Thanks to Cat - who does more than just check my spelling. Thank you
The usual copyrights apply, the mistakes belong to me alone.
"I should be home by Wednesday
next." Murdoch set his valise on the ground and checked his watch against
the chalkboard. The black slate was smeared with white chalk dust, leaving a
dull gray behind. The time for departure which had been written on it was more
than fifteen minutes past. This was
as close to on time as this train got.
"Have a good time, and don't talk
to strangers," Johnny counseled sagely, barely hiding his teasing smile.
Scott turned his back on his brother and
faced his father. Murdoch didn't miss Scott rolling his eyes in exasperation.
"Have you got everything?"
"Right here." Murdoch patted
his jacket pocket, feeling strangely as if being sent off to school for the
first time. The train whistle let go with a bone rattling blast and then the
conductor shouted for all to board.
Up and down the line passengers jostled
and bustled onto the train. Most had just gotten off to stretch their legs, but
a few, like him, were boarding here. There must have been forty people on the
platform right now, filing into the forty train cars that blocked the road into
"There is plenty of work for the
two of you to do, so stay out of trouble." The last was directed a little
bit more to the younger son than the older. "And I'll expect that
footbridge to be repaired by the time I get back."
"Don't come back early,"
Johnny muttered mostly under his breath, and his father decided the comment
wasn't worthy of attention.
"Just have a safe trip." Scott
picked up the big black bag and passed it up to the porter.
Murdoch took a moment to look them both
over before boarding. He cherished
the sight of them standing together like this.
Scott standing straight and tall, his shoulders back, and an appraising
look to his eye. Johnny beside him,
unable to keep still, his left hand tapping against his leg. He was leaning a
shoulder against the wall of the depot, his hat hanging down his back by the
storm strap, his dark hair blowing in the breeze.
"Goodbye," Murdoch finally
said before shaking each of the out-stretched hands, wanting to say more, but
not being able to think of just what.
They both stood on the depot platform as
Murdoch took a seat at the window. A billow of steam obscured them for just a
moment, and then as the train moved forward Johnny raised his hand in farewell.
This was not a pleasure trip. The packet
in Murdoch's pocket was for a task he truly did not want to undertake. Homer Ord had been a friend and long time fixture in the
community, but he had been caught up in a swindle and Murdoch was to be a
witness at the trial against him. Homer had authenticated a forged land grant in
return for a percentage of the profits from the illegal acquisition of the
valuable land in the valley, ruining the lives of dozens of good families in the
Murdoch considered the fact that his own
sons were not completely innocent in this fiasco.
Scott and Johnny had taken matters into the their own hands and held up
the train to Sacramento. This very train he was on now, which gave a powerful
lurch and slowly moved forward.
Just the thought of those events left
him with a mix of anger, fear and exasperation.
Not to mention a tiny bit of pride.
If they hadn't held up that train those documents would have been filed
at the county seat and it would have taken years to sort out the damage in
court. A court that may very well
have been overseen by Judge Ord himself.
But they had held up the train, quite
neatly, truth be told, and delivered the papers back to their father.
He hadn't taken the news as well as either of them had hoped, but he had
to admit, neither of them backed down to him.
They stood up straight as they defended their point of view.
And they did it again as Judge Tolliver
considered their case before half the town.
Under advice of council, they both plead guilty to the charges of
stopping the train, criminal mischief, and jailbreak.
They both made sincere apologies and stood together, shoulder to shoulder
as the Judge read his decision - sixty days' probation. A fairly light sentence, all things considered, but when he
said, "confined to the ranch, under the supervision of your father",
both brothers paled slightly. But
Murdoch was again proud of them as neither made a single complaint, accepting
their punishment gracefully.
Under the conditions of their parole
they shouldn't have been in town with Murdoch, but he gave strict instructions
that they were to collect the equipment that had come in on the train, get the
mail and stop for no more than one beer before heading back.
Johnny grinned at the mention of the
beer. He had felt the confinement
to the ranch much more deeply than his brother.
Scott could content himself with a good book and not go into town more
than once a month, but Johnny liked to go in every Friday night, and sometimes,
in the summer, when the days were long, he'd go in more than once a week.
The first couple of days Murdoch began
to think Johnny was purposely trying to punish him for being complicit in his
confinement. Johnny pestered his
father for permission before doing absolutely anything, keeping underfoot and in
the way until Murdoch finally admitted that this punishment was as hard on him
as it was on Johnny.
Johnny had backed off then and gone back
to doing his chores. More than once Murdoch found his son on the front porch,
staring down the road to town. But each time he would smile at his father and
shrug his shoulders, as if knowing he was caught but still had no regrets.
"Have you heard from Charlie?"
Johnny asked on one of those occasions when he'd been caught staring.
"I went past his place on my way to
town yesterday. He's doing fine. He
was asking me what I know about hogs."
"Hogs? And what do you know about
"That I like them on my table as
bacon, but I told him I'd get him what information I could."
Johnny nodded and Murdoch saw him heave
a sigh. "Guess I better get
back to work."
Murdoch was distracted from his
remembrances of that day by a tap on the knee.
"Are you going on to
Sacramento?" A pair of dowager
matrons were sitting across from him, dressed head to toe in black.
"We're going to visit family,"
the younger of the two said with a shy smile.
She was probably twenty years his senior. "I so dislike these
trains. Too noisy and dirty, and I'm not sure God intended people to travel this
Murdoch understood her concerns,
although admittedly for entirely different reasons.
In their haste to be the first and the fastest and to put a few more
dollars in their pockets the railroads had been careless and there had been a
lot more train wrecks in recent years.
In the early years, trains were much
safer than other transport, like steamboats.
But that was before trains had shown their usefulness, and eventually
their profit margin. And as they
became more widely used, going to more places, quicker and faster, and the price
of a ticket began to be more easily affordable, other standards seemed to slip.
Murdoch didn't know if it was because he
was just thinking of these things or not, but just then the train lurched and he
had to grab onto the window rail to keep his seat. "These trains do seem to
go faster every year," he commented as he settled back in his seat.
"I'm going to see my first
great-grandchild," the woman across from him smiled up at him.
"How wonderful for you."
"My great-grand niece," the
other one said. Now he knew they were sisters.
"We've come from Denver, but we're
thinking of just staying in California." Sister One said.
"The weather is so much nicer here,
and most of the family has moved out this way. Although a good many of my
grandchildren still live in Denver."
"Family gets so far flung these
Murdoch found himself suddenly very
grateful that his family had done just the opposite, but he didn't say so.
"Are you having a good time on your trip?"
Sister One giggled. Murdoch was finding
it hard to fathom that an eighty-year-old great-grandmother would giggle like a
schoolgirl, but this one seemed to be having the time of her life. "It has
been a grand adventure," she admitted.
"The seats aren't as comfortable as
I'd like." Sister Two said, but he could see she was having a grand ol'
time too as she bounced on the red velour chair. "I'm Rose Davis, this is
my sister Daisy Daniels."
Murdoch introduced himself with a tug on the brim of his hat. Together the two ladies had lifted his spirits. He had been annoyed at the prospect of going to court, and worried about leaving his progeny behind, for fear that if they got into any trouble before their sentence was up they'd be behind bars for the next six months. But these two spry old birds had him chuckling despite himself.
It had taken a little more than an hour
to collect the equipment from the train depot and get it loaded into the back of
the buckboard. The long lengths of
metal were lashed down with rope and securely tied.
Scott stood on the edge of the wide
depot platform, one foot resting on the wagon as Johnny signed the receipt to
have the bill sent to the ranch.
"It feels like years since we've
been to town." Scott scanned the wide, dusty street before him. He drank in
the sights and sounds of the town folk as they scurried about their daily
duties. He longed to go to the cantina and sit with Johnny for five or six hands
of poker. To be honest with himself
he'd sit through tea at the Ladies Society if it meant a few hours of lively
social discourse. With a sigh, he
looked over at his brother.
"We're not really supposed to be
here," Johnny said very softly, as if they might be overheard.
"I know." Scott's tone was
tinged with regret.
"Murdoch did say we could have one
beer." Johnny reached behind him to grab the brim of his hat and set it
smoothly on his dark hair.
Scott stepped down from the platform and
into the seat of the wagon, scooping up the reins and resting his hand on the
brake lever. "Let's get the
mail. I intend to drink that one beer slower than I ever have before."
Johnny plopped heavily into the seat and
the springs let out a squeak of protest. "I'll race you to see who can be
Scott laughed as he eased off the brake
and clicked the four draft horses into a slow walk up the street toward the main
section of town. Murdoch had taken
a great deal of liberty with the Judge's ruling to keep them restricted to the
ranch and had included the words "and its duties". Neither of them
wanted to have his faith misplaced. It
would still take them two days to get from Cross Creek to the ranch with the
wagonload of equipment.
They made an unhurried trip down the
wide main street of Cross Creek. The town was only a few years old, the pine
boards of the false fronts still pale in the sunlight. A few more winter rains,
and a few more hot summers and the lumber would be a deep brown. The boardwalks
were still mostly even, the planks not yet having warped in the heat. A pair of dogs, one big, one small, lay in a patch of shade
under a wispy elm tree and followed the wagon with only their eyes.
Three stores were conveniently next to
each other on Main Street between C and D. The grocery, the dry goods store and
the butcher shop filled the entire block. Scott
parked the wagon in the shade of the grocery, its large façade casting a long
shadow onto the street. He went into the dry goods store while Johnny went down
to collect the mail. Usually the
mail would be forwarded on to the station in Morro Coyo, but if they could get
it here, before it went out on the stage, they'd get it a week early.
After dropping off his list, Scott came
out into the sunshine and stood on the boardwalk and looked both ways.
In the distance he could see his younger brother as he crossed the street
with a jaunty step, tipping his hat to every lady that passed his way.
Johnny had a big grin plastered to his
face as he hopped up onto the boardwalk to stand next to his brother. "Sure
is nice to be out amongst people."
"It certainly is," Scott
"I don't think the Judge could have
picked a worse sentence if he tried." Johnny half-swung around the porch
upright to come to stand right in front of Scott, forcing Scott to take a step
backward or risk being plowed over.
"He could have sent us to jail for
"True enough," Johnny
conceded. "But sixty days under Murdoch's thumb is kinda like a year in
jail." Johnny grinned again and hopped down off the porch and into the
street, not really meaning his gruff words. "Except in jail you don't have
to get up before first light."
Scott took the three steps down to the
street with a much more sedate gait and they set off in step down the street
toward the saloon. "Of course
you don't get such good cooking in jail either."
"I was in jail once in Tucson and
had pretty fine cooking there."
"And who did the cooking? The
sheriff's daughter?" They skirted a puddle in the road and stepped up to
the uneven boardwalk on the other side.
"How did you know?" Johnny
slid a sidelong glance at his brother. "Have you been to jail in
"No, but somehow I just assumed it
was something like that."
Johnny held open the bat wing door so
his brother could pass through first and let it slip out of his hand.
Scott was prepared for the maneuver and stepped sideways and the door
swung harmlessly past him. Johnny
moved into the dimly lit room with an attempt at an innocent look on his face.
Scott walked up to the bar and fished a
dime from his pocket. "Two
beers." It wasn't a big saloon as saloons went. The room was dark and cool.
There was only one door and one window to the street. The smell of beef stew
hung in the air and a pile of fresh baked biscuits were stacked up at the far
end of the bar. The food here was simple but filling and the inexpensive fare
brought in many a client.
Johnny looked longingly at the frothy
liquid as it came to rest in front of him.
"Just the one, huh?"
"Just the one." Scott seemed
to be honestly disappointed as he held the glass up to the light, judging both
the clarity of the liquid and the cleanliness of the glass.
Johnny took the first sip and turned to
lean back with his elbows on the bar. Scott
mirrored his brother's actions as he looked out over the sawdust-covered floor.
Cross Creek was more of a city than
either Green River or Morro Coyo. The good folks considered it a breach of
conduct to drink before the sun went down, so the saloons were quiet, with only
a few people scattered at the tables.
Johnny took a bigger gulp of his beer
than he intended and stared at the half empty glass. "It's almost painful,
to just have the one."
Scott looked down at his glass, three
quarters full of amber liquid. "Let's
finish these up and get going. It's a long ride home." He took a hearty
swallow of his beer and got caught up.
"I don't want to lose the
"We'll call it a draw." Scott drank down the beer in two big swallows as Johnny did
Thirty minutes later they were on their
way out of town. Johnny turned back in the buckboard and watched as the town of
Cross Creek grew smaller. "That
was over way too quick."
"At least we didn't get into any trouble." Scott didn't want to look back, but he heartily agreed that they were being well and truly punished.
The two matrons who had been chattering
on for the last hour had finally fallen silent.
Even with all the windows open it was hot, the mild breeze doing little
to cool the passengers. Looking
forward as the train rounded a bend Murdoch could see the tracks laid out for
miles ahead. Train tracks always
seemed to him to be an ugly scar on the landscape.
He pulled out his watch to check the
time and made a silent prayer that his sons had taken his advice and left town
early. With any luck they would
make it home by late tomorrow evening. Murdoch looked up to see Mrs. Davis was
"It's a bit early to be worried
about the time, isn't it?" She spoke softly as her sister was dozing.
"I was just trying to guess where
my sons would be about now."
She smiled at him.
"How many children do you have?"
"Two sons, and I'm raising my best
"Not yet, but I have hope."
When she smiled again, he felt like he
was talking to his mother or a favorite aunt.
"Good things come to those who
wait," she said sagely. With a
quiet nudge she woke her sleeping companion. "Come Daisy, let's get on to
the dining car. You know I like to eat early."
Daisy got to her feet and they moved
together with the sway of the train, down the length of the car and through the
Murdoch checked his watch again. If things were going according to plan, the boys would have
the wagon loaded, and be sitting in a saloon, each of them with a beer before
them. Now the question was, which
one of them would talk the other into the second beer?
He tried to hear the conversations as
they might have been. In one of
them Johnny was the one trying to convince Scott, cajoling and teasing until his
older brother went along. In the
other, it was Scott, using a deceptive form of logic, about how no one would
know, and the length of time it would be before they would get back to town. In
each instance the brother was both successful and unsuccessful. He could hear
them agree and disagree.
He knew that a second beer would not
really change anything one way or another.
He just hoped that they would do as he requested and leave town after
just one and go back to the ranch. If for no other reason than that he was the
one calling the tune.
Murdoch looked out the window, viewing the terrain as it passed by at an amazing speed. At that angle he could see the engine as it headed around a bend and out of sight. He tried to count the number of cars between him and the engine before they slipped out of his line of sight. Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen and then there was a squeal of the brakes, for a second he thought he saw sparks, the coach rocked and shuddered and then…blackness.
Scott pulled the wagon off the road and
pulled up close to a stand of willow trees.
It was an obvious spot to make a camp and from the scorched ring of rocks
and the lack of small tinder, many people had used it before.
The gray twilight would still provide enough light to set up camp.
"We could keep going, push on a little more, and get as close to home as we can," Johnny remarked even as he got down from the wagon.
"No, we'll wait till morning. Get
an early start." Scott dug under the wagon seat and got out the food box.
"I'll get the firewood."
Johnny disappeared without a backward glance, leaving Scott to unhook the team
and lead the horses down to the stream.
They worked together in a quiet routine,
setting up their camp, picketing the horses, cooking supper and setting up their
bedrolls. By the time the camp was
ready, so was their meager supper of dried beef stew, beans and camp biscuits.
"Once, when I was in the army, I
promised myself that I would never eat beans again."
Scott tossed a small stick into the fire and set his plate on the ground.
"It's never good to make those
kinds of promises, even to yourself." Johnny nudged a single rock in the
fire ring with the toe of his boot. "I
once told myself I'd never stay in the same place for more than a month. I think
I broke that promise a couple of months later down in Corpus Christie when I got
a job - in a, um, bordello."
Scott had to put his hand over his mouth
to keep from spitting out his coffee. He cleared his throat and put the cup down
on the ground next to him. "When was this?"
Johnny picked up a twig and drew some
lines in the dirt. "Let's see. I think that was the year I turned
"And just what was your job at
this, um, job?" Scott shifted on his bedroll so that he could get a better
look at his brother in the half-light from the setting sun and fire.
Johnny had to bite the inside of his
cheek as he watched Scott's mind work from behind those vibrant blue eyes.
"I'd just gotten to town and I knew I needed to get some work or go hungry.
Winter's not the time for cattle work, so I was looking for a job as a
swamper or in the stable when I met this girl."
"Well, she wasn't that much older
"I see," Scott said with an
uncommitted nod of his head.
"Anyway, she was out back of the
saloon, sitting on the steps and she gave me half of her sandwich." Johnny
continued to draw random patterns in the dirt.
Scott felt pretty safe that no great
surprises were coming his way, so he picked up his coffee and sipped the warm
liquid again. He raised an eyebrow encouraging Johnny to continue.
"We got to talking and she said
maybe I could get a job, so she takes me to the back and I meet the house
keeper. Her name was Delilah."
A fond smile graced Johnny's features as he remembered the portly black woman
who looked him over, her arms crossed over her ample bosom. She had stared down
at him and he got the feeling that he was being appraised and he came up short.
In a matter of minutes he was another of her children as she clucked over him
and ushered him into the warm, well-lit kitchen. "I did all kinds of odd
jobs. Chopped kindling and kept the
fires stoked in the rooms, changed sheets on the beds between," he waved
off the rest of the sentence. "Helped
with the washing and the cooking."
Scott nodded, still a little flustered
at what Johnny would have seen and heard at that tender age.
"So how long did you keep that job?"
"Almost a …" The
conversation was interrupted by the pounding of hooves.
They both got to their feet, turning their backs to the fire and stepping
apart to present the most difficult target.
"Please," a frantic man slid
off the back of a well-lathered chestnut gelding.
"What's the problem?" Scott
stepped forward and reached for the bridle, although the horse didn't look ready
to run away.
"I need to borrow one of your
horses." The little man looked around nearly hysterical.
"Borrow?" Johnny stepped
closer, realizing the man was not a threat.
"What is going on?" Scott
asked again, more insistently.
"I need a horse." The man said
again. "There was a wreck. I need to get to town."
"A wreck?" Both brothers asked
at the same time.
"What kind of wreck?" Scott
insisted as his hand absently stroked the neck of the horse.
"The train, the one to Sacramento.
It went off the track at Parker's Crossing."
There was a painful silence before
Johnny spoke up. "Wouldn't someone have wired that the train hadn't made it
to the next stop?"
"Probably." Scott was looking
up the road, as if being able to see the way to the crash site.
"How bad is it?"
"Bad. Please, I need a horse."
"Johnny, get the man a horse."
Scott pushed the man toward the coffeepot.
"I'll unsaddle your horse."
Johnny was already at the picket line as
Scott stripped the saddle and blanket off the winded animal. Silently they
worked together, Johnny rubbing the horse down with handfuls of grass as Scott
put the saddle on the smallest of the big draft horses.
He had to let the cinch strap out to the last hole.
The poor little man, that neither of
them had take the time to meet, was standing by the fire, his hands shaking.
"When you get to town, make sure
you get all the medical supplies you can get. And get all the help you
can," Scott advised.
"I will, I will." The man
thrust the cup at Johnny and pulled himself up into the saddle, his legs
sticking out comically to the sides.
The two brothers stood together watching
as the man rode off into the dwindling light.
"Johnny." Scott turned, but Johnny had already moved back to
the picket line. In a matter of minutes they had the wagon hitched up, the tired
horse put in the spot where it would have the least work to do.
The moon was three quarters full and had
risen early. It would be slow going, until they grew accustomed to the
Johnny kicked dirt over the fire, and then poured the last of the coffee over it to insure it was out, before tucking the pot under the seat. With a slight hop he pulled himself up into the wagon. Neither man said a word as Scott pulled out of the camp spot and into the road, heading for the turn off that would take them across the valley and over to Parker's Crossing, the thoughts of heading home the furthest thing from their thoughts.
Murdoch opened his eyes and was met with
darkness. He wasn't afraid of the dark. He'd spent a good portion of his life
out on the trail under cloudy skies with no moon. He'd woken in the night in his
bed, late at night, with no candle burning, but this was a different kind of
Slowly he moved his hand in front of his
face, but it bumped against something hard.
Running his fingers over the object he tried to figure out what it was.
The surface was soft and flat under his hand, edged with a smooth band of
something cold. He explored as much as he could with his limited range of motion
until he realized it was the back of a chair.
Murdoch reached his hand toward his pocket, hoping to get to his watch,
but stopped when he realized that he wouldn't be able to see it even if he
succeeded in reaching it.
With a shuddering breath he leaned back, trying to get the pounding in his ears to still enough that he could determine what was happening. After just a few seconds he wished he couldn't hear. The noises assaulted him, the crying and moaning of his fellow passengers, the creaks and groans of the train, the ever-present pounding of his own heart.
In the darkness there was a spot on the
horizon that was even darker. Johnny half stood in the wagon, his left hand
clutching the back of the seat. "It's smoke." His voice was tight.
Scott clenched the reins and the horses
responded with anxious steps. His stomach twisting at the remembered sights and
sounds. He never thought he'd see this kind of destruction again. His stomach
knotted and he could taste bile in his throat. "Dear Lord," he
"I don't think anything is burning
out of control." Johnny said softly as the wagon jostled beneath him.
"Looks like bonfires." Survivors
of the wreck had used the wood from the train to make fires for both heat and
From where Johnny stood, balancing
carefully as the wagon swayed, he couldn't see the engine. Before him was a hulk
of metal twisted beyond recognition. Scraps of steel were bent into shapes that
no longer resembled anything that looked like a train.
The moonlight reflected off broken glass and brass and steel creating
eerie patterns of light and shadow.
As they drew closer, Johnny sat heavily
on the seat, stunned into silence, the sounds of people crying and moaning
assaulting his ears. There was a chill to the air that had nothing to do with
Other rescuers were there before them. People from the nearby farms and up from the next town on the line, who had realized first that the train was over due. A line of wagons, some filled with supplies, others loading injured for the trip to town were waiting in a clearing near the wreck. Johnny clutched the seat rail as Scott maneuvered the team down the narrow trail toward the other wagons.
Johnny jumped down before the wagon had
come to a complete stop. He half
slid down a small hill and landed with his hands pressed against the hulking
ruin. Frantically he scanned the survivors.
They were scattered the length of the wreck, in various stages of
mobility. He'd never find Murdoch this way. His heart was pounding wildly and he
took a deep breath to keep his composure.
He walked down the track, stepping over
debris and headed to the door of the first car he came to. It was tipped on its
edge, the roof resting against a hill cut out for the track.
He grabbed the handrails to the steps and hauled himself up.
The floor inside was tilted at a crazy angle. He had to step on the legs
of the chairs, bolted to the floor.
At each row of chairs he lifted seats
and boxes and debris searching for people still trapped inside.
It took over an hour to clear the first car. He'd helped eight people out of the train car into the
waiting hands of people on the ground. With a hasty jerk he pulled off two
curtains. He tied one to the
handrail, jumped down to the ground, and then jogged to the end he'd gone in
first hastily tying the other curtain to the other rail. He grabbed the arm of
one of the workers. "Tell them that means the car is clear." The
harried man nodded and Johnny wondered if his message would get through.
Three hours later, when the first hint of pink touched the morning sky his question was answered as the next car he headed toward had a curtain tied to the rail, and he knew he hadn't been in it.
Scott set the break on the wagon and
jumped down. He ran a hand briefly
over the stray horse that had been swapped out with the man on the trail. The horse was tired, but didn't seem too bad off.
He left the horses hitched and moved to where a large group of people
milled by a bonfire.
"Who's in charge here?" Scott
voice carried over the jumble of voices and noise. He was met with blank stares
and worried, weary eyes. He scanned
the area while pulling on his gloves. Down at the edge of the bend was the
dining car. It was upright; on its
wheels, more than five feet from the tracks.
Standing on the back deck of the train car was a portly man and an
elderly woman in a black dress. They
were conversing in low tones, and from where Scott stood he could see there were
determined arm gestures and nodding heads.
As he moved closer he noticed the quiet air of resolve about these two
people. Whether they knew it or
not, they were in charge. Scott moved through the mill of people and stopped at
the bottom of the steps. "What do you have for me to do?"
The two people looked down at him. It
was obvious he wasn't from the wreck, and they quickly approved of his calm,
sure manner. The three of them
conversed and in a matter of minutes Scott was quickly separating the injured
from the non-injured. Swiftly he had a small work force divided up into groups.
Two groups of women were assigned to finding and gathering all the
supplies they could from the train and they began setting up tables with food
and drink which had come from the local farms and the dining car.
The men were sent in small groups to
search the train cars and Scott was relieved that someone had already devised a
system to mark which cars had been searched. A group of boys were sent to gather
all the luggage that was strewn around the wreckage and to put it in a pile to
be used for clothing or bandages or what ever else might be needed later.
It was a mass of juggling work crews and people with endless questions
and information, but Scott's military training and his naturally calm demeanor
By dawn, when the first of a long line of people coming to aid the disaster arrived, things were organized in military fashion.
Murdoch decided that he needed to
ascertain his situation. He
realized early on that he was still in the train car, and that it was tilted
partially onto its side. He knew
that his left leg was pinned. He
could still move it, and each time he did tingles shot up his leg. But even that
little bit of pain was a comfort to know that the foot wasn't crushed beyond
Shifting his weight, he managed to get
his back against the side of the car, which left his leg propped up about nine
inches off the ground. Beyond his foot was the window he'd been looking out of
before the crash. After the ringing in his ears had stopped, he'd tried yelling
to garner attention, but after a few shouts the only thing he'd managed to do
was to make a few more people moan and cry out.
He checked himself over for other
injuries. There was a good size
bump on his head and some scrapes and bruises, but except for his leg being
trapped he wasn't too badly hurt. He did ache however, and his position was not
the most comfortable.
With a slow and painful shift to his
left he could see a tiny square of the predawn sky over his head.
A handful of faint stars showed above, fading quickly as the sun rose.
Silently he made a wish on each one of them. He closed his eyes for just
a moment when he heard something stir. Looking to his right he saw Rose.
Her hat was missing and the sleeve of
her jacket was torn. Her pristine
black outfit wasn't pristine anymore. She'd
unbuttoned the lace at her throat and there was a long scratch down one cheek.
With slow, cautious movements she crawled over the seats and the luggage.
"Are you alive?" Her tone was light-hearted although a bit weary.
"It seems so," he tried to
keep his tone just as light. "I
have been more comfortable though."
"Is there something I can try and
He shook his head, before he realized
that she might not be able to see it in the pale dawn.
"I'd like a pillow and brandy, if you'd be so kind."
She had a little, breathless laugh.
"I might be able to do something about the pillow, but unless you've got
that brandy in your pocket, I'm afraid we're out of luck." Rose loomed over
him for just a moment, blocking his view of the rising sun. "I'm going to
check the rest of the car, and I'll be right back."
"I'll wait here for you then."
"Good man." She pressed on, her long black skirt catching on an upturned bolt. She gave it a brisk tug, not caring much about the sound of the fabric tearing as she continued on. It would be later in the day before she returned, after helping five people out of the car.
Dawn brought both help and new
challenges. Scott stood at the
front edge of the meadow organizing the wagons as they rolled in.
He guided men as they offloaded supplies of food and water and medicine,
directing them to the places where they would do the most good. A latrine needed
to be dug and he recruited four big men to quickly get the task done.
One of the wagons came with tents and
Scott quickly got a crew to set them up, moving the worst of the wounded under
cover and out of the sun. Another one was set up over the food table and two
more were set up across the meadow to give the workers a relatively quiet place
to rest. A group of boys was assigned to water and picket the horses and by late
morning, Scott had assigned two men to take his place helping with the incoming
wagons and moved over to the chow line.
Helping himself to a cup of coffee,
Scott scanned the crowd. He found himself doing it at every opportunity. He had
yet to see his father and only occasional glimpses of his brother.
Dark clouds loomed on the horizon. Rain
would make their job harder. At
least for now, the ground was dry and the wagons and horses could move with
ease. If it began to rain, the
ground would turn to muck. Not to mention the increased risks due to working
with wet materials.
Things were actually progressing fairly quickly. The last fifteen train cars were still intact, on the tracks as if nothing had happened, although they'd still need to be search, just to be certain no one injured was left inside. More than half of the crashed train cars had been searched, the wounded pulled from the wreckage. Only fourteen dead had been found so far, although a large number were seriously injured. When the passengers numbered in the hundreds, this was quite remarkable.
Standing where he was, he could see a block and tackle being set up to move some of the twisted metal off the track and onto the dirt siding. Scott wasn't concerned with the clearing of the track and salvaging the remains of the train, he wanted to find his father. Although he had a sneaking suspicion that the rails being used as a lever were from the back of his own buckboard.
A tight hand clenched around his heart.
He wanted nothing more than to get down into the wreck with his brother
and search each car, but every time he thought about it his stomach turned.
Memories crowded his thoughts and his hands were suddenly clammy.
He wiped his palms on his trousers to
break his reverie and counted how many cars were left to search. It looked to be
about ten or twelve. It was a slow arduous task, but as men and supplies arrived
the job became easier as larger pieces of the wreck were moved.
He saw the familiar sight of his brother
as he moved toward the medical tent. Spurred into action, Scott moved down the
hill with more speed than was safe on the rocky ground. He reached the tent just
moments after Johnny had ducked inside under the heavy canvas flap.
It was muggy inside the tent.
Condensation was collecting at the top of the canvas and dripping from the roof
and rolling down the sides. The
noises of too many people in too close of quarters hurt his ears. The smell of
blood hung in the air and you could almost taste it. A fire burned in the center
of the tent under pots of boiling water and a large pot of coffee.
Sights and smells assaulted him and the memories of tents just like this
in battlefields across the south flashed across his mind.
He breath caught and for half a second he forgot where he was.
Scott blinked to wipe away the memories and scanned the crowd. Sitting on a crate off on the side was his brother, head down, one hand holding the wrist of the other as blood dripped off onto the ground.
"What happened?" Scott slid
onto a barrel next to his brother and looked at the gash.
"I was moving a piece of metal and
Scott nodded and then looked up into
Johnny's face. A day's worth of
stubble graced his cheeks and there was a dark look in his eyes. Scott reached
out and took hold of the fingers so that he could lower the hand just a little
and look at the wound. The edges were ragged and the center was a deeper pool of
blood that seeped along the lines in his brother's hand to trickle off over the
palm. "It's not too bad." He let go of Johnny's hand
and watched the people moving through the tent.
"I just gotta get it wrapped up. I
can't hold onto anything."
Scott watched Johnny as the younger man stared at his boot tips. "When was the last time you ate?"
the same time as you."
Scott nodded and rose to get two cups of
coffee. He came back with a tin
cup, new from a store, three quarters full with the steaming, thick liquid.
Johnny reached up and took his cup by
the handle and blew, staring into the ripples, while Scott retook his seat on
Scott continued to scan the room, his
eyes never still as he watched the few doctors and the women working as nurses
as they moved through the tent. All of them were harried and yet there was a
measure of professional composure about them.
"I haven't found him."
Johnny's voice was so soft that Scott barely heard it.
"I know, but you will."
"How are things out here?"
Scott was amazed that Johnny never
judged him, never judged his decision not to go down to the wreck. "We're
getting the job done."
Johnny nodded and sipped his coffee.
"In the war," Scott started
but then stopped.
Johnny looked at Scott out of the corner
of his eye and took another sip of his coffee.
Scott took a gulp from his cup and then
started again. "In the war,
near Champion Hill, there was a train wreck.
It was a troop train, with hundreds of men on board.
My unit was moved up from Vicksburg to assist. It was horrible." Scott voice was tight, but he cleared
it and continued. "The train had caught fire before we got there. The
sights, the smells."
"It must have been real bad."
Johnny looked up and caught Scott's eye.
"I'm just not sure I can do it
"You're doing good where you are.
We got more than enough folks climbing all over that beast. I couldn't do what
you are doing."
"Yes, you could. If you had
"You could go into the train,"
Johnny paused and looked long and hard at his brother, "if you had
"I don't know." Scott set the
cup down on the floor between his feet.
"I do." Johnny shoved Scott
with his shoulder.
What ever else they might have said was
interrupted by a tall thin man dressed in black pants, black waistcoat and a
sweat stained white shirt. His
sleeves were rolled up to above his elbows.
"What have we here?"
"It's not so bad," Johnny
extended his hand.
The doctor took hold of Johnny fingers
and tilted the hand to one side, letting the small pool of blood from the palm
trickle off to the floor. He let go of the hand and wiped his hands on his vest.
"No, not too bad, but messy. Come with me." The man made no
backward look and Johnny got to his feet and followed.
"No." Scott got to his feet,
picking up both their cups and taking them with. "You'll be fine. I'll go
get us something to eat and meet you outside."
"I'll see you in a few minutes."
Scott chose a spot near a short, squat
juniper and headed toward it with two plates and two cups of water. He stood there for a moment, trying to figure out the best
way to sit and get the cups on the ground with out spilling anything.
His problem was solved when Johnny came up beside him, taking one of the
plates. They sat down on the ground, cross-legged, with their backs to the
Johnny picked up his fork with his newly
bandaged hand and poked at his plate. "Can
I tell you something, honestly?"
"I don't think much of ham hocks
Scott chuckled and thought back to some
of the leaner rations he'd eaten during the war. "Could be worse, Johnny
"Oh, I'm not disagreeing with
that." Johnny forked some of
the beans into his mouth. "Just saying a few foods ain't my favorite."
Scott nodded his agreement to that
Johnny pointed the fork over his
shoulder. "Aside from the war, you ever seen anything this bad?"
Scott thought about it for a few
minutes, while Johnny continued to eat.
"I was in New Orleans one year when
a hurricane hit. It leveled a
couple of blocks. I've never seen destruction like that before or since."
Johnny nodded and wiped his lips on his
sleeve. "That's why I left
Corpus Christie. The first one was
bad enough, but we got hit with two more that year."
"It's the silence that's the worst
part." Scott took a bite of a slightly doughy biscuit.
"I never heard anything like it," Johnny agreed, his tone soft and low. A few minutes later they both went back to work.
The morning was wearing on and his
thoughts flitted from one thing to another, trying to keep his mind off the
brass rivets that were digging into his back.
He wasn't afraid of dying here, far from it. Unless it was from boredom.
He knew that he wasn't seriously injured, and as such, he'd be one of the
last rescued. Instead he thought of
all the things he still needed to do. The packet of information was still
burning a hole in his jacket pocket.
There were other things still to do,
too, things he intended to do with his sons. A hunting trip this fall after the
cattle drive, not to mention the cattle drive itself. And this years Christmas
was in his mind. Last year Johnny
was still recovering from his gunshot wound received in the battle with Day
Pardee. He'd been up and about, but
Murdoch still hadn't felt that Johnny had been up to participating in the
festivities as he knew he would this year. Then spring, there would be so much
to do in the spring.
His stomach rumbled and he again tried
not to think of his discomfort. The sounds of his fellow passengers that reached
him told him there were many much worse off than he. Each spasm of his back or
jolt of pain from his numb leg made it hard for him to remember that.
The car was muggy and the sky out the
window above him was a dull gray that threatened rain.
He wiped a trickle of sweat off his forehead and rolled his shoulders as
best he could in the cramped confines. He
tired to move his leg again, but it only shot pain up to his hip. He sighed, and
The train car moved gently and Murdoch
strained to look around the wreckage, only to see Rose, his companion of the day
before. She was struggling over the
seats that were canted on their sides.
"How are you holding out?" In
her hands she held a tepid cup of coffee.
Murdoch struggled into a position that
allowed him to grasp the cup. "I'm
doing as well as can be expected." He
sipped at the bitter liquid slowly, grateful for the relief of his parched
throat, but knowing full well the need to relieve himself was building.
"Hey there." Rose leaned out
the window at an odd angle, gripping the sides for support. "There's a man
trapped in here."
Murdoch didn't hear the response but
felt the car sway as someone swung up.
Johnny leaned over the seat back,
blocking Murdoch's view out the window. "Howdy," was followed by a
"How do you do?" Murdoch
replied dryly, looking up at his son, but he couldn't suppress the smile that
threatened to split his face. Murdoch noticed that Johnny's face was smudged
with dirt and grime and his cheeks dark with stubble.
Johnny turned to Rose and they turned
toward the window. "See that
fella up there on the hill?"
"Could you go tell him that we
found his Pa? He's just worried sick." Johnny grinned again, turning to
share it with his father.
Murdoch rolled his eyes, not believing
the exaggeration for a second.
Rose carefully picked her way across the
tilted floor one last time. The car
creaked and moaned again with a subtle shift.
Johnny was peering intently at the area
under the seats where Murdoch's foot was trapped. "You sure are
stuck." Johnny came up from
behind the seat and looked down at his father again.
"Yes, it would seem so."
A small smile twitched across his face as he leaned on the seat back, his
hands hanging loosely.
Murdoch could see that one of the hands
"So, I gotta ask you a
question." Johnny pushed his hair back off his face, but it flopped right
"Just get me out of here."
Murdoch sighed out his exasperation.
"Sure, sure." Johnny nodded,
but didn't move. "Don't you
think that when two men, who haven't been to town for over a month, go to town,
don't you think those two men should have more than one beer?"
"Johnny." Murdoch's tone was
only a little less exasperated and a little more irate.
"So the next time these two men get to town, don't you think two beers would be better than one?"
Murdoch shifted his back against the
hard steel beneath him and glared up at his son. "It could have been no
"Yeah, but it could have been three
beers." Johnny ducked down and ran his hands over the twisted metal.
"Now, why didn't I just say you
could drink to your heart's content?" Murdoch replied sarcastically and had
to gasp when he felt his foot wiggled and tingles shot down his leg again.
Johnny popped up again. "Now that
wouldn't have been very responsible, would it?" Johnny shook his head as if
the idea was a silly one. "I
want you to think about those two beers." He dropped down behind the seat
"I'm thinking," Murdoch paused
as a piece of metal clanged to the ground followed by a heavier thud. "I'm thinking that if you don't get me unstuck from here
in five minutes, I'm going to add a month on the end of your sentence."
Johnny stood again and tossed a larger
piece of metal over his shoulder. "Are you thinking about those
"John," Murdoch growled out
between clenched teeth.
Again Johnny disappeared from Murdoch's
line of sight. His foot was jostled
and wiggled and he could feel the blood moving up his leg in sharp beats.
He could also feel that he could move a little more and he shifted his
This time, when Johnny stood up, his
back was extended, his eyes were shut, and his jaw clenched.
A single trickle of sweat inched down from his temple to his jaw, cutting
a cleaner line in the grimy skin.
Murdoch watched the struggle from his
awkward position on the floor. There
was a creak and groan as the twisted metal shifted.
He watched his son struggling with the heavy load.
"So, what about that extra
beer?" Johnny grunted out.
Murdoch had to laugh, even as his foot
started to work its way free. "I'll
think about it."
"You'll buy," Johnny insisted.
With one last grunt, two large pieces of
metal shifted and moved with a loud clang.
Murdoch's foot was free and he curled his knee to his chest.
He rubbed his ankle gently, but could find no real damage.
The bandaged hand was extended down to
him and he looked at the dirt-covered fingers. "I promised Scott you'd stop
"Well then, let's keep your
promise." The tilted floor was strewn with debris and luggage, but Murdoch
knew the hard part of his misadventure was over. They stood together for a
moment, Murdoch's hand on Johnny's shoulder, using it for balance.
He gingerly touched toe to floor and then slowly added more weight.
The fact that the floor was at an angle and that the blood was rushing to
his head made him sway a little - trying to find his equilibrium.
The train car groaned and squealed.
"Sounds like they're trying to upright this car while we're still in it." Johnny looked out the window. From this angle all he could see was the rocky ground, some tall wild grass and the leaves of a tree bent and mangled by the weight of the train car.
Scott looked up as a lady in a black
dress picked her way up the hill to him, her skirts bunched in her hands. She was a little red in the face, but he marveled at her
"You there," Rose called to
him, a pink handkerchief fluttering in her hand.
Scott reached down and aided her up the
last bit of the hill. "How can
I help you, ma'am?"
She pushed back a stray gray curl and
then put a hand to her bosom as she heaved a couple of deep breaths. Waving down
the hill with one hand she had his full attention. "A young man down there
says he's found your Pa."
"Really?" He didn't doubt her
for an instant and moved to the edge of the hill.
"That car – there." Rose
looked back over her shoulder and realized that her description wasn't very
helpful. "Oh, see there. The
one car that's tipped over and has those two little trees keeping it partly
upright? That's the one."
Scott stared at the car, half way down
the line. Two days ago it had been a gleaming black piece of modern machinery.
It had rolled over once completely and had come to rest, tilted at an
angle, with two wheels dug into the dirt and two mangled trees keeping it from
rolling further down the embankment.
From his position at the top of the hill Scott could see the gouge marks in the ground and the one car, just beyond it, that had landed on its wheels, five or six feet from the tracks. The glass and bits and pieces of the car lay around the carriage, glinting in the tall grass.
Scott touched her arm gently, checking
to be sure that she was all right. "Anything I can get you?"
She smiled at him. "I can take care
of myself, young man. I have been
for over 70 years, dear. You go on down there."
He hesitated, but smiled at her vaguely.
The knot in his stomach didn't stop his feet from moving him down the
rocky hill. He'd only gotten about
half the way down when the storm, which had been threatening, finally hit with a
flash of lightning that burnt the air.
Large drops soaked the ground in the sudden down pour. People scurried for the cover of the tents. Scott slid down the hillside when his boots hit a patch of damp ground and he used his hands to stop his slide.
When he looked up at his destination his
heart beat against his chest. In a matter of seconds he watched as one of the
two trees that had been supporting the train, cracked under the weight and the
car slid and rolled in a crash of noise.
"No!" his shout was drowned
out by the crash of thunder.
The floor shifted under their feet just
as a crack of splintering wood rent the air and the tree broke under the weight
of the train car. Johnny groped with his left hand for the support of one of the
chairs, but it slipped from his grasp as the car crashed flat to the ground,
rolled to its roof and then slid down the hill. He and Murdoch went down in a
tangle of arms and legs, both trying to cover their heads from the debris flying
inside the confines of the small space.
Somewhere in the course of their tumble
Murdoch's elbow smashed into Johnny's eye, sending his son's head over to clip
his father under the chin blissfully knocking them both unconscious for the rest
of the fall.
Workers and onlookers stopped to gape as
the train car smashed to the ground and made a slow turn side ways and slid down
the hill like a sled. Dirt and grass and small trees were shoved ahead of the
huge piece of metal as it came to rest at a precarious angle one end hanging in
space balanced on logs and boulders. An
eerie silence filled the air in the instant when even the birds were quiet.
"Was it clear?" someone
shouted and then shouted again. "Was it clear – had the car been cleared?
Were there people inside?" The babble of voices rose as the worry and
Scott didn't stop to listen, continuing
his headlong charge down the hill, putting his hands up to stop his momentum as
he crashed into the undercarriage of the train car, then pulled his hands back
as if burned. A moment of panic hit him as the carriage swayed and he worried if
it would continue to the bottom of the ravine.
He moved around to the end and pulled
himself up the opening where the stairs were upside down to the ground. Scrambling inside he let his eyes adjust to the dim light
inside the car. The roof was below
his feet and above him and dust and dirt poured down from above.
Rain slid in through the window making a muddy mess. He picked his way
carefully between the debris of clothes and cushions to the two people heaped
together at the far end.
A momentary flash of relief swept over
Scott as he listened to the minor moaning coming from the tangle of limbs.
"Is anybody badly hurt?" Scott leaned over, offering a hand to either
one alert enough to grasp it. The car teetered slightly and Scott held his
Neither of them took him up on the offer
as they tried to sort themselves out and Johnny rolled off of where he'd been
lying on top of his father to crawl up hill toward his brother. The train car
creaked and groaned and voices outside the car reached their ears.
"Let's get out of here before this train continues on its journey,
shall we?" Scott again reached down, pulling Johnny roughly to his feet
Johnny tested the floor beneath him and
then moved around Scott, leaving more room for Murdoch to make an ungraceful
rise. Scott stepped backward, clearing obstacles out of their way. As they moved
toward the exit the carriage stopped swaying and Scott moved to stand in the
doorway. He offered his hand and lowered Johnny to the ground.
Johnny hit the ground with a soggy thud
and then waited, looking up, to help Murdoch down the rain-slicked steps.
Murdoch struggled down the twisted
stairs, Johnny helping from below and Scott assisting from above.
He used Johnny's shoulder as a crutch while he tested out how much weight
he could put on his badly bruised ankle.
Scott stood to one side as Murdoch and
Johnny took an inventory of their injuries. Murdoch rubbed a hand over first his
elbow and then his knee. Johnny
picked a piece of glass out of his wrist.
"Are either of you seriously hurt?
Can you make it up the hill?"
"I'm fine." Murdoch stepped on
his sore leg lightly, leaning more heavily on Johnny and looked up at the crowd,
which had formed around the two smashed trees. The scramble up the hill was
Johnny lost his footing once, putting
out his cut hand to break his fall. If it hadn't been for Scott on the other
side Murdoch might have gone down with him.
In the end they all made it to the top with the assistance of a handful
of workers that who slapped their backs and shook their hands. They all turned
to look back the way they'd come. Despite the rain coming down in a heavy sheet,
they gazed at the damaged train car, not caring about how wet they got.
mill of voices droned behind them as people went back to their tasks as the
excitement waned. Again a sudden noise startled the birds from the trees and the
train car once more rumbled and slid all the way down the hill to land at the
bottom of the ravine in a tangle of rocks and trees. The three Lancer men stared
with open-mouthed awe at the crumpled wreck of what had once been the train car.
Murdoch let out a shuddering breath as
he realized how easily it could have been not only him, but both his sons
smashed at the bottom of that ravine.
"You must have been the only thing
holding that thing to the ground." Johnny chuckled.
Scott covered his mouth and turned away
to hide his smile.
"Don't make me laugh." Murdoch
"Are you hurt?" Scott's
attention snapped back to his duty.
"No," Murdoch shifted his
weight and began to look over the tents and then pointed to a spot beyond them.
"I need a privy before I bust."
Scott led the way.
After that quick detour, Scott insisted
that they got to the medical tent. The same doctor was on duty when the three
men entered the tent. He shook his
head and made a tisking noise when he saw Johnny had returned.
"What did I say about not using that hand?"
"We aren't here for me, Doc."
Johnny quickly sidestepped the issue and jerked a thumb at his father.
"Got a new patient for you."
The doctor gave the rancher a quick once
over and gestured to a makeshift table to one side of the tent.
Murdoch grumbled as he shot both his sons a dark look. "The ankle is just
"You are probably right, sir."
The Doctor poured water from a pot into a pan and quickly washed his hands.
"But since I'm sending the railroad my bill, why don't you let me
make a small profit and look you over."
Murdoch studied the doctor to see if the
man was serious, and seeing that he was he acquiesced with a grin.
Johnny nudged Scott and made his way
back to the crate he'd sat on earlier. "Get me a cup of coffee, will
"Those arms and legs of yours just
for show?" Scott teased even as he got up to get two cups of the thick
"Get him a steak for that eye,
while you're at it," the doctor called over.
When Scott got back, Johnny was peaking
under the bandage that covered his hand. "How bad is it?"
"Not too bad, but I think I pulled
a stitch. It's kinda leaking a little." Johnny took the cup with his other
hand and blew on the brew, again watching the ripples. It had seemed ages ago
that the two of them had been sitting in this same place.
But there was a sense of ease between them that hadn't been there the
"You're next in line." Scott
slapped a piece of raw meat into his brother's hand and then took a sip of his
"Thanks for coming down after
us." Johnny gave Scott a look with his one good eye, before tipping his
head back and laying the cool piece of meat over the damaged one.
"It was nice to see your face."
Scott blinked for a moment as if not
quite understanding his brother's statement then a slow smile slid across his
features. "Glad I could help. Honestly."
Johnny nodded, desperately wanting to
say 'I told you so' and yet keeping it to himself.
It was only a matter of minutes before
Murdoch was finished with his examination and then the Doctor restitched
Johnny's hand, tied a clean bandage around the wound and made a cursory check of
the quickly swelling eye. "You
three could all use some sleep and food. Don't go back to that wreck until
you've done both." He turned
away without a backward glance.
Murdoch scratched the stubble that
graced his chin. "I swear they must only graduate the ones that like to
tell people what to do."
Johnny laughed and Scott shook his head.
"As if either of you do what you've been told."
"Now Scott," Murdoch chastised
gently. "I will follow this doctor quite nicely. I'm very hungry."
"I've already got my steak."
It was dark when they finished eating.
Johnny retrieved their bedrolls from the wagon and they moved into a clearing
where tents had been set up allowing some measure of privacy.
The three of them lay side by side, Murdoch in the middle, a son to each
side. It was the first time any of
them had had a chance to relax and stretch aching muscles.
The major part of the rescue was done.
Wounded had been tended and those not immediately removed from the crash
site would go out in the wagons in the morning.
The wreckage of the train would be weeks in the clean up.
Salvage crews with block and tackle and teams of draft horses would come
out and clear up the debris.
In the meantime a crew would start in the morning to repair the track – and then a new train would be brought up from Sacramento or over from Nevada to get the line running again.
"So, tomorrow we'll head back to
the ranch." Scott pillowed his head in his hands and stared up at the roof
of the tent.
"You two will head back. I'll be
Johnny rolled to his side and propped
himself up on an elbow and looked first at his father and then across the big
chest to his brother.
"Sir," Scott started.
"No, I have to go and get this taken care of." Murdoch again tapped at his shirt pocket, feeling the packet of information for the trial in Sacramento. "I'll send a wire from Natividad to tell them I'll be late and then pick up the stage there."
"Murdoch," Johnny started,
hoping to get the man to listen to reason.
Murdoch sat up on his bedroll, looking
first at one son and then at the other. Neither of them was hiding their
concern. "I'm not badly hurt.
It's not like I'll be walking on this foot.
But I'll be back later than expected if the train isn't running."
Scott and Johnny exchanged looks, as if
words weren't necessary. "We
can't talk you out of going?"
"No, it's something that needs to be done." His tone let it be known that he still wasn't happy with having to make the trip, and the reason for it still hurt his pride. He liked to this of himself as a good judge of character, but he'd been so very wrong where Homer Ord was concerned.
Scott nodded, accepting the decision,
and, seeing Johnny chew his bottom lip, Scott could tell that his brother was
still worried. Then Scott saw the first telltale signs that Johnny had accepted
their father's decision.
"Well, at least it gives us a
couple of extra days to get that bridge finished." Johnny grinned and then
lay back down on his bedroll.
"How does one knock on a tent
flap?" It was Rose and she was peering in through a slit in the canvas. "No, don't get up." She gestured for them to stay
where they were, not that they could have stood under the squat sloped roof.
"I just wanted to see that you were all right." Her black dress was
tattered and frayed and dirty, but she had obviously washed up and redone her
hair into the neatly pinned bun at the back of her neck.
"I'm quite fine, thank you. But I'm
still waiting for both that brandy and the pillow."
Her laugh was a fine tinkling sound.
"Well, Mr. Lancer. I haven't seen hide nor hair of a pillow, and if you
find the brandy – you give a yell and I'll come a-running."
"Mrs. Davis – when I do, I
will." He made a gesture as if tipping his hat at her and she laughed
again. "Oh - and your sister?" He almost dreaded the answer, afraid of
what she might tell him.
"Oh, we Townshend women are too
stubborn to die, Mr. Lancer. She's over there, keeping busy. She is currently in
charge of passing out blankets. Daisy believes all that idle hands
"Good for her." Murdoch
rejoined. "So do I."
"Trust him on that," Johnny
groaned out but there was a sparkle in his open eye that took any hint of
harshness from his words.
"Mrs. Davis – these are my sons
that I was telling you about. Scott and Johnny." Murdoch gestured to each
man in turn.
Scott started to get to his feet, but
she cut him off again. "It's
good to meet you both. Your father spoke very highly of you.
But he wants to know why you're both taking so long to give him
grandchildren." All three of them blushed and stammered and Rose laughed
again. "My work here is done. Goodnight gentlemen."
"Goodnight, Mrs. Davis."
Murdoch called out as she dropped the tent flap and cut off their view of the
outside. There was a friendly silence between them for a few moments.
"Her sister was the one helping to
organize the rescue," Scott finally said into the gathering darkness.
"And Mrs. Davis checked on me a few
times before Johnny came to get me out." Murdoch added. "Fine
"Well, I'd marry Rose, but you want
grandchildren." Johnny teased.
"Who says she'd have you,"
Murdoch teased back.
Sometime in the next few minutes, in that time when darkness cocooned the tent and people settled in for the night, the fires burned low the three Lancer men drifted off to the first sleep they'd had in days.
Johnny and Scott stood together as
Murdoch checked his few meager belongings before taking a ride with a merchant
"So, we say goodbye again."
Scott held out his hand to shake.
"Maybe we should say 'have a safe
trip'." Johnny extended his hand also.
Murdoch shook hands with each man in
turn. "I can't imagine
anything going wrong this time."
"Wire us when you get in,
sir." Scott flashed a quick smile. "You know how Teresa worries."
"Yes, it's Teresa that
worries." Murdoch hid a smirk as he tossed the one bag they'd found into
the back of the wagon. "You
boys hurry back to the ranch before you get caught breaking your parole."
"I don't think it's us you need to
worry about." Johnny leaned back against the Lancer wagon, tipping his hat
and letting it hang down his back.
"I'm not worried about you two. I
worried if you get caught there will be a fine, which I can't afford. Or that
you'll be sent to jail, which I also can't afford."
Scott suppressed a grin and flicked a
look over to Johnny.
Johnny smirked as he toed a lump of mud
stuck to the iron ring on the wagon wheel. "I'm glad you're not worried
"I'm not worried," Murdoch
reiterated. "I have complete faith in both of you. Now, I have complete
faith that the two you of will head back to the ranch and do the things that
Scott took the hint and climbed up into
the wagon, holding the reins loosely in his right hand. "Johnny?"
Johnny stood where he was for a moment,
his arms crossed over his chest, staring down at the muddy ground. As he stood
there Murdoch climbed up into the wagon of the merchant giving him a ride, but
gestured for the man to wait just a moment.
"Johnny?" Murdoch looked down
from his perch on the wagon, waiting silently until Johnny raised his head and
their eyes met. Johnny's eye was black and swollen nearly shut where Murdoch's
elbow had hit him in the face, but the other eye was bright and studied his
"Murdoch," spoken so softly
but the emotion was there and so succinctly conveyed all Johnny's worry of the
last two days. The air was thick for a moment, with no words spoken, but a sort
of an understanding hanging there.
Murdoch cleared his throat gruffly.
"All right you two, get going before I sick the law on both of you
Johnny gave a grin and moved to the back
of the wagon and came to the far side.
Scott leaned sideways and offered his
hand to help Johnny into the wagon. He knew his brother was still nursing a
couple of deep bruises all down his left side. "Hustle your bustle, brother
mine. I don't intend to get in trouble because of you."
With a grunt Johnny clambered up the
side of the wagon and standing in front of the seat he turned to his father and
took off his hat with a flourish. "Once more into the breach…" he
waved to the meadow.
Scott tightened his grip on the reins
and clicked the horses forward with a lurch that sent his brother tumbling into
his seat. "That's for going to war."
Johnny just laughed, but twisted
backward to watch the other wagon as it moved off to the south. He raised one
hand in farewell, and was rewarded by seeing his father do the same.
Turning back to Scott he shoved him with his shoulder. "And you
thought I don't listen when you and Murdoch spout that poetry."
"You listen, but you don't pay attention. Shall I recite the entire passage on the way home, so you can learn it properly?"
"No, don't do that. I'd hate to put you to the bother." Johnny shifted on the wagon seat and put one boot up on the splashboard as the springs let out a creak.
"Really, it's no bother." Scott grinned over at his brother as he began to recite the passage from memory.
Three long weeks later Murdoch Lancer
stopped the rented black buggy at the top of the hill that overlooked the house
and grounds. His heart sang at the
sight. Home. Pulling off his jacket he tossed it onto the seat. The morning
chill had burned off and the day was warm with only a few wispy white clouds in
The train still only ran as far as
Natividad and the track beyond was under repair. He'd taken a stage from there
to Morro Coyo and despite his desire to get home as quickly as possible he
didn't dare brave the pale sliver of a moon and had stayed the night. Early the
next morning he'd rented this rig to make his way home. Clicking the pair of
grays into motion he eased the horses into a walk for the downhill part of the
trail to the house. The grass was
growing high in the summer sun after those few brief days of thundershowers, the
tips only just beginning to turn brown.
Cattle lowed in the meadow growing fat
and glossy. Those hides would have
brought a great price in the old days, but now he sold for meat instead of hide
and tallow. A wave of nostalgia hit
him and he lingered for a moment in the good old days, with Paul by his side.
The sight of the archway, proudly
brought him back to the present. A
few of the ranch hands were nearby, waving and bidding him welcome home.
There had been a few long hours with his
leg trapped in the wreckage of the train that he'd felt he'd never make it back
here. Taking in a deep breath he savored each and every smell of the ranch from
the dirt path to the kitchen garden.
Before he could pull up to the front of
the house, Cipriano was already there to take the halter of the near horse and
hold it for him. Teresa was waiting
at the front door, drying her hands on her apron.
"You're home!" Her voice
bubbled with glee as she raced forward to stand just to the side of the rented
"I am." He responded as he
climbed from the buggy and folded her into a hug.
"How was your trip?" Teresa's
question was tinged with a solemn note. This trip had not been all pleasure.
"And you? Are you well?"
"It went well," he hedged.
"And I'm fine and I'll tell every one all about it over supper. I have
presents in the back."
Cipriano laughed as he watched Teresa
skip to the back of the buggy, unloading boxes and paper-wrapped packages
without waiting for help. "Welcome
"Thank you, Cipriano. It feels like
I've been gone for ages. Where are Scott and Johnny?"
Juanita and Maria had come out of the
kitchen to help Teresa carry the bundles inside, the three of them chattering
away happily. Somewhere in there amongst the bolts of cloth and ground coffee
and corn starch, she'd find a pound of confectioners' sugar and two pounds of
white sugar, not to mention the bag of peppermint sticks, a bag of hair bows and
a delicate gold filigree pin.
"Scott's gone to the spring meadow
with Frank to check for strays and move them up to the summer pasture. Johnny is
over to the mesa. We have a problem with wild dogs."
"No, not so serious. But Johnny, he
goes to check it out."
"Good, good." They moved
inside, Cipriano carrying two of the new black leather valises Murdoch had
purchased in Sacramento.
The house was cool and dark and compared
to the glare from outside it was a welcome relief.
The rich smells of wood polish and good food greeted him like an old
friend. He moved slowly to his desk. Flipping
open a ledger he saw Scott's neat hand had the books current as of Saturday and
there was a stack of mail on the corner, the envelopes neatly sliced open,
showing that someone had checked the correspondence for any pressing matters.
Another stack of personal letters sat under a brass paperweight.
He took in his office and the great room
with an appraising eye. The room
was just as he remembered it with nothing seemingly out of place and a warm,
comfortable feel that made him instantly relax.
The smell of beeswax told him that Maria had taken the opportunity while
he was gone to polish all his furniture.
The large glass window behind his desk
had been recently cleaned and butterflies flitted in the daylilies. The house and the grounds were still in order giving him a
sense of satisfaction and a small twinge that maybe he wasn't needed around here
quite as much as he thought.
"Lunch will be ready in about ten
minutes." Teresa stood across his desk. "I want to hear all about your
"It's not a story worth telling
twice," he started to say, but then smiled gently at his ward's crestfallen
look. "Although there are a
few tales that I'm sure Johnny and Scott won't care if they miss."
Moving around his desk he let her wrap an arm around his waist.
"Do you remember Mrs. Ellison?"
"The lady that runs the way station
at Natividad and wields a broom like she was one of King Arthur's knights?"
He laughed at her analogy and warmth spread through his chest. "Yes, indeed." And he launched into what Teresa was sure was a very tall tale involving chickens, a wild rabbit, two drovers, both named Bill, and Mrs. Ellison's handy long handled broom.
Standing at the window in his office
which overlooked the meadow, Murdoch watched as the sun slowly set.
Colors of purple and orange and pink streaked across a sky of pale gray,
promising another fair day tomorrow. A
gentle breeze stirred the trees as a dark silhouette came into view on the front
Murdoch stepped out onto the front patio
to watch as the shape grew closer. Then to his left he saw another rider, this
one on a horse riding flat out across the valley floor at break-neck speed with
tail and mane flying. The second rider met the first and for a few seconds the
two were obscured in a cloud of pale brown dust.
Standing under a massive oak, Murdoch
waited in the shade of its wide spread branches, simply enjoying the sight of
his two sons riding home. He had no doubt that the two riders were his sons.
Scott's bearing in a saddle was tall and straight, heels down and toes
up, reins held loosely in one hand. Johnny's
silhouette was much more loose in the saddle, relaxed and casual.
The two riders trotted up to the corral,
both dismounting with their own easy grace, passing their horses over to a hand
to care for. Scott leaned against the rail fence as they continued whatever
conversation they were having. Johnny
was gesturing with one hand, his enthusiasm obvious, even from Murdoch's
position across the yard.
It was a pleasure for him to observe his
sons when they didn't know they were being watched.
Perhaps when they had been here a few years, he'd give up on this
preoccupation he had.
Scott was listening to the conversation
intently now. Whatever Johnny was explaining had Scott standing in one place,
tipping his hat back and nodding. Suddenly he saw Scott's shoulders dip and his
head tip to his chest. A second
later he was chasing Johnny, swatting at him with his hat, obviously sucked into
another tall tale by his younger brother. The chase ended when Scott had backed
his sibling up to the horse trough and threatened to dunk the younger man.
It seemed they worked out their differences and Scott let Johnny go.
The sound of their laughter filtered across the yard.
Johnny saw him first, tipping his hat
down his back he flashed a grin. "You're home."
"And how was your trip?" Scott held open the French door and allowed his father to pass through first. He stepped in suddenly, cutting off Johnny's entrance and flashed him a cheeky smile.
Johnny returned the grin and allowed his
older brother to enter first and then stuck out a foot in an attempt to trip
Scott. It was such an obvious move
that Scott barely rolled his eyes as he dodged the obstacle with grace.
Murdoch stood at the credenza and held
up the decanter. "Drink?"
"Thank you, sir." Scott took a
seat in one of the two chairs across from the big mahogany desk.
Johnny continued standing, eating from a small bowl that held nuts, until
Murdoch handed him a glass tumbler.
"Now I promised Teresa I wouldn't
tell any tales of town until supper, so you will have to fill me in on the
ranch. What about the foot
Johnny took the seat next to Scott,
"I knew we forgot something."
"Don't tell me," Murdoch
blustered until he saw that both his sons were laughing at him.
For the next twenty minutes Scott did
most of the talking as he brought Murdoch current on the workings of the ranch.
Murdoch listened intently; smiling as he realized that maybe he still had
a thing or two to teach these young men.
Teresa breezed in and came to stand next
to Murdoch's chair. "Are these
two talking your ear off your first night home?"
"Don't you worry, sweetheart, this
is a symphony to me." And it was. Every complaint, every job gone wrong,
every correction in the ledger books let him know he was still needed and Lancer
wasn't quite ready to run with out him just yet.
"Well, come and eat."
The table was spread with all of
Murdoch's favorite foods. The
candles were all lit, both on and above the table. Murdoch led the conversation,
quickly dispensing the unpleasant news of Judge Ord.
The Judge had been disbarred, charged a hefty fine and sentenced to
ninety days in the local jail. On
the surface a light sentence, but a devastating one for a man like the Judge.
His reputation was ruined, and with it, everything he'd worked his life
for. Neither Johnny nor Scott felt pity for the man, but they agreed with the
With a quick change of subject Murdoch
went on to talk about what else was happened while he was in the city. He told of the cattle auction he'd been to and the horse
breeder he'd met that was up from Kentucky.
He'd also met with a man who was very interested in Lancer's Palomino
stock. All in all it had turned out
to be a worthwhile trip. As the dessert was served Murdoch told of his trip home
and what he'd seen of the train wreck and the repairs.
The news of the wreck had made the front page of every newspaper from San
Francisco to Los Angeles but Murdoch had seen the clean up process first hand.
As Teresa got up to clear the table
Murdoch got to his feet. "I have to admit that I was surprised to find you
"Really, sir. Why?" Scott
pushed back his chair and got to his feet, too. Johnny was still eating the last
of an orange.
"Well your probation was over
That got Johnny's attention. "It
"It is." Scott tone was much
more thoughtful and he turned to face his brother.
Johnny had surged to his feet, the
orange forgotten on his plate. "The
Hendersons are having a barn dance."
"Jake Pratt usually has a tailgate
party on Thursdays. " They headed for the front door together, getting in
each other's way.
"You know about that?" Johnny
asked with a grin. "I wouldn't
think you'd enjoy that kind of thing."
"Beer and music? What's not to
enjoy?" Scott grabbed for a hat, got Johnny's and shoved it at him.
"Don't be late." Murdoch
called after them and got a vague wave in return.
He laughed at the look on Teresa's face as she stood in the doorway, her
hands on her hips.
"It's your first night back,"
she said as she tossed a towel on the table.
He felt good. Actually their probation
was over tomorrow but he didn't feel a few hours would make any difference. Those young men had been confined to the ranch for long
enough and if he could give them a chance to spread their wings he was happy.
He'd turned to watch out the window,
watching them racing each other to the paddock where the horses had been turned
out. He hadn't heard Teresa come up beside him as she slipped her arm around his
waist. From her position she saw
Johnny vault over the corral fence, a bridle in his hand.
"Do you think he'll stop to saddle
the horse?" she was laughing.
"Depends of if they're headed for
the barn raising or the, what is you kids call those parties?"
She blushed a little as if she shouldn't
know the answer. "A gate party." She flushed and tossed her hair over
her shoulder. "From people
that sit in back of the wagons or on the gate so that we can get out of the
field they're in in a hurry, if the owner doesn't want them there."
He grinned down at her. "You've
never been to one of these "gate" parties, have you?"
"Oh no, not yet." She
stammered to a stop and grinned up at him.
"Not that I would go. Those are mostly for the wild boys."
"Well, at least I know whose field
to go to if Johnny and Scott don't make it home in the morning."
She laughed as he chuckled.
Two horses charged out of the yard at a fast gallop.
"Gate parties." He laughed
again. It was good to be home.