This sequel to After The Pirates links the High Riders to Chase a Wild Horse. This may offend some purists who know there was an episode, Blood Rock, in between. Please excuse me for not including it, but it’s one of my nits with the show that they had the characters jelling much too quickly and Blood Rock didn’t have the level of angst I needed for this story. Chase a Wild Horse should have been the second episode, in my opinion, and so I have made it such. I hope you enjoy it!
Word count: 23,980
Scott watched Murdoch and Johnny ride in front of him on the way back to Lancer. He wasn’t feeling a connection to his horse, and he wished again that Johnny had saddled Rembrandt for him to ride into Stockton when the ague had hit. Remmie was more responsive and livelier than this mare, whose name he couldn’t recall. In the cavalry, you didn’t give your horses names because many times they were shot out from under you. Best not to get too attached to your mount. Now he lagged behind his father and brother until he kicked the horse into a trot to catch up. The road they were headed home on couldn’t easily handle three horses wide, so it might as well be him who hung back. Whatever it was they were talking about made Murdoch smile and chuckle, so it was best to let Johnny entertain him. Scott was fairly sure nothing he could say would seem humorous to his father.
Instead, he contented himself with his memories of the excellent time he had experienced with Johnny the day before. After breakfast, Murdoch left to spend the day with his lady friend. Scott and Johnny explored the downtown area of Stockton, which was three to four times the size of Green River’s. Scott was searching for a bookstore, but he didn’t find one, to his dismay. They did find a gunsmith who was knowledgeable and well stocked. Johnny insisted he buy a new gun because the one he had was an extra Murdoch had lying around. Finding a proper gun was essential, Johnny informed him, and they had spent over two hours discussing and trying out different pistols. Scott had to admit, each gun did feel different to his hand. The weight and balance were important, Johnny again had informed him. After determining which gun was perfect for him, Scott was disheartened to learn that he didn’t have enough money for it and the presents he wanted to buy for the ladies. Johnny pulled out Scott’s cattle drive money and tried to give it to him again. Scott protested; he’d given that money to Johnny. At that point, Johnny almost angrily paid for the gun himself, saying it was a thank-you for Scott pulling him out of danger during Pardee’s raid. Scott again protested, but it was impossible to stop Johnny from doing what he wanted—something Scott was learning quickly.
After lunch at a cantina where Johnny got him to eat a variety of new Mexican dishes—which were washed down with a lot of milk and much laughter from Johnny—they headed to some shops to find gifts for Teresa and Maria. After Johnny’s generosity with his gun, Scott suggested the presents be from both of them, to which Johnny had readily agreed. They decided on a colorful shawl for Maria and some exquisitely carved combs for Teresa. That tapped out the extra money Scott had brought with him. He hadn’t expected to spend most of the drive in an upscale hotel room.
Then it was back to the cantina for some poker. Johnny had staked him. Playing cards with Johnny turned out to be a real adventure. Scott had been taught to hone a face devoid of any emotion when playing cards. That had been easy for Scott, who was naturally calm and reserved. He was proud of the way he bluffed his way to winning pots. Johnny could turn on a stone face better than he could; however, most of the time he was just the opposite. Then, according to Johnny’s face, every hand was a winner, every card drawn was exactly the one he wanted. His face was excited, animated, all the time. You would have to pay to see the unbelievably good hand he had. With no card being a disappointment for him, Johnny betrayed no “tell” to tip off whether he was bluffing or not. He reacted to every card as if he’d just drawn to an inside straight. And it worked just as well as Scott’s straight face. They had both walked from the table with a profit in their pockets, although Johnny’s was bigger. In the late afternoon, his brother had taken him to an establishment where there were women of very questionable morals. A very enjoyable time ensued, and he and Johnny both made it back to the hotel in time to wash up and join Murdoch for dinner. Scott smiled at the memory.
Johnny was busy with his own memories of yesterday afternoon. He had been excited that he had captured the saucy redhead. She looked like she was lots of fun and ready to take him for a good ride. He heard the door close next door and knew that Scott was in the next room. He didn’t know if he particularly liked be in such close proximity to his brother in this situation, but Peggy was taking her blouse off, and he quickly forgot about anything other than her breasts and his growing erection. He would show her a good time. The first would always be quick and forceful, then a short nap, and then a good-bye ride that was much slower and sweeter. No, there’d never been a disappointed girl from a session with Johnny Madrid/Lancer.
Johnny rolled away from Peggy completely satisfied. She was panting and grinning at him.
“Snuggle up, sweet cheeks,” he said, “while I relax.” He’d paid for a full hour with the girl and he was going to use all of it.
She did and he tried to drift off to sleep, except there were sounds from the other room. Scott and that too skinny black-haired girl. Johnny had thought she would’ve been too young for his brother’s taste. There were mumblings and giggles coming from the other side of the wall, and Johnny figured the heads of their beds were about as close as they could be, given the thin wall in between. Great. He’d never get to sleep.
The giggles eventually turned into womanly moans. Johnny picked up the ends of the pillow and covered his ears. It didn’t help muffle the sounds much. The moans got louder until the woman almost screamed, “Oh, my god! What is that?” There was an answering chuckle, presumably by Scott, and then the springs started squeaking in a familiar, unhurried rhythm. Some minutes later, the woman panted, “Here it comes again!” Then “Oh, my god, my god, my god” in some kind of breathless litany. The springs finally stopped their squawking and several minutes passed before the girl said, “I’ve never…Oh, my god, I felt…I could feel that over and over. How did you do that?” Another chuckle from Scott and then some whispering too low for Johnny to make out, thank God.
Johnny couldn’t stand it anymore. He turned to Peggy. “You ready for another round?”
It took some time, but he’d had another go at her. It wasn’t easy, knowing his brother was on the other side of the wall, maybe listening. Yep, took almost all of the fun out of it. As he was sitting on the bed putting his boots back on, his ears strayed again to the room next door.
“Right here,” he heard Scott say.
“Ooh, yeah. Right there. I feel it.” Several seconds later, the woman cooed, “I’ll never forget you, Scott, and what you taught me today.”
Now Johnny had satisfied a goodly number of women in the years he’d been having sex, but not one of them saloon girls had ever said he’d taught her something.
Johnny looked back at his brother. The man was falling behind again. He shook his head, seeing the saddlebags stuffed so full. Maria’s shawl took up practically one whole side. Scott packed a lot of unnecessary stuff in his bags: things like extra shirts and socks and a thick book by some guy named Dickens. When they went to divide the provisions for the journey home, Scott’s saddlebags were already bulging. Murdoch had laid into him some for that.
Johnny found them a good camping site. Murdoch was grumbling about not continuing on for another hour or so, but Johnny could see Scott was flagging. He didn’t know anything about this ague that Scott had, but it looked like it might still be plaguing him a bit. When Murdoch finally eyed him, he agreed with Johnny’s decision.
Scott left for an hour or so while Johnny and Murdoch set up camp, Murdoch complaining about his elder son the entire time. Then Scott showed up with some good-sized rainbow trout and all was forgiven. The tasty fish sure added to the beans and hardtack they were going to have. After dinner, they were sitting around the fire listening to Murdoch tell Johnny how his mother hated to eat fish. Johnny couldn’t recollect her serving him any fish either. They were all laughing about it until Scott asked Murdoch a question.
“What was my mother like?”
Murdoch looked stunned at the question. He eyes roamed over to where the horses stood tethered for the night. He cleared his throat several times. “She…she was lovely. So lovely…” He got up abruptly and muttered he was going to clean his plate and fork.
Johnny shot his brother a look that he hoped Scott would read as “what the hell?” It was easy to see that his brother was crestfallen. Johnny gathered up both of their dinnerware. “I’ll take care of this for you, Boston. You just lie there and rest.”
Scott nodded, grateful for Johnny’s perceptiveness. He was beat and the thought of another day and a half of riding made him feel even more tired. He nestled into his bedroll. Murdoch easily talked to Johnny about Maria. Why was his own mother off limits? Despite the questions in his mind, he drifted off to sleep quickly.
Johnny sank down next to his father and started washing his dishes in the small stream. “So, what was that about?”
Johnny gave a derisive snort. “Any reason Scott shouldn’t know about his mama?”
There was a long silence. Finally, Murdoch said, “When I think of her, the pain of her death always hits me. Hits me hard, like it happened yesterday. It’s hard…hard for me to deal with that pain.”
Johnny nodded. He wasn’t going to lash into his father for that. Every man dealt with that kind of pain in his life his own way. He was just sorry for his brother. Scott had looked so desolate when Murdoch had left. He finished his cleaning and walked back to camp.
Murdoch chastised himself for his cowardice. The real problem was he didn’t know where he stood with Scott. He didn’t know a thing about his first-born son. How had Harlan Garrett raised him? What had he said about him to Scott if anything? He had sent Scott letters and gifts over the years and had received no acknowledgement, nothing in return. Had the boy gotten any of them? He was afraid to ask. Either answer seemed upsetting. What if he had received them and hated his father so much that he hadn’t deigned to acknowledge them? Or what if Scott said he hadn’t received anything? Would he believe Murdoch that they’d been sent and, if so, how would that affect his relationship with his grandfather? Murdoch wasn’t willing to open that Pandora’s box until their relationship was on more solid ground. Right now, it felt too new, too precarious to tread on certain personal topics. Because if he started down that path, it would inevitably lead to the question Murdoch didn’t ever want to answer: why had he left his son in Boston? No, it was best that Boston, Harlan Garrett, and Catherine stayed buried in the past.
It had been easier with Johnny. His son had flat out accused him of throwing Maria out of the house, glad to be rid of both her and their baby. They had discussed Maria’s lies while Johnny convalesced from his bullet wound from Pardee. Teresa had told Johnny the truth of it, and Maria and Cipriano corroborated her story. Johnny had to relent after his aunt and uncle had told their versions, identical to Teresa’s. Why would they lie about it? Cipriano would have had just as much loyalty, if not more, to his sister than to his brother-in-law. His aunt’s description of a devastated Murdoch had convinced Johnny that his father had wanted him, loved him, in a way that no amount of paying for Pinkerton reports could.
But there weren’t any others to back up his version of events with Scott. Paul O’Brien was the only person who could have, and he was in his too early grave. No, if Scott hadn’t received any of his mailings, he could only think his father had wanted nothing to do with him. And Harlan would have been quick to leap on that fabrication and keep it alive year after year. Now he could feel Scott’s eyes on him, watching him, judging him, and him coming up short in so many ways. There was always a hint of accusation in Scott’s eyes, Murdoch thought, and didn’t he deserve it? Through the years, he’d spent any extra money on finding Johnny rather than in legal fees for gaining custody of Scott. He’d held Johnny in his arms, watched him grow for two years. Johnny was real to him. Scott was abstract, even with the brief glimpse of the fair-haired five-year-old boy. The guilt he felt for abandoning his first-born in Boston clung to him like a shroud. He didn’t know how to start that kind of conversation with Scott, but he knew how it would end—with Scott’s contempt for him. No, it was best to steer clear of that whole conversation right now. Thankfully, the boy was asleep when he made his way back to the campsite. He said good night to Johnny and, once in his bedroll, turned onto his side with his back to his sons.
Johnny didn’t miss Murdoch’s message: no more talk tonight. He sat there for a while, staring into the dying flames of their fire and wondering whether he should take the time to know his father any better. He was a hard man, especially when it came to Scott, it seemed. But there were moments that he and his father had shared that showed a different side: a soft smile now and then, a casual hand on his shoulder and a gentle squeeze, the heartfelt chats as he lay recovering from Pardee’s bullet. Did the Old Man do any of that with Scott? Johnny hadn’t witnessed it. And what of his brother? They’d had a fine day in Stockton. Scott seemed to appreciate any advice he gave him, and he appreciated that. The Easterner had a way of talking about things, a smoothness, that Johnny hadn’t encountered before. Scott’s voice just kinda oozed over everything until his way of looking at things was your way of looking at them, too. Johnny was starting to feel real comfortable around the man. Scott took him the way he was with no judgments. Since mama died, Johnny felt judged constantly and coming up short or feared. Murdoch seemed wary of him. There was no fear of him with Scott, only acceptance and an eagerness to get to know him. Johnny shook his head ruefully. It was probably because Scott had no idea what a gunslinger was. They were one strange family, that was sure.
The next day was pretty much the same. Scott didn’t say much and lagged behind his father and brother. Murdoch at least remembered to give him extra jerky to eat in between meals. That night Murdoch asked Scott to read from his book. It was called A Tale of Two Cities. Johnny didn’t understand but every fifth word, but Murdoch looked like he was enjoying it. Scott’s silky reading voice had Johnny nodding off in no time.
The next morning, he asked Scott if he and Murdoch had a chance to talk after he fell asleep. Scott looked at him as if he were crazy and shook his head. He asked Murdoch the same question as they rode side by side on the last leg of their journey. Murdoch had said that when Scott got tired of reading, they both went right to sleep. Johnny nodded and then reined up to ride beside his brother. Scott gave him a grateful smile, and Johnny knew he didn’t need to talk; just riding beside his brother was enough to show Scott he was his compadre.
The next morning after arriving home, Johnny snagged a biscuit before he sat down to breakfast. Murdoch and Scott were already there, eating in silence. They shared “mornin’” with him as Maria set a plate of ham and eggs in front of him.
When Scott had finished his meal, Murdoch told him he needed to clean out the outhouses. Johnny would have protested to high heaven if the Old Man had told him that. None of the hands, much less a one third owner of the ranch, would ever do that job. It was usually handed to a teenager of one of the families living on the ranch. When he was a young teen, before his reputation was established, Johnny had done it on a couple of farms. It made becoming a renowned gunslinger a much more attractive choice. Scott, however, didn’t blink an eye. He said only that he didn’t know how to do that job. Murdoch directed him to Cipriano or Walt, and Scott left.
What was the Old Man doing? Was he punishing Scott? For what? Packing too much into his saddlebags? Not making camp with them the first night on the trail? Having the guts to ask his father about his mother?
Johnny shook his head. “You got somethin’ against Scott or somethin’?”
Murdoch glared at him. He still wasn’t used to anyone questioning his orders. “What?”
“Boston don’t deserve a job like that and you know it.”
“You heard him. He doesn’t know how to do it. Now he’ll learn.”
“Pfft!” Johnny snorted.
“Your brother was raised in a lavish lifestyle his entire life.” The way Murdoch said it made it sound like he was angry about that or that it had been Scott’s fault. “It’s about time he found out how the rest of us live and have to do to survive out here. I intend for him to learn firsthand.”
“But he ain’t like those snooty rich folks. You oughta know that about ‘im by now.”
Murdoch glared at him. “Have you cleaned an outhouse, boy?”
“Yeah, I done it. Hated it, but I done it.”
“Good. Consider yourself lucky, then, or I’d have you out there with your brother.”
Johnny finished his breakfast and walked over to where Cipriano was talking to Scott. Scott nodded and walked away just as Johnny walked up.
“Buenos días, tío,” he greeted his uncle. “What do you want me to do today?” He crossed his fingers behind his back, hoping he wouldn’t be told to help Scott.
Cipriano gave him a smile. “We ride to the eastern pastures to check the fences and move some of the herd south.”
Johnny sighed in relief and went to saddle Barranca.
Scott was gathering the tools he needed to scoop out the outhouse waste when Ramόn showed up.
“Buenos días, mi amigo,” Scott said, smiling at the youth. He remembered that the boy had volunteered to go to Stockton with him when he was sick.
Ramόn grinned at him, let loose a slew of Spanish that Scott couldn’t understand, and ran away. Guess he figured out what my job is today, Scott thought. The boy returned after a minute or so with Teresa right on his tail.
“What’s going on?” Scott asked.
“Ramόn stole two of my clothes pegs!” she said. She turned to the boy. “Digame por qué?”
Ramόn’s explanation seemed a long one to Scott’s mind. After he was done, Teresa scolded him harshly. Then she turned to Scott.
“I’m sorry Ramόn has played such a mean joke on you, Scott,” she said, glaring at the teenager again. “You should go do whatever Murdoch told you to do today.”
“He told me to clean out the outhouses, Teresa.”
“No, he couldn’t have!”
“I assure you he did.”
She spoke to Ramόn again, much more apologetic. “You and Ramόn are welcome to my clothes pegs.” She turned to leave.
“Wait! Can you stay a moment and translate for me, please?” Scott asked.
The exchange took but a minute. Scott told Ramόn that the boy didn’t need to help him. Ramόn told Scott that Scott had cleaned the barn for him. Scott reminded him that they both cleaned the barn, and Ramόn had ended the discussion by saying that they were both going to clean the outhouse, then.
Scott was touched by the boy’s willingness to help. When they got to the outhouse, a four-seater, Ramόn showed Scott how to put the peg on his nose and tie his bandana to his face. Scott was grateful for the instruction. With Ramόn’s guidance, they slopped out the holes, repaired the rips in the screens, and fixed the hinges on two of the doors. In the afternoon, they took the slop buckets out to one of the fields Pardee had burned and hoed the waste into the soil. It was nasty, dirty, smelly work. When they got back, Scott readied the bathhouse and insisted Ramόn take a long bath. He scrubbed the boy good and washed his hair. He didn’t know whether Ramόn appreciated it all that much, but he received a hearty “gracias” for it nevertheless. Scott’s own bath and scrubbing was just as long and hard and very much appreciated. The next time he was in town, he would have to buy a new pair of gloves. Today’s were in the burn barrel.
He stopped in at the bunkhouse to tell Old Pedro of his youngest son’s good deed. The ranch hands gave him a hard time for his task, teasingly asking what he had done to get El Patrόn so angry with him. Scott just smiled and accepted the heckling. As he closed the bunkhouse door behind him, he could hear Cipriano scolding them about respecting El Patrόn’s son. It felt good to have the man stand up for him. His respect for Johnny’s tío kept growing.
Johnny regaled them all with stories of stubborn and stupid steers at dinner that night. He had even Murdoch smiling. When he was done, Murdoch turned his attention to Scott.
“You get your chore done?”
“With a little help from Ramόn,” Teresa teased. “I caught him taking two of my clothing pegs, but then he told me they were for Scott and him.” She smiled mischievously.
“That boy help you?” Murdoch asked, his voice flat.
Scott swallowed hard. Thank you so much, Teresa, he thought. “Yes, sir. I certainly appreciated it.” He hadn’t known where to start or what to do even with Cipriano’s sketchy instructions.
Scott could see the anger rising in his father. “Did I tell you you could have help? That task was yours and yours alone. Ramόn has other chores to attend to. By helping you, he didn’t get his work done today.”
Damn! Couldn’t he do anything right here? He had fixed the screens so the flies wouldn’t get into the outhouses. Should he have asked permission before he did that? After all, Murdoch hadn’t specifically told him to fix the screens. Maybe he needed to ask permission to use the outhouse, too! He hoped that Ramόn wasn’t in trouble because of him.
“You didn’t say he couldn’t have help.”
Johnny’s soft drawl was like aloe on a burn. Scott hoped it would soothe Murdoch, despite the challenge that was evident in his tone. Scott was touched that his brother might fight for him but realized he shouldn’t have to. He would have to stand up to Murdoch by himself. His mind leapt back to standing in Grandfather’s study when he was seven, sniffling over some bully’s treatment of him. Grandfather told him to stiffen his spine and stand up to the boy before promptly dismissing him from the room. He had dealt with bullies all through school and in the army and had been partially successful in his ploys against them. Grandfather had pointedly ignored any bruises on his face and knuckles over the years. Getting promoted to an officer ended the wartime plug-uglies on the Union side; the Confederate thugs simply had to be submissively endured. It never occurred to him that his own father might be a bully…
The eruption of fury never came. Instead, Murdoch said, “Tomorrow, I want you to start digging a well for a pump…with no help.”
Scott stole a quick glance at Johnny and Teresa. Johnny had his usual smirk; Teresa had a look of pity on her face. “Yes, sir” was all he said. As usual, once he finished his dinner, he excused himself and retired for the night.
The next day Murdoch rode out with Scott as he drove the small wagon loaded with a shovel, pickaxe, bucket, rope, and ladder. They stopped at the far edge of the outermost corral. Murdoch dismounted and walked around the area for a few moments.
“Here,” he said, pointing to a patch of dry ground.
Scott got out the shovel. He rammed it into the spot Murdoch had indicated and was met with a good amount of resistance.
“You might want to start with the pickaxe,” Murdoch suggested, as if Scott was an imbecile.
“Or we could wait until it rains and softens the earth some,” Scott suggested back.
“I want this done now.”
“Surely, this is not the most pressing job on the ranch,” Scott protested, throwing the shovel down and going back to the wagon for the pickaxe.
“I call the tune, remember?”
Scott stared at him for a few seconds. Then he struck the ground with the pickaxe. A few dirt clods flew up. Murdoch stood there watching him. Good God, was he going to stand there all morning? After a few more swings of the pickaxe, Murdoch remounted and left. Scott let out a sigh of relief. It certainly felt like Murdoch was punishing him for something, but he didn’t know what. It wasn’t his fault he didn’t grow up here.
Scott sat leaning against a wagon wheel and ate his mid-morning meal. Today it was some chicken and vegetables wrapped in a tortilla—a blessed relief from beef jerky. He turned at the sound of horse hooves. Great. Murdoch was riding up. Of course, he had chosen just when Scott was sitting down to his mid-morning break. Loafing on the job again!
Murdoch stared at the hole Scott had dug. “This all you’ve done so far?”
Scott didn’t know how to respond. Clearly, it was all he had done so far, and Scott didn’t think it was so bad, given the hard soil with which he was working. He just nodded as an answer.
“I was hoping you’d be farther along.”
Again, Scott wondered how he could respond to that. Sorry to dash your hopes? Maybe you shouldn’t have hopes when it comes to your lazy son? He put on his bland Boston persona.
Murdoch frowned at him. “You’ll be out here as long as it takes to get it done, so you might as well get on with it.”
Scott’s jawline hardened slightly. “Yes, sir.”
Murdoch just sat there on his horse. Did he want Scott to jump up and start digging vigorously while he scrutinized him? Scott wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction. He wanted to say, “why don’t you get your ass off your horse and show me how it’s done?” but he bit back the juvenile retort. Instead, he ignored him and continued to leisurely chew on his tortilla. After several long minutes, the man rode away and Scott relaxed. He finished the rest of his meal and just sat there for a while, gathering his strength to begin the digging again. He looked at his right palm, noticing his callouses were tender. The old work gloves he had borrowed were too short for his fingers and the stiff gloves were rubbing him in all the wrong places. Still, they were better than nothing. He put them back on and rose to attack his task.
Murdoch rode away from his elder son very irritated. The boy had been downright insolent! He acted more like his younger brother than the polite Easterner he was beginning to expect. He had been hoping Scott’s manners would rub off on Johnny. Now it seemed Johnny’s impertinence was rubbing off on Scott. Well, he wouldn’t have it! He was their father and they had to respect him. What would his own father say if he saw the way Scott and Johnny acted toward him? He wouldn’t believe it. He’d tan their hides good until they apologized and acted respectfully. But his sons were too old for tanning even though they both deserved it, and wasn’t it his fault that he had acquired them so late in their lives? He sighed and rode off to check on Johnny.
That night at dinner after Murdoch had berated Johnny for being fifteen minutes late, Teresa regaled everyone with stories of their neighbors she had heard at the general store. Scott politely smiled, but neither brother knew the people she was talking about. They rolled their eyes at each other, and Scott was glad to have his brother be on the same page as he was. Murdoch brusquely talked to Johnny about the herd, and then the conversation turned to Scott.
“Did you get that hole dug?” Murdoch asked.
“I haven’t hit water yet,” Scott replied.
“Then you go out again tomorrow. If there’s one thing you have to learn on a ranch, it’s how to dig. Post holes, wells, pumps…”
Scott just stared at him incredulously. He let his fork clatter onto his plate. “Graves? You think I don’t know how to dig a hole?” His voice rose in indignation. “How about the four graves I dug in the cemetery out back after the raid? How about the hole I helped dig to bury Pardee and his men? You think I don’t know how to use a shovel?” He had helped dig graves at Libby, too. “You know nothing about my life!”
Murdoch was looking down at his food, his face flushed.
“Excuse me,” Scott said, wiping his mouth. “I seem to have lost my appetite.” He threw his napkin down and strode upstairs.
Murdoch glanced at Teresa and Johnny in the dead silence that followed Scott’s departure. The girl’s head was bowed, and she looked like she was about to cry. Johnny had that perpetual, annoying you’re-an-idiot smirk on his face and was staring right at him. He gave Johnny a glare and continued to eat his supper.
Finally, Johnny broke the uncomfortable silence. “Whatcha got for dessert, Teresa?”
Murdoch didn’t say anything else at dinner. Scott was right—he knew nothing about either of his boys. After dinner, he left to find Cipriano’s door.
Maria let him in and offered him coffee after he was seated. As she disappeared into her small kitchen, she heard El Patrόn say, “Por favor, amigo, what can you tell me about my sons?”
Scott was relieved that Cipriano assigned Frank to work with him the next morning. He was always happy to work with Frank, who knew of his war history and why he needed to take breaks from back-breaking manual labor.
Frank also knew how to put in a water pump.
They took turns digging and hauling up the dirt in a bucket until Frank saw Scott favoring his right hand as he wielded the shovel.
“What’s wrong with your hand?” Frank asked.
“Nothing,” Scott answered too quickly. “Just a little tender.”
“Come on up and let me have a look at it.”
“No need. I’m fine.”
“Mister Scott,” Frank said exasperated. “You ain’t fine.”
Scott threw the shovel down in defeat and climbed the ladder out of the hole. He took off the ill-fitting glove on his right hand and unwrapped the bandana he had clumsily tied over his palm.
Frank took hold of his hand as the bandana slid off. He let out a low whistle. “Mister Scott, that’s bad.”
Scott had to agree. “I wasn’t that bad earlier—just blisters under the callouses.”
Horse hooves sounded again, and Scott didn’t even bother to look. His father had an unerring ability to show up at the worst times. Murdoch dismounted and walked over to stare at Scott’s hand.
“Good God, boy! Don’t you have even the sense God gave geese?” he bellowed.
Scott continued to look at his palm. The water blisters that had been there this morning had turned into blood blisters. The red and purple colors under the pads of his hand beneath his fingers were as appalling as they were mesmerizing. Scott pulled his hand away as Murdoch tried to prod the blisters.
Frank and Scott could see the frustration on Murdoch’s face and in his stance.
“Well, put a bandana over it and get back to work,” Murdoch ordered.
“Yes, sir,” Scott said, draping the bandana back over his palm. Tying it left-handed had been difficult this morning. Maybe Frank would volunteer to tie it for him now.
Murdoch walked over to his horse, and Frank followed him.
“Mr. Lancer, pardon, sir, but that man can’t do no more work today,” he said to his employer as politely as he could. “One of them blisters pops, he could get a real bad infection. You know that, sir.”
Murdoch did know that. He also knew that Scott would be useless until those blood blisters went away. He mounted his horse with a sigh. “You’re right, Frank. Get him back to the hacienda and have Old Pedro look after him. After that, get out to the south pasture with Cipriano.” He rode off in a huff.
Frank turned back to Scott. “C’mon, Mister Scott. That’s all the digging at this hole today. Let’s go back and get your hand tended to.”
They silently reloaded the tools and headed the wagon back to the bunkhouse, Scott deeply humiliated by his father’s outburst. Old Pedro made him soak both his hands in brine for a long time. The left hand was not as bad as the right, but it was on its way to becoming so. Then he’d been sent to the hacienda, where Teresa had clucked over him as well, scolding him for being so careless as she bandaged his hands. He retreated to his room wondering if he should have just told Murdoch at breakfast that he’d developed blisters and couldn’t handle a shovel today. He might have if he hadn’t made such a show of it last night at dinner about knowing how to dig. Either way, he was doomed to Murdoch’s wrath. He picked up his book. “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…” The worst of times, indeed.
In the following days, Scott was assigned to chores that didn’t irritate his blisters, mostly helping Teresa and Maria. Johnny teased him relentlessly about doing “women’s work” until even Murdoch tool pity on him. He finally brought out the ledgers for Scott to familiarize himself with the bookkeeping. Scott quickly saw that his father was using a single entry system. His suggestion that he would gladly update it for him was met with a stony glare and an insistence that the current method was fine. Some other suggestions to streamline some processes were met with similar animosity. With his hands finally healed, he was sent out with Johnny and Wes to evaluate conditions in the southeast pastures before Murdoch moved the majority of the herd there. They had come across more problems than they’d expected, and now Johnny and Scott watched Wes ride off to get more supplies. The wagon moved slowly out of their sight.
“Want to bet on when he’ll be back?” Scott asked.
“Wanna bet if he comes back?” Johnny amended laughing. “Either way, he’ll be gone for a while. Let’s go swimmin’.”
“It’s hot enough. If we go now, we’ll be dry by the time he gets back.”
“So I guess you’re betting he’ll be back.” Scott laughed. He stood there, staring in the direction of the pond. It was hot. If he’d been in Boston now, the brilliantly colored leaves would be almost gone, fallen to the ground amid whirling gusts of autumn winds. But here in California, the natives had told him that hot spells in the fall were not uncommon and a week of hot weather in January could be expected. Scott would believe that when he experienced it.
Johnny looked at his brother. Sweat trickled down his face and chest. His shirt was sweat-stained and held together by the last button. It looked ridiculous. Maybe that was the fashion back in Boston. He’d certainly looked ridiculous that first day on the stage. “C’mon. You do know how to swim, dontcha?”
“Yes, I know how to swim.”
Scott continued to stare longingly toward the pond and Johnny got impatient. Coming up stealthily behind his brother, he yanked Scott’s shirt down off his shoulders. “C’mon!”
Scott turned quickly and shrugged his shirt back onto his shoulders, but he wasn’t quick enough. Johnny saw the scars.
“What the hell…!” Scott swore and backed away. “What’re you doing?”
“Nothin’,” Johnny said softly. “Nothin’.”
Scott buttoned up his shirt. “I’m not going swimming, but don’t let that stop you. In fact, I’d prefer it if you did. I wouldn’t mind some time to myself.”
Johnny could see Scott trying hard to rein his temper in. He just stood there, at a loss as to what to do next. He followed his brother as Scott stomped away and came to rest by an oak, sliding to the ground.
Johnny slid down beside him. They sat there in silence for what seemed like a long time. “You want to tell me how you got those?” he asked quietly.
Scott looked away. “Not really, no.”
“C’mon, Boston. You know I know what those scars are. I got some of them, too.”
“I know. I saw them when you were healing from Pardee’s bullet.”
“Then you know I’m not judgin’ you.” Johnny grinned cheekily. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”
Scott laughed softly. It was hard to maintain any anger against his brother when he smiled so charmingly. “I never wanted you to see. Never wanted anyone here to see.”
“That why you won’t go swimmin’? ‘Fraid I’d see?”
Johnny could tell he was embarrassed or ashamed. Why? Bad things happened to people. He was never embarrassed about his scars, even when the whores commented on them. He’d just shrug them off. Scars were a part of him, a part of his story, just part of who he was. “Well, now I’ve seen and I still wanna go swimmin’. What about you? It’s too hot to just sit here.”
Scott recognized the olive branch Johnny was offering. He looked up at Johnny and gave a wan smile. “Sure. Let’s go.”
After a refreshing dip in the pond, they sunned themselves on a warm rock. Scott was about to doze off when Johnny said, “You wanna tell me how you got them stripes and such?”
“The war,” Scott answered, hoping Johnny would let that suffice. His brother knew he didn’t talk about the war.
Johnny sighed. “You think I’m stupid or somethin’, Scott? No battle’s gonna give you those scars.”
“Can’t you leave it at that?” Scott pleaded.
“What’s so special about ‘em? I can tell you how I got mine. Some were given to me with a belt by my mama’s man when I was ten and some were given to me care of the Rurales when I was in prison.”
“I’m sorry, Johnny. Ten…God, you were so young.” Scott debated a good long while trying to decide whether he was going to tell Johnny about his scars. He admired his brother for being able to talk so openly about his. He wanted to know Johnny better. Maybe this was an opening he shouldn’t shut down. “I got mine in prison, too,” he finally admitted.
“No shit! When were you ever in prison, a good upstandin’ citizen like yourself?”
Scott appreciated Johnny’s attempt to keep the talk about whippings on the lighter side. “I was captured during the war. I spent a year in a Confederate prison.”
“No shit! A year! Guess they whupped you regular there.”
“No, just when you didn’t obey or didn’t obey fast enough or tried to escape and got caught.”
It was a few minutes before Johnny said, “Boston, you must be one stubborn sonovabitch not to obey that many times.”
Scott chuckled ruefully. “Yes, much to my back’s misfortune.”
“Yeah, your back has mine beat by a mile.”
“True, if we discount your bullet and knife wounds. Then you would have the honors, and I would graciously concede the contest.”
“That means you’d let me win, right?”
“Right. And I bet you could tell me how you got every scar.”
“You’d win that bet.”
“I’d appreciate your discretion about my incarceration.”
“Don’t tell anyone else about my scars or about me being in prison, please.”
“Oh, okay. If that’s what you want, I can do that.”
They sunned some more. Scott could tell Johnny was thinking about his revelation. God, he hated it when people found out about his imprisonment! They never looked at him the same again.
“Is your bein’ in that prison the reason you need that extra food?” Johnny finally asked.
“Yes. Dr. Jenkins thinks I might need the extra meals for the rest of my life. Being nearly starved to death apparently took its toll on my body.”
Johnny had been hungry, very, very hungry for some days off and on throughout his teenage years until he built his reputation up to earn good wages for his gun. But to have survived a year of slowly being starved to death…he had a pretty good idea of what that might be like, and the misery must have been overwhelming. “Does Cip know?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. Frank does. He saw the scars when I unbuttoned my shirt all the way when we were plowing the field. He was one of the soldiers who liberated my camp at the end of the war. He saw what it was like, we were like, in there, but I don’t think he’s told anyone else. I think he respects my privacy.”
“Don’t know why you want to keep it a secret, though,” Johnny commented. “Every stripe on your back is a mark of courage, Boston. Someone tried to break you, yet here you are still standing, so f*** them.”
Scott was amazed at his brother’s perspective. He had never thought of his scars as anything other than vivid reminders of his capture and evidence of his humiliation by the hands of his captors. He might have to rethink that point of view in light of Johnny’s way of looking at them. “F*** them” seemed like a healthier attitude.
Johnny stretched like a cat and rolled over. “Can I ask you somethin’, Scott?”
“Sure, but I might not answer.”
“Fair enough. You said you couldn’t pay the price of livin’ in Boston. What did you mean by that?”
Scott was taken aback that Johnny remembered his off-the-cuff statement uttered so many weeks ago when Johnny was recuperating from his bullet wound.
“You really want to know?”
“Seems to me, I’d want to stay where I got everything I wanted. The Old Man called it a ‘lavish lifestyle.’”
What was Murdoch telling Johnny about his life? How did his father even know anything about his life? He had never visited Boston while Scott lived there. “You’d be bored before the month was out.”
“That what you were? Bored?”
“Tell me, Johnny, would you want to live the rest of your life in a room with one window adding up columns of numbers all day?”
Johnny grunted. “Sounds like hell to me.”
“Well, that’s what I was faced with.” Scott rolled over, too. He would have to be careful not to get sunburned, especially in sensitive places. “After the war, prison, I had to get healthy and when I finally did, it felt like I couldn’t breathe in Boston. All the people I knew there wanted me to be just like I was before I enlisted.” He took a deep breath. “But I couldn’t be. I wasn’t that person anymore. All the buildings seemed to be crowding in on me. I tried to escape with parties, drink, women. Nothing worked. When the Pinkerton agent gave me Murdoch’s invitation, I couldn’t wait to get out here. Then Teresa stopped the wagon and showed us Lancer that day we met. All I can tell you is that I could breathe for the first time in a very long time.”
“That’s why you were so quick to grab the Old Man’s offer?”
Scott nodded. “Yes, that, and my grandfather told me I’d never last more than six months out here. I intend to do everything I can to prove him wrong.”
“If you need help with that, just ask me,” Johnny volunteered.
Scott was touched by Johnny’s offer. He knew it was sincere. “I might take you up on that. I didn’t realize it would be so…hard.”
Johnny peered at him. “You talkin’ about the work or the Old Man?”
“Both, but especially Murdoch. I didn’t think he’d be so…so…hard.”
“Yeah, not such a great example of fatherly love.”
They both had a good laugh over that.
“I never knew my mother. I guess I was expecting something more…caring?…from my father. Of course, I had seen my friends’ fathers when I was growing up. Some were as strict as Grandfather, but all of them had an underlying caring, love, with their children, I could tell. I guess that’s what I was expecting. Not this…harshness. He didn’t even care enough to meet my stage. He sent Teresa, remember?”
Johnny nodded. “What happened to your mama, Scott?”
Scott turned his head away from Johnny. “She died giving birth to me. Effectively, I killed her.”
“Lo siento, hermano,” Johnny said so quietly Scott almost didn’t hear him. “But you didn’t kill her. It just happens that way for some women—somethin’ goes wrong givin’ birth.”
Scott appreciated the attempted absolution. If only Grandfather had told him something similar when he was growing up. Instead, his birthdays were always marred with the man locking himself away in his study after dinner to grieve. Scott shook himself out of his reverie. “And what happened to your mother?”
Johnny stayed silent. After a while, he said, “We’d best be gettin’ back before Wes catches us out.”
They retrieved their shirts from the branches they had hung them on to dry after their half-hearted attempts to wash the sweat stains out. They donned the rest of their clothes and headed back to the oak tree. Scott feared he had severed any connection he’d been forming with Johnny when he’d asked about his mother. Another topic on Johnny’s “forbidden to talk about” list. It kept growing. Should he try another topic?
“You planning to go into town tonight? I noticed Murdoch was keeping you on a pretty short rope since we got back from Stockton.”
Johnny grunted. “Short rope? More like chained to the wall!”
“Why is that, do you think?”
“I don’t know, but I’d rather not be able to go into town after dinner than to do all the shit jobs he’s been laying on you since Stockton.”
“What’d we do in Stockton to piss him off?” Scott wondered.
“Had fun without ’im?” Johnny ventured.
Johnny and Scott looked at each other.
“We went to the whorehouse,” Johnny said.
“We went to the brothel,” Scott said at the same time.
“No way in hell he could’ve known that!” Johnny stated emphatically.
“Maybe he had us followed. You know he has those Pinkerton connections,” Scott laughed.
Johnny didn’t. Instead, he turned more contemplative. They reached the tree and sat in its shade. “Can I ask you somethin’, Scott?”
“Can’t promise I’ll answer,” Scott repeated.
“When we were in that whorehouse…er…brothel, well, I could hear you…”
“I heard you as well. You were very…enthusiastic.”
“Yeah, well, I heard that girl you were with…”
Johnny grinned. “Well, she wasn’t so prissy, was she?”
Scott laughed a deep, heart-felt laugh. Johnny thought it was the first time he’d ever heard ol’ Boston let loose with a good laugh. It was an agreeable sound.
Johnny continued: “Well, she made these noises I ain’t never heard before and said you taught her somethin’. I’m just wonderin’ what you taught her, is all.”
Scott rested his head back on the tree trunk, still amused by Johnny’s joke. Should he tell his brother what he had taught Miss Priscilla? No, he fancied that his brother should think there was some mystery about him. “I just taught her the pleasures of her own body.”
Johnny shot him a squinty, what-does-that-mean look.
“I make sure every woman I’m with has as…’stimulating’…a time as I do, understand?”
Scott sighed. “Johnny, women can have the same…um…sexual release…as men do.”
“No way! They ain’t got the equipment!”
Scott chuckled. “Oh, yes, they do, little brother. It’s just a whole lot different from our equipment.”
“I don’t believe you! I been with my share of women, Scott, and none of them ever had one of them ‘releases.’”
“I don’t doubt that,” Scott conceded. “American women are completely ignorant of their own bodies. But there’s this special place down there that gives them…release…multiple times. I tell you, little brother, women have it all over us when it comes to enjoying sex. I merely acquainted dear Prissy with her own anatomy. She was very appreciative, I can tell you.”
“I heard,” Johnny said drolly.
“Well, if you time it just right and both of you ‘release’ at the same time, oh, brother, there’s nothing like it in this world. I take it as a sacred duty of mine to teach the women of America about the pleasures of their own bodies.”
Johnny was quiet for a while. He reckoned that was why Scott had chosen the girl who was so young. “How do you know about all this shit? Is that what they teach you at that fancy school?”
Scott laughed another hearty laugh, and Johnny didn’t know whether he should be proud he could make his usually restrained brother laugh so genuinely or be pissed off that he was laughing at him.
When Scott settled down, he said, “No, I didn’t learn it at Harvard. I had a very special teacher for that education—a Parisian courtesan.”
“A French whore.”
“Oh, why didn’t you say so. You went to France?”
“Yes, the summer I was sixteen. Grandfather took me overseas to London and Paris as a graduation gift. While we were in Paris, he gave me the present of a weekend in a bordello with a very knowledgeable courtesan. Taught me everything about the female body…and my own as well. Best present I ever got!” He smiled broadly as a few favorite memories surfaced.
“And what did your grandfather do while you were upstairs gettin’ educated?”
Scott stared at Johnny. “You know, I never even thought of that until you just said it! I have no idea.”
“Prob’ly getting’ some ‘releases’ of his own.”
A look of horror crossed Scott’s face, and Johnny started laughing.
Then Johnny looked pensively for a while. He finally got the courage to ask Scott the question. “So, you think you could teach me about all that stuff?”
“I take it you were never taught about a woman’s body?”
“Well, the first gal I was ever with—a saloon gal—just showed me where to put myself, and I’ve been doin’ it that way ever since. Never had any complaints from ‘em. So how ‘bout it?”
Scott didn’t want to think about how young Johnny had been for his first time with a woman. Then again, he wondered what Grandfather would have thought if he had known the courtesan had not been his first time. But he knew Johnny was serious, so he didn’t want to laugh or even smile at his question. “No, I think you have to find your own courtesan to teach you all that stuff.”
Johnny sighed. “I ain’t gonna find any French whores around here, Scott.”
“I’m afraid you’re right. There weren’t any in Stockton either, I can tell you.”
“What am I gonna do? I’d like to have a sacred duty to all them gals, too,” Johnny pouted.
“Maybe in San Francisco you’d find one. If we ever go there together, I promise to find a knowledgeable madame willing to teach you.”
Scott held out his hand to Johnny and Johnny shook it.
“It’s a deal,” Scott said solemnly, marveling that he was connecting with Johnny over female sexuality.
“Now all the Old Man’s gotta do is let us off this ranch,” Johnny grumbled.
“From your lips to God’s ears, brother.”
Johnny smiled. He was beginning to like it when Scott called him “brother.” “Little brother” was another story, but “brother” was kinda nice. He was beginning to like the man sitting beside him. It felt natural to have Scott next to him. He wished he’d known the man much earlier. Why hadn’t mama told him he had a brother? Why had she lied to him about everything Lancer?
Scott gave him a nudge with his shoulder and inclined his head. There was Wes and the supply wagon. They got to their feet to meet him.
Later in the week, Scott caught up with Johnny in the barn late in the afternoon. Both of them had noticed the black buggy in front of the house. Neither of them recognized it, so they decided to enter through the kitchen to give them more time to gather information rather than walk into a situation blind. They met Maria and Teresa busily getting tea and cookies together on a tray.
“Who’s here?” Johnny asked.
“Reverend and Mrs. Treadwell,” Teresa answered, clearly flustered.
Scott rolled his eyes.
Johnny noticed. “He the one you were talking about? Preachin’ about ladies’ hats?”
“And how terribly sinful they are? Yes, unfortunately.” Scott remembered his near catatonic state after that sermon. It had served him, though. When Murdoch had told him to get ready for church the following Sunday, Scott had informed him he would no longer be going to church so long as Arthur Treadwell was preaching. They had gone round it for several minutes, but even the great Murdoch Lancer had to concede that the sermon had been a ridiculous waste of time. Truth be told, Scott just didn’t want to go to church. Any faith he’d had was shaken badly by the war. Mostly it was that his life at Lancer left him exhausted by Sunday. He needed a day to himself to rest and get ready for the wearisome week ahead. Murdoch had argued that the Lancer family had to make an appearance for the valley, being that they were owners of the biggest ranch in the area. They had to appear respectable and reverential to set an example for their neighbors. Scott had questioned whether Johnny was considered a Lancer, since he didn’t go to church with them, which had set Murdoch off. Johnny did who knew what on Sundays. He’d show up as ordered at six o’clock sharp every Sunday evening for dinner, but the rest of the day he was noticeably absent. Scott was getting quite tired of the double standard between him and his brother, with his brother seeming to come out on the sweeter end every time. He’d finally stared down his irate father and calmly pointed out that Murdoch and Teresa had represented the Lancer name quite adequately for all those many years without him, and that had stunned Murdoch into silence and acquiescence. For the last three Sundays, Scott had slept in, read, and lazed about to his heart’s content. It had been heaven.
“Now, Scott, it wasn’t that bad,” Teresa scolded.
“Not if you wanted a siesta,” Scott retorted with a wink and Johnny laughed.
“I thought that’s why you went to church on Sunday—to sleep off Saturday night,” Johnny said, snatching a cookie off a plate.
“Stop, Johnny! That’s for our guests!” Teresa said, trying to catch Johnny’s hand with a swipe of her wooden spoon, but he was too quick for her.
“Are they staying for dinner?” Scott asked.
“Well, given the time, I’m sure Murdoch will ask them.”
“Then I’d better clean up before dinner.”
Johnny snorted. “Boston, you’d take a bath whether we had company or not.”
Scott swatted Johnny with his hat. “Now, a sermon on the sinfulness of uncleanliness—that would have been appropriate for the good citizens of Morro Coyo.” He took the back stairs to his bedroom.
The Treadwells had indeed stayed for dinner, which proved to be an awkward situation for them all. Nevertheless, Agatha Treadwell wasted no time getting to the point of her visit after everyone was served.
“We haven’t seen you at services, Mr. Lancer,” she said, glaring at Scott.
“No, ma’am,” Scott answered blandly, stabbing at a boiled potato.
“And pray why not?”
Because your husband spent almost an hour going on and on about women’s fashionable hats and the sinfulness of vanity, Scott wanted to say. Propriety forbade him from saying it aloud. “I prefer to exercise my religion in solitude, as Emerson suggests.”
“Who is this Emerson fellow? I’ve never heard of him.”
“Ralph Waldo Emerson is a prominent author from Massachusetts,” Scott informed her.
“Scott is from Massachusetts, Mrs. Treadwell,” Murdoch explained.
“And is this Mr. Emerson a good Christian?”
Yes and no was probably the most accurate answer, but he didn’t want to have to explain that, so he said, “He’s a transcendentalist.”
“Oh, my, that sounds downright heathen.” Agatha Treadwell made a show of pressing her hand to her heart as if to still its wild palpitations at the thought of a heathen in America.
“I assure you, ma’am, he’s no heathen.”
“Then he believes the words of the Bible?”
“Some of them,” Scott answered evasively.
“I don’t understand.”
That was expected. Scott sighed. “Emerson believes that every man should construct his own Bible with those writings that are most meaningful to him,” Scott told her. “He thought we should collect sentences from any of our readings that affect us greatly—like the blast of a trumpet.” Scott waved his fork with a bite of beef in the air for emphasis.
Agatha Treadwell looked shocked. “Well, that’s absurd. You can’t just pick and choose what you like when it comes to the Bible!”
“Why not? It’s what the Council of Rome did in the fourth century, right, Reverend?” Scott was interested in what Agatha’s husband had to say. He was surprised the man hadn’t spoken up yet.
The Reverend seemed shocked to be included in the conversation. “Ahem, what?”
“The Council of Rome that met in the fourth century to decide which books officially made it into the Bible. They voted on it,” Scott reminded him. “You didn’t study that in Seminary?”
The Reverend cleared his voice. “I must have forgotten that,” he murmured.
“No one voted as to what went into the Bible, young man,” Agatha insisted. “It’s not possible!”
“It’s indeed possible and what actually happened,” Scott pressed. “How did those books get included in that order? Who decided?”
It was clear that Mrs. Treadwell had never thought about the question. She acted as if the Bible had always been in existence, floating down from heaven centuries ago, no doubt. This seemed to puzzle her for a while and that let Scott and everyone else eat a good share of their dinners in blessed silence. Just as Murdoch opened his mouth to change the subject, Agatha said, “I’m sure the person who decided was divinely inspired.”
“No, ma’am,” Scott corrected her. “It wasn’t one person. It was decided by a democratic and quite contentious vote of bishops. Some books were included or excluded by only a couple of votes. The books that weren’t accepted are now called apocrypha, right, Reverend?” Scott again called on the man to support him.
The Reverend swallowed nervously. “As I said, I don’t recall…”
“There are more books in the Old Testament in the Catholic Bible than in the Lutheran one,” Scott said, directing his remarks to everyone at the table. Then he went back to addressing Mrs. Treadwell. “That had to be decided by a group of people—some council.”
“And how would you know all this?” Agatha challenged. “For all we know, you could be making this up.”
“My brother don’t make sh…stuff like this up, ma’am,” Johnny said quietly. He was always joking about what a waste his brother’s education was here at the ranch. Now he was getting a real close look at what that education offered. Scott knew a lot of strange shit and he sure could outtalk anyone, it seemed.
“I studied religion at Harvard; all the students did. It was part of our curriculum.”
“And Harvard is a seminary?” she asked.
Scott sighed again. “No, ma’am. It’s the oldest university in the United States, although it does have a divinity school.”
“It’s quite prestigious, Mrs. Treadwell,” Murdoch said with pride in his voice. “Scott graduated with honors.”
“Ahh.” Agatha feigned being impressed.
“I didn’t attend the divinity school, as I had no calling to the ministry,” Scott said, delighted that his father was proud of his education.
“Tis a pity you didn’t, Scott. Think of all the heathens you could have converted,” Agatha sneered. That remark prompted another uneasy silence at the table. Apparently stymied, she turned to Johnny. “And what about you, young man? Do you attend services?”
Johnny peered at her suspiciously. “No need to worry about me, ma’am,” he said as politely as he could muster.
“I assume you go to that heathen Catholic church. They worship the Pope.”
All the Lancers were stunned by the woman’s ignorance.
“Catholicism is a Christian religion, madam,” Scott informed her. “Older than Protestantism.”
“Well, I’m no Protestant, but…”
“Yes, you are,” Scott interrupted her. “You’re Baptist, I believe?”
“Yes, we’re Baptists, not Protestants.”
“Baptist is one of the Protestant religions, ma’am,” Scott patiently informed her, “along with Methodists, Presbyterians, Calvinists, and Lutherans, among others. They all basically stem from the German, Martin Luther, protesting the practices of the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century.” Scott turned to Arthur Treadwell again. “Surely, you studied the Reformation in Seminary, Reverend. It gave rise to your religion.”
Flustered, the man stammered, “Well, I suppose so…”
Scott finally realized the good Reverend was going to be of no help to him in this discussion. “In any event, the protest was against the Catholic Church, so logically Catholicism had to precede the Protestant religions, including Baptist,” he stated smugly.
“Thank you for your lessons, Scott. They are so enlightening.” The sarcasm in Agatha Treadwell’s voice was clear to all.
“They’re meant to be,” Scott said sincerely. There was no sarcasm in his voice.
“Scott…” Murdoch admonished.
Agatha turned on Johnny again. “Well, young man, do you go to your church?”
“Ma’am, as I said, you don’t need to worry about me.” Anyone else would have recognized the warning in his tone. Anyone except Agatha Treadwell.
“Rev. Treadwell and I worry about all of God’s creatures,” she said, nudging her husband.
“Yes,” he obediently replied. “Yes, we do.”
Agatha addressed Johnny again. “All you have to do is believe in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to get into heaven, young man. ‘I am the way and the truth.’ John 14.”
“Then it’s too bad for Muslims and Jews, I guess,” Scott muttered.
“Scott…” Murdoch warned again.
Agatha put her hand to her heart a second time. “My gracious, yes. They are heathens!”
Scott snorted. “So I suppose Matthew 22 applies only to other Christians, then.” Scott turned to the minister. “Do you agree, sir?”
“Matthew 22, you say? I don’t know if I recall that passage…”
Teresa caught Murdoch’s hopeless glance at her. “Why don’t we have dessert in the sitting room?” she proposed, and everyone jumped on her suggestion. Murdoch could have kissed her.
They all got up and moved to arrange themselves around the massive fireplace, while Teresa and Maria cleared the table. Scott rummaged around the bookshelves and brought out Murdoch’s family Bible. He rifled through the pages until he found the one he wanted.
“Here, Reverend. Matthew 22, verses 37 to 40. Perhaps you’d like to read them aloud so that everyone can hear.” He plunked the Bible in the minister’s lap.
Reverend Treadwell appeared as if he was going to pass out. He looked at his wife with desperation on his face.
“Oh dear,” Agatha said. “I’m afraid Arthur has forgotten his reading glasses again.” She grabbed the book from his lap. “37 to 40?”
She began to read: “And Jesus said unto him, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as yourself.’” She closed the book. “Yes, a wonderful passage.”
“Are our neighbors only other Christians? I believe all men are my neighbors, Christian or not, and I treat every man with kindness and respect,” Scott asserted. He could see the woman was desperately trying to come up with something that would refute him. He could actually tell when she had come upon her rebuttal.
“I believe the Bible tells Christians how to behave toward other Christians, Mr. Lancer. It doesn’t pertain to non-believers,” Agatha stated firmly. She squinted at him. “And what of Matthew 7:12? Do you believe in that?”
Scott didn’t miss a beat. “The Golden Rule? Yes.”
“Tis a pity you don’t practice it,” Agatha Treadwell said, peering at him piercingly, anger evident in her tone.
Scott had to give the woman credit. She was quite a match for him, better than some of his Harvard professors. He recognized that she had bested him with the Golden Rule reference and that her anger was warranted. He had treated her husband unkindly, belying his own words said only moments before. He bowed his head. “You’re right, of course. My apologies, Madam,” he said contritely. If this had been a chess match, he would have laid down his king.
Agatha Treadwell gathered her skirts and her husband as she stood. “We must be leaving, Mr. Lancer. Please thank Teresa and Maria for the delicious dinner.”
Etiquette called for Murdoch to protest some at their abrupt departure, but after the last half hour’s events, he, too, wanted them to leave quickly. Instead, he said, “I understand, Mrs. Treadwell,” and a look passed between them that ensured her that he would discipline his son. They were gone in minutes.
Teresa came in with a tray of desserts, Maria following her with a tray of cups and coffee. “Where did they go?” she asked bewildered.
Murdoch and Johnny relieved the women of the trays and set them on Murdoch’s desk.
“They had to be off, darling,” Murdoch said. “Could you give us a few minutes alone?”
Teresa nodded, and both of the women retreated back into the kitchen.
Murdoch turned on Scott. “Well, I hope you’re proud of yourself. I’ve never seen a ruder display of manners in my home. What have you got to say for yourself?”
“Say for myself?” Scott raised his voice. “It’s clear the good Reverend Treadwell has never set foot in a seminary. How could he when he doesn’t know how to read? How did he manage to get hired by the church board?”
“That’s not the point,” Murdoch bellowed. “You embarrassed guests at my house, my table! It was inexcusable!”
Scott reined in his anger and composed himself. “I’m sorry, sir, to have embarrassed you. I apologize for my behavior toward Reverend Treadwell, but I will not apologize for my behavior toward Mrs. Treadwell. I will not apologize for defending Johnny against her.”
“I don’t need no defendin’ from the likes of her from you, Boston.” Johnny’s voice was cool and flat.
Scott looked from his brother to his father. Both men were angry with him. Apologizing again to the both of them, he nodded curtly and left the room.
Murdoch slammed a fist down on his desk. “Of all the arrogant, rude, pretentious, smug…” He was running out of adjectives.
“You talkin’ ‘bout Scott or that ol’ biddy, Agatha?” Johnny drawled, hoping to defuse his father’s anger.
“Your brother! To treat guests like that at my dinner table! It was highly improper, and Scott knows it!”
“And what about her, Murdoch? Seems to me she weren’t bein’ too proper neither,” Johnny said purposefully using his worst grammar. He wanted Murdoch to get off this “proper” kick. He snatched a piece of cake and a cup of coffee off the trays.
“Well, no she wasn’t, but as a guest, she shouldn’t expect to be humiliated like that.”
Johnny tried another tactic. “Whoowhee, He was really somethin’, wasn’t he? Is that what that school taught ‘im, Old Man? Is that what a Harvard education’s all about? Cuz that was somethin’ to behold! I never saw Scott hold forth like that before. He could outpreach that preacher! Yessir, somethin’ to behold, him knowin’ all that shit,” Johnny said admiringly.
Murdoch just glowered at his younger son’s language. Yes, that was something, alright, and he knew exactly what it felt like to be on the receiving end of a superior Harvard education demonstration. Murdoch had felt the sting of it more times than he liked to admit while he’d been wooing Catherine. And now his own son was a master at cutting others down to nothing. His pride over his son’s Harvard degree had been quickly dashed by Scott’s cool and deft exposure of the Treadwell’s’ ignorance. He had wielded his accumulated knowledge like a bowie knife, precisely slicing to the heart of their woeful lack of knowledge. It had happened to him some twenty-seven years ago, and the shame of his own ignorance being brought into the light amid the Boston elite came roaring back to Murdoch full force. He felt the acute mortification arise anew. No, Scott wasn’t going to get away lightly with his breach of conduct. He’d take the wind out of that boy’s sails and more! Murdoch would have to face the Treadwell’s again next Sunday. He had no idea what to say to them except to apologize profusely for Scott’s unforgiveable behavior.
“You didn’t seem to appreciate his actions a few moments ago,” Murdoch accused Johnny.
“Nope. I don’t need no defendin’. I can fight my own battles. I’ve been dealin’ with prejudice and such my whole life. Them folks weren’t nothin’ new. I could’ve dealt with ‘em,” Johnny said confidently. “But I wouldn’t’ve done it goin’ toe to toe with ‘em on the Bible.” He shook his head in wonder. “No, I wouldn’t’ve been able to do that. That was really somethin’.” He grinned at Murdoch. “Scott is really somethin’!” He finished his dessert, and with a last swig of coffee, he bounded up the stairs, leaving Murdoch to stew alone with his unpleasant memories of Boston so long ago.
It took all of Scott’s restraint not to slam his bedroom door. He flopped down on his bed, boots and all. When had the evening gone so terribly wrong? His face flushed red with embarrassment. He knew exactly when it had gone wrong—when he’d heard the pride in his father’s voice when Murdoch said he’d graduated with honors from Harvard. From that moment on, he’d wanted to impress his father, to demonstrate to them all what that education meant. Unfortunately, it was at the expense of the Treadwell’s. Grandfather would have been inordinately proud of his display of superior intellect. That should have reined him in right there, but he wanted to show off for his father and brother and Teresa. Johnny was quick to make fun of his Harvard education, never missing an opportunity to remind him how useless it was here on the ranch. Scott had been eager to jump into a conversation that wasn’t focused on steers and watering holes.
Well, the Bible was certainly right about one thing: “Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.”* He had let his pride and vanity out in full display and now had to suffer the consequences for it. He wasn’t surprised by Murdoch’s reaction, but Johnny’s anger was unexpected. He wondered if he was going to live long enough to figure out his mercurial younger brother. When Mrs. Treadwell had turned her predatory sneer on Johnny, his only thought was to protect him. Now it was clear that he had only alienated the boy. Would he ever get anything right in this uncivilized land?
There was a knock on the door. Scott fervently hoped it wasn’t Murdoch.
Johnny poked his head in and looked at Scott’s wary face. “Just wanted to tell you, you were really somethin’ tonight, Boston, really somethin’!” He grinned and shut the door.
Scott let out a breath of relief. It seemed Johnny had forgiven him. He sighed and started to get undressed. Tomorrow was going to be atonement day.
Wait a minute…how had Murdoch known he graduated from Harvard with honors?
The following day, Scott told Cipriano he had some business to take care of, and the Segundo had simply nodded. The Patrόn’s son could do as he wished; he would not stop him. Scott was grateful for the discretion.
He rode into town shortly before nine o’clock. As he was hitching Remmie up to the cantina, he noticed Mrs. Treadwell striding down the street toward the general store. Luck was with him today! He made his way to the Reverend’s house and knocked on the door.
It was opened by Arthur Treadwell. “Scott Lancer!”
“Yes, sir. I was wondering if I could speak to you, sir.”
The Reverend ushered him inside and offered him a chair in the parlor.
“I’ve come here to offer my sincere apologies for my behavior last night. It was not my intention to cause you any discomfort, but I did. I humbly ask your forgiveness.”
“I won’t lie to you, Scott. Last night was…uncomfortable…for Agatha and me. I appreciate you coming by to apologize.”
The pastor looked down at his hands and Scott realized that forgiveness wouldn’t be forthcoming. “I’d like to make a suggestion, if you would hear it, sir.”
“I would like to offer my services, sir. Would you allow me to teach you how to read, so last night will never happen again? So you could read the good book on your own?”
Rev. Treadwell looked like he’d just been offered water after ten days in the desert. “I’d like that, Scott. I’d like to be able to read my Bible on my own.” He wrung his hands worriedly. “But my wife, though, Agatha…she might not want me to.”
“If you would pardon me, sir, why hasn’t she taught you to read?”
Treadwell’s eyes became pained. “She says she wouldn’t know how. It would take too long. She’s no teacher. She takes pleasure at reading it to me. She has a hundred reasons, it seems.”
Scott nodded, considering the preacher’s words. As was evident last night, Agatha Treadwell liked to be in charge. As long as her husband couldn’t read, he was dependent upon her. She seemed to treat him like a child. Scott was glad that his instincts had been correct—he needed to speak to Arthur away from his wife.
“Reverend, if you’ve gotten through your life this well so far hiding the fact that you can’t read, you have the native intelligence to learn how to read quickly. It’s not hard. We think seven-year-olds can master it, don’t we?” Scott smiled at him.
“I didn’t go to school, growing up in the back hills of West Virginie. My ma tried to teach me, but she couldn’t read too well herself. Any success of mine has been totally because of my wife.” Treadwell paused as if unsure whether he wanted to continue. He paused for quite some time; the emotional war within him was evident. Then it looked like he made a decision. “How long do you think it would take for me to learn?”
“With me as your teacher? Not long. Four or five hours.” Scott tried to sound modest. “Once you have the basics, you’ll advance quickly.”
“I’m not sure Agatha will allow me…”
Scott waited again. He had no desire to make trouble for this man—any more trouble than he’d already caused. Cautiously, he said, “Is there any time when she’s away from you?”
Treadwell considered, then brightened. “The Ladies’ Guild. For two hours every Sunday afternoon, she meets with the Christian women to…Good Lord, I have no idea what she and those women do!”
Scott chuckled. He was taking a liking to Arthur Treadwell. He hated giving up part of his restful Sunday, but it was for a good cause, it wouldn’t be for too long, and he had brought it upon himself. He printed out the alphabet for Treadwell to study and bade him goodbye with a promise to be back on Sunday afternoon. Then he made his way out of town and back to Cipriano’s work crew.
For some reason, Scott was eating lunch alone. He knew Johnny was down in the south pasture with Wes. He shook his head. No one else on the ranch would work with Wes except Johnny. Wes was basically lazy and he talked your ear off. Scott didn’t know where anyone else was. He looked down at his new gloves he’d ordered from Denver. They fit his hands perfectly. They were supple yet sturdy. Unfortunately, they were also yellow. He had not been informed of that when he ordered them. No matter. The point was that they wouldn’t cause blisters. It was just unfortunate that he had ordered three pairs. Now he had about an hour to wait until Johnny joined him for some surveying work.
One hour turned into two. Murdoch was livid. “What’s keeping Johnny? That job on the south gully shouldn’t have taken this long!”
“Maybe he just lost track of the time,” Scott said, trying to placate his father. “Listen, I can do that surveying without him. It’s not that rough a job.” But it would be a lot easier with two people rather than just him. “Tell him to forget it.”
“Scott, stop trying to cover for him.”
They were interrupted by Walt saying some fifty head of cattle had gotten through a hole in the fence Johnny and Wes were supposed to have mended. The animals were now stuck in the gully below. Murdoch ordered that Walt take men off the other crews to round up the steers.
“Now I know what you’re thinking, but it shouldn’t take that long…” Scott said.
Murdoch tried to curb his anger. “Try pulling nine hundred pounds of scared beef out of a sand gully. It’ll take days and most of the hands we’ve got.”
Scott tried to placate Murdoch again. “We don’t know what happened out there…”
“Scott, maybe you better start that surveying by yourself.”
Scott nodded. “Right.” He was grateful he probably wouldn’t be around when his errant brother finally came home.
Wes seemed eager to meet him when Scott rode in from his surveying.
“Me and Johnny are lighting outta here,” Wes said grinning like he’d just beaten Scott out of something precious and irreplaceable.
“For good,” Wes said smugly, and Scott found it difficult to keep from smashing that smug face with his fist.
“We’ll see,” Scott said and headed for the house. He saw Johnny come out of the front door and place his hands on the wall like he was in pain. “Johnny, Wes tells me you’re leaving.”
“That’s right, brother. Guess you own fifty percent of the ranch, huh?”
Scott could tell the effort it took his brother to sound nonchalant. He wasn’t buying it. “Don’t do it. This’ll all blow over in a couple of days. Give it a chance. I’ll talk to Murdoch, square things.” He couldn’t believe Murdoch would let Johnny walk away over fifty head of stuck cattle.
“Nah, forget that. I got a lot of places to go before they box me in,” Johnny said as Teresa ran out the door toward them. “You belong here.”
Scott stared at his brother dumbfounded. If either of them really belonged here, it was Johnny.
“Johnny, I don’t want you to go!” Teresa was crying.
“You gonna shed a tear for me?” Johnny stepped back and took some money out of his pocket. “I tell you what, I want you to go out and buy yourself a new dress. Get yourself out of those jeans. And wipe your nose, will ya?” Johnny said as he kissed the girl’s forehead.
Johnny walked past Scott and said, “Scott, I’ll see ya later” while slapping him on the stomach.
Scott couldn’t believe this was happening, wouldn’t believe this was happening. He grabbed his brother’s arm. “Johnny, think about it.” It was as close as he could come to begging the boy.
“I already have.” Johnny, free of Scott’s restraining hand, took more money out of his pocket. “You give this to the Old Man. It’s for the stallion’s halter. I’m gonna start livin’ again.”
Scott put his arm around Teresa, and they watched Johnny leave with Wes and a beautiful black stallion. Tears still ran down Teresa’s face. Then she seemed to gather herself together, wipe her face with her sleeve, and went back inside. Scott stood there minutes longer. He was losing something precious and irreplaceable. He needed to gather himself together, too, before he faced Murdoch. He was so angry that Johnny was leaving over a hole in a fence. But where did that stallion come from? He needed more information.
Twilight was fading into night by the time Scott stepped out of the bunkhouse. He’d been told the same story by several of the ranch hands. Johnny had led a herd of wild horses into the corral. A short while later, a man and several riders showed up and claimed the horses. After a discussion, El Patrόn told them they could have the mares, but Lancer was keeping the stallion. When the strangers tried to take the stallion as well, Johnny tried to stop them. One of the strangers had pulled a gun on Johnny and was shot before he could fire his gun. Scott got an earful about how impressive and fast Johnny’s draw was. It seemed to grow faster with each telling.
Scott was still unsure why Johnny thought he had to leave. What had Murdoch said to him?
He walked into the kitchen and found Teresa helping Maria make dinner. He offered to help, and soon he was cutting carrots for the stew. He asked Teresa if she had heard Johnny’s and Murdoch’s argument. Reluctantly, she said she had, at least Murdoch’s side of it. Johnny’s voice had been much softer.
“Murdoch gave him an ultimatum, pretty much Madrid or Lancer and make up your mind right now! Then Wes came in and quit, and Johnny said he’d go with him. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but they weren’t being quiet about it or anything.”
Scott finished his carrots and went over to Teresa. He gently kissed her forehead like Johnny had done a short time before. “Don’t fret over it, Teresa. I’m glad you could tell me what happened. It makes this next part easier.”
“Oh, Scott, you’re not going to leave, too, are you? I just couldn’t bear it if you left, too!”
“I’m not going anywhere.” He silently added the “yet.” He put his gloves back on, grabbed his hat, and went out to the barn. He needed a few minutes to think about how he was going to confront Murdoch, and Remmie wouldn’t mind the extra brushing.
Murdoch hadn’t lit the lamps yet in the great room. He sat brooding behind his desk. Johnny’s departure had surprised him. He would have bet the boy would have chosen life at Lancer to that of a gun for hire. What had he said that made Johnny leave? What could he have said differently?
Scott walked into the room and took off his hat, lying it on the desk instead of the hall tree. “Well, what do you plan to do?” he demanded.
So his elder son was laying it all on him, then. He had noticed his sons getting along better recently. Another reason why he thought Johnny would renounce his Madrid persona. Well, he didn’t like Scott’s tone. It reminded him of Johnny’s insolence, and he didn’t want to get into it with Scott. “After the strays are taken care of, we go over to East Mesa for surveying and there’s that wooden footbridge that was washed out last winter.”
Scott threw his gloves down by his hat in disgust. Was the Old Man trying to be funny? “You know what I mean. About Johnny.”
“He made his decision.”
“Oh, did he? Now, the way I heard it, he got some help.”
“Anyway, the matter is closed. It’s not open to further discussion.”
Oh, wasn’t it? Where did Murdoch think he could just decree what they talked about? “You don’t give at all, do you?” Scott asked, but it sounded more like a statement. “All pride and Johnny’s cut from the same mold. Not one inch of give.” He thought about his own sense of pride. Maybe being too prideful was a Lancer trait.
“You want me to go after him? Beg him to come back here?”
“Is that so bad?”
“And how long do you think it would last? If he’s willing to let go that easily, if nothing here has gotten through to him, if he hasn’t learned anything, if what he’s running to out there is so important, then let it happen. Let it happen now.” If anything, the near constant arguing with Johnny would be over, Murdoch thought.
Scott glared at his father. “He doesn’t know what he wants. This is all so new to him, and he’s tried so hard to give up his old ways. You don’t give him enough credit for that.” You don’t give him enough credit for anything, Scott thought.
“I don’t have time to coddle him—or you either. Ranching is hard work. Every day. If he can’t handle it, best he leaves now. That goes for you, too,” Murdoch said. He didn’t like to feel judged by this Easterner, who didn’t know squat about the West or ranching. Scott wasn’t in Boston anymore. Scott was on his turf now, and he ruled this land.
Scott stood there, disbelieving what he was hearing from his own father, a father who had paid a large sum of money to get him and Johnny to come to the ranch. Now that Pardee’s threat was gone, it seemed his father was no longer interested in having his sons stick around. He’d been right that first day: they were strangers to each other. Scott grabbed his hat and gloves and marched upstairs. He didn’t want to leave Lancer. He wanted to gut it out, and he thought he was making some headway into becoming a rancher. But the Old Man was making it damned difficult to stay. He threw his hat and gloves in a corner and sat down heavily on his bed. When had “Murdoch” changed into the “Old Man”? He smiled to himself. He was going to miss Johnny. Hell no! He was going to get him to come back!
Scott headed into Spanish Wells the following morning. He still hadn’t decided what he was going to say to Johnny. A hundred imagined discussions had flitted through his head last night and all had been discarded. Now time was running out. The outbuildings of the town were coming into sight. He sighed. He’d just have to wing it.
Scott stabled his horse at the livery. First, he’d look for Johnny in the saloon. If nothing else, the bartender might have seen him and know where he was.
Scott sighed a tiny sigh of relief. There was Johnny slouched in a chair, a glass of beer in his hand and a bottle of whiskey on the table beside him. That was a little early to be drinking, even for him. He straightened up when he saw Scott, but there was no welcoming smile.
“You came a long way for nothin,’ brother,” Johnny greeted him warily.
Taking off his hat, Scott said, “Then you won’t mind if I sit down for a while.”
Johnny pushed out a chair as an invitation to sit. Scott sat down, put his hat on the table, and looked around. “Yes, sir. I see what you mean. This is really a great life.” He took off his right glove so he could pour some whiskey for himself, even though it was definitely too early for him to drink.
“This place does really good at night,” Johnny explained lamely.
Scott moved a glass over and picked up the whiskey bottle. “Oh, I bet it does.”
“You get those cattle back yet?”
Johnny Madrid, master at changing the subject. “No, it’ll take a couple of days.” Scott uncorked the bottle. He could play it cool, too.
“So what did the Old Man do, let you off for good behavior?”
“He didn’t send me.” Just me, your brother, trying to bring you home. He let the weight of that statement settle in. He saw it, then, the longing. Johnny had the look that hungered for his father’s love and concern and then the look of disappointment that it hadn’t come. At least he knew he had Scott’s.
Johnny swallowed his disappointment hard. “Oh, yeah, before I forget. You know that small creek on the south side? You know where it narrows there? Well, there’s undergrowth been pilin’ up. It’s gonna dam up on you if you don’t clear it. I guess it’d take about…about a week.”
That concern told Scott all he needed to know. Johnny wasn’t ready to leave Lancer whole-heartedly. He probably felt goaded into it by that asshole, Wes. But that didn’t mean he was a hair’s breadth away from coming back. “It’d take us a lot less time if you were there to help us.”
Would Johnny take the olive branch Scott was holding out? The man just smiled. He knew what Scott was up to.
Scott quickly removed the olive branch. “Never mind. I know, forget it. You’ve got everything you want right here.” The sadness of the quiet, empty saloon seemed oppressive to Scott. He wondered if Johnny felt the same way.
“No, Scott. I got it other places.”
Scott pressed on. “Hey, it’s a funny thing. I was just riding through town. I never expected to find you here. I mean with all that talk about freedom, it’s a funny thing to find you all jammed in between these four walls.” Scott put on a mock perplexed look on his face.
Johnny looked over at Wes, who was at the only poker game in the place. At least the man had the decency to sit there and let Scott speak to him alone.
Scott finally noticed that Wes was sitting at a table behind him. He was glad the asshole was still at the table and not coming over and putting his nose into Lancer business. Scott wasn’t sure he would have gotten out of the saloon without busting the man’s face in if he’d interfered.
“Well, Wes and I, we’re gonna take off tonight,” Johnny said.
“Just, uh, just taking off,” Scott echoed.
“Yeah,” Johnny said, but his voice wasn’t quite as sure now.
Maybe he could discover where Johnny was heading. “Got any plans?” Johnny just sat there. “I said, have you…?”
“Yeah, I heard you,” Johnny interrupted. “Yeah, we’re gonna head south. There’s a range war brewin’ and, well, we heard they were hiring guns.”
So it was south to the border again, where Johnny Lancer would die and Johnny Madrid would be reborn. “Just gonna kill time…amongst other things?”
Johnny didn’t seem to appreciate his humor. “That’s right.”
It bothered Scott that Johnny wouldn’t look him in the eye. “You’ll be dead before you’re thirty,” he said disgustedly. What a waste of a life! He’d started to care for Johnny like an older brother would. Now all of that was ending, and for what? A hole in a fence!
“That comes to us all, don’t it, brother?” Johnny said philosophically.
Scott wanted to take Johnny by the lapels and shake some sense into his brother. Why did he think so little of his life that he would throw it away on some stupid range war? At least with Lancer, he wound up with a third of the property and eventually, with one half. “But when you go, you won’t even leave a small ripple,” he said harshly. Scott set the glass of cheap whiskey down. Everything had suddenly lost its taste. He put his glove back on. He knew he wasn’t staying much longer.
Johnny winced at the cruel remark, then quickly turned it into a smirk. “That it, brother? I mean, the sermon’s over, ain’t it?”
Not yet. There was one more thing to say. “It’s the only good thing that’s ever happened to you in your whole life and you’re going to get up and walk away from it. And all for nothing! But I guess that’s all you got going for you from now on.” Standing up, he put out his hand. He would miss this man. It would have been almost better if he’d never known Johnny existed. Then he wouldn’t have this weight, this ache in his chest. “It was nice to have met you, brother.”
For one awful second, he thought that Johnny wasn’t going to shake his hand, but he did, with a smile. Scott held it for a second, saying, “Good luck.” He didn’t add “You’re going to need it,” although that’s what he was thinking. Maybe Johnny heard the unsaid addition, too. Scott grabbed his hat and left.
On the ride home he replayed their interaction over and over again in his head. Could he have said anything differently? Better? He had thought about trying to get Johnny to stay out of guilt. “You said you would help me stay at least six months!” “How can you leave me alone with Murdoch?!” “We were going to go to San Francisco together!” Now he was glad he hadn’t tried that tactic. It would have only made him look pathetic and wouldn’t have made Johnny change his mind. Murdoch was right—Johnny was his own man, master of his own fate, as it were. Scott’s mere presence had told Johnny that he cared and was there for him. That was enough. It was the main message he wanted to convey to his brother. He just wished he’d extracted a promise from Johnny to somehow keep in touch, but he figured it probably wasn’t Johnny Madrid’s way to keep up a correspondence. All Scott knew was that he hated this.
He rode up to the house and Teresa ran out to meet him.
“Scott! Murdoch wants to see you!” She seemed quite agitated.
“What is it? What’s wrong?” He quickly tied Remmie to the hitching post.
“That man, the one Johnny shot? He died.”
Scott didn’t know what that had to do with them, unless the family was bringing murder charges against Johnny. That shouldn’t be a worry. There were plenty of witnesses who saw the man draw on Johnny first. It was clearly self-defense. Nevertheless, there was an air of unease around the place. He headed into the house.
Inside, Murdoch was loading a gun. He looked up at Scott. “She tell you?”
Scott wasn’t sure why his father was loading the weapons in the house, but it didn’t bode well. “Yes. I’d better go get some help.”
As he walked to the door, Murdoch said, “Scott, did you find Johnny?”
Scott turned back to his father. “Yes, I found him.”
Murdoch was heart-broken. That Johnny hadn’t returned with Scott meant that he was determined to leave Lancer for good. If Scott hadn’t been able to talk sense into the boy, none of the rest of them would be able to.
Scott remounted Remmie and took off toward the location where he knew there was a crew working, but he made it only a few yards before he heard the crack of a rifle and felt his left arm burn. The impact of the bullet threw him off his horse. He lay there stunned for a few minutes. Taking inventory, his arm hurt, he’d hit his head when he’d landed, and he was winded. All in all, not too bad. He wanted to get back inside the house, but he was afraid if he got up, the shooter might get a better aim on him. Was he going to get any help from the house, his father? Apparently not. He lay there a while longer until he realized that if they wanted him dead, they already could have easily shot him again as he lay there. He got up on unsteady feet and stumbled to the side door.
Just as he reached the door to the great room, Johnny opened it.
“Scott!” Johnny said, grabbing him. He steered him to a chair. “Come on, sit down.”
Scott was so confused and not just from the knock on his head. Where had Johnny come from? He was thrilled his brother was here, but what was going on? Who had shot him? Everyone else seemed to know more than he did. He heard Murdoch tell Teresa to get some bandages.
“What happened?” Johnny asked.
Scott couldn’t answer him except to state the obvious: Someone shot me. Before he could say anything, Murdoch stepped in.
“It’s no concern of yours,” Murdoch said.
Again, Scott was bewildered. Someone was outside shooting at them and it was no concern of Johnny’s? The hell it wasn’t!
“Look, I have a right to know!” Johnny demanded.
Scott wanted to know, too.
Teresa finally supplied the answer. “Sam Stryker’s boy died.”
“Teresa!” Murdoch scolded.
“He has a right to know,” she told Murdoch. Then she turned to Johnny. “Stryker and his men are out front just waiting for you to come back.”
And then the penny dropped for both brothers.
A raised voice came from outside. “Lancer! Now listen to me! We know he’s in there. Now send him out and the rest of you won’t get hurt. Well? What’s it gonna be?”
It only took a few seconds for Johnny to decide. He started for the door when Murdoch stopped him by grabbing his arm. “Johnny!”
“Look, it’s my responsibility,” Johnny argued. “I have a right to handle it in my own way.” He walked out the side door.
Murdoch stood there defeated. His younger son was marching out there to his death. Scott wasn’t about to leave Johnny to the mercy of the Stryker’s. He moved to the rifle rack.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Murdoch demanded.
“I’m going to help Johnny,” Scott declared. “If nothing else, create a little distraction for the Stryker’s. It’s called a diversion.”
Murdoch nodded and grabbed his rifle. They burst out of the door and opened up against the men in the corral. Scott wasn’t too sure what happened next. Johnny managed to get a hold of a man who turned out to be Stryker’s son. With a gun jabbed into the man’s neck, Johnny demanded that the Stryker gang lay down their weapons, which they did. Scott kept watch to make sure none of the others had a change of heart and tried to shoot. Then the Stryker gang was riding away, and it was all over. Murdoch walked over to Johnny and Scott sagged against the wall. He could feel the blood running down his arm. He was grateful the wound was to his left arm and not his right, otherwise he didn’t know how helpful he could have been to Johnny if he couldn’t have handled a rifle.
Murdoch was apologizing to Johnny for something. The pain and blood loss were making Scott feel a bit woozy and he found it hard to concentrate on what they were saying. They walked past him and he straightened up to follow, but his legs felt so heavy. Suddenly Johnny was there, helping him back into the great room. Teresa was holding bandages and moving toward him. They tried to sit him down, but he was adamant about going to his room.
“Johnny, you can bandage me up, can’t you?” He shot his brother a meaningful look and tilted his head toward Teresa.
Johnny got it. “Uh, yeah, I’ll do it.” He took the bandages from Teresa and told her to bring the hot water up to Scott’s room.
“I can help,” she persisted.
“Not this time, querida,” Johnny said gently. “Just let me handle it.”
Johnny closed the door to Scott’s bedroom and put the bandages on the bed.
Scott sat down heavily. His arm was really starting to pain him and he wasn’t sure the bleeding had stopped. “Thanks for doing this. I don’t want Teresa to see my back.”
“Yeah, well, she’s the go-to gal for bandaging, so I guess she’s gonna see it one of these days.”
“Not if I can help it,” Scott said, finally unbuttoning the last button and shrugging out of his shirt.
Johnny sucked in his breath a little. The bullet had come very close to being an in-and-out. “This is more than a scratch. I’m thinkin’ stitches.”
It’s not that bad,” Scott said, trying to get a good look at the crease. It was high up near his shoulder, which made it difficult to get a good look at it.
Johnny brought the washbowl over. “You got any liquor?”
Johnny found a nearly full bottle of brandy. “Didn’t know you were the type to hide booze, Boston.”
“I wasn’t until I came here,” Scott said.
The simplicity and sincerity of the statement made Johnny laugh. “Yeah, the Old Man could cause many an abstainer to give up his dry ways. I’ll be back.”
Johnny left, and Scott heard him slip into his own room. Then he heard him talking with Teresa in the hallway. He came back a few moments later with the hot water and a needle and some thread. He poured some brandy into the washbowl and threw the needle and thread into the alcohol.
“I said I didn’t need stitches,” Scott protested, mopping up the blood that was trickling down his arm with the remains of his shirt.
“And I say ya do! Or should I call Teresa in here?” Johnny handed the bottle to Scott. “Take a big swig, Boston.”
Scott did, with a sour look at Johnny for blackmailing him with the threat of Teresa seeing his scars. He’d had stitches put in him during the war. Luckily, he’d had a shot of morphine first, but he had no morphine now. Swigging the fine brandy was almost painful. It cried out to be sipped and savored. Johnny held a towel under Scott’s arm, and rinsed the wound with the water and then the brandy. Scott sucked in a deep breath, but he didn’t cry out. He wasn’t going to do that with Johnny Madrid tending him.
Johnny threaded the needle and then said, “Ready?”
Scott took another swallow of brandy. He nodded and looked away. The first piercing was always the worst. Scott didn’t know how neat the stitching was, but at least Johnny was fast, for which he was very grateful. He got his voice back as Johnny started wrapping the bandage around his arm.
“Why didn’t they kill me? They had a clear shot.”
“It was me they were out to kill,” Johnny explained. “Guess they just wanted to stop you from leavin’.”
“Well, they achieved their objective,” Scott said. These Stryker fellows were certainly an odd lot, but he was grateful they hadn’t intended to kill him. “I’m sure glad you came to your senses and came back here.”
“Hey, not too tight. You give Wes the stallion?”
“Johnny! Just tell me what happened after I left!”
So Johnny did. He told him about Wes and how he tried to tame the stallion but only got it more riled up instead, so much so that the horse killed him. Kicked him in the head and then the chest. He told him about breaking the horse and then selling him to the livery owner and heading back to Lancer. But he didn’t tell Scott about the watch. That was something just between him and the Old Man.
Scott was shocked about Wes. He hadn’t liked him all that much, but he didn’t want the man dead. “I’m sorry to hear that Wes is dead, Johnny. I’m sorry you lost a friend.”
“Yeah? I always got the impression you didn’t care much for ‘im.”
“Well, I can say I didn’t care too much for his work ethic, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a good friend to you.”
Johnny just nodded.
“How did you meet him?”
“I was hired by a small ranch down in Texas, near El Paso. Some big dog was tryin’ to squeeze out the owner—get ‘im to turn over his land very cheaply or run ‘im off.”
“And you convinced the big dog otherwise.”
“Somethin’ like that. Made ‘im believe it was better for his health to leave the rancher alone.”
“I bet you did.”
“Anyway, Wes was there kinda on the fringes of things, but there. Afterwards, I stuck around to make sure Big Dog didn’t come back after he thought I was gone. I stayed outta sight, and Wes just kinda fell in with me then. We spent a couple of months together raisin’ a little Cain and then parted ways when I went south into Mexico. He didn’t want to cross the border. I couldn’t blame him; gringo like him would’ve stood out too much.”
“I thought I detected a bit of hero worship on his part in your relationship with him.”
“Hero worship?” Johnny blushed. “Naw…”
“Help me into my nightshirt? I don’t want to take any chances on Murdoch or Teresa seeing my back.”
“Don’t know why you wear this thing,” Johnny groused as he helped his brother undress and then get in the nightshirt.
“I don’t when it’s hot. Now that it’s Fall, I like the extra layer of warmth and, of course, it keeps my back covered.”
“Uh huh. Doesn’t it get all twisted ‘round and bindin’?”
“I don’t think I move around in my sleep as much as you do.” Scott had never seen anybody move around in his sleep as much as Johnny did.
Johnny started to clean up the washbowl and gather up the medical supplies, but Scott was in the mood to talk. He didn’t get the chance to really talk with his brother all that often. “Do you mind if we talk a bit, Johnny? What just happened…I’m still not sure what went on out there.”
Johnny sat beside him on the bed. “What’s on your mind, Boston?”
“Well, first of all, I hope that when I heard Murdoch apologizing to you, he was doing so for getting so upset at you about a hole in the fence that you felt you had to leave.”
Johnny shifted uneasily. “Not exactly…”
“Then what?” Scott asked frustrated. Why did he have to drag things out of Johnny? “I feel like I’ve been on the tail end or outside of things for the past two days.” He stared at Johnny, silently demanding an explanation. “And I just got shot for something I didn’t even know about!” He wasn’t above using a little guilt to get his brother to talk.
Johnny looked down and put his arms around his chest. “After I heard the gunshot, I figured I should come in the back way—see what was goin’ on. Teresa and the Old Man were there and he said some things…”
“What things?” Again, Johnny felt reluctant to say anything to Scott’s consternation. “Don’t make me pry it out of Teresa.”
Johnny sighed. “Just that I was what was wrong here and he didn’t want me around no more and good riddance and be quick about it. Stuff like that.”
Scott was appalled. How could Murdoch be so callous, so cruel? “I can’t believe he said that to you!” But maybe he could. Maybe Murdoch was just waiting to say the same things to him.
“Yeah, well, he apologized and said he just said them things to get me to leave until the Stryker’s left.”
“It was a shitty way to do it.”
“You swearin’ now, Scott? Didn’t know you had it in you.” Johnny smiled at him.
“You know better than that—after the army…and Libby.” Scott waited a few beats and said, “Are you thinking of leaving again?”
“Because I’d go with you. We could start that horse ranch if you wanted. You’ve got such a way with horses, and I could handle all the business end of it—the sales, contracts, bookkeeping. We’d make a great partnership. I’ll match your thousand dollars and we could get us a real good spread.”
Johnny was touched by Scott’s offer. It was his dream to own a horse ranch. When he’d brought the idea of breaking horses to Murdoch, the Old Man had shot it down immediately. Lancer was a cattle ranch and would remain so. Scott had tried to back him up, telling the Old Man they should do something called “diversify,” but Murdoch wouldn’t budge. The Old Man was certainly set in his ways about things. But his dreams would have to wait. “Uh, Scott, about that thousand dollars…I don’t have it all.”
“What happened to it?”
“Well, some I spent on the usual stuff—drinkin’ and gamblin’ and such—and I gave half of it away.”
Scott was stunned. “To whom?”
Johnny blushed furiously. “To the padre…for the orphanage.”
To Johnny’s surprise, Scott laughed. “Johnny, that’s wonderful! You never cease to amaze me! When did you do that?”
“Right after we signed that contract. I figured I didn’t need that kind of money since I had a roof over my head and regular meals. So, you see, we can’t buy the kind of place you were describin’.”
Scott grinned. “Sure we can. Anything you want, we can get. Johnny, we don’t need your money, any of it. I’ve got so much I don’t even know what to with it all.”
Scott was rich? No wonder he hadn’t rushed over to collect his “listening money” that first day. “It wouldn’t seem right to me, usin’ just your money…”
Scott considered for a few seconds. “Then I tell you what. Whatever you put down, I’ll match it. That makes us equal partners. Then the rest of it we’ll consider a loan. That make you feel better?”
For one sweet minute, Johnny imagined that his dream might come true. And Scott would be a much more reliable partner than Wes would ever have been. Still, it seemed too good to be true. “What about Lancer, Scott? I said it before—you belong here.”
Scott snorted. “I didn’t believe you then and I don’t believe you now. After you left that night, Murdoch was brooding pretty heavily. I tried to talk to him, but I got the sense that, between the two of us, he rather wished I was the one who’d walked away. That got me to thinking. Maybe that’s why he’s been coming down so hard on me after the cattle drive. He’s trying to push me away, trying to get me to go back to Boston and make me think it was my idea.”
Johnny didn’t think that was what Murdoch was doing. He thought the Old Man was just a mean son of a bitch. Still, it was a possibility. However, now that he was back, he didn’t want Scott to leave. “Is that what you’d do? Go back to Boston?”
“No.” He smiled. “I wouldn’t give Grandfather the satisfaction. But there are other places to go, other things to do.”
Johnny couldn’t imagine what Scott was talking about. Johnny was pretty much a gun for hire and that was it. It was what he and Wes were going to do to earn money. Who knows when they’d ever save enough to start a horse ranch, what with their drinking and appetite for women? Yet that’s what they had told each other. They were gonna be big time horse ranchers with a spread that would rival Lancer. Johnny shook his head. What a pipe dream! They’d probably have wasted every extra centavo they made. “Like what? Where’d you go? What could you do?”
“Anywhere and anything, brother! Don’t you know I’ve got a golden ticket? And thank you very much, Grandfather, for that!”
“My Harvard degree. It opens all doors and all opportunities.”
Except ranching, Johnny thought.
“I can go anywhere in America, well, maybe not the South yet, and half of Europe,” Scott continued. “I’m young, rich, educated, and know how to say the right things to the right people. Yes, sir, the world is my oyster.”
Johnny didn’t know what Scott meant about the world being his oyster. All he knew were prairie oysters, and he knew Scott wasn’t talking about a calf’s fried nuts. But he did believe Scott could go a lot of places and be successful. He just had that smooth way about him. Men seemed to trust him right off and women…he could have his way with the prettiest of the bunch. “And you still want to be a horse rancher with me?”
Scott sobered immediately. “Yes, Johnny, I do. We both love horses. I think we could do it and enjoy ourselves doing it.”
Johnny let out a short laugh. “Well, we’re sure not enjoying ourselves here, huh?”
“No, not for the most part. Although I do enjoy some aspects of it. The people here and the land is spectacular. Teresa is sweet and Maria’s cooking is spoiling me.” He had an idea. “Hey, I bet we could persuade your aunt and uncle to come with us!”
Johnny hadn’t considered luring Cipriano and Maria away from Lancer. It was an intriguing thought, though. Maria seemed to dote on him like he was her son. He even called her “Mamacita” and she liked it. That would also mean that some of his cousins might come with them as well, and Eduardo was also very good with horses…
Johnny looked at his brother’s face, which was shiny with excitement. He felt the excitement, too. Could the realization of his dream really be this close? What was stopping him from jumping on Scott’s offer? With a surprise, he realized that it was Murdoch. It was those moments he’d had with the Old Man that had given a glimpse of what might be a possible relationship with his father. And, another surprise, he realized he really wanted that, had wanted that almost all of his life. He’d had a couple of father substitutes in his life, but they weren’t the same. They weren’t tied to him by blood. Murdoch was.
Johnny arose from the bed. “Tell you what, Boston, I’ll think on it a while. Meanwhile, you might want to look at those Pinkerton reports on me to see if you really want me as a partner.”
“Yeah. They’re locked in the bottom drawer of Murdoch’s desk.”
“And you’ve read them, of course.” Scott stated. He didn’t bother to ask how Johnny had gotten his hands on them. “Is there one on me?”
Johnny laughed. “Yeah, if you want to call it that.”
“Well, it’s only a page. Got where you went to school and the dates of your army service. Nothing much besides that.”
“Libby? Does it say I was at Libby?” Had all his worry about Murdoch finding out about his incarceration been for nothing? He took another swig of brandy.
“No, that’s not in there, just when you started and ended and your promotion and medals. Really that was pretty much all. Either you’ve led an extremely boring life or Murdoch didn’t get his money’s worth.”
“Both, I think.” Scott shook his head. He’d never thought his life was boring, not until the very end of his stay in Boston. It had been filled with trips and outings, summers with his aunts from his mother’s side at their summer cottages and everything else that happened with young boys: scraped knees, schoolyard fights, and his own pony. Of course, Grandfather had been strict about his lessons, etiquette, and such, but he had led a very privileged and carefree life until the war. A thought occurred to him. “It said I graduated with honors from Harvard, didn’t it?”
“Yep. Pretty sure that was there.”
So that’s how Murdoch knew that little piece of information to pass along to the Treadwell’s. Scott felt as if he’d been spied on. Well, he had, hadn’t he? Why else was there a Pinkerton agent outside Barbara’s house that night he’d been offered Murdoch’s thousand dollars? On the train westward he had wondered how the agent had found him there in that unusual place. There wasn’t any answer except that he’d been followed since he’d left the house that night.
“I don’t need to read any Pinkerton report on you, brother.”
“Yeah?” Johnny said as he moved toward the door. “You might like it; it’s as thick as one of them books you like to read. Makes for fanciful readin’, too.”
“I have all I need to know about you.” And he did. Five hundred dollars donated to the orphanage said it all to Scott, especially when the man had been poor his whole life. Johnny’s thousand dollars must have seemed like a fortune to him, yet he gave it away to those less fortunate children.
“You’d really leave Lancer?” Johnny asked.
Scott nodded drowsily. “Do you remember what Murdoch said that first day? How he wanted our arms and legs…”
“And guts?” Johnny finished. “Yeah, I remember.”
“But he never said he wanted our minds, Johnny,” Scott said sadly. “He doesn’t want our minds…or our hearts.” He took another slug of brandy. “He doesn’t want our hearts, brother.”
Johnny heard the pain in Scott’s voice and didn’t know whether it came from what he was saying or from the wound in his arm. Probably both. He wrested the bottle from his brother; it was nearly empty.
Scott was fading fast. Johnny helped him get under the covers. Ol’ Boston sure was a thinker. He thought a lot about everything. But once he told you what he was thinking about, you sorta started thinking about it, too. Being partners of a horse ranch. That would really be something. As he stepped into the hallway and closed the door behind him, Johnny heard his brother’s “Thanks, Johnny…for everything.” He smiled.
Murdoch came into Scott’s room to assess his son’s condition. Scott roused himself enough to sit up a little in bed. He was surprised to see it was twilight outside.
“How are you feeling, Scott?”
“A little sore. I’ll be alright.”
“Alright enough to join us for dinner?”
Even after sleeping the bulk of the afternoon away, Scott felt unsteady. It must have been the brandy. He definitely didn’t feel sharp enough to dine downstairs and maintain any kind of pretense that his arm wasn’t hurting like a sonovabitch. “I think I’ll pass on dinner downstairs, sir.”
“I’ll have Teresa bring up some supper for you, then.”
“I’m not very hungry.”
“A little soup then.” Murdoch put his hand on Scott’s forehead before Scott could fend him off. “You’re a little warm.”
“I am susceptible to fevers.”
“On account of the war?” Murdoch asked sarcastically.
“Yes, sir,” Scott answered seriously. “Any kind of malady going around, I’ll catch it and have it twice as bad. But I get through it somehow.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Murdoch said, this time sincerely. What the hell happened to this boy during the war that made him so “susceptible” to everything? Maybe it was because of the malaria.
Murdoch started to leave but turned back when Scott said, “You need to talk to Johnny.”
“Talk to Johnny? Why?”
“Why? He told me what you said to him! It was cruel and uncalled for. You’re going to make him leave again, if he hasn’t already. Have you seen him lately? Is he still here?” Scott’s voice was almost panicky.
“Yes. I just left him sitting in the great room.”
Scott sighed in relief. “Good. That’s good.”
“I’ve already apologized for what I said to him. He knows I didn’t mean it, that I was only trying to keep him away from the Stryker’s.”
“Does he?” Scott looked at Murdoch’s perplexed face and knew he hadn’t conveyed what he meant clearly. “Look, he probably did hear you with his head, but he doesn’t believe it with his heart.”
Murdoch wasn’t sure what Scott was getting at. “Well, what am I supposed to do about that? I told him I was sorry; I explained why I said those things to him. There’s nothing more I can say.”
Now Scott sighed in frustration. “He still doesn’t believe you want him here. You need to convince him with more than words.”
“What? You want me to hug him or something?” It was clear the thought of that was foreign and faintly repugnant to Murdoch.
“Just…just spend some time with him. Away from here if you can. Spend some time with him and get to know him. Get to know Johnny without talking about the ranch. Talk to him about him—how you want him to stay.”
“I’ve already talked to him when he was laid up with that bullet in his back,” Murdoch defended himself.
Scott stared at him incredulously. Was there a time limit on talking with your child? Did Murdoch think he’d already exceeded that limit? “Talk to him some more,” he ground out through clenched teeth.
“You really think he’s still thinking about leaving?”
“I’d put money on it. And if he leaves again, I’m going with him.”
Murdoch was stunned at the thought that Johnny was thinking of leaving again. He patted Scott’s head absent-mindedly and said, “Get some rest.” He wandered out the door deep in thought.
Scott prayed he had gotten through to him.
It took Johnny by complete surprise when Murdoch rode up to his worksite and suggested they play hooky that afternoon. Johnny wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth, so to speak.
As they rode to Black Mesa, Murdoch again apologized for his words the day before. Johnny was stunned: two apologies in two days. That was something for a man who said he didn’t apologize. Johnny appreciated that. Was this little sojourn out to Black Mesa out of guilt on the Old Man’s part or could it be he just wanted some time alone with him? Johnny decided not to think too much on it and just enjoy it. The Old Man could be pretty good company when he stopped being the boss man and was just a man.
“Who’s Angus?” Johnny asked after they had put the mess with the Stryker’s to rest.
“Sure is a peculiar name.”
“Not in Scotland,” Murdoch said. “I should show you where that is on the globe when we get home.”
Home. That word sounded so sweet to Johnny. “Scott already showed me,” he said, catching the brief look of disappointment on Murdoch’s face.
“Is your father dead now or do I have an abuelo there?”
Murdoch nodded. “Yes, he died. I received news of it shortly after arriving in California. Why?”
“The watch you gave me was given to him.”
“Yes, it was my Grandfather Murdoch’s watch. My father gave it to me when I left for America.”
Johnny’s chest tightened. He was so thankful he had gotten that watch back. It was the first thing Murdoch had ever given him, and he had given him a cherished keepsake. There was a history there, a history he entrusted to him to keep safe and keep going. Ties were being made; bonds were being formed. It had been the right decision to return to Lancer. Still…
“Maybe you should give it to Scott, him bein’ first born and all.”
“I gave it to the right son.”
“Boston would probably keep it safer,” Johnny laughed a little. “Cleaner, too.”
“I know you’ll do right by it. It was the right decision.”
They rode on quite a ways in silence.
“You don’t like Scott much, do you?”
Murdoch shifted uneasily in his saddle for a bit. “I like him well enough.”
Johnny was taken aback. What did it mean to be liked “well enough” by your own father? “That’s not much, as far as I figure.”
“How am I supposed to get to know him when he goes upstairs after dinner every night?” Murdoch said defensively.
“And whose fault is that?” Johnny challenged. “You drive him away.”
“I do not. It’s because he hasn’t gotten used to the workload around here. He’s too tired after dinner, so he goes to bed.”
Johnny just let out a short laugh and shook his head at the man’s ignorance.
“Anyway, he’s got a lot to learn,” Murdoch continued. “He’s not in Boston anymore, living in all that wealth, surrounded by servants to cater to his every whim. I already make more allowances with him than I do with anyone else: extra food, extra breaks from work.”
“He’s gettin’ stronger. He can work for longer before he takes one of them breaks now,” Johnny defended. “He’s tryin’ real hard.”
“Perhaps he’s not cut out for ranching. Not all men are. I know he’s taken with Lancer, but I won’t coddle him the way his grandfather did,” Murdoch was saying. “He needs to get rid of his Eastern ways.”
Johnny didn’t know what “Eastern ways” were, but he didn’t figure that cleaning out pig sties and outhouses and plowing fields were the way to get rid of them somehow. He was confused as to how those chores got rid of anything; however, the thought of being raised by one’s grandfather intrigued him, and a rich grandfather was even more intriguing. He wished he had known any of his extended family, but mama said they were all dead. Now that he knew she had lied about his father, he wondered if she had lied to him about that, too. “You know his grandfather?”
“Yes, of course, when I was courting Scott’s mother. I know more than I want to know about Harlan Garrett.” The disgust at saying the man’s name was evident. “He spoiled Scott, and I aim to undo it.”
It never once had crossed Johnny’s mind that Scott was spoiled, even on that first day. A fish out of water, definitely, but not spoiled. His brother pitched in with the fire that day and got right to it along with everyone else working at the ranch. He didn’t back down from that fight in Baldemero’s store, either. He didn’t think spoiled people took on three banditos by themselves.
“Yeah, well, nobody’s gonna say you’re spoilin’ Scott, that’s for sure,” Johnny said sarcastically. He wondered what Murdoch would think if he found out that Scott had survived a year in a prison being whipped and nearly starved to death. That would bring a quick end to all this talk about Scott being coddled and spoiled all his life, but he had promised Scott that he wouldn’t say anything about that, and he would honor that promise.
Murdoch was going to argue with Johnny, but they’d reached Black Mesa, and they started to map out their strategy for finding the horses instead.
It had been an exhilarating afternoon. They had found a small herd and chased after them. Murdoch had snared the lead stallion with an impressive throw of his lariat, but the clever horse had shaken free of the rope before the Old Man could tighten it. Johnny had also roped in the stallion later, but the memories from Wes’ death seemed to overwhelm him, and he had let the horse go. Murdoch hadn’t argued with him about it. Instead he said something about fishing—catch and release—and nothing more. They shared some food Murdoch had brought and then decided to head back to the estancia.
“I’m glad we had this chance to talk,” Murdoch said.
“Me too, Old Man.” Johnny wondered if his father liked Scott “well enough” to take him off for an afternoon of just hanging around together. No, Johnny couldn’t see Murdoch doing anything like that with Scott. No wonder his brother was eager to begin a horse ranch with him. Murdoch needed to change his ways with Scott. But get the Old Man to change his ways when he was so set in them? That seemed an impossible task. Yet Scott had come for him after he’d left Lancer. Now it was time for him to fight for Scott. “Now you need to talk to Scott.”
“’Cause he’s gonna leave.”
Murdoch made a dismissive sound. “Scott’s not going anywhere,” he stated with assurance. Despite Scott telling him he would leave if Johnny left, Murdoch hadn’t taken him seriously. As long as Johnny stayed, Scott wasn’t going anywhere.
Now Johnny made the dismissive sound. “He’s got one whole leg outside the door already.”
“Did he say something to you?” Murdoch asked.
They rode a ways in silence. Then Murdoch shook his head. “No, Johnny. I don’t see Scott going back to Boston,” he said firmly. “He loves this land too much.”
“Who said back to Boston?”
“Where else would he go?”
Johnny thought back on their conversation, on Scott’s golden ticket. His brother was tall and handsome, blond and blue-eyed. He was real polite and mannerly and had a confident way about him. People liked and respected him right off. He had that way of talking, real refined like. He could outthink and outtalk ‘most anybody Johnny ever knew. He had a degree from Harvard, which was something like sitting on a gold mine to people who cared about that sort of thing. And he was f***ing rich. Yeah, ol’ Boston could go anywhere he wanted, do anything he wanted, and make a success of it. Johnny envied him for that. Yet he’d said he’d build that horse ranch with him. That surely was a revelation. He brought his mind back to Murdoch’s question. “Where else? Anywhere, so long as it’s away from you.”
That brought the Old Man up short. A look of pain crossed his face, and Johnny was glad of it. Murdoch needed to know how serious this matter was, otherwise, nothing would change.
They rode a ways in silence again.
“I guess I have been pretty hard on your brother,” Murdoch reluctantly admitted.
Johnny gave out a derisive snort. “Some. And not just Scott.” He gave Murdoch a meaningful smirk, which Murdoch grumpily acknowledged. Johnny’s smirk vanished. “He’s thinkin’ you just brought ‘im out here for his military training against Pardee and now that you got a real good look at ‘im, you don’t like what you see and you’re tryin’ to make ‘im leave. You know, so he thinks it’s his idea to go and not yours.”
Murdoch couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He was completely bewildered. How could Scott be thinking these things? He had never been anything but straightforward and truthful with his first-born. He searched for a response. “I don’t want him to leave” was all he could say.
“Well, you better tell him that right quick.”
“I just never know what to say to him, and when I do say anything, he takes it all wrong.”
Johnny sighed. Murdoch was always quick to defend himself, to preserve his delusion that he was never wrong. “He’s a smart man, a good man. He’ll do his best to understand. I ain’t never seen you try to talk to ‘im. You only talk at ‘im.”
Murdoch considered Johnny’s words; they were true. “I know he’s a good man.” He thought back to his conversation with Cipriano. His Segundo had told him what Scott had done after Pardee’s raid was over, what Scott had done for Cal Manning and Isabella Ramirez. “Cipriano told me he divvied up his thousand dollars among the hands who survived Pardee’s attack. Did he tell you that?”
“No.” Johnny let that news sink in. He smiled to himself. Yes, that was something Scott Lancer would do. Why not give that money away to men who’d earned it, who would value it more than Scott? No wonder his tio had such high regard for the man. No wonder that core group of ranch hands treated Scott like he was one of them. No wonder they wouldn’t let anyone play a trick on him or treat him disrespectfully. “He taught that preacher fella how to read,” Johnny said, not to be outdone. “Did you know that?”
“No.” Murdoch shook his head in wonderment. “How do you know that?”
“Followed ‘im. I was curious as to where he was goin’ on Sunday afternoons.” Johnny grinned at his father. “Took me a hell of a long time to find ‘im at the preacher’s house. It wasn’t even on my list of places I thought he’d be.”
Murdoch chuckled. “Was Agatha there?” He couldn’t imagine the woman would deign to let Scott teach her husband how to read.
“Didn’t see hide nor hair of her. I just peeked through the parlor window and there they both were, lookin’ over some book and Scott erasin’ and then writin’ on a slate. It wasn’t hard to figure out what he was up to.”
Murdoch’s smile turned into a grimace, remembering the tongue lashing he’d given Scott a couple of Sundays after the unfortunate dinner at Lancer. Agatha Treadwell had caught him after services and told him Scott had not yet apologized. Red with anger, Murdoch had called Scott into the great room when he’d returned home and lit into him. Scott had listened to his ranting quietly and then informed him that he had no intention of apologizing again to Mrs. Treadwell, since he had done so that night. When Murdoch had inquired about him apologizing to Reverend Treadwell, Scott had inscrutably told him to ask the minister himself and not his wife. That had infuriated him further, but Scott had simply excused himself, saying he had an appointment. He knew now it was to go into town and give the Reverend a reading lesson. What an ass he’d made of himself in Scott’s eyes! Damn the boy! Why did he have to be so clandestine?
“Why doesn’t he tell us these things?” Murdoch said, as much to himself as to Johnny.
“That’s not Boston’s style,” Johnny said. “He don’t tell his good deeds to nobody. Besides, he don’t trust us. Yet. I’m gonna be working on that, I think.” He hoped Murdoch would echo his thoughts, but he didn’t.
When Murdoch didn’t say anything, Johnny pressed on. “Yep, ol’ Boston’s a good man. I’m proud to be his brother.” It was as if saying it aloud made it real for Johnny. Scott Lancer was a good man, one of the best he’d ever known. Right up there with Val Crawford. Maybe a little better, since Val was known to snooker a guy or three, which he didn’t think Boston would ever do. When he’d been younger, he’d fantasized about having an older brother who would care about him and keep him from harm, especially after mama died. Now, as luck would have it, he’d been given one better than his imagination could ever have dreamed up. He was proud to be Scott’s brother. He had a brother!
“Yes, yes, Scott’s a good man,” Murdoch was muttering.
“So see that he stays, ‘cause if he goes, I go.” Johnny stared hard at the Old Man to let him know he hadn’t made an idle threat.
Murdoch gave him a curt nod of understanding. Scott had said the same thing to him. Now if he lost either one of them, he would lose them both.
Johnny gave a whoop and spurred Barranca into a full gallop. Murdoch watched his younger son race with the wind. Ulysses wanted to join Barranca, but Murdoch reined him in. Despite wanting to let go and join Johnny in wild abandon, he knew he had some serious thinking to do about his elder son. He needed a slow ride home to think about what Johnny had said.
Murdoch opened Scott’s door and he could tell by the look on his son’s face that Scott was surprised to see him. Now that Johnny had told him what was going on in that blond head, Murdoch was able to see the signs more clearly. Even with his fever, Scott was skittish and ready to bolt from the bed.
Murdoch took the dinner tray off Scott’s lap. “How are you feeling?”
Scott looked at him guardedly. “I’m fine, sir.”
There it was—the inevitable “sir” that Scott used to keep him at bay and that stirred up so many miserable memories for him. Murdoch was determined to ignore it. Tonight, he wasn’t going to allow it to build the usual wall between them.
Even flushed with the slight fever, Scott resembled his mother. He hadn’t expected his sons to take after their mothers so much. It had startled him when they’d first walked through the door, so much so that what he had planned to say completely left his brain, and he’d spouted all sorts of nonsense at them. It had been a miracle that they both hadn’t turned around right then and there and marched out the way they came in, the thousand dollars be damned. They resembled their mothers in other ways, too. Scott was calm and thoughtful, Johnny fiery and impulsive. Murdoch inspected the angular planes of his first-born son’s face, the son who was so cruelly stolen from him and kept from him, and it came to him what the problem was.
He was the problem. He hadn’t expected his own painful memories of Boston resurfacing with such a vengeance by Scott’s presence. He hadn’t been prepared for the possibility that his son would be such a vivid reminder of the difficulties and scorn he had contended with when he got off the boat from Inverness. He had learned to shed his Scottish burr, overcome his naiveté and poverty, but all that was nothing compared to dealing with the prejudice and disdain he encountered with Catherine’s family and friends. He could stand up to brutal frontal assaults, but Catherine’s circle was much more subtle, cunning, and devastating. In their own way, they had been more hurtful than the harbor denizens who preyed upon the freshly arrived immigrants. That he had survived their schemes against him was due only to Catherine’s steadfast love and faith in him. She had refused to believe the vicious rumors and innuendo spread about him. She had elegantly and cleverly extracted him from the situations devised to make a fool out of him or worse. They had managed to marry against her parents’ wishes and go west to start to live their dream. His beloved Catherine! He still missed her so after a quarter of a century.
It wasn’t Scott’s fault that Murdoch had never held his baby boy, nurtured him, bonded with him like he had with Johnny. At least with Johnny, he’d had two full years of fatherhood. He had relived those two wonderful years over and over again in the intervening years of loneliness. He could still see the toddler in the man. Scott was a complete unknown. The few, precious seconds he’d had with his son at five years of age had shown only a happy and well-cared-for boy. But what boy wouldn’t have looked happy chasing balloons at age five? One of the reasons he’d left Scott with Garrett had been the knowledge he would lack for nothing and receive the best of everything, including the best education. And he had been right—Scott was every bit the refined and well-bred Bostonian gentleman, raised in his grandfather’s image. And what did he expect after the boy had spent his entire life in Garrett’s mansion? And now he was being punished for it by his father, a father who had never claimed him. What must Scott think of him! Yes, it was time to stop laying all his bad memories and insecurities of Boston at the feet of this boy, his son. Time to put all those ghosts to rest. Hadn’t he himself said that they should keep the past in the past and focus on the here and now? Yet he was the one who was consumed by the past. He was the one who kept dragging the past to every encounter with Scott and letting it color his interactions with him. It was time to know about this son, really know him, and for his son to know him.
He put the tray down on the desk. “Son, do you mind if we talk?” he asked, pulling up a chair to the side of the bed.
Scott looked at him warily. Murdoch had called him “son.” He couldn’t remember the last time he’d done that, if ever. He realized he was a captive audience, neatly tucked under the covers. He could say “no,” but there wasn’t a good reason to. What was Murdoch going to yell at him for now? What could he possibly have done wrong just lying here in bed? He hadn’t done any work today, but he had a fever from a gunshot wound. Was that not a good enough excuse?
Murdoch saw the look of anxiety that crossed Scott’s face. Johnny was right: Scott was halfway out the door. Murdoch felt a surge of panic. He tamped it down, steadied himself, and smiled at his son. “I don’t think I’ve told you how I met your mother.”
Scott smiled back.
*Proverbs 16:18 KJV
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