Scott was quiet, too quiet, and it
was making everyone nervous. It wasn’t that Scott was naturally noisy
and loud, but he was always there, making his presence known. Now
he was there, but not really. “What’s the matter with Scott?” was
the question on the minds of all the other Lancers.
Jelly had always found Scott an appreciative
audience for his meals. Scott couldn’t always recognize what Jelly
served, but he never failed to make a good meal and to thank Jelly for
the hard work. “That boy has some manners”, thought Jelly, “even
if he is a greenhorn.” But now, Scott just pushed the food around
on his place, eating only a few bites each meal. He still thanked
Jelly but in such a manner as to be casual habit rather than real appreciation
for hard work. Jelly tried to remember some of Scott’s favorite foods,
tried to stir him into argument by mocking his manners; but Scott refused
to argue or respond. “Too quiet”, thought Jelly, “too quiet.
That boy is sickening for something.” And Jelly stewed.
Scott was too quiet. Theresa missed the
charming, gallant young man who treated her like a sister part of the time,
and flirted mightily with her the rest of the time. She worked hard
at the sister relationship, trying to keep an eye on both boys, and making
sure they were comfortable in the house. Even more important, she
kept an eye on their activities, both work and play. Both tended
to work too hard and, certainly, to play too hard. Usually, Scott
had a few minutes each day to recap his activities to her. He still
would, if pushed, but his eyes no longer sparkled and invited her to laugh
at his “greenhorn” mistakes. Now, there was no pleasure for him in
the telling and no joy for her in the hearing.
She tried hard not to miss the flirting part of their relationship; it was not safe to enjoy that too much. Still, sometimes Scott would look at her the way a man looks at a very attractive, desirable woman and it always made her stand a little taller; made her heart beat a little faster. He still complimented her on a pretty dress, but it wasn’t the same. Scott was too quiet, and Theresa fretted.
Murdoch was still feeling his way in the
relationship with his newfound sons. He wasn’t sure how to be a father
to them, and he didn’t know how to begin to get into their heads.
But, he did know that Scott was too quiet. Johnny was the same as
always, reserved, leery of either friendship or trust, always holding back.
But Scott had seemed much more open and relaxed; he was interested in the
workings of the ranch, interested in day-to-day life in the West.
He still worked hard, but somehow, Scott’s heart wasn’t fully with them
anymore. He had put up unexpected walls and Murdoch was afraid if
he couldn’t break down those walls, Scott would wind up returning to the
comforts and familiarity of the East. So Murdoch worried.
Johnny was beginning to get angry with
Scott. After all, Scott had insisted on pushing his way into Johnny’s
life, insisted on being a brother, caring for Johnny and making Johnny
care back. Now the so-and-so was pulling away. Just as Johnny
got used to sharing things with his brother, his brother was drifting off,
too quiet and withdrawn to be a part of Johnny any more. Johnny missed
the “big brother” attitude and it made him angry to feel that way.
It wasn’t safe to trust and he trusted Scott.
Johnny tried to remember when he
first noticed the difference and it seemed to him that Scott had changed
after the last argument, if you could call that thing an argument.
Scott had casually mentioned that Thanksgiving Day was coming in about
a week, and he wondered what Jelly would be preparing for the occasion.
Johnny had snapped, “What are you taking about, that made-up holiday by
Abraham Lincoln! No way am I celebrating any holiday he proclaimed.”
Scott stared at Johnny in dismay.
“What have you got against Thanksgiving, or is it just Lincoln’s recognition
of it you object to? It’s been celebrated in New England for a hundred
years or better, well before Lincoln’s time. He just created a national
holiday for a historic event. I don't get it, Johnny. Thanksgiving
is about with family and eating good and having fun, not about Lincoln
or the war.
“Scott, I remember your saying you was
in the cavalry during the war, but you don’t know what I thought about
it or Lincoln and all, and I’m willin to bet Murdoch don’t do Thanksgiving
either. If you want, I‘ll get Jelly to let you sleep late one mornin’
and you can call it your holiday. Come up, let’s get goin’ if we’re
goin get back in time to go into town for the evening. I need a little
refreshment and a little sweeter company than you.”
As Johnny recalled, following that little exchange, Scott had gotten quiet, but surely, he wasn’t upset about a holiday. “Still”, thought Johnny, “maybe he is feeling a bit homesick for Boston and not being with his grandpa for Thanksgiving. But, to celebrate a holiday out here that Scott was used to being real fancy might not be a good comparison. Have to talk to Murdoch and see what he thinks.”
The following day, Jelly asked Johnny to
go with him to Spanish Wells to pick up some supplies. Murdoch needed
some banking done and a couple of telegrams sent, so he volunteered Scott
to go along and take care of ranch business while Johnny helped load the
wagon, not a fair division of labor as far as Johnny was concerned. As
he and Jelly finished loading the supplies, Johnny noticed a bunch of drunken
cowhands stagger out of the saloon and mount their horses, exchanging loud,
rude comments. He watched them turn to ride out of town, knowing
instinctively that they were so drunk that they would be very wild and
careless in their departure.
Out of the corner of his eye, Johnny saw
Scott across the street, also carefully eyeing the sodden group and waiting
until the coast was clear to cross the street. Scott saw the young
boy darting across the dirt street before Johnny and just as the cowhands
whooped and raced recklessly toward the edge of town. Before Johnny
had time to register the movement, Scott had raced across the street toward
the youngster, directly in the path of the plunging horses. He almost
made it, grabbing the boy and tossing him out of the path of danger while
he cleared all but one of the riders. But, the horse hit Scott’s
shoulder, tossing him in front of the hooves for an instant, and you could
hear the crack as Scott’s head hit the sidewalk. The riders raced on, not
caring or not aware of the threat they posed to people in the street.
Johnny and Jelly both ran to Scott’s prone
body and reached out to turn him over. “Easy, Johnny”, warned Jelly.
“Let’s be sure nothin is broke.” Gently they turned Scott over and
Johnny rested Scott’s head on his leg. There was a cut on Scott’s
forehead, and blood was flowing freely from it. Carefully, Jelly
checked arms, ribs and legs to be sure nothing seemed broken.
Johnny growled to one of the bystanders,
“Get the doc, fast.” Then he took out his bandana and tried to stop
the bleeding from head cut. “Come on, Scott,” he half pleaded.
“Wake up and tell us where you hurt, big brother”.
The clerk from the bank returned with the
information that the doctor was out of town and would not be back for three
to five days. Jelly and Johnny exchanged despairing glances and arrived
at the same decision. Jelly moved over to the wagon to shift the supplies
and make a place to lay Scott flat for the trip back to the ranch.
Better to have him at home with Theresa and the rest of them to look after
him than to stay in town with no doctor.
An older woman in the crowd had walked
away and came immediately back with several blankets in her arms.
She was accompanied by the boy Scott had moved out of the path of the horses,
who looked white and shaken, but carried a pillow in his hands. Johnny
recognized the lady as Mrs. Brown, who ran the small, local orphanage,
and the boy as one of the orphaned children. He briefly smiled and
laid several blankets and the pillow on the wagon floor for Scott, keeping
one blanket to cover him. “Thanks, ma’m, he said.
Mrs. Brown replied, “Scott is the one who should be thanked. Paul would have been trampled without Scott’s quick move. When he wakes, please tell him thanks for me and I will come out later to check and see how he is.”
Johnny wondered how Mrs. Brown knew Scott’s
name, but now was not the time to check on big brother’s circle of acquaintances.
Carefully, he and Jelly lifted Scott into the wagon, laying him gently
on the pillow and blankets, and then covering him with a blanket.
Scott neither moved nor made a sound. Scott and Johnny’s horses were
tied behind the wagon, and Johnny climbed in back to help cushion the rough
ride for Scott. Then Jelly slowly started the wagon toward Lancer.
Murdoch came out to greet the approaching
group, and was startled to see the horses following the wagon. His
first thought was that Johnny had met someone else who wanted to test Johnny
Madrid’s gun fighting prowess and Johnny had been hurt. He was dismayed
to see Scott so still and quiet, still bleeding slightly from the head
wound. He was more upset to know that there would be no doctor for
several days. Yelling Theresa’s name, he and Johnny carried Scott
to his room and pulled down the covers. Theresa ran in, took one
look, and started giving instructions.
“Get him out of his clothes and boots, but no nightshirt until we have time to check his other injuries. I’ll get some water and bandages for that head wound. Come on, get busy.”
As Theresa checked Scott’s body for other
injuries, Murdoch cleaned the cut and bandaged it tightly. He knew
head wounds bled profusely, but it looked so serious. He watched
as Theresa and Johnny felt arms, legs, and ribs again to make sure nothing
was broken. All of them would have felt much better if Scott had
made any sound or movement, but he remained inert, only his breathing showing
signs of life.
When Scott had been checked over and put
into a nightshirt, they exchanged glances. “He’s goin be a sore boy
for a few days, but I don’t see much wrong that we can help.” stated Jelly.
“Now all we got to do is wait for him to wake up, and that may take awhile.
I’m goin get some grub started and some coffee made. Which one of
you’s plannin on taking first watch.”
“Me,” said three voices at the same time.
“Me,” stated Johnny again, roughly. “I shoulda seen what was goin to happen
and done something. I knew those guys were goin out that way, too
drunk to think and ride.” Besides, it’s goin take all of us takin
turns, unless he wakes up soon.”
The afternoon dragged on with no change in Scott’s state; then dusk fell and then darkness. Theresa came in and urged Johnny to get some supper while she sat with Scott. They bathed his head, and talked to him, trying to get some response. Close to midnight, Murdoch came in and insisted Theresa get some rest. He sat beside his son and thought about the past and the future he was building with his newfound family. And he grieved and he prayed and he worried through the night.
About dawn, Scott began to stir restlessly.
He tossed his head and moaned just a bit. Finally, he struggled to
open his heavy eyelids. In the misty, soft light of dawn, he saw
his father sitting by the bed, with his head bowed. Unable to tell
if Murdoch was sleeping or just thinking, Scott spoke softly. “Murdoch,
Murdoch heard a soft whisper on the edges
of his consciousness, then jerked his head up to see his son watching him
from the bed. “Scott, how are you? How is you head? Does anything
hurt? What do you need?”
Scott smiled to hear the rush of questions,
and said, “Some water, please.” Murdoch lifted Scott’s head and gave
him a couple of sips of water. Then Murdoch asked again, “How do
you feel, son? What hurts?”
Scott answered briefly, “My head hurts
and I am sore all over. Was Paul hurt by the way I threw him off
Murdoch had heard the story of the orphanage
and the pillow, so was able to answer honestly “No, the boy was not harmed
at all, according to Johnny. Brought a pillow for you to use on the
way home, I hear. Now, you just rest here and I’ll let the others
know you are awake. Can I get you somethin to eat? Jelly can
fix whatever you want.”
Scott said “No, nothing,” closed his eyes
and drifted back to sleep. Murdoch went out to let the others know
Scott had woken up and seemed not too bad, considering. Before he
saw the others, he leaned briefly against the wall and offered a word of
gratitude for his son’s well being.
The next time Scott awoke, Johnny was sitting with him. Scott woke slowly, opening then quickly shutting his eyes again against the bright light. Johnny pulled the curtain, and then lifted Scott’s head to give him a drink. Still silent, Johnny put a cool cloth over Scott’s head, and asked softly “How ye feeling, big brother? Didn’t anybody back East ever tell you galloping horses are tougher than you; they’ll beat you every time.”
Scott grinned easily, knowing full well it would be a long time before he heard the end of this tale from Johnny. He stretched gingerly, checking to see what hurt besides his head. He was sore all over, but no sharp pains assailed him, so he knew how fortunate he had been, challenging those horses. Still, “Paul was safe,” he remembered Murdoch saying. That was the main issue. Sore bodies got better fast, particularly when there was work to be done.
As Scott made a motion to rise, Theresa
walked through the door and shrieked “Where do you think you’re going,
Scott? You stay flat in that bed until the doctor sees you.
Jelly has something ready for you to eat too.”
Scott started to shake his head and argue,
but the first movement of the head decided him to be still a few hours
longer. Anyway, he probably needed to eat and maybe a few more hours
of rest, before he started the argument about getting up again.
At some point during the next few days,
Johnny took time to mention Thanksgiving Day and Scott’s desire to celebrate
to Murdoch, Theresa and Jelly. To his amazement, they all thought
it was a good idea. Murdoch mumbled that he had not had a real reason
to celebrate before this year (a remark Johnny let pass as he had no answer)
and Jelly started his cooking immediately. Theresa planned a pretty
table and a pretty dress to wear and they all kept a close eye on Scott,
making sure he did not read too much or try to get up too soon. The
small lines between his eyes told them he continued to have a headache
and his slow movements confirmed his soreness. Still, he was doing
much better and chomping at the bit to be allowed up again. Finally,
Murdoch promised he could come down for Thanksgiving dinner, if he behaved.
Johnny saw the light in Scott’s eyes with the knowledge that the family
was having a Thanksgiving celebration and again he wondered at its importance
On Thanksgiving Day, Johnny went in to check on Scott. “Want some help up, Scott?” he asked. “How about some help shaving?” continued Johnny with a devilish grin. He remembered Scott’s protests as first Theresa, and then Murdoch tried to shave him, as he sat in bed. Scott was not a trusting soul, especially with someone else handling the razor near his throat.
“I can manage” glowered Scott, as he casually
tossed a pillow in Johnny’s face. “I’ve been dressing myself for
years, little brother, in spite of what you may think about soft Eastern
dudes. Then Scott grinned too, to see Johnny in a much-hated tie
and dress shirt. “Who set the dress code, as if I didn’t know” Scott
chuckled. He had heard all about the dress Theresa planned to wear
and knew she meant all the men to match her style, like it or not.
But, he knew the shirt and tie would become both Johnny and Murdoch, not
to mention himself. All in all, they would make a good-looking party
at the special dinner.
Gathered around the bountiful table, Murdoch
allowed his eye to gaze proudly and his sons and almost daughter, all resplendent
in “best” attire. Even Jelly had made an effort with himself, as
well as with the food. The smells were wonderful; the table had a
tablecloth and flowers, and the best dishes, which never saw the light
of day. Murdoch touched the dishes gently, remembering the choosing
of them with Catherine, Scott’s mother. Now, their son sat tall and
strong (if still a bit too pale) at the table, watching with amusement
and a kind of touching pride, his half brother and Theresa, as they bantered
back and forth. Murdoch felt a strange mixture of pride in family,
regret for days lost that could never be regained, and gratitude that he
had forgotten his own pride and sought his sons finally.
As they prepared to eat, Johnny looked
at Scott and finally voiced his own apprehension about the entire holiday.
“Scott, do you miss the fancy celebration you had at your grandfather’s?
Jelly did a nice job, but I’m willin’ to bet this ain’t what you are used
to in Boston.”
Scott dropped his eyes and for a minute it looked like he wouldn’t answer. Then his eyes met Johnny’s, and then passed to Theresa and Jelly, finally resting on Murdoch. “Grandfather always said Thanksgiving and Christmas were my mother’s favorite holidays. He once said she made the entire season sparkle with her decorations and entertaining and trying to help others. He showed me a picture of her in her Christmas dress, the year before she met you, Murdoch.”
Then Scott took a deep breath and explained
further. “Grandfather was always so angry and bitter and sorrowful
about Mother’s dying that we didn’t celebrate the seasons at my house.
The other kids talked about their holidays and things, but Grandfather
basically shut up the house, refused to entertain or even sit down for
Thanksgiving or Christmas with me. I was a constant reminder of what
he lost, and he didn’t want me under foot at that season. “
So, you see”, Scott, continued, looking
at his family, “this is the first Thanksgiving I ever had with family of
my own. I was invited to friends’ sometimes, but that’s not the same
thing. Then he smiled broadly and lifted his wine glass “To the first
of many Lancer Thanksgivings,” he proposed and the rest of the family raised
their glasses in salute.
Johnny knew he had to rethink “his lucky brother” view and Murdoch again felt regret for past decisions, but Jelly’s invitation to “fall to before I throw it away’ made all of them laugh as they enjoyed the food immensely, and basked in each other’s company, the family together, giving thanks for each other.