Design a site like this with
Get started

That Damned Drifter by Ros

Word Count 4,733

Originally appearing in the Homecoming 2005 Lancer Souvenir Fanzine – Part of the Great Room Bookshelf Collection

3rd in the Maddie Series


He was hungry. Actually, he was hungry, wet, tired and filthy, but he couldn’t really remember a time when he hadn’t been at least one of those things.

And he was alone.

There was nothing new in that either. He’d always been alone. There was no one to rely on but himself, although somewhere, in the dark crevices of his mind, he recalled a warm body he once had to lean on. There’d been kindness then, a soft loving touch, but it was just a shadow of a memory so he paid it no heed.

 Instinct told him that he needed to find shelter or die. He was wet, and shivering now, as well as hungry. He didn’t think there was much he could do about the hunger right now, but he could do something about getting warm.

From his hiding place in the brush, he spotted his shelter for the night. There were buildings down there, and he was sure he’d be able to find a warm place to hide in one of them. But he’d have to wait until it was dark. There were men everywhere around the buildings and he knew that he wouldn’t be welcome.

Hours pass slowly when you’re hungry and alone. He waited patiently for the dark so that he could sneak in and find a warm corner. He wished he could move in sooner, but there was no choice about that. If he was seen, they’d chase him off. It had happened plenty of times before in his young life.

When the sun finally set, and the moon still hadn’t risen enough to make any difference to the night, he limped slowly out of the bushes and made his way to the buildings. He was careful not to be seen, skulking behind walls and looking out cautiously to see if there was anyone around.

 Finally, convinced of his safety, he slid through the darkness and entered the big warm barn. The horses nickered softly but paid little attention to him. Mostly, they were tired and grateful for the barn themselves. So he made his way right to the back where he found an empty stall with some hay strewn lightly on the floor. He didn’t even bother to scratch it all together to make a bed. He had no energy left for that.

He just curled up and fell asleep.

“Enrique, if you go near Barranca, it’ll be your own fault if he bites you,” Maddie called out sharply. All of six years old, she was getting tall and gangling. She’d grown a head taller in the year she’d been at Lancer and no amount of food would keep meat on her growing bones.

She was dressed in her denim overalls and her lovely black hair was tied in pony tails on either side of her head. It was early in the morning, so she was still clean, though Teresa despaired of keeping her that way for more than an hour most days.

“He won’t bite me,” little Enrique Cipriano told her patronizingly.

 Enrique was six years old as well, though he was a month older than Maddie and he didn’t like her trying to tell him what he could and couldn’t do. Not only was he older, he was a BOY and she was just a girl.

Well, maybe not JUST a girl. She was a Lancer, and that made her someone special at the ranch her family owned. But he still didn’t see that he should have to do everything she said.

“Well, Papa will be angry if you do get bit,” she insisted.

“An’ it won’t be with Barranca – he’ll be mad at you!”

That stopped the little boy in his tracks and he thought seriously about that threat. He might only be six, but he knew enough not to get Senor Johnny upset. He’d heard the stories about him.

 Enrique turned back to look at Maddie. She was standing with her hands on her hips and her feet apart, scowling at him.

No, he wasn’t going to let her tell him what he could do, not even if her Papa was Johnny Madrid Lancer. Senor Johnny would never shoot a kid!

He turned his back on the girl and walked towards the end stall, where Johnny’s majestic palomino waited. He stopped a few feet away from the big golden horse and watched him adoringly.

Barranca was a fine animal, everyone agreed about that, but he did tend to nip if you got close. Maddie was right about that. While he made up his mind whether to go any closer, he heard a rustling sound behind him and spun around.

“Maddie, come see!” he called out in surprise.

The girl ran to his side and stared. “It’s a dog!”

“Si,” the boy replied, needlessly.

 “He looks kind of mangy though.”

 “Where did he come from?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never seen him around here,” the boy told her. He took a step closer to the dog, but stopped when it opened its eyes and lifted its lip to snarl at him.

 “He looks sick,” Maddie told Enrique.

 “He’s real thin,” Enrique added. Maddie took a step towards it, but the snarl turned to a low rumbling growl.

He bared his teeth and she stopped.

 “You better not go near him, Maddie. Looks mean enough to tear your hand right off your arm!”

 “Do you think Ramon could make him better?” she asked Enrique. Ramon was his big brother and was good with animals. Everyone sent for him when one of the animals was sick, even though he was just fourteen years old.

 “Maybe. Let’s go get him.”

When they got back to the barn, Jelly was there. He didn’t like dogs much, especially when they looked like that one. He had a rifle in his hands and it was plain what he planned to do.

“Jelly, don’t!” she screamed and ran over to grab his arm.

 “Miss Maddie, you get on back, ‘fore ya get hurt,” Jelly told her angrily.

 “No, you can’t shoot him. Ramon is going to make him better.” She turned to the tall skinny boy behind her. “Aren’t you, Ramon? Please say you can help him.”

The boy moved forward, but didn’t get any closer to the animal than Maddie had, before Jelly took hold of his arm and yanked him back away from it.

 “Now that’s a durned fool thing to do, Ramon,” he hissed at the boy.

 “You wanta get yerself eaten alive?”

 Ramon looked at the dog. It was half-starved and it had a couple of cuts that had bled out at some stage. They didn’t look infected, but the animal probably hadn’t been able to hunt much for the last week. Hunger and fear were probably what the dog felt right now, and it could be a dangerous combination.

He agreed that the children shouldn’t go near it, but he did not agree that Jelly should shoot it.

“I think he’s more scared and sick from hunger, Senor Jelly, than plain vicious,” the boy told the old man. “You don’t need to shoot him.

“I ain’t havin’ no wolf in my barn,” he growled.

“He ain’t no wolf, Jelly,” Maddie insisted, with a petulant stamp of her foot.

“Madelena!” came a commanding voice from behind them. A voice she and everyone else

recognized instantly.

They all turned at once, Maddie with a surprised look on her face.

“Yes, Papa,” she said guiltily.

“You don’t say ‘ain’t.”

Her big brown eyes flashed defiantly. “You say it, Papa.”

“Well you ain’t me!” he told her firmly. “An’ unless you wanta spend the rest o’ the day in your
room, thinkin’ on why you sassed your ol’ man…”

“Oh no, Papa. I’m sorry,” she replied quickly.

Johnny managed to keep the grin from his face somehow, but, with a willful gleam in her eyes, his
daughter added, “But he still isn’t a wolf!”

“Who isn’t?”

“The dog,” she told him. “Jelly says he’s a wolf.”

Johnny looked past the children to the scrawny, filthy animal lying in the straw. “Don’t look like a
wolf to me, Jelly.”

“Lot you’d know,” Jelly huffed. “It’s part wolf anyways. Look at its color. ‘Sides, it’s too far-gone to
save. Better ta put it out of its mis’ry.”

“No!” Maddie shouted in horror, and was joined by Enrique and Ramon in pleading with Johnny
for the dog’s life.

“Well, I ain’t havin’ no wolf in my barn, Missie,” Jelly reiterated. “You shoulda seen it, Johnny,
snappin’ an’ snarlin’ like a wild thing. Them kids’ll get hurt for sure.”

“He’s frightened, Jelly,” Maddie pointed out.

“He’s frightened?” the old man exclaimed. “Seems like we should be the ones frightened.”

“Ramon, what do you think?” Johnny asked the boy.

The boy looked at the animal from where he stood. It might take them some time to get it to trust
them enough to get close and clean it up.

“I think some food and some care would do it, Senor Johnny,” he decided. “He does not look that

“All right, but none o’ you kids get close to it. Jelly, get some rope an’ I’ll tie it up.”

“You ain’t serious?”

Johnny frowned at him. “Get me some rope will ya, Jelly.”

“Huh!” Jelly huffed and hitched up his pants angrily. He ambled away complaining of frightened
stock and missing fingers until he was out of earshot.

Johnny turned back to his daughter. “Now, you mind me Maddie. Don’t go gettin’ close to that

So the dog had stayed.


They left it in the barn where it had taken refuge and Ramon had stood just out of reach of it and
used a broom handle to push a bowl of water towards it, and then a bowl of watered down stew for
it to try.

The dog snarled and snapped at the strange objects. It obviously felt threatened by the broom
handle and tried to bite at it, but then it sniffed at the food and ate some. It lapped up some of the
water and eyed them all nervously.

But it accepted the food.

Ramon and the children came by regularly with food and water. Each time, the animal snarled, but
it no longer snapped at them. Instead, it stood waiting for the meal they brought with them.

On the third day, it didn’t even snarl. It stood watching them, apparently trying to decide whether
to trust them or not.

Ramon wanted to get close enough to look after those cuts and to give him a good bath, but he was
no fool. He bided his time and built up the trust instead.

Maddie was less patient and Ramon had to keep reminding her that the dog wasn’t like the other
dogs on the ranch. This one was scared and wild. She shouldn’t trust him.

As it had fattened up, they realized that it really was a dog – a young sable German shepherd with a
silvery color to his coat. He had the right color for a wolf, but Jelly was the only one who still
persisted with the belief that it was part wolf. No one blamed him. He had good reason not to like
dogs like that much, after the run in he had had with Sheriff Gannon and his wolf-dog. He still
carried the scars on his arm from that experience.

Maddie and Ramon did get close to it though.

Johnny came in to saddle Barranca on the fourth morning and found his daughter sitting far too
close to the dog for his comfort.

“Thought I said you weren’t to go near him,” Johnny said angrily. He stood his ground though, not
making a quick move in case the animal took fright and attacked her.

“It’s all right, Papa,” she purred back at him. “See, he likes me now. Ramon lets me feed him

To show her confidence in the dog, she slowly put her little palm out for him to sniff. Johnny
wanted to run over and pull her away, but he fought back the instinct and watched. Nevertheless,
Instead, the dog did actually sniff her hand and then licked it. He breathed a sigh of relief and watched  his daughter in fascination. She edged her hand onto the dog’s nose and gently rubbed it, and then moved it slowly up to his ears and patted him.

“Madre de dios, Maddie!” he whispered. “You be careful.”

She smiled back at her father. “He’s a good dog, Papa. I don’t think he’s wild any more.”

“Yeah, well, I wouldn’t count on that,” Johnny told her.

“If Ramon and I can get him cleaned up, can he sleep in my room with me?”

Johnny smiled. “I’d like to see your grandpa agree to that!” he said with a grin. “Nope, he’ll just have to be like every other dog ‘round here an’ sleep in the barn.

Johnny had been right. No amount of cajoling or pleading had gotten Murdoch to let her keep the dog in the house. What was even worse was that Teresa and Maria had sided with him.

Maria had heard Jelly’s insistence that the animal was a dangerous wild beast. Jelly would not give one inch on that. He was convinced that the dog was part wolf and kept a rifle at hand whenever he went into the barn, just in case.

When, finally, the time came that the animal was strong enough, and healthy enough, to be released, Murdoch had taken Maddie aside and explained what was likely to happen.

“He’s been wild for a long time, Maddie. Probably his whole life,” he told her. “Most likely, when he’s off that rope, he’s going to run off again. He doesn’t know what a home is.”

“No, he’ll stay, Grandpa,” she insisted confidently. “You wait, he won’t run away.”

“He’s a drifter, Maddie, just like those men who come here and work for us for a while and move on. They don’t like being tied down to one place.”

But she shook her head, disbelieving.

Johnny untied the rope and waited for the dog to bolt to freedom. But, once again, his daughter had known the animal better than any of them. It stood its ground for a while and then, slowly moved forward to stand beside her and nuzzled her gently.

She grinned triumphantly. “I’m going to call him ‘Drifter’,” she told them all, and put her arm over the dog’s shoulders. Together, they walked out into the sunlight.


The two became inseparable. From the moment the dog was turned loose, it stuck to Maddie’s side like glue. Parents of her playmates eyed the animal suspiciously at first. Some refused their children permission to play with her while ‘el lobo’ was with her.

Maria was afraid of the dog. She’d heard what Jelly had to say and was still calling him ‘el lobo’.

She was horrified when the animal took to sleeping outside the kitchen door. Every morning she had to ease past the dog to get into the house, and she didn’t like it one little bit. She complained bitterly to anyone who would listen.

But, slowly, the dog gained their trust. Everyone, Jelly being the one and only exception, watched the growing attachment between the little girl and the dog and realized that it was there to stay.

In time, Maddie found out that Maria had begun to slip little scraps of food to him when no one was looking.

“Él es demasiado flaco – todos los huesos!” she said in her own defence and Maddie nodded her agreement. He was still skinny and all bones, but Maria would soon fatten him up.

For his part, Johnny watched the two grow closer nervously. He couldn’t get the image of that snapping and snarling creature in the barn out of his mind. For days, he’d tried to keep her from getting so friendly with it, but Maddie had a stubborn streak that matched her father’s own.

She didn’t exactly ignore her father. If he told her to get back from Drifter, she did, but she went back to him just as soon as her father went away. He hadn’t said that she could NEVER go near the dog.

Eventually, he gave up. After two weeks of keeping a close eye on them, he accepted that the dog really had taken a liking to her.

But the days were getting shorter and cooler, and Maddie’s life took a change.

Maddie started school, and the schoolteacher – Mrs. Chalmers – had a very strict rule at her school

On the first day, Johnny tied the dog up to keep it from following Maddie to school. The dog
chewed through the rope and ran off after her. At recess, the children found it sitting patiently outside the schoolhouse door. Mrs. Chalmers was not impressed.

“Madelena,” she said dauntingly. “School is no place for animals.”

With a quiet, “Yes, ma’am,” Maddie sadly took Drifter downdstairs. Johnny soon turned up to take him home, having found the frayed rope and guessed where the dog had gone.

Poor Johnny stood silently while Mrs. Chalmers explained, in cold hard detail, that she would not have dogs at school. She was a woman of forty-plus years with wire rimmed glasses sitting on the end of her nose and graying hair pulled into a severe bun at the back of her head.

He stood awkwardly in front of her, listening to her and feeling like some naughty schoolboy, then tied the dog to a length of rope and led it home.

Maddie pondered on how she could make Drifter understand that he had to stay at home. But how could she, when she didn’t understand herself? It didn’t seem fair, anyway. He wasn’t hurting anyone.

Nevertheless, Johnny had to find another way to keep the dog from following her.

After some thought, Johnny locked him in the barn and then stood back to see his daughter and the other ranch children off to school with Ramon riding behind to keep an eye on them all.

Two hours later, Scott found his brother storming out of the barn, his face thunderous.

“What’s the matter with you, brother?” he asked.

“That damned dog! He’s dug a hole under the back wall of the barn and run off after Maddie again.”

Scott tried not to grin, but he didn’t succeed.

“Well, you have to give him an ‘A’ for persistence.”

“I know what I’d like to give him,” Johnny snapped. “I’m the one who has to go fetch him back, and listen to that schoolmarm again.”

Scott laughed and watched him ride off on Barranca to face the woman and bring back the dog.

When they came back, he wasn’t sure which of them looked the more downtrodden – the dog or his brother.

“I see you were right. He was at the school again,” Scott commented.

“Yeah,” Johnny answered shortly.

Scott grinned. “Did you see the teacher?” he asked roguishly.

“Yeah, an’ you’d think I’d let the damned dog run off on purpose.”

Scott couldn’t help himself. He burst out laughing, but Johnny scowled darkly. “She says the dog could be dangerous an’ she won’t risk the children’s lives by having it there.”

“Johnny, I know we don’t know where that dog came from, but I don’t think he’s dangerous,” Scott told him seriously.

“I know that. If I thought he was, I’d have shot him rather than let him near Maddie,” Johnny replied.

“Well, he’s outsmarted you twice,” Scott told him mischievously. “Do you really think you can figure out how to keep him home?”

“It won’t happen again,” he declared. He glared down at the offender beside him. The dog sat looking at him, his tongue lolling out of the side of his mouth and his face almost seemed to be smiling. “Isn’t that right, dog?”

Drifter dropped his head guiltily, and Scott suppressed another laugh.

On the third day, Johnny knew he had the dog beaten. There was no way that it could get away this time.

With his patience worn thin, Johnny closed it in the storage shed behind the barn. Pulling the door shut behind him, he turned back and glared at the dog.

“You try anything this time, dog, and I’m gonna shoot ya!” he threatened and closed the door, with the ‘hangdog’ look on his daughter’s dog still in his mind.

Drifter whined and scratched desperately and Johnny left, with a grin on his face, thinking that he had finally beaten ‘that dang dog.’

An hour later he found the door open. Scratch marks on the door and tooth marks on the doorknob told him that the dog had done it again. Somehow, that damned dog had managed to twist the knob enough to open the door and had run off.

So, once more, Johnny mounted Barranca and headed for the school. The thought of facing that dragon of a woman one more time was enough to set his nerves on edge. It was all he could do to hold his temper when she started in on him each time.

She’d be waiting for him, for sure.

Dismounting at the gate, he tied Barranca to the fence and took a deep breath before walking in. He started up the path to the steps of the schoolhouse, but then he heard noises from the back.

Walking around behind the school, he found the teacher on her knees, holding a little boy close to her protectively. The boy was crying, while other children were screaming or howling. In the middle of the little group, were Maddie and her dog.

She was sitting on the ground, her arms wrapped affectionately around the dog’s neck and her head against his.

Johnny strode over to his daughter and stopped.

“All right, what happened?” he asked firmly, but not unkindly.

Maddie looked up at her father. Her eyes were full of tears and she sniffled.

“Mr. Lancer, wait,” the teacher called out.

When Johnny turned around, she was on her feet and walking over to him with the little boy by her side, holding her hand.

“Please, wait,” she pleaded and hurried to his side.

“What happened?” he asked. He couldn’t believe that the dog had done anything to harm any of the children, but they sure looked scared.

“Maddie’s dog,” she said quickly, as she got close to him. Her hair was falling down over her face, most uncharacteristically. She looked anything but the unruffled dragon lady who had berated him twice in as many days. “He saved Cody. Look…”

She pointed towards the bushes. There, lying half hidden by a large rock, was a dead rattlesnake. It was about three feet long, and its neck was twisted brokenly. The flesh was torn and bloody from teeth marks.

“I wouldn’t have believed it, if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, Mr. Lancer,” she told him. “The dog pushed him out of the way and went for the snake. He got it in his teeth and shook it until it was dead.

“He could have been killed, Papa,” Maddie cried.

“He was so brave, Mr. Lancer,” one of the older girls exclaimed.

Johnny squatted beside Maddie and looked the dog over. He couldn’t see any marks that might indicate that the dog had been bitten. It seemed that he’d come out of the fight unscathed.

“He’s okay, Maddie,” he told her, giving the dog’s ears a generous rub. He stood up and turned back to the teacher. “I’ll take him home, Mrs. Chalmers. I’ll find some way to keep him there this time.”

“Oh no, Mr. Lancer, no!” she exclaimed. “I won’t hear of it.”

“No, please, Mr. Lancer,” one of the boys cried out. “He’s a hero!”

“I’m sure I can make one exception to the rule – under the circumstances,” the teacher assured him. “Drifter can stay and be the school mascot.”

She looked down at Maddie. The little girl’s face was glowing with pleasure and relief. “But he has to stay outside,” she added.

So, the dog stayed.


It was a very pensive Johnny Madrid Lancer who rode home. It was just as well that Barranca knew the way because Johnny’s thoughts were a million miles away.

For years, he had protected his daughter with his absence. By staying away from her, he had been able to keep her existence a secret from the world – and his enemies.

But, since he had brought her home, he’d figured that he had to keep her close to protect her. The secret was out and he had to make sure that no one used her to get at him.

He couldn’t do that twenty-four hours a day. He had to face the fact that there were going to be more and more times when he couldn’t be with her. Maddie had to grow up, and she had an independent soul like her father had.

No, he couldn’t be with her all the time. That left her open to all kinds of perils; and not just from men who wanted to get at him through her. The thought that it could just as easily have been his daughter who had gotten close to that rattler, sent a shiver of fear through him that he was totally unused to.

When he rode into the yard at home, Scott was curious. He’d expected to see him come back with the dog on a rope once again, cursing it loudly for having outwitted him for a third time. Instead, a very thoughtful Johnny rode in, and without the dog.

Scott frowned as Johnny dismounted in front of the house. “Johnny? Where’s Drifter?”

“Back at the school,” he said distractedly.

“Back at the school? Why?”

Johnny stopped. He finally emerged from his reverie. “He killed a rattler. Pushed a boy out of the way and killed it. The dog’s the school hero. He’s allowed to stay any time he likes.”

Scott shook his head in surprise, then he grinned. “Well, you’re off the hook,” he said. “You don’t have to try to out-think him any more.” He laughed and added. “Just as well, Johnny. That dog had you beat.”

Scott expected his brother to bite at his jibe, but he didn’t. He just mumbled, ‘hm’ and walked into the house.

Following him into the house, Scott watched him curiously. Johnny wandered around the room, apparently aimlessly, and then disappeared upstairs.

Finally, Scott couldn’t stand it any longer and went up to see what his brother was doing. He found him in Maddie’s room folding an old Indian blanket and putting it on the floor near her bed.

“What are you doing?” he asked Johnny.

“Makin’ a bed for the dog,” Johnny answered.

“Murdoch will never go for it.”

“I’ll deal with Murdoch,” Johnny assured him. He finished and turned back to talk to his brother. “There’s all kinds of dangers out there, Scott,” he said, sitting on the edge of the bed. “I don’t just mean that she’s Johnny Madrid’s kid. I mean all the things that every kid faces. I realized today that I can’t be with her all the time to look out for her.”

He looked at Scott seriously. “But Drifter can.”

Johnny stood up and went downstairs to find Murdoch.

The dog stayed.



The Maddie Series
Still Waters
That Damn Drifter
The Hunted
A Nightmare on Pine Mountain

AUTHOR”S NOTE: Drifter is a silver sable German Shepherd – a dog that really does resemble a wolf. His antics are not so far fetched as you might think. He did nothing that my own shepherd, The Duke, wasn’t able to do. For ten wonderful years, he let himself off leashes and collars. Fences couldn’t stop him, and he COULD open doors. His Houdini tactics drove us to distraction, but we learnt to live with them.

He was tender with my children, played ‘mother’ to a litter of kittens, and greeted every baby that ever entered his yard with a lick on the cheek – but heaven help anyone who touched my kids. Twenty years after his passing, he is still a legend among my friends and relatives.

2 thoughts on “That Damned Drifter by Ros

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: