a handsome team. The golden hide and flowing white mane and tail of the palomino stallion made a great contrast to the tanned dark haired and striking rider. They both moved with exquisite grace and seemed to understand each other completely.
Between them, Johnny and Barranca rounded up six strays and herded them into a small canyon, perfect for holding a few cattle just long enough to finish his task before heading them back to the rest of the herd.
Johnny herded the last of the six obstreperous beasts into his makeshift corral and sat back on the horse for a minute to take stock of his efforts for the morning. He took his hat off and wiped the sweat from his forehead with his shirtsleeve. The perspiration was literally dripping off him.
It was a hot day – in the middle of summer and nearing noon by his calculations. Time for a bite to eat and a rest in the shade.
He put the hat back on his head lightly and pulled a battered old pocket watch from his pocket. It was close enough to midday to take that break – just like he’d thought.
Johnny had lived without a watch his whole life – until Murdoch had given him this one. Mostly, he still didn’t really need it, and Murdoch had suggested getting him a spanking new one for his birthday, but Johnny had said no.
This one meant a lot to him. It had been the first thing his father had given him freely and without expecting anything in return. To Johnny, it was priceless.
Nope – this one would do him just fine.
He dismounted lithely and patted the palomino’s neck proudly as he stood beside him.
“You did good this mornin’, big fella,” he said with a smile and he led the big horse over to the shade of an oak tree. There was plenty of shade there for both of them, and enough green grass left there to keep the horse content for a while.
He took his canteen, unscrewed the lid and took a swallow of the tepid water. It might not be cold, but it was enough to quench his thirst for now. He went to the saddlebags and took out the sandwiches that Teresa had provided for him.
Strolling over to the log under the tree, he pushed his hat back so that it hung behind him, put the canteen down on the ground beside him and opened the wrapping around the sandwiches.
The log was a little unstable and shifted under his weight while he made himself comfortable when it finally came to a stop.
“Ya know, Barranca, a man could get real spoiled around here,” he said to the horse. “Three square meals a day an’ I haven’t had to draw my gun for over a month.”
The big palomino whinnied and lifted his head to shake it. His white mane flew about elegantly and Johnny wondered, as he sometimes did, if that horse didn’t know just how good he looked when he did that and was maybe just a little bit vain about it.
“Yeah, alright,” Johnny answered. He grinned and took a bite out of the sandwich. “Guess I shouldn’t say that, hey boy?” he added as he swallowed. A twinge of superstition bit at him when he realized he might be pushing his luck saying something like that.
“Well, we done a good mornin’s work anyway, Barranca. Don’t think there’s any more strays ‘round here, so we’ll be able to meet Scott and Hank with the main herd way before I’m supposed to.”
He looked over at the horse and grinned again. “Be kinda nice to be early for a change.”
Johnny finished off the sandwich and leaned forward to pick up the canteen. It banged against the log as he lifted it by the leather strap and Johnny thought he heard a scratching sound coming from inside the log.
He looked up and listened intently, but he didn’t hear anything and put it down to his imagination.
He unscrewed the cap and took a swig of the water but, as he put the lid back on, he heard the scratching sound again and knew he hadn’t imagined it this time.
There was definitely something inside the log.
It could be any number of things but he ruled out a snake right off, since the sound appeared to be claws.
He stood up carefully, knowing that he had disturbed whatever was in there more than enough already. He turned around and stepped back cautiously.
Sure enough, a tiny, pointed black nose poked itself out of the hollow in the log.
The little nose stopped, lifted to sniff the air a couple of times and wiggled from side to side once or twice.
Johnny drew in a breath and took another step backwards, trying very hard not to attract the creature’s attention. He knew what he was up against without seeing the rest of the animal’s body. He’d seen enough of them before now to know that he had to move very carefully if he was going to get out of this spot with his dignity intact.
Right then, Barranca moved just a foot or two to another enticing tuft of grass. The creature heard the horse’s movement and timidly crept out of the log to look around.
If he’d needed confirmation of his suspicions, he had it now – right down to the long bushy tail and the twin white stripes running down the center of the little black animal’s back and joining on the top of its head.
Johnny held perfectly still, his mind going over his options. He could back away slowly and easily so as not to frighten it and hope that it wasn’t already too late. On the other hand, he could turn and run away as fast as his feet would carry him, doubtlessly startling the animal into spraying but hoping he would be fast enough to escape unscathed.
He watched the skunk waddle slowly out of the log and look around it and he took a very careful step backwards. It didn’t seem to be worried by his movement so he took another cautious step backwards. He’d managed to put about six feet between himself and the animal and he was beginning to feel more confident.
The skunk seemed calm enough and hadn’t shown any signs of fear. Maybe he could just back off nice and easy without startling it into doing anything he might regret.
He’d faced more gun battles than he cared to remember, but this one shy little creature had him ready to run?
Oh boy, did it ever?
A few yards away, Barranca carelessly swished his tail and snorted noisily.
Johnny looked over at the horse angrily and then back to the skunk. The little animal had stopped and looked towards the noise. It sniffed the air and hissed, stamping its front feet agitatedly.
Johnny might have thought it funny, if he hadn’t known what it was a precursor to. He knew he was in trouble now. There was no cautiously backing away this time.
He turned on his heel to make a run for it, but his left foot hit a small rock and he lost his balance and found himself on his backside. He knew he had no chance now.
The skunk had already turned around and had its tail fluffed up and in the air when he looked at it. He put his arm up in front of his face to protect his eyes and waited for the inevitable.
And the inevitable came within seconds. He knew it had gotten him good – his nose told him when he got a whiff of the putrid smell of ammonia and musk.
Johnny threw the canteen on the ground furiously.
“Oh great! Just great!” he growled.
He looked the creature in the eyes and he’d have sworn he could see satisfaction there.
“You happy with yourself?” he said to it, scowling hard. “Oh yeah, you can smile, can’t ya? Get outa here ‘fore I forget myself an’ put a bullet between them beady little eyes o’ yours.”
It sniffed the air, lowered its tail and turned around, and then it waddled complacently back into the log.
He looked over at Barranca and his temper flared again. If it came to a choice of who or what was to blame for this fiasco – the skunk, the horse or his own bad luck – Johnny was going to plump for Barranca and his lousy sense of timing.
Okay, there was nothing for it now but to head back home and try to clean himself up, hopefully before his brother got wind of him. This was likely to take some living down.
Johnny picked up the canteen and got to his feet. He pulled his hat back up onto his head and stalked over to where Barranca was still quietly grazing, totally unaware of the events that had unfolded around him. Maybe he’d stop at the river and try to wash some of the stink off of himself. It wouldn't take it all off, but he was ready to try anything at this point.
He got close enough to Barranca to reach for the reins, when suddenly the horse threw his head in the air in fright. His upper lip lifted and his nostrils flared as Johnny got close enough for the horse to get a whiff of him and he pulled back quickly.
Johnny lost his temper this time.
“Barranca, hold still. You got me into this mess in the first place. Least you can do is get me home good an’ quick so I can clean up.”
He reached again for the reins, but this time Barranca didn’t just pull back from him. The horse neighed shrilly in apparent panic and lifted his front hooves just clear of the ground, and then he turned tail and ran off.
“Barranca, come back here,” Johnny yelled furiously. “Barranca!” He tried whistling but, for once, the horse ignored him and kept going.
Johnny pulled his hat off his head and slammed it into the ground petulantly. He knew the horse would stop eventually. He’d be able to follow his trail easily enough and catch him when he calmed down.
But, in the meantime, he was faced with walking in the middle of the day in the hot sun.
And Johnny wasn’t fond of walking.
He figured it was only about six miles to the hacienda and wondered if he’d catch up to the horse before he made it back to the barn.
Well, there was nothing else for it. He picked up his hat and dusted it off on his pants leg, then he picked up the canteen. He shook it a little to see how much was left in there. It was about half full so he’d have to be careful with it.
He looped the canteen’s leather strap over his shoulder and turned towards home, the steers forgotten for now – a waste of a morning’s work.
Twenty minutes later, Johnny spotted Barranca in the distance, halted under a grove of young oaks and he sighed with relief. The sun had sapped him of energy already, and his feet were beginning to feel the pinch from boots that weren’t made for walking.
He stopped and took off his hat so he could wipe the sweat from his brow with his shirtsleeve. He fanned his face with the hat and he could feel the perspiration running down his back. His shirt was wet through and clung to his body uncomfortably.
“Okay, Barranca,” he said to himself. “Time to start actin’ like yourself.”
He put the hat back on his head and took a deep breath. Standing here wasn’t getting him anywhere. He started towards his horse, feeling every step jar his sore feet and within a few minutes he was close enough to Barranca to croon reassuring words to him.
The horse lifted his head and looked at Johnny. There was recognition in those eyes – Johnny could see it.
“Good boy,” he whispered soothingly. “It’s alright. I know it wasn’t
your fault, boy.”
He edged closer, slower than he normally did with his own horse. He’d trained Barranca himself and hadn’t had to handle him this carefully in a long time.
“It’s okay, Barranca. Take it easy an’ we’ll get on home to a cool drink an’ a nice clean stall.”
Barranca lifted his head and whinnied in recognition of the voice.
“Good boy, Barranca. I knew I could count on you,” Johnny said quietly. He smiled as he stepped up to take the reins and pat the horse’s neck.
But Johnny’s pleasure was short lived. The moment he got within reach of the horse, that top lip lifted again and the animal’s head went up in the air in panic. Within a snatch of getting hold of those reins, the horse was gone again.
“Okay horse,” the man growled to absolutely no one. “You an’ me are gonna have words.”
He watched Barranca disappear from sight and sighed heavily. He looked around for somewhere to sit down, but the only things handy were a couple of logs and he was way past taking that option again, so he opened the canteen and swallowed some more water.
When he’d put the cap back on, he shook it again. There wasn’t much there. If he wanted to make it last he’d have to take it a lot slower than he had been.
It wouldn’t be easy. As it was, his mouth was dry already. Even on horseback, on a day like this, he’d need plenty of water. But on foot he’d need a whole lot more. This was going to be a long, hot and thirsty walk home.
“Damn you, Barranca,” he cursed angrily and set off again.
“Wasn’t Johnny supposed to have met us by now, Scott?” Hank asked the elder Lancer son as he pulled his horse to a stop beside him.
“He probably found more strays than he expected,” Scott reasoned. “He’ll be here soon enough. I hope so anyway. I’m looking forward to getting down to that river.”
“You lookin’ to throw yourself in?”
Scott laughed. “I just might,” he answered, taking a handkerchief from his pocket and wiping his face with it.
“Hey, Scott,” Hank said curiously. He pointed off to the right. “That horse over there, ain’t that Barranca?”
Scott turned to look in the same direction as Hank. There was indeed a horse in the distance. He could see that it was saddled and he knew it was his brother’s palomino. There was no mistaking that horse.
“Yes, it is. Come on,” he said quickly, urging his horse forward.
It didn’t take long to reach the horse, standing quietly with the reins trailing free. Scott slowed as he reached him so as not to spook him.
He dismounted and walked cautiously over to where Barranca stood. The horse was edgy and Scott turned back to warn Hank to stay back. Quietly talking to the horse, he worked his way over to his side and took the reins. He patted the animal’s neck and started to look him over.
“Easy boy,” he said gently. He ran his hands over his brother’s horse, but couldn’t find anything wrong. In particular, he didn’t see any blood on the horse or the saddle and he found some consolation from that.
“Where’s Johnny, Barranca?” he asked anxiously, wishing the animal could answer him. He turned around to where Hank waited, still mounted. “He seems to be okay. He’s a little spooked, but otherwise I think he’s alright. Can you see any sign of Johnny?”
“Not from here. You want me to look around?”
“We’d better. I don’t know any reason Barranca would be here on his own, unless…”
He didn’t really want to think about the possibilities – couldn’t bring himself to express them in words, but he had to face them. There might be any number of reasons why the horse could be here alone, but they all came back to the likelihood that Johnny might be lying hurt somewhere.
Scott tried not to think about that yet. He had to find his brother and get him to help if he needed it.
Hank rode in a wide circle around the horse, but came back with nothing. Scott had mounted again, holding Barranca’s reins in one hand firmly.
“Anything?” he asked Hank when he got back.
“Nope, no sign of him,” the man told him dejectedly. “But there’s some clear tracks so we can backtrack Barranca’s trail and we might find him that way.”
“Good idea,” Scott agreed. “I don’t like this. Johnny could be hurt.”
“Don’t worry, Scott. We’ll find him,” Hank reassured him. He was confident that they would find him. There was plenty of light and the tracks he’d seen were clear and easy to follow. What worried him was what condition he’d be in when they got there.
“Scott, there he is,” Hank called excitedly, pointing ahead of them.
Johnny was walking slowly towards them, so they pressed their horses forward to meet him.
As he got close enough to see his brother, Scott was relieved to see that he seemed unhurt. Relief washed over him, only to be replaced with a surge of curiosity.
Why was Johnny on foot if he wasn’t hurt and Barranca wasn’t lame?
“Johnny,” he called out as they approached him. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” Johnny called back. “I’m just dandy.”
He sounded less than happy. “Then what’s wrong? What happened?” Scott asked as he pulled his horse and Barranca to a halt just in front of him.
He’d no sooner asked the questions than his horse began to jerk his head up and tried to pull back. Barranca was doing the same and, while he tried to keep control of both horses, he saw Hank was having some trouble with his own.
He soon knew what the problem was.
“Phew! Johnny, what the hell have you been rolling in?” he asked, wishing he could trust the horses enough to cover his nose. The stench was unbelievable. Ammonia came immediately to mind and he turned his head aside to try to escape it.
Hank got hold of his own horse when he backed him up just enough to escape the smell. “Ain’t what he’s rolled in, Scott,” he said with a laugh. “It’s what he’s tangled with.”
“Skunk!” Scott exclaimed as he realized what must have happened.
“Yeah, you’re both real funny,” Johnny said ill-temperedly. “Just hang on to that dang horse o’ mine so I can get hold of him.”
It sounded easy enough, but Scott was having trouble holding one horse – so two was a real problem. And he could hardly blame them. Johnny stank so badly that, frankly, he didn’t want to be near him either.
Johnny came closer to Barranca and both horses became more agitated until, finally, Scott couldn’t maintain his grip on Barranca’s reins and control his own mount as well. The palomino gave one more desperate jerk and the leather slipped from Scott’s hand allowing the horse to pull free and run off – again.
Scott clamped his legs tightly on his own mount and backed him up a little, while his brother gave full vent to his frustration.
“Dammit, Scott, why the hell couldn’t ya just hold him?”
“Brother,” Scott answered him, with a twitch of a smile pulling at his lips. “You can hardly blame Barranca. Have you got any idea just how bad you smell?”
“Funny,” he growled. “Well, since you couldn’t hold onto my ride, the least you can do is offer a hand.”
He took a step towards Scott and the horse backed away quickly.
Scott couldn’t hold back any longer. He burst out laughing. “Sorry, Johnny. I don’t think it will work. Poor Charlie just won’t stand for it. You come much closer and I’m likely to end up getting thrown. There’s no point in both of us being on foot.”
“Sorry, brother,” Scott repeated, trying hard to muffle the laughter bubbling in him. “It’s only another couple of miles to home. It won’t take you long.”
“Scott, it’s hot, an’ I’m tired an’ thirsty. Ya can’t just leave me here!”
Scott really did feel sorry for his brother, but ‘skunk’ wasn’t exactly life threatening. He knew he’d get home safely, if hot and tired – and maybe just a little put out with him.
“I’m afraid so, Johnny,” he said, smiling.
“I ain’t even got much water left,” Johnny told him angrily.
Scott unhooked his canteen from the pommel and tossed it to his brother. “There’s enough there to get you home, brother,” he told him. “Just make sure you clean up before you try walking in the door. If Teresa or Maria get a whiff of you, they’ll toss you right back out.”
“Oh, you’re a million laughs, Scott. I’ll remember this next time ya need a hand.”
“Oh, come on, Johnny. It’s not that far and you might even catch up with Barranca again if you hurry.”
The expression on Johnny’s face was too much for him. He lost himself in a fit of laughter that shook him uncontrollably.
Johnny cursed furiously as he walked towards home. So much for ‘brotherly love’! So much for ‘I’ll get your back!’ So much for ‘You can always count on me, Brother!’
His feet hurt like hell now. He limped visibly and his wet shirt clung to him. He stopped for another swallow of the water from the canteen his brother had so graciously given to him and, he had to admit, tepid water had NEVER tasted so good.
The Lancer arch came into sight at last and stood like a beacon signaling ‘home’. But, by now, his head hurt as well. He knew why. The sun and the heat had gotten to him.
He doggedly kept up the pace, putting one foot in front of the other. It wasn’t far now and he’d be able to put his feet up, have a cold drink and dunk his head in the first cool water he came to!
Murdoch heard Jelly yelling for him. He rose quickly from his leather chair and ran for the front door. Pulling it open quickly, he looked outside to see what was wrong.
“Jelly, what’s so important?” he shouted angrily.
“Boss!” Jelly called back at him. “Barranca’s just come in – alone.”
Murdoch’s anger vanished. “Alone? No sign of Johnny?”
“No, an’ Barranca looks like he’s been runnin’ for miles. He’s plumb tuckered out.”
Murdoch strode over to where the palomino stood. The horse stood by Jelly, his flanks quivering. He stepped aside edgily as Murdoch approached, but quieted to the man’s soothing words of reassurance.
“Ya needn’t bother lookin’, Boss,” Jelly told him. “I already checked him over. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with him but bein’ hot an’ tired.” The old man looked away for a moment and then continued. “An’ there ain’t no sign o’ blood nowhere neither.”
Murdoch sighed. “Well, that’s something anyway.”
“You think mebbe Johnny got thrown?”
“Could be. He might be hurt out there somewhere.” He considered his options and came to a quick decision. “Get together what men you can find. We’ve still got plenty of daylight and we might be able to find Barranca’s tracks and follow them back to Johnny.”
Jelly nodded his approval of the plan. “Sure, Boss. An’ don’t you go worryin’. We’ll find him.”
The old man disappeared to round up the few men that were working in and around the yard. They could pick up Scott once they got moving. Scott would want to help.
Johnny heaved a sigh of relief. He was home. The nightmare was over at last – shade, a cool drink and somewhere to clean up.
He walked up to the back door and put his hand against the wall, lovingly touching the adobe and relishing the feel of home.
The kitchen door was wide open. It usually was during the hot days of summer. It got hot in there with the stove going.
Johnny headed in through the door, looking forward to a cold drink, and he found Maria there preparing supper.
He didn’t get inside. Maria turned around quickly and shouted his name.
“Juanito!” she called out happily and then scowled at him. “Ay yi! ¿Qué es ese olor?”
Johnny stopped. “Maria,” he said suavely. “¿Cómo está?”
“No, Juanito, para allí!” she called to him. “Tu hueles horible!”
“Ah, come on Maria. I don’t smell that bad, an’ I’m hot an’ tired!”
She screwed her nose as she got closer to him. “¡Mofeta!”
“Well, yeah, I know,” Johnny admitted. “I tangled with a skunk. I just wanna get a cold drink an’ sit down for a while. Then I’ll get cleaned up. Come on, Maria. I’m tired.”
Maria picked up her broom and ran to the doorway. “¡No, salte! Out!”
She aimed the broom at him threateningly and shooed him out the door. “¡Ahora, Juanito!” she shouted at him. “Now!”
In the face of the furious little whirlwind, Johnny backed up a step. He could usually talk his way around Maria. She fussed over him like he was her own child. But it didn’t look like he was going to be able to get around her this time.
“¡Sige!” she screamed shrilly. “Y ve banate!”
“Course I’m goin’ to wash. I just want to sit for a minute first!”
“What the devil’s going on in here?” a loud voice boomed from the door to the Great Room.
Murdoch Lancer stormed into the kitchen. He had more than enough worrying him without Maria screaming like a crazy woman.
But when he got into the room, he pulled up short. “Johnny! Are you alright? Barranca came home without you and we thought you must be hurt.” He strode across the room, saying, “We were just going…”
He stopped dead in his tracks, frowning at the smell. “Phew, son! Is that skunk I smell on you?”
“Si, senor, mofeta!” Maria shouted angrily. “Skunk!”
She shoved the broom at Johnny once more and Murdoch grinned. “I don’t think you’d better try coming in here, Johnny. If you think Maria’s bad, you wouldn’t want to run into Teresa smelling like that in the house.”
“Come on, Murdoch. I’ve walked for miles. I’m hot an’ tired – an’ my feet hurt!”
“Barranca wouldn’t let you near him either, hmm?” Murdoch suggested, trying hard to keep the laughter at bay. “How far have you walked?”
He had to admit Johnny looked like he’d had too much sun. He was flushed red in the face and he was sweating heavily – a fact that wasn’t helping to allay the smell of the skunk.
“Miles!” Johnny complained. “An’ Scott was no help either. If he couldn’t hold onto my horse, you’d think he could give me a ride home.”
There was no help for it. Murdoch couldn’t look at Johnny’s disgruntled face without laughing. He burst out in a loud guffaw that nearly doubled him over.
Johnny tried to control his temper. He’d had about enough of people laughing at his situation. “Real funny, ain’t it?”
Murdoch forced himself to take control of the laughter. “I’m sorry son,” he said, the words bubbling out over another threatening laugh. He walked over and poured a glass of water for him and took it over to where his son stood. But he stood as far back from Johnny as he could while reaching out to hand him the glass.
Johnny took a step forward to take the glass from his father, but it set Maria off again. “¡No, para allí!”
“You’d better not come any further, Johnny. She means business.” The laughter threatened again, but he bit the inside of his lip to keep it at bay. Johnny was offended enough already.
Johnny drank the water quickly and handed the empty glass back to his father, keeping a wary eye on Maria and her broom when he moved.
“I think a bath is called for Johnny,” Murdoch suggested.
“Si, ve banate, Juanito!” Maria agreed emphatically.
“I’m afraid plain water won’t do much good, Maria,” Murdoch told her. “But I don’t think there’re enough tomatoes on the entire ranch to get rid of that stench.”
“Vinagré,” Maria suggested.
“Good idea, Maria,” he agreed. “Get him a couple of bottles of vinegar.”
Maria looked doubtful and looked at Johnny malevolently.
“It’s alright, Maria. He’s not going to come in before he gets cleaned up,” Murdoch told her.
She relented and lowered the broom. She turned back to the kitchen and walked over to the pantry, quickly grabbing a couple of bottles of vinegar. Then she took them over to pass them to Johnny.
When she got there, she found that she couldn’t bring herself to get close to that smell. She put the two bottles on the floor in the doorway and stepped back to allow Johnny to pick them up.
“Thanks,” he said gracelessly. He was feeling more and more like an outcast, and his head and feet still hurt. No one seemed to care though.
“Go take that bath, son. I’ll get you some clean clothes.” Murdoch smiled at him. “And I suggest you use all of that vinegar. That skunk got you good!”
Johnny picked up the bottles and strode angrily out back to the bathhouse.
“Some family I have,” Johnny growled belligerently.
It was some hours later after scrubbing himself raw in a bath of vinegar and water. Then he’d had to take another bath to get rid of the smell of vinegar! His clothes were soaking in vinegar and water and Maria said she’d have to air them for at least a month.
The blisters on his feet still hurt and the headache from the sunstroke lingered determinedly, but at least he was allowed into the house so he could sit down in comfort.
He looked around the room at his father, his brother, Jelly and Teresa. Oh yeah, they could smile.
“I thought I could rely on my family,” he added, still angry.
“Come on, Johnny,” Scott answered with a laugh. “Are you telling me you wouldn’t have done the same thing? Your horse couldn’t even stand you!”
“My horse is a dumb animal!” Johnny snapped at him. “I’m supposed to be able to trust you to watch my back!”
Scott shook his head, trying to hold back another peal of laughter. “I’ll watch your back anytime you need me to, Johnny. But from a distance in this case.”
“You’ll laugh about this one day, son,” Murdoch assured him. “I’ve been skunked myself once.”
“Me too,” Jelly piped up.
“Yeah, well when the day comes that Scott gets his turn, I’m gonna wanta be there to have a laugh,” Johnny told them.
“How are the feet anyway, son?” Murdoch asked him, hoping to relieve the tension in the room.
“Blistered,” he told him, casting a malevolent look in his brother’s direction. “An’ my head still hurts, too.”
“Well, I think an early night might be the best thing for you then,” his father suggested. “All this will blow over by morning.”
He didn’t add that the whole ranch was aware of the story. He’d had to go out and call off the search party for his son, and telling Jelly what had happened to assure him that Johnny was safe and sound meant that everyone knew within a few minutes. He’d take some time to live this down.
“I’ll bring you something for the headache, Johnny,” Teresa told him sympathetically. “I’ve got some salve for those blisters, too.”
“Thanks, Teresa,” he said gently. Alone of all of them, she hadn’t laughed at him and he appreciated it. At least there was one person in the house who cared about him. “I think I will turn in early.”
He turned to go upstairs.
“Johnny?” Teresa called to him quietly.
He turned back. “Yeah, what is it, honey?”
“Johnny, you… you…er…” She looked into his eyes and seemed concerned about him. He was touched that she didn’t find it all funny like the rest of the family.
“What is it, Teresa?”
She looked down at her hands awkwardly. “Johnny,” she finally said. “You didn’t shoot that poor little skunk, did you?”