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After The Pirates by RonD

Every Lancer author has to have a WHN to The High Riders, right? This is mine. I hope you all enjoy it.

Word count: 23, 320

Scott Lancer carried his unconscious brother through the kitchen doorway. A man was laid out on the kitchen table, bloody cloths next to him. Maria, the cook, hovered over him. A hand on his back directed him to the great room. There was a cloth draped over the dining room table. Murdoch lifted Johnny off his shoulder, and between the two of them, they managed to get Johnny on his stomach. Murdoch immediately went to work, as Teresa brought water and bandages into the room.

Murdoch started issuing orders, and Scott found himself being pushed farther and farther back until it was clear to him that his help was no longer needed. As concerned as he was about his brother, he didn’t want to just stand around while his father worked to get the bullet out of Johnny’s back. Finally, he turned away and walked outside. Maybe he could be of some use to the remaining hands.

Finding his father’s “Segundo,” he asked for an assessment of the situation.

“Three dead and three wounded, although the other two are not as bad as Cal,” Cipriano reported. Scott assumed Cal was the man on the kitchen table.

“Is there a doctor around here?” At Cipriano’s nod, Scott asked, “Has anyone gone for the doctor?”

Sí, Señor, but it will take some time for him to get here.”

“What about the enemy?” It came so naturally for Scott to ask that, for Lieutenant Lancer to emerge and want to take charge. Well, Scott thought, unconventional as it was, the raid had been a war, a range war, and weren’t all wars basically the same? Kill the enemy.

“We take care of our own first, Señor.”

“Of course, Mister Cipriano. I’ll hitch a wagon. When I’m done, can you spare a couple of men?”

Sí, Señor, when you are ready.”

Scott reloaded his rifle and went to ready the wagon. Being a calvary officer meant he had not been present when the burial parties came to bury the dead on the battlefields; he would already have moved on with his unit. But he knew what was involved, and someone would have to do it. It might as well be him.

“And if we find some still alive?” Scott asked Cipriano. Shots were heard in the distance. Cipriano nodded his head toward the sound. Scott wasn’t happy with the “take no prisoners” stance, but he understood it. He would have to take it case by case.

They started nearest the house and worked their way out in a wider and wider spiral. Scott made sure the first body that was loaded into the wagon was Pardee’s. It had given him a small measure of satisfaction that the man had died by his bullet. He had been fairly certain it had been Pardee’s bullet that had hit Johnny. They found two of Pardee’s men with only leg wounds trying to hide out in a copse of trees. Their wounds were relatively minor, and Scott told them at gunpoint to climb into the wagon with the corpses. He couldn’t find it in his heart to kill them. He would let the law do that. From then on, the captives were placed with the dead in the back of the wagon.

Two riders approached, and Scott had his rifle out in seconds. Frank lowered his gun. “They’re ours,” he said. Each was dragging a corpse behind him. Scott blanched. Images from the war were starting to overwhelm him. He fought down the bile in his throat. The ranch hands tossed them in the back of the wagon, and Scott told them to go back to the ranch and help with repairs there. He couldn’t take their look of glee as they rode up with their kills.

Scott returned hours later with fourteen dead men in the wagon and two surviving ones perched on the sides. They quickly moved the two living men into the barred cell in the Lancer stockade. Scott had encountered only one badly hurt raider. He was gut shot, and it was clear the wound was going to be fatal…eventually. After giving the man some water, Scott told him he would not survive.

“I know,” the man had replied. “I seen gut shots before. You just gonna let me lie here for days ‘til I go? It’s yer right, I guess.”

“I wasn’t planning to, no,” Scott had said, “unless you want me to.”

“Do it, then, and I thank ya for it.”

“May God have mercy on your soul.” Scott had pulled the trigger. It wasn’t the first time in his life he had put a wounded creature out of its misery. He had done it to the enemy as well as to Union soldiers and horses. He hoped this would be his last, though. He knew he had done the right thing, but his gut still roiled.

Scott didn’t know what he looked like, but Cipriano took one look at him and told him to get something to eat and to rest a few minutes after they had secured a tarp over Pardee and his men. Scott wandered into the kitchen and found no one there. Nothing was cooking over the fire. He poked around a bit and found a bowl of apples and some coffee. Not much of a lunch, but it would do. He climbed the stairs to his room and heard voices. Johnny’s door was ajar. Many people were in the room. Scott stuck his nose in and realized the doctor was administering to his brother. He stayed in the hallway, unwilling to crowd everyone further. He couldn’t hear what the doctor was muttering, so he decided he’d just go outside.

The sound of hammering filled the air. Caskets were being constructed for the Lancer dead. Frank was driving the wagon with its gruesome load away under the Lancer arch when Scott found Cipriano again.

“Where’s he taking them?”

Cipriano shrugged. “Somewhere far away from this house.”

“And our dead? Where will they be buried?”

“On the hill behind the hacienda. It is a good place. Beautiful and quiet,” the Segundo answered.

“All three of them or do some of them have family elsewhere?”

“All three. Lancer was their home for years.” Cipriano hung his head and swallowed hard.

It finally struck Scott hard that Cipriano had worked with the deceased for those years. They were his colleagues and most likely his friends. Scott was too new here to have cultivated any relationships yet, but all the men who had stayed to fight had probably known each other for some time. It said something about his father for these men to stay and fight for his heritage, to be willing to die for his father’s ranch. He gave his condolences to Cipriano, grabbed a shovel out of the barn, and hiked around to the back of the house. He could see the small graveyard midway up the hillside. Some California oaks shaded the area. As Cipriano had said, it was a beautiful and restful spot. Scott took a minute to figure out how the cemetery had been plotted out, recognized the latest grave, and started digging next to it. The soil was rich and loamy and came up fairly easily. Three feet wide, six feet long, and four feet down. He had helped dig enough graves at Libby to remember the rest of his life. Scott smiled grimly. Six feet long would not accommodate him or his father.

Scott had dug one grave and had made some progress with the second, when fatigue overcame him; he sat down to rest. He should have brought his canteen. It was thirsty work.

He was sitting under the nearest tree when four ranch hands walked up, shovels in their hands. They seemed surprised to see him with an open grave a few feet away.

Señor,” one of them said and tipped his hat, causing the other three to do so as well.

Scott wearily levered himself up the tree and walked over. He introduced himself and shook all of their hands, trying desperately to remember their names. It was difficult; he wasn’t used to Spanish names. One of them kindly lent Scott his canteen, and they began to dig. With five of them working, the remaining two graves were dug quickly. By the time they were finished, Cipriano was arriving with the bodies. They laid each casket gently into the ground and returned the dirt to the holes. As the men started walking away, Scott turned to Cipriano.

“Shouldn’t we say something? Rest in peace? Anything?” Scott asked.

Mañana. Tomorrow we will gather and the Patrόn will say the words,” Cipriano replied.

They walked back to the wagon, where the other four men had climbed in the back. Scott didn’t know whether he should sit up with Cipriano or with the other men. He finally clambered in the back and let Cipriano drive them all around to the barn. Scott couldn’t remember when he’d been so tired and hungry since the war. He would sleep soundly tonight, perhaps so soundly the nightmares wouldn’t come.

Scott again made his way into the house through the kitchen. Again, no one was there, but there was a pot of stew over the fire. He found a bowl and spoon and dished out some of the stew. He was almost done with it when Maria entered. She began scolding him in Spanish, which had no effect on him because he didn’t understand a word of it.

She switched to English. “Señor Lancer, you no eat dinner in the kitchen.”

“Please, Maria, call me Scott. I was so hungry, and this smelled so good, I sat right down here to eat.”

She clucked at him like he was a hopeless case. “You are too thin, mi chico” she said, ladling some more stew into his bowl. She retrieved some flat bread from a space near the fire and placed it by his elbow, giving him a pat on his shoulder and a kiss on the top of his head.

Scott was a bit stunned. No cook had kissed the top of his head since he was ten, and she would have been fired if his grandfather had found out about it.

“How is Johnny? What did the doctor say?” he asked around a mouthful of beef, potatoes, and carrots. All propriety was leaving him in this new life he had chosen.

Her face fell. “Is bad. The doctor, he did his best. We will see.”

Scott frowned. He didn’t know this new brother hardly at all, and what he had seen, he hadn’t been too impressed with. He’d taken Scott’s right hook pretty well, though, which had been impressive. But he wanted Johnny to pull through. He wanted a chance to know this half-brother of his with his flamboyant clothes and charming smile. The sneer and smirk were less charming, Scott thought, but then he was very good with a smirk or sneer himself, he was told. He yawned and thought he was going to fall face first into the stew. He couldn’t go to sleep just yet. There were still things he needed to do.

Maria had slipped out of the kitchen, so he took his dishes over to the large wash basin and poured some water into his bowl and over his spoon. He walked upstairs to his room. Johnny’s door was still ajar. Murdoch, Teresa, and Maria were in the room talking softly while Maria tried to get anyone in the room to eat some stew. Scott couldn’t see his brother at all with everyone else hovering around him, so he let them be and entered his own room.

He sat on the bed wanting nothing more than to lay down on it and put this day to rest. He and the men with him had ridden up into the hills and then down a treacherous path back to the house, arriving only about an hour before dawn. He had just enough time to place the men where he wanted them before the sky lightened and the raid began. It seemed like a week ago, but it was all in one day, this one day. Scott had had days like this in the war, but somehow he had handled them better. These days he seemed to tire so quickly. Nevertheless, Lieutenant Lancer had always checked on his men before he slept. This should be no different. He thought about Cipriano and the others, especially those who were injured. Those valiant men should be rewarded for their loyalty, their willingness to put their lives on the line for his father’s property. His property, too, if his father followed through with his proposal to give him one third. He picked up the white envelope and headed out to the barracks…no…bunkhouse.

He knocked before he entered. Cipriano was just coming to open the door.

Señor Lancer,” Cipriano said loudly enough so that the rest of the bunkhouse knew who was at their door.

“May I come in?” Scott asked. Then in a louder voice he added, “Please, everyone, call me Scott.”

Sí, of course, come in.”

“I’ve come to check on the injured men,” he told Cipriano quietly.

The Segundo showed him to a curtained off area. Inside there were three men. The one swathed in bandages was probably Cal. He was asleep on the bunk. The other two were Will Coulter and Jorge Ortéz. Will had been shot in the arm and Jorge had been grazed in the side and had a wound in his thigh. Scott talked to each man for a minute or two, thanking them for their loyalty to the ranch. Then he pulled out two fifty-dollar bills from his “listening money” envelope and gave one to each man. They thanked him profusely and protested some, but he assured them they had earned the money.

Once back in the main area, Scott asked Cipriano to translate for him, and he gave the men sitting there the same speech about what their bravery and loyalty meant to the family. As he handed each man his fifty-dollar bonus money, he shook his hand and tried to learn his name. He gave Cal’s bill to Cipriano to hold for him. Cipriano said the doctor held little hope that Cal would survive.

Before he left, he asked if anyone had any questions. They stared at him as if in shock. He thanked them again and left. He still had three fifties and the change from his clothes shopping at Baldemoro’s. His duty done, he could now go to sleep with an easy conscience.

Johnny’s door was no longer ajar. He carefully opened it and found Teresa sitting next to the bed.

“Is he asleep?”

She nodded. “Doctor Jenkins gave him some morphine for the pain, and he’s been asleep ever since.”

“I’ll sit with him if you want to get some rest,” Scott proposed.

“No, no. I managed a nap this afternoon. You get some rest, Scott. I’ll sit with him tonight.”

He wasn’t going to argue with her; he’d been secretly glad she’d turned down his offer. He couldn’t wait to get to bed.

He was stiff and sore when he arose the following morning but moving around eased the kinks away. He had gotten some ribbing from Teresa and Johnny about his ability to get up at sunrise, being a Boston dandy, but he found it no hardship at all. In Boston, he was expected to be at Garrett Enterprises by nine. For some reason, his usual time for arising seemed to match the Lancer time for arising. He was grateful to avoid oversleeping, as it seemed the entire household was poised to correct the “Boston” in him.

After dressing, he moved across the hall and checked in on Johnny. He found Murdoch sitting with him.

“How’s he doing?” Scott whispered.

“He’s holding his own, but I think a fever is setting in.”

“Is there anything I can do? Anything you need?”

Murdoch shook his head, and Scott retreated. As he ate breakfast, he worried about Johnny dying before they even got to know each other. Would fate be so unkind to give him a brother and then yank him away only days later? He ate as much as he could, but that didn’t seem to satisfy Maria. She heaped more eggs onto his plate. “I can’t eat any more,” he told her, but she continued to scold him in Spanish.

Cipriano was waiting for him outside the barn. Another wagon had been hitched up, two horses tied to the back, and the majority of the hands were in the back, sitting amid the shovels and picks.

“Is there a shovel for me?” Scott asked. He was met with a chorus of yesses in both English and Spanish.

They rode quite a while until the other wagon Frank had driven yesterday came into sight. Scott had never seen this part of Lancer before. Were they even on Lancer land? They were, he was assured. The scenery here was not as bucolic as the cemetery behind the hacienda nor the ground as yielding. They all piled out of the wagon and got to work digging a mass grave for Pardee and the men degenerate enough or stupid enough to follow him. Cipriano told them when to stop and move the bodies into ground. It was pretty shallow; apparently, no one seemed to mind the possibility of wild animals desecrating the corpses. Scott wasn’t going to speak up. He was tired and dirty, and this was not a battle he chose to fight with these angry and tight-lipped men who had just lost three of their own and were losing a fourth. He thought they would rather have set the whole bunch on fire and be done with it.

Cipriano urged them to cover the grave quickly. Scott discovered that it was because the memorial graveside service was at noon, and everyone needed to be back at the ranch to clean up and dress appropriately for it. Thankfully, Frank volunteered to drive the second wagon, and after helping to hitch up the extra two horses, Scott got to rest in the bed of Cipriano’s on the way back. He couldn’t yet bring himself to say “back home.” Lancer felt like a place with scores of mousetraps waiting to spring on him at every turn. Hell, he still hadn’t explored the house yet and had only found out there was a back staircase when Johnny had ushered him down it the first morning he was there. Johnny had searched the entire hacienda in the middle of the night and knew where every outside door was and what was on the other side. Scott had asked him why he needed to know that information, and Johnny had just laughed at him rather heartily and said something about a “getaway.” Had that been one of the mousetraps? Scott didn’t even know. In Boston it hadn’t seemed important to know where all the doors were—just where the spare key to the back door was hidden.

Scott had made it back in time to for a basin wash and a change. He walked up to the cemetery with Murdoch and Teresa. Like him, Murdoch wore a black suit, and Teresa looked lovely in a dark dress and her hair down around her shoulders. There were more people gathered at the gravesite than Scott expected. Murdoch looked distracted and Scott couldn’t blame him; Johnny’s fever was on the rise, according to Maria. She wasn’t in attendance, so Scott concluded she must be sitting with Johnny.

Once everyone assembled around the freshly dug graves, Murdoch read from the Bible the Genesis verse about humans returning to dust. Then he added a sentence about them being good, reliable hands, closed the tome, and turned to walk away. Scott gave him a panicked “That’s it?” look.

“Now my son, Scott, would like to say a few words,” Murdoch told the crowd.

Mousetrap! Scott tried to dredge up what he had said to the hands last night, so he wouldn’t be simply repeating himself. How much variation could one devise on the themes of courage and loyalty? Even if someone had asked right afterwards what he had said, Scott wouldn’t have been able to tell him. But the crowd seemed appreciative of his words, and the deceased deserved to have more than the standard Bible verse said over them and an observation they were “reliable.”

Murdoch and Teresa left immediately. They were headed back to Johnny’s room, no doubt. Scott felt a bit guilty for not having sat with his brother yet. He stood and shook hands with those in attendance, many of whom were family members or from adjoining ranches and farms. How they found about the service was beyond Scott’s ken. Someone from Lancer must have spread the word. One of the last people he met and talked to was Isabella Ramirez, now a widow. Pedro Ramirez was one of the buried bodies, and he had left in his wake a wife and two young children. Cipriano was by his side translating as Scott inquired about her and the children. She thanked him for his words, but he felt so inadequate to soothe her obvious distress.

As the last of the mourners departed, Scott asked Cipriano if he would give Señora Ramirez the bonus money he would have given Pedro had he survived. She was going to travel to live with her aunt along the Arizona border, and the money would be helpful. Cipriano agreed. Scott said he would get the money to him tonight and thanked him for his translating skills, promising to learn Spanish as quickly as he could.

“In time, Señor Scott. In time,” the Segundo said. “There is much for you to learn here, but there is also much time to learn it in, no?”

Scott supposed so, but he felt like he needed to know everything now. If any of them knew how confused and out of his depth he felt here, no one would believe it. Scott knew from his stint in the army that appearing like you knew what was going on was more than half the battle. When he’d gotten his field promotion, he was so young and scared. Acting confident in front of his men had pulled him through until those with more experience had given him the education he needed. What would he have done without Tom? His sergeant had been a Godsend. He needed a Tom Welty here at Lancer to ease him into this new life. Might Cipriano become a mentor to him? He hoped so.

Scott walked into the kitchen desperate for some lunch. The nagging fatigue was back as well, and Murdoch springing a speech upon him had also taken its emotional toll. Again, he started looking through drawers and doors and under napkins to find something to eat.

“What are you doing?” Teresa asked him. She had changed back into her overalls and had a bowl of water in her hand.

“I was hoping to find something to eat?” Scott felt like a boy who’d been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. That actually had happened a few times in Boston until he became older and sneakier. When he had come home from the war, the cook had left the jar in his room and kept it full of cookies once the doctors had approved him fit enough to eat them. Maybe Teresa or Maria knew how to make Butter Drop Do’s.

Teresa threw the water outside and started pumping fresh water into the bowl. “We all had lunch before the ceremony,” she said. “Honestly, Scott, you need to learn the routine around here, especially with Johnny sick. We can’t just drop everything and give you your own special meal. You’re not in Boston anymore.”

Scott flushed at the ear lashing. “I’m sorry. I’ll get my own lunch if you could just tell me where the food is.”

She sighed dramatically and gave him a look full of pity. “Alright, sit down and I’ll make you a sandwich.” She put the bowl down and walked to a door Scott hadn’t opened yet. “Just so you know, lunch is between eleven and eleven-thirty.” She brought out some bread and a slab of beef and concocted a quick sandwich. Scott didn’t bother to mention that the work crew hadn’t returned until after eleven thirty. Maybe she didn’t know he’d gone out with them. He just thanked her, and she swept out of the room with the bowl of cold water heading for Johnny’s room.

After eating, he washed his plate and snagged another apple. At least he knew where the fruit bowl was. He decided to rest for a few minutes before resuming whatever work needed to be done. He stuck his head in Johnny’s doorway first.

“How’s he doing?”

“Not good,” Murdoch answered.

“Would you like me to sit with him?”

“We’re taking care of him.” Teresa said. “It’s alright, Scott.”

He backed out into the hallway and went inside his room. Shucking off his boots, he settled on his bed and finished his apple. Just a few more minutes of rest…

…and he opened his eyes and realized he was on his bed at Lancer. Looking at his watch, he saw he’d been asleep for a little over an hour. That couldn’t be possible! He had closed his eyes for only a few seconds, hadn’t he? Sighing, he tugged his boots back on and went to see what was going on in his absence. Johnny’s door was closed and there was no sound behind it. Scott walked down the back staircase and out the kitchen door.

No one seemed to be around. He couldn’t find Cipriano or any of the hands. He walked into the barn and checked on the horses. Barranca seemed especially restless. To Scott, all the stalls needed a good mucking. He turned Barranca and the handful of other horses in the barn out into the corral and started mucking out the stalls. Grandfather had insisted he learn every aspect of taking care of a horse if he wanted his own pony. At least this task was something with which he was familiar.

Halfway through his chore, a young boy came in and became agitated, trying to get Scott to stop. With Scott speaking no Spanish and the boy understanding no English, it was a feat to get him to grasp that he should help Scott rather than deter him. At least he found out that the boy’s name was Ramόn. With two of them working, the chore was done in only a couple of hours, although Scott had Ramόn go back and redo some of his sloppy corners. The boy had been a great help showing Scott where to dispose of the soiled hay and where everything was in the barn as they tidied up and spread fresh straw in the stalls.

Barranca seemed especially skittish. He needed a good ride. Scott got Ramόn to help saddle him after the boy had refused at first. It was clear he was afraid of Johnny’s horse. There was good reason to be. Barranca wasn’t fully broken and was quite a handful. Scott mounted up and motioned Ramόn to open the corral gate, and they were off. Barranca wanted desperately to run, but Scott held him to a trot before giving him free rein after they had gone under the Lancer arch.

The horse was a joy to ride. It took all of Scott’s horsemanship to handle him, and he welcomed the challenge. After the initial run, Scott took a more leisurely ride around the area, trying to remember the landmarks that would lead him back to the hacienda. Would he ever know over one hundred thousand acres well enough to not get lost? It seemed a daunting task at the moment, one among hundreds of daunting tasks facing him here. But the air was fresh and clean, the landscape beautiful, and this horse magnificent. He couldn’t keep the horse, but he could keep the memory of this rather perfect ride. He couldn’t think of returning to Boston. He would be secure there, knowing just what to do, what to say, but that was why it no longer held an appeal for him. California was the vast unknown, and Grandfather had always said he had a thirst for knowledge.

With just a twinge of relief, Scott saw the grand Lancer arch appear in the distance. As he brought Barranca to the corral, he saw Cipriano talking to Ramόn. Ramόn’s face was beaming. So was Cipriano’s. Cipriano walked up to take the reins as Scott dismounted.

“I’ll see to him,” Scott said. “I’m going to give him an extra scoop of oats for being such a good boy.” He patted the blond mane. Yes, Barranca was a beautiful horse.

“A clean stall is waiting for him, Señor Scott. Ramόn has cleaned all the barn without being asked. Usually, I must tell him many times,” Cipriano said proudly.

Scott turned to Ramόn and winked at him. “Gracias, Ramόn.” He gave the boy a small bow.

Ramόn walked into the barn with him and helped him curry and brush Barranca. Having the palomino exercised and tethered made the boy more brave around him. After they had given Barranca his extra oats, Scott thanked Ramόn again in Spanish and received the briefest and shiest hug from the lad.

Scott entered the house almost whistling to himself.

“About time you got back.” Murdoch was sitting behind his desk, ledgers open before him. “Dinner is at six o’clock sharp.”

“Not for the last few days,” Scott replied mildly. He was surprised Murdoch was sitting there and not at Johnny’s side.

“Did you have a nice ride?” Again, there was an edge to his father’s voice.

“Yes, very pleasant. Barranca is a wonderful animal.”

“Damn it, Scott!” Murdoch closed a ledger forcefully. “First of all, Barranca is Johnny’s horse.”

“I’ve never thought otherwise…”

“And second, there’s too much to do around here for you to go out joyriding. You’re going to be part owner of this ranch. On this ranch everyone works, even you. You need to set an example for the hands.”

Scott’s good mood vanished. If he set any more of an example, he’d pass out from exhaustion. He slowed his breathing down and bit back the retort he would have said in anger. It wasn’t worth it to escalate this minor transgression into a full-blown argument. “Understood, sir. Is there any dinner left over for me?”

“Maria should have left your plate in the warming oven.”

Scott had no idea where in the kitchen that was, but he wasn’t willing to prolong this discussion with his father. He would find it eventually.

He found his plate in a small inset next to the oven. There was also some of the flat bread he liked. Maria walked in as he was halfway through the meal. He thanked her for saving food for him and asked what the flat bread was called. She looked at him in confusion.

“This,” he said, holding one of the circles up.

She got it. “Tortilla.”

“Tor-TEE-ya,” he repeated.


Scott saw her shake her head and heard her mutter “flat bread” to herself, but she sat with him until he was done and shooed him out of the kitchen saying she would see to his dishes. He walked to the bunkhouse to check in on the injured men again. Will and Jorge greeted him and assured him they would be well enough for light chores in a few days.

This evening, Cal Manning was awake, although in pain. Scott introduced himself and asked if there was anything he could do. Did he have family? Did Cal want him to contact them? Cal had family in Arkansas, and Scott volunteered to write them a letter that Cal dictated. He walked back to the house to get his lap desk.

Murdoch was still sitting behind the desk. “Are you coming from the bunkhouse?”

“Yes, sir. I went to see how the injured hands are doing.”

“I’d prefer it if you didn’t fraternize with the hands, Scott.”

“Why not? They were willing to put their lives on the line for us. They deserve a little recognition for that in my book.”

Murdoch sighed heavily. “Scott, there has to be some separation between the boss and the employees. You have to respect that. You’re not here to be a friend to them.”

Why am I here at all? Scott thought petulantly. “I understand the concept, sir. I was an officer in the calvary.”

“Good. It would be wise to keep that analogy here as well. I don’t want to see you visiting the bunkhouse again.” Murdoch went back to his ledgers.

Scott guessed he should be impressed that Murdoch, the illiterate and insolent ruffian his grandfather always described, knew words like ‘fraternize’ and ‘analogy,’ but inwardly he was seething. He went to his room and found his lap desk. It was a beautiful box with ornate carvings on five sides. It had been Grandfather’s final farewell gift to him, and the implication was clear—write to me! Scott had every intention to. He had sent one letter almost immediately upon arrival. He didn’t know when he’d have the time to write a second. He tucked the box under his arm and went out the back stairs, giving Johnny silent thanks for showing him a way out of the house that didn’t put him back in the great room. If he could slip into the bunkhouse without his father seeing him, all would be well. After all, Murdoch had declared only that he didn’t want to see Scott visit the bunkhouse.

Cal was still awake when he returned and Scott set the desk on his lap, retrieving the pen and stationery he needed and unscrewing the cap to the ink bottle. Cal first wished his family good health, but as the letter continued, more heartfelt words were used. There was so much emotion behind them, Scott thought his hand would shake too much to write from the depth of feeling he was hearing. This was a dying man’s last words to his mother and two sisters. There was sincerity and consolation and so much love said in these lines. Scott wondered what it must feel like to have a mother and sisters whom you loved so deeply and who loved you back.

Scott addressed the envelope as well as Cal could remember, and the man asked him if he’d ever been to Arkansas. Scott told him he’d been to Mississippi but not by way of Arkansas. Where was Scott from, Cal asked.

“Boston, Massachusetts.”

“Where’s that? What’s it like there?”

Scott knew the man wanted something to grab onto other than the pain, so he told him about Boston—about the famous Commons where the Revolutionary War had started, where Paul Revere made a daring ride to warn the colonists. He told him of the leaves changing colors in the Fall and what they looked like: a patchwork quilt of reds, yellows, greens, golds, and rusts. He told Cal of the winters and what snow was like after the sun shone on it, making it glisten with shards of light everywhere. He talked about Boston Harbor, the Tea Party, the Atlantic Ocean. Cal had fallen asleep during his description of the Commons and its history, but Will had insisted he continue, and it was clear Jorge was listening and didn’t mind either. It was enjoyable to talk about his hometown. He loved Boston.

Scott tucked Cal’s letter inside his jacket. He put away his supplies and entered the main room of the bunkhouse.

“That was a mighty fine story, Mister Scott,” Frank said, and Walt agreed.

Scott humbly thanked them and said good night.

Cipriano walked outside with him. He gave Scott Cal’s fifty-dollar bill. “All the men enjoyed hearing your story, Señor Scott.”

“Keep that for Isabella Ramirez, Mister Cipriano. I’ll make sure Cal’s family gets his money in the letter.” He bade Cipriano a good night and stealthily returned to his room. It was absurd that he was sneaking around what was supposed to be his own house! As his head hit the pillow his last thought was that everything about this place was absurd. Perhaps he should lend Murdoch his copy of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and then tell him Lancer was the rabbit hole. The book had been another of Grandfather’s parting gifts, and he had laughed all the way to Council Bluffs, Iowa.

The next morning Scott tapped lightly on his brother’s door. “Johnny?” he said as he quietly opened it.

The next sound he heard was a hammer being cocked and he was looking at a gun barrel pointed at his face. “Get out. Leave me alone!” he heard his brother snarl at him.

Scott got out.

He joined his father in the kitchen with Teresa and Maria.

“Johnny just drew his gun on me!” Scott exclaimed, still shaken at the incident.

“Oh, good! He’s awake!” Teresa cried, and she and Maria scurried to prepare some broth for him.

“You’re not going to let her go upstairs to him!” Scott admonished his father.

Murdoch lowered his coffee cup. “He won’t shoot her,” he said mildly.

“Be careful!” Scott called after the women as they left with Johnny’s broth.

After breakfast, Cipriano was waiting for him by the barn. Where was everyone? Most of the men had already ridden out to check on one of the larger herds. Cipriano and Scott were going to check on the fence line and join up with them later in the morning.

Cipriano seemed satisfied with the condition of the fences to the north. They caught up with the rest of the hands mid-morning. Cipriano told Scott to simply watch and learn as the hands got the cows together and got them moving slowly south. Steers, not cows, Scott criticized himself. Murdoch had already corrected him crossly about that the second day of his stay. Whenever a steer tried to separate from the herd, a cowpony would gently nudge it back in line. It was a delicate and fascinating dance. Sometimes a steer would bolt away and only a lasso would get it to stop and return to the herd. The hands made it look so easy, but lassoing a running steer looked like an impossible skill to learn.

Cipriano returned Scott to the hacienda in time for lunch, for which Scott was grateful. He doubted he could have found the house on his own. Learning his way around and literally learning the ropes of this ranch were definitely going to be a challenge. But he had faced greater challenges and overcome them.

After lunch, Old Pedro, the bunkhouse cook, came to the kitchen door. “Señor Lancer? Cal is asking for you. He has little time.”

Cal was much worse than the night before, his breaths coming out in short rasps. He wanted Scott to add a sentence to a former belle in the letter. Scott committed the sentence to memory and assured the man that he would add it. He was about to rise from Cal’s cot, when Cal pulled him back down.

“Stay until I go?” the man panted.

“I’ll stay until you pass over,” Scott promised.

This was something with which Scott had a lot of practice, too much practice—watching good men die. How many days and nights had he done it in Libby? A year’s worth of quoting Emerson, Thoreau, Shakespeare, and scripture as men struggled to take their next breaths. Scott began his litany again, offering what comfort he could. He had no idea how long he sat there, his hand on Cal’s arm, speaking softly. Finally, Cal Manning sighed his last exhale and quietly died. Scott stretched his back out and pulled the blanket over Cal’s body.

“You do a good thing, Señor,” Old Pedro said gently. Scott had forgotten the man was there.

Will and Jorge were asleep, lulled by Scott’s soft words and tones.

“No one should die alone,” Scott replied. “I suppose I have another grave to dig.”

“I will help you,” Old Pedro volunteered.

They decided to dig the grave first and come back for the body. Scott felt uneasy about burying the man too soon after he died. Better to let the body rest a bit.

They started digging next to Pedro Ramirez’ grave. While the other three graves had been dug in dignified silence, Scott discovered that Old Pedro liked to talk. A lot. And he was a great source of information. He was called Old Pedro when Pedro Ramirez had been hired fifteen years ago. He didn’t mind it; he’d been around the ranch for a long time. Did he know Scott’s mother? No, he had come shortly after her death. But he had been around for Murdoch’s marriage to Maria and for Johnny’s birth. Cipriano had shown up with Johnny’s mother. He was her older brother and had come to California under his father’s orders to ensure Murdoch was an honorable man. He met Maria, the cook, and they soon married. He’d been here for Johnny’s birth and had fond memories of Murdoch’s joy for his son. That lasted two years. After Johnny’s mother left with the toddler, Cipriano stayed on out of love for his wife and loyalty to Murdoch. Truth be told, Old Pedro had no idea of Scott’s existence until he had shown up to the ranch with Johnny. When Murdoch was getting the ranch ready for his son’s arrival, he had thought it was Johnny who was coming.

Oh, and his newly found brother was also known as Johnny Madrid, a famous gunslinger.

So, Johnny was a renowned “gunhawk,” as Old Pedro described him, and Cipriano and Maria were Johnny’s uncle and aunt, Scott mulled over as they walked back to the bunkhouse to retrieve Cal’s body. Those were particularly relevant pieces of information. When was Murdoch going to slip that into the conversation, or was he going to let Scott wallow in his ignorance when even the hired hands knew the score?

As he and Old Pedro were putting Cal’s body in the box that had already been assembled and quicklimed for him and loading him into the wagon, Cipriano and most of the hands returned from the range. They all walked back up the hillside to the cemetery, lowered Cal’s body into the ground, and bowed their heads. Scott managed more words to say over the grave. He was exhausted again. And hungry again.

There was a buggy outside the front door after the burial that Scott recognized as the doctor’s. He walked into the great room and watched Murdoch pour the man a scotch.

Murdoch looked up. “Ah, Scott! Come meet my very good friend, Sam Jenkins.”

“Sir.” Scott shook hands with the man, who looked slightly older than his father.

“Scott, it’s very nice to finally meet you!” the doctor enthused. “Your father here has told me so much about you! I know he’s quite pleased you made the journey out here.”

Scott just stood there perplexed that his father had anything to say about him, seeing that he never bothered to get to know him now or during the first twenty-four years of his life.

Murdoch cleared his throat. “Yes, well…I didn’t see you ride in with the rest of the hands, Scott.”

“I didn’t go out to the pastures this afternoon,” Scott explained. He could see the cloud of anger start to form over his father’s face, but then it disappeared, no doubt due to his guest’s presence.

“Out for another ride on Barranca?” Murdoch tried to keep his tone light, but Scott was having none of it.

“No, I was watching Cal Manning die and then burying him. Is that an acceptable way to spend the afternoon? Is that considered lollygagging in your book?” The challenge in Scott’s voice was unmistakable to both older men.

An uncomfortable silence descended, making Scott ashamed of his outburst. Grandfather would have been very disappointed in him.

“I’m sorry to hear of Cal’s death. I was just about to see how he was doing. Truly, it was a miracle he lasted this long with the injuries he sustained,” Jenkins said to break the tension.

“I’m sorry, too, Scott. I didn’t mean to imply you weren’t busy,” Murdoch tried to backtrack.

That’s exactly what Murdoch was implying! Scott was tired, hungry, and he desperately needed a bath, but he was afraid to ask about it for seeming like he was too selfish, only thinking of his needs, while his brother was upstairs with a bullet hole in his back, and everyone was naturally and understandably concerned about him rather than Scott. He hurriedly excused himself, and as he was leaving, he heard Murdoch ask the doctor to stay for dinner. Scott fervently wished the doctor would agree.

After a tense but polite dinner with the doctor in attendance, Murdoch excused himself to go sit with Johnny. Johnny’s tenacious fever was always at its worst around suppertime, but Dr. Jenkins stated that it was to be expected; he didn’t seem overly concerned about it. He started to gather his things to leave when Scott stopped him.

“May I talk to you in private, Doctor?”

“Yes, certainly. And you may call me Sam. Everybody does.”

Scott couldn’t imagine a doctor in Boston allowing his patients to call him by his first name. “Yes, alright. Perhaps in my room?”

Once in Scott’s bedroom with the door firmly shut, Sam Jenkins asked what was on Scott’s mind.

“I was wondering whether you stocked any quinine. I may need some in the future,” Scott told him.

Sam was dumbfounded. This was the last thing he expected the young man to say. “I don’t think I have any on hand.”

“Can you get some?”

“Yes, I could order some. It may take as much as a month or more to get it.”

“I thought that might be the case. That’s why I’m asking you about it now. I have enough to last me for the next attack, but after that…”

“It’s expensive,” Sam warned.

“The cost doesn’t matter. I can pay for it,” Scott assured him. “Also, I do not want Murdoch or anyone else in this household to know about it.”

“You can count on my discretion. This is doctor/patient confidentiality.”

Scott nodded his thanks.

“When did you contract malaria?” Sam asked.

“At the end of the war. Seems I got it just before Lee was surrendering. The timing couldn’t have been better.” Scott laughed a little self-deprecatingly.

“And now you experience the ague.”

Scott nodded. “Grandfather always made sure I had quinine with me. If I take it at the first hint of symptoms, it’s not too unbearable. Actually, it’s more annoying than anything else. It takes me out for three days or so. I have some in my saddlebags and some in this room.”

“Anything other than the fever, chills, and aching joints?”

Scott shook his head and smiled. “Aren’t they enough?”

Sam smiled back. “No, I’d say that was plenty. Anything else I should know about?”

Scott wavered. Should he tell this man about his fatigue? Maybe it would get better on its own. Maybe he just wasn’t used to the amount of manual labor.

Sam discerned his unease. He had dealt with reticent patients for more than twenty years. He knew a dither when he saw one. “You can tell me, son. It won’t go any further.”

Scott’s head shot up when the doctor called him “son.” If only this kind, compassionate, and intelligent man were his father! He decided this was a man in whom he could confide. “I seem to get tired more quickly than I did before the war. Maybe I’m just not used to the kind of work on a ranch. I really shouldn’t be saying anything at all…”

Sam seriously considered Scott’s words. “Or it may be something. Mind if I give you a quick examination?” He started to get his stethoscope out of his bag.

“Um…alright.” Scott moved to the door and locked it.

Sam tried not to look surprised. He wouldn’t have bet on Scott as being especially modest. “Take off your shirt so I can listen to your lungs.” He motioned Scott to sit on the bed.

Scott hesitated. He didn’t take off his shirt for others, except for his doctor in Boston. He knew about it all.

“Is there something wrong, Scott?”

Scott sighed. “No, no. You’re going to be my doctor here…”

He slowly took off his shirt and watched the doctor’s face. There it was—the look of shock and horror at seeing his back, a back that showed the signs of the lashings. To his credit, Sam Jenkins regained his composure quickly.

“Well, your lungs sound clear,” Sam said as he moved the stethoscope to Scott’s heart and listened. “You might have a slight murmur in your heart, but I wouldn’t be too concerned about it.”

Scott put his shirt back on, watching the doctor the entire time.

“Do you want to tell me how you got those scars?” Sam asked gently.

“I was in the War.” Scott looked away.

After a length of silence, Sam realized Scott wasn’t going to continue.

“It was my understanding that the soldiers fought with guns and bayonets, not whips.”

Scott looked out the window, as if he could see the Virginia battlefield from his room. “No, the whips came after.”

“After what?”

“After I was taken prisoner by the Rebs.”

“You were a prisoner of war?”

Scott nodded bleakly.

Sam sat down heavily next to the boy. Where?”

“Libby. In Virginia.”

 “For how long?”

“One year, twenty-six days.”

Sam couldn’t contain his horror. “My God! How did you survive?”

Scott tried to keep the tremor out of his voice and failed. “I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t. There were so many times I wished I would die.” Scott looked at Sam and saw the pity in his eyes—exactly why Scott never told anyone. “I weighed 118 pounds when they got me back to the hospital in Boston and that was after three weeks of field hospital food. The doctors told Grandfather that they held little hope of me surviving, especially with the malaria, but I did. Against all odds.”

Sam put his hand on Scott’s knee. It was such an unconscious, paternal gesture. Scott idly wondered whether his father was capable of such a warm expression toward him. Murdoch had made it clear that first day that the past stayed in the past. “Well, I, for one, am very glad you did, my boy. We’re all so glad you’ve come home.”

“I’m not sure this feels like home, sir.”

Sam patted his knee. “Just give it time, son. It’s all new to you now, but quicker than you can rope and fell a steer, you’ll get so used to it, you won’t be able to imagine being anywhere else.”

Scott threw him a skeptical look. “I can’t even find my way around this house. I’ve been looking for a bathtub for days now. Making do with the washstand just isn’t enough anymore.”

Sam slapped Scott’s knee and rose from the bed. “Well, the least I can do is show you where that is, my boy. I’ve taken a bath here many a time or two.”

“You will have my eternal gratitude, Doctor.”

Sam waited while Scott gathered clean clothes. Scott picked up a hand towel and looked at it desolately.

“You don’t need a towel, Scott. Everything you need to bathe is already at the bathhouse. I’ll show you the routine.”

Scott acknowledged him with a nod.

Sam put his hand on the key locking the door, blocking Scott’s exit. “I don’t know about the long-term effects of starvation on the human body, but I’ll look into it. I suspect that’s the source of your fatigue, and, if so, it won’t go away. You can’t expect that there’s no lasting effects of that kind of trauma to your body. I’ll find out as much as I can. I highly recommend you tell your father about your incarceration, Scott.”

“No. He has enough on his mind with Johnny.”

“He cares as much about you.” Sam saw the skeptical look cloud Scott’s face again.

Scott was thinking about Old Pedro’s revelation that Johnny was born on the ranch, that Murdoch had had two years with him. That was two years more than Scott had had with him. Surely, Murdoch couldn’t care about them equally. “How is Johnny, really?”

“Well, if his fever doesn’t rise too much higher and he stays in bed, I’d say he can make a full recovery in a few weeks.”

Scott brushed Sam’s hand from the key and unlocked the door. “Good. Thank you, Doctor…Sam…for everything.”

“Let’s get you to that bath.”

Days later, Scott was pushed into Johnny’s room. Murdoch needed to get some sleep, and Scott had been too slow to avoid him. Now Johnny was showing signs of waking up, so Scott put away his book and poured a glass of water for his brother. Brother. That still sounded strange to Scott. Now to find out his brother was a famous gunslinger, feared around the border towns in Mexico, well, that was something out of a bad novel. He didn’t look so fearsome lying on his stomach with a swath of bandage across his waist.

Scott had examined his back while Johnny was asleep. His brother bore the same stripes on his back as he did. Not as many as he did. If they had a contest for worst looking whipped back, he thought he’d win easily over his brother. Johnny had more healed up bullet wounds, though. Scott was grateful he bore only two. Two in the left arm, almost in the same spot. His sergeant had laughed about that. At the time Scott had failed to see the humor in it.

Johnny opened an eye. Scott couldn’t see the other one as it was hidden by the pillow.

“What are you doing here?” Johnny asked belligerently.

“Drink?” Scott offered. He winced. That was what Murdoch had first said to them when they’d finally met.

“Don’t know the man I’m drinking with,” Johnny deadpanned.

Scott laughed. “It’s not alcohol and I’m not having any with you.”

“Got drugs in it?”

“Not that I’m aware of, and I just poured it.”

Johnny took the glass and shakily brought it to his lips for a long pull. Scott took the glass from him when he was done.

“Thanks. You can leave now,” Johnny said coolly.

“Are you trying to get rid of me, brother?”

“Hoping to.”

“Well, it’s not that easy to do. I figure we’re overdue for a conversation.” Scott settled comfortably in the bedside chair. “Seems our father has been sitting here most day and night.”

“Yeah. I tried to get him to leave, too.”

“I guess stubbornness is a Lancer trait we all share,” Scott said amiably.

“We don’t share nothing else.”

“Now, I don’t know about that. I haven’t gotten to know you yet.”

“Boston, I got nothing to say to you.”

“That’s because you don’t know me yet.”

Johnny turned his head away. “Get outta here,” he said impatiently.

“Murdoch sat me here to attend to any of your needs, so here I stay,” Scott insisted.

Johnny turned his head back around. “That right? Any of my needs?”

Scott nodded.

“Then get the piss pot.”

Scott reached under the bed, found it, and brought it up for Johnny. “You need help?”

Johnny shook his head. The pot disappeared beneath the sheet, and Scott could hear him urinating. Scott had lost a good deal of his modesty during the war and his imprisonment, but he thought he still would not be able to piss so easily in front of another person.

Johnny finished and held the container out to Scott. Scott took it and put the lid back on. Johnny seemed to be appraising him coolly.

“The Old Man said you shot Pardee dead.”

Scott nodded. “Don’t you remember? You complimented me on my shooting ability.”

“Don’t remember much of that day after I got shot.”

“Was that part of your plan?”

Johnny smiled wickedly. “No, I can say very definitely that was not part of the plan.”

Was there a plan?”

“Not much of one. I knew what you were planning on doing and I was hoping you were back down from that pass. Pardee had to come back to Morro Coyo to pick the rest of his gang and me up. That gave you the time you needed, huh?”

“Yes. If he hadn’t had to do that, I fear we wouldn’t have been back in time for his raid, and he would have won.”

“Yeah, well, he came out here and started barking out orders, telling them to take up certain positions. If they got set in, it would have been an all-day siege. I didn’t want that, so I figured if I got Pardee pissed off enough, he’d forget that plan and just get all mad and reckless.”

“How’d you piss him off?”

“Shot him! Shot Coley dead and wounded Day.” Johnny smiled.


“The guy that beat you up in the general store.”

“He had help,” Scott grumbled. He was sure he could have whupped any of the three individually.

 “Anyway, it worked. Pardee yelled at them all to get me, and I led them all straight in. Easy pickin’s for you.”

“Except you got shot in the back,” Scott reminded him.

“Yeah, as I said, not part of the plan.”

“No, you’d be lying in a ditch with ants crawling on your eyeballs,” Scott said, throwing his brother’s words back at him. See if he liked being on the receiving end any better than Scott had. “And I’d own half of Lancer.”

“Sorry to spoil your plan,” Johnny said icily.

“I have no problem with owning a third. You’re the one who said he wanted a one-man deal.”

“I may have to revise my thinking on that. You may be the one to wind up with half.”

“Yes? And why is that?” Scott asked lazily, as if he wasn’t too interested in the answer. This was his Boston blandness, an affect perfected in the high society gatherings. One always projected an air bordering on boredom.

“I just might up and ride away from here when I’m able,” Johnny threatened.

Scott gave Johnny an incredulous look. “Why’s that? You put your life on the line to defend this property and then you just ride away? There’s not much sense in that.”

“Maybe I’m not a sensible guy. Not like you. You agreed pretty quick to the Old Man’s deal.” Johnny made it sound like a criticism.

“I did, didn’t I?”

“Now why is that, Boston? What are you running away from?”

Scott grinned a wicked grin. “My life in Boston.”

“That bad? All that money too much for you?”

“Let’s just say I wasn’t willing to pay the price for that money.” Scott heard Sam Jenkins’ voice down the hallway. He rose and picked up the chamber pot. “The doctor’s coming,” he told Johnny.

Johnny eyed the chamber pot. “You emptying that yourself, Boston? Dandy like you?”

“Why not?” Scott quirked his lips at his brother. “It’s not beneath me.”

Johnny watched his proper Bostonian brother leave. It gave him pause that his fancified sibling was willing to wash his piss away like it was no big deal. It did give him pause…

Scott exited the room just as Sam was walking up.

“Is Johnny awake?” Sam asked.

“He is and is his charming self.”

Scott nodded and went off to finish his chore. Yes, it wasn’t beneath him. There wasn’t much that was beneath him once he had become a prisoner of war.

Scott thought he was going to fall over dead in the heat. Should it be this hot as Fall was approaching? Autumn was his favorite time of the year in Boston, but there the weather turned cooler and the trees turned color. He had thought California would be similar, but here it just stayed hot, the trees green and the grass yellow, just like the summer.

He was helping Frank turn under one of the fields Pardee’s men had set on fire. There was so much to do since Pardee’s raids: fences to mend, lost cattle to round up, burned structures to rebuild, and burned fields to plow under. Even with them hiring new hands or rehiring former ones who’d left when the raids got bad, there was no shortage of work. One thing Scott knew for sure: he was no farmer, nor did he ever want to be. His respect for them was growing by leaps and bounds. Getting the knack of maneuvering a plow was difficult. Frank was a good teacher and a patient man, but it took Scott half the morning to learn how to use an unwieldy plow. He hated it. He felt exhausted, and this was after Frank and he were switching positions every other row. Leading the plow horse was easier than keeping the plow deep and straight. Finally, Frank suggested they break for lunch. Scott agreed immediately. He was famished. They sat under a tree near a small stream, and Scott had unbuttoned his shirt and poured some water from his canteen all over his head and down his chest. It felt so good.

Frank noticed the white line that snaked around Scott’s side just under his ribcage. There was another, not as long, farther down. He knew what those were signs of.

“So, you were in the War, Mister Scott? Cavalry?”

Scott nodded. The last thing he wanted to do was talk about the War. He opened the tin that Maria had packed him for lunch. Maybe Frank would get the message that the topic was off limits.

They both ate in silence for a while. Then Frank said, “I was, too.”

“Really?” Scott had never met a Negro who served in the War, although he had been well aware that they had. “With one of the colored units?”

Frank nodded. “I came in late, summer of ’64.”

Scott shuddered involuntarily. He was already incarcerated in Libby then. May of 1864 was when he’d been captured at Wilderness.

“Sorry to bring up bad memories, but I noticed your scars.”

Scott turned his head away and quickly drew his shirt across his side, buttoning the last button.

Frank continued on as if he hadn’t seen Scott’s actions. “I was part of the company that went into Libby prison.”

Now Scott turned back to him, an intense look on his face. “You were there? You saw?”

“Yes, Mister Scott, and I never did see a sorrier place on this Earth. We tried to be as gentle as we could…”

“I was in the infirmary trying to heal my back, so I didn’t get shipped down South with most of the others in April and then not too long after came the malaria, so I was there when you came,” Scott said looking out over the burned field, clearly reliving the experience. He suddenly thrust out his hand to Frank. “Thank you. Thank you for coming for us, for helping us, for trying to preserve what little dignity we had left.”

Frank shook Scott’s hand. “It was an honor to help you men who fought for our cause, to help free us from slavery. It’s an honor to work for you now, Mister Scott. You treat all of us with respect and compassion. What you did for Cal…none of us will ever forget that.”

Scott stood up, looking like a man who had to move or jump out of his skin. He walked over to Millie, the plow horse, like he was checking on her, but Frank knew he was sorting things out in his head. One never knew how the mention of the War would affect those veterans. Most of them didn’t want to think about it much less talk about it. Scott seemed no exception to that.

Eventually, after he had led Millie to the irrigation ditch for a drink, Scott sat down by the tree again. “How long have you worked for my father?”

“Nigh on two years now.”

“And you’ve been alright here? It’s tolerable for you?”

Frank knew what Scott was asking. “There’s been some incidents, but those hands never lasted long. Your father and Cipriano are fair people. You give ‘em a good day’s work, and they respect you for it. My pay’s the same as any other’s. I like it here. The land’s open and the air is clean.”

“Yes, it’s very different from Boston,” Scott agreed. “I’m glad to know my father is a fair man.”

“And he pays more than other spreads. That helps, too,” Frank grinned at him. “I’m sorry for bringing up the War, Mister Scott. Those of us t’were in it, well, we don’t talk about it much, do we? I just want you to know, I understand if you get tired. You just rest when you need to. I understand.”

“I just need to get used to this kind of work is all,” Scott said, hoping it was true. “I don’t want to be treated any differently from the rest of the hands when it comes to working the ranch.”

Frank put his hand on Scott’s arm and waited until he had the blond’s full attention. “But you are different. You survived Libby. Don’t know of anyone else on this ranch who could have done it. You remember that if any one of these cowpokes gives you grief. Just remember they wouldn’t have survived Libby, but you did.”

Scott smiled gratefully. Then he thought maybe Johnny might have survived a year in Libby. Or Murdoch. Maybe the Lancers were made of good stubborn stock.

Johnny was slumped on the sofa when Scott returned to the hacienda that afternoon.

“Are you supposed to be out of your room?” Scott asked him.

“Probably not, but I was tired of being stuck there.” Johnny eyed Scott up and down. “Woowhee, you don’t look so pretty right now, brother. Don’t smell so pretty, either.”

Scott smiled. “I don’t imagine I do. Plowing fields in this heat isn’t conducive to beauty.”

“That’s what the Old Man has you doing? Man, I’d pay to see that.”

“There’s two more fields to be plowed under. Maybe if you play your cards right, you can see it all up close and personal-like.”

Johnny snorted. “You ain’t never gonna see me behind no plow.”

“Why not? Farming beneath you, Johnny?”

“Not a question of beneath me, just a question of too much hard work!”

“Well, I can say from first-hand experience, it is hard work,” Scott agreed. He saw the thin veneer of sweat on his brother’s face. “You been down here long without permission?”

Johnny grimaced as he tried to get into a more comfortable position. “You might say that.”

“And now you wish you were upstairs in bed, but you can’t get the energy to go back up. May I be of assistance?”

“Boston, what the hell are you saying?”

“Can I help you get back to your room?”

“Thought you’d never ask!” Johnny grinned at him and Scott matched it with one of his own.

Before they could figure out the logistics of such a maneuver, Murdoch walked in the room. Johnny slouched back down on the sofa out of the Old Man’s view.

“Scott, there you are.”


“You were plowing the northeast field with Frank today?”

“Yes, sir.”

“How much did you get done?”

“About a third of it,” Scott said, praying that his father wouldn’t ask Frank the same question. It was closer to one quarter than one third.

Murdoch scowled. “A third! You should have gotten more than halfway done today. Damn it! Now a two-day job is going to take three, and there are other jobs that need to be done.”

“It took me a while to get the knack of driving a plow, sir. I’m sorry.”

“How hard is it to learn how to plow? You just stick it the ground; the horse does all the work.”

Scott schooled his features into the almost pleasant, bland look that had driven his grandfather to distraction. Scott would plaster that look on his face and keep repeating “Yes, sir” until Grandfather would get so incensed, he’d order him out of his sight. Mission accomplished. He wondered whether it would work with Murdoch. “Yes, sir.”

“Well, you and Frank are going to keep going out there until you get the job done,” Murdoch reprimanded.

“Yes, sir.”

Murdoch stared at him a few seconds. Scott stared back at him steadily but not threateningly with that mild countenance. Murdoch gave a grunt and then went back the way he came.

Johnny peered at Scott with disgust. “Well, ain’t you all proper, Boston. ‘Yes, sir, yes, sir.’ Where’s your backbone? If the Old Man talked to me like that, I would’ve told him to get off his ass and do the plowing himself! See how fast he was with it!”

Scott threw Johnny’s right arm over his shoulder and hoisted him up. “But my way got him out of the room quickly with no cross words,” Scott said as he half dragged Johnny to the stairs and up them.

That made Johnny reconsider. Scott was right: Murdoch had backed down and left. Yes, this strange brother of his gave him pause.

Murdoch retreated to the kitchen. He poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down heavily at the kitchen table. That look his first-born had given him. He’d not seen it for over twenty-seven years, but he’d never forget it—the look of upper crust Boston males. Coolly appraising, judging, judging, and never giving anything away about the judger. His exchange with Scott had left him reeling. It was all coming back to him now: his courtship with Catherine. She had asked him to go to a social event with her, and he was so smitten with her that he would have done anything she asked. He wore the best suit he could afford. She was resplendent in a blue gown that had complemented her eyes. He had been so proud to escort her to the party.

But that was where the pleasure had ended. As soon as they walked into the room, all eyes had been upon them. At first, the faces of the young men who were there lit up as they saw Catherine. Her beauty could stop conversations. But then their eyes rested upon her companion, and all conversation did stop. Their faces registered surprise, then derision and then settled into the bland, cool countenance that had settled on Scott’s face just a minute ago. With the bland expression came the air of judgment, cruel judgment that always found him lacking—not good enough for them, for Catherine, for high society Boston. Catherine had laughed, danced, and introduced him to everyone as if he’d been raised on Beacon Hill. Every man he shook hands with had that tightly controlled, blasé façade. In the end, they’d had only Catherine’s cousin and best friend, Constance, as their ally. She would spirit them away to some private spot so that he could continue his courtship. If it hadn’t been for dear Connie…

Harlan had been furious with Catherine’s choice of suitor, her mother more understanding, but neither of them thought very highly of him. Garrett had perfected that unruffled look that barely concealed disapproval whenever he saw him. He had apparently passed it on to his grandson. Damn the boy! He wouldn’t tolerate that look directed at him in his own home! Murdoch finished his coffee and marched back into the great room to confront his elder son, but there was no one there, and his anger dissipated into the empty space.

The following week, Dr. Jenkins again came to the ranch to examine Johnny. Johnny was hoping to get the okay to resume his life. He had a beautiful palomino that he couldn’t wait to train. What he got was permission to leave his room and perhaps do some light chores. No riding! Well, the Doc wouldn’t be around to see what he did, so Johnny figured he’d be riding soon enough. If Doc didn’t like it, so what? Same went for the Old Man.

Murdoch seemed very pleased with the good prognosis. Johnny’s wound had been serious, and now it would seem he would have a complete recovery under his friend’s care.

“Is Scott around?” Sam asked as he put away his stethoscope.

“Why? Is there something wrong with Scott?” Murdoch asked, worry in his voice.

“Does there have to be something wrong with him for me to talk to the boy?” Sam scowled.

“Well, yes. You’re a doctor!”

Sam sighed. “I take it he’s not here.”

Murdoch looked at his watch. “He should be riding in within the next half hour or so. How about if Teresa treats you with some lemonade and cookies while you wait?”

“I can’t say no to that, my friend,” Sam replied.

True to Murdoch’s prediction, Scott came into the hacienda nearly thirty minutes later. He escorted the doctor to his room under the frowning eyes of his father.

Scott sat on his bed while Sam pulled up a chair opposite him.

“I’ve gathered some information since we last talked. I’m afraid it’s not going to be exactly what you want to hear.”

“That’s alright, Doctor…Sam. I’d like to know the truth about what I’m dealing with.”

Sam liked this striking young man who looked so much like his mother. It must be tearing Murdoch’s heart out every time he looked at the boy, seeing Catherine looking back at him. “First of all, there are numerous studies dealing with the aftermath of incarceration by the North and the South. It seems prison camps were Hell no matter which side you were on. The results are basically the same. I’m afraid I was right about the fatigue; it won’t go away.”

“But I feel I may be getting stronger, Sam. It seems I can go longer without needing to rest, although I haven’t as yet worked a full morning or afternoon without a break. My stamina is getting better, I know it!”

“I’m glad to hear that, Scott. Life out here is different from that of the eastern, southern, or midwestern part of the country where most of the men studied live. You may get stronger out here than you would have if you’d stayed in Boston. My recommendation is not to push it. Let your strength return naturally and let’s see what happens. Secondly, it’s been theorized that your stomach may have shrunk as a reaction to it not getting adequate food.”

Scott took in the information and slowly nodded. “That would explain why I feel full after half a serving. Johnny eats three times as much as I do. I eat until I’m stuffed, but it still doesn’t amount to all that much.”

“I suggest mid-morning and mid-afternoon meals in addition to breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That way the portions may be smaller, but at the end of the day, you’ll have eaten the proper amount of food.”

Scott began to protest, but Sam held up his hand to stave it off.

“This is necessary for your health, son. You’re not going to get stronger until your body has the nutrients from your diet. You take a break when you need to eat again. The break and the food will help you cope with the work better. How’s the work going, by the way?”

Scott groaned. “I’m sore in places I didn’t even know I had muscles.”

Sam chuckled. “I imagine so. No muscle strains?” Scott shook his head. “The others treating you right?”

“When I work with Frank, there’s no problem. Sam, he was there when Libby was liberated. He was there! He understands! I’m not embarrassed to take a break when I’m working with him. Other times, I’m not sure whether the others think I’m a dandy, incompetent, or just the arrogant and lazy son of the owner sloughing the work off. I try to keep up, but most of the time it’s impossible after a couple of hours.”

“Well, we’ll get these extra meals and breaks implemented immediately. That should help.”

“So, I remain an exception to all the other cowhands,” Scott said dejectedly. “Murdoch already thinks I’m slow and useless.”

Sam leaned forward, his voice low but intense. “It’s a matter of your health, Scott. If you follow this regimen now, you may not need the extra breaks or food in the future. Your stomach may enlarge some, so you can eat larger portions. Also, slowly starving to death affects your muscles and your bones. Your muscles lose strength, maybe permanently, and your bones are more prone to breaking. You may have picked up that heart murmur because of it. You need to be careful out there. Don’t try to lift too much weight. The other men will just have to deal with it. Or you could tell them about your condition.”

The reply was swift. “No! No, I’ll deal with it.”

“Again, I think at least you should inform Murdoch that you were a prisoner of war, that you nearly starved to death.”


“I don’t understand your reluctance. Johnny’s well on his way to recovery. Murdoch’s back to running the ranch. He can handle your situation.”

Scott shook his head. “It’s none of their business. Murdoch wants the past to stay in the past. They don’t need to know what happened to me—that I was captured. I don’t want them to give me that look—surprise followed by horror followed by pity and then treating me like I’m some kind of porcelain doll ready to shatter at any moment. It makes me feel weak, ashamed.” Scott hung his head and whispered, “I’m ashamed I was captured, Sam.” He had never admitted that to another person. He hoped Dr. Jenkins wouldn’t think less of him. He hoped he had assessed the man correctly.

“You have nothing to feel ashamed about, son. Being captured is better than being dead.”

“Sometimes I’m not so sure,” Scott said bitterly, looking away.

 Sam was surprised at feeling so deeply so quickly for this boy. He wanted to help him so badly. But Scott didn’t need his pity. “You survived. That’s all that matters now.”

Scott laughed a little and sadly. “I barely survived and now I’m paying the price. Maybe I should refund my thousand dollars. I’m certainly not what Murdoch thought he was getting in a son. Except, I gave it all away already…”

Sam was curious to know what Scott had done with his money, but that had nothing to do with his patient’s health. “I know that this has to be done, Scott. I’ll tell Murdoch if you don’t want to.”

“I don’t want you to tell him about Libby!” Scott said forcefully.

“I won’t. I promise. I’ll say it’s just a consequence of your being in the war. Is that satisfactory?”

Scott nodded forlornly.

“Oh, and I’ve ordered your quinine.”

“Thank you, Sam.”

Sam got up and gave Scott’s shoulder a brief squeeze as he walked to the door. “Give me a few minutes to talk to your father. Why don’t you rest a bit?”

Scott nodded, slumping farther onto his bed. Again, he wished Sam Jenkins was his father. He wouldn’t have left him in Boston with no communication from him. The man exuded concern and care, and he had known Scott for only a few weeks. It was apparent now that Murdoch was too obsessed with his ranch to ever be concerned about his son…sons.

Murdoch looked up from his papers as Sam entered the great room. “Everything alright, Sam?”

“Yes and no.” At Murdoch’s raised eyebrows, the doctor continued. “Scott is fine, but he does have some health issues that need to be discussed.”

Murdoch put down his papers. “Alright.”

“First of all, Scott needs to eat in between meals. He needs a mid-morning and mid-afternoon meal. Nothing fancy, just some extra meat like jerky or smoked ham and biscuits, maybe.”

“Fine,” Murdoch said rather dismissively. “Just tell Maria what he needs. She’ll see to it.” He went back to his papers.

“And he’ll need to take a break from working to eat that food.”

Murdoch put the papers down again. “From what I’m told, Scott takes more breaks than anyone else does already.”

“He needs to, Murdoch.”

“I know, you’re going to remind me he’s from Boston, where his life wasn’t particularly strenuous, but it’s been several weeks. He should be getting used to things here now.”

“No, I’m going to tell you…”

Sam’s words were cut off by Murdoch’s cry of “Johnny!” He turned to see Johnny Lancer struggling to get down the stairs.

“Johnny, you shouldn’t be pushing yourself!” Murdoch admonished, even as he rushed over to help his son.

“I’m not pushing. The doc said I could get outta my room, didn’t you, Doc?”

“Yes,” Sam admitted, “but I also told you to take it easy.” He watched Murdoch help his younger son to the sofa and then fetch a pillow for his back.

“Are you alright, Johnny? Do you need anything?”

“Don’t need you hovering over me like I’m a kid, Murdoch!”

Now that Johnny was in the room, Sam thought any further discussion about Scott’s health would have to wait. “I’ll go tell Maria about Scott’s needs,” he told Murdoch. The man was already pouring Johnny some water and the boy was arguing about making his drink alcoholic. Murdoch barely acknowledged his departure.

Sam found Maria in her kitchen humming to herself as she prepared dinner. He told her of Scott’s requirements, and she seemed happy to accommodate them, anything “to fatten the poor boy up.” By luck, he found Cipriano by the barn. He told the Segundo about Scott’s need to take breaks from working, stressing that it arose from a medical condition received in the war and not due to indolence. The man had nodded solemnly, but Sam couldn’t tell if Murdoch’s foreman believed him. He shook his head. If only Scott would tell them all that he’d been nearly starved to death as a prisoner of war! All these Lancers were proud, stubborn, pig-headed men! Sometimes doctor/patient confidentiality was a very heavy burden.

Two days later, Scott found Johnny in the corral training Barranca. Jorge had tried to tell him what the name meant—canyon or something—but it didn’t make sense to Scott. Still, the name rolled off one’s tongue prettily, Scott thought. Spanish was such a beautiful sounding language. He was trying to pick up as much of it as he could. The problem was how fast everyone spoke it!

Johnny was practicing lead changes. “He’s looking good,” Scott observed, as he dismounted and climbed up on the corral fence.

Johnny barely acknowledged him. Eventually, he rode over to where Scott was sitting. “That’s one beautiful horse, Johnny,” Scott said.

“He’s gonna be one beautiful ride,” Johnny said, patting the horse’s neck.

“I know. I’ve been exercising him while you were laid up.”

“He’s my horse, Scott. Don’t you forget that.” Johnny whipped Barranca’s neck around and trotted off.

“You’re welcome!” Scott yelled after him. So, Johnny was in one of his bad moods. Seemed the boy…man…had a lot of those. When he was in one, Scott had learned just to back away. In the few times Johnny was willing to talk with him, they’d had some interesting conversations. Johnny had a quick, quirky mind. He wanted to get to know his brother better, but Johnny didn’t seem to share his fraternal curiosity.

At dinner that night Murdoch proclaimed the three of them were going to ride the ranch the following day, since it was obvious Johnny thought he could ride. Johnny at least had the grace to duck his head. “We’ll take it slow, so you can keep up, Scott,” Murdoch had said offhandedly, and Scott’s head ducked in embarrassment as well. He knew how to ride a damned horse! But maybe Murdoch’s remark had been the result of Sam’s conversation with him. Scott didn’t know what all the doctor had said to his father, so maybe the cutting remark was meant to be an acknowledgement of Scott’s condition and not a slur on his riding ability.

The next morning Murdoch took them up on the ridge that Teresa had shown them the day they’d arrived.

“Well, boys, are you ready to claim one third of all of this?” Murdoch asked, sweeping his arm to take in the entire vista.

“Yes, sir.” Scott answered immediately. Ranching was hard work, but he welcomed the challenge. He thought in a few months’ time, he would be able to cope with it. In the past, there had been many challenges to his mind that he’d always conquered fairly easily. Physical challenges were different and harder now since the war. Still, he wanted to test himself. This was the place to do it. It was a new world out West and a new life free from the artificial confines of upper-class Boston. It was terrifying but exciting. He wanted to see whether he could adapt to this life. There were plenty of alternatives if he couldn’t.

“What about you, Johnny?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I’ve never been good at sticking to one spot.”

“You’ve never had a spot that was yours before,” Murdoch pressed. “In some ways, it’s yours more than Scott’s. You were born here, in that hacienda. You ruled here for two years, making the rest of us scurry to your beck and call.” Murdoch lost himself in a fond memory.

Johnny looked over at Scott who cheekily mouthed “one half.” Chuckling, he said, “I might give it a try, Old Man.”

Murdoch took it as a ‘yes.’ “How about we go into town tomorrow and make it official?”

“Yes, sir.” The thought of not having to string fencing wire tomorrow was very welcome to Scott.

Johnny just nodded.

They started down the hillside. “Scott, there’s plenty of time to catch up with Walt and help him with the fencing,” Murdoch said, pointing to a much smaller trail that branched off to the left.

Scott just nodded. As he prodded his horse down the path, he heard his father say, “Johnny, let me tell you about the first time I saw this land…”

Signing his name as Johnny Lancer had changed the boy. It was a small shift, but it was a shift, nonetheless. Johnny showed more of an interest in Lancer, and Murdoch had started to relax a little more. Scott seemed to be doing better, too, although roping was giving him trouble. Murdoch had been heartened by how many of the hands had tried to help him, surprised that they had not simply laughed at his feeble attempts. He had no doubt that Scott would get the hang of it. It was concerning that Scott still needed the extra meals and breaks, but Murdoch was trying to be patient. His sons were so different. The younger one all intensity and raw emotion. You could feel his energy when he walked into the room. The elder one was a blanket of manners, covering and concealing everything underneath. Johnny pushed back and questioned every decision Murdoch made; Scott did everything asked of him without complaint. Yet, it was Johnny he was drawn to. He could see the defiant, independent toddler in the man. Those first two years of Johnny’s life had been Murdoch’s happiest days…

It was time to make one of his dreams come true: the first cattle drive with his sons. He looked up from his ledgers and saw Scott reading in the leather chair under the lamp.

“Scott, could you get Johnny for me? I’d like to talk to you both.”

“I don’t know where he is.”

“The bunkhouse, I believe.”

Scott gave him a lingering look, but Murdoch stared right back. “I think he’s making sure that new hand is getting settled. Seems they have a history.” Murdoch bristled. He didn’t like having to explain his decisions; he was used to simply being obeyed without question. He knew he’d told Scott to stay out of the bunkhouse, but Johnny was a different matter. The boy was constantly testing his authority. Murdoch decided to pick his battles with his younger son, who he was afraid was going to leave at the drop of a hat, signed agreement or not. Being in the bunkhouse with the rest of the hands was not a battle he wanted to wage right now with Johnny. Scott would just have to deal with the inconsistency.

Scott put his book down and rose to do his father’s bidding, wondering why his brother was allowed to consort with the ranch hands but he was not. He knocked on the bunkhouse door and stuck his head in.

Señor Scott!” the vaqueros shouted in greeting.

Hola,” he responded just as enthusiastically. “Johnny está aqui?”

They pointed to the back, where the injured hands had been housed after Pardee’s raid. After greeting everyone, he asked to speak to Johnny.

“Ain’t nothing you can’t say to me in front of my compadres, Scott,” Johnny said, the challenge in his voice unmistakable.

“Alright,” Scott answered amiably. “Our father has requested your presence in the hacienda.”

“An’ he sent his lapdog to tell me.”

Scott bristled, but there was nothing to say to that which wouldn’t escalate the tension, so he remained silent.

“Come join us,” Will said.

“I’d love to, Will, but it just wouldn’t seem right, me taking all of your hard-earned money,” Scott said with a wink. Everyone laughed except Johnny. “You coming?” he asked his brother.

“Tell the Old Man I’ll be there in my own good time.” Johnny looked back down at his cards.

“Good night,” he said to the poker players. “Buenas noches,” he bade the vaqueros. They responded heartily in kind.

Scott was halfway back to the house when the door of the bunkhouse opened, and Johnny was tossed out on his ear with a spate of Spanish by Cipriano. Scott smiled to himself and waited for his brother. Johnny strode right past him with a scowl on his face. Scott couldn’t hide a smirk, which he was sure Johnny saw. His brother didn’t break his stride toward the house. Things were looking up, Scott thought. Had it been a month ago, he was certain Johnny would have tried to punch his smirk off his face.

Once Johnny had been cleared for light work by Sam, Murdoch had begun pairing them. It was obvious that their father wanted them to get to know each other. While Scott had not been opposed to the idea, Johnny had seemed reluctant and resentful. Scott didn’t know why and he had taken it personally. First, Murdoch had sent them up to the field Scott had helped plow with Frank, although Frank had done much of it himself. Scott had been so sore and tired after the first day, he’d spent most of the other two days leading Millie. Frank had just laughed, assuring Scott he was well accustomed to plowing a field. It had taken them the full three days to complete, and Scott had wanted to sleep for a week after he was done. Sowing the alfalfa seeds was much easier than plowing but getting Johnny to talk with him had been a futile effort.

Next Murdoch had sent them away for four days to restock the line shacks. Scott wondered if Johnny would refuse to talk to him for the full four days, but Johnny seemed in a better mood. They found out some things about the other. Johnny didn’t talk about his past as a gunfighter; Scott wouldn’t talk about the war. Safe topics were the ranch, women, and trying to figure out their father. Both of them were fed lies about the man, they discovered. Scott enjoyed his brother’s sense of humor when he let it out to play, and he had even gotten a Spanish lesson one night. Johnny slept outside, which Scott didn’t understand until Johnny told him he was too noisy to sleep with. Johnny had honed being a light sleeper, and Scott’s restlessness and mumblings kept him reaching for his gun most of the night. Scott was deeply embarrassed about his nightmares causing his brother to lose sleep. When Johnny asked about them, he’d simply answered, “the war,” and Johnny knew he didn’t talk about the war. Scott wasn’t sure how he was measuring up for his brother. Johnny played his cards close to his vest. Scott was used to being accepted easily into men’s groups, so his outsider status in California was new and unnerving. If his own brother saw him as useless and not worth knowing, how would he ever gain the respect and camaraderie with the men who worked for Lancer?

Johnny was already seated in one of the chairs opposite Murdoch’s desk when he entered the room, so Scott sat in the other one and waited for Murdoch to speak. It seemed to take Murdoch several seconds to prepare himself.

“I’ve been looking over the books, boys, and we have a problem,” he began.

“Only one?” Johnny said snidely. Scott would have laughed, but it was clear Murdoch was in no mood for levity.

“John, be serious.”

“I’m just trying to lighten the mood, Old Man. It feels like a funeral in here.”

“No, it doesn’t. It’s the way it always is after dinner in here.”

“Yeah, like a said, ‘a funeral.’” Johnny said with a wry and disrespectful grin on his face. Murdoch was starting to turn red.

“Sir, the problem?” Scott asked trying to end the pointless banter.

“Yes, yes. The problem. Ever since Pardee’s raid we’ve been trying to rebuild what he burned and restring our fencing. That takes money, money we don’t have in cash but we do have in cattle. I’ve found a buyer east of Sacramento who’s willing to buy two hundred head from us as soon as we can get the cattle up to him. I’m proposing a cattle drive as soon as we can get it organized. In the next two weeks, I imagine.”

Johnny didn’t say anything.

“When will you be leaving, sir?”

Murdoch chuckled and Scott’s cheeks reddened. “Not just me, Scott. You and your brother will be coming, too. We’ll all be together driving the herd up. Johnny, I’ve talked to Sam. He says you’re fit enough now to go.”

“Don’t worry about me, Old Man. I can take anything you dish out.” There was a challenging edge to Johnny’s voice.

Murdoch ignored it. “Good, good. If we’re all agreed, I’ll start making the arrangements tomorrow. Thank you.” Murdoch started fussing with the papers on his desk, and it was clear they had been dismissed.

Scott wanted to ask Johnny about what was entailed with a cattle drive, but his brother practically bolted for the door back out to the bunkhouse. Scott grabbed his book and meandered up to his bedroom. He needed to know what was expected of him on a cattle drive. Johnny was in one of his snits; he’d be no help tonight. Scott didn’t feel comfortable asking Murdoch, further convincing the man of his appalling ignorance of the West. Maybe Frank or Cipriano would tell him.

It was nearly a week before Scott was put on the same crew as Frank. For the last five days, Cipriano had sent him with Johnny and his friend, Wes, to assess and unclog any of the streams on the west and south sides of the ranch. Scott had thought about asking Johnny about the logistics of a cattle drive, but it was impossible while Wes was with them.

Scott didn’t know what their history was, but when he’d asked about it, all he’d gotten were grins and laughter between Johnny and Wes as they punched each other in the arm. He’d asked poor Maria for extra food for his mid- morning and afternoon breaks because both men helped themselves to his food. Wes took more breaks than Scott did. He chattered away as they worked. Johnny didn’t seem to mind working with Wes. Although not as talkative, he seemed to enjoy the company. Scott didn’t know why. The things Wes would talk about were mind-numbingly boring to Scott. Or nonsensical. Wes was rather possessive of Johnny, and Scott wondered whether the cowboy saw him as a threat to his friendship with Johnny. Wes seemed always to put distance between Scott and Johnny. At any rate, the grouping was not conducive to Scott discovering anything new about his brother or vice versa. Nor did he want to have a serious talk about what a cattle drive was like with the frivolous Wes around. He and Johnny would probably laugh at his ignorance.

Now all hands were needed to round up the cattle that would be driven up north. Because his roping skills were still terribly lacking, Scott was put on “containment” duty while the others rounded up the herd. He didn’t mind, but it only made it more clear that he would be little help with this drive. He spotted Frank eating lunch and asked to sit with him.

“I was wondering whether you could help me, Frank,” he said after both of them were nearly done with their meals.

“Anything you need. You know that by now, Mister Scott.”

“I have no idea what happens on a cattle drive,” Scott admitted. “I’m concerned I’m going to be more hindrance than help.”

Frank described the drive the best he could. El Patrόn and Cipriano would ride point, directing where the herd would travel. Most of the drovers would be used to flank the herd and make sure none of the steers escaped. Then there were the drag riders who made sure the back of the herd kept up. Jorge was going to wrangle the spare horses, the remuda, and Old Pedro would be the cook. Extra hands had been hired for the trip, and it should take them about four days to get to their destination.

“How much roping is it going to involve?” Scott asked.

Frank chuckled. “It depends on how stupid and ornery the critters get, I guess.”

“I haven’t met a cow that wasn’t both,” Scott said lightly; however, inside he was deeply worried. He had yet to rope a moving steer, although weeks ago Will had goaded him into lassoing one that was standing still. The startled cow had started to run. Scott had tried to stop it, but eventually he let go of the rope rather than be pulled off his horse. It still made him red-faced. The other hands had had a good laugh at his expense. It had taken him near to an hour to find the animal and get it back to the herd. The day after, Scott had been consigned to helping Johnny and Wes.

The next morning, Scott screwed up enough courage to speak with Murdoch about his worries.

“Something on your mind, Scott?” Murdoch asked after Scott had stood silently in front of his desk for two or three minutes.

“Yes, sir,” Scott started nervously. “It’s about the cattle drive. Seeing as how I can’t rope a steer yet, I was wondering whether I could stay here. There’s a lot that still needs to be done here since Pardee’s raid.”

Murdoch looked at his first-born in frustration. He wasn’t about to let Scott interfere with his dream of his first cattle drive with his two boys. He shouldn’t be surprised. Scott was reportedly a hard worker but was lacking the basic skills of dealing with cattle. Well, he wouldn’t know about what happens on a cattle drive until he experienced it. He would be going on this drive. “Cattle are the life blood of this ranch. Getting them to market is the culmination of all our hard work here. You need to understand a cattle drive, and the best way to do that is to go on one.”

His first reason to stay being rebuffed, Scott moved on to his second. “I understand that, sir, but I’m thinking my special requirements might be a burden in this endeavor.”

“I’ll make sure you get your extra meals and breaks,” Murdoch assured him. Scott thought he detected an irritated edge to his father’s voice.

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” Scott hesitated. He had hoped he wouldn’t need his final reason—his recurring malaria attacks. The ague. He never knew when he would get an attack, but if it should happen while they were on the trail…

“Is there something else?”

“Yes, sir. I need to tell you…because of the war…”

“Damn it, Scott! Are you going to use the war as an excuse every time you can’t or don’t want to do something?”

Scott flushed bright red. He stammered out, “No, sir. Of course not.” Is that what Murdoch thought—that the effects of the war were an excuse to get out of work? He took a deep breath. Regardless of his misconceptions, Murdoch needed to know about his condition. “It’s just that at the end of the war, I came down with malaria. Sometimes the ague…it comes back.”

Murdoch’s glare softened. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know. You think it’s going to happen during the drive? Can you predict it like that?”

As much as Scott wanted to say he could predict a relapse during the drive, he couldn’t lie to his father. “No, I can’t predict it. I just wanted to warn you…if it should happen.”

“And what happens when it does happen?”

“Fever mostly. Chills and my joints ache. I’m usually bedbound for three or four days.”

Murdoch looked him over, and Scott knew the man had no idea how much it had taken for Scott to admit his illness, his weakness, to him.

“Well, let’s not borrow trouble. I’m sure you’ll be fine. It should only take us eight or nine days round trip. It’s not a big drive. Now you’d better catch up with Cipriano and the crews.”

“Yes, sir.” Scott inwardly groaned. The way his life was going in California, whatever could go wrong would go wrong. He knew he was going to be the cause of some disaster on this drive, although he didn’t know what—and the not-knowing was killing him.

After one day riding drag with the newly hired Wilcox brothers, Scott was ready to give it all up and ride back to the hacienda. The brothers were not much better at roping cows than he was. The few that tried to escape took them more time than necessary to round up. They had looked at him with confusion and anger when he had stopped for his mid-morning and afternoon breaks and meals, even though he had kept them as short as he could and had caught up easily with the herd when he was done. Lunch had been a most welcome rest, and then it was up on a different horse to move the herd in the afternoon. And no one need mention the dust. Even with a bandana covering his face, he felt like he had eaten pounds of dust. He gratefully rolled out his bedroll and rested on it until dinner was called.

“Hey, Wes,” Johnny said quietly as he poked his friend in the ribs. “What say we play a prank on my brother there?”

“Hell, no, amigo!” Wes replied, which surprised Johnny. Wes was usually the one suggesting practical jokes.

“Why not?”

“Because Cipriano told us all to leave ‘Señor Scott’ the hell alone. Said he was ‘moocho om bray’ or something. He’s off limits to anyone who wants his head still attached to his body.”

Mucho hombre, huh? Well, he didn’t tell me that,” Johnny said. “C’mon, it’s a rite of passage. The greenhorn gets the pranks.”

“Well, maybe it’s different for you being his brother and all, but don’t expect me to help ya. I don’t even want to know about it,” Wes groused. “Besides, this is your first drive, too, ain’t it? Shouldn’t we be pranking you, too?”

Johnny laughed. “Ain’t none of these guys gonna play any tricks on Johnny Madrid. They don’t have the guts. I guess I’m on my own with Scott then.”

Murdoch’s dream had included sitting down to dinner with his two boys after a grueling day and enjoying the evening meal with them. To his dismay, Johnny plopped down in the midst of the vaqueros, and several of the more experienced hands invited Scott to join them. He did so unselfconsciously, and they greeted him warmly. Murdoch’s temper rose. Scott must be sneaking into the bunkhouse behind his back to be so comfortable with the hired help. The boy was all politeness to his face and then did what he wanted behind his back. Murdoch would have to remember that. His dream dashed for this night, he sat with Cipriano and they went over the next day’s agenda.

Johnny was again surprised at the warm welcome Scott received from the men who had stayed to fight for Lancer. He had kept his face neutral when Scott had dropped in on the bunkhouse to tell him of Murdoch’s summons and the men had greeted Scott affectionately. Perhaps it was the fact that it had been Scott who had killed Pardee that had endeared him to the seasoned hands. Whatever it was, to see his brother received so warmly by the ranch hands gave him pause; however, it did not deter him from his plans. He quietly slipped away from the group.

Scott was the first to disengage himself from the group of men with whom he was talking. Well, it wasn’t really talking; they were just giving him shit about riding drag all day. It was clear they had all experienced it at one time or another during their ranching life, and they knew what he had gone through. It was all said in fun. He politely excused himself and almost flung himself at his bedroll, he was so exhausted. Murdoch had mercifully given him the last shift on night rounds and he needed all the sleep he could get before being awakened for his turn.

He took off his boots and went to slide in between the blankets when a bullfrog croaked and leapt up from the confines of Scott’s roll. Scott recoiled, frightened by the unexpected visitor. He could hear Johnny’s raucous laughter and some of the others joined in with him, albeit more subdued.

The frog sat there, two hops away from Scott’s bed, waiting to see what happened next. Everyone was. Scott sighed, put his boots back on, and caught the amphibian with enviable ease. He then walked to the edge of the stream to let it go back to its natural habitat with as much dignity as it and Scott could muster. Then Scott came back and without a word, checked his bedroll for any other foreigners, flipped both his blankets over, slipped off his boots again, slid into his bed and went to sleep.

Several minutes later, Johnny bedded down next to Scott. “Sorry, Scott,” he mumbled before falling asleep.

The following morning Scott was still on his night rounds when Cipriano took Johnny aside and gave him a tongue-lashing that only an irate uncle can give an errant nephew. He needn’t have bothered. Johnny had already decided that he wasn’t going to play any more tricks on his brother. Cipriano’s descriptions of Scott, though, were eye-opening. His uncle found his brother to be a man of honor, worthy of the deepest respect, extremely intelligent and very compassionate and fair. There would be no more tricks played on him! Johnny had no idea when his uncle had the opportunity to make these observations. He did know one thing—his uncle would not have described his nephew as such. He wanted Cipriano to think of him that way. Maybe someday he would. He knew deep down he was all the things that Scott was. Or was he? He was clever—was that the same as intelligent? He had a profound sense of justice—was that the same as being fair? But compassion? Gunhawks were not thought of as compassionate men. That led to a short life. He had a tendency to fight for the underdog and that had almost gotten him killed before the Pinkerton agent showed up in the nick of time. It gave him pause. Maybe he and Scott weren’t so different deep down inside. They just had different ways of being it was all.

Scott was already wishing the day was over when he rode in for breakfast. Not surprisingly, he and the Wilcox brothers were assigned to ride drag again. Johnny was going to be a swing rider. That was a pretty good position next to riding point, which neither Murdoch nor Cipriano would ever relinquish. He tamped down a flare of jealousy. He had no business being anywhere but the back end of herd. Until he could rope better, it was where he belonged. If he didn’t have enough motivation to learn the skill before, this drive was giving it to him.

He got his extra food for the morning from Old Pedro, who, to his credit, was genial about the extra effort. Scott reckoned that once you watched a man die and buried him together, you were bonded to each other in a macabre way. Ramόn bounded over to greet him, and Scott wished the boy could give him a dose of his energy. Scott said good morning to him in Spanish and gave him a one-armed hug. The boy was so excited to be on his first cattle drive. He was helping Jorge with the remuda and doing any other odd chores that needed doing. Ramόn hugged him back, and Scott caught his father watching him with a frown. More fraternizing with the help and a young boy at that! Scandalous! Sighing, he mounted up for another long day in the saddle.

Aside from acting irritated with him when he stopped to take his extra break, the Wilcox brothers left Scott alone. He didn’t mind. He had nothing to say to them anyway. They had called him some kind of name when he stopped for his mid-afternoon break, but Scott hadn’t been paying attention to them and missed it. He didn’t care; he was bone weary and it was only the second day.

He woke up and immediately realized something was wrong. The sun was farther in the west than it should be. He had fallen asleep under the tree where he had taken his break! This was bad. Very bad. He scrambled to gather his food tin and canteen and went to find his horse. It wasn’t there. Frantically, he began to search the area. How far could the animal go? Unless spooked, horses tended to just stand there and graze even without being ground tethered, which Scott remembered doing. He searched for almost an hour before he gave up and started following the herd. It wasn’t difficult to track two hundred head of cattle; even a greenhorn could do it. At least he had his canteen. It was another hour before the shivering started and Scott knew he was in trouble. No wonder he had fallen asleep—the ague was upon him. He needed his quinine and he needed it now, but his saddlebags were on his horse and his horse was nowhere to be found.

Johnny sidled up to the chuck wagon where his father was standing. “You seen Scott?”

Murdoch turned to face his younger son. “Not since lunch.”

“Yeah, well, nobody’s seen him since lunch.”

“What about the two who were riding drag with him?”

“The Wilcox brothers? They came in a while ago. Seems they haven’t seen him since he stopped to take his break this afternoon.”

“They didn’t go back to check on his when he didn’t catch up?” Murdoch asked, his anger rising.

“Don’t go blaming them, Old Man. They weren’t told to keep an eye on him, and they don’t got one brain between them. Ain’t that why they’re riding drag?”

Murdoch’s anger deflated. “I’m sure he’ll be riding in any minute now,” he assured Johnny.

“I’m not so sure. I got a bad feeling about this. I think I’m gonna go back and meet up with him.”

“Get something to eat before you go off.”

Johnny waved him off. He’d been concerned about even telling Murdoch about his fears over Scott, afraid he’d be worrying the man over nothing. Now he was more concerned that Murdoch wasn’t worried enough over Scott. He picked out the freshest looking horse in the remuda, saddled it, and rode off to find his brother.

He had ridden only a half an hour or so when he spotted the lump on the ground. Jumping off his horse, he turned the body over. It was Scott. The man was shivering uncontrollably, and his skin was overly warm to the touch.

“Scott!” Johnny said as he shook his brother’s shoulder.

Scott moaned and raised pain-filled eyes to Johnny’s face. “Johnny?”

“What are you doing just lying here, Boston? You need to get to camp.”

“I lost my horse,” Scott admitted, his voice trembling along with his body. “I walked as far as I could…”

“Alright, alright,” Johnny soothed. “Let’s get you up on Calico and back to camp.” He tried to lift Scott up.

Scott grabbed his arm. “No, you don’t understand. I need my horse. My medicine…” He fell back down on the ground.

“You gotta help me here,” Johnny pleaded. “We’ll look for your horse after we get you settled.” He knew Scott wasn’t thinking clearly and was ready to collapse again. He had to get his brother on the horse before that happened. The urgency in his voice seemed to break through. Scott nodded and tried his best to stand.

It took longer than it should have, but Johnny managed to manhandle Scott onto the horse. He mounted behind him. Scott’s hands were clinging onto the saddle horn as if his life depended upon it. Maybe it did. All Johnny knew was his brother seemed to be burning up. He snaked an arm around Scott’s waist, and they started the slow journey to camp.

Once they neared the chuck wagon, many hands were reaching up to take Scott from the horse. Murdoch’s booming voice telling them to move away scattered them. He grabbed Scott by the waist and easily tore him from Johnny’s hold.

“Make way!” Murdoch bellowed as he lifted his shaking son in his arms and carried him to a bedroll that was spread by the chuck wagon. “Where’d you find him?” he asked Johnny as he tried to assess Scott’s condition.

“About two miles back. He almost made it,” Johnny said. “What’s wrong with him, Murdoch? He looked alright at lunch—just tired, like we all were.”

“I don’t know, son,” Murdoch admitted. “Maybe this is what he told me about—the ague.”

“The what?”

Suddenly Old Pedro appeared with some water, and Murdoch lifted Scott’s head so he could take a drink. The water seemed to revive Scott somewhat.

“Scott!” Murdoch called as he brusquely patted Scott’s cheek. “Scott, do you know what this is?”

Scott nodded. “It’s what I told you about—the ague. I need my pills.” Scott struggled to rise.

Murdoch held him down. “Where are they?”


Murdoch looked at Johnny. “Do you know where his saddlebags are?”

Johnny shrugged. “On his horse, I reckon. Scott said he couldn’t find it.”

Murdoch blew out a frustrated breath. “Well, this is just great…”

Frank was suddenly by their side. “Mr. Lancer? I know what this is. Let me help. Does he have any quinine with him?”

“In his saddlebags, but they seem to have disappeared along with his horse.”

“I’ll go find his horse,” Johnny volunteered, rising, but Murdoch caught his arm.

“No, we’ll look early tomorrow morning. It’ll be dark in ten or fifteen minutes. You get your supper.”

“But if he really needs it,” Johnny protested.

“Mister Johnny, it don’t matter now too much. The ague’s taken hold fierce already. It can wait ‘til morning,” Frank said.

Johnny relented unwillingly.

“Mister Lancer, is there some place we can put him for the night that’s not on the ground?” Frank asked.

They made a space for Scott in the extra supply wagon. Scott tried to tell them he was fine, to go to no trouble for him, and it took all their restraint not to laugh. The man was shivering violently and complaining of being cold.

“How can he be cold when he’s hot to touch?” Johnny asked Frank as they gathered up any spare blankets they could find.

Frank shrugged. “I don’t rightly know, Mister Johnny; it’s just how it is. All them poor fellas get hot and get the chills at the same time with this thing.”

“And ague…what is that?” Johnny asked the cowboy.

“It’s what they call the fever when the sickness returns.”

“What sickness?”

“Malaria. Some years ago, at the end of the war, your brother got malaria.”

How did Frank know this about Scott? And malaria—Johnny had never heard of that before. Guess it hadn’t hit Mexico yet. But it sounded bad. Real bad if it kept coming back on you.

The next morning, Scott’s condition had improved slightly but not dramatically. He was still warm to the touch despite the cool cloths on his forehead during the night.

Jorge came running up to the wagon. “Patrόn! I’ve found them! The saddlebags! Señor Scott’s saddlebags!”

“Where were they?” Murdoch asked.

“It don’t matter,” Johnny scolded him. He grabbed the saddlebags out of the wrangler’s hands and climbed up on the wagon. Seeing that Scott was awake, he tossed the bags at his brother. “See if what you need is in here.”

Scott rifled through the bags and found his pills. “Water, please,” he begged.

Johnny got him some and watched as his brother took the medicine with a relieved sigh. He had hoped it would miraculously and immediately cure Scott. When his brother slumped back down on his bedroll still shivering, Johnny was disheartened.

“What are we gonna do?” he asked Murdoch.

Murdoch turned to Frank. “How long does this usually last?” He knew what Scott had told him, but he trusted the hand’s knowledge as well.

“Three or four days, maybe longer depending on how well the quinine works. It seems to get less helpful after the ague comes back a few times.” Frank climbed up on the side of the wagon. “How many times does this one make, Mister Scott?”

“Four,” came the reply.

Frank just shook his head sadly. “Don’t know how much help the quinine will be this time.”

“Can we just take him along with us in the back of this wagon?” Murdoch asked. He needed to get this herd to McGinty’s ranch. There was a clause in the contract that contained a penalty if they were late. “We can’t wait here until he gets over it.”

“Stockton is not far,” Cipriano suggested. “A bed that did not move would be best for him, no?”

“I suppose so,” Murdoch conceded.

“I’ll take him,” Johnny volunteered.

“No, son. I need you on right flank today.”

“I’ll go, Mister Lancer,” Frank said. “Just point me in the right direction.”

Murdoch shook his head at that suggestion as well. “No, you’re riding left swing today. And don’t you even think about it, Cip. We’re losing one rider with Scott sick; I don’t want to be two men down.”

“Ramόn can go,” Old Pedro offered. “He will see Señor Scott to safety.”

“He will not!” Scott’s voice bellowed from the wagon bed. The thought of being tended to by a thirteen-year-old angered Scott. He was mostly concerned that the boy would become lost on his way back to the herd. He didn’t want him on his own in unfamiliar territory. “Look, just saddle a horse up for me. I can make my own way.”

“Well, if you’re sure, Scott,” Murdoch said. That would be best in this situation.

“I’m sure. It’s just a fever. I’ll be fine.” Scott tried to sit up gracefully to convince them. His joints ached something awful, but the thought of being rattled around for hours in the back of the wagon was splendid motivation for getting on a horse and heading for a proper bed.

“I’ll get him a horse,” Johnny said, angrily glaring at his father.

They all watched as Scott mounted and took hold of the reins. It was taking all his energy to appear normal. He prayed Stockton wasn’t too far away at a northwest direction.

“Don’t worry about me. I’ll be alright,” Scott reassured them for the tenth time. He pointed the pony northwest and trotted away.

Johnny turned on his father. “You happy now? No way he should be on his own, sick as he is.”

Murdoch hid his own fear for his son, but he had to get the cattle in on time to get full price for them. The solvency of the ranch depended on this sale; he couldn’t take on any more debt. “He’ll be alright.” He turned to Cipriano. “Let’s break camp and be on our way,” he ordered his Segundo. “We’ve already lost an hour or more this morning because of Scott.”

Patrόn, your son is a good man,” Cipriano said nodding toward Scott’s back. “He is hard-working, respectful. The men like him.”

“Well, that doesn’t help us now, does it?” Murdoch said angrily to cover up his fear. He watched Scott disappear in the horizon, his dream of his first cattle drive with his sons disappearing with him.

Cipriano just shook his head with a heavy heart. El Patrόn was an excellent boss, but his sons didn’t need a boss. They needed a father.

Scott had been riding only a short time when he heard hoofbeats behind him. He stopped and turned.

“Hey, Scott! Wait up!”

There was no mistaking his brother on his magnificent palomino. He was a most welcome sight. At least now if he got lost, he would have company.

“Murdoch finally let you come?” he asked as Johnny rode up.

Johnny grinned. “Not exactly…”

“You just rode off?”

Johnny grinned at him. “The guys know. They’re covering for me. ‘Sides, if I get you bedded down quick enough, the Old Man won’t even know I’ve been gone.”

Scott smiled a grateful smile at his brother. He would never have guessed the man would sneak away for him. Another surprise courtesy of Johnny Lancer.

They continued for a few miles before Johnny said, “You know, Boston, I was impressed by you catching that frog so easily that first night.”

Scott smiled. “I learned that particular skill early on.”

“Lots of frogs in Boston?”

“Not in the city proper, but in the summers, I got passed around to various relatives in the countryside. They inevitably had ponds on their properties, and as a young boy, I was very taken with the frogs that lived there. I missed their croaking at night when I returned to Boston. I spent many hours catching them and playing with them and then returning them to their homes. They can only jump forward, you know.”

After several minutes, Johnny asked, “What’s Boston like?”

Scott paused. It was similar to the question Cal Manning had asked him the second night after Pardee’s raid. He began to tell Johnny the same thing he’d told Cal.

Scott had been talking for a while, and Johnny could see it wearing on him. He suggested they rest for a few minutes, and Scott nodded gratefully.

“You need more of your medicine?” Johnny asked after he had situated his brother by a tree and had retrieved their canteens and saddlebags.

Scott took a long drink of water and shook his head. “Not until dinnertime.”

Johnny took some bacon out of Scott’s food tin and shared some with him.

“How’d you find my saddlebags this morning anyway?”

Johnny shrugged. “Jorge did. He said they were just lying there on the far side of the horse strings along with the rest of your tack.”

“Thank God they were there. Can’t think of how they got there.”

“I got my suspicions,” Johnny said, “but I’m not saying until I’m sure.”

Scott let it go. A bout of the chills set in and he weathered it for a while. When the chills subsided, he and Johnny went on their way again. Too tired to talk anymore, Scott asked Johnny about Mexico.

Johnny Madrid Lancer had a gift with words, Scott thought. His descriptions of the desert were colorful and vivid, and made Scott wish he could see the land himself, although Johnny warned him that being in the desert unprepared was a quick way to die. Johnny told him of the borderlands around New Mexico and Texas. He told him of the large rivers: the Colorado and the Rio Grande. He talked of the rumors he had heard about the areas: the cave with thousands of bats in New Mexico and the huge canyon that was north of the border on the Colorado River. Maybe they could try to find the canyon together sometime.

Johnny could see that Scott was faring poorly. He quietly slipped the reins out of his brother’s grasp. “You just hold onto the saddle, Scott,” he said. “I’ll get us to Stockton.” They were already on the cultivated fields surrounding the town.

Scott nodded and gripped the pommel. “Thanks, Johnny,” he squeaked out as a wave of chills wracked his body again.

Another half hour of riding and buildings began to appear. “Where do you want to hole up?” Johnny asked.

“Best hotel,” Scott answered.

Johnny smiled to himself. He should have guessed his dandy brother would want only the best even in his fevered state. They rode into the center of town, and Johnny stopped them in front of a large hotel that he knew he couldn’t have afforded until a few months ago, until he’d gotten his “listening money.” Scott’s chills seemed to have lessened, and he knew his brother’s last reserves were kicking in.

Scott slid off his horse and grabbed his saddlebags, his lifeline. He straightened his back and strode into the hotel trying to look as healthy as possible. Johnny followed him to the open door and then leaned just inside the doorframe in case Scott needed help.

Scott talked to the hotel clerk for a long time, Johnny thought. In his experience, you walked in wanting a room, the clerk said how much it was, you laid your money down, and you got your key. It took a minute, tops. Johnny had no idea what was taking Scott so long. Finally, Scott rummaged around in his saddlebags, brought out a twenty-dollar gold piece, and placed it on the counter. Hooboy! If that didn’t send the place hopping!

Scott came over, saddlebags on his shoulder, and shook Johnny’s hand. “Thanks for your help today, brother. I don’t think I would have made it without you.”

“Aw, sure you would, Scott. You’re one stubborn man,” Johnny said, punching Scott lightly on his arm with his free hand. “I’ll make sure your horse is taken care of and then I’ll be on my way.”

“You have enough money for that?”

“Yeah, I do, if you leave the tip at the end of your stay.”

“Will do. Oh, and I got a room with two beds for when you come get me, if that’s alright,” Scott said a bit shyly.

“No, that’s good, brother, if you promise to sleep quiet,” Johnny said. “The Old Man and me will see you in a few days.”

“Just you would be enough,” Scott mumbled.

“I’ll see what I can do.” Johnny winked, and then he was gone.

Scott trudged up the stairs to his room. The chambermaid for his room might not be very happy for the next three days, but he was confident his wishes would be carried out. The Liberty coin had sealed that deal. The room was fairly spacious and had good light, but he didn’t need good light yet. He closed the curtains, moved the washstand close to his bed, shucked out of his clothes placing them by the door, and slipped naked between the sheets. With a weary sigh, Scott Lancer finally succumbed to the ague and to sleep.

The drive had been successful and Murdoch was paying the men. Johnny suggested he pay them in alphabetical order. That meant the Wilcox brothers would be paid last. Johnny was sitting at a table outside the cantina with their money as he watched them stride over.

“Boss said you had our pay, Mister Lancer,” Dave said, or was it Dwayne? Johnny could never keep them straight. In any event, it was the older brother.

“You can call me Johnny,” Johnny said, his hand almost caressing the butt of his gun. He made sure the brothers saw it, too. “You know I didn’t always go by the name Lancer.”

They both swallowed hard. “Yessir,” the one Johnny had decided was Dave said. Dwayne didn’t talk too much. “We know you’re Johnny Madrid.”

“Well, that’s good,” Johnny drawled. “That’s real good, boys. Now I have a few questions I’d like to ask you before you get your pay. Don’t worry, it’s all there. You earned it.”

“Yessir, Johnny.”

“I’m wondering, on the night my brother got sick, I’m wondering why you didn’t take no notice of that.”

Dave and Dwayne exchanged very nervous looks but remained silent.

“If you want your pay, you’ll answer me,” Johnny said, the threat very real in his tone. If he had to repeat himself, it would be ‘if you want to stay alive, you’ll answer me.’

Dwayne elbowed Dave. “Well, he stopped to take his break and we went right on and never noticed he was gone,” Dave explained.

“Then how did his horse get mixed back in with the remuda and his tack lying there just as plain as day?”

Dave shrugged.

Johnny stood up and stood like he was ready for a gunfight, his hand hovering just inches away from his gun. “I’m not asking you again, boys.”

“Dave!” Dwayne cried out in fright.

Johnny smiled. He’d had them pegged right.

“Alright, alright!” Dave said. “You’re right. We noticed he didn’t ride back up to us when he shoulda. We circled back around and there he was asleep. We just wanted to play a joke on him, honest Mr. Lancer! We didn’t know he was sick or nothing. We took the horse. We knew it wouldn’t be too long before the herd would stop for the night. We thought he’d be able to walk back to camp alright. Jesus, we’re sorry, so sorry about that. If we’d aknown he was sick, we’d never adone that. Honest!”

Dwayne was nodding at everything his brother said. “Honest!” he added at the end.

“And the horse?” Johnny was too curious to let that slide by.

“We took turns leading it and then tied it up outside the camp. We took third shift that night and snuck away to get it and put it back with the others. Left the tack where Jorge would find it.”

“But you knew by then that my brother needed that medicine!” Johnny practically shouted at them.

Finally, Dwayne spoke up. “We didn’t want to get in trouble, Mr. Madrid. We needed this job. It was just gonna be a joke, like you puttin’ a frog in his bedroll the night before. It was just gonna be a joke like that.”

Johnny let a flicker of pain cross his face. His stupid practical joke had caused Scott pain. “Cipriano said not to bother him, didn’t he?”

Dave nodded. “But we figured it was okay since you did it. Sorry, Mr. Lancer.”

They looked as sincerely miserable as they could. Johnny thrust their pay at them. “Here you go, boys, but don’t ever let me see you on Lancer land again.”

“No sir, Mr. Madrid…Lancer…Johnny. Thank you, sir.” The Wilcox brothers left right quickly.

Murdoch walked up. “They do it?”

Johnny sighed. “Yeah. It was just supposed to be a practical joke.”

“I hoped they learned their lesson. Practical jokes can backfire.”

“Well, Scott sure paid the price for it. They said they thought they could do it since I put the frog in his bedroll. Díos, Murdoch, it was my fault.”

Murdoch put what he hoped was a comforting hand on Johnny’s shoulder. “What’s done is done, Johnny.”

“In the past and not open for discussion?” Johnny gibed.

Murdoch smiled, letting Johnny know he recognized his own words being flung back at him. “If you’ve learned from it. C’mon, let’s see how your brother is doing.”

“Wes was thinking of riding with us,” Johnny said.

“I sent him back with the rest of the crew,” Murdoch said. “I think the Lancers need a little time to themselves.”

Johnny nodded his acquiescence. “Any time you’re ready, Old Man.”

Murdoch patted him on his shoulder as they headed to their horses.

Scott woke up the morning of the fourth day of his stay in the hotel and felt vaguely human again. He wanted a bath, a shave, and a haircut in that order. Finding his clothes washed, ironed, and neatly folded beside his polished boots as he requested, he dressed and went in search of the barber shop. After all his wants were satisfied, he made his way to the hotel restaurant. Time for some more substantial food than soup and porridge.

It was nearly lunchtime, but Scott ordered a breakfast anyway. Eggs would be kinder to his stomach than a stew. He was halfway through his meal when he heard the unmistakable tones of his father’s voice. He couldn’t see the front desk from where he sat, so he moved chairs. There was Johnny strolling in. Scott raised his hand and got his brother’s attention. The smile that lit up Johnny’s face was unexpected but comforting. Both men came in and sat at Scott’s table.

“I must say, you look a whole lot better than when I last saw you, Scott,” Johnny said, taking in his brother’s clean and pressed clothes. There was a bit more color in Scott’s face as well.

“I can imagine.”

“Just how long have you been enjoying the pleasures of Stockton?”

Murdoch’s question may have been meant in jest, but Scott was irritated by the implication anyway. Why did Murdoch think he was always slacking off? This was the first time he’d been out of his sickbed in four days. “For about two hours, sir,” he replied icily. “Would you like to join me?” he asked, looking at Johnny.

“Yeah, I could eat.”

“I think I’ll go up to my room and rest a bit first, then head to the bathhouse,” Murdoch said and the tension at the table left with him.

Johnny ordered and then proceeded to tell Scott all about the drive. He told him about the Wilcox brothers and their prank, surprised at how understanding Scott was about the whole affair. He would have been madder than a wet cat. When Johnny pressed him about it, all Scott would say was that he suspected something like that would happen when he was accorded special treatment with the extra breaks and food and all. He felt no animosity toward them. It might have been a good prank if he hadn’t been sick.

After their meal, Johnny wanted to explore the town, but Scott begged off. He needed to rest some more. Plus, he was sure that his fever would return in the late afternoon. It would be mild but draining, nonetheless, if his past bouts were any indication. “I think I’ll be more able to do that tomorrow, Johnny.”

Johnny sighed. “I think the Old Man wants to head back to Lancer tomorrow.”

Scott shrugged. “Let him.”

Johnny caught the twinkle in Scott’s eye. “I like the way you think, brother.” It was still odd to call this man ‘brother,’ Johnny thought, but not as strange as the first time he’d said it. He didn’t know if he could get used to saying it. But maybe he could. It rolled off his tongue fairly easily just now.

They walked up to the hotel room so that Johnny could stow his gear. He seemed agreeable to the arrangements.

“So what are you going to do now?” Scott asked as he took off his boots and laid back on his bed.”

“A shave and a bath sound good for a start. Then find a saloon. It’s a tad early for drinking, but a little poker game should be relaxing,” Johnny said as he pulled a thin packet from his saddlebags. He threw it at Scott, who didn’t even try to catch it. It landed on his chest. “That’s your pay for the drive.”

The packet was thrown back at Johnny. “What for? I didn’t earn it. I was lazing here in Stockton, according to our father.”

“Yeah, well, our father is an ass,” Johnny laughed, tossing the money back at Scott, who caught it this time.

“True, brother, but I still don’t think I earned it.” He pitched it back short, and it landed at Johnny’s feet. “There’s your stake at your poker game.”

“Really?” Johnny asked, picking the money up. He liked the way Scott kept giving him money. It was stupid, he thought, but he appreciated being on the receiving end of it.

“Think of it as a small thank you for all your help lately.”

“Hell, I don’t need no thank you money.”

“Tell you what, you play with it, and give me half of your net winnings.”

“Net winnings?”

“Anything you make beyond what’s in there.”

“Oh, alright, but make it twenty-five.”



That night the Lancers dined together. Johnny slipped Scott a couple of dollars and was rewarded by one of Scott’s half smiles that conveyed that he was impressed by Johnny’s card playing.

“Are you well enough to ride home tomorrow, Scott?” Murdoch asked after their meals had arrived.

“Johnny and I would like to spend another day in Stockton, sir. I haven’t been well enough to see what the town has to offer,” Scott replied mildly.

“We can’t dawdle. The work on the ranch has probably doubled since we’ve been on the drive,” Murdoch persisted.

“I’d like to get something for Teresa and Maria. They work so hard for us,” Scott countered.

Johnny was watching with bemused eyes. Scott spoke so calmly but assuredly. Now he had the Old Man cornered. What was Murdoch going to do? Deny Teresa and Maria presents? And wasn’t it just like his brother to think of buying something for their gals? It hadn’t occurred to Johnny to buy anything for them. Scott was always thinking about others, it seemed. Johnny had seen the size of the tip Scott had given the girl who’d taken care of his needs while he was sick. He thought she was going to faint.

But Murdoch wasn’t through. “I feel the need to start back tomorrow.”

“Have a safe journey, sir,” Scott said. He sounded sincere, too.

Murdoch threw down his napkin on the table, his voice rising. “Now listen here, boy, I call the tune, remember?”

Scott finally showed a spot of irritation. “Not when it comes to my health, you don’t!”

There was silence at the table for a few minutes. Johnny found himself holding his breath.

“Why didn’t you just say you weren’t feeling up to it in the first place, Scott?”

“Because my main motivation is to spend more time with Johnny away from work, sir. This seems like an excellent opportunity to do so.”

Murdoch sighed. “I have an old friend who lives near here. Perhaps I could spend the day with her tomorrow.”

A woman! Johnny and Scott exchanged meaningful glances.

“That sounds like an excellent idea, sir. I’d prefer all three of us riding back to Lancer together.”

Whatever bad feelings Murdoch had, they evaporated with Scott’s last statement. ”That’s settled then,” Murdoch proclaimed smiling, leaving Johnny once again in awe of Scott’s ability to mollify the Old Man while still getting his own way—all without raising his voice. It had been a masterful performance. Murdoch hadn’t gotten his way and was smiling about it. This brother of his sure gave him pause…

After dinner, Murdoch and Scott went up to their rooms. Scott had to save his energy if he was going to chase Johnny all over Stockton tomorrow. Johnny slipped off to experience what other delights Stockton might hold in the evening.

Upon returning to the room that night, Johnny restlessly turned from his right to his left side trying to find a comfortable position. He had been surprised at the amount of worry he had for Scott when he and Murdoch rode into Stockton. Why should he be worried about a man he hardly knew, even if he was his blood brother? Why should he feel such relief to find him well? Since Mama had died, he’d learned the hard way not to care for anyone else. Gunhawks were loners out of necessity. People he cared about could be used against him. He’d even abandoned Val because he was feeling too close to the man. He had paid his debt to Murdoch for taking care of him after Pardee had shot him by helping out with this drive. Now it was time for him and Wes to venture out and start a horse breeding ranch of their own. He had his “listening money” to set them up. He had come to Lancer to kill his father. He no longer wanted to kill the man, but he wasn’t gonna put up with him barking orders at him day and night either. There was no reason to stay because of the Old Man. He had signed that damned contract, but he couldn’t live like this. He would leave, but maybe not right away. He had to admit he was curious about Scott, who had turned out to be not some sissified snob but someone who could ride and shoot with the best of them—a man his tio deeply respected, and he was beginning to see why. He wanted to know more about this older brother of his. Maybe just a little more time at Lancer with Scott, and then he’d leave.

Scott heard his brother’s restlessness. It was strange to think this person who he didn’t even know existed until last month, who was reckless and impulsive and who treated him mostly as an irritant, was the same man who had come after him when he had been sick, defied their mule-headed father, and gotten him safely to Stockton. Johnny was an enigma. He intrigued Scott. But the rest of it… Sam was right. He’d always be fatigued, always have to eat smaller and more meals because of his near starvation in Libby. He should think about a place and occupation that would more easily allow him to hide his infirmities than ranching. He could do that back in Boston as an accountant in Grandfather’s business, where everyone there knew of his incarceration. But Scott wanted more from life than that. The one thing this journey to California had taught him was that he enjoyed adventure, thrived on it. Perhaps he could find something in St. Louis where he had some friends or take a steamboat down the Mississippi to New Orleans. That could be exciting. He had satisfied his curiosity and found his father, who turned out to be mostly indifferent to or critical of him. There was no reason to stay because of Murdoch. He knew he had signed the contract, but he couldn’t honor it under these conditions. He would leave, but maybe not right away. He was curious about Johnny, who seemed to embody so many fascinating contradictions. He was starting to feel a connection to his younger brother. Maybe just a little more time at Lancer with Johnny, and then he’d leave.

Three rooms down the hall, Murdoch punched his pillow into an acceptable lump. The cattle drive had been successful, the ranch was secure, and his two boys were just down the hall. Scott was a bit of a delicate flower, but he believed he could toughen his older son up with hard work that would sweat the Boston and Harlan Garrett right out of him. Johnny was wild and head-strong and would need a tight rein to whip him into submission, but he believed he was man enough to do it. Both his sons were back at Lancer where they’d always belonged. They were his now. Murdoch Lancer drifted off to sleep a happy man.



To After “After The Pirates”


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10 thoughts on “After The Pirates by RonD

  1. Thank you for writing! I am constantly amazed at how many different takes on the character of Scott there can be. Your vision is certainly unique. My favorite is a “Man’s Gotta Do”. Liked Scott confronting Murdoch! Who has no clue how to deal with this son. Thank you again for your stories


    1. It’s so heartening to know people are reading my stories. Thank you so much for taking the time to write. It makes my day.


    1. Thank you, Tina! I did write a sequel to this, if you’re interested. I appreciate you taking the time to reply to my story.


  2. Thankyou for this story…. Loved your insights into their characters, you have added more depth and interest. I look forward to reading more of your stories. Note…you certainly are hard on Murdoch, lol…. I hope the three men eventually find each other as a family .


    1. Thanks, Jenny! There is a sequel to this story that I hope you will like, too. It’s titled “After ‘After the Pirates.'”


  3. Really loved this one – Scott showing his skills and giving Johnny … pause. I have a heart condition & CFS (ME) so appreciated the reality of those bits. Really enjoyed Scott’s developing relationship with Cip & Frank as well. On to the sequel now!


  4. I really love your writing and appreciate your unique views of Johnny, Scott and Murdoch. I can’t wait to read the sequel!


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