The Longest Night
By Sue S.
He could not go to bed. There would be no point for he knew it would be impossible to sleep. Murdoch sat in the shadowy darkness watching the dying embers of the fire, his heart heavy with despair. A few hours ago, he had heard the devastating news that Scott was going to return to Boston with his grandfather. Ever since Harlan Garrett had arrived, Murdoch had been worrying about his former father-in-law’s purpose for his visit. Now the thing that he had been dreading all along was going to happen. What the hell had Garrett said to his son to make him reach his decision? Scott’s face had been a picture of misery when he had appeared with his grandfather earlier that evening to tell that them he was leaving in the morning. Murdoch was at a loss to understand it, but it seemed that there was nothing he could do to prevent it.
Scott had been lost to him twenty-four years ago – taken as a babe by the same man who was going to snatch him away from his side again. It was too cruel. He was only just getting to know his eldest son, who was so much like his long dead mother. The guilt that Murdoch had been harbouring for years had reasserted itself again that very afternoon when Scott had returned from his ride with Julie Dennison and had asked him why he had never come to Boston and claim him as his son. Murdoch had told him that it would be better not to dredge up the past, but that was not Scott had wanted to hear. The hurt and anger in his blue eyes had shaken Murdoch, but he had been at a loss to know how to deal with it. Had his reluctance to tell his son anything been the catalyst to bring about Scott’s decision to go, or was there something else?
In hindsight, perhaps he should have told Scott about his visit to Boston. He had gone there with the firm intention to take his son home to Lancer. It had been Scott’s fifth birthday and he was the centre of attention at his party. Murdoch never forgot the raw emotion in his stomach when he saw his son for the first time in his life. The golden-haired little boy had the face of an angel and he looked so happy playing with his friends. Harlan had condescended to introduce the boy, saying he was merely a friend and Scott had politely held out his hand in greeting. Taking that small hand in his own large palm, Murdoch’s heart had surged with love and he had just wanted to grab the child up and run off with him. However, he had smiled in return and said he was pleased to meet him before the boy was ushered back to the party. Yes, he was grateful that Scott was safe and well-cared for, but he should have been growing up at Lancer with him, not within his grandfather’s stiff and formal household.
In the end, Murdoch had returned home alone, with all hope of getting his son back dashed. Garrett had threatened to drag the boy through the courts and uphold his legal guardianship. Although the ranch was starting to thrive, Murdoch knew he did not have the resources to fight his former father-in-law and he had had to admit defeat. Now it looked like he had to do the same again. Scott was a grown man and had to make his own decisions in life, but Murdoch knew his son had made the wrong choice and would regret it. His eldest son had been happy here; he had seen it in his eyes. He had fit in almost effortlessly with the very different lifestyle out West. Something, however, had happened to force him to come to this painful decision to return. Harlan Garrett had won out again. That was evident from the triumphant smile on his face that evening. Scott would leave them in a few hours time, leaving his family to wonder why. Murdoch closed his eyes as the hot tears threatened to fall. He had lost Scott again and this time, it might be forever.
He paced. That was what Johnny did whenever he was angry or upset and at the moment he was both. Scott was leaving, going back to Boston probably for good and he might never see his brother again. When his brother had told them that evening, Johnny could scarcely believe what he was hearing. He had been dozing in front of the fire, his game of checkers with Jelly forgotten, when Scott had come with his grandfather into the room. Hearing the news, Johnny had sat up immediately and stared in disbelief at his brother. When Scott had excused himself, Johnny was hard on his heels, but not before he cast a furious glance at Harlan Garrett.
Racing up the stairs to Scott’s bedroom, he found that his brother had already locked the door to deny him access. Shouting and banging loudly had done no good at all. Scott refused to let him in and told him to go away. Hurt and impotent with rage, Johnny’s first instinct was to go back downstairs and smash the smug grin right off old man Garrett’s face. However, common sense prevailed and after a few more attempts to speak to his brother ended in failure, Johnny had retired to his own room where he tried to fathom out the reason for Scott’s sudden decision.
It had to be something to do with Garrett’s visit. There was no other explanation. Scott had been in fine form that morning, eager to go riding with the lovely Julie, his former fiancée. However, he detected a distinct change of mood when his brother had returned. He had looked troubled and it was obvious that he had wanted to talk to Murdoch in private. Taking the hint, Johnny had left them to it, but he had a feeling it was about his father not claiming Scott when he was a child. He understood it had been difficult for Murdoch to find him when he was growing up in Mexico with his mother, but Johnny could not see why his father had not tried harder when it came to Scott. Had his brother’s mind been poisoned by Garrett with the idea that Murdoch did not want him? Johnny knew that was not true, but had the seeds of doubt been sewn in his Scott’s mind?
Damn it! Why couldn’t his brother talk about it? Shutting himself in his room wasn’t going to help anyone, especially Scott. In the short space of time since they had known each other, they had grown close and felt able to talk about virtually anything – virtually. There were still some things about their respective pasts which were kept within. In his former life as a gunfighter, Johnny had made it a rule never to get too attached to anyone. Worrying about someone else was a sure fire way of getting yourself killed. Meeting Scott and finding out he had a family was the turning point in Johnny’s short, but eventful life and he did not want to it to end now. He wanted his older brother by his side and he wasn’t ready to give him up. They had so much they wanted to share, but Harlan Garrett seemed determined to ruin their bond of friendship.
Johnny threw himself on his bed and stared despondently at the ceiling. In the morning he would try again to talk to Scott, although by then it would probably be too late. His brother’s bags would be packed and ready and there would be little time to say goodbye. He wondered what his father was thinking and whether he should go and speak to him. However, the hour was late and perhaps Murdoch had already gone to bed. Johnny turned irritably onto his side and shut his eyes, but he knew sleep would never come. The life he had always craved – a stable home, a family and above all, a brother, had all been taken away from him in a single day, all because of a selfish old man. Johnny would never forget or forgive Harlan Garrett. He had stolen away his brother and without Scott, any chance of future happiness.
She could not seem to stop crying. Teresa dabbed at her eyes with the white, lace handkerchief which was already soggy in her grasp. It wasn’t as though someone had died, she told herself. Scott was going back to Boston, but she would see him again, wouldn’t she? Teresa still could not believe it when he’d told them the news that evening. No explanation, only the fact he was leaving. Johnny had gone after his brother as soon as Scott had left the room, but Teresa wasn’t sure whether he’d spoken to him. Poor Murdoch had looked so lost and had closed the cover of his book with the finality of defeat written all over his face. She had gone to him after Garrett had left and put her arms around to comfort him as well as herself. He had wrapped her in his bear-like embrace and spoken soothingly in that well-loved gruff voice, but her tears had fallen just the same.
Teresa did not want Scott to go. He and Johnny were like brothers to her and being an only child, their arrival at Lancer had given her all the family she had needed since her father had been killed. She well remembered the day they had stepped off the stage in Morro Coyo, unaware then of their relationship. The surprise and shock on their faces was laughable now considering how close the two of them had become. Still it hadn’t started out that way. Teresa also recalled their altercation beside the lake where Scott’s fist had sent his brother tumbling down the slope and almost into the water. She had come between them and stopped it before the fight had escalated, although she had to admit Johnny had deserved that punch for not coming to his brother’s aid in town. Related by blood or not, they were her brothers and Teresa did not want to see either of them go.
Pummeling her pillow furiously, Teresa tried to settle into a more comfortable position in the vain attempt to drift off to sleep, She was the type of person who thought the best of people, but right now she was having some very uncharitable thoughts about Garrett. Teresa prided herself as being a good hostess and had made him and Julie Dennison welcome when they had arrived. However, Scott’s grandfather had obviously come armed with some plan to entice him back to Boston and whatever it was, it had certainly worked. By this time tomorrow, Scott and his grandfather would be heading back East and for all they knew, he might never return.
She was particularly worried what Scott’s absence would do to Johnny. Without his older brother’s stabilising influence, would the former gunfighter be tempted back to the life he once knew? Although Johnny’s relationship with his father had improved greatly since those first difficult months, the two men still had occasional disagreements and he too, might be driven to leave. Whatever the outcome, Teresa knew that life around the house would be a lot different without Scott’s quiet, understated presence and she was frightened of what the future would bring.
Without warning, she began to sob again and stuffed her wet handkerchief to her mouth in case anyone heard. Teresa felt as wretched as the day her father had been felled by Day Pardee’s bullet. True, no one had died this time, but the emptiness in her heart was just as strong and equally as painful.
Sleep never came easy to the old and tonight was no exception. Jelly sat outside his room in the courtyard, still fully clothed and wondered if anyone in the house was as wide awake as he was. Jelly had never considered himself much of a family man. He had never married and had been a bit of a drifter most of his life, turning his hand to most things, not all of them honest. Before he met the Lancers, the closest thing he ever had in the way of a family was the group of orphan boys he looked after. Thanks to the Lancers, the boys were now being cared for properly and he had come to live at the ranch, not quite a servant, more like an old family friend. He liked and respected Murdoch, adored Teresa like a daughter and in spite of their occasional teasing, was very fond of Scott and Johnny. Jelly felt especially close to Johnny. Perhaps he saw something in the young man that reminded him of those homeless little boys he had taken under his wing. Despite his notorious past, Johnny had a vulnerable, insecure side to his nature which sometimes his own father failed to recognise.
Scott was different again. Quietly confident, smart – too damn smart sometimes, and considering his rich, fancy upbringing back East, never looked down on anyone. Now the boy was leaving and Jelly was greatly saddened by the fact. That evening, he had seen the shock on both Teresa and Johnny’s faces and his heart had gone out to the younger Lancer when he got up to follow his brother out of the room. Jelly, however, had been surprised of the look of resignation on Murdoch’s face at his older son’s announcement. There had been no protest, no demanding an explanation for this decision, just a grim acceptance of the news. It was almost as though he did not care that Scott was going back to Boston. For all they knew, it might be for good, but Murdoch had stayed silent even when Teresa had gone to him for comfort. If it had been his son, Jelly would have fought to make him stay. This seemingly display of indifference puzzled him.
Jelly sighed and rose stiffly to his feet as his various aches and pains made themselves known. Crossing to his room, he shut the door behind and started to get ready for bed. What did he know anyway? Families had a funny way of showing their love and this was certainly true of the Lancers. He had no doubt that Murdoch loved both of his boys, but being without them for over twenty years, Jelly thought he would do everything in his power to make them stay. How long would it be before Johnny took himself off again, he wondered. Without his brother, the boy might lose his purpose to stay around. Jelly knew how close the two were. Sometimes they acted like fool schoolboys, he thought fondly. Johnny would miss Scott greatly and the house would be a lot gloomier without those two boys messing around.
Maybe someone had talked Scott out of it, he hoped. Johnny might have persuaded his brother to stay. There had to be a reason for this sudden decision. Even Scott’s grandfather had seemed surprised by it – or was he? He knew what Murdoch thought about his former father-in-law. Perhaps the wily old goat had something up his sleeve all along to get Scott back East. Jelly had a bad feeling about Harlan Garrett. Perhaps that’s why his elbow was acting up again. Johnny and Scott always laughed at his so-called bad feelings, but he sometimes proved them right. Jelly just hoped no one got hurt in the process and that everything would turn out all right. He climbed into bed and blew out the candle before lying down to stare up at the moon splashed ceiling. They would have to see what the new day would bring and it was no use worrying about something that might never happen. With that heartening thought in mind, Jelly Hoskins turned over and surprisingly went straight off to sleep.
He had won!
Scotty was coming home with him in the morning and there was nothing Murdoch Lancer could do about it. Harlan hummed happily to himself as he packed the last of his belongings into his case. Tomorrow he would leave this God-forsaken land and return to the refined, civilised surroundings of Boston where he belonged, where Scotty belonged. This time, he would ensure that his grandson stayed in Boston where his legacy was waiting and there would be no return to Lancer where the young man had to share his inheritance with his half-breed, gunfighter brother.
What did it matter that he had sold Scott a lie? The Degan brothers would never have convinced a court anyway. They did not have an ounce of intelligence between them. As far as Scotty was concerned his father had committed a murder and covered it up all those years ago. Harlan knew the truth of the matter, of course. Murdoch had done the right thing and gone to the law to tell them he had killed the Degan’s father in self defence. He had been cleared of all blame and case closed, but it had been a clever tool to blackmail his grandson. Scotty had to agree to return to Boston to protect his father from a murder charge – a charge which did not exist.
Harlan did not feel any remorse for what he had done. His plan to get his grandson back had been twofold when he had brought along the boy’s former fiancée Julie, had been coerced to try and persuade Scotty to return to Boston, but the young woman’s heart was not in it. In the end, it did not matter, Scotty had been convinced it was the only thing he could do to prevent his father from being convicted of murder. Things had turned out well and his grandson would never find out the truth.
The boy should never have come out to Lancer in the first place. Harlan remembered only too well when Scotty had returned home and told him that his father had made contact through a Pinkerton agent. $1000 dollars for an hour of his time, the offer had been and the boy was going to accept! It was unthinkable and the two men had argued bitterly about it at the time. For all his sensible nature, Scotty could be impulsive sometimes, no doubt inherited from his mother. Harlan could never understand why Catherine had fallen for an itinerant Scotsman with no fortune to his name over some of the most eligible bachelors in Boston. Murdoch Lancer had been the last man he had wanted to marry his only child off to and that marriage had ultimately led to her untimely death.
Yes, his grandson certainly possessed that same impulsive side all right. Scotty had defied his wishes when he had gone to California, just as he had done so when he had enlisted in the Army. Well, things would be very different from now on, Harlan thought. Scotty would never set foot on Lancer land again. He’d raised the boy for twenty-four years and loved him like a son. Murdoch Lancer did not deserve to call himself his father. He would have to be content with his half-breed boy and be done with it. Scotty was his and he aimed to keep it that way.
With a satisfied grin, Harlan got undressed and into his nightshirt before slipping into bed. Even the bed-sheets felt rough here, not like the fine Egyptian cotton ones he had at home. How could his grandson stand it, living out here in the barbaric West. No matter, he mused. He had got what he’d wanted. Harlan turned down the lamp and settled down to sleep with a contented smile on his face. Contrary to everyone else in the house, he would rest easy tonight.
His bags were packed and ready. Scott sat on the edge of the bed and eyed them dispassionately. In a few hours, he would pick them up and walk out of this house for the last time. He had no desire to go, but he appeared to have no choice in the matter. Tonight his world had been turned upside down with the shocking disclosure that his father was a murderer. Scott still couldn’t believe it, but his grandfather had presented him with two first-hand witnesses in the form of Carl and Billy Degan, who had seen Murdoch Lancer gun down their father twenty-five years ago. His grandfather had told him that Murdoch would remain a free man, if Scott agreed to return to Boston with him, and although he realised he was effectively being blackmailed, he had agreed.
No one, barring perhaps Murdoch himself, would understand his decision to leave and Scott had never felt so alone. He had fled the Great Room so quickly after he had announced his intention and he had only just reached the sanctuary of his room and locked the door when he heard Johnny’s urgent knocking. Scott could not bring himself to talk to his brother – not now. How could he tell his brother that their father was a killer? In view of his own violent past, the revelation could have terrible repercussions on the younger man and Scott could not put his brother through that. No, it was best that Johnny remained unaware of the real reason why he was leaving.
Murdoch’s reaction to his news was also disturbing. Scott knew that his father and grandfather did not see eye to eye and because of that, he thought Murdoch would voice his protests in no uncertain terms. However, his father had remained surprisingly silent. Could this be read as an admission of guilt over his crime? Murdoch kept most things bottled up about the past, too many things. Perhaps he didn’t really care that his son was leaving at all. That afternoon, he had told Scott not to make any decision out of anger. Well, he was angry, hurt and confused and there was no one he could talk to.
Scott groaned quietly and scrubbed his hands through his blond hair before rising to cross to the window. All was silent outside and the bright moon cast its silvery glow across the corral and outbuildings. Although he could not see the land beyond, Scott could imagine it in his mind’s eye. The mountains and lush pastures below, the clear streams and wild flowers which grew in abundance after the summer rains. God, he loved this land and could understand why his father had come to live here. His mother too, although she hadn’t lived long enough to enjoy it. He hated the thought of going back to the city, with its noise, dirt and countless people bustling about intent on their own business and never a thought for anyone else. Coming out here had been like a breath of fresh air and Scott had never wanted to leave. Life would be intolerable back in Boston, without his family, his friends on the ranch and particularly, without Johnny. Scott feared for his younger brother and was convinced he would leave too. They might never see each other again and that idea terrified him.
Turning back to his bed, he cast an eye at his pocket watch. Ten minutes past one. In seven hours time he would be gone from this beloved place. Scott realised he had to try and get some sleep, but even as he undressed and slipped under the covers, he knew he never would. Why did his grandfather have to uncover this dark secret of his father’s past? Scott had been so happy with his life at Lancer and now it was all in ruins. Scott Lancer, survivor of a bloody Civil War and notorious prison camp, buried his face into the pillows and wept.