by  Ros




“I got a wire here for Johnny, Mr Lancer," the boy said proudly, holding his precious cargo out for Murdoch Lancer to take. 

It was the first time he had had to come out to Lancer to deliver a wire since getting his new job and he was pleased with himself and his newfound importance.

 “Isn’t Johnny around, Mr Lancer?” the boy asked, betraying his disappointment at not finding Johnny here so that he could show him how important he had become.

 “I’m afraid not, son. He won’t be back till tonight,” Murdoch replied, seeing the disappointment in the boy’s face.

 “Is Jelly around then, Mr Lancer?” the boy’s eyes lit up again.

 Murdoch smiled at him. The boy had the snowiest white-blonde hair he had ever seen, and his brown eyes were big and round. He was a responsible lad for his age. Murdoch guessed he must be eleven or twelve years old now, and he’d grown a head taller in the two years since he had come to Morro Coyo.

 “He’s in the barn, Sawdust,” Murdoch told him, still smiling. He knew what a kick Jelly would get out of seeing the boy. “Why don’t you go visit for a while?”

 The boy grinned with pleasure. “Gee thanks, Mr Lancer,” he said excitedly, then he added with a slightly embarrassed smile, “but Ma says I have to be called Tommy now Sir.”

 Murdoch chuckled. “Tommy it is then, son. You don’t want to go against your Ma.”

 “No Sir,” he answered with a grin.

 “Good for you, now why don’t you just wait here for a minute.” Murdoch turned and walked quickly into the house, returning a minute later with a dollar coin in his hand.

 "Thank you son," Murdoch Lancer told him, handing the boy the coin. “Johnny will be sorry he missed you.”

 The coin brought a beaming smile to the boy’s face.

 He took the coin and looked at it before delivering an impressed "Thanks Mr Lancer," and running off with a grin and a spring in his step. He ran straight for the barn, thanking Murdoch one last time as he went.

 Murdoch heard an excited shout of “Hey Jelly!” come from the barn and he smiled again. He studied the sealed envelope that he still held in his hand.

 He idly turned it over a few times in his hand, and then he walked back into the house.

 Johnny rarely received mail, let alone a wire. His curiosity was piqued and he felt a great temptation to open and read it. But he knew better than that. His son was entitled to his privacy and he had to respect that.

 He put the envelope on the table decisively and then walked out of the room.




      Johnny could feel everyone's eyes on him as he took the envelope. Murdoch had given it to him as soon as he came in for the day. He had brushed the dust off but he hadn’t had time to wash up yet.

 He looked at the envelope for a moment or two, as if afraid to open it. He couldn’t think who it could be from, and he figured it was probably bad news anyway.

He looked around the room. Murdoch, Scott and Teresa, they were all there, watching him. He disliked the attention. He felt uncomfortable and so he absently turned the envelope over a couple more times. Suddenly he smiled at his own foolishness and he turned it over and opened it.

He took the piece of paper out and read it quickly. His smile faded away. His father and his brother thought that his face even paled a little as he held it open in front of him and read the contents. They both waited for him to say something, but they were bound for a disappointment.

Johnny said nothing at all. He just folded the piece of paper and pushed it back into the envelope, and then he put it into his shirt pocket.

He could feel all of their unasked questions burning into him but he pointedly ignored them.

“Well?” Murdoch finally asked him in exasperation.

"I'm going away for a few days," he told them unexpectedly.

"Where to?" Murdoch asked.

"It's private," Johnny answered in a tone that did not invite further questions. He turned and started to walk out of the room.

He had only gone a few steps before Murdoch stopped him.

“Johnny, you can’t just walk out with no explanation,” he said, with an edge to his voice that Johnny and everyone else in the room recognised.

Johnny stopped and turned to face his father. On the other side of the room, Scott drew a deep breath. He knew what was coming. He could see it, even if Murdoch couldn’t.

Scott took off his hat and dropped it onto the table beside him and then sat down in one of the big comfortable chairs in the room and waited for the inevitable. He glanced quickly at Teresa. She was standing on the other side of the table and the glance was enough to tell him that she, too, could sense the coming storm.

“I said it’s personal,” Johnny repeated, without adding any explanation. He had not even turned around to face his father when he spoke.

Johnny picked up his hat and prepared to leave. This time there had been an edge to his voice that should have warned Murdoch not to take it any further.

If he had noticed it, though, Murdoch Lancer chose to ignore it.

“Johnny, you know this is a bad time to take off,” he began. “If you want us to cover for you, you can at least tell us what’s going on, where we can reach you.”

Johnny stared at him for a moment, before suddenly slapping his hat angrily against his leg, and turning back to face his father.

“Murdoch, you’re not listening,” he told him furiously.

      “At least tell us where we can reach you!” Murdoch boomed back at him.

Johnny suddenly exploded. “Look, I’ve got something I have to do. It’s private, like I said,” he shouted. “And I don’t have to tell you, or anyone else. Leave it alone will you?”

Murdoch glared furiously at him and wanted to take it further, but he could see that Johnny too had dug his heels in and would not give an inch.

“All right,” Murdoch accepted, but far from graciously. He still sounded furious. “Well how long will you be gone?”

 “I’ll tell you when I get back!” Johnny stormed back at him. He turned on his heel and then flung back at him, “IF I come back!” as he strode angrily towards the doorway.

      “Johnny!” his father shouted, trying to stop him. “Johnny, come back here!”

      “No!” he threw back at his father as he went out.

      “Johnny…” Murdoch shouted one last time as he went out of sight.

      His son had left the room, but they still heard him shout an angry “No!” in answer to his father’s demand.

It was obvious that Murdoch wanted some answers from his son and was about to storm out after him, but Scott got up from his chair quickly and put a restraining hand on his arm, hissing, "Leave him."

Murdoch looked his son in the eye and stopped. He jerked his arm from Scott’s grasp and stood, seething, and looking out of the room in the direction his younger son had taken.

Grudgingly, he came to the conclusion that Scott was right to stop him. There was no point in pushing Johnny any further. He’d dug his heels in now.

Silence fell on the room as Teresa and Scott watched Murdoch slowly cool down a little.

It was a big, comfortable room and the heavy Spanish style of the furnishings was a reminder of the Old Spanish Don who had originally owned the house and the land before selling out to Murdoch Lancer so many years ago. These days, however, it seemed to be the backdrop for just these sorts of confrontations.

Scott sat on the arm of his chair while his father paced angrily back and forth across the room.

“Well, I think that went well, don’t you?” he said to his father sarcastically.

"Something's wrong, and I want to know what it is," Murdoch told him, still angry.

Murdoch Lancer was a big, strong man with a face and build that implied he must have been a very handsome man in his prime. He was still considered by some to be a handsome man, though now in his mature years, and more than one widow had set her cap at him. He stood a head taller than either of his sons and his temper could be terrible.

"I know. So do I, but he's not going to tell us if we push him now," Scott reasoned. "Give him some time. Let him cool off. Then I'll see if I can get anything out of him."

Murdoch Lancer didn't look satisfied with the plan.

“Murdoch, it must be important to him,” Teresa added, also trying to smooth things over. “You know he wouldn’t just take off unless it was.”

“Do I, Teresa?” he demanded. “It wouldn’t be the first time.”

“Murdoch, that’s not fair,” she pointed out, her tone expressing her disappointment in him more than the words. “You saw how he reacted to the wire. There must have been something important in it.”

Murdoch sighed and dropped heavily into his chair.

“I know, honey,” he said at last to Teresa, and then he turned back to Scott. “Alright Scott, let him cool off, then see what you can find out.”

Murdoch knew that Scott could usually get more out of his brother than he could. Johnny had an intense dislike of having his plans interfered with and particularly by his father, but Murdoch usually forgot that in the heat of the moment. When Johnny dug his heels in, Murdoch just could not help but do the same.

Johnny was one of the few people who had a temper that could match Murdoch Lancer’s and they butted heads regularly, with Johnny tending to simply walk away from the argument in the end and go his own way, no matter what.

Murdoch wasn’t used to having his will challenged. For years, his word had been law at LANCER and he was used to being obeyed without question. Sure, he had given his sons an equal share in the ranch when they came home, but he had kept the reins for himself.

At least Scott was usually reasonable. He could be just as stubborn as either himself or Johnny, but he stood and argued with him.

But Johnny was explosive. Unbeknown to either of them, their battles were becoming legendary around the ranch. They butted heads so often that it amazed those who heard them that they had not killed each other.

Scott and Teresa both knew the answer to that. Murdoch and Johnny did care about each other under all that shouting. They just had trouble saying it.

But now they all looked out for each other.

And both Murdoch and Scott were worried about Johnny.




      Scott waited for what he thought was enough time for Johnny to settle down, and then went upstairs to his room. The door was open but he knocked anyway. He could see Johnny with his back to him packing his saddlebags.

 Johnny said, "Come in," tolerantly and without even turning around, so Scott strolled in and sat on the bed watching him.

 Johnny continued back and forth from the dresser to the saddlebag for a while without saying a word. Scott watched him in silence until he finally got tired of waiting and opened the conversation himself.

 "Are you going to stop for a minute and talk to me?" he asked him simply.

 "I'm in a hurry," was the curt reply.

 "Are you in trouble?"

"Nope," he replied, with icy brevity.

"Well, something's eating you," Scott replied, ignoring Johnny’s attitude.

Abruptly Johnny stopped what he was doing and looked at Scott. He took the folded envelope out of his shirt pocket and pulled out the wire and angrily threw it on the bed beside Scott.

"You want to read it? Well, you go right ahead.” he said testily.

Scott didn't pick up the paper.

His silence aggravated Johnny’s raw nerves even more than words would have done. He had had enough and turned on his brother.

"Look Scott, I’m not on the run from anyone. I’m not going to shoot anyone. And you can see that wire’s addressed to Johnny Lancer not Madrid. Leave it at that, Scott."

Scott knew that he should leave it at that. He wanted to say ‘Alright, it’s your business, go and I won’t ask any more.’

But Scott was getting frustrated. "Will you at least tell us where you will be?"


Exasperated, Scott sighed before trying again. “How long do you think you’ll be gone then?”

“Long as it takes.”

Scott’s temper began to unravel, but he held it in check to avoid another scene like downstairs.

“Then just how long should we wait before we start to worry about you?” he asked, trying to keep the edge out of his voice.

Johnny went back to his packing. “Already told ya you don’t need to worry ‘bout me.”

Scott decided to pick up the folded paper from the bed. He looked at it, without reading it, and then he looked back towards his brother.

“You really don’t mind?” he asked him.

“Sure,” Johnny told him, “Go ahead. Why should I? It won’t tell you anything.”

Scott glanced down and the three words - all that was written in the message - stared back at him.

“Come quickly – Kath,” he read aloud. “It’s sort of cryptic isn’t it?” Scott commented, then glanced up and saw the puzzled expression on his brother’s face. He smiled. “I mean, it doesn’t say much.”

Johnny finished packing his bags and closed them up.

“It says enough,” he said, coolly.

His eyes had a faraway look and he added, “Kath wouldn’t have sent it unless….” He caught himself and stopped. He looked at Scott’s face and realized that a part of him probably wanted to tell him the rest.

But this was not the time. There would be plenty of time later for explanations. Right now, he just wanted to go.

He picked up the saddlebag and threw it over his shoulder.

"You're not leaving tonight?" Scott asked incredulously.

"Like I said, brother, I'm in a hurry." He turned and picked up the bedroll that he had ready on the floor by the bed.

“Johnny, it’s already dark!” Scott exclaimed. “You haven’t eaten and …”

Johnny shrugged his shoulders carelessly. “I’m not hungry,” he commented. “There’s a good moon out tonight, and I know the way. I won’t get lost,” he explained wryly.

As his brother turned away, he voiced the fear that had been gnawing at him from the start – the fear that Johnny’s past was about to catch up with him. "But you are coming back?" he asked.

"Sure, " Johnny replied, and he smiled and reassured him. “Told you I was didn’t I?”

He turned and left the room, leaving Scott sitting on the bed with the piece of paper still lying open in his hand.




“It’s been three days and not a word from him,” Murdoch Lancer fumed. His temper had been slowly rising bit by bit as each day passed and it was just about at a breaking point. He stood in the great room with his arm leaning on the mantelshelf. The big Spanish desk and chairs took up that side of the room, but it was the tension that dominated the atmosphere. Tension had pervaded the whole house.

Scott Lancer sat in a chair opposite him. “I’m sure he’s okay,” he said, in an effort to convince himself as much as his father.

“He could at least send word that he’s okay,” Murdoch flung back at him. “But no, that would be too responsible for Johnny. That boy still hasn’t learned!”

Scott said nothing. He knew it would be futile to argue anyway and he had no desire to incite him further. After a minute, Murdoch sighed and ran his hand through his hair in exasperation.

“He could be in trouble,” he said. There was a note of concern in his voice that Scott did not miss.

“He told me that he wasn’t,” Scott told him.

Murdoch glared at him. “Oh yeah, and do you think he would have told you if he was?”

It wasn’t the first time that that thought had crossed Scott’s mind. “No,” he admitted, reluctantly.

“No, of course he wouldn’t,” Murdoch replied. “Are you telling me that you’re not worried about him?

“Of course I am, but what can we do about it. He’ll get in touch when he’s ready.”

“If he can,” Murdoch said ominously. His eyes travelled to the piece of paper lying on the desk. He had checked that wire over more times than he cared to admit in the last few days and had still come up with only two pieces of information – firstly, that a woman named Kath had sent it and, secondly, the name of the town that it had been sent from.

“Scott, that wire was sent from Romane. That’s only a half day’s ride from here.”

Scott stared at his father. “You’re not thinking of going there?”

“Why not? We haven’t heard from him. We can’t go on waiting forever. What if something is wrong?”

“And what if it’s not? He was pretty definite about us staying out of it.”

“And how long do you think we should hold off then?” Murdoch asked angrily.

Scott shifted uncomfortably in the chair, torn between agreeing and disagreeing with his father’s argument. If only Johnny had given them some hint of what was going on. He was just as angry and worried about him as Murdoch was but he couldn’t bring himself to interfere in what he was certain was none of his business.

“I don’t know Murdoch,” he answered at last, “but we can’t just ride in and demand he tell us.”

“I think we’re going to have to. For all we know, he might have been riding into a trap of some kind.”

Scott stood up and turned away. He had considered that idea more than once in the last three days, but Johnny had been so adamant that there was no trouble that he was trying hard not to think about it.

“He’s entitled to his privacy Murdoch!” Scott said at last, turning back to Murdoch. “I’m just as worried as you are, but he assured me he wasn’t going looking for trouble.”

“Looking for trouble!” Murdoch scoffed. “Since when did he have to ‘look’ for trouble. He’s like a magnet. It finds him!”

Scott had to admit that he was right. “I know that Sir, but I still think we should stay out of it.”

“Well I think you should head over there tomorrow and see what you can find out.”

“Me?” Scott exclaimed. “I don’t think so!”

“Why not?”

“Because if he’s not in trouble, he’s liable to get damned angry. And if he gets damned angry, I’m liable to get damned hurt!”




        He might have known he’d end up going anyway. No amount of argument would dissuade Murdoch, and Scott had tried it all. 

        Ultimately, though, it had been his own concern for Johnny that had made him go along with Murdoch’s plan.

         Murdoch had been right about the fact that Johnny would never have admitted to being in any sort of trouble. At first, he had let it go. Johnny was more than capable of looking after himself. But as the days had gone by with still no word, he had been disturbed by the secretiveness that Johnny was showing. It wasn’t exactly unlike him, admittedly, but Scott had seen Johnny’s face when he read that wire. There had been bad news in those three words, and Scott could not help but worry about it.

        So, against his better judgement, if not exactly against his will, he had gone along with the plan.

        He got off to an early start to beat the heat of the day. With Murdoch’s directions and the early start, he made it to Romane in good time. There wasn’t much to the town itself, just a general store and livery stable, as well as a saloon and a few houses – all the usual prerequisites.

         Scott decided that the first thing to do was to find himself a room for the night. There was no hotel in the town. It was too small and too out of the way to warrant one. And he could see no obvious boarding house either, so he decided to try the saloon. Most of them had a room or two for rent. He went straight to the saloon at the end of the main street.

         In such a small town, Scott was sure it should be easy to locate his brother. In places like this, strangers stood out like a sore thumb. Most likely too, everyone knew everyone else’s business. The arrival of Johnny Lancer had probably had people talking for days.

        Scott took his saddlebags and threw them over his shoulder. He tethered his horse outside, dusted himself off and went in. He’d lodge his horse at the stable after arranging a room.

        There was another reason for heading straight to the saloon. It was very possible that Johnny had also gotten a room there, or at least someone might have seen him and be able to tell him where to find him.

         It was a good place to start anyway.

         With that in mind, he went to the bar. The barkeep approached him eagerly and asked what he’d have. It was still early in the day, and there was no one else in the saloon.

        “A room, if you’ve got any,” Scott replied and the man smiled.

        “Sure I have Mister,” the man beamed. “Two dollars a night.”

“Don’t get many strangers here in town, but I got a couple of rooms upstairs that I keep made up just in case.”

        He reached under the counter and pulled out a register. It was dusty from lack of use but as he signed the register, Scott quickly scanned the few other names on the page. His brother’s signature was not there.

        The barkeep turned the book around and said as he looked at the signature, “Is there anything else I can help you with Mr…,” he looked up at Scott quickly, and Scott thought he saw a trace of fear in the man’s face. “Mr Lancer?” 

        There wasn’t much in the man’s reaction, but Scott noticed it. He also felt that he was being sized up carefully. He tried to ignore it and answered the question.

        “That’s right, Scott Lancer. I’m looking for my brother, Johnny Lancer,” he told him. “He said he’d meet me here in town.” Scott’s conscience pricked a little at the lie.

         “I’m real sorry Mister Lancer,” the barkeep replied. “There’s no-one by that name stayin’ here.”

         The man seemed nervous. That worried Scott.

         “Is there anywhere else in town he could be staying?”

         The barkeep answered vaguely. “I don’t rightly know. We ain’t got no hotel or boardin’ house.” The man carelessly shrugged his shoulders and added, ‘Less he’s staying with someone local, I can’t help you Mister.”

         He took the key to the room Scott had booked and handed it over to him. “That’ll be two dollars Mister, first room on the right at the top of the stairs.”

         Scott felt strangely suspicious of the man. Something seemed faintly wrong about the change in him after the mention of Johnny’s name. He’d seemed friendly enough and eager to help him until then.

         Convinced that he would get no more information out of the man, Scott handed the money over to him and thanked him, and then turned to go upstairs. The feeling of disquiet continued, even after he had walked up the stairs. He was sure he could feel the man’s eyes boring into his back as he left.

         He found the room easily and opened the door to find a bleak but tidy and serviceable room. The bed was reasonable and he threw the saddlebags onto it and sat down to think. Through the window he could see right down the main street. His brother was out there somewhere, or at least someone who knew where he could find him.

         Well, his first attempt at locating his brother had failed miserably. It looked like he was going to have to ask around a bit to find Johnny. Scott felt a vague uneasiness about his brother now. He hoped he wasn’t in trouble. The barkeep’s abrupt change of attitude bothered him.



     Scott walked his horse down to the livery stable.  

        He called a “Hello!” to the owner as he reached the door. The man emerged from inside the stable. He was a big, broad man with a friendly smile.

         “Howdy,” the man answered cheerfully.

         “Howdy,” Scott replied in return.

         “Help you Mister?” the man asked affably.

         Scott smiled cheerfully back at him, glad of a friendly face after his experience at the saloon.

         “I need to stable my hose, could be for a day or two,” Scott told him.

         “Sure, I got plenty of room,” the man beamed back at him. “Two bits a day, an’ I’ll take care of him for you.”

         “Sounds fine,” Scott agreed and handed over the money and the reins.

         “Thanks Mister,” the man replied and then added, “I’ll look after him like he was my own.”

         Scott turned to walk away, but a quick glance into the semi-darkness of the stable stopped him in his tracks.

         In one of the stalls at the far end of the building stood a pale coloured horse with a blonde mane and tail, its colouring standing out against the shadows.

         There was no mistaking that animal; even though he wasn’t close enough to check out the distinctive Lancer brand that he knew it was wearing.

         “You wouldn’t happen to know where I can find the owner of the palomino?” he asked the stable owner offhandedly.

         Scott saw the man’s expression change. The man looked at him warily. His whole attitude suddenly altered and the big friendly smile disappeared as he said, “Couldn’t say Mister.”

         Scott was stunned by the change in the man. It was just like what had happened at the saloon. It was frustrating, but he held his temper in check.

         “It looks like my brother’s horse,” he said calmly. “Johnny Lancer, do you know where I might find him?”

         The big man shook his head quickly. “Sorry mister. I can’t say as I know the name.”

         “Look, I know that horse is my brother’s,” he insisted. “If I go down to that stall I’ll find the Lancer brand on it, won’t I? So where is my brother?”

         The man shrugged his shoulders. “Sorry Mister. Can’t help you,” and turned away to go back and leave Scott on his own outside.

         “Hey! Now wait a minute!” Scott called out to him, trying to get him to stop and turn around and face him, but to no avail. The man ignored him and went into the stable, taking Scott’s horse with him, as though nothing had happened, and leaving Scott outside with nowhere to turn.

         Now, Scott was worried. What had been a vague uneasiness was now genuine concern.

         First there had been the barkeep’s odd reaction to him, and now this man’s sudden evasiveness, and both when he mentioned his brother’s name. He began to wonder what sort of trouble Johnny could be in this time.

         Scott was getting angry and his first inclination was to go after the stableman and beat the answer out of him. But he was smarter than that and he searched for an alternative.

         He looked around the street, hoping something or someone would provide him with an answer. There was no one about, and if there were, would they react any differently? What was it about Johnny’s name that made these people so obstructive?

         He was getting angrier by the minute, and he spotted the Sheriff’s office and strode across the street to it.

         The door was open and he stormed in to find the Sheriff, a middle aged man with a build that made it obvious that he had little to do most of the time. He lounged in a chair behind a rough-made desk with his feet up, casually leafing through some papers. Scott came to an abrupt halt in front of him.

         He looked up nonchalantly, apparently unaffected by Scott’s sudden entrance. “Something I can do for you son?” he asked in an easy, laconic tone that enraged Scott.

         Scott glared at him. The man’s lazy appearance only served to fuel his rising anger. “Yes, Sheriff. My name is Scott Lancer and I’m here looking for my brother, Johnny. I know he’s somewhere in town but I’m being stonewalled everywhere I go. No-one will give me a straight answer.” 

        The Sheriff didn’t make a move to get up. In fact he didn’t move at all.

         “And what makes you think he’s here in town?”

         “His horse is in the stable across the street,” Scott told him angrily.

         The sheriff nodded. “You sure it’s his?”

         Scott’s anger boiled. “If you come with me, I’ll show you the Lancer brand he’s wearing,” he shouted furiously.

         “All right, cool down. First off son, you got some proof you are who you say you are?” the Sheriff asked him.

         Scott took out his pocket book and pulled out a letter from his Grandfather. He handed it over to the sheriff none too graciously.

         “Alright,” the Sheriff agreed, examining it quickly and then handing it back to him. “This is a small town, son,” he drawled. “Don’t get many visitors. Your brother got some reason to come here?”

         Scott shifted a little, uncomfortably. “He came on personal business, to meet a friend,” he told him.

         “A friend huh?” the Sheriff asked. “What’s his friend’s name then? Maybe I know him.”

         “Kath,” Scott answered. “Do you know where I can find her?”

         “Kath hey?” the Sheriff answered. He took his feet off the desk and sat up straight, putting the papers down on the desk. “Son, you know how many ‘Kaths’ live hereabouts? We got a Katherine, a Kate and a Kathy. You got this Kath’s last name by any chance?”

         “No,” Scott told him bluntly, “and I’m not interested in her. I’m looking for my brother.”

         “Is that right?” the Sheriff replied a little sarcastically. “So what brought you here to town? You supposed to be meeting up with this brother o’ yours or somethin’?”

         Despite his anger, his conscience stung him. “Well, no,” he admitted, “not exactly. He came a few days ago.”

         “Seems to me, son,” he said calmly, “if your brother wanted you to find him, he’d have told you where to find him.”

         Scott’s rage began to ebb. What the Sheriff was saying was true, but having come this far, he wasn’t stopping now. Besides, there was something strange going on in this town and it had something to do with Johnny.

         “Look Sheriff, he’s been gone for days and we’re worried about him,” he said, far more reasonably. “I know he’s here and I just want to make sure he’s okay. If you know anything, please tell me.”

         The Sheriff looked studiously down at his hands, clasped together on the desk in front of him. He didn’t even look at Scott for some time.

         Scott could see he was thinking something over, perhaps trying to come to a decision.

         “Maybe he don’t want you to find him, son,” he said at last, without looking up.

         Scott was honest enough to admit the truth of it. He nodded. “Sure, maybe,” he admitted, reluctantly, but he added with a grim determination that impressed the sheriff. “I’ll take my chances with him.”

         The Sheriff sighed and looked Scott in the eye.

          “Johnny Lancer eh?” the Sheriff said, shaking his head. “Well Mister, I really can’t tell you where your brother is,” he said a little sadly, but he held up a hand to stop Scott’s impending protests. “But Kath is at the house down the end of Main Street. It’s a neat little place with the picket fence. You can’t miss it.”

         “Thank you Sheriff,” Scott told him eagerly, “I appreciate your help.” He turned to leave.

         “Don’t mention it son,” the Sheriff replied, and then added “please.” Then he smiled enigmatically and continued. “’Specially to that brother of yours when you find him!”

         Scott thought it was a strange thing to say, but he was too happy to have a lead on Johnny’s whereabouts to pay any more attention to it now.

         He made his way to the end of the street. It was late afternoon, but there was still plenty of daylight left.

         He found the house easily. It was a neat little house, just as the Sheriff had described it. Well looked after, it even had a few straggling little daisies struggling to grow in a rough little garden beside the steps. He opened the gate, walked up the steps and knocked on the door.

         Impatient for an answer, he was about to knock again, when the door opened and a pretty blonde woman in her early twenties opened the door.

         “Can I help you?” she asked quietly. She looked at him with a puzzled frown that took nothing away from her beautiful green eyes or the faint blush in her cheeks.

         He was struck by her appearance, and it took a moment for him to collect himself enough to answer. He quickly grabbed his hat off his head and held it awkwardly in front of him.

         “I hope so. I’m looking for someone named Kath.”

         A glowing smile lit up her face, adding to her beauty, and she declared with quiet dignity, “I’m Kath.”

         The woman looked at him curiously as he tried to think how he should go about this. Now that he had found her, would she react in the same way that the rest of the town had?

         This lovely young woman was his first tangible link to his brother and he didn’t want to scare her off too.

         He unconsciously played with the brim of his hat as he thought, and he didn’t realise just how long he was taking to make up his mind until she spoke again.

 "I'm sorry. Is there something I can do for you?" she asked again, obviously puzzled.

     Scott pulled himself together and hoped his mouth had not been open while he stared at her. He felt a little uncomfortable now.

Johnny's reason for coming here was beginning to take on a whole new twist. In fact, he thought, with a sudden surge of anger at his brother, if all this mystery and worry had been just for a lovers' tryst, he was going to tear him apart!

"Sorry ma'am,” he said, a little awkwardly but as politely as he could. He decided he had to come right out and ask her about him. “I'm actually looking for Johnny Lancer."

She blanched a little at his words but asked sweetly, and with no apparent concern, "Do I know you?"

Scott did not get a chance to answer her question.

From behind her, deep in the shadows of the interior of the house, he heard a voice that he immediately recognised.

The voice said, "No, but I do,” with a cold finality that struck Scott like a slap on the face. He knew that voice all right, but more importantly, he recognised the tone of it.




Johnny emerged from the shadows behind her, and the edge to his voice was echoed in the expression on his face. Kath stepped aside to let him through.

 He stood in front of Scott and glared at him. For just an instant, Scott thought he was looking into the icy blue eyes of Johnny Madrid.

 It shocked him. Johnny had raged at him on plenty of occasions, even with a cold rage that was frightening enough, but he had never turned Madrid on him.

 "What are you doing here?” he asked Scott in icy tones. “I told you this was my business."

 Scott stood his ground and glared right back at his brother. The tension and the worry of the last few days, and his own weariness from a long ride in the saddle and the anger and frustration of the rest of the day, all of it went into the mix and his own temper snapped.

 "And just how long were we supposed to wait to find out if you were alright? A word would have been enough. You could have sent word that you were okay!" he shouted back.

 "I told you there was nothing to worry about,” Johnny snapped back at him furiously. “There was no need to follow me and ..."

 “And what Johnny?” Scott raged back at him. “Just what is going on here?”

 Fire glowed in Johnny’s eyes. “It’s still none of your business, Scott – not yours, and not the old man’s either! It’s my business and you should have stayed out of it!” he raged.

 Kath put her hand on his shoulder and grabbed his attention. "Johnny," she said in a tone that was both cool and forbidding at the same time. He looked back at her and stopped immediately. Scott watched as the fire went out of him, at least some of it, and he cooled down somewhat.

 He swung back to face Scott again. If the fire in his eyes had not gone right out, at least the embers had smouldered to a mere glow.

 "Well, you're here now so you'd better come in," he told his brother gracelessly.

 He turned and stalked angrily back into the house, leaving Scott standing outside watching him go. Scott’s own rage died out of him, replaced by discomfort. Well, he’d wanted to find him, and he had! Now he had to face the music! He was interfering, and he had known all along that he was. But at least he knew that his brother was safe and well.

 Kath, at least, had a welcoming smile for him. “Come inside, Mr Lancer,” she said sweetly.




Scott followed the girl into the house and was surprised at how neat and homey the little house was inside. He found himself in a welcoming parlour with comfortable chairs, a rug on the floor, even lace curtains at the windows. On the table, there were a few daisies in a vase and there were paintings on the walls.

 To his surprise, there was even an upright piano in the far corner of the room, polished to a glossy shine and obviously someone's pride and joy. There was a certain elegance to the room that he had not expected to find here.

 There was an awkward silence in the room as Johnny, his back to both of them and his hands on his hips, tried to get his temper under control. Scott and Kath looked uncomfortably at each other until Kath finally tired of the silence and spoke to Scott.

 She smiled at him to put him at his ease, and offered her hand. "Well, since Johnny is not offering to do it, I'll introduce myself. My name is Kath Romane, and you, I imagine, must be Scott Lancer. We’ve heard a lot about you.”

 Scott would have liked to be able to say the same, but he shook her hand and smiled his most charming smile. "I'm afraid so, Miss Romane. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

 She glanced pointedly at Johnny, whose attention was caught and he turned around and apologised sheepishly. He sighed a long, deep sigh and said “Sorry Kath,” with a wry smile.

 Kath smiled back at him. His mood had obviously tempered a little so she decided that diplomacy was called for now. "I'll leave you two alone to talk then," she said to them, and then added, pointedly, to Johnny, “Quietly.”

 He nodded and watched as she went inside to what Scott assumed would be a bedroom. He turned to his brother and said simply, hoping to break the ice between them, “Beautiful Woman!”

"Yeah, I guess she is," he said distractedly.

Scott thought that he certainly didn't sound like a man in love with the woman.

Johnny glared at his brother as a thought occurred to him. “Is that what you think? That I’m here to be with Kath?”

Scott threw his hat violently onto one of the chairs in exasperation and answered, "Johnny, I don't know what to think! All you needed to do was to send word that you were okay and I wouldn't even be here.”

For just an instant, fire flared anew in his brother's eyes, and then he cooled.

“Alright, alright. I guess I’ve got a lot on my mind.”

"And as for finding you! The very mention of your name in this town and everyone turned blind, deaf and dumb!" Scott told him.

To his surprise, Johnny smiled. "Yeah? Well don’t go thinking they were protecting me. They were looking out for the Senora.”

Scott looked quizzically at him. “Who is the Senora?”

Johnny sighed again and said, "Well, you're here now, so I might as well tell you everything.”

“What everything?” Scott asked.

Johnny looked uncomfortable. He took one of the kitchen chairs and sat down. "It's a long story. You’d better sit down.”

        Scott hesitated a moment, but said nothing and sat in one of the chairs facing him.

         "Alright, here goes. First, Kath doesn't own this house. It belongs to a special friend of mine. She’s sick...well...she's dying," he stopped for a moment, but Scott waited for him go on without interrupting him.

"She grew up the daughter of one of the old Spanish Dons. Her family had money and power and all these big plans for a great marriage for her, but she fell in love with an English Doctor who came to work in the town near where she lived, and they ran off together. They ended up here. I never met old Alex, but I hear he was worth all the trouble she went to. That piano over there,” he said nodding in the direction of the beautifully polished instrument that Scott had noticed when he arrived, “Alex had it shipped all the way from ‘Frisco for her. Spent a fortune that he didn’t really have to do it too.”

 Johnny grinned. “I guess it sounds like a pretty stupid thing to do, but I figure he loved her that much. They settled down and had a daughter, and then he died from the influenza.”

 He glanced at his brother for a moment before continuing with his story. "Well, she took in sewing, taught guitar and piano, did whatever she could to earn a living, and she raised her daughter on her own. Then when her daughter was about nineteen, she married a drifter passing through town. He was no good. He drank too much, fought a lot, and then ran off and left her carrying his baby. Christabel, The Senora’s daughter, died in childbirth, but the baby lived, and the Senora raised her on her own just like she’d raised Christabel.” He hesitated again, but Scott still said nothing.

             He hesitated for a lot longer this time. He looked down at the table, and he fidgeted with a glass there. Scott knew him well enough to know he was uncomfortable.

             Finally he continued, without looking up at Scott at all.

     "Her granddaughter, Luisa, grew up and I guess you might say that history kinda repeated itself. She met another no good drifter who rode into town one day and she married him," he continued. "Oh, he tried, I guess, and while it lasted...well, I think she was happy." He smiled enigmatically and then sobered a little. He finally looked up and faced his brother. “And then she died in childbirth too.”

        Anger tinged his words as he continued, "Then he lit out and left the baby with the Senora!”

     He looked Scott in the eye and told him vehemently, "Scott, that old lady has been knocked down over and over, and she took it all and gave those kids nothing but love. This whole town respects her and would do anything for her...and so would I."

 Realising his brother had finished his story, Scott asked him candidly, "And where do you come in?"

Johnny smiled and leaned back in his chair. He put his hands behind his head and answered.

"I thought you were smarter than that Boston," he said at last with an ironic note in his voice. "Didn't you figure it out? I was the no-good that Luisa married. Luisa was my wife."



Scott felt as though the breath had been knocked out of him. His jaw dropped open and it took him some time for it to work enough to gasp "What!"

 His brother merely shrugged his shoulders. His attitude made it obvious that he wasn't kidding, but he said nothing more.

 Scott shook his head in disbelief. He stood up out of the chair and faced Johnny. "When did this happen?" he asked Johnny.

 "Six years ago," he answered bluntly.

 "Six?" Scott repeated in shock. "Johnny, you would have only been..."

 "Kids," Johnny finished for him. "Yeah, I know, we were just kids, but she was...oh God, how can I explain it?" he said desperately. "Scott, she was so lovely, not just beautiful, she was sweet and gentle and when she laughed..." he smiled at the memory, "her eyes just danced. She was the first good thing to ever happen to me, and I grabbed hold of her like nothin’ else."

 Taken aback by his brother's emotional statement, Scott could not find anything to say. He had never heard Johnny express himself that way.

 "You never said anything, Johnny," he said simply and sympathetically, but with a hint of the confusion he was feeling.

 Johnny stood up from the chair, and turned away, so Scott could not see his face.

 "I couldn't," he answered simply and sadly.

 It was all too much to take in at once. The very idea of his free and easy brother having ever been married was too much to conceive at the moment. All he could think was that she must really have been something special. He and Murdoch, even Teresa, were still unsure where they stood with him sometimes, but for this girl, he had given his heart. That much was obvious. Yes, she must have been something special!

 "I don't understand. Why not?" Scott asked him.

 Johnny did not get a chance to answer. From the doorway on the far side of the room came a flat, explanatory voice.

 "Because he made a promise," Kath answered for him. She looked across at Johnny, who had risen slowly from his chair and gave her a black look. "I'm sorry, Johnny. But I know you won’t tell him."

 "The Senora?" he asked anxiously, and without worrying about her interruption.

 "She's asleep," she replied simply and Johnny appeared satisfied. 

 He said nothing more, though, so Scott asked her, "What promise?"

 Then he stopped dead. All of his questions disappeared from his mind as he saw who had followed her into the room.

 Standing beside Kath, and holding tight to her hand and looking at him, was a small child, a little girl - no, a breath-takingly beautiful little girl!

 She had olive skin and raven-black hair that fell in waves down her back to her waist and a pretty bow on the back of her head. Her eyes were large and brown and fringed by long, soft lashes, and she wore a neat dress and pinafore.

 He blinked for a moment and remembered what Johnny had told him. "She died in childbirth too" and "he lit out and left the baby with the Senora"! There had been a child – Johnny’s child!

 “Maddie was beginning to fret,” Kath explained to Johnny, who had turned towards her on hearing her voice. “We thought we might go for a walk.”

 The little girl looked enquiringly at Scott, who stood staring at her, speechless. She smiled timidly at him, and then looked over at Johnny.

 “We thought we might visit Barranca, didn’t we Maddie?” Kath continued, trying to ignore Scott’s silence. It amused her a little that he was so surprised. Johnny had obviously not gotten far in his explanations.

 Johnny visibly relaxed in their presence. “Sure,” he said amiably.

 The little girl smiled and approached Johnny. Looking up at him, she asked sweetly, “Can I take him some sugar?”

 Johnny smiled warmly at the child. “You’ll have him fat and toothless!” he teased her and she giggled.

 “Don’t be silly,” she laughed.

 Johnny put a serious expression on his face. “Well, I would look silly on a fat horse, wouldn’t I?”

 She giggled again, nodded and said “Uh-huh.”

 He smiled at her again. “Well, okay, go get it,” he told her.

 The child ran out of the room into the kitchen. Johnny watched her go, and then turned back to Kath. “Make sure she comes back with all her fingers,” he said to her with a grin.

 Maddie ran back into the room and stopped beside Johnny, her hand full of sugar lumps. “Barranca won’t bite me, Papa,” she told him in all seriousness. “I know how to feed him.”

 He looked down at her just as seriously. “Show me,” he demanded of her.

 She opened her little hand out flat. “See,” she said proudly.

 Johnny laughed and the little girl giggled along with him. Scott was struck by the ease of the rapport between them.

 Johnny stopped laughing and tapped her on the shoulder. “Hey, do you know who this is?” he asked her, indicating Scott.

 She looked in Scott’s direction and studied the stranger in her house carefully. Then she shook her head.

 “He’s my brother, Scott,” Johnny explained briefly.

 She looked at Scott and tilted her head slightly to the side, studying him curiously and then looked back up at Johnny. “Mi Tio?” she asked him at last.

 “Yep,” he confirmed, and then he leaned down closer to her and whispered conspiratorially, but loud enough to be heard by his brother, “He looks kinda funny with his mouth open like that, don’t he?”

 Scott shook himself in exasperation, with himself and with his brother, while the child giggled again. Johnny had him at an uncomfortable disadvantage, and he could see that he was beginning to enjoy it.

 “Hi,” Scott said to her at last, and she smiled shyly at him. He had no idea what else to say. What did one say in this situation? He wasn’t even sure what Tio meant. His Spanish was pretty limited.

 Johnny turned, almost defiantly, to his brother, and then relaxed into an easy smile.

 “Well, go on, tell him your name, Maddie,” he told her, still holding his brother’s gaze.

 She smiled proudly. “My name is Madelena Luisa Antonia Lancer,” she announced.

 Scott smiled kindly at her. He was a little surprised by the Lancer, instead of Madrid. “Quite a mouthful!” he said teasingly, as much to his brother as to the child.

 She giggled again and Johnny told her, “Go on then. Go with Kath, and you be careful around Barranca.”

 “Yes Papa,” she answered happily and ran across the room to where Kath had been waiting patiently. Kath said nothing more but took Maddie by the hand and led her outside without so much as a backward glance.

 After watching them go, Johnny turned back to Scott. He sighed loudly and said, “Well, brother, I guess you’ve got a few questions.”

 Scott shook his head in disbelief. “A few!” he replied in frustration, and then he added awkwardly, “She’s beautiful!”

 “Yeah,” Johnny agreed with a proud smile. “She’s just like her mother.”

 “How old is she?”

 “Five,” Johnny answered.

 “Five!” Scott repeated in amazement, and a little louder than he had planned. He turned away from his brother, still shaking his head. When he turned around to face his brother again, he said in exasperation, “I’m sorry, Johnny. This is all just too much to take in.”

 Johnny answered him just as seriously. “Yeah, I guess so,” he said. “I’m sorry Scott, it wasn’t supposed to happen this way.”

 “No, I don’t suppose it was,” Scott accepted. He looked at his brother and, puzzled, he asked, “You said you left when she was a baby?”

 “Yeah, that’s right,” he admitted reluctantly. He seemed to be searching for the right words. “Luisa was gone and I…I guess I couldn’t face it.” He turned around and went back to the chair he had been sitting in earlier. He sat down again, in the same careless fashion.

“I came back six months later,” he continued. “I got one look at those big brown eyes of hers, and I was hooked like a fish on a line.” He looked up into his brother’s face.

 “Maddie was the second good thing to happen to me!” he told him proudly.

 Scott sat back down himself in the same chair he had been in. The anger between them was gone now. It had been swift, and terrible while it lasted, and they both regretted it.

 “Why haven’t you ever said anything then? What’s all this about a promise?” Scott asked him.

 Johnny looked down for a moment, avoiding Scott’s eyes. When he looked back up, he seemed to be prepared to tell the rest of the story.

 “I gave up my rights to her when I lit out, Scott,” he told him. There was hurt in his voice when he said it and sadness in his eyes. “The Senora took care of her for me and she couldn’t have done a better job. When I came back, she welcomed me like a long lost son. She wanted me to stay, but things were different by then.”

 There was a lost look on his face that Scott had seen before when he had talked about those years. “Madrid?” he asked plainly.

 Johnny nodded. “Yeah,” he admitted. “When I came to this town, and met Luisa, I had a big chip on my shoulder, and I already had a reputation. When I left, I was just plain bitter. By the time I came back, Johnny Madrid had gone a long way.”

 “You weren’t Madrid while you were here?” Scott asked. He was surprised. Johnny had always known his real name, but he had never used it as far as they all knew.

 “No,” Johnny admitted. “I married Luisa using my real name.” He hesitated and then explained further. “It wouldn’t have felt right otherwise. You know, I wanted it legal and all. And besides, well, Johnny Madrid had enemies. I figured it would protect her. Then when the baby was coming, I wanted her to be able to go to LANCER if anything happened to me and she needed help. She’d be able to prove who she was, whether Murdoch liked it or not.”

 He looked towards Scott, as if for reassurance that he understood.

 Scott nodded to show that he did. Even hating his father as much as he knew Johnny had back then, he must have loved Luisa exceptionally to take such precautions. With proof of who she was, Scott had no doubts that Murdoch would have taken them in and cared for them.

 “Yeah, well, I didn’t know anything about kids, and I sure wasn’t in a position to learn. So the Senora agreed to keep her, and raise her for me,” Johnny continued. “I came by whenever I could.”

 “Yes, but Johnny, all that changed when you came to Lancer. Why didn’t you bring her home?”

 “You mean take her away from the Senora?”

 Scott suddenly realised the dilemma he must have been faced with. “You could have brought her too,” he argued.

 “I know,” he admitted, “but you have to understand Scott. She grew up among men with money and power. She was getting on in years, and to her, Murdoch Lancer was just another rich landowner. She was afraid of him. She was sure he’d take Maddie away from her.”

 Scott did understand now. “So you promised her she could keep her, right?”

 “Yeah,” he agreed. “But if I’d told Murdoch, he’d have wanted to see Maddie. So I kept her a secret.”

 “When did you last see her then?”

 Johnny grinned mischievously. “Three months ago.”

 Scott stared at him in astonishment. “Three months ago?” he asked. “How? We would have missed you.”

 “Quick side trip on my way home from ‘Frisco,” he explained simply. “Other times, if I went missing after I got paid, you and Murdoch just assumed I was out having some fun.”

 Scott stood up and paced across the room, before looking back at his brother. He was astonished at the lengths to which his brother must have gone to keep the secret.

 He could understand, now, why he had done it. It was much harder to understand how he had done it. To have kept his daughter a secret from the world, and from his family, for so long was certainly quite a feat.

 “I can’t believe you got away with it,” he said at last. “Especially using the name Lancer. I can’t believe Murdoch never heard anything about it. And why didn’t the Pinkertons pick up your trail?”

 “I don’t know for sure, but I’ve thought about it some,” Johnny answered with a wry grin. “Once they realised that Johnny Lancer had become Johnny Madrid, they stopped looking for me under that name. They were looking for Madrid.”

 Scott was astounded at the simple logic of it. He threw his arms up in wonder. “It’s incredible!” he exclaimed. “The whole thing’s incredible!”

 “Yeah, well, maybe. But I’ll be having to explain it all to Murdoch soon,” Johnny told him sadly. “The Senora is dying. She’s been sick for a while now, and she knows her time is comin’. That’s why they sent for me.”

 Scott sobered at the reminder of the reason he was here.

Johnny stood up from the chair and picked it up to replace it at the table. He stopped, and without turning back to his brother he said, “She’s always known about me, Scott, but she never judged me. Just took me as I am.”

 "I’m sorry Johnny,” he said compassionately.

 “Thanks. I guess I’ve known it was comin’ too,” he told Scott sorrowfully, and he headed out of the room. Without turning back he added, “But it don’t help much.”




        Scott stayed for supper and found himself alone at the table with Kath when Johnny took Maddie and went inside to sit with the Senora.

         He had been fascinated watching Johnny with his little daughter. This might all be new to him, but it was obvious that the two of them had a relationship of long standing. She seemed to be excited to have him around, but he had soon realized that it was himself who was the novelty.

         He had caught her staring at him curiously more than once when she thought he wasn't looking. He didn't think she was shy, but she said nothing to him, leaving the 'grown ups' to do all the talking.

         He found himself looking for any resemblances between them. They had the same colouring, of course, which stood to reason if both of her parents were of Mexican descent. Her eyes were brown, unlike Johnny's blue eyes, but he had seen the same twinkle in them when she laughed that he often noticed in his.

         Apart from that, though, he couldn't find a lot of resemblance between them. Johnny had said that she was the image of her mother, and he seemed to like it that way. He found himself wishing that he could have met Luisa. She must have been something special for him to have married her, and so young at that. Johnny was often impulsive, but he was also a free spirit. Scott wouldn’t have picked him for having the urge to be married.

         Once they were alone, he decided to find out what he could from Kath. This unknown girl intrigued him.

         "Did you know Luisa?" he asked her once they were alone.

         "Oh yes," she answered emphatically. "We grew up together. Luisa was my best friend."

          "Will you tell me about her then?"

         "Of course," she answered eagerly. She smiled charmingly at him.    "This must be hard for you. Did Johnny really never mention Maddie or Luisa?"

         Scott shook his head. "No never. I can't believe he's never told us about something as important as a wife and daughter!"

        It was Kath's turn to shake her head. "No, one thing I'll say for Johnny, he keeps his word, no matter what," she told him. "He promised Luisa he'd give up gun fighting when they were married and he did. He took odd jobs around town and he hated it, but he stuck with it. Mr Romane finally took pity on him and gave him work at his ranch just outside town."


         “My father-in-law, Joseph Romane. He owns a big ranch near here and the town sort of grew up around it.” She smiled at him and added, “Although I don’t suppose that a Lancer would consider it a big ranch.”

        “And Johnny went to work for him?”

         Kath seemed amused by Scott's expression. He was dumb-founded! Johnny had actually given up gun fighting for her.

         She smiled at him again. "Johnny was much happier working there. Of course, everyone in town knew he was Johnny Madrid. He had quite a reputation even at that age. They all distrusted him at first, but after he stuck by Luisa and kept his promise to her, he won them over."

         "That might explain why I got stonewalled when I mentioned his name," Scott told her.

         She smiled again. "Yes, they’ve been keeping the name of Lancer and Madrid a secret for years now. They don’t trust anyone who comes looking for either. For him and for the Senora, yes, they would have ‘stonewalled’ you, as you say," she agreed.

         "What about Luisa herself?" he asked. "What was she like?"

         Memories flooded back into Kath's mind - sweet, happy memories that brought with them bittersweet feelings. She smiled.

         "Let me see," she began. "She was pretty and sweet and, oh my, she was so funny. She was always laughing and her eyes just..."

         Her voice trailed off as if she was looking for a word to describe them.

         Scott remembered Johnny's description. "Danced?" he finished for her. She looked at him curiously. "Johnny's word," he explained in answer to her unasked question.

         "I should have guessed. It's a good description," she agreed. "She was seventeen when she met Johnny, and soon after that they were married." She stopped for a moment, and appeared to be thinking seriously about what to say. "I know they were both kids," she said at last, "I mean, Johnny wasn't much older than Luisa, but please don't make the mistake of thinking it was some sort of teenage fling. They had something special, Scott. They had one wonderful year together before Maddie was born, and Luisa died the next day."

         Tears pricked her eyes as she spoke. "Johnny was lost. It was like his heart had gone out of him. He'd just sit and stare at the baby. None of us could get through to him. He rode out of town right after the funeral."

         She stopped then and tears had welled in her eyes, but remained unshed. Scott began to understand it more clearly now. He knew Johnny well enough, now, to know that it probably wasn't his promise alone that had kept him from talking about Luisa. If he had been hurt that badly, he would keep it bottled up. He rarely talked about the things that mattered most in his early life - not his childhood, with or without his mother, nor about his life as Johnny Madrid. He kept all those memories to himself.

         "But he came back?" he asked.

         She nodded. "Yes. We'd begun to hear stories by that time, about Johnny Madrid, you know? I saw him when he came back. He seemed, oh, I don’t know, different...colder. But he fell for Maddie. She was about six months old by then. He started coming back whenever he could, and he sent money to the Senora whenever he had any."

         Kath suddenly laughed, surprising Scott out of the reverie he found himself in, and then she continued. “I remember, one time he sent so much money that the Senora wouldn’t touch it. She was afraid to even think what he had done to earn it. She never had any illusions about what he did you see. Well, then he explained that he had gotten it from his father and it was then that he promised not to mention Maddie to yourself or Mr Lancer.”

         Scott nodded his head, knowing exactly what she was talking about. “His ‘listening money’,” he explained, as much for his own benefit as for hers. Then he grinned. “And he still sends money I suppose?”

         When she nodded confirmation, he said, “That would explain why he’s perennially broke. Murdoch bawls him out for it all the time. That, and the ‘sprees’ he goes off on to spend it.” Scott suddenly saw the explanation for those missing weekends. “Has he been coming here since he came back to Lancer?”

         “Oh yes, he gets away when he can. Usually, he can only stay for the day, but he comes whenever he can sneak away.”

         Scott shook his head at the sheer craftiness of his brother and laughed. He had bumped heads with Murdoch over and over about those missing weekends – his ‘sprees’ – and still he had never said a word. He had been content to let them continue believing in his irresponsibility.

         Before they had a chance to continue with the conversation, Johnny came back into the room with Maddie. He did not appear to have heard what they had been saying, but came over to them and said quietly, “The Senora is awake. She wants to see you Scott.”

         Scott turned to him in stunned silence. “Me?” he exclaimed.

         Johnny shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly. “She just wants to meet you is all,” he told his brother.

For a moment, Scott was uncertain what he should do. He already felt that he was intruding, and this unexpected turn of events made him feel even more uncomfortable.

But, he felt that he could not say no. “Sure, of course,” he answered, rising from the table and following his brother through the house and into the Senora’s bedroom.

He stopped just inside the door and watched Johnny walk forward ahead of him. He had left Maddie with Kath in the other room so they were alone with the old lady.

The light in the room was subdued, with only one lamp on a small chest next to the bed to bring a little light, but it was enough to reveal a room that was as elegant and tasteful as the ones he had seen in the rest of the house.

Above the bed hung a large but simply crafted crucifix, and in the large bed lay an elderly lady with silver hair tied in a long and neat plait down her back. She looked pale and drawn, but even so, she was a handsome woman for her age. He tried to imagine her as a lively young woman and guessed that she must have been a beauty.

Her eyes were closed when they entered the room, but she must have heard them come in, as she opened her eyes and watched steadily as Johnny crossed the room to sit in a chair by the bed.

She cast a determined, dark-eyed gaze in his direction, and said, in a voice with much more strength than Scott would have thought she could muster, “You need not stay, Juanito.”

“Senora…” Johnny began quietly, but she cut him off resolutely.

“Juanito, wait outside.”

Scott was astonished when Johnny stood up and headed for the door, almost meekly.

He paused briefly as he passed Scott and whispered to him, “She tires quickly. Don’t stay too long.”

Scott nodded and watched him leave the room.

He was alone with the old lady and felt self-conscious and ill at ease.

The Senora smiled at him reassuringly. “Come sit down by me. I will not bite you,” she said and she smiled captivatingly.

He did as she bid, and took his place in the chair that Johnny had used by the bed.

“You are my Juanito’s brother? Scott Lancer?” she asked in a heavy Mexican accent, though she obviously knew the answer.

“That’s right,” he answered nervously.

“It is good that you have come. I am pleased to have the chance to talk to you.”

“I’m afraid I’m intruding. Johnny didn’t ask me to come,” he explained.

“Huh,” she chortled, “of course he would not. But it is good you are here just the same.” She seemed to study him for a moment before continuing. “Tell me, you are fond of him?”


“Good,” she went on, “he is fond of you and his father. He does not say it, but I know, I see it. I hear it in his words sometimes.”

She closed her eyes for a moment, and Scott wondered if he should try to leave her to rest. He waited a while, but she continued.

“I want them to be happy, you see,” she said at last, without opening her eyes. “When I am gone, I will be happy if I know that they have people who care for them.”

Scott reassured her. “They will,” he said without hesitation.

She opened her eyes at last. “Bueno,” she said, and turned her head slowly towards him. “You must not blame him. It is my fault they have been apart. Dios…lo siento…I was a selfish, foolish old woman.”

She made the statement with such fervour, that Scott was taken by surprise. He reached out and put his hand over hers.

“Senora, he would not have given his word if he didn’t think it was right. I know Johnny well enough to know that he would not have done this against his will.”

She smiled at him and she emanated grace and dignity. He found himself captivated by her.

“You are a good man, Scott Lancer, I like you!” she told him kindly. “I am glad that you are here for Juanito. He is like a son to me, and my little Luisa, she loved him so much. She must be unhappy, watching him punish himself for her death, and for leaving Madelena. But it was God’s will, and how could a grieving nineteen year old boy face raising such a little one all alone? Tell me that?”

“I don’t know.”

She closed her eyes again and seemed to rest. He waited silently for her to speak again.

“I am glad you are here for another reason,” she said, very quietly. “I do not think that Juanito would tell you of it, and I think it is important that you understand.”

His curiosity was piqued. “What is it I should know, Senora?” he asked her gently.

She sighed softly. “In my family, there have been many who are sensitive to the hurts of those we care about,” she explained quietly and enigmatically. She turned her head towards Scott so that she could look him in the eye. “I know, because I have always had this gift, and Luisa did a little as well. I think that Maddie may be another who has it. I wanted to be able to guide her a little before I die, but she is so young…”

She closed her eyes again, but opened them again to continue almost immediately. “It is hard for me to explain it, but promise me please, if she ever tells you that Juanito needs you, listen to her. It is possible that she will know, even though you think she could not.”

Scott found her words confounding. “I don’t think I understand,” he told her.

“When someone close to me is hurt or in trouble, I have always known it. There were times when Juanito was hurt, that I have known of it and could not help him.” It obviously hurt her deeply, and a tear came to her eye. “It is not always a gift, Scott. Sometimes it is a curse. If Maddie is like this, she will need someone to help her learn to live with it. Juanito, he knows of it and will watch for it, but you must listen to her if she ever tells you she knows something is wrong.”

“We do not see what is going to happen,” she continued, seeing his confusion. “We only know when it has. It is a terrible feeling that something is wrong. I cannot explain how it happens. We do not see what has happened, we just know that it has.”

Scott could see that it meant a great deal to her, so he disregarded his own doubts and made the promise that she asked of him.

“Alright, Senora, I promise you I will listen to what Maddie says.”

“Bueno, thank you Scott Lancer,” she said wearily.

Having said what she wanted, she seemed to suddenly tire.

“You should rest Senora,” he told her gently and patted the lady’s hand lightly.

“Yes, I suppose so. I am glad that I had the chance to meet you, Scott Lancer.” She turned her head towards him again and smiled that incredibly captivating smile she had. “You are just as your brother described you. He is very fond of you, and of your father and Teresa. He has told us so much about all of you, and about his wonderful LANCER. But I do not suppose that he has told you that.”

“No, but we know it.”

She smiled again and whispered to him, “Look after them for me Scott Lancer.”

“You have my word on it, Senora,” he answered her, and watched her peacefully allow sleep to overtake her.

        Johnny watched as Scott came out of the room. He'd known that sooner or later he would have to tell his family about Maddie and explain why he had kept her a secret from them for so long. He had found it easier to talk to Scott about it than he had expected. But the thought of going through it again with Murdoch was daunting.

        He found it difficult to even say Luisa's name without the hurt coming back and, besides, he had never been good at explanations. His business was his business, and that was that. This time, though, he knew he would have to do some explaining. He just hoped that Murdoch wouldn’t jump all over him before he said what he had to say. Johnny was honest enough with himself to know that if he did, he would end up telling him nothing.

        He had come to accept Scott's presence here now, and even to appreciate it, but he was not sure why the Senora had wanted to meet him and talk to him alone. He was uncomfortable with that. The Senora had been a part of his life for a long time now. She knew about a part of his life that he considered very private and he did not like the idea that it was being discussed outside of his hearing.

        He started thinking about Luisa. She had been so easy to love. He remembered her vibrant beauty, her sense of fun, and her lust for life. It had all been such a new experience for him. The fact that she had been attracted to him, and then that she had returned his love, had given him hope of a future for the first time in his life.

        Johnny had been prepared to do anything to keep her. He had tried so hard to make it all work and it had made her loss all the harder to take. It was so unfair!

        Johnny had already been building a reputation as a gunfighter when he had arrived here in Romane. Until he had set eyes on Luisa, that was all he had wanted to be - Johnny Madrid - good at his trade. But she had changed that.

        He had left Romane bitter and angry, unable to come to terms with his loss. Knowing what he was going back to, he felt that the baby would be better off as far away from him as possible, but over the following months, he had come to question that decision. She was his daughter, after all, and memories of his own childhood still haunted him. He wanted to make damned sure that she was not left alone like he had been. 

        So, plagued by guilt, he had returned to Romane to talk to the Senora.

            When he came back, Johnny had been received with open arms by the Senora, but not by the rest of the little community. Even in this tiny corner of the world, his reputation had preceded him. In that mere six months, Johnny Madrid's reputation had grown considerably and stories had made it even as far as Romane.

He got 'the cold shoulder' from people who had been considered friends only months ago, and it served only to reinforce his innate distrust of people.

But the Senora had not turned him away. She had behaved as though he had never left, introduced him to his tiny daughter and talked openly and honestly about what would be best for Maddie.

One look into those big brown eyes of his daughter and Johnny lost his heart to her. He knew then that he would do whatever it took to protect her. Even if it meant leaving her with the Senora and hiding her existence, he would do it.

Johnny Madrid had enemies, and plenty of them. He knew that Maddie might be at risk from some of them if they found out that she existed. They might use her to get to him, and he was not willing to take that risk.

So, for good or bad, he and the Senora decided that Maddie would stay in Romane with her. He could not stay himself this time. He knew that. If Madrid disappeared now, a second time, chances were that someone would come looking for him, so there was no place for him here in Romane any longer.

So he returned as often as he could and he sent money when he had it, and he did it all in secret.

At first it had been reasonably easy. His time was his own, and he could come and go as he pleased. Johnny Madrid answered to no one. But that had changed with his return to Lancer.

He had made the decision to stay at the ranch, but his constant battles with Murdoch, and his own freewheeling nature, had often caused him to waver in that decision. So he decided to keep Maddie's existence a secret from them for the time being.

Getting time with Maddie after his going to Lancer had been harder for him to do. His time was no longer his own, but he had slipped away one weekend after being paid, and made his way to Romane. Murdoch and Scott had assumed that he was off on some 'spree' having a good time and spending all his pay.

He had found the Senora looking older than he had remembered, and worrying that she would lose Maddie now that he was living at the ranch. The Senora’s father had been a powerful and overbearing man. Her life had been planned out for her from early childhood, and he did not brook interference in his plans. She saw Murdoch Lancer as being the same and she was afraid of the power he wielded as a large landowner.

She had been sure that he would want his granddaughter with him as soon as he learned of her existence and so, to allay her fears, Johnny had promised her that he would not tell anyone about Maddie while she was alive to take care of her.

When he got back, he had taken the bawling out that Murdoch had served up, along with a long, long lecture about irresponsibility. But he had left the room smiling secretly and unrepentantly planning his next 'spree'.

He didn't do it every month - someone might get wise to his trips if he did it too often, but occasionally there were other opportunities.

His recent trip to San Francisco had been one of those times. He had spent some time with Maddie and the Senora then, and he had been concerned about the Senora’s health.

He had arranged for one of the young local girls to come every day to help with the housework, and Kath made regular visits to check that everything was alright.

All in all, Johnny had no regrets in making that promise to the Senora. She had been good to him over the years, and nothing would make him hurt her. If Murdoch or Scott had ever gotten wind of his secret, he would still have said nothing.

But they never had! He was actually surprised that he had been getting away with it for so long without anyone suspecting.




Scott sat on the doorstep in the moonlight considering all that he had heard and seen. It was so hard to accept the situation. Never, in his wildest dreams, had he expected any of this when he had set out from Lancer! He sure wanted to be there when Murdoch found out.

He had left the Senora sleeping, but she had woken again an hour or so later and asked for both Johnny and Kath.

He had come out into the darkness to try to give them all some privacy, as well as to collect his own thoughts. Instead he found himself shaking his head, not quite able to come to grips with it all.

Maddie interrupted his reverie as she tiptoed quietly up behind him. He turned around to find her coming to sit beside him on the step.

"Hello," he said quietly. "What are you doing out here in the dark?"

She sat down by his side and answered, "Papa and Aunt Kath are with Yaya. They said I should sit with you."

Scott smiled wryly. 'Thanks brother!' he thought to himself. He had no idea what he was supposed to do to entertain her. He had nothing against kids, but he had no idea what to do with them! It was Johnny who had always been good with children. He could talk to them easily and they loved his sense of fun.

Now he knew why!

"Are you really my Uncle Scott?" she asked, with an intrigued tone in her voice.

"Well, I guess I am," he answered.

"Papa told me about you."

"Did he? And what did he tell you about me?"

"Well," the little girl replied, considering her answer carefully, "he said that you ride really good, and you can shoot pretty good too, but not as good as him.”

“No, not as good as him,” Scott answered, matching her serious tone.

“And he said that you wear funny clothes.” She looked him over very meticulously, and added, “but I don’t think those are funny clothes.”

That brought a smile to Scott’s face and a twinkle to his eyes. “I don’t think he means these clothes. Back where I come from I dressed a little differently than this.”

“Oh yes, Papa said you're from way over on the other side of the country."

"True, I'm from Boston."

She nodded enthusiastically. "That's the place," she exclaimed, getting excited. "It must be a long way from here."

Scott chuckled. "Yes, it is, but I live out here now."

"At Lancer?"

"That's right."

"With Papa, and my Grandpa?"

"Yes." He grinned at the name. Grandpa!

"Papa says my Grandpa is just like a bear? Is he like a bear?"

"A bear?"

Maddie nodded. "He says he's big, and scary and he growls a lot."

Scott burst out laughing at the description. Trust Johnny to come up with that analogy. Once again he wondered what Murdoch would think of it.

"He is sometimes, but he's okay. You shouldn't be afraid of him."

"Oh, I'm not afraid of him," she stated confidently. "Papa says he's not the kind of bear that eats people. I just have to look him in the eye and growl right back."

Scott couldn't help himself. He laughed again. The child was enchanting. "Did he tell you about anyone else?"

"Uh-huh. Aunt Teresa is pretty, and she looks after everyone, and Jelly is funny - and he has a goose!"

"He does too," Scott confirmed happily. He was enjoying himself. "It sounds like John...your Papa has told you a lot about Lancer."

She nodded earnestly. "Papa says it's the best place in the whole world!"

He found himself staring at the little girl, stunned into silence. For how long had he hoped to hear Johnny express just those feelings? And finally he had heard them through this little girl.

It was pretty obvious that he had opened up to Maddie, and had told her things that he could not express to them. It spoke volumes for the relationship he had with his daughter.

Even as he thought about it, he watched as the happy smile faded from the little girl's face, replaced by a haunted expression of despair and a tear in her eyes.

He was shocked. "Maddie, what's the matter?" he asked her desperately.

Tears rolled unheeded down her cheeks. "Yaya is dead!" she whispered in despair. "I know it. She's gone away!"

Scott took the little girl in his arms, amazed at her sudden conviction of the Senora's death. He held her close, her fine, soft hair ruffling against his cheek, and her tears dampening his shoulder.

His heart broke for her, but he could think of nothing to say. He wasn't even sure that she was right. How could she know? Was what the Senora told him really true and not just the superstitions of an old lady? He hadn’t really taken them seriously.

Holding her close and trying to comfort her, he realised, for the first time, that she was the flesh and blood daughter of his brother - his own flesh and blood! She was his niece! It hadn't really sunk in before this, but now he felt a sudden desire to protect her from the world - to be there for her!

He held her tighter, wishing that he could take away the hurt, that he could just make it all go away.

He heard footsteps behind him and turned his head to see Johnny standing there. One glimpse of his face was enough to tell him that, however it was that she had known, the child had been right. The Senora was gone.

 He knew, too, that as much as he wanted to comfort Maddie himself, this was something for Johnny himself to share with her.

He whispered into her ear, "Maddie, your Papa is here," and she turned her head quickly to look for herself.

Scott loosened his grip on her and she ran to Johnny. He reached down and lifted her lightly into a tight embrace, and, with his eyes, he silently thanked his brother.

"I knew, Papa!" she cried into his shoulder and Johnny looked over to his brother for confirmation.

A nod from Scott confirmed it. No words passed between them yet. There would be time for that later.

Scott watched them together and began to realise what Johnny must feel for her. She was the living embodiment of a love he had shared, however briefly, before losing her mother. But she was more than that. She was a soul who loved him unconditionally and now relied on him completely.

"What will we do now Papa?" she cried in little more than a whisper, muffled into his shoulder.

He looked, for a moment, straight into Scott's eyes, and then he whispered softly into her ear, "We'll go home, Maddie."

"Home?" she queried, lifting her head from his shoulder to look into his face.

"That's right, home - to Lancer."

She turned her head around to face Scott, as if to ask for his agreement.

"You're a Lancer, Maddie," Scott told her. "It's where you belong!"




            Scott rode beside the wagon in silence.

The last couple of days had been a whirlwind of emotions and practicalities. Scott had sent word to Murdoch that they would be home in a couple of days, telling him that there was nothing to be concerned about and that they would explain everything when they got back.

      Johnny had been left with making the arrangements for a funeral, as well as the plans for taking his daughter home with him. Kath had been a huge help to him; sorting clothes for Maddie and seeing that all of her belongings were packed into a trunk for them to take back with them.

      There had been more to see to than Johnny had realised there would be. He had gone about it with a stoicism that worried both Scott and Kath. He showed no emotions. He took no time to grieve. He coolly went about making what arrangements needed to be made.

They both knew that Johnny made a habit of bottling his emotions. The end result was that he often became something of a powder keg that was liable to go off at any time, so they watched him anxiously.

      When it came time for the funeral, the whole town, and most of the surrounding ranchers, had turned out to pay their respects to the Senora. She was laid to rest next to her beloved husband, and with her daughter and granddaughter close by.

Cold hard reality hit home to Scott when he looked at the headstone on Luisa’s grave. The name “Lancer” fairly jumped out and hit him. “Luisa Maria Antonia Lancer” it read, “beloved wife of John and mother of Madelena”.

It still seemed hard to imagine, but most of these people had known, and apparently loved Luisa. They knew Johnny too, and many of them obviously liked and respected him. Scott realised that they had known his brother for longer than he had, and probably knew more about him than he did.

He had noticed Johnny look over towards Luisa’s grave just once, and then he turned away resolutely. He kept his eyes straight ahead -cold and, seemingly, impersonal.

Scott knew better. He knew that rigid impassivity that Johnny sometimes used. It was a barrier, a defence against the world.

Scott felt like an intruder again.

Kath had told him that the Senora had won the respect of everyone she knew, and it was obvious in the attendance. Johnny had stood by solemnly, holding Maddie’s hand tightly, as he accepted the condolences of his old neighbours and friends.

But when it was over, he had turned coldly to his brother and whispered, “Let’s get out of here, brother,” and then swung around and left, taking his little daughter with him.

They had hired a wagon from the livery and loaded what Kath had packed for Maddie. Kath would sort everything else for him and send on any of the Senora’s belongings she thought Johnny might like to keep for Maddie.

There was one item, though, that Johnny had been adamant about.

“I want you to have the piano, Kath,” he had told her after the funeral. “She’d want you to have it too.”

Kath had shaken her head angrily. “No Johnny, it meant too much to her. Maddie should have it.”

“Kath, it meant a lot to her because Alex went to so much trouble to bring it here for her,” Johnny had explained. “But it was the guitar that was really her instrument, Luisa’s too. I’ll take that for Maddie, and you keep the piano.”

He saw her shake her head again, unconvinced. He smiled wryly. “You were her best student Kath. ‘Sides, at least I can show Maddie how to play a little on the guitar. I sure can’t on that thing.”

Kath smiled and acquiesced. She kissed him lightly on the cheek and said, “Okay then, thank you Johnny, I’ll treasure it.”

That had settled that, and they had finally made their plans to leave for Lancer at dawn. They had decided that a wagon would be the best way for Maddie to travel. It might take all day, but she was too young to travel all that way in the saddle, especially being unused to it.

Scott suggested that he could ride on ahead and let Murdoch and Teresa know that they were coming, but Johnny had met that suggestion with a vehement “No!”

Scott had decided that he was better off not entering into an argument on it. Johnny clearly wanted to face his father with Maddie without Scott’s forewarning.

It was the thought of that coming confrontation that worried Scott endlessly. He knew what hotheads the two of them could be. There wasn’t a doubt in his mind that Murdoch would be pleased about having a granddaughter, but he would not like the fact that Johnny had kept her hidden from him for all this time.

Johnny, on the other hand, was already wound up as tight as a spring. The emotional turmoil of the last few days was bottled up inside him, and liable to explode if it was lit by the smallest match.

And Murdoch Lancer always seemed to have that match handy. It was a recipe for disaster.

But then, who could say?

It might all go well right from the start. They had been known to surprise him in the past. All he could do now was to wait and see, and hope for the best. And be on hand to put out any fires.

So, when dawn came, and they were all set to go, Scott was surprised to find that Johnny was missing.

Scott had the horses all ready. Barranca was tethered to the back of the wagon and Charlemagne was frisking and eager to get started.

The wagon was loaded and ready. Kath was standing on the step, with a bright-eyed and eager Maddie standing beside her, but Johnny was nowhere in sight.

“So where is he?” he asked Kath impatiently.

“He’s saying goodbye,” Kath told him enigmatically, and nodded her head towards the end of the street.

Scott followed her gaze and realised where Johnny was. He walked silently down the street, to the outskirts of town and found his brother where he had expected to find him.

Scott stood quietly waiting for him, watching him sitting back on his heels by Luisa’s grave. His hands were clasped in his lap, his head bowed, and his hat lay on the ground beside him. He looked for all the world like a man in silent prayer.

Johnny didn’t move, but sat there silently staring at the headstone. He hadn’t noticed Scott standing nearby, and Scott made no move to interrupt him until he saw him throw his head back and look skywards, in obvious anguish.

Scott decided to take a chance, and join him. So he walked quietly, but decisively towards him and stood by his side.

Johnny heard his approach and looked up at him. Scott had never seen him so distraught.

“I can’t do it, Scott,” he whispered.

Scott was struck by the desolation in his brother’s voice.

“Can’t do what, Johnny?” Scott asked him soothingly.

Johnny looked back down towards the headstone and answered. “I can’t say goodbye.”

Scott squatted down beside him and put his hand gently on his brother’s shoulder to comfort him. He said softly, “Then don’t.”

Johnny sighed deeply, and shook his head. “It’s like losing her again, Scott,” he whispered, without looking away from the headstone. “This time leaving just feels so…final.”

Scott lightly squeezed his brother’s shoulder. “It doesn’t have to be. You can come back any time…”

“No,” he said firmly, “it wouldn’t be the same.”

“Maybe not,” Scott agreed, “but you have Maddie. And you have Luisa in your heart. She’ll always be with you.”

Finally, he tore his eyes away from the headstone and looked down at his hands. “I know, I know. I guess…it was kinda like I was comin’ to visit her too.”

Scott couldn’t answer that. His heart went out to his brother, but there was nothing he could say that would help him right now. Instead, he clasped Johnny’s shoulder firmly and said, “Come on, Maddie’s waiting.”

Johnny took a deep breath, and then slowly let it out again. “Yeah, okay,” he said at last, and picked up his hat and settled it back on his head comfortably. They both stood up and turned from the grave to walk away.

Johnny hesitated a moment, and then he turned back and whispered, “Hasta luego, querida. Te amo,” and then he turned back and continued on with Scott.



The trip had started out with Maddie eager and excited, and asking more questions than either Johnny or Scott could answer.

How long would it take? How far was it? Who would be waiting? And so many questions about what she would find there that Scott thought she would try Johnny’s patience.

He kept the answers coming though, and he laughed at most of them. When he did finally tire of answering though, he roped Scott into supplying a few answers and the three of them found themselves having a fine old time.

Kath had supplied sandwiches for lunch, so they stopped when they found just the right shady grove with water for the horses, and they gave both themselves and the animals a breather.

The two brothers relaxed in the shade and kept an eye on Maddie. She was quick to finish eating and impatient to wear off some energy.

      “Thought she’d be wore out by now,” Johnny remarked to his brother, the two of them leaning back against a tree and watching her play.

      “Yes,” Scott agreed, “just think what you’re in for from now on, little brother.”

      “Yeah, I know,” he answered with a grin. “Dunno where she gets all that energy from.”

      “She’ll have you an old man before your time, boy!”

“Yeah,” Johnny agreed. “Speakin’ of old men…”



Scott grabbed the chance to reassure him. “Don’t worry, one look into those big brown eyes of hers and he’ll fall head over heels for her.”

Scott thought that Johnny looked unconvinced, so he added, with a cheeky grin, “And if he growls at you – you’ll just have to growl right back.”

Johnny grinned back at him. “Maddie tell you that?”

“Yep, that and a few other things. I seem to recall ‘funny clothes’ being mentioned.”

Johnny flashed a smile of pure delight. “Oh boy,” he laughed, “I’m gonna have to watch what I say around her.”

“You’ve got that right, little brother,” Scott replied, with a mock threat in his voice. “Now we’d better get going.”

“Hey, chica,” Johnny called to Maddie. “Are you ready to get goin’ again?”

“Yes,” she called back happily.

“Well, come on then. We ain’t got all day.”

She ran over to join them. Johnny and Scott both got to their feet and while Scott mounted his horse, Johnny lifted the little girl back up onto the seat, and then got up beside her.

“Will we be there soon, Papa?” she asked him, yet again.

“Soon enough, chiquita,” he told her patiently and slapped the reins to start off on the final leg of their journey.

Maddie’s buoyancy did not last much longer though. The sun and the excitement got the better of her and she fell asleep with her head on Johnny’s leg. He was grateful for the reprieve from her questions, but it made the trip a lot quieter and gave him time for thought.

The closer they got to Lancer, the more silent Johnny became and Scott feared that he was working himself up for a confrontation. At least the weather was mild enough for the long ride to remain reasonably comfortable. A hot sun bearing down on them would have gotten tempers flaring even more.

 Maddie slept for a few hours, and then woke up with a new burst of energy. When finally they reached the top of the rise above Lancer, both of the brothers were grateful to be nearly home.

 It had been a long, slow trip and the sun was already beginning to go down. By the time they reached the hacienda, it would be dark.

Johnny pulled the horses to a halt. He looked out over the valley at the same view that Teresa had stopped to show himself and Scott when they first came to Lancer.

 From here you could see clear across the valley - Lancer land as far as the eye could see, with the river winding its way through green rolling hills. Fine, fat cattle grazed and men went about their chores.

 From here you could even see the hacienda standing proudly in the midst of the valley, surrounded by corrals, bunkhouses and all of the other outbuildings.

 Scott stopped and looked out over it too. He had been impressed when he had arrived that first day, but now he felt something else when he looked out over that view. He could see it in Johnny’s eyes as well – pride and pleasure. It was home!

 “There it is Maddie,” Johnny told her proudly. “All that land out there is Lancer.”

 “All of it, Papa?” she exclaimed.

 “All of it,” he replied proudly. “And that’s the hacienda down there,” he added, pointing it out to her.

 “It looks big.”

 He smiled at her. “It is. There’ll be lots of room for one more little chica.”

 She returned his smile, but a little nervously. He noticed it and reassured her. “Hey,” he smiled disarmingly, “I’ll be there too you know.”

 It worked and she smiled confidently back at him and snuggled against him. He slapped the reins and headed for home.




Murdoch, Teresa and Jelly had been anxiously awaiting the boys’ return. While Scott’s wire had reassured them, it had given them no insight into why Johnny had left in such a hurry, or why Scott had decided to stay with him for a few extra days before coming home.

 Murdoch did not like being kept in the dark. He was not a patient man at the best of times, and Johnny had been gone for over a week on who knew what errand.

 Half of him was still worried about Johnny, despite the wire that he had received from Scott saying there was nothing to worry about. Scott could have been holding back so they would not be concerned.

 The other half of him was angry with his son. Dashing off and leaving them to wonder and worry about him was just the sort of irresponsibility he had been trying so hard to break him of.

It wasn’t only Murdoch who was worried either. He had seen the anxiety in Teresa’s eyes too, and Jelly was like a bear with a sore head.

 Johnny should have told them more before leaving. So that they did not have to be concerned that he was heading into trouble. And trouble was one thing that boy invariably found. No matter how simple the errand was, you could trust Johnny to get into some sort of predicament.

 So, as the day had worn on, with no sign of the boys, Murdoch’s mood got blacker and blacker. They should have been home by noon. It was only half a day’s ride, and Scott had said they would be home today. With dusk closing in on the ranch, and still no sign of them, he began to worry again.

 Teresa was in much the same mood, but she was far from angry with Johnny. She was troubled though. The tension in the house had been building all day, with Murdoch at the centre of it. He did not like waiting. Several times throughout the day, she had tried to appease him, but she had had no luck.

 She knew that it was his unease over Johnny that was at the heart of it. The trouble was that it was likely to end in his confronting Johnny when he came back, rather than just being happy to see him home safe and sound. 

 She had seen it happen before, and as the day wore on, she feared it more and more. She hoped against hope that she was wrong. Johnny must have had a good reason to run off the way he had. He had told them all, after all, that it was his own business, and he certainly had a right to it.

 And Scott had said in the wire that they would explain everything when they got home!

 While Johnny wasn’t very good at explaining anything, at least Scott could tell them what it was all about.

 She watched anxiously for them all day. As dusk settled, she began to think something might have happened after all. They were taking an awfully long time to get back.

 Her mind began to picture all kinds of horror stories – from travelling slowly because one of them was hurt, to Johnny deciding that he wasn’t coming back at all.

 She just wished they would show up.

 As for Jellifer B. Hoskins – he bottled up nothing! Anyone who got in his way found out exactly what was in his mind. No one could grouch or gripe quite like Jelly, but under all that bluster, he, too, was looking hopefully down the drive all day.

 Because of the darkness, no one saw the wagon coming down the drive until it was within hearing. By that time, a crazy cacophony of noises began to build into mayhem.

Dewdrop set up honking loudly when he heard the wagon drive in. Johnny had never taken to that noise, but there was no denying that that gander was the best ‘watch-dog’ they had at the ranch.

 Unfortunately for all of them, the wagon horses had never heard a gander honking before and they took exception to it. They squealed and shied, and it was all Johnny could do to hold them as they reared and tried to bolt.

 Jelly ran out from the barn as soon as he heard the noise start up. He grabbed the bridle of the horse closest to him and tried to quiet it. Scott jumped down from his mount and grabbed the other horse’s bridle trying to help Johnny get control.

 Into the midst of it, Murdoch strode out into the yard, demanding to know “What the hell is going on out here?”

 Teresa followed him out of door and stood back watching the scene apprehensively. She was the only one of all of them who took in the whole scene, including the child by Johnny’s side. The rearing horses had distracted both Murdoch and Jelly from noticing.

 Johnny ignored them all.

 Uppermost in Johnny’s mind was Maddie, sitting by his side. She was holding on tight to the swaying seat, but he couldn’t let the reins go to help her. As they finally quieted the animals, Johnny let loose.

 “Jelly, you get that damned bird outa here, or I swear he’ll be Sunday dinner!” he stormed at Jelly.

 Jelly hushed the bird and shooed it back into the barn before hurrying back to Johnny.

 “He’s just doin’ what he’s supposed to be doin’ Johnny. Just lettin’ us know someone’s acomin’.”

 “Yeah, well if he squawks like that around me again, it’ll be the last thing he ever does,” Johnny growled. “Scott, you got them now?”

 “It’s alright, I’ve got them.” Scott called back over the heads of the horses. “Is Maddie alright?”

  Johnny pulled on the brake and tied off the reins, looking towards Maddie as he did. She looked shaken, but she was still holding tight to the seat and not hurt.

 He took a deep breath and a moment to get his temper back under control. “Maddie,” he said quietly and calmly. “Are you okay?”

 To Johnny’s relief, she nodded and whispered, “Uh-huh.”

 “Good girl,” he told her and took her up. “Jelly, come over here and take her down will ya?” he ordered him brusquely.

 The old man finally noticed the little girl that Johnny was holding and ran over to the side of the wagon to lift her down. He looked up at Johnny curiously as he put her safely on the ground, but Johnny wasn’t about to explain anything just now.

 “Well now,” Jelly said to her, leaning over and putting his hands on his knees so that he was face to face with her, “Ain’t you a purty little thing? You got a name?”

 Maddie nodded shyly. “Maddie,” she told him, and looked up to see what Johnny was doing.

 She lost sight of him as he jumped down on the other side of the wagon, where Murdoch was standing and looking on anxiously.

 Murdoch had expected to see the boys ride in, not arrive in a wagon. His heart had been in his mouth as he had watched Johnny battling to hold the horses, but when the pandemonium finally abated, he too noticed Johnny’s small companion. He watched him gently lift her down and pass her to Jelly, anger still flaming his face.

 “Johnny?” he asked in bewilderment.

 His son turned to him, only to snap, “Not now Murdoch,” and then he turned to walk over to where Scott held the horses, still shying nervously.

 He put his hand on Scott’s shoulder and offered a quiet, but genuine “Thanks brother.”

 Then he called to Maddie, “Maddie, come here, chica.”

 Jelly saw her eyes light up and her face break into a big smile. “Coming Papa,” she called back lightly and ran to Johnny’s waiting arms. He watched Johnny pick her up and hold her tightly, and Jelly’s bearded jaw dropped open.

 Jelly stood up and looked on as Johnny turned away and walked towards the house, with the child still held tight in his arms.

 Scott grinned. “If you don’t close your mouth, Jelly, you’ll be swallowing bugs soon.”

 Hoskins shook off the reverie and did just that. He shook his head and closed his mouth determinedly, and then he turned to Scott with a frown furrowing his brow.

 “Smart alec,” he growled, and then added conspiratorially, “Is Johnny really…?

 A nod of confirmation was all Scott gave him in reply. “Can you get a couple of the men to see to these horses and then get Maddie’s things in the house?”

 “Sure,” Jelly agreed, but tried to add a question that Scott had no intention of answering. “But…?”

 Scott shook his head resolutely. “Not now, Jelly,” he said, cutting off the questions he knew were coming. “I think I’d better go inside.”

 He let go of the bridle and turned his head to watch Johnny go inside with Maddie in his arms, with Murdoch following close behind and Teresa looking on. “This has not been an auspicious beginning.”




“I think some explanations are due, Johnny,” Murdoch said from behind his desk in the great room. The even tone of his voice belied the explosiveness behind the words. The tension, stress and worry of the past week had built up to a fever pitch with the mayhem outside.

 Scott had followed him into the room, as had Teresa. They stood on opposite sides of the room, tensely waiting for Johnny’s answer. Johnny stood just inside the door with Maddie at his side, doggedly holding his hand and facing Murdoch with him.

 Scott and Teresa both saw what looked like an appeal for help in Johnny’s eyes. Scott knew that the emotional strain of the past week had worn him down, and Teresa recognised signs of tension in his face.

 Johnny knew it too. He knew that he couldn’t take much more. This was the last thing he needed now.

 He wanted nothing more than to settle Maddie into the household and not have to explain anything until the morning. But he knew that that wasn’t going to happen. He had to deal with his father first.

 He sighed deeply and looked down at his daughter. “Maddie, why don’t you go with Teresa and let her get you something to eat? I’ll be with you soon.”

 She shook her head grimly. “No, please Papa. I want to stay with you,” she answered, looking into his eyes determinedly, and gripping his hand tighter.

 Murdoch realised, for the first time, what the child had called him. He had not been in a position to hear her outside, and neither had Teresa. Teresa looked to Scott in stunned silence and he smiled back at her, shrugging his shoulders carelessly. He knew how she felt!

 Murdoch, stunned by that one word, simply repeated, “Johnny?”

 Johnny was tired. He was more tired than he remembered being in years. Even when he had been recovering from bullet wounds that had left him weak or fevered, he didn’t remember feeling as tired as this.

 His head pounded like it was ready to explode, but he pushed it aside and said coolly, “Murdoch, I’d like you to meet your granddaughter, Maddie.”

 His father stood stock-still and blinked a couple of times before he repeated the word that had struck him so hard. “Granddaughter?”

 “That’s right, Maddie’s my daughter.”

 There was a hint of defiance, almost a challenge in his words, quietly spoken though they were, and Scott sensed that he was on edge. It would not take much to light Johnny’s fuse right now.

 Scott looked to his father for a response, hoping for something that would ease the situation, but Murdoch let him down.

 His response was probably no different from that of many fathers who found themselves faced with similar situations, especially not knowing the whole story, but it was the last thing Scott had hoped to hear.

 “Are you sure?” Murdoch asked, and Scott’s heart sank.

 He closed his eyes in sadness, and waited for the inevitable. He knew that that question was all that was needed to set off the powder keg over by the door.

 Johnny’s eyes turned to steel as they looked towards his father. Scott had seen it happen before. Johnny Madrid lay behind those eyes now.

 “Murdoch…” Scott pleaded, too late to stop what was coming, but trying to anyway.

 “Yes, I’m sure,” came the icy response from across the room. He was tensed and holding the little girl’s hand like he would never let it go.

 Scott turned to him quickly. “Johnny, tell him, for God’s sake,” he pleaded. Johnny’s love of that child was so strong that his stance on this could rip him from them forever if this went much further.

 “Tell him what?” Johnny snapped back at him. “Tell him about Luisa? Tell him that she was beautiful, and kind and sweet? That she deserves better than that? That’s not what he wants to hear, Scott!”

 “He doesn’t know anything yet, Johnny!” Scott pleaded with him. “Talk to him!”

 Johnny could feel himself losing control. The tiredness had even taken away the command that he usually held over himself when Madrid was with him. He shouted angrily back at Scott.

 “Tell him what? That I loved her? That I married her? You think he’ll believe it?”

 Scott stopped, almost relieved. He had goaded Johnny into saying what needed to be said, but he saw the toll it had taken on him. Johnny needed some rest. The strain of watching the Senora slowly fade away over those terrible days, of the memories and the emotions that it had brought back of watching Luisa die too, had taken such a lot out of him.

 Scott remembered the despair he had seen on his brother’s face as he knelt by Luisa’s grave, and knew that he had to find a way to end this, however temporarily. Johnny looked drained and he wondered, not for the first time, why Murdoch so often missed all those signs.

  “You were married to her mother?” Murdoch asked, clearly confused by that piece of information.

 Johnny turned back to him, coldly. “That’s right, Murdoch. I was married to her. Why, would you have preferred it the other way?”

 “Don’t be crass Johnny!” his father roared furiously. “I think we’re entitled to some sort of explanation.”

 Johnny smiled malevolently. “Are you?” he sneered. “All right. I married Luisa. Maddie was born. She died. I left her with Luisa’s family.” He glared defiantly at his father. “Bad or good, right or wrong – ain’t that the way it goes Murdoch?”

 His words stopped Murdoch like a bullet. The irony of them was not lost on him. They echoed from the past - back to their first meeting, right here in this very room.

 He found himself stung speechless.

 “Difference is, Murdoch, I went back.” He looked his father in the eye and issued a direct challenge. “Maybe I was only a visitor, and maybe that ain’t enough, but Maddie knows who her Pa is!”

 Scott watched the rage seething in his father’s face. Furiously Murdoch strode towards Johnny, with who knew what in mind.

 Scott grabbed his father by the arm as he strode past. Murdoch glared angrily at him, and tried to shake him off, but before he could say anything else, Scott whispered desperately to him. “Let it go, Murdoch!” he pleaded desperately, “for once in your life, let it go – or you’ll lose them both!”

 Rage fired in Murdoch’s eyes, but Scott held both his stare and his arm. Murdoch tried again to shake Scott loose, but his son held him tight.

 Scott was all too aware of how important this was to Johnny, and it was going badly. Much more of this and Johnny would walk out, and take his daughter with him. And Scott knew that this time, there would be no coming back. This was probably the most important confrontation of their lives. He had to stop it now.

 He watched the fire slowly fade out of Murdoch eyes, and added a whispered and urgent “Please!”

 Finally, he thought that his father was seeing sense.

 A very slight nod from Murdoch told Scott that he was right. His father cooled off, at least enough to see some reason. He relaxed his grip of his father’s arm, and Murdoch turned back to his younger son, and then looked down at the child beside him.

She was holding on tightly to Johnny’s hand. It was almost a death grip, and she was leaning so close to his leg that she was half hidden behind him.

 He looked more closely at her. She was certainly a beautiful child, but he couldn’t see much resemblance to Johnny in her face. She had beautiful eyes – not blue like Johnny’s, but big and brown.

 His conscience pricked him now, having lost his temper when she was here in the room. He should have had more sense. He certainly hadn’t meant to frighten her.

 Murdoch walked over to get nearer to her and then stopped. He glanced for a moment at Johnny. There was a steely defiance still glaring out of his deep blue eyes, but Johnny said nothing.

 Murdoch looked down again at the little girl and knelt on one knee to be closer to her level.

 “Your name is Maddie, right?” he asked her as gently as he could.

 She looked up to her father for reassurance, and he nodded slightly.

 “Yes,” she answered nervously.

 “What’s Maddie short for?” he asked.

 She looked up at Johnny again, and then back at Murdoch. She tilted her chin up a little and, suddenly, Murdoch found the resemblance to Johnny that he had been looking for. It was not in her features, it was in her manner.

 Her eyes fired up with the same mixture of pride and defiance that he saw in Johnny’s eyes.

 She stepped out from the shadow of her father, still holding tightly to his hand, and she said clearly and proudly, “My name is Madelena Luisa Antonia Lancer.”

 Murdoch smiled indulgently back at her.

 She couldn’t have inherited his blue eyes, he said to himself. She had to inherit his disposition!

 Aloud he said, “You’re not afraid of me I hope. I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

         "No,” she replied confidently.

Murdoch smiled again. Like Scott and her father, and everyone else who gazed into those lovely brown eyes, he was enslaved.

“I…er…” he hesitated and glanced up at Johnny. He sensed that the boy’s defiance was slowly slipping away, so he looked back down to her. “I don’t suppose you could manage a hug for your foolish old grandfather?”

Maddie hesitated and looked to her father for guidance. Johnny said nothing, but released her hand. It was her decision to make, not his.

She turned back to face Murdoch, and hesitated a moment longer. Then she reached out and wrapped her arms around his neck, whispering “Grandpa,” into his ear.

Murdoch wrapped his own arms around her and held her tight.




        Teresa ushered Johnny and Maddie out of the room and left them in the kitchen with Maria to fuss over them while she saw to making up a room for Maddie.

        There was a guest room across the hall from Johnny’s room that would be perfect for her.

        She was worried about Johnny. She had seen him tired before and sick with fevers, but this was entirely different. He was strained and exhausted. She had no idea what had happened in the past week, but Scott did, and she had seen how concerned he was too.

         After checking on them again, and telling Johnny which room she had made up for Maddie, she went back to join Murdoch and Scott in the Great Room.

         She found them at something of an impasse. Murdoch was still stunned by the news, but at least his temper had quelled. He sat quietly in the chair behind his desk, staring morosely out of the window and into the darkness, while Scott sat on the other side of the room leaning back wearily in his chair.

         They both looked towards her when she came into the room, but it was Scott who spoke up.

         "How is he?" he asked.

         "I left him in the kitchen with Maddie. Maria is fussing over both of them," she replied smiling. "I asked her to pack them both off to bed when they're finished."

         "Good," Scott replied, "he's exhausted."

         Murdoch swung his chair around to face them both. "Just what do you know about all this, Scott?" he asked at last breaking his silence.

         Scott turned to him, and replied irritably, "I know enough not to push him too hard just yet Murdoch. Yesterday he buried a lady who's been very important to him for a long time. It's brought back a lot of memories for him, and touched a raw nerve or two."

         "Not his wife?" Murdoch asked anxiously.

         "No, her grandmother," Scott answered. "Luisa died in childbirth five years ago, when Maddie was born. The Senora has been raising Maddie ever since."

         Murdoch quietly considered that piece of information. "Has he told you anything about this marriage of his?"

         Scott sighed. "No, or at least not much," he replied reluctantly, "but Kath did." He frowned as he continued, looking his father in the eye. "Be careful how you handle that subject Murdoch. He loved her, and he still hurts."

         Scott stopped for a moment, unsure just how much he should say and how much he should leave for Johnny to tell them. But he wanted to make them both understand that Johnny might not tell them much, and not to try to push him. He took a deep breath and went on.

         "I'll tell you this much Murdoch. He tried really hard to change for her. It seems he gave up gun fighting, took odd jobs and ranch work, and I'll tell you something else Murdoch, he married her as Johnny Lancer."

         Murdoch stared at him. "What?"

         "That's right. He was Johnny Lancer all the time he was in Romane."

         Murdoch shook his head. "I just don't understand. You saw what he was like when he came here. He loathed the name!"

         Scott agreed, but then he explained, telling him what Johnny had told him.

         "Yes, I remember," he said, "but Johnny told me that he did it to hide her from the enemies he had accumulated as Johnny Madrid, and so that she could come to you for help if anything ever happened to him."

         Murdoch puzzled over it. "I don't think I will ever understand that boy!" he said at last. "Why did he keep it all a secret from us? Why hide the child from us? What did he think we'd do?"

         Scott shook his head slowly. "That's a long story Murdoch. I think Johnny should tell you about it himself - when he's ready," Scott replied firmly. "But he had his reasons."

         Teresa joined the conversation at that point. "Well, I think we should leave them both alone right now. Maddie needs to settle in, and I think Johnny needs a little time to grieve."

         "She's right Murdoch," Scott advised his father and watched closely to see his reaction.

         He quietly agreed. "Yes I know she is. Don’t worry, I won't push him."



        Dinner at the Lancer table that night was a quiet affair. Even with Johnny and Maddie upstairs already, the one subject that they all wanted to discuss was tacitly forbidden. So conversation at the dinner table was stilted and uncomfortable between the three remaining members of the family.

         When they had finished, Murdoch found himself drawn upstairs. He went to check his little granddaughter's room. When his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could see that the little girl was fast asleep, and Johnny was sitting in a chair nearby, silently watching her.

         Murdoch entered the room, as quietly as he could, and went to Johnny's side. Putting his hand on his son's shoulder, he whispered, "I thought you were going to bed."

         Johnny didn't take his eyes off the child asleep in the bed. "Just wanted to make sure she's okay," he told his father quietly.

         "She looks fine, Johnny," Murdoch softly assured him, and then, gently squeezing his son's shoulder, he added "Come on, let her sleep."

         Johnny acquiesced silently and got to his feet. Murdoch followed him out of the room, looking back for a moment to make sure the child had not woken. Then he closed the door gently, leaving it ajar in case Maddie should wake in the night or call out.

         He turned around to find Johnny heading across the hall to his own room and followed him there. This quiet, compliant Johnny was more of a worry than he had expected. Murdoch was used to the rowdy, hell-raiser that Johnny usually was.

         Johnny took off his boots and sat on the bed. Leaning back against the bedhead, he watched with a degree of uncertainty as Murdoch move closer towards him. He was too tired for another round of head butting with his father, so there was a hint of suspicion in his eyes.

         His father noticed it, and cringed inwardly that Johnny should regard him that way.

         "She's a beautiful little girl," Murdoch told him, hoping to reassure him that he did not intend to start another argument.

         "I know," he answered wearily. "She's just like her mother."

         "She must have been lovely," Murdoch told him, uneasily.

         Johnny looked awkwardly down at his hands before replying. "Yeah," he whispered.

         Murdoch sat down on the end of the bed. "That can make it hard sometimes, Johnny,” he said solemnly. “I know, I see Catherine in Scott's eyes just about every time I look at him."

         "I know," Johnny smiled wryly. "I remember, and I got my mother's temper."

         The remark brought a smile to Murdoch Lancer's face. "Yes, but I hadn't seen you laugh then," he told him.

         The puzzled expression on his son's face told him that he didn't understand, so he added, with a touch of sadness, "I don't suppose I’ve ever told you that, have I? I guess I should have. Your mother had a temper all right, but when she laughed her eyes sort of...sparkled, just like yours do. It made up for it."

         Johnny didn't remember his mother laughing a lot. He remembered her smile, but he remembered it as a sad sort of smile, not at all as Murdoch was describing. But then, his mother's impetuous nature had led her to so many dismal decisions in her life that it shouldn't have surprised him.

         "I didn't know," he told his father, wistfully.

         "Well," he answered, slapping Johnny's leg gently, "you do now. You should get some sleep. You'll need plenty of energy to chase after Maddie."

         Johnny grinned, "Oh boy, will I! She's awful quick on her feet!"

         Murdoch was pleased to see the change in him. "Things are going to be different around here now," he smiled. "It'll be good to have a child around."

         "Yeah," Johnny answered, smiling, "it sure will."

         Murdoch stood up and turned to leave, but Johnny stopped him before he could go far.

         “Murdoch?” he called quietly, as his father turned to leave.

         Murdoch stopped and turned back to him. He said nothing at all, but waited for Johnny to hear what his son wanted to say.

         Johnny drew his knees up and clasped his hands together around them. 

         “You don’t talk much about my mother, or Scott’s,” he said without looking at his father.

         Murdoch was surprised. The subject was never raised openly. 

         “No,” was all the answer he gave, but he remembered the feeling of loss, the emptiness it had left in his life. He looked at Johnny and suddenly realised that he must be going through the same thing. He could have kicked himself for not having understood sooner.

         “Johnny,” he said at last, “I will understand if you don’t want to talk about your wife. I know it’s not easy.”

         Johnny stared at his knees for a moment, and then looked up at his father. “I don’t think I can, Murdoch,” he said, in a voice laden with hurt. “I mean, I know it’s been five years. I guess maybe I should be used to it by now…”

         Murdoch sat back down on the bed. “No, you never get used it, son,” he told him with a tenderness that was uncommon for him. “You learn to live with it though.” He looked into his son’s pained face. “Is that why you didn’t tell us about Maddie? Because you couldn’t talk about her mother?”

        “Not really,” Johnny answered, glancing down again at his knees.

         “Then why?”

         Johnny shrugged his shoulders, almost indifferently. “I gave my word that I wouldn’t,” he told him simply.

         “To who?”

         “To the Senora, Luisa’s grandmother.”

         “The lady who died the other day?” Murdoch asked. 

         He was glad that Johnny was opening up a little, and this time he was going to tread very carefully, making sure that there was no repetition of the ghastly scene downstairs.

         Johnny nodded. “She was really somethin’, Murdoch,” he told him. “She could’ve kicked me out when I went back. She had every right to, and the whole town would have backed her.” He smiled at the memory. “She did boot her son-in-law out of town, you know. He was a mean one, I heard. She chased him out with a shotgun!” The smile broadened as he recalled the story, then faded somewhat as he continued. “But it didn’t do her any good. Her daughter died when Luisa was born, and then Luisa went and met me.” 

         Johnny stopped suddenly. He didn’t feel he could tell the whole story again. “Anyway, what was I gonna do, take Maddie away from her, after all she’d done?”

         “I don’t understand why you had to keep her a secret though,” Murdoch asked again.

         “Oh,” he began, pondering how best to explain it, “The Senora was getting’ old and kinda frail, and she was afraid.”

         “Of what?”

         “Of you,” Johnny told him reluctantly.

         Murdoch stared at him. “Me?”

         “Well, what you stood for.” He looked again at Murdoch. “Her old man was a rich Spanish Don. He had a lot of power in his part of the world. She ran away to escape his plans for her, and she hid from him all her life,” Johnny explained passionately. ”To her, you were just the same. Hell, Murdoch, you live in a hacienda!” 

         Johnny smiled enigmatically, and added, “She was sure you’d want Maddie here with you.”

         Murdoch sighed. “I see. So you haven’t seen the child all the time you’ve been here?”

         “Well, no,” Johnny admitted, uneasy about admitting to his sneaking away regularly. “Not exactly.”

         “What do you mean, ‘not exactly’?”

         “I’ve been goin’ to visit,” he admitted.

         “How? When?”

         Mischief sparkled in his eyes, and a cheeky grin began to appear. “Mostly on pay days,” he told him.

         Realisation struck his father. “All those wild sprees you go off on?”

         Johnny nodded, still smiling.

         “And you let me lecture you every time you came back?”

         Johnny assiduously avoided eye contact with his father, looking at his hands instead. He grinned and nodded, saying only “Yep.”


         His smile broadened when he looked up and saw his father’s face. “I guess I didn’t really pay no mind to them anyway,” he admitted impishly.

         Murdoch laughed. “No more than I expected.” 

         He stood up and headed for the door. Before leaving the room, he turned back to his son.

         “Get some sleep, like I said – and this time you’d better ‘mind me’!”



        For the first time in years, Johnny overslept in the morning. No one disturbed him, deciding amongst themselves that he needed the rest. 

        Once up and dressed, though, he headed straight for Maddie’s room, only to find her already dressed and Teresa putting the finishing touches to a bow in her hair.

        “Good morning, sleepy head,” Teresa taunted him cheerfully.

        Maddie looked across the room and with a delighted squeal she ran over to him. He caught her up in a tight embrace and kissed her cheek, then put her back down on the floor.

        “Well, you look about ready for a look around the ranch. Had breakfast yet?” he asked his daughter.

        “No, not yet.”

        “Maria’s got breakfast waiting for you, Johnny,” Teresa informed him. “And when you’ve finished showing Maddie around, she and I are going to unpack all her things and put them away. Aren’t we Maddie?”

        “Yes, and Papa, Auntie Teresa says this can be my room for always. Isn’t it nice?” 

        “Sure is,” he agreed with a wink at ‘Auntie Teresa’, who beamed with pleasure. “Ready for breakfast?”

         With a happy nod of her head, Maddie took his hand and led him down the stairs and into the kitchen. Maria clucked happily over them both, and scolded Johnny repeatedly for keeping the little nina a secret from her.

         When they finished, Johnny took her first around the house, and then around the yard and outhouses. She bounced happily along beside him, fascinated by everything she saw, and chattering incessantly.

         He noticed the looks of surprise that followed them wherever they went, but he gave explanations to no one. They would just have to accept that he had a daughter, and that was that. 

         By the time they got to the corral, she was excited to a fever pitch. She spotted Dewdrop and crept up on him to try to pat him. Once she succeeded, she raced off after the bird, creating chaos as the gander honked loudly at the indignity of it all. The little girl squealed with pleasure and Jelly Hoskins called out a warning to “watch out if he got cantankerous!”

         Jelly gave up and swaggered over to join Johnny at the fence, watching her. 

         Murdoch had been watching them surreptitiously from the porch and now he walked over and joined Johnny by the fence.

         “Might just as well talk to a mule!” Jelly told them crustily as he approached the fence. 

         Johnny grinned, his chin resting on his arms, folded over the top fence rail. Murdoch leaned back against the gatepost smiling at the mayhem as well. 

         Jelly saw the grin on Johnny’s face and added gruffly, “An’ I give you just one guess where she gets it from! You got any more little surprises hidden away Johnny?”

         Johnny’s grin widened. “Nope.”

         “Huh, just as well,” he grumbled, “Noise’d likely drive us all mad!”

         “You know, Johnny,” Murdoch remarked suddenly, “We’ll have to look for a pony more her size.”

         “I’ll have to get a saddle her size too,” he replied.

         “There’s one in the attic,” Murdoch said without thinking.

         Puzzled, Johnny turned to look at him. “In the attic?”

         Murdoch suddenly seemed a little disconcerted. He stopped for just a moment, and then smiled as he explained. 

         “Yes,” he answered, “it was yours. I suppose it’ll need cleaning up but it should be fine then.”


         Murdoch turned around to him, a broad smile on his face. “Yes, I bought it for you for your first birthday. You were far too small for it, but I hoisted you up anyway.” 

         He laughed at the memory. He hadn’t thought about it in years, but it felt good to talk about it. “I can still see your mother, standing in the doorway over there, hands on her hips and stamping her foot, blazing away at me to take you down! She was sure you’d fall.”

         Johnny was left speechless. He had never before heard Murdoch voluntarily bring up the subject of his mother. 

         “Yeah, well if’n he did fall, it was likely on his head,” Jelly offered brusquely. “That’d explain some o’ the durn fool things he does around here!”

         He headed off to try to stop the commotion that the bird and the child were creating, before Dewdrop really did get cantankerous and try to nip her. He got between her and the bird and shooed her towards her father. 

         “Now you skedaddle, ‘fore Dewdrop tries to bite off one o’ them purty little fingers o’ yours!” he told her gruffly pushing her gently towards Johnny. 



             Johnny kept close to the house over the next few days and kept a watchful eye on Maddie. He wanted to make sure that she was settling in and happy in her new surroundings.

     But Maddie was a resilient child. Her father's presence was enough to reassure her and she was soon bouncing boisterously around the house and yard.

Life changed considerably at Lancer.

True to his word, Murdoch had sought out the saddle and cleaned it up himself, refusing Jelly’s offer to do it. He and Johnny found a small pony, just the right size for the little girl and she was soon happily following her father around on horseback.

The pretty dresses gave way to blue denim overalls, and the delicately ribboned hair to pigtails and ‘pony tails’. It was Teresa who instigated these innovations, telling Johnny that it was just too hard to keep her clean and tidy otherwise.  

She informed him that, whether he liked it or not, the child was fast becoming a ‘tom-boy’. She had made friends with some of the other children on the ranch and was soon joining in their games and their mischief.

 And she followed Jelly around the barn like a puppy.

 Pretty dresses and ribbons were put aside as ‘Sunday best’, to be kept for suitable occasions.

 Teresa was delighted with Maddie and cheerfully took charge of her. She and Maria fussed over her and spoiled her and, if asked, both claimed the position of surrogate mother! 

 Murdoch's talent for handling Maddie somewhat surprised Scott and Johnny, though Teresa could have told them that he had a way with children.

 She had grown up at the ranch, in the shadow of Murdoch Lancer. She had always considered him more of an 'uncle' than her father's boss. He had always been kind to her, and he had no trouble showing her the affection that he found it so difficult to show his sons.

 Of an evening Murdoch could be found with Maddie on his lap, snuggled into his shoulder, and reading to her. She had even scolded her father, informing him that he was wrong about her Grandpa. He was really a 'cuddly bear', not the ‘grumpy bear’ that he had led her to believe. It was a circumstance that had entertained Scott immensely when Johnny told him.

 As for Scott himself, he constantly marvelled at the way the little girl had of bringing out the softer side of Johnny Madrid Lancer. He was not alone. Heads turned wherever Johnny went with the child - both at the ranch, and in town when he had taken her there.

 Word had spread to town quickly so most of the folk there were not surprised by her appearance, just curious to see her and watch Johnny with her.

 Rumours abounded about her, but Johnny did not deem it necessary to explain himself to anyone. As was his habit, his privacy was paramount, and he had extended that to include Maddie.

 Scott himself found the little girl enchanting. She continued to call him by the Mexican "tio" although she did call Teresa 'Auntie Teresa', and she delighted in his stories of Boston.

 Because he had met the Senora, Maddie sometimes talked about her to him and he found himself building a special bond with his little niece. He still had to pinch himself occasionally, just to remind himself that she was his ‘niece’.

 When he was convinced that she was happy and settled, Johnny went back to his normal routine at the ranch. On the first occasion that he knew he would be gone all day, he made sure that Maddie was well aware that he would be away, and then drove Teresa crazy making sure that she would be watched in his absence.

"Johnny," she had cried out to him in exasperation, "will you just go? She'll be fine." She had laughed aloud and added, "You're like a mother hen!"

 With a blush of embarrassment, Johnny had beaten a hasty retreat, and left her in Teresa’s hands.

 After that, everyone soon fell into a routine. Maddie joined her friends playing, or followed Jelly about. He complained loud and long that she was always underfoot, but no one believed him for a minute.

 Both Jelly and Teresa kept a wary eye on her all the time.

 It seemed that a kind of peace settled on the Lancer household - one that unnerved Scott, for one.

 There had been no more arguments between Johnny and his father, so Scott guessed that at some stage Johnny had confided enough to Murdoch to satisfy him. He had no idea of what had been said, but Murdoch had been more tolerant of his younger son of late. It was almost unnatural!

 Scott couldn’t help but feel that it could not go on forever.




Jelly walked into the barn and stopped abruptly. What in the world is the little tyke up to now? he wondered. She was standing on an upturned pail, to give her some extra height, and saddling the little roan pony that Johnny had gotten for her. He chuckled as he watched her struggle with the saddle, but he made up his mind to stop her before she got away with it.

 "An' just what do you think you're doin'?" he demanded in the gruffest voice he could muster.

      She turned a tear stained little face towards him that shook him and nearly broke his heart.

The saddle slipped a little as she looked up and the deep frown she wore was a sign of her intention to go her own way, without intervention from anyone.

"I'm going to find Papa!" she proclaimed vehemently and pushed the saddle back into place. "He needs me, and no one will listen to me."

Jelly decided it was time to step in. He walked over and took the saddle off her, placing it over the side of the stall, before turning back to face Maddie.

"Well, you can't just go off on your own," he told her firmly and picked her up off the pail and put feet back on the ground. "Your ol' man'd skin me alive it I let you run off."

"But Papa needs help and no one will listen to me," she insisted again, this time with a catch in her voice that suggested another set of tears on their way.

"Now what makes you think that?" he asked her, leaning forward to stand face to face with her. "Seems to me your Papa c'n look after himself."

      The frown on her brow deepened and she stamped her foot hard. "I know he does. He's hurt and no one will help me. So I'm going!"

      She turned around and reached for the saddle again.

Jelly shook his head and took her hands in his and spun her around to face him.

"You ain't goin' nowhere on your own, Maddie."

"Yes I am!" she remonstrated with him and stamped her little foot again.

"Well, let's just see what your grandpa has to say 'bout that," he told her brusquely, taking her hand and firmly leading her out of the barn.

She dug her heels in and squealed protests all the way, showing signs of a temper that reminded him forcibly of just who her Pa was!

Scott rode into the yard just as Jelly marched his little captive across to the house. He tethered Charlemagne to the hitch rail and grinned broadly at the image they presented - Jelly trying to remain firm and Maddie protesting and unrepentant.

"What's she been up to, Jelly?" he asked with a laugh.

"Found her saddlin' up, all set to run off alone after her Pa!" Jelly told him brusquely.

At the sound of Scott's voice, the little girl shook her hand free of Jelly and ran to him. She clutched the leg of his pants desperately with both hands and looked up into his face with eyes that pleaded with his.

"Tio," she burst out, "Tio they won't listen to me!"

The distress in her face and her voice stunned him out of his laughter.

He knelt down to her level and took her gently by the shoulders. "It’s all right, Maddie,” he said to her soothingly. “Tell me then. What's wrong?"

Tears welled in her eyes and began to roll own her face.

“Something's wrong with Papa, Tio!" she pleaded urgently.

Scott looked into her face and then back to Jelly, who was looking on impatiently.

“What do you mean, Maddie?” he asked her calmly. “What’s wrong with him?”

"Please believe me, Tio. Papa’s hurt, I know it.”

 Scott's memory flashed back to the image of the Senora extracting a promise from him. He remembered the moment he had held Maddie and comforted her because she "knew" that the Senora had died. How had she known? What did it matter? She had known!

 "Please Tio, we have to find Papa!" she pleaded, jolting him back to the present.

 “She’s b’n sayin’ that for hours Scott,” Jelly told him. “Don’t know what’s eatin’ her.”

 Scott ignored Jelly’s remark He hugged the child tight and picked her up to take her inside. "We'll find him, Maddie. Don't worry."

 He disregarded Jelly's questions and hurried into the house.

 Teresa came into the room as Scott came in, carrying Maddie. She looked anxiously at them.

 "Scott, what's going on?" she asked as Jelly hustled in behind him.

 "Little tyke was runnin' off to find her Pa!" Jelly told her.

 "Forget that for now, Jelly!" Scott barked at him, stunning both Jelly and Teresa. "Teresa, where is Johnny?"

 "Well I don't know Scott, he hasn't come in yet," she answered, a little upset by his manner. "It's still early."

 "I know, but does anyone know where he was heading today?"

 "I do," said Murdoch as he walked into the room. He had heard the commotion and come in to see what was going on.

 "Where was Johnny headed today Murdoch?" Scott asked urgently.

 "He was taking a couple of men with him to flush out strays up in the hills on the north boundary. Why?"

 "Maddie thinks something's wrong," he told him, and even to his own ears it sounded lame.

 He could certainly understand why they did not believe her, but he had no intention of taking the time to convince them now. He wasn't even sure himself why he was so worried.

 But he was concerned. If Maddie was right, time could be important. If she wasn't - well, what did he have to lose?

 "Oh now, Scott," Murdoch answered with a show of his exasperation. "She's been saying that for hours. She's a five year old, son!"

 Maddie's arms clung around his neck harder. "Please Tio," she whispered desperately into his ear.

 Scott squeezed to reassure her. "It's okay Maddie," he whispered back to her, "I'll find him."

 "Scott, there's no reason to think there's anything wrong," his father said. There was an edge to his voice that Scott knew well. He was becoming impatient with him and pretty soon there was bound to be an argument.

 Well, not if Scott had anything to say about it.

 “Murdoch, listen, if Maddie says..." he began to explain, but Murdoch interrupted him.

 "Son, she's a little girl, missing her father!" he said, getting angry now. "Your brother's not even due back for hours yet. We can't go running off every time Maddie starts to miss him!"

 Maddie clung even tighter to Scott. He took a deep breath to calm himself enough to deal with his father. "Look, Murdoch," he answered, trying to be reasonable, "you don't understand..."

 "Understand what?" Murdoch cut him off again. "You can't seriously think she knows something is wrong?"

 "Yes I do Murdoch," he answered unflinchingly. "She's been right about these things before."

 His answer stopped Murdoch in his tracks. He studied his eldest son's face intently. "What do you mean?" he asked him at last.

 "I don't have time to explain it all now. Just take my word for it," he told him angrily and tried to pry Maddie loose from him. He turned his head towards her to talk to her. "Maddie," he whispered, "come on. I want to talk to you."

 At last, she relinquished the death-like grip she held on him and let him put her down. He pulled a chair over to sit down in front of her and then drew her over to face him. "Maddie, tell me exactly what you know," he said quietly to her, while the others looked on.

 Teresa was beginning to be very alarmed. She had no idea why Scott was prepared to take Maddie so seriously, but he obviously was - and that was enough to worry Teresa.

 Maddie looked nervously from one to the other in the room and then back to her Uncle. She looked into his face for some time before finally speaking.

 "I know Papa's hurt Tio. I know it!" she said in barely more than a whisper.

"All right Maddie," Scott answered her reassuringly. "Is there anything else?"

 She shook her head. "No."

 "Alright, then I'll go and I'll find him for you Maddie," he told her firmly, "but you have to be good and stay here. No more trying to run off on your own. Okay?"

 She nodded. "Yes," she agreed quietly, and hugged him quickly.

 "Good girl," he said and then turned to face his father. "I'm going out to look for him," he told him with a defiant look in his eyes that dared Murdoch to argue with him. "Teresa, will you look after Maddie?"

 "Of course, Scott," Teresa replied, slightly offended that he felt he had to ask her.

 "Scott..." Murdoch started to say, and then stopped.

 "Murdoch," Scott answered him testily, "if there is even the slightest chance that Maddie's right, I'm taking it. If I wait, it'll be too dark to look for him if he doesn't show up."

 "I know, son," Murdoch acknowledged unexpectedly. "I’m coming with you."




‘Of all the stupid…!’ 

 It had been the last conscious thought to go through Johnny Lancer’s mind before the darkness rose up and claimed him.

 He had left Hank and Manuel on the other side of the ridge, hazing strays from the brush, while he checked out this side. The going was tougher at this end of the ranch. The trail was lined with boulders and rocks, and the path he followed was strewn with loose stones and gravel. But Johnny trusted his horse implicitly. Barranca was sure-footed and reliable enough to pick his own way carefully along the rocky path, while he kept his eyes out for strays.

 They threaded their way through the narrow gaps in the rocks that served as a trail. The side of the hill sloped down to his right and on the other side the ridge rose high enough to hide him from the view of the other men.

 He had felt, rather than heard, the cinch snap. The saddle slipped sideways and before he had a chance to right himself, he had slipped to his right. There was time for just that one more thought before his head had struck the boulder beside him and he lost consciousness. He rolled down the slope to come to a crushing halt after slamming into a large rock at the bottom.



      Slowly he became aware of an excruciating pain in his head. He could see nothing but darkness and, in a moment of terrified confusion, he thought that his worst nightmares had come true and the blindness had returned.

As he fought to open his eyes against the darkness, the pounding pain in his head grew stronger and louder. When he was finally able to open his eyes, the blazing flash of the bright sun dazzled him. A gasp of pain was shaken from him and he winced away from the light. That small movement was enough to push him back to teeter on the brink of consciousness.

 He caught his breath and then brought his hand up to shade his eyes, and the movement brought screams of protest from what seemed like every part of his body.

 Johnny’s mind was working enough to tell him to lie very still, and he tried to get a grip on his situation.

 He couldn't remember what had happened to him. He didn't remember any shots, but his head was throbbing so much that he thought he could have been creased. His mind was full of images that made no sense to him and it hurt too much to think about it, so he disregarded the cause of his predicament and closed his eyes to try to concentrate on what to do about it.

 When he opened them again, the light did not seem so bright, but the sky above him spun and swirled nauseatingly. He gave himself a moment to let the world stop spinning, and then he heaved himself over and rolled onto his left side. The effort extracted a gasp of pain that drove the breath right out of him. He dropped his forehead to the ground in agony and held his breath until the pain became bearable again.

 When he could finally manage it, he lifted his hand to the side of his head and pulled it away to find it covered in thick, sticky blood.

 'Well, at least it's not fresh,' he thought. 'Musta stopped bleeding.'  He wondered how long he had been lying there. He had no idea of time.

 Johnny raised his head, slowly and carefully so as to avoid a repeat of the dizziness or the pain. He looked around him.

 The pounding in his head was making it hard for him to think straight, and he frowned as he tried to focus his eyes.

 There was no sign of Barranca anywhere, so that meant that he was on foot from here on. He was thirsty too, but his canteen would be with his horse, so once again he was out of luck.

 Damn, it hurt to breathe. It hurt to move. It hurt to even think!

 Johnny's survival instinct took over. He had no idea whether he was in any immediate danger, but it wasn’t worth taking the chance. Finding cover became his first priority, but to do that he knew that he had to get to his feet.

 The idea of it appalled him. He knew all too well what would happen when he tried to move again.

 He forced himself to face it. He held tightly to his injured ribs with one arm and pushed himself up to his knees with the other.

 He’d known it would hurt, but the reality was an onslaught of pain that took his breath away.

 Once he was there, he knelt for a while and waited for it to ease and for the light-headedness to stop, before he prepared himself for the next stage. He had to get to his feet.

 He had to do it. All his instincts told him that he had to find cover - his dazed and confused mind urging him to get out of the open.

 Somewhere safe. He needed to find somewhere safe to hole up until he could work out what was going on. It was all his mind would focus on now, and he grasped the thought and held onto it fanatically.

 He wrapped his arms around his ribs to try to reduce the pull on them and slowly raised himself to his feet. He wavered unsteadily and nearly fell back to the ground as he fought desperately against dizziness and nausea, forcing himself to stay upright.

Johnny closed his eyes and waited for it to pass. He found himself trembling uncontrollably, and the world around him spun and careened sickeningly. But he stayed on his feet.

 As everything around him gradually slowed to a stop, he opened his eyes and tried to focus on his surroundings. He still had no idea where he was. He didn't recognize anything, but there were rocks and boulders all around him. Cover!

 He made himself move his legs - one foot in front of the other, one at a time - each step jarring his head and ribs mercilessly.

 He kept going for as long as he could. At first he found it was getting easier with each step. Walking became mechanical as he concentrated single-mindedly on moving his feet, but he reached the point when he could go no further.

 Breathing became more and more difficult as his injured ribs fought him with every gulp of air. Finally, he staggered and reached out instinctively to grab hold a nearby boulder for support.

 Johnny stopped and leaned his weight against the giant rock, trying frantically to catch his breath.

 He used the rock for support. Panting heavily, he closed his eyes to enable him to concentrate all of his remaining strength on starting to move again.

 Finally, as ready as he thought he would ever be, he pushed himself away from the boulder and started walking.

 But he only got a few steps this time. His body had reached its limits and his unsteady feet stumbled in the loose stones. He fell heavily but he had already lost consciousness before he hit the ground.



Hank saw the two riders coming from a long way off. At first wary, with a hand to his gun just in case, he eventually recognized them as Murdoch Lancer and his son Scott.

 Hank had not been at Lancer for long, only a few months in fact. But he liked it there. He had worked on a lot of ranches in his day, but Lancer ranked right up there with the best of them. He had good pay; good men to work with, and the Lancers were good bosses.

 And he knew the value of a good boss. At twenty-eight, Hank Sorrenson had seen the best and the worst of them. He was a big, blonde hulk of a man, the son of Swedish immigrants who had come to California to look for gold. Hank had been on his own since his early teens and had hired on at ranches all around California before coming to Lancer.

 He was as strong as an ox and popular with the men, and he liked the Lancers. 

 As the two riders drew closer, he called a friendly welcome. The half dozen steers he had flushed out of the scrub were milling in a small corner of the hill that made a natural corral. He felt comfortable in taking his eyes off them to turn his attention to the newcomers.

 "Howdy Mr Lancer, Scott," he greeted them as they got close enough for him to hail them. "What brings you all the way out here?"

 It was Scott who answered. "Just looking for Johnny, Hank," he replied, when he was close enough to be heard easily. "You wouldn't know where he is would you?"

 "Sure Scott, just over the hill there," Hank informed him cheerfully.

 Murdoch and Scott both reined in close to him. 

        "When did you see him last?" Murdoch asked, as indifferently as he could.

         "Well, we split up this morning Boss," Hank explained. "Ain't seen him since then. Manuel's workin' the scrub down that away," he continued, indicating the far end of the ridge. "Maybe he's seen him." He looked at them and considered how far they had come to look for Johnny. "Somethin' wrong?" he asked curiously.

         "No, of course not," Murdoch hastened to reply.

         "We need him back at home to sign some papers," Scott quickly added in an attempt to justify their being there looking for him.

         Hank nodded. "Well, like I said Scott, I ain't seen him for hours. We were plannin’ to meet back here this afternoon," Hank replied. "You oughta be able to see him from up top there though." He pointed to the top of the ridge behind him.

         "Thanks Hank," Scott told him and looked towards his father adding, "Are you coming Sir?"

         Murdoch nodded agreement. "Let's go Son," he said and urged his horse forward. Scott did the same and together they headed up the slope, trying not to give any appearance of urgency.

         They had hoped that when they reached the crest of the ridge they would have an easy view of the other side. Murdoch was well aware that there was some rough country around this part of the ranch, but the boulder-strewn landscape he saw from the top was not what he wanted to see.

         The two men looked at each other in frustration.

         “I don’t see any sign of him Scott, do you?” Murdoch asked.

         Scott shook his head and sighed. “No, nothing,” he replied, forlornly.

        Scott surveyed the terrain before them with a critical eye. The loose gravel, the narrow trail and massive rocks all provided opportunities for calamity, but still he tried not to consider the possibilities of danger down there.

         At least Hank had not seemed concerned about Johnny. From where he was working, even though he was on the far side of the ridge, Hank would have been close enough to have had heard shots, if there had been any. But he had given them no indication of that, so that was one fear Scott could lay to rest.

         "Where do we start?" Scott asked Murdoch.

         "We'll have to go down lower. We might be able to see more from down there. If Johnny's around, he should hear us call anyway," Murdoch suggested. "Watch your step going down," Murdoch advised him, with a wary eye on the loose stones on the trail.

         They found a rough path and followed it, hoping that it might be the same one that Johnny had followed. They both gave their horses some slack to allow them to pick their own way through the gravel.

         Half way down, a gap opened up in the view, wide enough for Scott to catch a glimpse of a pale coloured horse about one hundred yards further down the trail.

         "Over there, Murdoch!" he shouted out excitedly, "That's Barranca!"

         Murdoch searched the trail in front of him and, sure enough, there was his son's horse. He was standing alone, riderless and unsaddled, and Murdoch's hopes that nothing was wrong seemed dashed. A knot of fear tied itself in his stomach and he urged his own horse forward down the trail, with Scott following close behind him.

         Both of the men dismounted and approached the palomino. Murdoch ran his hand over the horse, checking for anything that might explain why Johnny would have unsaddled and left him. There was no sign of lameness, or anything else. In fact, Murdoch could find nothing at all wrong with the animal.

         He looked over towards Scott. He did not want to believe that Johnny was in trouble, but he couldn't think of any other explanation for finding Barranca here alone.

         Scott could see that Murdoch was worried. But he, himself, held firmly to one thought - Maddie had said that Johnny was hurt, not that he was dead! He hoped that she could tell the difference.

         She had been right so far. Something was most definitely wrong, but Johnny had to be around here somewhere, alive.

         Murdoch spoke at last. "Look around Scott, see if you can find anything," he suggested.

         Scott nodded, and replied, "I'll go back this way," as he indicated the trail to his right. "You head the other way. Yell if you find anything."

         "There has to be some sign of what happened," Murdoch agreed.

         "He would never just leave Barranca like this, not without a good reason," Scott added.

         "No," Murdoch replied absently. "Well, he must be on foot, so he's bound to be around here somewhere."

         Scott remounted and turned his horse back to start looking. "I'll meet you back here in a half hour, unless I find him," he said.

         Murdoch mounted his own horse and headed off in the opposite direction.

         Murdoch was sure that something was wrong. He’d had to admit that much to himself by now. How Maddie had known was still a mystery to him though. Scott hadn’t told him anything more on the ride out from the ranch, but he obviously knew something. There must be a reason why he had believed her with such certainty.

         It didn’t matter at the moment. He’d worry about that later, when he had found Johnny – alive.



         After only five minutes, he heard Scott call out to him from the other end of the trail.

         "Murdoch, over here!"

         Murdoch Lancer wheeled his horse quickly back the way he had come and hurried to Scott's side.

         Scott was on foot. At his feet was the missing saddle, lying where it had obviously fallen. "The cinch is broken," he told his father when he was close enough to hear.

         "Damn!" Murdoch cursed aloud. "Any sign of him?"

         Scott had had a few minutes to look around while he waited for his father to arrive. "No, but there's a some blood on that rock over there." He nodded towards a huge boulder close to the trail, near where the saddle lay.

         Murdoch dismounted and walked over to inspect the rock. It had to be four feet around and high. There was a smear of blood on it, though not much, and it was dry. The blood looked like it had been there for some time, but it confirmed their worst fears. Johnny was hurt.

         "He's fallen," Murdoch concluded quietly.

         "That’s what I figure. He's fallen hard by the look of it," his son replied, reluctantly. "The question is - where is he?"

         Murdoch forced his thoughts away from the rock. He took a quick look around and finally answered Scott. "My guess is he went over the side," he replied. He stepped closer to the edge and called back to his eldest son in triumph. "There's his hat! Down there."

        Scott hurried to his side and looked over the edge. Straight away he saw the dark shape his father was indicating a few yards down the slope. From their vantage point they could see the bottom of the hill for some distance in either direction, but there was still no sign of his brother.

        Scott started down the slope without a word to his father. The slope was not steep, but the earth and the stones were treacherously loose.

        He slipped and lost his footing a few times before he reached the hat and was able to pick it up. He held it for a moment, almost hoping that it would tell him something, but even from here, there was no sign of Johnny. There were so many boulders and turnings that could hide him from his view that the only way to find him now was going to be to look for him down there.

        He looked back up the slope at Murdoch. "I still can't see him," he shouted to him.

        "He might have been dazed and wandered off," Murdoch called back down to him.

        "I'm going down to the bottom," Scott yelled. "I'll see what I can see from down there."

        "Be careful," his father shouted back. "I don't want you breaking a leg or something."

        "Thanks," he son called back sarcastically, only just loud enough to be heard, and he turned back to continue down the hillside.

        Carefully picking his way down the slope, he reached the bottom with a minimum of fuss, and no injuries.

        On reaching the bottom, the first thing he saw was a patch of blood on the stones that sent a chill through him. He walked slowly and deliberately over to examine it.

        He bent down to touch the stain. The blood was nearly dry, thick and sticky, but there was a lot of it. Without knowing just what his injury was, he had no way of knowing how long Johnny might have lain there. But it had to have been some time ago and there was no sign of fresh blood.

        He looked around for some indication of what might have happened to Johnny. There was no blood trail that he could see, which was probably a good thing. It meant, though, that it would be harder to track him, with mostly gravel and stones to hide his tracks.

        Scott stood up and looked around him. He was in a small ravine, only about twenty yards across at the widest point that he could see at the moment. The slope behind him had not been steep, but the stones and soil were dangerously loose. He seriously doubted that Johnny could have climbed back out that way. Not if he was hurt and had lost that much blood.

        The other side of the ravine was far steeper. It was even more unlikely that he had climbed out that way.

        That left only the floor of the ravine. Perhaps he had tried to walk out. At least it left them only two directions to search, and, judging by the amount of blood he had lost, he probably would not have been able to get very far. Surely it shouldn't be hard to find him.

        Scott heard a trickle of stones and soil behind him and turned around quickly. Murdoch had decided not to wait any longer and had begun the descent down the slope himself.

        Scott watched him nervously. Despite what Murdoch liked to believe, he was no longer a young man and he had a bad leg that was a constant reminder of the bullet that Day Pardee had put in him a few years ago. He didn’t have the agility needed to make that descent - or so Scott thought.

        He should have known better! Murdoch Lancer did whatever he put his mind to. He had seen it over and over again since he had come to Lancer. The old man was full of surprises, but Scott still breathed a sigh of relief when Murdoch reached the bottom.

        Murdoch stood, a little unsteadily at first, behind Scott, taking a moment to catch his breath. He had lost his footing so many times on the way down that he had been almost sure that this time he really had pressed his luck too far. There’s been a few times coming down that he had thought he'd break his neck. He wasn’t letting Scott know it though.

        Finally, steady again on his feet, Murdoch looked at his son's face. He smiled at the dismayed expression he found there.

       "You okay?" Scott asked him, with real concern.

        Murdoch Lancer grinned. "Sure, I’m fine," he replied sheepishly.

        Scott scowled at him angrily. "Good, because that was about the dumbest thing I think I've ever seen you do! As if we haven't got enough to worry about, you risk your neck doing something stupid like that!"

        Murdoch Lancer felt like a naughty child for the first time in more years than he cared to remember. But he was too stunned by his son's outburst to rage back at him.

        After a moment of silence, Murdoch surprised both Scott and himself by letting loose a quick, sharp burst of laughter. It relieved the tension between them anyway.

        "Alright," he said soberly, when he had control of himself again. "I'll be good – promise."

        "I'm sorry Sir," Scott responded contritely. “I – I’m just worried about Johnny, I guess.”

        The expression on Scott's face brought Murdoch back to reality with a horrific thud. He looked past his son and saw the ominous dark stain on the ground behind him.

        He stepped around Scott and knelt down low enough to examine it more closely.

        Looking at that bloodstain, Murdoch was aware of a terrible foreboding. It hung over him like a dark cloud. Johnny - his youngest son. Fear for the boy overwhelmed him and his chest felt as though a great stone was weighing on it.

        He was silent for a while, and, wisely, Scott chose not to interrupt his father's thoughts.

        A deep sigh escaped Murdoch and he asked, when he could, "Any sign of him?"

        "Not that I can see," Scott answered quietly. "Maybe he wandered off, like you said."

        Murdoch nodded and looked around, critically assessing the land. "He can't have gone far," he concluded. "Not after..."

        He let the thought go. He could not afford to dwell on it. There was too much to do, and the first, and most important, thing to do was to find the boy.

        "No," Scott agreed, "No, he couldn't have gone far, Murdoch. I'm guessing he could only have gone that way, or this, along the bottom of the ravine. He couldn't have gone up that side," he explained indicating the steep side opposite them.

        Murdoch looked up at the steep slope on the other side and then in either direction around him. Nodding his agreement, he added, "We'll have to split up and search on foot."

        He stood up, easing his aching bones. He didn’t like to admit that the descent down that slope had taken more out of him than he had expected it to. Damn fool, he told himself, sometimes you forget you’re not as young as you used to be!

        He ignored the aches and pains and continued his instructions to his son. "You go that way, Scott, and I'll go down this way."

        "All right and if you find anything, fire a shot in the air," Scott suggested.

        "Yes," Murdoch agreed. "And keep an eye out for any blood on the ground. It might make it easier to find him."

        "We will find him, Murdoch," Scott told him confidently, a look of unfettered determination on his face.

        "Yes we will," Murdoch said with equal certainty.

        He put his hand firmly on his son's shoulder to reassure him. "And the sooner the better by the look of it."




        The two of them set off in opposite directions, each loudly calling Johnny's name as he went. Before long, all they could each hear was the haunting echo of Johnny's name as it reverberated throughout the ravine.

        But there was no answer.

        They scanned the floor of the ravine, carefully checking behind all the great boulders that littered its walls. It was taking time, and they both found it frustrating as the minutes ticked by. They would run out of light in a couple of hours.

        Murdoch had gone about two hundred yards from where he had left Scott, when a flash of light caught his eye. It came from the side of the ravine ahead of him.

        It was like the glint of sunlight on metal, and his hopes soared. Picking up his pace to a run, he headed in the direction of that flash, positive that he would find his son there.

        He came to a large boulder and, as he got closer, he spotted the sole of a spurred boot half hidden behind it. The sun must have caught the rowels of the spur.

        His heart missed a beat as he approached. Sure enough, there was his son, and to all intents and purposes he was only a lifeless form lying behind the rock.

        "Johnny!" he exclaimed, with a delirious feeling of relief, exultation and fear.

        He raced to his son's side and knelt down beside him, his fingers frantically searching his throat for a pulse.

        It was not until the third attempt that he was rewarded with the faint, thin throb of a heartbeat.

        He sat back for a second as relief washed over him, then the need for action took over.

        He pulled his revolver from his holster, held it over his head and fired the prearranged signal. He was surprised when Johnny actually flinched as the single shot that he fired echoed loudly around the ravine walls.

        He quickly put the gun back into his holster and turned back to Johnny to check his injuries.

        There was another, smaller pool of blood under his head. It was fresher than the other stain they had found, so perhaps he had not been here long.

        Johnny’s silken black hair was matted and tangled with blood and dirt. His shirt was stained scarlet all the way down the right side, and drenched from perspiration.

        Murdoch looked carefully and found that the bleeding seemed to have stopped, but even so, Johnny had lost enough blood to drain all of the colour from his face. He was pale and still, and but for that faint pulse and his shallow, almost inaudible breathing, he appeared quite lifeless.

        Murdoch cautiously rolled Johnny over on to his back and undid the buttons of his shirt to make sure that the blood on it was all from the head wound.

        Opening the shirt, he was relieved to find that he wasn’t bleeding from any other wounds, but there was a mass of bruising that covered most of his son’s right side. It had already deepened to a disturbing black colour.

        Murdoch gently pressed Johnny’s ribs, prodding only as much as he needed to. The prodding caused his son to moan softly, but Murdoch was reasonably satisfied that he couldn’t find anything that indicated that any of them were broken. He figured there was a better than even chance that there were a couple of cracked ribs underneath that bruising though.

        Content that Johnny was not bleeding from any more serious wounds than the few other minor cuts and scratches he had collected, Murdoch examined the rest of his son’s body for broken bones.

        Finding none, he turned back to the head wound. He turned Johnny’s head a little to the side so he could get a better look at it. Johnny might not have any other serious injuries, but that head wound was nasty enough all by itself.

        Johnny had not shown any signs of coming to as yet. Murdoch gently moved the boy’s head a little further to the left so that he could look closely at the damage. As he leaned forward, he heard the crunching sound of the stones behind him and turned around to see Scott approaching at a dead run.

        "Over here, Scott!" he called out to him, and watched as his son spotted him and ran towards them.

        "How is he?" Scott asked anxiously as he got close.

        He knelt down beside Murdoch and caught sight of his brother. He had guessed that Johnny was hurt, but his brother's pallor was appalling.

        "Murdoch, he's not...?"

        "No son, he's alive, but I don't like the look of this head wound," Murdoch told him, turning back to look at it more closely.

        He moved the stiffened, tangled hair tenderly away from the wound. There was a jagged gash in his scalp that would need stitches. He just hoped that there was no worse damage. The boy had taken a bad knock.

        "I think he might have a couple of cracked ribs too," he added as he worked.

        "We have to get him home, Murdoch," Scott told him fretfully. "He needs a doctor."

        "Yes, I know," Murdoch agreed.

        He looked up at the slope above them.        It wasn't steep, but it was slippery and treacherous, just like the place where they had come down, further up the ravine. From here though, it looked like the only way back out.

        He searched back into his memory. It had been years since he had been out to this corner of the ranch, but he used to know every inch of it. He just had to remember what he ‘knew’.

        “Scott,” he said at last, “that trail we were following, I’m sure it reaches the bottom somewhere near here. Can you take a look around? See if you can find where that trail comes out?”

        Scott didn’t move right away. He couldn’t tear himself away from his brother. He felt utterly helpless, sitting and watching Murdoch doing what he could for Johnny, and he hated the feeling.

        Murdoch looked over his shoulder to see why Scott had not moved. He saw Scott’s expression and he continued, “Scott, do you want to have to try taking him out that way?” he said, indicating the slope above them.

        Scott heard him, as though for the first time, and dragged his eyes away from Johnny. He looked at his father and recalled what he had said. He looked up the slope and then back at his brother. He could see how difficult it would be trying to get him out that way.

        "All right," he answered hesitantly and got to his feet. He took another look at his brother.

        Even though he was leaving him in Murdoch’s hands, he felt reluctant to go.

        The sickening head wound was more exposed now that Murdoch had moved Johnny's hair away to examine it more closely, and they needed to get it cleaned up as soon as they could. He wished that he had brought his canteen with him. At least then they could have done something more for him.

        He turned away, about to leave as Murdoch had suggested, but his attention was caught by the thud of hooves above them, and the trickle of stones down the hillside. He looked up, and Murdoch did the same.

        “You okay down there?” they heard shouted from above them. “I heard a shot!”

        Scott recognised the voice, and was relieved that more help had arrived.

        “Hank,” Scott yelled back, “glad to see you. Johnny’s hurt.”

        “Shot?” Hank called down to him apprehensively.

        “No, that was just Murdoch’s signal. Johnny’s fallen!” Scott explained, shouting up the hillside. He took advantage of the help that Hank could offer. “Can you toss your canteen down?” he added.

        “Sure Scott,” they heard him answer eagerly.

        There was a thump above them as the canteen landed halfway down, and then it slipped most of the rest of the way down the slope.

        With a quick shout of thanks, Scott ran up to where it had stopped and grabbed it, quickly running back down with it.

        He ripped off his bandanna and gave both it and the canteen to his father.

        Gratefully, Murdoch wet the bandanna and began cleaning away the dried blood from the wound.

        Looking back up, Scott shouted to Hank once again. “Hank, can you get our horses and follow the trail down here with them?”

        “You bet, Scott, be down there in a minute!” the man called back, and instantly disappeared from their sight.

        Scott turned back to Murdoch and knelt down beside him to offer whatever assistance he could.

        “There’s not much we can do for him here, Scott,” Murdoch told him as he tried his best to clean up the wound. “We have to get him home, and get Doc Jenkins out to him.”

        “We have to do it soon too, or we’ll run out of light,” Scott replied. “There isn’t time to go back for a wagon.”

         His father agreed. “No, it’ll be dark by the time we get back as it is.” He folded the wet bandanna and placed it against the wound, then took off his own and tied it tightly around Johnny’s head to hold the pad in place. “It’s lucky we found him when we did. We’d never have found him in the dark, so he’d have been out here all night.” 

        “Yes, ‘lucky’,” Scott agreed quietly.

        Murdoch turned to face him, frowning. “I don’t understand how that child knew about it,” he said shaking his head in disbelief.

        “No, neither do I, Murdoch,” Scott told him, “but I think we should keep it between ourselves for now. At least until we can tell Johnny about it.”

        “Yes,” Murdoch agreed, distractedly. “Yes, Johnny might know more about it.” He ran his hand absentmindedly through his hair as he continued to watch Johnny.

        Johnny hadn’t moved at all, not even when Murdoch had gently cleaned the head wound and tied it up, nor had he uttered a sound. His breathing was shallow and barely audible.

         Scott leaned forward and did up the buttons on Johnny’s shirt, taking note as he did of the ominous black bruising on his chest. He needed something to do while they waited for the horses. He couldn’t stand just sitting there doing nothing.

        He was terrified that his brother might be dying before their eyes.

        Both men silently watched him. They watched his chest rise and fall with each shallow breath he took. They watched his face in the hope of seeing some change that might indicate he was aware somehow of their presence. They listened for any sound that might signify that he was coming to.

        Murdoch finally stood up and turned his back on his sons, walking a few paces away. Scott watched him, but he couldn’t see his face. He could guess, though, what he was going through. He was just as worried himself.

        He knew, probably better than Johnny did, just how much his youngest son meant to Murdoch Lancer. All of those arguments hid a lot of feeling between both Murdoch and Johnny. Neither of them expressed their feelings easily, and so much was unsaid between them.

        How Scott sometimes wished that Murdoch would just open up and talk to them.

        And Murdoch himself already had twenty years of regret where Johnny was concerned. He didn’t want to lose him now.

        Murdoch felt there was so much to still learn about the boy. Every time Murdoch thought they were getting a handle on Johnny and his past, he threw something new at them. He had occasionally dropped hints about his childhood, usually without meaning to, and he had done the same about his days as a gunfighter.

         Scott left him alone with his thoughts and turned back to his brother.

         He took Johnny’s hand and held it tight. It was cool and clammy, but he hoped that perhaps, against all logic, Johnny could feel his presence anyway.

      He leaned forward and whispered close to his ear, “Stay with me, little brother, just stay with me.”

        They had found each other after a lifetime apart, and he had no intention of saying goodbye to him now. Even the possibility of it was too much to bear.

        Scott squeezed his brother’s hand tighter and said, a little louder, “Just hang on Johnny, we’ll have you home in your own bed before you know it.”

        He kept talking. It made him feel that he was doing something, even if Johnny couldn’t hear him.

          “Teresa will be fussing over you, like a little mother hen. And Jelly is going to give it to you for busting up that saddle.” He smiled, almost as if he was really talking to Johnny and waiting for a response.

         “And Maddie, remember Maddie, Johnny. She’s back home waiting for you too.”

         He stopped for a moment, before going on. “So you just stay with us, Johnny,” he insisted quietly. “Just stay with us…”



         Murdoch turned towards the sound of the approaching horses. Hank had brought both his and Scott's horses, and, behind him, Manuel was following with Barranca in tow.

         "How's Johnny, Mr Lancer?" Hank called out as he got close enough for his boss to hear him over the clatter of hoofs.

         He had already reached Murdoch's side by the time he answered him.

         "He's still out cold," Murdoch answered.

         "Manuel heard the shot too, Mr Lancer," Hank explained. "I met up with him back there on the trail, so I got him to bring Johnny's horse. Is there anything more we can do?"

         Murdoch was relieved to finally be able to take some measure of control of the situation. He turned first to Manuel with instructions.

         "Yes. Manuel, I want you to ride straight to town from here and get Doc Jenkins out to the ranch. Tell him what’s happened, that Johnny’s hurt and that we’ll meet him there," he ordered him. "Take Scott's horse, he'll be fresher than yours."

         Manuel nodded, dismounting immediately and saying only, "Si Senor Murdoch."

         The man changed horses and took off at a gallop. He liked Johnny and he did not need to be told twice.

         Hank had also dismounted by now. "How bad is he, Mr Lancer?" he asked in a tone of real disquiet.

         Murdoch shook his head. "He’s unconscious Hank," he told him disconsolatately. “He’s got a nasty head wound, and maybe some cracked ribs. We have to get him back to the ranch so the Doc can see to him.”

         “What can I do to help? Just name it Mr Lancer,” Hank replied willingly.

         "Thanks Hank,” he answered gratefully. “I want you to give us a hand. Just wait here a minute," he told him and turned away to go back to where Scott still sat with his brother.

         Scott looked up at his approach. Johnny had still not moved or murmured since he had sat down with him. It had not stopped him talking to him though. He was willing to do whatever it took to keep his brother alive.

         "It's time to get him home, Scott," Murdoch said quietly, putting his hand on his eldest son's shoulder.

         Scott got to his feet and turned around to face Murdoch. "What do you have in mind?" he asked.

        Murdoch sighed. "There's not enough light to wait for a wagon, so we'll have to take him home on horseback," he told him.

        Scott nodded agreement and said reluctantly, "Yes, I know, but I wish there was another way."

        "I've sent Manuel to town for the doctor already. I told him to take your horse, it's fresher than his and might cut down on time," Murdoch explained. "Come on, let's get him over to the horses."

         The two men returned to Johnny and between them, they carefully lifted him, conscious of the need to avoid further damage to his ribs. They carried him to where the horses stood waiting.

         "Hank, come over here!" Murdoch called to him.

         Hank was at his side in a heartbeat. "Take him for me," he said to the man, "Carefully now. I'll get mounted and you and Scott can hand him up to me."

        "Sure Mr Lancer," he agreed, cautiously putting himself in a position to take Johnny's weight off Murdoch's hands.

        When he was assured that his son was safely in Hank's hands, Murdoch mounted his horse and steadied him firmly.

        "All right, I'm ready. Hand him up to me, real easy."

        Both Scott and Hank were strong men, but even with Murdoch reaching down to help, it took more manhandling than any of them liked.

        When he realised how difficult it was to move him without risking hurting him further, Scott thought that it was a good thing after all that Johnny was still unconscious.

        When his son was finally settled, cradled in his arms across the saddle, Murdoch took up the reins. He made sure that Johnny's head and back was firmly supported against his shoulder and his arm.

        Scott quickly mounted Manuel's horse and pressed him forward to Murdoch's side.

        Hank returned to stand beside his own horse and waited for further instructions.

        "Hank, you take Barranca back to the ranch ahead of us. Let Teresa know what's happened," Murdoch told him. "We'll be following, but we'll be going pretty slowly."

        "Okay, Mr Lancer," he said as he mounted his horse and gathered up Barranca's reins to lead him home. "Good luck to you," he added as he turned the horses and rode out. He followed Manuel's path to the end of the ravine and was soon out of sight.

        "You'd better stick close Scott, just in case I need a hand," Murdoch told his son.

        Scott glanced at his brother, lying pale and helpless in his father’s arms, and agreed. “You can bet on it Sir.”



        The two of them rode only as fast as they dared with their precious cargo. They said little or nothing to each other as they rode, each too engrossed in his own musings to worry about making conversation.

        Scott kept his horse close beside Murdoch's, matching him pace for pace. He watched Johnny most of the time, wary of signs that he might be slipping from Murdoch's grasp.

        It seemed strange, looking at Johnny in that state. Johnny, his tough kid brother, looked totally helpless.

        Of course, Scott had seen him hurt before. This was certainly not the first time. He had seen him seriously wounded a few times, and he'd seen him delirious with fever too. But, right now, he was so completely still, so quiet, laying in his father’s arms, that it was disconcerting. Johnny had still not uttered a single sound that Scott had heard.

        It occurred to Scott that Johnny looked all the more vulnerable because he was in Murdoch's arms. He looked far younger than his years, almost child-like. All traces of Johnny Madrid were gone from his face.

        Murdoch himself was staring stoically straight ahead as he rode, with only occasional glances at his son to make sure that he was not slipping. Scott wondered what was going through the man's mind. To look at him, one would swear that his grim expression revealed a heart hardened against his youngest son.

        Scott knew better, but watching his father now, he could not begin to imagine what the man was thinking.

       In actual fact, the grim expression on the man's face hid the turmoil of his thoughts.

        From the moment that he had taken Johnny in his arms he had battled with himself, fighting emotions and memories that he had tried to bury years ago, fighting anything that might distract him from the need to keep Johnny safely in position.

        But the memories kept sneaking back in. That silken black hair, though longer now, and matted with blood and dirt, was the same hair that he remembered from so many years ago - a lifetime ago - Johnny's lifetime! It was the same hair that he had stroked tenderly on the little boy he had given his heart to.

        The eyelashes, softly fanning his cheeks from his closed eyelids, were the same too, and the peaceful face that rested against his shoulder.

        While Scott was not looking, he gently flicked Johnny's hair out of his eyes, and studied the boy's face.

        With Johnny's head leaning heavily on his shoulder, memories of holding his infant son in just the same way flashed through his mind.

        He remembered sitting him in front of him as he rode around the yard at Lancer. The boy had been little more than a baby, but he had wanted everyone to take note - This is my son. Watch him grow because he'll take my place one day!

        When he had had Johnny around, there had been times when he could almost forget about the child in Boston for a while. At other times, Johnny's presence had made those memories even harder to bear. He knew that both boys should have been playing together, growing up together and he’d resented the cruel fate that had separated them.

        Murdoch remembered the childish giggles and the lights that had danced in his son’s deep blue eyes when he laughed. He remembered him as a happy little boy, tottering unsteadily on legs that he was just learning to use.

        And then nothing! - nothing but a devastating emptiness when the boy disappeared from his life.

        Oh, he'd searched for them, both mother and child. He would have taken Maria back, but if she had refused to come with him, he would have taken the boy. He had already lost one son; he was certainly not going to lose another.

        But he had lost him. Maria had covered her tracks too well. He had never found her, never found the boy.

        And she had taught her son well. To make matters worse, she had told him a version of the story that had ensured that he hated his father and would never turn to him. Johnny had hidden himself just as well as his mother had, and Murdoch could not forgive her that.

        Nor could he forgive knowing that when she had died with her son still only a child, her legacy to him had been a life of hardship, surviving in whatever ways he could when he should have been at Lancer with all his needs taken care of.

        Murdoch could not actually remember ever giving up looking. Over years it had just happened. He had made the journey to Boston to try to reclaim Scott, but old Harland Garrett, the boy’s grandfather, had proven to be a tougher nut to crack than he had anticipated and he had had to come home without his son.

        But at least he had seen him. He had seen, for himself, that the boy was well cared for and happy. No matter how ruthless Garrett was, he would always care for his grandson. Murdoch might rail against a fate that had robbed him of that son, but at least he knew where he was and that he was safe.

        He had never had that luxury with Johnny. He had had no idea if his younger son was alive or dead for years, and he had had to come to terms with it.

        When he had gotten word that the Pinkertons had found Johnny, and that he had accepted the money and was coming home, he had wondered what he would make of the boy. The Pinkertons had briefed him on the man he had grown up to become - Johnny Madrid - gunfighter, pistollero, gun hawk. There were plenty of ways to say it, but they all came down to the same thing - a hired gun!

        It went against everything Murdoch Lancer believed in and he couldn't reconcile it with the infant son he had lost. So when Johnny had walked into the great room with Scott that first day, Murdoch had looked into his eyes, searching for the little boy he remembered.

        For one brief moment, he had seen only curiosity, and then those blue eyes of Johnny’s had turned to ice. Johnny had turned a look on him that was so cold that he could have been frozen where he stood. Murdoch knew now that those were the cold, hard eyes of Johnny Madrid.

        It had struck him later that while it might have been his son, Johnny Lancer, who had been stolen from him, it was Johnny Madrid who had walked back into his life that day.

        He hadn't handled it well. Hell, he hadn't handled either of the boys well that day. He was honest enough with himself to be able to admit that now. Well, Scott had adapted quickly and they had reached a kind of tacit understanding, but Johnny?

        He still hadn't worked out quite how to deal with Johnny. The boy's bitterness had grated on him early on, angered him, but later, it had saddened him. 

        He looked down again at his son. Over the last few years, Johnny Lancer had started to re-emerge. The fun-loving, impulsive side of him was around more and more, and, for the most part, they had come to an understanding.

        The past was the past and should be left that way. To some extent, they both believed in that precept.

        Murdoch remembered the first time he had seen Johnny laugh. Johnny's eyes had danced with delight and Murdoch's heart had missed a beat.

        Perhaps he should have said something to him then about his mother, but the moment had been too brief and Murdoch had said nothing.

        Oh yes, once again he had said nothing. Over and over again he had said nothing to him, to either of them. After all those wasted years he should have taken the opportunity sometime, but he still couldn't bring himself to do it.

        Johnny was the same. He didn't make it any easier. He did not talk about the past. The little pieces of information he had let slip were heart breaking, but they were only glimpses, little windows into a life he seemed to prefer to forget.

        As his father, Murdoch felt that he should have been there to protect him, to look after him. The fact that he hadn't been there for him hurt more than he cared to admit.

        The dead weight against his arm was starting to tell. His arm was beginning to ache and his fingers were numb. Well, to hell with it! He was going to be there for his son this time.

        And maybe, he promised himself, if I get the chance when this is all over, Johnny and I will finally talk things out.

        He told himself that he would have that talk with both of the boys. They both had unanswered questions about their past and they both deserved to have those answers.

        Yes, Murdoch told himself that he would make sure he talked to them this time.



        They were running out of daylight fast now, and they were still over an hour from home at the rate they were going. The pace was slow, but steady, but the time they were consuming was frustrating them both.

        "How's he doing, Murdoch?" Scott asked again. He had tried to start up conversation a few times, but Murdoch didn't seem to want to talk.

        "No different, Scott," he answered briefly. He sighed. "I don't know if that's good or bad."

        "No fever?"

        Murdoch quickly put his hand on Johnny’s forehead to check for fever.

        “No," he told Scott, thankful for that at least.

        "Well, that’s something in his favour anyway," Scott replied, also relieved to some extent.

        Murdoch did not answer. He’d heard something. His eyes searched Johnny’s face for any trace of a change, and there it was. A deep frown had settled on Johnny’s face. He brought his horse to a stop and turned all his attention to Johnny, while Scott drew up beside him.



         Darkness! There was a deep, impenetrable darkness that he couldn't seem to escape.

        The more he fought against it, the more the throbbing ache in his head pounded against his skull.

        And breathing hurt! The closer he got to the edge of the darkness, the more aware he became of a fiery pain in his chest with every breath he took.

        He tried holding his breath, and for a few moments the pain in his chest eased. It wasn't worth it in the long run though. When his brain forced him to let the breath go, the fire seared all the worse for his efforts.

        It hurt so much that it forced an involuntary groan from him and he threw his head back in a reflex action.

        The effect on his body was blinding. Moving his head brought back that blinding pain in his head, and he gasped aloud.

        Johnny slowly became aware that he was in the grip of strong hands.

        Someone was holding him down, but why? What was going on? What kind of trouble had he gotten himself into this time?

        He fought against the darkness, and against the iron grip of the arms that held him, struggling desperately.

        As he did, he began to hear voices all around him – beside him, above him – the voices seemed to come from everywhere at once. He heard them dimly at first. What was it they were saying?

        He couldn't make it out. Damn the pain in his head! All his senses suffered and the pain escalated as he reached the surface of the darkness.


        He heard it distinctly that time. It was his name. They were calling his name.

        "Johnny, take it easy!"

        It was a different voice this time. The voices were familiar. He felt that he should know them, but he couldn't place them.

        The grip around him grew tighter. He tried to fight it, but the pain, and an overwhelming lethargy, made it virtually impossible to escape.

        "Johnny, take it easy, please."

        He got a hold on that voice at last. It was Scott! Was it Scott who was holding him down? Why?

        "Son, don't fight me."

        Son? The word screamed at him. He stopped struggling for a moment and instead he put all his effort into opening his eyes. But something was wrong. He felt the weights on his eyelids lighten, and his eyes finally opened but it still seemed to be dark.

        But then, as his eyes slowly came into focus he could see vague, blurred shadows around him.

        Of course, it was night, that was it. At least, it was close to night. There were enough light to make out the face above him.


        That was a new voice - one that he did not recognise at first. It was little more than a rasping whisper and when Johnny realised that it was his own, he was shocked. He frowned in confusion, and even that small movement brought new shards of pain to his aching head.

        "Murdoch?" he repeated slowly. He stopped writhing, leaning back and trying to figure out just what was going on.

        "That's right, son," he heard Murdoch say. He could hear quite clearly now, even if his sight was still hazy and out of focus. He wished that he could think straight, but the hammering in his head made it difficult to concentrate.

        He took a deep breath to try to clear his mind. He paid the penalty with the pain to his ribs, but it did give him the clarity that he sought.

        "What's happening?" he managed to ask. He let the air out of lungs, slow and easy, trying desperately to control the pain.

        "You had a fall, Johnny," he heard Murdoch tell him. "Now, just take it easy and don't fight me."

        "We'll have you home soon, brother," Scott said from somewhere beside him. He could hear him, but he couldn't see him. "You'll be fine, but you have to be still."

        "Scott?" Johnny asked, recognising the voice, and turning his head to look for him, but still not able to locate him.

        A hand grasped his, a firm, reassuring grasp. He heard his brother's voice again from somewhere nearby. "I'm here, Johnny, right here with you," Scott assured him. "We're going to get you home, Johnny, but you have to stay still and take it easy. Okay?"

        Johnny swallowed hard and concentrated on answering. If Scott was with him, then he could accept that everything would be all right.

        "Okay," he finally managed to say, but even to his own ears it sounded like little more that a thin whisper. He relaxed his body and leaned back against Murdoch's shoulder and he found that the pain eased considerably.

        "That's right, son," Murdoch said in a surprisingly soothing tone, "Hold on, and we'll get you home."

        Johnny did not answer him. He couldn't. He didn’t have the strength left, but he heard Murdoch say to Scott, "Come on Scott, let's get him home," and Murdoch kicked his horse forward.

        The movement sent a shaft of pain through Johnny that brought on a wave of nausea that threatened to overwhelm him. He fought it down, closing his eyes to concentrate on beating it.

        He knew where he was now – he was on horseback. Every step the animal took was a nightmare of pain and nausea. He would have welcomed back the darkness eagerly, but it was gone now, so he just gritted his teeth and determined to ‘ride it out’.


    Johnny's return to consciousness brought with it a palpable relief to both Scott and Murdoch. He might be hurt, and they could not yet tell to what extent, but their greatest concern was assuaged.

        Johnny had recognised them both and was reasonably lucid. That meant that there appeared to be no permanent damage, despite the severity of the head injury.

        The downside, however, was that Johnny was now conscious and in a great deal of pain. They could both see that he was feeling every step vividly, and the rest of the journey home would be long and hard on him.

        Murdoch thought about slowing the pace even more, in the hope that it might be less painful for his son, but it would be more likely to only prolong the inevitable. So he kept going, rigidly forcing himself to ignore every wince and spasm that he felt go through his son’s body.

        It tore at him inside, but visibly he remained unmoved. Murdoch Lancer had mastered the game of hiding his emotions long ago.

        Scott could still not tell, for certain, what was in his father's mind, but he could see the toll that the ride was taking on his brother. It was all too obvious in Johnny’s face, contorted by a deep frown and an occasional moan that he could not avoid letting escape.

        They rode in silence the rest of the way. The sun had gone down and the night's shadows had slowed them down a little more. Murdoch drew his son closer as the night air cooled, and he gave his horse its head a little, trusting in the animal's surefootedness. Even in the dark, they were safe enough on the roadway. Both the men and their horses knew the road well.

        Reaching Lancer brought a huge relief to both Scott and Murdoch, and to Johnny, who had remained conscious throughout the rest of the journey. At times, he had prayed for the relief that slipping back into unconsciousness would bring, but to no avail.

        As they rode into the yard, Scott noticed a veritable crowd waiting outside the bunkhouse. The word had buzzed through the ranch when first Hank had arrived with Barranca riderless, and then Manuel had returned with the doctor.

        Both of the Lancer brothers were very popular with the hands. They respected the fact that both of them were prepared to work alongside them, doing the same chores that they did. So they waited for what news they could get.

        When the horses came to a halt outside the house, Murdoch remained where he was, cradling his son carefully. Scott, on the other hand, was on his feet immediately, first taking the bridle of Murdoch’s horse to bring it to a standstill, and then moving to his father’s side.

        Another small group stood outside the house. Teresa was waiting for them on the porch, eager for news and to help when they arrived, and with her was Doc Jenkins. Jelly was waiting nearby, holding tight to Maddie's hand to comfort her. They had spent most of the afternoon together, and he had been surprised that, while she had been frightened for Johnny all afternoon, an hour or so back she had suddenly seemed to be less worried.

        Hank, standing with the rest of the hands outside the bunkhouse, grabbed the man on either side of him and ran across the yard to help. He helped Scott to get Johnny down from the horse and into the waiting arms of the other two ranch hands, and then together the men carried him into the house, to his room.

        Scott began to follow them into the house, but a glance back over his shoulder brought to a halt.

        Murdoch still hadn’t dismounted. He was taking his time, getting his thoughts back in order, getting his emotions under the tight grip that he preferred to have on them. He looked over and saw Scott waiting for him and so he got down and walked slowly over to join him.

        He clapped his arm around Scott's shoulders when he reached him. "Come on," he said to his son as they walked into the house together.

        “Let’s go see what the doctor has to say.”




        Johnny sat on the big comfortable sofa, leaning back on a couple of soft white pillows, fluffed to perfection by Teresa.

        He had been cleaned up, his head wound stitched and bandaged, and his ribs tightly strapped, and he had spent the last few days all but tied down to his bed. Nevertheless his face was almost as white as the pillows behind him just the same.

        Doc Jenkins had decided that he probably had two or three cracked ribs, but nothing broken. He had stressed how lucky he was and ordered bed rest for a week, leaving him to sleep all night and most of the next day.

        Teresa had stayed with him all through that night and had hovered close by throughout the next day, making sure that he slept undisturbed. And when he had finally woken, she had fussed over him and, to his disgust, had even wanted to spoon-feed him.

        He had baulked at that and put his foot down.

        "Come on Teresa, I ain't dyin!" Johnny had insisted. "I c'n do it myself."

        To his relief, Teresa had relented good-humouredly and handed over the bowl and the spoon to him. "Well, you can't blame me, Johnny. You gave us a fright!" she told him.

        He smiled sheepishly. "Yeah, and I did it just to get a week off, an' have you fuss all over me."

        "Not just a week off, brother," Scott said, coming into the room at the tail end of the conversation. "A week in bed!"

        "Yeah, I know," Johnny replied reluctantly. "I meant in bed." He put the spoon down on the table by the bed and drank the broth straight from the bowl.

        Scott strolled across the room and leaned back against the windowsill. He watched, with satisfaction, as Teresa gently chided him for his lack of manners.

        Johnny only smiled as he finished the bowl and put it on the table with the spoon. "Thanks Teresa," he sighed and leaned back against the pillows.

        Scott was not impressed with Johnny's casual acceptance of spending a week in bed. He knew him better than to think he would stay there, not once he started to feel better.

        "I mean it, Johnny," he told him firmly. "You try getting up before a week's up and I'll haul you back and tie you to it!"

   Johnny grinned and took up the challenge. "And you think you could, do you Boston?"

      Scott smirked confidently. "In your present condition, little brother, Teresa could!"

        Johnny had winced as he broke into a laugh. He grabbed his ribs and closed his eyes, just for a moment, to get a grip on the pain, both in his head and his ribs.

        But that had been days ago, and now he was downstairs for the first time in nearly a week. Teresa hovered nearby, ready to fuss if she felt he needed it, and Scott stood leaning against the mantle shelf, critically surveying his brother. He was not convinced that he should be downstairs yet.

        "You know," Johnny said, looking towards Scott, "I'm still not sure what happened out there. I mean, I know the cinch broke and I fell, but what were you doin' out there?"

        "I'd like to know the answer to that too," they all heard Murdoch say from the doorway.

        All three in the room turned their heads towards Murdoch. He took up most of the doorway and, as usual, presented a somewhat daunting figure, as he demanded an explanation.

        Murdoch believed otherwise. With his fears for his youngest son's well being allayed, he was in a good mood and had no idea that anyone thought anything else.

        "What do you mean?" Johnny asked, puzzled.

        Murdoch walked thoughtfully into the room.

        "It’s good to see you're looking better, Johnny," he said, cheerfully, as he stopped and faced him from the end of the sofa.

        "Thanks Murdoch," Johnny answered, "but what did you mean?"

        "What I mean, Johnny, is how did Maddie know...?"

        Johnny jerked forward off the pillows. "Maddie?" he exclaimed and looked from his father to his brother.

        Scott shifted, a little uncomfortably, and avoided meeting Johnny's eyes.

        "What about Maddie?" Johnny repeated, a deep frown furrowing his brow.

        His reaction stunned Murdoch to silence, and Scott certainly seemed loath to answer, so since no one else appeared to be ready to explain it to him, Teresa stepped in to answer him.

        "Johnny, Maddie got kind of upset that morning," she explained gently. "She kept saying you were hurt," Teresa stopped and looked at the others in the room. "I'm afraid we didn't believe her. I mean, well Johnny, there was no reason to think..."

        Johnny lay back on the pillows again. The sudden movement had aggravated his sore ribs and now he was beginning to feel its effects. He reached his left arm across to hold them and caught his breath.

        "Sure, it’s okay, Teresa. You had no reason to believe her," he said quietly. "Is she all right?"

        "Oh, she's fine Johnny, don't worry," Teresa assured him. "She settled down just as soon as Scott got back and talked to her. He and Murdoch went out to look for you, just in case."

        Teresa watched him turn his head towards Scott. Something unspoken passed between the two brothers. A thought, a question – Teresa wasn’t sure, and neither of them spoke immediately.

   "You believed her?" Johnny eventually asked Scott.

        He nodded slightly. "Yes," was all he said.

        Johnny closed his eyes for a moment. He was getting tired, and his head had started to throb again. He opened his eyes and he could see the puzzled expressions on the faces of both Teresa and Murdoch. He knew he was going to have to explain things to them. He began to feel like he was facing an inquisition. He was really not ready for it.

        Instead he spoke directly to Scott.

        "Is that what the Senora talked to you about?" he asked his brother, wearily ignoring the questions that he felt remained unasked by the others in the room.

        Scott folded his arms in front of him. It was an almost defensive action and he leaned back against the wall. He looked down for a moment, feeling just as uncomfortable as his brother at the unwanted attention from Murdoch and Teresa. He could feel their eyes on him and he wasn't sure how much Johnny wanted said.

  "We talked about a lot of things, Johnny," he answered at last, and then he looked up and returned his brother's stare. "And yes, that was one of them."

        He took some time to consider what else he should say, before adding, "I promised her that I'd listen if Maddie ever said that she knew you were in trouble."

        "Why?" Murdoch exclaimed, frustrated by not knowing what they were talking about. "How could she know?"

        "I don't know," Scott admitted with a shrug of his shoulders, and then he turned to face Murdoch and added enigmatically, "but I think she can."

        "She can," Johnny declared. There was no room for doubt in his tone. It was a statement of fact as far as he was concerned.

        He still sat, leaning back heavily against the pillows, but he spoke confidently and his conviction surprised everyone in the room.

        "How?" Murdoch asked again.

        Johnny closed his eyes to concentrate on his answer. His mind was clouded with memories. Words, explanations, answers to his own questions - the same questions - years ago. Luisa had told him about it first, in the days before their marriage. Later the Senora had told him more. He tried to sort through the memories to recall how Luisa had first explained it to him.

        He took a deep breath and slowly let it out to clear his mind.

        "Have you ever had the feeling that something's wrong, Murdoch?" he asked at last, opening his eyes and facing him. "But you can't quite put your finger on it?"

        Murdoch considered the question for a moment before replying. "Yes, I suppose so," he admitted hesitantly.

        "Well, Maddie can put her finger on it. It's the same thing, just a feeling, but it’s somehow stronger. Luisa was the same. I saw it a few times. She didn’t always know exactly what was wrong, but she did know that something was. She just knew, Murdoch, and the Senora was the same too."

        Murdoch shook his head disbelieving. “Johnny, she’s just a child. There’s such a thing as coincidence you know.”

        Johnny nodded patiently. He knew all those arguments. He’d used them himself in the past.

        “Sure, Murdoch, I know. Just like it was coincidence that the Senora knew all about my havin’ been blind before I got back to Romane the next time to tell her. Knew ‘bout the bullet I took from Day Pardee too.”

        “And I saw myself how Maddie behaved when the Senora died, Murdoch.” Scott told him. “No one was there to tell her. She just knew.”

        Murdoch looked uncomfortable with their arguments. "Johnny, if you’re so sure about this, why didn't you something about it before?" his father demanded calmly.

        Johnny stared down at his hands, not meeting his father's eyes. "Sure, I could have," he said and then admitted, “maybe I should have.” Then he looked up to face Murdoch, his sapphire blue eyes meeting his father's with a steely defiance. "But would you have believed me?"

        Murdoch seemed to be at a loss for words, a situation so rare in the house that Johnny smiled suddenly.

        "Anyway,” he continued, “I wasn't even sure that Maddie would know. I mean, sure she knew when the Senora died, but that was the first time I'd heard of it happening."

        Murdoch ran his hand through his hair in exasperation. “All right,” he finally said, “let’s say you’re right. So what do we do now?”

        Johnny stared at him hard. “Do?” he demanded, with an icy tone in his voice. “We don’t ‘do’ anything. She’s just a kid Murdoch. She’s a little kid with a gift.” He stopped for a moment as his emotions got the better of him, and then went on. “She can love someone so much that she can share their feelings. But she’s only five years old. She needs time to learn how to handle it.”

        “You want it kept ‘in the family’ then Johnny,” Scott said, understanding his brother’s meaning.

        “For now anyway,” he answered, quietly, his temper cooled.

        Teresa smiled at him. “Well, I think it’s wonderful. And next time we’ll listen to her!”

        Johnny turned to her. “Next time?” he asked caustically.

        Teresa grinned, and playfully slapped his leg. “Oh Johnny, with you there’s always a ‘next time’!” she laughed. “And if it’s not you, it’s your brother over there!”

        Murdoch laughed at the offended looks she got from the boys. “Well, let’s not make it too soon eh?” he said with a grin and then he looked up as they heard a knock on the door.

        Murdoch walked over to the door and opened it to find Jelly standing just outside, with Maddie beside him, dressed in her customary overalls and holding tightly to Jelly’s hand.

        Jelly faced Murdoch boldly and said, in his gruff manner, “Well now, if this here’s a family pow wow, then it seems to me you left someone out!”

        “Never, Jelly,” Murdoch grinned. “Why don’t you both come in and join us?”

        “Well, I should say so,” he grumbled, leading the little girl into the room. “Poor little tyke’s b’n itchin’ to see her Pa.”

        “Hello Maddie,” Murdoch said, leaning forward slightly to talk to her as she marched happily past him. Under her arm she carried a small brown paper parcel that he recognised, and he lifted an eyebrow at Jelly.

        He had no idea what was in it, only where it had come from, and he was not sure that this was the right time to give it to Johnny. 

        With a fleeting “Hello Grandpa” and a cheerful grin, she bounced over to stand beside the sofa, pigtails bouncing along with her.

        "Hey chica!" Johnny called to her, a touch of weariness creeping into his voice. "Come over here."

        Maddie didn't need a second invitation. She climbed up and sat beside him, beaming happily. She studied the bandage wrapped around his head and frowned.

        "Do you feel better now, Papa?" she asked him, very solemnly.

        "Sure Maddie, I'm fine," he assured her.

        “Good,” she said and snuggled in to make herself more comfortable, amid warnings to ‘be careful’ from the adults in the room. “This is for you. It’s from Aunt Kath.” 

        She pushed the small parcel into his hands and waited expectantly for him to open it.

        “Oh yes, Johnny,” Murdoch said to him. “I forgot to mention that Mrs Romane sent some things over for you and Maddie. A wagon arrived with them yesterday. That was with them. It had a note attached to it saying that it was for you personally.”

        Johnny looked at it. He really did not want to open it here with everyone watching. He looked up surreptitiously to see if they were all looking at him, and, sure enough, they were. 

        He hesitated a bit longer, too long for Maddie’s liking. “Go on papa, open it!” she demanded excitedly.

        “Pushy ain’t ya!” he laughed at his daughter, still not making a move to open it. 

        “Yep!” she admitted happily. “So are you going to open it or not?”

        Johnny grinned, and his eyes danced with the delight he found in her. “Alright, alright, I guess I better then,” he agreed and pulled away first the string and then the paper.

        He stopped then, the grin slipping away, and he stared silently at what had been revealed. It was a photograph, framed in a simple painted wooden frame. It was one that he remembered well. 

        He seemed oblivious to everyone in the room, even Maddie. He ran his fingers over the photograph tenderly, utterly silent, lost in another world, another time.

        Maddie looked into his hands and exclaimed breathlessly, “It’s Mama!”

        She sat forward in her enthusiasm, bumping Johnny’s ribs as she did. It broke him out of his trance. 

        “Yeah,” he said finally. “It’s your Mama.”

        “And you too, Papa!” she added breathlessly. “She’s so beautiful!”

        “Yeah, beautiful,” he whispered wistfully, and then turning to her he added, “just like you.”

        She beamed at him and took the photograph eagerly from him and handed it to Scott. “Isn’t she beautiful, Tio?” 

        Scott accepted the photograph hesitantly, looking towards Johnny for any sign of disapproval. Finding none, he looked down at the photograph. 

        Teresa moved closer to look over his shoulder and Murdoch, too, got close enough to see.

        They easily recognised the lovely young woman. Johnny was right. She was the image of Madelena; only her face had more maturity. The eyes were the same, and the shape of her face and the bright smile. She was dressed in a lovely white gown and wore a long white lace mantilla that fell over a high Spanish style comb. There was elegance in that face, but there was delight too. She was immeasurably happy in that photograph.

        She was sitting on a chair, with Johnny, so much younger but easily recognisable just the same, standing proudly behind her. He wore a fancy frilled shirt with a string tie and lace cuffs that none of them had ever seen him in before, and the same style of bolero jacket and pants that he still often wore.

        He looked so young, but so proud of his beautiful wife.

        “She sure is beautiful, Johnny,” Teresa told him sincerely.

        “She certainly is,” Murdoch agreed.

        “Yes, Johnny, she’s lovely,” Scott agreed, and then smiled mischievously. “You’re kind of pretty too.”

        Teresa slapped Scott’s shoulder in dismay. “Scott really,” she chastised him, but Johnny laughed.

        The heavy cloud of tension was dispelled and Johnny lay back on the pillows grinning.

        “Oh boy, I remember that day!” he told them happily. Memories raced around his mind, happy memories, and he found himself able to tell them about it. “It was maybe three months after we were married and Luisa heard that photographer guy was in town. Well, she insisted we get all gussied up in our wedding gear again and have that picture taken.”

        Scott leaned forward and handed it back to his brother. Johnny took it and looked at it again with a smile. “Kinda glad we did now,” he said quietly.

        Maddie took the photograph from her father and ran her fingers over the glass. She looked up at him and asked, very seriously, “Do you think she loved me Papa?”

        Johnny eased himself forward and put his fingers under her chin to tilt her face up to his. He looked into the bright brown eyes that so reminded him of that other bright shining light in his life – a brilliant diamond that had glowed for a while, and then died in his arms.

        “Madelena Lancer,” he said gravely, “She sure did. Your Mama held you in her arms and smiled an’ said to me, over and over, ‘Look at her Johnny, isn’t she beautiful?’”

        “But she went away,” she replied sadly.

        “She’d ‘ve stayed if she could,” he told her just as sadly. 

        “Yaya said that she watches us from heaven,” she told her father solemnly. 

        Johnny smiled at her again. “Well, the Senora was a real smart lady, so I reckon she’d know.”

        Murdoch Lancer envied his youngest son the bond that he so obviously shared with his daughter. He wished that he could find the words to tell both of his sons all the things that they would have liked to know about their mothers, about the past.

        One day he would. One day when the time was right. 

        It wasn’t now, but one day. 

        “Well,” Murdoch said, breaking the mood in his own inimitable way. All eyes in the room turned to him expectantly and he continued, “If none of you has any work to get done, I do. Johnny, you rest up a while and then Scott can help you back to your room. Scott, when you’re ready, I need to discuss those irrigation plans you had in mind for the south pasture.”

         He turned and walked out of the room. He glanced back, just for an instant. Yes, he thought, one day!




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