WHN for High Riders
Disclaimer: The Lancer name and
characters are the creation of others. This story is written for entertainment
purposes only, and no infringement on the copyright is intended.
The attorney blotted
the ink on the three signatures and straightened up to shake hands with each
of the men before him. “Congratulations, gentlemen. You are now
equal owners of Lancer.”
Murdoch beamed at his sons and grasped the lawyer’s hand. “Thank you,
Mr. Randall.” The contract made it all legal, but Murdoch had known
in his heart that they were co-owners of the ranch since the day his sons
agreed to risk their lives to fight Day Pardee. It just took him a
little longer to realize that his dark-haired son was doing things his own
way—not riding with the high riders but riding away from them, trying to
reach the safety of home. I almost lost him. He shuddered
at the memory of the awful moment just weeks ago when Johnny was shot.
“I’m so happy, Murdoch,” Teresa said, enthusiasm glowing on her upturned
“Shall we celebrate?” Murdoch offered his arm to the young woman.
“I’m buying dinner at the café. Will you join us, Mr. Randall?”
The attorney declined, and Murdoch was secretly glad. This is an
important moment for my family. I never dreamed it would feel so good.
“That would be wonderful, Sir,” Scott said, a grin playing across his lips.
Murdoch regarded his oldest son with pride. Scott was adjusting well
to ranch life and brought an analytical precision to the tasks and chores
he was asked to handle. Murdoch knew Teresa was enjoying Scott’s excellent
manners and educated ways. While Johnny was laid up recovering from
Pardee’s bullet, Murdoch had spent considerable time with his Boston-raised
son touring the ranch and teaching him the books. Scott is smart
and will appreciate what part ownership in Lancer means.
Murdoch escorted Teresa to the small café across the street from the
attorney’s office in Spanish Wells. He glanced back to make sure the
boys were following, and smiled at Scott’s obvious delight. You’d
almost think he had a secret he wasn’t sharing. With each step,
the blond seemed to bound forward with an extra burst of energy.
He’s been like this all week. Seemed like he couldn’t wait until today.
Guess owning part of the ranch sits well with him.
The quick glance at Johnny told a different story. Murdoch was pleased
his youngest son had accepted the Lancer name, although Murdoch had not been
sure he would. That was why he offered the boy the opportunity to sign
the contract as Johnny Madrid.
The bemused look on Johnny’s face worried Murdoch. He still was struggling
to figure out his youngest son. Murdoch wondered about the inner strength
that was an integral part of the boy. Not once during his painful recovery
from Pardee’s bullet did Johnny cry out in agony. Murdoch knew many
tough men, and most of them had whimpered or moaned when seriously injured.
But not Johnny. Silent, strong. Yet, something about the
former gunfighter spoke of vulnerability and hurt. Murdoch had read
the Pinkerton report and knew some of the details of Johnny’s background.
It was a harrowing existence of poverty, pain, callousness, and death.
Does he understand what being a ranch owner involves? Does it mean
anything to him?
At the entrance to the café, Murdoch opened the door and waited for
Teresa and Scott to enter. When Johnny approached, Murdoch said in
a low voice, “Thank you, Son.”
“You’re the one holding the door open. Think I’m supposed to be thanking
you.” Johnny’s blue eyes sparkled and he smiled playfully.
“I mean, thank you for signing as--”
“No need for thanks,“ Johnny interrupted. “I’d make my mark any way
you want to own something like the estancia.”
Murdoch saw the smirk on Johnny’s face and did not know how to react or respond.
Does all the hard work that built Lancer mean anything to him? Or
is he baiting me? Understanding Johnny was going to take time,
beginning with learning to read the signals that held the real meaning of
During dinner, Teresa kept the conversation going with a steady flow of details
about how the ranch was going to be different with three men in the house.
Murdoch listened to her stream of words with fatherly interest. He
thought briefly of the other agreement the lawyer had drawn up, the one to
provide for Teresa in the future. Murdoch had signed that paper privately
a week before. Teresa would worry if she realized he had planned for
what would happen after his death, so only the attorney knew of that document’s
Scott fidgeted in his seat during the meal and excused himself when the plates
were cleared. “I have an errand to take care of before we head home.
It will only take a moment, and then we can start for Lancer. Is that
all right with you, Murdoch?”
“Sure, Scott. We’ll have a cup of coffee and wait for you.”
Scott shot out of his seat and hurried to the door.
“Any idea what’s gotten into him, Johnny?” Murdoch watched his youngest
son shrug his shoulders, then grimace slightly at the motion. Murdoch
suspected Johnny was still in more discomfort than he would admit to them.
“He sure is excited about something,” Teresa added.
“Murdoch,” Johnny said in a soft drawl. He shifted position slowly,
easing his back away from the wooden chair. The lingering pain flashed
across his eyes for just a moment. “Mind if I pass on the coffee?
It’s Friday night, and I told a few of the hands I’d meet them over at the
saloon for a drink. And Lady Luck’s calling my name.” He removed
a $20 gold piece from his pocket and flipped it in the air, catching it in
Murdoch nodded. “Don’t overdo things. That bullet did a lot of
damage, and it will take time to heal.”
“Tell me about it.” A devilish grin settled on Johnny’s face. He rose
a bit stiffly and settled his hat over his dark hair. “A little tequila
is not what the doctor ordered, but it takes the sharp edge off the healing.
Don’t wait up.”
When Johnny left, Murdoch sighed. Making the boys equal owners in Lancer
had been a big decision and he hoped they understood the magnitude of what
he had offered and they had accepted.
“Don’t worry, Murdoch. He’ll be fine,” Teresa said.
“I guess being a father means you worry about them whenever you can’t see
them.” Murdoch watched through the café window as Johnny crossed
the street and walked down the boardwalk to the saloon. Turning back
to Teresa, he lifted his coffee cup. “It won’t be as good as yours,
but how about a piece of pie while we wait for Scott?” He smiled at
her bobbing head. “Now, what do you suppose he’s up to?”
The afternoon sun
blazed in the sky above Morro Coyo, and Johnny paused outside the small mission
church near the edge of town. Discretely, he glanced up and down the
street and, content that no one was watching him, opened the large wooden
door. Without being seen, he slipped inside the church.
The cool silence of the dim interior surrounded him, and he removed his hat
quickly. He felt as though he had stepped back in time, back to the
days when he was a niño holding his mamá’s hand as they entered
the sacred place.
“Juanito,” his mamá whispered, “use your right hand.”
Johnny smiled at the memory and shifted the basket of apples to his left
hand. With his right thumb, he made the sign of the cross on his forehead,
lips and over his heart. En el nombre del Señor…
It had been many years. Too many.
Slowly, Johnny strolled down the center aisle toward the front of the church.
The jingle of his spurs rippled through the stillness, and he stepped lighter,
loath to break the peaceful calm of the place. He inhaled the heavy
scent of air that had not been disturbed in some time.
A row of votive candles burned before a painting of the Madonna. His
eyes were drawn to the picture and he stood before it, lost in thought.
Johnny bent and placed the basket of apples on the floor. A twinge
of tightness shot across his back and he sighed. Removing an envelope
from his pocket, Johnny fingered the paper for a moment, then slid it into
the basket under the apples. Hope the padre understands my note
Stepping back from the basket, Johnny studied the painting of the young mother
smiling at the happy baby she held in her arms. “Mamá,” he whispered,
“how did I go so wrong?” He lowered his head at the thought of the
deaths that marked his soul. He would not be forgiven for the deeds
he had done. He knew that, and he owned that guilt, lived with it every
With all that I’ve done, how can I be offered so much now? The father
I hated for all those years has opened his home to me. A brother I
never even knew I had. Johnny shook his head. Sweet Teresa.
A place to call my own. So much, so much that I don’t deserve.
Reluctantly, he backed away from the painting. “Mamá, you always
said to give is to be blessed twice. Once, in knowing you did a good
thing, and the second time, by those who benefit. Guess I need all
the blessings I can get.” He took one last look at the basket and turned
away. Memories of his mamá delivering a loaf of bread she had
baked for the village padre, when they had so little for themselves, brought
an unexpected tear to his eye. He blinked it away and slipped out of
Scott flicked the
reins over the matched pair of bay geldings, and the surrey rolled forward
smoothly. He sat proudly in the front of the four-seat buggy, complete
with tasseled fringe and large yellow wheels. Always practical, Scott
had noticed Lancer lacked a carriage big enough to carry four passengers.
He remembered how Johnny had ridden to Lancer in the back of the buckboard,
sitting on the luggage, that first day they met. He won’t have to
do that anymore.
Even for the trip to the lawyer’s office yesterday, Johnny and I had to ride
our horses because there was no room to ride in the buckboard with Murdoch
“Come on, boys. Let’s see how you move.” Scott slapped the reins
across the bays, and they sprang into a lively trot. He was pleased
with his purchase, and the ride home from Spanish Wells seemed to take no
time at all. As he pulled the team to a halt before the hacienda, Scott
sat ramrod straight and smiled broadly.
Murdoch ambled over from the barn, his eyebrows drawn together in a questioning
expression. “What’s this all about, Son?”
A few seconds later, Teresa raced from the house and brushed her hands along
the soft seat cushions. “Scott, it’s beautiful.”
Leaping down from the surrey, Scott glanced from one to the other.
“This is my investment in Lancer. I figured that as successful ranchers
we should travel in style when we need to.”
Murdoch rubbed the flank of the nearest bay. “They look like fine animals.”
“And they’re a matched team,” Scott said, offering the reins to his father.
“Care to take them for a try?”
“Certainly.” Murdoch climbed into the front seat.
“I want to go too.” Teresa laughed, taking Scott’s hand as he helped
her up beside his father.
Scott jumped into the rear seat and leaned back to enjoy the ride.
“They are well-behaved horses. Somebody did a nice job training them.”
With a snap of the reins, Murdoch drove the surrey along the main entrance
road, nodding his head at the responsiveness of the team. “Very nice,
Scott. That time in the cavalry gave you a good eye for horses.”
“Thank you, Sir.” Scott enjoyed his father’s approval.
Making a wide arc, Murdoch guided the surrey back toward the house.
He turned toward Scott and said, “This must have cost quite a bit.”
“I bought the best I could find. I ordered the buggy three weeks ago
and it was just delivered to the livery in Spanish Wells earlier this week.”
“That’s why you were so excited yesterday,” Teresa said.
Scott nodded. “When I left the café after dinner, I went to
check on how it looked. Abe was polishing the wood yesterday, so I
decided to wait until today to show you. The horses came from the Lancaster
farm and have excellent blood lines.”
“You called it an investment earlier,” Murdoch said.
“Yes. That is how I think of it. You gave me the thousand dollars
to come here, but then you made me part owner of the ranch. I thought
it was prudent to use my thousand dollars to improve the ranch. I think
of it as increasing my investment in the future.”
“You shouldn’t have done that, Son.”
“I wanted to, Murdoch. I’m looking forward to using it tomorrow when
we go to Sunday services. We’ll definitely be traveling in style.”
“Just like in Boston?” Teresa sounded anxious.
“Yes, just like in Boston.” Scott knew it would be better than Boston,
because he would be with his new family.
Teresa took a spoonful
of peas and passed the bowl to Murdoch, then looked across the dinner table
to the dark-haired man sitting opposite her. “Johnny, you should see
what Scott bought.” She still was excited that the blond had spent
his money on something for the ranch. He’s not likely to go back
to Boston if he’s buying horses and a surrey for Lancer.
“The spring wagon?” Johnny smiled and shook his head. “Mighty
dandy looking. Saw it by the barn when I got back from town.
Thought some show girls were visiting.”
“Johnny!” Teresa frowned and stared at the youngest Lancer son.
How could he make fun of Scott’s generous gift?
“What? I said it was mighty dandy looking.”
“Scott bought it for the ranch so we can go places together. He used
the money Murdoch gave him to invest in the ranch.” She glanced over
at Scott, wondering if he was bothered by Johnny’s words.
“Now, Teresa,” Scott said, “it was a small thing to do, and as part owner
of Lancer, it was my contribution to our travel comfort.”
Johnny whistled and sat back. “That was a mouthful, Brother.”
“Stop it, Johnny! You’re being mean to Scott, and for no reason.”
Teresa picked up the napkin on her lap and threw it on the table.
He’ll drive Scott away with his comments.
“I’m sure that’s not what Johnny meant,” Murdoch said, patting Teresa’s arm.
Fuming, she glared from Murdoch to Johnny. “Scott does a nice thing
for us, and Johnny makes fun of what he bought. It’s not right.”
“I was only joshing,” Johnny said quietly.
“Teresa, I didn’t feel he was being mean to me. It’s just that little
brother teasing that we big brothers have to put up with.” Scott winked
at Johnny, and both men laughed.
“See, Teresa. No harm done,” Murdoch said.
Teresa picked up her fork and speared a piece of potato from her plate.
“It was a generous thing for Scott to do. It shows he cares about the
ranch. Johnny, how are you going to show you care about Lancer?”
“Teresa!” Murdoch sounded angry.
Johnny stiffened and his eyes grew cold. “Reckon a bullet in the back
ought to mean something.”
Teresa’s heart raced. “I’m sorry, Johnny. You’re right.”
She remembered how scared she felt when Pardee’s bullet hit Johnny and she
thought he was dead. It was just a few weeks ago that we almost
lost him. Tears welled in her eyes.
A smile softened Johnny’s expression. “It’s a fine wagon, Teresa, and
I know you’ll look right pretty riding in it with your fancy dress and bonnet
She looked at him, searching his face to see if he was joking, but his eyes
met hers with open honesty.
Scott cleared his throat. “Perhaps we should move on to another subject?”
Murdoch nodded. “I agree.”
“Some of the hands were telling me about that poker game you were in last
night, Johnny,” Scott said. “How did it go?”
Teresa watched the youngest Lancer son use his knife to move peas around
on his dish. The trip to the lawyer’s office yesterday had been Johnny’s
first time in town since recovering from Pardee’s bullet. A card
game with the hands must have been a relief for him after all those games
of checkers with me.
“They say it was a high-stakes game.” Scott arched an eyebrow.
Teresa grew nervous at the thought of what Johnny might have wagered in the
game. Could he have lost the thousand dollars Murdoch gave him?
A thousand dollars meant months of hard work, sweat, and sacrifice.
Could Johnny have lost it all in one night of poker?
The dark-haired man grinned and lifted his glass of milk. “A good player
knows his limits, and I’m good.”
His words chilled Teresa. “Johnny, what are you going to do with the
thousand dollars Murdoch gave you?” The words were out of her mouth
before she had a chance to think about their impact.
Johnny hung his head and dropped his hands into his lap. His chest
rose with a deep breath. “Bought a new saddle blanket for Barranca
today,” he said softly. “A horse works hard and deserves to be treated
“Teresa,” Murdoch said, “I gave that money to each of the boys. It’s
theirs. They don’t have to tell us how they spend it, and they don’t
have to buy things for the ranch. I appreciate what Scott did with
his money, but Johnny has the right to use his anyway he wants.”
She realized she had overstepped her position, but her father had died for
Lancer. Lancer was her home, her only home, and Murdoch the only family
she had. She was totally devoted to both, and it seemed fitting that
if Murdoch’s sons were part owners of the ranch, they too needed to give
back to its upkeep.
Johnny pushed his chair back and rose. “Think I’ll get some air.”
“Johnny, I was thinking that you might want to open a back account,” Murdoch
said. “It’s not a good idea to leave large sums of money tucked under
a mattress or wherever you hide it. The next time you’re in Green River,
why don’t you visit the bank? Tell them I sent you and they’ll set
up an account for you.”
Johnny did not say a word, and Teresa watched him move toward the French
doors. He lost all that money in the poker game. Otherwise,
he’d be asking Murdoch questions about the bank.
“Hey, Little Brother,” Scott called out. “We’re taking the surrey to
Sunday services tomorrow, if you want to join us.”
“No thanks.” Johnny slipped out the door, closing it behind him.
Oh, Johnny. What are we going to do with you? She was
sure he had lost the money in the poker game, and now he would not
join them for church. The past Sundays, he had been recovering from
his bullet wound, but if he was well enough for poker, then he was well enough
for services. I’ll say a prayer for you, Johnny.
Johnny led Barranca
to the pasture and set the palomino loose. “Thanks for the ride, compadre.”
The early morning outing had relaxed Johnny and kept him out of the way while
the rest of the family prepared for the trip to Sunday services in Morro
Coyo. From a distance, he had seen the spring wagon head to town and
knew he could return home without having to answer questions about why he
was not going with them. They wouldn’t understand.
Leaning against the pasture fence, Johnny watched the golden horse gallop
through the lush grass, wheel sharply, and buck. Twisting a piece of
straw between his teeth, Johnny admired the animal’s rippling muscles.
A good horse had meant the difference between life and death on more than
one occasion in his past, and this was the best horse he had ever owned.
“Enjoy the rest of your day off, compadre.”
Johnny turned and sauntered back to the house. Imagine me owning
such a fine horse. He stopped and spun around, taking in everything
he could see. Owning part of all this. He looked up at
the sky. “I don’t know why you done it, but I’m sure happy you seen
fit to bless me with all this.”
He tried to recall things he had owned growing up. “Not much,” he muttered
to himself. He and his mamá had moved around too many times
to accumulate much. As Johnny Madrid, he owned a gun, horse, saddle
and whatever he could fit in his saddlebags. And sometimes, not
even that much. He shook his head and smiled. I sure have
been blessed here—a fine horse, a place to call home, and a family.
He thought about his newly-found family and swallowed hard. Despite
what Teresa had said last night, he had been impressed that Scott had bought
a new wagon for the ranch. She just did not understand that sometimes
it was hard for him to say what he really felt, and joking with Scott had
been his way of showing he liked the wagon.
Johnny meandered into the house with plans for a second cup of coffee.
In the kitchen, he found Maria preparing the family’s Sunday dinner.
“Hola, Maria.” He flashed a smile at the housekeeper and peeked over
her shoulder into the pot simmering by the fire.
She waved a towel at him and launched into a lecture in rapid Spanish about
how el diablo would take his soul because he did not go to Sunday services.
“Sí, mamácita,” Johnny said, pouring himself a cup of steaming
coffee. It was good to hear the language he had grown up speaking at
home as a child.
Maria continued to scold him, but he grinned. How many times had his
mamá taken that same tone of voice after he came home bloody and bruised
from some fight with a bigger boy? “Sí, mamácita.”
Throwing her hands in the air, Maria turned and cut Johnny a piece of pie.
“You be a good boy, Juan. Go with your family next Sunday.”
Johnny grabbed the pie and winked. “Qué será será.”
He sat down at the kitchen table and began eating. “Maria, Teresa seemed
mighty upset last night about me playing poker in town. Don’t she hold
with gambling for fun?”
The housekeeper stood beside him, her hands on her hips. “Señorita
Teresa worries you lose too much.”
Holding a forkful of pie halfway to his mouth, Johnny frowned. “But
I won Friday night.” He thought back to the poker game. At first,
he had lost the $20 gold piece Scott had given him—the guest money.
However, Johnny was a sharp player, and he had won the gold piece back and
more. Enough to buy the saddle blanket, and still have a pocket full
of coins. Most of the money he had carefully hidden in safe places
around the ranch during his ride this morning. Running money.
In case, I ever need to hightail it out of here quickly. The gold
coin was still in his pocket. It felt good to have it with him.
Something Scott gave me.
“But you could have lost,” Maria said.
“Reckon sooner or later we all lose.” Johnny grinned and held his empty
plate toward her. “Think you could stand to lose another piece of pie?”
Shaking a spoon at him, Maria chased Johnny out of the kitchen. He
retreated to the great room and wandered over to Murdoch’s desk. Slowly,
he sat in his father’s chair and swiveled around to look out the large window
at the green pastures and hills. Admiring the beauty of the estancia,
he knew he had been blessed, more than he ever thought possible. “Gracias,
Murdoch left Scott
and Teresa outside admiring the bay horses, and he entered the hacienda through
the front door. He had enjoyed the ride to and from church, cherishing
the lively conversation between his oldest son and his ward. They
sure had a lot to say about Father Antonio’s sermon.
As he closed the door and walked into the foyer, Maria hurried from the kitchen,
wiping her hands on a towel. She raised an index finger to her
lips and pointed toward the great room.
Following the direction of her gesture, Murdoch peered across the room to
his desk. The leather chair was turned toward the large window, so
all he could see was the tall back of the seat. Puzzled, Murdoch strolled
forward quietly until he reached the edge of the desk.
Bright rays of sunlight steamed through the window, warming the air near
the desk. Murdoch spotted the worn boots first, extending from the
dark pants with the row of silver studs running up the leg. Johnny.
Murdoch inched forward and studied the sleeping posture of his youngest
son. The boy’s dark head was resting on his chest, his body relaxed.
The easy rise and fall of his chest was the only visible movement from his
usually restless son.
Not wanting to disturb Johnny’s slumber, Murdoch backed away, but the heel
of his boot caught on a throw rug and he bumped into the corner of the desk.
It was a small sound, but enough to rouse the sleeping man. Murdoch
watched Johnny’s eyelids snap open, his hand instantly at the pistol by his
“Sorry, Son,” Murdoch said quickly. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
Johnny blinked, rubbing his hands across his eyes. He yawned and started
to stretch, but stopped suddenly.
A cat—he reminds me of a cat waking from a nap in the sun. Murdoch
leaned against the edge of the desk and glanced at the ranch scene outside
“Must have fallen asleep,” Johnny said, his voice thick and low.
“It’s the chair,” Murdoch suggested. “It’s put me to sleep a few times,
especially when the air is warm and still like it is today.”
Johnny shifted and moved to rise from the seat.
Murdoch put a hand out. “Stay put, Son. No need to get up.”
The minutes slipped by and both men gazed out the window. A high cloud
drifted across the sky, and the branches of the trees swayed in a breeze.
“Sure is pretty,” Johnny said softly.
“I’ve often thought of the land as a beautiful woman; enticing and warm,
giving and gentle.”
Johnny laughed. “But I bet this beautiful woman is demanding and tough
“And a lot of work,” Murdoch added. He stood beside the window for
a few minutes, and then turned to smile at his youngest son. “You now
own part of all this.” He waved his arm at the scene beyond the glass.
Johnny hung his head and pulled his legs under the chair. “It’s the
first time…” His voice was so soft Murdoch took a step closer.
“The first time I’ve had a place that I owned. Feels good.”
Grinning, Murdoch turned away. It does mean something to him
. He cleared his throat. “How’s your back feeling, Johnny?”
Why can’t I tell him how happy I am that he’s here?
Teresa flew into
the house with Scott following behind her. She saw Murdoch by the large
window and Johnny rising from the chair by the desk. “There you are,
Johnny!” She hurried over to stand between the two men. “Did
you tell him the good news, Murdoch?”
Grinning, Murdoch looked down at her and shook his head.
“What news is that, Teresa?” Johnny glanced from his father to Scott
and back to Teresa.
“Oh, it’s wonderful. Someone made an anonymous donation.” She
was so excited she could hardly stand still.
Johnny’s brow furrowed. “What’s that?”
Teresa removed her bonnet and swung her head so her hair tumbled over her
shoulders. “Somebody gave Father Antonio money, but whoever it was
doesn’t want anyone to know. Who do you think it was? Could it
be old Mrs. Griffin? She goes to church all the time.”
Looking down at his boots, Johnny tapped his fingers against his leg.
“Why you trying to guess who it is, if the person doesn’t want anyone to
“Don’t be silly, Johnny.” Teresa put her hands on her hips. “Everyone
wants to be thanked when they do something nice. We just have to work
a little harder on this one, because the giver is shy.”
Scott perched on the corner of the sofa. “Father Antonio made the announcement
during his sermon. He said he was going to respect the donor’s wish
and all the money would be used to help the orphans. Everyone in the
church started looking around to figure out who gave him the money.
Apparently, it was a very generous donation.”
“I already have all sorts of ideas of how we can improve the orphanage,”
Teresa said. Maybe I can get Scott and Johnny to help.
“I think I’ll make a list of things that need to be done.”
The sun was sinking
lower in the sky, and Johnny kicked a pebble across the courtyard.
Teresa sure was excited about that donation. He watched his
shadow creep along the ground as he walked toward the barn. The ache
in his back usually increased as the day wore on, so he was moving to loosen
Johnny saw the small buggy slowly approaching the arched entrance to Lancer.
The old gray horse pulling the buggy plodded in a lazy, easygoing pace.
The driver seemed not to be in a hurry, content to gaze at the scenery.
As he drew near, Johnny recognized the dark brown robes of a padre.
“Afternoon, Padre,” Johnny said, running his hand along the sagging back
of the mare.
“I’m Father Antonio.” The priest held his hand out to Johnny.
“Don’t believe we’ve met before.”
“No. I’m new in these parts.” Johnny eyed the young priest, noting
the patches on his robe.
“Welcome, my son. Hope to see more of you, perhaps at services next
Johnny looked away. “You here for a reason?”
“Indeed, yes. I’m looking for Murdoch Lancer.”
“He’s in the house.” Johnny gestured toward the front door. “Your
horse looks tuckered out. How about I tend to her while you visit with
“Thank you, my son. Angelina is very old. I don’t know how much
longer she’s going to last, but she’s all I have.” Father Antonio stepped
out of the buggy and patted the bony rump of his horse. Then he headed
to the house.
Johnny unhitched the mare, bending carefully to avoid straining the sore
part of his back. “Come on, Angelina.” He led the horse out of
the traces and over to the water trough. He watched the white whiskered
muzzle drop into the water. “Bet you were a fine looking animal at
one time, but your work days should be over.”
Glancing at the pasture, Johnny studied the grazing horses and made a decision.
“Reckon if I’m part owner of this ranch, I can handle a simple horse trade.”
He removed the harness and led the tired mare to the pasture. Opening
the gate, he watched Angelina shuffle toward the other horses.
“Now, I need a replacement.” Johnny eyed the various animals in the
enclosure and spotted a bay gelding trotting beside Barranca. He whistled
and the palomino headed to the gate, the bay trailing behind. After
a playful tug on Barranca’s mane, Johnny grabbed the bay’s halter.
“For the padre’s sake, hope you been harness broke.”
The bay stood perfectly still as Johnny adjusted the harness. That’s
a good sign. Barranca would be doing a jig with all these buckles and
straps. Reckon you’ve pulled a wagon before. Once the gelding
was hitched to the buggy, Johnny took the reins and drove the buggy down
the entrance road and back. “This should be fine for the padre.”
Father Antonio a cup of coffee and wondered why the priest had him send Scott
and Teresa out of the room. “Here you go, Father Antonio. Now
that we’re alone, what can I do for you?”
“Mr. Lancer, you have already done so much.”
“I’m not sure what you mean.” Murdoch sat down beside the young cleric.
“Your gift to the orphans was most generous. I understand that you
don’t want anyone to know, but I felt I must thank you on their behalf.
I promise no one else will be told of your gift, unless you want me to.”
Murdoch frowned. “I’m sorry, Father. There’s been some mistake.
I didn’t make a donation for the orphanage. After your sermon today,
I felt guilty that I hadn’t thought to do something like that myself.”
“But…” Father Antonio’s hand disappeared into the folds of his robe
and retrieved a scrap of paper. “Perhaps I misread this.” He
held the crumpled note toward Murdoch.
Slowly, Murdoch took the paper and read the crudely-written, inked message.
“For the orfins.” He shook his head at the misspelling and frowned.
“I didn’t write this. Why do you think I did?”
“Please turn it over, Mr. Lancer.”
Murdoch flipped the paper over and recognized the embossed Lancer stationery
he had used for years. The raised “L” enclosed in a circle was barely
visible unless you held the paper at an angle. He noticed some hastily
scribbled numbers tallied in his handwriting. “This side is my writing,
but I didn’t put the note on the other side.”
Setting his coffee cup down on a table, Murdoch stepped over to his desk
and retrieved the wastepaper basket. He rummaged through the crumpled
pieces of paper, until he found a sheet of stationery he had used for calculating
recent feed prices. The corner was torn from the rumpled paper.
Murdoch fit the scrap of paper from Father Antonio to the missing corner
of the page with his calculations. “It came from here, no doubt about
Father Antonio hesitated. “Perhaps there is someone else here?”
Murdoch knew he could be intimidating because of his size, so he tried to
soften his tone. “I understand the need for discretion.” Who
else could have made a donation? Teresa loves helping at the orphanage,
maybe she had set some money aside, but she had acted so surprised at the
news. Scott may have had money left from buying the surrey and horses.
Johnny? Murdoch shook his head. There was no way of knowing
for sure. “How much was the donation, Father?”
The priest looked increasingly uncomfortable. “Perhaps I have made
a mistake in coming.”
“You definitely came to the right place, Father Antonio. But if one
of my sons or ward made the donation, I would like to know. Is there
anything you can share with me? When was this done?”
“It was Saturday afternoon. The church was quiet most of the day, but
I went to check the burning candles for my evening vigil and discovered a
basket before the painting of the Madonna. It had not been there in
the morning, that I am sure of.”
“Teresa and I were here at the ranch all day, but Scott and Johnny both were
gone for part of Saturday.” Murdoch remembered Scott saying the surrey
was in Spanish Wells, so it was unlikely he would have stopped in Morro Coyo.
Where had Johnny gone on Saturday? At dinner, he said he bought
a saddle blanket, but he didn’t say from where.
“The basket was full of apples,” Father Antonio continued. “Often people
will bring me food items and leave them at the church. It is a tradition
in many Mexican villages. So, I was pleased to receive such generosity
from one of the faithful. But when I took the basket to the kitchen,
I discovered an envelope under the apples. Inside the envelope, I found
this note and the money. It was a most generous gift. I saw the
Lancer symbol on the note and assumed it was you.”
Murdoch rubbed his hand over his lips. “How much money are we talking
The priest sighed and bowed his head. “May the Almighty forgive me,
if I should not speak of this. The envelope was filled with paper money
totaling $1,000 and a $20 dollar gold coin. Truly, a most generous
With absolute certainty, Murdoch knew the donor was his dark-haired son,
and Johnny had given away the “listening money” he had received for coming
to Lancer and the guest money Murdoch had left in his room that first night.
The boy said he came for the money, and then he turns around and gives
it away. I just don’t understand him. Realizing there had
been an awkward silence since the priest revealed the nature of the donation,
Murdoch cleared his throat. “Thank you for sharing that information,
Father. I think I know who your donor is, and I will respect his wish
to remain anonymous. With your permission, I will relay your appreciation.”
“Thank you, Mr. Lancer. Please feel free to come to the orphanage with
your family and see how hard we will make the money work for the good of
the children.” The priest rose and walked to the door. “I must
be going. Angelina is rather slow these days and it will take hours
for me to get back to the church.”
Murdoch escorted the priest to the door and out into the courtyard.
He froze in his steps at the sight of the bay gelding harnessed to Father
Antonio’s buggy. The horse had been hitched to the surrey the last
time he saw it.
With his mouth wide open, the priest took Murdoch’s hand in both of his.
“May the blessings of the Lord be on you and your family.”
“Thank you, Father,” Murdoch managed to stammer.
As the buggy wheeled away from the hacienda, Murdoch looked around for one
or the other of his sons. He spotted Johnny out by the pasture, feeding
a carrot to an old gray horse that was clearly not a Lancer cow pony.
Murdoch walked to Johnny’s side, mulling over his words. “Did you give
Father Antonio a new horse?” He saw his son tense.
“I figured as part owner of the ranch, I had the right to trade one of our
horses for his. Besides, his horse deserved a rest.” Johnny sounded
Careful, Murdoch. You handle this wrong, and you could lose this
boy. He stretched over the fence and scratched the narrow head
of the old mare. “She’s seen a lot of miles.” Murdoch watched
Johnny closely. “I’m proud of you, Son.”
“I didn’t know which of the horses were used for pulling, and I was lucky
the first one I picked was trained for a harness.”
“That would be one of the bay geldings.”
“Right. A good-looking horse.” The gleam in Johnny’s eyes matched
Murdoch placed a hand on his son’s shoulder. “That was one of the matched
team that Scott bought for the surrey.”
Johnny lowered his eyes and his shoulders slumped. “Even when I try
to do right, I mess up.”
“Son, it’s the thought that counts, and it was a very thoughtful thing you
did. This old horse is worn out and should have been put out to pasture
“I’ll go to town tomorrow and get the bay back. There’s got to be another
horse I can train fast for the padre.”
The lost expression on Johnny’s face broke Murdoch’s heart. “Before
you do that, let’s talk to Scott. He might be pleased to know one of
the horses he bought will be helping Father Antonio.” Murdoch paused.
Scott might be disappointed at first, but we’ll keep an eye open for another
bay to make a matched team. “After all, more than one Lancer can
be generous.” Murdoch saw the sideways glance Johnny cast in his direction.
“Johnny, I know about your gift for the orphans, too, and I’m impressed.”
Murdoch did not understand why Johnny had given all the money away.
It was one more part of the enigma that was his youngest son. Maybe
with time, he’ll explain it to me.
Murdoch slipped a $20 gold piece out of his pocket and held it in the palm
of his hand. “This is for you. No giving it away to the church
or buying things for the ranch or Barranca. If you want to use it in
a poker game, don’t worry about losing it. Spend it on yourself.”
He pressed the coin into Johnny’s hand.
In the gathering darkness of twilight, Johnny studied the coin for a minute
and dropped it in his pocket with the other gold coin. “Guess I’ve
been twice blessed.”
Murdoch nodded toward the house. “Now, let’s go find Scott and congratulate
him on the generous donation of one bay gelding that he just made to Father
Antonio.” As they rambled back to the hacienda, Murdoch thanked the
Lord for sending both of his sons to Lancer. He silently agreed with
Johnny that he had been twice blessed, and it was more blessing than he ever
would have hoped for in his lifetime.