The Interloper
by  Sprite

 

Rating: PG

Archive: Yes Please

Copyright: I know I'm infringing on someone else copyright, but I mean it in the best possible way.

Setting: Sometime between High Riders and Chase the Wild Horse.

Thank you to Cat for beta-ing. These words can't express my gratitude, but maybe you can fix that.


THE INTERLOPER

With Pardeeís men gone it was time to get back to the daily business of running a ranch. It was the beginning of summer and with summer came a long list of chores. The first on the list of things for Scott to learn was the backbreaking work involved in haying season.

"Haying season is a little earlier here than back east," Scott mentioned as he and Johnny seated themselves in the two chairs in front of Murdochís desk one evening. A light breeze came in through the French doors, lightly stirring the papers on the large Mahogany desk.

"We try to harvest twice if the weather cooperates. Once in June and then again in October if we donít get too much rain."

"Or if it ainít too hot," Johnny put in as he slid down in his chair and started to put one boot up on the edge of the desk, but at his fatherís glare he deftly shifted it to rest on his knee. He idly flicked at his spur.

"True," Murdoch continued, "the heat can ruin a crop as quickly as too much rain. But weíve had more successes than failures to make the gamble worth while."

Scott sipped his brandy, and listened to the tinkling noise from his brotherís spur.

"Johnny, youíve done this before, havenít you?"

Johnnyís grin was lightning quick across his face. "Sure."

"Then you wonít mind showing Scott the ropes, will you?"

@@@

The next day Scott and Johnny rode out together to the small field in a high meadow. They had thresher machines for the bigger fields down below, but up at this altitude it wasnít worth it to haul the machine and the teams of horses to the small field. Scott felt it was easier to lead men, when he knew a job backwards and forwards. And he intended to learn this job thoroughly.

So, that bright summer morning they rode out from the ranch in the buckboard. Johnny stood at the edge of the field, Scott standing close beside him. The golden stalks of wild hay spread out in front of them. Johnny held a scythe, and with deliberate care he placed his hands on the handles. "Step, swing, step. Got it?"

Scott gripped the scythe and took his first step, swung and watched as the hay bent and popped back up and almost hit him in the face.  His cheeks burned as he heard his brotherís laughter.

He looked over at Johnny who was biting his lip, attempting to get his mirth under control. "Sorry." Johnny snorted. "Letís try again."  He smirked but didnít laugh again, "You gotta swing with your shoulder and your hip. Watch." With exaggerated strokes Johnny fell the next few swatches.

Scott watched with intense scrutiny. It shouldnít be that hard, he thought to himself, as he took up the challenge. But when he got to the end of the row, his younger brother was more than a half row ahead of him.

He pulled off his hat and wiped the sweat from his brow. It was still early in the morning and they had a long way to go. He put his hat back on and squared his shoulders and pressed on.

He made his way back down the second row; now one layer of hay had fallen on top of the first. Before he could start a new row Johnny came over with a mason jar full of ginger water. He took a tentative sip and then gulped the cool brew down.

"Good, huh?" Johnny asked, wiping his lips on his sleeve. Heíd shucked his jacket and was rolling up his shirtsleeves.

"Yes, very."

"Nice thing about the ginger is, you can drink all you want, and you donít get sick to your stomach."

"Always a good thing." Scott replied with a smile. Johnny grinned and put the Mason jar back in the shade under the wagon. Scott found he liked the smile that seemed to come so easily to the younger man.  Johnny was so different from the reserved, aloof people of the east and he relished the difference.

They stood side by side again and Johnny gave some small instructions to his brothersí technique and they set out again. Scott found he was getting better. His swing was smoother and he was getting quicker, but as he got to end of his row he noticed that Johnny was now a full row ahead of him.

He leaned on his scythe at the end of the row and watched as Johnny continued to work. His younger brother had a smooth stroke and a steady step. Step, swing, step. Just like heíd said at the beginning.

Scott sighed and realized it would be a long time before he was as good at this as Johnny was. By the time they stopped for lunch, theyíd finished a quarter of the field. Scott smiled ruefully.  Johnny had done most of it and heíd helped, was closer to the truth.

They lazed in the shade of the wagon and ate lunch. "Itís kinda nice that we can bring a big olí lunch out in the wagon, ainít it?" Johnny asked around a mouthful of roast beef sandwich. "Take a look in the basket."

Scott drug the basket closer and peeked under the cloth. Wrapped in cheesecloth were two raspberry turnovers. "That Teresa is something else, isnít she?" he said as he took a deep whiff of the flaky pastry. "Iíll take this over hard tack and jerky any day of the week." After lunch Johnny stretched out and put his hat over his face. Scott watched for moment before asking, "I know youíre the boss today, but shouldnít we get back to work?"


"Itís not a good idea to do hard labor on a full stomach. Trust me, by the end of the first row, youíll be heaviní up everything youíve eaten since Tuesday. Let it settle for a bit, then weíll start."  Johnnyís voice was muffled from under his hat.

Scott stretched out and laced his fingers together to pillow his head. He stared up at the cloudless blue sky and let his mind wander. So much had happened so quickly, and he wouldnít change a minute of it. Well, there were a few things heíd change, he admitted to himself. He could have lived the whole rest of his life without seeing his brother shot from the saddle, but other than that it had been quite an adventure. He closed his eyes and listened to the birds chirping and the bugs clicking and inhaled the warm smell of fresh cut hay. Before he knew it he felt someone kicking him in the foot.

"Rise and shine." Johnny was standing over him with a butter wouldnít melt in his mouth grin.

Scott scrambled to his feet and pressed his fingers to his eyes. "I didnít mean to drop off."

"Hadnít had to work this hard in awhile, huh?" The words might have stung if they werenít included with that teasing smile.

"I canít remember a day I ever had to work this hard." Scott rejoined dramatically, "Back home all I ever did was read novels and got waited on hand and foot and soaked in rosewater baths."

"You poor thing. How ever did you manage?"

"It was hard, but somehow I survived." They walked together to the edge of the field. Scott sighed, "Is this field getting bigger?"

"Sure seems that way, donít it?"

"Well, it isnít getting finished with us standing here talking."  Scott took his first step and swing and realized his back had tightened up as heíd slept. Oh, it was going to be a long afternoon.

@@@

They rode back home in time for a late supper. After putting up the horses they headed for the washroom off the back porch. Johnny pulled his shirt off without bothering to unbutton it and hung it on the peg behind the door. He put his head under the pump and let the cool water gush over him. "Aahh," he said as he came up and shook like a dog. "Oh, awh." Johnny grimaced as his recently wounded shoulder spasmed.

"Let me see." Scott spun his brother around until the younger man faced the wall. He ran a hand over the dark bronze skin rubbing away the goose bumps and massaging the knot of muscle. "Did you do too much today?" he asked as he rubbed the heel of his hand into the tightened muscle. It hadnít been that long since Johnny had been shot and an ugly red gash cut into the skin beneath the shoulder blade.

Scott could hear the strain in the other manís voice. "No, Iím all right, just a stitch. Trust me, youíll feel the same tomorrow."

Scott could feel the tension release under his hands. He gave Johnnyís shoulder a pat and turned back to the washbasin. He put a cloth in to soak before unbuttoning his shirt. "Have you ever thought about what it might have been like if weíd grown up together?" he asked as he ran the cloth over his arms and down the back of his neck.

Johnny had turned and was leaning against the door and crossed his arms across his chest.  "I guess."

"I play it in my head sometimes. Wondering what it would have been like to have lived here all my life." He wiped off the days grime and sweat with long cool sweeps of the cloth.

Johnny pursed his lips as he thought it over.

"I wonder what weíd be like," Scott continued. "Would we be different than we are?"

He dried himself off as he watched Johnny take a moment to put his towel over his head and ruffle his hair dry. The younger manís voice was tired. "Iím sure we would be."

Scott hung up his towel and slipped back into this shirt. "How do you think weíd be different?"

Johnny hung up his own towel and reached for his shirt. "Mostly? Weíd be fat from all Teresaís good cooking. And if I donít get some soon, Iím gonna eat this towel."

Scott noticed that the younger man was avoiding looking him in eye and realized this was not a good subject. "What do you suppose will be the main course?"

Johnny took a deep breath as if he could smell the aroma of cooking food from where he stood. "Dollar says ham."

Scott smiled. "Dollar says beef roast."


@@@

Teresa was just bringing out the last platters of food as they slipped into their chairs. "Teresa, this smells wonderful." Murdoch remarked as he pulled the serving dish full of chicken and dumplings closer to him. He helped himself to a large portion before sliding the dish toward Scott.

Johnny pushed a silver dollar over toward his brother as he reached for the dish of summer squash.

Scott dug into his own pants pocket and pulled out two fifty-cent pieces and pushed them toward Johnny.

They were both quiet for a moment before they grinned at each other.

"Did I miss something?" Murdoch asked.

"No, not at all." Scott chuckled.

@@@

It had only taken a few short weeks for it to become an evening tradition to take brandy at Murdochís desk after supper--one that Scott found he liked very much. They would sit in the chairs that faced his fatherís desk and review the dayís events.

Scott held the brandy snifter in his hand and waited for the liquid to warm. Out of the corner of his eye he watched as he younger brother flinched and rotated his shoulder and shifted uncomfortably in his chair. Scott cocked an eyebrow at his younger brother, but neither of them said anything. 

Murdoch came around his desk to settle in the big chair. "So, how did you do today?"

"We got about half way done with the field," Scott said, clearly proud of the accomplishment.

"I would have thought youíd have gotten further." Johnny muttered something into his glass. 

"Did you say something?" Murdoch growled.

"What?" Johnny glanced up with a surprised look on his face.

Murdoch narrowed his eyes, but turned the conversation back to Scott. "Any problems?"

"Except for the fact that I had no idea what I was doing, no, no problems." Scott swirled the liquid in the glass and took a sip.

Murdoch tapped a long finger against the desktop. "So, you think youíll finish tomorrow?"

"Iím sure we will, sir. I know a heck of a lot more now than I did this morning."

"Good, good." Murdoch continued to discuss how the other haying crews were doing, and what any of the other crews were working on.

It was about an hour before Scott looked over to notice that his brother was almost asleep in his chair. He crossed his one leg to rest on his knee, gently kicking his brother, jarring the younger man awake.  Scott flashed a grin, which was met by a sheepish smile.

"Iím done in. Iím going to bed." Johnny set his mostly filled brandy snifter on the edge of the desk and went upstairs without another word.

Scott listened as the grandfather clock chimed nine times. "Maybe I should turn in too." He got to his feet, put his empty glass down, picked up Johnnyís glass and drained it. "Johnny worked hard out there today." Scott suddenly felt the need to make sure Murdoch knew just how much his younger brother had done.

Murdoch had gotten up at the same time and turned to look out the window. The sun was just beginning to set and the edges of the meadow were fading from green to gray. "I expect both of you to work hard."

Scott was glad his fatherís back was turned so he wouldnít see his exasperation. Sometimes, Murdoch could be so much like Grandfather.  Scott excused himself, got a book off the shelf in the library and headed up to his room to read.

@@@

Scott heard a muffled noise and burrowed further under the blankets. "Morning!" A cheery voice greeted him and pulled the covers away, jarring him from his warm cocoon.

Scott groaned and rolled over onto his back. "Go away." He blinked his eyes open just in time to squeeze the shut again when his brother pulled open the curtains and let in a flood of morning sun.

"Time to get up, sleepy head."

Scott tried to blink the room into focus. "What time is it?"

"Oh, itís late. We should have been up a half hour ago. Itís at least 5:30."

"5:30 in the morning?"

Johnny grinned and plopped down on the edge of the bed with an exuberant bounce. "Yup. The start of a brand new day."

Scott grabbed one of the pillows from under his head and hurled it at the smiling face at the foot of his bed. "Get out of here and let me get dressed."

Johnny got to his feet and kept the pillow. "Better hurry, else Teresa might come to check up on you."

That thought did prompt Scott to hustle into his clothes. Saving his shaving until he was mostly dressed.

As he slid into his seat at the breakfast table he was hard pressed to stifle a groan. Everything ached, from his hair to his toenails.  He was using muscles heíd never used before. He grimaced as he reached for the coffee pot. He looked up into a pair of vibrant blue eyes that were blatantly laughing at him.

"You didnít do too much, did you?" Johnny used the words Scott had used the day before.

"Iím fine." He grinned across the table, "Donít get wise, little brother." Scott rested his elbow on the table and his cheek on his hand and had to struggle to keep his eyes open. He was still having trouble getting up this early.

Johnny sat back in his chair and sipped his buttermilk, but he didnít stop smirking until the first breakfast platter arrived on the table.

@@@

They rode out again that morning and stood at the edge of the field, side by side. "Gee, Johnny, you take me to the nicest places."

"Just want to make sure that you really come to know and love working on a ranch."

"I think I learned this lesson yesterday."

"Nope, you canít learn this lesson in one day. Trust me."

"So, when did the famous gunfighter ĎJohnny Madridí learn to hay?"  Scott asked attempting to delay starting of the backbreaking task as long as possible.

"I wasnít always a gunfighter." Johnny said fingering the scythe blade. A smile twitched at this mouth, almost showing a dimple in his left cheek. "Ever hear of a brush-popper?"

Scott shifted his weight to lean on his scythe handle. "No."

"My first job working on a ranch was down near El Paso, I think I was ten. Texas long-horns ainít the smartest cow to walk the face of the earth and they get into the brush and mesquite and donít want to come out."

"Actually sounds kind of smart when you think about it." Scott interjected.

"So," Johnny continued, pretending he hadnít been interrupted, "they hire kids to squirm under the brush and we pop up in front of the steer and scare it back to the range."

Scottís eyes got wide as he thought of ten year old boys jumping up in front of 2000 pounds of some of the meanest beeves around. "Did the bulls ever charge?"

Johnny thought about it, "You know, they never did."

"Good heavens, what a job for a little kid."

Johnny shrugged as if he didnít give it much thought, "Put food in my belly."

Scott was stunned but before he could add anything Johnny continued, "In order to keep working I just took any job they offered. I cleaned stalls, painted chicken coops, and I learned to cut hay." He waved a hand toward the field, "And here I am, right back where I started." He grinned, "and it wonít get done standing here."

Scott suddenly felt his education was lacking and was afraid heíd never catch up. He had a fear in the pit of his stomach that he didnít belong out here.

"Taught me a couple a things." Johnny said as he stepped up to the first row of todayís work. "Big jobs are best tackled head-onÖ or avoided all together."

"And this is a head-on kinda job?"

"Unless you can figure a way to avoid it?"

Scott shook his head, turned his attention to the field and took a deep breath. He took a step, swung and stepped again, every muscle in his back protesting the motion. But he thought of a ten-year-old boy doing this job, the scythe almost as big as he was -doing anything to feed himself. No matter how unprepared he felt, he was going to do this. But as his back twinged he knew it was going to be another long day.

@@@

They worked hard all morning. Every so often stems and seeds slid down the back of his shirt, so Scott decided to pull off his shirt.

"I wouldnít do that if I was you," Johnny said as he swiped a shirtsleeve across his brow.  Scott crushed his shirt into a ball and tossed it back toward the wagon.  "Pale as you are, youíre gonna burn to a crisp up here."

"Iíll take my chances."

@@@

It was only an hour later when Scott began to feel his skin prickle.  He looked down and his arms and chest were glistening with sweat. He ran a hand across the back of his neck and brushed off the chaff that stuck to his skin.  He had gotten more efficient as the day progressed and the kinks had worked themselves out of his back and shoulders. But no matter how fast swung the scythe, his younger brother was always ahead of him.

Johnny stood now at the end of a row leaning on his scythe watching his brother work. "I think you need to take a break at the end of this row," Johnny called out.

"Why is that?"

"Youíre getting a little pink." 

"I am not," Scott said with a puff as he finished his row and turned to start on the next.

Johnny stopped him by pressing a hand on Scottís upper arm. The handprint turned white before fading into the surrounding pink skin. "When youíre up this high you get burnt much quicker." Johnny referred to the high altitude as he pulled off his hat and wiped at his brow. "Iím not trying to be a bother, I just donít want you getting sick from the sun. Trust me, it ainít no fun."

Scott decided to heed his brotherís warning and headed over to shade of the wagon and gulped down the last half of the water in the Mason jar. He picked up his crumpled shirt from the ground, shook it out and slipped it back on. As much as he didnít like to admit it, there was a lot about the west that he didnít know or understand. And the best teacher he could have was at the back in the field, cutting in swift sure strokes.

They finished cutting an hour after lunch. They would now need to pile the hay into four stacks that looked like thatched huts.  Starting with the hay theyíd dropped yesterday, they began stacking. Johnny showed Scott how to lean the hay against itself and then pile it into an almost tee pee shape. They then spread another pile across the top, designed to shed any rain that might fall and keep the stack dry.

They would let the hay dry for two or three weeks then come back and load it into the wagon to be brought back to the barn. "Bucking hay" was what Johnny called it, with enough of a frown to make Scott believe it wasnít much fun.

But Scott smiled at the completed task with just a hint of pride.  This feeling edged out his feeling of inadequacy. He loved working outdoors and knew in his soul that he was meant to be here. He looked down and rubbed his palms where new calluses were forming. Badges of honor for a job well done.

"Ready?" Johnny called from the seat of the buckboard.

Scott grinned as he pulled up into the seat and sat down with a sigh. "Ready."

"Wanna bet on supper?"

Scott grinned as he propped his foot up on the front board and stretched his arm across the back. "No, if I lose to you too often youíll forget Iím perfect."

Johnny gave a grin as he clicked the horses into a walk, "Thatís right, all big brothers are perfect, arenít they?"

Scott patted his brother on the shoulder, "And donít you forget it."

@@@

The next day was Sunday. Not a stickler for the strict religious upbringing of his Protestant youth, Murdoch still liked to think of Sunday as a day of rest. Other than simple chores, no other duties were assigned.  Murdoch liked to sit in his big overstuffed chair and catch up on his reading and letter writing. Instead he found his mind wandering over the last few weeks.

Murdoch had seen a good many Ďcowboysí who refused to do ground work. If it wasnít done from the back of a horse it wasnít for them. But Johnny seemed willing to do any work put to him. And Scott seemed to be getting the best of the pairing with Johnny. While every day Scott was learning something new, Johnny was doing the same jobs he had done since he was a boy.

After supper, Murdoch came through the dining room to see his sons side-by-side at the table. Their heads were bent close together over a large book of Birds of America. In low tones Scott was explaining migration and feeding habits, explaining where the birds went when they flew south in the winter or north in the spring, his hands gesturing to make his point while Johnny nodded his understanding.

With a satisfied smile he realized they both had their strengths and weaknesses and it made his heart swell with pride that they accepted each other so easily. He was trying to think of something to say to them when he heard a buggy pull up out in the drive.

He pulled open the door just as a young man came down the front walk. "Hello," he had a charming smile. "Iíd like to speak with Mr. Lancer."

Murdoch cocked his head to one side as he studied the dark haired young man. "Iím Mr. Lancer."

The young man held out his hand, "Father. Itís so good to finally meet you."

Murdoch was stunned. "Excuse me?" He shook the outstretched hand without thinking.

"Iím your son," The young manís smile never slipped. "Your son John."

@@@

After a long awkward silence Murdoch regained his composure and invited the young man in. Scott and Johnny followed the two men to Murdochís office.  "Please, sit." Murdoch indicated a chair. "Would you like a drink?"

"No, thank you."

Murdoch poured a shot of bourbon and tossed it back quickly.

"I know this is rather unexpected, but I was approached by a Pinkerton agent and he said you were looking for me."

"And you are?" Scott flicked his gaze between this stranger and his father.

The young man stood up and extended his hand again, "John. John Lancer." Scott found himself shaking the offered hand in confusion.  He flicked his gaze to the man standing beside him.

Johnny narrowed his eyes and studied the other man very carefully. "Really?" The man claiming to be John Lancer extended his hand to Johnny who blatantly clasped his hands behind his back.

"Yes, well," The young man ignored the slight and turned back to Murdoch. "I came as soon as I got word."

The big man sat down behind his desk and absently toyed with a heavy paperweight. "I have to admit that Iím a little confused," Murdoch began. "You see the young man behind you is my son John."

The young man turned in his chair and appraised Johnny. He raised an eyebrow. "Really?"

Scott shuddered at the identical choice of words.

"I donít know what to say," the young man said coolly, "but Iím John Lancer."

Over the course of the next two hours John Lancer made his case. He presented his class manuscripts and letters of introduction. He talked of his mother and how they had left California on a clipper ship that landed in New York Harbor. How she had taken a job as a governess and had sacrificed to have her son educated in some of New Yorkís finest schools.

With each passing minute Murdoch leaned further back in his chair and studied the man before him.

Scott fired questions at the young man who called himself "Jack", asking him about his schooling and the people he knew in New York.

Johnny who had started out with his arms crossed over his chest and had moved on to restless pacing as he listened, was now sitting in a chair in the corner, quietly chewing on a corner of his lip.

Jack mentioned his motherís maiden name and spoke at length of her family. He knew of the meeting and courtship in Matamoras. The evening wore on as Jack continued to tell his tale. The grandfather clock in the living room struck ten just as conversation came to a lull.

Murdoch cleared his throat. "Itís late," he said abruptly. They all got to their feet, Johnny last of all. "Scott will you show - Jack - to the guest room?"

"Yes, of course." Scott walked slowly from the room with Jack following behind.

Johnny nudged the carpet with the toe of his boot. "So?" he asked softly.

Murdoch gestured vaguely down the hall. "I donít know what to say."

"Do you believe him?" Johnny asked, unable to meet the older manís gaze.

Murdoch opened his mouth to say something, anything, but no words formed. Johnny ducked his head but flicked his glance upward. He watched as Murdoch fumbled for some way to express himself. "Itís late," Johnny finally said filling the silence. "Iím going to bed."  Johnny turned on his heel and headed for his room.

"Goodnight," Murdoch eventually said softly, "son." But Johnny didnít turn back around.

@@@

Jack ingratiated himself into their daily lives. He cheerfully told stories of his childhood in New York and his mother. Scott continued to pepper him with questions of the people he knew and the places heíd seen and Jack was ready with interesting answers.

Johnny spent longer hours out on the range, at first working with the hands and then working alone. Three days after Jackís arrival Scott rode out to find Johnny thigh deep in water, mucking a pond.

"Need some help?" Scott asked as he leaned on the saddle horn.

"Toss me a rope." Scott untied the rope from the side of this saddle and flicked one end out over the water. Johnny grabbed the rope out of the air and quickly tied it around a fallen log.

Scott wrapped his end of the rope around his saddle horn and signaled his horse to back up. The taut rope swiftly dragged the branch up onto the bank and the water began to flow swiftly again.

Johnny slogged his way out of the water and under a tree. He picked up the shirt heíd left on the ground and used it to wipe his feet dry before pulling on his socks and boots.

Scott sat his horse for a moment before getting down and coming to sit in the shade of the tree next to Johnny. "Talk to me," Scott said softly as he nudged Johnny with his shoulder.

"Nothing to talk about," Johnny said without looking up.

"Donít hand me that. What do you think of this Jack, uh, fellow?"  Scott nudged Johnny again with his shoulder.

"Big question is what does Murdoch think, isnít it. Does he believe this guy? Do you?"  He pulled on his shirt and fumbled with the buttons.

"I only have one little brother and heís sitting right here next to me." Scott said firmly.

"I donít know Scott, what if he isÖ" Johnny couldnít finish the thought.

"Johnny - you know who you are. You know youíre Johnny Lancer." Scott shifted on the grass so that he sat directly in front of the younger man.

"Do I?" Johnny brought his gaze up to meet the other man. His blue eyes were dark with worry. "I donít know any of the stuff this guy is talking about. I got to thinking and most of the time my mother never mentioned Murdoch at all. It wasÖ" Johnny paused swallowing hard the lump in his throat.

"Your step-father." Scott filled in. Theyíd had this conversation before and Johnny hated the man, barely even to bring himself to mention his name.

"They werenít married," Johnny hissed.

"I know," Scott placated.

"But it was mostly him. Heíd say stuff. ĎIf your old man, Murdoch Lancer, hadnít thrown you and your mama outí." Johnny mimicked with scorn. "I donít remember my mama ever saying his name." Johnny surged to his feet. "She left me when I was nine, Scott. I donít hardly even remember her; what if what Iím remembering is a lie?" Johnny strode out three paces and then back, his voice was whisper soft. "What if he is John Lancer?"

Scott got to his feet in a hurry and grabbed Johnny by the shoulder and forced him to a stop. "No! I donít ever want to hear you say anything like that again, hear me?" Scottís voice lowered as he tried to get his anger under control. "Heís a fake. I donít know how he knows the things he knows or why heís here now, but I do know that you are the only brother I have."

"How do you know? You only accept me cuz of Murdoch saying so. What if Murdoch believes him?" Scott noticed that Jack no longer had a name just like the man that had lived with Johnnyís mother. 

"I donít think Murdoch believes him any more than I do. He just has to be sure." Scott gripped the biceps under his hands firmly. "The Johnny Lancer I know wouldnít just sit still for this. Heíd be fighting for what he knows is his."

Johnny shook his head and stared down at his boot tips. "I donít know. What if Iím not Johnny Lancer, what if Iím just Johnny Madrid.  I donít know what heíd do at about this. Maybe heíd just ride out before anybody else got hurt. Maybe avoid the problem all together."

"Good Lord in heaven give me strength." Scott muttered. "I am so angry at you right now, you know that?" Scott gripped Johnnyís arms tighter. "You listen to me! This guy is a huckster. He wants something. Now I donít know what that something is, but Iím not going to let him get away with it and neither are you. Do I make myself understood?"

It was Scottís force of will that brought Johnnyís gaze up. Johnny searched Scottís face for any trace of doubt but he didnít find any.  Scottís hands squeezed hard again. "Understood?"

"Yeah, Scott," Johnny nodded, "I understand."

"Good." Scott let go of Johnny and finished buttoning the younger manís shirt. "Now we are going back to the ranch and weíre going to talk to Murdoch and weíre going to catch this guy in a lie."

Johnny nodded, but his shoulders were still slumped in defeat. He tucked in his shirt and mounted his horse, his thoughts in turmoil as he followed Scott back to the ranch.

@@@

"I just donít understand." Teresa was saying as she poured a cup of coffee. She could see Jack out the window on the patio. He was nice enough, and strangely his looks were very similar to Johnnyís. He had dark hair and blue eyes and a charming smile, but there the similarity ended. "Johnny wonít say anything. Doesnít he remember being here as a boy?"

"Teresa, he was only two years old," Murdoch said with a sigh.

"I have memories of then." Her fingers toyed with edge of a doily under the lamp. "I remember the year we had to redig the well and the year we built the big barn."

"Do you? Are you sure theyíre your memories? Your father and I may have talked about something so often that it just became your memory.  Johnny didnít have that. From what little heís said, his mother hardly ever talked about the ranch, or me." His last words so soft they were barely heard.

"Do you believe Jack? Do you think heís your son?"

Murdoch shook his head slowly. Heíd come to love Johnny in the few short weeks heíd been there. Watched as he struggled to change his life from the footloose and fancy-free days to working hard to fit in. Murdoch admired how Johnny threw everything he had into everything he did. He didnít want to believe that Johnny was anything other than his son.

But no man wanted to believe that their child would grow up they way Johnny did. He wanted to believe that his son had grown up happy and well fed and well loved in a nice house in New York. Jack had all the right answers, knew facts that Murdoch himself was hazy on. He seemed to know everything about his and Mariaís time together. Jackís only reason for Mariaís leaving was that she wanted the glamour of big city life, which had been true enough. Maria had hated the ranch.  Sheíd hated the isolation and the hard work.

But from there the stories changed. Jack had a happy life in New York going to the best schools and Johnny lived on his wits and his guts taking care of himself from the age of nine.

Murdoch stood and stared out the window and looked out across the meadow. He could see two riders in the distance and could tell from the way they sat a horse it was Scott and Johnny. It had always made his heart glad to see the two of them together.

He moved to the French doors and watched as they rode into the yard.  A ranch hand came up and took the reins of their horses. Murdoch watched as Scott headed for the house with Johnny lagging behind. They met up with Jack on the patio. 

Johnny and Jack appraised each other. They had steered clear of each other for the last few days. This time Johnny straightened his shoulders, reset his hat square on his head and walked past Jack with a contemptuous smile. "Hey," he said as he walked past.

"Good afternoon, Johnny." Jack responded to the first words Johnny had spoken to him in days with a look of amazement.

Scott glanced at Johnny out of the corner of his eye and noticed the smirk of satisfaction that crossed the younger manís face. As they entered the house Scott shut the door carefully and stopped Johnny with a hand on his chest. "What are you up to?"

"Nothiní."

Scott lowered his voice, unsure just where Jack was. "Why donít I believe you?"

"I didnít do anything." Johnny had to fight the grin that twitched the corners of his mouth.

Scottís crystal blue eyes stared long and hard into Johnnyís darkly mischievous one. He couldnít determine what the younger man was up to, but he was glad to see Johnny finally taking some action.

As they sat down to supper Johnny, for the first time in days, joined in the conversation. He smoothly changed the conversation if it started to turn to his young life, but he was inquisitive about Jack and his youth. Some of the questions, Scott noticed, seemed to make Jack squirm with their bluntness.

Murdoch watched silently all through supper. Heíd come to realize that Johnny was not going to bring his mother up in conversation with Jack at the table. As he studied his younger son a smile played over his lips. Despite everything he still was convinced that Johnny was indeed his son.

He watched Johnny as a new idea crossed his mind. Over the last month heíd noticed more than one thing that Johnny had done that reminded him of Maria. The smirk that played over his lips was all Johnnyís but the shy smile that slid across his face when heíd been paid a compliment was so like Mariaís.

The way Johnny toyed with the beaded bracelet on his wrist reminded Murdoch of the way Maria would worry her rosary. Johnnyís dark hair was hers but the blue eyes were from his side of the family. Jack had blue eyes, but it wasnít quite the same. He watched Johnny closely, hoping for some gesture or motion that would convince him that he was her son.

@@@

The next few days passed more or less uneventfully. Jack was a charming and gracious guest. At no time did he try to help with the duties or the chores, instead contenting himself to riding around the ranch, or taking walks.

But in the evenings, he joined in the after dinner conversations and despite himself Scott found he liked Jack.

Scott stepped out onto the patio and looked up at the low hanging full moon. Since the first day heíd met Johnny there had been some kind of a connection. He didnít discount the brawls theyíd had, in fact they seemed to make them even closer. And he found himself having an overwhelming need to protect Johnny. It seemed silly when he thought about it. Johnny was much better prepared to handle life in the west on his own then Scott was, but the feeling was there all the same. There was no such feeling for Jack.

He took a deep breath and took in the smells of dirt and hay and meadow grass and horses and the warm fragrances from Teresaís garden. As he closed his eyes he realized he couldnít remember what Boston smelled like. It must be somewhere in his memory, but he didnít remember taking notice of it.

A flicker of movement caught his eye and he glanced over to the corral. He knew who was there. Every night since Jackís arrival Johnny would leave the after dinner conversation early and spend the last few minutes before turning in out with the horses. Their newfound tradition shattered.

The sound of laughter came out through the doorway and Scott swallowed down the feeling of being a traitor. Jack might have been charming and charismatic, but Johnny needed him, now more than ever.  Scott moved to head down to the coral, but Johnny turned his way and crossed the patio in soundless strides.

"We should go in." Johnny said softly.

"JohnnyÖ"

"Donít Scott. Donít say anything." More laughter came from inside and Johnny looked down at the adobe bricks that paved the patio. "If I hear one more word tonight, Iíll bust."

Scott nodded and laid his arm across Johnnyís shoulders and gave a squeeze.

@@@

Just as they came through the doors, Murdoch got to his feet. "We should all turn in early if were going into town in the morning."  After church would be the first social of the season. Jack headed up as Scott helped Murdoch turn down the lamps.

They stood together in front of the banked embers of the fire. "What do you think about Jack?" Scott finally asked to fill the silence.

Murdoch had been thinking long and hard about that very subject. "Itís certainly a quandary."

"You donít believe him, do you?"

Murdoch grabbed the poker and rammed it into a log, turning it slightly. "I donít want to believe him."

"But?"

"I just donít know, Scott. And I donít want to make another mistake.  Iím going to ask Jack to stay on for a while, just until I can get some real answers. A week isnít enough time to make that kind of decision."

"Weíre borrowing bad feelings here, you realize that, donít you?"  Scott toyed with a china figurine on the mantle.

"Johnny will just need to understand that I canít make a mistake with this."

Neither of them had noticed Johnny standing near the front door. His feelings were in turmoil. Part of him was glad Murdoch hadnít made up his mind yet. The other part was telling himself it was only a matter of time before he was shown the road. Just likeÖ he stopped that train of thought, but still had to swallow down a lump in his throat that threatened to choke him. He waited silently until they went upstairs before heading into the kitchen. He wanted something that would distract his thoughts from the unending circle of Ďhe found you and brought you hereóheíll send you away - he wants Jackí.

He moved in to the big warm room that still smelled of the apple crisp theyíd had for desert. Teresa stood with her back to him, her sleeves rolled up, washing dishes. He came up behind her and gave her a hug. "Hi, darling."

She turned a brilliant smile toward him. "What brings you in here?  Are you hungry?" She started to dry her hands on her apron, but he grabbed up a dishtowel.

"I thought Iíd help." Johnny returned the smile. "Iíll dry." She thought about this for a moment before turning back to the pan of dishes. They stood side by side in companionable silence for a little while as they completed the chore.

"You know thereís something about Jack I just donít like," she said as she began to put the dry dishes away.

This was the last thing he wanted to talk about. He nodded and kissed her cheek. "Iím going." He left her to finish as he headed back out to the great room. He stood just in the doorway and studied the furnishings; the books that lined the wall behind the dining room table; the big overstuffed chair sat near the large fireplace. Above the mantle was the Lancer "L" cast in plaster.

Johnny closed his eyes and listened to the grandfather clock that was chiming the quarter hour. When the chimes stopped his opened his eyes and heaved a sigh. He was bone tired, but not the tired that a good nightís sleep would cure.

He walked over to Murdochís desk and ran his hand over the smooth polished wood. His fingers lingered on the paperweight that Murdoch had handled the day Jack had shown up. It seemed so obvious what Murdochís decision would be. Jack was so much like Scott. Charming and well read and didnít come with an embarrassing past.

He sat down behind the desk and took a moment to pick up his feet and twirl the chair around in a circle. He stopped the chair when it faced the large glass window. Heíd been amazed when heíd seen it the first time. Few enough houses had glass windows but heíd never seen anything this size before. He stood up and pressed his fingers against the glass. It was cool to the touch. It was too dark to view the scene beyond the glass, but that scene was painted in his memory.

He moved with soundless grace out the French doors to the stable. He was terrified of the words he knew Murdoch was going to say tomorrow after church. Heíd ask Jack to stay; heíd even ask Johnny to stay Ė for a while. But for how long?

He needed to get away. Go where the noise would drown out the thoughts in his head, and the tequila would drown his sorrow. He led his horse out of the barn and through the corral. He mounted up and without a backward glance rode through the gate. He needed to be someplace where he didnít have to think about tomorrow.

@@@

Scott woke early and lay in bed listening to the birds. He needed to get the morning chores done as quickly as possible in order to get into town in time for church. He reluctantly pulled himself out of bed and dressed quickly. It was unusual for him to be up before Johnny so he relished the idea of waking his younger brother for a change.

Scott yanked open the door that connected the two rooms together.  But Johnnyís bed was made and the room was empty. With a sigh of dismay he buttoned his shirt and headed downstairs.

Teresa already had breakfast started and he could smell it as he passed threw. Heíd expected to find Johnny in the barn, but wasnít there, and the palomino was not in its stall. Scott frowned, a cold weight settling in his stomach as he hustled through the chores as fast as possible.

"Have you seen Johnny?" Scott asked as he helped himself to coffee.

"No." Jack said as he stared blearily into his cup. He was having as much trouble adjusting to the early mornings as Scott had when heíd first arrived.

Teresa started to bring the breakfast foods out to the table as Murdoch made his way in. "Whereís Johnny?" Scott asked again, sliding into his seat.

"Maybe heís still in bed." Teresa said as she took her place next to Scott.

"No, he was gone when I got up, and his horse wasnít in the barn."

"Gone?" Murdoch queried.

"He wasnít in bed." Scott loaded his plate with hard whacks of the serving spoon.

Murdoch shoved his chair back with a scrape and went to the bottom of the stairs. "Johnny?" he shouted up the stairs. Jack didnít realize the importance of this, but Murdoch rarely shouted in the house.  When he got no answer he took long strides back to the table and pulled out his chair, scraping the legs on the floor.

"What do we do?" Teresa asked softly.

"We go to town." Murdoch shoved his plate away, his appetite gone, fearing his lack of a decision was the wrong decision.

Scott toyed with his eggs for a minute longer before giving up the charade of eating.

Teresa again looked from one to another. As she noticed the hearty way that Jack was eating his breakfast it took all she had not to shout out that she felt the whole thing was his fault. She rose suddenly and threw down her napkin and began to clear the table.

Scott had the buggy hitched and ready when they went out. Heíd already begun to resent the fact that Jack hadnít started doing any of the chores and now Johnny was gone. He mounted his horse and started out first.

The ride to town was made in silence as they were each lost in their own thoughts. As they got out of the buggy in front of the church, Scott dismounted and tied his horse behind. He intended to put up the buggy and then begin the search of the town to see if his brother was anywhere around, but Murdoch must have read his mind. "Weíll wait for you here," he said gruffly.

Scott nodded and got in the buggy. He glared at Jack who was dusting off his clothes with a handkerchief. He shook his head and hoped he hadnít been that much of a dandy when heíd first arrived. He clicked to the horse and took it to the meadow behind the church. His eyes flicked down Main Street looking for the palomino.

The only church active since Day Pardee and his men had reeked havoc on the little town was the Spanish Mission. And they were hosting this afternoonís social, so they would attend services here, today.

They entered the darkened mission together and Murdoch led the way to an empty pew. The older man made courteous small talk in whispers to the family directly behind them, but Scott made no attempt at conversation, his fear of Johnny leaving turning to anger.

As the service progressed Scott realized that Jack was confused. He caught Murdochís eye and saw that the significance wasnít lost on his father. As they filed out into the sunlight Murdoch gripped Jackís arm with a strong hand.

"Letís go." Murdoch steered Jack down the front steps.

Scott gently steered Teresa the other way. "Can you stay with friends for a little while?" he whispered.

"Is this something about Johnny?"

"Yes." She bounced up on her toes. "Go stay with the Caseys so I know where to find you." She clapped her hands together and bounded down the steps.

Scott had to take long strides as he caught up with Murdoch and Jack. A couple of friends tried to stop him to make conversation, but he took no notice. Murdoch continued until he came up to the house of his friend, William Hardy.

Murdoch knocked once briefly and let himself in. The Hardys would still be in church and he knew his friend wouldnít mind the use of his parlor. "Spill it," Murdoch said with a snarl.

Jack tried to stall for a moment and gain his composure while he straightened his clothes. "I donít understand."

"Youíre no more my son than Iím the President."

"I donít understand, Father, whatís happened?" Murdoch had longed to hear either of his sons call him father, but when Jack said it, it made his stomach turn.

"Name the books of the Old Testament," Scott shot out.

Jack only looked confused.

"How old were you when you were confirmed?" he fired again. Jack swallowed hard. "Name the Pope."

Jack looked back and forth from Scott to Murdoch. "I donít understand."

"Name your parish priest back home," Scott continued.

"I still donít understand," Jack said again.

"Youíre not a Catholic, are you?" Murdochís voice was cold and hard.

"Um, well." Jackís glance went frantically from Murdoch to Scott.

"Do you know why Lancer is closer to Moro Coyo than Green River? Do you?" Jack shook his head. Murdoch glared down at the younger man. "Because the Spanish are Catholic and in those early days it was the only town hereabouts with a Catholic church."

Jack swallowed hard and again looked back and forth between the two angry men.

"My wife wouldnít give up her faith. If she really raised you in New York, youíd be a dyed in the wool Catholic."

Scott grabbed the other man by the shoulders and slammed him up against the wall.  "I want to know what this is all about." Jack swallowed hard and nodded, but Scott didnít let go. "Explain."

"Frank Harper worked at Pinkertonís. He got this idea that we could get the thousand dollars youíd promised and we could split it." When he stopped talking Scott gave him another shake. "Him and me, we went to college together in New York. He got the file and I read it on the ship to San Francisco. Only when I got here and met up with Frank, heíd been to the ranch. He realized that Johnny had already gotten here. We figured that the only way was to convince you that I was your son." Jack hesitated when he looked over Scottís shoulder to see Murdochís glare. "We figured that if I could convince you that I was your son, youíd cut me in for a share of the ranch and me and Frank would take what we could get, then run for it."

Scott slammed Jack against the wall one more time and then let him go with an exasperated snort.

"So, Johnny is my son."

"Yes." Jack ran a hand over his face.

"No, doubts?" Murdoch snarled.

"None." Jack swallowed hard. "Pinkerton has a record of him going into a jail in Cabrillo and being listed as Johnny Lancer, but when he signed for his belongings he signed Johnny Madrid. Frank was preparing the final report and was going to send it in, but he held it back, to Ö"

The room fell silent. The muscles in Scottís jaw worked as he waited for Murdoch to come to a decision. "Whereís your friend Parker?"

"Sacramento, heís just waiting for me to wire him." Jack glanced nervously between the two. "If it matters, Iím sorry. I like Johnny."

Scott turned his back on Jack, his jaw clenched so hard his teeth hurt, waiting for Murdoch to speak.

"Get out of town. Get out quick.  I suggest you get your friend Frank and get out of California. If I run into either of you againÖ" The rest of the threat hung in the air as Murdoch growled, "Get out of my sight."

Jack ducked his head and dashed out between the two of them before they had a chance to change their minds.

"So what now?" Scott asked as he watched Jack scurry out the door like a frightened rodent.

"We go find Johnny." Murdoch led the way out of the Hardy house and headed into town. His long strides ate up the boardwalk. They both kept an eye out for the Palomino, but it wasnít tied to any of the hitching posts on Main Street.

"He may not be here." Scott sighed and pulled off his hat and ran a hand threw his hair. "He may have gone on to Green River or headed out to somewhere else altogether."

"Check the livery. See if theyíve seen his horse." Murdoch snapped. "Iíll be hanged if Iíll go through this again, understand?  Iím not spending another dollar having those dratted detectives search for my son! I want him home."

"Where will you be?"

"Iím going to check the saloons on Flores. On your way back from the livery you check Vista and weíll meet at the square."

Scott nodded and hastened to do as he was bid. He pulled open the doors of the stable and had to stand just inside for a moment to let his eyes adjust to the darkness. There in all its golden beauty stood a sixteen-hand palomino. Scott felt a grin spread across his face.

Pablo Diego, the man that ran the stable came in threw the back door. "Senor?"

Scott ran a hand over the hindquarters of the horse, his fingers lingering on the "L" brand.  "Do you know where the owner of this horse is?"

"Senor Lancer?"

Scott grinned again. Theyíd lived here for the same length of time, but Johnny just seemed to know so many more people than he did. And they knew him. "Yes, my brother Johnny. Do you know where he is?"

Pablo seemed to be studying Scott very carefully. "I found the horse last night, still at a hitching post. It is not like Senor Johnny not to take care of his horse, so I think, maybe, something happen to him. So, I bring the horse here."

Scottís shoulders drooped. Pablo was still watching his every move. "I think maybe you should check the jail."

Scottís head came up at that. "Jail?"

"Maybe, someone got a little drunk. Got a little loco. Maybe the new sheriff he is afraid that another Senor Pardee is in town, so he put in jail anyone who causes too much trouble."

Scott grinned, "Maybe?"

"Si. Maybe yes."

Scott dug into this pants pocket and pulled out a five dollar gold piece. "Thatís to make sure that Senor Johnny doesnít leave town on that horse unless Iím with him. Understand?"

Pablo smiled. "Oh, si, I understand. Maybe the horse, he is a little colic, yes?"

Scott grinned back and shook the manís hand heartily. "Yes, something like that, thank you."

He pushed open the door from the stable and squinted at the bright sunlight and headed to the other end of town.

The jail wasnít much to look at. A small single room made of thick adobe built at the back of the general store. The cell itself had a hard plank of wood for a bed, a single window high in the wall and a chamber pot. And this one was decorated with a snoring cowboy. The sheriff, who also ran the general store, unlocked the cell door. "You understand Mr. Lancer, I didnít have a choice."

Scott grinned. "Iím not sorry in the least, and any time you feel the need to throw my brother in here, you do it."

The sheriff gave a sigh of relief. He had been worried. Locking up the son of the richest rancher in the valley could be dangerous to oneís career.

Scott leaned down and shook his brothers shoulder. "Hey!"  Johnny groaned. "Hey, wake up." Scottís tone was conversational, but the mirth in his voice was hard to contain.  Johnny moaned again and rolled over on his back, his eyes squeezed tightly shut. "Come on, wakey-wakey," Scott teased.

"If you donít shut up, Iíll shoot myself and then shoot you."

Scott grinned. "That Iíd like to see." Scott put a hand behind his brotherís neck and helped him sit up.

Johnny moaned again as he swung his feet onto the floor and braced his head in his hands. "Iíd be sick to my stomach but it would probably kill me."

"Can you walk out of here under your own steam?"

Johnny started to nod his head, but thought better of it. The sheriff brought in two cups of coffee, one heavily laden with sugar.  Johnny sipped the dark liquid with a grimace.

Scott waited patiently until Johnny was finished and then helped the younger man to his feet. Johnny swayed on the way up and curled a fist into Scottís shirt to hold himself steady as the room swam before his eyes. "Ready?" Scott asked after a long moment

"Yeah." Johnny squeaked out and then cleared his throat and tried again. "Yeah, letís go."

Scott paid the fine for disturbing the peace, collected his brotherís handgun, and with a tight grip on his brotherís arm they headed out into the street.

Johnny squinted into the sun and attempted to head back inside, but Scottís firm grip kept him from turning. He steered his brother instead to the fountain in the center of the square. They sat on the stone edge of the basin and Johnny leaned over and dunked his head in the cool, clear water.

Scott watched with amusement until he began to fear that Johnny was trying to drown himself. Before he could do anything though, Johnny came up for air and shook his head like a wet dog, spraying himself, Scott and the surrounding area with drops of water.

Johnny pushed his hair back and swallowed down the sick feeling in his stomach as the landscape swirled before his eyes.

"Feeling better?"

"Not really." Johnny muttered.

"Good."

Johnnyís smoky blue eyes came up to stare into Scottís icy gray eyes. "Sorry."

"You should be," Scott snapped. "You better realize that running away doesnít do anybody any good."

"I wasnítÖ" Johnny started defensively but Scott cut him off.


"Not one word. I donít want to hear one word from you. I told you that Murdoch and I would figure this out, but would you wait. No!"

Johnny cringed at Scottís upraised voice.

"No," Scott continued. "You just had to take off on your own. Well, there is something I want you to get through that thick head of yours. You arenít in this alone anymore, follow me? Every decision you make affects a lot of people now-a-days."

Johnny looked down and found himself very interested in the concho on the edge of his trousers.

Scott continued by grabbing Johnnyís chin and forcing him to look up. "If you ever Ė ever run away like this again, Iíll, IíllÖ" Scott shook his head.

A small smile twitched at the corner of Johnnyís mouth. "Youíll what?" At that moment Johnny could feel all Scottís concern and worry wash over him. He knew his brother would never hurt him. He had to swallow down a lump that threatened to choke him, a lump that had nothing to do with his hangover. "What about your, uh, brother?"

Scott was being particularly malicious. "What about him?"

"You and me, weíre still friends?"

Scott frowned. "Of course."

"But what aboutÖ"

"Jack?"

Johnny dropped his head and again toyed with the concho.

"Murdoch sent him packing about a half hour ago." Scott watched as the knowledge crept slowly across his brotherís face.

"Packing?"

"Gone, vamoosed, adios amigo. And thatís about the extent of my Spanish." Scott said with a grin.

"But why?" Johnnyís confusion was apparent, but Scott didnít get a chance to fill him in as they both saw Murdoch barreling across the square in long determined strides.

"If he decides to tan your hide, I wonít try to stop him." They both got to their feet as Scott put a steadying hand on Johnnyís elbow.

Murdoch stood over Johnny and glowered down at him for a long moment. It was Murdochís silence that finally drew Johnnyís eyes up to meet the cold blue eyes. Johnny swallowed as he realized just how much like Scottís they were.

"Scott told me that Jack is gone," Johnny finally managed to get out.

Murdoch nodded. He had a hundred things he wanted to say from how glad he was that Johnny was safe, to what a stupid thing it was to run off in the first place, to how awful he felt about ever having any doubts, but no words came. He just looked down at his youngest son until Johnny started to get edgy. "You missed Mass." Murdoch blurted out, not at all what heíd intended to say. "You look a little worse for wear.  Are you all right?"

"Yes sir."

"Yes, well." Murdoch said gruffly, there were so many other things he wanted to say, but he couldnít seem to quite figure out how. "We should go find Teresa. Is that the band starting up?" He turned away and headed down the street.

Johnny stood rooted to the spot, stunned. "Thatís it?" Johnny looked at Scott, "I was expecting a lecture or something."

"I can provide one if you want."

Johnny smiled. "No, Iím good, thanks."

"Then letís go to the dance." Scott clapped a hand on his brotherís shoulder and steered him to follow in their fatherís wake.

@@@

The summer social was a big success but Johnny didnít participate.  He sat in the shade and nursed his hangover and watched the event from a distance.

Scott came over late in the afternoon and brought over two plates of food. He sat next to Johnny and nudged him with his shoulder and offered one of the plates.

Johnny took it and held it on his lap.

"I was a jackass last night," he said as he picked at the potato salad.

"Yes you were," Scott said before biting into a chicken leg.

"I didnít fight for what was mine."

"No you didnít."

They sat in companionable silence.

"It wonít happen again." Johnny said solemnly.

"I should hope not."

"I mean it, Iíll protect whatís mine."

Scott nodded and examined the bone before dropping it on his plate.

"I donít just mean cows and horses and stuff."

Scott suppressed a grin and looked over at his brother, raising one eyebrow.

Johnny found his plate very interesting and realizing that heíd missed breakfast he dug in. "By the way, I didnít run away."

Scott sat patiently.

"I was hiding, thereís a difference. What is it you Calvary-boys call it? A strategic retreat. When I decide to pull out, youíll know. Iíll make sure I stop to say goodbye."

Scott began to chuckle. He was happy; his brother hadnít run off as theyíd all feared. They sat together for a while and watched the dancing.

"You better go out there and rescue Teresa," Johnny said as he watched three young men swarm her during the break in the dancing.

"What about you?"

"Iím not much on dancing and I still have a terrible headache."

Scott grinned and got to his feet. "Serves you right for being such a Ö"

Before he could finish Johnny cut him off, "I know, a jackass."

Scott reached down and took his brotherís plate and their eyes met.  Dozens of things were said in that glance and finally Johnny grinned. He lay back on the grass and pulled his hat over his eyes. "Bring me back a beer." His voice was muffled.

Scott kicked the bottom of his boot as he went past.

A few minutes later a shadow fell across Johnny and he stirred.  Expecting his beer he pulled off his hat and looked up at his father.  He scrambled into a seated position.

Murdoch sat down next to his son and put a pail of beer between them.  The silence hung in the air, neither knowing what to do to break it.  Together they watched Scott swing Teresa in a Virginia Reel.

"Heís a good dancer." Johnny toyed with a tall weed.

"He doesnít get that from me, thatís for sure." Murdoch pulled up a blade of grass and tossed it into the wind. The silence was back, but less painful. "His mother was quite a dancer." He pulled out another blade of grass and stared at it before tossing it into the wind again. "So was yours."

Johnny squirmed uneasily. "I donít remember her much. I listened to all those things Jack said and I couldnít remember much. Just stuff that I couldnít explain."

Their eyes locked and Murdoch felt another pang of regret for how his son was raised. "Like?"

"Like her singing me to sleep and making meatball soup and lots of bad stuff. Stuff I try to forget." His voice was soft, his eyes downcast.

"Maybe we should talk about her." Murdoch changed from pulling grass to toying with the handle of the beer bucket.

Johnny looked up and their eyes met. He could read the pain in Murdochís eyes. At that moment he could see that his father was still in love with her. Even after all sheíd done to him. He shook his head and a smile slid across his face but didnít light his eyes. "No, letís leave the past in the past."

Murdoch nodded, "It does have a habit of not staying there though."

Johnny grinned. "Youíve noticed that, too?"

"Upon occasion." Murdoch smiled back.


"So what about Jack?" Johnny couldnít meet his fatherís eyes, certain that there would still be a hint of a doubt lingering there.

"Let me ask you a question? Can you name the books of the bible?"

Johnny rubbed his forehead, "No, why?"

"Were you ever confirmed?"

Johnnyís brow furrowed, "Am I missing something?"

Murdoch shook his head, bewildered, "I guess what Iím asking isÖ are you Catholic?"

Johnny ran a hand threw his hair and squinted up at the older man, "I spent a year living in a Catholic Mission orphanage, till I got tired of it and, umÖleft."

"Ran away?"

Johnny grinned ruefully. "I suppose."

Murdoch patted his knee gently. "Weíll work it out. Youíll settle in.  Youíll see."

Johnny watched the dancing for a moment in silence. "This beer for drinking or we just gonna look at it."

Murdoch opened the bucket and took the first sip and passed it over.  They sat in silence until the dance was over. And Murdoch got to his feet and brushed off his trousers. "Iím going to head back to the party."

"Dance with a pretty girl for me."

Murdoch smiled and headed toward the gathering, only to be immediately swept up in the dancing by Teresa. Scott came back over and grabbed the pail of beer out of his brotherís hand and gulped down three swallows. "Did you have a nice talk?"

Johnny toyed with the now mostly empty pail. "Can I tell you something, just between us?"

"Certainly." Scott stretched out in the shade of the tree and crossed one long leg over the other.

"I donít think he likes me."

"JohnnyÖ"Scott started, but was cut off.

"No, hear me out. I donít think he much liked me before and when Jack cameÖJack was like you. All manners and education and charm."

"I think I should say thank you."

"And Iím not like that. Iíll never be like you. He keeps pushing me and riding me and reminding me how I donít fit in. I think Jack is the son he wanted me to be. He doesnít like to be reminded of how I grew up. He wants me to be like you."

"Itíll never happen. There can never be another me." Scott joked before turning serious and focusing his entire attention on the younger man. "Johnny, you need to give me the chance to work on him. Get him to know you for you. I know this sounds crazy, but I think in his head heís already raised us, and neither of us are quite what he expected."

"Youíre the perfect son."

"Yes, Iím perfect, I remember." Scott grinned, "but Iím still not what he expected. He keeps thinking Iíll toe some line and be his obedient, devoted child. And Iím not a child, Johnny and neither are you. You need to understand weíre all learning, here. Weíre learning to live together, learning to work together, learning all about each other. It takes time. Let me talk to him."

Johnny nodded. "When you do, tell him to quit ridding me so hard."

Scott shoved the younger man gently. "Iíll do what I can. Come join the party."

"No, I donít feel much like celebrating."

Teresa came over and flopped down in the shade next to Johnny. "Hi, boys, what are we talking about?" She swung her feet up and put them up in Johnnyís lap. He blinked back his startlement as she wiggled her feet. "I love dancing, but Iím gonna need new dancing shoes before the next social."

Johnny grasped one tiny foot and pulled off a slipper and began to massage her ankle, reminding himself over and over to think of her as a sister.

"Youíve known Murdoch the longest. Whatís the best way to bring him around to our way of thinking?"

Teresa laughed a soft tinkling laugh, "Give it up, boys. I donít think either one of you will be good at baking cookies and listening attentively at his knee." Johnny snorted, while Scott laughed outright. "So, since Iím the only one that can handle him, you only need to learn to handle me." She grinned and slipped her other foot into Johnnyís hands.

"The perfect plan. We take care of Teresa and the rest will take care of itself. Is that right, milady?" Scott asked while doffing his hat.

"Yes, squire, now go and fetch me some lemonade and be quick about it, boy," She said in an imperious tone and waved him off.

Scott scrambled to his feet and backed away, bowing. "Yes, my queen."

Teresa waited until Scott had backed away before she pulled her foot from Johnnyís hand, sitting up and retying her slippers. She looked up at him with a serious glint to her countenance. "So, care to tell me whatís going on?"

Johnny glanced down at her, abashed. "I went to town and got drunk rather than stay and figure out how to get rid ofÖ" He waved a hand idly.

"And, now?"

"Now, Scott says we have to learn to live with each other."

Teresa sat up and gently smoothed the wrinkles from her dress. "Itís what family does, Johnny. Itís not easy, but itís worth it."

He leaned over and kissed her temple. "This place is the best thing that ever happened to me."

She gave his arm a quick, gentle swat. "And donít you forget it."

Scott came back and offered her the glass of lemonade and sat down beside them. She pointed out people she knew and filled them in on the latest town gossip.

Murdoch looked over and saw a sight that made his heart swell. All three of his children, together, and laughing. Who could ask for more? He thought for a moment of joining them, but decided instead just to watch them enjoying each other.



The End
The Interloper
December 2001

 

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