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 7,890
Murdoch Lancer stepped from the kitchen door and glanced up at the cold gray December sky. He hoped the next bout of winter rain held off until he could get Scott to school and Harlan to the stage. As he dodged the mud puddles, on his way to the barn for the wagon, he thought about how his sons would deal with this week and the separation from their grandfather. Garrett was headed to San Francisco to close his office down for the holidays. He would be gone until the sixth and Murdoch was not looking forward to the nightly tears from the boys when their beloved Ha was not present to read them a bedtime story. Scott would put on a brave face, he wouldn’t make a sound other than sighs and wet sniffles, which would give away the cracks in his stoic resolve. Johnny on the other hand would not suffer in silence, nor be stoic. He would loudly display his heartbroken disappointment over his missing grandfather. There would be, on his part, loud shrieking and foot stomping, accompanied by a flood of tears and quite possibly flinging his self on the floor for a tantrum. Past experience with the situation had taught Murdoch despite everything he and Maria would try, Johnny would not be consoled. He would declare all their attempts to ‘not be like Ha does it.’ The last time Harlan had been gone his youngest had informed him, through heart wrenching sobs, he didn’t know how to make the rocker squeak like Ha did. Therefore since he made the chair creak instead of squeak, it had taken him twice the length of time to rock the child to sleep as it did Harlan.
His thoughts turned to his father-in-law, Harlan Garrett, as he prepared the surrey; Murdoch still had trouble some days believing the high society millionaire had morphed so completely into a lenient and indulgent grandfather. The first time he had met the man, he had been as animated and welcoming as a stone statue. He had seemed judgmental, stiff and proper. Murdoch had felt he didn’t measure up in the man’s eyes; that he did not approve of his darling daughter Catherine’s choice in a husband. Catherine had always defended him, telling Murdoch stories of a hands-on and involved father. When she became pregnant with Scott, Harlan slowly began the transition to loving grandfather.
Warmth pooled moistly in Murdoch’s eyes as memories of Scott’s difficult birth and Catherine’s subsequent death constricted his heart. Those first days had been chaotic and mind numbing, he had stumbled through them, going through the motions of living. It had been Harlan with his no nonsense attitude that had pulled him out of the darkness. Garrett had told him quite bluntly, that Catherine was gone and no longer required his help, but that his son was alive and in need of his attention and that if he couldn’t give it to him, that he would take him back to Boston with him.
Harlan had returned to Boston, but made frequent trips to Lancer, spending more time in travel than residing in either location, until he finally moved his shipping business to the west coast. In the mean time as the two of them saw to Scott’s upbringing, despite the occasional disagreement in parenting styles, they had created a bond of their own, becoming first of all friends, and then moving on to a father and son relationship. Garrett had even encouraged him to find another wife, telling him he was too young to give up on finding a mate for life. Harlan had then welcomed Maria with open arms, and he had been as over-joyed at Johnny’s birth as he had Scott’s, because in his mind Johnny was just as much his grandson as Scott. He had never played favorites between the two… other than letting Johnny get away with things because of him being the baby. He had supported Murdoch and the boys through Maria’s betrayal and departure, turning over the day to day operation of his business to trusted employees and spending the majority of his time at the ranch. These infrequent business trips Harlan went on now, to insure everything was running smoothly, certainly proved what a loved and needed figure Ha had become for all the Lancers.
He had been so absorbed in his trip down memory lane; Murdoch surprised himself when he realized he had finished hitching the surrey purely by rote action and was now hefting himself up into the seat. With a snap of the reins, he set the conveyance in motion headed for the front of the house. He snickered as he thought to himself that when Harlan returned at the end of the week it would take the buckboard wagon to bring him home because the overly generous grandfather was planning to do the Christmas shopping for the boys at Klieg’s Toy Emporium while in San Francisco. Pulling up to the front door, the big man jumped down and quickly strode to the front door, taking the time to wipe the mud from his boots before entering the house. He found Ha and Scott in the Great room. Harlan was stuffing the last of his papers in a leather valise.
“Are you about ready? We need to leave soon to get Scott to school on time. Where’s Johnny? I told him he could ride in with us so he could see you off on the stage.”
“Ha, may I bring your suitcase down for you?” Scott offered.
“Certainly, that would be most generous of you. I left it on my bed,” Harlan responded, knowing the suitcase didn’t contain much as he kept most of his business suits in the rooms he kept at The Courtyard Hotel on Knob Hill.
“Scott, if you see Johnny upstairs, tell him it’s time to go. I’ll go see if he’s in the kitchen with Maria. He’s being awful quiet and that’s never a good thing with him,” Murdoch worried out loud.
Scott called for Johnny as he climbed the stairs, Papa called for Johnny as he passed through the dining room going to the kitchen. In his dark hiding place Johnny heard their muffled voices but he didn’t answer. He was upset about Ha going away because he would miss him but he had a plan to fix that. He could hear Squat as he drew closer. He covered his mouth with his hands and stifled a giggle, Squat would never find him.
Scott peeked in each room he passed as he walked to the other end of the hall to Ha’s room, but Johnny was not in any of them. Arriving at Ha’s room he found the suitcase on the bed right where Ha said it would be. There were also some clothes scattered across the bed that he figured his grandfather had decided he didn’t need to take. Shrugging his shoulders over the atypical untidiness of Ha, Scott reached for the handle on the luggage; thankfully he noticed the latches were not locked in place so he took time to click them closed. He started to lift the case and grunted in surprise at how heavy it felt. He had to slide it off the bed. It hit the floor with a loud thump, narrowly missing his toes. It was just as heavy trying to pick it up from the floor, so he began to drag it to the staircase that led to the Great room. As he made his way down the hall he continued calling for Johnny. He didn’t hear his little brother’s breathy giggles due to the noise of the luggage being dragged.
Scott stopped as he got to the stairs. He briefly considered calling Papa to come help with the case, until he studied the situation and decided he could turn the suitcase long ways and let it slide down the steps. He maneuvered the heavy case into place and just as he tipped the end forward towards the first tread he realized his mistake. The case weighed too much for him to control it so he rushed to the front of the case intending to push it back up. With a startled squeal, the situation intensified as the case moved downward, Scott was knocked off his feet when it hit his shins. He landed on his belly on top of the luggage as it picked up speed and began to thump and bump noisily down the steps. Scott clung to the sides, screaming in terror as his wild ride rapidly approached the landing. He didn’t hear his baby brother’s terrified shrieks as all his concentration was centered on not losing his grip and being thrown off and run over by the case.
Johnny heard the loud thudding and frightened shouts of his brother. He tried to push his way out of his hiding spot but found he was stuck, which scared him so he began to scream as well. Harlan and Murdoch alarmed at the cacophony of sound coming from the vicinity of the staircase rushed over to it. The men gasped in horror as they watched Scott sledding down the steps clinging to Ha’s leather case. They could hear both boys screaming but could only see Scott. The luggage thumped, bumped, thudded, banged and clunked its way rapidly downward. It shot off the last tread, flipping end over end and throwing Scott off, his momentum rolling him under his father’s desk. The case crashed to a stop. The rough treatment and landing popped the latches and the case flew open and revealed Johnny crammed into one side of the case. He sat up and scrubbed at the tears on his face and reached with shaky arms for his grandfather. Ha picked him up as Murdoch helped Scott crawl out from under his desk.
“Johnny! What in the world were you doing in my suitcase,” inquired a stunned Ha.
“Johnny was gonna go to ‘Sandy Fran See Go’ with Ha,” Johnny confessed with trembling lips and a quivering chin; his eyes still wide with terror. He snuggled into the security of Ha’s embrace and sighed in safe contentment.
“Are you all right, Scott? Murdoch inquired as he lifted the shaky child and gave him a comforting hug.
“Yes sir. I was just scared when the suitcase knocked me over. I didn’t want to fall all the way down the stairs.”
“Scott, you didn’t put Johnny in Ha’s case, did you?” questioned Papa as he gently rubbed Scott’s back in a comforting circular motion.
“No sir! All I did was close the locks and take it off the bed. I didn’t look it in it, but I wondered why it was so heavy.”
Turning to his father-in-law Murdoch raised his eye brows but didn’t even have to voice his question just his inquiring look was enough to make Ha respond. “Johnny is fine. What clothes I had packed were enough to cushion the ride for him. I think more than anything it scared him.”
“That’s not everything you had packed, Ha. I think Johnny took some stuff out so he would fit because there were shirts and stuff lying on your bed,” Scott informed his grandfather, as he squirmed in Papa’s arms ready to be put down. “I’ll go upstairs and get them for you.”
Papa lectured Johnny on hiding from them while Harlan repacked his clothes Scott had retrieved for him. By the time he finished and they all got their coats on they were running about ten minutes late.
~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~
The Lancer surrey entered town at a fairly fast clip, due to their above average speed during the journey they arrived just as Miss Bruton stepped out of the school building and began ringing the bell. Pulling to a bit of a skidding stop because of the muddy ground, Murdoch leaped from the seat, and then turned and lifted Scott down, as he looked up he realized the teacher had descended the steps and was headed their way.
“Good morning, Mr. Lancer. I wonder if I might have a word with you?” stated Miss Bruton.
“Certainly, Miss Bruton. Is everything all right? You aren’t experiencing any problems with Scott, I trust.”
“Scott is one of my best students. He never gives me any trouble and he always gives everything his best effort.”
“I’m very pleased to hear that,” Murdoch declared, his face glowing with pride. Looking down at his oldest son he gave the boy a pat on the back, and then winked at him.
“I wanted to ask a favor. The children will be putting on a Christmas play and due to the number of students and the size of their families we will be holding it in the church. Since this will give us plenty of space I decided to increase the number of participants and really have a full fledged Christmas pageant. Which leads me to my question, would you be willing to let Johnny portray a shepherd? He wouldn’t be required to do anything but march in the procession, and then stand with the group at the altar and sing. One of the older students would be assigned to watch out for him.”
“Will Scott be the one keeping an eye on him?”
Miss Bruton smiled at Scott, knowing that what she was about to say would make him very happy. “No, Scott will be too busy as he will be playing the role of the Angel of the Lord. He will be hanging above our stage from a rope and harness.”
Scott gasped at his teacher’s revelation. He clasped his hands tightly together and raised them under his chin; his body trembled as he tried to contain his excitement over winning the coveted role. Murdoch watched his eldest son’s reaction, grinning in pleasure at the child’s delight.
“Miss Bruton, are you sure you want to use Johnny? I am quite sure you have heard the almost legendary tales of the chaos that seems to follow him around,” Murdoch warned.
“Now Murdoch, don’t make it seem like a disaster waiting to happen,” Harlan scolded, with Johnny on his lap, his bright blue eyes watching the adults. “I think Johnny will make a wonderful little shepherd. If you’re so worried about him causing mischief, consider this, you could have Patty Pat walk with him, after all shepherd boys did have herding dogs.”
“Johnny would you like to play a shepherd in the Christmas play?” asked Miss Bruton.
“What’s a sheff heard? Is it like a sheriff? Can Johnny wear a gun, like a gunfighter?” Johnny inquired in rapid fire speed, much to the chagrin and eye rolling amusement of his family.
“A shepherd is a person who guards the sheep and keeps them safe,” informed Miss Bruton.
An indignant Johnny scrambled to his feet on the seat of the surrey. He placed his little hands on his hips and glared at the teacher. “Johnny don’t like no stinkin’ sheeps, this here is cattle country! Ain’t that right, Papa?”
Shocked by the intensity of the small child’s reaction, Miss Bruton backed up a few steps. “I’ll send the information about the pageant home with Scott today for you to go over. If you think you could explain the role to Johnny so that he understands and agrees to play it and let me know by tomorrow, I will hold the role open for him until then.”
Murdoch chuckled, “I’ll try my best, but Ha usually does better with explaining and reasoning with Johnny. Perhaps he can explain it to him while we wait on the stage; if he’s successful I may have the answer for you by the time I pick Scott up.”
“I would appreciate it. Come along, Scott, we have a busy morning with lessons.”
Scott paused long enough to hug his grandfather good-bye and bask in the glow of pride he saw on his face before skipping happily up the steps of the schoolhouse, turning for a final wave before entering.
In the thirty minutes they had before the stage arrived, Ha entertained Johnny with the story of the very first Christmas. Once Johnny understood they were going to act out the story of the birth of baby Jesus, he agreed to participate, even if there were sheep. Ha promised to bring him a toy sheep from Kliegs to use in the play so he wouldn’t have to touch a real stinky ol’ sheep.
Ha also had a discussion with Johnny about behaving and not crying for him every day. He removed ten silver dollars from his valise and showed them to Johnny, knowing the boy currently had a fascination with coins. “I am going to give these dollars to your Papa, and each day that you don’t cry while I am gone, he will give you and Scott one each. When you have five of them, one for each finger on this hand,” Ha picked up Johnny’s right hand and counted off the little fingers, “One, two, three, four, five…Ha will be home.”
“Johnny promise not to cry,” Johnny vowed as he eyed the shiny metal coins. He had to bite his lip as the stage pulled in and he had to tell Ha good-bye, but the determined little boy kept his promise not to weep.
Papa hugged his youngest tight to his chest as they waved at the stage until it disappeared from view. “Papa is very proud of you!! Ha will be back on Friday and he will be so happy to know you weren’t upset the whole time. I bet you didn’t know it makes him sad when he’s in San Francisco, all by himself, worried about you crying for him.”
“OH!” Johnny exclaimed. “Johnny could go with Ha next time.”
Papa put on his best sad face as he solemnly declared, “But then Papa, Mamacita Maria, Scott, All Mine and Patty Pat would miss you. So see the best thing to do is be happy until Ha comes home and then he won’t be worried.”
“Okay…can Johnny have some candy?”
With a quick nuzzle to the baby soft skin on the toddler’s neck, and a deep sniff of the lavender scented soap used to wash his hair, Murdoch proclaimed, “I think you absolutely deserve some candy after being such a big boy and not crying for Ha. That will be our first order of business, acquiring some nice delicious licorice whips for you.”
“Yippy!” Johnny clapped his hands in glee. “But not too many, Mamacita says it turns Johnny’s poop black.”
Murdoch chuckled as he glanced about to see if the little boy had been heard by anyone. The red face and shaking shoulders of the ticket agent Mr. Pitts told Murdoch there would be another Johnny tale floating about town before the day’s end.
Father and son spent the day together taking care of business in town. The time seemed to pass quickly and when they went to retrieve Scott from school, they informed Miss Bruton that Johnny would indeed play the little shepherd boy.
~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~
The week Ha was gone was spent preparing the boys’ costumes for the Christmas pageant. Johnny was full of questions about every little detail of the story of Christmas and he was constantly following on some adult’s heels, inundating them with questions. On the plus side, that insured he was within someone’s watchful eyes at all times, aborting any bouts of mischief. He wasn’t very pleased at first to find that his costume consisted of a robe, a cloth with a headband to cover his hair and sandals, until he saw the white gown Squat would be wearing as the Angel of the Lord. Squat’s attire looked too much like a dumb girl’s dress to him, even if he did get to wear wings and fly.
Along with his preoccupation of the Christmas story Johnny had a new found curiosity about birds. This had evolved from a discussion about why angels and birds could fly but little boys could not. Johnny had trouble grasping the concept until Papa finally told him that birds and angels had enough feathers to make them so light they could float on the air, and then they flapped their wings to move across the sky. Papa demonstrated by picking up one of the goose feathers Mamacita was sewing to Squat’s wings, placing it on his hand and then sending it airborne by blowing on it. Johnny had become so enthralled he had amused himself the rest of the week playing with feathers and finding different ways to make wind to keep them up in the air. Even the small wooden sheep Ha brought home to Johnny from San Francisco, to use in the play, didn’t divert Johnny’s attention from his feathers for long. It was a magnificent toy, covered in real wool and mounted on a wood base with wheels so it could be pulled along behind him. Ha explained it was a baby sheep so it was called a lamb and Johnny had insisted it be named Lucy.
~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~
This fascination with feathers and flight led to a horrific incidence of terror for the adults the day after Ha returned from San Francisco. At breakfast that morning Mamacita presented Scott’s finished wings to him. The wings were beautiful. Maria had hand sorted through the five sacks of goose feathers Murdoch had purchased from the Chinese restaurant and had chosen only the fluffy unbroken white feathers. She had sewn the feathers to the paste board wing shape. She attached them by puncturing the tip of the quill with her needle and thread and layered the feathers as well, graduating them by size from largest on the top portion of the wings and smallest at the pointed tips of the end. This method while firmly attaching the feathers gave them freedom to shift. The slightest movement of the wings caused the feathers to quiver as though they were getting ready to open out and take off in flight.
Scott squealed in delight and his eyes lit up with such joy when he stood up and Mamacita helped him slip his arms into the silk stays that would keep them in place. The arch of the wings peeked above Scott’s shoulders and they cascaded down his back and ended in pointed tips just above his heels. As Scott walked and twirled in his wings to show them off they fluttered and lifted away from his body. The effect was breath taking; the child truly looked angelic with his blond hair and big blue eyes shining in pleasure. The adults gushed in delight about the wings, Johnny watched from his highchair as he devoured a warm biscuit slathered in butter and dripping with honey. When Scott passed close by his chair Johnny reached out to stroke the soft wings.
“Ay yi yi…no, niño, do not touch! You have honey all over your hands the feathers will stick to them,” Mamacita Maria cautioned.
“I can’t wait until the dress rehearsal when I get to fly with them on,” Scott crowed, “Then I’ll really look like the angels in the book you brought me from San Francisco, Ha.”
“You don’t need wings to look like an angel, you and Johnny have always been my angels,” Ha stated.
“Except Johnny looks more like one of the cherubs,” Scott chortled, “Or as Johnny said when we saw them in my book, itty bitty naked baby angels.”
Johnny scowled at his brother, he wasn’t sure why but he thought maybe Squat was making fun of him. He didn’t care if Squat did look more like the big angels and he looked like the ‘chair bums’ in the book. He wouldn’t mind being an itty bitty naked baby angel if he could fly like the birds he had been watching all week.
When breakfast was over the boys went outside to play. Scott was preoccupied with jumping from the benches, the low patio wall and the corral fence to practice his flying and landing. Johnny soon grew bored with the game as he couldn’t climb up as fast as Squat. Johnny wandered into the barn where he found the stable boy Carlos mixing up something in a metal bucket.
“What Carlos doing?” Johnny asked.
“Oh, hello niño,” the teen answered. “I’m preparing a special feed for the mare that just foaled. It’s a mix of oats and molasses. The mama horse needs extra food to make good milk for her baby.”
“Johnny likes ‘mole asses’.”
Before Carlos could correct Johnny’s pronunciation of the word, he snapped to attention as the Patron entered the barn carrying several sacks.
“Johnny’s not bothering you, is he?” Murdoch questioned.
“No sir, he was just telling me he likes molasses. He was asking about the feed, I was mixing up,” Carlos stated.
“Don’t get into that molasses, Johnny, unless you want everything you touch to stick to you…then you would have to come in and take a bath,” Papa warned. “Carlos, I’m going to store these sacks of feathers, Maria is going to make pillows from them later. When she comes looking for them they’ll be in the hayloft.”
Murdoch easily tossed the light bundles up into the loft. A small feather escaped one of the sacks and was caught up in the breeze that was flowing through the open doors of the barn. The feather dipped and twirled and rode the wind right out of the door. Johnny ran to the doorway and watched as the fringed white plume sailed through the air, climbing higher and higher until it was just a speck of white in the big blue sky. Johnny wished he could rush along on the wind like that, or fly like a bird…but he would need to be covered with feathers like a bird to do that.
“Carlos, do you mind if Johnny plays in here while you work?”
“That’s fine; I’ll walk him back to the hacienda when I’m finished.”
“Johnny, you stay out of the horse stalls and don’t bother any of the tools,” Murdoch instructed as he strode from the barn.
Johnny helped Carlos dump the special feed in the mare’s food trough and then followed him into the tack room where he began to sort through the gear, setting aside pieces that needed to be repaired. The teen became absorbed in his chore and soon forgot his little charge. Johnny became bored and wandered back out into the barn. He was startled by a barn swallow that swooped down from the rafters and perched on the work bench where Carlos had neglected to put away the left over feed and molasses. Wanting a better view of the bird Johnny tried to slip up on it, he was just inches from the bench when he was detected and the swallow extended its wings flapping them frantically and took off chirping furiously. One of its feathers fluttered back down and landed in the open jar of molasses.
Johnny turned over an empty bucket in front of the workbench and climbed on top. He grabbed the feather to add to the two he carried in his pocket that he liked to play with, but the feather was all sticky with molasses and it adhered to his hand. In that moment as he stared at the soft plume stuck to his hand, his agile little mind quickly connected several things he had been told lately; that feathers float on air, that birds and angels had enough feathers to make them light enough to fly and everything he touched would stick to him with molasses. And he had seen how birds either jumped up into the air to fly of jumped down from things like trees and the rafters to fly. If Johnny wanted to fly he needed to cover himself with feathers and jump out into the wind.
Grabbing the jar of molasses, Johnny climbed the ladder to the hayloft and headed straight to the sacks of feathers. Squat might get to fly like an angel at the dress ‘her sol’ but Johnny was going to fly like a ‘chair bum’ now. Johnny reasoned to his self that if he looked like a ‘chair bum’, then he could fly like one and since them itty bitty angels didn’t wear clothes the toddler promptly stripped. He sat down and dipped his hand into the jar and began to smear it all over his chest, his legs and arms. No matter which way he contorted his little body he couldn’t reach his back…and that was the most important place he thought. He sat studying on his problem when he accidentally knocked the jar over and put his hand down in the growing puddle of molasses. His eyes brightened as the mishap gave him a good idea. He quickly swiped an area of the floor free of hay bits, a goodly amount sticking to his hand and arm. Johnny took the glass container and slowly poured the sticky substance in the cleared area, and then spread it out with his hands. Once that was done he lay down on his back and scrubbed around to coat himself. He flipped over and wallowed around to get any spots he missed on his front. Finally, he untied two bags of the feathers, dumped them on the floor, dropped down in them and floundered around until he was covered head to toe in white goose feathers. Now he could fly! He walked, shedding plumes as he moved, to the open doors of the hayloft and spied Papa, Ha and Squat standing at the trough by the corral.
Scott looked up and saw a large white feathered creature standing in the opening to the hayloft. The animal crouched and began to flap his arms. Scott gasped and pulled on his Papa’s hand, interrupting his conversation with Ha, even though he knew it was rude.
“Papa…Papa, look is that a really big chicken,” Scott questioned as he pointed towards the usual looking fowl in the hayloft.
Murdoch and Harlan turned their attention to the area where Scott was pointing. The two adults realized right away the over-sized bird was Johnny. They took off running as Johnny began to wave enthusiastically, and then flap his arms, dislodging feathers to drift down like oversized snowflakes.
“Papa, Ha, Squat! Watch Johnny fly like a ‘chair bum,” Johnny called, and then he crouched, sprang back up and leaped clear of the hayloft, flapping his arms like wings, molting like a bird with mange as he sent showers of feathers into the air around him, some of them soared away on the light breeze while Johnny dropped earthbound like a weighted rock.
Sheer determination and horror born adrenaline propelled Murdoch forward with enough speed to catch his wayward wingless angel before gravity and the hard ground could painfully halt his vertical flight. Johnny landed in his father’s arms with a squeal of delight and a cascade of loose feathers.
Hearing Ha’s relieved sigh, Scott peeked through his fingers because he had slapped his hands over his eyes when Johnny jumped to avoid what he thought would be a gruesome sight. He peered at Papa holding his baby brother; he was breathing hard and staring at Johnny. Most of the feathers had fallen off, though a few remained stuck in some brown substance that coated Johnny’s naked body. Ha’s strangled snorts as he tried to keep from laughing sent Scott into peals of laughter.
“Johnny,” Papa hissed through clenched teeth, “What did Papa tell you when I left you in the barn with Carlos?”
“Papa telled Johnny not to go in the horse stalls and don’t touch the tools.”
“I also told you not to bother the molasses!”
“Papa say not to get in the ‘mole asses’ if Johnny not want everything to stick to Johnny. Johnny wanted the feathers to stick to Johnny so Johnny can fly,” the beguiling toddler grinned up at his father, the picture of innocence.
Papa groaned, “Well now you need a bath and so do I!”
Murdoch marched off for the bathhouse with the feather spotted, molasses coated and naked toddler held securely in his arms. Johnny not only endured a brisk scrubbing to clean him up but also a lecture and explanation on why little boys can’t fly no matter had many feathers they stuck to themselves.
~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~
The remaining days, until the Christmas play on December twentieth, passed in a haze of activities. There was play practice three days a week and surprisingly, Miss Bruton bragged about Johnny’s ability to follow directions. Scott had asked for extra chores to make money to buy his own gifts, which kept him busy. Johnny had decided since Papa wouldn’t give him a job to make his gifts. And then there was the mysterious disappearance of an odd assortment of unrelated items from the house such as a receipt book and brandy snifter.
Finally the big night arrived, the Lancer surrey arrived at the church with its precious cargo of an Angel of the Lord, a little shepherd with his dog, as well as a wooden pull lamb. Murdoch escorted the boys to the back of the church where all the participants of the play were gathering in the church’s office until it was time for them to line up out front to begin the procession down the aisle to the altar.
“Hello, Mr. Lancer,” greeted Miss Bruton. “Thank you so much for getting the boys here early and for the donation of the hay bales for the set decoration.”
“You’re welcome. The boys certainly have been excited about participating. They looked forward to the practices, I’m afraid they will be a little let down without all the activity to occupy part of their time.”
A high pitched squeal caused Miss Bruton to scan the room and she stated a quick, “Excuse me, Mr. Lancer.” Turning her attention to her left, “Day Pardee, your Joseph character will march in the procession without a walking stick if you poke one more person with it. Zach Culpepper, don’t forget you’re in charge of watching Johnny and making sure he enters the church before the Three Kings. Dan Cassidy, please retrieve Scott’s wings from the closet and help him into them, and then you two get the Reverend to help put Scott in his harness.” Miss Bruton waved as Murdoch turned and instructed Johnny to be good and then left her to her instructions.
Murdoch walked around and entered the church through the front double doors. He gazed in amazement at the transformation. Each window had an arrangement of greenery and red berries with a white candle, which was lit and flickering. The glow from the ten windows was cheerful. The end of every pew had a cluster of pine boughs tied with gay red ribbon, which left the heady strong scent of pine in the air. The altar area of the church had been transformed into a stable with a backdrop of wooden rails in front of stacks of hay. A small crèche resided in the middle so that the children could gather in a semi-circle around it. A rope trailed from the bell tower and dropped down behind the hay bales, where Scott would be hidden until he was pulled up by Dan Cassidy to speak his lines. Murdoch greeted his friends and neighbors as he made his way to the pew his family normally sat in on Sundays. Harlan and Maria watched his approach.
“Is everything all right?” questioned Harlan.
“Yes, everything is fine, everyone is where they are supposed to be, doing what they are supposed to do,” Murdoch stated.
It would have been nice had that been the case.
~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~
Zach Culpepper glared at Johnny, as he twisted the ratty cloth belt to the over sized robe he was wearing for his costume. He thought it was totally unfair that he was one of the Kings and he looked thrown away while that little half-breed Mex had robes made out of brand new cloth and was sized to fix him. He liked Scott Lancer but his little brother sure was a brat. They were supposed to be standing in line waiting to enter the church, those were Miss Bruton’s strict instructions after she lined them up in order, and then propped the doors open so she could stand in the foyer to direct the children as they entered. Zach’s lips flattened into a tight white line as Johnny started jumping down the steps again. Culpepper decided to ignore the toddler because he wouldn’t listen to him and the last time he tried to stop him from getting out of line, Patty Pat had growled at him and bared her teeth. Zach turned his attention back to the front of the line, where Teresa Stacy, who was playing Mary, was climbing onto a large wooden horse on wheels, so she could ride to the altar. He had no use for Teresa either; she was all the time tending to other people’s business and being bossy. She was more spoiled than Johnny Lancer. Zach was so preoccupied with his uncharitable thoughts he didn’t see Johnny crouch down at the base of the steps.
Johnny peered under the wooden treads of the church steps. He heard a noise that sounded like cats growling. Sure enough there were two cats hiding there. A big gray tomcat had a little cat backed into a corner slapping at it with its sharp claws.
“Stop that bad cat,” Johnny demanded as he reached under the step and received a vicious swipe from the tomcat, “Ouch!”
Johnny’s exclamation of ouch brought his protector Patty Pat surging forward, pressing her head under the tread she barked and snapped at the gray cat. The cat shot out from under the stairs and took off down the road. The small cat still sat huddled in the corner, shaking in fear.
“Don’t be ‘fraid little kitty, Johnny will help you,” the toddler stated as he reached for the traumatized animal. It took him several minutes to coax the frightened kitten out. He carefully wrapped his hands around the trembling body and extracted it from its hiding place. “It’s okay kitty kitty, that bad cat is gone. Jesus would be mad at him for being mean cause Miss Bruton says he loves all his creatures, big and small.” Remembering what the teacher said gave Johnny an idea. He had wanted to bring the baby Jesus a present like the Three Kings, he was going to say he could have his new lamb, but now he could take him a real live kitty. He giggled in happiness that he had a present too…he just needed to wrap it so it would be a surprise. He glanced around for something to use, as he whipped his head from side to side looking, his head cloth shifted and covered his eyes, aggravated with it he reached up and snatched it off. He gasped as he realized he could use it. He carefully laid the fabric out with one hand, and then sat the kitten in the middle of it and drew the sides up around it, tying it loosely with his head band. As he worked, he heard the singing and looked up and saw that the line had moved into the church.
As the song O Little Town of Bethlehem played, the procession, starting with Mary and Joseph, began to move down the aisle to the altar. Proud parents turned to watch their solemn progress. The Holy family arrived at the altar and Day helped Teresa from her wooden steed. They walked to the head of the crèche and reached down beside it and lifted a doll which they placed in the manger bed. They were followed by a choir of angels who marched up the side aisles and assembled themselves in a semi-circle behind the crèche.
Hark the Herald Angels Sing began to play, and the angel choir softly hummed the words. A loud squeaking was heard from the pulley, the rope from the bell tower began to move. Scott Lancer, Angel of the Lord, slowly ascended, appearing from behind the hay bales, when he reached the ceiling he began to speak.
“Greetings, I bring you glad tidings of joy. Unto you this night, a savior has been born and you shall find him lying in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothing.” As Scott finished his announcement, right on cue, he and all the angels began to sing the words of the song.
The pianist began to play O Come All Ye Faithful and the children dressed as various barn animals began to move toward the altar singing as they climbed the steps into the pulpit. Murdoch and Harlan turned all the way around straining to see Johnny enter…but the song ended and Johnny never showed. From his vantage point Murdoch could see Miss Bruton had moved to the door of the foyer and was motioning to someone, she turned and indicated for the piano player to start the next song. When she noticed Murdoch about to leave his seat she indicated he should sit back down. Assured she had things under control, that’s what Murdoch did, shrugging to Harlan and Maria as he sat.
The Three Kings moved forward singing We Three Kings as it was played on the piano. They marched regally up the center aisle as they sang, holding their gifts out in front of them. They finished the song as they climbed the steps and stopped at the foot of the crèche. Their royal pronouncement of their gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh was interrupted by the late arrival of the littlest shepherd. His unusual entrance had diverted all attention to the center aisle of the church and had most of the congregation stifling their laughs. Murdoch, Harlan and Maria’s shoulders slumped as they resigned themselves to whatever chaos ensued.
Johnny Lancer shuffled clumsily towards the altar. The Lancers’ collie, Patty Pat had the end of his cloth belt, that cinched his robe closed, held tightly in her teeth pulling the child forward. In one hand he held the leash to his toy lamb dragging it along, in the other hand he held a cloth bundle that seemed to be wiggling. He saw the Three Kings place their gifts at the foot of the manger, so he shouted out.
“WAIT…WAIT … BATHTAR, GASFART AND MY LIQUOR! JOHNNY HAS A GIFT FOR BABY JESUS TOO!
The audience roared in laughter at Johnny’s mangled versions of the Three King’s names. The vociferous noise disturbed his gift bundle and it began to squirm frantically. Johnny and Patty Pat made their way up the pulpit steps and to the manger bed. Johnny set the cloth bundle in the bed and then pulled the tie loose.
“Johnny bringed this gift for baby Jesus cause he loves all his creatures, great and small,” Johnny declared as he whipped the cloth open.
At first the audience smiled as the little black kitten was revealed, until Teresa Stacy’s eyes widened in horror and she began to inch backwards as she screamed, “SKUNK! IT’S A SKUNK!”
Her high pitched squeals upset the wild animal and it lifted its tail and sprayed right in her face. Teresa gagged and turned and threw up on Day Pardee. A livid Pardee called the other child a bitch and swiped at the mess on his clothes. He shook his hands and some of the emesis flew off his hand and landed on the face of the Cloris Stacy, the piano player. She jerked back in shock and flipped butt over elbows off the piano bench, down the altar steps and tumbled to a stop at the first pew, her face pressed into the Reverend’s crotch. Meanwhile the skunk had jumped from the crèche and scurried from window to window looking for a way out of the building, its frantic pawing knocking the greenery and candles from the sills and setting them on fire. Several men in the congregation jumped to the rescue and stomped out the flames on the burning decorations. This set off a mad scramble as the children tried to leave the stage and Patty Pat tried to herd them. In their chaotic rush the hay bales were knocked over onto the angel choir. Zach Culpepper was buried by one bale that broke open; spilling the hay loose. He was stomped by several children who trod right through the hay. Dan Cassidy leaned forward from his spot in the bell tower to see what was going on, he accidentally loosed the rope holding Scott aloft. Scott screamed as he dropped, wind-milling his arms and kicking his feet. He fell far enough that several of the taller men were hit in the head by his wildly flailing limbs. In his attempts to stop Scott’s descent Dan fell out of the bell tower, but was saved from an earthbound plunge by the fact the pull rope to the bell was tangled about his feet. The bell was jerked violently by his fall and wild movements. It pealed deafeningly loudly until Dan relaxed his body, which stopped his swinging. Intermittent soft gongs from the bell were all that was heard as everyone began to calm down.
In the almost quiet that ensued Miss Bruton advanced up the center aisle, her eyes taking in the mass destruction. She twirled around and around as she took in the scope of it all. Her sets were destroyed; the church smelled of burnt pine and skunk spray, two children hung from the ceiling, kids were buried under hay, others huddled in their parents arms, vomit covered Day and Teresa, the piano bench was broken, half the audience looked stunned, the other half was laughing. And standing at the manger, the only person who didn’t look positively Gob smacked was Johnny Lancer. How could such an adorable child be the propagator of so much chaos, panic and disorder? She absolutely didn’t know whether to laugh or cry…and then Johnny settled that dilemma for her.
“Hey, what everybody doing, we have to sing some more,” Johnny exclaimed. When no one moved, in a clear sweet voice, in perfect pitch and tune he began to sing. “I have a Maria, she’s my Mamacita.”
Hysterical laughter bubbled from the teacher’s mouth as Johnny’s very own version of Ave Maria sent her over the edge.
The Angel of the Lord made another announcement from on high. “See, I warned you…I told you all Johnny would mess up…now he’s made the teacher crazy.”
Murdoch turned to Harlan, defeat written all over his weary face. “Tell me again why I can’t kill him.”
Harlan’s besotted grandfatherly smile lit his face up as he said, “Because he’s too adorable!”
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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