“Here Johnny, dear, have some more of these cookies and some more buttermilk.”
The speaker was Maura Talbot, friend and neighbor to Murdoch Lancer, his two sons, Johnny and Scott and his ward Teresa O’Brien. The boys had stopped by the Talbot’s ranch on business for Murdoch and now they were seated at her kitchen table eating fresh baked sugar cookies and drinking coffee. But in Johnny’s case it was buttermilk.
“Thanks,” the younger Lancer said around a mouthful of cookies. “They sure are good. Even Maria doesn’t make ‘em this good.” He gave her one of his most brilliant smiles while his blue eyes twinkled with mischief.
“You’re full of blarney boy,” Maura said with an affectionate pat on the top of his head.
Scott, Johnny’s older brother who was as fair as Johnny was dark, laughed.
“He’s full of something Mrs. Talbot. I’d hate to say what.” His gray-blue eyes twinkled.
“Now Scott,” Maura chided him gently, “that’s not nice.”
“Now Mrs. Talbot I can’t possibly be anything less than truthful with you.”
“My brothers Sean and Padraic were full of blarney too. Sean could do more business in ten minutes than our father did in a day. He was that charming. Mother used to say that he must have kissed the Blarney Stone more than once the way he talked. And the girls used to flock around him everywhere he went.”
“What’s the Blarney Stone?” Johnny wanted to know.
“It’s an enormous stone in Blarney Castle in County Cork back in the old country love. It’s said that those who make the trek and kiss the stone are blessed with the gift of gab.” She smiled at her friend’s younger son who was notorious for talking his way into and out of many a bit of mischief and/or trouble. Unlike his brother who was much quieter and not as apt to get into mischief.
Johnny was intrigued. He looked quizzically at their neighbor, as much a mother to them as she was to her own three sons that had died during the war. She’d adopted the boys pretty much from the start but especially since the disastrous visit of Scott’s maternal grandfather, Harlan Garrett, which had resulted in Scott’s being shot. Then both boys came down, one at a time, with influenza and pneumonia. Teresa O’Brien, their father’s ward and surrogate sister to themselves, had been ill too but fortunately not as sick as Johnny and Scott. Johnny had nearly died while Scott had laid deathly sick for nearly a week himself before that. Only Murdoch, of everyone in and out of the house at any given time, had missed out. Maura liked to say that no nasty influenza would dare attack a stubborn Highland Scot. The virus would surely lose the battle.
Since the boys recovery from their illnesses Maura had helped treat Scott when a fall from his horse the previous spring had left him with a broken arm and some scrapes on his face. But not all of their visits came as a result of trouble. Maura and her husband had been part of the committee that had organized and run a large fair in the valley back at the end of the summer. Scott had been sick with a cold and laryngitis and endured a lot of teasing from Johnny while he recovered. Maura had helped Scott pay his little brother back for that bit of devilment, especially the invitation to join the choir at the frog pond, by helping to set him up for the pie-eating contest.
Late in September Maura and Jim had been the only witnesses, of sorts, to the murder in Green River of a man from Scott’s army duty. Fortunately when all was said and done General Phil Sheridan had helped to solve the case. With help from his top sergeant and one stubborn little brother the former Lieutenant’s commanding officer had shown the real killer to be a man who had been in the Cahaba Prison Camp with Scott. A man embittered by an accident that left him handicapped for life with a bad leg.
Now on this bright, but cool March afternoon, the boys sat in the sunny kitchen at the Bar T munching the treats that Maura placed in front of them. She’d been regaling them with tales of her childhood in Ireland and legends of her old homeland. They’d already heard about pookahs and banshees but the best was yet to come.
The sunlight glistened off the highly polished wooden table and chairs and the copper pots and pans. The bricks positively sparkled. The aroma of fresh baked sugar, oatmeal and chocolate cookies permeated the air, as did the smell of fresh bread. Heavy porcelain mugs held coffee for Maura and Scott. Steam rose up from their mugs while condensation rolled down the side of Johnny’s glass of buttermilk.
“You mean people really kiss a rock?” Johnny was incredulous.
“Oh my yes. Kissing the Blarney Stone is a very popular thing for visitor’s to do.” She hesitated before adding the clincher. “Even if they do have to lay on their backs and have someone hold their ankles while they do it.”
“Mrs. Talbot, far be it for me to say I don’t believe you,” Scott said, “but that’s ridiculous.”
“That it may be Scott my boy,” Maura smiled at him. “But many people do it every day and some really believe that it makes them good talkers.”
“Like your brothers?” Scott queried with a raised eyebrow.
“Oh, no,” Maura said. “Those two were born with the gift of gab.”
“Tell us some more about Ireland Mrs. Talbot,” Johnny said with the enthusiasm of a small child. “It sounds like a real nice place.”
“Well, now let me see,” Maura said pretending to think hard. The Lancer boys were a good audience just as her three sons had been. “Did I tell you about the time that Padraic met a leprechaun while he was traveling from Fivemiletown to the Lakes of Killarney?”
“No.” Scott said with a skeptical look on his face.
“What’s a leprechaun?” Johnny had never heard of the little people – Irish leprechauns or Scottish brownies. He was intrigued and wanted to hear more.
“Why lad a leprechaun is a man. A little man. They’re usually no more than two feet tall and they wear gray or green jackets with red trousers and brown shoes. If you happen upon one you’d best be careful. They’re tricky fellows.”
Scott watched his brother’s face carefully. Johnny seemed to be eating up this story and believing every word that came from their surrogate mother’s mouth. For the time being he decided to go along with it. He could always tease Johnny about it later. It was funny how this brother of his could be so much like a child sometimes. One minute a tough as nails gunfighter and cowboy and the next minute very much a child. One minute blasé about everything – even cynical and the next, as when with a child, a very compassionate person. And his sense of humor – well Scott had been on the receiving end of many a joke from his little brother. Some of them carefully laid traps and some of them opportunistic as when he’d asked his brother, while primping in the mirror for a “date” with his visiting ex-fiancée how he looked. The answer had been three words – “elegant, breathtaking and pretty”. Scott had told his little brother that one more smart remark would see him, Scott, teaching Johnny some manners. Johnny had merely grinned at him and said that Scott didn’t want to get all wrinkled up.
“Do go on Mrs. Talbot,” Scott said hiding his grin from his brother. “I’m fascinated.”
Maura gave the older Lancer a withering glance. Not only did she dislike having her storytelling interrupted she suspected Scott was on the verge of spoiling everything for his brother.
“As I was saying,” she continued. “Padraic was on his way to Dublin when he ran across this little fellow hiding in the bushes. All of three feet tall he was and dressed in red pants, a green coat and a green hat with a wide brim. Also a studded leather apron to hold his tools in.”
“What kind of tools would that be Mrs. Talbot?” Johnny wanted to know.
“Leprechauns are shoemakers by trade lad. When they’re not guarding a fairy’s treasure or causing some sort of mischief. And this fellow had a foul smelling clay pipe as well.”
“Sounds like Murdoch’s pipe the time that Englishman brought him some new tobacco,” Scott said with a laugh. “The whole downstairs of the house smelled something awful for two weeks. I don’t think Teresa and Maria or the other women have ever forgiven Murdoch or the Englishman for the extra work they caused them. Took them that two weeks to clean the place up and get rid of the tobacco stains on the windows. Not to mention the smell of that tobacco out of the curtains and upholstery.”
Johnny glared at his brother. He was interrupting this most intriguing story. Maura saw the look and started her story again.
“The little fellow had gone and gotten himself trapped in those bushes. Tried to squeeze through a spot that was too tight even for him. And the British landlord that owned the property had a mean cat that was menacing him. Padraic guessed that the cat thought the leprechaun would make a tasty meal. When he heard the noise he rushed over to see what was wrong.
Now the leprechaun was not very happy to see a human but he was less happy to see that cat menacing him so he offered my brother the coins he carried in his leather pouches. A silver shilling he carried in the one and in the other a gold coin. And he was desperate enough to offer both to Padraic if he’d only help him by getting rid of the cat.
Padraic was, and still is, a big tease. He couldn’t resist giving the little man a hard time but finally he had pity on him, shooed the cat away and released the leprechaun from his prison. The wee fellow was very grateful and even offered Padraic his crock of gold at the end of the rainbow that was arcing across the sky at that moment. But first Padraic would have to have some of the leprechaun’s poteen.”
“What’s poteen?” Johnny wanted to know.
“It’s a very strong drink. Stronger even than your worst tequila or your father’s whiskey,” Maura replied. “Leprechauns are quite often very intoxicated from drinking a mug or two.”
“Tell us Mrs. Talbot,” Scott said. “Did your brother get the crock of gold?”
“Nay, lad, he didn’t. They found it all right but the little fellow distracted him and when Padraic turned his head the leprechaun vanished and his crock of gold with him.”
Scott picked up his mug and drank down the last of his coffee. Then he picked up his hat and giving Maura a peck on the cheek said, “That was a very nice story Mrs. Talbot. Thank you for telling it. And for the cookies and coffee.”
“Yeah, thanks,” Johnny said following his brother’s example by finishing his buttermilk and cookies and wiping his mouth. Picking up his own hat and leaning over he also kissed Maura’s cheek and headed for the door.
Maura followed them wrapping more of her sugar cookies in a napkin for them. “Johnny don’t forget these. Tuck them in your saddlebag with your lunch. I’m sure you’ll both be hungry again long before you get home to Maria and Teresa’s dinner tonight.”
“Thanks again Mrs. Talbot.” Scott smiled down at her as her husband arrived from the barn with the prize bull he was sending to Lancer for a couple of days to see if he could help improve their stock.
Murdoch was very conscious of inbreeding causing problems. He’d made a trip by stage once to Mexico to buy some stock from a friend. The original trip had been a disaster – the stage he’d been on had been held up by bandits working for a man in a town called Blessing. Unfortunately Doug Blessing had not the morals or the honesty of his father. He’d turned a once prosperous little town into little more than a ghost town that was a haven for outlaws with a crooked sheriff and a judge that was both crooked and a drunk as well as a cheat. He never paid up any of his bills at Clara’s café. Eventually though Murdoch had overcome the odds, made his trip and returned home safely.
The boys had, against his wishes, followed after him and knew that their father had stirred the people up to take back their town but they didn’t think he knew that they had been there. They should have realized that he did when he inquired about the fact that their horses were in the seldom used South pasture and gave them a big job to do to make up for their having done “nothing” the whole time he was gone.
“Here you go boys,” Jim Talbot said handing the lead rope to Scott. “Tell your father I’ll send someone over to pick Cereza up in a couple of days.”
“Cereza?” Johnny laughed. “You named your bull Cherry?”
Jim Talbot blushed to the roots of his blond hair. “I didn’t name him,” he explained.
“Then who did?” Scott asked with a chuckle of his own.
“I did,” Maura Talbot said. “What’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing, nothing,” Scott said as he glared at his brother who was still laughing.
“Well his coat is rather a dark cherry red don’t you think?” Maura defended her choice of names.
“Be off with you boys,” Jim said shaking hands with the two of them, “before my wife starts howling like a banshee at you for laughing at her.”
Still laughing Scott and Johnny headed for home. Cereza trailed along behind Scott slowly but steadily. For the most part he was a very good-natured animal. Chancing a glance over his shoulder Scott noticed that Jim was getting a bit of a scolding from his wife. He grinned at the sight since Maura was barely over five feet tall and Jim was six-feet two – an inch taller than himself. Then he sobered for who was he to laugh when Maura terrified him, his father and his brother as well. She was known as a force to be reckoned with when she was upset about something.
An hour later they were back at Lancer where their father, Murdoch, greeted them as they arrived. Hearing their horses as they rode into the yard he came out through the French doors to his study followed closely by the boys’ “sister” Teresa whose long dark hair was tied back with a blue ribbon.
“Well I see you got there all right and brought the bull,” Murdoch greeted his sons. “What took you so long to get back?”
“I can tell you that Murdoch,” Teresa giggled. “Mrs. Talbot always bakes cookies on Tuesdays. And if she knew they were coming she’d have made sure she had some just coming out of the oven when they arrived.”
Murdoch raised his eyebrows as he looked at his sons’ guilty faces. He hid a grin and swallowed a chuckle as he gave them a mock glare.
“Oh? Is that what kept you so long?”
“Well…” Johnny started to answer but Scott interrupted him.
“Now Murdoch you wouldn’t want us to go all the way over there and hurt Mrs. Talbot’s feelings by not partaking of her hospitality would you? That wouldn’t have been very polite of us.” Scott grinned at his father.
“No,” Murdoch agreed with a grin of his own. “No, that wouldn’t have been very polite. Did you save any for the rest of us?”
“Huh?” Johnny responded.
“I know Maura Talbot. I’ll bet you she sent you on your way with at least a dozen more wrapped in a napkin.”
“You’re right Murdoch,” Teresa agreed. “And I want mine now.” She walked over to her “brothers” and demanded, “Hand them over you two!”
Scott fended her off by picking her up with an arm around her waist and spinning her back in the direction she’d come from. That didn’t deter the determined girl. Giggling she went over to where Johnny and Barranca were, evading Scott’s attempt to stop her this time, and started to reach for his saddlebags. Johnny thwarted her by slipping out of his saddle and backing Barranca away from her. The three “children” were soon laughing until tears ran from their eyes. Murdoch finally put a stop to this nonsense by reaching into Johnny’s saddlebags and finding the much-desired treat. Being four inches taller than his older son he very easily managed to keep them out of his reach and Johnny’s and headed into the house.
Maria, upon hearing the noise, came out of the kitchen and, seeing the cookies, started scolding all of the Lancers for eating when dinner was about to be served. The two boys made quick work of washing up and brushing the dust out of their clothes. Frank, one of their long time employees, had taken charge of Cereza and was settling him in the barn for the night. In the morning they would turn him in with the heifers Murdoch planned on mating him with.
It was a lively group that sat down to dinner that night. Murdoch quizzed the boys on what Jim Talbot had had to say about Cereza. It came as no surprise to him, though he laughed as heartily as the boys, that Maura had named the bull. Teresa, tempted to stick her tongue out at her men for making disparaging remarks about women and their penchant for silly names, opted to turn her nose up at them.
After dinner they settled in the Great Room to relax. Teresa picked up some embroidery work she had started, Scott sat by a lamp reading Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables while Johnny and Murdoch sat at the latter’s desk playing a fiercely competitive game of chess. Johnny, while not educated in the same manner as his brother, had a quick mind and a penchant for outlandish strategies that often fooled his competition.
“I wonder if leprechauns play chess,” Johnny mused idly as he waited for his father to make his next move.
“Oh nothin’,” Johnny said.
“Leprechauns?” Teresa raised an eyebrow.
“Yes, it seems my little brother is quite enamored with the idea of finding a leprechaun and its pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.” Scott was highly amused.
“Maura Talbot must have been telling you two stories of Ireland,” Murdoch said with a chuckle. “When Johnny was about a year and a half she used to come over here and tell Maria those same stories. Johnny here would sit on the floor and sit enraptured as she talked about the ‘little people’. Maria would say she couldn’t have gotten anything done without those visits from Maura. She’d have spent all her time chasing Johnny out of the kitchen or the corral or the garden or wherever else he’d gotten himself into that she wanted him to stay out of.”
“Don’t they have leprechauns in Mexico Johnny?” Teresa asked with a gleam in her eye.
“No, Teresa, they ain’t got leprechauns in Mexico,” Johnny retorted. “Do they have them in Scotland?”
“I don’t know,” Teresa answered. “Do they Murdoch?”
“Not leprechauns but some of the people believe very strongly in brownies which are practically the same thing. A laird’s housekeeper, or a good housewife, would no more think of going to bed at night without leaving a bannock cake and some milk for the little fellow than they would neglect any part of their housekeeping.”
“What’s the bannock cake and milk for?” Scott was curious now. He was beginning to smell an opportunity to kid his brother.
“It’s to keep the brownie in a good mood,” his father replied. “Those who believe say that if they don’t take care of the brownie bad things will happen in the kitchen. Food will disappear, the cook will burn something and dishes will break.” Murdoch paused to look away from the chessboard at his older son curiously. He wasn’t sure he liked the gleam in Scott’s blue-gray eyes. “But that’s superstitious nonsense.”
“Hey Johnny,” Scott said ignoring his father’s curious look, “maybe we should leave some cookies and milk for our resident brownie tonight.”
“Well Maria was saying to Juanita just this morning that her favorite stoneware crock had fallen and spilled flour all over the floor. She swore she’d left it in a safe place but there it was on the floor and all the flour spilled. It took her fifteen minutes to sweep it up. Then she had to ask Jelly to get her a new sack because that was the last of what there was in the kitchen. That’s why she was so late in getting the bread made and there were no biscuits for breakfast this morning.”
The teasing went on for about fifteen minutes before Murdoch decided it was time for him to retire. The boys and Teresa weren’t far behind him.
Scott, in his own room, heard Johnny’s door as he tried to open it quietly. Stocking footed, for he had only removed his boots, he walked over to his door and opened it just a crack. It was enough to see Johnny, also in his stocking feet, creeping toward the stairs. Intrigued Scott opened his door wider and followed his brother all the while hoping that Johnny’s instincts would not warn him that there was someone behind him.
On they went down the stairs and toward the back of the house where the kitchen was located. Johnny looked around apparently reassuring himself that nobody was nearby and headed straight for Maria’s cookie jar. This in itself did not surprise, or amuse, Scott as Maria was constantly scolding both of them for she could not keep up with their midnight raids on her kitchen.
As Scott watched, shaking in silent mirth, Johnny took half a dozen cookies out of the jar and put them on a plate, which he then placed on the kitchen table. Then he got a glass and poured some milk from the pitcher that was kept in a basin of cold water to keep it cool. Every night, especially in the hot weather, Maria did this. In the warmest weather she put several small chunks of ice, which would melt and keep the milk, cream and butter from spoiling. It was an added chore that Jelly was in charge of and he didn’t care neglect it. Maria was more fearsome than Murdoch at his worst when she was angry and sour milk that was supposed to be fresh made her very unhappy.
Just as Johnny was pouring the milk the outside door to the kitchen opened. Scott ducked back behind the inside door which led to the dining room. Johnny, startled, dropped the pitcher, which not only spilled its contents but also, being glass, broke.
“Darn you Jelly! Look what you made me do! What are you doing in here at this time of night anyway? Sneakin’ up on a man like that could get you shot!”
“I don’t rightly think an unarmed man is gonna shoot anyone,” Jelly retorted. And I wasn’t sneakin' up on you. I came in to put some ice in that washtub with the pitcher of milk you just dropped. I didn’t want Maria getting’ all mad at me in the morning ‘cause the milk and cream were sour. What’re you up to anyway?”
“Nothin’.” Johnny wasn’t about to let the old man, object of many a bout of teasing from him and Scott, know what it was he was doing.
“Nothin’ huh?” Jelly was skeptical. “Then what were ya doin’ with that pitcher of milk?”
“Just getting’ a glass and some cookies.”
The older man rubbed his beard and then his eyes lit up. “You was gonna leave some milk and cookies for the fairy creature weren’t ya? I heered ya was over ta the Talbots today and the missus was tellin’ ya all about leprechauns and such. And your dad, he mentioned something about brownies and how the cooks on them big spreads over in Scotland always leave something for them so they won’t cause no trouble when they’re neglected.”
“What if I was? You gonna tell Scott on me? Or Murdoch? How about Teresa? You gonna go runnin’ to tell them how I left cookies and milk out for a imaginary creature? I want to play a joke on Scott is all. You gonna spoil it for me?”
Scott, standing hidden behind the door to the dining room, chuckled silently. He’d see just how much his little brother believed those stories. The next time they went to the Talbots he’d think of some way to get Johnny back. Silently he opened the door a crack and saw the other two men putting a plate of cookies and a glass of milk from another pitcher on the table.
“You swear you ain’t gonna tell Scott or anyone what I did?” Johnny was anxious for his prank to go well.
“Consarnit Johnny! What do ya take me for? A blabbermouth or somethin’,” Jelly was insulted. “’Sides I wouldn’t want to take a chance on offendin’ the little fella iffen there’s one here.”
Johnny, however, knowing how Jelly couldn’t keep a secret, just gave him a look that squelched any further protests. The two agreed to keep the secret to themselves though it was risky messing around in Maria’s kitchen. Seeing that the others were through setting up their prank Scott quietly closed the door and ran lightly back through the great room and around and up the stairs to his room.
Hastily he removed his pants, shirt and socks and jumped into his bed. The last thing he wanted was for Johnny to look in on him and find him still awake. Just as he heard Johnny’s light footsteps coming up the stairs he realized that he’d left his lamps burning and rushed to extinguish them before Johnny could reach his door. Then he quickly dove back into his bed and pulled the covers up. Closing his eyes as he rolled onto his right side he pulled the covers up to his shoulders and squelched the grin and the laugh that threatened to escape.
He heard his door open and Johnny tiptoe over to his bed to see if he were sleeping. His eyes were closed as far as he could and still have them open just a crack to look at his brother’s face. Apparently Johnny was convinced for he grinned and went out the door, closing it quietly and departed to his own room. Happy that he’d managed to fool his little brother, the former gunfighter, Scott heaved a contented sigh and drifted off to sleep with dreams of mischief dancing in his head.
The rooster crowing just before sunup woke Scott from a sound sleep. Hastily he got out of bed and scrambled into his clothes. In his stocking feet he hastened down to the kitchen hoping that Maria hadn’t arrived yet. He was happy when, upon arrival, the kitchen was empty and the fire not started yet to heat the cook stove. Spying the glass of milk and the cookies still on the table he went over and helped himself.
Chuckling he ate the four sugar cookies and drank the glass of milk and put the empty glass next to the equally empty plate when he was through. Hearing footsteps in the dining room he quickly and quietly made good his escape through the door leading to the outside. Peeking through a crack between the door and the doorframe he saw his younger brother, still sleepy looking and hair mussed up with shirt not even fastened yet enter the kitchen. Laughing to himself he watched as Johnny went over to the table and found the empty plate and glass where he’d left them full the night before.
“They are real!” Johnny said out loud to himself. Hastily he washed and dried the plate and glass and put them back where they belong. He didn’t want anything to upset Maria or he might not get tortillas for a few days. Then he went back toward the dining room but paused in the doorway, with a look of amazement on his face. Quickly Scott raced around to the front door and let himself back in. He barely got to his bedroom before he heard Johnny coming down the hall.
“Scott. Hey Scott you awake yet?” Johnny whispered loudly as he opened the door to his brother’s room.
Pretending to have just risen Scott answered, “Yes, I’m awake. What’s up?”
“You know them stories Mrs. Talbot was tellin’ us about little people and Murdoch’s story about how housekeepers and cooks in Scotland leave cakes and milk for their own little people? What did he call them?”
“Bannock cakes. What about them?” Scott knew what was coming and stifling his mirth was becoming very difficult. As he dressed and poured water to shave with he avoided looking at his brother. He was afraid he’d lose control and start laughing.
“I think we got one in the house or somwheres on the ranch. There’s a glass and a plate in the kitchen that have just been washed and ain’t even dry yet.”
“And what were you doing in the kitchen at this hour? Maria hasn’t even started breakfast yet.”
“Just curious to see if we had any little visitors last night is all.” Johnny was watching his words carefully. He didn’t want to let on to his older brother that he and Jelly had left the cookies and buttermilk out for the little people.
“Yes, of course,” Scott grinned to himself. “Just curious to see if Mrs. Talbot’s stories are true or not.”
“That ain’t so!” Johnny exclaimed in his defense. “Miz Talbot wouldn’t never tell us anything that wasn’t so! Would she?” His brother’s comment was stirring up doubts in his mind.
“I don’t know Johnny. I mean, a banshee, a pooka and leprechauns sure sound strange to me. But, then again, Murdoch did say that even in Scotland some people believe in such things and leave snacks out for them. Maybe somebody heard us talking and left a snack out for the brownie of the house and washed up after they finished – the brownie that is.” Scott finished shaving and rinsed his razor blade off. Then he took the towel he’d slung over his shoulder and dried it, and his face, before dropping it on the dresser. “You’d better finish getting dressed brother. Maria hates it when we’re late to meals and you’re only half dressed. She’s probably got the table set and the flapjacks and bacon and eggs ready to go on the table. She’s liable to ‘forget’ making tortillas for dinner if Juanito is late for breakfast.”
Johnny panicked at the thought of the woman they often referred to as “mamacita” getting mad at him. He hastily departed his brother’s room for his own to finish dressing. He was barely out the door before Scott rushed over to close it and burst into laughter over the conversation they had just had. It seemed that his teasing was going to work out very well.
At breakfast later that morning it was obvious that Maria was a little disturbed about something. The normally quiet housekeeper kept muttering in Spanish about missing cookies and broken pitchers. Only three people knew what it was she was talking about and none of them were talking.
“Maria que pasa? What’s wrong?” the patriarch asked his employee.
A rapid-fire explanation in Spanish followed. Murdoch was only mildly surprised that there were cookies missing. His sons were notorious for midnight raids on the cookie jar. But they certainly would have owned up to a broken pitcher. It seemed that Maria had not only found a glass pitcher missing but some pieces of glass that Jelly and Johnny had missed when they were cleaning up the night before. Maria was convinced there had been a prowler in her kitchen by the name of Lancer. Probably Juanito. Murdoch assured her that it wouldn’t happen again and gave the boys the parental glare as if he agreed with her that one of them had to be the culprit.
In the face of that glare Scott, though not completely without guilt in the matter, managed to maintain an innocent look on his face. Johnny struggled with it and kept his attention focused on his plate as much as possible and mumbled something in Spanish to Maria about how he knew that would happen one of these days when she insisted on keeping the milk in a glass pitcher when a metal one would do just as well. Fortunately for him his father didn’t hear that comment though Maria did. Her Juanito got scolded and scowled at. She still suspected him though Scott was just as guilty of midnight raids on her kitchen when he was hungry just before bedtime. They could all rest assured that she would be keeping an eye open for mischief from those two.
“If you boys are finished,” Murdoch said, “I’d like to see about getting Jim’s bull out with the cows we’ve set aside for him.”
“Yes sir,” Scott replied. “I’m finished. Come on Johnny let’s go.”
“I ain’t finished yet!” Johnny complained.
“Then hurry up. Cereza’s not going to wait all day. When he sees, or gets upwind of those cows, he’s going to be mighty anxious.”
Johnny hastily finished his flapjacks and buttermilk. Wiping his mouth with his napkin and then dropping it on the table next to his plate he excused himself and joined his brother. As they went out the door he was strapping his gun belt in place having already put his jacket and hat on.
“What do you suppose has gotten into those two Murdoch?” Teresa asked.
“What do you mean darling?”
“They’re acting like a couple of schoolboys caught playing tricks on the teacher.”
“They’re up to something I’ll grant you that,” Murdoch admitted. “But right now I’m not sure who’s playing the joke on whom. They’re both acting guilty as sin about something.”
“Well, one thing for sure,” Teresa stated adamantly, “they’d better not mess around in Maria’s kitchen for very long or she’ll take a broom, if not a strap, to the two of them.”
That night Johnny snuck down into the kitchen again as soon as he was sure Maria was gone to her own quarters, a little cabin a quarter of a mile away from the main house, for the night.
He took down a plate and a glass from the shelves they were located on. The glass he filled with buttermilk once again and the plate with half a dozen oatmeal raisin cookies. As he had the night before he placed them on the table but this time, instead of returning to his room, he only went as far as the Great Room where he curled up on the sofa with a blanket to see if he could catch the little person in the act. The warmth from the embers in the fireplace soon lulled him to sleep however and he never heard his brother sneak down the stairs to consume the snack meant for the fairy.
Shortly after dawn his father came downstairs to find him still asleep where he’d been since shortly before midnight. He looked so terribly young with his face completely relaxed and his hair hanging down in his eyes. Murdoch had a brief flashback to the toddler he’d lost so many years ago only to return a grown man. Not that Johnny always acted so grown up. There were times when Murdoch thought his son was still about ten years old. This was one of them. Thinking about the story Maria had to tell the previous morning and finding Johnny down here on the sofa he was beginning to get the picture of what was going on. He wouldn’t say anything but he had a feeling that Johnny had fallen for Maura’s stories just as he had when he was little. If Scott were in on this as well then he was either having a little harmless fun with his younger brother or the two boys were having a little fun with Maria. Or Jelly. Jelly certainly was known for his superstitions. More than once he’d predicted a storm, rain or otherwise, because his trick knee was acting up or another kind of disaster because his elbows were aching.
Shaking his head he leaned over and shook Johnny awake. Sapphire blue eyes blinked open and Johnny appeared to blush as he realized that his father had found him asleep on the couch. He only hoped that Murdoch didn’t suspect why he had fallen asleep down here. He had a feeling that his father didn’t believe in the “little people” the way Mrs. Talbot seemed to.
“Good morning,” Murdoch smiled at his younger son.
“Mornin’,” Johnny replied.
“What are you doing sleeping on the couch? Your bed not good enough?” Murdoch teased.
“No, it’s not that. I just-I just fell asleep sitting by the fireplace thinking is all.”
“Have you been here all night? And thinking about what? Maura’s stories? Leprechauns?” Murdoch’s eyes twinkled.
“No! What makes you think that?” Johnny vehemently denied the truth.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Murdoch grinned. “You seemed pretty enchanted with the stories she told you the other day. And you wondered if leprechauns play chess.”
“I did?” Johnny’s sleep befuddled mind didn’t register the fact that he had asked that question a few nights earlier.
“You did,” Murdoch affirmed. “And you were pretty interested in my story about Scotland’s brownies when Teresa asked if we have leprechauns there.”
Murdoch studied his younger son’s face for a moment and then smiled. “If you don’t want your brother to find you down here and tease you about the possibilities for all eternity you’d better get upstairs and finish getting dressed before he finds out you slept down here all night.”
“Yeah, thanks.” Johnny scrambled to his feet and headed for the stairs as quickly and quietly as he could. He barely made it to his room before Scott exited his headed for downstairs.
“Good morning Murdoch,” Scott said as he entered the dining room area.
“Good morning Scott. Sleep well?”
“Very well.” Looking around Scott saw no sign of his brother. “Johnny come down yet?”
“I believe he’s in his room,” Murdoch answered with a smothered grin.
“Oh. Of course.” Scott was a little embarrassed. “I thought he might be down here in the kitchen pestering Maria about making tortillas for breakfast. Or extra spicy sausage.” He grinned at his father as he “recovered” from his blunder. He’d been down in the kitchen himself about one o’clock that morning and had found his little brother sound asleep on the sofa. He’d quietly let himself into the kitchen and devoured the snack Johnny had left just as he’d done the night before.
“Hmm,” was all his father said as he studied his older son with somewhat of a suspicious look on his face. “He’s not here now but I imagine he will be as soon as he gets a whiff of what Maria’s got cooking. I believe she’s got sausage and waffles this morning. Teresa’s in there helping her.”
A moderately loud thump in the hallway announced Johnny’s arrival as he slid down the banister from the halfway point of the stairs. Evidently he’d gotten a good whiff, through his open window, of the sausage and waffles cooking in the kitchen. It was times like these when the little boy in Johnny made its appearance. Other than the times he spent consuming Maura Talbot’s cookies and buttermilk.
“Breakfast ready? I’m hungry!” he announced as he bounded into the Great Room to the amusement of both his father and brother.
The three men made their way to the table in time to find Maria and Teresa laying out dishes laden with waffles, sausages and eggs. Returning to the kitchen briefly Maria was back in short order with the silver coffeepot. Teresa had already placed the creamer and sugar bowl on the table as well as butter and a pitcher of maple syrup. To most people maple syrup was something that Scott, who had been raised in New England, would want to drown his waffles in. But Scott preferred strawberry jam, which was also on the table. It was Johnny who would smother his waffles, or flapjacks, in butter and maple syrup. Since he and Scott had come home to Lancer Murdoch had had to more than triple his order for syrup. There were no maple trees on Lancer and no one lived or worked on the ranch that had any knowledge about how to go about making it. Besides which the winters in the valley were much milder than back in Vermont and the other New England states. This was not conducive to a maple syrup enterprise.
“Slow down Johnny,” Teresa said. “You’re going to choke.”
“But I’m hungry!” Johnny exclaimed without missing a beat.
It was dinnertime that night and Johnny, having worked hard all day cleaning up storm debris from the windy night they’d had the night before, was wolfing down his meal like there was no tomorrow. Pot roast, mashed potatoes, gravy, homemade biscuits and butter, carrots and onions made their way to his plate and into his mouth at a rapid pace. His father and brother looked on barely able to contain their laughter. This was another one of those instances when Johnny seemed more like a child than a young adult.
“She’s right Johnny,” Murdoch said. “You’d better slow down before you make yourself sick.”
Johnny listened to his father little better than he’d listened to Teresa but he figured that after hearing from the two of them Scott, and Jelly who’d been invited to join them, would be on him next.
“How bad is the storm damage? Anything major?” Murdoch wanted to know. How bad the damage was would make a difference in how many men he pulled away from other jobs to clean up.
“A lot of tree limbs down in some areas. The roads to Morro Coyo and Spanish Wells are pretty rough. The winter rains turned some of them into mud and others have exposed tree roots and a lot of pine needles and rocks washed down from the hillsides,” Scott told his father.
“Wolf Creek is dammed up in a couple of places,” Johnny explained, “but it don’t look too bad. One or two men could clear it out in half a day.”
“Good. Cereza has to go back to the Talbots in a few more days. You boys can take him back first thing Monday after lunch.”
That settled the family, including Jelly, settled down to finish their meal. That night Johnny repeated his actions of the previous two nights. A glass of buttermilk and a plate of cookies were left for the brownie - a six-foot one-inch, blond-haired, blue-eyed brownie by the name of Scott who was beginning to think of other things to do to his little brother. Namely employing some of Maura Talbot’s other stories of magical creatures to torment Johnny with. Maybe the pooka, that creator of harm and mischief might work. The pooka sounded a lot like the German’s poltergeist so moving a few things around on him might work. ‘And let’s not forget that leprechauns are shoemakers’, he thought to himself. ‘Johnny could always use a new pair of boots or to have his old ones repaired.’
Later that night two members of the Lancer family prepared jokes for Johnny. One managed to sneak into his room and replace his worn out boots with a brand new pair while the former gun hawk slept soundly after a hard day’s work. The other slipped out of the house and into the barn barely escaping notice by Jelly who had determined that he was going to stay awake all night and catch the little critter that was eating the snacks his young friend had been leaving out. The figure that slipped by Jelly’s quarters and into the barn quietly moved Barranca’s bridle and saddle to the hayloft where it would remain hidden until a thorough search was made of the barn.
Both family members set up their pranks and retired to their rooms for a good night’s rest. Murdoch and Scott each heard the other returning from their “errand”. Scott was no more than two minutes behind his father who, for all he was a big man, moved swiftly and quietly down the hall to his own bedroom and had the door closed before Scott could catch him. Father and son each thought it was probably the younger son coming back from leaving a snack out for the brownie. Both eagerly anticipated the reaction their pranks would get. Johnny, for all his toughness and worldliness, was a prime target for this kind of nonsense. He’d never, in spite of is rough upbringing, quite lost that boyish enthusiasm for jokes and such. That was very evident by the way he and Scott treated Jelly. They were known to play all kinds of jokes on him and tease him. Johnny’s favorite was the time when Jelly thought he was dying and gave Murdoch his old railroad watch and Johnny the flintlock that had belonged to his Grandfather Hoskins. Johnny gave it back to him when the crisis was over but not before telling him that he’d pawned it for five dollars.
Morning found Murdoch and Scott eagerly comparing notes and anxiously awaiting the awakening of the younger son of the house. Before setting up their jokes the night before father and older son had compared notes. It wasn’t often that Murdoch truly appreciated a practical joke but Johnny’s contention that they had a leprechaun or a brownie in the house was too good to pass up. It was with a sigh of relief that the two oldest Lancers realized that it hadn’t been Johnny, but each other, they’d heard in the hallway the night before.
“Hey!” Johnny’s shout could be heard halfway across the yard drawing attention to his bedroom where the windows stood wide open to let in the air. “Where’s my boots?”
“I thought you replaced his boots with new ones,” Scott said to his father.
“I did,” Murdoch confirmed. “Give him a minute to realize that there are new boots outside his door. Even Johnny can’t always be wide awake right when he gets out of bed.”
The next thing they heard was Johnny yelling for Teresa. “Hey Teresa? Do you know where my boots are?”
Teresa answered from the hallway as she exited her own bedroom. “No, Johnny, I don’t know where your boots are. Why would I know where your boots are? Didn’t you take them off in your room last night?”
“Yeah, but they ain’t here.”
Spying the new boots outside his door Teresa queried, “Then what do you call these?”
“Boots. But they ain’t mine!” Johnny denied. “Mine are old and soft and comfortable.”
“Don’t you mean beat up and worn out?” Teresa teased him. “You know you could have had a new pair a long time ago if you didn’t spend all that money on drinks and cards at the saloon.”
By now the “siblings” were approaching Scott and Murdoch who had gravitated over to the dining table.
“Something wrong Johnny?” his father inquired innocently?
“You sure were making a lot of noise a few minutes ago little brother,” Scott said.
“You would too if you couldn’t find your boots,” Johnny said to them.
“What are those you have in your hand?” Murdoch asked him. “They certainly look like a pair of boots to me son.”
“I agree,” Scott put in his two cents worth. “If those aren’t boots what are they?”
“They’re not my boots!” Johnny exclaimed in frustration again.
“No,” Teresa giggled. “His boots never looked so good.”
Johnny was getting exasperated. He loved his old boots even if they were ready to fall apart. “I’m tellin’ ya somethin’ funny’s goin’ on around here. And it seems to be happening only to me.”
“Well,” Murdoch said after a brief throat clearing to cover up the chuckle that threatened to escape. “Since your old boots are missing and someone, maybe one of Maura’s leprechauns, was kind enough to leave you that new pair I would suggest you put them on and get seated. Maria’s ready to serve and you know how upset she gets when you’re late getting to the table.”
“Yes, do come along little brother, Teresa,” Scott said. “We don’t want to keep Maria waiting. And as for those boots Johnny – it seems to me that your old ones were pretty bad. As Murdoch said you should be happy that someone took notice and brought you some new ones.”
The men and Teresa seated themselves at the table. Maria served them but all the while she was giving the boys dark looks. She’d found the cookie jar raided again and an empty glass of milk on the table next to an empty plate. She wasn’t real happy about the intruder or intruders that kept raiding her kitchen.
Having been clued in by Scott about the cookies and milk Murdoch reassured Maria that there were no intruders but someone in the house, or maybe even Jelly, had gotten hungry during the night. He let her know that there would be no more dirty dishes left for her to face in the morning.
“Isn’t that right boys?” he said as he finished.
“Yes sir,” Scott said hiding a smile.
“Yes sir,” Johnny agreed all the while thinking about catching a glimpse of whatever creature was eating the snacks he’d left for two nights.
An hour later the boys headed to the barn to saddle their horses. They were to spend their day chasing strays and rounding up a dozen or so more heifers for breeding with Cereza. The bull was due to be returned to his owners in two more days.
Scott was ready to leave five minutes after they arrived. Not so Johnny. It seemed that someone, or something, was playing games with him. When he went to retrieve Barranca’s bridle and saddle neither they nor the saddle blanket he used were where he had left them the night before.
“Hey! Where’s my saddle?” he yelled.
“What do you mean,” Scott inquired innocently while laughing to himself at the memory of his trip to the hayloft the night before.
“My saddle! It ain’t where it’s supposed to be!”
“Well if you kept it in one place…”
“Scott! I always keep it in the same place. It ain’t there!”
“Where have you looked?”
“I looked for it where it’s supposed to be and it ain’t there!”
“Have you looked in the storeroom? Perhaps someone moved it thinking it needed cleaning. You know Manuel thinks it’s a crime to clean tack anywhere but in that storeroom.”
“How about the tack room. He’s also pretty fussy about our saddles being left out where they can fall and get scratched. In fact he just doesn’t like it when we leave them out because he’s as bad about this barn as Teresa and Maria are about the house. Saddles that are left sitting around make it look messy and disorganized.” Scott knew that this wasn’t the truth and if Johnny questioned Manuel about it he would square it with the man later. A word to the wise to Cipriano would cool the man off if Scott’s own words didn’t. “Why don’t you go check the storeroom? I’ll check the tack room.”
The brothers went to do just that and met back at Barranca’s stall two minutes later. As they were comparing notes Jelly came in to fork some hay down to the stalls below.
“What the…?” Jelly had found more than he expected. “Johnny Lancer this ain’t no way to treat a good saddle! What’s it doin’ up here in the hayloft?”
“What are you talking about Jelly?” Johnny was curious and indignant at the same time. “I didn’t put my saddle up there.”
“Well maybe you didn’t but somebody sure did. It’s right here. And your bridle and saddle blanket as well.”
“Are you sure it’s mine?” Johnny asked as he climbed the ladder to the loft.
“I think I know your saddle by now boy! You oughta be ashamed of yourself treatin’ a good saddle so careless like!”
“Jelly I didn’t put it up here! I left it down by Barranca’s stall just like I always do!”
“Well then how did it get up here?” the old man wanted to know.
“Perhaps Mrs. Talbot’s leprechaun did it,” Scott suggested. “Or that other creature she told us about. What was it called?” He pretended to think for a minute. “Oh yes – the pooka. ‘The pooka creates mischief and harm.’ The most feared of all the fairies in Ireland she said.”
“That’s crazy!” Johnny exclaimed. “There’s no pookas in California!”
“Then explain how your saddle and all got up in the hay loft,” Scott challenged his brother.
“I don’t know but it wasn’t no pooka,” Johnny said.
“I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” Jelly said playing right into Scott’s hands. “There’s no logical explanation for it being here. If you didn’t put it here how did it get here. Nobody else would do such a thing.”
“Aw Jelly you don’t believe all that do you? Mrs. Talbot was just telling us stories that’s all. Just stories. Fairy tales like little kids read.”
‘And you loved every second of those stories little brother so who’s kidding who?’ Scott smiled at the memories his brother’s denial brought to him. Turning his attention to Barranca he started grooming him for his brother as he thought back to the day they had sat in the kitchen at the Bar T listening to Maura’s stories.
The scene in the sunny kitchen played itself out in his mind. Cookies, milk and coffee. Sunlight shining on copper pots while Maura’s pleasant voice exaggerated her brogue just a bit as she told them of her brother’s encounter with the leprechaun. And of the neighbor’s trouble with the pooka. Johnny’s face as he sat enraptured by the tale she wove.
“It doesn’t really matter anyway Johnny. We’ve got work to do so climb on down here and let’s get Barranca saddled and get on the road before Murdoch wonders what’s keeping us.”
Somewhat disgruntled at his brother’s cavalier attitude toward his gear Johnny climbed down carrying the blanket and bridle. When he reached the floor of the barn Jelly carefully lowered the saddle to his waiting arms. Less than five minutes later, thanks to Scott having groomed Barranca for him, Johnny was finally ready to go. Jelly watched after them muttering to himself about spooks and how there was trouble brewing.
He rubbed his elbows saying to himself, “There’s trouble a comin’. That’s for sure. I can feel it in my bones.”
Saturday night found the boys in town at the saloon. Johnny’s good friend, Val Crawford, sheriff of Green River, joined them briefly at the table they had staked a claim on.
“You’re kiddin’”, Val said when he was told about Johnny’s “misadventures” of the past few days.
“No, I’m not,” Scott said as they waited for Johnny to return with their beers. “I swear Johnny really believes those stories Mrs. Talbot was telling us the other day.”
“Lep-lep- what did you call ‘em?”
“Leprechauns. They’re the tailors and cobblers of the fairy world she says. And they carry gold and silver coins on them and have a pot of gold at the end of each rainbow.”
“Really?” Val was just a little cynical.
“That’s what she says.” Scott chuckled. “You should have seen him Val. He sat there listening and his eyes got as big as saucers. You’d think he was that little boy that used to listen to them when she came to visit Murdoch and Maria – Johnny’s mother.”
Just then Johnny returned with the drinks. He set one down in front of his brother and then in front of Val. Placing his own on the table at the spot where he’d been sitting he then returned the tray on which he’d carried them to the bar. That done he returned to the table and took his seat again.
“Hey Johnny Scott here was just telling me about your visit to the Bar T the other day. I hear you’ve been getting an education from Mrs. Talbot.”
“Yeah? Well brother here talks too much.” Johnny glared at his brother. Having his family tease him about those stories and what was happening at home was one thing but he most definitely did not want Val to find out that he’d been leaving treats for brownies or leprechauns or any other fairy people.
“Aw come on Johnny,” Val wheedled. “Tell me about the missing saddle. Or the broken pottery. I’ll just bet that you’re the one that ate the missing cookies.”
Johnny started and blushed when he heard that statement. It was just a little too close to the truth.
“I ain’t tellin’ you nothin’. Scott knows so much let him tell ya. I’m goin’ home.” With that he downed the last of his beer and, with as much dignity as he could muster, the former gunfighter stalked out of the saloon leaving his brother and Val laughing until tears ran down their faces.
“I’d better be going too Val. It’s probably not too wise to let him ride home alone when he’s in that mood. He’s apt to get himself into trouble because he’s not paying attention to where he’s going.” Scott downed the last of his beer as well. “We’ll see you next time we come into town.”
“All right. Hope you have some more stories when you do.” Val was still chuckling over Johnny’s new boots and his missing saddle. “Maybe I should take me a ride over to the Bar T myself and have Mrs. Talbot tell me some of them stories. I could use me a new pair of boots myself.”
Scott just shook his head with a smile. If there was anything Val Crawford was noted for it was his unwillingness to spend any more of his money than he had to.
The ride home was made in relative silence. Johnny was still fuming a bit over how much he was being teased over his interest in the stories and the strange things that had happened to him since their visit to the Talbots. When they arrived back at Lancer the horses were unsaddled, groomed and given fresh water and hay to last them until morning when they would get fresh water and hay again along with some oats.
Sunday passed quickly. Church services and a big dinner. A few games of checkers. Scott delved into his Hawthorne novel again while Murdoch had started reading a new book on Scottish history. Johnny slipped out for a ride and Teresa sat in a quiet corner doing some embroidery work on towels she planned to give a friend for her upcoming wedding.
Monday morning, however, Johnny found a new bolero jacket with bright red, green and yellow embroidery on the chair in his room. Where it came from nobody seemed to know for sure. Scott, remembering some of Maura’s lessons on leprechauns, suggested that Johnny must have done something good for one of the little people without realizing it since he’d gotten new shoes and a new jacket. Leprechauns were noted cobblers and tailors – especially in the fairy world. Johnny just glared at him suspiciously. He was starting to get a feeling somebody was trying to take him for a fool.
“Cereza’s all set to go boys,” Murdoch said shortly after they had finished lunch in the dining room.
It was a rare thing when all three men were home at lunchtime but since Scott and Johnny were charged with returning Jim Talbot’s prize bull to him they’d busied themselves with chores that were closer to home. There was a wall that had needed repairs and then there was the corral gate that mysteriously kept opening allowing the heifers to escape resulting in several brief periods of round up. And the roof on the storage shed was leaking again. The brothers got a good start on tearing off the old and rotting shingles and placed a tarp over the hole weighting it down with several heavy adobe bricks.
“We’ll be back in time for supper,” Scott assured his father. “Unless Mrs. Talbot insists we stay because she’s telling stories again.”
Murdoch laughed. “I’ll tell Maria it’ll just be Teresa and myself. I wouldn’t want to deprive you boys of an opportunity to listen to more of Maura’s tales of Ireland. Some of them are downright fascinating.”
Late that afternoon the boys left the Talbots’. In Johnny’s saddlebags were two-dozen teacake cookies. In Scott’s were six thick roast beef sandwiches that Maura had sent along. She always sent something home with them. She did this in part because Johnny, in particular, seemed to be hard to keep filled up. It made her think of her Rory who was always hanging around the kitchen when he reached his teens. And in part she thought she was helping Maria and Teresa out. It gave her a lot of pleasure to look out for the well being of Murdoch’s two sons. In her heart they couldn’t replace her lost boys but it still meant a lot to her to have young men around their age to look out for.
The weather was turning chilly and there had been showers off and on all afternoon. Both Scott and Johnny were glad that they’d worn jackets. As the wind gusted around them on their way home they turned up their collars against the cold tendrils that snaked their way down the back of their necks.
“Hey Scott! Look at that!”
“Look at what?”
“That! That rainbow!” Johnny pointed to the multi-hued arch that was in the sky just slightly to the east of where they were riding.
“I see it. What about it?”
“Remember what Mrs. Talbot said about the leprechauns? How they always hide their gold in a crock, or a pot, at the end of a rainbow?”
“Yes, I remember the story well. And that’s all it is – just a story. It’s a legend.” Scott was suspicious. His younger brother was either very gullible, which he doubted, or he had figured out who was playing all those tricks on him and was out for revenge.
“What if it’s not? Just a story I mean. What if it’s true?” Johnny’s sapphire blue eyes twinkled with enthusiasm. “It’d be kinda fun to meet up with one of those little fellas don’t you think?”
“You’ve been listening to Mrs. Talbot’s stories too long brother. Or else you’ve been talking to Jelly who’ll believe just about anything.”
But Johnny wasn’t listening. He’d turned Barranca toward the rainbow and was riding up the hill. In Scott’s opinion he was riding a little too fast considering it had been raining and the rocky path was apt to be very slippery. The showers had done little more than leave dimples in the dust. The moisture had not soaked into the ground yet.
“Johnny! Slow down! It’s slippery up there!” Scott shouted. Johnny had dismounted and was now slipping and sliding as he tried to climb up the side of the hill on foot. The winter rains had loosened a lot of pebbles and stones and it was these that bounced on the road as Johnny climbed. For every step he managed to take he slid back two. But he kept trying all the while calling to his brother to join him as he “followed the rainbow”.
Reining his horse up beside Barranca he ground hitched him hoping that nothing would startle the gelding. He didn’t favor a long walk home like he’d had the last that Charlie had been frightened. Having retreated to a remote cabin to sort through his feelings over meeting up with a former prison guard and seeing his brother injured during an altercation in town with the man and his relatives Scott had suddenly found himself faced with a very long and hazardous walk. A sudden storm had frightened his horse as he watered him at the stream that ran near the cabin. Only Jim Talbot’s providential visit to the cabin had alerted anyone that he was in any kind of trouble for no one had any idea where he had gone. He’d said nothing of any help in his note to Johnny. Twisted ankle, cuts, bruises and a mild case of hypothermia on top of exhaustion had been the least of his troubles – he’d also faced murder charges when the man he’d argued with in town was later found dead.
“Johnny come on back here! It’s getting late and we’ve still got a long way to go before we get home.”
Johnny hesitated and looked back at his brother. “Ah come on Scott we’re so close.”
“Close to what? Getting your neck broken?” Scott scoffed.
“No, close to finding that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow like Mrs. Talbot told us. Maybe even one of them leprechauns from her stories.”
“How many times do I have to tell you that that’s nothing but a story?” Scott was slightly exasperated.
Johnny’s reply was cut off when his right foot slipped on a loose piece of rock and he lost his balance. Sliding down the hill at a rate of speed too fast for Scott to stop him he raised a cloud of dust and tiny pieces of rock that pelted his face as he fell. Scott frantically reached for him only to feel a sudden sharp pain in his right hand as a rock the size of an orange hit him. In agony he lost his grip on Johnny’s jacket and Johnny continued to fall beyond the path and partway down the hill on the other side of the narrow winding road.
Frightened for his brother, gasping with the pain in his hand, Scott yelled Johnny’s name. “Johnny!” Holding his right wrist in his left hand Scott made his way safely down the side of the hill to the road. Then he somehow managed to get down to his brother who was lying on his back about twenty feet down. Kneeling beside him he checked him over for injuries. Johnny, too, was winded. He’d desperately grabbed at any small shrubs or rocky outcroppings he passed on the way until he’d finally landed on a small ledge. His shirt was ripped in a couple of places and his face was scratched and dirty.
“Johnny,” Scott said. “Are you all right brother?”
Johnny moaned and blinked his eyes. A look of panic came over his face.
“Johnny? What’s wrong?” Scott asked seeing the look on his brother’s face.
“My eyes hurt! I can’t see! Scott I can’t see!” Johnny’s voice rose on this last sentence.
“Take it easy little brother,” Scott said soothingly. “Let me take a look.”
Taking his brother’s chin in his good hand Scott examined his face and especially his eyes as best he could in the failing light. Not being a medical expert Scott couldn’t say for sure that he could tell what the problem was. However, he had heard that sometimes rinsing the eyes with clear water was helpful.
“I can’t tell if anything’s seriously wrong Johnny,” Scott told him. “But I’m going to go back up and get a canteen and rinse your eyes out. Maybe that’ll help.”
So saying he rose, with some difficulty due to his injured hand, and went back up to the road where the horses should have been waiting. However, when he got there only Barranca was in sight. Frightened by the small landslide and Johnny’s rapid descent Charlie had run off and was nowhere in sight. Scott only hoped that his gelding had sense enough to go home. Softly approaching Barranca so as not to frighten the Palomino off Scott reached for Johnny’s canteen.
“Easy Barranca. Good boy. Johnny needs his canteen. Steady.” Scott kept up a quiet monologue while reaching for the container hanging from Johnny’s saddle. Patting the gelding soothingly on the neck he took the canteen and headed back toward where he’d left his brother.
Favoring his injured hand Scott started down the slope to his brother’s side. Surprisingly Barranca remained where he was. It would seem that falling people, especially Johnny, did not frighten him.
“I’ve got the water Johnny. Charlie ran off but Barranca stayed put.”
Scott struggled to stay upright as he slipped and slid down the slope. As he reached the halfway point disaster struck the brothers again. He stepped on a particularly slippery patch of ground and his feet went right out from under him so fast he barely had time to register the fact that he was falling before he was on the ground. With sharp pains shooting through his right hip and the air rushing out of his lungs as he fought to keep from passing out.
Hearing his brother’s unexpectedly fast descent Johnny called out to him.
“Scott? Scott? Scott! Are you all right?”
As if from a great distance the older Lancer brother heard his sibling’s voice but was unable to answer him. Johnny became frantic and struggled to his feet to walk hesitatingly and stumbling with arms outstretched in the direction he’d heard his brother’s voice last. The fact that he fell to his knees several times and couldn’t see wasn’t going to stop him. He focused on listening for any sounds his brother might make and was rewarded by a faint moan as Scott gradually got his senses back.
Reaching out Johnny found his brother and knelt down beside him.
“Scott? You ok?”
“Yes – I think so,” came the pained reply.
“I slipped on something coming back down.”
“You sure you’re not hurt?”
Scott’s attempt at levity fell flat when he tried to stand. “I’m fi- aaah!”
“What’s the matter?”
“Can’t stand – hip hurts. And leg,” Scott gasped. “I must have landed harder than I thought.”
Johnny reached out again and said, “Which one?”
Gently Johnny probed his brother’s hip and leg. “Can’t find nothin’ broken but I’ll bet you’ll have a nasty bruise later on. We get out of here and get home Doc’ll know for sure.”
“Oh that’s just great!” Scott exclaimed. “How are we going to get out of here?”
“Reckon we ain’t – leastways not until help comes along.”
Scott wasn’t normally a bitter person but he was very angry with himself right about now. If he hadn’t teased Johnny so much about Maura Talbot’s stories they might not be in this mess.”
“Sit down Johnny. Let me take a look at your eyes again. How do they feel?”
“Sore and I still can’t see.”
Using his left hand Scott took the cap off the canteen. Taking Johnny’s chin in his hand he turned his face toward him.
“Let’s see if this helps. I’m going to wash your eyes out.”
So saying he started pouring water into Johnny’s open eyes hoping to flush out any dirt that was still in them and any minute stone particles as well. All the while he was doing this he hoped Johnny hadn’t noticed that he was using his left hand. He didn’t want Johnny to start worrying. He didn’t take into consideration that his younger brother was in the habit of using all of his senses including intuition. It didn’t take Johnny long to figure out that Scott was hurt other than his hip and his leg.
It wasn’t too hard though Scott would never admit it. For one thing his hands were shaking somewhat from the fall and the fact that he was a bit shaken up. For another, in spite of that he would have calmed down by now and his hands would be steady but when he spilled almost as much water on the front of Johnny’s shirt as he poured in his eyes Johnny knew something was wrong.
“Scott what’s wrong? Don’t tell me ‘nothing’”, he cut off his brother’s denial. “I can tell by the way you’re movin’ your hands and the way you’re breathin’. What’s the matter with your right hand?”
“A rock hit it,” Scott admitted reluctantly. “I think it’s broken.”
“Scott! Why didn’t you tell me?”
“No sense in adding to your problems,” Scott said. “Now hold still while I rinse your eyes out some more.”
When he was done Scott took his bandana and wiped the grime away from his brother’s face being very careful around the eyes. The whole time he was ministering to his brother he kept his injured hand close to his chest. Johnny was remarkably patient while Scott did what he could but only because he intended to do what he could for his brother when Scott was through. In the meantime the showers that had fallen off and on all afternoon were starting to turn into a cold steady rain that soaked everything clear through.
“We’ve got to get into some shelter before this rain gets any worse,” Scott said looking at the dark clouds that loomed overhead.
“That’s a good idea brother. Got any ideas where?” Johnny asked. “I don’t know this trail that well myself.”
“I see a ledge overhanging the side of this hill,” Scott replied. “It’s about 200 yards from here.”
“To the left of where we’re sitting.”
“Ok. I’ll help you over there,” Johnny said. “But when this rain lets up we need to find a way to get some help.”
“That’s a great idea little brother,” Scott said skeptically. “But you can’t see and I can’t walk so how are we going to get help?”
“I’ll find a way,” Johnny said standing up. “Besides, since you washed my eyes out I can see a little bit. Now come on.” Leaning down he reached for his brother’s good hand. “I’ll help you up and you can lean on me and tell me which way to go to get to that ledge you just told me about.”
No one at either ranch thought that there was any cause for concern when the weather turned bad late that afternoon. Maura and Jim had seen to it that the boys were well fed and on their way home before it got too late. It had been a jolly time as Maura told the boys a few more stories of Ireland and of her brothers and their pranks.
At Lancer no one expected the boys home much before dark. Even Maria knew that once Maura started telling stories that Juanito and Señor Scott would find it difficult to make their excuses and leave. Murdoch knew that Maura enjoyed these visits from the boys. They brought a lot of joy to the woman who had lost three sons to the war that had ended just a few years ago. And since none of the boys had married and had children there were no grandchildren to dote on.
So he and Teresa invited Jelly to join them and sat down to a meal of beef stew and fresh bread. All the while Jelly kept complaining about his elbows aching and how that meant trouble for someone. Pretty soon he was convinced that it was Johnny and Scott who were in trouble though he couldn’t say what kind of trouble that might be.
“Jelly your elbows hurt because the weather’s damp that’s all,” Murdoch told the old handyman. “You know Sam said that they would because you’ve got a touch of rheumatism.”
“Yes, Jelly,” Teresa agreed. “Why don’t I ask Maria to make you some of that tea that he recommended?”
“It ain’t either rheumatism,” Jelly disagreed. “There’s trouble abrewin’. Make no mistake about it!” he huffed as he left the table.
“I’m afraid we’ve hurt his feelings Murdoch,” Teresa said trying not to giggle.
“He’ll get over it,” her guardian said. “He always does.”
In the kitchen of another ranch house Maura and Jim Talbot were sitting down to dinner when the skies opened up. The rain could be heard drumming loudly on the shingled roof. Maura rushed around, followed by Jim, to close windows left open to air the rooms out.
“I certainly hope that Johnny and Scott have arrived home by now,” Maura said worriedly. “They weren’t carrying slickers. The way it’s raining they’ll be soaked in less than five minutes if they didn’t make it home.”
“I’m sure they’re fine love,” Jim reassured his wife. “Even if they didn’t make it home they would have found shelter somewhere I’m sure. Now let’s eat this nice meal you prepared before it gets cold.”
Maura smiled lovingly at her husband. He never made fun of her for her worrying. Not when their boys were alive and not now when she fussed over him or Murdoch’s sons. The two of them sat down again and resumed their meal never knowing that the two young men in question were in a lot of trouble.
Five miles away two very miserable Lancers huddled together under the rocky overhang hoping and praying that the rain would end soon. They had to find a way to get help – especially for Scott whose hip and leg were paining him something fierce in spite of his denial to his brother. Johnny wasn’t fooled and wrapped his arms around his brother trying to take some of the pain away by the loving embrace.
On the path above Barranca stood, ground hitched, getting himself and Johnny’s gear wetter by the moment. He was trained so well that Johnny seldom had to worry about his wandering off.
Just a couple of miles from where Johnny and Scott were huddled under the rocky ledge a wagon pulled up in a clump of trees to take shelter from the rain. The diminutive couple that were on it pulled a canvas tarpaulin from the back of the wagon and held it over them as the rain continued to fall.
For ten minutes they sat there until the rain appeared to let up, for the time being at least, and they continued on their way. Both were surprised when they saw Barranca standing patiently waiting for his master.
The man climbed down from the wagon and approached the Palomino slowly and cautiously. He was a very small man and Barranca looked like he belonged to a giant. Taking hold of Barranca’s reins the man led the horse over to their wagon. He held a brief conversation with the woman and then returned to where Barranca had been standing.
Walking around he could still see signs of Johnny’s fall and spied a piece of Johnny’s shirt, his favorite blue sprigged on, on a branch. Despite the fact that he and Scott had donned their jackets after leaving the Bar T enough of it had been exposed that it caught and tore on the branches on his way down.
Cautiously he descended part way down the hill. But not very far for he was afraid he would fall as well. If there was someone who needed help he dared not risk an injury to himself.
He looked around and finally in the dim light he spotted the boys huddled together under the rock. Johnny had a bandana tied around his eyes to protect them at Scott’s insistence. Scott, in a lot of pain from the injury to his hip and leg, had passed out in his brother’s arms. Johnny, sensing that someone was nearby, called out.
“Hello? Is someone there?”
“I don’t understand you. My brother he’s hurt. We need help!”
“Sea. (Yes.)” The little man appeared to understand English even if he wasn’t speaking it.
“Do you speak English?” Johnny was glad to hear another voice but one that spoke English would be a greater relief.
“I do,” the man said with a heavy brogue that reminded Johnny of Maura Talbot when she was excited, “but not very well.”
“Can you help us? My brother he got hurt coming down the hill to help me. I got dirt and stuff in my eyes and I can’t see very well. Scott made me bandage my eyes to protect them. He told me where we could get shelter but it’s cold and wet even under this ledge and I need to get him home.”
“I can’t help you myself,” the man said. “You’re far too big for me. Is there someplace I can go?”
“Yes! The Talbot place – the Bar T ranch is about five miles south of here on that road up above. Mr. Talbot he’ll be able to help us. And Mrs. Talbot – she’s Irish and you can talk to her.”
“Very well. My wife and I we’ll go to this Bar T as you call it. We’ll be back as soon as we can. Dèan nì imnì. Do not worry.”
The man turned from the brothers and started the arduous climb back up the hill to his waiting wife and wagon. In Gaelic, for she understood little English herself, he explained to her what he had found and how they were going to go get help for the two young men that were trapped.
His tenderhearted wife praised him for being willing to help two strangers who were so much bigger than they were. They’d suffered much abuse because of their size – mostly verbal – and it was never pleasant.
The sound of horses’ hooves and wagon wheels splashing in the mud puddles in their front yard and the sound of a “whoa” in the now chilly air brought Jim Talbot to the door. His eyes widened in amazement when he saw the little couple climb down from the wagon and walk up to their door. Composing himself he opened the door to their knock.
The man stood 3’6”* and his wife barely an inch taller. He was a redhead, even redder than Maura whose hair was more of an auburn shade, and had a full beard. He was dressed in a gray coat and red trousers with a wide brimmed green hat on his head. All that was missing to make him look more like one of Maura’s leprechauns was the studded apron with the cobbler’s tools and a clay pipe. His wife was dressed in an emerald green skirt with a white blouse and a red belt. Both wore practical leather boots.
“May I help you?” Jim asked.
“Yes, I’m Jim Talbot.”
“Forgive me Mr. Talbot I don’t speak English very well yet. Would your wife be about? I understand she speaks Gaelic.”
Stunned Jim ushered them into the house and summoned Maura from the kitchen where she was doing the dishes.
“Maura,” he called. “Could you come in here please?”
“Alex? What is it? I’m trying to finish the dishes.” Maura came into the room an apron tied around her waist and drying her hands on a towel.
“Maura, dear, these folks need to talk to you. He says he doesn’t speak English very well but he knows that you speak Gaelic.”
“How odd,” Maura said in bewilderment. “I don’t believe we’ve met have we Mr….”
In rapid fire Gaelic the man, whose name he told her was Sean McClory, told her how he and his wife Bridget had stopped for shelter under some trees five miles from here. And that when he’d gotten down from the wagon he noticed signs of an accident that the rain had not washed away; and a pretty yellow horse standing on the road in the rain with no one around. He also told her how he’d gone down the hill a little way and found a piece of cloth. He took the scrap of Johnny’s shirt out of his pocket and showed it to her explaining that he had found two young men huddled under a ledge.
“The dark haired one has a bandage around his eyes and the blond is unconscious in his brother’s arms,” McClory went on to explain. “I’m too small to be able to help them myself so he said to come here and you would be able to help.”
“Indeed we can!” Maura exclaimed. “Alex, it’s Johnny and Scott. Something has happened to them and they’re trapped under a ledge near the road about five miles from here. Mr. McClory has brought Barranca with him. He says that Johnny has a bandage around his eyes and that Scott is unconscious!”
Wasting no time talking Jim sprang into action. He went out the front door and summoned the first two ranch hands he found roaming around the grounds.
“Tim! Take Barranca to the barn! Have Steve put him up. He’s to dry him off, feed and water him and clean his tack. As soon as you do get on the fastest horse we have that’s rested and get yourself over to Lancer. Tell Murdoch Lancer that his boys have had an accident and they’ve taken shelter under a rocky ledge about seven miles north of his main road. Tell him that I’ve gone to see what I can do. When you’re through there come straight to the road to see if you can be of any help. Mark! Hitch a team to the big wagon and bring them around to the front of the house. As soon as you bring the wagon around get on your horse and ride into Green River for Dr. Jenkins. And stop by the sheriff’s office to let Val Crawford know what’s happened! Tell them I’m going to bring the boys to Lancer. Move!”
The two men swiftly went about carrying out their boss’ orders. Jim went back to the house to gather blankets and pillows. He was going to make sure that the ride was as comfortable as possible for the two young men. The visitors did what they could to help as soon as the wagon was in place. The tall rancher gave the small male visitor a boost up into the wagon seat and climbed up next to him. The Irishman was to show him how to find Johnny and Scott. With a snap of the reins and a “get up there” they were on their way.
The rain had stopped and the sun was starting to peek through the clouds again though it remained quite breezy and chilly. Murdoch was glad of the fire in the fireplace as he sat at his desk contemplating the possible results of the breeding of his cows to Jim’s bull and studying a railroad timetable for the possibilities of shipping part of his herd to San Francisco.
Teresa entered the room from the kitchen bearing a tray with a coffee pot and cups and saucers as well as cream and sugar and spoons with which to add the sugar and stir in the sweetener and cream. On a plate she had half a dozen of Maria’s chocolate cookies that the housekeeper had made that afternoon while the boys were gone.
The young woman poured two cups generously adding cream and sugar to hers while serving Murdoch his hot and black just the way he liked it. He took it absentmindedly along with a couple of the cookies while he continued to peruse the papers in front of him. Teresa made herself comfortable in her chair by the lamp and picked up the Godey’s Ladies Book that had recently been given to her. She was contemplating making herself a new dress but wanted to see what the prevailing styles were before starting.
The pleasant interlude was rudely interrupted by the sound of galloping hooves splashing through the mud puddles in the yard and the sound of urgent knocking on the front door. Teresa got up to answer it and found Tim O’Connor, the young ranch hand from the Bar T at the door.
“Why hello Tim,” she said in greeting. “What brings you over here away from your work at the Bar T at this time of day?”
“Howdy Miss Teresa,” Tim said returning her greeting. “I need to see Mr. Lancer. Is he here?”
“Why, yes, he is,” Teresa answered him. “He’s at his desk. Come with me.”
She led the young man to the Great Room where Murdoch was sitting.
“Murdoch, Tim O’Connor from the Bar T is here to see you.”
“Tim what brings you here? Looking for a new job?” Murdoch teased knowing full well that the young redhead in front of him would never leave the Bar T so long as Jim and Maura Talbot were there.
“No sir. Mr. Talbot sent me to fetch you. Said something about Johnny and Scott having an accident on the road through the mountains about seven miles from here. He’s got a wagon and team and is already on his way.”
“How bad?” Murdoch asked as he hurriedly rose from his desk and headed for the French Doors.
“I don’t know sir. A couple of strangers stopped by the house and told him. He just said to come and fetch you. And you don’t need to send for Dr. Jenkins because he sent Mark Gibbs to notify him and Sheriff Crawford in Green River. He’s going to have him bring the doc out here to Lancer just in case he’s needed.”
“Thank you Tim.” Murdoch had grabbed his jacket, hat and gun belt and was donning them as he headed for the door. “Jelly!” he called as he headed out the door. “Jelly!”
“Yeah Boss?” the grizzled one answered from near the barn door.
“Saddle my horse and one for yourself. The boys are in trouble about five miles from our main road. Jim Talbot’s already on his way and has sent for Doctor Jenkins and Val Crawford.”
“Oh, I knew it, I just knew it!” the old handyman moaned. “I could feel it in my elbows. Didn’t I tell you there was trouble brewin’?”
“Yes, Jelly, you did,” his employer said as he approached. “Now let’s get the horses saddled and get out there.”
“Yes sir, boss,” Jelly replied and hastened to do just that.
“Teresa don’t worry now,” Murdoch said to his nervous ward. “You heard Tim say that Jim Talbot is already on the road with help. And the doctor is on his way out here. We’ll probably arrive about the same time. We don’t know that the boys are hurt only that they’re in some sort of trouble.”
“All right,” Teresa said worriedly, “but hurry back with them.”
Murdoch gave his ward a kiss on the forehead and turned to mount his tall gelding with the bald face. Turning toward the road out of the ranch headquarters he started off at a walk that soon turned to a trot, lope and finally a full-fledged gallop in the direction of where his sons were in trouble. Jelly, mounted on another horse, was right behind him.
“Scott? Are you awake?” Johnny was worried about his brother.
The blond’s eyes flickered open then closed but he responded in the affirmative, “Yes, I’m awake.”
“Listen Scott someone was here and he’s gone to get help. I sent him to the Talbots’ place. He said he didn’t speak English very well but he would go get help. He’s Irish and he speaks….What do you call it?”
“Celtic or Gaelic.”
“Yeah, that’s it,” Johnny said. “I told him Mrs. Talbot could talk to him. Scott? You’re gonna be okay brother.”
“Yes,” Scott said weakly. “I know.” He hesitated then said, “Johnny? I’m sorry I got you into this mess. I was the one who ate the cookies and drank the milk. I knew you left it out. I’ve been teasing you for almost a week about believing Mrs. Talbot’s stories. It’s my fault we’re in this mess.”
“No Scott,” Johnny said. “Don’t go blamin’ yourself. You didn’t make me climb up that hill to see if I could find that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I did that all by myself. ‘Sides I know Mrs. Talbot’s just tellin’ stories and I kinda figured you might have had something to do with the milk and cookies disappearin’.”
“How…how’d you figure that out?” Scott asked through the pain in his hip and leg.
“It was easy! You ain’t been eatin’ as much as you usually do and I heard Maria fussin’ about it. I figure the only reason you wouldn’t eat a good meal was if you’d had something earlier. So I decided you must have been the one to eat the cookies and drink the milk. Only thing is I thought you didn’t like buttermilk.”
“I don’t – much. But it was worth it to see your face.”
“Yeah? Well you just wait big brother,” Johnny said with a sly grin. “You’ll get yours.”
The sound of wagon wheels and horses hooves ended their conversation and Scott, exhausted and in pain sank blissfully into unconsciousness again. Johnny gently lowered him to the ground and felt his way out of their shelter.
“Hello? Is somebody there?”
“Johnny? It’s Jim Talbot son. Are you all right?”
Relief flooded through Johnny in an instant. “Yes, sir, I’m all right. Well I can’t see none too good right now but other than that I’m ok. It’s Scott that’s hurt. He can’t walk.”
Jim was relieved as well to hear Johnny’s voice. “Stay right where you are son,” he called down. Don’t move from where you are. I’ll be right down to get you and see about your brother.”
Turning to McClory he said to the little man, “We need to tie this rope off on the wagon wheel so I can climb down to where the boys are. Give me a hand.”
McClory’s English was limited for his parents had hated the English so much that they refused to speak their language but Jim’s intent was clear and the danger the Lancers were in was just as clear. He quickly helped Jim tie off a good sturdy rope so he could lower himself. If the weather wasn’t so nasty that day he could have just walked down but he wasn’t taking any chances. He knew other help was coming but he had no intentions of leaving those boys in so precarious a position for any longer than he had to.
He was just beginning to go down the side when Murdoch and Jelly arrived. Hot on their heels was young Tim.
“I talked to Johnny. He says he can’t see very well but other than that he’s all right. He said Scott’s hurt and can’t walk. I’m going down to see what’s what.” Seeing his friend start to argue he said, “Murdoch you can’t help the boys if your bad back or your leg give out. Let me go down. You and Jelly and Tim can pull on the rope when I tell you and steady it as I go down.”
Reluctantly Murdoch allowed his friend to do what he was planning. He and Jelly took hold of the rope tied to the wagon and steadied it as Jim carefully climbed down the short, but dangerous at this point, distance between the road and the shelter the boys had taken.
“Johnny,” Jim said taking the younger man by the arm. “Come on over here and let me take a look at you.” Finding the light rather dismal he called up to the men standing on the road, “I need a lantern down here. There are a couple of them in the wagon. Lower one to me. I have matches in my pocket still from the last time I went camping.”
After a couple of minutes the requested item was on its way down. Jim untied the rope that was fastened to it and lit it. Then he held it up enough to be able to take a good look at Johnny’s face. He could see some minor abrasions and a nasty scratch or two but nothing that wouldn’t heal. He wasn’t going to try anything about the boy’s eyes. He’d leave that for Sam. This was not something for a non-medical professional to try. Doctoring animals was one thing but treating a man’s eyesight was something he was not willing to risk.
“You don’t look too bad son. I’m not going to do anything about the bandage on your eyes. We’ll just leave that for Doc Jenkins. He’ll be at your place by the time we get you home. Now where’s your brother?”
“Under that ledge behind us,” Johnny said. “He said it was the best place to take shelter from the rain until help came since I couldn’t see and he can’t walk. I’m real worried Mr. Talbot. I can’t tell if anything’s broken or not.”
Taking Johnny’s right arm in his left Jim led the brunet back to his recently vacated shelter. The light from the lantern cast a glow that made it almost as bright as daylight in there. Scott lay there, pale and still, but breathing fairly steady and even.
“What happened Johnny?”
Embarrassed Johnny told the rancher how he’d been listening to Mrs. Talbot’s stories and decided to see for himself if there was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. “I didn’t mean for Scott to get hurt Mr. Talbot. I was just having some fun with him like he’s been having with me all week.”
“I’m sure your brother knows that Johnny. Maura will be very upset when she hears that her stories are the cause of all this.”
“Do we have to tell her? I mean she’ll blame herself.”
“I’ll tell her. She knows that her stories are entertainment and she knows you boys better than you might think. She’ll know that you’ve been playing jokes on each other all the while. There’s nothing new in that.”
“Never you mind about that Johnny. Let’s see about your brother.”
Jim knelt down next to the older Lancer and checked him over for any other injuries. Shaking him gently he roused him.
“Scott? It’s Jim Talbot son. I seem to be getting you out of trouble a lot lately.”
“Mr. Talbot. Johnny! Where’s Johnny?” Scott somehow was suddenly alarmed.
“I’m right here brother.” Johnny was still standing behind Jim.
“Are you all right? How’d Mr. Talbot get here? You didn’t climb…”
“No, I didn’t climb the hill.”
“If you’d ask me, Scott, I’d be glad to tell you,” Jim said with a chuckle. “What is it with you two? I’m right here and I could have told you but you have to fuss over each other.” He patted Scott on the shoulder. “I’ll tell you how I got here. A man named Sean McClory and his wife Bridget came upon the spot where you fell. He found a piece of Johnny’s shirt. He can’t speak much English but he speaks Celtic and Johnny sent him to us. Maura translated and here I am. Your father’s up on the road.” Rising he took a few steps out from the ledge and called up to the men on the road. “Murdoch? I’ve got both boys down here. Scott’s not going to be able to walk so we’ll need to fix up some kind of a stretcher, or a litter, and have several men come down to carry him up.”
“Tim’s here and Val. A couple of your other hands as well as some of mine,” the senior Lancer said. Turning to the men in question he said, “There’s some blankets in the back of Jim’s wagon - and some rope. Somebody take the axe and chop a couple of saplings down. We’ll rig a stretcher.”
Within five minutes Val Crawford, Tim O’Connor and several other ranch hands had joined Jim Talbot at the ledge to see about getting the brothers up to the road and safety.
“Hey Johnny,” Val said. “Got yourself in some kinda mess didn’t ya?”
“Yeah,” Johnny said ruefully. “And dragged Scott along with me.”
“Well now don’t you worry none,” Val said to his friend. “I’m a gonna get you up that hill to your father while these other galoots get Scott ready to travel.”
Taking Johnny by the arm he led him to where a couple of ropes dangled from the top of the hill. Val took one and tied it around Johnny’s waist. Then he took hold of the other one and signaled to the waiting men that they were about ready.
“Ok? Now I’m gonna be right behind you. Your father and a couple of others have hold of the rope I tied around you and will pull you up the hill. You just keep puttin’ one foot in front of the other and why, before you know it, you’ll be back up on the road safe and sound just waitin’ for Scott to join ya.”
Murdoch could see Val from his vantage point at the edge of the road and was ready when Val called up to them and waved. Slowly he and three others pulled Johnny and Val up the steep incline. Val steered Johnny away from the most dangerous places by simply giving a gentle tug on his sleeve or a slight nudge away from the loose rock or slippery patch of mud.
Once at the top his concerned father pulled Johnny into a fierce embrace. Then he was led over to Jim Talbot’s wagon and seated on the tailgate. Sean McClory, while unable to assist in the physical aspect of the rescue itself, was there with a canteen and a couple of blankets to wrap around the younger man who by now was shivering in part from the cold but also from nerves.
Val, once he
was sure Johnny was in good hands, descended the hill again to assist in getting
Scott ready to come up. When he
arrived at the sheltered spot where the boys had been hiding from the rain he
found that the stretcher had been prepared and they were ready to move Scott
“All right now fellas,” he said. “Be real gentle about it. We don’t want to hurt him any more than he already is. On three we’ll lift together. One, two, three!”
Six men lifted at the same time and in seconds Scott was laid on the improvised stretcher. Jim Talbot laid a couple of extra blankets over him to keep him warm and attempt to ward off shock. On another count of three the men lifted the stretcher and headed for the part of the slope that they would ascend, very carefully, with their precious burden.
In no time at all Scott was also at the top and loaded into the wagon from the Bar T. Jim took the reins of the team himself once Johnny was settled in the back with his brother for the trip to Lancer. By now it was full dark and lanterns were lit and hung from the front of the wagon to light the way to the main road. Once there they could be extinguished.
Half an hour later the rescue party arrived back at Lancer. Scott remained unconscious the whole time and never knew when he was carried up to his room. The trip had been hard on him in spite of Jim’s best efforts to avoid the biggest ruts and potholes in the road. Sam Jenkins was there ready and waiting with his bag. Teresa had lamps lit in both of the boys’ bedrooms and the beds turned down. Johnny, however, refused to wait in his room until Sam was through with Scott. There was no way he was going to leave his brother now. Jim Talbot and Sean McClory sat with him. The ranch hands had all gone back to work and Val was downstairs talking to Jelly about how to go about preventing something like this from happening again. That road was a menace and one of these days somebody was going to get themselves killed using it. There were always small rockslides or mudslides happening there.
It didn’t take long for Sam to ascertain that, while Scott’s hip and leg were most definitely painful, they were only bruised. Badly bruised, but not broken. A few days rest and he’d be up and around again - perhaps not running and jumping or anything overly strenuous but up and around. Time alone would be the healer in this case. The same with the broken hand, which was splinted and bandaged.
As for Johnny’s eyes – after they’d been washed out several times with clean water they were much improved. While not an expert on eye care Sam could tell that it had been an overload of mud and dust and some tiny stone particles that had caused the problem. He was sent to bed where he fell into a deep and dreamless sleep – his worries about his brother alleviated by the doctor’s words.
Scott slept, aided by a dose of laudanum, until late the next morning. Sam was there when he awoke and told him of his condition and what to do toward recovery - which was mostly to rest, eat and take something if the pain got too severe. He was told that an occasional soak in a hot tub might help relieve some of the soreness and loosen up the muscles that were bound to get stiff from inactivity.
Sean McClory was heartily thanked by Murdoch for his help and went back to the Bar T with Jim Talbot where he and Bridget would remain as the Talbots’ guests for a few days before heading for San Francisco. Maura was greatly relieved to learn that, for all the serious sound of the boys’ accident they weren’t badly injured. It was a joy for her to have people from the old country visit and they laughed at Jim’s frequent mispronunciation of the Celtic words. Writing it out didn’t help any for who could see that the word bodhran, and pronounced bo-rawn, meant drum? But he was a good sport, laughed and confessed that he found Spanish a whole lot easier – in spite of the problems he had with grammar sometimes.
With several days to himself while he and his brother recovered from their injuries Johnny did a lot of thinking. Since this attempt at getting even with Scott for the practical jokes about the leprechauns hadn’t worked he was determined to find another way. So he sat around for three days and stewed about it.
“Murdoch?” Teresa called as she returned from the front door with an envelope in her hands. “There’s a note here from Mr. Talbot addressed to you. Tim just dropped it off.”
Arriving at her guardian’s desk in the Great Room Teresa handed it over to him to open and peruse the contents. A smile lit the big man’s face as he scanned it.
“It’s an invitation to a birthday party for Maura,” he told the girl. “Next Saturday – St. Patrick’s Day. He’s got a band hired and is planning a big feast. It’s not a surprise party but we’re to expect surprises.”
“Sounds mysterious,” Teresa said.
“I agree. Jim must have something up his sleeve,” Murdoch replied.
Their discussion of the event was interrupted by a commotion coming from the direction of the kitchen and Jelly’s hasty departure from the house.
“Jelly what’s going on?” Murdoch asked the handyman as he left hurriedly through the French doors.
He got no answer as Jelly was out the doors just as fast as he could go. A confused and bemused Murdoch started toward the kitchen with Teresa on his heels. When they were but a few feet from the door leading from the dining area into the back of the house it burst open and Johnny and Scott came running out of the kitchen with Maria, the housekeeper, hot on their heels.
Shouting in Spanish “Ladrons! Renegados! Travieso muchachos! Thieves! Renegades! Naughty boys!” she came out swinging her broom and landed quite a few blows on the boys’ legs, backsides and backs as they ran from her stumbling over each other and the furniture as they did.
“Maria? Que pasa?” Murdoch asked above the noise.
The housekeeper looked at him and told him swiftly, in Spanish, that she’d caught the boys sneaking cookies and milk and checking out the contents of the pots she had on the stove. And what’s more there was a whole blueberry pie missing that she’d been planning on serving for desert that night. She could not run the kitchen if those two and Señor Jelly were underfoot poking into her pots and pans and stealing cookies. She knew now that they were the ones responsible for the broken pitcher and all the cookies that had disappeared over the last few weeks. Either they stayed out of the kitchen when she was working and stopped stealing cookies or she’d let them get their own meals from now on. With that she turned on her heel and went back to her domain leaving a thoroughly amused Murdoch and Teresa in her wake trying not to laugh while she was in the room.
As soon as the door closed behind her though both the Lancer patriarch and his ward burst into laughter at what had just transpired. The boys had taken advantage of Murdoch’s intervention and fled the house to get back to work. Murdoch had a feeling that his sons would be very subdued at supper that night and that it might be a few days before Jelly set foot in the kitchen again except at Maria’s command. And there would be no more leaving cookies and milk out for the fairy creatures either.
The party was in full swing by the time the Lancers arrived. Johnny and Scott blamed it on Teresa not being able to make up her mind which dress she was going to wear. She blamed it on them being slow to get dressed up at all. If they’d had their way they’d have gone in ordinary work clothes albeit clean ones. But Teresa insisted that they all dress in their best because it was a birthday party for Mrs. Talbot and she’d never come to their house dressed in work clothes for a party.
The birthday girl was seated on the far side of the room near the fireplace surrounded by well wishers including many of the children from the surrounding ranches and farms. Her husband greeted their guests as they arrived. Jim wore a dark blue suit with a white shirt and a black string tie. The two older Lancer men wore tan pants and jackets with white shirts and black ties while Johnny wore snug fitting black Mexican style pants with a white shirt that was embroidered with red flowers and greenery. A black string tie and a short black jacket, also Mexican style, completed his outfit. Teresa was wearing a simple gown of emerald green with a white yoke and a black bow just below her throat. Her hair was hanging down but tied back with a matching emerald green bow.
The boys and Teresa went to pay their respects to the birthday girl and it wasn’t long before all three were on the dance floor enjoying themselves. Young Tim O’Connor had claimed Teresa for his partner and the boys found all the young ladies in attendance more than willing to be their partners. Scott danced the first dance with Caroline Lake, a pretty blonde from Spanish Wells while Johnny found himself partnered with Susan Bowley a tiny redhead from Morro Coyo.
Murdoch watched them from where he stood with Jim Talbot a mixture of love and pride and amusement on his face. Jim looked at him with a serious expression on his face.
“You’ve got something worth more than gold Murdoch.”
“Hmm?” Murdoch focused his attention on his friend. “What was that?”
“Those boys – and Teresa. They’re worth more than all the gold in the world.” Jim’s eyes took on a far away look as his followed the three “siblings” on the dance floor and his wife came out to claim Johnny as her partner.
The look on her face told him that she was determined to teach him how to dance a jig as the band started playing The Irish Washerwoman. Johnny was apparently protesting but it did him no good. His surrogate mother had him right where she wanted him. He couldn’t refuse to dance with her in front of his family and their friends – he was trapped.
Jim continued, “I’d give anything to see that look on her face all the time Murdoch. Our Blair and Rory and Kendall would have loved this party. They were so full of life and mischief. You never knew what deviltry those three would be cooking up. Maura would fuss at them and they’d just laugh at her and she’d soon be laughing with them. If only…” Jim’s voice trailed off as he thought of the three sons he and Maura had lost in the war.
“I know,” Murdoch said. “And Maura’s been good for my boys.”
“They’ve been good for her my friend. She’s never happier than when she’s got them sitting at the table eating whatever she has just taken out of the oven.”
The two men stood in silence for a few minutes watching the young people as they tried to learn the jig. It was familiar to Tim O’Connor but not to any of the others. It didn’t take long for Teresa to pick up on it and Scott was faring well until he obviously began to tire. He’d still not completely recovered from his fall. While the bruising was fading he still limped if he tried to do too much. Half days in the saddle were all he could manage just yet. The family, Jelly and Maria made sure that he didn’t try to overdo. Scott retired, with a cup of punch, to a seat near the fireplace. His father and Jim Talbot made their way through the crowd to join him.
“Having fun Scott?” Jim asked him.
“Yes, sir,” Scott smiled. “I’m just not ready to keep up with your wife just yet I guess.”
“You will be. You took quite a nasty fall. It’s a blessing that you didn’t hit your head on that rock instead of your hip and your leg.”
Thirty minutes later the birthday girl opened her gifts. There were wildflowers, books, a bottle of perfume, a crystal vase imported from Ireland from Murdoch, a knit shawl from Teresa, some sheet music for the piano or organ from Scott, a cookbook full of Maria’s favorite recipes from Johnny (which earned a big laugh but got him a kiss from his surrogate mother) and a portrait painted from a photograph of their three sons from her husband.
After the gift opening there was a sing along of old Irish folks songs led by Maura and Tim. The Minstrel Boy and Londonderry Air (known to some as Danny Boy) were among them. This was followed by more dancing. Murdoch claimed his friend’s wife for the first dance when they resumed – with Jim’s blessing.
Finally, after two hours of constant playing, the band took a break and everyone helped themselves to more refreshments. Maura sat near the Lancers and reflected on the stories she’d been telling and hearing over the last two weeks.
“So tell me boys,” she said to Johnny and Scott, “did you every catch that leprechaun that was hiding out at Lancer?”
“Now Mrs. Talbot,” Scott said with a chuckle, “you know perfectly well by now that there was no leprechaun or brownie at the ranch. It was me playing tricks on Johnny with a little help from Murdoch.”
“Oh? Are you sure about that?”
“Yes, ma’am, I’m sure.”
“Then how do you explain the gold coin and the silver shilling in your pocket?” Maura asked him.
“What gold coin and silver shilling?” he asked confused.
“The ones in your left pocket my boy,” Maura told him with a twinkle in her eye and a wink at Johnny who was trying unsuccessfully to hide a grin.
Confused Scott reached into his pocket and froze as his hand came into contact with two round metal objects. Slowly he pulled his hand out of his pocket to reveal a gold coin and a silver shilling just as Maura had said.
One look at his face and Johnny could no longer contain his laughter. He threw his head back and laughed until the tears ran down his face. Murdoch and everyone else in the room were only a few seconds behind. In another minute even Scott was laughing. It looked like Johnny had finally put one over on his brother with a little help from Maura Talbot who had gotten the coins from the McClorys before they had left for San Francisco. The joke was on Scott this time.
SAINT PATRICK’S DAY!!!!!!!
There are three little people in show business that I’ve always enjoyed the work of. Two of them are dead and gone now and will be missed:
First of all there’s Michael Dunn who played Dr. Loveless on The Wild, Wild West. Can any “normal” actor be as menacing and maniacal as Dr. Loveless “that twisted, evil little genius” was? The man was only 3’6” tall but he was very believable in the part. And he sang nicely too. Made Dr. Loveless even stranger.
Secondly there’s Billy Barty. Mostly known for comedic parts I believe you’ll find that he guested in an episode of ChiPs and I know for sure an episode of Little House on the Prairie. He also played Sigmund in Sigmund and the Sea Monsters from Sid and Marty Kroft
Thirdly is Felix Silla. He played Cousin Itt in the Addams Family series and he was the body, while Mel Blanc was the voice, of Buck Rogers’ Twiki in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century with Gil Gerard.