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 4,660
It had been raining for three days. The once firm land had been transformed into a saturated sponge. There wasn’t an inch of pasture or field that wasn’t oozing mud or standing in water. The rains were necessary to replenish the water supply that the hot summers unmercifully sucked from the ground, creeks, ponds, river and water table.
While on one hand Murdoch Lancer was glad to see the rains, they also brought other concerns like would they stop before things became too flooded, would they cause mudslides, would he lose cattle to mud bogs or workers to winter boredom.
“Papa make Johnny leave me alone,” whined eight-year-old Scott.
Murdoch sighed as he ran his hands through thick dark hair that he was sure would be completely gray before the winter was over. He turned his desk chair from the soggy view out the window back towards the hearth where his two boys played.
“Johnny not do nuthin’,” exclaimed a dark haired cherub.
“Yes you did Johnny, you threw my solider in the fireplace.” Scott huffed and glared at his baby brother. Normally the older Lancer son was very attentive and patient with his brother but three days of forced captivity had soured the disposition of the well mannered child.”
Johnny’s little lip trembled and tears welled causing the bright blue eyes to glitter. He stomped his tiny booted foot as he decided he was more mad than hurt. “Papa, Squat say mens unner fire, Johnny help.”
“Arrggh…I didn’t mean put them in the fire I meant they were under gunfire and stop calling me Squat.” The tall for his age slender blond fisted his hands as his body stiffened in irritation.
“Ohhhh. Squat your name what Johnny call you”
Murdoch couldn’t help but smile in amusement at the innocent look on Johnny’s cookie smeared face. The little whirlwind stood before him, the picture of young independence. His shirt was miss-buttoned, the tail of it hanging out and the little boots on the wrong feet because he had insisted on dressing himself.
“Scott you have to remember he’s only three. He looks up to you and wants to do what you’re doing. And he thinks he is saying Scott.”
Murdoch studied his older son as his aggravated stance eased some. His oldest son was tall for his age, causing even Murdoch himself to sometimes forget that at eight he was still a child too. The boy had his mother’s fair coloring and diplomatic ways but even he had his off days and today seemed to be one. On most days the young blond happily entertained his little brother and kept him out of trouble but apparently he had had enough togetherness.
“Johnny come ride your horsey for a while,” seeing the defiant look appear on the tiny tanned features Murdoch realized his tactical error, Johnny did not like to be told what to do he quickly amended the situation by giving him a choice, “Or you could go take a nap.”
Murdoch lifted the bundle of energy and before sitting him on the toy horse indulged in a snuggle and a hug, his heart fluttered in happiness at the giggle it elicited. He walked behind his desk and sat down. He briefly wondered just how much bookwork he would get done distracted by the ‘sproing’ of the springs as Johnny concentrated all his energy on making the horse jump.
Sproing sproing sproing sproing
It wasn’t the springs that garnered his attention but the unique version of Yankee Doodle that his youngest badly mangled.
“Jamie Doodle sent to town,
Ridin’ on him pony,
Stuck a feather in a chair,
And called the Doctor lonely.”
“You like my song, Papa? Squat teached me.”
A light sigh laced with a muffled giggle rose up over the sofa as Scott climbed on the couch and peered over the back at his father. “That’s not the words I taught him. He keeps putting in his own words.”
“Papa, Squat standing on the couch.”
“No I’m not, I’m sitting on my knees.”
“Papa say if him can see my head, Johnny standing.”
“That’s because you’re short Johnny, you have to stand on the sofa to see over the back. I don’t, I’m going to be tall like Papa,” teased Scott.
“Johnny be like Papa too, Johnny not short.”
“Boys,” warned Murdoch, I’m going to speak with Maria and get a cup of coffee, when I come back I want to see you playing nicely. Scott you stay over there by the hearth, Johnny you stay right here at my desk.”
Murdoch walked from the room satisfied his sons had listened. He didn’t see the hard glare Johnny was leveling at Scott.
/ Squat say he gonna be like Papa. Johnny be like Papa too./ Studying his father’s desk as he jumped his horse the youngest Lancer saw the perfect way to be like Papa. Johnny could write in the books like Papa.
The smallest Lancer slid from his jumping horse and climbed into the desk chair. He frowned when he realized he couldn’t see the top of the desk. Then he smiled brightly as his agile mind found the solution. /Papa say don’t stand on the couch him not say don’t stand on chair./ Johnny dropped from the seat of the chair pushed it closer to the desk then scrambled back up in it.
A tiny hand picked up the pen and dipped it in the inkwell as he had seen his father do so many times. The first touch of pen to paper left a big dark splotch. Johnny tried to rub it away but only succeeded in smearing it all over the paper and him self. “Uh oh.” He tried again, this time he was able to scratch out a series of zeros and ones, the only numbers he knew.
Johnny was concentrating so hard his little tongue peeked out the corner of his mouth held in place by his teeth. He wrote zeros and ones of all sizes all over the accounting book page.
Scott sat up from his flat out position on the floor. He cocked his blond head to the side and frowned, something was amiss. Just as he was figuring out it was too quiet he was coming to his feet. He looked towards his father’s desk and gasped.
“No Johnny No, don’t write on Papa’s book.”
The older brother rushed towards the younger, his boots heels clicking out the urgency as his feet left the area rug and hurried across the bare floor tiles to his brother. Scott grasped the little ink-blackened hand and tried to pry the pen from the determined little fist.
“Give it to me,” hissed Scott as he worked to open the little fingers. All he succeeded in doing was to make Johnny even more resolved to have his way.
“Stop Squat! Johnny like Papa, I write book.”
“You can’t write in this book, Johnny, this is Papa’s work. You’re going to get in trouble. Now quit being such a brat.” With those words Scott finally snatched the pen loose.
Johnny grabbed Scott’s bigger hand and when he couldn’t regain possession of the pen he did the next best thing according to his three-year –old mind. He clamped down on his big brother’s fingers with his teeth.
In the kitchen, Murdoch was discussing the supplies Maria would need for the kitchen for the coming month and enjoying his cup of coffee when he noticed the quiet. “I better go see what the boys are up to, it’s seldom a good thing when it gets this quiet…the next second the air was rent by the scream of a child…a child in pain.
The two adults rushed into the great room. The sight of an ink-stained Johnny hugging Scott around the legs declaring he was sorry greeted Murdoch. Scott was cradling the injured fingers of his right hand to his chest.
“Boys! What’s going on in here?”
“Johnny sorry Papa, Johnny not bite no more.”
“Young man, you bit your brother!”
The tall rancher turned to his oldest child. His heart clenched at the look of abject shame on the face covered with tears, silent sobs racking the slender shoulders. He knew his son well enough to know from his present demeanor that he thought he had some how failed in his big brother duty and was already forcing himself to bear the guilt.
Murdoch walked behind his desk and sat down. He reached out with a long arm and hugged Scott up against his side. He gently took his son’s right hand into his own giant one and inspected the damage. The tips of Scott’s index and middle fingers, right at the cuticle had sharp indented teeth marks and just a little blood oozing at the base of the nails. The gruff rancher tenderly kissed the little fingers before reaching into his pocket and drawing out a clean handkerchief to clean and wrap the fingers.
Out of the corner of his eye, Murdoch spied the mess on his desk. Not only was ink smeared every where, but someone had written numbers all over the accounting he had worked all morning on, and by coincidence it just happened to be the only two numbers his youngest knew how to write.
Sighing in resignation and amusement Murdoch turned back to Scott placed a calloused finger under his chin and lifted his face to look him in the eye. ” Son, did you try to stop Johnny from writing on my books?”
New tears formed and spilled from the gray-blue eyes at his father’s question. He didn’t want to get his baby brother in trouble but he would not lie to his father either. Swallowing down his hurt, Scott replied, ” Yes sir, I’m sorry I was playing and I didn’t know he was bothering your papers until it was too late.” The little blond head dropped once more in sorrow and shame over his perceived guilt.
“Scott were you playing in front of the hearth when this happened?”
“Yes sir,” he whispered timidly.
“Then son you were doing just what I told you to do when I left the room. The only person responsible for Johnny’s actions is Johnny. You run along to the kitchen with Maria and let her clean your fingers better and put some medicine on them.”
Scott looked forlornly at his baby brother as he took Maria’s hand to accompany her back to the kitchen. Murdoch shook his head sadly over the older boy’s dejected attitude. He was snapped from the moment of reflection when his youngest climbed into his lap.
“Look Papa, Johnny write. Johnny like Papa.”
Murdoch’s left eyebrow arched up his forehead as he studied the little scamp trying to divert attention away from his bad deed. ” I see. Is Johnny supposed to write on Papa’s book?”
The little dark head lowered, the bottom lip protruded in a pout and intense blue eyes peered through absurdly long eyelashes. “Johnny sorry, Johnny not write no more in Papa’s book.”
Murdoch settled his baby boy on his lap and placed his work rough hands on the sides of the chubby little cheeks and made his son look him in the eye. “I hope you remember that promise better than you remember the one about not biting Scott. Do you remember what Papa told you was going to happen if you bit your brother again?”
The tears immediately began to flow as Johnny answered through hitching breaths. “But Johnny don’t want a spanking Papa.”
“And I don’t want to spank you, son. But you see I made a promise to you the last time you bit Scott. I promised if you did it again you would get a spanking. Papa keeps his promises.”
Having said his piece, Murdoch turned Johnny over his knee and applied three firm swats to his backside. He lifted the little boy up and hugged him to his chest; he could feel his son’s heart beating with the same rushed heartbreak as his own. Two small arms wrapped around his neck and the dark head tucked under his chin. Johnny cried until Murdoch felt the tears and mucus run down the exposed skin on his neck and chest. He grimaced in distaste but sat quietly as he waited for the emotional storm to pass. Five minutes later he felt Johnny’s mouth widened in a yawn. Brushing the dark hair, that was sorely in need of cutting, from the tear-flushed face, Murdoch kissed the baby soft skin and murmured, “Lets go take a nap, Papa’s boy.”
” Johnny firsty, Papa.”
“All right let’s go get Maria to fix you some warm milk and then you’re going to take a nap.”
Murdoch carried his youngest into the kitchen. Scott was sitting at the table with a glass of milk and a warm from the oven cookie. The protective big brother studied his little brother cradled in the crook of his father’s arm. The tears were not yet dry on his face but yet Scott was more concerned about the signs of tears on his baby brother’s. Murdoch reached out and ruffled the blond hair on his still distressed son.
“Maria would you warm some milk for Johnny please, he’s going to have a nap. Scott none of this was your fault so wipe that guilty look off your face. Johnny don’t you need to tell Scott something?”
The big rancher sat in the chair next to his son, allowing Johnny to lean forward and wrap short arms around his brother’s neck.”
“Johnny sorry Squat, not bite you no more.”
The little rascal turned on his brightest smile for his big brother. The smile that lit not only his face but also caused the big blue eyes to twinkle. He patted Scott’s back with one tiny hand declaring his love for him while the other hand snuck across to the plate holding the cookie and snatched it.
“Hey…that’s my cookie.”
“No Johnny. You’ve had all the cookies you’re going to have today. Put Scott’s cookie back on the plate,” commanded Murdoch.
Scott’s face screwed up in distaste over the mangled baked-good that dropped from Johnny’s clenched hand back onto the plate. He started to say his brother could keep it but Papa had said no.
Maria bustled over to the table and handed the cup of warm milk to her boss. Murdoch lifted his youngest up and then stood. “Let’s go rock while you drink your milk, Johnny.”
Johnny chattered all the way up the stairs, his proud papa just smiled and nodded his head; quite aware the tired little boy was attempting to keep himself awake. Entering the nursery, the big man had to step over the toys strewn across the floor. Johnny squirmed to get down so he tightened his hold. “Be still, son you’re going to make me spill your milk.”
“Johnny pick up toys,” the wiggling child explained around a jaw-cracking yawn.
“You can pick up your toys after nap young man, for now you drink your milk and Papa will rock and hum for you,” replied Murdoch as he settled his tall frame into the over-sized nursery rocker.
Hands that looked like perfect miniatures next to his own extra large ones struggled to hold the handles on either side of the child sized cup. Once the little fingers had a strong hold Murdoch turned loose allowing his son to control the cup, even though chances were they would both end up wearing some. While Johnny sipped his milk Murdoch rocked, hummed Scottish ballads and studied the fine features of his beautiful son, he might have his mother’s good looks but underneath he was pure stubborn Lancer.
About half the milk was gone when Johnny sighed deeply, let go of the handle on the left and popped his thumb into his mouth. Murdoch caught the cup before more than a drop or two was tipped from the cup onto him or his son. He set the cup on the little table by the chair and spent the next few minutes enjoying the feel of the little warm body cradled next to his heart as he rocked.
Sensing the tiny whirlwind was sound asleep he rose from the chair. Murdoch stood briefly debating whether he wanted to lay him on the big bed he had recently put in the room or play it safe and lay him in the crib. He knew Johnny wouldn’t be able to get out of the crib on his own and being small for his age he really wasn’t too big for it. ” Oh Murdoch you’re not fooling any one, not even yourself. You don’t want to stop using the crib because then you’ll have to admit he’s growing up.” Somewhat sadly the big man paced to the bed and laid his precious bundle down. He pulled the little boots off and rubbed circles on the little back as Johnny snuggled down and drifted deeper to sleep.
Peace and quiet reined in the house while the youngest Lancer napped. Scott read silently by the fireplace while his father worked to restore his accounting book. The big rancher had to tear out the two pages Johnny had ruined. He was pleased that he was able to see all of his entries and computations. He just needed to re-enter them on clean pages. Murdoch grinned as he studied the pages Johnny had written on. He wrote a brief note at the top of the page about what happened along with the date and filed the papers away in his bottom desk drawer and the cherished memory in his heart for safe keeping.
Johnny whimpered softly in his sleep, he squirmed uncomfortably and then flipped to his tummy and snuggled his face into the pillow, just as he was relaxing and answering the call of deeper slumber he felt a warm wetness spread under him. He shot up and off the bed and dropped by it to get the new little chamber pot from under it that Papa had bought just for him. By the time he pulled the pot out and managed to unbutton his fly he not longer needed to go and there was a puddle on the floor.
“Uh oh…Johnny big boy …Johnny clean this up.”
Murdoch’s independent little cuss began to strip off his wet clothes. The small body wiggled and gyrated as tiny hands tried to peel the soaked cloth from his skin. Johnny bumped his head on the night table as he squirmed out of his shirt. He fell flat on his behind as he tried to shimmy out of the pants. As he sat there on the floor he pulled off his socks that had already absorbed part of the puddle on the floor. He thought he had lost his underwear until he saw they were inside the pants having come off at the same time.
Johnny sat stark naked by his bed trying to decide what to do next. There was still some pee on the floor so he dried it up with his shirt. He wondered what he should do with his clothes; they were wet with peepee. The angelic face brightened in delight when the answer came to him. His Papa said peepee goes in the little pot under the bed, since that was what was in the clothes that’s where they should go. Johnny stuffed all the clothing into the chamber pot and pushed it back under the bed.
The smallest Lancer confidently strode to his dresser and began pulling open drawers looking for dry apparel. He found a light blue shirt he really liked and he began trying to pull it on. The problem was once he got his head under the hem of it he couldn’t see what he was doing. He was struggling and bumping around trying to push his head out through the sleeve hole and that’s how Scott found him minutes later when he came upstairs to put away his book and soldiers.
Scott could barely suppress his laughter when he pushed opened Johnny’s bedroom door after hearing thumping and thudding coming from within the room. He stood with his hand pressed to his mouth, eyes dancing in amusement over the sight of his naked little brother trying to force his head through the armhole of his shirt.
“Johnny what are you doing?”
“Squat…help! Johnny stucked.”
Scott closed the door and walked over to his little brother, trying his best to control the mirth on his face. He knew if Johnny thought he was laughing at him he would go into one of his tantrums. Scott grabbed the bottom of the shirt and twisted it in the right direction, before pulling it over his head.
“You do know it’s much easier to put on if you unbutton it first?” The eight- year- old’s more coordinated fingers made quick work of the small buttons. He helped his baby brother slide his arms into the sleeves and then patiently fastened the buttons while the tiny whirlwind twisted about.
“There…now lets get you some underwear, socks and pants.” The two brothers plundered through the drawers, picking out the socks and underwear was easy, not much choice there they were all white. However Scott feared he might lose his temper if a certain younger brother didn’t soon settle on a pair of pants. Finally they found a pair that met all Johnny’s requirements. They were brown, they had a button fly and they had front and back pockets.
Scott knelt down on the floor and held out the underwear for Johnny to step in to them. He had to put one hand on his bigger brother’s shoulder to brace himself, but soon they had the small drawers pulled up. Next Scott held out the pants and they repeated the process, even Scott had troubling buttoning the fly, he didn’t have this kind of trouble with his own but then he stood still while he worked the buttons Johnny couldn’t and wouldn’t.
“Sit down on the floor Johnny so I can put your socks and boots on.”
As Scott attempted to capture the tiny foot with wiggling toes to put on the socks Johnny called out to him. “Look Squat…it looks like the stagecoach.” Scott turned his head to see what Johnny was pointing at. He was pointing at the low dark wood dresser. The top drawer was still open and it was true if you used your imagination it did resemble the stage and the top drawer looked like it could pass for the footrest.
With his socks finally in place and his boots put on Johnny jumped up from the floor and ran to the dresser. “Let’s play stagecoach, Squat.”
Even good, mature and responsible little boys will at times make bad choices, simply not realizing at the time that it will be a bad choice. Boys will be boys…with active imaginations. Now that Johnny mentioned it, the dresser was looking more and more like a stage and a ride on the stagecoach on a rainy day could be very entertaining.
Scott quickly got into the spirit of the proposed game. “Okay Johnny let’s play. We can use the rocking chair for the horse.” The two brothers pushed and pulled until they had the big chair positioned right in the front center of the dresser.
The little blond stood in deep concentration for a minute before his face lit up with a solution. “Wait right here Johnny, I’ll go get my lasso from my room, we can use it.” Scott raced across the hall and grabbed his practice rope from off his bedpost. He scooted back across into his brother’s room.
The brothers threaded the rope through the spindles on the back of the chair. Then they looped the rope around the knobs on the bottom drawer of the dresser.
“Okay Johnny,” stated Scott as he lifted the boy to sit on top the dresser. “You ride shotgun and make sure no bad guys are following to rob us and I’ll drive.”
The older brother then climbed on top the dresser to sit beside the younger. He picked up the reins and clicked his tongue and hollered at the horse. With a snap of the reins the ‘horse’ began a smooth rocking gait. The stage creaked as the riders bounced and jostled along the bumpy road. The two boys were the best driver and guard employed by Imagination Stage Line. Why in just 30 minutes they had already been to Stockton to visit the Barkley brothers and all the way to Boston to visit Grandfather Harlan.
The trouble appeared on the return trip. Johnny jumped up to stand in the footrest. “Look Squat…bad guys…hurry go fast, Johnny not got no gun.” Both boys began to bounce harder as they picked up speed. The footrest wobbled as the weight of a shifting body put more pressure on it. The driver snapped the reins repeatedly imploring the horse to pick up the pace, yet it rocked along in the same steady gait. In his desperate need to evade the fast approaching bad guys the driver stood up too! The coach must have lost a wheel…something unbalanced the stage because it was tipping over… a crash was eminent. The driver and guard had used their last ounce of bravery fleeing the villains thereby making it necessary for them to scream like two scared boys as the stage pitched precariously forwarded and then colliding with ground and horse. The riders and clothes were thrown violently and haphazardly about the accident scene.
Murdoch Lancer was on his way up the stairs to check on his napping son and the one that had disappeared over thirty minutes ago to put away his things. Halfway up the stairs he detected the sounds of thumping, thudding and creaking as well as shouting boys. In the next heartbeat shouts turned to terrified screams. The big rancher stretched out his stride and thundered down the hall busting into the room while the screams still echoed off the walls.
Murdoch stopped dead still…his flabbergasted eyes taking in the wild sight before him. The rocking chair was across the room from where it belonged, it was pitched over on the floor with rope wrapped about it and Scott draped over it. The rockers on the bottoms of the legs kept a large walnut dresser from being completely turned over. There were clothes scattered everywhere…then the clothes began to move, two tiny booted feet appeared from the mist of the jumbled mess and moved backwards until short legs materialized followed by a tiny behind and then a little back and finally a tousled dark head.
Johnny crawled out from under the dresser, sat up and looked with disgust over at his brother trying to untangle himself from rope and rocker. “Papa…Squat wrecked the stage.”
Scott mumbled, “Brat,” and then looked guiltily at his father, he was pretty sure this was his entire fault, as the oldest he should know better. His father just stood there staring, finally his mouth dropped opened, then closed, opened, closed, opened…
“Are you boys all right, you’re not hurt are you?” The big man dropped to the floor and pulled Scott free of the chair and rope and quickly checked him. He picked up his youngest and inspected him for damage too, finding both boys were fine and injury free enabled his heart to resume beating. He took in the looks of boyish chagrin on their faces, threw back his head and roared with laughter. Sensing they weren’t in trouble the two little Lancers dropped in their father’s lap and laughed with him.
The laughter turned into snuggles and hugs, the big man’s nose crinkled as he caught the scent of urine…but that’s a revelation for another day.
Footnote: The riding the stagecoach event actually happened to me and my sister Tammie
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)
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