Warnings: Only that it hasn’t been beta-d, doesn’t have much in the way of plot and it’s a missing scene that runs before the start of “The Lawman”
Summary: Best I can think of is “Teresa gets a job change.”
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It had been a long day. Teresa watched as Murdoch rubbed the back of his neck and his youngest son slumped back in his chair as they both nursed the last of their coffee. Supper had been finished, but they hadn’t moved from the dining room table.
Teresa poured a little more into Murdoch’s cup and stood nearby with the pot. “Johnny, would you like some more?”
“No, thanks.” He wrapped both hands around the little bit of porcelain and let the warmth travel up his fingers into his arms.
She sat back down in her chair across from Johnny and turned her attention to Murdoch. “So, what does it mean, when the worker’s strike?”
The news had reached the ranch this morning of a mining strike over in Bigsby. Murdoch considered his answer. “It means the workers refuse to go to work and submit to the employer a list of demands.”
“Why don’t the owners just fire everyone and hire new workers?” She sipped at her own coffee and flicked her gaze over to Johnny whose eyes seemed to be drifting shut. This last week had been his first in the saddle after being shot during Day Pardee’s attempt to take over the ranch. The long hours of work outdoors had been good for the young man’s soul, but still a little hard on his body.
“It’s not that easy, Darling.” Murdoch pondered the best way to put such a complicated idea into words.
“Think if every hand on the ranch all quit at the same time.” Johnny said without opening his eyes. “What would happen around here?”
Teresa thought this over. They had lost a lot of hands over the last year because of Day Pardee, but now that the man was gone they were able to hire new hands. But she thought back to the days when work had been left undone due to lack of help.
“Nothing would get done.”
“Right, but what else?”
She worried the corner of her bottom lip with her teeth as she thought it over. “Word would get out that this wasn’t a good place to work and Murdoch wouldn’t be able to hire any one else.”
A half smile played over Johnny’s lips. “And the one’s he could maybe hire, what about them?”
Teresa thought about this for a moment as she took a sip. “They maybe wouldn’t be good workers, or trouble makers.” It was almost as much a question as a statement.
“That’s right, Darling.” Murdoch put down his cup. “Sometimes bad help is worse then no help.”
She considered this for a moment. “But, why do they strike? Why not just quit and go get another job?”
Murdoch frowned before answering. “Occasionally the workers have valid complaints. Dangerous conditions or low pay. For some, it’s the only job they know, and they don’t want to go somewhere else, they just want what’s fair. They’ve moved their families to where the job is and they don’t want to uproot and go somewhere else.”
“Sometimes, the owners are tight-fisted, money-hungry, no-good…” Murdoch cleared his throat and Johnny stopped his tirade and shifted a little further down in his chair, resting his dark head against the back.
“Sometimes, the demands are reasonable, and sometimes the workers make a long list of demands in the hopes that a few of them will be met.” Murdoch continued as if his youngest son hadn’t interrupted. “It’s in the best interest of everyone if the whole problem can be settled before it gets to this point.”
“How would that happen?” Teresa’s brow furrowed in concentration. Before Scott and Johnny arrived she’d never been invited into this type of discussion. When her father and Murdoch wanted to discuss something important she was sent from the room. This was a new experience and she was enjoying it.
“If an employee came to me with a reasonable request, I would try to grant it. But there is a lot to take into consideration. Is it fair to the whole work crew? Will it hinder or benefit the running of the ranch? Things like that.” Murdoch was hoping that Johnny was listening to this as much as Teresa. Running the ranch was his responsibility, too.
“So, if the hands came to you with a reasonable request, like… I don’t know, an extra bathhouse being built, you’d do it?”
Murdoch snorted into his coffee, somehow, he didn’t think that was high on the list of things the ranch hands wanted. “Yes, if it was something like that. But let’s say it was something else, like…” He paused to consider, “Like increasing the wages to five dollars a day. I couldn’t do that, could I?”
“No.” She finished the last of her coffee. “So, if one of your employees came to you and made a reasonable request, you’d try to do it?”
Murdoch frowned as he heard the change of tone in her voice. “Yes, if it was reasonable I’d do all I could. Why all the interest all of a sudden, sweetheart?”
“I was just wondering,” She paused as she considered just how to phrase her next question. “What if I didn’t want to work in the house anymore?”
Murdoch’s lips twitched and he hid his amusement in his coffee cup. “What do you want to do, darling?”
“I want to go out and work on the range, with you.”
Johnny laughed and sat up so suddenly that he sloshed coffee down his shirtfront. “You want to push cows?”
“Yes.” She straightened her shoulders and sat up a little taller.
“Aw, come on, Teresa,” Johnny started but Murdoch cut him off.
“Now, Johnny. She came to me with a reasonable request.” He gave the plea serious thought. “I don’t see why not.” As his gaze lingered on his ward and he watched her as a smile spread over her face. If it would make her happy, why not, indeed. “Make sure breakfast is attended to. Tomorrow morning, wear britches.”
“Murdoch, you can’t.” Johnny set down his cup.
“Johnny, I think it would be good for her.” He glanced over and Teresa was beaming.
Johnny shook his head and turned to the girl he thought of as his sister. “Are you sure about this? It’s not like a day ride in the hills. We’ve got work to do, out there.”
“I’ll work hard, Johnny, you’ll see.” Her smile was weakening his resolve.
Johnny threw up his hands and shook his head. Teresa jumped to her feet and bustled about collecting the dishes from the table.
Murdoch grinned but ignored the stare of his dark-haired son until she was gone from the room. “It’ll be fine, Johnny. It’ll be a good learning experience.”
“Murdoch we’ve got work to do out there. It ain’t a place for kids and girls.”
“Johnny, how old were you when you started working?”
Johnny wiped at the damp spot on his shirt. “Way too young, but I wasn’t a girl.”
“Trust me on this, son.”
Johnny got to his feet with a shake of his head, but didn’t say another word.
The next morning dawned clear and bright. Teresa felt a little out of place. She hadn’t helped to prepare breakfast and as she sat at the table across from Johnny, she was so anxious to go out she barely ate.
Johnny ate heartily and watched her with barely suppressed amusement.
Murdoch cleared his throat. “Johnny, go pick out a good cowpony for Teresa.”
“Can’t I ride, Cinnamon?”
“No, Teresa, Cinnamon is a good riding pony, but you’ll need a cow pony for the work we’re doing today.” Murdoch nodded and Johnny went out threw the double glass doors. “Teresa, go and get our lunch packed and make sure that super will be ready when we get back. We’ll be gone all day.”
“Yes, sir.” She bustled out to complete her tasks, taking three sets of saddlebags with her.
Johnny brought the three horses to the front hitching post and leaned against an archway pillar. Teresa came out and handed him the bags. He held onto two of them and passed one back to her. “You can tie that one on yourself.”
She took the heavy bag and had to stretch up on her toes to reach the tie downs.
“Scott’s been fixing the fence line along Spring Meadow. We need to go check for strays that might have gotten through while the fence was down.” Murdoch said as he mounted up.
Johnny swung up in the saddle and looked down at Teresa. “He makes that sound so much easier than it is,” he said with a grin.
Teresa stood next to her horse for a moment. She was used to one of them holding the head of her horse or boosting her up in the saddle. This time, they expected her to handle it herself. She grimaced and half jumped and pulled herself into the saddle.
They rode out threw the front gate. As they passed the meadow Murdoch set the pace at a mile-eating lope.
Johnny watched her out of the corner of his eye and after an hour of hard riding, he maneuvered the palomino closer to her. “Toes up, Teresa.”
She gripped the pommel of the saddle as she turned to look at him. “Slide your feet back in the stirrup a little. Point you toes up and let your heels drop. It’ll help keep your, um, seat in the saddle.”
“I know how to ride a horse,” she snapped at him.
“This ain’t a pleasure ride, it’s work. Give it a try.” She frowned but shifted in the saddle. “Now, push back with the balls of your feet and hug the house with your, um.” He slapped the insides of his thighs with his hand. He couldn’t bring himself to say the words. He might think of her like a sister, but she wasn’t, and you weren’t supposed to talk about body parts with a woman. He watched her and she sat back a little easier in the saddle. She smiled over at him and he grinned back.
She watched as he nudged the horse over a little and tried not to think of her sore calves and thighs.
Murdoch was slightly ahead of them. He rode a horse because there was no other way to get around, but he never really looked comfortable in the saddle.
Scott looked good in the saddle. He sat tall and straight and used a horse like a tool and he was a craftsman.
But, Johnny looked like he’d been born in the saddle. Teresa watched his every move and tried to sit like he did. If she wanted to work cattle she wanted to sit a horse like him.
It was late in the morning when they got to the first meadow and Teresa let out a happy sigh as they slowed the horses to a walk. “Now, Teresa, if I had hired a green boy to work for me he’d have started out in the barn, mending tack and cleaning stalls.” She frowned at Murdoch’s words but stayed silent as he continued. “I don’t want to start you like that. So, here’s how we begin.”
Johnny turned his horse left as Murdoch turned right and as Teresa followed Murdoch they began the tedious task of hunting strays.
The morning wore on in slow measures of time. Teresa learned quickly to use her horse to push the stray cattle out of gullies and down the hill to the creek side. The first thing she realized was that it was hot, tiring, dirty work.
They stopped for lunch under a large oak tree. Teresa got her bandana wet and wiped the sweat off her face and neck and washed her hands in the creek. She sat down of a fallen log.
“Wow, Murdoch, look at this. We should have Teresa come along with us more often.” Instead of hard tack and jerky in their saddlebags they had sandwiches on thick slabs of bread.
To Teresa’s dismay the bread had gotten a little dry, but neither man seemed to complain. She stretched her legs out in front of her and was happy to be sitting on something that wasn’t moving.
Johnny dug deeper into his saddlebags and pulled out a slice of pie wrapped in oilskin. “We’ll lookie here. This is some kind of picnic.” He dug in with a grin.
Murdoch smiled as he found his piece of pie, too. “This is a wonderful surprise, Teresa, thank you.”
She was surprised at how hungry she was, but dismayed to see her pie was squashed. She went over to the creek and washed her hands clean.
When she got back Johnny was stretched out under the tree and had his hands laced under his head, his hat pulled down over his face. Murdoch leaned back against another tree and closed his eyes.
“We’re just going to rest up for a few minutes, darling, and let lunch settle. Then we’ll go back out.”
“How much longer will we be out here?” She toyed with her shirt cuff button.
“We’ll be out here until about four thirty or so, then we’ll head back.” Murdoch checked his watch and then glanced at the sun. They were a little behind schedule. He didn’t miss the sigh of disappointment that Teresa made.
“You want to ride with me for the afternoon, Teresa?” Johnny’s muffled voice came from under his hat.
“No, I don’t think that would be a good idea.” Murdoch overrode any opinion she might have in the matter. He knew Johnny could be a bit of a prankster when the mood struck him. And no matter what, she was still his ward and Murdoch had every intention of looking out for his charge.
“Come on, Murdoch.” Johnny hadn’t moved and Teresa could see he was completely relaxed.
Murdoch made the mistake of looking over at Teresa who had a hopeful smile on her face. He knew he shouldn’t give in to her, so he turned his worry on his son.
“Watch out for her, Johnny.” He admonished sternly. Johnny lifted his hat, raised his head and grinned at his father. “She ' a bit green, and I don't want you to let her do too much.”
Teresa silently fumed as they talked about her as if she weren’t there.
“I’m counting on you.” Murdoch continued.
“Don’t worry.” Johnny turned his grin on Teresa and she found herself smiling back. “I won’t let nothing happen to our newest cow hand.”
She shook her head in exasperation. They sat quietly in the shade of the trees for half an hour before Murdoch got to his feet. Johnny got up swiftly and put his hand out to help Teresa to her feet.
She was surprised that this time Johnny did make a basket with his hands and boosted her into the saddle. She had to suppress a groan as she landed in the saddle and her muscles protested the motion.
Johnny was surprisingly helpful. He worked with her and seemed genuinely supportive. But then the help began to dwindle off. He was very good at reminding her that she was a hand, now, and needed to do for herself.
After an hour or so he let her stray off a little on her own. She didn’t realize that he was watching her until she found a little stray calf near a bog stuck in a bush. The second thing she learned that day was cows where not very bright.
She got down off her horse and struggled to pull the calf from the thicket. The calf just seemed to get further wedged in the scrub. She leaned further in and continued to yank and haul as the little calf bellowed and pulled away from her.
Then she heard that voice, the one that could, when it wanted to sound like melted caramel, but right now sounded more like crickets under the stove. It was nice to hear but annoying just the same.
“Whoa-boy, Teresa, you sure got problems.”
Her temper flared. “Well, why don’t you get down off your horse and help me?” She snapped at him. She could hear the laughter in his voice.
“No, no, every hand around here has got to carry his own weight.” And worse she heard Murdoch approach on his horse.
“Murdoch, he’s your son, make him help me.” She shouted over the bawling of the calf.
“Help her.” Murdoch said simply.
Johnny dismounted and came over to the brush. Teresa immediately saw what she’d been doing wrong. Johnny never touched the cow, just broke the branches that had the calf wedged allowing the little animal to free itself. She was exasperated, not only by Johnny and his superior attitude, but by her own lack of experience.
She was just about to give him a piece of her mind when she noticed his attention was focus on something other than her. The smile faded from his face as he watched a man pull ahead of a pack of other riders.
The men at the back of the pack were firing. Before she could determine why the man in front was fleeing, Johnny took off running across the meadow.
If the man on horseback had been paying attention he could have easily avoided Johnny on the ground, but he kept looking back over his shoulder and didn’t see Johnny until the last minute. Pulling back hard on the reins of his horse to avoid the man on the ground gave Johnny the small advantage he needed to drag the man to the ground.
Murdoch rode over, but Teresa had no desire to mount up again if she could avoid it. She came over and stood close to Murdoch. These men were rough looking and she realized now the man Johnny had knocked from his horse was in manacles.
She watched Joe Barker carefully. For a moment she almost got to hear a story she knew was not meant for her ears, but he caught himself in time. But she already felt better knowing this man was a friend of Murdochs’.
Teresa listened in silence as the man identifying himself as Al Evan tried to remind Johnny of a time they’d known each other. She didn’t like to see Johnny like this. Confusion crossed his handsome features. She wanted to stay with Johnny but Murdoch was already leading her back to her horse.
She learned something else. Men didn’t pay much attention to each other. Couldn’t Murdoch see that there was something bothering Johnny? She did manage to maneuver her horse next to his on the ride back to the ranch. He smiled over at her once on the trip, as though knowing how uncomfortable she must feel with all these strangers and her not dressed properly, but he was distracted. He kept glancing back at the prisoner and then staring off into the distance.
As they rode into the yard Teresa separated from the rest of the group and headed up to the main house. She came into the cool darkness of the back porch and rinsed the sweat off her face and washed her hands. The kitchen had familiar warmth and the smell of a roast in the oven.
“Juanita, Maria?” She called out as she came through.
“Senorita,” Juanita came over drying her hands on a towel. “How was it, are you going to be a vaquero?”
Teresa laughed, “Good heavens, no.” She pushed stray hairs off her brow and studied her kitchen. “Men are crazy, do you no that?”
Maria came over and gave her a one armed hug. The older woman had worked at the ranch for years. “Si, they are loco, but how do you learn this today?”
“Oh, Maria, where to start? They ride all day in the hot sun, eat on the ground, and I declare, if we put bugs in their saddlebags they’d be happy about it. They use more brawn than brains out there. They hardly even speak to each other, it’s amazing they get anything accomplished. They come woefully under supplied for a job and then have to go back out to finish it later.” Her thoughts turned to Joe Barker and the other men, “There will be at least one more for supper tonight.” She glanced down at her sweaty dirt splattered clothes. She was certainly not dressed for company. She started to put water on the stove to heat for a quick bath as she continued to fill her two friends in on her day as a vaquero. “They don’t understand what it’s like to plan out your days to get more than one thing done. They go out do one thing and come back.”
Maria got out extra vegetables from the cool pantry while Juanita made sure there was a whole fresh pie. They all continued around the kitchen while Teresa chatted about her day. “Good heavens, Johnny grabbed a man off a running horse and wrestled him to the ground.” She laughed out loud.
It had been a nice change to go out and work on the range, but she knew that wasn’t what she wanted. The three women chatted on in friendly conversation as they continued to prepare supper and Teresa’s bath.
lips twitched in a little smile when she realized she could go out there
and be a ‘cowboy’ if she wanted. But she didn’t want to. She wanted
to be here, looking out for her family in the way she knew best.
Now – on with the show