Sadly, Southernfrau is no longer with us. Her stories are archived here for her friends to remember her by. Enjoy her legacy to Lancer.
Word Count 9,400
The disconsolate sobs had been replaced with sporadic sniffs and hitching breaths, beads of moisture clung to the ends of the lush black eyelashes that rimmed sparkling blue eyes. Tear tracks glittered on the smudged little cheeks; and trails of mucus glistened on his lower face and the shirt sleeve used to wipe at his nose during the height of the emotional storm he had just weathered.
Johnny sat on the chair in the corner glaring at his family. His little booted feet swung back and forth, loud thuds disturbing the quiet every time a hard heel connected with a wooden leg. Patty Pat sat next to her little boy, her head resting in his lap, every so often her pink tongue would flick out to offer a lick of comfort to the tiny fisted hand that lay on his thigh. Each doggie kiss was repaid with a pat and ear scratch. The two presented a sad and pathetic picture, indeed.
Now that he was over being so upset about being sent to the corner for punishment, Johnny was mad. Oh boy, was he mad, his stiff posture, rigid facial features and the menacing glare in his eyes left no doubt to that fact.
Ha watched his youngest grandson, he had to fight the urge to rush to his rescue. He cringed each time Johnny’s red rimmed eyes caught his, as they seemed to be accusing him of failing to come to his aid. He would love nothing better than to lend a helping hand to his grandbaby, but alas the toddler’s own helping hands were the cause of his incarceration in the corner.
Harlan turned his attention to his son-in-law. He knew Murdoch was at his wits’ end with the little boy. Johnny was a bright, inquisitive and sensitive child, but his propensity for literal interpretations was quite often the catalyst for chaos around the house.
Grandfather bit his lip, willfully holding back the smile that ached to form on his face as he thought back over the day, and how the big hearted, good intentions and helpful hands of one opinionated and energetic toddler had escalated from mildly annoying to heart stopping fright.
Lifting his coffee cup to his mouth, Harlan clandestinely observed his son-in-law. Poor Murdoch still wore the evidence of Johnny’s first attempts at helping. The sight of it caused Harlan to snort and blow bubbles in his coffee, causing it to roil in the cup and slosh over the rim. Deep umber splatters landed on his starched white shirt making it appeared to have a brown dotted design.
The wet churning pops of the coffee being agitated by Ha’s sharply exhaled breath drew Murdoch’s attention. He glared at his father-in-law until a particularly loud mucus sucking sniff issued from the corner Johnny currently occupied. He turned to study his youngest, sitting abjectly in the corner. He cringed and sighed heavily when he noticed even Patty Pat seemed to be accusing him of maltreatment to her little person with the way her chocolate brown eyes glared at him. Her mournful whimpers filling the silence in between Johnny’s sniffs.
“Murdoch…son…” The pleading look on Ha’s face gave away his intention to intervene on Johnny’s behalf.
“No, Harlan, you’re not going to ‘save him’ this time. Johnny has got to learn from his mistakes, and unless he pays for them with some form of punishment, he won’t learn. I am doing this because I love him. I don’t want people saying, here comes Murdoch Lancer and that brat.”
Ha immediately took exception to the brat statement and pushed forward in his chair, lips grim in displeasure as he defended Johnny. “I hardly think Johnny could be classified as a brat like the Culpepper children, or that reprobate little brother of Teresa Stacy. Why no one even knows that child’s real name all I have ever heard him called is no, stop or damn it. I absolutely will not have Johnny grouped with them, everyone has always been delighted with Johnny.”
“Harlan, his antics might be cute at three, but you know as well as I do, the older they get the less endearing it is. I intend to teach him right from wrong now, before he gets anymore hard headed.”
“I feel it behooves me to reiterate the child’s heart was in the right place, everything he did today was an attempt to help.”
“Obviously we need to review, what occurred today? Do you really want another incidence of the kind of help you received today?” Murdoch queried through black stained lips.
Ha and Papa keep glancing at Johnny, sulking in the corner, as they discussed the day’s events. Johnny listened, wishing he had the right words to explain his actions. He worked hard to help today; he didn’t even get paid to work like some people. And all his hard work got him was trouble. Tears slipped down his face, falling in glittering salty drops to be absorbed by Patty Pat’s fur as he recalled his day.
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Lancer Hacienda- After Breakfast
“Papa, Johnny want to go to school too,” complained Johnny from the cradle of his father’s arms while waving to Ha and Scott, as they left in the surrey to take Scott to school.
Trying to head off a tantrum Murdoch flipped his youngest over and nuzzled his tummy, pretending to nibble at his belly button. Here lately Johnny had been adamant that he was a big boy, and that he wanted to go to school. Papa knew if he didn’t get his mind off the topic their morning would be chaotic.
“You’re not old enough, son, and Papa needs you to stay here and be his helper. Besides which, you wouldn’t be able to take your weewah to school.” Murdoch raised his eyebrow at the toddler, as he tugged playfully at the apron cape that Johnny had been dragging around ever since he had the chicken pox. That last statement seemed to turn the tide because Johnny wasn’t going anywhere he couldn’t take his weewah.
Murdoch decided if he wanted to get any peace while he worked on the ledger and contracts this morning, then he better take a little time with Johnny first. Father and son played a rousing game of fetch the stick with Patty Pat, followed by an hour of watching the hands break horses.
“All right little man, Papa needs to go in and work at his desk for a while,” Murdoch stated as he scooped the little one up, and headed for the house. He shook his head in amusement that Johnny had managed to get so dirty even under his watchful eye.
“Johnny want to help,” Johnny replied as they stepped in the kitchen.
“Help do what?” inquired Maria, who was busy laying the silver out on the table to be polished later in the day.
“Johnny wants to help me with my paper work. He’s going to be my helper today.”
“Would you like my help as well? I am sure if you need Johnny’s help, you will definitely need mine,” Maria exclaimed tongue in cheek, her eyes twinkling with mirth at the thoughts of Johnny’s help.
“As a matter of a fact, you can help me by making sure my coffee cup stays full. I don’t care if it’s hot or cold just so long as it’s strong and black.”
“I’ll bring the coffee pot as soon as I finishing laying out the silver. I have to find the time today to give it a good spit polish for the dinner Mr. Garrett is having Saturday.”
Mamacita turned back to her chore and Papa traveled on to his desk with Johnny. He spied the pile of papers he had cleaned from his drawers and files last night. Seeing the stack gave him an idea for a job to keep Johnny busy for a while.
“Okay, my big boy, I have a job for you that will help me out. I want you to take these old papers and tear them into little pieces, and put them in the trash can. Do you think you can handle that?”
“Johnny can Papa. Johnny tear paper real good.” The toddler laid the papers on the floor and sat down next to the waste basket, and began to reduce his first piece to tiny bits.
Murdoch grinned at the studious look of concentration on Johnny’s face as he diligently worked. His little pink to ngue peeked from between his lips, at the corner of his mouth as he focused on his task. Visions of his industrious toddler getting carried away and shredding any papers he could get his hands on prompted Papa to warn the little one.
“Johnny you only rip those papers I gave you. Don’t ever bother the other papers on the desk. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Papa. Johnny only tear these.”
A pot full of coffee later, Murdoch was rubbing his eyes and stretching and flexing his shoulders. He shifted in his chair and smiled down at Johnny. The toddler had finished his task long ago and had then occupied himself by using the torn pieces of paper to craft mosaic style pictures on the floor.
“Look, Papa, Johnny made a rabbit.”
Murdoch twirled around in the chair and looked down by his desk, indeed the arranged bits of paper looked like an abstract rabbit. Murdoch felt a surge of pride over Johnny’s budding talent; several of his own brothers were gifted artist.
“That’s very good, Johnny. You certainly have been a big help to Papa this morning.”
Murdoch grinned widely at his little one thinking how pleased his was that he had stayed out of trouble. He turned his chair back to the desk and decided to fortify his tired brain with another cup of coffee, but alas the pot was empty, sighing heavily he sat the pot back down.
“What’s wrong, Papa?”
“I’m out of coffee, and I don’t want to bother Maria for another pot. She has enough to do, the young lady that usually helps her, in the kitchen, is sick today.”
A rapid knocking sound at the front door was followed by the door flying open and hitting the wall with a bang. A dust covered, frantic ranch hand rushed into the Great room.
“Mr. Lancer come quick, Cipriano was thrown off a horse and landed on the corral fence hard enough to break a rail!”
Startled, Murdoch jumped from his chair, and in his haste to reach the door scattered Johnny’s mosaic pictures. Since he didn’t know what he might find outside he wanted to save Johnny the possible trauma of seeing a severely injured man.
“Johnny you can help Papa by standing in the house. I’ll be back in a few minutes. Do not leave this house!” Papa reiterated as he rushed through the door. In the chaos of the moment he didn’t realize Maria had been outside hanging a load of laundry. She had heard the commotion and ran to her husband’s aid. Nor did he stop to consider the fact that with Counsela out sick, Johnny was now in the house by himself.
Johnny raced to the big window to try and see what was going on over at the corral, but he was too short. He pulled Papa’s chair to the window and climbed up into it, but he still couldn’t see, and the seat pivoted and threw him against the wide expanse of glass.
Johnny got up and stomped his foot, as he rubbed his head at the spot that had connected solidly with the window. He wanted to help too, but he was stuck in the house. He pushed the chair back up to the desk, and it bumped the desk causing Papa’s empty coffee cup to rattle on the saucer. The noise captured his attention, he knew how he could help; he could have a cup of coffee waiting for Papa when he came back.
With an idea of how he could help, Johnny’s only problem was how to fix the coffee. He needed to think this over. Johnny climbed up in the chair and laid his head on the desk to mull over the situation. The pot was empty, Papa said so, and even if it wasn’t empty Johnny was reluctant to touch a coffeepot after his experience of burning his hands one morning at breakfast. And since he didn’t want to touch a hot pot he couldn’t make Papa another one, not to mention the fact he wasn’t allowed to use the stove. Papa had warned him and Squat about that after they tried to make biscuits one morning.
The toddler was stumped as to how he could solve this problem. He wasn’t really sure how to make coffee even if he could use the stove. He did know it had water in it. Mamacita always filled the pot with water to make it. All he knew about Papa’s coffee was Papa said he didn’t care if it was hot or cold as long as it was black.
Raising his head, Johnny sighed and propped his chin in his hands, and softly drummed his finger tips on his cheeks. A satisfied gleam lit his eyes when he saw the solution to his problem. There was an open bottle of ink on the desk from where Papa filled the ink well. He could use the ink to make Papa’s black drink. Chortling in delight Johnny grabbed Papa’s cup and skipped to the kitchen.
The next obstacle in his plan to help reared its head. Johnny was too short to reach the sink to get the water. He pushed a chair to the sink, but even standing on that he was not tall enough to work the pump handle. He thought maybe he could just dip some water out of the sink but it had soap in it. He really didn’t think Papa would want bubbles in his coffee. He could get some water from the horse trough, but he promised Papa he would not leave the house.
Johnny was about to give up when he remembered the new bathroom, there was lots of place in there to get water. Jumping down from the chair, he trotted to the staircase with the china cup clutched in one hand. He struggled up the steep stairs.
In the bathroom, much to his aggravation even with his little step stool he could not reach the spigot. Not willing to give up yet he moved to the bathtub. The only way he could reach the levers for the water was if he got in the tub. Johnny scrambled over the edge of the claw foot tub and landed with a thump.
Standing up he held the cup right under the faucet and pulled down the lever for the hot water, tickled that he would be able to make Papa’s coffee hot. The pipe gurgled and spit, and then the water rushed out too fast and forceful, it splattered into the cup and right back out again. The liquid soaked into his pant legs, and wet his boots. Finally he managed to collect half a cup, but to his irritation he spilled that as he tried to climb over the side of the tub.
Johnny was just about ready to have a fit. His eyes filled with tears and his bottom lip was poked out and quivering. Patty Pat slipped into the bathroom looking for her little person. She was relieved to find him sitting by the tub, after a quick doggy kiss, she helped herself to a drink of water from the potty.
The sound of his dog lapping water drew Johnny’s attention. He squealed in delight when he realized Patty Pat had solved his problem. Johnny fairly danced his way to the commode leaving a wet trail from his soaked jeans and boots. He dipped the cup down into the toilet while Patty was still drinking. Now all he had to do was take this downstairs to Papa’s desk.
The trip back to the Great room was easier said than done. Johnny found he had to hold the cup very carefully and take small shuffling steps to keep the liquid from sloshing over the rim. When he got to the staircase he was met with another dilemma. How could he descend the steps and keep the cup steady.
After much consideration, Johnny sat the cup down and then sat down himself. He scooted on his bottom to the next step, and then turned and retrieved the cup. Turning back around he leaned forward and put the cup on a lower step, he repeated the process until he was on the last tread.
Giggling in appreciation of his cleverness, Johnny cautiously picked the cup up and gently walked to Papa’s desk. He stretched up on his toes and placed it on the desk. He clambered into the chair, and then moved the cup back into place on the saucer. He lifted the bottle of ink and with as much control and precision as he could muster poured some into the water. He was mesmerized by the way the ink billowed in the liquid like a thunder cloud, turning the water black from the center outward. He put the ink down, picked up the spoon that lay beside the saucer and gently stirred until it was mixed well. Gently and three year old coordination are polar opposites and some splashed onto the top of the desk, so Johnny lifted his weewah from around his neck and wiped it up. Johnny donned his apron cape again and then he clapped in glee. He had done it. He had helped Papa by making him black coffee, and he didn’t use the stove, or go out of the house to do it. He was so pleased with himself. He couldn’t wait to tell Papa how he did it.
Johnny jumped down from the chair and went to stand by the door so he could greet Papa with his surprise as soon as he came in. As soon as the door cracked open his intentions changed. Ha was home. Johnny shrieked and would have leaped into his arms but they were full of files and a bag. Anytime Ha came home with a bag there was usually a surprise for Johnny. Ha never went to the store without buying the boys something.
“What’s in the bag, Ha?”
“Perhaps something for a good little boy, are you a good little boy?”
“Johnny is. Johnny been helping Papa.”
Ha moved over to the coffee table and laid down his files. He sat in the rocker and motioned for Johnny to join him. Johnny scrambled up and after a hug and kiss, he settled in Ha’s lap, eager for his surprise.
Grandfather pulled a leather bound, illustrated edition of Andersen’s Fairy Tales book from the bag, and soon he and Johnny were enraptured in one of the many stories. Neither one even noticed when Murdoch returned to the room.
As he was striding back to the house Murdoch realized Johnny had been alone in the house for about thirty minutes. He was in a hurry to get back in to see what his youngest might have gotten into. He was relieved to find the toddler safely ensnared in his grandfather’s arm, and listening to a story. Casting a wary eye around the room, everything seemed in order. The only mess he could see was the scattered bits of white paper.
Satisfied all was well, Murdoch tiredly dropped into his chair. He scrubbed a calloused hand through his mop of brown hair and idly thought he could use a haircut. At about the same time he spied the cup of black liquid, he didn’t pause to think where it might have come from, he just praised his good fortune it was there. He lifted the cup and took a gulping mouth full.
Murdoch gagged on the ice cold liquid. It felt thick, and it coated his tongue with a very unpleasant taste. Despite his best efforts he gagged again, coughed and sprayed remnants of the concoction all over the ledger book. As he wiped furiously at his tongue with his handkerchief, he saw Johnny running towards him. He noted the black stains on the formerly white hanky and his stomach churned wildly when his youngest spoke.
“SURPRISE! Johnny helped Papa by making Papa more coffee. And Johnny didn’t use the stove, and Johnny didn’t go outside to get the water from the horse trough.”
Not sure he wanted the details, but yet realizing he needed to know. Especially considering the fact the darkened material of Johnny’s lower pant legs was evidence he had been in water somewhere, Murdoch swallowed back his hesitation and asked. “Johnny, how did you make this ‘nice’ cup of coffee for Papa?”
“Johnny had to get the water in the cup. Johnny couldn’t reach the handle in the kitchen; and Papa say stay in the house so Johnny can’t get water from the horse trough. Johnny went to the bathroom but can’t reach the sink, and the water came out the pipe too fast in the tub, and Johnny spilled it getting back out the tub.”
“Well that explains your damp pant legs,” grumbled Murdoch.
“I didn’t even notice the baby’s pants legs were wet,” declared Ha has he approached the desk. His eyes widened in horror as he noted Murdoch’s black stained lips and teeth. Grandfather had a sinking feeling he knew where Johnny acquired the water, but he was loathed to voice it, not to mention just the thoughts of his suspicions had his stomach gurgling in preparation for rebellion.
Murdoch swallowed convulsively, his fears as to what ‘Johnny coffee’ was made of had his stomach undulating, contracting and trying to crawl up his throat. It took his best efforts not to gag. “Where did you get the water, son, and uh…how did you make Papa’s coffee black?”
“Johnny got the water from the potty Johnny know it alright cause Patty Pat was drinking that water too. Then Johnny pour the pen stuff in it and stirred it up. Just a little bit spill and Johnny wipe it up with weewah.” Johnny lifted his hands in a victorious fashion and grinned widely. “Are Papa surprised Johnny made the black drink?”
Harlan was speechless. He stared at his son-in-law in sympathy as the big man obviously battled with his stomach. He was pretty sure he could hear it churning. He watched in horror as the color drained from Murdoch’s face, then it turned a grayish green. His cheeks puffed out, and a distressed growl sounded from the tightly pursed lips.
Murdoch’s eyes darted about wildly. He knew he was going to be sick. He briefly considered grabbing the waste can, but when he turned that way he was skewered by Johnny bright eyes and happy expression. He really didn’t want to upset the toddler so he stumbled and staggered his way to the French doors. The first bush he came to was recipient of the brew he had consumed all morning, the vile and bitter liquid drenched the foliage with a violent splash.
The sound of Murdoch retching twisted Harlan’s stomach with sympathy. The old man thought it might be best if he and Johnny made themselves scarce until his son-in-law won the battle with his stomach. He was quite certain Murdoch would also appreciate the privacy to regain his composure.
“Johnny, my angel, you come with Ha, and we’ll go change your pants and boots, it’s just about time for lunch,” stated Ha, picking the toddler up and heading upstairs with him.
“Ha, Johnny can make you some coffee to have with lunch.”
“That’s certainly very kind and generous of you, but I do believe I would enjoy a nice cold glass of Maria’s lemonade today, but thank you just the same.”
“Okay, Johnny want milk cause lemonade is yeller like horse peepee.”
Visions of Johnny, a glass clutched tightly in his hand and approaching one of the many horses in the barn had Harlan silently swearing off any drink he had not seen prepared and poured. In fact, plain water just rose to the top of the refreshing and acceptable drink list. The mental pictures and dire foresight thoughts were interrupted by Johnny’s question.
“Ha will you read Johnny some more from the new book after lunch?”
“After lunch I have to review those files I brought home and draw up some business papers. I’ll read to you and Scotty after supper tonight,” replied Ha, as they entered the nursery. He walked to the dresser and sat Johnny on top before opening the drawer to obtain dry pants.
“But that’s a long time, Ha.” Johnny whined.
“Not as long as you think little one, and if you can help me by being a good boy while I work, then I may be able to finish up early, and then we would perhaps have time for another story.”
Johnny made up his mind right then that he would help Ha any way he could. He started by not putting up a fuss about the clothes Grandfather selected to change him into. The two were soon returning to the Great room, their mission complete.
Maria stepped into the room at the same time to let them know lunch would be thirty minutes late due to the emergency with Cipriano. Ha decided he could start reading some of his files, and instructed Johnny to choose a toy and play. Just as he was sitting down, preparing to pick up the first file he heard Murdoch, out on the patio, coughing and decided to check on him.
“Johnny, I am going to step right outside the French doors here, and speak with your father. I’ll be right back, do not leave this room. Remember you promised to help by being a good boy?”
Johnny watched as Ha slipped through the doors, he noticed that he left them cracked slightly open. He could hear him talking to Papa, but he couldn’t hear what he was saying. Johnny spied the new book on the coffee table next to Ha’s files. Oh how he wished he could read, because then he wouldn’t have to wait for Ha to draw up his papers, he could read the book all by himself.
Wiping his hands on his pants just in case they were dirty, because Ha said you should always take care of books, Johnny lifted the cover of the elegant, leather book. He sucked in his breath and ooohed loudly over the bright enchanting illustrations. In his mind, Johnny could draw this pretty, in fact Ha bought a special book just to keep the Johnny’s pictures in. Ha always told other people how ‘tall and ten’ Johnny was.
Flipping through the book only made Johnny more anxious to read another story, especially after he found the picture of a knight slaying a dragon. He wanted to read that story right now! He didn’t want to wait for Squat. Ha needed to come in and do his work so he could get done early. Johnny looked at the stack of files. It looked like an awful lot of work, there were a lot of papers there.
Peeking to see if anyone was looking Johnny opened a couple of files and looked in them. These sure were boring; there were no pictures at all. Johnny’s mouth dropped open and he gasped, now he knew what Ha meant by draw up some business papers. His eyes began to twinkle as he thought of a way to help Ha get done early. Johnny could draw the pictures for Ha. Ha loved his drawings.
Chortling with delight, Johnny dragged his little chair over to the coffee table, and then grabbed his colored pencils from the drawer in the end table. He sat down thinking how he looked like he was working at a ‘desk’ like Papa. He opened the first file and turned the pages until he found a space that could use a picture. He decided just to draw the pictures and not color them, that way he could get more done. Johnny was deep in concentration, working on his third file when Papa and Ha came in off the patio.
“No, Johnny! What has Papa told you about bothering the papers on my desk?” Murdoch rushed across the room to stop Johnny before he did anymore damage.
“Johnny not get these from Papa’s desk.”
“Oh, my heavens, my files,” groaned Ha.
“It alright, Ha. Johnny helping, Johnny drawed up the business papers for Ha, now you can be done early and read.” Johnny smiled brightly, his intelligent eyes twinkling with pleasure that he had been able to help out.
Ha moaned as he shifted through the papers Johnny had illustrated. Noting the look of dismay on his grandfather’s face Johnny began to worry he had done something wrong.
“Johnny thought Ha liked pictures,” he whispered with a tremble in his voice. His eyes welled with tears, and the red pencil in his hands wobbled between little fingers before dropping from his hand to the floor.
The toddler looked so down hearted and pathetic, Ha just could not be mad. “Of course I love your drawings, you are very talented. I realize you wanted to help, but this was my work, I am supposed to do it.” Seeing the confused look on the cherubic face Harlan tried to explain better. “It’s like when Scott has homework, the teacher wants him to do it, so she will know if he understands what they studied in class.”
“Oh…this was Ha’s homework.”
“That’s correct. I thank you for wanting to help but I still need to do it myself.” Turning to Murdoch the indulgent Grandfather empathetically stated, “No harm done, these were my personal copies of business files, it isn’t anything that will be seen by other eyes.”
“Unlike my black teeth and lips,” muttered Murdoch under his breath.
Johnny stared at his father, cocked his head to the side. He squinted his eyes to narrow slits and then opened them widely. He scrunched up his face in bewilderment. “What’s that on Papa’s mouth?”
“That’s what we need to talk about young man.”
“Uh…oh,” Johnny whispered as Papa lifted him from his chair, and clopped wearily to the rocking chair. His stomach felt funny, Papa had that look on his face that said Papa wasn’t happy and pretty soon Johnny wouldn’t be either.
Johnny shifted around in Papa’s lap, and dropping his chin to his chest, he peered at Papa through the curtain of his long eyelashes. His nervous little fingers picked at the buttons on his father’s shirt.
“What are you sorry for, son?”
“Johnny not know, Johnny just don’t want a spanking.”
Harlan cleared his throat loudly, and pointedly shook his head at Murdoch, warning him to tread lightly.
Johnny looked so contrite and defeated that Murdoch found it hard to hang on to his anger. The child was not trying to be spiteful, truth be told nine times out of ten it’s was Johnny’s compassionate and caring nature that got him into trouble. And his problem as a father was to find a way to nurture those good qualities, while at the same time curbing Johnny’s tendency to impulsively act, to give aid that was more harm than good.
“Johnny, you’re just a little boy, and as a little boy your job is to play and learn. Therefore young man to make this simple enough for you to understand, Ha and I have grown-up jobs that only we can do. And while it is very nice of you to want to help us, if it’s a grown-up’s job you should not try to do it, especially by yourself.”
“Okay, Papa. Can Johnny help if growed-ups are there?”
“Only if a grown-up asks you to.” Papa felt safe in saying, because he was sure neither he nor Harlan would ever ask the child to help without supervising. “Now have I made myself clear? Can you tell me what I just told you?”
“Yes, sir, Johnny’s job is to play and learn cause Johnny not growed-up. Johnny can’t do growed-up jobs unless Johnny is asked to.”
“Very good, and if you are ever not sure, you find someone and ask.”
“Did the black coffee make your mouth dirty cause a growed-up didn’t make it?”
“You could say that. Coffee is made from ground up coffee beans, not ink, just because it was black didn’t mean it was coffee. And when Ha said he had to draw up some business papers he didn’t mean with pictures, he meant with words.”
“Oh…” Johnny whimpered, and then sniffed. A large salty tear flowed down his cheek and splashed onto the button he was twisting. “Are you going to spank Johnny now?”
“No, I’m not going to spank you this time because you didn’t understand what you were doing was wrong. However, now that we have talked about it, if it happens again you will be punished. You need to be careful that your helping hands are actually helping.”
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Maria bustled into the room announcing lunch was ready. She started back to the kitchen and whirled around at the doorway and pinned Murdoch with a bewildered look. After a brief explanation of his colored lips and teeth, and the discussion they had on helping hands, the bewildered look morphed into a bemused one. She had to stifle her snicker with her apron, pretending to wipe flour from her face.
The family filed into the kitchen and they all sat down at one end of the table. The other end was covered with the collection of silver that Maria had not had time to polish yet. Even to Harlan’s discerning and critical eye the silver looked fine, but it didn’t pass Maria’s inspection. In fact Harlan was somewhat befuddled that Maria was requiring the house to be cleaned from top to bottom for the dinner party that would be contained in the dining room and Great room.
“Maria, I thank you for all you are doing for the dinner party Saturday, but do you really think it’s necessary to polish all this silver, when it doesn’t even look tarnished?”
“Senor Harlan, it might not look tarnished, but it does not shine like the mirror either. If I have to I will recruit help to get it done, but it will be done before Saturday.”
“As you wish,” stated Harlan with a twinkle in his eye as he placed Johnny in his high chair. “We know who the real boss is around here don’t we?” Ha mock whispered, as he tickled Johnny eliciting a high pitched squeal and giggle from the baby.
“Yummy,” Johnny exclaimed as he settled into his chair, and Papa placed a plate of stew in front of him. The stew was full of little carrots, chunks of potatoes, chopped celery, gravy and tender bites of beef. The toddler grabbed his biscuit with one hand and began picking up his carrots and chunks of potatoes with the other. He alternated bites of the vegetables with dipping his biscuit into his gravy and chewing on that.
Murdoch frowned at the lack of table manners, but was willing to let it slide this time. They needed to eat and get out of Maria’s way. The poor woman had a lot to do and Cip’s accident had her off schedule. In fact she was so harried, she had not even noticed Patty Pat had slipped into the kitchen and was hiding under the table.
The kitchen was quiet except for the sounds of cutlery on plates, and Johnny’s slurping and smacking as he sucked and licked gravy from his fingers. Lunch was consumed in a relatively short period.
“Maria that was delicious as usual. We will get out of your hair now as you still have so much to do.” Murdoch grunted as he stood. He reached to take Johnny from his high chair but Johnny protested.
“No, Papa, Johnny want to stay and help Mamacita.”
“Young man, I think you have helped more than enough this morning. What did we say about children helping do grown-up jobs?”
Aware of what Johnny had been told that morning; Maria intervened before a fit could start. “It is okay, Senor Lancer. Just pull Johnny’s chair down here and he can help me polish the spoons,” Maria declared with a knowing wink.
After getting Johnny situated Murdoch and Harlan left to get busy on their own work. Mamacita gathered up a handful of spoons and a soft cloth for Johnny to polish with, and demonstrated what he was to do. Johnny was quite content to vigorously rub and shine the silver. Mamacita had purposely only given him spoons because she didn’t want to chance him cutting himself on a knife, or poking himself with a fork. And by just giving him spoons, she would know which pieces she needed to do over once she laid him down for nap. She smiled at her ingenuity in the matter.
As the two polished Mamacita and Johnny sang nursery rhymes to pass the time. An hour later, Maria was polishing the last of the forks and knives, and Johnny was yawning as he worked on the spoons because he kept forgetting which ones he had already done. She was just getting ready to suggest it was time for him to lay down for his nap when they were both startled by a loud clap of thunder, remembering the laundry on the clothes line, Mamacita jumped up and looked out the window. If she hurried she could get in the wash before the rain started.
“My niño, you be a good boy and finish spit polishing the spoons. I am going to get the laundry off the clothes line. Do not try to get out of your chair.” Maria grabbed the clothes basket and rushed from the house, knowing Senor Lancer and Garrett were in the house too.
Johnny yawned as he rubbed his cloth on the spoon. He blinked his sleep bleary eyes and thought his spoons didn’t look as shiny as Mamacita’s knives and forks, and he was pretty sure he had done some of them more than twice. He was tired, and about to feel cranky. He was ready to be done, but he wanted it done right. He jumped when he felt a cold wet sensation on his hand. Patty Pat had come out from under the table and nudged his hand, whining for attention.
“Not now Pat Pat, Johnny got to make these spoons shine like Mamacita’s.”
Patty whined again, and her moist pink tongue swiped at Johnny’s hand and the spoon that was clutched in it. Johnny frowned at his dog, too tired to think about playing with her when he had a job to do. Then he looked down, and saw how the spoon was all shiny and glittering where the collie had licked it.
“OH…that’s what spit polish is!”
A bright smile lit Johnny’s face because now he knew how to make his spoons look as nice as Mamacita’s. One by one he had Patty Pat licked each spoon, and then he would stretch across his tray, and lay it in the pile with the forks and knives. He was so pleased with himself.
Maria came in the back door with the basket full of laundry just in time to see Patty lick the last spoon and Johnny place it with all the others.
“Johnny!” Mamacita shrieked in dismay, as she rushed to the table.
Papa and Ha having heard the distressed cry raced into the kitchen, in time to see the dog slipping out the door and Maria dropping wearily into the chair at the end of the table.
“What’s wrong?” the two men asked in unison.
“Nothing, I was just surprised to see Johnny had finished his chore. I went out to get the wash off the line, and when I came back in, Johnny was putting the last spoon in the pile of the ones I polished…after Patty Pat licked it.” Maria informed them with a disgruntled and tired smile on her face.
Cringing, Murdoch turned to the baby, “Johnny, did Patty help you do all the spoons?”
“Yes, Johnny’s spoons didn’t look shiny like Mamacita’s til Pat Pat put the spit on them. Was Johnny bad? Did Johnny do wrong?”
A sharp stinging slap sounded in the kitchen as Murdoch’s hands connected with his own face and then he scrubbed wildly at it. He was stymied over how he should correct this? Maria had asked for his ‘help’. Once again Johnny’s propensity for literal translation had caused chaos and more work. Harlan, as per usual came to the rescue with his blasted ability to remain calm in the wake of Johnny’s many catastrophes.
“No, Johnny you were not bad. You know how we talked about there are some jobs that are just for grown-ups? Well, there are some jobs that are just for people, and spit polishing is one of them. Patty Pat doesn’t have spit; she has doggy slobber, not to mention when you spit polish you don’t actually use spit.”
“But it made the spoons shine.”
“Yes, it made them shine. Think of it this way, would you want to eat out of Patty’s dish?”
“Oh,” Johnny replied, as understanding lit his eyes. “Johnny sorry,” he yawned.
Mamacita reassured Johnny everything was all right, before Ha took him upstairs for his overdue nap. As the two disappeared up the staircase she turned to Murdoch.
“Do not worry about it Senor Lancer, he meant well. I will put these in the sink and wash them. And then I will try that new housekeeping trick Mrs. Conway told me she read about in the Ladies’ Journal. You can boil silverware in a pot with some cream of tartar to clean and shine it. I think now would be a good time to see how well it works. Aggie swears by this method, but I have been too set in my ways to try it yet.”
~*~ L ~*~ L ~*~ L ~*~ L ~*~ L ~*~
While Johnny slept, Mamacita re-cleaned the silver, Harlan worked on his files and Murdoch made a paste of baking soda and cleaned the ink from his teeth. His lips were still stained black no matter how hard he scrubbed at them. He finally gave up and prayed it would wear off by Saturday for Harlan’s dinner party. By late afternoon he was finally settled back at his desk, to complete his own paperwork.
Scott arrived home from school just as Johnny was waking up. After a light snack of cookies and milk Scott sat down to do his homework. He became frustrated when Johnny kept interrupting him with his begging for him to get done so they could play. When he completed his math facts he took out his spelling word list and began to study his words. Scott had found that if he wrote his words five times each, and spoke the letters to himself as he did, he could easily remember how to spell them.
Scott asked Johnny if he could use his slate board and chalk to practice his words, Johnny agreed if he could watch. Johnny retrieved the item, and then climbed up on the sofa next to his brother.
“Now you have to be still and be quiet Johnny, and then when I am finished and spell my words for Papa we can play.”
“Okay, Squat. Johnny be a big boy and help Squat.”
Papa and Ha smiled as they watched the children. The room grew quite except for the crackle and snap of the fireplace, and the scritch and scratch of the chalk on the slate as Scott meticulously wrote each word five times each. Johnny leaned in closely to his brother, his inquisitive eyes studying each letter as it was written, his lips would barely move as he whispered each letter.
“Okay, Papa, will you call my words out now?”
Murdoch moved to the couch and took the paper from Scott. His heart swelled with pride as he thought how conscientious and serious his older son was about his studies. He was pleased as well that Scott’s diligent and hardworking ethic set a good example for Johnny. Scott seldom rushed into anything without first thinking it out and considering all his options. Realizing both sons were looking at him with a quizzical expression, Murdoch blushed recognizing he had been caught wool gathering.
Scott crossed his legs, raised his right hand to cup his chin and started to answer, “P…” when he was interrupted by Johnny.
“P-l-o-w…did you forget Squat?”
“Arrrggh…no I did not forget, you didn’t give me time to finish my answer. Now be quiet these are my spelling words.” Scott didn’t like to feel upstaged or bested by his baby brother.
Harlan and Papa looked at each other, shocked that Johnny had remembered how to spell the word.
“Papa, skip that word and come back to it.”
“All right, next word…turn.”
Scott glared at Johnny daring him to speak. “T-u-r-r-n.”
“Nope, Squat that not right, Squat wroted t-u-r-n on the board.”
Scott slapped his hands over his eyes and rubbed roughly. He turned to Johnny and through clenched teeth hissed, “How do you know what I wrote?”
“Cause Johnny know his letters, Squat helped teach Johnny his letters, so now Johnny help Scott spell the words.” Johnny grinned happily, his eyes shining with good cheer.
“But, I don’t want your help…this is my homework, not yours!”
“Johnny, remember our talk about helping? This is Scott’s work, and he did not ask for your help.”
Tears welled in the hurt and disappointed eyes, Johnny’s bottom lip poked out and his little chin quivered, “Fine, Johnny not help Squat no more!” The toddler scooted off the sofa, snatched his slate board and chalk, and then stomped to the small toy box they kept in the corner next to the hearth. Patty Pat slipped into the room and headed straight for her little boy. She dropped a shiny object out her mouth onto the floor.
Papa started calling the words out again. “Next word…horse.”
Pursing his lips, and scrunching his face up as he concentrated, Scott thought for a moment, and then he began sounding out the letters, finally he replied, “H-o-a-r-s-e.”
Papa winced and shook his head and Scott knew he had made a mistake, and now that he thought about it he knew why. When he sounded the word out, after the h sound he put the letters for oar, like a boat paddle, instead of just or. However before he could correct his mistake, Johnny spoke up.
“Ain’t no A in horse.”
“Stop helping me!” Scott shrieked.
“Johnny, not another word, any more help tonight without you being specifically asked to help and you will be in the corner. Do you understand me, young man?”
“Yes, Papa.” Johnny turned sullenly to the toy box. He spied the item Pat Pat dropped on the floor and gasped in surprise. He surreptitiously picked it up and looked it over, wondering where his dog found it.
Scott squirmed on the couch, eager to be done with his homework so he could go play, but first he needed to use the bathroom really bad.
Papa called out Scott’s last word, and as Scott was considering how to spell it, Johnny realized the metal object in his hand was not just a bullet casing, this bullet had not been shot yet. Papa let him and Squat collect spent bullets, but he told them they were never ever to touch other bullets, or he there would be ‘seeing us con sea benches’. This was bad, this was very bad, Johnny didn’t want Pat Pat to be in trouble, nor did he want to be. Peeking to make sure no one had seen him with it Johnny tried to decide what to do. He needed to get rid of it, he didn’t want it. He needed to make it go away. A sly smile split his face as the answer came to him…pulling back his arm he tossed the live round into the fireplace.
Scott in the process of scooting off the couch to go to the bathroom, called out to his father. “Papa, Johnny just threw something in the fireplace,” he stated as he ran towards the staircase.
Murdoch whirled around, with his coffee cup in his hand that he had just picked up from the table. Ha looked up from his position in the rocking chair, as Murdoch snapped out the question.
“Johnny, what did you just do?”
If Johnny had not stalled answering his father, the chaotic and disastrous events that occurred next could have been avoided. However, Johnny want to evade answering because the truth, from his point of view, was he had just been caught trying to help Pat Pat stay out of trouble for playing with bullets.
Johnny shuffled his feet nervously, his eyes darted from the fireplace, to Ha, to Papa, and then to Pat Pat.
The twitchy guilty posture of the toddler set off alarm bells in Papa’s mind. “Answer me right now, young man!”
Realizing the tone of Papa’s voice meant it was time to tell, Johnny’s breath started hitching, as he was over taken by sobs of distress, “Johnny just want to help…”
The toddler didn’t get to voice who he was trying to help this time as the bullet he had thrown into the fire chose that moment to explode, in a horrific incident of terror with spectacular wild results.
The loud explosion occurred with a blinding flash. Hot shrapnel flew, one piece piercing a feather throw pillow causing a few feathers to escape the velvet material and float upward. The majority of the pieces struck the liquor cart, and the shattering of the fine crystal decanters, bottles of liquor, and various glasses joined the cacophony of other catastrophic sounds.
Scott in the process of climbing the stairs was so frightened by the boom he wet his pants, slipped in the urine and toppled heels over elbows down the stairs back into the Great room, still screaming as he tumbled to a stop.
Ha had tried to scramble out of the rocking chair and pushed back on it at the same time, he ended up flipping the chair, and when it came to a rest he was still seated in it with his feet sticking straight up in the air. The papers from the files he had been reading fluttered to the floor all around him. From his prone spot he was able to see an upside down view of Scott already getting to his feet.
Papa threw the china cup that had been in his hand and had instinctively reached out and snatched Johnny up, turning to flee from the danger. His feet became entangled with the escaping collie. Murdoch stumbled, lost his balance, and then flipped over the coffee table, his head ended up between the sofa and table. His long legs were sprawled over the couch. In his struggle to hang onto Johnny and get up at the same time, his big foot kicked his prized model ship off of the occasional table at the back of the couch.
Maria rushed into the room, the front of her dress covered in globs of potato salad from the bowl full she had dumped on herself in the terror of the moment. Her eyes surveyed the damage to house and family and she groaned loudly as she considered the work that would be required to clean up.
“Uh…oh…Johnny just wanted to help Pat Pat not be in trouble.”
“Well…moan…young man, you helped yourself right into the corner. I warned you about your helping hands. We will be discussing this when I calm down.”
Getting his feet under him, Murdoch stood and escorted a sobbing Johnny to the corner. He snagged his little chair on the way there. He sat the little one in the chair and cautioned him not to move, and not to speak. Patty Pat followed her little boy, whimpering in sympathy for him.
Murdoch began picking up the broken remains around the liquor cart. Ha turned his chair back over, picked up the ship model, laid the throw pillow aside to be sewn up later, and then gathered up his papers. Scott went to change his clothes, while Maria cleaned up the stairs.
~*~ L ~*~ L ~*~ L ~*~ L ~*~ L ~*~
Twenty minutes later the room had been restored to order. Scott was playing in front of the fire with his toy soldiers, too embarrassed to interact with anyone because of his mortification over wetting his pants.
Papa and Ha were just finishing their discussion of the events that had transpired over the course of the day. In many ways Murdoch’s strict style of parenting was balanced out by Harlan’s lenient one. He felt calm enough now to deal with his baby.
Murdoch turned and looked at Johnny in the corner, for the past twenty minutes the little one had remained in the corner his sobs tearing painfully at the hearts of everyone in the room, until they had been replaced by snubs. Judging by the glares the toddler kept shooting at them he had moved from being upset to angry.
Murdoch’s discussion with Harlan had not only given him the time he needed to settle his nerves, but as usual Ha’s insights into Johnny’s true motives helped to appease Murdoch’s displeasure with the child. It was time to forgive each other, but yet remember the lessons learned from the latest Lancer comedy of errors.
Groaning as he got to feet, Murdoch affectionately patted Ha’s shoulder, and then made his way to the corner. He reached down and lifted Johnny into his arms, squeezing the little one tightly into his embrace. He nuzzled his nose in the silky strands of his hair and then kissed his forehead. Taking his handkerchief from his pocket he cleaned the crusty in spots, glittering in others, face.
“Oh, Johnny my boy, Papa does love you…even when you’re more help than I need.”
Johnny giggled, relieved to be snuggled against his Papa’s chest. He let go of his anger and over wrought emotions faster than a bare hand would drop a hot coal. With relief came relaxation, Johnny yawned and announced he loved Papa too, popped his thumb in his mouth, and then he cuddled his head under Papa’s neck and slipped off to sleep.
Murdoch chuckled as he headed for the stairs, Johnny cradled in his arms. It looked like the discussion with Johnny would have to wait until tomorrow. Entering his room, Murdoch crossed to the crib and laid Johnny down. He quickly stripped him, and then put on his night time diaper and nightshirt. He paused long enough after covering him with his blanket, to lay his weewah beside him, even though it was in dire need of washing due to the ink stains. He patted the little rear stuck up in the air and turned to go. He thought to himself as he walked by his own bed, that he needed to turn in earlier tonight, because knowing Johnny he would be up before the sun in the morning as he had gone to sleep without eating supper.
Clumping wearily down the staircase Murdoch was suddenly seized by the humor of the day’s beginning and ending events. His black stained lips stretched into a wide smile, by the time he reached the Great room tears of mirth were streaming down his cheeks as he was overcome by belly rolling, chest rumbling chuckles.
“I see you have found your good humor,” quipped Ha with a knowing grin.
“Yes, I have, with Johnny’s helping hands…or should I say in spite of his helping hands.”
February 28, 2008
The Brat Pack Series AU
Author’s note on the Brat Pack here
My Brother, The Brat
Another Day in the Life
Breakfast: A Proper Way to Start the Day
Taking the Town by Storm
Home Again Home Again
Itching to Break Out
Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!
Gifts of Love
The Easter Bunny Cometh
Just a Victim of Circus’Stance!
Ask and You Shall Receive
The Gospel According to Johnny
Serving Up Trouble
No More Monsters Under the Bed
Wrinkled Potatoes and Old Tomatoes
O Come Let Us Adore Him
Carving Out Fun
Look Before You Eat
Cover Up (written with Kit)