A missing scene from Blind Man’s Bluff
No beta, no help, all howlers are mine (so there)!
Johnny Lancer and Mattie Cable stood at the bottom of the ladder in the cellar of Lem’s cabin. They both had their faces turned upwards, towards the mayhem that was unfolding above them.
Johnny also had his gun pointing upwards, towards the entrance to the cellar, but his sightless eyes would not help him when the moment came to fire that gun. He prayed that his other senses would somehow compensate, but he knew that in his current weakened state he couldn’t rely on them. Johnny Madrid Lancer was a man who was usually confident in his abilities but this day that confidence was waning fast.
The odds had improved now that only one of Lem’s murderers remained. The first had been overpowered through a mixture of team work and dumb luck. The second, with a carefully set booby trap. The first man may yet survive but it was unlikely that the second would live to bother anybody again.
Johnny and Mattie both knew the moment when the remaining man guessed where they were hiding. He taunted them, taking pleasure in the fact that they were trapped. He knew he could take his time exacting revenge on the man who had so far bettered him, even after being blinded by his bullet. Beating the truth out of the old doctor had helped to get rid of some of his pent up frustration at Johnny Lancer but now the moment had come to vent his anger on the man himself.
Spotting the lamp he decided to make things a little more uncomfortable for his intended victims and, using the oil, he set fire to the old wooden cupboard which straddled the cellar entrance. As the fire took hold he whooped and hollered like a madman, relishing the thought of ridding himself of the thorn in his side.
In the cellar smoke started to invade the small space. Johnny could smell it even before Mattie could see it and he immediately felt as if the walls were closing in on him. The feeling of suffocation caused by his blindness now turned into the real fear that he would succumb to the effects of the smoke before he even had a chance to fire a shot. Physical suffocation, rather than mental, now seemed a distinct possibility.
Mattie pressed her body against Johnny’s, needing his nearness to quell the rising panic that she was feeling. Johnny felt her panic and vowed to do his best to protect her while trying desperately to conquer his own fear.
Scott and Murdoch arrived at Lem’s shack at full pelt, their anxiety to get to Johnny fuelled by Doc Poovy’s description of his injuries. The thought of Johnny blind and at the mercy of three men who would stop at nothing to get what they wanted filled them both with dread.
As father and son pulled their mounts to a stop they noticed the three horses already tied up at the hitching rail and also the body of a man just outside the door. The momentary relief caused by seeing that one of the men had been disabled was soon forgotten as a voice could be heard and flames were visible from inside the shack.
Not waiting for Murdoch to dismount Scott was down from his horse and running into the shack, thinking only of his brother’s safety. As he ran through the door he saw a man that he recognized as Slate Meek feeding flames, which were already at waist height, with the kerosene from a lamp. Meek was so absorbed with his deadly game that he didn’t hear Scott enter.
In an instant Scott realized where Johnny was and the danger that he was in. In that same instant Scott raised his gun and shot the lamp out of Meek’s hand, causing him to yell out in pain. Meek was then unceremoniously shoved to the floor where he stayed holding his injured hand and cursing every last Lancer to hell.
Scott was making short work of dousing the flames when Murdoch finally barged in through the door, nearly falling over Slate Meek lying across the threshold. Seeing that Scott had the fire under control Murdoch took hold of Meek and shoved him outside. Quickly grabbing the rope from his horse Murdoch tied him to the hitching rail. He didn’t want the man to be on the loose and he didn’t want him anywhere near Johnny.
Once this task was completed to Murdoch’s satisfaction he entered the shack a second time yelling Johnny’s name. Seeing that Scott was moving the now singed cupboard that covered the entrance to the cellar Murdoch moved to help him. By this time both men were calling out to Johnny, hoping to hear a response.
Being careful to keep their heads out of the way of any gunfire that might come from the cellar, Murdoch and Scott practically fought over who would be the first to see what was happening below. To their relief it was obvious that Johnny had recognized their voices and was not trying to blow their heads off. A broad smile spread across the faces of the two men as they peered down into the smoky cellar’s depths and Murdoch spoke for both of them when he said, “ boy, am I glad to see you”.
Father and son watched as Johnny lowered his gun and turned to put his arms around Mattie, at the same time telling her that the ordeal was over. Both men waited anxiously for Johnny to compose himself and climb out of the cellar. They badly needed to see Johnny up close to assess his condition, having heard nothing but bad reports from the doctor back in Hard Luck.
Johnny released Mattie from his arms and quickly explained that the two men in the room above were his father and brother. He then urged her to climb out of the cellar ahead of him, which she did, encouraged by the two smiling faces looking down on her.
Murdoch and Scott helped her as she reached the top and got her seated on the small cot. They could see the many questions in her eyes, questions that they knew she was unable to ask.
“Are you OK Mattie?” asked Murdoch. When she gave a quick nod he continued, trying to reassure the girl, “Everything’s going to be OK; we’ll answer your questions once we see to Johnny.” Mattie nodded again and Murdoch turned back to help Scott.
Mattie was happy to let Johnny’s father and brother take over. She felt the need to stay close but she also felt the relief of letting somebody else take responsibility for the safety of this man, who had come to mean so much to her in such a short time. She was exhausted and grateful for these two capable men who could now shoulder the worry.
Johnny climbed wearily to the top of the ladder and, as he reached the top, he started to feel his way around with his hands. Exchanging anxious glances Murdoch and Scott stepped forward and each firmly grasped one of Johnny’s arms. At the unexpected touch Johnny jumped and clumsily tried to pull his arms out of their grasp, almost falling backwards down into the cellar.
Realising that he or Scott should have spoken before touching Johnny, Murdoch quickly said, “It’s OK son, it’s just me and Scott, let us help you”. Feeling slightly foolish for letting his nerves get the better of him Johnny allowed himself to be guided up the last steps of the ladder and onto solid ground.
Neither Scott nor Murdoch wanted to relinquish their hold on Johnny as they feared that their support was the only thing keeping him from falling flat on his face. He looked pale and shaky and not at all like the confident ‘self sufficient’ young man who had walked out of the great room all those hours ago, with a cheeky wave and a spring in his step. His usually expressive blue eyes were kept closed, as if that allowed him some comfort, because opening them would confirm his worst fears.
Trying to rein in his galloping thoughts Johnny asked, “How did you know . . . . .?”
Murdoch answered, “We rode into Hard Luck and found Doc Poovy. He explained what had happened and where Mattie had taken you.”
“Was the Doc OK?”
“He tried his best to keep your location from those men, but they beat it out of him. We made sure he was taken care of before we left him. He’ll be fine.”
Johnny bowed his head and nodded. “He didn’t want Mattie to come with me but it sounds like he helped as much as he could.” This said with regret for the suffering that the kindly old doctor had had to endure.
Then Johnny’s head snapped up as if he’d suddenly remembered something very important.
“What is it son?” asked Murdoch.
“Mattie . . . . is she OK?”
Murdoch put his free hand on Johnny’s shoulder and squeezed. “She’s fine Johnny and don’t worry, we’ll make sure she’s taken care of.”
Hearing this Johnny realized that he could finally let his guard down and allow his family to take over. Mattie was safe and Murdoch and Scott would ensure that she remained that way.
Lifting a shaky hand to his head Johnny said, “I think I need to sit down for a spell, my head hurts some.”
Mattie took charge and led the two men with their precious burden through to the bed, which Johnny had occupied earlier. Once there they lowered Johnny onto the bed and started to lift his legs so that he could lie down. He was having none of it though and tried to put up a feeble resistance to their efforts.
Sensing that Johnny would probably be more likely to comply without an audience, Murdoch suggested that Mattie could show him where to find the makings for coffee and possibly something more substantial. At the very least he felt that Johnny should be given some water.
Although loathe to leave Johnny’s side, Mattie saw the sense of Murdoch’s suggestion and allowed herself to be gently steered into the other room. As Murdoch followed her he looked at Scott, raising his eyebrows and tilting his head towards Johnny. The message was loud and clear; get your brother settled so that he can rest.
Scott, who had remained silent up to this point, spoke quietly, “Come on Johnny, you need to lie down before you fall down.”
“I can’t, I don’t want to sleep.”
“Why not little brother, I can see that you’re beyond exhausted and must have an almighty headache. Where’s the harm in lying back and resting?” Scott reasoned.
Johnny paused and tried to explain. “Every time I wake up I have to face being blind all over again. It scares me Scott.”
Scott felt something cold reach out and squeeze his heart. For his strong, independent brother to actually admit to fear was a very rare occurrence. It stirred something in Scott that he hadn’t felt so strongly since the day that Johnny was shot from his horse by Day Pardee. That something was the need to protect his brother and make his hurts go away.
Trying to sound unaffected by Johnny’s chilling admission Scott quickly moved to place pillows behind him on the bed and said, “Well at least sit back and try and relax, you’re waving around like a sapling in a strong breeze!”
This caused a small wan smile to appear on Johnny’s face and a softly spoken, “OK.”
Scott felt pleased with this minor victory and he helped Johnny scoot back against the pillows and lifted his legs onto the bed.
Murdoch chose that moment to appear at the door with a mug of water for Johnny, which he quickly placed within Scott’s reach. Looking into his elder son’s eyes he silently asked if his help was needed. In reply he received a barely discernible shake of the head. Trusting Scott to deal with his obviously fragile younger son Murdoch quietly withdrew.
“Murdoch?” Johnny inquired.
“Yes, he’s brought you some water,” Scott replied.
“’Kay,” said Johnny, but he made no move to drink.
“Jelly here?” Johnny suddenly asked.
“He should be here soon. We found a wagon a short distance away and the ever practical Jelly decided to commandeer it so that you could travel home in comfort.”
Scott thought he saw a split second’s rebellion cross Johnny’s face at the thought of travelling in the wagon, but then it was gone. This told Scott more about how Johnny was feeling than any words could have.
“What do you think of Mattie? I already know she’s pretty, I saw her face with my hands.” Johnny said, seeming to want to talk in order to keep his mind away from darker thoughts.
Scott marveled at Johnny’s words and, even though he sensed that his brother was trying to keep himself awake, he nevertheless decided to play along.
“From what I’ve seen and heard I think she’s a very resourceful young lady and we should be very thankful to her for helping you.”
“I wouldn’t have made it without her and I want her to come back to Lancer with me,” Johnny said. The choice of his words left no doubt in Scott’s mind that Johnny’s feelings for Mattie were more than just gratitude.
Knowing that Johnny had developed strong feelings for Mattie in such a short time and under such difficult circumstances made Scott doubt that their relationship really had a future. In the harsh light of day when the couple would have to face the difficulties created by Mattie’s inability to talk and, possibly, Johnny’s inability to see, things could change dramatically. Scott already worried that his brother could be badly hurt by the outcome.
Johnny didn’t notice his brother’s hesitation to comment further and instead he felt around beside him on the bed until he found the doll that Mattie had pressed into his hand, seemingly a lifetime before. He picked it up and held it to his face, smiling as he did so.
Scott looked on silently. If the situation hadn’t been so serious he would have laughed out loud at the sight of his tough ex-gunfighter brother holding a scruffy rag doll with a silly grin on his face. As it was it made him realize just how young and vulnerable Johnny could appear when his guard was down.
Any further conversation was prevented when Murdoch came back bearing a cup of coffee for himself and Scott. The worried father noted with satisfaction that Scott had managed to get his brother to at least sit back on the bed and was just handing him the mug of water.
Murdoch decided to let Scott continue to take care of his brother but before he left his sons he said, “Mattie’s getting some much needed sleep John, and I suggest you do the same. At first light tomorrow we’ll head back to Lancer, so you need to be rested son.”
Johnny heard the commanding tone of his father’s words and decided to try to ‘obey’. After drinking his fill from the mug he slid further down the bed and laced his fingers across his stomach.
Scott looked into the tired face of his brother and could see that he was fighting his body’s need for sleep. He knew that he had to do something to allay the fears that Johnny had confessed to earlier.
Scott spoke quietly. “I’m here Johnny, and I’ll be here when you wake. You won’t be alone with your fear any more. Once you are rested and stronger we’ll take you and Mattie back to Lancer where you’ll both be safe. Please brother, trust me to help you and get some rest.”
Johnny heard the concern in his brother’s voice and knew that he couldn’t refuse his request. With a sigh and a slight nod of his head he gave up the fight to stay awake.
Scott watched as Johnny’s eyes closed and sleep overcame him. ‘Big Brother’ then settled down to be there, as promised, for Johnny when he awoke.
As he watched over Johnny, the brother that he loved more than he ever thought possible, Scott offered up a silent prayer that his sight would be restored and that he wouldn’t be hurt any further by what was to come. In his heart though, Scott felt that at least one of those prayers would not be answered.