Word Count 11,650
Fourth in the Small Matters Series
I did it; I actually did it! I mean we did it, Scott and I! I’d taken on Harlan Garrett and now had custody of my eldest son. Finally, thirteen years after my newborn had been stolen from me, he was back where he belonged!
Of course, Scott would correct me and say, “Pa, I’m thirteen-and-a-half!”
He’s in a bit of a hurry to grow up, but he has a ways to go yet. I bought him a rifle for his protection when he’s out on the range. He was pleased with it, but begged me for a handgun, too. Of course, I told him ‘no.’ He’s much too young for one of those. When he turns sixteen, the issue will be revisited.
When I come home, I hang my gun belt on a peg by the front door. More often that not, I catch Scott standing there later, staring at it.
I can picture him now, he stands so straight and seems to be mesmerized by it. He clasps his hands behind his back, probably to remind himself that he is not to ever touch it.
I promised to wear him out if he ever did.
My life will never be the same, but I have no regrets. It used to be a lot quieter and a lot less complicated before my son came home. He fills the once quiet house with chatter and noise; his ‘Mia’ is crazy about him and spoils him terribly.
He’s a good boy, considering how his grandfather gave him everything he wanted except time and attention. He wanted for nothing, materially, so it’s to his credit that he isn’t spoiled. I guess the Lancer genes are strong in him. He is very independent; headstrong, and stubborn, just like his Old Man!
He’s been here for a little over a month since the hearing and things have gone smoothly for the most part.
I had to show him who called the tune around here, though, when he had the audacity to roll his eyes at me! I gave him a good swat on his backside and would have delivered more; but he surprised me.
He pulled out of my grasp, wheeled around and said, “Lo siento, Papi!” (I’m sorry, Papa!) Well, what could I do? I put my hand back down and stifled a chuckle.
He’s very smart; just about too smart for his own good. I think he may lead me a merry chase. I don’t know where he learned to apologize in Spanish but I suppose Cipriano’s son, Luis, has been teaching him. And if I know boys that age, some of them are probably words that would get his mouth washed out with soap if I heard them.
I’m continually learning new things about Scott. For one thing, he is very musically inclined. He sings and whistles so I always know when he’s around. I had to almost threaten him with bodily harm, though, to get him to stop singing “Oh, Dem Golden Slippers.” I don’t know why, but I’ve never liked that song!
So now Stephen Foster songs and “Red Wing” seems to be the current favorites in his repertoire.
One afternoon, I heard someone playing the piano in the house. It’s kept in the music room in the back of the house and no one ever touches it. The Steinway Grand Piano belonged to his deceased mother, Catherine, and I heard the notes of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata being played flawlessly.
I crept down the hall and peeked my head around the door of the room. There was my son, playing one of Catherine’s favorite songs on her piano. I can’t tell you how much it affected me because he is the spitting image of her.
I snuck away before he could see me or the look on my face. After I’d recovered from my shock, I praised him for playing so well. He shrugged and told me he had been taking piano lessons as far back as he could remember. His mother would be well pleased.
Scott is a most remarkable young man. Of course, I may be biased being his father, but everyone he meets seems to enjoy his company. He shrugs off praise, though, he is quite modest and not boastful at all.
He has chores to do and he does them without complaint. He is eager to help out around the ranch and is a quick study. The vaqueros enjoy his company, teaching him what they know.
He is a handsome lad; again I may be biased, though people have commented upon his good looks. Tall for his age, with sun-bleached ash blonde hair, lightly tanned skin, the blue-gray eyes and fine bones of his mother.
Paul’s little daughter, Teresa, is infatuated with Scott and would follow him around all day, if allowed. He is patient with her, although I know he gets exasperated with her undying love for him.
She is not his only female admirer, either. I can’t help but notice the looks, the giggles, the whispering behind the hands of the young girls at church. He passes by them without a second glance, seemingly oblivious to their adoration.
Scott has made some good friends among the boys his age who attend our church. That seems to be good enough for him, for now.
He seems not to notice girls yet, but I am pretty sure that will come before I’m ready for it. A thought occurs to me: Has he had “the talk” yet? Knowing his stuffy and staid Bostonian grandfather, I believe I know the answer. I groan; I’m not sure I’m prepared for this!
Scott was overjoyed when he learned of the judge’s decision to grant me custody. Of course, his grandfather, Harlan Garrett was not pleased. He’d tried some underhanded tactics to try to sway the judge to rule in his favor.
Harlan had several tricks up his sleeve to ensure that he got his way.
The first thing he attempted was to draw forth a note, supposedly written by Catherine. She had written that if she passed on after giving birth, she wanted Harlan to gain custody of Scott. However, the note could not be proven authentic.
My attorney and I were able to examine the note and I knew Catherine’s handwriting as well as my own. The note had not been written in her hand.
I also knew that Catherine would never want to separate son from father. She loved both me and her unborn child too much to ever desire that.
Harlan had tried to round up witnesses from Carterville to attest that they had seen Catherine pen such a directive. Perhaps the citizens of Carterville were too honest or could not be bought with Harlan’s money. There were no witnesses to the note.
I was fortunate to have many good character references: Paul O’Brien, Cipriano, Maria, Dr. Sam Jenkins, the Petersens and the Conways. They all testified to my honesty, my fairness and my good reputation. In addition, Paul, Cipriano, and Maria were all at Lancer in the early days and they knew of our love and plans for our unborn child.
The judge listened to all the evidence and then had told both Harlan and me that he hoped we could come to an agreement about Scott’s welfare. He said if we could not, he would consider putting the boy into the Green River Orphanage or arrange for another family to have temporary custody.
Harlan grabbed at this chance and stated his approval of the Judge’s recommendation.
And I was left with a terrible decision to make. As much as it would break my heart to lose Scott again, I knew that he did not belong in the orphanage or with another family. It would probably break both his spirit and his heart. He would have been better off back in Boston with his grandfather.
I had to make the sacrifice for Scott’s sake so I spoke up and told Judge Barrows that I would rather relinquish custody of Scott than force him into an untenable situation. Harlan smirked when he heard me speak up.
The judge looked at us both, then said he needed to speak with Scott before he could come to any kind of decision. He then stepped out of the room and into his chamber, leaving Harlan and me and our attorneys alone together.
I looked at Harlan and growled, “You would rather put Scott through misery than to allow him to live with me? Isn’t that rather selfish of you, Harlan? Don’t you care that you would be breaking his heart? Do you hate me so much that it takes precedence over Scott’s happiness and welfare? He loves it at Lancer; he wants to stay there!”
Harlan sneered at me. “I suppose he does. I’m sure you’ve filled his head with lies and he doesn’t know what he wants. How can you profess to love him and keep him out here in such a provincial place? He has more opportunities in Boston. He can get a fine education, the proper connections, and refinement.”
“And what about your time and your attention, Harlan?” I demanded. “Will Scott get that from you?”
“How dare you!” sniffed Harlan. “Scott, to all intents and purposes, is my son. For you to question how I raised him…”
“I have every right,” I interrupted. “He is my son, not yours! However, I would rather give him up to you then send him to an orphanage or to live with another family.”
“Then I’ll be sure to tell him that his father chose to gave him up once again; that it was your decision to send him back to Boston” sniffed Harlan. “You can be sure that he will hate you for that.”
I had about all I could take from him. I jumped up, intending to ram my fist into his smug face. My attorney stopped me and said that would only play into Harlan’s hands.
“Don’t give up yet, Murdoch,” said Mr. Bailey. “The judge hasn’t made his decision yet. And, if he does decide to grant custody to Harlan, we will fight him again.”
I lowed my head in desperation. “How can we fight him? He will be back in Massachusetts and the courts there view him as having custody of my son. If the judge here rules that Harlan is to retain custody, then I’m afraid I will have lost Scott forever.”
We sat in that courtroom and waited for the judge to return from interviewing my son. I had all but given up and Harlan was gloating.
After about thirty minutes, the judge stepped back into the courtroom. He sat behind his bench and studied the both of us.
“Mr. Garret, are you familiar with the Bible?” he inquired.
Harlan was unnerved and blustered, “Of course I know the Bible! I am a devout Presbyterian!”
Judge Barrows was silent for a long minute as he stared at Harlan. I wasn’t sure where this was going and I could tell by the look on Harlan’s face that he was just as puzzled as I was.
The judge finally spoke up, “Then, Mr. Garrett, you are familiar with the story of King Solomon and the two women who came to him both claiming that a boy child was theirs?”
I began to feel a spark of hope as I believed I knew where this was going. Harlan must have known, too, because his face went as black as a thundercloud.
Judge Barrows continued, “King Solomon offered to cut the child in half. The first woman accepted his decision eagerly. The second woman cried out that the child should be given to the first woman, rather than being cut in half. Who was the true mother of the child, Mr. Garrett?”
Harlan’s mouth open and closed like a landed trout, but no words were uttered.
“I’ll tell you who the true mother was; the second woman who was willing to give it all up to spare the child from harm. You were anxious to accept my offer, even though it meant that Scott would be in limbo: neither at Lancer or in Boston and, no doubt, miserable.” scolded the judge.
Harlan looked like he might pass out right there and then as the judge continued. “Mr. Lancer here was ready to give up his son to you even though I know it would have broken his heart. He did this because he didn’t want Scott to be torn apart; not truly belonging at Lancer or in Boston.”
Judge Barrows frowned at Harlan, then declared. “Mr. Lancer has proven himself to be the true father to the young man in question.” Banging his gavel, he stated, “I grant custody of Scott Lancer to his father, Murdoch Lancer.”
My mouth fell open; I was completely elated as Mr. Bailey clapped me on the back. Harlan blustered and complained bitterly, but the victory was mine. I could finally take Scott home with me to Lancer and not feel that I had to look over my shoulder all the time.
I couldn’t wait to see my son. When I stepped into the judge’s chambers and Scott saw that I had won, he ran to me and nearly choked me in his excitement. It had to be the happiest day of my life.
Harlan was sent packing back to Boston, unable to see or speak to Scott. Scott did not want to see his grandfather and wrote him a letter instead. The judge complied with Scott’s wishes in the matter.
Perhaps when Scott is older, he will wish to see his grandfather again. However, it must be his decision alone to make.
It was about six weeks after the hearing and I got some news from The Pinkerton Agency. They were closing in on Johnny. His mother, Maria, had been killed and he had spent some time in an orphanage in Matamoros. However, he’d run away and they were again on his trail.
So, it seems I had another runaway son. I hope this one comes home like his older brother did, and soon.
It was growing late on a Saturday evening and I was just about to remind Scott of his bedtime. All of a sudden, there was a loud banging on the front door. I couldn’t figure out who would be pounding on my door at such a late hour.
Before I could rise from behind my desk, Scott jumped up out of the armchair and ran to the door. It was a treat for him to answer the door as there had been servants to do that for him in Boston.
He flung open the door and I would need to remind him, again, that he should always first inquire who was outside, in case of danger.
I couldn’t make out who was standing on my doorstep, but I could see Scott. He was standing there, staring at someone and looking very perplexed. All was silent for a minute, then all hell broke loose!
I heard shouting in the front hall and I recognized Scott’s voice but I didn’t know who he was yelling at. I could barely catch the other person’s voice as it was quite soft. However, whoever was standing in front of Scott sounded young. He was turning the air blue, cursing in Spanish.
“Donde esta, el hijo de puta?” (Where is he, the bastard son of a bitch?)
I thought perhaps it might be one of Cipriano’s sons, but I knew that they would not be out this late. They would definitely not be cursing, either.
I rushed to the door and came face-to-face with a scrawny, dirty scrap of a boy with coal black hair. Then I noticed that he was holding a pistol in my face. He was so small, he had to hold the gun up with both hands.
He growled at me, “He venido a matarte, viejo, para mi mama y yo haya echado de su casa!” (I have come here to kill you, Old Man, for kicking my Mama and me out of your house!) Then I noticed those vivid blue eyes, glaring murderously at me.
I would know those blue eyes anywhere. “Johnny?” I gasped. “Johnny, son, is that you?”
He hissed at me, “Ojete!” (asshole) and kept the gun pointed straight at me.
It was then I thought of Scott. I couldn’t take my eyes off Johnny, though, and I said, “Scott, go upstairs, now!” I expected to hear his footsteps echoing up the stairs, but I did not expect what I heard next.”
“Scott Garrett Lancer! GET UP THOSE STAIRS RIGHT NOW!” I ordered, still not willing to take my eyes off of my youngest son.
“No…Sir,” he said, with a quaver in his voice. I could not believe what I was hearing. I was struggling to keep one son from shooting me while trying to keep the other safe.
I suppose I could have taken him by the seat of the pants and pitched him up the stairs. However, that would mean taking my eyes off of Johnny plus Scott would stubbornly run right back down.
I reached an arm out to pull him behind me, but thought better of it. If Johnny did put a bullet through me, chances were good Scott would be hit, too.
So I pushed Scott up against the wall and yelled, “STAY RIGHT THERE. DON’T YOU MOVE!”
I momentarily took my eyes off of Johnny to deal with Scott, but immediately turned my eyes back again.
He had been watching the exchange between Scott and me with puzzled interest. The gun must have been getting too heavy for him because it was no longer pointed straight at me, but was now tipped towards the floor.
“Johnny,” I begged. “Please put down the gun.” He scowled and swung it back up at my face.
Scott erupted, “Johnny? Is he my brother? Hey, that’s not fair, Johnny Madrid has a gun and he’s only ten-years-old!” I could not believe Scott’s timing; I was about to get shot and he picked this moment to pitch a fit about unfairness?
All of a sudden, the front door swung open, hitting Johnny in the back. Taken by surprise, the gun flew out of his hand and I was able to snag it without it going off. My heart beat wildly in my chest.
I looked to see a stocky man with a Sheriff’s badge, standing directly behind Johnny. He pinned Johnny’s arms to his sides and my son begin to kick and yell out more Spanish profanities.
“Madre de Cristos! Que chingados! Mierda!” (Mother of Christ! What the fuck? Shit!)
“There you are!” the man yelled. “Thought you could get away from me, huh? And you stole the gun! What were you aiming to do? Shoot your old man? Oof, quit kicking me or I’m gonna give you ‘what for!’”
“Who are you? I asked, dazedly.
I’m Sheriff Joel Hopkins, Mr. Lancer. I’d shake hands with you, but I’m rather busy at the moment here with your son.”
I just stared at him as he went on. “I’ve been taking care of the boy for some time now. Talked to a Pinkerton Agent, told me you were looking for Johnny. I was bringing him to you and the little sh…., excuse me…little cuss gave me the slip!”
I looked down at Johnny. He needed a meal and a bath, not necessarily in that order. He was still kicking and struggling to break free.
I yelled into the kitchen for Maria, and she came in, wiping her hands on her apron and staring in surprise at the motley crew gathered in the front hallway.
“Maria, would you please fetch Cipriano?” He was the boy’s uncle and would probably be some help to us.
“Si, Patron,” she replied, then murmured. “El nino, nuestro Juanito. Ha venido a casa finalmente su pardre y su hermano. Alaba a Dios!” (The boy, our Johnny, is finally at home with his Papa and his brother. Praise God!) She crossed herself and hurried out the door, throwing Scott a sympathetic glance on the way out.
“Tell him to meet us in the bathhouse!” I hollered. “And please bring one of Scott’s nightshirts with you when you return.”
When Johnny heard the word nightshirt, he struggled even more fiercely.
“Let’s get him into the bathhouse, Sheriff Hopkins,” I said.
“Joel, just call me Joel. It’s a pleasure to meet Johnny’s daddy.” he answered, giving me a nod.
“Nice to meet you, too, Joel. I can’t thank you enough for bringing my son home to me,” I stated.
“Hmm, well…you’d better wait a little while before you decide to thank me,” he chuckled, as my wild child began to buck and kick even harder.
I turned to Scott, “Go upstairs and wait for me to get finished. You and I are going to have a long talk later.”
He looked at me with blue-gray eyes that had grown large as saucers.
“Yes, sir,” he said, turning to flee up the stairs. I don’t think his feet even touched the steps.
Between me, Joel, and Cipriano, we were able to undress Johnny and put him in the tub. He protested the entire time, trying to fight his way out. But, whenever he did, one of us was there to pull him right back in. His hair was stringy and greasy and needed a good washing. Johnny kicked up a mad fuss and ended up biting Joel on the thumb.
“Why, you little sh….oops sorry, Mr. Lancer. Stop struggling and let us wash your hair before I wallop you one!”
I gave him a frown and a shake of my head and he turned back to washing Johnny’s hair. I appreciated what Joel was doing to help, but Johnny was my son. If there was any discipline to be done, it would now be up to me.
Joel finally ended the bath and shampoo by pouring a bucket of warm water over Johnny’s head. He kicked, screamed, and started turning the air blue with Spanish curse words again. His wet hair was so long, his bangs hung past his eyes.
I would have to see about a haircut for him. Knowing how he reacted to the bath, I was convinced a haircut would bode even worse for everyone involved.
“Watch that mouth, boy,” Joel growled. Snatching up a towel, he drew Johnny out of the tub and began to rub him down vigorously.
I stood by observing for the moment. I wanted to step in as Johnny was my son, after all. However, I was smart enough to know that Joel could handle him better for now.
If I thought Johnny had kicked up a fuss getting a bath and his hair washed, it was a Sunday School picnic compared to getting him into one of Scott’s nightshirts. He howled and kicked vigorously, but Joel was able to wrestle him into it.
We all stood there, slightly damp for our effort. The bath house floor was covered with water and soap suds. I was totally exhausted.
Things got a little easier when we took him into the kitchen and Maria set a heaping plate of food in front on him. He tore into it like he hadn’t eaten in a month! I didn’t know if he always had an appetite like this, but he sure put away a lot more food than his brother ever did.
Speaking of his brother, I knew I needed to go upstairs and talk with the young man. I knew that between Joel, Cipriano, and Maria, Johnny could be corralled for a while.
I walked up the stairs to Scott’s bedroom. I knew he’d better have a darn good excuse for his blatant disobedience downstairs earlier. If he didn’t, he might find it a bit difficult to sit down to breakfast tomorrow.
I stepped into Scott’s bedroom. The oil lamp was burning low and I could see he was asleep. It was late and I didn’t want to wake him. Our talk could wait until tomorrow. As I went to blow out the lamp, I took a good look at my son’s face.
“Scott Garrett Lancer, I know you are not sleeping.” I had seen his eyes moving under his eyelids. He was only pretending to sleep, hoping to put off our confrontation.
“Sit up and look at me. We need to have a talk right now.” I demanded.
Scott slowly blinked open his eyes and looked at me groggily. “What…what is it, Pa?” he asked. Did I also mention that besides being musically inclined, my son could be quite the little actor when he felt like it?
“Nice try, Son, but I wasn’t born yesterday. Sit up and look at me.” I said, sternly.
He sat up and rested his back against the headboard. He gazed at me and didn’t like the look he saw on my face. He lowered his gaze to his lap, fiddling with his bed covers.
I drew a chair up besides his bed and reached over to raise his chin to look me in the eyes.
“What was the reason for the outright defiance I witnessed from you downstairs earlier?” I questioned.
His eyes went wide as saucers and he opened and shut his mouth like a fish out of water, but no words came out.
“Well?” I prodded.
His breath began to hitch. “I…I thought he was going to kill you! I just found you! I didn’t want you to die..I was going to help…!” His composure lost, he put his head in his hands and cried.
Well, I would have had to have had a heart of stone for that to not affect me. He had been scared; why hadn’t I realized the reason for his defiance?
I rose from the chair, sat down on the bed, and motioned for him to sit beside me. He immediately scooted over and snuggled up to my side as I put my arm around him and drew him close.
I waited for his sobs to subside as I handed him a handkerchief.
“Scott…Son,” I said. “I understand now that you were trying to protect me. However, you need to understand something very important. It is my job as your father to protect you and Johnny. It is not your job to protect me. Understand?”
He nodded uncertainly. “I’m sorry for my disobedience, Sir,” he sniffed, then looked up through his wet, sandy lashes and faltered. “Are you…are you going to tan me?” he whispered.
I drew in a breath. “No, I’m not going to tan you…this time. But the next time you may not be so lucky. Now, it’s late. Get under the covers and go to sleep.”
I held up the covers and Scott scooted under them. I leaned over, brushed his bangs out of his eyes, and gave him a kiss on the forehead. He looked up at me anxiously.
“I’m sorry that you were so scared down there. I don’t believe Johnny would have shot me. Underneath all that bravado, I think he’s the nice little boy I remember. Try not to worry.” I said, trying to reassure him. He nodded.
I blew out the lamp, and turned for the door. “Good night, Scott.”
“Good night, Pa.” he mumbled, and then added. “Is Johnny Madrid really my brother?”
Without turning around, I said, “No, Scott. Johnny Lancer is your brother.”
“Is he staying?” Scott asked, doubtfully.
I didn’t turn around so he wouldn’t catch a glimpse of the smile on my face.
“Of course, he’s going to stay. He’s my son and your brother. What a silly question!” I scolded.
Scott sighed, “Okay, but does he know that?”
I was still smiling as I started to pull the bedroom door shut behind me. “Good night, Scott.”
By the time I got back downstairs from dealing with my errant son, my other errant son was asleep on the couch. Maria was cleaning up in the kitchen and Cipriano had retired for the night. Sheriff Hopkins was sitting in an armchair, watching guard over my youngest.
I walked over to the sideboard and offered Joe a drink which he eagerly accepted.
“Sheriff Hopkins,” I said. “It’s late; would you please stay the night? I have some questions I’d like to ask you about my son.”
“It’s Joel, Mr. Lancer,” he replied, raising his glass in a toast. “I’ll be glad to stay the night and answer any questions you have about Johnny there.”
“It’s Murdoch, then,” I said, as I toasted him in return. “Please tell me everything you can about Johnny.”
“I first saw him hanging around the alleys and taverns north of Matamoros, in Brownsville, Texas. He was a scruffy, thin little fellow and too young to be on his own. He had a hungry and haunted look and I began to keep an eye out for him.”
“One day, he stole an apple from the front of the mercantile. The proprietor caught him, shook him, and probably would have beaten him. I knew the kid had only stolen it because he was hungry.”
I walked over and paid the proprietor for the apple and told him to leave the little fellow alone. Johnny looked up at me and attempted to run, but I caught him by the collar.
“You’re gonna need more than an apple to fill your belly,” I told him. “C’mon, I’m gonna buy you dinner.” He looked at me suspiciously, but his hunger outweighed his distrust.
I took him over to the hotel and we sat at a table. I told him that I would buy him whatever he wanted to eat, but he was going to have to answer my questions if he did. He thought about it for a second or two, then nodded.
I think he ordered just about everything off the menu! Ate it all, too!
“Okay,” I told him. “Now you need to keep your part of the deal.” He nodded again.
I asked him where he was from. Where was his Mama and Papa? Why was he in Matamoros, looking like a saddle tramp? Why was he stealing food?
“I tell you, Mr. Lancer…I mean, Murdoch. His story near broke my heart.” he sighed.
I nodded and waited for him to continue.
“Johnny was ten-years-old and all on his own. His mama was dead.”
I flinched; Maria, dead?
“He told me a man beat his mama, ended up killing her. Poor kid had to watch that. Then the man went for Johnny, would have killed him, too.
Johnny picked up the man’s gun, shot and killed him. Then, he cried over his mama’s body, kissed her good-bye, and grabbed up the man’s gun and ran. It was self-defense, plain and simple.”
“He ended up in the orphanage, but ran away after shortly after. He must have hid the man’s gun before they took him in because he had it on him when I found him.”
“Took him in and cared for him, best as I could, ’cause I felt sorry for him. I knew what it was like to be alone at an early age. Took his gun away, which didn’t make him happy. No way was I letting a ten-year-old snot-nosed kid pack a gun!”
I interrupted him. “Why’d he have a gun when he showed up here? Why did he try and shoot me? Was he Johnny Madrid, the ‘Pee Wee Pistolero’ of the dime novel?”
Joel smiled over at me. “Murdoch, do you let that older boy of yours read dime novels? You shouldn’t because you can’t believe what you read in them. Johnny Madrid is just a scared ten-year-old who had to kill one time to protect himself. The story just grew from there. He’s no gunfighter, though he might have turned out that way had it not been for you.”
“Me?” I asked, surprised.
“Weren’t you the one who sent the Pinks out to find him?”
“Yes, I’ve been looking for him off-and-on as I got the money together. It took the Pinkerton s this long to find him. You see, his mother ran off with a gambler shortly before Johnny turned two.” I replied, sadly.
Joe looked at me through slitted eyelids. “That ain’t the way I heard it?”
“I don’t care how you heard it,” I raised my voice. “That’s how it happened!” Johnny stirred on the couch and I lowered my voice.
“Well, the boy there thinks you kicked him and his mama off your hacienda. Got tired of the both of them.”
“No, that’s not the way it happened. Maria took him in the middle of the night and broke my heart,” I said sadly.
“Well, someone told the boy different. That’s why he was pointing the gun in your face earlier.”
“Maria must have lied to him. I don’t know why she felt the need to do that.” I told him.
“Well, you better convince that boy over there what the truth is.”
“Anyway, the Pinks finally tracked Johnny down and came to me and told me the situation. I knew that bringing him back to Lancer was the right thing to do. I figured if you was spending so much money, hiring the Pinks, you wanted him. And I figured if you wanted him so badly, you never would have kicked him and his mama out in the first place.”
“So, Johnny and I set off from Brownsville. Took us some time to get here, as you might guess. I expected him to kick up a fuss when he heard where I was taking him. I think that’s when he got it into his head to come here and kill you.”
He’s a slippery little devil, though. Got away from me before we got here. Stole the gun from me and came here to shoot you.”
I didn’t know what to say to that, except “Thank you, Joel. Thank you for taking my son in and for bringing him to me.”
“I don’t think he was ever gonna shoot you, Murdoch. I also think he was very surprised to find you had another kid. Johnny never mentioned a brother,” he commented.
“No, Johnny never knew about Scott. My first wife, Catherine, died shortly after giving birth to Scott. His grandfather took him back to Boston and raised him. Scott ran away and arrived on my doorstep earlier this year. You can imagine what a surprise that was!”
“His grandfather came to California to try to take him back to Massachusetts. We went to court and the judge granted custody to me just about a month ago.”
Joel looked at me in surprise, then chuckled. “Well, Murdoch. Looks like your doorstep’s been pretty busy lately! Any more kids out there, waiting to show up?”
“No,” I laughed. “I think the two I have right now will be more than enough for me!”
“I don’t doubt that, Murdoch. Not from what I know about Johnny and what I observed from your older boy earlier.”
“Well, if you’d be kind enough to show me where I’m bunking, I think I’ll turn in. It’s been a very long and wearisome trip, if you can imagine.”
I showed him to one of our spare bedrooms, then returned to the Great Room to sit watch over Johnny. He was a blur when he was awake and this was the first time I got a really good look at him.
He was thin, but looked relatively healthy. Now that he was clean, I could see what a handsome boy he was.
He had shiny black wavy hair and long dark eyelashes. His eyes were closed in slumber, but I had already gotten a look at those dazzling blue eyes.
In his sleep, he looked like a little angel, although I knew better from observing his behavior today. He was going to lead me a merry chase, both he and his older brother.
I continued to watch over him for about a half hour, then picked him up and took him upstairs to his bedroom directly across from Scott’s. I tucked him into bed, brushed his dark, too long bangs out of his eyes and kissed him on the forehead.
Before retiring to my bedroom, I took another look in at Scott. He was fast asleep. He also looked like an angel, but looks are deceiving!
I undressed and got into bed. I finally had both my boys back home with me. I was happy and nervous, all at the same time. Life was going to be both hectic and challenging for the foreseeable future!
Joel was going to leave right after breakfast. He had spoken to Johnny early that morning, explaining to him that I had not kicked Maria and Johnny off of Lancer. We figured it would be better coming from him as Johnny would probably not believe me.
Joel and Johnny came downstairs for breakfast. Joel had a hand on Johnny’s shoulder all the while. Johnny was very pensive and I did not know what he was thinking. Had he believed Joel?
Joel and I, along with Scott and Johnny, ate breakfast in silence. Joel had brought Johnny downstairs so that he could bid him good-bye after the meal. Johnny was silently sullen and Scott kept staring across the table at him.
All too soon, the meal was over and Joel was getting ready to ride off. He handed me the gun and said it was the one Johnny had when he took him in.
“You may want to give it to him later, if he wants it.” Joel suggested.
“If he wants it,” I said. “But it will be a long time before he will get the opportunity.”
Joel cleared his throat, and shook my hand, “Well, no sense to drag this out. Good-bye, Murdoch. Good-bye Scott. Take good care of the boy; I hope he warms up to his family soon.”
Kneeling down at the front door, he gathered Johnny up in his arms, and looking him directly in the eye, he said, “Adios, Juanito. Ser bueno. Tienes una familia y eso es unacosa maravillosa. No lo desperdicies. Recureda, te amo.”
“Good bye, Johnny. Be good. You have a family and that’s a wonderful thing. Don’t throw it away. Remember, I love you.”
Standing up, he had trouble pulling Johnny off of him. Johnny realized that Joel was walking out of his life and he wasn’t ready for it. I stepped over and put my hands on his shoulders, to hold him back. I believe he was too stunned by the reality of Joel leaving, that he stood stock still.
As Joel stepped onto the portico and closed the door, Johnny let out a mighty scream and lunged for the door. I grabbed him back and said, “Sheriff Hopkins has to go back home now. He is welcome to visit anytime, though. This is your new home now; here with your brother and me…”
He looked at me with stormy eyes, turned and ran up the stairs to his room.
Scott who had been watching silently all this time, remarked “I don’t think he likes us very much.”
Staring up the stairs, I said, “He doesn’t know us yet.”
If I had thought the first day was difficult, the following week was a nightmare. Johnny was silent, but sullen. If asked a direct question, he would either shake his head “no,” nod his head “yes,” or shrug his shoulders.
I suppose I should be grateful that he didn’t try to run, but with Lancer hands guarding the house, his options were rather limited.
It had been my dream to bring my sons together, but my dream had turned into a nightmare. Instead of getting along with each other, they were like sides of an opposing army. Of course, Johnny didn’t seem to care for me much, but I was surprised that he hadn’t warmed to Scott.
I had also thought that Johnny would benefit by Scott’s example. Scott was brought up to be pleasant, polite, and courteous. I was shocked, but my oldest son seemed to be following Johnny’s example instead.
The week drug by in the same fashion. Johnny was surly and uncommunicative. Scott was surly and outspoken. And, I was drinking more Glenlivet. If things didn’t change, and quickly, there was trouble down the road.
It was Saturday morning and the three of us were sitting down to breakfast. There was one strip of bacon and both Scott and Johnny grabbed for it.
“I saw it first!” yelled Scott.
Johnny shook his head emphatically and tried to snatch the plate back. “Hijo de puta!” (Son of a bitch!) he hissed.
Solving the problem, I took the last piece of bacon as they both gaped up at me in surprise.
Recovering from his shock, Scott protested, “Pa! Johnny just swore at me. If I did that, you’d wash my mouth out with soap!
I glanced over at Johnny who was wearing a matching scowl, slumped back in his seat, arms crossed in front of his chest, lower lip thrust out petulantly.
“That’s true, Scott. I would wash your mouth out with soap because you know better. And, I have warned you of the consequences of swearing in this house.” I replied.
“That’s not fair!” protested Scott, huffily.
I gave him my ‘simmer down’ look and then stared Johnny straight in the eye.
“John Lancer, we do not swear in this house. This is your warning; the next time I hear you swear, I will wash your mouth out with soap!”
“Young Man, I am also aware that you know more English than you let on. However, I want to ensure that there is no misunderstanding.
“Deja tu jaramento o a lavarte le boca con jabon!” (Stop your swearing or I will wash your mouth out with soap!” This brought the response I expected, Johnny opened his mouth, snapped it shut, and frowned.
“Do you understand me, Johnny?” I asked. He sat there silently.
“John, I asked you a question and I expect an answer,” I said sternly.
He lifted his eyes briefly, then nodded his head curtly. I knew that was quite a concession for him.
Scott, however, wasn’t satisfied. “You’re supposed to say, ‘Yes, sir!’” he instructed.
Johnny merely stared coolly over at him.
“Scott Lancer,” I said, wearily. “I am Johnny’s father; you are not. If there’s any discipline or instruction to be handed out to him, I will do it.”
Scott’s frown grew even darker.
Then it occurred to me, Scott understood what Johnny had just said.
I frowned at him and said, “Young man, how is it you know that Johnny swore? How did you what it meant?”
Scott blushed up to his hairline. He said nothing, however.
I had my suspicions as to how and where he’d learned Spanish swear words.
“Scott Lancer, if I hear any swear words, English or Spanish, coming out of your mouth, I will wash it out with soap. I will also have a talk with Cipriano.”
Scott flushed even darker at the mention of Cipriano. He knew that I had guessed that Luis was teaching him some Spanish words I didn’t want him to know.
“John Lancer, wipe the smirk off your face!” I instructed. I knew he had a better grasp of English than he let on because he understood what I had just said to his brother.
I was losing patience quickly and asked my sons if they were through with breakfast.
Scott nodded and stood up to walk from the table. “Scott Lancer,” I scolded. “We do not walk away from the table without asking to be excused. What has happened to your manners?”
The corners of his mouth turned down. “May I please be excused…sir,” he asked in an overly polite tone that I decided to ignore, for now.
“Yes, you may. You have chores to do; I suggest you do them.”
Scott stomped off and headed for the front door. I was pretty sure that he wanted to slam it on his way out, but wisely decided against it.
“Johnny, are you finished with your breakfast?” I asked. Johnny looked at me and nodded.
“Then please excuse yourself from the table. You also have chores to do,” I said, sipping my cup of coffee.
He shot me a surprised look and hesitated for a second. I looked over at him and raised my eyebrow.
“Disculpe…Senor,” (Excuse me…Sir) he muttered.
“You are excused,” I told him.
He left the house in exactly the same manner as his brother, stomping the entire way. He also made the wise decision not to slam the door.
I sighed; it would be a mistake to drink Glenlivet at this hour of the day.
It was a nice day so the french doors were open to let in some fresh air. I had been sitting down behind my desk, working on the ranch books, when I heard commotion from outside.
I hurried over to look outside. I was just in time to see my boys, rolling in the dirt, and throwing punches at each other. I made it over there just as Paul was pulling Johnny off of Scott. Johnny was kicking, yelling, and swinging at Scott.
I pulled Scott up off the ground and held him back as he would have entered back into the fray.
“Stop it, you two! You should be ashamed; brothers fighting! Now, what started all this?” I demanded.
Johnny and Scott had calmed down but they were both breathing hard. Neither of them would answer me.
I suppose I should take some measure of comfort that they weren’t tattling on each other, at least.
I turned to Paul. “Do you know what started all this?”
Paul shrugged. “No, Murdoch, I don’t. I know that both your boys were in the barn together and I heard them yelling. The next thing I know, they were out the door and fighting with each other.”
I couldn’t be sure, but I think Paul was trying hard not to smile.
I grabbed both boys by the scruff of their necks and marched them inside the house.
“Get upstairs to your rooms and stay there until the noon meal!” I growled.
They shot dark looks at each other, then stomped up the stairs.
“And, don’t (SLAM!) (SLAM!)…slam the doors!” I added, too late.
We ate the noon meal in the great room and it was fairly quiet.
Quiet, because the boys weren’t speaking, just glaring at each other from across the table. If I asked them a question, they responded with shrugs or one-word answers.
I began to eye the decanter of Glenlivet, sitting on the high sideboard.
“Father, I’m finished,” said Scott, standing. “May I be excused?”
“Scott, no one is excused from the table until we’re all done.” I reminded him.
“I’m finished, though. Johnny, are you finished?”
Johnny shot a sly gaze over at his brother and said, “Nope, I ain’t done yet.” He only had about a spoonful of food left on his plate, but it was apparent he was going to take his time with it.
Scott sighed mightily, sat down with a thump, crossed his arms and stared daggers at Johnny. Johnny looked down at his plate with a smirk on his face.
We waited for another fifteen minutes and Johnny took his dear sweet time finishing up. Scott sighed, fidgeted, and fumed while he waited. I had finally ran out of patience with Johnny’s tactics myself.
“Johnny, you are finished, whether you think so or not. Now, please excuse yourself from the table.”
Johnny stood up, smirked at Scott, and said, “May I please be excused?” He was so exaggeratedly polite, I could do nothing but excuse him from the table.
“Boys, you didn’t finish your chores this morning. I expect them done this time and I expect you both to stay out of trouble!” I insisted.
Scott and Johnny both muttered, “Yes….sir,” then took off at a run, trying to beat each other out the door. I walked over to the sideboard and poured myself a big belt of Glenlivet.
I had a few hours of uninterrupted time with the ledgers when I heard a crash right outside on the verandah. I rushed out the door, just in time to see the boys, once again, rolling on the ground and trading punches.
They had knocked over the washstand and that explained the racket I had just heard.
I grabbed them both by the scruffs of their necks and shook them like rag dolls.
“What is the matter with you two? You’re fighting with each other again? This is going to stop right now, boys! And, those chores had better be done if you know what’s good for you!”
Scott scowled at his brother, then looked at his feet. “My chores are done, sir,” he replied.
“Yep, mine too,” chirped Johnny, grinning impishly.
They were fairly dusty this time, so I dusted them both off before escorting them both, again, inside the house. I had been fairly tempted to really dust their britches but I was still reluctant to punish them physically.
I was reluctant because I suspected Johnny had been punished physically, and all too often.
I also suspected Scott had never had a hand laid on him.
Besides, neither of them had been with me very long. But they were both very close to the line right now, whether they knew it or not.
“Get up to your rooms and stay there until the evening meal,” I demanded, as they both raced up the stairs again. “And, don’t (SLAM!) (SLAM!)…slam the doors!” That was the last time they were going to slam their doors. I went to the shed for some tools, found what I needed, and marched back up the stairs.
I started with Scott’s bedroom door. He was laying down on his bed, reading a book. He looked up to see why I had opened his door. He watched me taking his door off the hinges.
“Pa…what are you doing?” he asked, puzzled.
“I am making sure that neither you nor your brother will slam your bedroom doors again!” I told him.
“What? You’re taking off our doors? How am I supposed to get dressed or undressed? I need my privacy!” he whined.
“You will have to figure out something,” I tossed back. “When you both prove to me that you can behave and stop slamming doors, you will get them back.”
Scott’s mouth dropped open when he realized I was serious. He was so stunned, he didn’t know what to say.
I then took the door off Johnny’s room. He didn’t say a word, just laid on his bed and stared darkly at me.
I carried the doors down the back steps and stored them in the shed.
Desperate times call for desperate measures.
I walked back upstairs and stood in the hall between their rooms.
“You are still to remain in your rooms until the evening meal. I do not want either of you to set foot outside your door. Am I clear?” I asked.
Both boys just nodded dumbly at me.
I walked back downstairs where the books and half of my tumbler of Glenlivet awaited.
I worked in peace for at least an hour. It then occurred to me that it was quiet, too quiet. Never a good sign for a parent.
I walked quietly up the stairs to catch both boys standing just inside their doors, trading rude faces with each other.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing!
“What in Sam Hill are the two of you doing?’ I roared. “Did I or did I not tell you not to step outside of your rooms?”
They both looked at me in surprise. Neither one of them spoke up for a long second until Scott said, “You told us not to step outside our rooms. We didn’t. We kept our feet inside our rooms all the time!”
I nearly tore my hair out.
“Scott Garrett Lancer, you know exactly what I meant!” I exploded.
I grabbed him by the arm, as well as the chair that sat by the head of his bed. I drug them both over to a corner of his room, well away from the sight of Johnny’s door, and sat him down hard.
“Sit there,” I demanded. “Don’t move until I call you for dinner!”
“Just sit here?” he complained. “I’ll be bored!”
I stalked over to the side table at the head of his bed, grabbed the book that was lying there, stomped back over to him, thrust it into his hands and ordered, “READ!”
He wisely said no more.
I left his room and walked into Johnny’s. He had heard the whole exchange and I caught him diving under his bed as I walked in.
“That’s a very good idea, John,” I said. “Stay under your bed, maybe take a nap. Keep out of trouble until I call you for dinner.”
There was complete silence from under the bed and from the bedroom across the hall.
I stomped back down the stairs and poured myself another good slug of Glenlivet and waited to see what was going to happen next.
The Grandfather Clock chimed 6:00 pm and I called up the stairs for the boys to come down for dinner.
They both clambered down, a little more quiet and subdued. I doubted, however, that peace would reign for long.
Maria served the meal and disappeared back into the kitchen. The boys were still glaring at each other across the table, but I decided to ignore their behavior.
I glanced down at my plate and heard Scott gasp and heard him jump. I looked over at Johnny and he looked at me like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth while Scott stared daggers at him.
After a few minutes had passed, I took my eyes off of them to take a sip of coffee.
Then I heard Johnny jump and heard him gasp. I looked over at Scott and he looked over at me, eyebrows raised, the picture of innocence. Now it was Johnny’s turn to stare daggers at Scott.
A thought occurred to me.
“Are you two kicking each other under the table?” I demanded.
The guilty looks on both their faces told me the truth.
“That’s it!” I said. “Apparently the two of you can’t be trusted to eat at the table together. Scott, pick up your plate and take it into the kitchen. Johnny and I will eat our meal out here.”
Scott stood up and took his plate. He opened his mouth to say something, probably to complain, but saw the look on my face and decided it was in his best interest to remain quiet.
I watched him walk over to the kitchen entrance, then turn around to look at me.
I saw him stare over my shoulder as his mouth dropped open and he narrowed his eyes.
I turned to look at Johnny and got another angelic expression from him.
Then Johnny stared over my shoulder, gasped and frowned.
I turned to look at Scott and he was looking away, pretending nonchalance.
“Are you two sticking your tongues out at each other?” I roared.
They both stared at me, guilty looks on their faces, and I knew I’d guessed correctly.
I went to raise myself out of my chair but Scott turned tail, and disappeared into the kitchen.
I sat back down and looked at Johnny. He stared back at me, wide-eyed, and made exaggerated chewing motions.
He looked as innocent as a newborn baby, but I wasn’t fooled. However, since I was able to finish my meal in relative peace, I did not make waves.
They weren’t going to go unpunished for their bad behavior, though.
I instructed Maria to withhold dessert from both boys. They were fuming, but were wise enough not to complain.
I should have acted on my first instincts and sent them to bed directly after the evening meal. However, for all their bad behavior lately, I enjoyed their company.
I was finishing up the ranch books at my desk, Scott was sitting in his chair by the fire, reading a book, and Johnny was braiding leather strips for a pair of reins.
Things were relatively peaceful, so I let my guard down and took my eyes off them both.
I don’t know how it started, but I looked up to watch Johnny launch himself at Scott.
They both fell to the floor, a death grip on each other. They bucked, kicked, threw punches and rolled over and over on the floor.
I rose from my chair and yelled, “Boys, stop it..RIGHT NOW…before someone gets hurt!”
Before I could reach them, they rolled under the high sideboard.
A crystal decanter half-full of my precious Glenlivet whiskey crashed to the floor, directly in front of them.
It felt like I was moving through molasses before I got to them. I kicked aside the glass shards on the floor, and knelt down to look at them both.
Scott and Johnny were still holding each other in a death grip, and frozen in place.
They had both gone pale and two pairs of eyes, brilliant blue and blue-gray, looked at me in shock.
I grabbed them both and pulled them out from under the sideboard. I looked them all over for cuts, opening their eyelids, and examining their eyes for damage from flying glass.
Thank God, they were both okay!
Their guardian angels must have been working overtime as I could not believe that neither of them had a scratch on them.
They stood looking down at me as I knelt and buried my face in my hands. I was absolutely still for a long second, and then I felt the frayed rope that had been my patience snap.
This then, was finally the straw that broke the camel’s back.
I stood up, grabbed them both by the back of their necks, and frogmarched them to the bathhouse, yelling the entire way.
“You are both damn lucky you weren’t hurt! You are both getting a bath; you smell like a distillery! I am going to the bath house with you and I am going to sit right there between you. I am afraid that you will drown each other, if I don’t!”
Scott, my modest son, tried to complain about a lack of privacy, but his protests died on his lips when he saw the murderous look on my face.
As I marched them both through the kitchen, I said, “Maria! Will you please bring me a clean nightshirt for both Scott and Johnny?”
Maria flashed them both sympathetic looks and said, “Si, Patron. I will bring them to you.”
I thanked her and continued to scold my sons.
“You are going to take a bath, get dressed in your nightshirts and then we are going upstairs to your rooms where I will have a long talk with you both! And I’m afraid that neither of you are going to like it very much.”
Maria brought down their nightshirts and I stood between the two tubs as they both took their baths. It was so quiet in the bathhouse, you could have heard a pin drop.
I think the boys would have dragged their baths out for as long as possible, but I told them to climb out, dry off, and get dressed for bed.
I walked them back through the kitchen and shepherded them up the stairs. They walked in front of me like condemned men going to the gallows.
I saw them look at each other in silent sympathy, but I had hardened my heart as I knew what had to be done.
I told Scott to wait for me in his room. I figured it best to deal with Johnny first for several reasons.
I thought it unfair for him to sit and listen to Scott’s punishment and know he was next, and I was honestly afraid he’d bolt.
I sat down in the chair and drew him to me.
“Do you know why you are going to get a spanking?” I asked him sternly.
He looked up at me through his dark eyelashes and shrugged.
“I think you do, but just in case you don’t, I will tell you. You and your brother have been very disobedient and defiant now for a week. I put up with it as long as I could, but your last fight could have gotten the both of you seriously injured. I can’t let that go unpunished. You both need to know that I am your father and I will be obeyed.”
After the lecture, I picked him up and placed him over my lap and proceeded to spank him.
My stubborn son tried valiantly not to cry, but by the time I was through, he was quietly sobbing.
I wanted to comfort him afterward, but he was having none of it.
He jerked from my grip, glowered at me through tear-filled eyes, and threw himself face down on his bed. Burying his face in his arms, he refused to look at me.
I sighed and moved across the hall to Scott; s bedroom where he was sitting on his bed with a look of terror on his face.
I knew he could hear every sound from Johnny’s bedroom and he knew he was next.
I sat down in the chair and beckoned him to me. He dragged his feet, but he came to stand at my knee.
Once again I asked, quietly but sternly. “Do you know why you are going to get a spanking?”
He opened his mouth, but no words came out for a second or two.
Scott hung his head and whispered, “Because Johnny and I were fighting? Because we disobeyed you and didn’t listen to you and almost got hurt?” he questioned, with a tremble in his voice.
“Son, are you asking me or telling me?” I questioned.
“Telling you?” he faltered.
“Yes, Scott. That is exactly why I punished Johnny and that’s why I’m going to punish you now. I also want you to remember that you are the oldest and I am counting on you to set a good example for your younger brother.”
“And, because you are older and have been raised to know better, I’m going to go a little harder on you than your brother.”
He stared at me like a deer in a trap as I picked him up, placed him over my lap and proceeded to spank him, too.
As the first blow landed, he flinched as a gasp escaped his lips.
Just as I suspected, this was my eldest son’s first experience with corporal punishment and, no doubt, one he’d not be anxious to repeat any time soon.
And just like his stubborn brother, he tried not to cry. However by the time I stopped, he was crying quietly.
I tried to comfort him afterward, too. But, just like his stubborn little brother, he was having none of it.
He broke away, glared at me with tear-filled eyes, and threw himself face down on his bed. Turning his face to the wall, he also refused to look at me.
I couldn’t help but think how much alike my two sons were even though they had not been raised together.
If only they could see their similarities, instead of their differences. If they had, then this trouble may have been avoided.
I sighed and walked out of Scott’s room.
Standing between their bedrooms, I sternly said, “Straight to bed. You are not to leave your rooms and I don’t want to see your faces until breakfast.”
Walking down the stairs to the Great Room, I pour myself a glass of brandy, as my precious Glenlivet was gone. I felt like an ogre.
Contrary to what both of my sons probably believed, I had not enjoyed what I had just done, what I had to do.
Discipline is not something parents enjoy enforcing, but it was a necessary duty when you loved your children.
Boundaries needed to be set, to keep children safe and secure. It didn’t mean I had to like it, though.
After finishing my brandy, I thought that I would go upstairs and check on my two errant boys.
As I quietly climbed the stairs, and walked down the hall, I heard voices coming from Scott’s bedroom.
Had they disobeyed me so quickly, I thought. I started to storm into Scott’s room, but some sixth sense made me hold back.
I peeked into the bedroom, being careful not to be seen. There were both of my boys, lying on Scott’s bed and quietly talking to each other.
Scott lay on his left side at the far side of his bed, studying Johnny’s face.
Johnny lay on his stomach, his head turned to the left and looking at Scott.
I strained to hear what they were saying to each other.
“He’s mean!” stated Johnny.
“Well, sometimes,” answered Scott. “But I guess he kept telling us, but we wouldn’t listen.”
“I suppose,” agreed Johnny. “Has our Pa spanked you much?”
“No,” said Scott. “This was the first time.”
Johnny was surprised. “He only spanked you this one time in all the time you been here?”
“I didn’t grow up here; I grew up in Boston with my grandfather. I’ve only been here with our pa for a couple months. He did swat me on my backside once, though.”
“Why’d he do that?” questioned Johnny.
“I rolled my eyes at him. He told me I was being disrespectful and he doesn’t like disrespect. So, whatever you do, try not to roll your eyes at him!”
“Okay,” said Johnny. “So, you weren’t raised here, either?”
Scott shook his head.
“Have you ever been spanked before?” asked Scott.
“Spanked, whipped, beaten with a fist,” answered Johnny, almost nonchalantly.
I noticed Scott’s wide-eyed look of dismay as I felt my stomach roll at Johnny’s words.
Scott gasped while Johnny shrugged.
“Pa would never whip or beat us; I know that for a fact.” he assured his brother.
Johnny whispered, “That’s good.”
“Are you going to stay here?” asked Scott, anxiously. “I know there are vaqueros watching the hacienda to make sure you don’t run away.”
“Can I tell you somethin’ secret?” whispered Johnny.
“I ain’t got nowhere else to go. It ain’t so bad here; the food’s pretty good. Don’t like all the rules, but I guess I gotta put up with it to stay here.” reasoned Johnny.
“Can I tell you a secret?” Scott asked, while it was Johnny’s turn to nod. “I’m kind of glad you’re not leaving.”
I felt a lump in my throat. My boys were finally beginning to believe themselves brothers. I guess it took them uniting against a common enemy: me.
Truth be told, I was fine with that, for now.
I turned quietly around, stole down the steps, and let my sons speak to each other privately.
I had heard all I needed to hear.
I sat back down in my easy chair and stared at the fire, deep in thought.
My life had been turned completely upside down since I received the letter from my oldest.
There had been his long solo journey from Boston to Lancer, then the hearing for custody of Scott.
Then when the judge ruled in my favor; I thought I could never be happier.
Then his brother, Johnny, showed up at my doorstep, too, and now I knew my happiness was complete.
Never again would I know quiet and dull evenings alone, for now my life was full of noise and confusion. There was joy as well, now that I knew both of my sons slept safely under my roof.
I wouldn’t trade the chaotic life I had now for the empty life I had led before.
I was no longer comfortable with the silence and it was completely quiet upstairs.
I felt the need to check on my boys again and rose up from my chair.
I peeked into Scott’s room and noticed that both boys were sound asleep; huddled together like puppies from the same litter.
Scott still lay on his left side, facing Johnny, his arm stretched out and resting over his baby brother’s shoulder.
Johnny lay on his stomach, facing Scott, his arm resting over the top of Scott’s head.
Their foreheads were nearly touching, blonde hair made to look even lighter by contrast of the raven hair intermingled with it.
I crept over to the side of the bed and watched them in slumber. My heart was full.
I tucked them both carefully into Scott’s bed, brushed the stray locks off of their foreheads before I gave them both a kiss good night.
I blew out the lamp and walked out the door.
I looked forward to the rest of our lives together. I knew that there would be heartaches and strife, but I was certain that the joys would far outweigh the bad.
I finally had my boys back; a dream I thought impossible such a short time ago.
I would do everything within my power, to never let them go again.
And in the morning, when Scott and Johnny woke up, they discovered that their bedroom doors had both been replaced during the night while they were fast asleep.
Notes: “Red Wing” was a popular song written in 1907 with music by Kerry Miles and lyrics by Thurland Chataway. However, Scott whistled it in one of Clementine’s stories and if it’s good enough for her, it’s good enough for me. Besides, it sounds like the type of song young Scott would love.
“Oh, Dem Golden Slippers” was written in 1879. Scott couldn’t have known about it when he was thirteen-and-a-half. However, I took creative license and included it in the story…just because.
The Glenlivet distillery is a distillery near Ballindalloch in Banffshire in the Local Government District of Moray, Scotland that produces single malt Scotch whisky. It is the oldest legal distillery in the parish of Glenlivet, and the production place of the Scottish whisky of the same name. It is described in packaging and advertising as “The single malt that started it all.” It was founded in 1824 and has operated almost continually since. Murdoch needed more than his usual daily ration during the boys’ first week together at Lancer.
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