Word Count 3,365
Scott was quiet, too quiet, and it was making everyone nervous. It wasn’t that Scott was naturally noisy and loud, but he was always there, making his presence known. Now he was there, but not really. “What’s the matter with Scott?” was the question on the minds of all the other Lancers.
Jelly had always found Scott an appreciative audience for his meals. Scott couldn’t always recognize what Jelly served, but he never failed to make a good meal and to thank Jelly for the hard work. “That boy has some manners”, thought Jelly, “even if he is a greenhorn.” But now, Scott just pushed the food around on his place, eating only a few bites each meal. He still thanked Jelly but in such a manner as to be casual habit rather than real appreciation for hard work. Jelly tried to remember some of Scott’s favorite foods, tried to stir him into argument by mocking his manners; but Scott refused to argue or respond. “Too quiet”, thought Jelly, “too quiet. That boy is sickening for something.” And Jelly stewed.
Scott was too quiet. Theresa missed the charming, gallant young man who treated her like a sister part of the time, and flirted mightily with her the rest of the time. She worked hard at the sister relationship, trying to keep an eye on both boys, and making sure they were comfortable in the house. Even more important, she kept an eye on their activities, both work and play. Both tended to work too hard and, certainly, to play too hard. Usually, Scott had a few minutes each day to recap his activities to her. He still would, if pushed, but his eyes no longer sparkled and invited her to laugh at his “greenhorn” mistakes. Now, there was no pleasure for him in the telling and no joy for her in the hearing.
She tried hard not to miss the flirting part of their relationship; it was not safe to enjoy that too much. Still, sometimes Scott would look at her the way a man looks at a very attractive, desirable woman and it always made her stand a little taller; made her heart beat a little faster. He still complimented her on a pretty dress, but it wasn’t the same. Scott was too quiet, and Theresa fretted.
Murdoch was still feeling his way in the relationship with his newfound sons. He wasn’t sure how to be a father to them, and he didn’t know how to begin to get into their heads. But, he did know that Scott was too quiet. Johnny was the same as always, reserved, leery of either friendship or trust, always holding back. But Scott had seemed much more open and relaxed; he was interested in the workings of the ranch, interested in day-to-day life in the West. He still worked hard, but somehow, Scott’s heart wasn’t fully with them anymore. He had put up unexpected walls and Murdoch was afraid if he couldn’t break down those walls, Scott would wind up returning to the comforts and familiarity of the East. So Murdoch worried.
Johnny was beginning to get angry with Scott. After all, Scott had insisted on pushing his way into Johnny’s life, insisted on being a brother, caring for Johnny and making Johnny care back. Now the so-and-so was pulling away. Just as Johnny got used to sharing things with his brother, his brother was drifting off, too quiet and withdrawn to be a part of Johnny any more. Johnny missed the “big brother” attitude and it made him angry to feel that way. It wasn’t safe to trust and he trusted Scott.
Johnny tried to remember when he first noticed the difference and it seemed to him that Scott had changed after the last argument, if you could call that thing an argument. Scott had casually mentioned that Thanksgiving Day was coming in about a week, and he wondered what Jelly would be preparing for the occasion. Johnny had snapped, “What are you talking about, that made-up holiday by Abraham Lincoln! No way am I celebrating any holiday he proclaimed.”
Scott stared at Johnny in dismay. “What have you got against Thanksgiving, or is it just Lincoln’s recognition of it you object to? It’s been celebrated in New England for a hundred years or better, well before Lincoln’s time. He just created a national holiday for a historic event. I don’t get it, Johnny. Thanksgiving is about with family and eating good and having fun, not about Lincoln or the war.
“Scott, I remember your saying you was in the cavalry during the war, but you don’t know what I thought about it or Lincoln and all, and I’m willin to bet Murdoch don’t do Thanksgiving either. If you want, I‘ll get Jelly to let you sleep late one mornin’ and you can call it your holiday. Come up, let’s get goin’ if we’re goin get back in time to go into town for the evening. I need a little refreshment and a little sweeter company than you.”
As Johnny recalled, following that little exchange, Scott had gotten quiet, but surely, he wasn’t upset about a holiday. “Still”, thought Johnny, “maybe he is feeling a bit homesick for Boston and not being with his grandpa for Thanksgiving. But, to celebrate a holiday out here that Scott was used to being real fancy might not be a good comparison. Have to talk to Murdoch and see what he thinks.”
The following day, Jelly asked Johnny to go with him to Spanish Wells to pick up some supplies. Murdoch needed some banking done and a couple of telegrams sent, so he volunteered Scott to go along and take care of ranch business while Johnny helped load the wagon, not a fair division of labor as far as Johnny was concerned. As he and Jelly finished loading the supplies, Johnny noticed a bunch of drunken cowhands stagger out of the saloon and mount their horses, exchanging loud, rude comments. He watched them turn to ride out of town, knowing instinctively that they were so drunk that they would be very wild and careless in their departure.
Out of the corner of his eye, Johnny saw Scott across the street, also carefully eyeing the sodden group and waiting until the coast was clear to cross the street. Scott saw the young boy darting across the dirt street before Johnny and just as the cowhands whooped and raced recklessly toward the edge of town. Before Johnny had time to register the movement, Scott had raced across the street toward the youngster, directly in the path of the plunging horses. He almost made it, grabbing the boy and tossing him out of the path of danger while he cleared all but one of the riders. But, the horse hit Scott’s shoulder, tossing him in front of the hooves for an instant, and you could hear the crack as Scott’s head hit the sidewalk. The riders raced on, not caring or not aware of the threat they posed to people in the street.
Johnny and Jelly both ran to Scott’s prone body and reached out to turn him over. “Easy, Johnny”, warned Jelly. “Let’s be sure nothin is broke.” Gently they turned Scott over and Johnny rested Scott’s head on his leg. There was a cut on Scott’s forehead, and blood was flowing freely from it. Carefully, Jelly checked arms, ribs and legs to be sure nothing seemed broken.
Johnny growled to one of the bystanders, “Get the doc, fast.” Then he took out his bandana and tried to stop the bleeding from head cut. “Come on, Scott,” he half pleaded. “Wake up and tell us where you hurt, big brother”.
The clerk from the bank returned with the information that the doctor was out of town and would not be back for three to five days. Jelly and Johnny exchanged despairing glances and arrived at the same decision. Jelly moved over to the wagon to shift the supplies and make a place to lay Scott flat for the trip back to the ranch. Better to have him at home with Theresa and the rest of them to look after him than to stay in town with no doctor.
An older woman in the crowd had walked away and came immediately back with several blankets in her arms. She was accompanied by the boy Scott had moved out of the path of the horses, who looked white and shaken, but carried a pillow in his hands. Johnny recognized the lady as Mrs. Brown, who ran the small, local orphanage, and the boy as one of the orphaned children. He briefly smiled and laid several blankets and the pillow on the wagon floor for Scott, keeping one blanket to cover him. “Thanks, ma’m, he said.
Mrs. Brown replied, “Scott is the one who should be thanked. Paul would have been trampled without Scott’s quick move. When he wakes, please tell him thanks for me and I will come out later to check and see how he is.”
Johnny wondered how Mrs. Brown knew Scott’s name, but now was not the time to check on big brother’s circle of acquaintances. Carefully, he and Jelly lifted Scott into the wagon, laying him gently on the pillow and blankets, and then covering him with a blanket. Scott neither moved nor made a sound. Scott and Johnny’s horses were tied behind the wagon, and Johnny climbed in back to help cushion the rough ride for Scott. Then Jelly slowly started the wagon toward Lancer.
Murdoch came out to greet the approaching group, and was startled to see the horses following the wagon. His first thought was that Johnny had met someone else who wanted to test Johnny Madrid’s gun fighting prowess and Johnny had been hurt. He was dismayed to see Scott so still and quiet, still bleeding slightly from the head wound. He was more upset to know that there would be no doctor for several days. Yelling Theresa’s name, he and Johnny carried Scott to his room and pulled down the covers. Theresa ran in, took one look, and started giving instructions.
“Get him out of his clothes and boots, but no nightshirt until we have time to check his other injuries. I’ll get some water and bandages for that head wound. Come on, get busy.”
As Theresa checked Scott’s body for other injuries, Murdoch cleaned the cut and bandaged it tightly. He knew head wounds bled profusely, but it looked so serious. He watched as Theresa and Johnny felt arms, legs, and ribs again to make sure nothing was broken. All of them would have felt much better if Scott had made any sound or movement, but he remained inert, only his breathing showing signs of life.
When Scott had been checked over and put into a nightshirt, they exchanged glances. “He’s goin be a sore boy for a few days, but I don’t see much wrong that we can help.” stated Jelly. “Now all we got to do is wait for him to wake up, and that may take awhile. I’m goin get some grub started and some coffee made. Which one of you’s plannin on taking first watch.”
“Me,” said three voices at the same time. “Me,” stated Johnny again, roughly. “I shoulda seen what was goin to happen and done something. I knew those guys were goin out that way, too drunk to think and ride.” Besides, it’s goin take all of us takin turns, unless he wakes up soon.”
The afternoon dragged on with no change in Scott’s state; then dusk fell and then darkness. Theresa came in and urged Johnny to get some supper while she sat with Scott. They bathed his head, and talked to him, trying to get some response. Close to midnight, Murdoch came in and insisted Theresa get some rest. He sat beside his son and thought about the past and the future he was building with his newfound family. And he grieved and he prayed and he worried through the night.
About dawn, Scott began to stir restlessly. He tossed his head and moaned just a bit. Finally, he struggled to open his heavy eyelids. In the misty, soft light of dawn, he saw his father sitting by the bed, with his head bowed. Unable to tell if Murdoch was sleeping or just thinking, Scott spoke softly. “Murdoch, you awake.”
Murdoch heard a soft whisper on the edges of his consciousness, then jerked his head up to see his son watching him from the bed. “Scott, how are you? How is your head? Does anything hurt? What do you need?”
Scott smiled to hear the rush of questions, and said, “Some water, please.” Murdoch lifted Scott’s head and gave him a couple of sips of water. Then Murdoch asked again, “How do you feel, son? What hurts?”
Scott answered briefly, “My head hurts and I am sore all over. Was Paul hurt by the way I threw him off the street?”
Murdoch had heard the story of the orphanage and the pillow, so was able to answer honestly “No, the boy was not harmed at all, according to Johnny. Brought a pillow for you to use on the way home, I hear. Now, you just rest here and I’ll let the others know you are awake. Can I get you somethin to eat? Jelly can fix whatever you want.”
Scott said “No, nothing,” closed his eyes and drifted back to sleep. Murdoch went out to let the others know Scott had woken up and seemed not too bad, considering. Before he saw the others, he leaned briefly against the wall and offered a word of gratitude for his son’s well being.
The next time Scott awoke, Johnny was sitting with him. Scott woke slowly, opening then quickly shutting his eyes again against the bright light. Johnny pulled the curtain, and then lifted Scott’s head to give him a drink. Still silent, Johnny put a cool cloth over Scott’s head, and asked softly “How ye feeling, big brother? Didn’t anybody back East ever tell you galloping horses are tougher than you; they’ll beat you every time.”
Scott grinned easily, knowing full well it would be a long time before he heard the end of this tale from Johnny. He stretched gingerly, checking to see what hurt besides his head. He was sore all over, but no sharp pains assailed him, so he knew how fortunate he had been, challenging those horses. Still, “Paul was safe,” he remembered Murdoch saying. That was the main issue. Sore bodies got better fast, particularly when there was work to be done.
As Scott made a motion to rise, Theresa walked through the door and shrieked “Where do you think you’re going, Scott? You stay flat in that bed until the doctor sees you. Jelly has something ready for you to eat too.”
Scott started to shake his head and argue, but the first movement of the head decided him to be still a few hours longer. Anyway, he probably needed to eat and maybe a few more hours of rest, before he started the argument about getting up again.
At some point during the next few days, Johnny took time to mention Thanksgiving Day and Scott’s desire to celebrate to Murdoch, Theresa and Jelly. To his amazement, they all thought it was a good idea. Murdoch mumbled that he had not had a real reason to celebrate before this year (a remark Johnny let pass as he had no answer) and Jelly started his cooking immediately. Theresa planned a pretty table and a pretty dress to wear and they all kept a close eye on Scott, making sure he did not read too much or try to get up too soon. The small lines between his eyes told them he continued to have a headache and his slow movements confirmed his soreness. Still, he was doing much better and chomping at the bit to be allowed up again. Finally, Murdoch promised he could come down for Thanksgiving dinner, if he behaved. Johnny saw the light in Scott’s eyes with the knowledge that the family was having a Thanksgiving celebration and again he wondered at its importance to Scott.
On Thanksgiving Day, Johnny went in to check on Scott. “Want some help up, Scott?” he asked. “How about some help shaving?” continued Johnny with a devilish grin. He remembered Scott’s protests as first Theresa, and then Murdoch tried to shave him, as he sat in bed. Scott was not a trusting soul, especially with someone else handling the razor near his throat.
“I can manage” glowered Scott, as he casually tossed a pillow in Johnny’s face. “I’ve been dressing myself for years, little brother, in spite of what you may think about soft Eastern dudes. Then Scott grinned too, to see Johnny in a much-hated tie and dress shirt. “Who set the dress code, as if I didn’t know?” Scott chuckled. He had heard all about the dress Theresa planned to wear and knew she meant all the men to match her style, like it or not. But, he knew the shirt and tie would become both Johnny and Murdoch, not to mention himself. All in all, they would make a good-looking party at the special dinner.
Gathered around the bountiful table, Murdoch allowed his eye to gaze proudly and his sons and almost daughter, all resplendent in “best” attire. Even Jelly had made an effort with himself, as well as with the food. The smells were wonderful; the table had a tablecloth and flowers, and the best dishes, which never saw the light of day. Murdoch touched the dishes gently, remembering the choosing of them with Catherine, Scott’s mother. Now, their son sat tall and strong (if still a bit too pale) at the table, watching with amusement and a kind of touching pride, his half brother and Theresa, as they bantered back and forth. Murdoch felt a strange mixture of pride in family, regret for days lost that could never be regained, and gratitude that he had forgotten his own pride and sought his sons finally.
As they prepared to eat, Johnny looked at Scott and finally voiced his own apprehension about the entire holiday. “Scott, do you miss the fancy celebration you had at your grandfather’s? Jelly did a nice job, but I’m willin’ to bet this ain’t what you are used to in Boston.”
Scott dropped his eyes and for a minute it looked like he wouldn’t answer. Then his eyes met Johnny’s, and then passed to Theresa and Jelly, finally resting on Murdoch. “Grandfather always said Thanksgiving and Christmas were my mother’s favorite holidays. He once said she made the entire season sparkle with her decorations and entertaining and trying to help others. He showed me a picture of her in her Christmas dress, the year before she met you, Murdoch.”
Then Scott took a deep breath and explained further. “Grandfather was always so angry and bitter and sorrowful about Mother’s dying that we didn’t celebrate the seasons at my house. The other kids talked about their holidays and things, but Grandfather basically shut up the house, refused to entertain or even sit down for Thanksgiving or Christmas with me. I was a constant reminder of what he lost, and he didn’t want me under foot at that season. “
So, you see”, Scott, continued, looking at his family, “this is the first Thanksgiving I ever had with family of my own. I was invited to friends’ sometimes, but that’s not the same thing. Then he smiled broadly and lifted his wine glass “To the first of many Lancer Thanksgivings,” he proposed and the rest of the family raised their glasses in salute.
Johnny knew he had to rethink “his lucky brother” view and Murdoch again felt regret for past decisions, but Jelly’s invitation to “fall to before I throw it away’ made all of them laugh as they enjoyed the food immensely, and basked in each other’s company, the family together, giving thanks for each other.
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