Warnings/Spoilers: Alternate Reality
Word Count: around 11,000 total
Disclaimer: This story is based on the characters and premises of many talented people. Essentially, not ours, no profit being made, etc. This is just for fun.
Summary: What if Murdoch had brought his sons to Lancer five years earlier than the series indicated.
December 28, 1864
Exhaustion was going to make him careless if he didn’t pay attention. The border town was rough, and he needed his wits about him. Murdoch Lancer wouldn’t allow any mistakes this close to the end of a nearly fourteen year search. A search that would hopefully culminate in locating his younger son here, and if it was this dusty, backwater town, Murdoch would look back upon it fondly.
That he was shocked that his fifteen-year-old son was making his name as the gunfighter, Johnny Madrid, was painting the scene too lightly. His son shouldn’t have had to resort to that profession. Based on the Pinkerton report, he knew Johnny didn’t have many options in his life, but that didn’t make Murdoch feel better.
His hope was to return Johnny to Lancer, and then he would attempt to contact Scott, again. His older son was now close to an age where he could make his own decisions. However, it was unlikely that Harlan Garrett wouldn’t interfere, but Murdoch had to believe his chances had improved, with his son near the age of majority.
border town had lost its appeal. Not that they ever held much, but
especially when the end of job was in sight.
Yesterday, he had seen an acquaintance come out on the losing end of a gunfight. While Johnny could understand the restlessness in Hugh, he couldn’t understand the need to take on a more experienced gun to hurry along your own reputation. That came along given time. Hugh had only been a few years older than Johnny, and now he sure wouldn’t get any older. Stupid. Johnny might be young, but he sure didn’t plan on adding stupid to it.
Johnny felt his own restlessness, and he knew it was time to move on.
battle begin, Scott thought as he and his fellow prisoners of war began
their morning ritual of ridding themselves of the pests that had gathered
overnight in their poor excuse for clothing. He didn’t dream of a hot bath
anymore. His wishes had simplified to attire that didn’t have independent
Scott didn’t dream of much anymore. The ill-fated escape attempt accomplished what the constant hunger, vermin, boredom, and overcrowded conditions could not. The punishment of being the lone survivor of said escape was nothing compared to witnessing sixteen men killed.
Dreaming was an undeserved luxury, so he returned his attention to the lice crawling up his arm.
January 3, 1865
The saloon was adequate for the purpose of sitting at the table and having - if a person was generous - a beer. The graying-haired gentleman had spent a good portion of his day doing that. Johnny would know since he had watched him for most of that time.
He was a stranger to Johnny, and it was disconcerting that he couldn’t get any sense of who and what he was: Except tall. Johnny suspected taller than most anybody.
When word reached him that a tall gringo asked to meet with John Madrid, he decided to watch the newest arrival before he approached him.
The older man was patient. Johnny watched for any signs of irritation at having to wait, but the stranger acted like he had nothing better to do than enjoy the poor beer. Maybe he didn’t.
Slipping into the cantina, Johnny nearly smiled as a chair was pushed out in welcome before the gringo even looked up, and the bartender immediately brought two fresh beers.
Credit to the old man, he was sharp and obviously knew who Johnny was. Gesturing to the chair, the man spoke in a voice that fit his stature. “Thank you for meeting with me, Mr. Madrid.”
With an amiable smile, Johnny settled in the wobbly chair, and took a swallow of his beer. “And what would this meeting be about, Mister…?”
“Ross.” He set his mug on the table. “I’d like to hire you.”
Johnny grinned, appreciating the straightforward answer.
“I’ve a long way to travel and I’d like to arrive home intact. The trip south has been more… eventful than I would’ve liked. You’ve enough of a reputation to keep others at bay. That and I assume you know the area. I’m offering a thousand dollars for your time.”
Johnny caught himself before he goggled at the American. “That’s a lot of money.”
fond of my life.” Ross leaned back, folding his hands over his
stomach. “I’ve things to look forward to.”
“Can understand that.” Johnny ran a thumbnail over the rough grain of the table.
“You’ve come a long way.”
“Yes, I have.”
“When you wantin’ to leave?”
“Tomorrow morning. Early.”
“I’ll meet you at the livery before sunup.” Johnny rose, and pulled on his hat.
Ross did the same, and yes, the man was tall! He held out his hand, which Johnny accepted cautiously.
“Thank you, Mr. Madrid.” Ross’ large hand wrapped briefly around his own. “I’ll cover our traveling expenses.”
Nodding, Johnny stepped away and left the cantina as quietly as he came.
A thousand dollars would go a long way towards making Johnny’s life easier. Curious by nature, he was intrigued by Ross. There were questions he could and should have asked, but there was time for that later. If the man was a welsher, Johnny wasn’t out anything, although Ross would be.
He hated their faces, the vacuous, hopeless expressions. Broken men, who were all starting to look the same. Some squabbled over the scant rations and resorted to thievery to make their lives easier at the expense of fellow prisoners.
He was afraid of becoming the same.
January 4, 1865
In the cool hour before dawn, they met at the livery, neither bothering with small talk. Guiding them out of town, Johnny’s choice of route was erratic, but Ross followed without question.
After a peaceful couple of hours, Ross broke the silence.
“Mr. Madrid, did you grow up in this area?”
“Grew up a bit all over. My mama and stepfather moved around a lot.” With a glance and a cheeky grin, Johnny turned the tables. He wanted more information to help him figure this man out. “What about you, Mr. Ross?”
“Europe, actually. Came to America when I was a much younger man.” Ross leaned over the pommel stretching his back. “Wanted an area big enough to fit my ambition and California seemed the place to do it.”
“Was it?” Johnny was interested and curious about his employer.
Ross relaxed back in the saddle, looking off in the distance. “Somewhat. I have a ranch that makes me proud, and vaqueros that appreciate the land as much as I do.”
“Family: My sons to pass it on to. My first wife came with me from Boston. By all appearances, she shouldn’t have wanted to venture out to an untamed land, or take up with a rough man. Her father certainly disagreed with her decision. She was my partner in everything – loved the ranch and watching it grow as much as I did.
“She died soon after our baby was born. I wasn’t there – that’s the worst part. I wasn’t there and Catherine’s father took him away from me. I was lost. Garrett’s rich, powerful, and he used his money to prevent me from getting my son back. Each failure was worse than the last.”
Seeing Ross adrift in painful memories, Johnny didn’t want to make it worse, but something Ross had said prompted his curiosity. “First wife?”
“Yes, I married again a couple of years later. She was a wonderful woman, completely different from Catherine, which I was grateful for. I wasn’t looking for a replacement. We were blessed with a son. He was an adorable child and a good fit for the ranch, wanted to ride before he could walk. I took him everywhere with me. Those were some of the best days.
“What happened to him?”
“One day I arrived home to find my wife and son gone. I found out later she’d left with another man. Somehow I missed seeing that she wasn’t happy with ranch life, or happy with me. I’ll never know. The worst was her taking our son. Thought I’d lose my mind back then. Searched for them for years, but never found them. If my wife didn’t want me, I could accept that, but not the loss of another son.”
There was true sadness and regret in Ross’ tone. Johnny saw his companion give a visible shake as if to throw off the past and focus on him.
“What of your family, Mr. Madrid?”
“My mother’s gone, been so for a long time. My father threw my mama and me out of the house when I was too little to remember him.” Johnny couldn’t keep his bitterness from his tone.
“Threw you out?” Ross was shocked. “Why?”
“Don’t know. Weren’t good enough for him I guess.”
“That doesn’t make sense.” Ross shook his head, face pale. “It doesn’t.”
What it was though was a conversation stopper. They spent the rest of the day lost in their own thoughts.
he thought of California. A fellow prisoner, Jonah, with a big gapped-tooth
smile, told stories about the beautiful wild state. He painted a vivid
picture of the wide-open spaces while they were locked in a boxcar with
fifty-six other fellow prisoners. A needed distraction during the unbearable
twenty-four hour train ride transferring them from Libby to Danville last
In spite of himself, Scott wanted to know more, having long ago accepted that he would always harbor some curiosity for his unknown father, and the ranch that took priority over his own son. Jonah died a few days later and left Scott with a fraction of the picture.
He thought it fitting.
January 13, 1865
Johnny appreciated and enjoyed Ross’ companionship on the trail, which was something of a surprise. He was well used to traveling alone and preferred it. Ross proved to be an interesting companion, with an equal interest in what Johnny had to say. While they had mutually scuttled aside the topic of families, they didn’t lack for other topics. Ross spoke of ranching, and mentioned that his land was home to countless wild horses. Hours were spent discussing horse training, with Ross asking question after question when Johnny ventured his own ideas on the subject.
Johnny was used to a fearful type of respect or flat out distrust, and if that helped him avoid trouble, he was all for it. But the respect and consideration Ross gave him was that of an equal, and Johnny’s usual reserve was breaking down from that type of regard.
studied his hand for lack of anything else to do. Of all the deprivations he
endured, Scott decided that boredom would be the end of him. Yes, he was
slowly starving to death, and there was a good chance he would fall ill, as
many others had. But it was the boredom that stood the best chance of
killing him. He knew he processed a quick analytical mind, and his superiors
had often taken advantage of that. Now he was reduced to studying his hand
and attempting to multiply by five.
He couldn’t do it.
January 18, 1865
Johnny took advantage of the hotel’s offer of a bath to spruce himself up before he met Ross for dinner in the hotel’s dining room. Ross was as comfortable in the smaller boarding houses as he was in the larger hotels, and treated the proprietor or proprietress with graceful ease. His courteous nature brought out the best in folks.
Figuring it didn’t hurt to mimic a successful tactic, Johnny watched the large man during interactions with strangers.
True to his word, Ross paid for all their travel expenses, including decent hotels and food. Johnny enjoyed these unfamiliar luxuries, and in the process gained a little needed weight. Since he was growing out of his travel worn clothes, he used some of the money Ross had paid him to buy some new clothes, including a couple of bright colored shirts and jeans. It had been a long time since he had new clothes.
Johnny wasn’t sure why this seemed to please Ross.
January 25, 1865
They were getting close to Morro Coyo when Johnny started to feel edgy and uncomfortable with the small canyon they were riding through.
“What is it, Mr. Madrid?”
Johnny continued his visual scan of the area. “Somethin’s wrong. We need…”
Johnny was falling before he heard the sound of the shot, landing hard in front of his mount. He struggled to catch his breath, as his horse’s hooves danced on the ground before of his eyes.
Large hands seized Johnny under his arms, and heaved him back on his saddle. Johnny gripped the pommel to maintain his seat, and heard Ross order him to hang on. Rifle fire sounded in the distance, and Ross cut an erratic path through the gulch. Johnny’s only rational thought was to hold on, and ignore the pain that radiated from his back. He blocked it all until he was forced back to awareness by Ross’s voice and hands.
“Johnny, let go.” There was a sense that this wasn’t the first time Ross had said this.
Willing his fingers to unclench, Johnny fell into Ross’ reaching arms and was hauled down behind some boulders.
“Mister!” A distant voice shouted, “You leave Madrid behind and you can ride out.”
“Johnny, stay with me. Tell me who he is.” Callused hands cupped Johnny’s face helping him to focus.
“You hear me?” The shooter wasn’t about to be ignored. “I have nothin’ against you, just want Madrid.”
Grimacing, Johnny choked out, “Rufus.”
“What does he want?” Ross dropped his hands and withdrew something from his saddlebag.
“Me. Dead. Had somethin’ of a fallin’ out.” Johnny’s instinctive reaction was to curl away from the pain when Ross put pressure on his wound.
“Stay with me, Johnny.”
When had they moved from Mr. Madrid to Johnny?
“You need… to get out of here.” Fumbling, Johnny pulled his gun free.
“Not going to happen, Son.” Ross laid a gentle hand on his shoulder, but it held him in place.
Struggling against the larger man, Johnny was insistent. “Rufus won’t hesitate to kill you.”
“You can argue this all you want, but it won’t change that I’m staying.” Ross continued to treat the wound. “But Rufus doesn’t need to know that.”
“Trust me, Johnny. We’ll get out of this.” Ross tied off the bandage.
“Shush. Do you think he’s alone?”
Thinking back, Johnny nodded. “Seemed like only one gun.”
“I agree. Hold on.” Ross jumped to his feet. “You out there. I hear you. I want nothing to do with this. Madrid’s close to dead as it is.”
“Get on your horse and get out of here!”
“All right, all right. Don’t shoot, don’t shoot,” he begged, and looking down at Johnny, he winked.
Johnny wasn’t sure what to make of it when Ross mounted his horse and galloped away from the safety of the rocks. He checked his gun and waited. It wouldn’t be long. Rufus was impatient when angry.
Strange to feel alone with Ross gone; Johnny also reflected on Ross’ use of his first name. He knew the use of ‘son’ was only an expression, but he hadn’t missed the affection in the way it was said.
Boots scuffed in the dirt, and Johnny looked up to see Rufus’s satisfied grin. Rufus would’ve been considered a handsome man if he had bothered to care for his teeth.
“Told you I’d track you down, boy.”
“Bastardo.” Johnny rested his head wearily against the boulder, hoping to ease the dizziness.
“That’s not much of an insult.”
Rufus kept his vulnerable body parts shielded behind the boulder, and had a clear shot at Johnny. Figured.
“I’m gonna watch you bleed out nice an’ slow. Hot sun, no water. You won’t last as long as I’d like.”
“I’ll just take a siesta.” Johnny closed his eyes. He didn’t need to be awake to bleed to death, and he smirked at Rufus’s frustrated growl.
“Drop your gun.”
Ross did have a carryin’ kind of voice.
Johnny peeled his eyes open. Ross had his gun locked on Rufus, and Johnny would’ve thought twice to face him. This was not the easy-going Ross he’d been riding with; this was the ‘gonna shoot you dead’ Ross. That craggy face was granite hard with no hint of mercy.
kept going, old man. Madrid’s had this comin’ for awhile.” Rufus lost the
smile as he turned towards the greater threat.
“Drop. Your. Gun.”
“What? Nobody’s goin’ miss ‘em.”
“I would. Drop your gun.”
Johnny could see Rufus tense up, and he wanted to warn Ross that Rufus was a sneaky bastard, but didn’t have enough left in him to call out.
“What’s he to you?” Rufus sneered.
Rufus swung up his gun and fired. Ross pulled the trigger a fraction later; only he didn’t miss.
Johnny passed out.
checked Johnny’s bandage and was relieved that he hadn’t bled through. As a
precaution, and knowing that travel would be rough on his son, he tore
another of his shirts to make the bandage more secure. The boy made some
half-hearted movements to escape the pain, but never regained consciousness.
Palming Johnny’s cheek, he felt the cool clammy skin, and his sense of urgency grew. The ranch was a half a day’s ride – Morro Coyo was closer, but without knowing where to find the doctor, Murdoch decided to head home. He admitted that there was also a very selfish part that wanted his son returned to Lancer. He would send one of the hands to locate the doc and bring him to Johnny.
Riding double, Murdoch planned to trade off the horses in an effort to make better time. His hold on a lax-limbed Johnny brought on a grief-tinged laugh. He remembered carrying an exhausted one-year-old, and in all his daydreams of their reunion he didn’t expect to ever carry his sixteen-year-old. Catching up Johnny’s horse, Murdoch started for home.
didn’t believe he was capable of anger anymore. It took too much energy, but
something of his old self reared up when a new arrival, a Union major,
berated a man for crawling. A Union officer did not crawl even if he
was starved, and so weak that standing also meant coming down quick and
Scott told the major in a few succinct words where he could put his judgments, and was informed in return that he would be held accountable for his insubordination. Scott had to credit the major. He actually made them laugh.
January 26, 1865
Johnny was uncomfortable with his limited awareness of what was happening around him. A situation he had avoided until now. A bullet in the back was more than he could handle on his own, but having no control made it hard for him to rest.
He remembered being put on a horse, and the sensation of arms holding him. Drifting in and out of consciousness, he heard someone, Ross, speaking. Sometimes he was made to answer questions that he couldn’t remember later.
His only wish was to stop moving, lie down, and sleep.
Lucidity returned and moved into disorientation as he was pulled off the horse and carried.
“You’re safe, Johnny.” The voice was soothing and familiar. “We’re home.”
Ross, that was Ross. There was something he was failing to remember, but he couldn’t work out what before the pain hit hard, and he lost consciousness.
Scott would drift. He knew he should be concerned, but the sensation was
pleasant and the loss of time wasn’t missed. Instead he sought refuge, and
let his mind go.
January 27, 1865
True awareness returned when Johnny felt someone knife him in the back.
“Easy, Johnny, the doctor is changing your bandages. It’ll be over soon.” A large hand brushed through his hair.
Prying open gummy eyes, Johnny focused on the face leaning towards him.
“Johnny, you with me?”
Before answering, Johnny assessed his situation. He was still, lying prone on a soft bed, and he had been asleep until the prodding started.
Recognizing Ross, he croaked out, “Where?”
“Give him some water, Murdoch. He needs to take in as much fluid as possible.”
Disoriented, Johnny glanced over to see a stranger in a dark suit corking a bottle, and figured him for the doctor.
“Johnny, I’m going to ease you up so you can drink. It’ll help.”
The first swallow of water Johnny took had his body clamoring for more, but Ross pulled it away.
“Just a little at a time. It’ll still be here.”
Thirst momentarily slackened, Johnny felt stronger. “Where are we?”
Ross looked apprehensive, and that couldn’t be good. “You’re home, Johnny: Back at Lancer.”
Johnny jerked back only to aggravate his wound enough to remind him why he was lying there. He was still groggy, but he wasn’t confused. Thoughts bombarded him from their time together, the stories Ross told, and what happened with Rufus.
All this time he had been riding with his father!
“Why?” Furious, Johnny almost left the bed, but didn’t have the strength.
“I didn’t know what your mother told you, and I wanted the chance for you to get to know me. I didn’t send either of you from Lancer.”
“Johnny, he’s telling the truth.” The doctor took up a towel and wiped his hands, face earnest. “I saw Maria with the gambler. I watched her leave with him, although, I didn’t know it at the time.”
Johnny glared. “Doc, I don’t know you any more than I know him.”
Seeing that Johnny was tiring, Murdoch changed the subject back to his son’s care. “Drink?”
“I usually know who I’m drinking with.”
Murdoch didn’t miss the sarcasm. “You will. Give it time, and you will.”
He wrapped an arm around Johnny’s shoulders, felt him stiffen, and knew it wasn’t all due to pain. Johnny reached for the cup, and scowled when Murdoch wouldn’t release it. Stubborn: Johnny’s hand shook so badly he would have spilled more than he drank. With a huff of irritation, Johnny must have thought the same, and allowed Murdoch to assist him. After Johnny finished the cup, Murdoch eased him back down. “Rest for now. Whether you want to believe it or not, you’re home in your old room. I’m hoping you’ll stay and give it a chance.”
Johnny sank into the pillow, and by the grimace on his face Murdoch could see his wound pained him. “You lied.”
“I was desperate.” And he was, but Murdoch didn’t feel any guilt over his actions. He watched Johnny fight to keep his eyes open.
“Brother. I have…” Johnny mumbled, before succumbing to exhaustion.
“Yes, you do, and I’ll find a way to bring him home.” Murdoch wasn’t sure if Johnny heard him or not, but he would keep his word.
Dr. Sam Jenkins wiped his hands on a cloth as he stepped away from Johnny’s bed. “He’s coming along, Murdoch. Just needs rest, fluids, and care.”
Nodding, Murdoch sat back, emotionally and physically drained, and observed his sleeping son.
“The last time I watched him like this, he was a toddler. He’d run all day and then drop when he was tired. Never fell asleep in his bed. More often than not, he’d fall asleep on my lap when I was updating the books. Sometimes he’d fall asleep in the stables or garden. I could wash him and get him ready for bed and he wouldn’t stir.”
Grinning, Sam paused in packing up his bag. “I think some of that may have stayed the same.”
“When I first saw him, he was so cautious, but self-assured. He’s lived rough and it shows. I can’t begin to tell you how happy I was to see him gaining weight while we traveled. He was all limbs, gangly, but without the awkwardness someone his age should have.” Using his fingers, he brushed Johnny’s black hair away from his face. “He used to look at me with such trust. The blue eyes are the color I remember, but the look isn’t. He’s on guard all the time, Sam, and worse, I know why.”
Serious now, Sam gripped Murdoch’s shoulder. “Give him time, Murdoch. He’s believed that you didn’t want him or his mother for the last fourteen years. That isn’t something that will change easily.”
“I know. I don’t think it’ll be me that makes him want to stay.” Sighing, Murdoch stood up. “He seems curious about Scott. Maybe it’ll be enough.”
January 28, 1865
Right after breakfast, Agent Sullivan, of the Pinkerton agency arrived at Lancer.
“Mr. Lancer, I heard your trip was successful. Congratulations.” They shook hands.
“Thank you and I’m grateful for what you’ve done to bring Johnny home.” Gesturing towards his desk, Murdoch invited Sullivan to have a seat. “He’s upstairs recovering from a bullet wound.”
“I’m sorry to hear he was hurt.”
Murdoch acknowledged that with a nod. “Do you have news of Scott?”
A brief flicker in Sullivan’s eyes warned Murdoch that he wouldn’t like what was coming.
“I regret to inform you that your son fought in the conflict, and was captured by the Confederates. He is currently a prisoner of war.”
Horror swept through him, and his vision grayed. “How long?”
“Almost a year.”
Murdoch fought to breathe evenly, thinking about the proper five-year-old he
had met so many years ago.
“We believe he’s in Virginia, first held in Libby Prison in Richmond before he was transferred further south to Danville. I’m sorry that we do not have more information.”
It hadn’t occurred to Murdoch that Scott would be involved in the war. In his mind, he was too young. This wasn’t the situation to acknowledge that he had a nineteen-year-old son and not the safe, polite five-year-old he remembered.
“We’re still gathering information. The news is that the war is not in favor of the Confederacy.”
“Not reassuring considering my son is among them.”
With a nod, Sullivan stood. “We will wire you when we know more.”
“Thank you for coming out here to tell me this in person, Agent Sullivan.” Grateful, Murdoch shook his hand.
Once he had seen the agent off, Murdoch headed upstairs to check on Johnny. Standing in the doorway to his son’s room, he watched his son’s restive movements. Johnny was still feverish and in pain from the wound, and it showed when he slept.
Johnny wasn’t in any condition to hear about his brother’s circumstances.
January 30, 1865
Not dead yet was Scott’s initial thought when his fever broke.
January 31, 1865
Murdoch spent the remains of the day getting caught up with Lancer business. After his extended absence, and providing most of Johnny’s care, Murdoch needed to be brought up-to-date.
But, it didn’t guarantee his attention. Murdoch was grateful Paul O’Brien had managed everything in his absence. Even as he listened to Paul, Murdoch’s mind wandered back to the hacienda and Johnny. He had almost lost his boy, and Murdoch feared it could still happen.
“Why don’t you call it a day?”
“Hmm, what?” Distracted, Murdoch brought his attention back to a smiling Paul, who gripped his arm and steered him out of the barn. “Go. See Johnny. No one begrudges you time with your son.”
“I still have…”
“And you’ll still have it tomorrow. You’ve spent years building this place up. Maybe you should be building on something else right now. He’s one of the reasons you have this ranch in the first place, but you may have to convince him of that.”
Grateful for Paul’s support, he headed for the hacienda.
considering leaving his bed to find something to eat when Murdoch entered
the room with a tray with what looked like real food.
At Johnny’s nod, Murdoch set the tray on the dresser and helped him sit up in bed. After a week, Johnny still found it strange that his father made sure he was fed and comfortable.
As expected, the food was delicious and filling. Murdoch had brought a plate for himself, as he often did, and provided company during a meal.
“How are you feeling?”
“Better. Not as tired.”
“In a couple of days, we can start getting you up and around.” Murdoch smiled. “I’m sure you’ve had more than enough of your room.”
“I don’t remember any of this, Murdoch.”
“I know.” He set down his plate. “There’s no way you could.”
“You’re goin’ through a lot of trouble.” Johnny looked down at his half-eaten meal.
Setting the tray on the nightstand, Murdoch relaxed in the chair. “I don’t know what happened with your mother. If I did she might not have left me for someone else. What I do know is that losing you was as terrible as losing my first wife and your brother.”
Johnny couldn’t ask about him yet.
“I would do anything to bring my sons home. I have looked for you a long time, and when I saw you walk into the cantina, I knew it was you. Came close to simply grabbing you up and riding home.”
“Didn’t show it.” Murdoch looked like he was about to delve into territory Johnny wasn’t sure he wanted to go.
“I enjoyed our time on the trail. Could have done without you getting shot, but the rest I wouldn’t trade.” He leaned forward, closing the distance between them. “I very much want you to accept Lancer as your home.”
Well, that was putting his cards on the table. Uncertain as to what to say, Johnny smiled. “Don’t think this is gonna get you out of payin’ me that thousand.”
Easing back into the chair, Murdoch matched his smile. “Wouldn’t dream of it. I think you’ll find I can do better.”
Johnny believed him.
February 12, 1865
Sporadic rumors about a possible prisoner exchange floated through the prison. Quite wearied of Confederate hospitality, Scott was afraid to consider the possibility. Conditions were worse; the lack of decent food, or any food, led to more illness. Scott was well versed in the signs of scurvy to recognize the red, blotchy skin under the filth on his own legs. Like so many others, he was losing mobility and succumbing to depression.
Allowing his mind to wander for a time, he remembered what it was like to enjoy a simple cup of tea and reading the paper in the sunroom back home with his grandfather. Harlan Garrett would rail at the printed inconsistencies or chortle at the misfortune befalling a business rival. Scott missed those quiet moments, and wondered how the elderly gentleman was faring. Scott prayed he wasn’t worrying himself ill over his grandson.
Scott figured he worried enough for the both of them.
this son was stubborn. Johnny had far different ideas on how his recovery
progressed than his father. Their disagreements were often loud, and Murdoch
discovered that his household, if not the entire ranch, found them vastly
Once Murdoch worked through his fear, and it was fear that led to this unfamiliar over-protective parenting, he admired the self-discipline Johnny employed in regards to his recovery. He suspected the reason behind that discipline, didn’t like it, but he appreciated it all the same. The young man knew his limitations and worked within them. Murdoch attempted to do the same.
However, he had a ways to go before he succeeded, judging from the way Johnny would roll his eyes at him.
Once his son was well on his way to healing and showed signs of restlessness, Murdoch showed Johnny his home.
February 16, 1865
Relieved to be returning to Libby had to be the ultimate in ironies. Rumors of an exchange had turned out to be true, and a good many of the prisoners from Danville were sent back to Libby for the exchange. Scott thought it was convenient that most of them had lost at least a third of their body weight as they fit better in the boxcar.
A collective sigh of relief swept through the car once the train stopped and they were allowed to disembark. Very little attention was paid to the guards as Scott joined the rush to leave the car in a flurry of bony knees and elbows, having had quite enough of this Confederate mode of transportation.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
If the furious expression on his son’s face was any indication, Murdoch had made a grave error in judgment. “You were recuperating, and still are. There is nothing to be done, and I felt it unwise.”
This isn’t going to work.”
His stomach plummeting, Murdoch knew he had to fix this, but while he floundered in what he should say, Johnny didn’t suffer the same.
"You can't protect me! Been on my own a long time now. I'm old enough and can handle it."
"There isn't anything we can do. You don't even know Scott."
"Neither do you!"
And wasn't that the unfortunate truth.
February 17, 1865
Medicine, soap, and food: Honest
to goodness food. Family and friends had sent boxes containing an array of
goods, and when cobbled together provided the first decent meal they had had
in months. It was unfortunate that the medicines were needed after dining on
a meal their starved bodies weren’t ready to accept.
Harlan Garrett had sent food and medicine, which Scott shared, but the one item he kept was a handkerchief with the initials HG embroidered on it. Scott had no idea what prompted his grandfather to send such a sentimental token, but to have something of the man who raised him, almost broke him.
His hands shook and were too filthy to hold it. But he couldn’t stop running his fingers over the soft fabric, taking in the simple pleasure of touching something so clean.
watched the sunset, and listened to the sounds of the ranch settling down
for the night. His frustration with Murdoch and his notions of protecting
him was wearing off.
However, knowing that Murdoch meant well was all fine and good, but he couldn’t let it continue.
The whole father and son thing was going to take some learning on both their parts. Johnny wasn’t used to anyone worrying about him, and he was trying with Murdoch. While Murdoch hadn’t been truthful about who he was on the trail, Johnny didn’t doubt that he had seen the measure of the man. Murdoch Lancer was a decent person, and Johnny couldn’t, nor in all fairness, wouldn’t forget that.
Even if Murdoch drove him crazy.
February 20, 1865
Coughing, Scott signed his parole papers, and looked around at the pathetic group of fellow prisoners. Paroled or not, he found it improbable that any of them would recover enough to resume fighting.
If the desolate town and its people were any indication, the Confederacy was coming to an end.
He wouldn’t be sorry to see the entire mess over with.
February 22, 1865
Loss of time was a familiar sensation when Scott reached Rocket’s Landing. He couldn’t recall boarding the flag-of-truce boat on the James River, but was aware of the steamboat taking them to Bulwer’s Landing. Scott felt ill, and remained distant from the sense of jubilancy amongst many of the prisoners. Recognizing that his emaciated frame had reached its limits, Scott kept quiet and saved his reserves for disembarking. He fell asleep for the hour it took to travel the seven miles up river.
Prodded awake, he was informed it was time to leave the boat. Scott did so, helping another man, Elias Whitcomb, a former Libby prisoner who was in weaker shape than himself.
“Look at that,” Elias whispered.
Following his gaze, Scott could see the Union picket line up a hill, and the paroled men cheering as they ran, in a sense to home. Reminded him of tattered curtains blowing in a window, and with that absurd picture in his head, he and his companion assisted each other to the line.
“Oh, thank God,” Elias said once they crossed the line, and collapsed, taking Scott with him.
Those manning the picket line helped them both back to their feet. Seeing their pitying expressions, Scott turned away after thanking them. He knew he and his clothing were fairly indecent, but since there wasn’t a means to remedy the situation, Scott shoved his embarrassment aside. There were more immediate concerns such as the walk to reach Aiken’s Landing.
“Two miles?” Elias’s disbelief matched Scott’s once they were given the information. Scott felt like laughing and suspected he was close to hysterics, but again he saw the humor in the situation.
Or, he was finally insane.
“Surely you can handle a mere two miles.” Scott put on his best Boston haughtiness for the occasion. He had learned from Harlan Garrett after all.
Whitcomb eyed him, but soon the corners of his mouth turned up. “Well, if it’s a mere two miles, I suppose I could put up the effort.”
Effort was what it took. For men who hadn’t partaken in such physical activity for a long time, those mere two miles were grueling. Scott, along with a few others, encouraged and assisted those who stumbled along the way. A time or two, Scott needed that same help when he too, lost his step.
Their flag-of-truce boat was waiting at Aiken’s Landing. They rested while the infirm were brought in ambulances and placed on the boat first. Amongst the clatter of horses, tack, and men talking, a cavalry regiment band played music.
A slight tickle in Scott’s throat followed by a catch in his chest brought on a bout of uncontrolled coughing. Someone offered him water, and as much as he wanted it, he couldn’t stop long enough to breathe, much less hold the canteen.
Aching and lacking air, Scott folded in on himself, and a breathless laugh escaped him as he succumbed.
He would have liked to finish this journey.
drawn to the horse corral every time he and Murdoch had ventured outside.
They had been home together for three weeks, and Murdoch was discouraged by
the lack of progress in finding ways for Johnny to feel at home. He worried
that one morning he’d wake up to find history had repeated itself and Johnny
had left. Only this time it would be of his own volition.
Johnny’s gaze followed an energetic Palomino. Murdoch smiled, melancholy as memories surfaced of watching various horses prance in this same corral.
“His name is Barranca. I had chosen his grandsire as a gift to you when you came home.” In the corner of his eye, Murdoch saw Johnny’s startled look in his direction, but he kept his gaze on the horse. “After six years and I still hadn’t found you, I chose his colt. That didn’t work as well as I hoped either.” He would never tell Johnny how painful that time was. He had been so close to finding Maria back then, only to fail again. “Everyone on the ranch knows that Barranca’s your horse. He’s even referred to as ‘Johnny’s Barranca’.”
first time, Johnny truly had a sense of Murdoch’s loss.
Johnny wasn’t sure why this little sad tale made more of an impression than anything else Murdoch had said in the past weeks. He had to give the old man credit for continuing to try in the face of his lack of acceptance.
Then again, how does one accept a father he never knew? Sure, he was born at Lancer, had even lived here for a short time, but no memory of it remained. For the man beside him, all Murdoch had were the memories.
There was so much, almost too much, to accept besides acknowledging this man as his father. Along with it came accepting that his mother had lied. How did he go from being on his own, essentially an adult with the reputation of a gunhawk, to the cared for son of a successful California rancher? That was a leap he wasn’t sure he could make.
Barranca claimed his attention again with an annoyed snort. This wasn’t a horse that would be ignored. Proud and stubborn, everything Johnny liked. Johnny let the idea of the horse belonging to him settle into one of the empty places he wasn’t aware he had before now.
“Thank you. He’s beautiful.”
Nodding his acknowledgement of the thanks, Murdoch looked to him with a grin. “He’s also a handful.”
“Well, so am I.”
That startled a laugh out of Murdoch. “Quite true, Son. Quite true. You’re well matched.”
Murdoch’s tone when saying 'son' settled over Johnny like a warm blanket, and for the first time he was thinking that maybe staying at Lancer wasn’t such a bad idea.
February 26, 1865
The more comfortable Johnny became with living at Lancer, the more he wanted it all. The vaqueros and other employees treated Johnny like he was meant to be there, and were more than happy to show the patron’s son any task or job he wished to learn. Murdoch seemed content to let Johnny find his own place.
Once he was well enough to ride again, Johnny explored the ranch, sometimes with his father or one of the hands, and sometimes off by himself to give him a chance to think.
Without conscious thought, he created an internal list of what was next in his life. He couldn’t remember doing that before, having always lived very much in the present. Now he was making plans for the future.
First, once he fully recovered, he would start working with Barranca. For now, he was spending time with the horse for them to get acquainted.
Second, he wanted to know more about his brother. He wanted to meet him. Just thinking about it gave him a case of nerves. He had always longed for a brother, envious of a pair of siblings he knew from his younger days. While the younger brother would rail against the older one for his bossiness, that same brother was the first person he ran to when he wanted or needed help. Johnny had envied that to the point there were times he had to avoid them.
Now to find out that he had an older brother was as incomprehensible as finding out his mother had lied about his father.
Chances were high he wouldn’t meet Scott given the conflict between Murdoch and Harlan Garrett, and that wasn’t even taking into account his brother being a prisoner of war. The unfairness of it all frustrated Johnny to no end.
And then, if he did meet Scott, what could he offer a brother; especially one raised in an eastern city and who had never been west?
Still, he couldn’t imagine not taking the chance. He had to know.
that evening, Murdoch found Johnny quiet and introspective. Concerned that
he had done too much that day, he asked if he was well.
Looking up from the plate of barely eaten food, Johnny took a moment to answer. The question didn’t come out with his usual assurance.
“What can you tell me about Scott?”
This boy could rattle Murdoch’s thoughts like no other. Not even his mother could do it like her son.
Taking a deep breath, Murdoch set his eating utensils down on his plate. He had waited for Johnny to ask about his brother.
“He’s nineteen going on twenty. I saw him once as a child, his fifth birthday when I had hoped to bring him home. It didn’t work out like I had planned. He was a charming child, well-mannered. He was light-haired and has his mother’s gray-blue eyes. I wonder if he’s still blond or if his hair turned darker.” Murdoch shook himself out of his reminiscing. “His grandfather has been stingy with information about him during the ensuing years.”
“I guessed that. Not tellin’ you your son was fightin’ in a war and in prison.” Johnny pushed his plate away. “What I know of prisons, I wouldn’t want to be in one for a year.”
Murdoch almost asked what that meant, but let it go to avoid bringing up what was an unpleasant memory.
“If he’s…” Johnny let that drop.
“We’ll know soon, Johnny.” The worry and distress caused by his older son’s situation was worse when knowing his younger son shared it.
SL exchanged. In hospital.
“Johnny!” Murdoch ran to the corral after reading the brief wire a couple of times.
Holding a handkerchief over his mouth and nose, Harlan Garrett followed the orderly as they navigated the rows and rows of beds holding the maimed and ailing. The flimsy cloth did little to cut the odor, and he wished for anything that could block the sound of men in pain. Seeing and hearing the results of war would haunt him for days.
The exhausted orderly stopped by one of the beds, and Harlan thought he was checking on the poor wretch.
Horrified, Harlan Garrett didn’t recognize this man, or the hoarse voice.
“Scotty?” Harlan stuttered, as he took in the sheer gauntness and paleness of his grandson. This was not the same young, too young, man who had left to fight in the war with his back straight and proud.
“Grandfather.” The whispered, broken tone sounded nothing like his self-assured grandson.
Sitting down in the rickety chair beside the bed, he reached out to grip the thin hands, and Harlan reassured himself that this was indeed his Scotty.
“I’m so relieved you have returned.”
“So am I, Grandfather.”
“We will get you home.” Harlan was resolved to make that happen, worried that remaining in the over-crowded institution, his grandson would never recover.
Scotty didn’t say a word, but gave a slight nod.
Harlan vowed to see his grandson well, and returned to himself. Nothing else was acceptable.
SL very ill. Remains in hospital.
Telegrams were not providing enough information, and yet they were grateful for what news they did provide.
Murdoch could see Johnny shared his dissatisfaction.
“Very ill.” Johnny walked over the French doors to stare out towards the corral.
“Johnny, the Pinkertons send more detailed reports. We’ll likely receive one on Scott soon.”
“Is that how you found me?”
It took a moment for Murdoch to catch up with Johnny’s switch of topic. They hadn’t talked about how Murdoch had searched for him. “Yes, I have hired the Pinkerton Agency off and on during the last fourteen years, whenever I had enough funds to continue the search.”
“Kinda hard to find one kid on the move.” Johnny turned back to look at him.
“It took time.” Murdoch sighed. Fourteen years of guarded hope was a long time, but looking at the result standing close, he was relieved it wasn’t longer.
Upon his discharge from the hospital, Scott discovered that Dan Cassidy was a patient in another ward. Dan, his close friend and fellow lieutenant, was the one to have led the escape.
He was shocked by Dan’s appearance and more so when Dan stated his belief that Scott had betrayed the escape. Standing there listening to someone he had trusted, and thought had trusted him, accuse him of something so vile, Scott was at a loss. He did attempt to point out the flaws in Dan’s convictions, but the ill man was beyond reason.
Numb, Scott left without the friend and comrade he thought he would never lose. His elation at finding out Dan had survived was squelched, and all he wanted to do was return to Boston and leave the war and its aftereffects behind.
In his hand he carried his discharge papers. He was officially mustered out of his regiment as were so many of the hospitalized men.
To all whom it may Concern: Know ye that Scott Lancer, a Lieutenant of …
Learning from past mistakes, Murdoch informed Johnny of his plan to contact Scott. “I’ve decided to send a letter directly to Scott.”
head snapped up, fork froze midway to his mouth. “Hopin’ it gets past
“Yes. I’ve engaged a Pinkerton agent to deliver it personally.” However, he didn’t go into the long list of instructions he provided the Pinkertons about avoiding Harlan Garrett and his household.
Johnny set his fork, still speared with food, on the plate. “What’d you say?”
“I kept it simple. That I had heard he was recovering from his time of service and invited him to come to Lancer.” Murdoch watched his son’s bowed head. “I didn’t say anything about you, Johnny.”
Johnny’s head shot up to look directly at Murdoch.
“If my letter doesn’t get his attention, I would like you to write one and introduce yourself. I wanted it to be your choice on how you met your brother.”
“You think he won’t like the idea?” There was a trace of insecurity in his tone.
Murdoch wished he had the slightest idea of what Scott might think, and as much as he wished to reassure Johnny, he couldn’t. “I don’t know. I can’t imagine Scott not being a little curious about a brother.”
“I can see him not being too impressed with me.”
“You’re wrong there, Son. You can’t help but to make an impression,” Murdoch teased, causing Johnny to grin.
In all honesty, he didn’t know how Scott would react to anything, if he reacted at all. A father and brother that he didn’t know may not have a place in his life right now: Or ever.
Scott averted his gaze from the mirror. There wasn’t anything in the reflection that he wanted to see. He had had a year without mirrors and now when they were part of his world again, he wished to avoid them. Of course, he wished he could avoid himself even more.
The much anticipated homecoming was not at all what Scott imagined. He had expected his grandfather’s concern, but not the ridiculous amount of platitudes from friends and acquaintances alike. If not platitudes regarding his health, there was the willful blindness that Scott was not the same man who joined the Cavalry. Sometimes, all he could do was sit there in his too large clothes and gape at these polite strangers who inquired when he planned to retake his place in Boston society.
Now he was looking at another night of visiting with people he could no longer relate to, and it wore on him. As relieved as he was to have returned, the shallowness of his former life held no appeal, and Scott found Boston oppressive.
Another thing he would like to avoid was the pitying looks and the worry displayed by his grandfather and the house staff. He knew they cared about him, but it made him uncomfortable. Hearing his grandfather call him from the hall, he braced himself for another draining evening.
“Come in, sir.”
Scott dressed and ready for dinner, Harlan forced a smile. “That suit looks
Noticing Scott’s doubtful look, Harlan knew his attempt at sincerity had failed. Scott still looked emaciated. His skin stretched over his bones, accenting his sunken gray-blue eyes. His blond hair, lank and lifeless, was growing out from the harsh cutting he had received in the hospital.
In the five weeks that Scott had been home, he had already suffered from two severe colds that narrowly avoided pneumonia, and Harlan was impatient with the lack of progress. They followed the medical recommendations to the letter, and Scott should be improving, and yet, he wasn’t.
Seeing the slump in his grandson’s shoulders, Harlan couldn’t ignore the obvious signs of distress. “What’s wrong, Scotty?”
“I thought I could do this, Grandfather. I thought I could manage dressing for dinner and spending time with some old friends.” Scott looked away. ‘The truth is I’m so tired, I’ll fall asleep during the soup.”
“Oh, Scotty.” Harlan sighed as he walked over to his grandson, and gently held his shoulders. “This was too much today. You should rest. We can do this some other time, and there is no sense in risking you becoming ill again. I’ll make your apologies while you retire for the evening, and I’ll have the staff bring you a tray.”
“No, please don’t bother. I’m not hungry.”
Harlan almost admonished him that he needed to eat, but that hadn’t helped in the past. Pasting on a comforting look, Harlan nodded. “All right. Get some sleep, and I will see you in the morning.”
Obviously relieved, Scott removed his suit coat. “Thank you, sir. Good-night.”
After a difficult night, Scott slept fitfully into mid-morning. Doing so had a way of throwing him off for the day. He struggled to eat the small, tasteless breakfast, but he couldn’t miss another meal.
The weather was moving into spring, but there was still a nip to the air. Before the war, Scott felt invigorated during this time of year. Now he couldn’t handle even the slightest chill.
Heading into the study, he was stopped by a knock on the front door. As he was the closest, he called out to let the butler know he would receive the caller. He hoped it was not another well-intentioned visitor, and was relieved to open the door to an unfamiliar, stocky man with a competent demeanor.
“Are you Scott Lancer?”
“I’m from the Pinkerton Agency. I’ve been commissioned to deliver a letter to you from your father.” With that startling statement, the agent handed over an envelope, wished him a good day, and left a dazed Scott gaping at the missive in his hand.
Shaking himself out of his stupor, he closed the door, and made his way to the study. Settling into the chair nearest to the fireplace, he slit open the envelope, ignoring the trembling of his hands.
I hope this letter finds you well. I know I have stated this to you in my previous letters, but it holds a greater significance these days.
I have heard of your time in the war, and have worried for you when informed of your imprisonment. The war seemed such a distant event until I knew of your involvement. I have only inadequate words to express my relief upon learning you had returned to Boston.
Again, I will ask you to consider coming to Lancer, to a home that will always be here for you. I know you may still be recovering, and invite you to come when you are physically able. California is beautiful and has wonderful weather. You may find the change in climate pleasurable.
Truly, Son, I still wish to see you. It has been almost fifteen years since we met, and I would cherish the opportunity to get to know you. Please consider my request and know that you are more than welcome.
couldn’t count how many times he reread the letter over. It was short and
said little, but implied more than the words imparted.
He didn’t like where his thoughts were going, but he had some questions for his grandfather.
Johnny struggled with the idea of writing a letter to his brother, and hoped Scott would receive and respond to Murdoch’s. What does someone say when introducing yourself to a sibling you’ve never met, much less knew you had? The very idea made his palms sweat. He had faced down gunmen with less fuss.
a letter from Murdoch Lancer today.”
That startled his grandfather. Murdoch Lancer was rarely ever mentioned and when he was there was little said.
“Grandfather, can you remind me of the time I met him?” It was only the two of them for dinner, a fact Scott was grateful for.
“It was a long time ago, Scotty.”
“Yes, it was. About fifteen years ago.”
Composed, his grandfather continued with his meal. “He was here for your fifth birthday. He had a foolish notion that he would take you back to that lawless ranch of his. I wouldn’t allow it.”
“You wouldn’t…and I saw him?”
“Yes, I introduced him as a friend.”
Sitting back in his chair, Scott pushed his longish bangs from where they had fallen into his face. “I don’t remember this.”
“There is no reason you should.”
“He wanted me?” Scott could only stare at his grandfather sitting composed across from him at the dinner table.
His grandfather gave up the pretense of eating. “Scotty, I have always had your welfare and best interests at heart. I wanted you to have all the opportunities and advantages that Boston could offer. Lancer could not offer the same.”
“Why didn’t you tell me my father wanted me? All these years I have thought he blamed me for my mother’s death.” His grandfather kept this from him?
“Scotty, this doesn’t change anything. You have lived here all of your life, and Murdoch Lancer is a stranger to you. He may have thought you should live with him, but that was a long time ago.”
That was the truth, but for Scott this changed everything.
“Of course, it simply couldn’t be done. You needed to stay in Boston if you were to receive a superior education and privileges. There isn’t a Harvard in California, nor the culture and grace expected in a civilized society.”
Harlan kept up the one-sided conversation between bites. Scott nodded at the appropriate places, and ignored his own bland meal.
“There is no value in thinking about it; you’re not well enough to travel.” Harlan’s tone left no doubt that the subject was closed.
Jonah came to Scott’s mind and his tales of an open and wild California. A yearning to experience that kind of freedom swept away the apathy Scott had struggled with in the previous weeks.
Scott decided he would accept the invitation from Murdoch Lancer. He felt a twinge of guilt for the dismay he was about to cause his grandfather, especially since Scott had no plans to inform him until well after the fact.
He thought out what arrangements were needed to leave in a few days time. For the first time in weeks, he had something else to occupy his mind besides memories he wanted to forget.
He would send a telegram to Lancer. His father’s letter he would keep with him at all times. This was one correspondence his grandfather wouldn’t see.
Scott started to eat.
Johnny bounded into the house by one of the French doors into the great room to find Murdoch at his desk staring at a small paper that he held in his hands.
Coming to a standstill in front of the desk, Johnny found that Murdoch wasn’t even aware that he had entered the room. There was a strange mix of emotions crossing the big man’s face.
Murdoch looked at Johnny. “I’ve received a wire from Scott.”
Johnny’s insides twisted. “Wh…what does…?” That was as far as he got before Murdoch rushed to explain.
Murdoch read what he had already memorized. “Accept invitation. Leave 9 April. Scott Lancer.”
“He’s comin’ here?”
“Seems so.” Murdoch was worried. “Johnny, I didn’t think Scott would respond so quickly. I’m hoping he’s well enough to travel. The last report from the Pinkertons was concerning, and we need to be ready for anything.”
“All I care is that he’s comin’.” Johnny shrugged. “It’s not like I walked into this place on my own feet. You got me up and around. We’ll do the same for Scott.”
expected to feel guilty for what he had planned, and just didn’t. He cared
about his grandfather, but the revelations of the past few days had changed
his perceptions of the man who had raised him.
Maybe it was a good thing, considering.
He struggled with his reasons for leaving, but came to the conclusion that it wasn’t as simple as running away. After these weeks in Boston, he could admit that his grandfather’s house no longer felt like home. Jonah had inspired the desire to see California, which was in part a product of their situation, but there was also the unsatisfied curiosity about his father. And if Scott was honest with himself – and he often was - he enjoyed making his own decisions again.
packed the bedrolls in the back of the wagon to prepare for the agreed upon
plan to meet Scott part way.
He was about to return to the house for the rest of their gear when he came to a standstill. Murdoch paused on his way out with an armful of supplies. “Johnny?”
Johnny waved him off with a grin and headed back. “Nothing.”
How did he explain to his father that while he realized they were leaving, they would also return, and that was a new experience for Johnny? He couldn’t help but appreciate the novelty of it.
As the train pulled away from the station, Scott felt relief followed by a spurt of panic. He had days of travel ahead of him: Days to think about meeting his father.
The war was as good as over.
Maybe he could leave that behind as well.
Harlan returned to his home that evening to find a note from Scott.
I apologize for not doing this in person. I have decided to take my physician’s advice and travel to a warmer climate. I will contact you with my arrangements once I have settled.
Thank you for your care and consideration since my return. Do not worry, I feel this is my best hope for recovery.
With warmest regards,
discovered the trip to meet Scott had the wonderful side benefit of removing
the unintentional constraints that he and Johnny had placed upon themselves.
While there was anticipation, and nervousness, there was also a release of
tension. They fell into the familiar, effortless routine they had shared
Without the subterfuge, Murdoch could enjoy the uninterrupted time with his vibrant son. Out on the trail, Johnny was relaxed and in his element. Murdoch saw the truer nature of his son, one who found life humorous and wasn’t shy about sharing his observations - some insightful, some ironic, and one that caused Murdoch to blush.
a good long laugh over that.
The bridge was a jumble of broken timber, half–submerged underwater. A bridge needed to cut several miles off to their destination. Johnny flipped a twig in the river, and the current swept it away.
“Johnny, we’re not going to make it to the stage stop in time to meet Scott.” Murdoch’s voice was calm, but Johnny was getting good at reading his father, and he was anything but fine. Scrambling up the steep riverbank, Johnny called to mind the maps Murdoch used to show him the route.
“Instead of backtrackin’ let’s head north and catch up with Scott in one of the towns along the stage route.” He took the hand Murdoch offered to pull him up the rest of the way.
“There’s a chance we could miss him.”
“I could take Barranca and catch up with the stage and let him know you’re comin’. We could wait for you.”
“We’re taking chances traveling alone as it is.” Murdoch looked hesitant, and then clapped him on the back. “You’re right though, we have a better chance of arriving ahead of him.”
Johnny stepped back, and held out his arms. “If not, we could always hold up the stage.”
Exhaustion was a constant companion for Scott while traveling by stage. It was uncomfortable and rough, allowing little in the way of rest. By the time the stage had pulled into their stop for the night, Scott was ready to collapse.
The sometimes concerned and pitying looks were enough to let him know that he wasn’t looking well.
Grateful, he received directions to the closest hotel, which was basic and functional. But at that point, Scott would have slept on the boardwalk as long as it wasn’t moving.
He managed to clean up, but wasn’t the least bit hungry and headed straight to bed.
Early in the morning Scott was packed and ready to catch the next stage, which was running late due to needed repairs. The stage employee wasn’t able to tell him when it would leave, and he resolved to find a place to wait it out.
As he left the stage office, Scott collided with a dark-haired boy heading for the door he had just stepped through. Without his once nimble reflexes, Scott’s legs twisted with the stranger’s and they both fell into the bench by the door.
The boy was quick to move off of Scott and sit beside him. “I didn’t mean to mess up your outfit.”
“Can’t be helped.” Scott adjusted his hat.
The stage employee stepped out onto boardwalk and called his name. Scott was startled to hear an echoing ‘yes’ from beside him.
“I’m sorry, I meant Scott Lancer. The stage will leave in thirty minutes, sir.”
Distracted, Scott offered a thank you and looked back to the young man who was disconcertingly studying him from head to toe.
“We’ve been waiting for you.” The blue eyes darted back to meet his own, and the boy grinned.
“Who has been waiting for me?”
“Murdoch and me.”
“Who is me?”
The young man’s grin broadened. “Johnny Lancer, your brother.”
Continues in the sequel, Intermedius