kill you! No matter how long it
takes I will hunt you down and kill you!”
Scott Lancer, 20, know that those words would come back to haunt him nine years
later when the man he threatened suddenly turned up dead in Green River,
California when a chance meeting rekindled the flames of intense anger.
Vicksburg, Mississippi – July
The siege of
Vicksburg was over. Gun smoke hung over the city like a malevolent storm cloud.
The residents, many half starved from lack of adequate food, were partly
relieved and partly apprehensive. They’d
heard many stories of how brutal the Union soldiers were when they conquered an
Scott Lancer, grandson of a prominent Boston businessman and newly commissioned
Lieutenant in the Union Army, directed his men as they searched homes for hidden
weapons and, even more importantly, Confederate soldiers and Union deserters.
Tall, slim and blond with blue eyes Scott cut, in the eyes of the young
ladies of Vicksburg, a dashing figure. Of
course, they couldn’t tell their mamas that.
Scott was the enemy. Such a
shame he was wearing a blue uniform instead of Confederate gray.
for this house, Lieutenant,” a bearded sergeant said.
“Nobody hiding and no weapons of any kind.
Just a couple of scared women.”
right,” Scott replied. “Let’s move on to the next block.” Tipping his hat to the two women who had exited the house he
said, “Ladies, sorry to have disturbed you but it’s our duty to search for
weapons or men that might be used against us.”
Then he turned his bay to the right and led his unit on toward the next
All day and
half the night they searched. His
unit turned up little except some ancient fowling pieces and a dueling pistol or
two. Finally, ready to drop from exhaustion and the heat, they
camped in the center of the city. Twelve-year-old
Peter Winslow, standard-bearer to Scott’s outfit, made his bed next to Scott
whom he adored. It amused Scott
that this boy, six years his junior, had attached himself to him the way he had
but he did nothing to discourage the boy. In
fact, he had taken to looking upon Peter as a younger brother and looked after
him as best he could. He allowed no
one in their unit to tease the boy unless it was just that and not mean
spirited. In the heat of battle he had made sure that the youngster was
out of the line of fire as best he could. As
a result Peter now looked up to Scott, as he would have his older brother – if
he’d had one.
For the next
six weeks it was the same thing with little change.
As the company moved forward they checked houses for weapons, ammunition
and deserters from either army. Things
went along fine until mid September. On
September 15 a rebel raiding party ambushed Scott’s cavalry unit.
screaming of musket and rifle fire Scott and Lt. Dan Cassidy, among others,
could be heard giving orders to their men.
Two hours later the unit had scattered despite the efforts of their
lieutenants to keep them together. Cassidy,
a slightly older man than Scott, was prevented from coming to his aid.
Swept away by the tide of panic stricken men Cassidy would not see Scott
for almost a year. And he would
barely recognize him.
into the battle, Cassidy and many of the others no longer in sight, Scott was
wounded in the right shoulder by a Confederate infantryman.
He could have escaped, wound and all, if not for his horse being hit and
falling. The dying animal pinned
Scott beneath him.
Lancer!” Peter cried. “Don’t worry, sir, I’ll get you out of there.”
The boy grabbed Scott under the arms and tried to pull him free but it
was no use. The slightly built youth was not strong enough.
Scott said. “Listen to me boy.
You get yourself out of here. I
don’t want you hurt.”
“No, sir, I
won’t go,” the loyal boy said. “I’m
staying with you – no matter what!”
In less than
ten minutes the skirmish was over and Scott, Peter and half a dozen others were
taken prisoner. The commander of the patrol was decent enough and bound up
Scott’s wound before sending his prisoners on their way to Cahaba Prison near
Selma, Alabama. It was an
experience that Scott would swear he’d never forget as long as he lived.
Cahawba as the natives used to spell it, was located on the banks of the Alabama
and Cahaba rivers. The nearest
town, Selma, was five miles southwest of Montgomery.
was nothing more than a cotton warehouse, 16,000 square feet in size with a tall
brick wall surrounding it. The
warden, a man by the name of Captain H.A.M. Henderson, greeted the prisoners.
He himself was a humane and fair officer. Abuse of the prisoners was not tolerated if he was aware of
it. Any guard caught, or reported,
abusing prisoners was soon dismissed from duty. This didn’t stop some of them however. The warden couldn’t be everywhere at once and one guard in
particular, a man named Charles Wilson, delighted in tormenting those smaller
and weaker than himself. This same
man, for reasons known only to himself, took an instant dislike to Scott the
moment he heard about his education and upbringing.
He set out to make Scott’s life miserable every chance he got.
boy,” Wilson focused his attention on Scott two days after his arrival at
Cahaba. “You ain’t so smart
gettin’ yourself caught like you did. What
happened? That fancy school of yours didn’t teach you how to avoid an
ignored the man, concentrating instead on ignoring the throb in his injured
matter with you boy? You deaf or somethin’?”
still ignored him he reached down and shook him eliciting an unwilling gasp as
pain shot through his wounded body.
You leave Lieutenant Lancer alone you rebel trash!” young Peter Winslow
grabbed at the guard’s arm.
The guard shook
the boy’s hand off and backhanded him in the face.
The slap was heard several feet away but none of the other guards within
hearing distance or close enough to see what was happening did anything.
They were all afraid of Wilson who stood 6’4” and over 200 pounds.
He had a reputation as a brawler and would use any excuse to start a
fight. Many of them had already
felt his wrath when they had tried to interfere with his “pleasure”.
tried to defend the boy but fell back in defeat when Wilson shoved him.
“Leave the boy alone! He’s
done nothing to you.”
“So you can
talk. When the boy learns some
manners I’ll leave him alone,” Wilson sneered.
So saying he slapped Peter again. The
boy fell back stunned with blood trickling from his bottom lip where it had
smashed against his teeth.
Scott put his
arm around the stunned boy glaring up at Wilson.
“Touch him again and I’ll make you sorry you were ever born!”
“Not in your
condition you ain’t sonny boy!” Wilson sneered.
Just then one
of the other guards warned Wilson that the warden was coming.
It wasn’t true but this guard wasn’t about to allow Wilson to abuse a
twelve-year-old child. Wilson
hastily backed off and left his prisoners alone.
“Are you all
right Peter?” Scott asked his blue-gray eyes dark with concern.
the boy answered. “I’m all right.”
“That was a
brave thing you did, Peter, but foolish. I
don’t want you to antagonize him. He’ll
think nothing of hurting you or anyone else he takes a dislike to.”
Lieutenant Lancer I couldn’t let him hurt you!
“Be that as
it may,” Scott said. “I don’t want you to do anything to make him angry.
lie down here next to me. It’s
getting late and you need your rest if you’re going to take care of me.”
Scott gently ruffled the boy’s strawberry blond hair.
healed in a fairly short amount of time. It
wasn’t serious and it had been treated right away.
Peter’s care had gone a long way toward that recovery.
The boy had scarcely left Scott’s side the whole time.
After a brief three-day period of fever Scott was well again and the
shoulder wound healed soon thereafter. The
same could not be said for young Peter Winslow.
Try as he might
the boy could not stay out of the way of the vicious guard who found an excuse
to strike or kick the boy every chance he got.
It was all because he couldn’t get a rise out of Scott.
No matter how much he tried to provoke Scott the Bostonian refused to
accommodate him by lashing out. Wilson
took his frustration out on the boy. Finally,
it all came to a head and when it was all over one of them would be dead.
It was November
and the weather was getting cold. Firewood
had to be brought in from old fields to build cooking fires in the open area in
the center of the prison yard. This
consisted of green sap pine or decayed oak.
None of which was very good. Peter
was on his way back from one of the fields with a load of wood that was much too
large for him to carry. But he was
a plucky boy and determined to do his share in the work of keeping himself and
his fellow prisoners warm and fed and healthy.
Though the death rate at Cahaba was low compared to many other camps,
there was still the threat of cholera or typhoid fever due to the contaminated
On his way back
to the campsite Peter lost control of an oversized log of pine that he was
carrying and it fell on Wilson’s foot as the guard hovered waiting for a
chance, any excuse he could find to lash out at the boy.
The brutal guard lashed out with a curse and struck Peter in the head.
little Yankee heathen! I’ll teach
you to drop wood on my foot!”
Again he lashed
out and again Peter’s head snapped to one side.
Scott was a quarter of a mile away when he saw what was happening.
He dropped his load of wood and rushed toward his young friend and the
guard. He was too late. Just as he arrived Wilson’s blow sent Peter staggering
backward. He tripped over the same
log that he had dropped on the guard’s foot and fell.
His head struck a rock and he was still.
to his knees at the boy’s side and reached out to him.
His hand came away from the boy’s head sticky with blood. Wiping
it frantically on his uniform pants he checked for a pulse.
Finding none he put his head down on the boy’s chest to listen for his
heart beat. Again nothing.
Peter Winslow, aged twelve years, four months and sixteen days, was dead.
His skull fractured when his head struck the rock.
Wilson could torment the boy no longer.
For a long
moment Scott knelt there stunned. Then,
as the unfairness and cruelty of it all hit him, he hung his head and cried like
a baby. Not for very long though.
Anger took the place of grief and he got to his feet.
Turning toward Wilson who was grinning at the sight of the “college
boy’s” grief he spoke with a quiet fury.
dead. You’ve murdered him.”
punk was asking for it,” Wilson declared still baiting Scott.
This time Scott was unable to contain his fury.
He launched himself at the guard pummeling him with his fists just as
hard and as fast as he could. A
crowd gathered. A couple of the
guards tried to pull Scott off but he was so caught up in his anger that he
shook them off as if they were pesky mosquitoes.
Finally one of them rapped him on the head with the butt of his musket.
Scott fell to the side stunned.
“fight” was ending Warden Henderson came along having heard the commotion in
his office. He got the full story
from the men and boys who had witnessed Wilson’s constant tormenting of Scott
and Peter. He ordered the boy’s
body taken to the infirmary and a coffin built.
He would personally pay for the boy’s body to be shipped home to
Concord, Massachusetts and write a letter to the boy’s parents explaining, as
best he could, what had happened.
Scott was given
a week in solitary. It did nothing
to cool him off. He fumed the whole
time and plotted how best to repay the brutal guard for what he had done. He was, however, allowed to testify at Wilson’s trial.
Wilson was acquitted of murder, which was only right.
As much as he had taken a serious dislike to Scott and tormented him and
the boy it had, technically, been an accident.
It took four men to hold Scott back when the verdict came in.
you Wilson! You hear me?
You’re dead! I’ll kill
you! No matter how long it takes I will hunt you down and kill
just grinned maddeningly at his former prisoner.
Then he collected his pay and left.
Scott would meet up with him nine years later and those words would come
back to haunt him.
A few months
later Lt. Dan Cassidy and several of the other men that were in Scott’s
company were brought into the camp. Approximately
one year before the end of the war Lt. Cassidy, senior officer by means of
length of time in grade, planned an escape.
The night before the escape was to happen he took ill and was taken to
the camp hospital. The escape
attempt resulted in the deaths of sixteen men.
Men whose deaths Scott would take the blame for in Cassidy’s mind
though it would come out later that Cassidy himself, in the grips of delirium,
had revealed the plan himself.
When the war
ended Scott went home to Boston to his grandfather.
Half starved and almost one hundred pounds lighter than when he had gone
into the army, Scott was a year regaining his health and the weight he’d lost. Harlan Garrett took his grandson to their family doctor to
have a physical but no amount of food or medication for a lingering fever or
chills could relieve Scott of the nightmares about young Peter Winslow’s
tragic death or quench the burning hatred he had for the man who had caused it.
turned up his jacket collar against the unseasonably chilly wind that was
blowing. His younger brother, dark
haired Johnny, wrapped his arms around himself.
Johnny, half Mexican, had been taken by his mother from his home at
Lancer when he was still a toddler. He’d
grown up in the warmer climate of the border towns of Texas, New Mexico and
Arizona and was still having trouble adjusting to the cooler climate of
brother, let’s go to the cantina and get some lunch.
I’m freezin’!” Johnny
yelled to be heard over the gusting wind.
“We have to
go to the bank first Johnny,” Scott patiently told his brother.
“If we don’t make this deposit for Murdoch he’ll have our heads
when we get back to the ranch.”
on,” Johnny wheedled as only annoying younger brothers can.
“You can do it after lunch.”
after lunch?” another male voice was heard behind them.
Val,” Scott said.
Crawford asked again, “Do what after lunch?”
deposit for Murdoch at the bank,” Scott explained.
“It seems that my little brother is suddenly starving or freezing –
depending on whether the wind is blowing or not.”
“I vote for
starving,” Val said with a grin. “Seems
to me like Johnny’s always hungry or needs a drink.”
pretended to pout as his older brother and his friend teased him.
But in reality, though they’d had a little bit of a rocky start to
their relationship, he adored his older, blond haired, college-educated brother.
Both boys had been raised on stories of what an ogre their father, Murdoch
Lancer, was. Both young men had
arrived at Lancer at the same time and discovered that they had a brother. Neither Scott’s grandfather nor Johnny’s mother had told
either of them that they had a brother. Now
the brothers shared a closeness that many siblings who had the exact same set of
parents never achieved in a lifetime. There
was nothing that Scott would not do for Johnny and vice versa. And Val Crawford,
sloppy dress and all, was a good friend. And
anyone who thought Val was a sloppy dresser ought to see what his housekeeping
was like. So far, though, only Johnny and Lone Crow’s children had
seen it and the kids didn’t care. As
long as Sheriff Crawford, the “meanest white man alive” bought their
mother’s Indian blankets they didn’t care what his house looked like.
The grin was
back on Johnny’s face as his brother gave in.
To the cantina they went. As
soon as they were all through eating dessert it was off to the bank.
The wind was blowing fiercely and dust from the streets made visibility
poor and got into the eyes of the few brave souls who ventured out into them.
Horses tethered at the hitching racks and hitched to wagons and buggies
stamped their feet nervously.
exited the bank they headed over to the General Store.
Teresa had given them a list of items she needed.
They didn’t dare go home without them.
Val left them as they went in that direction.
The last thing he wanted right now was to encounter their mayor of Green
River – a pompous old fool who disregarded warnings about keeping too much
money in the store making him a likely target for thieves.
In the General
Store they encountered Jim and Maura Talbot.
The Talbots were neighbors and Maura had nursed the boys through a bout
with pneumonia back in the late winter and tended to Scott’s scratched face
just prior to Easter when Johnny had brought him in to see about an arm broken
in a fall from his horse. She had
also driven them home when Sam Jenkins, the areas only doctor, forbade him to
ride while suffering the effects of a concussion sustained in that fall. James
Alexander Talbot, Alex to his wife who had a brother James, was a tall blond. His wife was short with brown eyes and red hair. Maura was
extremely fond of both boys and often these days she found herself wishing that
they could have grown up with her three sons.
That was not to be as neither of the Lancer boys had been raised at the
ranch. And Maura and Jim’s three
sons had all died during the war so there was no chance for friendship now as
Scott, Johnny,” Jim said with a smile. “How’s
things at Lancer?”
Mr. Talbot,” Scott answered with a smile of his own and an answering
handshake. “We just came from
making a deposit at the bank for Murdoch. He’s
got his eye on some prize Herefords down around Santa Barbara but still lacks a
couple of hundred dollars on the purchase price.”
Herefords are hard to come by out here. Your
father, I hope you boys know, is a visionary.
Not too many ranchers are enamored of them but your father showed me the
literature and the statistics he gathered when he first thought of switching to
them from shorthorns and convinced me that they were the way to go.
I’m glad I listened too.”
“I hope you
don’t tell the ‘old man’ that,” Johnny said with a grin.
“He’d get an awfully big head if you did.”
late Johnny,” Jim laughed. “I
told him that years ago.”
laughed too and then turned her attention to the younger Lancer.
It was an ongoing battle of sorts that she would offer to cut his hair.
She loved to tease him about how shaggy he was getting.
John Luis Lancer! That’s not
nice! Your father is a very wise
man and you know it!”
ma’am,” Johnny grinned. “If
you say so.”
do! And by the way when are you
going to come over and let me cut that shaggy head of hair you’ve got?
I don’t know,” Johnny drawled. “I
reckon maybe some time soon. I’ve
been pretty busy you know.”
we know, little brother,” Scott jibed. “Busy
chasing every pretty girl that attends the church socials or the town dances.”
sitting in the saloon drinking beer and playing cards perhaps?” Maura asked
with raised eyebrows.
hanging around the sheriff’s office with Val swapping tall tales and
corrupting the speech of Lone Crow’s kids?”
Jim Talbot threw his two cents worth in.
What chance do I have with the three of you ganging up on me?” Johnny
protested with a grin. Everyone, including himself, knew he was guilty of everything
they accused him of.
Maura said pertly as she kissed his cheek fondly. “That’s the whole idea alannah.
We must keep you on your toes!”
saying she and Jim made their way toward their waiting wagon and departed.
Scott and Johnny went into the General Store to see about Teresa’s list
of supplies. On the way they passed
Mike Wilson’s gunsmith shop.
a habitual drunk who fancied himself a gunslinger and hung out with other such
types, had been a thorn in the Lancers’ side since the day he and his father
had arrived in Green River little more than a year ago.
His father, Pierce, was a noted bigot who had barred Johnny’s entry
into the shooting contest at the valley’s fair a few months earlier only to
have Jim Talbot and Val Crawford effectively bar his son and friends forcing him
to allow Scott to enter in Johnny’s place.
Scott had won by a very narrow margin.
The highlight, to the boys but not to handyman Jelly Hoskins, had been
when Jelly’s gander, Dewdrop, had stirred up a ruckus at the fair.
Both boys had won a fair amount of money off of Jelly in the process but
had donated it toward repaying the parties who lost eggs, chickens or vegetables
in the chaos. Much as they loved to
tease the bewhiskered old man they didn’t think it was fair that he should
have to pay all those damages. After
all, it wasn’t Dewdrop who killed the chickens – it was somebody’s
unattended mongrel dogs that were running around the fairgrounds without leashes
or supervision! As they passed the
gunsmith shop Pierce Wilson and another man exited and the Lancers, unable to
stop in time, bumped into the two men.
me,” Scott said politely. “I
didn’t mean to bump into you.”
as he disliked the man Scott’s good manners came to the fore in the situation.
don’t you watch where you’re going Yank?” the other man snarled.
“Are you all right cousin?”
looked at the other man intently. There
was something very familiar about him and his voice. He stood about six feet four inches, slightly shorter than
Murdoch Lancer who was, at six foot five, the tallest man in the area.
He had black hair cut very short, a moustache and a full beard.
He looked to weigh about two hundred and fifty pounds.
I know you from somewhere?” Scott asked.
cousin is new in Green River,” Pierce Wilson said. “Charles, these boys are Scott and Johnny Lancer.”
believe we’ve met somewhere before,” Scott insisted as his brother eyed him
curiously. Scott sure did seem to
know this guy. He was polite but
tense as he looked the man over.
unless you’ve been to Selma, Alabama,” Pierce Wilson said.
“Charles lived there until just after the war.”
The Green River Wilson knew that his cousin had been in the army but he
had no idea that he’d been a guard at a prison camp.
Alabama,” Scott mused. “I was
in a prison camp near there – Cahaba. Selma
was the closest town. There was a
guard there named Wilson.”
frowned as he tried to visualize the man whom, nine years earlier, he had
threatened to kill after the death of his young friend Peter Winslow.
This man had a beard and a moustache.
The guard at the camp had been clean-shaven.
That guard was a big man but not quite as heavy as the man standing in
front of him.
Scott mulled this over the Wilson men started to leave.
Scott watched them as his brother watched him.
Johnny’s sapphire blue eyes were very dark with concern.
Scott was not himself. He
never, ever brought up his wartime service in front of the family.
Not since the mess with Dan Cassidy had been straightened out.
them leave Scott suddenly did recognize Wilson. There was his voice, his accent but most of all there was a
gesture he made – a certain swinging of his arms and the way he flexed his
fingers as he walked. The guard at
the camp had made a point of doing that as a means of intimidating some of the
inmates – those who were easily intimidated.
That was one of the reasons he had hated Scott.
He knew that the young Lieutenant would not be easily intimidated
(growing up with his domineering grandfather had cured him of that early on) so
he had taken it out on the boy.
was two steps behind his brother as Scott went after the two men. And Mike
Wilson, exiting his shop, was a step behind Johnny, as Scott charged the man he
knew as a killer. Though the
boy’s death had technically been an accident in Scott’s mind it had been
murder and he’d sworn to avenge young Peter’s death no matter how long it
Charles Wilson! I remember you now. You
were a guard at Cahaba. You’re
the one who murdered a twelve-year-old boy just because he dropped a log on your
foot. A log that was too big for
him to carry!” Scott ranted.
Johnny caught up with his brother.
didn’t even seem to notice that his brother was standing right behind him.
His handsome face was twisted in a mask of fury.
Charles Wilson wore a sneer on his bearded face.
you recall correctly sonny boy,” Wilson said trying to get a rise out of the
older Lancer, “I was cleared of that murder charge. The court said it was an accident.”
was murder and you know it. You had
it in for me and you took it out on the boy when I wouldn’t take your bait!”
grow up kid,” the former guard said. “I
had a trial – you were there. The
court found me not guilty.”
know what the trial outcome was!” Scott shouted. “I also know that most of the other guards were afraid of
you! They wouldn’t testify
against you in case you won!”
tried to get his brother’s attention. “Scott?
What’s going on?”
take it you and Mr. Lancer know each other?” Pierce Wilson asked his cousin.
The Lieutenant was a prisoner in the camp I was assigned to.”
this about you killing a kid?” Mike joined in the conversation.
Yankee trash kid fell and hit his head on a rock. The Yankee college boy here thinks I did it on purpose.”
you?” Pierce asked.
Stupid little boy kept stumbling over his own feet.
The inquiry said it was an accident.”
a lie and you know it! You
tormented the boy every chance you got until you finally got an opportunity to
do something more. When he dropped
that log on your foot you hit him so hard he fell and hit his head! You killed him!” Scott could take no more.
He reached for Wilson as if to pull him closer and shake the truth out of
deftly, with a speed surprising in such a big man, dodged Scott and gave him a
shove of his own. Scott caught
himself on the nearby hitching rail. Johnny
quickly put himself between his brother and the Wilsons.
Val Crawford, two streets down, started toward them just as things really
two older Wilson men started to walk away.
Mike, the youngest, stood his ground and swung on Scott as he tried to
approach the others and prevent their departure. From then on things happened so fast nobody was quite sure
who did what but before Val could get to them Johnny caught a fist in the
forehead and staggered back. As he
did so his boot heel inexplicably broke off throwing him off balance.
As he fell he struck his head on one of the posts holding up the wooden
roof of the shop. The blow rendered
him unconscious. Blood seeped from
a three-inch gash on his right temple.
now! What’s this all about?”
Val waded into the fray that was starting to break out again. He grabbed Scott by the arm and pulled him away from the
others. Scott’s face was red with
fury – not just from recognition of Charles Wilson but that his brother, an
innocent by-stander more or less, had been struck down.
started it Sheriff!” Mike Wilson insisted.
“He assaulted our cousin here. Made
all kinds of false accusations!”
that right Mr. Wilson? Scott here
right. My cousin and I were just
walking down the street when young Lancer came after us accusing Charles of all
sorts of dreadful things.”
not quite right Sheriff,” one bystander in the crowd that had gathered said.
“Scott made some comments but Mike there threw the first punch.”
the way I saw it,” said another man – a cowboy from the Talbots’ ranch.
Young blondie there threw the first punch,” said still another.
great! Can’t even get everybody
to agree on what happened,” Val said disgusted.
he noticed Johnny on the ground. “Scott
look after your brother. Get him
over to the Doc Jenkins – he’s in town today.”
words drew Scott’s attention back to his younger brother.
He had been so caught up in the heat of the argument that he hadn’t
realized that Johnny was hurt.
Scott’s voice was husky with concern.
him to Doc Jenkins Scott. I’ll be
over there in a few minutes.” Val
helped Scott lift Johnny into his arms ensuring that the younger brother’s
head was resting on Scott’s shoulder. “As
for you three,” Val said, “vamoose! Mike
get back to your shop or be on your way to wherever you were going.
You two,” he indicated the older Wilsons, “go on about your business
but stay in touch. I’ll want to
talk to you after I see how Johnny is.”
Jenkins, a tall thin man in his early fifties, looked up as Scott entered the
office carrying his brother in his arms.
What in the world?”
Johnny Doc,” Scott said unnecessarily.
“I can see
that.” Sam crossed the room and
opened the door to another room. “Bring
him in there and put him down on that bed.”
Scott did as he
was told and stood there with his hand on his brother’s forehead smoothing the
dark hair back from his face.
Scott. Let me get a look at him,”
the older man said as he closed the door and approached the bed.
reluctantly backed away but he didn’t go very far.
He watched Johnny anxiously for signs of recovery as the doctor began his
“What was it
this time?” Sam sounded an awful
lot like Murdoch and Scott flinched.
knocked into a wooden post.”
Sam didn’t press the issue just then.
The “boys”, as he and their father thought of them, were normal
healthy young men – well normal high-spirited young men who sometimes got
carried away with their horseplay.
Johnny yelped. Sam had just
touched on the lump that was forming on his head.
awake are you?” Sam smiled.
wouldn’t be with you manhandling them?” Johnny retorted in a weak voice.
He was conscious but his eyes were tightly closed against the light.
your complaining and lie still until I’m done with you,” Sam told him
severely. “This is why you’re
my most difficult patient.”
Scott moved forward anxiously as Sam got a basin of hot water and a clean
cloth with which to clean Johnny up.
sorry about all this.” Scott was feeling extremely guilty over what had happened.
“I didn’t mean for you to get hurt.”
Scott. I know you didn’t.”
and made short work of cleaning the wound on the side of Johnny’s head.
The patient flinched as the hot water touched it and nearly jumped out of
his skin when Sam applied some whiskey to disinfect it with.
Sitting up was difficult since he was dizzy but it was necessary Sam said
in order for him to put a few stitches in the gash.
In twenty minutes time Sam had finished his examination and had Johnny
patched up and ready to go.
About the time
he was done Val came in. He’d
been delayed because he was talking to witnesses to the altercation that the
Lancers had been involved in. The
consensus of opinion was that while Scott may have initiated the argument he
most certainly did not throw the first punch.
Most of the witnesses said that he seemed extremely agitated and that
Johnny was trying to calm him down and find out what was bothering him so much
that he would act the way he was. All
of the witnesses, however, agreed that it must be something pretty extreme
because normally Scott only lost control when his brother, or another family
member, was in danger.
How is he?”
fine in a couple of days Val. He
just hit his head.”
Johnny Lancer by hitting him in the head. I
shoulda checked that post for damage. Seems
like his head’s a whole lot harder than that wood.”
Val, relieved that Johnny was ok, couldn’t resist making a wisecrack. It didn’t, however, draw the kind of response he would have
liked. Johnny just glared at him
and Scott, well he just looked miserable and winced when Val made the remark
about the damage to the post.
“John I want
you to go home and go straight to bed….ah, ah, ah no arguments young man,”
Sam said with a stern look and a shake of his finger.
“At least two days bed rest to get rid of the headache and make sure
there’s no concussion. Scott you
see to it now.”
Scott said. “I will.”
a bit when he stood up. Scott and
Val both were right there to take hold of him and help him along.
Fortunately there would be no arguing that he was ok to ride Barranca
home because they’d driven the wagon into town. Teresa’s idea of a small list consisted of half a wagonload
of flour, molasses, yard goods, thread, sugar and various and sundry other
items. The boys did their shopping
at Señor Baldomero’s store in Morro Coyo.
While the ladies had to travel to Green River for their clothes, if they
didn’t make them themselves, the men had to travel to Morro Coyo for theirs.
minutes Johnny was in the back of the wagon resting against a couple of sacks of
flour. A new blanket was thrown
over him to keep him warm. The wind
was still quite strong and it was cooling the air rapidly around the valley.
Val saw them off with a word to Scott that he would be out to see him
later about the encounter with the Wilsons.
The wind that
had plagued the boys in town was still blowing when they pulled into the yard at
Lancer. Scott had hesitated briefly before passing under the arch
with the family name on it uncomfortably aware that he had to explain to his
father that it was his inability to control his temper, over something that had
happened almost ten years earlier, that had caused his younger brother to be
hurt. He was still angry over the
death of the boy, Peter, but losing his temper and practically attacking the man
he held responsible when he encountered him in Green River was not the smartest
thing he’d ever done. And now
Johnny, lying pale against the supplies in the back of the wagon was paying the
price for his lack of control.
it’s about time you two got through lollygagging around in town,” Jelly
Hoskins said when he saw the wagon approaching.
Then, noticing that Scott was alone on the wagon seat, “Where’s
Jelly,” Johnny’s pain-filled voice answered him.
The old man rushed over to the wagon.
Taking one look at Johnny’s pale face and the bandage wrapped around
his head he ran to the French doors leading to Murdoch’s study. “Boss? Teresa?
Better come out here. Johnny’s
brought the Lancer patriarch, all six-foot-five of him out of the house in a
hurry. On his heels, dressed in
jeans and an oversized work shirt was Teresa O’Brien – Murdoch’s ward and
adopted sister to the two boys. Maria, the matronly Mexican housekeeper was right behind her.
What happened son?” Murdoch
wanted to know.
“There was a
fight – of sorts. Johnny got hit and fell into one of the posts holding up the
roof of Mike Wilson’s gunsmith shop.”
“I take it
you’ve already been to see Sam?”
Scott hesitated but then took the plunge.
“It’s my fault sir! I
lost my temper over something that happened a long time ago and Johnny got hurt
Murdoch said. “We’ll talk about
this later – after we get your brother upstairs to bed.”
me a hand here,” Murdoch reached out to help Johnny down.
fine,” Johnny said but he was wobbly just as he’d been in town.
“Come on boy,
put your arm around my shoulder. Your
dad’s got you on the other side. Let’s
get you up to bed.”
The two women
quickly went back into the house, up the stairs and into Johnny’s room to turn
down the bed and lay a nightshirt out for him.
His father and Jelly half carried him into the room and stripped him of
his boots and such and got him into the nightshirt.
Once he was settled Murdoch pulled the covers up to his younger son’s
Johnny?” Murdoch asked laying one of his big hands on his son’s forehead.
Drooping with exhaustion it was all Johnny could do to keep his eyes open
yet he had to say something to his father.
“Murdoch? Tell Scott it’s not his fault would ya?
It was an accident. I got my
boot heel caught in a crack on the sidewalk.
That’s how I fell.”
right. You just get some rest now.
We’ll talk later.”
Murdoch,” Johnny said between yawns. “It’s…
not his fault. Don’t let him
right,” Murdoch said with a sad smile. “I’m just glad it’s not your past
this time and that it was an accident. I’ll
talk to him. Now just sleep,
decided that he was going to sit with the boy for a while.
Nothing Murdoch or the women, who had come in as soon as he was changed
and in bed, said would change his mind. It
wasn’t long before Johnny’s blue eyes closed and the events of the afternoon
caught up with him. He was fast
asleep ten minutes after he was put to bed.
had turned the wagon and supplies over to two of the other hands.
Walking into the great room he seated himself in a chair by the fireplace
waiting for his father to return from putting Johnny to bed.
Guilt kept him from going to his brother’s room at the present time.
That and wanting to explain to his father.
Lancer entered the great room his older son didn’t even look up.
Sitting in that chair by the fireplace Scott was staring into the flames
unmoving. He was lost in his
memories – memories stirred up by a chance encounter ten years after the death
of a young boy.
Murdoch walked over to the table and poured two glasses of brandy.
From the look on Scott’s face he could use a drink right about now.
There was an awful lot of guilt in the look on his son’s face. And something else. Remorse?
He wasn’t sure. Maybe the
brandy would loosen the boy’s tongue.
Scott looked up
his blue-gray eyes haunted looking.
this. You look like you could use
Scott took the
proffered drink wordlessly and turned back to stare into the fire once again.
going to be all right you know. It’s
just a minor bump on the head – for him that is.”
nothing but continued to stare moodily into the fire.
“Come on –
cheer up. Your brother’s not mad
at you. He said to tell you it was
an accident. He caught his boot heel in a crack in the sidewalk.
That’s how he fell.”
wouldn’t have had to duck back if I’d just kept my temper!”
Scott was mad at himself.
“Want to tell
me what happened? Johnny only said it was an accident. He didn’t say what
caused the accident.”
“We met up
with someone from my past. From my
time in that prison camp.”
One of them – a former guard at Cahaba.
A man I swore to kill almost ten years ago.”
Murdoch could sense that Scott needed to get this out of his system.
“You know I
spent a year, six months and twenty days in that camp.
It wasn’t as bad as Andersonville or some of the others.
The camp commander was a fair man but some of the guards were anything
but. It was September of ’63 and
Vicksburg had fallen just a couple of months earlier. My company was on patrol and we were ambushed by a
Confederate patrol. I was wounded
and my horse was shot out from under me. I
couldn’t get free. Peter Winslow
tried to help me. He wouldn’t
Murdoch…Murdoch …Peter was only a boy.
He’d turned twelve just before he joined our company as
standard-bearer. But he was as
brave as any seasoned soldier. He
stayed right by me. Tried to get me
out from my dead horse but he wasn’t strong enough.
He was almost as tall as me but very slim.
Still in that gangly stage you know?
He was all skin and bones but he tried.
But I was pinned under my horse and he couldn’t free me.
He refused to leave my side. We
were taken prisoner along with a half dozen others.”
didn’t say a word. He made
himself comfortable in another chair nearby and listened to Scott’s account of
his capture. Not having raised the
boys he knew little of their past. Maybe this time he would learn something important about his
oldest. It certainly seemed that
way. Something about the events of
the afternoon had loosened his normally reserved Boston raised first born.
Captain Pemberton headed the patrol that took us prisoner.
He was decent enough. He saw
to it that my wound was taken care of. He
delivered us to a transport that took us to Cahaba.”
is Cahaba Scott? I don’t recall
hearing about it.”
near Selma, Alabama. It took
us about a week to get there.”
you were wounded at the time? How
bad was it?” Murdoch was trying
to draw his normally reticent son out of his shell.
So far it was working.
In the right shoulder. I was
told I ran a fever for three days. They
think it was the traveling that did it but there was no choice.
They didn’t dare stop and let us rest.
Some of us might have escaped or there might have been a Union patrol
nearby. By the time we got to
Cahaba I was pretty well on my way to healing but still weak.”
does this guard come in?”
arrived at the camp in late September. It
wasn’t bad as prison camps go and the commandant was a decent enough person.
But he couldn’t be everywhere at once.
This one guard, Charles Wilson, took a dislike to me for some reason.
He’s a big man – not much shorter than you and runs to fat.
He found out about my college education and used it as an excuse to
ridicule and torment me. I tried to ignore him but that only made him madder.
Peter tried to protect me but that just made Wilson mad and when I
didn’t respond or react to what he did to me he tried to provoke me by hitting
Peter or tripping him or insulting him. Peter
was only a kid. He didn’t control
his temper very well and he didn’t like the way I was being treated.
He played right into Wilson’s hands and Wilson took full advantage of
couple of weeks later the weather started getting cold and we had to go out
collecting firewood – such as it was. We
had to get it from the old fields nearby and it was mostly green sap pine or
decayed oak. It didn’t make for
very good fires so we had to gather quite a lot of it in order to have a decent
fire for cooking or to keep warm. On one of these expeditions, in November,
Peter was dragging this oversized log and trying to carry some smaller stuff at
the same time. I was about a
quarter of a mile away gathering small stuff – my shoulder was still somewhat
tender at the time. The men knew I
wasn’t as healed as I said I was so they all decided that they’d take care
of the big stuff until I was up to it. Apparently
Peter couldn’t hang on the small stuff and the log at the same time and he
lost his grip on the log. It fell
on Wilson’s foot and he hit the boy….”
knuckles whitened on the pipe he’d picked up as he listened to Scott’s
story. He had a feeling he knew
what was coming by the way Scott’s face paled and the shudders causing his
shoulders to tremble.
hit the boy several times until he finally fell and hit his head on a rock.
Wilson killed him and I wasn’t able to stop it!
I was blind with rage Murdoch! I
attacked him and I would have killed him if some of the others hadn’t pulled
me off. The warden came along and
gave me a week in solitary while he investigated.
I was called to testify at his court martial but he got off on murder
charges. They found him guilty of
manslaughter and discharged him. I
swore I’d kill him for what he did and I meant it.”
grip snapped his pipe in two when he heard this part of the story.
He put the two pieces in an ashtray on the table next to him before
looking up at his son. When he looked back at Scott’s face he could see tears
running down the younger man’s cheeks.
when we ran into him in Green River today I lost control!
All I could think of when I saw him with Pierce Wilson was how he
murdered that boy. A
twelve-year-old boy Murdoch! Used
him for a punching bag because I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of
reacting when he hounded me.”
rose from his chair to stand beside his distraught older son.
He put his right hand on Scott’s right shoulder and gave it an
accused him of murder right there on the street and he just laughed at me.
It made me so angry I wanted to shake the truth out of him and that’s
when Johnny got hurt. Mike jumped into the fight and I guess he hit Johnny or maybe
his father did or….I don’t know but I do know it’s my fault
Johnny’s lying up there in bed.”
son,” Murdoch said softly. “Johnny
knows you didn’t intend for him to get hurt.
He insists it was an accident. We
all know you wouldn’t intentionally hurt him.”
doesn’t change the fact that I’m responsible for him being confined to bed
for a couple of days. And it
doesn’t change the fact that I couldn’t keep Charles Wilson from killing
could see there would be no talking Scott out of his guilty feelings right now
so he let the matter drop. Maybe
when Johnny was on his feet again he could convince his brother.
that night was a quiet affair. Johnny
had been given some soup when he woke up early that evening and was sleeping
again. Everyone else sat at the
table eating and lost in their own thoughts.
Teresa’s attempts to engage Scott or Murdoch in conversation failed so
miserably that she finally gave up.
thoughts were on his brother part of the time and the guilt he felt over
Johnny’s injury. Other times he
was back in Cahaba watching Wilson cause Peter Winslow’s death.
Or he was in Green River meeting up with Wilson for the first time in
almost ten years and accusing him of murder.
And seeing his brother lying on the boardwalk still and pale with blood
running down the side of his face from the gash he got when he hit the wooden
thoughts were on his injured son, ranch business and trying to think of a way to
bring Scott out of his melancholy. Scott
was normally such a cheerful person that seeing him all torn up inside was
hurting his father as well. Unfortunately,
Murdoch couldn’t come up with anything, but that didn’t mean he’d stop
trying. There had to be a way to
get Scott to see that Johnny’s injury was nothing but an unfortunate accident.
turned in early that night. Each
one stopping to look in on the invalid before going to their own rooms.
Scott, near tears again, sat by Johnny’s bed for a good fifteen minutes
before retiring for the night.
Stop. Leave him alone.
restless Murdoch Lancer, returning from his study where he’d gone to select a
book to read until he was sleepy, was passing by Scott’s room when he heard
his son’s restless thrashing and the harsh muttering as he relived the Winslow
I’ll kill you for this!”
Scott!” Murdoch shook his son’s shoulder in an attempt to rouse him.
“Wake up Scott. You’re
not at Cahaba any more. You’re
safe at home – at Lancer.”
smoky eyes blinked open and he looked at his father in confusion.
Murdoch poured a glass of water from the pitcher sitting on the small
table by the window.
Sit yourself up and have some water.”
did as he was told but it was more from habit of following orders than because
he wanted the drink. His face was
pale and his hair mussed more than usual. He
wasn’t normally such a restless sleeper.
His hands were shaky.
Teresa, having heard the noise, came into the room.
“Is Scott all right?”
fine Teresa. Why don’t you go
check on Johnny and make sure he’s sleeping all right.”
looked at her guardian in confusion. To
her things did not appear to be all right with Scott but she went to do as
Murdoch had asked. Maybe in the
morning she’d get more out of him. It
was obvious that Murdoch wanted to talk to Scott alone. She left the room and went to check on the invalid who was
sleeping soundly. In the two years
since the boys had come home to live with their father they’d all nursed
Johnny through more injuries and nightmares.
Nightmares about people from his gunfighter past coming back to haunt
him. But Scott was usually the
calmer of the two and had seldom, if ever, had any nightmares – even about his
better now?” Murdoch asked concernedly.
Scott answered with a weak smile.
You had me worried.”
hope I didn’t wake Johnny up.”
worry about your brother. We’ll
all see to it that he gets the rest he needs.” Murdoch frowned at his older
son. “But what about you?
What will it take to get you to sleep without waking up the whole
it will take,’ Scott thought to himself, ‘is knowing that Charles Wilson is
paying for what he did to Peter.’ But
he didn’t voice these thoughts to his father.
Instead he replied, “I’m fine Murdoch.
I’m sorry I disturbed you. I’ll
just read for a few minutes to relax and then go back to sleep.”
rose. He wasn’t sure he believed
Scott but now wasn’t the time to press the issue.
“All right. I’ll see you
at breakfast. Good night son.”
door closed quietly behind his father Scott got out of bed and lit the bedside
lamp. Despite his brave words to his father there was no way he was going to be
able to get back to sleep tonight. He
waited fifteen minutes for his father and Teresa to get back to sleep and then
quietly slipped out of his nightshirt and into pants and a shirt.
He padded silently across the hall to his brother’s room and made
himself comfortable in a chair next to the bed.
The moonlight shining in the window made Johnny look much younger than
his years. Scott was thought that
the former gunfighter looked like a sleeping child no older than ten or twelve
years old right then. He spent the
entire night there slipping back into his room only when the black night started
to turn into gray dawn. He didn’t
want his father to know that he’d been up all night.
cold water on his face he pulled on socks and his boots, grabbed a hat, jacket
and his gun belt and walked down into the kitchen for a cup of coffee to drink
while he waited at the table for breakfast to be served.
Maria looked at his suspiciously. It
wasn’t unusual for Scott to be up early, he’d adjusted well from his Boston
lifestyle to life in California, but in her mind Señor Scott was much too
cheery for someone who had been so concerned about Juanito the day before.
This wasn’t like him. Something
his part Scott went through the day trying to act as cheerful as he normally
did. He worked around the barn
mostly, checked up on his brother a few times who looked at him in the same
suspicious manner that Maria had. Years
of experience in reading peoples emotions, hidden though they may be, had Johnny
reasoning to himself that something was wrong.
Unfortunately the headache he had and Sam Jenkins’ decree that he spend
at least two days in bed kept him from acting on it as he would have liked.
Lunchtime found Scott sitting under a tree by himself.
At dinner he sat at the table with his father and Teresa.
Fortunately Teresa’s excited chatter about the new filly that Cipriano
was training for her took up most of the dinner conversation and he wasn’t
forced to act as if he knew Johnny was on the mend and nothing was wrong.
that night the nightmares started in again.
In his dreams Scott saw Wilson’s leering face and heard his mocking
laughter from the confrontation on the street in Green River.
Unlike the night before nobody heard him when he cried out.
They were in their rooms sound asleep with the doors tightly closed.
had the night before Scott rose and dressed and went to his brother’s room.
Sitting silently in the chair next to the bed he watched his brother
sleep envying him. Sleep would
prove to be elusive again that night.
Johnny’s drowsy voice roused Scott from his reverie.
Johnny,” Scott smiled wanly. “It’s
fine. Just go back to sleep.”
Scott adjusted the blankets on Johnny’s bed so that they were covering
him well against the night chill coming in through the open window.
Johnny was too tired to argue. His
eyes closed and the long dark lashes fanned out across his cheekbones.
wasn’t the only one to notice that something was wrong with Scott.
Late the next afternoon Jelly noticed too and asked his employer about
Something wrong with Scott?”
do you ask Jelly?”
he’s walking around here lookin’ like he’s feelin’ lower than a
snake’s belly in a wagon rut.”
tell you the truth Jelly I’m not sure.”
Murdoch frowned remembering Scott’s bad dreams of a few nights ago.
only that,” the bewhiskered handyman said, “He’s lookin’ more peaked
than Johnny and he ain’t even the one that was hurt!”
know. He tries to act like
nothing’s wrong but I think he’s still feeling guilty over what happened to
Johnny. I’ll try to talk to him
again. See if I can get him to open
that night Scott slipped quietly into his brother’s room.
This time he didn’t stay for more than a few minutes.
He made sure Johnny was sleeping comfortably and turned to leave.
On his way out of the house he left an envelope with Johnny’s name on
it sitting on his own bed – a bed that would not be slept in - where
somebody’d be sure to see it when in the morning.
It was the first day Johnny was to be allowed out of bed per doctor’s
orders. Sam Jenkins had stopped by
shortly after supper that night and pronounced Johnny fit for light work.
morning Murdoch,” Teresa said with a smile and a kiss to her guardian’s
good morning yourself Miss O’Brien. And
to what do we owe the honor of this chipper mood this morning?”
getting out of bed and no longer a patient,” she replied pertly.
“At least he’s not an invalid any more. Sam did say he could
do some light work for the next few days. Of
course his idea of light and Johnny’s idea of light are probably very
probably right. But, don’t worry
darling, I’ll see to it that Cipriano keeps him busy enough to keep from
getting bored and at the same time not overdo it.”
Murdoch,” Johnny entered the room on the end of that statement.
“Sam said I could go back to work.
Why do ya gotta have Cipriano watching me?”
if I don’t you’ll climb right up on a bucking bronc and do some permanent
damage to yourself.” Murdoch
wasn’t going to let his son wheedle his way into working with the horses or
anything else overly strenuous his first day out of bed.
“You’d better follow Sam’s orders or he’ll make you pay one way
or another. You don’t want both
of us after your hide do you son?” he asked with a small smile.
Scott? Shouldn’t he be here
eating with the rest of us?” Johnny wanted to know.
he should and I have no idea where your brother is.” Murdoch was a little concerned but not overly so.
If Scott were finally sleeping right again he would cut him some slack
for missing the morning meal. He’d
looked positively ill yesterday. Pale
and with dark circles under his eyes. “He
didn’t sleep well the last couple of nights so maybe he’s sleeping in a
think I’ll go wake him up,” Johnny said with a twinkle in his eye.
“Can’t let him slip back into his old ways.”
obvious that Johnny was feeling better the way he bounded up the stairs to the
second floor. Even his father’s
“Johnny” in a stern tone that told him he needed to slow down couldn’t
take the bounce out of his step or the mischief out of his eyes.
He was about to give his brother a very difficult time about sleeping in
after the rooster had crowed – or so he thought.
Scott! You gonna sleep all day?”
Johnny opened the door to his brother’s room.
“The rooster crowed….” Johnny’s
voice broke off when he saw his brother’s bed neatly made and an envelope on
Scott’s pillow addressed to him. Tearing
open the envelope he quickly scanned the contents of the note enclosed within
and then ran back down the hall and back downstairs just as fast as his feet
could carry him. “Murdoch!”
distressed sound of his younger son’s voice brought the patriarch into the
hall in a hurry.
Scott! He’s gone!”
What do you mean gone?” Murdoch
thought he was just sleeping a little late,” Teresa said as confused as the
I called him and when he didn’t answer I opened the door.
His bed ain’t been slept in and this note was on his pillow addressed
to me. But it’s really for all of
Murdoch took the note
Johnny handed him and read it aloud so Teresa could know what it said too.
Scott’s neat script filled the page.
I’m sorrier than you can ever know about what happened the other day.
I never wanted to be the cause of you being hurt.
Seeing Wilson in Green River the other day has dredged up a lot of old
and painful memories. I’m not a
lot of fun to be around right now and I’ve not been able to keep my mind on my
work. I can’t get the memory of Peter Winslow’s murder out of
If I know Murdoch he’s done some investigating and he knows
that Wilson was acquitted of murder though they found him guilty of
manslaughter. A dishonorable
discharge was not enough punishment for what that man did. He purposely baited that boy trying to get to me.
I’m as much at fault for Peter’s death as Wilson but Wilson struck
the blow that felled Peter.
think a piece of me died when that boy was killed.
Nightmares that I thought were quelled have come back again.
I haven’t eaten and I haven’t slept in the three days since I saw him
on the street. I’ve acted
abominably toward some of the men and I lost control when I saw Wilson again.
I swore, ten years ago, that I’d kill the man and I meant it.
I have to get away for a while and think things through.
I don’t want to bring trouble on you, Murdoch, Teresa, Jelly, Cipriano
or any of the others. Please
don’t try to find me. I’ll be
back when I’m ready to be a civilized human being again.
love you all.
Teresa looked at her guardian, the man she thought of as a second father, with
tears in her eyes. “Murdoch?
What does he mean he had to get away?
What’s wrong with him? Where would he go?
He’s coming back isn’t he?”
Murdoch pulled the girl to him in a hug. “I
think he means he’s upset and frustrated by what happened in town the day
Johnny was hurt. I don’t think
there’s anything wrong with him though.”
“You told him it was an accident didn’t you?” Johnny asked his father. “It wasn’t his fault what happened to me.”
“Yes, Johnny, I told him. It
didn’t seem to make a difference. He
shared some things with me about his time in the Army during the war.
Something that happened when he was a prisoner of war.
I don’t think he wants me to share it with anyone else though.
I had a difficult time getting him to open up to me about it.
He’s kept it hidden inside for years.”
“You are going to look for him aren’t you?” Teresa wanted her “big
“His note says not to but we won’t let that stop us,” Murdoch reassured
her. “We’ll find him and bring
Johnny was on his way out the door when his father called him back.
“And just where do you think you’re going?”
“To look for Scott.”
“No you’re not. No horseback
riding for a couple of more days.”
“But Murdoch Scott could be miles away by then!
Even back in Boston!”
Teresa started crying again when she heard the word “Boston”.
“Don’t worry honey. We’re
still going to look for him.” Murdoch
gave the girl another comforting hug. “As
for being miles away by then I have a feeling he’s already miles away.
He must have left that letter and slipped out last night while we were
This tugged at an uncertain memory in Johnny’s mind.
“Murdoch I think Scott was in my room last night.
I was real groggy but I’m pretty sure he came in.
Maybe even the night before.”
“It wouldn’t surprise me Johnny. He
was pretty upset about what happened to you.
He’s even having nightmares about that boy’s death.”
“What boy? That Peter something he mentioned in the letter?” Johnny asked.
“Yes. Peter Winslow. He was a young boy in Scott’s company during the war.
He died in the prison camp. Scott
doesn’t believe it was an accident.”
“Scott’s letter said you probably did some investigating.
Did you?” Johnny wanted to know.
“I’ve sent some inquiries. I
haven’t gotten any answers yet,” Murdoch replied.
“You tellin’ the truth old man or trying to hide something?” Johnny
was suspicious of his father. He
knew Murdoch had developed connections all over the country and it shouldn’t
have taken more than a day or two to find out what he wanted to know.
“I haven’t heard anything back yet!” Murdoch snapped.
“Stop it you two!” Teresa exclaimed.
“The important thing is to find Scott and bring him back.”
“You’re right Teresa,” Murdoch said to his ward.
“Sorry Teresa,” Johnny apologized.
“I can’t just sit here and do nothing though,” he continued
frustrated. “I’m going to see
if anybody’s seen him.”
“I’ll go ask Maria,” Teresa declared.
“That’s a good idea. Maybe
he left her a note when he took some food.
If nothing else she may have an idea of what he took.
It might tell us how long he intends to be gone.”
Murdoch sent his “daughter” off to the kitchen to see the
“Johnny, why don’t you check with Cipriano.
Maybe he saw or heard something during the night.”
Johnny hurried off to find the Segundo.
If Cipriano hadn’t seen anything then maybe one of the others had.
“Jelly? Jelly!” Murdoch
called to the handyman who was working nearby.
“Jelly have you seen Scott today?”
“No boss. Not that I can
“It seems that the trouble in town the other day has disturbed him more
than we thought. He left Johnny a
note sometime between the time we turned in and breakfast this morning saying
that he had to get away for a few days.”
“You want I should round up some of the fellas and start searching for
“No, Jelly,” Murdoch told him. “It
wouldn’t do any good. We don’t
know what time he left or which direction he went in.
Johnny’s checking with Cipriano to see if he’s seen or heard
“Cip’s a good man. If he
knows anything he’ll tell Johnny.”
“Yes, but the trick is to keep Johnny off of horses for the next two
days until Sam says he can ride again. He
wants to go searching for his brother and he’s pretty upset with me for
telling him he can’t ride.”
“That ain’t gonna be easy.” Jelly
stewed silently for a minute. He
loved both boys as if they were his own but somehow Johnny, maybe because of the
events of his growing up years, was more special to him.
Kind of like the orphaned boys he’d been taking care of when he first
met the Lancers. “Johnny still
looks kinda peaked. Maybe I should
fix him up with one of my tonics.”
“I know but it’s for his own good.
We don’t want any setbacks in his recovery.
I’ll have a talk with Cipriano later – after Johnny’s through.
He’ll keep an eye on him for me. And no tonics or we’ll have a full
scale rebellion on our hands!”
“No tonics Jelly and that’s final!”
In Green River Val Crawford had his hands full.
Mike Wilson and his cronies had gotten drunk and broken up the saloon for
the third time in a month. Val was
getting sick and tired of locking Mike up only to have his father come along and
bail him out. And there wasn’t
anything Val could do about it. As
long as Pierce Wilson continued to pay the fines and pay for the damage done by
his son he’d have to let the man out. But
if he crossed swords with the Lancers again he knew he’d have more trouble
than he could handle. There was no
love lost between the two families. Pierce
Wilson was a bigot. Mike was a
drunk who parroted his father’s attitude.
Johnny Madrid Lancer was a favorite target since he was half-Mexican.
More than once there’d been a clash between the Lancers and the Wilsons.
The most serious one had been around Easter when Scott had had a broken
arm. Mike had gotten drunk and
obnoxious and Scott had paid the price when he tried to break up the fight.
With one good arm Scott was handicapped and an unseen blow had knocked
him into the bar and into oblivion. It
wasn’t serious, fortunately, and Pierce had been forced to pay for Scott’s
doctor bill when Sam got through examining him.
But there’d been bad blood between the younger members of the families
ever since. It wouldn’t surprise Val if Mike had deliberately missed
Scott and swung on Johnny. But the
witnesses to the fight couldn’t be sure who had swung on whom or what exactly
Scott was trying to do. Some
thought he was just trying to detain the man, others said he threw the first
punch while others insisted that Mike had started the whole thing. It was enough to tax anyone’s patience let alone the
irascible lawman of Green River.
And Val wasn’t too terribly impressed with Charles Wilson either.
Clash with Scott Lancer or no clash the man seemed to irritate a lot of
people. He had proven himself to be
every bit as much of a bully as Scott was heard to have said and he was not
making himself very popular with the citizens of Green River or the wandering
cowboys who passed through from time to time looking for work at area ranches
before moving on again. The problem
was that the man intimidated people. More
than once since his arrival Val had arrived on the scene of a fight only to have
the other parties involved refuse to press charges.
Val was about ready to lose his mind.
It wouldn’t be much longer before he’d truly regret ever having laid
eyes on the man.
“Any luck Johnny?” his father asked when Johnny returned from talking to
“No.” Johnny replied gloomily his eyes downcast.
“It looks like Scott left in the middle of the night just like you
said. Nobody saw or heard
“Is his horse gone?”
“Yeah, old Charlie’s gone and so is Scott’s saddle.
And Ramon says there’s a coupla bags of oats and corn missing.
Looks like big brother’s gone prepared for a long stay.
Sure wish I knew where.”
“Murdoch!” Teresa joined the men in the courtyard.
“Maria says there’s several cans of beans missing.
And a half dozen loaves of bread and some biscuits.
Butter, two jars of strawberry preserves, a big piece out of the roast
beef that was left over and some ham. And
some other supplies and some pots and such.
Enough to keep him fed for several days.”
“No doubt about it then,” Murdoch sighed.
“Scott intends to be gone for a while.
And if nobody knows when he left or which direction he went in we don’t
even know where to start looking.”
“No Johnny. Not until Sam says
you can ride again.”
“But Murdoch that’s my brother we’re talkin’ about!”
“I know and he’s my son and I’m worried too.
But we’d be foolish to go rushing off in all directions when we have no
idea where to even begin looking.” He
sighed again. “We’ll just have
to let Scott work this out for himself. Maybe
we’ll get lucky and he’ll only be a couple of days.
Or maybe someone will spot him somewhere and let us know.”
The two young people looked at each other in dismay but they had to recognize
the wisdom in Murdoch’s words. Without
a clue as to which way Scott went there was no way to try and pick up a trail.
And with his time in a cavalry unit during the war he was bound to have
picked up a few tricks from the scouts on how to hide his trail anyway.
In 1861 when the war broke out he’d been a pampered rich kid attending Harvard
University. At sixteen he’d been
anxious to do his part to put down the southern rebellion as his friends and
teachers called it. Many of them
were taking a leave of absence or leaving their posts all together to answer Mr.
Lincoln’s call for volunteers. But
his grandfather, for all intents and purposes, was his guardian and refused to
let Scott leave school. But in
1863, as soon as he turned eighteen, he defied his grandfather’s wishes and
joined up. Smart, cool under fire
and a fair strategist he soon advanced to the rank of Lieutenant.
A couple of brave acts on the field of battle had earned him a
battlefield commission not unlike George Armstrong Custer “The Boy General”.
But Scott did not take wild, reckless chances like Custer.
His bravery under fire, rescuing a fallen major, had moved him up through
the ranks quickly.
Then, shortly after the fall of Vicksburg had come the skirmish that landed him
in the prison camp along with young Peter Winslow and several others. And with that interment came the abuse of one Charles Wilson.
When his father’s invitation, or summons some might say, had come Scott
had jumped at the chance to get away. Boston
wasn’t that far from Concord where Peter was buried and his family, including
five older brothers lived. It was
too painful to risk running into them while he still blamed himself for
Peter’s death. Peter’s family didn’t feel that way but it made no
Now Scott was settled and had the family he’d always dreamed of and longed
for. A father who truly did love
him in spite of what he’d been told growing up, a little brother and a little
sister. And Jelly was like a kindly
old uncle. He hated to put them
through this but he felt it was for the best.
He couldn’t risk lashing out at them or letting them see him suffer or
hear him cry out at night in the throes of a nightmare.
They deserved better. They
especially deserved better than to have someone who would gladly kill a man with
his bare hands living around them. No.
He had to get this out of his system before he went home.
Onward he traveled until he came to an extremely remote cabin that his father
had told him about. Nestled in a valley high up in the mountains it was one that
rarely got used except in the spring or fall when someone when deer hunting.
And the season for hunting deer was still a month and a half away.
Plenty of time for him to work things out.
It was late afternoon by the time Scott arrived at his destination.
In getting settled the first thing he did was to take the food and
utensils he’d hastily packed and put them in the cabin.
Then he built a fire with plenty of dry wood that wouldn’t throw off a
lot of smoke. He didn’t want to attract anyone’s attention to the fact
that he was there. Lastly he tended
to his horse stripping the saddle, bridle and blanket off of the chestnut
gelding and giving him a good rubdown. Leading
it into the lean-to that stood adjacent to the cabin he gave the horse a measure
of oats and pulled some of the tall grass that stood lush and green in the
vicinity. A bucket of water for the
horse and a bucket of water for his use in the cabin and he was ready to settle
in for the night. In the morning
he’d decide whether to stay there or move on somewhere else.
The cabin was relatively clean considering that it was seldom used. Scott did a little cleaning up with a tattered old shirt that
he found and put a couple of clean blankets, that someone had kindly kept
wrapped in an old sheet to keep them clean, on the bunk. He heated water for coffee and made himself a sandwich from
the beef. A couple of cookies that
he had also taken from the kitchen comprised his dessert.
An hour after dark Scott took a chair from the table in the cabin and brought it
outside. The air was cool and the
dark sky was studded with twinkling stars.
He found himself wishing that Johnny were here to enjoy the peaceful
atmosphere with him. His little
brother still suffered from nightmares at times due to his former life as a
gunfighter. ‘Sometimes,’ Scott
thought, ‘those dreams are about his mother.
He doesn’t talk about her much any more but I sure do get the idea that
she died when he was pretty young. And
it might have been a violent death. Never
does do any good to try and get him to talk about it though,’ he thought with
a sigh. ‘But then again I’m not
exactly sharing my worst nightmares with him right now either.’
Scott sat there enjoying the night breeze and the animal sounds, including the
sound of his horse munching on the grass he’d pulled for him, for about half
an hour before fatigue caught up with him and he started nodding off.
Sensibly he rose and went back inside securing the door as he did so.
Sitting down on the bunk he removed his boots, curled up on his side and
fell asleep – for a couple of hours. Then
the nightmares started in. Only
this time the nightmares involved his brother and the incident in town that had
left him injured and bedridden for a few days.
He did wonder how his baby brother was and then had to smile to himself.
If there was anything Johnny hated it was when Scott called him “baby
brother”. Knowing this Scott
sometimes gave into the urge to use it just to give Johnny a hard time.
These peaceful thoughts relaxed him and he fell asleep again not to
awaken again until daybreak.
“How much will it cost this time Sheriff?”
The speaker was Pierce Wilson come to bail out his drunken son yet again.
“Fifty dollars fine and another seventy-five for damages to the saloon. He broke several chairs, a table and the window.
Not to mention the glasses that were broken and the whiskey and beer that
“Not a problem Sheriff. I have the money right here.”
“If you don’t start keeping a lid on that son of yours,” Val said as he
got up and crossed the room to unlock Mike’s cell, “I’m a gonna have to
lock him up until the circuit judge comes through in another month.
I’m gettin’ fed up with him and his drunken brawls. Some time in a jail cell might cool him off.”
“Is that all Sheriff?”
“Yeah, that’s all – for now.”
Pierce Wilson gave his son a withering look as he exited his cell.
“We’ll be seeing you around Sheriff.”
“Darn right you will!” Val retorted. “I’m
going to be keepin’ a close eye on you Wilsons – all three of ya!”
Once out of earshot of the Sheriff’s Office Pierce Wilson tore into his son
about the embarrassment he was causing him.
“Must you get drunk every night? You’re
not only costing me a fortune in fines and reputation you’re disgracing the
“Embarrassing you? I suppose
you’d like it better if I were like that city boy Scott Lancer!
He never gets drunk in public.
He never breaks up a place. He’d
never embarrass his father! Phooey!
It’s enough to make me sick! Attacking
Charles was the first wrong thing he’s done since he came to this valley! And he doesn’t even get arrested for it.”
“He might have if you hadn’t swung on that half-breed brother of his and
knocked him into that post. Scott
was so worried about his brother that he forgot all about Charles for the time
The two Wilson men walked, or rather one walked and one staggered, toward their
home on the edge of town. Their
cousin Charles was not at the house when they arrived.
Neither one was particularly worried until he came in looking frightened.
“Charles? What’s wrong?”
Pierce asked his cousin.
“I’m in serious trouble.”
“What kind of trouble. There’s
someone in this town that knows who I am. What
I did in that prison camp.”
“We already know that. It’s
Murdoch Lancer’s son Scott.”
“Maybe. Maybe not.
Somebody took a shot at me tonight when I was coming back to town from
the Johnson place.”
“Did you see who it was?” Mike
“No. It was dark and they were
too far away.”
“You’d better tell the Sheriff. Incompetent
though he may seem to be he’s the only law we have in this town.”
“No. That won’t be necessary.
I’m sure now it must have been an accident.”
However, the bearded man’s tone and facial expression belied his
attempt at confidence.
The Wilson men retired for the night but it wouldn’t be many more days before
Pierce would regret allowing his cousin to shrug off the apparent threat to his
Three days after Scott left home Johnny was pronounced fit to ride by Sam
Jenkins. The first thing the brunet
did was head for the barn and saddle Barranca.
In less than ten minutes he was riding through the gate headed in the
direction of the spreads east of Lancer.
“He’s sure in a hurry to ride again,” Sam commented.
“Keeping him off that horse for five days must have been hard on all of
“There’s more to it than that Sam,” Murdoch told the physician.
“He’s worried about Scott. You
see two days after Johnny was hurt Scott left in the middle of the night with
enough food for himself and his horse for several days. He left a note apologizing to Johnny for what happened and
said he needed some time to himself.”
“Sounds like Scott’s carrying a heavy load of guilt Murdoch,” Sam said.
“Yes, he is,” the Lancer patriarch sighed.
“He was having nightmares and lost his appetite and was losing sleep.
He was in bad shape.”
“Too bad this thing with the Wilsons has got him so worked up.
That Pierce Wilson and his son have been nothing but trouble since the
day they moved to this valley. I
was talking to Val Crawford before I came out here and he said that he’s
locked Mike Wilson up almost every night this week.
Pierce has spent a considerable amount of money keeping his son out of
jail and has even had to bail his cousin out once or twice.
The saloonkeepers are ready to close up their places when they see them
coming. They’ve all had to
replace tables, chairs and glassware and one even had to replace a mirror.”
“It’s not the fight in town, Sam, when Johnny got hurt that has Scott so
upset. It seems that Pierce’s
cousin Charles was a guard at Cahaba Prison Camp in Alabama during the war.
Scott told me that the man brutalized and murdered a twelve-year-old boy
in front of the entire camp. He
threatened to kill him then – in fact he did try.”
Murdoch felt perfectly comfortable in telling his old friend this.
“I did some investigating on my own.
It seems that Wilson was in the habit of singling out certain prisoners
for reasons of his own and making their life miserable.
As far as my friend could tell he picked on Scott because he was young,
an officer and had a college education. The
boy that was killed he picked on because he was loyal to Scott and he wanted to
get at Scott. There were others too. But
Scott is the only one to have openly attacked him at the time and now, nearly
ten years later, he met him on the street in Green River.
All those awful memories came back and Scott just lost control of
himself. Johnny just got caught in
the middle trying to protect Scott.”
“Well, if I hear anything,” Sam said as he got ready to leave, “I’ll let
“Thanks Sam,” Murdoch said shaking hands with the other man.
At age eighteen Scott had felt himself enough of a man to ignore his
grandfather’s wishes and orders and join the army and rose through the ranks
quickly to Lieutenant. He tried not
to dwell on the last year and a half of the war – the time he was in the
prison camp because he knew if he did he might never go home.
His bitterness would poison his family and he didn’t want that. Neither did he really want to kill Charles Wilson but the
impotent rage he felt when he thought of how that man had deliberately taunted
and baited him by using Peter coursed through him whenever he thought of that
Meeting his brother had certainly been a surprise.
If his grandfather knew that Murdoch had remarried and had another son he
never said anything. Scott laughed
now when he thought about how he, the fancy dan as one of Day Pardee’s men had
tagged him, was dressed and the contrast between him and this stranger who
turned out to be his brother. He’d
come a long way from that image.
Now he dressed pretty much like any other cowboy on the range – only maybe a
little more eastern in style. Teresa
had seen to that very quickly after his arrival.
All it took was one comment “We’ll have to get you some new clothes
for living out here” coupled with his plaintive “What’s wrong with my
clothes” and Johnny’s “They just ain’t the style” for him to realize
how right they were when he looked around at the others.
Even his father, the struggling but successful rancher didn’t dress
like a city dude. Señor Baldomero
and Teresa had taken care of his wardrobe problems.
As the sun set the sound of a night bird roused Scott out of his reverie.
He got up from his seat by the stream that ran about a half mile from the
cabin and went back to get his supper started.
He’d caught several trout and planned on frying them up.
After supper the dishes washed Scott took the chair outside the door of
the cabin again and starred up at the constellations.
It seemed to calm him down when he did this.
In fact this whole time away from his family, much as he loved them,
seemed to be doing him a lot of good. By
nature he wasn’t necessarily a solitary man but solitude was what he needed to
sort through his mixed emotions. Anger,
sorrow, frustration all boiled around inside of him.
He couldn’t go back until he was sure that he could control it and
accept the fact that Wilson had told the truth – to a certain extent.
It may or may not have been an accident, Peter’s death, but the
court-martial only found him guilty of accidentally killing the boy.
His boorish behavior had cost him his job.
There’d been enough complaints before the boy’s death and others came
forward after his death to cause the warden to fire the man.
Fortunately his replacement had been a much kinder person.
It was a very discouraged Johnny Lancer who returned home that night.
Nobody he’d talked to among their ranch hands, the neighbors or any of
their ranch hands had seen anything of Scott.
Some hadn’t seen him since the Saturday before – almost a week ago.
Supper was a dismal affair. Johnny
was anything but cheerful and the same went for his father and Teresa.
Scott’s leaving and not being able to find him upset them all.
It was the same thing all over again for the next four days.
Johnny and Murdoch tried to attend to the ranch and, at the same time,
look around for any signs of which direction Scott had gone.
On the fourth night, a rainstorm blew in and nobody at Lancer could have
possibly foreseen the effect it would have on their lives for the next week.
“Oh, dear, Alex,” Maura Talbot said to her husband as they left Green River
after visiting with their friends the Ingersolls for dinner.
“It looks like it’s going to rain and us with the open buggy.
It was such a nice night and now we’ll get soaked.”
No sooner had she spoken than a flash of lightning lit up the night sky and the
crash of thunder drowned out his reply. The
buggy horse shied and would have bolted if not for Maura’s steady hands on the
reins and Jim’s strong one on the bridle.
The rain held off just long enough for Jim to get a tarp from their
friends to cover them and keep them halfway dry until they got home.
As they were passing by the alley between the general store and the barbershop
the sky was lit up by another flash of lightning.
The crash of the thunder that followed almost, but didn’t quite, drown
out the sound of a gunshot. Startled
Jim stopped the buggy and both he and Maura stared intently into the alley. Jim hopped down and started to enter lighting his way with a
lantern that had hung on the buggy to help light their way home.
Another flash of lightning illuminated the alley and he saw a man on the
ground, dead or dying by the looks, and another man, tall, blond and slim
leaning over him. The blond, face
hidden in the shadows, saw Jim and Maura and ran off.
“What is it Alex?” Maura asked her husband.
By this time Jim had
reached the man on the ground. He
found Charles Wilson dead on the ground – shot in the chest at close range.
“Maura,” he called to his wife.
“Drive over to the sheriff’s office and get Val.
It’s Charles Wilson – he’s been shot and he’s dead.”
“Alex, that wasn’t Scott Lancer we saw leaving the alley was it?”
Maura asked fearfully.
“I don’t know love. Go
get Val. I’ll keep the crowd
The crowd was a group from the saloon as well as the mayor who’d been
working late in his store. Jim
Talbot was savvy enough to know that if they got to walking around in the alley
they’d obliterate any tracks or other evidence that Val could use to try and
determine who the killer was.
Maura hurried away forcing her way through the gathering crowd of people
attracted by the shot. Jim stood up
to his full six feet plus height and faced the crowd.
He put every bit of authority into his voice that he’d had when he was
a father to three headstrong growing boys.
“Folks, back off now! There’s
nothing you can do here. Back off
and leave room for the sheriff to get through.
My wife’s gone to fetch him.”
“Who is it Jim?” one of the men in the crowd asked.
“Pierce Wilson’s cousin Charles if I’m not mistaken,” Talbot
answered. “I’ve only seen the
man from a distance once or twice. We
were never formally introduced.”
The crowd murmured when they heard this.
The Wilsons were not the most popular family in the town, let alone the
valley, and they knew there’d be trouble.
Many of them had witnessed the fight between the Wilsons and the Lancers.
“Who killed him?”
“How was he killed?”
“Did Scott Lancer have anything to do with it?”
The questions came fast and furious.
Jim Talbot answered them as best he could without giving anything he
knew, or thought he knew, away.
“I don’t know who killed him, he was shot and I don’t know if
Scott, or any of the Lancers, had anything to do with it.”
He was a little irritated and had a sneaking suspicion that this was how
Val felt some days. His sympathy
was entirely with the sheriff.
“Let me through!” a
strident male voice said. “Stand
aside and let me through.”
Pierce Wilson, followed closely by his son, had arrived.
Someone in the crowd had left and went to him at his store telling him
the news. He looked harried and
distressed. Mike looked slightly inebriated which was par for the course - but
not falling down drunk or belligerent. Not
“What happened?” the senior Wilson wanted to know.
“Someone shot him and that’s all I know,” the rancher told him.
Truth be told he knew a little more than that but given the bad blood
between the Wilsons and his friend’s sons he wasn’t about to say any more?
“Scott Lancer do this?” Mike wanted to know.
“I don’t know for sure who did this,” Talbot said.
Val arrived on the scene just then followed closely by Maura.
She looked very distressed and Val looked harried.
Both knew in their hearts that if Charles Wilson were dead who was going
to get the blame - especially given what little bit she and Jim had witnessed.
She prayed she was wrong but the glimpse they’d gotten of the assailant
had immediately brought Scott to mind.
“Here, here, back up and let me through.
Outta the way you!” Val
pushed his way through the crowd to Jim Talbot’s side.
“What happened Mr. Talbot?”
“I don’t know exactly Val,” Jim answered him.
“Maura and I were leaving the Ingersolls.
It started to storm so I went back inside to get a tarp to try and keep
us dry until we got home. There was
a flash of lighting and clap of thunder and we heard a shot coming from the
alley. I took the lantern and
approached the person lying on the ground.
There was another person in the shadows.
I didn’t get a good look at him. All
I could tell you is that he was about my height, slim and had blond hair.”
“Uh-huh. Go on.”
“That’s it really. The
other person, presumably the killer, saw me and the lantern and ran off in the
“Sheriff I demand you go out to Lancer and arrest Scott Lancer for
murder!” Pierce Wilson said.
“Now hold on just a minute!” Val was indignant to say the least.
“I can’t go arresting someone without any evidence!”
“What kind of evidence do you need Sheriff Crawford,” the senior
Wilson asked. “Scott Lancer is tall, slim, blond and he hated my cousin!
You saw the fight he got into last week.”
“I saw nothing of the kind,” Val retorted.
I was two streets away when it happened and the witnesses didn’t agree
on what happened! If you recall
correctly, and I’m sure you do since you have such a long memory, some of the
witnesses said that Mike, here, started it as much as Scott did.
Now go home. Doc Jenkins
will take care of the body and you can make arrangements with Fowler for the
burial and such.”
The crowd dispersed quickly when Val turned on them telling them all to
go about their business. Jim and
Maura Talbot he asked to come back to his office with him.
There they would tell him, once again, what little bit they saw.
Both would fret all the way home about what they had witnessed.
Granted a lot of men were tall, blond and slim but how many of them had
been in a fight with the dead man in the last week?
In the morning Val would ride out to Lancer to talk to Scott – or so he
When the storm struck Johnny had just returned home from another fruitless day
of searching for his brother. He
knew Scott didn’t want to be found but he felt that this was ridiculous!
It had been nearly a week since he left home and they hadn’t had any
word from him. Johnny fretted, much
like Teresa had been, that something had happened to him and they wouldn’t
know about it until too late.
“Johnny?” Teresa’s voice cut into his thoughts.
“Do you want another piece of pie?” she asked him.
“No. I think I’ll just turn
in.” So saying he got up from the
table and went upstairs.
“He’s really taking this hard isn’t he Murdoch?”
“We all are darling.”
“Yes, but Johnny seems to be blaming himself.
Is it because of his accident or because he can’t find any trace of him
and he thinks he should?”
“A little of both maybe. Scott
blames himself for Johnny’s injury and Johnny blames himself for Scott
leaving. My sons are both very stubborn young men and it’s hard to
change their minds about anything.”
Despite her own sadness Teresa had to smile.
“I wonder where they get it from?” she teased her guardian.
Upstairs Johnny had not gone to his room. Instead
he had gone to his brother’s room. More
than he could ever express in words he missed his brother and wished with all
his heart that he knew where to look for him.
Scott being the neat person that he was had left his room nearly
spotless. Looking through his
brother’s wardrobe he found that Scott had only taken his oldest clothes.
All his good clothes were still there.
Far back in a corner Johnny found a work shirt that Scott had either
overlooked or just decided not to take. Removing
it from it’s place the brunet took it and went over to the his brother’s
bed. Holding it close, like a child
would hold a security blanket, he wept silent tears of misery.
It was there that his father found him, illuminated only by the lightning
from the storm raging outside.
Walking over to the bed Murdoch sat down beside his younger son and put his
right arm around the boy’s shoulders. “Missing
Scott aren’t you son?”
“We’ll find him Johnny. Somehow,
somewhere, we’ll find him.”
“But where Murdoch?” Johnny wailed. “I’ve
covered every inch of ground on this ranch as far as the foothills to the San
Benitas and I can’t find a thing. Not
one little trace or track of where he might have gone.”
“Starting tomorrow we’ll start looking again.”
“But the storm will have wiped out any tracks by then!” Johnny protested.
“We’ll ask everyone who knows him if they remember anything, anything at all
about what Scott said or did that night before he left.”
The tall rancher meant it sincerely. He
was lonely without his older son. As
much as he loved Johnny and Teresa he missed the intellectual stimulus that he
got from Scott when they discussed politics and world affairs. Those were subjects that just didn’t interest the two
youngest members of the family. And
having Scott missing again was bringing up painful memories of all the years he
spent without him when Scott was growing up in his grandfather’s home in
Boston. He didn’t want to relive
those years ever again.
“You’d better get to bed Johnny. It’s
going to be another long day and this storm is probably going to make quite a
mess to be cleaned up.”
“Yes sir,” Johnny mumbled. “In
Murdoch clapped his younger son on the shoulder and left the room.
In his own room he quietly gave vent to his own frustration at not being
able to find his older son, not seeing this coming – Scott having been so
depressed about what had happened in Green River, and his futile efforts to keep
the two youngest members of the family cheered up.
“You don’t think that was really Scott that we saw do you?”
Coming over to where his wife was seated Jim put his arm around her shoulders.
“I don’t know what to think. All
I got was a very short look at a man that was tall, slim and blond.
I didn’t get a look at his face.”
“I know. And neither did I. But that description fits Scott so well.”
“It fits a lot of other men in this valley besides Scott Lancer my love,
“That’s true. I do hope that
Val is able to talk to Scott and sort things out.”
Maura finished off the braid she was putting in her hair after having
“I’m sure he will now come to bed.”
the second bolt of lightning struck a tree in their path as they walked back to
the shed where he’d been spending his nights after grazing in the nearby field
or Scott’s mindless wanderings as he fought his warring emotions, Charlie went
berserk. Scott had not time to
tighten his grip on the lead rein before it was pulled out of his hand, leaving
painful rope burn, and the gelding took off for home.
Not the cabin, no, but back down the mountain and through the fields and
pass and every other bit of territory that they’d passed through on the way
“Hey you fool
horse! Come back here!” Scott
shouted trying to make himself heard over the storm.
It was a wasted
effort. Two minutes after he broke
away from Scott the chestnut was out of sight and Scott was getting soaked.
As he headed back to the cabin on the run, after ascertaining that there
was no danger of fire from the damaged tree, Scott hoped that he’d find the
horse in the morning. Little did he
know that there would be worse trouble facing him by the time he got home than
just a runaway horse.
raged all night finally stopping just before dawn.
The roads were a muddy mess and so was Val Crawford by the time he
reached Lancer. Already grim from
the task that lay ahead of him after the events of the night before, his mood
was not improved by the time he arrived. Halfway
to the Lancer’s ranch Pierce Wilson and his son joined him determined to
confront Scott over the death of their relative.
Irritated Val spoke to the Wilsons addressing Pierce rather than Mike.
I don’t need you comin’ along to make sure I do my job!”
friendship with Lancer’s half-breed brother doesn’t exactly make you the
most unbiased person in this matter.”
I won’t arrest Scott if I don’t like what he has to say?”
exactly what I’m saying.”
“Well I got
news for you Mr. Wilson iffen I don’t like what he has to say or he can’t be
provin’ his whereabouts last night I will arrest him same as I would anybody
else. “ Then he glared at him.
“And don’t you be referrin’ to Johnny Lancer as a half-breed in my
hearin’ unless ya want to be swallowing your teeth real soon!”
other man nodded. His son, for once
in his life, was silent. He’d
been on the receiving end of one of Val’s punches a time or two and had no
desire to risk it right now. There
was, of course, no way of telling how long that would last.
An hour after
sunrise they rode under the great arch and into the courtyard.
Murdoch heard their horses and exited the house through the red velvet
covered French doors. Johnny was right behind him.
What brings you out here at this hour of the morning?” he asked.
“I need to
talk to Scott, Mr. Lancer. Is he
still around or is he off checkin’ fences or something?”
here at all Val. Why do you need to
talk to him and what do those two,” he asked indicating the Wilsons, “have
to do with why you’re here?”
Wilson’s cousin, the one Scott had the ‘argument’ with last week was
murdered last night. I have a
couple of eyewitnesses who saw a tall, slim blond man in the alley right after
Johnny protested. “That
description – well it fits a lot of men in this valley.
Mr. Talbot for one.”
know,” Val replied. “But…
Before he could
finish Pierce Wilson jumped into the conversation.
information half-…gun-hawk Jim Talbot and his wife are the witnesses!”
Is that right?” Murdoch queried. “Did
Jim and Maura say it was Scott that they saw?”
glared at the two Wilsons. “They
only said that it was a man and that he was tall, blond and slim.
Like you said that description fits a lot of men in this area.”
“How many of
them accosted Charles on the street?” Mike asked.
“How many of those tall, blond men knew him from his time as a guard in
that prison camp?”
“I told you
two to stay out of this,” Val said to both Wilsons.
“Now shut up!” Turning back to the Lancers he asked, “Can you tell me
where I can find him?”
afraid not Val,” Murdoch said regretfully.
“Scott was so upset by what happened to Johnny during that altercation
and the fight itself that he took off for parts unknown.
He said he’d be back when he could think and act like a civilized human
got no idea where he went?”
Johnny’s been trying to pick up a trail and we’ve asked all the hands
and most of the neighbors but nobody’s seen any sign of him.”
he’s lyin’,” Mike Wilson burst out in disbelief. “Why I’ll bet you that Eastern dandy is in the house.”
Dismounting from his horse before Val could stop him he added, “I’m
going to search it until I find him!”
the noise Teresa, Maria and one of the other women, Juanita, appeared at the
French doors. All three women were
dismayed to see the Wilsons. Val
was a friend as well as the sheriff of Green River so he was more than welcome
as far as they were concerned.
toward the doors only to be stopped by Johnny’s hand on his arm.
goin’ nowhere,” Johnny growled at the gunsmith.
filthy hands off of me half-breed,” was the response he got.
Johnny’s hand off he started toward the French doors again.
The three women backed away. Neither
Wilson was popular with the Mexican community and Mike had always been a bully
that Teresa feared. One of the few
things she had feared growing up. She’d
always gotten along well with the other children at school.
Mike, however, was older, bigger and heavier and he liked to throw his
“I said ya
ain’t goin’ in there!” Johnny
stated more firmly this time.
“And I told
you to get your filthy hands off of me half-breed!”
Being called a
half-breed had never set well with Johnny Madrid Lancer.
He’d heard it all his life while he was growing up.
To hear it from the mouth of this habitually drunken bully was more than
he was going to take. He yanked
Mike around and let him have it in the mouth.
Mike spit blood and swung on Johnny.
Before Murdoch or Val could stop them, or anyone else that was nearby for
that matter such as Cipriano who was nearly as big a man as Murdoch, the two
young men were in a knock down drag out brawl.
from his horse as quickly as he could and tried to wade into the fray.
Murdoch grabbed his son but Johnny was so enraged that Murdoch couldn’t
hold onto him for long. Val had no
better luck holding onto Mike. There
seemed no way to keep the two combatants separated.
seeing his son on the losing end of the battle drew his pistol.
He had every intent of shooting Johnny if that’s what it took and he
would have only Jim Talbot had ridden up unnoticed by anyone in the Lancer
courtyard and pulled his own pistol out. Reacting
quickly the other rancher reached over and gave Wilson’s wrist a hard rap with
his pistol. The storekeeper’s gun
hit the dirt next to his horse as he howled in pain and grabbed his injured
“Stay out of
it Pierce! Let Val and Murdoch
surely Murdoch and Cipriano got a good grip on Johnny and kept him from going
after Mike again. Val and Randy
Davis, a Lancer ranch hand, got hold of Mike and pulled him away from Johnny.
had just about enough of you Wilsons interfering in my job and causing me
problems!” Val declared. “Now
you git on your horse, Mike, and you and your father head on back to Green
River.” Turning to Murdoch he
said, “If you want to press charges against these two for trespassing, Mr.
Lancer, you can see me in my office this afternoon.”
be necessary Val,” Murdoch replied. “As
long as they never set foot on this ranch again without an invitation.
And I want an apology from Mike for his insulting Johnny.”
don’t want ta reconsider your attitude Mike,” Val asked.
“Mr. Lancer here doesn’t have ta press charges if he don’t want ta
but I can press charges against ya myself for interfering with my job.”
glad to testify to that in court Val,” Jim Talbot spoke up.
was not about to give in.
my son is very sorry for accusing the half-…” the look he got from Val
stifled that part of Pierce Wilson’s comment.
“If you say your son is not home then I believe you.”
very kind of you I’m sure,” Murdoch said sardonically.
The Wilson men
wisely took their leave of the others. The two Lancers, Val Crawford, Jim Talbot and Cipriano
watched them closely. Two of
Murdoch’s ranch hands rode with them as far as the road back to Green River.
When they were gone the remaining men returned to the reason for Val’s
visit. But not until Jim Talbot got
a “thank-you” from Murdoch and Johnny for his intervention in the explosive
situation just now resolved.
Jim,” Murdoch said shaking his friend’s hand.
problem,” the other rancher said. “I
never did like Pierce Wilson or his son. People
like them are what made it hard for Maura’s family to find work when they
immigrated to this country. “You
see Johnny, it’s not just people like you, those of mixed heritage that have
had people prejudiced against them. When
my wife and her brothers immigrated to the United States back in the forties,
during the potato famine, there were signs in windows everywhere saying ‘No
Irish Need Apply’. They were only
considered good enough to be domestic help – servants like Maria and Juanita.
And they weren’t necessarily treated well either.”
Turning to Murdoch he asked, “ Mind telling me what that was all
came out to speak to Scott about the murder in town last night.
Apparently Pierce Wilson and his son don’t believe that Scott isn’t
“He tried to
force his way into the house,” Johnny said.
“And then you
lost your temper,” Val added. “Ya
should have let me handle Mike. That’s
what I get paid for.”
a right to protect his family and property don’t he?” Johnny asked.
“Besides Scott really ain’t here.
He left in the middle of the night about a week ago and we ain’t heard
from him since.”
been all over the ranch trying to pick up a trail but it’s been no use.
And I’m afraid that storm last night wiped out any tracks we may have
overlooked.” Murdoch looked at
his friend. “Val says you and
Maura saw the killer.”
admitted. “But not very well.
All I know for sure is that it was a tall, blond male.
And that description, my friend, fits a lot of men in this valley
including me. I never saw his face.
I told Val that last night.” Sudden
realization came upon him. “So
that’s what Pierce and Mike were doing here.
They think it was Scott because of that incident in town last week.”
exactly it Mr. Talbot,” Val said. “Look,
Mr. Lancer, if Scott should show up I really do have to ask him where he was
last night. Until I’ve talked to
him and found out where he was, and most importantly, if anyone can back his
story up, I have to consider him a suspect.”
Val,” Murdoch said sadly. “I
wish I knew where he was.”
best get on back to town and try to defuse whatever trouble the Wilsons are
causing now. I wish to heck
they’d move away and give some other poor slob the headache of keeping them in
line! I’m sick of ‘em!”
So saying Val
mounted his horse and turned back toward Green River.
Once beyond the stone arch he spurred his gelding to a lope and then a
gallop kicking up clods of mud from the road as they went.
stayed a few minutes longer. He’d
originally come to speak to Murdoch about a hunting trip they took annually.
Neither one of them knew at the time that their discussion would lead to
the discovery of the missing Lancer.
What was to be
a long hard trek for Scott began at daybreak the same morning that Val and the
Wilsons arrived at Lancer looking for him.
With a sigh of frustration and aggravation he packed what was left of his
foodstuffs into his saddlebags, donned his hat, jacket and gun belt and started
off toward home.
The path was
slick with mud and he slipped more than once as he went along.
More often than not, early on, he managed to stay on his feet but dropped
his saddlebags. If he held onto the
saddlebags he slipped and fell – to one knee at least.
It was all very discouraging and annoying.
He swore to himself he was going to pick out a new regular mount when he
got home – one that didn’t spook during a storm.
By the time
he’d been walking for a couple of hours he’d only managed to cover about
three miles. And that was on the
easy part of the walk. It would get
rougher as he got down further. The
owners of the cabin, a family by the name of Montgomery, had made the area
around the cabin inviting enough but there wasn’t much they could do about the
access to the cabin. It was three
miles of winding, twisting, boulder lined path from the top of the ravine to the
bottom of the valley. Scott was
exhausted by the time he reached the top.
only sat for fifteen minutes and started off after wiping his brow and having a
swallow from his canteen. This time
he slipped and slid all the way down. Two-thirds
of the way down that first hill his feet went out from under him and he slid the
rest of the way down the muddy path on his back.
And that was just the beginning of his troubles.
At 10:00 AM
that same morning Val Crawford was ready to shoot someone.
To be specific he was ready to shoot Pierce Wilson or his drunken,
loud-mouthed son. All morning long,
ever since he’d had the misfortune to catch up with them on the road back to
Green River, he’d had to listen to them complain and accuse and just plain
annoy him over the fact that Scott hadn’t been found at the ranch.
That Scott Lancer was the only one with a reason to kill Charles.
That Murdoch Lancer knew perfectly well where his son was at and that he
and his rotten gunslinger son were hiding the blond Lancer somewhere so nobody
could find him.
an excited male voice said from the doorway to the office.
“There’s a fight down at the saloon.
You’d better come quick!”
impatient groan Val rose from his chair behind the desk and followed the man, a
ranch hand from the Thompson ranch, to The Longhorn.
Inside he found Pierce and Mike Wilson in a fight with several cowhands.
Break it up! Break it up I
said!” Val waded into the middle
of it and with a couple of good punches had Mike Wilson laid out flat on the
floor and the senior Wilson backing away from him with his hands out in front of
sheriff, all right,” the middle-aged storekeeper said.
it and what’s it all about?” Val demanded to know.
A babble of
voices all spoke at once.
the first punch!”
shootin’ his big mouth off about Scott Lancer being a killer!”
Wilson was coming around. Val
motioned to the man’s father to help him up and told them to take a seat at a
table where he could keep an eye on them. Then
he turned to the cowboys.
now, one at a time. You, Tim Kelly,
you go first.”
Tim Kelly was a
young cowboy, twenty-three years old who was employed by the Talbots at their
ranch. A tall, husky redhead he was in town to do some errands for his employers
and had stopped in to have a cold beer before heading back to the ranch.
standing at the bar having a beer when those two walked in,” he said
indicating the Wilson duo.
tossing back the shots of whiskey in spite of his father’s protests.
Then he started sayin’ that Scott Lancer killed that cousin of theirs.
Some of us took exception to that and told him that he ought to shut his
mouth. That there was no proof that
Scott was responsible for his cousin’s murder.”
“He got real
belligerent and he took a swing at me. Zach tried to stop him so Mike swung at him instead.”
a short dark-haired puncher who worked for the Thompsons, spoke up.
“That’s what happened sheriff. Mike
there didn’t like it because most of us took Scott’s side in the argument.
He got real nasty like and started taking on everyone. Throwin’ tables and chairs and glasses and whatever else he
could get his hands on.”
What have you got to say for yourself?” Val asked the younger Wilson.
spoke up, “I say that Scott Lancer killed my cousin and that you’re
letting him get away with murder. That you’re letting your friendship with that half-breed
brother of his cloud your judgment.”
say I’d better not hear you say it again!” Val snapped.
“The witnesses, such as they are, to the murder can’t identify Scott
positively. And they can’t
identify anyone else either! Mr. and Mrs. Talbot only said that the person they saw
leaning over your cousin’s body was a tall, blond male. That describes about fifty or so men of all ages living in
this here valley not to mention a good many strangers that are passing through
at any time!” Giving Pierce
Wilson his most menacing glare he added, “If I hear one more time that
you’re accusing Scott Lancer of murder, Mr. Lancer and Johnny of covering up
for him or anything else…if you cause me, or the Lancers, any more grief
before this murder is solved I’m going to lock you up until it is over! Do you understand me?”
Wilson and his
groggy son just sat there silently fuming so Val repeated himself.
“I said do
you understand me?!”
Pierce answered grudgingly for both of them.
Now get that drunken fool gunsmith you call a son out of here and go
about your business. You have a
store to run. Take him home to
sleep it off and then git back to it!”
from the table and took his son by the arm. None too gently he steered him toward the door throwing nasty
looks at Val all the way. The
sheriff of Green River just ignored him and watched to see that they did as
he’d just ordered. Then he
ordered each of the cowhands involved in the fight to pay two dollars each
toward repairing the damage to the saloon and then go back to their places of
employ. The Longhorn’s owner said
he’d get most of the money out of the Wilsons later.
After all, it was Mike who had started the fight that caused all the
damage to begin with. He wanted no
money out of the Thompsons – they were a well-liked and respected family, like
By the time the sun was setting that afternoon Scott was footsore and
hungry. His high-heeled riding
boots were not made for walking long distances in.
The route that he was taking to get home was rough and long.
There were no shortcuts. The
cabin was deliberately built in a somewhat difficult to reach area because
that’s where the best hunting was.
Wearily he gathered
some wood and built a campfire in part to keep warm and in part to keep any
unwanted four-legged visitors away. Sleep
was practically unknown to Scott that night.
With no blanket he had to keep the fire going.
He’d nod off for a couple of hours only to rouse when the fire had died
down and the cold mountain air was getting to him.
He was more than ready, mentally at least, to get started in the morning.
One more time Scott was slapped in the face with a tree branch. He was, four days after he left the cabin, bruised, dirty,
hungry and on the ragged edge of exhaustion.
If he could have seen himself in a mirror he would have seen dark circles
under bloodshot eyes set in a thin and pale face bearing several scratches.
His food had run out two days ago – there hadn’t been all that much
left anyway – and he’d been subsisting on water and any berries he
recognized as edible from the lessons he’d had with Johnny.
Johnny. Right then he’d
have given anything to hear his little brother’s voice.
Even if it meant listening to him tease him about being a greenhorn and
letting his horse run away from him. He
longed for one of Teresa and Maria’s hearty meals.
He longed for the intellectual stimulation of a political or civics
discussions with his father. To
hear Jelly’s voice protesting as the brothers teased him about his gander
Dewdrop and the bird’s propensity for causing trouble.
Most of all he longed for a hot bath and a week’s sleep in his own bed.
ignored this most recent indignity and pressed on.
Eyes watering from the pine needles he never saw the sudden drop where
the path he was on crossed over that stream where he’d been fishing just a few
days ago. Down he went into water that was icy cold, waist high and
rapidly flowing. The splash he made
would have scared away any trout that a fisherman upstream or down might have
been angling for. Quickly he rose
from beneath the water coughing and spluttering and crawled out on the other
take long for him to realize that he was in more trouble.
When he’d fallen Scott had twisted his left ankle – not badly but
enough to slow him down considerably. He
soaked the swollen joint in the cold water for a few minutes and wrapped it with
his neckerchief to support it. It
was a struggle to pull the boot back on but if he didn’t do it now the ankle
would be so swollen he’d never be able to put it back on until it was
He made camp
early that night and attempted to dry his clothes out.
He sat by the fire in damp clothes shivering and wishing for a nice hot
cup of coffee. Or cocoa.
Even tea, which he detested. His
teeth chattered and he finally fell into an uneasy sleep with his arms wrapped
around himself in a futile effort to keep warm.
Are you sure you’ve got everything?”
smiled indulgently at his wife. Every
time he and Murdoch had made this trip over the last twenty years it was the
same thing. She was always sure
he’d forgotten blankets (thought there were always some at the cabin) or he
didn’t have enough bacon, bread, flour, salt, lard or clean clothes.
Did he have enough utensils and pots and pans?
Maura my love,” he answered the diminutive love of his life.
“You’ve asked me a dozen times already.
Now I’ve got to get going if I’m going to get there before dark.
It’s a long ride and I don’t want to camp out on the way this
“But are you
was a little exasperated. “Maura,
dear, I’m sure I have plenty. I’m
not going up there to stay for a week. I’m
only going up to make sure the place is in good repair.
If it needs any major work I’m going to make notes and send someone up
to do the repairs later. Murdoch’s not going to want to go hunting until this
business with Scott and the Wilsons is cleared up.”
“I know but I
can’t help worrying about you.”
Talbot loved his wife with all his heart and soul.
And having been married to her for thirty years he knew what was at the
bottom of her fears. Every now and again, not very often but just once in a while,
she feared losing him as they had lost their three sons. He remembered all too well how the boys had gone off to war
smiling and chipper and excited. They’d
been proud to serve their president and their country.
Maura had tried not to let her tears show when they left but they had.
And then, one by one, they were gone.
Forever. Dead of wounds or
infection. Never to marry and have
children of their own. It was for
this reason that he encouraged the Lancer boys to visit as often as they wanted.
It was almost like having Blair, Rory and Kendall underfoot again as they
had been so often when they were growing up.
don’t you be fretting lass,” he said with a kiss to her cheek.
“I’ll be home in a couple of days.
I’m just going to go up and leave the supplies.
I’ll check the place over and be on my way home tomorrow.”
He turned and mounted his big brown and white paint and headed off into
the bright September morning.
close to dark by the time Jim Talbot arrived at that cabin.
The first thing he did when he got there was to strip the packhorse, a
chunky black mare, of its load and placed it on the ground outside the lean to.
In the semi-darkness he never even noticed the fresh horse droppings or
that there was still part of a bale of hay in the back. Neither did he notice
Scott’s saddle, which with his horse having run off, the young Lancer had left
behind rather than try to carry it. When
Jim was through with the mare he untacked the paint and then gave both of them a
quick, but thorough, grooming. Taking
a pair of buckets hanging on nearby pegs he went down to the stream and got
fresh water for his horses. A bale
of hay and a small measure of oats and the horses were settled for the night.
tended to he took another bucket, this one sitting just outside the door to the
cabin and went down to the stream to get some water for himself.
He placed it on the floor by the fireplace and then, because the interior
of the cabin was so dark at this point he looked for the lamp and matches that
should have been on the mantle when not in use.
They weren’t there and he couldn’t understand it until he turned and
saw the lamp sitting in the middle of the table.
The box of matches was sitting right next to it.
strange,” he said to himself. “What
are they doing on the table? They’re
not usually there unless someone’s been staying here.”
head he turned back toward the fireplace to see about starting a fire to make
some supper with. He was taken
aback to see that the fireplace was full of ashes and there was wood stacked
next to it. Another scene that was
inconsistent with a cabin that had supposedly been empty since mid-July when he
and the Lancers had come up here to go fishing.
noticed the unmade, but obviously slept in bed. Taking a look around the cabin he could see, now that the
lamp had been lit that there had been a visitor to the cabin – and very
recently. The floor had obviously
been swept and there were dishes sitting on the table that he hadn’t paid
attention to at first that had been recently washed, dried and neatly stacked.
another match he lit a lantern and went outside to have a look around.
The storm had of a few nights ago had left the yard a muddy mess but he
could see some hoof prints that led toward the stream at a leisurely pace and as
he got closer to the water he could see that the tracks leading away from the
bank were much wider spaced as though the animal had been running.
One look at the tree that had been struck by lightning and Jim could see
that horse and man had been caught in the storm unexpectedly.
From the looks of those tracks the horse must have spooked and run off.
It wouldn’t occur to him for a few more minutes that the owner of the
horse might be in trouble.
back he stopped by the lean to where the horses were stabled to ensure that they
were settled for the night. The
light of the lantern lit the dim interior of the stable and it was then that he
saw the saddle and blanket sitting in the back with the bridle looped over the
saddle horn. He entered the lean
to, shoving his gelding gently aside, and bent to examine it.
A close look showed it to be a quality stockman’s saddle.
An even closer look with the lantern hanging right over it revealed the
Lancer “L” that was tooled into the skirt of the saddle.
Jim exclaimed. Rushing out of the
lean to he started calling Scott’s name.
“Scott! Scott Lancer!
Where are you boy?”
no answer. Shining the lantern
around the yard he could see footprints, no more than a few days old, leading
down the path that led to the rough trail in and out of the valley.
It was a miracle that his horses’ tracks hadn’t obliterated Scott’s
all together. Going out of the yard
the tracks were fairly steady. It
was apparent that Scott was carrying some sort of a load but nothing very heavy.
heavy heart he turned back toward the cabin.
It was too dark to start looking now.
The trail back to the ranches was rough, winding and far too treacherous
to attempt on horseback or afoot in the dark.
He’d have to wait until morning. But
come first light Jim Talbot fully intended to be on the way down that trail to
find his friend’s missing son.
chilling cold seeped into Scott’s bones that night. He had no blanket and his clothes were still damp.
He couldn’t seem to absorb enough heat from the fire he’d been able
to start using matches he’d had the foresight to wrap well in oilcloth.
He slept fitfully and started painfully on his way again as soon as the
sun was up. His swollen ankle ached
terribly but he ignored it the best he could.
It made him tired to be favoring it all the time but what choice did he
have? With no horse, no food and no
help in sight he had to keep moving. Nobody
knew where he was. Or so he
had barely risen over the mountain when Jim Talbot started off on Scott’s
trail. Partly on horseback and
partly on foot the neighboring rancher followed Scott’s trail.
He could see where Scott had slipped and slid down the first slope.
His boot heels had dug gouges in the earth when he tried to stop himself.
there Jim could see where Scott had stopped to rest.
Where the brush was thickest he found a scrap of Scott’s bright blue
shirt. By midmorning he arrived at
the stream where Scott had slipped and injured his ankle.
He’d had to back track a few times but it was getting easier to follow
him. The tracks indicated that Scott had somehow been injured.
They also showed that he was getting tired.
Instead of going in a fairy straight line Scott was starting to stagger
and wander off the beaten path. At
the last campsite before the stream he found Scott’s empty saddlebags.
Picking them up he put them on his own mount before picking up the trail
About an hour
later Talbot could see that the tracks were getting fresher.
Scott had slowed down quite a bit. Whether
from hunger, fatigue or injury he couldn’t tell for sure.
tired aren’t you son?” he said to himself.
“Scott! Scott Lancer!
Where are you? It’s Jim Talbot Scott.
Can you hear me?”
The wind was
beginning to pick up again and the air was turning cool even at the lower
elevation they were in now. Jim’s
voice was carried away on the wind that blew his words back at him.
That didn’t stop him though. He
kept following the trail Scott had left and calling out to the younger man.
About every ten minutes he stopped to make sure he hadn’t missed
If you can hear me stay put. I’m
coming to you.” Jim shook his
head in discouragement. “If this
wind doesn’t die down he’s going to be in a lot more trouble Pinture.
I’ve got a feeling that boy is half starved, cold and very sore. Maybe
even frightened.” Nudging the
horse into as fast a walk as he dared without losing the trail he started off
Over the sound
of the wind, or perhaps under it, Scott thought he heard a voice calling his
name. But in his chilled, hungry
and fatigued state he wasn’t sure and dismissed it continuing on his painful
throbbed more with each step he took but he grimly ignored it as he tried to
cover the remaining miles between himself and home.
Once he was back at Lancer he would, he was sure, be cleaned up, fed and
put to bed. He wouldn’t even care
if Sam Jenkins told him he had to stay in that bed for a week.
Visions of Maria and Teresa’s smiling faces as they placed a hot meal
in front of him sustained him for a few minutes.
A dream of a hot bath and clean nightshirt and a warm bed helped him
along for another ten minutes. But
the more fatigued he got the less anything helped.
He was beyond groggy. He’d
been without much sleep for a week now between the nightmares and this miserable
hike after his horse ran away. He
was on the verge of collapse and didn’t even know it.
And he was close to delirium as well.
howled through the trees bringing down showers of pine needles, pinecones and
small branches. Scott staggered as he wove in and out of the fallen branches.
More than once he got slapped in the face with a branch as he had just
before his accident at the stream. His
eyes were streaming again and he couldn’t see where he was going very well.
Scott wait! It’s Jim
finally caught up with Scott but just as he did a gust of wind brought a small
pine bough crashing down and it struck Scott a glancing blow on the side of the
head. He staggered back again
Easy son I’ve got you.” Jim
dismounted his paint quickly and reached out to the younger man.
Talbot? What….” Scott’s mind
shut down and everything went blank. He
pitched forward into his neighbor’s arms.
rancher, just an inch taller than Scott, caught him as he fell and eased him
gently to the ground. He gave him a
quick going over and was dismayed to find the blond Lancer’s face scratched
and a bump forming where the tree limb had bounced off his head.
Even worse the young man looked half starved and his clothes were damp.
His skin was icy.
his dear wife for her insistence that he bring extra blankets he took two of
them from behind his saddle. He’d
grabbed a couple of those blankets when he’d left the cabin.
Instinct had told him that they might come in handy and he was mighty
glad that he’d followed that instinct. Quickly
he removed Scott’s damp jacket and wrapped two of the blankets around him.
Taking his handkerchief and some water from his canteen he cleaned up the
scratches as best he could. They
weren’t too many more miles from Lancer and he wanted to get the boy home to
Come on boy wake up. I’ve
got to get you home.”
Tal….” Scott was very groggy. He
couldn’t keep his eyes open.
right Scott. It’s Jim Talbot. Come
on now. Your family’s worried
Scott’s left arm around his shoulder and his right one around Scott’s waist
he half carried the younger man over to where his paint waited patiently.
It was a little bit of a struggle, Scott being only an inch shorter than
himself, but Jim got him up into his saddle and quickly mounted behind him.
Once settled himself, behind the saddle, he made sure the blanket was
wrapped around Scott’s shoulders well before turning his horse toward the
trail that would take them the final five miles to the road to Lancer.
Lancer! Señor Lancer!
Come quick! It is Señor
came out of the house and Johnny from the barn at the sound of Cipriano’s
excited voice. The Segundo was, as
a general rule, a pretty calm person but the urgency in his voice drew them to
the courtyard just as Charlie was caught and brought to a halt by the tall
Charlie all right,” Johnny said. “But
where’s Scott? Where’s his
not know Juanito. The horse, he
came running into the yard just as he is. No
bridle, no saddle, no Señor Scott.”
stood from where he had bent over to check the horse’s legs.
can’t find anything wrong with him.”
happened to Scott, Murdoch! I know
it! He wouldn’t let his horse
just up and run off on him.”
know, Johnny, I know.” Turning to
his Segundo Murdoch asked, “Did you see where he came from Cipriano?
I was watching the men work with the new horses when I heard this one run
into the yard.”
Teresa came from the house. “Isn’t
that Scott’s horse? Is he
and no darling. It’s Scott’s
horse but he’s not with him. It
looks like old Charlie here ran away.”
Scott’s out there somewhere on foot?” Teresa’s
eyes brimmed with tears. “You
have to go find him Murdoch! He
could be hurt!”
don’t know which way the horse came from Teresa. I want to look for him but where would I start? We have no
more idea of where to look than we did the morning we discovered he was gone.”
Lancer men, Cipriano and Teresa all stood lost in their thoughts for a moment
before Cipriano offered to take the horse to the barn and tend to him.
Murdoch turned him over to the Segundo and Charlie was on his way to a
good grooming and fresh hay and water.
an extremely groggy and exhausted Scott in front of him Jim Talbot turned his
horse onto the road between Green River and Lancer approximately an hour after
he’d found Scott near the trail. He
was half a mile down the road when he heard a voice hail him from behind.
Talbot! Hold up there!”
Val Crawford. On his way back to
Lancer to see if Scott had returned yet he came upon the rancher and his
you find him Mr. Talbot?” Val asked.
five miles from here. Looks like
he’s been walking for several days.”
It’s Val. Can you hear
Val Scott. Where’ve you been?”
Where’ve you been for the last week?”
away. Had to get away.”
Scott’s eyes opened briefly then closed again.
The smoky blue orbs were bloodshot and glazed.
not going to get anything out of him Val,” Jim told Crawford.
“He hasn’t been awake for more than thirty seconds at a time since I
need to ask him some questions about Wilson’s murder,” Val protested.
know that and Murdoch will realize that but there’s no sense in trying to talk
to the boy now. He doesn’t even
know where he is,” Jim reasoned with the sheriff.
“The best thing you can do right now is find Sam Jenkins and send him
to Lancer. Scott’s going to need
to be checked over. I don’t know
if he’s hurt badly or just tired. He
got whacked by a tree branch just about the time I caught up with him.
And he seems to have an injured leg.
His tracks showed him favoring his left leg.”
tracks? Where’s he been all this
found evidence that he’s been staying at the cabin where Murdoch and I go
hunting up in Hawk Valley. There
are signs of a bad storm up there and a tree got struck by lightning. The
cabin’s undamaged and the lean-to but I saw tracks that indicate a runway
horse. I’d say Scott’s been
walking for at least three days trying to get home from there.”
Valley? That’s a good….”
know! It’s a long way from here,” Jim said.
“Now, please, Val, go find Sam! I’m
taking Scott home to his family.”
turned his horse and spurred him into a gallop. He had a pretty good idea where Sam was.
He’d heard something in Green River about an accident at the Bar L.
Hopefully whoever it was wouldn’t need Sam for long.
of the precious burden he held in front of him Jim Talbot signaled his horse to
begin walking again. His shoulders
and arms were beginning to ache from holding Scott’s dead weight and keeping
him in the saddle. He was
enormously relieved when the Lancer arch came into view.
Boss! Look!” Jelly had spotted the horse carrying double just as he
cleared the gate.
Murdoch’s cry was one of relief and shock as he exited the French doors
of the house.
What is it?” Johnny came around the corner of the barn where he’d been
saddling Barranca intending to try and pick up Charlie’s trail back to where
the horse had left Scott. Spotting
the incoming horse with the extra rider slumped over its neck he stopped dead in
his tracks. “Scott!”
Talbot reined his horse to a stop next to where Murdoch was standing.
He dismounted stiffly. Scott
was still drifting in and out of consciousness and occasionally mumbling
where did you find him?” Murdoch asked as Johnny approached on the run.
five miles from the Green River road,” Talbot answered. “ I’ve been
tracking him for two days. He’s
been staying at the cabin in Hawk Valley. Apparently
his horse ran away from him. There’re
signs that there’s been a bad storm there.
A tree got struck by lightning. I’m
thinking that Scott’s horse spooked when the tree got hit and ran off.
I’d say Scott’s been walking for at least three days.”
get him in the house,” Murdoch said.
with him,” their neighbor said. “He’s
had a rough time of it. A tree
branch hit him a glancing blow just as I caught up with him. He’s also suffering from hypothermia – his skin’s icy
cold. I cleaned up the cuts as best
I could. And I think he’s hurt
one of his legs. His tracks showed
him favoring the left leg some.”
send someone into town for Sam,” the Lancer patriarch said.
need Murdoch. I met Val Crawford a
couple of miles back and sent him to get him,” Jim explained.
“Hopefully he’ll find him quickly and get him here.
Meanwhile I think the best thing you can do for Scott is to get him into
his own bed. Get those damp clothes
off of him. Teresa or Maria could
warm up some broth for him but I doubt he’s going to be able to manage much. He’s barely been conscious for more than thirty seconds at
a time since I found him.”
Wanna g-g-g-g-go home.”
listen to me brother,” Johnny said. “You
are home. Mr. Talbot found you and
brought you home.”
looked at his father in confusion. “Yeah,
brother, I’m ok.”
Want to go home Johnny.”
ok big brother,” Johnny consoled him. “You
and Jim Talbot carried Scott into the house and up to his room.
In short order they had him cleaned up, in a warm, dry nightshirt and
tucked into his bed. Johnny pulled
a chair up to the bed and sat by his brother’s side while they waited for Sam
his brother sleep Johnny whispered softly, “What did you do to yourself now
Murdoch broke the news to Teresa and Maria that Scott had been found.
The two women gathered medical supplies, hot water, soap and a basin so
that Sam would be able to clean up and examine Scott as soon as he arrived.
Then Teresa joined the bedside vigil with her other “brother”.
Val’s memory was good. Sam was in
the process of leaving the Bar L when he got there. Now, instead of heading back to Green River, he was arriving
at Lancer to see to his latest patient.
examination took thirty minutes and was very thorough.
His report to the family was not as good as they would have liked but
perhaps, better than they expected.
biggest problem, Murdoch, is exhaustion. From
the looks of him I’d say he hasn’t slept well in, oh, about a week.
Perhaps not that long but only he can tell us for sure.
He’s got a mild case of hypothermia.”
Looking at Jim Talbot he said, “He has you to thank that it’s no
worse, Jim. If you hadn’t found
him when you did there’s no telling how sick the boy would be.”
Turning his attention back to an anxious, but grateful family, he
continued. “His left ankle is
twisted but it appears that he knew enough to soak it in cold water right off
and his bandaging job was good. His
foot would be a mess of cuts and bruises if he hadn’t put that boot back on.
As it is both feet are going to be sore for a while.
They’re a mass of bruises and blisters.
None of them are overly serious. I’ve
put some ointment on them and wrapped them up.”
about that lump on his head Sam?” Jim asked.
“That tree branch only grazed him but it left quite a lump.”
to say,” Sam answered. “Until he wakes up we won’t know much about that.”
Turning to the family he said, “What he needs most is sleep.
After that he’ll need plenty of hot nourishing soup for a few days.
And milk and eggs. Things like that and herbal teas will go a long way toward
restoring his strength and his energy. I’d
say he’s lost a good ten or fifteen pounds since last week.
Scott’s not very big to begin with and I don’t like this weight loss
on him – not one bit.”
There was a
knock at the door and Jelly poked his head into Scott’s room.
boss, but Sheriff Crawford is here and he insists on talking to Scott.”
Lancer, sir,” Val said, “but I do need to ask Scott some questions about the
murder of Charles Wilson.”
“What do you
think Sam?” Murdoch asked the physician.
he didn’t. Scott needs his rest
but I suppose a couple of questions won’t hurt.”
be going Murdoch,” Jim Talbot said. “Maura will be wanting to know that
Scott is home safe. She’s been
fretting since he left home.”
– for everything,” Murdoch said as his friend left.
Any time.” Jim left the
room and headed for his own home where an anxious surrogate mother would be glad
to hear that the boy was back home.
Turning to the
doctor Murdoch said, “What do you think Sam?”
minutes and only two minutes Val,” the medical man said.
“The boy is completely exhausted and has a minor head injury as well.
I doubt he’s going to make much sense.”
Scott. Wake up son,”
Murdoch tried to rouse his exhausted offspring.
Val needs to ask you a couple of questions.”
eyes flickered open but didn’t focus.
you tell me where you’ve been?”
right, where have you been for the last week?”
to go home.”
home,” Val told him. “Where have you been for the last week?”
away…Johnny hurt…my fault…”
brother,” Johnny jumped in. “It
wasn’t your fault. Can you tell
us where you’ve been?”
It was no use.
In his extreme fatigue Scott couldn’t focus on who was speaking or what
they were saying. Sam put a stop to
Val. No more.”
Val!” Sam was emphatic. “He doesn’t know where he is and he doesn’t recognize
anybody. He won’t be up to
answering any questions for a few days. Now
go on back to your office and keep a lid on the town.”
“Well, when can
I talk to him then?”
know yet. I’m going to monitor
him closely. His injuries don’t
appear to be serious but until he’s rested enough to talk coherently –
sensibly – I can’t say for sure. I’ll let you know in a few days.”
Murdoch saw Sam
to the door while the two youngest Lancers sat by Scott’s bedside.
Maria had been alerted that Scott would require lots of rest and some
good nourishing soup when he awoke so she had a kettle of chicken soup simmering
on the back of the stove. They had only to tell her that Señor Scott was awake
and she would dish up a large bowlful for him right away.
employees, including vaqueros and cowboys, would do what they could to lighten
the boss’ workload and keep things running smooth.
The Boston bred son had endeared himself to the hands by his willingness
to take on any task, no matter how hard, unfamiliar or dirty, and keep at it
until it was completed. The women
were won over by his smile and his manners.
He never failed to compliment Maria or Juanita, whichever one was doing
the cooking, on the meal. Or on how
clean and comfortable his room and his clothes were.
Whatever it took Lancer’s loyal employees would do it if it helped
Scott get well or allowed his father and brother to stay by his side until he
was fully recovered.
“What do you
mean you can’t talk to him?!” Pierce Wilson thundered.
“Just what I
said,” Val retorted. “I can’t talk to him – for a while.”
doc says he’s suffering from exhaustion and something called hypothermia.
I don’t rightly understand all of it but it all comes down to the fact
that Scott Lancer is very ill right now. He
didn’t even know that he was home.”
Lancers will do anything to protect that soldier boy,” Mike said.
“How do we know it’s not a trick?”
Doc Jenkins a liar?” Val asked.
must be callin’ me a liar.”
not Sheriff,” Pierce Wilson said smoothly.
“We know you’re honest.”
right!” Val exclaimed indignantly.
Jenkins says it’s ok. Probably in a couple of days.”
“A couple of
days!” It was Mike again.
coupla days!” Val was getting
very tired of repeating himself. “Look,
there’s nothing you, or I, can do to speed things up.
When the doc says I can talk to Scott I will.
Until then you two get out of my office and go about your business.
Leave the investigatin’ to me.”
Jim Talbot rode
into his yard around three that same afternoon.
Tired, dusty and hungry but happy that his friend’s son had been
returned to the loving arms of his family.
you’re home earlier than I expected.” Maura
came from the house at the sound of her husband’s horse entering the yard.
“Yes, I had
to leave earlier than expected.” He
dusted himself off some before embracing his wife.
“When I got to the cabin I found signs that someone had been using it.
I followed those tracks around the yard and found a saddle - a saddle
belonging to Lancer in the lean-to. Maura,
my love, I found Scott. He’s
exhausted, slightly hypothermic and has other minor injuries, but he’s safe at
home in his own bed.”
God!” she exclaimed in relief. “I
was so worried when Johnny told us Scott had left home because of what had
happened in town.”
“I know you
were. I was too.
Scott’s a strong lad and a smart one.
It’s not like him to take things to heart like that.
I wish we could be sure he’s not the man who killed Charles Wilson.”
He headed off her indignant protests, “I know darling.
I don’t want to believe it either but we have to admit it doesn’t
look good. He wasn’t home when Wilson was murdered and I don’t know
how long he was at the cabin in Hawk Valley before I went up there.
He could have been in Green River and then gone to the cabin.
We won’t know until he wakes up.”
A soft moan
from the man in the bed drew Johnny’s attention to his brother. It
seemed like Scott was starting to awaken after being asleep for two solid days
after Jim Talbot found him trying to get home from the cabin in Hawk Valley.
got up from the chair and ran to the head of the stairs to summon his father and
the others who had been waiting so anxiously for this moment.
Hey Murdoch – he’s waking up. Get
Johnny ran back
to Scott’s room and was seated in the chair just as the smoky gray-blue eyes
started to flutter open. Murdoch,
Teresa, Jelly and several others including Cipriano and Maria were there no more
than a minute after Johnny summoned them.
brother,” Johnny coaxed. “It’s
time you opened them eyes again.”
Scott’s eyes opened but it took a moment before the faces before him
started to come into focus from the fuzzy blur.
do you feel son?” Murdoch smiled.
We were so worried.” Teresa’s voice joined the others.
Scott, you have been sleeping a long time now.”
Maria smiled at the Patron’s elder son.
“You are hungry no? I will
get you some soup.”
Scott,” Cipriano smiled. “The patron and Juanito were very much worried when Señor
Talbot brought you home on his horse. It
is good to see you are awake.
time you woke up,” Jelly blustered. “You
been lollygaggin’ in this bed for two days now.
Time you were getting up to do your share of the work around here.”
Looking around Scott saw the enormous grin on his brother’s face and
the smile, with tears, on Teresa’s. “How..Where…”
home Scott,” Murdoch told him. “Jim
Talbot found you five miles from the road to Green River.
He brought you home.”
River?” Scott’s face showed
brother,” Johnny confirmed. “What
were you doing way out there on foot? How’d
Charlie get away from you?”
matter Scott?” his father asked. “You
“I guess I
don’t understand. Why would Mr. Talbot be bringing me home?”
came in without you day before yesterday,” Murdoch told him.
“Don’t you remember trying to walk home?”
From where?” Scott’s
voice was getting panicky as he started to rise.
brother. It’s all right.”
Johnny put a hand on his brother’s shoulder and pushed the half risen
Scott back to his pillow.
remember Scott?” Teresa asked. “You
left in the middle of the night two days after Johnny was hurt in town.
Mr. Talbot said he saw signs that you were at the cabin up in Hawk
don’t,” Scott said. “Why
would I go there?”
Murdoch and the
others looked at each other in concern before he answered his son.
upset. The day Johnny was hurt you
told me a little bit about Charles Wilson.
You saw him on the street in Green River when you and Johnny went to do
some errands. He was with his
cousins – Pierce and Mike.” Murdoch
went on. “You got into a fight of
sorts and Johnny got hurt. After we
put him to bed you and I had a talk and you told me about Wilson, Cahaba and
Peter Winslow. How he caused the
boy’s death and you swearing you would get him.
You had nightmares that night. The
next night you left Johnny a note saying that you had to get away for a while
and do some thinking. You’ve been
gone a week.”
went up to the cabin, Scott,” Johnny told his brother.
“He was going to look it over to see if it needed any repair.
So it would be ready for our next hunting trip in a few weeks.
When he got there he saw signs that someone had been there before him.
Then he found your saddle and tracks of a runaway horse. The next morning he found your tracks and found your
saddlebags by Wolf Creek. Then he
found you a few miles from the Green River road.”
remember any of this Scott?” Teresa asked him.
seeing the Wilsons in town,” Scott said slowly.
“And I remember Johnny being hurt and bringing him home.
I even remember a little bit about our talk, Murdoch,” He said to his
father. “But I don’t remember
going to Hawk Valley or Wolf Creek.”
it?” Johnny asked.
Last thing I remember very well is bringing you home.
I don’t remember leaving you a note or leaving or anything else after
that until I woke up here in my room.”
Murdoch and the
others exchanged looks of dismay. Scott
didn’t know about the murder and he certainly wouldn’t be able to clear
himself if he didn’t remember what he’d been doing or where he’d been
since he’d left home the previous Wednesday night.
The sound of a buggy pulling up in front of the house ended any further
conversation with the invalid. Sam
had arrived to check on his patient.
“Well, I see
my patient is finally awake,” Sam remarked as he walked into Scott’s bedroom
after being admitted to the house by Maria.
“How are you feeling Scott?”
confused,” was the answer. “I’m told I’ve been away for something like a week but
I don’t remember anything about it.”
we’ll talk about it after I look you over.”
He waved everybody else out of the room.
“I’d like to examine and talk to my patient privately.
Everybody out. You too
Johnny,” he added when Johnny tried to dig his heels in and stay.
“You can all come back in a few minutes.”
Half an hour
later Sam had checked Scott’s pulse, respiration and eyes.
He’d listened to his lungs and inspected the lump on the side of his
head. The scratches that the tree
branches and brush had left were cleaned and disinfected again. Other than being a bit thinner than Sam would like to see him
he was in pretty fair condition. When
he was through he allowed the family to come back in.
Maria had gone down to the kitchen to make sure that the soup she’d
prepared for Scott was ready and Cipriano and Jelly had returned to their duties
outside of the house.
the anxious father asked. “How is
“He’s doing very well Murdoch. That lump on his head has gone down some and he looks much
more rested.” Sam smiled at the
anxious family as Johnny and Teresa took seats next to Scott’s bed.
Scott himself was propped up on several pillows, still pale, still with
dark circles under his eyes, but awake and coherent.
“The sleep he’s had did him some good.
He’s a little underweight but don’t feed him anything heavy for a few
got chicken soup simmering on the stove,” Teresa informed the doctor.
fine. Soup and eggs and toast for a
couple of days – just until his stomach gets used to solid food again.”
Looking at his patient he said, “I’d hazard a guess, Scott, that you
haven’t eaten much since you left home over a week ago.
That’s not good. I want
you to have a bowl of soup now and some eggs later.
Then back to sleep. You seem
to have been walking quite a while before Jim Talbot found you and it’s going
to take maybe a week before you’ll feel like doing much.
That ankle you twisted is going to keep you off a horse for the next
week. Be sure, when you get up,
that you take it easy going down the stairs and keep it propped up on a stool.
Use a cane to help get you around.”
my memory loss?” an anxious Scott asked.
nothing anyone can do about that Scott. You’re
lucky that pine bough only struck a glancing blow.
You could have total amnesia instead of just a cloudy memory.
All you can do is relax. Eventually
you should remember everything.”
Sam closed his
bag and gave the family final instructions on what Scott was and wasn’t to do
for the next week. They all swore to keep him from overdoing and to make sure he
followed the doctor’s orders.
Murdoch and Johnny went to Scott’s room to talk.
It was time to break the news to him about Wilson’s murder and how he
was a suspect. Neither one of them relished this job.
They found the blond finishing the lunch that Maria had brought up to
Johnny.” Scott wiped his mouth with the napkin and took a sip of the
glass of cool lemonade that was on his tray.
“What brings you two up to see me in the middle of the day. Don’t you have enough work to do?”
Murdoch was having a hard time coming up with the right words.
there’s trouble in Green River and you’re right smack dab in the middle of
it.” Johnny was able to get that
“What kind of
trouble?” Scott asked his father. “Why
do you two look so serious?”
Charles Wilson is dead.”
Dead?” Scott was stunned.
“When did that happen?”
after you left. The Saturday night
after you left.”
Val have to say? Were there any witnesses?”
were witnesses. They said the man they saw leaning over the body was tall,
blond and slim. They didn’t
really get a good look at him.”
thinks it was me?” Scott was getting worried.
necessarily,” his father reassured him. “But
the witnesses are very reliable.”
Maura Talbot,” Murdoch told him reluctantly.
“Mr. and Mrs.
Talbot?!” Scott was stunned.
“But they know me. They
know I wouldn’t do anything like that!”
is, brother, that you’re the only tall, slim blond that had a reason to hate
Charles Wilson or want him dead,” Johnny told him.
“And then there’s that fight you had on the street.”
Murdoch told him patiently. “Jim
and Maura didn’t say it was you. They
only said that the person they saw was tall, slim and blond.
As Jim pointed out to Pierce and Mike that description fits a lot of men
in this valley – including himself.”
gonna be here to talk to you this afternoon,” Johnny told his brother.
“He was here when Mr. Talbot brought you home but you couldn’t stay
awake for more than a couple of seconds at a time and you weren’t making any
worry about it Scott. Val has been very vocal in standing up for you since
there’s no way to prove you did it. The
evidence is all circumstantial.” Murdoch
tried to reassure his son.
rode into the courtyard at Lancer around two o’clock that afternoon.
Dusty and even a bit more disheveled than usual, he knocked at the door
and was admitted to the house by Maria. Cipriano’s
nephew, Raul, took the sheriff’s horse to the barn to rest and have some water
while his owner talked with the older Lancer son.
sitting in the Great Room with his left leg elevated by several pillows on a
footstool while he rest in one of the easy chairs.
He was still pale and looked tired but even at that he didn’t have the
gray look of someone who was exhausted beyond endurance.
You’re lookin’ better than the last time I saw ya.” Val said upon
entering the room.
I feel somewhat better. My
family tells me I walked quite a distance before Mr. Talbot picked me up and
brought me home.”
that’s what I gotta talk to ya about,” Val said with some reluctance.
“Where were you for the last week – especially last Friday night
around nine o’clock?”
“What do you
mean you don’t know?” Val asked.
“Just what I
said. Apparently the tree branch
that hit me in the head has caused me to lose a few days.
I don’t remember anything from the time I brought Johnny home last
Wednesday until I woke up in my room late this morning.”
all? Not where you’ve been –
what you were doin’?”
that’s not good. Charles Wilson
was killed last Friday night. The suspected killer was tall, blond and slim –
just like you. You had an argument
with him on the street just two days before he was killed.
You were heard threatening him.”
I was very angry.” Scott
hung his head in embarrassment. “I
don’t usually lose my temper like that but it just angered me – frustrated
me that that man was allowed to walk the streets after what he did ten years
“Can you tell
me about it?” Val asked.
point? He’s dead, I argued with
him on the street, the description of his killer sounds like me and I had every
reason to want him dead. That makes
me your prime suspect doesn’t it?”
but I’m willin’ to hear your side of the story.”
“Val, all I
can tell you is that I didn’t do it. But
I can’t prove it because I don’t remember where I was the night he was
remember nothin’? Nothin’ at all about where you were?”
answered that question Val,” Johnny’s voice cut in.
Dusty, tired and hungry he had come in from the range a little early in
order to spend time with his temporarily invalided brother.
“Why can’t you just take his word for it?”
work that way Johnny,” Val answered. “If
he can’t prove to me that he didn’t do it then I’m goin’ to have to
arrest him for killin’ Charles Wilson.”
murderously at his friend the sheriff. “He
says he didn’t do it and that’s good enough for me!”
Murdoch’s voice cut in before the argument could get out of hand.
Lancer,” Val apologized. “But I
have to ask these questions whether Johnny likes it or not.”
But you know that Scott’s memory is cloudy right now.
He can remember where he was the day of the fight but after that nothing
until he woke up in his room here at the ranch.”
frustration Val stood up to leave. “I’ll
do what I can to head off the Wilsons,” he said, “but I sure hope your
memory comes back soon Scott or we’re both going to be in trouble.”
“You and me
both Val,” Scott sighed. “You
and me both.”
lying!” Pierce Wilson stated
vehemently that he didn’t believe Scott’s story of a cloudy memory.
“And Murdoch Lancer and that half-breed son of his would lie to protect
him! I demand you arrest Scott
Lancer for the murder of my cousin Charles!”
demand nothin’ from me Mr. Wilson,” Val told him in a quietly menacing tone.
“I’ve talked to Scott and I’ve watched his face while I did.
I believe him. He don’t remember anythin’ after bringin’ Johnny home
the day of the fight on the street.”
“You mean to
tell me,” Mike Wilson said, “that he doesn’t remember one single thing
after that fight? Then how do you
know he’s not the one that killed Charles?”
but I don’t know that he did and I also don’t believe that he did.
He was mad, sure, but that don’t make him a killer.
He’s not some punk looking to make a name for himself or somethin’. He’s a former Army officer and a respected rancher. And
he’s my friend’s brother – a friend I would trust with my life.”
gunslinger!” Pierce snorted with
pistolero who sold his gun to survive after his mama died so he could
survive,” Val retorted. “Now
you two get out of here and don’t let me see your faces darken my doorstep
gain lessen I send for you!”
vehemence in Val Crawford’s voice and the look in his eye the Wilson decided
that they’d better make themselves scarce.
But they weren’t through talking – not by a long shot.
Anybody who would listen to them would get an earful about the
incompetent sheriff who let murderers walk around scot-free.
Who wouldn’t even listen to accusations against the prime suspect.
In the Longhorn
saloon a man sat in solitude at a back table listening to the babble of voices
around him including those of the Wilsons who had come in after their talk with
Val. As expected, they were
sounding forth on the fact that Val had not arrested Scott for the murder of
their relative. More than a week had gone by and still the man they believed
responsible was walking around free to come and go as he pleased.
The fact that he had been found suffering from hypothermia, a bump on the
head and a sprained ankle meant nothing. The
Lancers couldn’t prove when Scott had been injured and Scott couldn’t, or
wouldn’t in their opinion, tell anyone where he’d been before Jim Talbot had
himself the stranger listened. He
was very happy with the results of his work.
Twelve years ago he’d been a Union Army sergeant pushing hard for
promotion to Lieutenant. Then along
had come this upstart rich kid who’d proved himself more than once on the
field of battle and had taken the glory away from him.
That Scott had not sought it for himself meant nothing to the man. Then, shortly after the fall of Vicksburg, he was among those
who were taken prisoner with Scott Lancer.
The harsh treatment of Charles Wilson had been felt by all and this
former prisoner blamed Lieutenant Lancer when he’d suffered a badly broken leg
on a work detail that Wilson had overseen.
The camp doctor had done the best he could but the prisoner was left with
a permanent limp. In the mind of
the injured man Lieutenant Scott Lancer had not done enough to protect him or
any of the others. If he had he
wouldn’t be crippled and Peter Winslow wouldn’t have been killed.
Now if that sheriff would only arrest the Lieutenant and charge him with
murder things would be perfect.
Rising from his
table he settled his hat on his head. It
wouldn’t do for anyone to notice that his walnut dye was working away from his
scalp and that the blond roots were beginning to show.
His plan to remain undetected as the real killer depended on his
appearing to have brown hair. Slowly
he limped to the door listening as Pierce Wilson once more ranted about Val
Crawford’s inability to do his job properly and being in the Lancers’
“I still say
Scott Lancer is guilty as sin. You
all know how he hated my cousin! You
saw him attack him on the street.”
“From what I
hear your cousin taunted him,” one cowboy jeered.
“I had a friend that was in the army during the war.
He was a prisoner at Andersonville.
He’s one of the lucky ones who survived that place.
The stories he tells are enough to sicken you.”
those Lancers think they’re better than the rest of us,” Mike Wilson
responded. “Always walkin’
around with their noses in the air lookin’ down on the rest of us.”
so and you know it Mike Wilson!” exclaimed a Double T Bar ranch hand.
“Why the Lancers are among the nicest people I’ve ever met. Sometimes
I wish I’d gone to work for them instead of the Talbots thought the Talbots
are great to work for too.”
continued as the stranger left the saloon and headed toward the hotel where he
planned on using the walnut dye on his hair again.
It was important to keep it looking brown.
Miz Talbot,” Val said as he rode into the yard at the Double Bar T.
Val,” Maura said with a smile. “What
brings you out here so early?”
Val said remember his manners and removing his hat, “I was hopin’ to talk to
you and Mr. Talbot about the night of the murder again.
See if you remember anythin’ you mighta left out.”
“Well, I’m not
sure that we do but, please, come in. Jim
has given the men their orders for the day but decided to have one last cup of
coffee before joining them.” Maura
led the way to their kitchen where her husband sat at the table with a cup of
coffee just as she’d said.
Val,” Jim said with a smile. “Have
“Thank you Mr.
Talbot,” Val said doing just that.
“Maura get the man
a plate. He must be hungry. Riding
out here so early he must not have taken time for even coffee.”
doing it dear,” Maura said as she returned with a plate laden with nicely
browned buttermilk biscuits, fried ham, two eggs fried sunny side up and fried
potatoes. “The butter and honey
are on the table Val. Help yourself and eat up.”
It looks good.”
“So what brings you
out here at this early hour Val?” Jim
“I wanted to talk
to you and Miz Talbot,” Val said in between bites.
“I wondered if you remembered anythin’ – anythin’ at all that ya
might have forgotten to mention the night that Charles Wilson was killed.”
Maura adjusted her
russet brown skirt as she seated herself at the table with the coffeepot in her
right hand ready to fill a cup for Val. Her
husband set his cup down and looked at Val quizzically.
“What brings this
on Val? We already told you what we
“I know,” the
lawman said as he finished a swallow of Maura’s hot coffee.
“But this murder is driving me crazy.
And Scott not bein’ able to remember where he was ain’t helpin’
any. The Wilsons are hotter than the Lancer cook’s hottest
tamales about him walkin’ around free. I
gotta find some proof that he did or didn’t do it or they’re going to cause
a lot of trouble in Green River.” Looking
at his neighbors he said, “Please, tell me again just what you saw the night
that Charles Wilson was killed.”
“We were in Green
River to have dinner at the Ingersolls,” Maura started.
“And when we got ready to leave, I think it was around nine-thirty, it
was starting to rain. Alex went
back to the Ingersolls to get a tarp to put over us.”
“Yes, it had
started out to be a beautiful night so we drove the open buggy into town,” Jim
added. “I wasn’t more than a
couple of minutes getting the tarp from Jim.
As we started to drive toward home the storm really hit. Thunder,
lightning and a lot of wind but not much rain at first.
When we drove by the general store and the barbershop there was a very
bright flash of lightning that startled me as I was lighting the lamp on the
buggy. Then there was a very loud
crack of thunder but over, or under, the sound of the thunder I heard the sound
of a gunshot.” Jim paused to take
a swallow of his own coffee. “I
looked into the alley and saw someone lying on the ground.
As I approached I saw a man, tall and blond and fairly young flee the
I saw too Val,” Maura said. “I
wish I could say I saw the man’s face but I didn’t get that good a look at
him at all.”
“Are you sure
there ain’t somethin’ you’re forgettin’?” Val asked.
what?” Jim responded.
Something unusual about his clothes?
The way he moved?”
Jim frowned. “Moved.
He had a limp.”
that ain’t much help. Scott’s sittin’ at home with his left ankle wrapped up
usin’ a cane. The Wilsons’ll
just say that that proves he’s guilty. They’re
already convinced he’s responsible.” Val
rose to leave. “Much as I hate to
I’m gonna have to arrest Scott for the murder of Charles Wilson.”
arrest him Val?” Maura asked her brogue thickening in her distress.
“Scott’s a good lad. You
know he wouldn’t commit out and out murder.”
But I ain’t got a choice now have I?”
we’d never gone to dinner at the Ingersolls that night,” Jim lamented.
“I feel like I’ve betrayed my best friend.
If we’d stayed home I never would have been driving past that alley and
witnessed the killer running away.”
“Yeah, I know
what ya mean Mr. Talbot,” Val sighed. “This
ain’t gonna help my friendship with Johnny none.”
be serious!” Johnny was furious.
talkin’ about my brother! Scott
didn’t do it! You know he
didn’t do it!”
know that and I don’t believe it either Johnny.
But what can I do? Your
brother here fits the description of the killer.
I gotta bring him in or there’ll be talk.”
Val was frustrated with trying to get his friend to understand that he
was just doing his job.
right Johnny,” Scott said quietly. “Val’s
right. If he doesn’t bring me in, or I don’t turn myself in
there will be a lot of talk and it could hurt Lancer.
Or you and Murdoch and Teresa. And
he could lose his job.”
that’s right,” Val agreed. “Look I don’t want to do this but I got no other
in with you,” Murdoch said. “I
don’t want Pierce Wilson thinking that we’re giving up on you.
A show of support in face of his opposition will go a long way toward
letting the people of this valley know where we stand.”
Teresa tried to speak but overwhelmed by sadness and worry she ran from
the room crying.
Scott, with the
help of his cane, limped over to the door to get his hat and jacket.
Johnny followed close behind his brother his shoulders slumped in
temporary defeat. Alerted by the
sound of Teresa’s crying and the men’s voices Maria had informed Cipriano
and the other ranch hands of the events that were transpiring. Cipriano had brought the buckboard around to the front of the
house. If Señor Scott had to go
into town it was best that he ride. The
elder Lancer son’s ankle was obviously still hurting him.
Cipriano himself would insist on driving so that Johnny and Murdoch could
ride their horses.
Scott a peck on the cheek and pressed a bundle of her best biscuits on him.
The other ranch hands that were in close proximity to the house stood
around with angry, sullen looks on their faces that their friend and employer
was being carted off to jail – no matter that he was going willingly to save
his family great embarrassment and the lawman his job.
thing,” Jelly grumbled. “Arresting an innocent man.
You oughta be ashamed of yourself Sheriff!”
Murdoch said, “Val’s only doing what he has to do.
We’re going to get a good lawyer and fight this.”
from the house, tears streaming down her cheeks, carrying a bundle of clean
clothes for Scott. Putting them in the back of the buckboard she flung her arms
around her “brother” and hugged him pulling back only when he gently removed
her arms from around his neck.
ok Teresa. You’ll see,” he said
reassuringly. “It won’t take
long to prove that I didn’t do this.”
“But how can
you if your memory of where you were doesn’t come back?” she wailed.
know,” he admitted, “but I will. Somehow
I’ll prove that I didn’t do it.”
come along now son,” Murdoch said. “The
sooner we get this over with the better.”
painfully, sprained ankle still bothering him some, Scott climbed into the
buckboard beside Cipriano. As they drove off he looked straight ahead struggling to keep
his composure as he left the home he couldn’t be sure of seeing again any time
soon – if ever.
All the way
into Green River Cipriano muttered to himself in Spanish over the injustice of
the accusations against Señor Scott. He’d
been on the receiving end of many insults from the Wilsons, especially the
senior Wilson, since coming to work for Murdoch Lancer.
He, like many of the other Mexicans who lived and worked in the valley,
preferred to do business with Señor Baldomero in Morro Coyo as much as
possible. But Pierce Wilson had the
only dry goods store in the area and the only ladies dress shop was owned by
Polly Ingersoll, daughter of the Talbots' friends, and that too, was in Green
River. The patron did not often
allow Señorita Teresa to drive into town on her own.
He preferred to have at least two ranch hands with her if her
“brothers” could not go. He had
not known the patron’s older son for very long but he knew him to be a good
man and did not believe for one minute that he was guilty of what the Wilsons
were accusing him of. To shoot
someone in self-defense he could believe but not murder.
No, it was not possible!
Johnny brooded as he followed the buckboard on its journey to the jail.
He wanted nothing more than to swoop down on his brother, pull him up
behind him on Barranca and spirit him away where Val and the Wilsons couldn’t
find him. But he knew that his
brother would never stand for it. Nor
would his father. But how could
anyone believe that his kind, gentle, mannerly and inherently good-natured
brother would commit cold -blooded murder?
It was inconceivable to him.
thoughts were similar to Johnny’s. He
didn’t believe Scott was guilty of murder but how were they going to prove it.
Scott’s cloudy memory hadn’t cleared up very much.
He dimly remembered his fall in Wolf Creek but couldn’t remember what
day it was that that had happened. Nothing
else from his time in Hawk Valley had come back to him.
He still had no memories of anything in between bringing Johnny home
almost two weeks ago and waking up in his room.
thoughts were along the same lines. He
wished more than anything that Scott would remember when he arrived in Hawk
Valley and how long he’d been there. He
didn’t want to arrest Scott – he believed he was innocent but what choice
did he have? Unless he could find
someone else who fit the description that he could investigate and question he
had to keep Scott locked up. He was
the only person he knew of, right now anyway, that fit the description of tall,
blond, slim and walking with a limp. It
stuck in his craw that he had to do it because of the Wilsons. He didn’t like the Wilsons.
Like many others he’d disliked them from the day they arrived in Green
River but they hadn’t, so far anyway, done anything that would allow him to
force them to leave town – permanently.
probably Val’s worst fear came true when the group arrived in town.
Somehow word had gotten out that he had gone to take Scott into custody.
Pierce Wilson, his son Mike and the few friends that they had were all
standing in front of the saloon as they passed by.
By the time the buckboard pulled up in front of the sheriff’s office
the crowd had joined them.
time you brought that back-shooting killer into jail Sheriff!” Pierce Wilson
“I told ya
I’d arrest him if I had to Wilson so shut your mouth.”
Turning to his “prisoner” he said, “Come on Scott let’s get you
dismounted Barranca and moved around to get close to his brother.
As he did Mike Wilson, drunk as usual, started in on Scott.
Scott was getting down from the buckboard and reached for his cane as his
ankle still wasn’t supporting him as well as it should.
feel pretty boy? Your daddy can’t
keep you out of jail any longer. You’re
gonna get a little taste of real justice now.
And I’m gonna give it to you.”
could register that a blow was coming his way and duck Mike swung a roundhouse
right that took him high on the right temple – almost in the exact spot where
the tree branch had hit him a few days before.
Scott’s vision went dark and he heard ringing in his ears.
He never felt his father and Cipriano’s arms as they caught him before
he fell and hit his head. He never
heard Val yell as several others tried to join in the so-called fight.
incensed by the attack on his brother, sprang at Mike Wilson and soon the two of
them were in the street exchanging blows. Mike
was definitely getting the worst of it as his reflexes were considerably
hampered by his alcohol consumption that day.
He landed one or two blows that hit Johnny’s left cheek leaving a small
cut and one to his shoulder but the punches that Johnny was dishing out were in
the process of turning his opponent’s face into a bloody mess.
All of a sudden there was a gunshot and everyone stopped in their tracks
except the two combatants.
“Break it up!
Break it up! Next man that
tries anything gets a bullet in the knee!” Jim Talbot had ridden into town,
and seeing that Val was overwhelmed while Murdoch and Cipriano were trying to
get Scott safely inside the jail, had fired a shot over the heads of the crowd.
“Johnny! Stop it! That’s enough! Don’t
kill him!” Jim, at six-feet-two
towered over the younger Lancer son and managed to pull him off the younger
Wilson whose father stood glowering on the boardwalk facing Val Crawford’s gun
along with the rest of the crowd.
It took some
doing but Jim finally penetrated the rage that had manifested itself in Johnny
and pulled him off. Bruised and bleeding, the two young men were finally
separated. Johnny’s face was
somewhat bruised and had the one cut on his left cheek.
His blue and white sprigged shirt was dusty and the right sleeve was torn
at the shoulder. Mike’s face was
a mass of bruises and blood ran down his right temple from a cut.
enough you two!” Jim stated emphatically.
“Johnny you get yourself inside and see how your brother is.
Mike you and your father would be wise to leave well enough alone. You keep prodding the Lancers like that and nobody’s going
to be able to hold Johnny back.” Getting
an affirmative nod from Val he gave Mike a shove in the direction of his shop.
“Now go tend to your business and let Val attend to his.
You’ll be lucky if you don’t face charges for attacking an unarmed
man – especially since that man is already injured and didn’t see you
Inside the jail
Murdoch and Cipriano had seated Scott on the bunk in one of the cells.
He was sitting there with his head down on his hands while his father and
the Segundo got cold water and a clean cloth to make a compress for the bump he
Are you all right son?” Murdoch’s
voice was anxious.
“Yes,” came the
pained whisper. “I’ll be fine. What
Cipriano swore in
Spanish while Murdoch explained, “The Wilsons were waiting with their friends.
Mike attacked you before anyone could do anything to prevent it.”
Johnny entered the jail in need of a clean up himself. “Scott all right?”
“He’ll be fine
Johnny,” his father reassured him. Turning
to his elder son he said, “Here Scott, take your jacket off and lie back.
Cipriano’s got a cold water compress for your head.”
Val entered his
office at this point. “Well?
How is he?”
“He’ll be all
right. A little closer to that bump
on his head and I don’t know what would have happened.
Where are the Wilsons?”
“Jim Talbot and I
sent them packing. If you want to
press charges I’ll be more than happy to bring Mike in and lock him up in the
cell next to Scott’s.”
“No, angry as I am
I can kind of understand. They had
a family member killed not that long ago. They’re
angry and they’re frustrated because his killer hasn’t been brought to
convinced that Scott, here, is the guilty party,” Val said.
“Nothin’ I say makes any difference to them.”
“Maybe I am,”
came a quiet voice from the cell.
You don’t mean that!” Johnny came to sit by his brother’s side from
where he’d been cleaning up after his fight with Mike Wilson.
discouraged son,” Murdoch said. “That
blow to your head that’s fogging up your memory has you upset.”
“No, it’s not
that – not just that,” Scott said. “Think
about it Murdoch – I fit the description of the killer, I hated Charles Wilson
and threatened to kill him. When I
saw him on the street I almost tried to carry out my threat.
After Johnny was hurt I went away and had no contact with anyone that we
know of for about a week.”
“You were at the
cabin in Hawk Valley. We know that
for sure,” Johnny said. “Mr.
Talbot said he saw signs that you’d been there.”
“But when did I get
there and how long was I there?” Scott’s
frustration and worry was evident in his voice.
“I don’t know but
we’ll find out or we’ll figure it out,” Murdoch reassured him with a pat
on the shoulder. “I’m going to find you a good lawyer. It’ll be their job to figure out how to clear you of this
Johnny said as he stood up. “You
just lie back here with this compress and try to relax.
We’ll be back to see you later.”
Scott slowly nodded
and closed his eyes as his father and brother left the cell.
He flinched when the cell door was closed and locked behind them. Val stood there looking sympathetically at him for a moment
before following the others into the outer room.
worried,” Johnny said to his father. “This
ain’t like Scott – to be so down in the mouth.”
We’ve got to clear him of this charge and the sooner the better.”
“I sure hope you
can Mr. Lancer,” Val entering the room as Murdoch finished speaking.
“I don’t like having Scott locked up for something I don’t believe
he did but I don’t have the say so over whether or not he’s guilty. That’s up to a jury to decide.
You’d better go see about getting him a good lawyer.”
The Lancers left the
sheriff’s office together and encountered Jim Talbot still outside keeping a
watchful eye on things. His actions
were not a reflection of his opinion of Val Crawford’s abilities but, rather,
a friend’s watchful eye. Val had
done what he had to but the Wilsons would push things to the limit and beyond.
And Val’s limits were getting shorter with each encounter.
One of these days he was going to explode.
“Murdoch how is the
boy?” Jim asked.
“He’s a bit
shaken up but otherwise he seems all right.
Physically anyway. Emotionally
he’s not too good right now. He’s starting to believe that he might have
killed the man.”
nonsense!” Jim exclaimed indignantly. “Anyone
who knows him knows that he wouldn’t kill a man in cold blood like that – no
matter how angry he was about something in the past.”
“You know that and
I know that,” Murdoch said, “but Scott’s memory being clouded like it is
has got him convinced that he could have done it and doesn’t remember.”
“I agree with Mr.
Talbot,” Johnny chimed in. “No
way would Scott have killed that man. I
don’t care how angry he was. He
just wouldn’t do that!”
Murdoch put his arm
around his younger son’s shoulders. “You
don’t have to convince me Johnny. It’s
your brother we have to convince. And
we have to find a way to prove to him, as well as to everyone else in this
valley, that he didn’t.”
“You’ll need a
good lawyer Murdoch. There’s a
young fellow just moved into the area that might do.
Your own lawyer is no criminal lawyer – his specialty is civil law.”
“What’s his name?
Where can I find him?” Murdoch asked his friend.
“His name’s Frank
Key. He’s got an office over on
For everything,” Murdoch shook his friend’s hand.
“Come on Johnny. Let’s
go see that lawyer and get things started.”
The law office was a
good-sized suite of rooms but so crowded with file cabinets and boxes and
miscellaneous other furniture such as desks and chairs that it seemed smaller.
Several young men in suits and high collared shirts stood at cabinets
filing or removing large envelopes and folders with papers and an older woman,
perhaps in her mid-fifties sat at a desk in front of a door with a glass top
painted with the name F.S. Key III Attorney at law.
Approaching the woman
Murdoch asked, “Would Mr. Key be available?
I wish to speak to him about taking a case.”
“The woman raised
green eyes to him and aid, “He’s with another client at the moment.
Won’t you have a seat?” She indicated two captain’s chairs several
feet away. “I’ll see if I can
find out how much longer he’s going to be.”
So saying she rose
from her desk, knocked lightly on the door and, at the faintly heard “come
in”, opened the door and entered the other office closing the door behind her
as she did so. She was back out in a moment’s time and told Murdoch that
her employer would be with him shortly.
Five minutes later,
as Johnny sat fidgeting in the chair next to his father’s, the door to the
inner office opened and two men stepped out into the outer room.
The older man, about six feet tall and fifty years old shook hands with
the younger one and nodded at Johnny and Murdoch as he left.
Once he was out the door the younger man, around thirty-five years old,
approached the two Lancers.
sir,” he said. “Mrs. Bryant says you wish to speak to me about a case.
Won’t you gentlemen step into my office?”
The Lancers rose from
their chairs and followed the man into his office.
It was small and neatly furnished with a desk and three chairs.
A small kerosene lamp with a green shade sat on one corner of the desk.
Much like the great room at Lancer bookshelves lined the walls.
On one wall, between two windows, hung a picture of a young boy in
old-fashioned clothing. There was
no name to identify the subject.
behind the desk the young man, whose dark hair was quite curly, introduced
himself to Murdoch. “I’m Frank Key. And
This is my son Johnny,” the Lancer patriarch said as they shook hands.
“What can I do for
you Mr. Lancer?” Key inquired.
“I need to hire a
lawyer for my son.”
Looking at Johnny Key
asked, “What did you do to be in need of a lawyer young man?”
“Oh no!” Murdoch
hastened to explain. “Not Johnny. My other son Scott. He’s
been arrested for a murder he didn’t commit.”
“Mr. Lancer I’m
afraid everyone says that.”
“You callin’ my
brother a liar mister?” Johnny’s temper flared at the implication.
Murdoch reprimanded his younger son.
“That’s quite all
right Mr. Lancer. It’s good to
see that he cares.” Key wasn’t disturbed at all by Johnny’s outburst.
“Why don’t you tell me what you know?”
“My son Scott was
in the Union Army during the war. Shortly
after the siege of Vicksburg his patrol was ambushed and Scott, along with about
a dozen others, was taken prisoner. He
was sent to Cahaba Prison in Alabama and spent a little over a year there. The warden was decent enough and a Methodist minister
besides. But there was a guard
there, a Charles Wilson, who took an instant dislike to my son because of his
grandfather’s wealth, position and Scott’s education. He went out of his way to torment him, to try and goad him
into a fight.
There was a
twelve-year-old boy attached to Scott’s unit as a standard bearer - a Peter
Winslow. The boy had taken a strong
liking to Scott and stuck with him when my son’s horse fell on him during the
skirmish. Scott was wounded and
unable to use his right arm. Peter
tried to free him but was unsuccessful. Rather
than run when he had the chance the boy stayed with Scott and went to the prison
camp with him.” Murdoch paused.
“Go on,” Key
“The guard could see how much Peter liked Scott and how Scott protected the
boy as much as he could. He turned
his attention from Scott to Peter. Found
fault with the boy for everything. Scott
says he slapped him around for every little transgression the boy committed or
that Wilson could think to accuse him of. It
all came to a head one day as the prisoners were collecting firewood.
The boy accidentally dropped a substantial piece of wood, a log Scott
said, on Wilson’s foot. The man struck out at the boy and finally hit him so hard
that he fell and hit his head on a rock. The
fall killed him. Scott was so
enraged by this that he attacked the guard.
He was put in solitary confinement for a week.
At the court-martial Wilson was acquitted of murder but lost his job as a
guard. Scott swore to kill the man
for what he’d done.
So to Scott’s eyes the guard got away with murder,” said Mr. Key.
said Murdoch. “Then a few weeks
ago Scott and Johnny ran into Wilson on the street. He was here visiting his cousins - Pierce Wilson and his son
Mike. There was a fight on the
street and Johnny, here, was injured when he hit his head on a wooden post.
Scott felt extremely guilty about what happened and left home in the
middle of the night a couple of nights later.
During the time that he was gone and no one knew where he was, Charles
Wilson was killed here in Green River. The
witnesses, our neighbors Jim and Maura Talbot, were only able to say that the
man they saw standing over the body was tall, slim and blond.
They have never said that it was Scott whom they saw.
Unfortunately, none of the other tall, slim blond men in this area had
any reason for wanting Wilson dead.”
And what does Sheriff Crawford have to say about this?”
want to bring Scott in. He
doesn’t really believe that he’s guilty but he had no choice.
The Wilsons were making a lot of noise about the sheriff being paid off
by me to keep my son out of jail. Scott
willingly came in with Val today to turn himself in.
The Wilsons were waiting for us when we arrived and Mike attacked Scott
when his back was turned.” Murdoch
hesitated for a moment and shared concerned looks with Johnny who’d been
sitting silently while his father laid their cards on the table. “Scott’s case won’t be an easy one Mr. Key.
You see he doesn’t know where he was at the time of the murder.
Our neighbor, Jim Talbot, has found evidence that he was at a hunting
cabin in Hawk Valley but didn’t take the time to try and figure out how long
he’d been there. He found
evidence that Scott’s horse had run away and that Scott was trying to walk
home. Just as he caught up with him
strong winds blew a weakened pine bough down on him.
It struck him a glancing blow on the head.
Scott fainted into Jim’s arms from the blow and from exhaustion.
He’s got a sprained ankle and a lot of scratches as well.
The worst part is that he doesn’t remember leaving home or how he got
“Not total amnesia.
Dr. Jenkins says it’s just a cloudy memory and it should get back to
normal eventually. The blow to his
head and exhaustion combined to cause the lapse.
Apparently it’s more psychological than physical.
He was in pretty rough shape when he was found.”
He has no memory whatsoever of where he’s been?”
whatsoever of where he was the night of the murder.
So far he’s only remembered falling in Wolf Creek but not when that
ever shown violent tendencies before?” At
Johnny’s bristling look he amended that statement.
“What I mean is does it take much to get Scott angry or was this a rare
Scott is very quiet and calm,” Murdoch said.
“The only times I’ve seen him lose his temper is when someone he
loves is in danger. He nearly
attacked a man that threatened his brother a couple of years ago.
The man attempted to provoke a fight by threatening to shoot Johnny for
breaking out of jail. I had to
restrain him but he calmed down quickly enough when I pointed out that that was
what the man wanted him to do.”
“Has he many
friends around here? Is there a special girl?”
got lots of friends,” Johnny declared. “But
there’s no one girl he’s seeing.”
What can you tell me about the witnesses to the murder?”
Maura Talbot have been friends of mine for many years,” Murdoch told the
attorney. “Jim bought his place a
couple of years before Scott’s mother and I came out here.
His wife tended to Catherine when she was ill before I sent her away for
her own safety. She attended
Johnny’s mother when she gave birth to him.”
married more than once?”
Scott’s mother became very ill shortly before he was due to be born.
I sent her away because there were raids in the valley and I feared for
her safety. She gave birth on
deserted road in a broken down wagon and died soon after.
A few years later I met and married Johnny’s mother.
Unfortunately the marriage didn’t last.
She left in the middle of the night a couple of years later and took
Johnny with her.
Maura and Jim
Talbot are good friends. They were
the first people I went to when I discovered that Johnny and his mother were
missing. They’ve remained good friends ever since.
We’ve worked round ups together, cattle drives, formed the
Cattlemen’s Association, entertained and been entertained at each other’s
maternal grandfather took him away before I could get to his mother and raised
him in Boston. He came to live with
me two years ago.” Murdoch’s
look told the lawyer that enough was enough on that painful subject.
“About a year ago Harlan came out for a visit.
He brought Scott’s ex-fiancée with him.
He blackmailed Scott into leaving California and returning to Boston by
paying two young men, whose father I killed in self-defense twenty-five years
ago, to convince Scott that I had murdered their father.
Apparently the money he offered them wasn’t enough and they tried to
ambush Harlan as he and Scott drove to catch the train at Cross Creek. Scott was wounded in the attempt. Johnny took his brother to the Talbot’s place because it
was close by while I went after Harlan. Maura
Talbot tended to his wound and settled him in a guest room to rest while Jim and
some of their hands went with Johnny to help me.
A couple of
weeks later Scott started having headaches and became very ill.
First with influenza and then with pneumonia.
Johnny and Teresa also came down with the influenza.
Teresa, my ward, had a very mild case.
Johnny and Scott became seriously ill and Maura stayed at Lancer nursing
them until they were both back on their feet again. Her onion poultices broke up the congestion that was slowly
killing Johnny. She was the first
one to attend to Scott last Easter when he fell and broke his arm.
She brought the boys home in her buggy due to Scott’s concussion.
Jim and Maura both were on the fair committee last summer.
Scott had been ill with a cold and wanted a little revenge on his brother
for all the teasing…” Johnny had the good graces to grin sheepishly at the
thought of that little episode. “Well,
let’s just say that Jim settled Pierce Wilson’s hash over whether or not
Johnny and certain others could enter the shooting contest and Maura helped
Scott get even with his brother for his nonsense.
wonderful friends and neighbors and I’m sure it must be tearing them apart
that they’ve helped point the finger at Scott for this murder.
Maura’s been a surrogate mother to the boys for the last three years.
Jim and Maura had three sons that would be the same age, roughly, as my
sons. All three died during the
war. I mourned their loss as much
as they did when the word reached California.
Maura was with one of the boys when he died of pneumonia after being
wounded. I think, in some ways,
having my two sons back home again, has been a blessing as much for them as for
After an hour
of conversation Key agreed to take the case.
Murdoch and Johnny were vastly relieved.
Murdoch’s own lawyer was fine for business matters and civil actions
but he was no criminal lawyer. Key’s
background was criminal law. His
family lived in the Baltimore area but he’d decided to strike out on his own
in new territory.
The wind was
picking up again as Murdoch and Johnny departed the office on Oak Street.
Barranca and Murdoch’s horse had their hindquarters humped in protest.
Both were somewhat nervous and kept sidling away as trash blew against
their legs. It was all their owners could do to mount them.
Scott’s warm enough in that cell,” Johnny yelled over the whistling wind to
his father. “It’s gettin’
cold out here again.”
Val will take good care of him,” his father replied.
“We’d better get home and let everyone know that we’ve found Scott
a good lawyer.”
think this Mr. Key will be good?”
there’s something about that young man that I like.
I think he’ll do just fine.”
A cold wind
blew in the cell from the outside. Scott
sat in silent misery while Val fed his pot bellied stove more wood in an effort
to warm the office up some. Seeing
his silent prisoner shivering Val gave Scott his jacket and a pair of extra
blankets that he had.
Can’t have ya freezin’ to death on me now,” he said gruffly. “Your brother and your father would have my hide if anythin’
happened to you while you were in my custody.”
Do you believe I’m guilty?” Scott
asked his brother’s friend.
I don’t believe you’re guilty. But
it’s a good thing that you came in willingly – it gives those Wilsons less
ammunition in their campaign to railroad you.
But don’t you worry none – that ain’t gonna happen to one of my
prisoners! No siree bob! You’re safe here. And
you’ll get a fair trial. Your
father’s gone to find you a lawyer.”
Just then an
extremely strong gust of wind caused a dead tree limb to break loose from a
large old oak tree outside the jail. The
resultant crack caused Val to whirl around and draw his pistol before
going to the door and outside briefly to investigate.
Scott, however, started violently and went pale.
A scene from his journey back from Hawk Valley flashed before his eyes.
In his mind’s eye he saw Jim Talbot rein up his horse not two feet away
from him just as a pine bough hit him on the side of the head.
“Just an old
tree branch. Guess I’m a mite
jumpy what with the Wilsons makin’ so much noise around here lately,” Val
grinned sheepishly as he re-entered the building.
When he got no response from his prisoner he turned and saw Scott sitting
there staring into space. “Hey
Scott, you ok?”
remembered something,” Scott said.
that’ll help prove your innocence?”
know. That tree branch breaking
like that made me remember getting hit with one.
Mr. Talbot found me just as I got hit.
It was cold and it was very windy and I was near Wolf Creek
That’s all I can remember.”
remember when it was? Think man! It’s
tried to remember exactly when it happened.
It was no use. The memory
was gone as quickly as it came.
Scott shook his head. “I
can’t remember when. I only know
what I was told.”
a start anyway,” Val said in an attempt to reassure the other man.
“I’m sure it’ll all come back to you.
I just hope it’s long before the trial.”
morning the mysterious stranger was hanging around the Longhorn Saloon again.
Standing on the boardwalk near Mike Wilson’s gunsmith shop he’d seen
the Lieutenant and his family come in. Smiling
to himself he’d watched as Mike Wilson had attacked Lieutenant Lancer when his
back was turned. Silently he’d
cheered when Wilson had landed a blow on the side of the lieutenant’s head
that felled him. Smiling broadly,
safe because no one noticed him, he’d seen the blond collapse into the arms of
the two older men. He knew one to
be Lieutenant Lancer’s father Murdoch. A
big shot in the valley from what he’d heard.
The Mexican man he’d heard referred to as Cipriano.
Apparently he worked for the Lancers.
The small dark haired man on the Palomino he’d learned was Johnny
Lancer. The lieutenant’s younger
brother. He’d heard it said that
he used to go by the name of Johnny Madrid and that he’d been a gunfighter.
Well, that was of no consequence to him.
All he wanted was to see Lieutenant Scott Lancer pay for his “crime”.
His head itched
where the dye had dried on his scalp but he resisted the urge to scratch.
Walking into the saloon he found himself a table in the back corner again
isolated enough but with a good view of the room and where he could hear
everything that was being said. When
the voluptuous red-haired saloon girl came over he ordered a bottle of tequila
and sat back to enjoy it after sending her away with his payment. He wasn’t in the mood for nosy female company.
He wanted to know how his plan was working out.