Third in a series of four stories that are just internal ramblings by Scott about life at Lancer.
Disclaimer: I really am infringing on someone elses copyright, but I mean it in the best possible way.
For Cat – who is a most wonderful nag and for Annie who came threw in a pinch. Thanks to both of you.
Thunderclouds build over the Diablo Mountains and in the evening we sit on the patio and watch the lightning as it dances over the hills. It came in sparks, and shafts and sometimes sheets that lit up the sky with its brilliance. But no rain comes.
Murdoch has mentioned in the past that the last two years have also been dry, and the drought was beginning to show at the water holes.
Last month there was a meteor shower that lasted three nights. Johnny and I had been out moving the herd from the spring meadow to Red Mesa where the summer grass is better. The rest of the hands went in, but we laid out our bedrolls, under the stars and watched the light show.
Streaks of white raced across they sky. Thousands of lines of light that defied any chance of count or comprehension.
Johnny lay there with his hands cradling his head and told me how when he was a kid he thought falling stars were angels coming to earth to answer your prayers. That was the type of idea my grandfather would have quashed at an early age. I don’t remember if I’d ever thought of meteors as anything other than meteors.
Come to think of it, I don’t remember any time, before the war, when I would have been out late enough at night to notice. And after the war, I’m not sure if it would have attracted my attention.
We stayed awake until the early hours of the morning. Just talking about what ever came to mind. I don’t remember which one of us fell asleep first, but I remember Johnny woke up first and he takes such glee in waking me up.
But tonight I’m just standing here on the veranda, listening to the sound that the wind makes in the trees. There was still the hope of rain in the air.
I have been here more than a year now. I hit the ground running and I don’t think that until tonight I’d ever stopped and looked back at what I’d managed to accomplish. Not just the battles fought and won with land grabbers and thieves, but the ones on the home front with my father and Johnny.
Some have been major and some minor. As soon as Murdoch realized that I wasn’t someone to just blindly follow his orders without question we’ve done much better. And Johnny needed to learn that being ignorant was not the same as stupid and once we’d sorted out a few differences as to how we approach a problem we now get along famously.
It’s odd the things you find out about yourself. A few years ago, if asked, I would have said that I didn’t need or want anything or anyone in life. Today, I’d fight you to the death if you tried to make me leave this house or these people.
All because of a chunk of metal. A piece of lead that killed my father’s best friend and almost killed him. I do sometimes wonder at that little twist of fate that caused my father to re-evaluate his life and, in turn, change not only mine, but my brother’s.
It was a night just like this last year – come to think of it, it was this same night. The autumnal equinox. We were sitting out here, after supper and the evening chores. We tell stories in the evenings. Murdoch tells most of them, but then, he has more to tell, I think. A lot of stories of the ranch and the early days, a few of his days in Scotland and at school in England and his passage over. There are still subjects that are danced around, like our mothers and his feelings over what happened, but I’m not all that forth coming about a few things in my past and Johnny is full of stories, still untold.
But we were sitting out here, and the story came around to that day. Johnny says it with an exclamation point. That day!
escape out the window and down the trellis to avoid an angry father only
to almost collide with the Pinkerton Agent was met with appropriate jocularity.
But when it came to Johnny’s turn to tell his side of the tale he sat so
very still. I still remember how he had cocked his head to one side,
and I remember wondering at the far away look in his eye.
Now, Johnny tells a pretty good story. Sometimes I believe that he doesn’t let the facts get in the way of a good tale, but you can always tell the difference in the stories he tells that matter to him. His eyes drop, and he curls his arms across his chest as if to protect himself from the memory of what ever he’s about to say. Maybe he’s afraid of our reaction to those events he’s about to share, but he does share.
I’ve noticed, he’ll try to change a subject if it gets too personal, or even blow up with an expletive and a brusque “none of your business”. But he’s never lied. If you ask him point-blank he’ll answer in kind. Even if he doesn’t want to. I’ve also learned never to ask a question unless I’m sure I want the answer.
So he told of the little revolution down in Mexico, where he’d been hired for all the food he could eat, a place to sleep, and bullets. How he stayed because he felt their cause was just, and how he’d almost died for that decision. He told it so matter of fact, as if the aftermath wouldn’t have been important. I hate when he does that. And I think I was grinding my teeth in frustration when Murdoch decided to tell his side.
For a moment I wondered if Johnny’s habit of speaking of his past was learned or inherited. Murdoch talked about all the troubles with Pardee and the raids and his ranch hands either quitting or being shot. And then he told of ‘that night’.
He told how someone had stolen a stallion he’d already sold and had yet to deliver. How he and Paul had mounted up, without their coats or hats, just grabbed their guns and headed out. How fairly soon it was obvious the man was just heading into Morro Coyo and not even trying to hide his tracks. I could tell from the way Murdoch sat, his hands clenched, that he should have been thinking of an ambush, but it hadn’t occurred to him then. He went on to tell how the stolen animal had nickered to his horse and how simple it was to find the stallion in the barn. And then the shots. How Paul had gone down first and then him. How he lay there, not completely out of it, but not aware enough to move.
How it had been hours there in the barn, lying next to his best friend who was dead, until Senor Baldamero, the man that ran the general store, had snuck into the back of the barn and helped to secrete Murdoch to safety. Senor Baldamero had told how they had all been threatened, that if they went to help -Pardee’s men would burn the town, but he couldn’t just sit by and watch a man bleed to death.
With the help of Mr. Hildenbrand, the veterinarian, they had stopped the bleeding and put him into the back of a delivery wagon and got him out of town. Paul had been left behind. It wasn’t until late in the afternoon that Pardee had allowed the owner of the stable to bring O’Brien back to Lancer for a decent burial.
Murdoch had missed it. He’d been unconscious at the time, fighting blood loss, fever, shock and his own grief. Finally, after a long silence, Murdoch told how he’d lain in that bed, afraid he was going to die, and that Pardee would win and that all he’d built, which should have come to us, would fall into the hands of that man. He’d decided then that it couldn’t happen. That he’d move heaven and earth to bring us here, even for just one day.
I watched both of them. In different positions, yet so similar. Johnny still had his arms crossed over his chest, Murdoch still sat, straight and stiff in his chair, but they had identical closed expressions on their faces. Cut from the same cloth.
But then I saw something I didn’t expect. Johnny’s face started to twitch. Like I know it does when he finds something amusing, but he knows it’s in poor taste. He fought down what ever it was he was thinking and got himself under control.
“Delivered you to the ranch, did they?”
Murdoch shook his head in dismay. “Like so much dry goods.”
They share a strange sense of humor, too. But I knew what they were doing. They were both laying to rest old ghosts of the past. I like to see them like that, accepting each other.
Not like now. I can hear them in the study behind me. Arguing over something, the words indistinct, but the tone familiar. If I let it go on too long it will end in a shouting match with Johnny storming out. I didn’t like to let it get that far.
More than a year. You’d think they’d have figured it out by now. Don’t order Johnny to do anything. You never know which way he’ll jump if you do. He doesn’t always do the opposite of what you want either and he never seems to approach a problem from the same direction. Just when you think he’ll attack it head on, he’ll slide in from the side.
And Johnny should know by now not to just blurt out the first thing that comes to mind. The one thing our father can’t tolerate is rudeness. And Johnny’s little cracks like ‘old man’ are tailor made to prick the man’s temper.
I should go in and break them up, before all the yelling and slamming doors, but I just don’t want to. I’m enjoying the breeze that’s come up from the garden and I can smell lavender and onions and dirt and all the other things that grow.
The stirring of the hot air is making the sweat down the back of my shirt dry with a cool, tingling feeling. It’s even cooler inside. The temperature in the house doesn’t seem to vary much all year long. Thick adobe walls keep the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter. But I’d have to put on my jacket if I go in, and I’d have to figure out what those two are arguing about, and I’d have to give up my little corner of heaven and I just don’t feel like doing that right now.
So I don’t. I just lean here against a pillar and look out at the meadow and think back on how much has changed. How much I’ve changed. When I first came here I barely knew the difference between a lariat and a latigo.
Now, I can brand and rope and know more about range oysters than I’d care to admit. I wonder about my friends back in Boston. Most wouldn’t be shocked by my life here, but they wouldn’t understand my desire to stay.
It’s more than family. I feel I have purpose here. I do something useful and I’m striving for something and you can see the results at the end of the day. Every season I lay a few more ghosts to rest, too.Maybe that’s is what this season is for. The end of one thing and before the start of something new. The calm before the storm, the lull between battles. Autumn is the time to re-group and plan for the future. I’m hearing silence behind me – not always a good thing. Either they’ve agreed to disagree or -. The door has slammed.
I see Johnny storming across the patio so I call out to him, gesture for him to come over to where I’m standing.
“Let it go,” I advise cautiously.
“You don’t even know what it’s about,” Johnny fumed, standing about six feet away. I turn my back on him on purpose; knowing it would have the desired effect of forcing him to move closer. I wait, patiently, looking only at the meadow, not at him, until he gets within arm’s reach.
I grab his arm and drag him the few steps until he’s standing right next to me. He starts out stiff and awkward, as if he thinks I’m going to lecture him. But I don’t. I just drape my arm over his shoulder and force him to stand next to me.
I can feel when the anger leaves him. He takes a deep breath and it flows out of him like water over a dam. Together we just stare out at the meadow, looking at nothing but the view, in silence.
And then it happens. As if to reward me for not meddling and for him for not running off, it starts to rain. Spits at first, big drops here and there where you can count them as they hit the tile, then the drops get smaller and faster until it’s coming in a nice steady downpour.
I can hear the ranch hands as they come out of the bunkhouses and stand under the awnings to watch as the water soothes our little valley. It’s not enough to end the drought, it’s just one tiny storm, but it makes the air smell fresh and cool and I can smell the wild sage and meadow grasses, and a faint rainbow shows over the barn.
Murdoch and Teresa have come out of the house, too. They’re further down the patio, but they don’t intrude on Johnny and me.
“Want to tell me?” I finally break the silence.
“No,” he says, but he’s not angry anymore. I think I hear disappointment in his voice. It will be a while before I can determine if it is directed at Murdoch or himself.
We look back at the meadow as the sun starts to set in brilliant bands of gold and pink and orange and a myriad of other colors. The rain slows and softens into a light drizzle. The cattle have gotten to their feet and are calmly grazing again. The horses in the pasture are enjoying the cool dampness beneath their feet and are kicking up their heels and running.
I feel Johnny smiling next to me. I never thought you could feel a smile, but you can. He can smile with his whole body.
The sun sets slowly leaving behind a lavender haze to linger before it gets dark. I hear Murdoch behind me as he strikes a match and lights a lantern. I almost wish he hadn’t. I like being out here when it changes from day to night and I enjoy the darkness.
But the burst of light is spreading. Jelly has come with a taper and is lighting more lanterns, chasing the shadows away from the house.
I feel Johnny move under my arm and clench my stomach just before he slaps me.
“Come on, brother,” he says in those caramel-coated tones. “Ain’t you smart enough to come in out of the rain?”
“I’m not in the rain, little brother.” I quickly close the arm around his shoulder until I have him in a headlock, forcing him to bend over and grab me around the waist. We probably would have been wrestling in a minute, kicking up our heels like those ponies in the pasture, but Murdoch clears his throat and I feel Johnny tense.
“It’s getting late, gentlemen.” Ah, “gentlemen”. Murdoch’s code. When he’s not feeling contrite we’re “boys”. He escorts Teresa back inside.
Johnny had been going somewhere when he left the house. He’d had his hat in his hands. I let him loose of him to look him over, to see what he’s going to do.
“Why am I the one to always let it go?” My wise little brother asks in hushed tones.
“You don’t ‘always’ let it go.” I assured. “Any way you’re young and impetuous and he’s old and stubborn and someone has to give in, so why not you?”
Johnny grunted his dismay at my statement, but he didn’t deny it.
So here I am at the end of another season. Still learning, still healing, still feeling useful and productive. Still wishing the leaves would start to change colors so I could tell that summer was over and that winter would be here, but we don’t get all our wishes fulfilled, do we?
But I’m lucky. So very lucky. Lucky that Murdoch didn’t die and sent for me. Lucky Johnny didn’t die and not only came, but also stayed. Lucky we can all get along, lucky we all love the work and the ranch and each other.
I follow Johnny into the house, as he hangs up his hat and moves into the great room. I watch as he and Murdoch pretend that whatever they’ve been arguing about isn’t important. It would come up again, over breakfast if I was fortunate, before bed if I wasn’t. But with luck, cooler heads would prevail, and what ever it was could be sorted out calmly.
Tory (Sprite) Fischer