Word Count 20,906
Teresa heard giggling up ahead, which could only mean one thing—a line at the outhouse. She peeked around a tree and saw that it was Jerusha Martin and her out-of-town cousin, Lizbeth. The last person she wanted to talk with was the stuck-up Jerusha, who thought she was the prettiest girl in the state of California because she had strawberry blonde curls and blue eyes. She did have a pert nose and lips that were a shade darker pink than most. Teresa’s jealousy flared again. No, she didn’t feel like talking to Jerusha. That didn’t mean she couldn’t stay behind the tree and listen in on their conversation.
“Oh, you were right, cousin. That Scott Lancer is the handsomest man I ever laid eyes on.” Lizbeth was saying.
Teresa smirked. Didn’t every girl just swoon over Scott? And did he ever give one of them any serious thought?
“That’s ‘cause you haven’t seen his brother,” Jerusha said. “Dark hair and the bluest eyes ever. Even prettier than mine.”
Teresa snorted and almost gave herself away. No way the vain and prattle-headed Jerusha Martin was ever going to get her dainty little hands on Johnny while Teresa drew breath!
“I can’t image him being more handsome than Scott. He’s such a gentleman,” Lizbeth persisted. “I can’t imagine you being able to resist his charms.”
“Oh, I couldn’t, at first,” Jerusha admitted, “but then I realized I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life with someone with such sad eyes.”
Sad eyes? Scott? What was Jerusha talking about?
“Yes, they’re sad,” Lizbeth agreed, “but that just makes him mysterious. Is Scott’s brother here? I’d like to see a man more handsome than Scott Lancer.”
“He doesn’t like to come to such things. He’s doing more manly things right now, no doubt.”
“Then I’ll never get to see him.” Teresa could hear the pout in Lizbeth’s voice.
It was quiet for a few seconds, and then Jerusha said, ”He goes to Morro Coyo most Thursdays to get supplies and things. Maybe we can arrange to be by Baldemero’s General Store next Thursday morning.”
The outhouse was finally freed up. Jerusha let her cousin go in first. Teresa still didn’t want to talk to Jerusha, although she felt a desire to defend Scott and his eyes from the girl’s criticism. She might have if Lizbeth hadn’t have agreed with her cousin. Teresa flounced away; she could wait until the cousins were well away to come back to use the privy. The one thing she had on her mind was arranging to be with Johnny when he went into town on Thursday. She would have to use her best puppy dog eyes on Murdoch. They never failed to work on him. Murdoch was a big, old pushover and she was the only one at the hacienda who knew it—besides Maria.
Because the summer solstice was next month, there was still enough light to see the way home in the buggy. Scott managed the horses while Teresa surreptitiously stole glances at his face. From the side, he just looked like Scott, like he always did.
He looked over at her calmly. She saw it! How could she not have seen it before? It was the way his eyes turned down at the end. It was the lack of twinkle in them. Johnny’s eyes were always full of fun or mischief or sheer happiness at being alive. When that went away, that’s when he turned into Johnny Madrid. It was easy to tell. Scott was so reserved in comparison to his brother. Polite and kind to a fault but no mischief, never any mischief. Maybe his eyes were mischievous with Johnny when it was just the two of them. His eyes did sparkle some when he was teasing his brother, but only then it seemed.
Teresa was startled out of her reverie. “What?”
“You were going to say something?”
“Yes.” What was she going to say? She had forgotten now. She had to think of something fast. “Did you dance with Jerusha Martin’s cousin, Lizbeth?”
“If she was at the dance, I danced with her.”
That’s what endeared Scott to every female within a fifty-mile radius. He danced with every unwed woman or girl at a dance. Widows, spinsters, debutantes, teens—he danced with them all, carrying on a conversation of charming platitudes about his dance partner all the while. Even husbands would push their wives on him if a waltz began to play. Scott Lancer knew how to waltz—straight-backed and with the most elegant, sweeping turns as he held his partner firmly and gazed into her eyes. Most farmers and ranchers in the area didn’t know how to waltz their way out of a paper bag. They probably didn’t want to spend another night hearing their wives bemoan the fact that they’d never ever get to waltz with Scott Lancer.
But dancing with all the women was also why he infuriated all the women. No woman was ever singled out as his favorite. The most one could say was that he danced with her first or last, but even that faint recognition didn’t hold up to scrutiny from one dance to the next. Once Scott had danced with every available woman, he would stop dancing and join the left-footed men, joking and drinking with them until Teresa wanted to go home.
“Did you think she was nice?”
“All the women I danced with were lovely tonight.”
And that was a typical Scott remark. So polite, so diplomatic. He was always discreet and socially graceful. Teresa wanted gossip! She sighed.
“But you were the loveliest there, Teresa.”
She smiled. Another typical Scott remark, but it was easier to forgive him when the kind remarks were about her. She had learned early on not to take them too seriously. “Lizbeth was very taken with you.”
He smiled. But the smile didn’t reach his eyes, and they rode the rest of the way home in silence.
Teresa didn’t have to use her puppy dog eyes to get Murdoch’s permission to go into town the next Thursday. There was a long list of supplies, and he wanted Teresa there to make sure they got everything. Both of her “brothers” went with her. She didn’t know what was going to happen; she just wanted to be there if something did.
Scott drove the wagon to Baldemero’s and Johnny dismounted Barranca. Scott headed straight for the bank while Teresa and Johnny walked into the general store. Sure enough, Jerusha and Lizbeth entered shortly thereafter. For a while, they pretended to be looking at bolts of fabric, but as far as Teresa was concerned, they might as well have been gaping open-mouthed at Johnny. Every so often, Jerusha would giggle and bat her eyes at Johnny, but Johnny resolutely focused on Mr. Baldemero and the long list of supplies he needed.
Finally, Jerusha had had enough. Grabbing Lizbeth, she pushed her to the counter. “Hello, Johnny!” she said as perkily as she could.
Johnny turned and appraised the girl. He took his time about it, too, and Jerusha flushed under his gaze. “Miss Martin,” he said, touching the brim of his hat.
Jerusha twisted from side to side with her hands locked behind her back, knowing that pushed her breasts out toward him as far as they would go. “I didn’t see you at the dance on Saturday,” she said in a pouty voice.
“That’s because I didn’t go.” He tried to turn back to Señor Baldemero.
“But then you didn’t get to meet my cousin, Lizbeth.” She pushed the girl toward Johnny, sad to have ended her more provocative pose. “Lizbeth, this is Mister Johnny Lancer.”
“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Lancer,” Lizbeth purred demurely, looking up through her lashes. Yes, her cousin was right: the man did have dreamy blue eyes. He was quite handsome, but she thought that Scott was a touch more. She was more of a swooner for blonds.
Johnny gave her the once-over twice. “Miss,” he said in his most appreciative drawl.
The bell on the door chimed, and they all turned to see Scott enter the store.
“You ready, brother?” Scott asked and then noticed the women. “Or are you just chatting up the local beauties?”
Both Jerusha and Lizbeth blushed furiously. Teresa rolled her eyes. She rarely got to see her “brothers” in action. They had different styles, but both were smooth, very smooth.
“Well, it does beat loading a wagon, brother,” Johnny replied.
“I couldn’t agree with you more. Ladies,” Scott said, tipping his hat.
“You don’t look like brothers,” Lizbeth blurted out.
Teresa covered her mouth to stifle a laugh. Oh, how glad she was that she had come to town today!
An uncomfortable silence ensued. Scott looked slightly stunned, but Johnny finally said, “I know. It’s a shame, me getting all the good looks in the family and Scott being so ugly.”
That revived Scott. “And me getting all the intelligence and Johnny here being so woefully ignorant,” he shot back without missing a beat. He winked at Lizbeth, who giggled. Teresa had said the girl was a bit taken with him.
There was another silence. “Well, we best be going,” Jerusha said, trying to salvage the uncomfortable situation her cousin’s ill manners had put them in. She turned to Johnny. “Next time there’s a dance, I expect you to be there, Johnny Lancer. You don’t want to break my heart now, do you?”
“No, Miss Martin.”
“Alright then.” Jerusha flashed him her most coquettish smile, and she and Lizbeth hurried out of the store.
“What was that all about?” Scott asked bewildered.
Johnny was still looking at the closed door. “I’ll be damned if I know.” He turned to his brother, merriment in his eyes. “Let’s get us a wagon loaded! Then we can hit the saloon!”
“I’ll buy the beer if you load all the barrels, brother,” Scott said as he slapped Johnny on the arm playfully. But Teresa thought the playfulness didn’t reach his eyes.
It was Saturday night, and the brothers had gone into town to do whatever it was that young men do with a night off and money in their pockets. Teresa had her suspicions, but she was too much of a lady to ever voice them. Murdoch sat in a winged back chair smoking his pipe and reading a book. Teresa sat on the sofa pretending to mend a shirt.
“Murdoch…” she said and hesitated. Did she really want to disturb him? But then, she had broached the subject with Maria yesterday, expecting the cook to dismiss her concern and tell her she was being silly. Instead, Maria had shaken her head sadly and said she had no answers for Teresa. So maybe she wasn’t being silly, and Jerusha’s observation was not just the ramblings of a foolish girl with a crush on Johnny.
Murdoch looked up from his book and looked at her expectantly. “What, darling?”
It always warmed her heart so to hear him call her ‘darling.’ “Why does Scott always look so sad?”
“What?” Murdoch looked genuinely surprised. “What do you mean? Has he said anything to you?”
Teresa sighed. He was always so worried that one or both of his sons would leave him even after two years. Usually it was Johnny who most concerned him. “No, he hasn’t said anything. It’s just his eyes. They look so sad all the time. Haven’t you noticed?” Of course, he hadn’t. Men didn’t look at other men’s eyes, even when those eyes belonged to a son, Teresa thought.
Murdoch puffed on his pipe a few times. “Catherine’s eyes were like that, too. It was one of the things that drew me to her. How could a woman who had everything she could desire have that sad look in her eyes? An hour in her company drove that thought out of my head. Scott has his mother’s eyes. It’s the high cheekbones and the slope of his eyelid.”
“What drove that thought out of your head?” Teresa pushed.
“Because Catherine had what me ol’ gran would say ‘the devil in her eye.’ She was always thinking, planning, scheming to get her way, have her fun,” Murdoch reminisced fondly, “have her man, too, as it turned out. I was no match for her.” He chuckled softly. “Don’t worry about Scott. He’s fine.”
Murdoch resumed his reading, and Teresa knew better than to say anything more on the subject. But there was another thing she knew as well: Scott Lancer had no devil in his eye.
The saloon was its usual loud and raucous place on a Saturday night, Johnny thought. Scott and he had ridden into Green River with a handful of Lancer hands. The vaqueros had gone to Morro Coyo, but Scott was itching for a change, and Johnny had to admit that the beer was better in Green River. The poker games were richer, too.
Now as the night wore on, Johnny knew they’d be able to stay for only a few more hands before it was time for the ride home. Scott seemed restless all day. Tonight, he had ingested enough alcohol to be easily persuaded to recite poetry in front of the bar for free shots of whiskey. Yessir, Scott was in one of his weird moods. Melancholy, he had said one time when Johnny asked him about it. Alcohol didn’t seem to help it. In fact, it seemed to make it worse, Johnny thought. Nevertheless, once it came creeping, Scott drank. Tonight was a melancholy night.
But Scott was also on a winning streak the likes of which Johnny hadn’t seen in a long while. It would be a shame to walk away from it. There was another crow of delight from his brother as he raked in his latest pot to the loud groan of the remaining players.
“Ain’t nobody gots that kind of luck!”
Johnny didn’t know the speaker. He had come in with four other men, none of whom seemed willing to say what their names were, where they were from, or why they were here. That wasn’t too unusual, but Johnny liked to know the names of the people he played poker with. It was a friendly game, right? All he knew was that none of them were gunhawks. That didn’t mean they couldn’t be trouble. Two of them were sitting at the same table as Scott and him. The other three were at a table near the door.
“I live the good and true life, sir, the good and true life,” Scott said, his words a bit slurred and his Boston accent more pronounced. “As Emerson once said, and I paraphrase here, gentlemen, the hardest thing to do in life is to be yourself in a world that wants you to conform to it.”
No one at the table appeared particularly impressed.
Not liking the mood of their fellow poker players, Johnny’s instincts stepped in. He bent over to Scott’s ear and softly said, “Time to be leaving, brother. We’ve got a long ride ahead of us.”
“Rightly so, brother, rightly so!” Scott got up and stuffed all his winnings into his right front pocket.
Johnny sighed in relief. He had been worried Scott might put up a fight.
The man who had almost accused Scott of cheating glared at both of them. “Ain’t you gonna give me a chance to win my money back?”
“Not tonight,” Johnny said simply but firmly. He pushed Scott toward the door while backing away from the table. He didn’t want to turn his back on the man; the gambler was rising slowly from his seat. Was the man stupid? Couldn’t he see how low Johnny wore his rig?
The crash near the doorway diverted everyone’s attention except Johnny’s. His gun was out in a split second. “Sit down and stay there,” Johnny hissed at the gambler, and the man sat down, his hands raised in surrender.
The saloon exploded into action. Lancer hands were jumping on others, and a barfight to end all barfights erupted. Johnny holstered his gun and joined in the fun with his fists. When Sheriff Val Crawford came roaring in shooting bullets into the air, everyone stopped. It was only then that Johnny noticed Scott unconscious on the floor, a broken chair by his broken body, blood pooling under his head.
Val looked around. Scott Lancer seemed the only one badly injured. “Johnny, Frank, take Scott to the Doc’s. I have your word neither of you will leave town?” Both men nodded their assent.
As Johnny and Frank labored to take Scott’s limp body out of the saloon, they heard Val say, “Now who’s the damned fool that started all this?”
Hours later the sheriff walked into the doctor’s office. Frank was asleep on the sofa in the parlor. Val bypassed him and continued on. In the back there was a door ajar and he could see Johnny sitting vigil over his brother. Val sat down beside him. “How bad is it, amigo?”
Johnny looked up. “Sam thinks it’s pretty bad. There’s a big ol’ lump where the chair hit him, and then there’s a path where one of the broken legs cut through his scalp. Took Sam a while to get all the splinters out.”
“Doc say he’s gonna make it?”
“He doesn’t know. It could go either way.” Johnny watched his brother’s chest rise and fall, fearful it wouldn’t rise again. “You get the asshole who did this?”
“My jail’s pretty full. I’m betting I’ve got the one responsible; I just don’t know which one it is for sure yet. Got an idea, though. You see who it was?”
Johnny shook his head. “I was making sure he didn’t get back shot as he was leaving.”
“By the way, I got one whole cell devoted to Lancer men.”
“Well, they didn’t do it. Let them go.”
“There’s the small matter of their share of the damages.”
Johnny got up and rummaged through Scott’s pants’ pocket. He pulled out a fistful of bills. “See if there’s enough here to cover it. If not, he’s got more.”
Val gave a low whistle of appreciation, slowly counted out the money, and handed Johnny the remainder. “Is that what this was about? Scott winning all this at poker?”
“Woowhee, Val, I ain’t never seen him on such a streak as he was on tonight! Seems some new folks in town didn’t take a cotton to it, though.”
“They accuse Scott of cheatin’?”
“Not outright, but you could tell they were thinking it. That’s why I was keeping my eye on them.”
“Anybody who knows Scott knows he don’t cheat.”
Johnny nodded. “My brother don’t cheat, but he plays a mighty fine head game and he was on his game tonight. Sometimes that makes a loser even more pissed off, not knowing if he’s bluffing. Everyone who knows Scott knows he’s no cheat, but there were guys in there I ain’t never seen before. My money’s on one of them.”
“Alright,” Val said as he was rising. “I’ll spring the Lancer fellas. You stayin’ here, I reckon?”
Johnny nodded again. “Frank’s staying, too. He’ll spell me in a couple of hours. Sam thinks it could be days before Scott wakes up. He’s spouting off about brain damage and such, but ol’ Boston’s going to be just fine, aren’t you, brother?” He patted Scott’s lax arm. “And, Val? Tell one of the men to tell Murdoch.”
Murdoch had come roaring into Green River the next morning demanding to see his sons and Sam. That had been two days ago, and Val had a hell of a time putting up with the conscious Lancers. He knew Johnny and Murdoch were worried sick about Scott, but that didn’t mean they could charge into his jail and threaten his prisoners whenever they had a mind to.
From various eye witnesses, the man who whacked Scott over the head with a chair was Marvin Taylor. Johnny had been right: he was one of the handful of strangers who were in the saloon that night that none of the rest of them knew. Two of the others were his brothers and the two remaining gents in his jail were a cousin and his friend. None of them could pay the fines to release them, so they sat in the jail making Val’s life miserable while everyone waited to see whether the charge against Marvin would change from assault to murder.
Johnny and Murdoch had each come in separately to threaten the assailant, and then today they had come in together. Val could usually handle Johnny pretty well on his own, but Murdoch was a mountain of a man, and he couldn’t just push him out the door. He finally made them feel guilty for not being with Scott and that had led to their withdrawal. Now Marvin was giving him grief about his safety, and his brothers joined in. He left to go on his rounds. They culminated at the doctor’s office.
Val pulled Sam outside. “Is Scott gonna make it?”
Sam sighed. “I’d like to say yes. The fact that he’s still breathing after sixty hours is a good sign. I was worried about that when I first examined him. But head wounds are difficult. Some folks seem just fine and then die a week or two after. I won’t be positive he’s alright until a month after he wakes up. If he wakes up.”
“I’d hate to see what that would do to Johnny, if he don’t wake up.”
Johnny rushed out. “Doc! He’s acting like he’s waking up!”
They all went back inside. Scott did indeed look like he was waking up. His eyes moved beneath his lids and his left hand was jerking slightly.
Sam bent over him and encouraged Scott to open his eyes. He then knuckled Scott’s breastbone and Scott moaned. Scott’s eyes didn’t open, but Sam was very relieved. “I think he is trying to get back to us, Johnny. It shouldn’t be too much longer before he wakes up.”
Johnny and Val grinned at each other. “Guess I won’t be changin’ that charge to murder just yet,” Val said.
“When’s Taylor gonna get his comeuppance, anyway?” Johnny asked.
“Not for a month at the earliest. Judge should be gettin’ here in around four or five weeks.”
“Not soon enough, amigo, not soon enough.”
It was Teresa who was sitting with him when Scott finally opened his eyes. He looked at her and smiled and fell back asleep. Later, with everyone surrounding him, Scott was awakened by Sam and fed some water. They were thrilled to get some of the liquid into him. As Murdoch gently lowered his son back on the bed, Scott said, “Who are you people?” and fell back asleep.
All eyes turned on Sam expectantly. “I’ve been reading up on head injuries since Johnny brought him in. Memory loss is not uncommon.”
“Memory loss like not knowing who his family is, Sam? Is that common?” Murdoch asked. His tone was challenging.
“No, not as common as losing a few hours or days,” Sam responded, “but it has been known to happen. Some patients can’t even remember their own names. It’s called amnesia. Until Scott can stay awake for more than a minute, I can’t give a proper diagnosis. But he’s conscious and able to take fluids. Let’s just be satisfied with that right now.”
Murdoch was watching over him the next day when Scott awoke. He seemed more lucid than his previous awakenings. His eyes roamed over the room. “Where am I?” he gritted out.
“You’re at Sam’s place. We’ve been taking care of you here, son. He didn’t want you to be moved yet.”
Scott’s eyes roamed over the room again and settled on Murdoch. “Are you Sam?” he asked.
When Murdoch got his speech back, he said, “No, Scott, I’m your father, Murdoch.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Because my father lives in California and wants nothing to do with me.”
Murdoch was rendered speechless again by that declaration.
“Where’s Grandfather? Why isn’t he here?”
Scott became very agitated, and Murdoch tried to settle him. “Stay here, son. I’ll get the doctor.”
Murdoch left the room and Scott gathered his sheet around him and sat up. His headache went from annoying to prominent. Nevertheless, he gained his footing and made for the door. Nothing in this house looked like anything in Boston. He flung open the front door and stared outside. There were no neat brick buildings or cobblestone streets. There was only wood and dirt and saddled horses tied to posts. He could hear frantic voices behind him as his knees buckled and he blacked out.
Murdoch was swearing a blue streak as he carried Scott back to his bed. Sam was keeping up with him. “Damn fool stunt to pull…”
“Did he hurt himself more?” Murdoch asked.
Sam took Scott’s pulse and then checked his heart. “I don’t think so, thank God,” he said as he put away his stethoscope.
“He didn’t recognize me at all, Sam. In fact, he wanted to know where Harlan was. I think he thinks he should be in Boston.”
Sam considered. “It seems he’s lost more time than we thought.”
“At least two years!” Murdoch bellowed.
“However much time he’s missing, we’re going to have to be careful how we approach this, Murdoch. And yelling about it is not going to help. From what I’ve been reading, it’s not good to try to force the amnesiac to remember. Most regain their memories in their own good time, but it could be days to weeks to months.” Sam didn’t want to say years as well, although what he’d read mentioned that as a possibility as well. One patient had regained her memories eight years after being struck in the head. “There’s not a lot of information out there on this condition. I’ll ask my colleague in San Francisco for additional research, but from what I’ve read so far, we take it day to day and let Scott take the lead.”
And so they did. It turned out Scott didn’t recognize any of them. He believed he was sixteen and should be living in Boston with his grandfather. Johnny proved extremely adept at creating plausible stories that integrated Scott’s beliefs with his current circumstance. Johnny told him that Harlan had shipped him off to California to meet his father during the summer hiatus and that he had loved it here until he accidently got hit on the head. Luckily, Scott didn’t press too hard on all the details. Scott believed he was going to start Harvard in the Fall, and all of them prayed he would regain his memory before that deadline occurred.
Scott seemed to have a school-boy crush on Teresa, regarded Murdoch with wariness, and adored the idea of having Johnny as his older brother. After a few more days, Sam took out the stitches in his scalp, and they brought Scott home. Murdoch stopped the buggy at the same spot Teresa had that first day the brothers had arrived over two years ago.
“From here as far as you can see, it’s all Lancer,” Teresa told Scott again. She watched him view it in awe for a second time.
“It’s beautiful,” Scott said almost reverently.
“And one third of it is yours, brother,” Johnny said atop Barranca.
“I like the sound of that, big brother!” Scott said, missing Johnny’s grimace at being called “big brother.”
The vaqueros welcomed them as enthusiastically as they had two years ago as well.
“Why are they cheering?” Scott asked.
“Because they’re happy you’re home again,” Murdoch answered.
This was a non-stop question from Scott these days. They all tried to be patient, but it did get on one’s nerves.
“Because we all love you,” Teresa explained.
“Even you, Teresa?” Scott looked at her hopefully.
“Yes, even me…like a sister.”
“Wipe that look off your face, Scott,” Murdoch growled at him.
Sam had hoped being back at Lancer would jog Scott’s memory, but it had no effect. In the days and weeks that followed, Scott Lancer got reacquainted with everyone and everything on the ranch. He had never seen cattle before or chickens or pigs. They were a source of constant amusement for him. One of his favorite tasks was to collect eggs in the morning, although Murdoch was never quite sure whether it was the task itself or doing it with Teresa that excited him. He didn’t mind; Scott had started calling him “father,” and it was heaven to his ears.
There were complications, of course. Teresa had surreptitiously taken all of Scott’s stationery out of his room. He’d have to ask Murdoch for paper on which to write his grandfather, and Murdoch wanted to control that. Heaven help them all if Harlan Garrett got wind of Scott’s condition! Murdoch also tore the year off the newspapers he received, over Johnny’s objections. Johnny thought the difference between the present year and the year Scott thought it was might be the shock that would trigger Scott’s memory. It hadn’t mattered. Murdoch had forgotten to do that two weeks ago, and when Johnny showed the year to Scott, Scott laughed at the “typographical error.” Then there was the fending off of nosy neighbors who dropped by in an effort to “help.” Murdoch knew they were just trying to see for themselves if Scott Lancer really thought he was sixteen years old. Scott didn’t need the ladies gossiping about him. So far they had safeguarded him rather well.
For Scott, everything was a revelation. It felt like he had woken up to a whole new world in California. He even had to learn how to ride in the strange saddle they used here. Johnny taught him that. That he had a brother who was so smart and talented was like a dream come true. In Boston, he was always envious of his friends who had siblings. His friends had always complained about their brothers, but they looked like a lot of fun to Scott. Now he had one of his own who could rope cows and break horses and mend bridles. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do! Scott wanted Johnny to teach him everything!
At first, Johnny didn’t mind Scott following him around everyplace and asking question upon question. He was just so damned happy Scott was alive and not brain damaged beyond the memory loss. But as the days wore on, it began to wear on him to always have Scott underfoot. Sometimes, a man just needed to be alone for a while. One day, his patience ready to snap, he had stood Scott in front of Scott’s mirror.
“Who do you see?” Johnny demanded.
“And how old do you think you look?”
Scott shrugged. “As old as I am. Sixteen.”
“You’re telling me you looked like this at sixteen,” Johnny pressed.
Scott was puzzled. He looked sixteen to him. “Yes.”
Johnny couldn’t believe it. He tried a different tack. “And you had this much beard growth at sixteen?”
Scott got a bit of a panicked look on his face. All he saw was what Grandfather called “peach fuzz.” What was Johnny seeing? “Uh huh.”
Johnny was exasperated. “You’re telling me that what you see don’t look like a man of twenty-six?”
“Twenty-six! Johnny!” Scott exclaimed as he tried to wrench himself out of his brother’s grasp.
“What’s going on here?” Murdoch’s voice boomed from the doorway. He had seen Johnny march Scott up the stairs.
“Johnny thinks I’m twenty-six!” Scott said plaintively. The fear and confusion on his face were evident.
“Scott, go help Jelly.”
“Yes, father.” Scott scurried out of the room.
“What do you think you’re doing, John? Sam said not to force him to remember.”
Johnny took a deep breath to calm himself. It was never a good thing when Murdoch called him John. “How can he do it? How can he look at himself in the mirror and think he’s sixteen? I only wish I could turn him around so he could see his back. Seeing those scars would set him straight.”
Murdoch sat down on Scott’s bed heavily. “I doubt it. I’m not sure, but I expect his mind is altering what he sees. He wouldn’t see those stripes any more than he can see his twenty-six-year-old face.”
“What do you mean?”
“In his mind, he thinks he’s sixteen, so it alters things to make everything conform to that idea. His mind doesn’t let him see the conflicting signs that are there.”
Johnny started pacing nervously. “That’s crazy!”
“Not so crazy. Johnny, have you ever seen someone who thought he saw things, but they weren’t there? Or maybe didn’t see things that were right in front of him?”
Johnny grinned. “Yeah, but he was on peyote at the time.” He thought back to his experiences with the drug. Some of them were not pretty. But he did remember seeing things that others swore were not there.
“Yes, peyote alters the mind. Don’t you see, son? Scott’s mind has been altered. The only difference is that it didn’t happen with peyote but with an injury to his brain.”
Johnny stopped pacing and sighed. “All I know is that I want my brother back.” Johnny’s voice was thick with emotion. “I want the real Scott Lancer back.”
“I do, too, son.” Murdoch’s voice mirrored Johnny’s heartache. “But this edition isn’t so bad, is it?”
“He don’t follow you around from sun up to sun down asking questions every minute,” Johnny groused.
Murdoch chuckled. “He has taken a shine to you, hasn’t he? I’ll see what I can do.”
At dinner that night Murdoch asked Scott whether he’d like to go fishing with him.
“Wow! Would I! When do we go?” Scott asked eagerly.
“Is tomorrow morning soon enough?”
“But I was supposed to help Jelly clean the pigs’ place tomorrow,” he said almost crestfallen.
“You can help Jelly do that the next time. He won’t mind.”
Teresa and Johnny both sniggered at “pig’s place,” but Murdoch silenced them with a glare.
“Alright. Can I take Remmie?”
“Of course. He’s your horse, son.”
Scott let out a loud whoop.
“None of that at the table, young man. What would your grandfather say?”
“I’m sorry, sir.”
Murdoch winked at Johnny over Scott’s bent, contrite head.
“Woowhee, brother, are you gonna have a fun time fishing with the old man!” Johnny said, wanting to bring his brother’s spirits up.
Scott looked up and grinned. “You can come, too, Johnny, can’t you? Father, can Johnny come with us?”
Johnny and Murdoch shared panicked glances.
“Johnny has a lot of work to do tomorrow…” Murdoch began, not knowing what else to say.
Johnny, as usual, bailed him out. “No way, little brother. This is just between you and the Old Man. It’s a sacred Lancer tradition, your first fishing trip with your father. Understand?”
Scott nodded, obviously excited at the adventure. Johnny sighed in relief. Two days being Scott free. He smiled at his joke, then felt a slight stab of guilt. Just a month ago he had been worried sick that Scott might die, and here he was trying to get rid of the man. But that was the problem. Scott wasn’t Scott and acting like a man. Instead, he was acting like a nine-year-old kid. It was difficult as well to see Scott struggle with skills he had learned competently before the head injury. They also had to shield him constantly from those ranch hands who could not grasp the fact that Señor Scott, from whom they accepted instructions only weeks before, thought he was sixteen and had never seen the ranch before. Hell, there were plenty of times Johnny caught himself forgetting that and scolding Scott for not doing something right. Through it all, Scott would simply apologize for his mistakes and promise to do better, a broad smile on his face. And he would do better. Scott learned quickly and kept at it until he could do it right. Johnny was somewhat in awe of Scott’s tenacity. Scott was loving life at Lancer.
That was the other problem. To have seen the Scott Lancer who got off the stage two years ago and to now see this iteration was too incongruous for Johnny to reconcile. The Scott he knew, his older brother, was quiet and dignified, somber and sober, a man of intelligence and cool logic. The Scott he had now was boisterous and mischievous, endlessly curious and bounding with energy. But that was Johnny’s demeanor. Without the Before Scott, there didn’t seem to be that balance in his life. He needed his brother’s quiet reserve to keep him stabilized. That stability wasn’t there now.
On the other hand, no one was immune to Now Scott’s infectious enthusiasm. His favorite question seemed to be “Do you need help?” He was always ready to lend a hand wherever it was needed. Maybe that wasn’t too different from the way Before Scott acted, except Before Scott would just step in and help you without asking the question. It was just the way that Now Scott went about things that was different from Before Scott. Teresa had said it best a few days after they had brought Scott home—Scott didn’t have sad eyes anymore. He immediately knew what she meant. Scott’s eyes shone now, sparkling with wonder and excitement. Johnny figured he should be glad about that, and he was…to an extent. But Johnny missed his wise, calm older brother. With Scott looking up to him, whom did he look up to?
It was a two hour ride to Murdoch’s favorite fishing hole. They had gotten a slow start due to Scott’s complete ignorance as to what was needed on the trip and his incessant need to know why everything they brought was necessary. Cipriano had just laughed and said that all boys went through this stage, and that Murdoch had missed it with his sons because they had arrived at the ranch as adults.
Sensing that his father was toward the end of his rope, Scott was fairly quiet on the ride. Maybe he was wrong about his father—he might be more like Grandfather than he thought at first. Yet his father didn’t seem to mind it too much when he talked.
They finally stopped by a lake with beautiful trees and bushes surrounding it. There were also big rocks that looked perfect to sit on and fish from. When Murdoch announced they had reached their destination, Scott jumped down from his horse and hugged its neck.
“Good job, Remmie,” he said. “I love this horse, father.”
Murdoch was surprised at how affectionate Now Scott was. He shook his head. He shouldn’t give in to Johnny’s designations, but Before Scott and Now Scott saved a lot of time when they wanted to talk about their situation with Scott, and he was a main topic of conversation these days.
“Can we go fishing now, father?” Scott said. His anticipation shone in his eyes, his beautiful eyes, Catherine’s eyes. Now they really looked like his beloved Catherine’s eyes: alight with a passion for life that Before Scott’s eyes seemed to lack.
“No, not yet,” Murdoch said. “First we make camp and tend to the horses. You always take care of your horse before you take care of you.”
“Yes, father. Thank you again for giving Remmie to me.”
Murdoch grinned. “He seems to have taken to you, too, son.” Rembrandt had been Scott’s horse for over two years now, but he couldn’t tell Scott that.
The remnants of previous campsites were clear to see. It was bittersweet for Murdoch. The last time he had been here, all of them, including Jelly, had been fishing together. Johnny had suggested they make it a competition, and Scott had jumped right on it. Scott had won and got the prize of taking Willie Sharp to meet his grandfather. Scott had told them about that adventure after dinner one night, and Murdoch marveled again at the kind heart of his first-born son. Would he ever get Before Scott back? And if not, where should he go with this son in the future? He couldn’t send Scott to Harvard; he already had a degree from there. But Now Scott was missing all the education and breeding Harvard had bestowed on him. Besides, he couldn’t imagine letting Now Scott go back to Boston, especially with no memory of the treachery and duplicity of Harlan Garrett’s disastrous visit to Lancer last year. Harlan would be too crafty to let Scott slip through his fingers once more. They’d never see Scott again. Harlan would manage to somehow turn Scott against him, he was sure.
They set up camp quickly, took care of the horses, and were at the bank of the lake in no time, although Scott thought it took forever. Murdoch showed him how to string his fishing pole, bait a hook, and “cast” the string into the lake as far as he could throw it.
“Now what?” Scott asked as he plopped down next to his father.
“For how long?”
“For however long it takes to get a bite.”
“How will I know if I get a bite?”
“You’ll know. The fish will give the string a tug.” Obviously, Garrett had never taken Scott fishing. Murdoch smiled. The thought of Harlan Garrett with a fishing pole in his hand…it was ludicrous. He took out the sandwich Teresa had made for them that morning and gave Scott half. His boy munched away happily.
They sat in silence as good fishermen should until Scott said, “Father, why didn’t I go to Europe with Grandfather this summer like he promised?”
Harlan strikes again from thousands of miles away! Had the old geezer taken Scott to Europe when he was sixteen? He remembered Scott saying something about having visited Paris. And London. Now those cherished memories were lost to the boy, too. What could Murdoch say? He wished now that Johnny had come along, even though that would have defeated the whole purpose of the trip. Johnny would have thought of an elaborate, plausible story in a heartbeat that would have satisfied Scott’s curiosity.
“The ship had problems…with its engines. You were so disappointed, your grandfather sent you here instead.” He prayed that explanation would be sufficient.
It was. “I’m glad he did. I’m glad to finally meet you, father. And to find I have a big brother, too! Johnny is the best brother a guy could ever have! I know I’m behaving like a little kid these days, but everything is so new and different here. I feel like I’ve been given a new world to play in, and I want to discover everything. It’s so exciting here! I feel like myself for the first time in my life. I’m so glad I’m here.”
“We’re glad, too, Scott.”
“I’ll be sad to leave here,” he said quietly.
“You don’t have to leave, if you don’t want to.”
“Grandfather would never allow me to stay. And I have Harvard to attend in the Fall.”
Murdoch shrugged. “Just tell your grandfather you want to stay here.”
Scott let out a short laugh. “I can’t imagine telling Grandfather anything!”
“Are you afraid of him?” This was one of the questions he’d always wanted to ask. He was intensely curious about Scott’s relationship with his grandfather in his younger years.
“No, not afraid.” Scott sighed. “But then, I’ve never gone against his wishes.”
“Have you tried?”
Scott shook his head.
“Maybe if you sat down with him and talked…”
Scott laughed that short, incredulous laugh again.
Murdoch had no idea how to respond. Before Scott had never talked about his relationship with his grandfather, although before the horrendous visit from Garrett, it was clear Scott had great affection for the man who raised him. Murdoch’s curiosity was piqued, but he was unsure as to how he should broach the subject. They sat in silence for a while.
“We never talk about things like that. Personal things. To Grandfather, children are to be seen, rarely, not heard, ever, and they should obey, always.”
Murdoch felt his insides clench. “I can’t image you not being heard, young man. You’re always talking.” Murdoch tried to keep his voice light even when his heart was heavy.
“Oh, I’m not like this around Grandfather. There’s two Scotts. There’s the school Scott and the home Scott.
“I take it we have the school Scott.”
Scott nodded. “Some of my school friends say that I never shut up! Do you mind? I can be the home Scott if you want me to be. It’s easy. I just say ‘yes, sir’ and nothing else, and everything is great.” He gave a small, self-conscious laugh. “I know he loves me deep down inside, and he gives me everything, but we don’t just talk, not like this.” Scott leaned against Murdoch, and Murdoch instinctively put his arm around his older son. It felt so good, so right, and so impossible with Before Scott.
“He’s told you he loves you, though, hasn’t he?” Another thing he’d been curious to know.
Scott shook his head and looked out toward the horizon. “When I was young, he gave me a lecture about how I was to treat other boys. There was never to be any physical contact between me and other males and no words of affection…ever. So that’s the way he treated me. My friend, Will, said it was because I looked like I could be a sodomite. Will said my face was too pretty to be manly. But I look different now that I’m grown.” There was a long pause, and then Scott said softly, “I don’t look like one now, do I, father?”
Murdoch, his heart breaking, said, “No, son, no.” How good of a friend was this fellow, Will, to make Scott feel so worried and self-conscious? Scott had Catherine’s beautiful face—the cant of the eyes, the narrow nose, the high cheekbones—but it was undeniably masculine. Scott was considered the most eligible bachelor in the county by half the female population. The other half thought Johnny was. He remembered how Scott looked at five, when he had briefly glimpsed the boy and shook his hand. Such an angelic face. It pained him to think Scott had been bullied for it.
“Was it hard for you—being away in boarding school?”
Scott shrugged. “Maybe for the first few years. It was freeing in a way, being out of Grandfather’s house. I could talk all I wanted, except in class, of course.” He laughed a little. “Then I found my place. I had friends. We were the ones who liked school. Most boys didn’t. It wasn’t hard to figure out the ones who did. We stuck together as much as we could, so we wouldn’t get pranked. Once I started to win awards, they left me alone.” Or maybe it was because his means of exacting revenge were getting more devious and effective. Scott smiled to himself. “Instead, they asked me to do their homework for them.”
“I hope you said no, young man!”
Scott laughed, and Murdoch again was amazed at how easily and often Now Scott laughed. Before Scott would smirk or half smile, but full, unrestrained laughter was extremely rare. Had Murdoch ever heard it?
“No, I didn’t. I said yes and organized my friends into a homework club. Most of the wankers were in the classes for stupid boys. Their homework was easy to do. It didn’t take much of our time and we charged them money to do it. We all made a tidy sum by the end of the terms.” Scott grinned his mischievous grin, and Murdoch couldn’t help but grin back. So Scott had been slyly ingenious at an early age. He would have to remember that. Sometimes Johnny would complain that a particularly harebrained caper had been Scott’s idea, and Murdoch had never believed him and blamed Johnny. He couldn’t believe his staid and proper older son could devise such crazy plans. He’d have to reconsider his position on that now…and apologize to Johnny.
“What awards did you win?”
Scott shrugged. “All sorts. Mathematics, geography, poetry, Latin, debate. Two years ago, I won the junior show jumping cup for the state of Massachusetts,” Scott said proudly. “Grandfather put his hand on my shoulder and said he was proud of me.” He laughed self-consciously again.
That was the best Harlan could muster? A hand on the shoulder? And it must have been rare or Scott wouldn’t hold the memory of it so dear. Harlan! Every time Murdoch thought Garrett had sunk as low as a man could get, he sunk even lower! Murdoch wondered how old Scott was when he received the “no affection between males” lecture. How could he have left the boy in the old goat’s care? He should have fought harder to bring Scott home. If only Maria hadn’t left with Johnny…
Not to mention he never knew Scott jumped horses competitively. To win first prize for the state of Massachusetts! No wonder he could send a barely broke Barranca sailing over those fences. No wonder he went into the cavalry. He was quite the accomplished equestrian at fourteen. Without Scott suffering the head injury, Murdoch would have gone to his grave being ignorant of so many of his son’s achievements.
Scott’s pole leapt out of his hands. They scrambled to retrieve it. Murdoch was able to fish it out of the lake before it sank to the bottom. The fish got away, though. After that, they were more attentive to the task at hand. Murdoch caught two rainbow trout before Scott managed to catch his lone fish for the day. Another trout caught by Murdoch and they decided to quit. Murdoch taught Scott how to clean and scale the fish, and they enjoyed a hearty fish dinner that night.
Now they were lying side by side in their bedrolls as the fire died down and the stars were splayed across the sky.
“You’re a quick study, Scott. You gutted and cleaned those fish like an expert in no time.”
“It wasn’t hard. Guess I had a good teacher.”
“You’ve had a lot of good teachers in your life it seems.”
“Phillips was the best. Grandfather would never send me anywhere else but. I’m glad, though. I want to learn everything there is to know. Wouldn’t that be something? To know everything in the world?”
“Yes, it would. Is that your goal?”
It was said so simply and sincerely that Murdoch almost laughed out loud. “You’d be a true Renaissance man.”
“Yes, sir. I can’t wait to go to Harvard. They have all the knowledge in the world at Harvard.”
Murdoch’s first reaction to any mention of Harvard was to downplay it. But his son wanted to be a Renaissance man. He had such a thirst for knowledge Murdoch had rarely seen. If Scott didn’t recover his memory, how could he deny his son the best education possible? But how could he go to college thinking he was ten years younger than he was? How could they safeguard him at school? That was the only thing on Murdoch’s mind these days—keeping Scott safe.
Scott’s address brought him out of his musings. “Yes?”
“Did you always live in Boston like my mother?”
“No, son. I immigrated from Scotland.”
“Scotland! Can you tell me about Scotland? About how you grew up in Scotland?”
Murdoch did. It felt so natural telling this open and trusting version of Scott about his childhood. Why hadn’t he done it before? Because Before Scott would never have asked the question. He would have considered it prying. It wouldn’t have been deemed socially proper in upper crust Bostonian society…and Scott had learned Boston propriety in spades.
After Murdoch finished his tale, they both lay there in silence for a while. Murdoch was just about to fade to sleep, when Scott asked, “Father, can I ask you something?”
Scott didn’t know if he could do this, but he had started down the path and knew he had to reach the end. He and his father had spent a very pleasant day together, and he didn’t want to ruin that. But he just had to know, and there never would be a good time to ask a question like this. Now was probably a better time than most. They were in the dark, so he wouldn’t have to see his father’s face. It was now or never. Screwing up all his courage, he asked, “Do you hate me?”
Murdoch was speechless. Never in his wildest imagination did he think Scott was going to ask that. What kind of question was that? Why would Scott think he hated him? What was going on in that lightning quick mind of his?
When he got no immediate answer, Scott thought the worst. “It’s alright,” Scott said. “You don’t have to say it.”
Murdoch realized his silence was being misinterpreted. “No, Scott. It’s not that. Whatever gave you the idea that I could hate you?”
“Because I killed Mother,” he whispered.
Where was Scott getting these ridiculous ideas? “No, son, no! You’re not responsible for her death.” Judd Haney was. The anger started to rise again for the man, but he tamped it down. That had been settled two years ago, although this Scott would have no memory of it.
“Yes, I am. If it weren’t for me, she’d still be alive.”
Murdoch could hear it in his voice—Scott was in tears. He rolled over toward him and found Scott was curled up, facing away from him. He put his hand on Scott’s shoulder. “Scott, believe me, when she told me she was with child, well, it was the happiest day of our lives. I could never hate you. I’ve loved you from that day forward.”
“Grandfather said that’s why you didn’t want me; that’s why you gave me to him.”
He wanted to murder Harlan Garrett with his bare hands! Squeeze the man’s throat until he felt the larynx collapse and the bones snap! It would be easy to do with those old bones. He could feel the man’s wrinkled neck caving in under the pressure, and it would be so satisfying and no less than the sorry excuse for a father-in-law deserved!
Scott was still speaking. “That’s why you never wrote to me or sent gifts, even at Christmas. My birthday was the day she died. Grandfather always reminded me.”
“I did write to you, once I thought you were old enough to read, but you never wrote back. I thought you hated me.” Murdoch could hardly speak around the lump in his throat.
Scott turned over to face his father, his face tear-streaked but his voice steadier. “I wrote to you. A lot at first when I learned how to write letters, but you never responded, so I stopped. Grandfather said you’d washed your hands of me, and I should never speak about you to him again.”
No, no, no! Harlan Garrett deserved to burn in Hell for all eternity! Intercepting their mail…It was unethical! It was a federal crime! Murdoch couldn’t even come up with the words to describe how despicable it was. He wondered if the old man read the letters before he destroyed them. Probably. There were no depths the man would not sink to in order to keep him apart from Scott. He would have cherished the letters, memorized them, tied them up together with one of Catherine’s hair ribbons, and kept them in the ornate box that held her jewelry.
Murdoch could see the moment his brilliant son figured it out. He knew his own face must look like the dark fury he felt. But Scott’s face showed no anger, just betrayal of the deepest kind. The anguish and sadness in his son’s face fueled Murdoch’s ire at Garrett all the more.
Scott turned over so his back was to his father again. “Thank you for telling me the truth, father. I’m tired. I think I’ll go to sleep now.”
“Will you be able to go to sleep, son?”
Scott, despondent, said, “Yes. I need to…not talk.”
“I’m here if you need me,” Murdoch said, hoping his boy would take some comfort in that, but Scott remained quiet.
Murdoch fell asleep with tears stinging his eyes.
The following morning, Scott seemed a bit more subdued than usual, but he made it quite clear he didn’t want to resume their last conversation. Murdoch was relieved. He was still so new at being a father. He didn’t know what to say to Scott, except to go on an extended rant against his grandfather, and Scott didn’t need that. He suggested they try to catch their breakfast at the lake and Scott had readily agreed. Murdoch hooked a large one and they both struggled to land it. Finally, Scott waded into the lake and stomped the feisty fish toward the bank. In the end, he literally caught it with his hands and threw it on solid ground. He and Murdoch were laughing so hard, they almost allowed it to wriggle back into the water.
“We did it!” Scott crowed, throwing his arms up in the air.
Murdoch threw his arms around his boy and squeezed him tight. The words came without him even thinking about them. “I love you, Scott. I love you more than you’ll ever know.” They came so easily. He had been thinking them all night before he fell asleep. Why did he ever think they were so hard to say?
Scott reveled in his father’s embrace and hugged back. “And Johnny, too,” he reminded Murdoch.
“And Johnny, too.”
“Alright, that’s enough. I love all three of you very much.”
“We love you, too, father.”
Murdoch released his son and didn’t bother to wipe away the tear at the corner of his eye. Clearing his throat, he said, “I’ll clean this monster, while you get the griddle going. There’s more than enough meat on this one to feed us both.”
Murdoch thought it was the best tasting breakfast he’d ever eaten. Scott did, too. They caught enough fish afterwards to carry back to Lancer for dinner. Their conversations had been natural and unforced but not personal; they rode home comfortable in each other’s company. Scott asked Murdoch to sing him a Scottish song, and at that point, Murdoch could not deny his boy anything. He sang and then taught him “Wild Mountain Thyme,” and then Scott sang him a drinking song that was so bawdy, Murdoch felt the tips of his ears redden. This son of his was full of surprises.
Johnny waited until Scott and Teresa had retired for the night before addressing Murdoch. “Scott seems happy. Anything happen out there at the lake I should know about?”
“Nothing, except now I want to kill Harlan Garrett twice over instead of just once,” Murdoch growled.
Johnny smiled. “I’ll be glad to let you have first crack at him as long as I get mine.”
“Oh, and I need to offer you my belated apologies for all the times I blamed you for Scott’s harebrained ideas. I’m sorry, son.”
Johnny was surprised at an apology from Murdoch. Was this the same man who left two days ago? What went on up there? “I told you, Old Man, Boston is as devious as they come. He’s got all sorts of plots going on in that educated brain of his! Everyone just gets taken in by his good manners.” He nodded his acceptance of the apology and then sobered. “The judge is in town. Marvin Taylor’s trial starts tomorrow. I’m gonna ride in with Walt and Clem and watch.”
Murdoch nodded his approval. “Alright. Thank God, Scott doesn’t have to testify.”
“He didn’t see nothing—never saw it coming.” Johnny still rankled at the cowardice of Taylor’s actions. “I ain’t testifying either since I had my eyes on other people at the time. Walt’s and Clem’s testimony should be enough along with a couple of Bar T hands. They all saw Taylor whack Scott over the head with that chair. Just don’t tell Scott where we’ve gone. It’ll save you a lot of pestering about him following me.”
“I don’t know how long we can keep him from going into town, trial or no trial. So far, we’ve been able to distract him with different chores on the ranch, but sooner or later, he’ll want to go into town. He’s too curious to be content with staying inside Lancer boundaries for too long. The hornet’s nest that might unleash is too frightening for me to imagine. We’re already turning away nosy friends and townspeople from our house. If they saw him in town, they might say anything…” Murdoch wanted to protect Scott more than ever now.
Johnny sighed. His father was babying Scott too much. “Murdoch, Sam said he don’t know what could trigger Scott’s memory. Maybe we’re going about this all wrong. Maybe taking him to town is just what he needs to get his memory back instead of keeping him holed up here.”
Murdoch was ashamed to admit he was wondering whether he wanted Scott to get his memory back at this point. The fishing trip that he would always hold dear to his heart would not have happened with Before Scott. There was always a wall or a chasm that appeared between them when something personal came up. He had never had the easy, informal conversations that he’d had with Now Scott. Murdoch was mortified by these thoughts. This wasn’t about him; this was about Scott. Scott deserved to have his memories restored. He did, regardless of his father’s fantasies.
Murdoch arose from the sofa. He was tired. “Well, we’ll talk about that later. He won’t be going into town tomorrow, at any rate. I’m going to bed. And Johnny, make sure Taylor gets what he deserves.”
Johnny’s solemn eyes assured his father he would.
Late in the afternoon the next day, Murdoch saw Johnny riding in with Sam Jenkins’ buggy in front of Barranca. Walt and Clem cut off toward the bunkhouse. When Sam pulled up, Murdoch saw there was another passenger. A man in his mid-forties got out as Sam gave the reins to a hand. He told him to put the rig away for the night.
“Sam!” Murdoch called as he came out to the veranda. “What brings you out here?”
“I’m afraid I do,” the strange man said.
“Murdoch Lancer, I’d like you to meet Judge Leland Anderson.”
Murdoch shook hands with the judge, noticing Johnny riding Barranca to the barn. He’d take care of the palomino himself. “Nice to meet you, sir. Are you the judge for the Marvin Taylor trial?”
“I am, indeed, sir.”
Murdoch looked to Sam to explain why the judge had come all the way to Lancer.
“Why don’t we step inside, Murdoch?” Sam suggested gently.
“Oh, yes. Where are my manners?” Murdoch ushered the gentlemen inside, found Teresa, and told her to ready two of the guest rooms. Then he poured drinks all around. They had just finished their small talk about the loveliness of the hacienda and grounds when Johnny sauntered in looking unhappy.
“What happened at the trial?” Murdoch asked him. “Is it over?”
“Yes, Murdoch, it’s over. Mostly.” Johnny drawled.
Murdoch looked at the judge. “What does he mean by ‘mostly’?”
“The jury found Taylor guilty, Mr. Lancer. I just haven’t pronounced sentence yet.”
“Why not? He deserves a stiff sentence, Judge, attacking my son like that with no provocation.”
“Dr. Jenkins explained the nature of your son’s injuries in court today,” the judge began.
Johnny cut to the chase, an edge to his voice. “The judge here don’t believe him. The judge doesn’t believe what Sam said about how Scott is—that he’s lost ten years of his life.”
Judge Anderson gave Johnny a slight glare. “You must admit, it’s a very peculiar situation. I’ve never heard of such a thing. I’d like to see for myself the extent of your son’s injuries before I pass sentence, and your son here,” he gave a nod to Johnny, “kindly invited me out to the ranch to see for myself.”
“I came along to make sure Scott is fine. It’s about time I check on him again anyway,” Sam said, clearly upset that his testimony hadn’t been believed.
Murdoch’s defensiveness rose to the forefront. “Now see here, Judge, Scott’s condition is rather delicate at the moment. We’re all a bit in over our heads as to what to do and how to help him. I won’t have you upset him just to satisfy your curiosity.”
Anderson help up a placating hand. “I promise I won’t do or say anything that might harm your son, Mr. Lancer. Mainly, I’m here just to observe him, see how injured he really is. I have no intention of provoking him in any way.”
Murdoch glanced over at Sam, who gave him a thin, reassuring smile. Finally, Murdoch nodded his acceptance.
They all heard the front door open and close, and moments later Scott entered the great room. He looked dusty and sweaty as he pulled his work gloves off and placed them on the table. His face lit up when he saw his brother. “Johnny, you’re home!” The happiness in Scott’s voice was evident. He stopped short when he saw the others in the room.
“We’ve got company, Scott.” Johnny said. “This here is Judge Anderson, and you know everyone else.”
Johnny saw the transformation come over his brother. Everybody got on his back when they saw him become Madrid. Seeing his brother revert to his proper Boston dandy persona was just as unmistakable and creepy, Johnny thought.
In four long strides, Scott had crossed the room, his right hand out to greet the judge. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance, sir. I’m Scott Lancer.”
Judge Anderson shook the proffered hand. “The pleasure is mine. I’ve heard a great deal of fine things about you from your family and the doctor.”
“Dr. Jenkins,” Scott said acknowledging Sam’s presence as well with a handshake. “I’m afraid I will have to excuse myself, gentlemen. I’ve been out on the range all afternoon and if we’re having guests for dinner, I must make myself presentable.” With a slight bow to all, Scott went upstairs to his room.
Judge Anderson looked at Sam. “I see no evidence of a brain injury.”
Both Murdoch’s and Johnny’s hackles went up immediately, but it was Sam who spoke. “Hush, man! The boy might hear! Judge, you cannot say something like that here. I didn’t say Scott was a blithering idiot; I said he thought he was sixteen years old. He’s lost ten years of memories.”
“Well, he was pretty poised for a sixteen-year-old.”
Murdoch stepped in. “He was raised in Boston in the elite upper class. Beacon Hill. Believe me, those manners have been bred into him since he was a child.” Again, the memories of Murdoch’s lone meeting with his first-born popped into his mind. “He greeted me the same way when I met him when he was five years old.”
The judge raised his eyebrows at that assertion but held his tongue. Instead, he said, “I wouldn’t mind freshening up before dinner myself.” He would have to try to sort out why a father would be meeting his own son at five years of age. Why had the boy been raised in Boston instead of California? Maybe the doctor could explain that to him on the way back to town in the morning.
“The usual guest rooms, Murdoch?” Sam asked. Scowling, Murdoch nodded, and Sam led the judge up the stairs.
“He ain’t gonna believe us,” Johnny said in frustration. “Fine time for Scott to show off all his fancy Boston manners! Anderson’s gonna give Taylor a slap on the wrist.”
Murdoch looked into his son’s blue eyes. He shared Johnny’s frustration. “Scott’s maturity even at sixteen will probably be mistaken for a man in his mid-twenties. I think we can’t worry about what Taylor’s sentence will be. I think we have to concentrate on making sure Judge Anderson doesn’t set Scott back any further.”
“The trouble is, we know Scott ain’t acting like himself, but this judge fella don’t. He ain’t never seen Scott before and has nothing to compare it to like we do. The only thing he’ll see is a man that’s too polite. And what’s wrong with that? Taylor’s gonna walk away with a two-bit fine!” Johnny stomped upstairs, and Murdoch wished he could hide in his room for the next hour as well.
Dinner was unbearable for Johnny. Murdoch looked like he was uncomfortable, too. Scott, however, was delighted they had a frontier judge dining with them. He had all sorts of questions for the man. Where did he get his degree from? How hard was it to pass the bar exam? What happened if the town had no courthouse? How did he figure out the punishments? Did he believe in lex talonis? Several times, Murdoch tried to stop him from asking so many questions, but the judge encouraged them. Finally, Johnny left the table when Anderson and Scott started discussing the Dred Scott decision, whatever that was. All he knew was that he was dreading Scott at the moment. He was so bored he thought he’d yawn widely in his brother’s face. He quietly and discreetly removed himself from the table and hightailed it out the kitchen to the barn.
After he and Anderson agreed on the facts of the case, it was clear that Scott believed the Supreme Court decision was a travesty of justice. After pointing out many of its flaws, he moved beyond the overturning of the Missouri Compromise ruling to broader issues surrounding slavery. “What would you think, Mr. Anderson if you went to Africa where whites are in the minority and the majority who were Negro told you you weren’t fully a man? Would you believe that? No, their saying you weren’t wouldn’t make it true, would it? It’s absurd, telling Negroes they’re only a fraction of a Caucasian. Absurd!”
Murdoch had never heard Scott speak so passionately on anything before. He was a force to be reckoned with.
Rather than argue with him, Anderson said, “You’re very knowledgeable about the case, Scott.”
“It was the debate resolution last year. We took the trophy from Boston Latin, finally. I argued the winning round,” Scott said proudly.
“You were on the debate team at…?”
“Phillips Academy. I just graduated from there. I’m going to Harvard in the Fall.”
“Really? You’re a little old to be going to university,” the judge said mildly, and immediately Murdoch and Sam rose from their seats in protest. “My apologies, gentlemen,” he hastily said. They sat back down.
“I’m only sixteen,” Scott said, obviously perplexed at Judge Anderson’s observation and his father’s reaction to it.
Murdoch gave Teresa a well-known look.
She knew what it meant. “Why don’t I clean up here and you gentlemen can have your coffee by the fireplace?” she suggested.
The men got up and arranged themselves in the sitting area. Murdoch poured drinks.
“Are you having any?” Judge Anderson asked Scott.
Bewildered again, Scott said, “I’m not allowed any alcohol. I’m only sixteen.”
“Drop it, Anderson,” Murdoch warned.
In the kitchen, Teresa tried not to make too much noise, so that she could hear the conversation. She was one part greatly curious about what was being said in the great room and one part relieved not to be in there.
Johnny came in. “Is it safe now?” he asked as he helped her with cleaning the dishes.
“Murdoch and Sam are madder than wet hens. I think the judge thinks Scott is faking his injury and he’s trying to trip him up or he’s trying to get Scott to remember,” she told him.
“So much for just observing.” Johnny muttered to himself. He dried the dishes Teresa washed and then carried the tray of coffee and cookies into the great room for her. Murdoch and Anderson were discussing beef prices. They stopped as they accepted their coffees. Teresa being in the room ended business talk, for which Johnny was grateful.
“That was a lovely meal, Teresa,” Anderson complimented her. “I don’t know when last I had such a sumptuous supper.”
Teresa blushed prettily as the rest of the men chimed in with their appreciation and thanks.
Suddenly, Anderson said, “What year is it, Scott?”
“1862, sir,” Scott said immediately.
“I mean it!” Murdoch threatened, but Anderson ignored him. Johnny put a restraining hand on his father’s arm. It was about time someone pushed Scott.
“And what side are you on?” the judge asked.
“Side, sir?” Scott questioned.
“Of the war.” Anderson pressed.
“What war?” Scott looked to his father, seeking clarification but seeing only anger in his face.
“The war between the States, boy. Union or Confederate?”
“There’s a war between the states? The states of America?” A headache bloomed behind Scott’s right eye. He pressed the heel of his hand against his eye to relieve the pain. It didn’t help much.
“Leland, you must stop!” That was Dr. Jenkins’ voice. There were more sounds of protest, but Scott couldn’t distinguish them. They were all jumbled like the inside of his head.
He rose and the pressure inside his head increased. He tried not to pass out. “I’m sorry. I don’t feel well. If you’ll excuse me…” He backed away and hurried toward the stairs. He didn’t want to be sick in front of his family and guests.
Dr. Jenkins caught up with him as he reached his bedroom door. “What’s happening, Scott? Tell me.”
“My head,” Scott ground out. “It’s pounding. Feels like it’s going to explode.”
Sam pushed him inside his room. “Nausea?”
Scott was going to nod but stopped himself in time. “Yes.”
Teresa appeared in the doorway, wracked with worry.
“I’ll need some willow bark tea as fast as you can make it,” Sam told her. She disappeared, and Sam closed the door after her. He got Scott to lay down on the bed with a wet cloth on his forehead, and Scott told him the nausea was going away. They both waited for the tea. Sam lit the lamps and kept the light low.
Eventually, Scott said, “Fort Sumter.”
Sam nodded. “Yes.”
“Why didn’t I remember that?” Scott asked, agitated.
“I don’t know,” Sam replied calmly, hoping his voice would calm Scott as well. “People forget things.”
“I don’t,” Scott said ingenuously, and Sam just smiled at the irony.
Down in the great room, no one was calm. Murdoch was furious and Johnny found himself in the rare position of trying to keep his father in line.
“I thought you said you were only observing,” Murdoch said angrily. “That was a hell of a lot more than observing!”
“My apologies to you,” Anderson said, desperate that this did not escalate into physical violence. These Lancers were intimidating men. “It became rather clear that simply observing you at a family dinner was not going to give me the information I need to render a fair sentence tomorrow.”
“Do you have it now?” Murdoch spat out.
Judge Anderson shifted uneasily in his chair. “I’m not sure.”
“What more do you need?” Murdoch demanded. “My twenty-six-year-old son thinks the year is 1862 and he’s sixteen, for God’s sake!”
“Yes, that’s apparent,” Anderson said, “but he seems to be functioning quite well aside from that. Extraordinarily so, if I may say so.”
“No, you may not say so!” Johnny jumped in. “My brother may be holding up pretty well after being whacked on the head by Marvin Taylor, but he ain’t been the same way since. You didn’t see him before. You don’t know how different he is now. And I for one want the brother I had before that asshole smashed a chair over him!” He turned and walked toward his brother’s room, leaving a stunned Leland Anderson all alone to wrestle with the angry bull named Murdoch.
Murdoch took a deep breath and settled himself. Yelling at the judge was not going to help their case. “Judge, Marvin Taylor took ten years of my son’s memories away from him. What’s that worth?”
Sensing the tension had eased greatly in the room, the judge sighed in relief. “I can’t answer your question right now, Mr. Lancer. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll go to my room to ponder it more fully.”
“An excellent idea, Judge.”
The next morning was a quiet affair. Scott’s headache was gone to everyone’s relief and cooler heads prevailed. Any mention of what transpired the previous evening was avoided. Right before the judge left with Sam and Johnny, Murdoch pulled him aside. “I just want you to remember, Judge, those ten years of lost memories include my son’s Harvard degree.”
Anderson nodded soberly. “Thank you for your hospitality, Mr. Lancer.” He held out his hand and Murdoch shook it. Johnny smirked from his perch on Barranca. He wanted to deck the guy. Then he followed Sam’s buggy as the three of them made their way back to Green River.
Hours later Murdoch heard the slam of the door and knew it was Johnny, and the sentence was not to his son’s liking. The spurs jangled noisily as he stomped into the room. He slammed his hat down on the desk.
“Four months in the Sutter County jail,” Johnny said disgustedly. “That’s all Scott’s brain is worth.” He walked over to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a drink. He wasn’t concerned what kind of alcohol was in the glass.
Murdoch blew out a breath. “I expected as much after Scott’s brilliant refutation of the Dred Scott decision.” He looked at Johnny’s confused face. “Sorry. You’d left by then, I think.”
“For one night, couldn’t Scott have played the fool? No, he had to go and have all perfect manners and right speech.”
“You can’t take the Boston out of him, no matter what age,” Murdoch mused.
“How can you be so calm about it, Old Man? Your son didn’t get justice.”
“No, he didn’t, not from our view. But to a stranger…all he saw was a man who was able to work and think and manage life. And all Taylor had done was throw a chair on the back of his head. I’ve seen that done frequently in barfights. It just so happened that this time, with Scott, he got hit in a place that gave him amnesia. Taylor couldn’t have predicted that.”
“It sounds like you’re sticking up for him.”
“Don’t misunderstand, Johnny. What Taylor did was wrong, but he didn’t deserve to spend the rest of his life in jail for it. How many times have you hit someone with a chair in a barfight?”
“I hit ‘em in the shoulders, not the head.” Johnny glared at his father and took a long slug of Scotch. He slammed the glass down, picked up his hat, and marched to the door. “I need to tell Walt and Clem the news. They ain’t gonna be happy, either.”
Lancer settled into a slightly uneasy routine. There was still concern for Scott, but the demands of ranch life forced them all to carry on. Scott was rapidly relearning the skills needed to handle cattle, and he was being treated almost the same as before his injury. When he had become anxious that his time to go back to Boston and attend Harvard was nearing and no travel plans were being made, Murdoch had told him that Harlan had sent a wire saying Harvard was suspending matriculation for a year because of the war. Scott seemed to take the news at face value, and Johnny wondered what it was like to be so trusting, so naïve.
Every so often, something would happen that would remind them that Scott wasn’t himself. When Salvador had burned his hand on the forge when Scott was helping him with some ironwork, Scott had walked quickly away. Murdoch had found him violently ill behind the barn. Scott complained of a headache, and Murdoch had bundled him off to his bed for the rest of the day. When Johnny had questioned him about it, Scott could only say it was the smell that had made him sick. Before Scott had handled branding calves with no problem. That stench was horrendous, so it was a puzzler for Johnny that Now Scott couldn’t stand the smell of a burned hand.
There were other things Johnny noticed since the sentencing of Taylor. Murdoch seemed to touch Scott…a lot. There was the hand on the shoulder, both hands on both shoulders with a squeeze, the casual arm slung around Scott’s shoulder, a hug. It was nothing creepy, just the kinds of touches that Before Scott would have decked the Old Man for. Now every so often, Murdock would squeeze Scott’s shoulder and Now Scott would grin at him. It was…unnerving to Johnny. He realized he liked to be the only one from whom Scott would tolerate physical contact. Before Scott seemed to enjoy his and only his touches. Now anyone could hug him, and Teresa and Maria had started kissing him on his cheek or, if he was sitting, the top of his head at the drop of a hat. What had gotten into this family?
And his usually closed-mouthed father was now spinning yarns after dinner. Scott had asked Murdoch to tell Johnny and Teresa about his childhood in Scotland. Seems like that was something he’d told Scott while they were on their fishing trip. Murdoch was hesitant at first, but with Scott’s prodding, he now would tell story after story. Scott asked him to tell him about his mother, and Murdoch did. Just like that. And he talked of Maria. Johnny and Murdoch had talked about her some when Johnny had been laid up with Pardee’s bullet, but Teresa and Scott and Jelly hadn’t heard Murdoch’s and Maria’s meeting and marriage tale, so they were eager to listen. Jelly, too, would share stories of his youth. Anything Scott wanted to know, Murdoch would tell him, and Now Scott was a curious fellow. He even got Johnny to share some of his tales, although Johnny was careful to relate only the fairly humorous and innocuous adventures. No one had told Now Scott about Johnny’s past except to say he was raised by his mother down around the border between California and Mexico, so to refuse to share a childhood story would have raised suspicions. Yep, Now Scott had them all wrapped around his little finger. Anything he wanted he was liable to get. It wasn’t bad; Johnny enjoyed the stories and seeing Murdoch relax and share a pleasant time with them. He liked hearing everyone laugh and joke around after dinner. It was nice. It was just…different.
One time, as he and Scott were ready to mount their horses and start the workday, Murdoch had come up behind them and placed a hand on each of their shoulders. “Be careful out there today, boys,” he’d said. “I love you more than anything, more than this ranch.” Then he had given their shoulders a squeeze and walked away. Johnny, remembering the hurtful words Murdoch had proclaimed on the first day he’d met the man, that he loved Lancer more than life itself, understood the deeper meaning of his father’s words. Now Scott just took it in stride, being that the Old Man was touching him more these days and he had no memory of the actual day he and Johnny had met their father. Johnny recognized his father’s words as an apology to him. It was nice. It was…different.
Weeks later they were sitting around the fireplace after dinner enjoying the warmth of the fire when Teresa said, “Scott, what kind of dessert do you want for your birthday?”
“What?” She had dragged his attention away from a game of checkers with Johnny.
“Your birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks. Do you want a cake, a pie, churros, or what?”
“We can forget about my birthday this year, can’t we?”
“What are you talking about? We should have a grand celebration!” Teresa persisted. She loved making elaborate events out of little occasions. Johnny knew she’d never let a birthday slide.
Sighing, Scott looked at Johnny, who shrugged. “Make it chocolate cake.” He winked at his brother.
“That’s Johnny’s favorite. What do you want?”
“I want you to forget my birthday!” he said rather forcefully and got up and stomped upstairs. For the rest of the night, as it turned out.
Teresa looked at the remaining men in the room in utter confusion. They all shrugged.
“Maybe you should let it drop for now, darling,” Murdoch suggested.
As his birthday neared, Scott seemed more and more anxious. Gone was the easy-going style of Now Scott. His eyes were worried, his demeanor churlish. They decided to keep the celebration low-key, with just the immediate family, much to Teresa’s disappointment. They did invite Dr. Jenkins. Scott’s uncharacteristic behavior was concerning. They needed Sam to see it and perhaps help.
On his birthday, after a dinner of Scott’s favorite foods, they retired to the sitting area so that Scott could open his presents. His eyes shone with excitement and gratitude for each gift. Johnny was a bit disappointed that Scott wasn’t showing any signs of his earlier anxiety or erratic behavior. It seemed Sam had traveled all this way for nothing.
The gifts had all been opened, the chocolate cake had been eaten, and the adult males were sipping their brandies, when Johnny said casually, “Well, brother, how does it feel to be seventeen?”
“I’m not seventeen, Johnny. This is my sixteenth birthday,” Scott replied sincerely.
Everyone was stunned.
Johnny found his voice first. “You were sixteen yesterday, Scott. That makes you seventeen today.”
“No,” Scott asserted. “I was fifteen yesterday. That makes me sixteen today.”
“You’re wrong, brother,” Johnny persisted, but Scott was pressing the heel of his hand into his right eye, and whatever else Johnny was about to say died on his lips.
“Headache, Scott?” Sam asked.
“Yes. Excuse me.” He got up and quickly headed for the stairs, but he never made it. He slumped to the floor a few feet from the first riser.
Johnny reached him first. It was clear his brother was unconscious. He and Murdoch carried Scott to his bedroom and placed him on his bed. Teresa ran to heat some water. A headache meant willow bark tea.
Murdoch pulled off Scott’s boots. “Well, that was the damnedest thing I ever heard. What do you make of it, Sam?”
Sam was retrieving a bowl of water and some cloths from Scott’s washstand. “I don’t know. For a while there I thought you had brought me out on a fool’s errand. Now I’m glad I’m here.”
“It’s clear he don’t want to turn seventeen,” Johnny said.
“Why?” Sam asked, dunking a cloth into the bowl of water. “What happened to him when he was seventeen?”
Johnny and Murdoch locked eyes.
“The war,” Johnny said.
“He enlisted,” Murdoch said at the same time, “right after his seventeenth birthday.”
“Alright, you two go back downstairs. I want to tend to my patient myself. Of course, send Teresa up with the tea,” Sam said as he placed a wet cloth on Scott’s forehead.
Both men started to protest, but the doctor cut them off. “Go on! Scott doesn’t need everyone gawking at him when he wakes up. I’ll be down when I’m finished here. You know my routine. Now, go on!”
About a forty minutes later, Sam walked into the great room. Murdoch and Johnny immediately descended upon him.
“How is he, Sam?” Murdoch demanded.
“Asleep for now. He woke up about ten minutes after you left. I got some tea with a pinch of sleeping powder in it in him, and he drifted off. He shouldn’t wake until morning.”
“Did he say anything?” Johnny asked. “Did you ask him why he don’t want to be seventeen?”
“No, we didn’t discuss it because he didn’t remember your conversation about that, Johnny, and I didn’t want to push it. He claimed his headache was very bad.”
“So where does that leave us?” Murdoch asked.
“I suspect he’ll wake up tomorrow thinking he’s still sixteen, and maybe it would be best for everyone to go along with that for now,” Sam suggested.
“What?” Johnny said incredulously. “Is he gonna be sixteen for the rest of his life? We know what the trigger is now. We can use that to get his memory back.”
“We know his trigger?” Teresa asked.
“The war. When that judge was here, he started to talk about the Civil War and Scott got a headache, right?” Sam nodded, realization blooming on his face. “And when Sal burned his hand, Scott told me the smell made him sick. Bet he remembered that smell from the war,” Johnny said.
“He got a headache then, too,” Murdoch told the doctor.
Sam considered this new information. “His headaches may be his brain’s attempt to shield Scott from the horrors of that war. If so, bringing up his war experiences may do Scott irreparable damage rather than bring his memories back. I don’t want to risk it.”
“So no one talks to Scott about the war and he stays sixteen the rest of his life?” Johnny threw up his hands, exasperated.
“I don’t have all the answers, Johnny. You know I’ve never treated anyone with amnesia before,” Sam said. “All I can tell you is to watch Scott closely for the next few weeks. Let’s see what his brain does with the knowledge that he’s seventeen.”
“It didn’t do too much with the knowledge he was twenty-six,” Johnny pointed out rather rudely.
“Johnny…” Murdoch’s growl was warning for Johnny to quell his anger.
Johnny wasn’t going to be put off. “And if he just ignores it and goes around pretending that he’s still sixteen even though he’s twenty-seven? We just go along with it?”
“For now, Johnny, for now.” Sam was tired and worried about Scott. He looked at Murdoch. “Mind if I stay the night?” He didn’t want to be drawn into a further argument with either of these two.
“No, of course not,” Murdoch answered. “Drink first?”
“I’ll get your room ready, Doc,” Johnny said. “It’ll give me something purposeful to do.”
Sam and Murdoch watched him go and sighed in relief, not because they didn’t have to deal with Johnny’s anger anymore but because they didn’t have to try to answer his very pertinent and difficult questions.
All of them kept an eye out for Scott. Christmas had been a rather solemn and dismal occasion. Scott seemed to walk around in a daze and he hadn’t finished his presents to everyone and was deeply ashamed he had little to give. He had escaped to his room as soon as possible in near tears, and that had put a damper on everyone else’s day. After several more days, it became apparent that something more was wrong. He had lost a good measure of his previous enthusiasm and dark circles were appearing under his eyes.
“What’s going on with you, Scott?” Johnny asked as they were saddling their horses to begin the day.
“Nothing,” Scott answered a little too quickly.
“You’re not yourself.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean you look like that chewed up bone the dog’s been dragging around in the dirt.”
“Look at me!” Johnny demanded. Scott did. Johnny could see his eyes were barely focused. “You might as well unsaddle Remmie, brother, you’re not riding the range with me today.”
“What? Why not?”
“Because none of us want to be out there wrangling ornery steers with a cowboy who’s only half awake. You’ll be a danger to us all.”
“No, I won’t!” Scott protested. “I’ll wake up as soon as we ride out there. I promise.”
“I ain’t taking you nowhere, not when you won’t tell me what’s been bothering you. You think I’m blind? Now tell me quick, little brother, I ain’t got all day.”
“That’s it!” Johnny stomped into Remmie’s stall and started to yank the saddle off the bay’s back.
“Stop it!” Scott objected. He took a half-hearted swipe at Johnny’s arm.
Johnny grabbed him and pushed him up against the side of the stall. “Can’t you sleep at night?”
Scott, defeated, shook his head.
“Why not?” Johnny pressured.
“I get these dreams…horrible dreams. They wake me up and I can’t go back to sleep. I don’t want to go back to sleep because I don’t want to dream again.”
Johnny had his share of nightmares. He’d awaken from them with a pounding chest and shortness of breath, and it was hard to calm down enough go back to sleep. He knew what Scott was going through. “These dreams…what are they about?”
“I don’t want to say.”
“Scott, damn it, just tell me, will you? I told you I ain’t got all day!” He shook Scott hard.
Scott, a bit frightened by his brother’s intensity and his grip on his arms, started to stammer. “Last night…it’s…it’s terrible. There’s…there’s a field and I have to get to the other side. I don’t know why; I just do. At first everything is alright. It’s just a flat, grassy field. But then…then…as I’m walking, there’s…there’s this body on the ground. It’s…it’s dead. And then there’s more bodies and then I can’t walk around them anymore. There’s too many of them everywhere I turn. I have to walk over them. And…and some aren’t quite dead and they’re grabbing at me, but they’re too weak to stop me, and I just want to get to the other side, but no matter how long I walk, the other side is still far away, and the bodies keep piling up and grabbing me, and I’m all bloody and there’s moaning…” Scott covered his face with his hands. He was shaking.
Johnny gathered him in his arms. “How long have you had these nightmares, Scott?”
“Since my birthday.”
“Well, you’re no good on the range until you’ve had a good night’s sleep. Go help Jelly around the house today. We’ll figure something out when I get back for supper.”
“Okay, Johnny,” Scott whispered.
“Go on, then.” Johnny released Scott and gave him a gentle push towards the door. “I’ll finish unsaddling Remmie. Take him out for a short ride this afternoon, though.”
“I will,” Scott promised. “Thank you, big brother.”
Johnny caught up with Cipriano and told him he needed to ride into Green River instead of working with the crew. He was out of his ken with Scott’s situation and needed to talk with Sam. Luckily, the doctor was in. Johnny explained Scott’s nightmares and asked Sam for help.
“It’s clear having that birthday unleashed nightmares of the war on him,” Sam said. “During the day he can keep those memories in check and pretend they never happened, but at night…”
“What can we do, Doc?” Johnny asked. “We can’t give him sleeping powders every night before he goes to bed.”
“No, I wouldn’t recommend that.”
“Johnny, if I had the remedy for nightmares, I’d be a rich man.”
“I was hoping you did, Doc. I could use it myself.”
“Do you have nightmares a lot?”
“Not so much now that I’m living at the ranch, but when I do…they’re doozies.” He shook his head ruefully. “But they happen every so often and pretty rarely. Scott seems to be having them every night now.”
“It might be helpful to try to cut the dreams off before they become too involved and frightening. If someone could watch to see if he starts to get restless in his sleep, upset…”
“Like have one of us watch him all night?”
“See whether it helps,” Sam suggested.
“I don’t know if Scott’ll go for it, Doc.”
“If the nightmares are as terrible as you say, he will. In any event, you have nothing to lose. Maybe these nightmares are the way his brain is trying to bring back his lost memories or maybe they could be simply ruining his sleep. If it goes on too long, let me know, and I’ll give those sleeping powders.”
Johnny rode back to the hacienda and consulted Murdoch. He, like Johnny, was skeptical of whether Scott would allow them to hover over him. After dinner, Johnny took Scott aside and offered to stay in his room for the night.
“Why? I’m fine,” Scott protested.
“You’re not fine. Hey, we can pretend we’re little kids and having a sleep-over. We never got to do that before. It could be fun.”
“Well, when you put it that way…” Scott relented.
Johnny told Murdoch that Scott had accepted his proposal, and Murdoch scrounged up a cot and a deck of cards. Johnny set up his bedroll on the cot, and he and Scott played cards and talked about nothing in particular until Scott stifled a yawn. The brothers said good night to one another, and Johnny prayed that Scott would not have nightmares.
His prayer wasn’t answered. By the time Johnny was awakened by soft sounds Scott was making, his brother was well involved in whatever horrible dream his mind had conjured up. Johnny tried to gently wake him, but when that didn’t work, he manhandled Scott more forcibly until Scott awoke gasping and trembling.
“I’m here,” Johnny tried to soothe him. “You’re safe at Lancer. You’re alright.” He repeated the words over and over.
Scott accepted a glass of water from Johnny and then just sat there gathering his wits. His dream had been so terrible. It didn’t even feel like a dream…more like a memory. If it had been a memory…But it couldn’t have been, could it? He had never been in a place like the one in his dream before. Suddenly, Scott got up and raced over to the washstand, gagging.
Johnny watch his brother vomit into the washstand bowl and felt helpless. Obviously, Scott knowing he was not alone when he slept was not sufficient to ward off the nightmares. Scott didn’t seem to make much noise when he was in the throes of one, either. Would one of them have to stay up and watch him all night to catch him at the beginning of one?
Scott rinsed out his mouth, put some water in the bowl, and carried it outside. He threw the contents of the bowl over the garden wall. A soft breeze rustled the curtains by the open French doors, and Johnny welcomed its cooling air.
“I’m sorry, Johnny,” Scott said when he came back in. “Mind if I leave the door open for a while?”
“No need to apologize. You want to talk about it?”
“No,” Scott stated emphatically.
“Go back to sleep. I’m sorry I woke you.”
“I’ll go back to sleep if you do, Scott.”
Scott snorted. “No chance of that.” He’d dreamed of a long, dark room where hundreds of men were sitting or standing or laying down. There was a pervasive feeling of misery and doom. He wandered in and around them for what seemed like hours. Was this Hell? If so, Hell was freezing cold rather than hot. He could see his breaths come out as white clouds. Suddenly, the scene shifted, and Scott was kneeling over a supine man who was dressed in blue wool. Scott thought that should have meant something, something important, but he couldn’t remember why. The man had a hunk of bread in his hand, but he seemed too weak to eat it. In fact, he looked dead. Scott had reached down and pulled the bread from his hand, but in doing so, the man woke up and looked at Scott with a look of such betrayal and loathing… Johnny had woken him up at that moment. Scott started to feel sick again. Would he really steal a dying man’s bread? Was he capable of such a vile act? He didn’t think so, but it was such a vivid dream. He stuck the palm of his hand against his right eye. There was pressure building there.
“Headache?” Johnny asked softly.
“Not bad.” After a minute, he said, “It’s going away now.”
Johnny got out the pack of cards. “Whose deal is it?” They played Blackjack for the rest of the night.
The next morning after Scott had left to do his chores after breakfast, Johnny told Murdoch of the failure of his plan. Did Murdoch want to set up a rotating schedule so someone would be awake and watching Scott through the night? Johnny was a light sleeper from his Madrid days. He hadn’t heard Scott until Scott was well into his nightmare. Murdoch dismissed the suggestion. All he thought that would lead to is everyone being sleep deprived. Scott would have to learn to deal with his nightmares like the rest of them. Johnny saw the sense in his father’s decision, but he felt badly for Scott’s predicament. That night Murdoch had taken the cot and bedroll out of Scott’s room, so Johnny quietly moved Scott’s reading chair over by his bed. The problem was that Johnny was too tired after a full day’s work to stay awake. Watching a man sleep was mind-numbingly boring. He thought he might have warded away a nightmare once and let his guard down, falling asleep, but Scott had woken up later in the night shaken and afraid. There was no rule against having more than one nightmare a night.
Scott was miserable. Not only was he getting no sleep, he found Johnny in his room the last few nights and knew he was keeping his brother from getting a good night’s sleep as well. He begged Johnny not to stay with him, but his brother would sneak in after he was asleep and watch over him. Johnny was the best big brother a guy could ever ask for.
Today, the overcast skies matched Scott’s mood. He had been relegated to “light jobs” as long as he wasn’t getting proper sleep and that meant chores like weeding the garden. Ranch life was losing its enchantment when he couldn’t ride out with Johnny and work with the rest of the men. He only had himself to blame. Why was he having these horrible visions of places he’d never been before? He had no idea. He was so exhausted, but he dreaded going to sleep. He excused himself after dinner and went to his room to read.
Cannon fire. Vicksburg. Scott tensed. He sat up. What was he doing in bed? Cannon fire always preceded an attack. They would soon be going into battle. He needed to get dressed and be ready. He flung open the French doors. It was raining. There it was again. The cannons sounded closer now. Could he do this again? He was so afraid. He had lost a third of his men. He didn’t want to lose any more or die himself. But it was his duty to rally his men, to ride toward Confederate guns. Where was his horse? He walked outside. His head started to throb. He pressed the palm of his hand into his right eye. It seemed to help a little. Still, he had to find his horse. Where was the string that held the horses? He wandered, eventually being stopped by a low wall. Where was the hill with the town on it? It didn’t seem to be in any direction that he looked. Where was General Sherman? The sky lit up, almost blinding him. The rain pelted him mercilessly. There it was again—the cannon fire. So close now. He had to save them, save his family. No, that wasn’t right, was it? What family? Who? The pain in his head became unbearable. First, his horse. He had to find his horse. He stumbled further into the garden and fell.
“Woowhee, that was some storm last night!” Johnny exclaimed as he joined Murdoch at breakfast. “That thunder was so loud, I thought it was gonna shake the house down!”
“No chance of that, son,” Murdoch chuckled. “We needed the rain but maybe not quite that much.”
“I hope my vegetables didn’t drown,” Teresa said, putting the coffee pot in front of Johnny.
They all ate heartily, with Johnny snagging some extra biscuits for later in the morning.
“Hey!” Teresa protested. “Save some for Scott.”
“He ain’t been down yet?” Johnny asked.
“I haven’t seen him. He never gets up earlier than I do,” Teresa said.
“Not unless he never went to sleep.” Johnny got up and headed for the barn. He came back a minute later with a satisfied look on his face. “Remmie’s still in his stall.”
“I’ll go and get him up,” Teresa said, rising.
Johnny grabbed her arm. “If he’s asleep, I say let him sleep.”
“Murdoch?” Teresa appealed.
Murdoch looked up from some papers he was reading. “Huh? Oh, yes. If Scott’s sleeping, we’ll let him sleep. It’s about time he got some rest.” He straightened the papers and rose from the table. “C’mon. Let’s see what damage that storm did.”
Murdoch and Johnny rode back to the hacienda for a late lunch. The storm had swollen streams, uprooted trees, and scattered cattle. It was going to take some time to set everything straight, but it could have been worse.
“Scott up yet?” Johnny asked halfway through his sandwich.
“I haven’t seen him,” Teresa answered, “but you told me not to wake him.”
Murdoch flashed Johnny a look.
“I’ll check on him after lunch,” Johnny told him.
Johnny rapped softly on Scott’s bedroom door. “Hey, Boston, time to wake up.” He pushed the door ajar. He couldn’t see Scott. He opened the door wider. Scott’s bed was empty. The sheets were mussed; they had been slept in, but there was no sign of Scott. The French doors were standing wide open and probably had been for some time. The floor inside the room was wet with shallow puddles. Johnny ran to the doorframe, frantically searching for his brother. There! In the back corner he thought he saw a shape.
He ran toward it, his heart thumping. It was Scott, sopping wet, lying face down in the mud. Johnny rolled him over and checked for breath. He had seen an unconscious man drown in a shallow pool of water when he was a teenager in Nogales. He felt a weak puff of air on his cheek. Gracias, Dios! He shook Scott a little and patted him on the cheek. There was no response. He couldn’t wake him.
Running back into the room, he yelled into the hallway, “Murdoch!”
Together, he and Murdoch got Scott back to his bed. They stripped off his wet clothing and noticed the blue tinges on his lips and fingertips. Damn, he was cold! Teresa was dispatched to warm blankets by the stove, and Murdoch started a fire in the fireplace to heat the room up. In late December, the afternoon temperature was going to be cool at best. Scott lay unconscious through it all.
“What the hell was he doing out in that storm?” Murdoch muttered to himself.
“I’ll go get Sam,” Johnny offered.
“No, send Jelly. I want you here if Scott wakes up. You can settle him quicker than the rest of us.”
Johnny nodded and set out to find Jelly. He came back a few minutes later, grabbed a chair, and took Scott’s hand in between his two. It felt like ice.
Murdoch had closed the French doors and was mopping up the floor. When he was done, he looked up at Johnny’s troubled face. It had guilt written all over it. “Don’t beat yourself up, Johnny. We all thought he was asleep. I didn’t want him awakened either.”
“All morning he was laying there dying while we were riding around. All those hours…”
Hours later when Sam arrived, things were much the same. The doctor tried to shoo them out of the room, but both Johnny and Murdoch stood their ground. Sam at least was able to back them up behind him on the opposite wall. He took Scott’s pulse and listened to his heart. Both were far too slow, but that was to be expected with hypothermia.
“He’s lost a lot of body heat,” the doctor told them.
“He’s warmer now than when we found him,” Johnny said defensively.
Sam schooled his features so he wouldn’t look shocked. Scott Lancer had come perilously close to dying. He still might. “Tell me what happened.”
They did, as much as they could, which wasn’t much.
Murdoch ran a hand through his hair. “What the hell was he doing out in the storm?” he asked again, this time loud enough for them to hear.
Sam considered. He’d started reading all he could get his hands on about the effects of the war on survivors. There were considerably more than a handful of Civil War veterans living in the county, not just Scott. He needed to be informed about what to expect as to their health issues.
“We had a thunderstorm last night,” Sam mused.
“It went right over us,” Johnny said. “Loudest damn thunder I ever heard, and I’ve heard me some loud ones.”
“Scott must have thought it was cannon fire.”
“What?” Johnny and Murdoch said almost together.
“I’ve been reading about veterans of the war. To a one of them say the sound of thunder reminds them of cannon fire,” Sam related.
“And if Scott was thinking about the war…”
“He’d get one of them terrible headaches.” Johnny finished Murdoch’s thought.
Teresa came in again with freshly warmed blankets. They stripped the cool ones off and got Scott settled between the warm ones.
Sam gathered up his bag. “Keep changing his blankets out for warm ones until his skin feels normal. I don’t want him overheated either. Watch over him and get me when he wakes up.”
“You’re not staying?” Johnny asked alarmed.
Sam shook his head. “There’s nothing more I can do here, and I have other patients to see.”
“And if he doesn’t wake up, Sam?” Murdoch asked softly, his eyes never leaving his elder son’s slack face. Scott looked like he could be seventeen right now, he thought.
Sam put his hand on his dear friend’s shoulder. “That will be up to God.” Sam never liked to use the word ‘coma’ to a family. That usually caused more stress than was necessary. But Scott Lancer was in a coma and comas, like head injuries, were unpredictable. It was better to not say anything at all and let the family have their hope.
Hope was fading. It was two days since they had found Scott unconscious in the garden. It was the flower garden that Catherine had planted. That’s why he’d given Scott this room because the French doors looked out into her garden. But Murdoch had never bothered to mention that to Scott. Why not? Scott would have appreciated knowing that. He knew that now. He just hoped he got the chance.
It was the start of the new year. He and Johnny had marked the occasion with a small toast in Scott’s room as the grandfather clock in the great room had chimed twelve times. There were not many festivities these days, nothing much to celebrate. They had raised Scott’s temperature; that was the only good news. Murdoch took Scott’s hand in his and prayed. Lancer was Scott’s legacy. He needed to live to inherit it with Johnny. He prayed to God to let his boy be alright.
There. Did Scott’s hand squeeze back? He rubbed Scott’s hand and squeezed again. Nothing. Maybe it was just a muscle spasm. He kept holding on. There it was again. Murdoch leaned forward. “Scott,” he said. “Scott, wake up!” He shook Scott’s shoulder with his other hand. “Wake up, son!” he demanded.
Eyelashes fluttered, and then Murdoch saw his hopes come true. Scott opened his eyes.
“Scott!” Murdoch shouted with joy. Scott’s head turned toward him even as Scott’s eyes were closing once again. It was five months ago all over again. He could accept that. Scott would slowly come back to them, but he’d come back.
Johnny and Teresa ran into the room. “We heard you shout, Old Man,” Johnny said.
“He opened his eyes. He’s asleep again, but he opened his eyes for a few seconds, like he did with you, Teresa, the last time.”
“Oh, Murdoch!” she exclaimed throwing her arms around her guardian’s neck. “He’s going to alright! I just know it!”
“Should I get Sam?” Johnny asked.
“No, by the time you get back here with him it would be almost time for him to come anyway,” Murdoch said. The doctor was joining them for their New Year’s Day dinner. “We’ll wait. We may have better news for him by the time he arrives.”
Johnny was with Scott when he woke up again. “Do you know who I am, brother?” Johnny asked.
Scott was smiling at him. At Johnny’s question, he frowned. “Why?” Scott asked and let the question fade away as his eyelids drooped.
Johnny tried to keep awake a bit longer, but he couldn’t short of slapping him, which he didn’t want to do. Why what? Why was Johnny there? Why was he asking the question? Why was he in bed? Johnny was confused. He didn’t want to get his hopes up too high. Scott may be waking up, but who would they find when he did?
Jelly was watching Scott when Sam arrived for dinner. He promised he would call them if Scott woke up again. They ate a subdued dinner, yet it was imbued with hope. Afterwards, they all tromped upstairs to Scott’s room.
Sam woke Scott up easily. Scott tried to sit up.
“Easy, boy,” Sam said as he pushed Scott back down on the pillow. “Do you know who I am?” he asked raising a glass of water to Scott’s lips.
Scott didn’t answer but took a long sip.
“Do you know who I am?” Sam asked again.
Scott frowned. “Why do you keep asking that? First Johnny, now you.”
Johnny gave a whoop. “At least he knows me!” he crowed.
Scott glared at him. “I know all of you.”
Everyone seemed overly pleased at that. Scott couldn’t figure out why.
“What year is it?” Johnny asked.
“What sort of questions are these?” Scott asked, clearly starting to get agitated.
“Just humor us and answer his question, son,” Murdoch ordered.
Close enough. Again, everyone seemed relieved and pleased, Scott noticed. Why? Did they think he was an idiot? Did they think he wouldn’t know their names and the year? What was going on here?
“Alright. Alright. Everyone settle down and let me examine my patient. Out. Now. All of you.”
There were the inevitable protests, glares, and wheedling, but Sam got his way.
“What happened to me? Why am I in bed?” Scott asked as Sam took his pulse.
“You got hit on the head,” Sam answered. He got out his stethoscope and listened to Scott’s heart. It was beating strongly and steadily, neither too fast nor too slow.
“What’s the last thing you remember?”
It took Scott a few seconds to sort out the answer. “Being out on the east pasture checking on the dam with Johnny.”
Sam nodded. “Remember the thunderstorm a few nights ago?”
“How about going fishing with your father?”
“What? Just me and Murdoch?” Scott snorted. “Like that would ever happen!”
“How’s your head feel? Any pain? Residual headache?”
Scott shook his head. “Just feeling a little fuzzy, like my head’s filled with cotton.”
“That should clear up soon.”
Scott looked relieved. “Why was everyone so happy I knew the year?”
“Head injuries are tricky, Scott. It’s a common question that’s asked after someone gets knocked on the head. You knowing the year means your brain is working fine,” Sam smiled. “Here’s another question: What boarding school did you attend?”
“Phillips Academy in Andover.”
Sam took a deep breath. Now for the difficult question. “Where were you kept as a prisoner of war, Scott?”
Scott scowled. “Libby. You know that, Sam. Why bring it up?”
“To make sure you remembered it, too. Do you remember the war?”
“Every damn minute of it,” Scott said sourly. “Every damn minute.”
“Can you think about it now?”
“Why?” Scott looked at the doctor skeptically. Sam was delighted. That looked like the Scott before the injury. “They’re not the most pleasant memories,” Scott complained.
“Just humor your old country doctor.” Sam waited several seconds.
“How long am I supposed to do this?” Scott grumbled.
“How do you feel? Any headache coming on? Pressure inside your head?”
Scott shook his head, and that movement alone seemed to satisfy Sam. “Should my head hurt?” he asked bewildered.
“No. I’m glad it doesn’t, but you never know with head injuries. They can be tricky.” Just how tricky, Sam was finding out firsthand.
Sam finished his examination and gave Scott some more water. His patient was already flagging. “Get some sleep. I predict you’ll feel much better tomorrow with a good night’s sleep.”
Sam made his way back to the great room to face a group of excited, hopeful people.
“Well?” Murdoch asked for all of them.
After getting them all seated again, Sam told them the good news first. Scott seemed to have regained his memory. He seemed well on his way to being his old self and could get out of bed as soon as he felt strong enough. Sam recommended light chores for at least a week until Scott got his feet under him.
Now for the not-so-good news. “Johnny, the last thing Scott remembers was inspecting a dam with you. Do you have any idea when that was?”
Johnny thought. “Damn. That was last July, Doc. A coupla days before Taylor hit him.”
Five months ago. Sam nodded, a bit shocked and amazed at the same time.
“Sam? What does it mean?” Murdoch demanded.
“I think it means Scott has no memory of his last five months with you, the months he believed he was sixteen.” Sam smiled at the resiliency of Scott’s mind, even now shielding him from harm.
Murdoch reacted as if he had been slapped, the full implications of Sam’s pronouncement hitting him hard. Scott didn’t remember the fishing trip, didn’t remember all the nights spent reminiscing with his family, wouldn’t remember he’d called Murdoch “father.”
“So what do we do now?” Teresa asked, worry in her voice.
“Again, I’d counsel to let Scott take the lead. If he wants to pick things up where he left them in July, let him.”
“He’s gonna know it ain’t summer, and now the year’s 1873,” Johnny pointed out. “He’s gonna know something’s up. What do we tell him abut the missing five months?”
“We don’t have to tell him anything, Johnny,” Murdoch said. “We’ll just tell him this head injury made him lose five months of his memories.”
Sam nodded in agreement. “That would be for the best, I think, if you want to save yourselves a lot of uncomfortable questions from him. I also think Scott would worry over it—thinking you all saw his sixteen-year-old self.”
“And if he asks how he got his head injury? What do we say?” Teresa asked.
Murdoch and Johnny looked at each other. “Barfight,” they said in unison.
It was a quiet Saturday evening for Murdoch. His boys had gone into town, and he and Teresa sat by the fireplace, him reading and her darning. It reminded him of the evening when Scott got hurt. Teresa looked a little uneasy, too.
“Something on your mind, Teresa?”
She nodded, so he put down his book and motioned her over to the sofa to snuggle under his arm, like she had done so many times before while she was growing up. He gave her a light kiss on the top of her head and said, “What is it?”
She sighed. “It’s silly, I know, but it’s Scott.”
Murdoch stiffened. “Something wrong with Scott?”
“No, not really…it’s just that his eyes. They’re sad again.”
“Now we know why, darling. They’re eyes that have seen a war and a prison camp.”
She sighed again. “I know that now. I just feel so sorry for him. Sometimes, I want to cry.”
“Scott doesn’t need our pity, Teresa, just our love.” He gave her a small squeeze.
“I just miss the old Scott sometimes, when he was sixteen,” she pouted.
“And when he had a crush on you?” he teased.
“Oh, Murdoch! Be serious!” She laughed. Then she quieted. “I miss the sparkle in his eyes. I loved that about his eyes. They always looked so excited, and now they don’t. Now they look like they have all the worries of the world in them.”
“Well, we’ll just have to see if we can do something about that, darling. If anyone can bring the sparkle back into them, it’s you, Teresa.” Murdoch gave her another kiss on her head.
“I’ll try,” she promised. She pushed off his chest and gave him a peck on the cheek. “I think I’ll go upstairs now.”
He nodded and watched her go. How could he tell her he missed the sixteen-year-old Scott as much if not more than she did? Scott had quickly settled into his old ways, becoming once again the serious and reserved Scott they had known before the assault. Would Murdoch ever hear him laugh openly again? He would have to be grateful that he’d heard it at all.
Murdoch got up and poured himself a Scotch, a lump forming in his chest. For the last several weeks, he’d had to pretend he didn’t know of Scott’s life and ambitions when he was sixteen. Then Scott had wanted to know all the knowledge in the world. He thought it was contained in books and at Harvard. His naïve son had soon learned the hard way that there were all kinds of knowledge—some in books, some on a battlefield. There was the knowledge that came from experience, from meeting different people, seeing different places, experiencing the dark and horrific as well as the beautiful and serene. Scott was more of a Renaissance man than he had ever dreamed he be…and lost the sparkle in his eyes because of it. It was knowledge he never wished Scott would know. But he did. He had seen such carnage that Murdoch could only imagine, and then, probably imagine it poorly. He had survived the hell of a prison camp for longer than anyone could have hoped for. He had been beaten, whipped, starved, and isolated in solitary confinement. A man found his mettle in that place or died, and if the price of Scott living was losing his youthful “sparkle,” so be it. Murdoch was just so damned thankful his boy was alive and here at Lancer with his brother. Johnny seemed happier, glad to revert to being the younger brother again, his older brother returned to him only a little worse for wear.
Worse for wear thanks to one Marvin Taylor. The man would be out of the Sutter County jail by now. Murdoch hoped he had the good sense to stay out of the area. Johnny would probably kill him on sight if he thought he could get away with it. But now that Scott was back to his former self, Murdoch gave a bit of thanks to Marvin Taylor. The man had made it possible for him to glimpse his elder son as a teenager, to learn about Scott’s life and dreams then, to hear Scott call him “father.” He wondered if he’d ever hear that word said with love from Scott’s lips again. Yes, he raised his glass in a very small salute to Marvin Taylor and the miracle he had unintentionally wrought if only for five, short months.
Murdoch stared into the fire. He realized that with Scott forgetting their fishing trip, he also forgot all of what was said there. He probably still believed Murdoch thought he had killed his mother and that Murdoch hated him for it. Damn! Why hadn’t he thought of that before? It tore at his gut to think Scott carried around that guilt.
Then he smiled. That could be easily remedied. All it would take is another fishing trip, just him and Scott. Would Scott be surprised about that! He would talk to Scott about Catherine and how much he loved her and their son. He would tell Scott about Scotland and teach him “Wild Mountain Thyme.” And, if he was lucky, maybe he could get Scott to sing him that drinking song again.
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4 thoughts on “Scott’s Eyes by RonD”
I love this story. Thank you for posting it.
You are a wonderful writer. I love all of your lancer stories. Your descriptions are so easy to visualize. Please continue to write. I especially love stories written about Scott.
I’ve re-read this so many times and always find something new profoundly moving that makes my heart break a little more. Can I say that your empathy not just for Scott but his family builds upon layers of a richly layered complexity that makes it a powerful and profound read. Such talent deserves a much wider audience. Thanks for sharing your beautifully crafted storytelling with me.
Thanks, Anne, Patricia, and Rozzy. So glad you liked this story!