Word Count 4,900
An episode tag for The Escape
Johnny stood beside Murdoch and Teresa, watching Sara and Dan Cassidy as they drove away. More accurately, Johnny was watching his brother Scott, as Scott watched the couple drive off to a hopefully better future. It had been a hard few days on his brother. Scott had been kidnapped, shot, accused of betraying the escape of 16 fellow soldiers from a prison camp and causing their death; he had been hunted like an animal until, wounded and bleeding, he had confronted his accuser. Then, Scott had discovered that his accuser, his friend and commanding officer Dan Cassidy had been the innocent traitor about the escape. At the threat to his friend/former enemy, Scott had brought the couple to Lancer for safety, only to have to ride again against an enemy to save Dan’s life. Finally, the would-be-killers had been sent on their way and Dan and Sara were free to seek a new life for themselves.
Johnny watched as Scott waved farewell, then saw worriedly that Scott’s shoulders had dropped and he looked very weary. Murdoch and Teresa walked back to the house, but Johnny waited for Scott to turn. It looked to him like Scott was trembling or shivering, just a bit. Not noticeable, except to someone watching carefully, but still slight tremors. Scott’s shoulders straightened and he turned slowly back to the door, spying Johnny at that instant. His mouth quirked in a small smile as he spoke “Hey, brother, making sure the troublemakers leave.”
Johnny looked at Scott’s pale face and saw his arm still in its sling. Scott really had no business out of bed. Johnny could see the high color in his cheeks that spoke of fever, and could tell that Scott was hiding his weakness well, but the weakness was there. “Come on, Boston, let’s get inside and take a look at that wound. Need to make sure you didn’t start it bleedin’ again with all this motion. You ought to be in bed, not runnin’ round here.” He held the door open for his brother and his eyes sought Teresa’s as soon as they entered the great room. “Teresa, let’s check out big brother’s bandages and make sure they’re clean.”
Teresa took a quick look at Scott’s pale face and answered Johnny’s plea. “Get him up to his room and into sleeping things. I’ll be right up with the salve and fresh bandages. Scott, you git!”
Murdoch turned to check out the three family members and waited for Scott to protest. That young man hated to be “ mollycoddled”, as he called it. When Scott said nothing, but walked with Johnny to the stairs, Murdoch frowned and wondered if he might have missed something about Scott’s injury. He watched as Johnny slipped an arm around Scott’s waist to help support him up the stairs. As Teresa walked past, he said “Let me know if there’s a problem with that wound. I can send for the doctor again, if need be.” Teresa nodded, but said nothing.
Johnny unobtrusively supported Scott up the stairs and to his room. He helped Scott sit down on the bed and began to remove the boots. ‘Don’t know why you went to the trouble of dressin’, Brother. You shoulda knowed you was going right back to bed. Now I gotta get these things back off,” grumbled Johnny good-naturedly. “Now let me get them pants off and you under cover before Teresa barges in here.” Both brothers had learned soon after coming to Lancer that all they got was a brief knock before she barged into any room. It only took one time being caught with pants down before they had learned to either be dressed or in bed before she entered. She might think of herself as a sister, but both men knew her as an attractive, young woman and preferred a bit of modesty in their relationship.
Stripped, Scott leaned back against the pillows with a small sign of relief. Johnny quickly pulled up the covers, just as Teresa knocked and entered at the same time. She carried a basin of water and bandages, as well as salve to put on Scott’s shoulder. Smiling, she placed the things on the night stand and sat down beside Scott. Her hand went to his forehead and she frowned at the heat she felt. “How does the shoulder feel, Scott” I know it hurts but does it feel hot and pully, like it might have infection?”
Scott shook his head and said “Theresa, it’s just fine. Don’t worry about it. I’ve had worse.” Johnny’s ears picked up that little aside and he wondered what scars his elegant, Boston-bred brother might carry, unknown to any of them. He had always assumed that Scott’s life had been one of comfort and ease. Even the recent knowledge that Scott had been a prisoner of war had not clued him in that Scott might have been hurt badly. He remembered Murdoch’s statement to Sara that they knew very little about the man Scott was and he recognized its truth. Just the same, Murdoch’s statement that “no son of his could be a traitor” had been a false one. With Scott never having met his father until he was 25, the son’s strength and character had been formed in another way, not through association with his father. Scott could be trusted because he was Scott, not because he was Murdoch Lancer’s son.
Teresa began to remove the bandages from Scott’s shoulder and Johnny saw his brother’s right hand grip the sheets. The face remained calm and impassive, but the clenched hand spoke of pain. Johnny took a cloth, dipped it into the water and began to wipe Scott’s face and forehead. He too could feel the heat in his brother’s body and knew he was running a fever. The coolness had to feel good, and he saw Scott’s mouth curl up in the little smile/smirk he gifted Johnny with when they were teasing each other or sharing a joke. Scott’s eyes said “thanks” though he remained silent.
Softly Teresa said “Scott, I am going to have to soak this bandage off. You’ve bled a bit and it’s stuck. Goin’ hurt, I’m afraid.” As she spoke she began to wet the bandage and pull it away from the wound. Scott flinched and Johnny reached out and took his hand. The grip was tight, but Johnny didn’t know how else to help right now. Finally Teresa had all the bandage off and could check the damage. It was a bit bloody, but not fresh blood. There was no real sign of infection; it just looked very painful. She gently rubbed salve around the area and began to rebandage it. “You need to keep this arm still, Scott, or its goin’ be a long time gettin’ better. No moving without the sling either, and you stay in bed, you hear me!”
Murdoch opened the door to Scott’s room and stepped in. Looking at his son’s flushed face, he walked over and awkwardly laid a hand on this forehead. “ He’s got a fever, Teresa. Maybe we need to call the doctor and be sure he’s all right. How’s that wound look? Is it infected? Does he need some laudanum for the pain?’
Scott, peeved at Murdoch’s asking Teresa the questions as if he could not answer for himself, spoke a bit sharply “Don’t worry about the fever. I spike one at the smallest cut or hint of sickness. It’s not worth mentioning, just how I am. And I have no intention of taking any pain medicine. Just let me get some rest and I’ll be fine.” He closed his eyes again.
Johnny put another cool cloth on Scott’s forehead and wondered what else they didn’t know about this brother. Ran a fever easily, he mulled. Still, fever drained a man’s energy and made him quite miserable. Need to try to cool him down a bit, he thought.
“Sure you don’t want a dose of medicine to make you more comfortable, Boston,” he asked quietly. Scott shook his head, but otherwise made no reply. Stubborn mule thought Johnny.
Teresa and Murdoch slipped out of the room, leaving Scott to rest and Johnny to sit by his side. He saw another shiver run over Scott’s skin and pulled the covers a bit higher. He would sit here, putting cloths on his brother’s head, for a few minutes or until he was sure Scott was asleep. In the quiet, Johnny found himself dozing off too. It hadn’t been an easy few days for him either. Quiet reigned for several hours. Suddenly Johnny jerked awake as he heard his brother begin to moan softly and twist on the bed. He reached out to check the fever, then listened as Scott mumbled “Stop, don’t shoot!. No, don’t! Please stop!!”
Scott grew more agitated and Johnny knew he had to wake him before he hurt that shoulder again. Gently he reached out to shake his brother, chanting softly “Scott, Scott, wake up. It’s just a dream, Scott. Nobody’s shootin’ at you. You’re safe here at home. Come on, wake up.”
Scott ‘s eyes shot open and he looked blankly at Johnny, for a few seconds. Then awareness crept back into the light blue eyes and Scott mumbled “Yeah, I’m awake, I’m awake. Quit shaking me.” Johnny quickly let go of his shoulder and offered him a drink of water. Scott
gulped the water eagerly, but stopped after a few swallows. “Enough”, he murmured, and shut his eyes again.
“Bad dream, brother?” Johnny asked. “Need another drink?” Scott shook his head, but remained mum. “Wanta talk about it, brother? You’re always tellin’ me I need to open up more. How about you doing a bit o’ that!”
Scott’s eyes popped open at that provocative statement, but he remained silent for a few seconds. Then he spoke, “Just some old memories stirred up by Dan and those other men. Not really anything to talk about.”
He looked quite young and ill at the moment and Johnny didn’t have the heart to press. He shook his head and pulled the covers back over Scott, checking his temperature and putting another cool cloth on his head. He watched as Scott drifted back to sleep, remembering the nightmares he had sometimes. Couldn’t really blame Scott for not talkin’ too much about the demons that haunted him, when he, Johnny, could not talk about his either. Sitting back down, Johnny allowed himself to relax again and drift back off to sleep.
Two days later, all traces of fever were gone. All that was left was Scott’s sore arm and his burning desire to be let out of bed. Over and over he grumbled at the three “mother hens” who kept trying to get him to eat and hid his pants. The four walls had closed in on him and Scott made sure everyone knew how unhappy he was at the restrictions on his movement. Even Johnny found Scott’s company hard going, though his brother was never intentionally rude, just brusque and very unlike his usual nature. Finally it was easier just to let him up and try to keep him away from work. Murdoch “allowed” him to help with the books, which occupied a great deal of time and kept him relatively quiet and still. But he was still far from well, as everyone could tell. He still had little appetite and had lost some weight. And, he still was not sleeping well at night. Johnny could hear his restless movements in the quiet of the dark, even from his room.
Murdoch approached Johnny “Son, I had planned to go to Sodesto to hand-deliver this contract to John Paulson, but I got a telegram this morning. The army is sending Lt. Colonel Jackson to meet with me about a contract for horses for the cavalry. I need to stay here to negotiate that contract, so I want you to ride to Paulson’s and deliver the contract for me. Scott is not up to that kind of a ride and he doesn’t know enough about the current horse supply to negotiate alone. I will keep him here to help me. The trip to Sodesto should take two or three days on the trail. It’s a nice little town; you might enjoy your stop there.”
Johnny nodded agreement to Murdoch. “Sounds like a good trip, but I wish Scott was well enough to ride along. Would make it a lot more fun.” He was still worried about his brother, just a bit, but Scott would not appreciate the solicitude, so he mostly observed and kept his mouth shut. Anyway, what could go wrong in a week? Scott would be fine and safe here at home, gaining more strength and putting on a bit more heft. He looked downright skinny to Johnny. Maybe when he got back, they could take a short hunting trip, or at least go into town for a hot bath, shave, and some drinks. Anything else that developed like poker or girls would be all right too.
Johnny left the next day, taking the contract with him. He had packed enough grub for three nights in the open, but made the trip in two days. Not a bad trip at all. Mr. Paulson proved to be a friendly gent and was delighted to get the contract personally delivered. It meant a sizeable profit for Lancer when they delivered the cattle and Johnny knew Murdoch’s personal touch contributed to the success of the ranch.
As a matter of fact, Johnny found himself with a couple of days free; after all Murdoch had said three days each way, a total of six in all, and he only needed four for the round trip. And, Sodesto was a nice little town. It had a good hotel, and nice restaurant, pleasant saloon and a couple of really cute girls in the saloon. Might be a place to spend a night drinking, playing poker, flirting, and remembering what it meant to be “footloose and fancy free” instead of a Lancer son with responsibility. Why, Johnny even had some money in his pocket, courtesy of Murdoch.
Calling himself all kinds of a fool, Johnny prepared to leave town immediately after his talk with Paulson. He could not believe that he was worried enough about a grown man to give up a couple of days of play to hurry back home. Scott had spent 26 years without his brother at his side; he could spend a week. Even as he mumbled to himself, Johnny rode out, prepared to ride fairly hard to get back home. Funny how having a brother got under your skin, he mused to himself. Wonder if that is how Scott feels when I ride off without tellin’ anybody where I’m goin’ or when I ride off to meet someone who wants to take on Johnny Madrid. Maybe I better cut him a bit more slack when he fusses at me.
Johnny rode back into the yard 3 ½ days after he left. He was tired, dirty, and glad to be home. Lancer sure looked welcoming. Murdoch walked out the front door when he heard the hoofbeats, and started slightly to see Johnny. “Didn’t expect you home for another couple of days, son. Thought you might take advantage of the spare time. You got the contract delivered, right.”
“Yeah, Murdoch, no problems. Just kinda’ wanted to get home, I guess. Anyway, seen one cow town, you’ve seen ‘em all.” Then Johnny asked quietly, “Scott doing all right? No more fever or anything.”
Murdoch hesitated before answering, causing Johnny to give him a sharp look. “Physically Scott seems to be in fine shape. He’s out riding fence right now. Couldn’t hold him in any longer. Usin’ that arm without a problem. But…”
“Come on, Murdoch, what you pussyfootin’ about? Is something wrong?” demanded Johnny angrily.
Murdoch shook his head and said “Get cleaned up, son. Supper is in awhile and you’re pretty dirty. Scott’ll be at supper and you can see for yourself. Go on, get cleaned up, boy”
Johnny went to his room, cleaned up and stretched out for a couple of minutes. The minutes moved toward half an hour as he slept, and was awakened by a quick knock and a demanding voice “Hey, Johnny, git the lead out or Teresa’s goin’ throw out your share of dinner.”
He opened his eyes to see his brother standing in the doorway, smiling broadly. Johnny gave a start of surprise, not at Scott’s demand, but at his appearance. Scott was still too pale and had deep shadows under his eyes. He looked like a man who had not had a good night’s sleep in a coon’s age. Johnny returned the grin, but replied “What rock did they drag you from under? Brother, you look like hell!”
Scott turned to walk down the stairs, throwing back over his shoulder, “Nothing’s wrong, Johnny. Just had a busy day.”
Johnny followed without answer, knowing better than to push Scott in Murdoch and Teresa’s company. He would get back to his brother later. The meal was plain, but very filling. Teresa had taken the time to throw together an apple crisp in honor of Johnny’s return. Johnny ate his fill, glad to be shed of trail rations, but he noted that Scott mostly pushed his food around on the plate. At the conclusion of the meal, very little had actually been eaten by his brother. As Murdoch invited them to have a brandy in the great room, Scott excused himself as being tired and went upstairs to his room.
“How long has this being goin’ on?” Johnny queried Murdoch.
“He’s been real quiet and tired since you left, son “ replied Murdoch. “Doesn’t seem to be sleeping well at night and not much hungry either. Working like there’s no tomorrow, as if he’s trying to forget something. I knew he wouldn’t answer me, but thought he might talk to
you. Don’t think a doctor will do any good right now.”
Johnny nodded and sipped his brandy slowly. He was tired and excused himself shortly to go to bed too.
In the dark of the night, Johnny stirred as he thought he heard sounds in the house. After a few moments, he identified them as coming from Scott’s room and got up to check. Easing open the door, he saw his brother tossing and turning in the bed and mumbling brokenly “No, stop. They’re unarmed. Stop! Cease fire!” The sounds were the ones Johnny remembered from Scott’s fevered dreams a few days before. He walked over and shook his brother gently, saying “Scott, Scott, wake up! It’s all right, you’re at home. It’s just a dream, Scott. Wake up!”
He saw Scott’s eyes fly open and stare vacantly at him for a few seconds, then register who was there. “Sorry, Johnny, didn’t mean to wake you” he spoke as he rubbed his head and eyes, trying to wake up completely. “Go back to bed. I’m all right.” Under his breath he continued “At least the dreams don’t come twice in a night.”
Johnny sat down on the bed as his brother sat a bit straighter. “Scott, is this the same nightmare you started having after Cassidy’s gunman shot you?”
“Yeah, basically the same, Johnny. Go back to bed. Everything’s all right.”
Johnny snorted and replied “Sure everythin’ all right, Boston. You look like death
warmed over, you’re not sleepin; you’re not eatin’; you’re awake half the night. Yeah, things look just fine from where I sit!”
Rising, Johnny handed Scott his pants and a shirt. “Get dressed and let’s take a walk. Maybe the night air will loosen your tongue a bit. Or, I could just beat the truth out of you. Your choice.”
Scott dressed, leaving his shirt untucked and hair uncombed. Johnny returned to his own room to cover up a bit, then returned, taking his brother’s arm. “Come on, let’s do some moon-gazing.” They quietly walked down the stair, out the front door and over to the rails of the near corral. Both men leaned against the corral, breathing in the cooler night air. The moon was a sliver of light, a new moon, and the stars flicked brightly in the sky. The night sounds soothed them. They heard the insects with their mating call, the muffled snorting of the horses, the far-off call of a lone coyote, the whisper of the wind as it stirred the leaves. Scott leaned his head against the rails of the corral and closed his eyes. Johnny leaned too, just waiting until Scott felt like talking.
“Johnny, do you ever have nightmares about the men you’ve shot, about the things you did to stay alive?”
“Sure I do. Maybe it’s the settled life here, but they come less often. Usta have them a lot, about fights and near fights. Dreamed in the beginning about my mother dyin’, about how HE used to beat both of us. Guess I’m lucky; it’s been awhile since I had a really good one.”
Scott nodded slowly, obviously reluctant to continue. Finally came “Ever since Dan was here, I keep dreaming about that escape, gone so wrong. We were in a small prison camp, not the big one at Andersonville. Think it was kinda a holding camp, more than anything. Rough, crude, and the guards were the dregs of the southern army. By that time all the good fighting men were on the front lines. Just the troublemakers and malcontents seemed to be guards at prison camps, at least at ours. Maybe I need to start further back. I was a junior in college when the 3rd call for solders came from Lincoln. I felt I ought to go, had a responsibility to go. I knew my grandfather could and would pay for someone to serve in my place. But I thought I had a duty. Oh, God, what a duty!” Scott paused, remembering. “Had a huge fight with Grandfather over going. He threatened to disown me and remove me from his will (as if that mattered); then he told me I was no longer welcome in his home, if I joined the rabble army. I had a friend who was in the cavalry, so I approached Mike. He told me that I should be an officer, both because of my education and my riding ability. I really was a fair rider, but had never held a gun. Mike spent several days, all day, teaching me to shoot accurately and fast. Guess I had some natural ability in that area, cause it didn’t take as long as it could’ve.
So, here I am, an officer in the Union Cavalry, assigned to General Phil Sheridan’s command. I must have been 20, tops. And I thought I was going to know how to lead men into battle to die. Talk about naive, man, I was fresh meat for the old timers! There was a grizzled old sergeant, Andrew McClain, who was top dog for the enlisted men. He had fought in the Mexican War, been in the peacetime army and in most of the major battles of the war. Guess he felt sorry for me or something. Anyway, he took me under his wing, made sure I knew all the ropes, and taught me how to listen to the men before I gave orders that made no sense. Made me realize an army is made up of people, every one of ‘em with different needs and problems, different ways of doin’ things. I think, no I know, I owe my survival to Mac, as I called him. He made sure I was all right, did the right things and watched my back in the fightin’. You know, I’m still not sure how it happened he and I both got caught by the rebs and sent to the same camp. But when I woke up after being clubbed on the head and nabbed, there he was. Dan was already a prisoner and the leader of the men. Guess I held the next rank, which is how I became 2nd in command at the camp. He was already working on an escape plan when I got thrown in. And, after a look at the food and the treatment, getting out, even with the dangers of escaping, beat staying there long. Soon after I arrived, a partisan contacted Dan and offered to assist with the escape by providin’ horses and guns after we got beyond the fence. As the day approached for the escape, Dan was real sick. I told him I would postpone the attempt until he was better, but he refused. Said the partisans ready to help planned on us leaving at the agreed time. I didn’t like it but it was an order. Besides, I figured the others were going to try anyhow, with or without me. I felt they needed somebody to take charge, and I knew I could do that, specially if Mac was going. And he was. Mac called me all kinds of a fool but he was right beside me as I slipped out the opening we had made in the barricade. I went first, with Mac on my heels. Then I counted them through, 14 more men. Some of them I knew fairly well, others were pretty much strangers. A couple were kids, barely old enough to shave.”
Scott failed to see the glance Johnny threw him as he remembered how young Scott had been in charge of men and death. At least Johnny’s fights had been two-man deals for the most part. He had never carried the responsibility of that many other lives at one time.
Scott bowed his head and continued softly, so softly that Johnny almost couldn’t hear the words. “I made up the tail end, wanting to be sure they all got out safe. We were all hunched over in an open field, ready to make a run for the trees. The partisans Dan had dealt with were supposed to be waitin’ there with horses and guns. Then they opened up, the reb guards. It was like shootin’ ducks in a shootin’ gallery. We were in the open, no place to duck, to hide, no way to run. The men started screamin’ as they fell, shot to pieces. I remember yelling ‘Stop, cease fire. We surrender!’ But the firing didn’t stop. I saw Mac trying to get to me, bleeding as he struggled to crawl over. I tried to reach him; there was a blast of pain and the lights went out. I don’t remember anything else until I woke up in a Union hospital three weeks later. They had struggled to save my leg and my life. Fever had make me drop pounds. I still am not quite sure how many bullets I took. Grandfather was sitting by my side, waiting until I was well enough to travel home to Boston. There was an inquiry and I was found innocent of fault in the deaths of 15 men. I was the only one left alive. After I recovered the Army discharged me and I went back and finished college, because it was Grandfather’s wish.
“But I knew it was all my fault, Johnny, all my fault”, Scott moaned.
Johnny reached out to touch his brother, then drew back his hand and spoke gently. “Scott how can you blame yourself? You didn’t set up the plan, you merely followed what Cassidy had planned. You got yourself shot in the attempt. How can you claim it’s all your doin’?”
Scott took a deep breath and replied, ”I found out later that Grandfather had hired the ‘partisans’ to attempt a rescue, as soon as he found out where I was being held. Don’t you see? If he hadn’t paid those men, we wouldn’t have attempted to escape and those 15 men wouldn’t have died. It was all about me, Johnny, me and Grandfather’s attempt to keep me safe.”
This time Johnny did reach out and pull his brother into his arms. “Boston, how can you be responsible for other men’s decisions? Your grandfather wanted you safe; Dan Cassidy gave out the escape plans because he was delirious with fever. You just did what you was told. Not your fault, brother, not your fault. You’all chose to escape, knowin’ you might be kilt. Every man took the same chance, had the same chance. Ain’t your choice who lives and who dies. Just thank your lucky stars, like I thank ‘em, that you made it. It’s all right to sorrow, Boston, but don’t let it bury you.”
For a few minutes, Scott buried his head in his brother’s shoulder, shaking with the force of his silent sobs. Johnny shut up and rubbed his back, waitin’ for him to regain control. When his brother lifted his head, Johnny stepped away briefly and returned with two glasses of whiskey, handing one to Scott. He lifted his glass and waited for Scott to follow suit. Then he toasted “To good men who die needlessly and to those who live on and remember them.” He and Scott tossed back the booze, took a last look at the dark night and walked back to their rooms, hopefully to sleep peacefully.
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